Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Bouncing Around, Belize to Guatemala

Heading Up the Rio Dulce

If you've asked yourself, as my forever friend Louana did, "where oh where is Wahoo?" 

Our home in Guatemala
The answer is - right now we are tied to the dock in Tortugal Marina on the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. 

The Rio Dulce is a fresh water river that travels trough a soaring gorge from Lago de Izabal down to the Caribbean. Because it's Western confluence with the lake is situated amid mountains the area has become THE hurricane hole of the cruisers in the Northern and Central parts of the Western Caribbean. The twin towns of Fronteras and Renello are on either side of the highest bridge (75 ft) on the Pan American highway. The area around the bridge has become cruiser central. Many cruisers find that they "swallow the hook" once here. It offers marinas and marine services plus assorted bars and restaurants together with hikes and numerous cruisers events. There is also a strong "giving back to Guatemala" feeling that runs through the cruising community which binds us all together. Each morning the local Cruisers' Net keeps us up to date on what's happening "on the River".

Main Street of Fronteras where we can find the freshest fruits and veggies!! Not to mention those plantain chips.

So why are we here in May?? Well that's a result of Belize's weird relationship with the cruising life. Belize allows only a 3 (maybe 4) month Visa for International boats. I could stay a year, Roy indefinitely but Wahoo must sail away. She surely can't go it alone so here we are. Belize takes knowing about her ex-pats very seriously. First we clear in, which involves a visit to Immigration, Customs and Port Authority. A last visit to BAHA (Belize Agricultural & Health Authority) completes our admission provided we pay our dues. Authorities can be found in San Pedro, Belize City, Dangriga and Punta Gorda and rules seem to differ with each place, the officer and whimsy. Initial clearance gives a month in country, with 2 (or 3) extensions.  We must revisit Customs and Immigration each month to get our share of abuse and renew our Visas. After the third month if you're in Placencia it's "Adios" but if you're in San Pedro it's possible to get a 4th month. 
No Reason, Just Policy!

Sadly, it's the small vendors that suffer in lost income as cruisers take their money elsewhere. We've been told that Belize doesn't value cruisers as we don't "put heads in beds". Obviously they choose to ignore the money we spend in other ways. But, there's lots of area to sail between Mexico and the Bay Islands. Even if we leave out the rest of the Western Caribbean that would take us down to Panama. For the crew aboard Wahoo the 300NM that covers Isla Mujeres to the Bay Islands of Honduras will give us plenty of scope for the next few years. Much of it will be spent in Belize but obviously not all of it.

Spotted Eagle Ray

This Grouper came too close & ended on the grill
Of course, our three allotted months in Belize included plenty of time for us to visit San Pedro, Caye Caulker and spend time at Turneffe Atoll for the first time in umpteen years. We also visited several of the middle cayes including one of our favorites, Whippari. What's saiiing without the odd storm or two and we endured ours while at Hatchett Caye. As usual in Belize, storms send us all scurrying back to the cruising "mother of harbors", Placencia, so that Yoli's can offer solace in the form of cold Belikins and lots of camaraderie. On one arrival we were entertained by a visiting manatee that hung around. We tried feeding cabbage and lettuce but it only wanted companionship. We've found Wahoo to be a magnet for wildlife lately, including a Pelican, a Brown Booby, a very Yellow Warbler, several Bahama Swallows that wanted to build a nest in our mast and that visiting Eagle Ray you see above.

With family arrivals starting on June 20 we needed to depart Belize so that we could come back ( how can they miss us if we don't go away). So there we were heading to the Rio at the end of April. While on the river we decided to get some interior work done. Over the years much has been done to keep Wahoo in Bristol fashion but the interior has taken both a beating and a back seat to the more pressing needs of rigging, solar and wind generators, wind indicators, depth sounders, auto pilots and all the other life saving/enhancing items. Finally refinishing our traditional teak and holly cabin sole was deemed necessary and boy does it make dear Wahoo look like a new boat! One of the many joys of an older sailing vessel (Wahoo was born in 1992) is how much more of everything was used in construction compared with the newer boats. From the thickness of the fiberglass hull to the teak cabinetry to the cabin sole all of it was made to be used, refinished and simply last, whether it was experiencing pounding seas or sand encrusted feet.

Volcán de Fuego,  seen from our terrace in Antigua, still showing off after destroying the city many times in the 18th Century

And because no one stays on a boat when the interior is being sanded and varnished we decided to take a little trip. Buses can take you anywhere so we left the summer heat and humidity of Rio Dulce for the cool temperatures of the highlands. Our plan was 4 days in Antigua Guatemala, the old Colonial capital established in 1543. Antigua served as the capital of Guatemala (territory included present day Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Costa Rica) for 300 years enduring several earthquakes and volcanic eruption during this time. Finally the Santa Marta earthquake in 1773 destroyed so much that the capital was moved to Guatemala City in 1776. There were over 30 Catholic monasteries and convents in Antigua in addition to splendid government buildings and homes. Today the remains of these are the reason for visiting this beautiful ancient city.
cloisters of Guatemala Cathedral
amazing beauty when you look up

Casa de Santo Domingo: the beauty of the entrance is a foil for the juxtaposition of the marvels inside. This ancient monastery is now a world class hotel & restaurant set amid the ruins as shown by the crypt above. In addition there are several suburb museums of both modern and ancient Mayan history.

Whether we were viewing churches and ruins, dancing under an Antiguan "second line umbrella" or getting a shoe shine at our favorite Antiguan bar -

You can bet we were having ourselves a good old time!!


We then spent 4 days on Lake Atitlan. At 5,500 feet its not a lake you go down to. Its the deepest and the highest lake in Central America with a maximum depth of 1,120 feet. Deemed the world's most beautiful lake by Aldolus Huxley. Lake Atitlan is the crater of a volcanic eruption 84,000 years ago. It's ringed by 3 active volcanoes and several mountains. We climbed to over 8,000 ft before coming to the town of Panajachel. From there we took boats to visit several of the Mayan towns around the lake. In many of the Mayan villages the people hold fast to their culture. It was obvious that dialects and native attire varied between villages less than 5 miles apart. You wander among a mishmash of ancient Mayan village culture and the attempt to invest in the world of tourism. Together with Val and Lloyd, the crew of Puddle Jumper, we had a grand time.

Lake Atitlan, an overview

These are our first views of the lake from a restaurant terrace on a rainy afternoon, up in the clouds.

Approaching San Marco de la Laguna

The boat dock at San Antonio

Guatemalan textiles are created by the Mayan woman. It can take up to 40 days to make the more intricate patterns. These woven for the tourist market are still done by hand but take only 40 hours!!

I chose that one for me and after a couple of text messages with Laura I chose one for her.

Now we're back aboard and so very pleased with the workmanship refinishing the cabin sole, the companion way ladder and handrails, the galley fiddles and the saloon table. We gave the work to Byron, the young dockmaster here at Tortugal Marina and he and his workers did a stupendous job. Only one small section in the v-berth, where the teak and holly floor needs replacing, wasn't completed. That wood has to be ordered from Guatemala City - so completion on our return trip. There's a few more chores to complete like having our anchor and anchor chain re-galvanized. RAM Marine is the ONLY place in the entire Caribbean that can re-galvanize anchor chain. We thought Trinidad did but you need a shaker to do the chain and their's broke umpteen years ago and so they prefer selling you new chain at 4 times  the price. You must check the links carefully, no one wants an anchor chain with a weak link, but if the chain is in good shape  it's much more economical to have it re-galvanized. Now Roy won't have to decide between changing into his oldest and yuckiest shorts or going nude when he raises and lowers the anchor.

Tied to a dock and having to walk the plank (to get aboard)
Another detail was selling the 9.5 ft dinghy we bought after the original Woo-Dat died on our journey to Puerto Rico last year . We decided that we needed one that was an equal replacement to the original 10.5ft Woo-Dat. Until you ride in it you'd never believe the difference one foot can make in comfort and stability. Now we can make it to those wonderful snorkeling spots that are only accessible with a small boat. We'll be heading to Cucumber Beach Marina near Belize City by May 28th to pick up the new one. For all of Belize's ridiculousness about clearing in and Visa extensions they are much better than Guatemala at shipping prices and recognizing duty free items for vessels in transit. A real shout out to Belize Freight for being so good at picking up, transporting, clearing Customs and delivering.

We are looking forward to getting back to Belize and spending more time out on the cayes. We'll have a crowd of family to enjoy come June 20 when John Edward and Laura arrive along with the North Carolina contingent which we're thrilled will include Sandra as well as Dave and Angela plus their two girls, Sarah and Alexis. We'll travel inland together then a day of snorkeling from Wahoo before we divide up for a sailing trip with John Edward and Laura who will be replaced aboard by the North Carolinians for another sailing trip. After that Austin comes for a 2 week stay in which he hopes to return home fully PADI certified for diving.

Right now our plans call for a return to the Rio in August and probably a flight back to New Orleans, via Houston, come middle of that month. But you never know...

Can't help it.
Here's two more picture of Mayan women. They carry Anything on their heads and their babies on their backs!