Running Away with Strangers

Thursday June 27, 2013

El Estor, Guatemala

A kind of unusual thing happened when the four of us returned from the market the other day. We were all walking down the docks with bags in hand, when Luki was stopped by an older Latin American man along the way. It took only a moment to find out that he had a boat here at the marina as well, and the two dove right into a conversation that they must have been having on and off for the past few weeks that Skebenga had already been there. Then it popped up in conversation that Luki and Elmarie must be going somewhere with this gentleman, and he asked them to come aboard his boat to have a look at what would be their cabin. Then turning to Matt and I to ask if we’d like a tour of the boat as well, we set our belongings on the dock to hop on and take a look. It took only a moment to find out that the gentleman we were talking to was named Luis, that he was originally from Cuba, and that he had been here on his 42ft motor vessel for the past two years. The four of us climbed on to his boat and were astounded at what kind of space a 42 foot motor vessel could afford you. It was a tri-level space, with a salon, galley, and navigation space on the main floor; a small berth, steering wheel, controls, and a large foredeck with a bench on the upper level; and a head plus two cabins on the lower level.

As we wandered from level to level, gasping with ooooohs and aaaaahs at all the livable space, Luis showed Luki and Elmarie their master cabin, and then as we passed to the guest cabin, turned to Matt and I, and with a smooth Cuban accent said, “You two must come as well, this will be your cabin, I insist.”. Who…Where…What?! Go where? For what? How long? And who are you? It turned out that a town called El Estor, situated on Lake Isabelle and about 20 miles west of us, was having a Regatta in a few days, hosting a celebration and inviting all the local yachts in the are to come participate. It would just be two days, leaving on Thursday morning with a dinner and celebration that night, anchoring out in the harbor to sleep, and then maybe spend some time sunning and swimming the next day before making our way back to the marina. Although we already have a list of boat projects the length of our arms piling up, we agreed. Two days was short enough to leave Georgie on the boat alone (with tons of food, water, and ventilation), and we needed a little fun. We we worried about hopping on a boat with a guy we just met? A little. But all we had to do was make sure we could out-run or out-swim one person on Skebenga.

So at 8:00 this morning, with one backpack stuffed full between the two of us, we climbed on m/v Hydromax once more and got ready to push off. We found out it was not just the five of traveling as we had originally assumed, we had picked up two more people. One was a local girl named Janita that was Luis’ twice a week house/boat-keeper, young sweet, about eight months pregnant, and also in need of some rest, relaxation, and fun. The 7th was another young girl, Nicole, who’s also originally from the States, and has been traveling south for the past few months, already hitting Mexico and Belize. The five of us boat-knowlegeable people as well as a few deck hands from the marina, prepared to push off and join the fleet already heading up the river. It didn’t take long for everyone to congregate around the wheel, sitting four across on the berth that lay behind, with a few people taking turns to get some fresh air on the bench on the foredeck. The day was sunny with just a little bit of haze, and the water was flat calm. It didn’t take long for drinks to start being served, and not even the alcoholic kind. Luis went to work making everyone a cup of espresso, deliciously sweet, and then we moved on to the cool refreshing bottles of soda stored in the freezer. Everyone was having a great time, enjoying the slow pace up the river and into the lake.

espresso on Hydromax

Luki at the helm

Lake Isabelle

Elmarie on deck

foredeck of Hydromax

Matt at the helm

A lot of the other boats making their way up the water with us had all of their flair out, flags running up and down all of their spreaders. The ride took about four hours, where the seven of us soaked up sun and fresh air, working our way from coffee, to Pepsi, and finally the cold Gallos (local beer) stocked in the freezer. Arriving at the town of El Estor, we wound our way through the other boats already sitting at anchor and dropped ours. Since the festivities were not starting until that evening, we took advantage of the extra free time to take a dip in the lake. At first it was just little jumps from the transom and the railing surrounding it, but then we got more daring and went to the upper deck, getting a running start and feeling the rush as we fell the fifteen or so feet into the water. Any previous apprehensions we had about getting in the water since we’d heard reports of alligator sightings on the way up, were quickly gone as we dove, swam, and played in the water until we were too tired to keep ourselves afloat anymore. Changing into street clothes, we called a lancha over to take all all in to town so we could do a little wandering before the big banquet dinner that was being held for all the boaters that night.

view of El Estor

dropping anchor

boat coming in to El Estor

The shores were lined with hundreds of locals, and just on the water front a band had been set up, playing latin music as children ran around and vendors sold hot food. Making our way through the masses, we eventually fell out on one of the side streets. It was a little larger than Fronteras, but most of the shops looked the same, large street shacks with all of their goods stacked or hanging on display. We’d heard this was a large mining town run by Russians, and they were the ones putting the regatta on for the boaters. It turns out that although this town is beautifully situated on a large lake, no one uses the water other than for fishing. I guess they wanted more people to take advantage of it for recreational purposes (locals or cruisers, or both? I’m not sure) and they put on this big festival complete with a banquet including free food and drinks for anyone that came on their boat. I’m glad we found someone to come with, because after trying to back her in one time, I don’t think Matt wants to take Serendipity out of her slip until we leave for good. As we got further back into the streets of El Estor we found out that there was also a carnival set up. Along each side of the streets were games where you could win prizes, mostly cheap plastic Disney toys and coloring books that would be found in most dollar stores back in the states. We took a pass on those, and just slowly meandered through the streets, taking the whole scene in.

We were having so much fun getting to know a new culture that we almost forgot about the time and missed the parade of boats. Practically running back to the water, we watched as about 2/3rds of the boats that came, sail or motor around the bay.  Having come in a motor vessel, there wasn’t a big need to have participated ourselves, we had no flags or sails to show off, but we were more than happy to watch the show from shore. When it ended we slowly strolled up the dirt road to the boardwalk and sat down for some good people watching. This must have been a very big event for the residents of El Estor, and the cruisers were outnumbered by the locals at a rate of about 10 to 1. Long before we ever got to Guatemala, we kept hearing about how the women will wear very bright and colorful outfits, and even though it wasn’t every woman, many girls in the younger generation wore jeans and t-shirts, there was still a fair share of women in their traditional clothing.  There was a little boy that was coming around selling fried plantains, and each of us bought a bag for 1Q each, or $0.13.  I’m never leaving here.

streets of El Estor

fabric/clothing store in El Estor

fresh coconut water

carnival in El Estor

parade of boats on Lake Isabelle

Lake Isabelle

our group of misfits

fried plantains for sale

Dinner that night was in a large hall that was filled with about 80 cruisers.  True to their word, they wanted to keep us full with food and drinks.  I’m even guessing they over-purchased on the Stella Artois, since as soon as dinner was brought out to us, someone was right behind giving each person two bottles of beer, regardless of what they were drinking.  While we ate we enjoyed live music from a group of men playing instruments ranging from drums to cellos to xylophones.  Some of the songs they played were very traditional, but they even tried to appease their fellow visitors by playing things like ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson.  After the plates were cleared a few people got up and began to dance, but we were ready to head outside and see what the town had to offer after dark.  On the waterfront there was a large stage set up with another band playing more American instruments, but no one was out dancing.  Nicole, Luis, and I decided to change that and, after about 3 Stellas, had no problem shaking our money makers all by ourselves.  It was enough to bring just a couple other people out to dance, but mostly only other cruisers.  The locals seemed content just to sit to the side and tap their feet to the beat.  There was one local guy though, that took me hostage, and after three dances in a row, Luis had to come rescue me from his grasp.  The guy wasn’t being vulgar in any kind of way, he was just very excited to dance and didn’t get the hints (or Spanglish) I was throwing his way that I was tired and needed a break.

Our whole group was exhausted from the fun filled day though, and at the late hour of 8:30 pm, we hopped a lancha to go back to Hydromax for the night.  It wasn’t quite bedtime yet, so the five of us boaters brought a bottle of wine to the top deck to enjoy some conversation and a lightning storm off in the distance.  We were all taken by surprise when a fireworks show began at 9:00, and we sat there in awe as the bright colors exploded before our eyes.  It was a special thing for us cruisers, yet I could help but feel grateful that everyone in El Estor was able to enjoy the show as well.  I’m guessing this is the first fireworks display the town has ever had, and even though it was meant to be a treat for us gringos that came for the regatta, that people who had made their way down from their mountain villages were able to experience it too.  It was such a perfect day and I feel so lucky that we were invited.  We’ve only been in this country for a few days, and it has been so good to us.  I can’t believe that just a few days ago I wanted out of this lifestyle  What was I thinking?

banquet for regatta

dancing in El Estor

 

 

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7 thoughts on “Running Away with Strangers

  1. “I can’t believe that just a few days ago I wanted out of this lifestyle What was I thinking?”

    Not all the great experiences in life are easy to come by. Sounds like quite the adventure. Keep it up. You’ll have stories to pass on to family for years! ;)

  2. Daniel, it really can be a rapid change like that, and usually is! Which is why I had been so surprised in the Caymans and Honduras that is wasn’t going away for so long. Now I know better, just hang in there. :)

  3. Thanks dad. We all took turns behind the wheel, so much easier than a sailboat. Or maybe it’s just because the water was calm for once. :) We’ve been loving Guatemala, it’s been so good to us.

  4. Pingback: Throwback Thursday: Running Away with Strangers | Matt & Jessica's Sailing Page

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