February 1996 - Rio Dulce

1 February 1996   Antigua, Guatemala
We went for a pleasant breakfast and then walked down to the local market.  It’s a huge area of covered stalls about ¼ mile square.  We wandered around the edge and came across a big open air vegetable market.  What a fantastic sight – vegetables laid out on mats on the ground, being sold by Indian women dressed in beautiful woven skirts and embroidered blouses in a riot of colours.  We walked among the vendors and marvelled at the sight.  I tried to take photos with my automatic camera without looking through the view finder, all devious-like! - I hope that they come out.  

We tore ourselves away from the vegetable market and went inside where Glenys indulged herself and bought lots of traditional fabric and textile goods to give to family when we get back to the UK.  We bought a belt for Craig and other souvenirs and then went back to the central square where we had another picnic lunch.  After lunch, we bartered with the girls and bought a rug, some shirts, a table cloth, etc. 

The next stop was the jade factory.  About 20 years ago, an American archaeologist discovered a source of natural jade “rocks” – presumably while trying to find the source of the Mayan jade mines.  She proceeded to mine and process this jade and now has a factory employing 50+ people making very expensive jewellery and copies of Mayan jade artefacts and masks.  It’s the kind of success I’d like to have!  There was a big feature about the Mayans and their jade in the National Geographic Vol. 172 No.3 Sept 1987.  When we walked into the shop, a man came over and gave us a small bag each, containing a few small pieces of jade.  We then had a short guided tour, during which we were shown various exhibits of Mayan masks and artefacts, before looking at the raw material and the grinding shop.  Very interesting, but the jewellery is so expensive considering that jade is just like an opaque stone - looks like malachite to me.  

We walked up to a monastery called Santo Domingo which is owned by a hotel.  They have built a very tasteful hotel within the Monastery grounds and are in the process of restoring the rest of the ruins – a very pretty place.  We went back to the hotel, packed our rucksacks ready to leave tomorrow and went out for dinner.

2 February 1996   Mario’s Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
We got up early and went down to the bus station to catch a bus to Guate.  We didn’t have time for breakfast.  We got on a bus at twenty past seven and wanted to catch our bus to the Rio Dulce at nine o’clock.  The bus didn’t leave for 15 minutes because the driver wouldn’t leave until the bus had at least 3 people per seat and 20 standing!  We then hit the Guate rush hour traffic.  It was interesting to see yellow school buses for sale along the way – they must buy old school buses from the States and drive them down here to sell. 

We arrived in Zone 1 of the city at twenty to nine and got off at 13th Calle, 6th Avenida.  (The roads are organised in “Calles” running east-west and “Avenidas” running north-south).  We needed to get to 15th Calle, 10th Avenida and we only had 20 minutes.  I guessed on the direction and two blocks later we were at 13th Calle, 4th Avenida.  Damn! – wrong way.  We ran through the streets dragging the boys (Craig said he was going to die), and arrived at the bus station at eight minutes to nine.  Just enough time to buy tickets, buy some drinks and crisps, go to the toilet and get on the bus before it left -phew!  We just made it, but still hadn’t got any breakfast.  

We expected the driver to stop for short breaks every hour, as we had done on the trip to Guate, but no such luck.  The driver only stopped long enough to unload and load passengers and then roared off before we could buy any snacks.  He eventually stopped at a café for 15 mins at noon by which time we were starving!  We had barely enough time to wolf down a plate of beef, rice and tortillas and buy some sandwiches before we were roaring off again.  We arrived at Fronteras at twenty past two and then had a two hour wait in a bar for the marina pirogue.  We got back to Glencora at half past four and went to the bar for dinner.

3 February 1996   Mario’s Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
We got up late and did a bit of tidying up.  It was a “swop meet” in the bar, so I tried to sell a set of diving gear and the windsurfer.  One guy may be interested in the dive gear.  We picked up two of our gas bottles which have fortunately been filled.  I ran the engine for an hour with no problems.  I started to play the clarinet after lunch, but was interrupted by an excited Brett telling me that “Star Trek 2” was on TV.  We sat down at three o’clock and didn’t get up for six hours – there were three Star Trek movies back to back - great.  Glenys was suitably disgusted by my laziness and cleaned down the decks!

4 February 1996   Mario’s Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
School work in the morning.  I then spent a couple of hours with Randy and Dawn on “Rights of Man” going through charts of Florida and places to visit.  We’ve decided to miss out Cuba, visit Key West and then miss out the Florida Keys, doing one long trip up to the Fort Pierce inlet.  I put the domestic batteries back in place and ran the engine with no problems, played the clarinet and went to a pot luck dinner in the bar.  Back to a routine!  Filled up with water.  

5 February 1996   Mario’s Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala 
We got the boat ready to leave the marina, paid the bill (groan!) and escaped at quarter past ten.  We motored down to the fuel dock and filled up with diesel.  We then went and anchored off Fronteras while Glenys went to buy a bit of food.  

After lunch, we motored up river to the Castillo De San Felipe.  This fort was built in the 1600’s to protect Spanish warehouses in Lake Izabel from blood-thirsty pirates.  The Castillo was destroyed, captured and rebuilt several times until 1688 when relative peace returned to the Rio Dulce.  The fort was reconstructed in 1956 and is very pretty.  There are lots of small rooms and ramparts and a couple of unlit “secret passages” underground.  The boys and I had a wonderful time playing hide and seek.  

As usual in Guatemala, tourists pay five times the admission fee of locals.  To add insult to injury, the ticket collector only gave us one ticket – I assume he pocketed the other Q5.  We then motored back down the Rio Dulce to anchor for the night, just outside Mario’s Marina.  It was a very cold night with temperatures down to 65°F – we got the duvet out again! 

6 February 1996   Mario’s Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
We did school work in the morning.  Glenys was feeling a bit ill, so she relaxed in the cockpit while I played with Band-in-the-Box and Powertraks to make some songs to play along to – 15 of my favourites.  A very quiet day.

7 February 1996   Mario’s Marina, Rio Dulce, Guatemala 
Glenys went into Morales on the van from Mario’s Marina.  She managed to send a fax to Ceris and bought some food.  She also bought a couple of courses of worm tablets for us to take.  Intestinal worms are very prevalent in Central America and we have been advised to de-worm ourselves every 3 months.  Round worm are the worst because they are 30cm long!  Hook worms are about 10 mm long and the tiny larvae infect people by penetrating the skin of bare feet or legs.  They then travel through the blood stream to the lungs and thence travel via the windpipe, the gullet and the stomach to their habitat, the bowel, where they produce eggs which are passed out in the stools of the carrier.  Yuk!  

I spent the morning working out, or trying to work out, what we are going to do when we get back to the UK.  I just keep going around in circles – should I set up a company?  Who am I going to work for? Etc, etc.  Glenys is still suffering from some viral infection and had an afternoon nap.  We went out to the bar for Taco night and had a good time with Jack and Lynn from “Southern Cross” (US).

8 February 1996   Marios Marina to Finca Paraiso, Lake Izabal 
We did a few errands in the morning and then went up the river to Lake Izabal.  We went in company with Graham and Suzanna on “Boston Scrod” and Paul and Melinda on “Sand Dollar” because there have been quite a few thefts recently from yachts that have been left unattended – outboards and a couple of break-ins.  

We first went to Denny’s Beach Bar so that “Boston Scrod” could get some water and had lunch there – quiet little place.  We then motored across to the western side of the lake and anchored just off the Fincha Paraiso, so that we can visit some hot waterfalls tomorrow.  The holding is crap with very soft mud, so I hope that there is no wind tonight!

9 February 1996   Finca Paraiso to Rio Sauce, Lake Izabal
We went ashore after breakfast and walked along a path for about 30 minutes to the Agua Calience.  This is a beautiful place.  A river flows down into a big pool at the same place as a hot waterfall.  It’s amazing – we’ve seen quite a few hot springs that have a dribble of hot water, but this is a real waterfall with hundreds of gallons per minute!  The waterfall is so hot that one can barely stay underneath it.  The pool is deep enough to swim in and is kept very clean – they have a guy who looks after the place – all for Q5/person.  

While the others played in the pool, I walked up the river to find the source of the cold river.  It took me 15 minutes of wading through pools and clambering over rocks to find the cave that is the source of the river.  I went back to the others and reported in.  While we had lunch, I tried to talk to the “caretaker” about the Cuevas, but couldn’t understand what he replied!  

After lunch, Paul, Melinda, Graham, Brett and I decided to go up to the cave and the “caretaker” started to guide us – obviously, I had asked him to guide us!  He took us along a path and then along the river.  Brett, Graham and I swam into the cave for about 200 metres until we came to the end where there was a mini, 3ft waterfall (fortunately, I had brought 2 small dive torches.) It was quite exciting to hear the roar in the pitch black.  

When we got back to Glencora, we motored to another anchorage, explored a small river and went to “Sand Dollar” for a sunset beer.  We had left our cockpit light on, and when we got back we had hundreds of flies (including fireflies) zooming about the light.  We had to have dinner below – it was hot! 

10 February 1996   Rio Sauce to No Name Bay, Lake Izabal
We motored over to the small town of El Estor.  Saturday is market day so this pretty town was fairly busy.  We walked down to the town square where they have a small pool with 3 crocodiles which are the species that live in the Rio Dulce! Boring things crocodiles - they just seem to sleep.  We then went to the market and bought some food, beer and Glenys bought some more traditional material – the type that the Indian women use to make their wrap around skirts called a “corte”.  

We waited until “Sand Dollar” had been into town, then our flotilla sailed to an unnamed bay on the extreme south end of the lake.  We went for an explore up the Rio Palochic where we’ve been told that groups of howler monkeys can be seen.  The river is very wide and the banks are covered with tall dense reeds and other vegetation, so the whole trip was rather uninteresting.  The current was very strong so it took us over an hour to go two miles upstream to a split in the river, then 30 minutes back.  We saw a large kingfisher but, alas, no monkeys.  

As the sun started to go down, we heard three separate groups of howler monkeys from the anchorage.  What a strange guttural roar it is – some people think it sounds like the roar of a large cat.  “Boston Scrod” and “Sand Dollar” came for a beer.  At six o’clock, a huge cloud of black mosquitoes descended on us and we had to retire below.  Graham and Paul like to argue, so we had a very loud evening, with neither of them willing to back down on a point!