I Figured I’d start this post with a quote from John Lloyd Stevens written in 1841, these words written 132 years prior to my arrival at the Rio Dulce, or sweet river, still stand true today. So I leave it to someone a bit more eloquent than I to set the scene
In a few moments we entered the Rio Dulce. On each side, rising perpendicularly from three to four hundred feet, was a wall of living green. Trees grew from the waters edge, long tendrils descending to the water, as if to drink and carry life to the trunks that bore them. It was as its name imports, a Rio Dulce, a fairy scene of titan land, combining exquisite beauty with colossal grandeur. As we advanced the passage turned, and in a few minutes we lost sight of the sea, and were enclosed on all sides by a Forrest wall; but the river, although showing no passage, still invited us onward.
The sail from Placencia to Rio Dulce was quite pleasant and we made good way for most of the way down before the wind died out in the afternoon and we were forced to trade the serenity of wind in the sails for the sound of a diesel engine to could make it there before dark. We pulled in at a little bay and spent the night before making the final approach the following morning. On the way I noticed the battery charger delivering a very high output to the batteries and worried that there may be a problem with the voltage regulator, so decided to disconnect the alternator. After scratching my head for a bit as to how best to do this, I was able to use a bungee cord, some clamps and electrical tape to make up a smaller belt to run the water pump, and off we went again. The check in at Livingston was pretty straightforward, there is an agent there who takes care of things and made the process fairly quick and painless. Didn’t spend too long there though as we were keen to get up the river and into the green, surrounding jungle.
Sailing up the river is definitely one of the highlights of the trip so far. It felt like entering somewhere magical, it was a place to set the imagination alight and to fight back the thoughts of wild animals or primitive tribes that may lie just around the bend. The feeling of adventure and entering the unknown (even if countless others have sailed before you) had both Joe and I looking around and making the occasional comment as we both took in the scene around us. We sailed past small Maya villages where men in canoes paddled along fishing, the twists and turns took us past large rock faces and streams of water that made their way to join the larger volume below. The Spanish used to bring their ships up here to escape the hurricane season, just as we now were, and before them the first European explorers and before them the Maya, all used this river for transport, food and for life. It was as if the river had a personality and life all of its own. We spent that night in a small bay, surrounded by jungle and overlooked by far off mountains, while birds sang goodbye to the sun and the moon, full and beaming, rose and acknowledged us, small and insignificant contrasted to what surrounded Kuhela, Joe and I.
The following day we moved on to Monkey bay marina and got settled in. As usual the wind came up just as we approached and made getting into the small spot a bit tricky, but once again the bow thruster made easy work of it and we were in and tied up before you knew it. The marina we are in is a little way from town and was named for the band of howler monkeys that live in the surrounding jungle. Was pretty cool watching Joe’s face the first time they got going, they can make quite a racket when, usually early in the morning. There is a lounge area over looking the river with hammocks and day beds and for the first time in forever I can get up early and do my yoga somewhere comfortable, and on solid ground. Fronteras is more of a street than a town. It doesn’t take too long to walk down and along it you can find anything you want really, as long as that thing falls somewhere between live chickens and unmarked pills sold by a small man whose tooth beams as he gives you a hint as to what its for. On top of that throw in large trucks that barge their way along, cars, people, dogs and tuk-tuks and you start to have a picture of what its like. Takes the senses I little while to get used to, but after a while you start to see some order to everything and its not too bad.
It’s a small place as well and in the first day I ran into both the Czech and the French families and had a great time catching up and sharing all the tales and happenings since we had last caught up a month or so ago. There are a lot of yachts here, but the majority of people have all ready headed off and as usual we are the youngest people in most of the spots we get to, so were pretty keen to get out and go traveling and exploring Guatemala a bit. We had a few jobs to get stuck into on Kuhela and we’ve managed to get most of them ticked off. The biggest thing is to keep on top of everything, to keep her looking beautiful as ever. We’ve re-varnished a lot of woodwork and fixed a few other little things that needed doing. I also was able to get a lot of the canvas re-stitched and to get a few things made up, as its fairly cheap here, so Violet now is sporting Kuhela’s colors of blue and white and looking pretty as ever in her new cover.
There are no shortage of amazing things to go see and explore around here and would be crazy to spend the whole time working so we headed off to find the bus that takes you to the hot waterfalls we had heard about. Been great being in a place again that only speaks Spanish again and getting to practice a second language. Wasn’t too hard to find the bus and soon enough we, and by we I mean Joe, myself and the seventeen other people squeezed into the minibus, were all headed down the road. These falls would have to be some of the most spectacular I have been to, not for size or strength, but just for the fact that they really are hot, and fall into a cold stream. Standing under the falls and experiencing the contrasting temperatures was truly rejuvenating, and if that wasn’t enough to claim this as the fountain of youth, on climbing to the top there are clay deposits that you can dig into to give your body a scrub before jumping off the falls into the cold water below, after which you feel truly awake and alive.
One of the other amazing things on the river is the orphanage, Casa Guatemala, which we headed up to visit and give a hand for the day. This is not just an orphanage but also a school for the surrounding villages and during the day is filled with the energy, screams and shouts of around two hundred kids, from four to eighteen. The program is run by volunteers and donations and is also linked to the backpackers in town, and all proceeds from this go towards the orphanage. We got the boat up there in the morning and spent the day helping out and getting to meet the kids and the volunteers that stay anywhere from three to twelve months. The kids are amazing, huge cheeky smiles, and enough energy to wear out any adult, whom they quickly convert into anything from a jungle gym to a goal post. Some of the most beautiful little kids I've had the pleasure to meet and spend time with. The whole thing is really well organized and the dedication and work that must go into keeping it all going is truly amazing. Joe was able to have a look through the medical clinic and to have a chat to the medico on duty and volunteer to give a hand when needed while I spent time talking to the kids and having a huge photo session, with the kids taking some shots that were better than mine. Its amazing how fast kids learn and to see them so stoked and having so much fun was simply infectious. We will definitely be going back there again to help out and spend some more time before we head off from here.
One of the reasons I love traveling is the people you meet and the amazing stories you hear. There is no shortage of interesting tales to be found around every corner here and we have had the chance to meet some great people. From a couple that built a top-sail schooner from scratch, taking fifteen years and making everything, down to the winches, by hand to hanging out to hanging out with a couple from Belgium who have a VW beetle that they bought in Australia and have spent the last three years traveling around in. Fancy coming across a car with West Australian plates in the middle of Guatemala. The world is full of people who have decided to back their bags and head off to do something out of the “ordinary” and every one of the people I meet inspires and motivates me to keep following my dreams as we sit and swap stories of the road and the sea.
Now with a few jobs ticked off and having had some time to explore the area, the next plan is to pack the backpacks, leave Kuhela here for a bit and spend the following weeks trekking around Guatemala and on to El Salvador for some (MUCH NEEDED) surf. Most of the people I have met along the way have either been coming from, or headed to Guatemala and there are some amazing things to see and do here. I am looking forward to finally seeing some ruins and experiencing the impressive mountains and volcanoes that lay throughout the country. Will feel pretty weird leaving Kuhela, my home, behind for a while. I have had a chat to her and she seems happy enough though, as she isn’t one for trekking mountains anyway and has been relishing the attention of the past weeks. We will see what the hurricane season has in store for us this year and will simply work around it.
So the journey continues and will be of a slightly different theme for the next bit, been a while since I've only had my backpack to worry about and am looking forward to what land adventures we can find.