FROM THE LOG
Oct 1 to 30, 2003
(Click on a photo for a larger version)
We covered the distance between Utila in the Bay Islands of Honduras and Rio Dulce in Guatemala in three steps. The first night we stayed in the beautiful bay called Puerto Escondido on the mainland of Honduras. Then we crossed over to the Sapodilla Cays of Belize and anchored behind the barrier reef and Lime Cay. The third night we spent behind Cabo Tres Puntas on the Guatemalan mainland, from where it only is 10 nautical miles to the town of Livingston at the entrance to the Rio Dulce.
Livingston reminds me of those jungle outposts in old Tarzan movies. Although it is on the mainland there is no road connection to the rest of the world. Dense jungle grows all the way to the shore. There is plenty of boat traffic, small outboard driven ferries come and go out on the sea and to settlements up river and cayucos, canoes made from one tree, ply the river. The population is more diverse than in the rest of Guatemala, where the majority are indigenous Maya indians. Livingston provides a cross section of the Caribbean race map. You will meet Black Caribs, here called Garifunas, who are descendants of African slaves and Carib Indians and trace their roots to the Honduran Bay Islands, where the British settled them after a revolt in the late 18th century on the island of St. Vincent in the Eastern Caribbean. During the years they have mixed with Mayans and shipwrecked sailors and pirates of various races and developed a distinctive culture incorporating Asian, African, Indian and European elements. Other people in the town include the Q'eqchi' Maya, ladinos (mix of Indian and European, elsewhere called mestizos), gringos and a multitude of other international travelers.
Livingston is a port of entry and we checked in with the usual immigration, customs and port authority officials. The next day we headed up the Rio Dulce River. Our goal was the town of Fronteras, some 20 miles inland. It is a memorable trip. Less than a mile upriver the walls of the canyon close in, rising almost sheer in places for 100 meters, covered in lush tropical vegetation. Hundreds of different birds, egrets, parrots, cormorants among others, fill the air with sight and sound. Orchids, bromeliads and other flowers and plants mix with the green vegetation hanging down along the banks. We pass a couple of small Mayan villages with thatch roofs and meet several indians paddling about in their cayucos, with paddle in one hand and a fishing line in the other.
Ten miles upriver we entered the El Golfete lake and headed for Fronteras on the opposite shore where the river continues to the next lake, called Lago Izabal. In the distance we could see high mountains towering above the clouds. During the past 10 to 15 years the area surrounding Fronteras has grown a considerable cruising community. In addition to the beautiful surroundings there are two other reasons for this popularity. This is a safe place to leave the boat when exploring Guatemala or even the whole Central America and it is also considered to be the best Hurricane Hole in the North Western Caribbean.
We found a good place at the Monkey Bay Marina, which is an exceptionally friendly and comfortable establishment. Here we kept Scorpio during the four weeks we stayed in the river and made inland trips to the central Highlands and other places.
Chichicastenango, more than 2.000 meters above the sea level is an interesting place with lots of shamanistic and ceremonial overtones. We watched the strange mix of old pre-Christian rites and catholic ceremonies at the Cathedral of Santo Tomás and explored the fabulous market where villagers from the region display their wares.
Antigua Guatemala was the old Spanish colonial capital until much of it was destroyed in an earthquake in the 18th century. The city was, however, gradually rebuilt without losing its traditional character, architecture and cobblestone streets. Most of the buildings have beautiful atrium gardens inside. At an elevation of over 1.500 meters its setting is majestic, nestled among three dramatic vulcanoes. Today the city is a national monument and one of UNESCO's World Heritage Sites. Unlike the similar World Heritage Site of Trinidad in Cuba (Log #011), here in Antigua, all buildings are restored and in good condition.
The prevalent means of transport in Guatemala is by bus. The majority of these are ancient resurrected school buses from North America, known as Chicken Buses after the live cargo that accompanies many passengers. The system is very efficient and even if you don't know from where a particular bus departs, it will find you! The co drivers roam the streets yelling the destination and herding in customers. The buses stop anywhere, for anyone, if there is even e remote chance of wedging him in some place. You may even find yourself sitting in somebody's lap tending to his or hers child or live food.
One of most breathtaking sights is Lago de Atitlán, probably one of the most spectacular in the world. The lake is a collapsed volcanic cone and the surrounding three volcanoes rise to over 3.500 meters. On the shore is the town of Panajachel, also called Gringotenango. In the hippie heyday of the 1960s and '70s it was crowded with laid-back travelers and semi permanent exile. During the civil war Pana became a dangerous place to be and many moved on, but today the place attracts a lot of visitors again.