Monday, July 27, 2015

Palenque, ruins from the classic period Mayans

Palenque, ruins from the classic period Mayans

20 Julio 2015

San Cristobal to Palenque - green line
Palenque to Yaxchilan/Bonampak and back - yellow lines
Of the many penances Mags has had to bear in our years together, one has been listening to me recount my earlier travels. Palenque has figured huge in those stories. To realize that it had been 45 years since I rode my Lorne Atkinson/Pugeuot bicycle up the hill and into Palenque parking lot, felt at once, very recent and a long time ago. I spent a week, living in a hammock, with a group of about six other travellers in the generally empty parking lot. We clambered through the jungle, finding tunnels into the foyers of Mayan ruins and swam in the calcareous rimmed pools on the opposite side of the parking lot. Only the front half of the large pyramid, Templo de la Cruz, was exposed, everything else was shrouded in jungle and mystery. In the week that I lived there, I doubt fifty visitors came to the site. At night, with howler monkeys creating a cacophony of noise in the trees above me, challenging me, berating me, I was terrified. The memories are indelible.

Mags in front of the first pyramid
Surrounded by jungle
Fortunately I had seen the recent google earth shots and was prepared for how much was uncovered. Also, The Lonely Planet Central America book had also prepared me for the changes in the small village that had grown into a prosperous town several kilometers from the parking lot. Now, about midway between town and ruins, a group of hostels and restaurants have sprung up in the jungle. Fortunately they have done little to no clearing, building where the streams and trees let them.
Our breakfast visitor
The first of these constructed, Margarita and Ed’s Cabanas, started about twenty years ago, is still in operation and has added more rooms in new buildings reached by following winding trails. The extent of vision through the jungle is about twenty to thirty feet so you are not aware of the construction until you are in front of it. Our immaculately clean tiled room, complete with a ceiling fan and private bathroom with hot water, was a far leap from the nights in the hammock. We were visited by a young howler monkey while we ate breakfast at the restaurant reached by a pathway from our room. He was timid but took a banana from a traveller at table close by. As he scampered away into the trees, little did he know his great uncles had done such a ferocious job of terrifying me in past nights.

Architecturally amazing
The Palenque ruins are some of the most extensive and architecturally significant of the Mayan sites as it was the seat of power for an extensive region. The development came under the dynasty that began with the reign of Pakal in about 630 AD and continued to about 740. Some of the mosaics are still visible and the museum that has been constructed about a kilometer before the entrance provides a wealth of information. As I said about the Copan ruins in Honduras and the Tikal ruins in Guatemala, I will let the ruins speak for themselves. The rumbling howls of the Howler monkeys in the surrounding jungle is still an evocative sound that endures with the pyramids.

A 45 min river trip to Yaxchilan
From Palenque you are able to do a side trip about 150 km south east over to the Rio Usumacinta, the river that forms the boundary between Mexico and Guatemala. Once at the river, you board long narrow launchas that do the forty five minute trip down the river to the Mayan ruins of Yaxchilan. Due to the strategic location on the river for both trade and conquest, Yaxchilan developed an impressive site with temples, religious and commercial sites  as yet only partially uncovered from the jungle overgrowth. Again, howler monkeys are ever present and survey their domain.

Only the combs are visible on the 4 story temple at the top
Interior frescos retain much of
the original colour
Back up the river to the van and another 20 kilometers take you to the ruins of Bonampak. Although not as large as either Yaxchilan or Palenque, Bomapak retains some painted frescos that are quite detailed. The hot, humid jungle settings, alive with the noise of insects and birds and the ever present howler monkeys complete the sense of an exotic past.
After spending two full days of climbing pyramids at Palenque (4), Yaxchilan (1 very tall one and a labyrinth) and Bonampak (another tall one and numerous steps up to the Acropolis) we were ready for a day off. We decided to stay an additional day in the jungle at Margarita and Ed’s. We cannot say enough good things about the location and ambiance.

San Cristobal de las Casas, an Early Colonial City

San Cristobal de las Casas, an Early Colonial City

17 Julio 2015

Tuxtla Gutierrez to San Cristobal de las Casas - red line
The trip from Tuxtla Guttierez to San Cristobal de las Casas was in the mountains, with winding roads that run through small towns and villages, but it is not a great distance so it took only a couple of hours. With a midday arrival, Mags and I were able to check in to our hotel, La Posada Media Luna, an excellent find, and get out to explore the town which is set in a cool highland valley at 1940 meters. The Cathedral, on the tree lined central plaza, was started in 1528 but took many years to complete due to earthquakes. San Cristobal is very clean and proud of its heritage and has been a tourist destination for decades. The architecture bore extensive resemblance to Antigua, Guatemala, both beautiful old colonial cities.

x-Convento Santo Domingo
Courtyard of Mayan Textile Museum San Cristobal
We met-up with the crews of s/v Grace and s/v Kosa which always leads to lots of eating and drinking while making plans for future travel. Jim and Carola from Kosa were heading back to Australia for visit home before they returned, so it was doubtful we would see them again before next October in Marina Chiapas. Paul and Judy, we would probably see at the next stop, Palenque.

We took a side trip to two small Mayan villages located in higher valleys near San Cristobal. Although they were both Tzotzil Mayan villages, the differences were startling. The traditional women’s dresses and embroidered blouses with short cape like jackets in San Lorenzo Zinacantin were based on a predominantly dark purple back ground. The services in the Catholic church, we are told, are quite conventional. The hand weaving is still practiced and we managed to visit a cooperative that demonstrated the older ways. It was interesting and, generally when asked, the people were willing to have their pictures taken.

Lots of brightly coloured embroidery and weaving
Church of San Juan in Chamula
The next valley, a little higher up, is home to San Juan Chamula. The women all wear black skirts, mostly woven from a black shag wool that has a pile about one inch long made from their local black sheep which are highly regarded. The embroidered blouses and cape like jackets are beautiful but darker than the Zinacantin’s. The greatest differences though exist in the religious services. We visited the local church of San Juan and inside, the floor was covered with pine needles and families were grouped on the floor. Lines of candles and bottles of coca cola, beer and home brewed rums, stood in front of them. While and elderly women of the family group chanted prayers to deities that are both pre-Columbian Mayan and Christian. The air was heavy with the smoke and incense as the family drank the coke, beer and alcohol. Photographs are forbidden in the church and even outside, the Chamulans do not want their picture taken as they believe it may capture their spirit. The village is rustic with lots of booths selling crafts to the tourists. While we were there, most of the tourists were from other areas of Mexico. The Mexicans have discovered Chiapas and are intrigued and proud of the diverse cultural backgrounds their country is contains.

Back in San Cristobal we walked miles visiting museums and old churches as we dodged the afternoon rains. After three days the tug of two granddaughters and a pending party in Oyama kept us moving on.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas

Tuxtla Gutierrez, the capital of Chiapas

15 Julio 2015

Marina Chiapas to Tuxtla Gutierrz - black line
With a BC Days long weekend party in the Okanagan coming quickly, we decided to treat ourselves to some long line bus travel as opposed to the short distance chicken buses. Our first leg from Tapachula to Tuxtla Gutierrez on the ADO Bus line, followed the Pacific coastal plain northwest for about 3 hours. The inactive volcanos in the mountain chain to the right made a stunning back drop to the lush farm country we travelled in.

Eventually we turned north into the mountains and back to the slow twisting mountain roads. Every village has a series of speed bumps that bring the traffic to a halt as they travel through them. There must have been absolute carnage on the roads for everyone to reach the conclusion that these speed bumps are a viable solution. They add hours to all journeys and the freight costs must reflect the added time. The big trucks crawl from speed bump to speed bump until they get free of the villages for ten to fifteen kilometer intervals, only to be reduced to a crawl again.

The canyon views are amazing. Small farms cling to the hillsides where clearing is possible. Where it is too steep, the verdant jungle greens of a thousand shades, close in, iridescent after a rain fall.

The cooler mountain air was appreciated, as we caught a cab from the bus station to our hotel, the Hostel Tres Central. It is a new clean hotel one block from the central plaza with a roof deck bar /restaurant which made a perfect place to start our days. Tuxtla is a clean, friendly, growing city with mostly newer construction. Transportation is easy with people sharing information for collectivo van routes.

The open plan Central Plaza surrounded by the Cathedral and State and Municipal Offices
The Marimba Plaza, about six blocks from the Central Plaza, has a central octagonal bandstand surrounded by shade trees and wrought iron seating where every night Marimba bands play and the locals come out to dance around the bandstand. Large families collect and visit and dance and visit and laugh. A fun place but we unfortunately did not get any photographs as it was an evening visit.
After two days it was time to head to San Christobal de las Casas to meet some other cruising people.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Marina Chiapas Haul Out

Marina Chiapas, Haul Out

13 Julio 2015

After returning from Guatemala and completing the engine repairs, we spent a couple of days getting ready to put the boat on the hard. Mags was especially busy placing any unopened food into sealed containers and giving all storage spaces a clean with bleach. I had already removed the head sails so I put messengers on the halyards and pulled them up to minimize the UV effects. I did not remove the mainsail because we have a mainsail cover the goes both up the mast to protect the head of the sail and also goes down the mast to protect the halyards coiled at the mast. Puerto Chiapas is not usually in the hurricane path so I hope my decision to protect against UV and not worry about potential hurricane effects was the right decision. I removed our 120V Air Con unit and strapped the partially deflated, covered dinghy on the fore deck. The preparation list seemed endless but finally our Monday haul out date had arrived.

Enrique has his guys dive on every lift to ensure straps are correct
and a safety retainer is tied between straps
We were a little concerned because Enrique wanted us stern to into the travel lift to get a better weight distribution. The engine started fine and Mags and I approached the travel lift with trepidation. Kanilela, like most full keel or modified full keel boats, does not respond well in reverse. Added to that our 1:00PM haul out had been shifted back as the new boat stands were late coming from the fabricator.

The pressure was on, the true experts were assembled
and luck was on our side
The afternoon winds had picked up and the tide was in the middle of its fall. But the real pressure came with the audience that had assembled, drinking beer in the shade of a canopy. We were performing for Paul and Judy from s/v Grace, veterans of 5 years out cruising and Jim and Carola from s/v Kosa, veterans of 6 years cruising, not to mention numerous other potentially critical observers. The pressure was on. We glided up smoothly, played the wind and tide well, made a sharp 180 with some forward and reverse changes that tested the new transmission installation, Mags threw the 2 stern lines perfectly and as we moved back she threw the two bow lines and all was good. Memo, Enrique, Ronnie and the rest of the line handlers did their parts professionally and Kanilela was soon on the blocks and stands in the yard. The beer tasted great.

Engine Repairs, Marina Chiapas

Marina Chiapas, Mechanical Repairs

13 Julio 2015

As previously stated, Enrique and Memo are working hard to develop the local talent to support yacht maintenance and repairs. Their pool of resources has grown to the point they are able to offer most services required from bottom cleaning and painting to mechanical repairs.

We arrived into Puerto Chiapas without a working motor. As with all things marine, it was not a single issue. The starting motor solenoid was gone and the teeth on the fly wheel’s ring gear were burred. Fortunately the Bosch starting motor used on my Volkswagen/Audi engine is also used on some models of Mercedes Benz. Although I always do my own repairs, Memo pointed out that there was a mechanic visiting the marina right then, who could quickly determine what was needed and source parts as required. Memo introduced me to Hulber (El Kiski), a very quiet, polite mechanic who removed the starting motor and solenoid. He pointed out that the teeth in the starting motor gear were worn and on further inspection, it was also obvious from the few teeth on the fly wheel that we could see, there was burring on the ring gear. I decided to just do the solenoid and starter gear to see if the ring gear was still operational as that was a much easier fix. He returned the next day and replaced the starting motor.

My newest best friend Hulber, El Kiski, if you need a mechanic in
Puerto Chiapas or Tapachula call - 962-132-7171 or check with Memo
The engine started like a charm but later when I went to restart it, the starting motor gear had not reengaged into the ring gear on the fly wheel. I phoned Hulber to let him know that I would need to replace the ring gear on the fly wheel and asked if it was something he could do because I had no source for oxy-acetylene to remove the gear. Clearly my Spanish was being tested by the time I completed that question. He said he could and that finding a replacement VW/Audi gear should be possible.

To remove the fly wheel you must first remove the air intake filter housing, the raw water pump, the transmission, the torsion damper plate and the bell housing. As the rear motor mounts are attached to the bell housing the engine had to be temporarily supported by a come-along before the bell housing could come off. By the time Hulber arrived, early the next morning, I had removed everything back to the bell housing including the transmission and had supported the engine with a come-along. He took over and removed the motor mounts, bell housing and finally the fly wheel. When he was down in the bilge, removing the fly wheel, I told him that he was the first mechanic ever on the boat, I had always done everything for myself. His smile showed a lot of pride.
By that time, our planned trip to Guatemala was due, so I left him to source a new ring gear, remove the burred one and replace it with the new gear. When I phoned him on the Monday three weeks later, he told me he had everything ready and would be at the boat the next day!

The next morning he arrived and replaced everything that he had previously removed and then I completed the reinstallation of everything I had removed and tried the engine. It started perfectly. To make sure that the starting motor was engaging correctly I stopped and started it a couple more times. It was working fine.

Puerto Chiapas Marina, a must stop for cruisers!

Back in Marina Chiapas, Mx

11 July 2015

Well, we are back to Mexico from our Guatemala trip and we cannot say enough good things about Marina Chiapas! It is exceptionally clean, the well-manicured landscaping is beautiful, the docks are concrete, wifi very dependable, the clean modern showers have hot water, there is no surge, it is on the southern edge of the hurricane zone, it is seemingly unaffected by the lightning in the seasonal electrical storms to the south of us…. The list of praises is long. And, Kanilela was just as we left her, it was a happy homecoming.
Enrique, in white shirt, ensures every haul out is safely managed,
Guillermo (Memo) on left, has the travel lift controls, two great guys!
Enrique, the charismatic former manager of the Fonatur Marina Chuhue at Huatulco, was offered a fabulous opportunity by some local Chiapas investors to create a world class marina, which would be accessible to the local residents, and that also could become a gateway point for cruisers headed both north and south. He has succeeded. The 70+ slip marina opened in 2012 and Enrique had soon added a 70T travel-lift. Boats are stored on a well compacted, asphalt yard, so it is a perfect place for long term dry storage while owners return to their northern homes for the summer months. For northbound boats, Marina Chiapas is  ideal to clear into Mexico and to wait for a weather window to cross the Tehuantepec. The Navy comes to the marina for their inspection and Enrique and his compadre Guillermo (Memo) will assist with visits to the Port Captain, Customs and Immigration. It is also a good stopping point for southbound cruisers to relax and regroup after their Tehuantepec adventure and to get their exit zarpe from Mexico. Again, Enrique and Memo assist with all of this.

Guatemala has not made much effort to support cruisers on the Pacific Coast. The relatively new Puerto Quetzal is a large commercial freighter port and although there is a small dredged marina in the port, that is reported to be very secure, we have been told by other cruisers that it is very expensive to clear into Guatemala by boat. For that reason, many cruisers are doing what we did, which was to leave the boat in Marina Chiapas and cross into Guatemala at an inexpensive land crossing. As our previous blogs state, Guatemala is one of Central America’s most interesting countries, definitely a must see destination.

Enrique and Memo are working hard to develop the local talent to support yacht maintenance and repairs. Their pool of resources has grown to the point they are able to offer most services required from bottom cleaning and painting to mechanical repairs.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Guatemala Road Trip Post 5 – Lanquin and Semuc Champey south to Guatemala City and back to Mexico

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Lanquin to Guatemala City and back to
Marina Chiapas, Mexico - purple line
A Zephyr Lodge tiger prowling
Zephyr Lodge in Lanquin was the perfect spot to use as a base for Semuc Champey and surrounding area. The food was great and the bar a friendly social location. Backpackers from around the world gathered every night. Although all the staff were great, absolute special kudos go out to Holly, the sweetest Welsh lady we have ever met. She was always a happy, smiling energy source.

Mural in our bungalow
The 3 guys who own it have done a lot of work in the last 6 years and their vision is definitely taking shape. The new kitchen equipment is on site, the pool bar is almost complete and new walkways on a steel framework are being finished. It was interesting to see how their construction methods and materials have evolved into a very robust long term approach that will withstand the rigors of a tropical environment and drunken partying Aussies – just joking, we all had a great time, but there is no denying they know how to party!

Holly arranged our van transport to Guatemala City after we had conversations with Sean, the bar manager, who is planning to open a business in Guat City. Travellers are often advised to avoid Guat City but Rob confirmed what I felt: If you pay attention to what is going on around you it is like many big cities with lots to see and do, you will be safe.

One final word on the fabulous Holly! When we got to Guat City, the van was continuing to Antigua with the rest of the passengers, only Mags, Judy, Paul and I were getting off. It was a street side disembarkation and in my haste to be outside to catch our luggage coming down from the roof rack, I left my camera behind. Eric, one of the other passengers, found it and emailed the Zephyr Lodge. Holly got the two of us in contact. Cool, only travellers can appreciate how important a camera can be. Fortunately, I had downloaded the SD card the day before so rather than try to get the camera from Guatemala to Mexico, Eric is going to find someone in Antigua to give it to. So now I get to shop for a Go-Pro!

Palacio Nacional, Parque Central, Guatemala City
Guat City is huge, set in a network of deep valleys radiating out into the surrounding volcanic mountains. Like Antigua, its history is defined by a series of devastating earthquakes. Its most recent severe earthquake in 1976 caused major devastation that is still visible in some of the old church facades. The large plaza, Parque Central is bounded by the Palacio Nacional on north side and La Catedral on the east. Both are beautiful structures. The perimeter columns of the Catedral are inscribed with the names of the tens of thousands of people who disappeared in the military’s purges of Mayan villages, mainly in the Verapaces, that just ended in the mid 1980’s. Sexta Avenida, Sixth Avenue, is a pedestrian street running south from the plaza and is alive with Guatemalan families, young and old, enjoying their vibrant city.

La Catedral
We stayed at the Hotel Spring, formerly called the Hotel Colonial, housed in an old two storey building with three courtyards and twelve foot high ceilings. She is a somewhat tired establishment and therefore fit our budget, but she is so ingrained with colonial character we loved it. It was just off Sexta Avenida and within walking distance of the sights of Zona 1, the central district.

Some very cool students
We also went down to see the Museo Nacional de Arquelogia y Etnologia in Zona 13. It contained an amazing collection of Mayan artifacts from various sites throughout the country. On the same grounds directly in front was the Museo Nacional de Arte Moderno with a vibrant collection art. The art reflects the Mayan heritage and is shadowed by the repressive civil war that engulfed the country from the early 1970’s to the mid 1980’s. As so often happens in Guatemala, a group of students wanted to talk to us at the Museos, asking where we were from and what we thought about Guatemala. They were a cheerful, intelligent group, Guatemala will be in good hands.

We could have spent several days in Guat City, but the boat was calling so we took a first class bus to Tapachula Mexico and returned to find everything fine on Kanilela. It was an intense but totally rewarding three weeks of travel.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Guatemala Road Trip log 4 – Flores and South to Lanquin and Semuc Chamey

Guatemala Road Trip log 4 – Flores and South to Lanquin and Semuc Chamey

Saturday, 30 June 2015

Tikal Ruin to Flores - red line, Flores to Lanquin -
Semuc Chamey - blue line

Motorcycles and foot traffic only
Flores is an old city covering an entire small island in Lake Peten Itza. It is connected by a causeway to the mainland and the newer towns of Santa Elena and San Benito that have everything a traveller could need but they do not have the charm of Flores.

Most Flores streets are single lane and many are merely walkways frequented by motorcycles.

This was the view from our balcony.
The old dock level can be seen underwater.

Until recently the Malecon, the waterfront street and walk, circled the island, but last year's rains raised the lake level and has left about one half submerged. There are a lot of inexpensive hotels and restaurants so for three days we never left the island.  Boats ply the bay offering sightseeing trips and transit to outlying villages. The locals are proud of their town and are quick to smile when complimented on its beauty.

Mags having breakfast on the Malecon beside our hotel
The road south to Coban again transits Peten’s cattle country west of our Rio Dulce road north. Long straight sections in a plateau country until we reached the mountains of the Alta Verapaz. Again the jungle encroached and farms became small family efforts on the steep mountain sides between Q’eqchi’ Mayan villages. The women’s traditional woven and embroidered clothing dominating the populace.
Lanquin village

From Coban it was another 58 km winding narrow road up and then down again to Lanquin a small hilltop village about 11 km from the stunningly beautiful river pools of Semuc Champey.

The view from our bungalow deck
We stayed in the beautifully set Zephyr Lodge and let them plan a full day of adventure and travel to 1. hike and swim the K’anba caves, 2. tubing on the river, 3. diving from a giant shore side swing to the pool below, 4. hiking down to the old cable suspension bridge to 5. dive into the river and finally 6. a steep hike up to a mirador, viewpoint to see the pools from their best vantage point, and down the other side to the pools, to 7. bask in their refreshing azul water.
The view from the lookout but I didn't have my camera....
This is a photo of a photo.... but I was on that deck!
An incredible view
One of the many pools

Sleep came easy after that day.
Still more pools

The setting at Zephyr is so tranquil that another day just chilling was in order.

And so the blog was writ…….

Guatemala Road Trip log 3 – Rio Dulce - North to Tikal

Guatemala Road Trip log 3 – Rio Dulce - North to Tikal

Friday, 29 June 2015
The green leg, Rio Dulce to Tikal
Otilio, a really good man
Otilio, our van driver from Honduras to Puerto Barrios, lives in Rio Dulce, so we were able to ride with him north to Tikal. As we slowly drove through the long main street, it was good seeing him waving and greeting his various neighbours and friends. It gave a sense of community that the long single commercial road belies.

Cattle country in the north
The road north was the straightest road we had yet seen in Guatemala that gave me a great 6 hours practising Spanish with Otilio without major concern for road distractions. We passed the southwest corner of Belize with flags on the hill denoting the boundary and soon got into the cattle country province of Petén.


Located in the ruins and definitely upscale for us
The final 40+ km from Flores to Tikal became progressively denser and signs warned of jungle wildlife, until we arrived at the Tikal Inn. We were early enough to join the evening sunset tour to the ruins, fortunately guided by an incredibly knowledgeable local girl, Fauvia. (I apologize for the miss-spelling). She was amazing. She knew the history in great detail, but shared it only to clarify the chronology, never as a self-aggrandizing exercise.

Barba Amarillo, or Fer de Lance, a deadly Pit Viper
I used the zoom and my outreached arms were not perfectly steady
but I was not getting any closer!
A Pizote
Her knowledge of the local fauna and flora was equally extensive which proved fortunate when Paul stepped within a meter of a Barba-amarilla, or more commonly known as the Fer-de-lance, a deadly poisonous pit viper snake. Even as Fauvia pointed at the snake, we still had problems seeing it because the camouflage worked so well.  Fauvia also spotted the small banded toucans, the large yellow (fruitloops) toucans.

A curious but shy Fox
The spider monkeys and howler monkeys were numerous enough to be readily seen. We encountered Pizotes, probably from the opossum family, and a small Guatemalan fox.
Temple 1

The architecture of Tikal is stunning with six tall pyramids, several can be climbed, giving impressive overviews of the acropolii, plazas and palace areas. The glyphs are carved in a much lower relief than those of Copan in Honduras but the history is being unravelled and the city-state allegiances over the millennia are being better understood.

Temple 5
Looking down on the Acropoli
Temples seen thru the canopy from Temple 38
a huge Ceiba tree in fore ground, the Mayan connection
from heaven to the underworld 
After a morning visit back to the ruins to climb more pyramids we took a short afternoon van ride down to Flores.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Guatemala Road Trip Post 2 - Livingston to Rio Dulce

Guatemala Road Trip Log /2, Livingston – Rio Dulce

Wednesday, 27 June 2015

Livingston was wet but fun. If you choose to travel in the rainy season then rain should be no surprise, actually it is pretty neat. The Caribe Garfiuna people give Livingston a distinctive Caribbean feel and the streets are alive with Spanish and a local creole language. People are friendly.

Red Route - Up the river from Livingston to Rio Dulce 
There are no roads into this area of Guatemala but there are some narrow local streets with old taxis, a few trucks and lots of small motor cycles all brought in by boat. We stayed in the Rio Tropicales Hotel which is a family run establishment that dates back to the Owner’s mother. Her daughters, who both have degrees from university in Guatemala City, were there helping out, although the younger usually lives in Belize. They are a really nice Asian family who also own a Chinese Restaurant across the street so I was able to get my fix for Asian food while there. It was excellent. The hotel is an amalgam of construction over the years, and as materials were available, so it is an eclectic structure but dry in the torrential downpours.

Launcha seating
The jungle in the canyon
Livingston is at the mouth of the Rio Dulce which has a large lagoon about 30 km up river with a town of the same name. The river has a shallow bar that sailboats must negotiate but the river winds through a canyon that makes it one of the few hurricane holes in the western Caribbean. With ominous clouds overhead we crammed into a 24 seat launcha with our luggage under a tarp in the bow and lots of new close friends.

You immediately enter a tight jungle shrouded canyon that winds inland providing a hurricane hole for sailboats on the Caribbean coast of Central America. After the canyon the land flattens out with small settlements interspersed with estuaries and mangrove vegetation.

When the launcha slowed to make a turn into an estuary we were besieged by a group of dugouts paddled by indigenous Q’eqchi Mayans who would have been intimidating but for their oldest member being about ten years old. Little Maria, who clutched the launchas’s gunnel beside me, was a shy eight year old with the cutest smile. They had some Guatemalan handicrafts in their dugouts hoping to sell to the launcha passengers, but as we were filled with locals, trade was minimal.

Home on the river
A dream abandoned
After passing through Lake El Golfito, that had numerous clusters of moored yachts and sailboats, we arrived in the frontier-like town of Rio Dulce. The main north highway passes over a surprisingly high concrete arched span that permits sailboat access to the larger lake further upstream. The two lane bridge is lined with vehicles stopped to permit the occupants to get out and take selfies with the town and verdant terrain as a backdrop, while semitrailer trucks wound their way through the parked cars, and semis in the opposite direction waited their opportunity to continue.

Mags on the Rio Dulce Bridge
Once on shore we understood why the truck drivers were so patient with the cars on the bridge. The town is a narrow main street with no parking lanes and rarely any sidewalks. There are almost no cross streets and those few extend one half block at most. The vendor’s vibrant wares extend onto the street, shoppers walk in the traffic lanes and parked cars reduce the width even more. The trucks crawl through, intermittently yielding to the opposite direction. The roads are muddy in the rainy season and probably dusty in the dry season but the town has an amazing assortment of boat wares. It would just take a lot of searching to find what you need. One tienda selling pumps and generators had the Honda 2000EU for 7,500 Quetsales, $1,000 US, the best price we’ve seen since Oxnard, California and this would not have had the California sales tax.

Launcha dock Rio Dulce
Mags and I dropped into Bruno’s down below the bridge. It is a riverside bar/restaurant with some small docks with about 20 sailboats and a block of backpacker’s/yachtie’s rooms. At the bar I joined a conversation with some liveaboards. Willy, an American had been there 10 years, Kieth, an Aussie had only been there about a year but had previously bought three boats in Rio Dulce and had completed a couple of circumnavigations. We were soon joined by Peter, a Nova Scotian, Canadian who had been there a couple of years. They were great sources of info, particularly Keith as he had spent time in Ecuador on previous trips.

Backpackers Hotel - marinas in background
When we told them we had to leave to have dinner on the other side of the river with a Canadian girl who had crewed with us on the Mexican Pacific coast, they almost in unison said, “Oh you know Lexi!” All were hoping she would be able to find another south bound boat, although the season was not ideal.

That night we did have dinner with Lexi and a friend, joined by Paul and Judy, at the Hotel Backpackers where we were staying. It was great catching up with her, hearing of her travels and sharing ours.