It’s April 1. And I’m talking about buying a nasty, ugly, funky, used up old boat. Tired of the peace and wanting to spend more money, and then pointing out how Elia would jump at the chance to live on a cockroach invested moldy death trap. 2 plus 2 equals 5? Something’s wrong here. Once again, it’s April Fools! Thanks for the enthusiastic responses of excitement for our new adventure, but it ain’t happening for sure. There will be no new boat this year. We love our Orion, who now sits quietly on the hard in The Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
Once you leave the isolated Cays of southern Belize the next stop on the cruisers highway is the Rio Dulce.The sweet river. To get into the river at Livingston you first have to navigate “The Bar”, the sandbar that crosses the mouth of the river. Word is that they don’t dredge it so that the locals keep their job of pulling sailboats across. There are plastic jugs with flags that reportedly are in the wrong spots to lead sailors into running aground so they call someone to tow them across. Tales of boats with 6.5 foot draft wait for the highest tide, then have someone tow them from the front, and another boat go alongside with a line from the top of their mast to heel them over and then drag them along the 200 yards of mud. Orion with her centerboard up and 4.5 feet to the bottom had no problem.
We clear in and then it’s into an entirely different world. For one we are motoring up a slightly murky fresh water river as opposed to sailing in the brilliant blue wide open seas we have been in for the last 4 months. There is no rolling from the waves, we are out of the wind and there is a current running against us. For the first 5 miles or so green walls rise straight up on both sides covered in exotic trees and bushes. We are definitely in the jungle. Egrets sit on the tree branches and the sounds of howler monkeys, tree frogs, prehistoric birds, and who knows what call out. The river winds back and forth dotted throughout with little thatched roof mayan houses and men and families in small boats going to and fro. There is no access by land for miles, so there is a stream of commerce with little dugout canoes, fishing skiffs, and tourists packed into small runabouts. About 10 miles in the river opens up to a large lake with volcanic mountains on either side. Finally we come around a bend and start to see masts, larger boats, small pockets of sailors, and finally the bridge at Fronterra. We made it!!!
There are reportedly 1000 boats tucked away waiting out the hurricane season, or just waiting to die, in the Rio Dulce. There are good reasons. It is south of the hurricane track and at 20 miles inland, and mountains blocking the path of the winds there has never been a reported hurricane. Fresh water is much easier on all of the boat parts and many boats are left in the water for months or even years at a time. There are over a dozen little marinas, with everyone having a favorite. Tortugal, Tijax, Mar Marine, M and M, each with a little different reputation and flavor. Many have a restaurant or bar attached and offer Friday movie nights, or special cocktail hours. When compared to say Maine it’s about 1/3rd the price to store your boat, and even less to get work done.
The cruising community is well established with a large group of people living on their boats in the various marinas interspersed with sailors coming and going to Belize, and hiding from the hurricanes in the summer. There is a cruisers net at 7:30 on VHF 69 which announces movie night, trips to the jungle, and jams at the shack. A strong volunteer group is Pass It On which helps take giveaways from boaters, sells them at a swap meet, and uses all of the money to build solar energy systems for remote villages. Or Casa Guatemala committed to helping Guatemalan children.
Most of the locals in the Rio Dulce are Mayan. And from our perspective they seem incredibly at peace and happy. Lots of smiles and giggles in the boat yard. Tales of them watching the uptight foreigners come in and just kind of laughing at their stress. On the other hand time seems to take on a different quality. It is said that you can get stuff done cheap, done well, or done on time, but not all three. And the one that suffers most is the on time. There seems to be a desire to promise what someone wants to hear, but then get to it as is possible. People in the marina had been waiting there for months hoping to finally get their boat painted. Some frustration had built up.
The town of Fronterra kind of blew our minds after such a long peaceful time on the water. It’s a tiny town, with one main street that happens to also be the freeway. No bypass here. Full semi trucks crawl through town mere feet from where you join the parade of locals moving along along right up next to a chest high tire on an eighteen wheeler while dodging in and out of the traffic. Soldiers with long thin shotguns stand guard on various corners. Women dressed in traditional Mayan multicolored cloths, fruit stands, loud horns, and diesel smoke fill the senses.
On a clear windlass day after about 10 in the morning it’s almost impossible to be outside doing anything productive as the temperature goes over 90 and the humidity thick. It’s fucking hot as Elia would so eloquently exclaim. The sun is fierce and cooks the decks. After being in constant trade winds for the last 4 months it takes a lot out of us and we spend the middle of the days hiding in the shade.
And then after a couple of weeks getting Orion set to leave, chasing howler monkeys up a creek at dawn, jamming at The Shack and The Sundog with the local jam nights, checking out the restaurants, meeting other cruisers, and joining in a sunrise Mayan ceremony on the spring equinox it was time to go. Turns out It’s a long way home.
A 6 hour bus ride gets you to Guatemala City. They offered us seats 3 and 4 which we thought was a great deal. Top floor of a two story bus all the way up front. It turns out the local don’t like to sit with nothing but a piece of glass between them and the oncoming madness. Seems they have been on these buses before. Then into the fringes of the city where we transfer to a packed smaller bus that can actually navigate the downtown streets. And into the traffic, and the noise, and the diesel smoke, and the full on city stretched thin by too many people and a crumbling inefficient infrastructure. Lots of motorcycles, and taxi’s, all moving fast and instantly filling any small gap in the traffic pattern. No idea where we are. Let out, and into a taxi that takes us to our little B&B by the airport.
The taxi driver knows where to go. Good thing because there is nothing on the outside showing that it is a business. All the houses on the street have concrete walls and solid gates with razor wire fencing on top. He rings the bell and a stately older man lets us in to a nice and clean little hotel. We mentioned we would like to get dinner somewhere. He walked us next door and knocked and an older man led us in to his dining room table and made us a delicious dinner. We sat and chatted with him about life in Guatemala City. All quite bizarre and sweet. Hidden behind the concrete walls of the city seems to be a kind and dignified culture, hiding from the speed, dirt, and crime that moves so quickly by outside.
In the morning it’s off to the airport, to Ft Lauderdale, to Denver, to the long drive up the hill and back into the house I’ve lived in for over 30 years. So very familiar.
And now to dealing with the transition. To the full life of money stress, of work, of music. One of the bigger problems now is how to deal with the mother and baby moose that have decided our garden is where the choice yummies are. We are back to our first world problems. So yes, this winter on Orion has come to a close. Where we will be when the the turning of the earth brings snow back to Colorado is still to be determined. There are many more islands in Belize to be explored. Roatan, off the Hondoran coast is an overnight away. The south coast of Cuba could be awesome. Or perhaps back to Florida to set up a more permanent winter base. All will unfold. But with all of our thinking and planning Orion patiently waits for our return. Enjoy the summer, see you next winter and thanks for reading.