01 May, 2010

Blame It On “The Rio”

Location: Hotel Catamaran Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Position: N 15 40.366 W 088 59.538

We last left you at Bahia de Graciosa as we were waiting to cross the shallow bar into Livingston, Guatemala to check in to the country on the morning of Thursday, April 27th.

We got an early start, raising anchor at 5 am to travel the 11 miles to the sea buoy off Livingston. We needed to be there no later than 7 am to catch the highest part of the tide before it started to fall. We made it in time and had no problems going in - we saw nothing less than 6.8 feet, exactly as planned.

After we had crossed the bar we saw a boat with a 7.3ft draft being prepared to leave Livingston. They obviously could not cross the bar as we had done so a smaller vessel had their main halyard and was pulling them over sideways, so their keel would kick over making their draft less. The sailboat was motoring at about a 15 degree heel. Wow, what a sight! They managed to navigate over the bar with no problem.

On the advice of friends, we decided to use an agent named Raul to facilitate clearing in. We anchored off the town of Livingston and waited for 8:00 when Raul's office opened. He arrived at our boat at about 8:30 with 6 officials: customs, immigration, sanitation (a doctor – in scrubs!), a military official, and the port captain all in their appropriate uniforms. That's a lot of people in Rachel's cockpit! If we had not used Raul we would have had to go to each of these people's offices and wait to see each of them, the whole process taking much longer.


We're not really sure why they all needed to come because only the Customs and Immigration people filled out any paperwork and spoke to us. But when in Rome.... So they all sat there for a while and chatted, then they all went back ashore. We were instructed to wait an hour, then go in to the bank to exchange dollars for Quetzals (a US dollar is currently worth about 8 Quetzals) and to go to Raul's office to pay and pick up our visas and boat papers. Wow! That was easy!!

We had heard that Livingston is not a very safe place to anchor out for the night, so we were looking forward to leaving as soon as possible and begin making our way up the river. By 11am we were back on Rachel with our paperwork, after a lovely wander around the town. Soon we were headed up 'the Gorge'. During it's last 7 miles before exiting the coast, the Rio Dulce flows through an absolutely stunning gorge. Some early Johnny Weismueller Tarzan movies were filmed here - you know – the ones where he flings himself off a cliff hanging onto a vine or into the water – we saw his cliff!

Travelling up the gorge

The scenery was spectacular and to make the trip even better there were lots of local Guatemalans fishing from wooden dugout canoes, locally called “cayucos”. Some were casting nets, some setting traps with floats . This is obviously a major source of income and / or food in this area. It was like stepping back in time. We slowly meandered up the winding river wanting to make sure we took in all the sights. After a while we started seeing Mayan style “palapa” houses with a 'garage' of dugout canoes at the waters edge.

What a great trip. Kids, maybe 8 years old, wearing their school uniforms, paddling themselves to school in little dugout canoes. The paddles are cut from boards with a long hourglass shape to form the handle and the blade.

We could have spent all day traveling back and forth up and down this stretch of the river but we needed to get safely anchored before dark. At the top of the gorge the river opened out into La Golfete, a beautiful lake about 10 miles long and 4 miles wide. We were almost at our destination of Texan Bay just inside the lake. A small marina has been built here, by Texans no less. It is only accessible by water and is up a picturesque meandering creek. We anchored for the night off the marina and dinghied in to eat and check out the cold Guatemalan beer. We have not been in a freshwater anchorage with rushes and forest for such a long time we really enjoyed the evening and early morning – especially the sounds of birds, frogs and other wildlife not yet identified.

Rachel at anchor in Texan Bay, we really need those shade awnings down here.

Next morning we made the 15 mile trip through the lake and further up the river to Fronteras, the center of “The Rio” where all the cruisers come to escape hurricane season. We have promised ourselves that we will make a trip back to La Golfete and Texan Bay after we get our boat jobs done. We want to row our wee “Belle” up the little tributaries and see what we find.

At any rate, we are now tied to a dock. We were actually a bit surprised that we remembered how to dock Rachel. We moved into our slip yesterday after being anchored off the marina for three days waiting for other boats to leave, move, and otherwise make room for us. Rachel will be here for the next seven months while we knock several jobs off our “todo” list, do some inland travel, and make a visit back to the US.

Getting our boat jobs done might be a tough row to hoe, however. The resort has a pool, restaurant, bar and lounge with the biggest TVs in the area (not THAT big), lots of little cabins, tennis court, unlimited water and hot showers (aaahhhh!!), and free scheduled launch service into town. Marina guests also get happy hour prices at both bars all day long (cheap and very dangerous!), a 10% discount on meals, and a 20% discount on cabins for guests. All this for $168 / mo. Oh, there's also a book exchange in the main lounge, so it doesn't look like we'll run out of reading material any time soon. It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it!

Obviously, it's taken us a good bit of time just to catch you all up with our current position. Now all we have to do is is catch you up on what we've been doing since we got here. Time moves slowly here. All we can say is ...

Blame it on the Rio ...