Thursday, April 24, 2014

An Amazingly Different (and shorter) Trip.

Jose, a ranch cowboy and me (on Champ)

I’ve been in Guatemala for a little over a couple weeks.  I came to work on a ranch called Finca Esmeralda near Coatepeque in the northwest section of the country.  It's a working cattle ranch that also grows bananas, some other animals and sugarcane.  I was invited by Betsy and Hamilton who run a riding program there.  

I spent the first few days at the Costa Real Hotel in Retalhuleu which has the same owners as the ranch (and lots of other holdings) and here is where Betsy works.  The first Monday I was sent off to the Ranch.  

But Betsy stayed at the hotel, and I never did meet Hamilton. For sure, neither of them were at the ranch - which was not the plan we had discussed and they were non-committal about if and when they were going to be there.  And once at the ranch, it was clear there is definitely no “dude” business running and the three people who work there didn't even know I was coming.  Not a good start.Took a call to Betsy to bring the staff up to date.

The ranch was truly remote and it was really hot and dusty and beautiful, beautiful in a very different way for me.  The ranch buildings were kinda nice (primitive.)  There were toilets and a shower  – with only one valve – that’s warm.   Cell phones worked but there was no access to the internet.

Entrance to the Ranch House
The Ranch House
They cook over an open fire and there is no refrigeration. The food was very simple - usually eggs, beans and tortillas. No ice so no cold drinks and awful coffee. I could tell right now this was going to be an adventure – at best.

The foreman, David arrived about an hour after I got there.  He's a delightful guy who took me out on an ATV to explore.  I drove.

Yep - that's a pistol in my pocket.
David insisted I put it in for the pix.  He carries it all the time.
The country is of course flat – I knew that.  It used to be jungle but most all of Guatemala was cut down years ago creating a major ecological disaster for which the country is now paying.  The terrain can be wicked!  Highways can be bad enough, but the road into the ranch (about 5 miles) require a tough 4x4.  We were lucky it didn't rain while I was there.  Mud!!!!!

Heat is intense.  High 90s during the day and maybe a 5 or 6 degree drop in the evening and always high humidity. There are things to watch for - several seriously poisons snakes and scorpions who will drop on you from the trees.  I've lived in environments like that before so I didn't freak.   I did see several scorpions - one of which dropped on my back!  David saw it and immediately dealt with it.  There was also and an 8 year old rattle snake that was fortunately dead.

 David (who has no English) said that tomorrow I’d have a horse.   

View from Champ - see his ear?
And sure ‘nuf, the next morning a bay with no name (they don't name work horses, but it has a 70’s feel doesn’t it [click  "Horse with No Name"] )  about 14.2 hands. A hand = 4inches, so Champ was 56+2 inches tall measured at the front legs (the withers.) Most horses are from 14 to 16 hands. He was waiting for me with a kinda western style saddle. I named him Champ in honor of my first horse in Ojai.

I had no idea what he was like, but I did a little ground work and swung into the saddle and we got to know each other.  Instantly he rode great – nice gates, reins like a cutting horse and goes from standing start right into a  full canter with only the slightest of signals.  I saw some mustang traits. He's a real cowboy horse.

David, Carlos and Geovany - my compadres

Geovany on the ATV and David on Champ.
The guys loved to have their pix taken - and always wanted to use my hat.
Just before I left I made prints of their pix for each of them.
For a week I rode everyday – mornings and afternoons. It was stinking hot (high 90s) but amazingly it didn’t bother me (except at night.)  I'd get pretty stinky too!  I really enjoyed riding alone – exploring the country, talking and singing to the horse and getting the great feelings I get when I’m riding.  I’m pretty proud of my riding too and I didn’t get stiff!  The challenge as I get older is getting on with dignity.  At 14.2, I did fine once I got used to it.  These rides were the high point of my trip.

A beautiful big tree
looking like a Live Oak until I got close to it.

But I was so isolated – at the house, there was only David, his compadre, Geovany and the cook all with no English and me with almost no Spanish.  My smart phone with a Spanish/English dictionary sure helped.  (Of course no internet!)  I was getting frustrated and nervous.  Were Betsy and Hamilton ever coming?  How could I even get out of this incredibly remote place! I was not in panic mode but saw it coming.

There were several small lakes/ponds,  Not great for swimming though.
Finally, last Sunday after a week there came some answers.  On my morning ride Jose told me that the Patron was coming.  Who’s that?  After my ride, I was at the house thinkin' 'bout my afternoon ride – (and in way dirty smelly cloths) when three pickups arrived with about 16 people including kids, the Patron, Fernando (Hamilton’s father) and the illusive Hamilton.  Still almost no English but a touch of civilization!  Familia!  I slipped in my room and put on a clean(er) shirt.  We all went on a great truck tour of the ranch – much of it over country Champ and I had ridden but lots of new area too.  When we got back there was a pork dinner waiting.

But it had become pretty clear that the “dude” part of the ranch isn’t going to happen and while I loved my riding with Champ, I don't want to stay out there alone.  

Hamilton and Betsy (by phone) suggested I come back to the hotel.

So, back at the hotel I re-grouped. Betsy finally admitted she thought all this would be resolved before I got there but it's not.  She finally owned up to the reality and expressed some remorse for how she left me in the lurch.

So, I booked a earlier return flight home and two nights in a 5 star hotel in Guatemala City.  Julio, the hotel driver at the Costa Real in Retalhuleu (and does everything else too) and I became friends and he helped me a lot.  Getting cash (my ATM cards didn't work because I kept mis-reading the screen) and arranging for my bus trip to Guatemala City which included finding a taxi in the middle of the city which is challenging and potentially problematic. 

My good friend Julio and me by his bus.
I got to the hotel in Guatemala City - the Vista Real without problems.  It's an amazingly overstated five star hotel which isn't all that expensive.  And I decided I wanted some overstated luxury before heading back to the US.
Like I say - overstated.
Nice food (particularly considering the last few weeks)
 and not too expensive either!
I think this is one of the nicest hotel rooms I've ever had!
Hej Ed, maybe we should do this.

And to all a good night.












Looking forward to the land of the pointy trees!


  1. Glad there were no serious problems and you had a nice horse to ride.

  2. Wow , what a story, well, at least you had a different adventure than usual. Snoopy is 14.2 hands, so you would remember her riding ...Hope you are safe and sound at home again.