by Chrissana Wilmot - Follow her adventures here
Travelling always gives me butterflies. The anticipation of new scenery, people, culture, food and not to mention, surfing a new wave. But this trip was to be different from the rest. This one had intent and genuine purpose. When my friend Mün mentioned that she was starting a humane project in an up and coming surfing town in Guatemala and invited me to be a part of it, instinctively I said yes. The short term mission was simple: make jewellery to raise funds to facilitate proper vet care for the four-legged residents and save the eggs of nesting turtles from natural predators.
El Parédon was to be home for the next two weeks. I half expected a sleepy coastal town with dirt roads, 365 greenery and a “middle of nowhere” kind of vibe. After all, when translated to English, El Parédon means “thick walls”. I was right. Once I’d arrived, I had initially thought the name was chosen to signify the level of seclusion of this dot in Guatemala, but as it turned out, it was really named after the waves: chunky lips with huge walls of water, which, on any given day during the summer months, would typically be at least a foot overhead at its smallest. Without a doubt, this would go down in my short surfing history as the most challenging break I’ve ever tackled. The coastline seemed like an expansive, never-ending stretch of black, volcanic sand. In true beach break fashion, the peaks were numerous, so many you could choose your own spot and surf alone if you wanted (which is an absolute luxury in the surfing world). The best part about this location though, was the option to surf the knee to waist high reformers on the inside if you were not up to racing across overhead faces. Either way, it’s guaranteed fun for surfers of all levels.
The architecture of the homes, I was made to understand, was very unique to El Parédon. The traditional design was two storied structures with high roofs made of palm leaves and wood, intricately woven together to create a wind and rainproof cover, giving the lucky occupant of the loft the impression that that they were in a treehouse. Lucky I was indeed as my spot was no different but made better with my new housemates, my surf misfits, Mün the smiling artisan, Josh the culinary wizard, Leah photo extraordinaire and our furry friends, Manchas and Ghandi.
The locals were quick to adopt me as one of their own despite the language barrier. They were very forgiving, understanding and patient if you didn’t speak Spanish very well. It’s amazing how a common love for something, like surfing, can transcend the confines of language. But I have to admit, participating in a language exchange on the first night I arrived at the local bar, Caguama, really took some of the rust off and got my conversational Spanish skills flowing again!
Exploring this place was as easy as one could imagine. The population was less than 2,000, where everyone knew each other’s names and even the names of their pets. “Tiendas” were scattered across the town, each within a few feet from each other selling basic commodities and then some. However, an effortless stroll revealed that there was so much more to see and do than what was on the surface. Striking works of art adorned the walls of some of the buildings creating the perfect balance of urban beautification techniques within a rural setting. The local gift shop by La Choza Chula, a local non-profit that creates educational and economic opportunities for the residents, had a myriad of handmade items for sale, most being locally made by the children of their after school program.
We spent our days growing closer as a unit, indulging each other’s silly antics over Josh’s culinary masterpieces, ping pong matches and tying knots of love into one-of-a-kind wearable pieces. Our days usually began and ended at the massive, uncaged windows either gazing at the twin volcanoes, El Fuego and El Agua, while sipping on yummy Guatemalan coffee, or being completely enthralled by the fierce streaks of lightning that accompanied the nightly thunderstorms. On clearer, drier nights, we’d entertain ourselves on the beach either with a bonfire or by scanning the lengthy coastline for nesting turtles. This was a nightly activity for the residents as eggs found would be given to El Tortugario, the local Turtle Sanctuary that incubates the eggs and successfully releases thousands of hatchlings in the final months of the year.
Morning surfs gave way to midday paddle board adventures with Jorge from Viking Tours in the Canal de Chiquimulilla whose impressive mangrove forest made the perfect playground. Lunch times found us between the two main local eateries, Sandra’s and Joli’s, where each meal was guaranteed to be fresh, home cooked and more than satisfying in both taste and quantity. Needless to say, we certainly earned our siestas!
However, for more reasons than one, we looked forward to the sunset surf sessions the most. It could have been because it was much cooler at this time when the air wasn’t as steamy and the black sand didn't burn your feet. Or maybe it was simply because it was the time of day where we’d ambush the local ice cream shop, Pakalolo, for a last minute sugar rush from their assorted ice creams and vegan gelatos before paddling out. The reality was that the beauty of the sunset, especially from the embrace of the warm Pacific Ocean, was absolutely indescribable, with no two days ever being the same! “Breath-taking” is a phrase that would never do this vision justice.
But as the sun set on my time in El Parédon, I couldn’t help but feel melancholy, especially to be separating from my band of surf misfits I’d grown to love as my tribe. This place, the community, so charming in its simplicity, enraptured me in a way I never expected and would never forget. As for the mission, I can happily report that thanks to Mün, a regular roster for veterinary clinics has been established in El Parédon. And with respect to the turtles, let’s just say that the recent exodus of hatchlings speaks for itself.
El Parédon, you had me at “Hola!”
Images by Leah Matthews @wavelengthsphotography | https://wavelengthsphotography.com
Mun’s website: https://mundelmar.com