Consider All the Odds
Following a three month cruise in Belize we headed for the Rio Dulce in April, 2000 to join the international community of cruisers who “hurricane” here. We have many conflicting feelings about our experience here in Guatemala. If any of you are considering the same venue for any of the years to come, please consider carefully what we have to report.
We have absolutely enjoyed our time in Guatemala. The people are uncompromisingly patient, helpful, friendly and cheerful. The cost of living is low. The possibilities for cultural travel throughout the country are plentiful enough to keep one busy for months. The rates at the marinas and haul-out facilities are far below those in the USA. Some examples will follow. You can just imagine a big “BUT” coming and you will not be disappointed; however, first the positive.
We have traveled quite extensively through Guatemala by “chicken bus” and have been fascinated by the colorful indigenous people. The country is primarily mountainous with small villages. These are the true descendants of the Maya, a very proud people with traditions that have survived many centuries and unbelievable oppression. One could spend three years here and not see all that there is to see in the mountains. Another advantage is the temperature in the highlands. The Rio is nearly always hot and humid; however, four hours away you will find temperatures of 70’s – 80’s year around.
There are services to recommend to the cruiser as well. We can personally recommend welding services of Carlos in the town of Fronteras, machining by Kaminal in the close-by town of Morales and the rail line haul-out facility of Senor Abel Ramirez.
Our 56’ boat was hauled and splashed with six days on the hard and 4.5 man-days of work by Abel’s workmen at a total price of $386. Abel is a legend on the Rio and a wonderful man to get to know. He speaks and understands English, but you will make a friend when you practice your Spanish with him.
The services of the many marinas here on the river are very reasonable compared to the States. With two exceptions the marinas use Med mooring to the docks. The prices for dock service run from $100-$225 a month including electricity. The marina personnel also offer services for the cruisers who want to leave a boat for months at a time to return home. They will air-out the boat on a regular basis, service your engine etc. The most important service offered by the marinas is the protection from violence and thievery.
This violence is the very dark cloud on the horizon in the Rio Dulce. If you are considering a visit to the Rio, we would encourage you to consider the problem of crime carefully. There has always been a history of break-ins and stealing on the Rio. This summer that threat has reached new highs as boats have been boarded when the owners are there at a risk to life. To this point in time, all of the boardings have happened with vessels at anchor. Steve Gartman, a cruiser from the USA, was found murdered on his boat, Sealion. Contrary to some previous reports, Sealion was at anchor near Mangoes Marina. It was not at a slip in the marina. Although there are many curious aspects to this murder and the non-existent follow up of the crime, one must take it seriously. An American boat, Andromache, was boarded by armed locals while at anchor. The 72 year-old skipper was bound; however, managed to escape with his life but not his valuables. A German boat anchored on Lago de Izabel, Hanta Yo, was boarded by locals carrying guns and machetes. Luckily this family had no injuries but did lose most of their valuables.
Although there has never been a crime aboard an occupied vessel in a marina, the marinas are not absolutely safe from the thieves. A large unoccupied motor yacht, Schepsl, was boarded and robbed at a local marina. Although a guard was placed on board after the first robbery, the thieves actually attempted to repeat the performance a second time. Restaurants at several marinas have been held up. It has been reported to us (second hand) that several of the marinas have made payments to cruisers whose unoccupied boats have been robbed while moored within their facilities. This news must come second hand because the reputation of the marina is at stake and it is not news that the marinas would freely give out.
Most of the robberies happen when cruisers at anchor leave their boats during the evening hours. The boat is cased out and the thieves are very fast and accurate with their visits. If you are planning to be on the river for any length of time, we highly recommend a stay at one of the marinas. Not only will you have the extra protection of the marina guardian, but you will have the freedom to travel the mountains and see this lovely country.
There are numerous cruisers who are able to report that they have come to the Rio Dulce for many hurricane seasons, have stayed at anchor and have never had any problems. We would be the last to doubt such reports. It can and has happened. It would also be appropriate to ask these same cruisers if they were truly able to enjoy their time in Guatemala while they were here.
Would we spend another hurricane season in the Rio Dulce – absolutely! We hope that this letter has given you a little more information so that you can make an intelligent decision about your cruising schedule.
We are one of the lucky boats to have the services of those volunteer ham operators who run the airmail system. We never have enough chances to say THANK YOU to them. They are some of the greatest people in the world!
Jane Adams, AA1SA
Sander van Peski
Satori, 56’ aluminum custom schooner, 5’3” draft
November 1, 2000
At the end of November, a cruising boat was boarded by locals with arms on the Golfete. The boat was underway and it was daytime. This was the first of this type of boarding but not to be the last. On Sunday, December 10th, there were two boardings on the Golfete of boats on their way from the Rio Dulce to Livingston. Boaters now are asking for an armed guard to accompany them from the river to Livingston for check-out.
The second alarming development is the increased robberies on tourist busses and shuttles going to locations such as Tikal and Chichicastenango. The robberies are concentrated on busses and shuttles carrying tourists.
My letter stressed the positive aspects of Guatemala...the beauty of the country itself and the possibilities of travel within the country. We plan to check out of Guatemala just as soon as possible now rather than spending the Christmas holidays in the highlands.
We urge cruisers to check the internet and other sources to ascertain the current situation within the country before deciding to spend the season here.