Winnie has put many of miles under her keel since the last post covering our time in Belize. My rough estimate is that we have travelled 3,700 miles since departing St Louis nearly 5 months ago and arriving in San Andres, Columbia. We have fallen into many interesting routines while living aboard Winnie…some of which we enjoy, and many which are just hard work. The last post ended with us departing Belizean waters headed for Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We indeed made it there as planned, and were taken back by the beautiful green mountain sides which would soon swallow us up. The transition from sea to sweet water first involved making landfall in the small Garifuna town of Livingston. We timed our arrival for mid-afternoon, with a rising tide in case we ran aground. There is a muddy bar that limits the entrance into the river which has depths of just 6 feet (our boat needs 5 feet of depth). The depth read exactly 5 feet, but I didn’t feel us drag on the bottom as we made it across the bar and into the deeper water within. Most cruisers and our guidebook say to use an agent to check in, but we prefer to meet the port captains, immigration officers, etc. in person and stumble through the process in order to 1) Learn the paperwork requirements and the jobs that each department does 2) Save about $40 which goes to the ship’s agent and 3) Take a nice walking tour of the town as we search out the different offices and buildings where we must take our documents.
Once we finish our paperwork, it is usually time to treat ourselves to some fresh land food and cold Coke’s. After a delicious cheap meal at a place named “Garibaldi’s”, we wandered the street in one direction until it turned to a dirt path and the jungle took over. We stopped in at the main hostel and enjoyed some games and beers before rowing back out to our boat for a rolly night in the brackish water. While in Livingston we also walked the plastic covered beach for a couple hours in order to reach the “Siete Altares” which is a series of freshwater waterfalls that form pools as they descend into the sea. We took relief in the jungle canopy and took our first freshwater bath since San Pedro.
After 2 nights in Livingston we weighed anchor and made our way up the mouth of the river. The mountain walls soon rose hundreds of feet on both sides, completely covered in lush greenery and vines. We instantly felt like we had travelled a long distance, as the ocean disappeared behind us and we were in a new landscape completely. The current was a swift 2 knots, but we slowly made our way the short distance up river to El Golfete. We wouldn’t be able to make it across the lake ~15 miles to Rio Dulce (city of Fronteras) before sunset, so we anchored off of an island on the eastern side of the lake.
The next morning we made our way across the lake, not knowing what the area of Rio Dulce would be like. It turned out to be a cruisers paradise, with cheap marinas, good anchorages, freshwater, and beautiful scenery. It is a place of contrast, where men would be rowing their dugout canoes slowly and peacefully while throwing homemade fishing nets, as a million dollar powerboat would be passing by, the owner would soon be picked up by helicopter and taken back to his or her home. Their is a magnificent modern bridge which crosses the water 100’ above, making a connection for the constant stream of cattle trucks and semis full of fruits, vegetables, lumber, or dirt. All vehicles must cross the one bridge, and squeeze through the town which is busy with street vendors and pedestrians, everyone sharing the <20’ wide road. We found lots of fresh fruit and meats along this stretch, but they were in a constant sanitation battle with the trucks that stirred up dust and left exhaust, as well as the cattle occasionally leaving some droppings off the side of their trucks. It was a happening place, with a lot to look at as we strolled up and down the street daily.
The most exciting part about Rio Dulce might have been the simple fact that we were floating around in freshwater again. Our skin felt clean as we took baths daily, and we were able to clean our clothes and bedding in the water, and it would completely dry, finally! It rained almost every night, and the temperature felt cool at night. We found a few good places to hang out, and alternated between eating cheap pizza off the street, or a typical street meal of pork, rice, pasta, beans, and tortillas at another place. We didn’t have many boat projects to do, so it was a relaxing time for me, not having much to fix.
For one reason or another, we opted to not put the outboard on our dinghy for most of our stay, so each trip to shore was a pleasant row or a swim. When we left Winnie alone for a couple days, we would take our things to shore, row back to Winnie to leave the dinghy, and then one of us would swim to shore. The opposite had to occur when we returned, and I think the locals thought it funny that we would rather make a 15 minute swim than pay for a cheap launcha to take us to our boat. It wasn’t just the money, but we enjoyed doing things all by ourselves, as well as not spending the time finding someone with a boat and negotiating a price in our rough Spanish. For one occasion, Kassie and I put the outboard on the dinghy and decided we would try to take the dinghy on a 15 mile trip to Agua Caliente, which is a hot spring waterfall that falls into a cool running river. The ride to the waterfalls took just a couple hours, followed by a 30 minute hike to the falls. The falls were pretty awesome, and it was possible to swim behind the falls and into some underwater caves, as well as air filled openings within that felt like a sauna or grotto. It was a really nice day trip, except for our return trip to the boat. The wind had picked up, and threw waves at our bow as we attempted to motor back at the same speed in which we came. The dinghy and our bodies couldn’t handle the rough water, so we had to plow at a really slow pace, making our 2 hour journey turn into a 4 hour return trip. Due to the extended time and wind/waves pushing against us, we knew that we would probably run out of gas at some point, but couldn’t tell when. We made it all but the last 1/2 mile or so until the gas finally ran out, but we were in protected enough water at that point to row the rest of the distance easily. It was dark by then, but we were relieved to have completed the rough journey, and thought that all in all, it was still worth it.
Since our boat was in such a safe anchorage, and we had heard so much about Tikal, we planned an inland trip to visit the Mayan ruins. We took a 5 hour bus ride to Flores, where we stayed the night and caught a 4 a.m. shuttle into Tikal. Tikal was an ancient Mayan city which was abandoned and taken over by the jungle, only to be rediscovered many years later and partially restored to the tourist attraction it is today. The stone pyramid structures were awe-inspiring, especially their location deep in the jungle. As we entered the park, we could hear the deep growls of Howler Monkeys, which we were told is the sound the Jurassic Park movies used for the T-rex growls. From the top of one pyramid, we could look out over the top of the jungle growth, seeing the tops of other pyramids peaking up out of the jungle. After a full day of wandering six of the main temples, we returned to Flores, and took a return bus the following morning back to Rio Dulce, where Winnie had waited for us patiently.
Our second inland trip was to the old mountain town of Antigua. It was a similar distance by bus, and we spent 2 nights in a hostel there. We wandered the city by foot, explored the massive open marketplace, observed the coming and goings of the chicken buses, and met our new friend William. William was visiting from Guatemala City, and knew of a really nice mountain side bar with live music for the evening. We took a free shuttle high up the mountain, where the air mixed with clouds and we could look out over the city, with volcanos in the distance. Fresh thin air was a nice change in comparison with our salty sea breeze that we have become accustomed to.
Once safely back to the boat, we started monitoring the weather more closely and planning our next passages. A solo sailor anchored next to us wanted to take a trip to Tikal as well, so we watched over his boat named Windsong and cat named Bandito. We were thoroughly impressed by how at home the cat was on his boat, and even knew how to use the toilet onboard. Throughout Central America, we had been monitoring the piracy situation off the coast of Honduras. A few months back, some cruisers were attacked by 4 men in a small launcha 20 miles off the coast of Punta Sal, while enroute to Roatan I believe. Apparently, they were robbed at machete and gunpoint, and their boat was commandeered, disabled, stripped, and ran aground in a small bay. Although the sailors were marooned in the bay for a few days before being found, they were unharmed. Stories like this make us think very carefully about our route and the safety risks involved. We must take into account weather, waves, wind and current direction, shoals and reefs, and sometimes pirates. After gathering as much info from the internet and fellow sailors who had safely transited this region, we determined it would be safest to make passage as far away from mainland Honduras as possible. To keep a safe distance from the danger zones, we would head back north to Placencia, then outside of the Belizean reef to Glover’s Reef, which is an offshore atoll. From the atoll, we planned on heading SE towards Roatan, staying well north of Punta Sal and Utila, then continuing eastward past Honduras, until we could head south along the Nicaraguan coast.
Everything obviously worked out well, since we made the passage along the Honduran coast, around Cabo Gracias Dios (?) and are currently hanging out on the island of San Andres. San Andres is a Colombian island 100+ miles off the mainland coast of Nicaragua. The passages to get here from Guatemala were interesting, but I will include those details in the next post.
Hi Yours Guys,
Thanks for the terrific update!! I spent some time with Dylan’s Mom and Dad yesterday at the sunset place at the end of Indian Mound here in Islamorada. It was great to see them again. I showed them your latest posting on my phone. They had not had a chance to see it yet. Your Mom tells me Dylan will make a trip home pretty soon. She is very anxious to see him.
Your trip to Tikal near Flores, and Antiqua near Guatemala City brought back memories of our bus trips from Mexico City to Flores and then the flight from Flores to Guatemala City in 2006.
Very happy to hear things are still going well, and glad you avoided the pirates. Honduras is certainly not the safest place to visit these days due to all the drug trafficing there. I understand Roatan Island should be ok. It is a popular vacation spot; so, I assume it is well policed.
Looking forward to your next posting.
Bon Voyage, Howard
Love seeing the world through your eyes! Enjoy & safe passage!!
Thanks for planning my retirement for me you three! I’m an envious fan. Blesings. Mark
Glad you enjoyed Guatemala–both Tikal and Antigua are amazing sites. Love seeing your pictures and reading about your experiences. Happy to hear you are safe and doing well! Thanks for sharing!