Guy Co (& Jessica)

Saturday November 16, 2013

at Nico's

I swear I’m just one of the guys.

Part I: Un Almuerzo de Langostas

Wherever we go, it seems like good friends are never far away. Although we had to say goodbye to Luki and Elmari on Thursday, which was incredibly sad although we do plan on meeting up with them again in Belize or Mexico, we happened to be sticking around the Rio long enough from another visit from our friend Nacho. With one catch. All the girls were back in Guate City, keeping busy with things like dates with long distance boyfriends or riding competitions, so it was just going to be Nacho coming. Along with his dad, and friends; Jean Louis and Nico. So it was essentially to be a guys weekend. And Jessica. Which is totally fine, since I essentially consider myself one of the guys anyway.

After doing a little bit of communication by means of VHF radio this morning, Nacho sent his lancha to our marina this morning to have us brought out to their river home. When we arrived, Hula Girl was once again being stocked up with soda and beer, ready to start another Saturday on the water. We were also introduced to Nacho’s father, Javier, who thankfully spoke English, because Matt and I wondered if this might turn into a day of charades, something we would have been fine with, but this made things a little easier. Nico and Jean Louis were out duck hunting for the day and were to meet back up with us at Nico’s river house that evening for dinner, so it would just be a small group out on the boat.

Before we knew it the five of us were rushing down the river and into the Golfete, Matt and I getting way too comfortable with these 20 knots speeds, and I’m sure when we take Serendipity down this path shortly it will feel like we’re moving at a standstill. Just like the last time we were taking ourselves into the bay, we made a stop in Livingston for a few provisions and I was given a tip that some of the shops here sell the local beer, Bravah, for 2Q, or $0.25 a can. Did you hear that Matt? We are doing our beer stocking here before we leave!! As soon as the deck hand, Randy, arrived back with the cold cans of beer, I popped one open and watched as a few local kids shyly wandered over asking for spare change. Randy handed them whatever leftover money he had and they excitedly scampered off to buy themselves a cold Coke.

Hurican 1 & 2

Livingston Guatemala

Guatemalan children

Crossing the bar at Livingston, I noticed how we were able to just gun it across the shoals, while other cruisers (like us) who were eager to depart, had to wait for the high tide to come in so they could get at least six feet under their keel. The bay was once again calm and I kept my fingers crossed that it would stay that way for the next week or so, since we’re hoping to make our own departure within that time. Hula Girl found her familiar spot and dropped hook in five feet of brackish salinated water. We barely had time to get ourselves secure before a lancha was headed our way with lunch. Which, let me explain on this.

Since Annica and Maria and Camila were all back in Guatemala City, there had been no one to prepare a tasty little spread for us to enjoy on the boat. Nacho had made a few calls while we were temporarily provisioning in Livingston to have some fresh lobster brought out to Hula Girl, apparently there is a (lobster) farm near the point where we’d anchored the boat. As the kid came out to us we spied a large bucket filled to the brim with lobster inside. Nacho began talking and negotiating with the boy, a scale was hung to weigh the lobster, and before we knew it we had 12 glistening lobsters in our possession. Nacho turned to Matt and I to mention the boy would be back shortly with some tortillas and fried yucca, and that “I’m sorry none of the women were here to prepare us a tasty lunch, so we will just have to survive”. On lobster.

Since Matt and I are somewhat versed in cooking lobster, after all the ones we caught in the Bahamas, we offered to clean and prepare them. First we ripped off the antennas to stick up the lobster’s…you know, maybe I’ll just skip how we cleaned them. Anyway, by the time we had five of them prepared and ready to go on the grill, slathered with a little oil, our tortillas and fried yucca had been shuttled out to us and we were ready to get this lunch going. After the lobsters had gone on the grill and turned a brilliant red we each made ourselves a plate and dug in without any care or even need for utensils. ‘Surviving’ has never tasted so good.

Lunch was followed by a relaxing swim, partially to ward off the early afternoon heat, and partially to cleanse our sticky, lobster laden fingers. When it was time to raise hook we headed back toward the slowly wilting sun, dragging fishing poles for fun, and getting ready to rally ourselves for the evening ahead.

las langostas

Matt with Caribbean lobster

And that’s just one of the small ones.

cleaning lobster Lobster, get ready to meet your maker.  And then get ready to meet the grill.

lobster on grill

‘Let’s put another langosta on the barbie!’

Javier fishing Randy

Part II: Punta Monos

While speeding back up the Rio and watching the sun slip behind the last few hazy clouds of the day, we had a strange phenomenon, something we hadn’t experienced since in Bogota. We got chilly. That’s right, this little town of seemingly endless heat and humidity had actually cooled down enough after the sun had gone down to bring a chill through the air. We honestly never thought we’d see the day where goosebumps would appear on our skin while we were in the Rio Dulce.

Wrapped up in a towel to fight off the cold, we brought Hula Girl to dock in front of Nico’s river house which was just at the end of the Golfete. Him and Jean-Louis were still out duck hunting, but we were just dropping off the remaining lobsters so they could be used for dinner if the duck hunt wasn’t successful. From the text messages we had been let in on earlier, so far it wasn’t.

Pulling into Nacho’s house just as the moon was rising, we were told his lancha would bring us back to the marina to give us time to rest and clean up before dinner that evening. I had just enough time to get a shower and a cup of coffee in before getting a call back on the VHF, notifying us that the lancha was back on it’s way to pick us up. As soon as we arrived back at his place, Nacho was ready to go (Javier was staying behind), and he traded places with the lancha’s driver as we flew toward Nico’s place. (Funny side note, all of the guys had literally flown in from the city for the weekend. Nacho and Javier on a rented plane, and Jean-Louis and Nico on his helicopter. Not a bad life.)

sunset on Rio Dulce

Nico's River home

sunset on the Rio Dulce

As we pulled up in front of the home we noticed the ‘big’ boat was back, which meant that Nico and Jean-Louis were there now as well. It appeared that both men had just gotten back and were in the process of showering and making themselves presentable after spending 12 hours cooped up in duck blinds. It turns out that later in the afternoon, they had been successful. We busied ourselves by the bar behind the open air seating area and as Nacho was taking orders I had a sudden nostelgia for our days on Rode Trip while nestled in the Ragged Islands of the Bahamas and Stephanie would prepare us gin and tonics as a pre-dinner cocktail. I never really drank them before that, and I certainly haven’t had one since then, but for some reason I really wanted one at that moment. Nacho scanned the bar and came across a few kinds of gin, but we ended up pulling out the Hendricks, something that I guess is pretty top shelf although I would have no idea since I’m not normally a gin drinker.

As soon as each of us had a nice cold G&T in our hands we went to sit on the couches just in time for Jean-Louis to come in. I already knew him a little bit from my girls weekend in there when Nacho and Annica joined us we enjoyed both amazing wine and views from Jean-Louis’s home in Antigua. I introduced him and Matt and let them talk about sailing since Jean-Louis also has a history in it, while I helped myself to some crackers on the table. I was probably mid face-stuff when Nico, our host wandered in. Another set of introductions was made and while we complimented him on what we had seen of the house so far, we ask for a tour of the rest of it. The area we had been sitting in had the kitchen, dining room, a seating area, and things like bathrooms and pantries. All of it was open air (ok, not the bathrooms or the pantry) and all of it was beautiful. Next we were taken up the stairs which housed one more open air sitting area and two bedrooms.

Scaling the stairs with my G&T in hand I thought it was strange that my hand had become wet, I didn’t remember sloshing my drink on the way up. I couldn’t have been too tipsy, it was my first drink of the night after all. When we stepped onto the landing at the top Nico looked up and made a comment about a few bats that had nested themselves there, complaining that they had taken a tinkle, pointing to a wet spot on the floor that I had just passed by. Oh, so that wasn’t gin on my hand. It was bat piss. I laughed it off, but Nico promptly led me into one of the bedrooms ensuites so I could wash my hands. He then asked if I wanted a fresh G&T since we no longer knew how ‘fresh’ mine was anymore, but I just waved him off. A little bat pee in my drink? That’s fine, I can handle it.

Next we left the main living area for the private ones. Apparently Jean-Louis is such a frequent guest here at Punta Monos that he has his own cabin here, a spacious room with a four poster bed and an ensuite bathroom. His cabin is even named Monkey Cabin, very fitting seeing as he owns the Monoloco (crazy monkey) chain of restaurants in Guatemala City and Antigua. Nico showed us his cabin which was a very similar layout, only much bigger. Then we were taken on the walkway to a sunning platform and bar area on the water, and finally to the monkey viewing area hidden deep in the trees. I guess howler monkeys are very popular in this area, and Nico had set up an area to watch them in the morning. It’s how the place also got it’s name, Monkey Point, and I was pretty determined to force my welcome there until at least 4 am when the monkeys came out.

Nacho w. Hendricks

 Nacho looks pretty comfortable behind that bar.  I think he’s done this before.

guest room at Punto Monos

I can be ready to move in on Tuesday!!

upstairs open air seating at Nico's

Back down in the main living area we hung out by the grill and swung around in hammock like chairs and freshening our G&Ts while watching Nico start dinner, placing the remaining lobsters on the grill after they had been cleaned and seasoned.  When the table was set and we sat ourselves to dinner I couldn’t help but look at the lobster and steak and salad on my plate and realized that I have never eaten as well as I have in Guatemala.  Then again, I guess it’s all about who you know.  And we seem to know the right people.

Dinner was nothing short of divine and I tried to savor every bite on my plate.  I did happen to make the mistake of getting up mid meal to use the water closet and came back to find my plate had been cleared away.  Before I even had the chance to try the lobster brains, something that Javier had been preaching about all day as the best part of the lobster.  I guess I’ll just have to save that for next time.

Nico grilling

 Nico manning the grill.

surf and turf A little surf and turf for dinner.

 

Because of the incredibly early morning that he and Jean-Louis had, Nico excused himself shortly after dinner to retire to his cabin for the rest of the night.  Matt and I gave him our most sincere thanks for inviting us into his home for the evening.  It’s sad that we had only met him just before we’re leaving the country, but we were happy just to have the opportunity.  If we had left with Skebenga as originally intended, we wouldn’t have even been here tonight.

The remaining four of us hung around the dinner table, finishing off the bottle of wine that was served with dinner and continued to get inebriated on top shelf gin.  While Matt and Nacho sat on one side of the table talking about, I’m not sure what exactly, I got into a conversation with Jean-Louis about things I had found out about him after the first time we met by doing a little internet stalking.  Like the fact that he started a company called Urban Reclamation that employs Guatemalans and reuses vinyl from billboards and turn it into useful items like totes, messenger bags, and even tee shirts.  It turns out he had just made a stop at the factory the day before and had a few business card holders that he gave me.  They’re so cool looking and our boat cards are going to look awesome in there.  I only wish the items were available to buy online because I’ve already drooling over the unique messenger bags and girl purses but can’t get my hands on one.  Do you hear me Jean-Louis, you need to sell these items online!  People will buy them!!

Before we knew it the clock had gone well past midnight and I’m pretty sure we all were ‘fully drunk’.  A new quote from one of my friends that sounds 100 times better when slightly slurred and with a Spanish accent.  As still determined as I was to stay and see the monkeys, Nacho and Matt and I piled back into the lancha to make our ways home for the night.  Although I’m sad that we didn’t leave with Skebenga since we have some last minute things to finish up in the Rio and we’ll be traveling on our own again instead of an amazing buddy boat group, I’m fully glad that we stayed long enough to spend this day with Nacho, Javier, Jean-Louis and Nico.  Fully happy, and…fully drunk.

Jean-Louis and Jessica

 Fun time with hats for me and Jean-Louis.

Punta Monos

 

 

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A Photo Essay of the Rio Dulce

November 13, 2013

11.13.13 (1)

I could start this post by saying ‘I can’t believe we’ve been in the Rio Dulce for over four months and I still haven’t taken photos of the town to show you what it looks like!’  No, there is a reason I have waited so long to do this.  Being a gringo with a camera glued to your face makes you somewhat of a target here.  Not in the kind of way that someone’s going to flash the gun in their holster and mutter something like “We don’t take kindly to your type around here”, but it does leave an impression on the people going about their every day lives here that, to you, they are something to speculate.  These same people that we buy our produce from or smile and say hi to on our trips to the market because they’re there day in and day out.  Oh no, I did not want to be labeled as that person in their minds.  The one who is blood thirsty to capture anything non conventional of Northern America or Europe.

But at the same time, I couldn’t very well leave Rio Dulce without some documentation that I’d spent a third of a year there.  This thought was not lost on me alone.  Luki and Elmari also wanted to get out and record the ins and outs of this town, but luckily for them, they’ll be gone in two days.  Making this probably their last trip into town, it is now of no consequence to them if the last memory the man that rings up their tomatoes has of them, is of them pointing a camera in his face while he goes about his work.  Taking photos of people who have not outwardly asked to have their picture taken can sometimes be an awkward thing, but as Elmari stated, “Today, I am not going to let that bother me.  If I see a good photo, I will take it.  I will be ruthless”.  Which almost sounded idiosyncratic coming out of her mouth, since ruthless is the last adjective that would pop into your mind while thinking of her, but I understood where she was coming from.  ’For months I was the resident.  Today, I am the tourist.’  So out we went, armed, and with cameras glued to our faces.

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How NOT to Wash Your Cushions

Tuesday November 12, 2013

cushions on Serendipity

On this boat, neither of us claim to be experts on anything, although it has been mentioned recently that Matt is an Encyclopedia on all boats and every one of their specs (from too much time spent on Yacht World!!), so for simple things we’re  of the ‘try and see’ variety, and if something works for us once, we don’t find a need to change it.  Such is our excuse for how we’ve just tried to clean our settee cushions.  I think I’ve mentioned in a previous post how filthy they’ve been getting, our dirty and sweaty bodies lounging against them day in and day out.

From the time we left up until now we’ve only done spot cleaning in areas that have had noticeable stains,  usually where part of my dinner will roll first onto my lap and then on to the cushion, where upon the Woolite fabric cleaner is immediately exhumed from the depths under our sink and the spot is quickly removed.  I swear, that stuff is magic.  But lately we’ve  been looking at our cushions and realizing they need a lot more than just spot cleaning.  They need about 15 months worth of removal of our day to day living on them.

So, we decided to drag them out onto the docks and spray them down with a hose before scrubbing with some soapy water (from laundry detergent, not dish soap).  I know you might be thinking to yourself, ‘Why soak the whole cushion?, It’s never going to dry!’.  We assumed this would be fine because looong ago when we were still land lubbers and our dog used one of our settee cushions as a piddle pad during a particularly rough ride on Lake Michigan (it soaked through all four inches of foam and left a puddle underneath), we had no other option at the time that to take the now urine soaked cushion out on deck and throw buckets and buckets of fresh water on it along with whatever cleaning products we could find.  It sat up on deck for another two to three hours, and by the time we slid back up to our mooring ball, guess what?  It was completely dry.

So as I popped my head out of companionway present day, and looked at the hot sun above us, I figured, “Nice, this things will be washed and dry before dinner!”.  I hooked the hose up to the fresh water spout, hosed each cushion thoroughly down, and got to work scrubbing any stains that I could see.  Stains that were quite apparent while they were sitting in our salon, but seemed to disappear as soon as the cushion was wet.  I hate when that happens.  Each cushion received about thirty minutes of scrubbing and was then soaked one more time with the hose.  To help the drying process out a bit we folded the cushions in half and put our full weight on to them, letting extra water trickle through the dock below us.  Then for added purging I hopped on each cushion as if it were a trampoline, almost sending myself off the dock and into the river water below.

Sweeping my nose across the finished product I smelled the freshness and was quite proud of myself for finally tackling a project that sorely needed to be done for months now.  All that was left to do was leave them in the sun, and along with the afternoon breezes that wafted through, wait for nature to do it’s part.  I wish it had been that easy.

Going back to inspect the cushions just as the sun was flickering through the lower branches of the trees, we noticed they were still damp.  ‘Ok’, we thought, ‘Guatemala is a little more humid than Michigan, I guess they’ll need overnight to try’.  So we propped them up on the inside of the ranchito, away from the regular storms that pass through at night, and figured that with a few extra hours of sun in the morning, we’d be back relaxing in them by lunch the next day.  Only, that was a no-go as well.  We checked on them every few hours the next day, and not only were they not fully drying, but now they were beginning to smell moldy.  I wanted to fix it with some more sun and maybe a little Fabreeze.  Matt thought they were too far past that and needed another washing.  His argument won out.

Once again the cushions were brought on the dock, hosed down, soaped up, and really really squeezed dry.  They have now been ‘drying’ on the docks and in the ranchito for three days.  I don’t even know what do do anymore.  The things won’t air out.  We tried taking them in last night as we foolishly thought they had finally dried out, although, still smell a little moldy, only to find that after a few hours of sitting on them, little wet spots had risen to the top leaving our butts and legs damp.  We’ll just continue to leave them outside every day and pull them in at night until we’re satisfied that they’re ok again.  Next time, I think we’ll stick to Woolite-ing the hell out of them.

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The Last Meeting of the Breakfast Club

Sunday November 10, 2013

11.10.13 (1)

Our time with Ana Bianca and Alfredo with us at the marina is sadly coming to an end.  They leave in the morning to head back to Miami, and it’s likely that we may not cross paths again for two years, if ever.  Trying to spend quality time with all the people in our little group one on one, they invited us on board Kajaya today for breakfast.

I love going aboard Kajaya (although this is what, my second time?).  She may only be three feet larger than Serendipity, but it just feels so light and airy in there.  Plus, Ana Bianca and Alfredo have a kick ass sense of style.  From scarves being turned into lampshades giving it a slightly Bohemian feel, to a large painted scene of tall ships in a bay on their wall, to the nice creamy color of their settees, it all comes together to make a classic and simple feel of a well traveled person.

When we arrived, me with a french press of Pumpkin Spice coffee in hand, the galley was already abuzz with a flurry of activity between Ana Bianca and Alfredo, chopping vegetables and properly setting the table.  I didn’t even have to ask what we were having for breakfast, because I knew that with a Cuban in the kitchen, we were in quite good hands.  Months of dinners (and breakfasts’) at Luis’ had already taught us that.  Plus it was all we heard from Ana Bianca before meeting the infamous Alfredo months ago, how great his cooking skills were, and how every meal on Kajaya was a production in itself, candles even lighting the nightly dinner table.

Since we were actually their second date of the day, we were greeted with apologies of “Sorry, we were left with a little less time than we originally thought, so we’ll just be doing breakfast burritos today”.  Breakfast burritos with fresh salsa, scrambled eggs, and lightly toasted tortillas.  What was there to be sorry for?  Don’t they know we could live off fresh salsa, and the rest is just a bonus?  Although I have to say, on our dark overcast morning, the pumpkin spice coffee really did bring the meal together.  Luckily I had gotten the thanks I deserved because I had slaved minutes over making it.  I know guys, you’re welcome.

Through mouths full of food, where it was a combination of trying to stuff it down as fast as possible because it was so good, and then slowing to take 30 seconds to chew each bite since I knew that not only was it my last meal with them but also that there was only so much food to go around this morning, we chatted and laughed and swapped cruise stories such as the one of the woman who left her family of five to sail off with a middle aged man that had kindly befriended them in their travels.  Apparently ‘helping to up the anchor’ held two different meanings between the husband and wife.  We talked about future plans and where the next few years might land each of us, Matt and I hopefully in the Med for a good long while, and things still a little indecisive with their photojournalism work popping up here and there unscheduled.  I’m still hoping for a reunion in 2015, but we’ll have to see how things go.  Or, maybe even in Miami this winter.  Our tracks East are still completely up in the air.

All talk of the future stopped though, as soon as we came to dessert.  Nutella crepes.  Except, replace the crepe part with lightly toasted tortillas.  Some might consider this a step down, but it was perfect for me because now it means that I have found a way to make them myself!!  Without having to pull out my cast iron skillet that I begged Matt for last fall and has never once gotten any use.  No need to figure out how to produce delicate little crepes because that part has already been taken care of for me!  The last meeting of the breakfast club, and I was sent away with the best gift a girl could ever ask for.  A short cut on how to make a delicious dessert.  Or snack.  Or you know, we could even skip the meals and just go straight to the Nutella.

Ana Bianca on Kajaya

Alfredo cooking on Kajaya

Nutella tortilla

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Down One Dinghy Engine

Friday November 8, 2013

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

If I haven’t mentioned it before, or if it’s just been a really long time I’ve talked about it, we left Lake Michigan last year with two outboard engines for our dinghy.  One of them is a 3.3 hp Mercury, and the other is a 9.9 hp Johnson.  Back when we had our boat on a mooring in Muskegon Lake we had no problem getting from Point A to Point B with our little Mercury, but after reading plenty of accounts from other cruisers that once you get to the Bahamas, it’s nice to have an outboard with a little oomph to carry you between the different cays so you’re not always moving your big boat 2-3 miles just to see something new for the day.  Scouring Ebay and Craig’s List for a larger engine, we came across the Johnson, coincidentally being sold by one of the workers at our marina.  It looked a little beat up (which is actually a good thing, makes it less desirable to thieves), but the price was right and it purred like a kitten once you got it going.  We purchased it, and pretty much left it hanging on the stern of the boat until we got to the Bahamas.

We did use it there a few times, but it was always a hassle getting it from the boat to the dink since it was so much heavier, 75 pounds versus the 28 of our Mercury, so we only used it when we knew we’d be traveling longer distances that the Mercury could not handle.  Which, between the Bahamas and Guatemala, is a number I can count on one hand.  I don’t think it was a huge chore to use the Johnson, but using the Mercury was just so much easier.  Sure, we may not get to where we going very quickly, but luckily for us, time is something that we now have plenty of.  And so, with a bit of contemplating and a week of going back and forth, we’ve decided to sell the Johnson outboard.  We figure with all the use it had (not) been getting, we were better off with the money in our pockets after selling it than keeping it around, constantly weighing down our stern and rarely getting use.  Besides, if we decide down the road that we want or need a larger engine again, we can probably find one in the price range we’re selling ours for.

Once the decision was made to sell it, we needed to make sure that it still worked properly.  For the next few days after making the decision to sell, we’ve been using it to travel back and forth from town, and even a few excursions to Lago Izabal.  I have to say, I forgot how much fun it is having that rush of power behind us.  Speeding along from once place to the next with the wind whipping through your hair and showering you with a nice cool breeze instead of putting around with only three horses, feeling the sun scorch you the whole way.  Part of me wants to keep it now, realizing how much I miss it, but we already have a buyer and can no longer back out.  I’m sure it’s for the best though, seeing how well we got along without it before, and soon enough my mind will forget that extra rush of power and be content to put put around once more.

Oh, and Serendipity’s stern is already loving the lighter load.

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

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View from the Bridge

Thursday November 7, 2013

11.7.13

One of the most distinguishing things about Rio Dulce is the large bridge at the edge of town that crosses over the river.  It’s long and fairly high, I think just over 70 feet at the center, and has a nice little arch that actually makes it quite pretty instead of something plain and boring.  It’s so dominant in anyone’s mind that has been there that you could show a photo to a person that only captures the bridge and the water, and it wouldn’t take them two seconds to reply “Oh, that’s Rio Dulce!”.

One other thing about this bridge that is very noticeable is how many locals will sit at the top of it and sometimes spend hours watching the world pass below them.  It’s not uncommon to see 2-3 cars or tuk-tuks pulled off to the side, even though there is no shoulder and everyone must now move around them, as they enjoy their lunch, dinner, or just a cold beer with the views that surround them from the top.  Although we’ve gone over this bridge a few times on buses we’ve only been able to get a quick glimpse of what made it so special before we were already at the other side.  We, actually meaning Elmari and I, decided this needed to change.

One afternoon when all of us had finished our boat projects for the day and we were now entering the golden hour just before sunset, we dragged our men along as we all piled into t/t Skebenga and motored over to the local marina where everyone leaves their dinghies, before hitting the main street and turning left to get to the bridge instead of going right towards town.  Walking up the incline, we stopped ourselves at the center and were shown why it was such a popular place for the locals.  The views were genuinely beautiful, and the sun making it’s descent made it even more so.  Having packed a very small cooler, I offered everyone a beer and we stood there, among young lovers and families with small children, and took it all the splendor around us.  I’m just sad it took us four months to do so.

bridge in Rio Dulce

 

Backpackers Hostel, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Elmari and Matt on bridge, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

passenger truck, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

view from bridge, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

birds flying under bridge, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

sun sets behind power lines, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

main street, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

dinghy dock at Bruno's, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

 When the four of us arrived back to the marina we found out that we had enjoyed out time atop the bridge so much that we were running late for the dinner club!  It only took us a few moments to gather necessary items off our boat and were soon enjoying great food with great company.  I love this arrangement.  I have no idea what’s going to happen when we leave here.  It will be back to orange spaghetti and cans of soup.  I think I have picked up a few things from the great chefs at our table though, and I hope they stick once we’re left to our own devices again.

And as usual, our night wasn’t complete without a visit from a dog that lives across the bay and occasionally likes to trot over for scraps or to lick our plates clean.  He’s gone though a few names since we’ve ‘adopted’ him at the ranchito, but for now we just call him Foxy, due to his foxy looking appearance.  Matt is actually so smitten with him that part of me thinks we might have a new dog aboard once we leave Guatemala.

flan by Luis

Luis made us flan!

Elmari talking to a marina guest

Foxy coming to visit

Foxy, our soon to be skebenga’ed dog.

after dinner cigars

Enjoying an after dinner cigar.

Ana Bianca and Luis Ana Bianca and Luis

 

 

 

 

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Leaving on a Midnight Bus to Tikal

Wednesday November 6, 2013

 

Tikal

With our whole group together including the crews of Serendipity, Skebenga, and Kajaya, we decided we needed to do something special. Monumental. What better way to achieve this than visiting Mayan ruins? Tikal is a set of structures and temples built by the Mayans during a period from 200 to 900 AD and remain one of the best preserved sites of Mayan ruins in the world. Not to mention the largest. They spread out over 6.2 square miles with about 5 main temples and thousands of other smaller structures.

Getting there is not the most difficult thing in the world, but not the easiest either. For most visitors it means a bus ride to the town of Flores from one of the major vendors, and then another shuttle bus to the site of the ruins. All of this plus seeing the ruins usually means turning it into an overnight trip since it’s preferable to be at least in Flores the night before, because one of the big draws of these ruins, as if you needed another, is watching the sun rise while sitting at the top of one of the temples, overlooking the vast canopy of trees below you. Most of our group didn’t want to turn this even into an overnight trip, but none of us wanted to miss out on the sunrise either. This left only one thing for us to do. We hired a private driver to haul our asses there in the middle of the night.

Upon hearing that, even for those that have already gotten to Flores at a reasonable time the previous day, you want to be to the entrance of the site no later than 4:30 am so that you can walk through the jungle and to the sunrise viewing temple with enough time to get to the top before the sun rises at 5:30. For us to get ourselves there in time for all this to work out, it meant that we needed to be leaving Rio Dulce no later than midnight. Leaving Ana Bianca to work out all the details, our group tried to catch a few hours of sleep after dinner before lugging ourselves to the marina restaurant just after 11 to be shuttled into town by the marina’s lancha. Already exhausted, the six of us crawled into the van, each couple claiming a row, and laid our heads down to try and catch a few more hours of sleep.

We soon found this proved useless as our driver was trying to stick to our tight schedule and would take the hairpin turns of the road out of town at breakneck speeds. As soon as you found yourself drifting off your neck would jerk sharply to the side, or one of the million speed bumps would send you airborne for a split second before you came crashing down again. Throughout the four hour drive we chatted among ourselves and sent questioning looks around when we found our driver also did not break for animals. Most of the stray dogs along the way were pretty good at getting out of the road before we could reach them, but we definitely know there was at least one that got a gentle tap, and a cat that we’re pretty sure didn’t make it.

Just outside the entrance to the National Park, we picked up our private tour guide, a necessity if you want to enter the park before the normal hours of 6 am (there’s an additional fee to enter for the sunrise). When we finally pulled into a parking spot before we started the trail into the ruins and hopped out of the van, ready to start our adventure. I don’t know why I had assumed our guide would come handy with a big spotlight or flashlights for everyone, but I was quite happy to find out that Matt had brought a headlamp along for us. Everyone else was smart enough to bring their own light source, so as our guide led us through the dirt path on the pitch black trails, I tried to follow as close as I could behind him, with Matt just behind me, his headlamp shinning just far enough to cover a few steps in front of my feet.

Although we couldn’t see anything that wasn’t right in front of us, we could tell we were surrounded by mamouth trees. When we reached somewhat of an opening, our guide shone his flashlight off to the side and illuminated the outline of one of the temples. It was amazing to see such a structure of that magnitude, buried in the jungle, just a few hundred feet away from us. We couldn’t wait to catch it on our way back when it would be fully lit with sun. As we passed, our guide told us that this was referred to as ‘Temple One’, since this was the first temple that was stumbled upon when this site was first rediscovered back in the 1840′s. Not too much farther up we passed Temple Two, while making our way to Temple Four, the tallest, where we would be watching the sun rise. When we arrived there I was just a little disappointed to find that we wouldn’t be climbing the original steps of the structure, as I had through, but instead made our way up a wooden staircase recently added on the side.

Any depression I had came to a dead halt as soon as we reached the top. I was standing on top of history, and a feeling of awe washed over me as I thought of the people who had stood where I stood, hundreds of years before me. The sky had lightened just enough that I could make out the vast canopy of trees below us as we inched our way onto the temple. Our guide told us that the best seats in the house were as far up as we could get ourselves, so the six of us marched up a small flight of steps before perching our butts down on the stone. There were already a few other groups of people there, barely visible through the dark, and we tried not to make much noise as we settled in. Our guide told us to stay quiet, and enjoy the show that was about to begin.

The fates were not 100% on our side this day as we realized, as the sky began to light itself more and more, that a waved of clouds had rolled in since our walk from the parking lot, and our sunrise was going to be slow and gray instead of instant and blinding. It was still an interesting sight, watching the sky slowly get lighter and illuminating the outlines of Temples One, Two and Three off in the distance. I had resigned myself to accepting what I could of the day when the ‘show’ our guide had been talking about started. All through the jungles of Tikal are groups of howler monkeys, and they like to make their presence known just as the jungle is waking up for the day. Apparently their also littered throughout the Rio, but in all our time there I’d never seen or heard them.

This being my first encounter, it turned out not to be in any what what I had been expecting. Usually when one thinks of monkeys and the sounds they make, they imagine the ‘Oooh, oooh, oooh’ sound. Howler monkeys, not even close to this. I don’t even know how to describe their sounds, except to say that it felt like we were on the set of a horror movie. Off in the distance through the trees, a noise would puncture the silence of almost a low moaning noise. Except, it’s not even really a moaning sound. It’s more like a long forced breath that grows and resonates as it fills the emptiness. It truly is very creepy, and I have to wonder what the Mayans thought of it when the first settled this land. If it were me, I would have assumed there were demons living in the jungle and hightailed it in the opposite direction.

 

Howler monkeys at Tikal from Jessica Johnson on Vimeo.

sunrise at Tikal

Our cloudy and foggy sunrise.

Sunrise over temple 2, Tikal

Temples One, Two, and Three showing in the background.

Elmari watching the sun rise

Elmari watching the sky get lighter.

After the monkeys had finished their show and the sun had risen behind the clouds, we wondered how long we had to wait before it was acceptable to break these special moments of silence. The moments that, just thirty minutes earlier, Matt had been perturbed by when camera shutters and beeping options had shattered the silence, and then managed himself to produce a noisy ‘click click click click click’ with a panoramic shot of the scene not even ten minutes after loudly groaning for everyone else to ‘Jesus Christ people, be quiet!’. The reason we were all so anxious to veer off the quiet whispers and camera clicks now was that most of us hadn’t eaten in twelve hours and we were ready to break out our lunch. After people started finally moving around more we felt comfortable searching through our bags and not holding back as plastic crinkled and paper wrappers crumpled, all of us delving into the submarine sandwiches we had brought. And just to add to the enjoyment of dining atop an eleven hundred year old structure, Matt and I added two distinctive ‘Psssssts!!’ as our aluminum cans of Pepsi pierced open.

Alfredo eating his sub

Alfredo was really, really excited about his sandwich.

sunrise at Tikal

group shot at Tikal

Group shot at the top of Temple Four.

sunbeam through the clouds at Tikal

This shot makes me think of aliens sending a spotlight through the clouds, haha.

 

We stayed on the steps for awhile after we finished our meals, taking in the scene before us, before bouncing back down the stairs, a feat much easier than climbing them in the first place. From there our guide led us around the grounds, stopping at the larger structures and giving us an explanation of what they were used for. We saw the temple that was used as their sundial/calendar, where if looking at it from the center, the sun would allaign with the left side on the summer solstice, and the right side at the winter solstice. I wondered how anyone could make out the sun at these low points with the dense jungle growing just behind it, until we were told that back when this land was utilized by the Mayans, they had cleared out all the trees and it was nothing but wide open spaces throughout the grounds.

sun calendar at Tikal

After a little more walking and touring we were led back to the grounds that housed Temples One and Two. Here we were given a brief speech from our guide about the history of these two structures, and then told to wander free for awhile. I was hoping that we’d be able to climb these colossal structures, but they were off limits and we could only view from the ground. There were some slightly smaller areas off to the side though that we did have free reign of, and for the next 30 minutes we climbed dozens of stone steps, poked our heads into dark spaces we weren’t allowed to enter, and admired Mayan carvings that remained in portions of the stone. By now the sun was high in the sky and had broken free of the clouds. Sitting perched on the highest point I could find, I looked down through blue skies as members from other tour groups wandered into our patch of history, climbing the steps and poking their heads into the dark spaces were weren’t allowed to enter. Our cue to leave.

Walking back through the dirt paths, now fully illuminated, we craned our necks to look up at the giant cedar and mahogany trees towering above us, sights that we weren’t able to appreciate on our way in. Before we could pile ourselves back into the van for the long ride home we made one last stop at the concession stand and souviner shop at the entrance to the grounds. While the rest of our group busied themselves by ordering espressos and buying hand woven hammocks, Matt and I had the energy for neither. Awake now for over 24 hours straight, we sprawled ourselves out on the cement ground, so close to sleep, with only enough energy to push ourselves up once more for the three hundred foot walk to the van when it was time to leave.

11.6.13 (9)

Mayan stone carvings at Tikal

Temple Two, Tikal

Temple 1, Tikal

Back of Temple 1, Tikal

structure at Tikal

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Celebrating La Dia de la Muerta

Friday November 1, 2013

Matt on Hula Girl

This week has brought some nice surprises to us, one of the best ones being that Anna Bianca is back at the marina for a week and a half with her boyfriend Alfredo. Having left their boat Kajaya sitting there for two and a half months, they decided that a break in their schedules would be the perfect time to pop back into the Rio to check on her. We had already planned on being gone by the time their visit rolled around, mostly due to our cruising permit coming to an end, but we were able to work out something with the agent that handles customs/immigration to let us stay a little long for just a small daily penalty (about $0.65). Now not only are we able to be here to visit with Anna Bianca and Alfredo, but we were able to take advantage of them as pack mules, bringing us a full bag of necessary boat parts that we didn’t have room for before or had simply forgotten. Oh, and coffee. I can never have enough specialty coffee. (Pumpkin Spice, come on people it was necessary!)

The nice surprises continued this morning when Alfredo knocked on our hull just after 9 to let us know that they had just been in touch with Nacho and Annica who wanted to take us all on their boat again today and were sending their lancha to have us picked up at 10.  For them it was a national holiday, The Day of the Dead, and they were able to get to the Rio a little earlier than usual.  I went about making myself some of that pumpkin spice coffee to ensure I wouldn’t be groggy for the rest of the day, and we threw together a bag with essentials like swim suits, sun block, and bug repellent. Luki and Elmari decided to stay behind to keep working on boat projects since they’re hoping to leave within the next week and they are much more disciplined than we are. It’s probably also why their boat is superior to ours in just about every way, but that’s neither here nor there. What was important today is that we were going to have some fun!

Right on schedule, their canvas covered lancha pulled into the maria and gathered the four of us as we made our way a mile down the river to where their vacation house sits on the Rio. At the docks to greet us were Nacho and Maria, whom I gave a big wet hug to as she had been playing in the water with their adorable dog Nala, and soon we were joined by Annica and Camila. With smiles on their faces, they told us they had been busy preparing langosta, or lobster. It was looking as if it was going to be a very good day indeed. As the 8 of us, plus their deck hand Randy, piled in the boat, we once again sped off at breakneck speeds of over 20 knots that Matt and I still aren’t used to in our slow paced lives.

Instead of bringing us all the way back out to Livingston to exit into the bay, we hung a left at the end of the wide open expanse of the golfete and traveled a few hundred yards up a little river before the anchor was dropped. We were told that just further up the river was a natural reserve that didn’t allow any kind of power boats to venture up it, but near the mouth of the river was a favorite little spot for the family to spend an afternoon. We were also told that manatees sometimes congragate here in the winter months when the temperatures in the Caribbean Sea begin to plummit. Although we were all hopeful, none of us were expecting to see any on this day. Still ready to get in the water though, we brought out the floating noodles we had used out in the bay and dove with them into the warm green water.

For awhile we were able to float lazily next to the boat, but before long a strong current came ripping down the river that would have one paddling moderately just to keep their place in the water, and really kicking to try and get back to the boat. There were two lucky people at a time that could avoid this by using one of the noodles that was tied with a line back to the boat, sitting in the water with a drink in their hand as they watched the rest of us struggle and work up an appetite while trying not to get washed out to the golfete. Ok, maybe the strength of it is getting a little exaggerated here, but if you did decide to sit on your noodle and do nothing, you would be a goner. Until the crew decided that they had enough lounging and wanted to come pick you up a mile or two down river.

To add to the fun for the day we were joined by friends of Nancho and Annica, along with their daughter and her boyfriend, on their very large and very fast dinghy. Along with some rope and skis that had been stowed on Hula Girl, anyone that wanted to go water skiing was more than welcome to do so. As tempted as I was, it’s been years since I’ve gone myself, there was one slight problem. Only one ski was available and I have no clue how to get up on slolemn. Everyone kept telling me that it’s actually much easier to use one ski than two, but I didn’t want to ruin everyone’s day by taking up a good portion of it for ‘Lessons for Jessica on how to water ski’. Instead, I watched as Maria, Camila, and Alfredo went, each of them passing within a few feet of the boat to send sprays of water our way.

floating down river

Camila and Nala

water skiing in the Rio

 Once everyone was back on board I was more than ready to dive into that langosta that had been prepared for us.  If fresh lobster wasn’t enough, the friends that had come along prepared a big tub of ceviche which, after I was pretty sure I could eat no more, they scooped into little plastic cups that we ate with spoons and sides of saltine crackers.  These people really know how to celebrate their holidays down here.  If I can’t have burgers and hot dogs, I will gladly substitute them for lobster and ceviche.

lunch time on Hula Girl

Matt lounging on Hula Girl

 Some more time was spent in the water after lunch, but with a full stomach I was too tired to fight the current and just turned the rope of the anchor line into a nice little hammock for myself.  Upon finally floating back to the stern I found out it was a good thing I did, because as soon as I was on board, the engines were on and the anchor was being raised.  Time to head back home for the day.

Nala sleeping

Clearly we were all exhausted.

 

Back at the house we took a little time to unwind with some coffee before watching the sun set at it’s ungodly early hour of 5:30.  Just after 6:00, everyone in our group was having trouble keeping their eyes open and it was a sign that it was time to call it a day.  As soon as we were back on Serendipity after celebrating the Day of the Dead, were were busy sleeping like the dead.

Ana Bianca and Alfredo

I like to tease these two that they’re twins.  Wearing the same white tank and making the same funny face.

Maria and Camila

Sisterly love.

 

 

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