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.

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