Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Guatemala


Guatemala
Tuesday 25 June - Tuesday 3 December 2013

WOW that is a LONG time for us to be in the “same” place. Spending 23 weeks in Guatemala was a very different experience for us. The Rio Dulce, a fresh water river & lake, is where we kept the boat during this hurricane season, at Mario's Marina. The area is very beautiful surrounded by green mountains, a tropical jungle, hot, & humid with a lot of rain. Now we know the hurricane season is the rainy season, but even the locals were commenting on this being an above average year for rain fall. That combined with not being in our usual blue water jump in and swim environment was an adjustment for us. 

The marinas of the Rio Dulce are spaced out along the river, many like ours, not having road access. The main town servicing the boating community is Fronteras AKA Rio Dulce Town, on the north side of the only bridge across the river. It is a bustling little town with shops lining both sides of the small two way street. At any given time the street is filled with people walking, bicycles, motor scooters & bikes, Tuk-Tuk's, cars & vans & buses, & all size trucks. When one of the larger vehicles stops for whatever reason the opposite one lane becomes a two lane, it is an amazing site with surprisingly very few accidents. The one BIG 2500 sq foot supermarket along with many small tienda's (shops) and multiple fruit & veggie stands would be where we would provision for the season. In the beginning hunting the different shops looking for what we needed was always a day's adventure. We had a great variety of fruits & veggies to choose from for extremely low cost. Even eating out for lunch and or dinner was always a pleasant surprise on the low cost. With the exchange rate of 1 US dollar equal to 8 quetzales (Q), a meal was $5-10 excluding drinks. 

There are a lot of boats kept here on the Rio Dulce during hurricane season, however most of the owners leave and go back to their home countries for a good deal of that time. That or make plans for land tours of other parts of Guatemala. Guatemala is a big country compared to all the Eastern Caribbean Nation Islands we were use to visiting. From our little remote area off the Caribbean side all the way to the Pacific and north to Mexico it has a lot of different sights to see, most of which take several days at least. There are a few local day spots to see, some easier to get to then others but all involving several means of transport. We managed to do a few, but not as many as we would have liked due to timing issues. 

There were several boater events that we took part in, dinghy poker runs, a 4th of July pig roast, several movie & trivia nights out at the different marinas hosted on different nights, music jam sessions, cruisers pot luck dinners, card & domino games, boaters re-sale / swap meets. These were all great fun, many also provided free launcha (boat taxi) service. Launcha's are the local wooded boats used up & down the river, many able to hold up to 12-14 passengers and many with an awning overhead. We could & did use our dinghy at night a few times, but taking a free launcha made the trip back to our marina a much nicer & safer trip.   

We took several “road” trips, the first being to Guatemala City shortly after we arrived, as my passport was going to expire in 4 weeks. Guatemala city is a SIX (6) hour bus ride from the Rio Dulce. We used the Litegua bus line, nice buses like a Grey Hound bus w A/C and seats that reclined. But 6 hours is still a long time to sit on a bus!! After a few days touring Guatemala City we went to the city of Antigua. A beautiful old city with cobblestone streets, that use to be the capital of Guatemala before 2 earthquakes destroyed much of the city in 1773 and they moved the capital to Guatemala City. It is now a UNESCO world heritage site and they are trying very hard to preserve these beautiful old buildings. The weather in both Guatemala City & Antigua is totally different than on the Rio since they are in the mountains at 5000 ft (1500 m). Cool temps and NO humidity which was a welcome change. We stayed at a lovely B&B El Montanes, and had a great time walking the streets of Antigua seeing the sights and finding good places to eat. We went out to a coffee plantation to do a zip line and also did a sunset hike up Volcano Pacaye. After a week we went back to the boat on the Rio. 

We signed up to take Spanish lessons from a local lady, Rita, who works at a marine service company as well as being the fire chief, a teacher and a mother of a 2 year old. A very accomplished young lady !! Steve & I had private lessons 3 times a week for an hour then changed to 2 times a week for 1 ½ hours for a month. She was a great help, we are still practicing and learning on our own, a small improvement for me and a big improvement for Steve. 

Guatemala, like many countries, has a 90 day limit for people to stay in the country. When we entered the country we filed for an extension for the boat since we new we would be here longer then 90 days. But there is NO extension for people, you must leave the country for at least 72 hours every 90 days. I was going to be flying to Texas to visit family for September but Steve was going to have to leave sometime in September to extend his Visa. 

So we put a road trip together to go to Copan, Honduras. There were several other people here in the marina in a similar situation and who also wanted to see Copan, known for its magnificent Mayan ruins. We got 6 more friends to join us, making it cheap to hire a private van to take us over (5 hr. drive!) and pick us up a few days later. Vicki & Bob from S/V FoxSea, Saundra & Charlie from S/V Island Sol & Marie & Steve from S/V Saben all went along. Another quaint cobble stone street village. Also at 5000 ft, so still warm but not as hot & humid as the Rio, another delightful change. We stayed at Hotel Don Udo's, and had a great time exploring the town and its many restaurants. The main ruin site is Copan Ruins, we hired a guide to walk us through and were glad to have the help in explaining the history as well as leading us around the place. We came back a 2nd day on our own to see the museum, and 2 other ruin sites near by. We went to the Macaw Mountain Bird Park & Nature Reserve, where they help release the birds back into the wild and then to a Zip Line. It was one of the better ones we have been to, and we have been to a lot (8). Just zip lines, no obstacle course here, but they were long and fast. One was so long that they grouped us up in 3's so we had enough weight to get us all the way across. We went to some hot springs up in the mountains, about an hour ride by van on very bumpy roads, different pools fed by the hot springs so you could find the right temperature for you. It was another fun adventure and everyone got their passports stamped to be able to stay in Guatemala for another 90 days.

Once back in the Rio, I had a few days to get ready before flying back to Texas to visit family. My flight was leaving Guatemala City at noon on Thursday, so I had 2 choices either catch a bus the day before & spend the night in the city OR catch the 3 AM bus leaving the Rio Thursday morning to get me to the city in plenty of time to get to the airport. I chose the 3 AM bus, which only takes 5 hours since it does not make as many stops. We left the boat a little before 2:30 for the dinghy ride into town along with Bill & JoAnne from Ultra with their dinghy and a suitcase I was bring back for them. We knew we could not go to our usual dinghy dock as it has a gate to the street that gets locked after 10 PM. So we went to another dinghy dock with street access and found out that it too had a locked gate up by the street ! This gate had a 3' x 2' opening, just big enough for us to climb through one at a time and pass the luggage through and get to the bus station with time to spare. 

My 4 week visit turned into a 6 week visit due to health issues with my parents. I was very thankful to be there to help in their time of need, a very small pay back for the many times they have helped me. The early part of the visit was a lot of fun being with family and visiting friends. I even got a weekend trip out to Phoenix to visit one of my brothers, his wife and my nephew. Hanging out & playing in their pool with my nephew was great fun. The shopping was overwhelming as usual !! It was wonderful visiting with friends & catching up on all the changes in everyone’s lives. So glad to be able to re-connect in person, even if it is just once a year. The love & support from family & friends old & new means so much to us.

Meanwhile back on the Rio, Steve had a list of boat projects to do. We had a small water leak in the generator so he found someone to come work on that. They decided to take the generator OUT to work on it, which was a job in itself. We were communicating via emails and Skype, BUT he did not tell me how sick he was feeling. Since there was not much I could do, and I was worried enough about my parents he decided not to tell me he was sick. Luckily Willena on S/V Kajan Diva, a nurse, saw how sick he was getting and dragged him to a local doctor. Long story short he got there just in time, Doc put him on the right medication, had him stop all alcohol & caffeine and he started to recover. He is now feeling great. Steve had ordered paint for a bottom job, and once he was feeling better got the boat hauled out and the bottom painted. Back in the water and back to the marina in 3 days, glad that was done while I was gone. On his way to the haul out facility he found our cockpit chart plotter was no longer working. So once back at the marina he had to find someone to come work on that, turned out to be the same guy working on our generator. Later he also found the radar was not working. Not so easy to find the right person to work on these special problems in the Rio. Guillermo and his crew are great, but being the only ones in the area, their time is spread very thin. You can find great workers, but things can take a LONG time to be fixed, add that to the language barrier, it makes the Rio a challenging place to get work done. 

I arrived back in the Rio 7 PM Wednesday night October 9th, Steve met me at the bus station and we loaded the 3 suitcases plus a carry-on and a backpack into the dinghy and headed back to the boat. Steve had prepared dinner so we had a nice meal as we caught up on all that had happened over the last 6 weeks. This is when I learned of him being sick. The next 2 days were spent unpacking all our goodies I brought back AND repacking as we would both be catching the bus on Sunday back to Guatemala City to spend the night before catching an early morning flight out on Monday. This time we would be flying to Baltimore MD, renting a car to drive to Dewey Beach Delaware for the wedding of his son Sean. 

Neither of us had ever been to Delaware and were glad to see this cool little beach town, just down the street from a Tanger Outlet Mall in Rehoboth Beach. Not that we really needed to do a lot of shopping, but there were several things I was unable to find when I was home. Steve was glad for the opportunity to do some shopping, yes it is exciting for us to go to a Home Depot. When you have very limited shopping it is always a nice change to have variety & choices. Sean & Carrie and some of their family & friends started showing up Wednesday and it was great to see them again. The next couple of days were spent enjoying beautiful cool sunny days and visiting with Sean & Carrie and other wedding guests. The wedding took place on the beach on Saturday, the one day it rained, but it stopped long enough for the beach ceremony to take place as planned. It was a beautiful wedding for a beautiful couple. We spent a few more days there before heading back towards Baltimore staying one night near Bethesda to see our friend Gina, who works in the area. Then the last night at a hotel near the airport to catch an early flight out on Thursday. 

Our flight back to Guatemala was through Houston with an 8 hour layover. My sister Carol picked us up and we went by to see my Mom and Steve's house before going to have lunch with my Dad and one of my brothers at my parents house. Re-packed our carry-on(s) as we had a few more things delivered since I had left, plus I had left a few things behind. Loaded up again, Carol brings us back to the airport to catch our evening flight back to Guatemala. Spent the night at a hotel in the city before catching the 9 AM bus back to the Rio and the boat & hot humid, rainy weather. Still good to be back home unpacking and putting things away again. 

While we were gone we had some workers at the marina take our companion way stairs out to have them sanded and re-varnished and the boat waxed. Now we had to get the generator back in with the replacement parts we'd brought back with us. Took a few more days to get that finished and brought back to the boat, but it sure looked good, all clean and shiny. Original leak fixed then discovered another one on the exhaust elbow, which was easily removed and brought back to the shop to weld. Another few days and it was all hooked back up and running. The same guy is working on our Ray Marine chart plotter & radar, but they are NOT fixed yet!!  
 
Halloween costume party here at the marina. Then Bill & JoAnne S/V Ultra return from their 2 month vacation to Turkey, Greece, Texas & Florida. Have a couple of catch up dinners with them, filling each other in on what has taken place over the summer. A couple local activities, a hike at Tijax Marina and trip to Auga Caliente / Finca Parsiso a hot springs waterfall.
 
Made plans for another week land trip, to Antigua again (1st time for Bill & JoAnne) and Lake Atitlan. We stayed in a different place in Antigua this time, one we heard of from friends Jody & Stephen on S/V Blue Pelican. Lovely little home of an expat, where she rents rooms for only $22 a night. Hiked the volcano again this time doing the morning hike. Which is the better one as you have more time to spend on top, not having to worry about it getting down before it gets dark like the first one we did. Full disclosure, I had been having chest congestion so after a short time hiking up the volcano I could tell I was going to have trouble breathing. So this time I rode one of the horses up. It was a beautiful day and we had some great views, and an easy walk down. The famous hotel Santo Domingo, also an old monastery and museum, also has a place up on a hill that we heard was a great place to have lunch with beautiful views. The hotel offers a free shuttle up & down so we got a ride up. The views and food were great and to our surprise they had a zip line up there also! It was late in the day and they tried to get us to come back the following day, but we convinced them to let us do it so we got in another zip line adventure (#9).

Thursday we headed up to Lake Atitlan, a 2 ½ hour van ride. Here we stayed at Hotel Utz Jay (means beautiful view in Mayan) in the main town of Panajachel, just a block off the main street and a few blocks from the waterfront. A beautiful lake surrounded by three volcanoes as the backdrop. A vote was held on another volcano hike, and lost 0-4. We had a beautiful day for our lake tour seeing 4 of the villages along the lake, all still having a strong Maya culture showing in their traditional dress and the goods they sell. We took the slow ride along the shore line to see the sights. In between the villages are some fabulous private homes and villas. The lake water has risen quite a bit over the years (50 ft!) and some lake front property is now submerged, a problem they are trying to address. Sunday we caught the early van back to Guatemala City, Steve & I were to catch the bus back to the Rio Dulce. Bill & JoAnne stayed in the city so they could go to the embassy on Monday to get pages added to their passports.

Thanksgiving week !! Hard to believe. We learn our marina was planning a pot luck dinner with the marina supplying the turkey's and stuffing and the boats all bringing a dish to share. It was a great feast. Talked to most of our families via Skype and once again realizing how much we have to be thankful for. An added bonus was a cool front came down we had lows of 68° & highs of 78°, no humidity with some cloud cover but no rain. So we had really nice weather for a few days, don't get to say that to often in the Rio Dulce.

December is here, many are making plans to leave, and we want to be among them. Looks like a good weather window during the first week of December. During the week Steve had been trying to contact and communicate with Guillermo, the guy fixing our chart plotter & radar. As I mentioned above he is the only one who does specific boat repairs so he is a very busy guy. A stressful couple of days trying to get him back to the boat to finish up, finally late Tuesday afternoon he arrived. Radar fixed, chart plotter returned, still not working thinks now it could be a problem with the HSB cable. We have our equipment back we can proceed with our plans to leave. 

Wednesday we fill jerry cans with gas for the dinghy and get some fruits & veggies, won't see these low prices for a while. Last load of laundry and straighten the boat out for Thursday morning departure.

Link to Pictures;  https://plus.google.com/photos/103931849054358791487/albums/5953380027531331217?authkey=CPO_7dG36ajIUQ

May have to cut & paste this link ??




1 comment:

  1. Great pictures. Thought I'd never see a fort again! Are you holding a Meerkat in pic on 8/8/13?

    ReplyDelete