Monterrico: Madness, Mischief and a Pissy Pelican (video tale & tips)

Up close and personal with Pancho

Manic mosquitos.  Trippy turtles. A psychotic yogini and a violent storm. Wet Birkenstocks. Deadly waves slamming down on black sand. And of course, Pancho, the Pelican, who can still fuel nightmares if I’m not careful.

Ah yes, memories…of a mere 24 hours in Monterrico, Guatemala. Do they light the corner of my mind? Most certainly.

Wondering what the hell happened there, are you? Well, let’s pretend we’re at a hostel or in a bar having a drink and sharing travel tales. Tag–I’m it.

Reluctant but Intrigued

When my travel companion, Krista, suggested that we go to Monterrico, I wasn’t super excited about it. Because we were in the mountains of Guatemala (Xela, aka, Quetzaltenango–I think–you know, the place that sounds like a pretzel doing the tango), getting there would be tricky. At least 2 to 3 chicken buses. And a boat.

And from what I read in the Lonely Planet, Monterrico wasn’t the kind of place where I’d be going for a swim. The water sounded a bit intense–and a bit uninviting–unless you’re a surfer with a death wish, that is.

“The odd-angled wave-print signals that there are rip tides; deaths have occurred at this beach, so swim with care. Strong swimmers, however, can probably handle and enjoy the waves.”–Lonely Planet

But because I was intrigued by the black sand and the scary waves and wanted to check out the turtles–and because travel with a friend requires give and take– I said yes.

We arrived in town just as kids were getting out of school–and there were lots of them. The buildings were colorful and tropical and that was good because in some cases, it hid the scruffiness of the rooms, many of which we instantly rejected due to cruddy looking beds.

The Decision to Splurge

We struggled to find just the right place to stay and in the end, decided to splurge on a very large and very clean room with in incredible view of the ocean, which had its own balcony. My one and only concern, of course, was mosquitos and so I asked the manager what we could do to protect ourselves.

“No te preocupas,” he said. Don’t worry. (He didn’t say, “Be happy,” but I think he wanted to.) And he promptly brought us several mosquito repellant coils. We both let out a sigh of relief and then made a plan to have seafood for dinner. Plus an alcoholic beverage. It seemed like we were settling in and that everything was going to be….just fine.

Of course, that’s when everything sort of went haywire.

Just as we arrived at the restaurant and ordered arroz con camarón (rice and shrimp), a violent thunder/lightening storm hit. The tarp roof of the restaurant was sort of lame and thus, did very little to keep us dry. In fact, within  a few minutes, everything was wet, including the plates, the napkins and my precious Birkenstocks. And I wasn’t happy, but I chose to laugh….just because.

Sitting there, with wet shoes and nothing to do, it was only natural that we’d watch the lightening striking in the not-so-distant distance. It was beautiful and dramatic as it revealed the beach to us, making night look like day. Of course, there was one thing that just didn’t add up…

A psychotic yogini was tempting the Lightening Gods.

A woman, for some reason, was practicing yoga on the beach. In the middle of the thunder and lightening. Was she crazy? Or was she simply ‘in the moment’? Whatever the case, I think she was making a serious mistake. See–she was doing the Sun Salutation. And there was no sun. Perhaps she should have been doing the Lightning Leg Lift?

Anyway and fortunately, the lights soon came back on and miraculously, we had a good meal. But just as we walked back to the room, the rain hit again. Even harder this time.

Mosquito Madness

Now back at the room, all I wanted to do was sleep. Same with Krista. We made our preparations and climbed into our beds, placing the mosquito coils nearby to keep the annoying insects away.

How’d that work out for us? Not too well.

Like the Luftwaffe of the insect world, they were well-trained in how to do their work. Although they had no bombs to drop–just bites to deliver–they knew how to target us just so. They attacked over and over again, sometimes ambushing us.

Mosquito bombers_03_Tahoephoto © 2009 Carole Carey | more info (via: Wylio)

We knew it was time for the big guns, so we pulled out our spray repellant and fought back. It was us, with our flack guns versus them, with their bomb-bites. We sprayed our sleep clothes and the sheets/pillows and rubbed it in our hair. And eventually, we prevailed.

Or maybe we simply got high from the fumes and fell into a stuporous sort of sleep. Whatever the case, the bites no longer mattered.

Deadly Waves

The next morning, we were up early. And strangely enough, we felt OK. Almost happy. One reason was the scene outside the window, which was gorgeous and surreal. The black sand, the shades of blue and grey in the water, the light blue sky…it was picture perfect and inviting.

And it was also feeling quite warm and it was only 7 a.m.

Knowing our window of tolerable weather was small, we began our stroll right away. We walked along the already-hot sand, eyeballing the water and listening to the deafening waves. We put our feet in and that was it. It was obvious (on that day, anyway) that anything beyond your ankle meant that you were asking for it.

It, meaning death.

We were only out there for an hour or so before it was a bit too hot. The black sand, as you can imagine, really attracts and retains the heat of the sun.

So we moved on to one of the local turtle reserves. There would be shade there, we figured, and we could keep cool.

Trippy Turtles

We saw many turtles at the turtle farm. Small ones, big ones, medium-sized ones, etc. Many hung out together and others kept to themselves. Most stayed in the water. Some seemed to be in couples, like these two.

As much as I enjoyed meeting the turtles–those that were not, um, busy– I was eager to move on. And as unique as Monterrico was, I was ready to move on.

While some people fall in love with the town, others do not. I fell into the latter category. I figured I’d snap a few more photos of the sights and then get the heck out.

Pancho, the Pelican

Pancho, of course, had another plan in mind.

There he was, this very docile looking pelican, hanging out on the side of the road. He was beautfiul and photo worthy. So I assessed the situation first (he seemed ‘fine’–whatever that means) and got out my camera. I was about 15 feet away, not too close, and doing well.

But I got greedy. And that’s where I made my mistake.

My camera only zooms to 128 mm, so I decided to move a little closer. And when I did, something totally unexpected happened.

Pancho gave me a dirty look.

For  a moment, I questioned my own sanity. Was this pelican angry that I was taking his photo? Did he even understand what was happening? Or was it just that I, a human, was simply too close?

Like a fool, I continued to snap away, even as he began to stare at me, not from just the corner of his eye, but head on. And then….

He began to chase me. To pursue me. That’s right. Pancho, the Pelican, was Pissed. He started to come after me. And I, a silly tourist, began to scream.

“Help me, Krista….Help!”

“What do you want me to do?” she responded. Seemed she was also trying to escape. It was every man (or tourist) for himself. Anything went.

This continued for several minutes–and yes, I took video of it despite fear of being pecked to death–and finally, a miracle occurred.

The Miracle of Monterrico

The owner of this pelican came out of his house, which was down the street, and began to yell. (That’s why I was able to use his name before this moment.)

“Pancho, Panchito…ven acá….Tranquílo!” Come here, Pancho….little Pancho….be calm.

And sure enough, Panchito, the Pelican, left me alone and life was good again. I thanked his owner, grabbed my backpack and said, “Let’s get the hell out of here, Krista.”

Laughing with and at each other, we caught the first bus out and didn’t look back.


Travel Tips (aka, moral of the story)

If you visit Monterrico:

1. Pack good repellant and waterproof shoes/flip flops

2. Wake up early to check out the beach before it’s too hot

3. Don’t swim in the ocean unless you’re a surfer with a death wish

4. Visit the turtle farms….they’re fun and worth it

5. Don’t photograph pelicans with a short lens and don’t underestimate how fast they can waddle

6. Enjoy yourself…it’s quirky there, but worth it (I think)






How About You?

Have you been to a place like Monterrico, where in a mere 24 hours you encountered madness, mischief, bizarreness or just plan old quirkiness? If so, where was it and what happened?

Have you ever been pursued by a pelican? Or has another animal that seemed OK with your photo-taking turned on you? If so, please share. I’d like to know that I’m not the only one. :)

39 Responses to Monterrico: Madness, Mischief and a Pissy Pelican (video tale & tips)
  1. Katrina
    March 1, 2011 | 3:31 am

    Hilarious tale! I am especially amused by Pancho. That he had not only a name, but an *owner* is amazing! Thanks for the great laughs!
    Katrina recently posted..Featured photo- Venetian scallopsMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 1, 2011 | 10:10 am

      Thanks, Katrina! Pancho was something else….that’s for sure. Yeah, he had an owner. And I was happy he did! PS: I googled Pancho, the Pelican, and found a photo on Flickr. I wonder if that person had a similar encounter. At least we know that he lives to talk about it…..

  2. Martin
    March 1, 2011 | 9:05 am

    I am from a country that owes much if not everything of its high standard of welfare to the vicinity of seas. I swam in the sea at Monterrico a couple of years ago, when there were no warnings yet. I wasn’t very far in when I noticed it became hard or perhaps impossible to return; however hard I tried to swim back, the shore only seemed to be further and further away. It wasn’t robbery on dark streets, bad to poisonous food or wild deadly animals that made me feel like I was staring death right into the eye. It was this sea.

    (Oh, and there must be a fish still swimming around near Monterrico wearing the glasses that a wave smashed off my head back then.)

    However, memories of Guatemala are still very sweet…
    Martin recently posted..MartijnHerrman- RT @petra-stienen- For all of us eager to help the change in the Arab world- guardian editorial on the limits of intervention http-bit My Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 1, 2011 | 10:14 am

      Hi, Martin. Thanks so much for sharing your story. Getting stuck out there must have been scary…so glad you made it back. No warnings at the time? Yikes. I hope they have signs somewhere now. Although LP mentioned that there were some, I don’t recall seeing them. When I was there, the water was pretty rough, of course, so I kept out. But I could imagine how a strong swimmer might be tempted.

      Funny about that fish wearing your glasses! Maybe he’s reading a book and enjoying some java now, too. :)

      My memories of Guatemala are also still fond ones. What an amazing country!

  3. Aaron @ Aaron's Worldwide Adventures
    March 2, 2011 | 12:34 am

    Those turtles are so cute!!!
    Aaron @ Aaron’s Worldwide Adventures recently posted..Say What Travel Photo- Numb Biscuits!My Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 2, 2011 | 1:34 pm

      I told them, Aaron, and they said, “Gracias.” :)

  4. The Dropout
    March 2, 2011 | 2:10 am

    What a great story.
    Pelicans can be quite aggressive. I’ve never heard of a pelican having an owner, though – that’s fantastic.
    Where I grew up there was a barbecue area on the edge of a lake. The pelicans there was so aggressive (and big) that they’d march up and steal meat off the hotplate! And that was even with the Dads trying to defend the food with the barbecue tongs and manly shouts of “hey, stop it”.
    The Dropout recently posted..The Perfect Schedule No Camel RequiredMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 2, 2011 | 1:35 pm

      Thanks so much….glad you enjoyed it! Crazy that Pancho has an owner, huh? :)

      Wow re: those aggressive pelicans. After my encounter with Pancho, I’m not surprised. Seems like very little scares them!

  5. Sprite
    March 2, 2011 | 7:21 am

    too funny, Lisa, and I can’t wait to share more of your adventures (and in person, wink)

    • CB Driver
      March 2, 2011 | 1:36 pm

      Hi, Sprite. Glad you laughed and that we’ll be sharing some adventures soon…should be a blast!

  6. Charles McCool
    March 2, 2011 | 9:31 am

    You brought personality to Pancho the Pelican. That is cool! Repellent is a great tip.
    Charles McCool recently posted..8 Great Elements of a Cruise VacationMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 2, 2011 | 1:36 pm

      Hi, Charles. Glad you saw the real Pancho–LOL. Yes, repellant is very important to pack! Thanks.

  7. Christy @ Ordinary Traveler
    March 2, 2011 | 9:40 pm

    You sure got a great close-up photo of the pelican because of this crazy experience! :) Funny story!
    Christy @ Ordinary Traveler recently posted..Travel Photographer Interview- The Planet D 2My Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 3, 2011 | 10:30 am

      Thanks, Christy. Looking back now, I think that the close call was worth it–just for the photo! :)

  8. Julia
    March 3, 2011 | 9:54 am

    It doesn’t look like much of a high speed chase, but Pancho’s beak is something else! I would’ve legged it too! I actually like the look of this place, if only to see the quirky animals.
    Julia recently posted..If Not Now- WhenMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 3, 2011 | 10:32 am

      Hi, Julia. I can’t quite remember what happened and when (maybe I have PTSD?), but I think that when ‘he’ was chasing me, I was running and didn’t get to shoot that part–LOL. The video you see in the post is when his owner was calling him and he was running to him. Perhaps I felt safer then…

      Yeah, l that beak is unreal, isn’t it? Would hate to feel that biting into my leg! :)

  9. Zablon
    March 4, 2011 | 1:44 am

    what was that woman doing in that storm? and i guess the pelican is not a big fan of the paparazzi

    • CB Driver
      March 4, 2011 | 8:19 am

      Good question, Zablon! It looked like yoga, but maybe she was simply in another reality. Whatever she was doing, I think it was a bit dangerous. Doesn’t lightening strike the tallest object? If it’s just you on the beach, then–tag, you’re it! :)

  10. Nicolas De Corte
    March 4, 2011 | 5:44 am

    I loved Monterrico. It’s one of the most laid-back places I’ve ever been. And my trip there summarized my idea of Guatemala.
    First of all it’s hard to get there. At a certain moment the bus was supposed to cross a toll bridge, but instead we crossed the river just next to the bridge on a “home made” wooden ferry charging only half of the toll of the bridge.
    People over there are outlaws. The guy of my hostel just found himself a piece of flat ground and built a hostel on it. No approvals, no documents, nada. The government either didn’t have a clue or just didn’t care.
    At an evening when I was having diner on a terrace, a big fat pig joined me. It just lay at my feet until I was done eating.
    And the waves are amazing. I had never seen waves like that before.
    Nicolas De Corte recently posted..Airport GamesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 4, 2011 | 8:22 am

      Hi, Nicolas. Cool that you’ve been there, too! It is a sweet place–definitely laid back. True–it’s not easy to get to. That’s why I appreciate those travelers who make it there. And you’re right that it’s a bit of a lawless area. I sensed that about it.

      Funny about the pig. I saw plenty of them hanging out and rolling around in the mud.

      Did you take a swim in the lovely (yet deadly) water? Or did you just stick your feet in (as I did)? Just wondering…. :)

      • Nicolas De Corte
        March 6, 2011 | 4:52 am

        I was going to take a swim… until I felt the power of the water when a wave was pulling back. Then I decided that paddling was more than sufficient.
        Nicolas De Corte recently posted..Airport GamesMy Profile

        • CB Driver
          March 6, 2011 | 11:16 am

          Wow….scary. I could totally see people drowning in that water.

  11. Gray
    March 4, 2011 | 10:01 pm

    Birds are often aggressive. I know geese have been known to attack people as well. Maybe it’s the danger that makes them so irresistible to photograph. :-)
    Gray recently posted..Are You a Travel ProcrastinatorMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 6, 2011 | 11:15 am

      Hi, Gray. Scary to hear that about geese. Yikes! And you may have a point re: that danger making them more appealing to shoot (photographically, I mean–LOL).

  12. Charu
    March 7, 2011 | 11:39 am

    You are HILARIOUS– that Luftwaffe comment, geez…I was basically in splits. And brave. How do you go into this mosquito concentration camp–jeez! I grew up with mosquitos in India and don’t really remember them with great fondness.

    Thank goodness you came back home, alive and safe–lightning gods and trippy turtles aside


    • CB Driver
      March 7, 2011 | 11:51 am

      Hi, Charu. So glad that my travel tale made you laugh! He, he, he re: the Luftwaffe. Yeah, they were that good! As for mosquito memories…I hear you. They aren’t usually too fond, huh? LOL

      Thanks so much for reading/commenting…and yes, I’m glad I made it back OK, too. As pretty as Monterrico was, I wouldn’t want to do more time there than what I’d planned on. :)

  13. TraceMyTrip
    March 8, 2011 | 12:41 am

    Wow, might not have been a great trip but you’ve got some AWESOME stories out of it. The pelican one alone is worth gold.

    Reminds me of a story. Once upon a time my grandad was feeding birds on a South Australian beach. The last hunk of bread he threw at a pelican, which regarded the morsel with scorn and wouldn’t eat it. Offended, my grandad decided to get back the bread. He walked towards it, bent down to pick it up, and the pelican opened its beak and chomped down on his head! It lasted only a few seconds, but I can only imagine the horror. Not to mention the embarrassment.

    • CB Driver
      March 8, 2011 | 11:32 am

      Hi and thanks! Your grandfather’s story is a crazy one and it’s sort of scary, but it’s also funny at the same time. I would have been annoyed and probably would have tried to take my food back, too. But yikes–the pelican was super pissy (worse than Pancho?) and didn’t like that. Sounds like this pelican is a game player of sorts–the worst kind, in my opinion! :)

  14. Norbert
    March 8, 2011 | 2:26 pm

    LOL!! I laughed so much reading this! I haven’t been pursued by a pelican (yet), but I have been pursued by a pissed off llama while hiking the Inca Trail. Apparently I made the same mistake. Took a few shots and it was ok, but I also got greedy and came too close. That llama gave me that “piss off” look as it got its infamous spit ready to shoot in case it needed to give another unfriendly warning. But that didn’t stop me until it decided to chase me. Of course, at that point I ran fearing I would be spat the nastiest llama “stuff”.

    Now, when I go to Guatemala I have to keep an eye on pancho! :)
    Norbert recently posted..Remembering ToledoMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 9, 2011 | 7:14 am

      Hi, Norbert. So glad you got a kick out of this! So you were pursued by a llama? Oh boy…that doesn’t sound good. And for the same reason Pancho got pissed at me? Funny. I wonder if he/she had a name. I’m so glad, by the way, it didn’t spit at you. I can’t even imagine how disgusting that would be.

      I almost hope you go to Monterrico and spot Pancho so that you can blog about it…but if you do, I hope you’ll use a very long lens to keep yourself far enough way to be safe! :)

  15. Natalie
    March 11, 2011 | 12:59 am

    I have been left with vivid images of you running down the street with Pancho after you!! Thanks for a good read..
    Natalie recently posted..A Cold and Wet Day in DoganbeyMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 11, 2011 | 7:23 am

      Glad you enjoyed it, Natalie! So much fun to look back now and laugh, of course. In the moment, I was a bit panicked! :)

  16. Rebecca
    March 13, 2011 | 10:49 pm

    Ha ha, what an (mis)adventure! It never seems like it at the time, but there’s always a funny tale to tell (and blog about) afterwards!
    Rebecca recently posted..Photo of the Week- Santa Monica Beach- Los AngelesMy Profile

    • CB Driver
      March 13, 2011 | 11:05 pm

      Hi, Rebecca and thanks. Good point….these misadventures definitely turn out to be funny tales later on. I think that happens to me a lot! :)

  17. Shelia Wiley
    December 9, 2011 | 9:26 am

    These misadventures definitely turn out to be funny tales later on.

  18. Nora Coletti
    March 11, 2012 | 5:49 pm

    As you know I am from Guatemala, but I have no idea where Monterrico is. I laughed so much about your adventure with Pancho, it was hilarious!!!!!

    • CB Driver
      March 16, 2012 | 8:58 am

      Hi, Nora. Thanks for reading the story! It is very funny now–definitely. In the moment, though, when Pancho was chasing me, it was scary. I’m so glad his owner was nearby!

  19. Elizabeth
    August 8, 2012 | 12:45 am

    lmao! This is SO funny to me because I know exactly what you’re talking about! Pancho lives right next to that Gregorio Hotel (its green). I thought it was so funny how he literally chased people down the alley/street.

    • CB Driver
      August 8, 2012 | 8:59 pm

      Hi, Elizabeth. You know Pancho? LOL Does he still do that?

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