Rio Dulce-Part 1

Monday, April 17, 2000

Subject: Back in Sweet Water

We arrived in Guatemala one week ago. Livingston is the port of check-in at the mouth of the Rio Dulce. If you can find it on your maps at the very southern end of Belize, you will be able to trace the river in a ways until it dumps into a large lake named El Golfete. At the western end of El Golfete - where it becomes Lago de Izabel - is a town called Frontera. That is where we are located now. Let me back up a little to the day of our arrival - last Monday.

As you can imagine Livingston is a very busy port. There is a large bar across the river at the entrance - many years of soil erosion and deposit. Boaters must time their entrance and departures from the Rio for high tide due to the bar. We did fine there - our mishaps were yet to come.

Due to the heavy wind and the shallow bar, the waters in the harbor were very turbulent. We anchored and were ready for the officials to board at about 11:45. The paper pushing went smoothly and then we were looking at another two hours before we could finish the check-in procedure ashore. Everything in Guatemala shuts down from noon to 2 PM! In Belize it was noon to 1 PM. It seems that the farther south we go, the longer the siesta time is. We decided to go ashore and find some lunch. At the dock we met Phillip who speaks lovely English - transplanted from Belize. Phillip makes courtesy flags which he sells to cruisers and he fancies himself an official greeter. Phillip's name appeared in the cruising book from 1990 and he is still there. Phillip said that he would watch our dinghy for us and we were off to climb the hill in Livingston to find lunch.

Our first challenge in Guatemala was to decide what to have for lunch from the Spanish menu. While waiting for lunch to arrive, we talked with two nice girls (about 20 years old) from Norway and from Germany. They have been traveling by themselves around Guatemala for the summer and had met each other just the day before. They both gave us some good tips about traveling and about the language schools that they had attended.

When lunch had just arrived, so did Phillip! He had run up the hill looking for us in every restaurante to tell us that our boat was dragging. Sander ran down the hill to set a second anchor and the boat was saved. You can bet that Phillip got a nice tip for his efforts.

We must be destined to be "saved" as we enter each new country. Do you remember the story about "St. Frances"?

We left Livingston about 3:30 and decided to proceed on into El Golfete right away. In retrospect that was not such a good idea as we were already quite tired. That's when problems happen...

The beginning of the Rio Dulce is a ride through a canyon with lush jungle vegetation up the sides of the walls. Here and there you will see huge slabs of gray and white limestone with graffiti all over them. It would be totally awful if it were not for the fact that the writing has happened for hundreds of years back to the Spanish and English pirates. Those of you who have gone in a boat down the river in Wisconsin Dells have a bit of an idea what it is like.

There are two hair pin turns in the river. The first one has shoaling to the inside so you must take the outside turn. We breathed a little easier after that one but should not have lowered our guard. At the second turn there were fishermen on the inside of the turn and we were sure that they had nets out. To the outside of the turn were two stakes. We decided that we should motor between the two stakes - big mistake! We went hard aground as the local children went into fits of laughter. There is a procedure that we use to get ourselves out of such a predicament and we set to work as the fishermen watched. One of the boats came to the side and the fishermen started talking in Spanish to me. They were telling me that it was very shallow where our boat was - DAAAAAAA! I replied "Yo se!" which is one of the few Spanish expressions that I remembered at the time...""I know!"

I guess that they did not really believe that I understood the gravity of our situation, as one of them jumped right into the water to show me that the water only came to his waist. That made me feel real confident in my command of Spanish!

It was an hour of hard work kedging off with our spare anchor. The real help came from the fishermen who took one of our lines that runs to the top of our mast. They pulled on that line - they had a 60 hp outboard - and effictively pulled Satori over on her side to release the weight of the hull so that we could back off the bar. You can bet that they got a good tip also. Life on the Rio Dulce was not going to be cheap if we continued to need to be rescued.

We anchored just on the inside of El Golfete and proceeded on to the western end on Tuesday.

We are now on a narrow river-like area between the two large lakes. Around us are the hills and the homes of the rich and powerful folks of Guatemala. The homes are mostly built with palapa roofs - the leaves of the Cohune Palm, but these homes are really huge. They have windows with dormers and large verandas all around. Most of them have large motor boats that are kept in their own palapa huts. It is quite beatiful until you go into town which is where the rest of Guatemala lives. As is common in most third world countries, The "Haves" live very close to The "Have-Nots". The whole country consists of one or the other.

There are no large grocery stores here as we found in Belize City, but there are fresh produce stalls and the vegetables are lovely and inexpensive. A pineapple costs a little less than a dollar. Avocados are about 30 cents each and are great. No oranges as we found in Belize though and that's disappointing. We have found that very few people speak English so it is imperative that we brush up on our Spanish. With the incentive I have dragged out the books and spent 5-6 hours a day studying.

There is a 90' bridge over the river here and it must be quite a landmark for Guatemala. We watch from the deck of Satori as cars and busses stop at the top of the bridge so that the people inside can stand and view the scene. We have decided that it must be rather like taking a trip to the Grand Canyon in the States...the experience of a lifetime for some of the people here. Actually, it is quite a sight and may be the source of Christmas card for this year.

The days here are much hotter than in Belize as the mornings are rather still. By noon the wind pipes up from the east and conditions are a little more bearable. There is sweet water to swim in and there are the fans for sleeping at night when we need them. There are new sights and new sounds.

We are still hoping to go back out to Belize at the end of the month. That trip is dependent on our getting some pressing electrical problems solved. Until then we are rather "stuck" here, but no complaints from Satori.

Til later...

Jane & Sander