Приключения в езерото Изабал

Предишният път ви разказах за училището на Мая в Гватемала и празненствата по случай денят на независимостта.

Осма Глава.  Приключенията ни в езерото Изабал, Гватемала

 

Крепост Сан Фелипе, Рио Дулсе, Гватемала

Крепост Сан Фелипе, Рио Дулсе, Гватемала

Октомври, 2013

Когато хората ни питат вие защо толкова много обичате да пътувате, ние им отговаряме, защото светът е прекрасен!

Ако се замислите, светът е доста малък. Слънцето, което е не по-голямо от блестяща златна палачинка в небето е милион пъти по-голямо от нашата планета Земя. Значи планетата Земя е не по-голяма от палачинкова трохичка! Но пък колко красива, колко интересна трохичка. Колко много прекрасни, невероятни, уникални места за разглеждане!

Но това не е всичко. Обичаме да пътуваме и заради останалите хора, които обичат да пътуват и които срещаме по пътя. Забележителни личности, които ни вдъхновяват и които ни стават приятели до живот. Превърнали сме се в магнити за пътешественици с подобни на нашите интереси, идеи, начин на живот и мироглед. Превърнали сме се в част от племе с общи мечти разпиляно из света.

Още първият ден щом пристигнахме в Рио Дулсе, Гватемала срещнахме Дайли, Джони, Нойял, Ловам, Илан и Спирит, които по това време живееха и обикаляха света на борда на 39-футов (13 метров)катамаран Solaris Sunstream наречен FriendShip (Приятелство).

Friendship, Lago Izabal

Friendship, Lago Izabal

Тяхната история ни вдъхнови.
В подножието на вулкан един висок французин слрещнал момиче от Калифорния, което четяло любимата му книга „Papillon“ на Анри Шариер. Двамата изкачили вулкана и продължили нататък заедно, без да спират.

Дайли и Джони пътешестват заедно от около 15 години насам, пеша, с колелета, с влакове, на авто стоп, с лодка, с каравана, с каквото намерят. Заедно обикалят Африка с палатка, пеша, на стоп и с влакове посещавайки някои от най-далечните и безизветни места затънтени на ръба на пустинята Сахара, които даже може би вече не съществуват, затрупани от пясъчни бурии. Возят се на покрива на товарен влак пренасящ желязо към мястото, където вали дъжд веднъж на 10-15 години и желяото не ръждясва. Гостуват на Масаите в Кения, където им позволяват да си опънат палатката в заграждението на селото, тъй като извън заграждението се разхождали лъвове.

Къмпингуват в Алеята на Баобабите в Мадагаскар, на върха на вулкана на остров Реюниън и на ръба на варовичната гора в парка Изало с бели лимури в дърветата около тях. Плават с малко кану издълбано от дърво заедно с хора от полу-номадското племе Везо в Мадагаскар. Срещат племената край езерото Туркана. Посещават средновековният град Гондар в Етиопия.

През 2003г. на остров Реюниън се ражда първото им дете- дъщеря им Нойял. С бебто продължават да обикалят континента, посещавайки Мароко, Мавритания, Сенегал, Мали, Буркина Фасо, Гана, Кения, Южна Африка, Мадагаскар и Етиопия, преди да се завърнат във Франция, където си купуват колелета. Заедно с малката Нойял в ремаркенце и с раници натоварени с дрехи, палатка и тенджери, обикалят Европа: Франция, Дания, Финландия, Италия, Германия, Швеция, чак до Норвегия на север и после на юг до Тунис, без нито веднъж да спят на хотел. По-късно обикалят Америка и Канада с велосипедите по същият начин. Планират да обиколят света с колелета, когато откриват, че Джони отново е бременна. Решават, че ще им е доста трудно с колелета и с две бебета и решават да си купят платноходка.

Купуват си лодка в Ст Мартен и страхотно се радват на живота на море, учейки се да плават около Карибите. През 2006г. на остров Ст. Лусия се ражда Илан, с церебрална парализа… Въпреки, че в началото страхотно много се тревожели, какво ще стане с него, ще може ли да върви, с времето престанали да се тревожат и приели ситуацията като част от живота. Продължили да пътешестват. Плават до Венецуела, Аруба, Кюрасао, Колумбия и Панама, където спрели и пътешествали по земя. По-късно оставят лодката във Венецуела и с една стара каравана обикалят Канада, където осиновяват кучето Спирит и с караваната слизат до Никарагуа, Салвадор, Коста Рика и Хондурас. Две години по-късно, в Гваделуп се рожда третото им дете- Ловам.

С трите малки деца, едното с церебрална парализа и с куче, те продължават да обикалят света. През 2011 година си купуват катамарана FriendShip, с четири каюти, където има място за всички.
Ние ги срещнахме в Рио Дулсе, Гватемала и бяхме неразделни през цялото време, което прекарахме там.

 

Петък. Мая, Нойял и Ловам бяха заминали на училище, Иво и Дайли стягаха Фата Моргана и Френдшип за плаване, Джони и аз отидохме на пазар с две големи раници за да заредим хранителни продукти, плодове и зеленчуци за уикенда. Веднага щом децата се върнаха от училище на обяд вдигнахме котвите и опънахме платната. Тихомълком се мушнахме под големият мост, плъзнахме се покрай старинната крепост Сан Фелипе разположен на последното стеснение преди езерото и отплавахме на запад.

Крепостта Сан Фелипе, Рио Дулсе

Крепостта Сан Фелипе, Рио Дулсе

Фата Моргана край крепостта Сан Фелипе

Фата Моргана край крепостта Сан Фелипе

Да плаваш по езеро е огромно удоволствие. Няма вълни, лек вятър, зелени брегове наоколо. Две семейства, две лодки, пет деца, едно куче. Езерото е наше.

Мая и Нойял си рисуват. Плавахме толква бавно, че Нойял скочи от тяхната лодка и плува до нашата в движение, за да са заедно с Мая.

Мая и Нойял си рисуват. Плавахме толква бавно, че Нойял скочи от тяхната лодка и плува до нашата в движение, за да са заедно с Мая.

Езерото Изабал е най-голямото езеро в Гватемала. Обхваща около 600 квадратни километра. Много реки се вливат в него, но най-голямата е реката Полочик на запад. Около езерото се издигат вечнозелени планини, Sierra de Santo Cruz на север и Sierra de las Minas на юг. В полите на планините по ръба на езерото има няколко малки fincas (селца), където живеят Кекчи и Киче общности или комуни, по същият начин по който техните пра-деди са живяли преди конкистата, в малки дървени къщички с покриви от палмови листа.

Традиционна къща в Гватемала

Традиционна къща в Гватемала

След около десетина мили и 3-4 часа плаване пуснахме котва пред Finca Paraiso, малко преди залез слънце.

Финка Параисо

Финка Параисо

Събота. Станахме рано сутринта, взехме сандвичи и шишета с вода в раниите и потеглихме към Agua Caliente (топла вода). След около половин час вървене успоредно на малка рекичка, където жени голи до кръста перяха дрехи и малки деца си играеха във вирчетата наоколо; през гората, покрай голямо зелено пасище и малко селце от друга ера, стигнахме до мястото.

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От зеленото гърло на гората над нас се изливаше малък водопад. Съвсем не голям. Ако сте виждали много водопади, особено, ако сте били в Канада и сте стояли в нозете на Ниагара, този може дори да не го забележите. Но почакайте, пипнете водата му! Този водопад е горещ!

Agua Caliente waterfall

Agua Caliente waterfall

Нагоре по реката има минерален извор, чиито горещи води се смесват със студените води на реката в дълбокият вир под водопада. Преди да достигне ръба на скалите и да падне 10 метра надолу, горещата минерална вода формира малки естествени басейнчета в които е трудно да се задържи човек дълго време без да се свари напълно.

Ловам и Спирит в реката

Ловам и Спирит в реката

Мира в реката

Мира в реката

Пикник край брега

Пикник край брега

Джони и Илан в реката

Джони и Илан в реката

Спирит

Спирит

Ловам

Ловам

Спирит и Дайли

Спирит и Дайли

Прекарахме си няколко незабравими часа тук, сами насред природата ухаеща на влажна разстителност и минерална вода. Плувахме в студените води на реката, киснахме се в горещите минерални гьолчета, скачахме от водопада във вирчето, ядохме сандвичи на камъните, наслаждавахме се да стоим под масажиращата тежест на бумтящите топли води, падащи неуморно с нестихващ приглушен тътен, заобиколени от сенчеста тропическа гора.

Мая и Нойял

Мая и Нойял

Мая

Мая

Нойял

Нойял

Виктор

Виктор

Джони

Джони

Дайли

Дайли

Неделя. Отново потеглихме с лодките покрай северните брегове на езерото Изабал и не след дълго спряхме край финка Джокоро, малко селце с няколко дървени къщички под огромно старо дърво сейба, където живеят босоноги деца, които говорят само кекчи и разбират една-две думи на испански. Тук наблизо няма плаж, нито водопад, нито пещера, нито магазин, нито ресторант и затова туристи изобщо не идват. Има училище, църква и футболно игрище.

Финка Джокоро

Финка Джокоро

Финка Джокоро

Финка Джокоро

Когато се зададохме с лодките и бавно се паркирахме на няколко метра от брега, децата от селото започнаха да прииждат по хълмовете надолу и да формират непроницаема стена от шарени фанелки, широки усмивки и любопитни погледи на брега на езерото. Стената нарастваше с всяка изминала минута и когато се натоварихме в каяака и се насочихме към брега, групата от малки посрещачи вече беше доста внушителна.

Деца от финка Джокоро

Деца от финка Джокоро

В селцето нямаше улици, а само няколко тесни пътечки между къщите. Къщите бяха малки дървени конструкции със стени от тънки дървета и покриви от палмови листа, същите като тези на маите отпреди хиляда години.Една такава къща се издига за около 1-2 седмици и всички от селото помагат и строят заедно. В една такава къщичка живеят около 20-30 души, повечето деца, заедно с кокошките, кучетата и други домашни животни.

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Къщите са групирани в aldeas (комуни) от по 6-7 разделени от останалите с дървена ограда. Във финка Джокоро има 4-5 комуни. Хората от селцето работят за големите земевладелци, които са изкупили земите наоколо и произвеждат царевица, боб, тикви и други зеленчуци.

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Децата ни посрещнаха нахилени и любопитни, помогнаха ни да издърпаме каяка на брега и ни наобиколиха спазвайки почтено растояние. В началото бяха доста мълчаливи и само от време на време някое казваше нещо на техният си кекчи език, което караше всички останали да се превиват от смях. Всеки път щом вдигнех фото-апарата за снимка те се блъскаха да позират пред мен, заставаха сериозни за снимката и после се трупаха около мен, на няколко пъти почти ме събориха, за да видят снимката в екранчето на апарата умирайки от смях.

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С конвой от деца тръгнахме бавно из тесните пътечки да разгледаме селото и посетихме две от комуните. Някои от жените, които се занимаваха с чистене и готвене се скриха в къщичките си щом ни видях, други ни наблюдаваха изпод вежди от разстояние с леки саркастични усмивка, а някои от по-смелите дойдоха да говорят с нас, колкото могат на испански. Повечето мъже бяха на работа из полетата, въпреки, че беше неделя.

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След това се събрахме на футбоното игрище, което беше леко наклонено към езерото, осеяно с бодили и кравешки акота навсякъде. Момчетата бързо се разделиха на два отбора, от някъде се появи топка и започна мачът. Скоро всички тичаха напред-назад, гонеха топката и при всяка удобна възможност викаха ту Ииивооо ту Вииктоор колкото им глас държи. През това време Мая, Нойял и Ловам се включиха в играта на малките, нещо като Кральо-портальо.

Футболен мач във финка Джокоро

Футболен мач във финка Джокоро

Стана време да си ходим, но децата не искаха да ни пуснат. Решиха да ни скроят номер и да ни откраднат каяка, за да неможем да се върнем на лодките. Иво разбира се ги излови във водата и ги преобърна както бяха накачулени на каяка. Няколко пъти. Те разбира се отново се заливаха от смях.

децата ни крадат каяка

децата ни крадат каяка

Дванайсет деца в един каяк, тринайстото умира от смях :)

Дванайсет деца в един каяк, тринайстото умира от смях 🙂

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Най-накрая, когато се качихме в каяка и потеглихме към лодките, децата започнаха да плуват след нас и се опитваха да ни убедят да останем. Бяха истински тъжни, че си тръгваме…Обещахме им да се върнем и да им донесем бонбони.

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Дълго време ги слушахме как викат от брега Иииивооооо, Иииивоооо.

Следващият уикенд, след края на учебната седмица, потеглихме отново заедно с нашите приятели.

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Този път се отправихме към южният бряг на езерото, където на брега има едно малко ресторантче и плаж. Закотвихме лодките пред плажчето и поехме към планините в търсене на пещера.

Край бреговете на езерото Изабал

Край бреговете на езерото Изабал

В планините около езерото Изабал има много пещери, но повечето са трудно достижими тъй като няма пътища, нито дори пътеки през дивата природа.

Иво и Виктор в гората

Иво и Виктор в гората

Джони остана на плажчето с Илан и Ловам, а всички останали: Дайли, Нойял, Иво, Виктор, Мая и аз, придружени от Спирит и от едно непознато куче, което се присъедини към нашата група, си прекарахме денят в търсене на пещерата.

На път към пещерата

На път към пещерата

Цял ден вървяхме през джунглата, прекосявайки реки, бамбукови гори, царевични полета и пасища. Минахме и през две майски селца, където няколко човека разпознаха непознатото куче, което им лаеше прасетата и кокошките.

Дайли, 2 кучета и сто хиляди крави

Дайли, 2 кучета и сто хиляди крави

Срещнахме мъже с гумени ботуши, които мъкнеха на гръб дървета и мъже с широкополи шапки, които работеха в царевичните полета и всеки път, когато ги питахме на къде е пещерата, те ни казваха да продължаваме да вървим надолу по пътеката, през реката, пещерта е след портокаловата горичка. Но така и не я намерихме тази пещера…

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А сега на къде?

Затова пък открихме зеленото на земята, топлата миризма на царевичните полета, прохладата на речните води и горе на високите хълмове- неповторим пейзаж. Езерото в нозете ни се излежаваше и ни чакаше под лъчите на следобедното слънце.

Царевично поле

Царевично поле

Мая и Нойял в реката

Мая и Нойял в реката

Мира в гората

Мира в гората

Следващият уикенд, след края на учебната седмица, потеглихме отново заедно с нашите приятели.
Този път намерихме пещерата. Не тази от миналата седмица, а друга, недалеч от горещият водопад, нагоре по реката.

Мая през джунглата

Мая през джунглата

След около 40 минути вървене през гората покрай реката най-сетне достигнахме до входа на дълбока тъмна пещера. Огромна зейнала дупка в отвесните скали на планината пълна с прилепи и слепи паяци, която ни чакаше гладна, с остри криви зъби. Лигите и течаха да ни погълне.

Пещерата

Пещерата

Иво

Иво

Влязохме много внимателно, като кученца с подвити опашки, държейки се едни за други, очите ни на палачинки. С малки фенерчета осветихме вътрешностите и. Странни нагърчени форми и текстури. Дъхът и влажен и прохладен. Киселива миризма на гуано. Гласовете ни пътуваха, блъскаха се в тъмното, изчезваха и се връщаха обратно по много странен начин, изкривени от грубите каменни стени на огромното празно подземие. Няма нищо по-мрачно, по-мистериозно и страшно от вътрешността на пещера.

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Достигнахме до място, където бе невъзможно да продължим по-нататък без екипировка, въжета и завещание. Тук пещерата пропада около 10 метра и после продължава няколко километра под земята с няколко подобни опасни пропадания и излиза от другата страна на ппланината.

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Мира

Мира

Известно време гледахме в черното на дупката и кроихме планове как някой ден ще се върнем с въжета и с повече фенери и ще влезем навътре. Някой ден.

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Преди да се приберем обратно в Рио Дулсе, спряхме отново във финка Джокоро за още един мач и раздадохме бонбони на малчуганите, които бяха сигурни, че ще се върнем отново.

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Можете да намерите предишните статии на български и историйки от нашите пътешествия в долната част на следната страница: На Български

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Ако имате въпроси или коментари можете да ни пишете в кометарите тук или да ни намерите във Фейсбук: Facebook/The Life Nomadik .

 

Не забравяйте да ни харесте във Фейсбук и да споделите тази страница с вашите приятели!

Мерси от екипажа на Фата Моргана!

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Happy One Year of Sailing To Us

Mira, Evo, Maya and Viktor 1 year The Life Nomadik

Mira, Evo, Maya and Viktor
1 year The Life Nomadik

 

Our Sailing Journey is One Year Old Today

 

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One year ago, in July 2013, we took off from Florida aboard Fata Morgana, our new home and ocean vehicle.We headed south.

In the next twelve months we visited a dozen countries and over 50 islands.

 

Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Fort Jefferson, Florida

Cuba

Cuban girls

Cuban girls

Mexico

Tourists at Tulum

Tourists at Tulum

Guatemala

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The Bahamas

Maya and Mira

Maya and Mira

Dominican Republic

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Comparticion, last basecamp before Pico Duarte

Puerto Rico

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U.S. Virgin Islands

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

Water Island, Honeymoon Beach anchorage

British Virgin Islands

The Baths, BVI

The Baths, BVI

Saba

Saba. View form Scout's Place bar and restaurant

Saba. View form Scout’s Place bar and restaurant

Sint Maarten

Evo's bottle, St Maarten

Evo’s bottle, Sint Maarten

Saint-Martin

Mira at Fort Saint-Louis, Marigot, overlooking the harbor, Saint-Martin

Mira at Fort Saint-Louis, Marigot, overlooking the harbor, Saint-Martin

St Barth

Anse de Flamand

Anse de Flamand

St Kitts&Navis

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Verevet Monkey, St Kitts

Our Journey

We met remarkable people and made many new friends.

Noial, Sofia, and Maya in traditional mayan costumes. The skirt is called corte and the top is gupil. Mayan women in Guatemala wear similar clothes.

Noial, Sofia, and Maya in traditional mayan costumes. The skirt is called corte and the top is gupil. Mayan women in Guatemala wear similar clothes.

We swam with dolphins

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And we swam with pigs

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We walked across spectacular forests and river canyons.

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

Maya walking through the jungle, Guatemala

We jumped from waterfalls

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

Viktor Jumping from Agua Caliente waterfall, Guatemala

We entered caves

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting in a cave, Guatemala

We discovered new flavors and fragrances.

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time

Mira, trying cashew fruit for a first time. Saba

We snorkeled in coral gardens with tropical fishes in water like liquid glass.

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

Underwater sculpture of grand piano and mermaid, Bahamas

We learned to surf

Maya

Maya

We got involved with many of the communities we visited, we volunteered and worked with the locals.

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

We met a whale

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And a sea turtle

A green sea-turtleheading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

A green sea-turtleheading back to the sea after laying her eggs.

We met howler monkeys

Black Howler Monkey

Black Howler Monkey

We saw flamingos

DSC_1797

 

We caught a lot of tasty fish

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

Mira and her Birthday Gifts

We lived the dream.

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We did all this while being very conscious about the fragile environment we enjoy so much.

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We sailed for over 3,700 nautical miles without polluting the air and the sea, almost not using the engines. fueling once every 6 months. We also used a kayak instead of a dinghy.

Mira "sailing" the kayak with an umbrella

Mira „sailing“ the kayak with an umbrella

We lived off-grid not paying electricity bills, water bills, mortgage, taxes, or any other bills thanks to our solar panels and watermaker.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Viktor and Ivo installing solar panels.

Our average speed was 3.7 knots which makes us Slow Pokes Drifters, but we had to sail against waves and tradewind most of the time heading east-southeast, tacking constantly, but not turning the engines on, no matter what.

Evo pulling the boat with the kayak in deadcalm. The engines remained turned off...

Evo pulling the boat with the kayak in deadcalm. The engines remained turned off…

 

Thank You!

The people we met along the way, whom we befriended, who helped us and guided us, who shared our adventures and joys are the most treasured part of our journey. We thank you!

Friends Key West, Florida

Friends
Key West, Florida

Tyler, you started us sailing and helped us so much. Thank you, we love you!

 

Vanessa Linsley, you were not just our broker, you literally adopted us, guiding and helping us so much. Thank you!

 

Rich, you were there for us when we needed you most. Thank you!

David, Lori, Kashara and Dylan, we value so much your company and all the lessons you thought us about sailing and cruising even before we started. Thank you!

 

Dale, you were the best boatyard neighbor. Thank you for the books and the veggies!

 

Peter, you fixed our jib and thought us so much in our first days of sailing, thank you!

 

Sherry and Nate, you adopted our Baba Ganoush, best thing that could happen to her! And you gave us Agent Orange! You have no idea how much we appreciate this kayak, thank you!

 

Tony, Cherri, Stacie, Ryan, Joey, Rebecca, Miranda, Sky, we had so much fun with all you guys in Key West. Thank you!

 

Suzy Roebling, we learned so much about sea turtles thanks to you and we really enjoyed the coconuts. Thank you!

 

April and Harley from s/v El Karma, you gave us lures, helped us to fix our watermaker, and shared some great moments in Cuba with us. Thank you!

 

 Daeli, Joni, Elan, Lovam, Noial, and Spirit from s/v Friendship, you and your journey inspire us so much. We love you, we miss you and we hope we will see you again soon!

 

Joseph, Jana, Katchka, and Anichka s/v Blizzard, so grateful we met you guys and shared so many crazy adventures in Guatemala together!

 

Alice s/v Suricats, yoga in the morning with Joni and you was one of the best things in Rio Dulce anchorage. Thank you!

 

Angie and Marty, thank you for your hospitality!

 

 Scot, Stephanie, Riley, and Wren, s/v Kiawa, without you our journey in the Bahamas wouldn’t be the same!

 

Ben Rusi, s/v Christel, great meeting you in the Bahamas!

 

Susanne and Jan s/v Peter Pan,so good sharing a few moments with you!

 

Mary, Shane and Franklin, great meeting you all, you have amazing stories! Hope we meet again around Australia next year!

 

Kate and Rob, nice bumping into you, twice!

 

Gabriel and Jade, how awesome of you to take us surfing in the Dominican Republic and show us how it’s done! Thank you!

 

Joao, Nae, Maria, and Noel, s/v Dee, it was wonderful having friends along the way between Domincan Republic, Puerto Rico and St Maarten, and sharing so many moments (and a rental car)!

 

Ivan, Nikola, Peter, Nanny, we had the best time with you in the Bahamas and in Puerto Rico, good old friends. Thank you for your visit and for all the gifts!

 

Greg and Michelle s/v Semper Fi, great meeting you in Puerto Rico guys and sharing your amazing stories! Thank you for the tips, the T-shirts, and the hats!

 

Tom, you mad our stay in Water Island unforgettable, thank you!

 

Ilian and Bisi, it was so great meting you in Saba, hope we meet again!

 

Martine Dora and Raphael, happy to have met you in St Maarten, hope we see each other again, maybe in Tahiti? Raphael, thank you for the ride!

 

Line and Corentin, thank you for your company in St Kitts and for the music!

 

Sejah Joseph, thank you for being our friend and guide in St Kitts!

 

We also want to thank our Sponsors, all those companies and individuals who supported our journey. Thank you!

 

 

What’s Next?

Our plans are weather dependent and as fluid as the sea. If all is well, we will keep sailing south the Windward Islands, exploring some more interesting places, until we reach Tobago. From there we will sail west to Columbia, then Panama and across the canal to the South Pacific and Australia next year.

 

Follow our journey and LIKE us on Facebook to find out what will happen in our SECOND year of sailing. Everyone is welcome aboard!

Viktor, Maya, Mira

Viktor, Maya, Mira

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Secrets of the Mountains

This is the extended version with previously unpublished images of the story about our October 2013 expedition to a Mayan burial ground: a cave full of ancient human remains in the mountains of Sierra de las Minas in Guatemala. It also includes the story of the Q’eqchi community Caxlampom Pataxte where a foreign palm-oil corporation presently exploits the land and pollutes the environment, with transcribed and translated testimonies given by two members of the indigenous community.

 

 

Smoke over the village in the morning

Smoke over the village in the morning

 

“Not even anthropologists or intellectuals, no matter how many books they have, can find out all our secrets.”

-Rigoberta Menchu Tum

 

 

   „Are you afraid of death?” he asks me with the same intonation as if he is asking Do you like yellow flowers. I don’t know how to answer. My mouth becomes dry. „When you go to the graveyard, are you scared?” he clarifies.

   „When I was a little girl, yes, I was scared of death and to go in graveyards, but now no. Now I am more afraid of the living than of the dead.“ We both lough at the joke.

We are walking fast on a dirt road through a vast plantation of palm trees, the guy and me, past a palm-oil processing plant, across a wide shallow river, and into the shadow of a jungle-covered mountain. Ivo, Joni, and two other local guys are walking ahead of us.

 

Ivo, Joni, and two of the guides walking across a palm plantation.

Ivo, Joni, and two of the guides walking across a palm plantation.

One of the guys is propping a little radio on his shoulder, his ear stuck to it, and is listening to the news the entire time.  

“Something happened in Syria again” he announces.

He is small and very serious, with a melancholic expression. His Spanish is good and most of the time he is the one speaking with us. One of the other two guys is his brother; I like him a lot. He is slightly chubby and has the most sincere beautiful smile every time someone is talking to him. Makes him look happy. The third guy doesn’t speak Spanish and doesn’t smile. He is like a ghost. Walks way in front of the group; appears from nowhere, and then disappears again. Sometimes they use signals to communicate between each other from far away.

We have met them this morning. We don’t know their names. We don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys. All we know is that they are young indigenous Q’eqchi men who had nothing to do this particular day and agreed to take us to a cave in the mountain above their village. They are wearing jeans, t-shirts and black rubber boots, carrying small backpacks and machetes.

 

Mira with the guides before the hike.

Mira with the guides before the hike.

The machetes are worrying me a bit. Are they for our protection or what? Protection against whom? And what was this question about death? We are heading to a cave hidden in the jungle with three unknown men armed with machetes who like to talk about death and the war in Syria. Great.

The whole thing happened spontaneously. We were sailing along the remote edge of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake, near the valley of river Polochic. The area is largely uninhabited. It is one of the world’s most bio diverse regions where manatees and crocodiles chill in the waters of the delta, giant anteaters, sloths, and jaguars roam the forested land, and howler monkeys, like sad demons, announce from the tops of the trees the end of each day, the most ominous heartbreaking roars. The few villages scattered on the shores of the lake are tiny Mayan Q’eqchi communities whose inhabitants live pretty much the same way as their ancestors hundreds of years ago: fishing, working their milpas harvesting beans and corn, raising chickens and pigs.

 

Q'eqchi people gathered on the shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala.

Q’eqchi people gathered on the shores of Lake Izabal, Guatemala.

It was getting late; we had to find a place to anchor overnight. We approached the shore where a big column of grey smoke was coming out of the forest: a village, we thought, and that’s where we stopped. From the two boats we saw a few traditional Mayan homes on the banks of the lake. Tiny, made of thin logs and roofs of dry palm leaves. Behind them, like the back of a sleeping iguana, rose the heavy humid mountains of Sierra de las Minas: white limestone covered with thick intensely green jungle.

 

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As we drew closer we realized that the grey smoke was not coming from any of the houses; it was very dense and did not smell of firewood or tortillas. There was something else, something hidden between the village and the mountain, exhaling thick mysterious clouds into the afternoon sky. The night fell.

 

Before dark

Before dark

In the morning the entire village gathered on the shore to greet our kayak. Cacxlampon Pataxte is a small community of about thirty-forty indigenous Q’eqchi families; the majority are children. Tourists don’t stop here often, and so our visit is a huge event.

 

Caxlampom Pataxte greeting us

Caxlampom Pataxte greeting us

“Are there caves near-by?” I ask. Only a few speak Spanish.

 „Yes, there is a cave not too far; we can take you there if you like“, says the guy with the melancholic expression.

Thus began our journey.

 

In the village

In the village

Once we enter the jungle and start climbing the mountain there is no road anymore. Our progress upwards is slow and difficult. Our improvised guides use their machetes to cut a path through tangled vegetation, dig holes in the slopes making steps for us, and remove thorns from spiky trees so we can hold on to them. The terrain is extremely harsh, at places seems impossible to pass. We go over crevices stepping on fallen trees and slippery rocks; we zigzag where the mountain is too steep. Here, one mistake, one wrong step could be fatal.

 

Ivo

Ivo

We stop to rest a few times even though the Q’eqchi guys are not tired at all. They tell us they are used to this kind of hikes in the mountains. They have been doing it since kids, since they can remember. They would walk for hours, sometimes days to gather firewood and logs for the construction of their houses and cayucos, and to get from one place to another. “We don’t have other roads but the rivers and mountains. And we don’t have electricity in the village. We depend on the forest. Without wood we cannot make fire, we cannot make tortillas and roast fish; without the forest our children will not eat.”

 

A traditional Mayan house

A traditional Mayan house

We didn’t bring any food and it is already lunchtime. One of the guys pulls out a big bottle of atol from his backpack and passes it around. I love atol: a thick drink prepared with cornflower and water, but this one is without sugar. Still, it is the best thing to bring on a hike: it’s like liquid bread: food and water mixed in a bottle. I take a big gulp. The guy with the nice smile cuts a few small round balls from a thin spiky tree and opens their hard shells with his machete. “We call it Monok, he explains, because the little spikes on the shell make it look a bit like the fur of the howler monkey, como los monos: monok”. The little white nut inside tastes like hazelnut but is softer. Two-three of those contain as much protein as a full meal, and they are everywhere in the forest. You just have to know. When you know, it is easy to reach and take what the forest is so generously offering. But the forest has many secrets.

Monok

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As we are enjoying our forest snack, I look around. In our feet lies the vast river valley, and beyond: the lake, sparkling, delicious, immense liquid mirror in which the mountain contemplates itself. Behind us, grey rocks like towers without roofs, and in their skin: tiny fossils of ocean creatures, pale empty skeletons, ancient remains of underwater creatures, witness of another time.

 

Taking a rest from a steep trek.

Taking a rest from a steep trek.

We are at the bottom of the jungle, on top of the mountain, surrounded by insane vegetation, abundant, pulsating with juices and life, like a still image of some mad extravagant festival: The Secret Life of the Forest. Thin palms with dark spiky skins dance behind luxurious fans of oversized ferns. Giant elders with yellow barks smooth like paper walk heavily, as very important kings do, up and down the mountain, their majestic wigs made of leaves, birds, clouds, and mysteries. Lianas like garlands fall from the forest roof twisting around, stretching and swinging in the shadows of the roaring mountain.

The names of these plants and trees, like poetry, testify to the transience of cultures known to these forests: Poc-xum, Saqi Lokab, Q’eqi Lokab, Lindernia Rotundifolia, Hyptis Recurvate, Russelia Longifolia, Zygadenus Elegans, Quequescamote de Culebra, Plumilla de Gallina, Santa Maria, San Pedro…

 

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By the time we reach the cave, our guides tell us all about their struggles against the palm-oil company which, since over a decade now, is exploiting and polluting their land. The vast plantations of palm trees we have seen on our way, the smoke of the palm-oil treatment plant, the channels dumping chemical waste in the lake, are all killing the trees, poisoning the water, and bringing disease to their children. They have been robbed of their ancestral land by a corporate giant and are now fighting to get it back.

 

A channel carrying thick dark waste waters across the palm plantation to the lake.

A channel carrying thick dark waste waters across the palm plantation to the lake.

By the time we come back from the cave, we have become friends. The kind of friends who can count on each other. We could count on them for protection against the village crooks and the company people who saw us taking pictures and filming around the palm-oil processing plant; they could count on us to tell their story of struggle against injustice.

 

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Their story is not an exceptional one. It resembles all the other similar stories which take place in a third-world country, where the poorest indigenous people live in a most remote, beautiful, bio diverse setting. Rivers, mountains, forests, and lakes. Endemic wild animals. Abundant evergreen vegetation. Explosion of life. In the rivers: fish. Under the lakes: oil. In the forests: jaguars. Under the mountains: nickel, aluminum, copper, and gold. Vast fertile valleys. A foreign corporation shows up with promises of “progress and development”.

But there is one obstacle for the corporation: the local people. A few people. Small indigenous communities. Small obstacle. The mine/plant/company moves in. Animals/people/communities move out. Or rather, are being moved out/displaced/killed, their habitat destroyed, their homes burned down. Economic interests equal exploitation, corruption, destruction. The story continues with evictions, massacres, pollution, devastation.

The End.

 

Waste waters from the processing plant

Waste waters from the processing plant

Actually, it’s not The End because the story goes on, but that is how it ends for a lot of people and ecosystems throughout the world.

A child drinking water from the river.

A child drinking water from the river.

 

In reality, what happened is that they didn’t respect our indigenous rights.

In the beginning, when our grandfathers lived, our grandfathers lived in this part of the land. There, on the lakeshore are the lands we occupied for over two hundred years; the place known as Caxlampom Pataxte. This is the name. ‘Caxlam’ means ‘chicken’. ‘Pom’ is the thing we extract from the trees and we use it for ceremonies and cults.’Pataxte’ is the name of the river, just there next to the lake. For this, our community is called Caxlampom Pataxte.

People from the community.

People from the community.

 

But then what they’ve done is evict us. The palm-oil company came and the owner of the company told to our grandfathers:

“What a poor life you are living here on the shores of the lake! It is not good! Better, what I am going to do”, said the owner of the company, “I will move you up there, up in the mountains, so that you will live better.”

 

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The company took the lands and promised our fathers to give them work and progress. Thus, our fathers had to move and build their houses in a very small piece of land. But our fathers had ten children. And then the children had children of their own. Where to live? For this reason, taught our fathers, better if we take back our land, which has been ours. We belong to this land.

 

The only thing the company has done for the community is building a non-functioning clinic which is closed down and deserted.

The only thing the company has done for the community is building a non-functioning clinic which is closed down and deserted.

But the company now said the land is not ours, they called us invaders. ‘People who are stealing land’, this means the word ‘invaders’.

In our political constitution of Guatemala, in the article 122 is said that there is on the shore of lake Izabal a National Area of the State of 200 meters, all along the banks of the lake. No one can be owner of this piece of land. Only an ‘organized community’ can own these lands.

 

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Thus says the article 122. If the law in Guatemala is worth nothing, then let them say we are invaders. But if the law is to be respected in our country, let it be applied! I believe I am not superior to the law, nor are they. We have to respect the law. So, this is what I am asking. If the land is theirs, then what happened with the article 122? And they call us invaders. I pull out my ID. Look, my ID says I was born here; let me see yours. You are foreigners.  Señor Juan Melg is foreigner; I think he is from Germany. He came here a few years ago and is calling me and invader? How is it possible?

Now the rich and the foreigners have the best flat lands and our communities are pushed up in the mountains. Why? Because they know how to manipulate the law. There is a great corruption.

 

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NaturAceites was founded in 1985. In 1998, the company began production of palm and palm kernel oils, with the first planting of palm cultivation in the Polochic region. In 2002 started the cultivation, production, extraction, refining and marketing of edible oil, butter, and margarine based on palm fruit

NaturAceites currently operates in three agricultural areas located in Fray Bartolomé de las Casas in Alta Verapaz , El Estor in Izabal and San Luis in Peten , two extraction plants , one in Fray Bartolome de las Casas and the other in El Estor and a refining plant in Escuintla. In previous years local communities have been evicted, their houses and crops burnt, and people slaughtered as a result of locals protesting against the company taking over their lands.

 

Plantation of palms for palm oil.

Plantation of palms for palm oil.

In 2011 they kicked me out of work. I worked there for 18 months. My first job was on the irrigation pump. But it was very strong, the chemical waste coming out of the processing plant. In wintertime the pool overflows and the waste gets to the rivers and contaminates them. And the rivers contaminated the lake and the fish died. There is not much fish left in the lake.

 

Waste-water pool.

Waste-water pool. The stink is indescribable.

The company takes advantage of us, the indigenous people. Even though they pay us a bit of salary our work has more value. But they take advantage of us, as if we are basura (garbage). They put us to work in all the dirtiness and we become very affected because we have to breathe the contaminated air and it is very dangerous for us and also for our children; it is a risk we are taking. All this contaminated air… And the waste they are dumping under the palm trees attracts flies. Now we cannot eat in peace, there are so many flies everywhere, and the children get diseases. Sometimes children die and we don’t know from what class of a sickness. It’s from the contamination. The contamination of the environment is very strong.

 

Blue fly-catchers placed around the processing plant.

Blue fly-catchers placed around the processing plant.

Before it was not like this. Before all this shores of the lake were very beautiful, there were lots of birds, there were monkeys, but now they are no more.

 

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One day there was a visit, I think it was from the United Nations, to inspect the plant, but they only spoke English. Then the engineers told me, as I was the one in charge of all these ugly things, the irrigation pump and the pool that contaminates the rivers with all these chemicals, so what they told me was: ‘There will be a visit now, if they ask you if the pool overflows, you tell them that it never happened. Because if you tell them that the waste overflows in the rivers they will shut down the plant.’

 

Black waters flow to the rivers and lake.

Black waters flow to the rivers and lake.

When they came, they didn’t ask me anything. At the end, the inspectors left satisfied. The bosses gathered us in a room to congratulate us, to tell us that the visit was excellent: the inspectors didn’t see any cont

I was very happy when we finally started to organize with my friends and to recuperate our lands. We organized a group and started discussing things with our grad-parents. Our grand-parents told us that, yes, this land is ours, that the company cheated us. The company promised many things, but all we got is contamination. This is the reality.

 

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I am very happy now that you came here. When people from outside come they can see the reality and tell our story to the rest of the world, they can explain what is happening in our community, what is the company doing. The owners of the company think that we don’t know what is happening, that we cannot express ourselves and tell what we experience. But thanks God our fathers sent us to school and we learned a bit of Spanish. Now we can speak a little bit Spanish, not only Q’eqchi, so that the world understands us more. Now it is not like before. Now, we, the indigenous peoples, are organizing and uprising. 

 

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We get to the cave’s entrance after about three hours of extreme hiking through the jungle. It is a small opening in the grey rocks leading down. Our guides stop at the edge of the opening to say a muffled prayer in Q’eqchi before going in. We follow. It is a place they rarely visit, they say, a sacred site for prayers and rituals; for secrets and secret knowledge. We are the first white people to ever enter this cave.

The cave's entrance.

The cave’s entrance.

They lead us into a narrow dark corridor, humid and cool. We get to a small chamber. The light of a small flashlight illuminates scattered objects on the floor: yellow bones, human skulls, lower jaws with crooked teeth. Some are calcified to the cave’s walls; others lay loose on the ground. It is a Tomba Maya, they explain, a Mayan burial ground. The skeletons must be hundreds of years old, they say, from the times before the Conquista.

Human remains inside the cave and a cacao-fruit offering.

Human remains inside the cave and a cacao-fruit offering.

Being in the presence of ancient Mayan remains is something both strange and beautiful. In the dark, my mind begins to wander. The cave with its breath of a carnivorous flower becomes a temple; I become a ghost from a faraway land.

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 “We didn’t think you will make it all the way to the cave”, tell us our Q’eqchi guides, laughing, upon our return from the mountain that day, and invite us to a “celebration” the same evening. I imagine it will be some sort of a party with local food, music and alcohol, maybe even dancing.

As we return to the village at dusk, we are escorted to a house with wide-plank walls and a few separate compartments. There we meet the leader of the organization fighting to recuperate their lands. He shows us documentation and maps proving that according to the Guatemalan law the palm-oil company should not occupy the 200 meter stripe on the shores of the lake. He also says that this area of Sierra de las Minas is a protected national park and therefor industrial activity and environmental pollution should not be allowed, but they are.

Looking at documents in the dark.

Looking at documents in the dark.

A chart of the lake's shores.

A chart of the lake’s shores.

 

There is no electricity in the village even though the company has promised “progress” and, as the night falls, our hosts bring candles and flashlights. We are served tortillas and fried fish the women have just prepared for us over open-fire stoves. We eat in silence, in the flickering light of the candles, thinking how we can help. What can we possibly do for these people who see in us some sort of saviors?

A woman frying fish for us over the fire.

A woman frying fish for us over the fire.

There are many people in the house: young women working in the open kitchen with dirt floor and no running water, holding flashlights over black pans on the fire; shy kids giggling, sitting in the corners, watching us with respect and curiosity; men walking in and out: impossible to know who exactly lives here, and who is just passing by driven by curiosity to see the ‘foreign visitors’.  

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The furniture in the room consists of one massive rough wooden table, a few chairs, a plank bed and a few hammocks. All sorts of objects hang on the walls: family photos, green fishing nets, machetes, bags, clothes, instruments. To us all this seems impossibly miserable, yet it is one of the biggest and ‘richest’ houses in the village.

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After supper, we start for the church. One of our cave-guides now leads us across the broad cobbled streets of his village without electricity, illuminating our way with a small flashlight. The darkness of a village without electricity is intense. We hear dogs barking from the blackness of yards, we see tiny beams of blue light in the distance: other people with flashlights going somewhere, we choose our step carefully over stones, puddles, and animal dung.

The church

The church

The church, one of four in the small village, is nothing but a hut with wooden walls, palm-leaf roof and dirt floors where a generator allows for a single light bulb to illuminate the space inside. There are huge nails sticking on the inside of the walls on which bundles of sleeping babies are being hung. Three rows of long benches occupied by men, women , and children are placed on both sides of a narrow walk leading to the front stage where men take turns to sing and read passages from the bible in Q’eqchi and, just because of our presence tonight, in Spanish as well. The only musical instrument accompanying the singing is a turtle shell which a young kid rhythmically bangs away with a stick while the rest of the congregation claps hands. Many young men sit close to the electricity plugs where the generator is and charge their cell phones during the entire service. Not exactly the sort of ‘celebration’ we, atheists, have imagined. Yet, we are overwhelmed with joy and so happy to witness all this.

Inside the church.

Inside the church.

We are presented to the fifty-sixty people gathered for the celebration as the “guest-foreigners who will help us”, a related passage from the bible is read in our honor, and we are asked to say a few words. I thank them for the hospitality and the friendship, for the food they have shared with us and the trust they have placed upon us, and express my profound humility and joy to be among them. My words are being translated in Q’eqchi for the audience and everyone applauds.

More singing from the Bible follows, a baby receives a blessing in exchange for a bag in which something moves, maybe a chicken, and the celebration ends with a performance by kids who sing for us.

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The next day we return to the village to document some more of the palm-oil company secrets. Our new friends show up with a small motorbike with a flat tire and say only one of us can go on the bike with only one of them. That one is me and my camera. After an epic motorbike ride through endless plantations of African palm trees, and a few stops to pump some air in the flat tire, we arrive to a place where a small channel runs across a dead forest and finally dumps its thick black waste-waters in Lake Izabal. I have never before seen a dead forest. It is a haunting apocalyptic vision of what pollution does to nature.

A thin channel carrying chemical waste flows through a dead forest in the outskirts of the village.

A thin channel carrying chemical waste flows through a dead forest in the outskirts of the village.

Before we leave, we decide it is our turn to invite our new friends to visit us on the boat. We invite only the three cave-guides and their wives but the entire village shows up. It is funny how we think of a home as a one-family unit, and how the Q’eqchi perceive ‘home’ as a community and not as a private space. 

Guests on the boat.

Guests on the boat.

I remember asking someone, the first time when we went ashore with the kayak, if it is OK to leave the kayak there, on the shore, and they were amused telling me of course it is OK, it is no one’s land in particular. And then I remember how people were going in and out of houses and yards without knocking on the doors or asking permission. And then I remember how one of our new friends explained to me the meaning of ‘community’ and how the land is to everyone and no one in particular. With this kind of mentality one must expect that if one person from a community is invited, the entire community is invited. And thus, we have almost the entire community of Caxlampom Pataxte, men, women with babies, and children aboard Fata Morgana.

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Our kayak in the company of the visiting lanchas and cayucos.

Our kayak in the company of the visiting lanchas and cayucos.

 

Q'eqchi kids aboard Fata Morgana.

Q’eqchi kids aboard Fata Morgana.

For them it is like visiting a spaceship. I show the women my kitchen with running water and a fridge, Ivo shows the men the solar panels and the electronics: the GPS and the autopilot and explains how we produce freshwater out of saltwater using a special machine, and how the sails work with the wind and the boat moves without engine.

Q'eqchi men aboard Fata Morgana.

Q’eqchi men aboard Fata Morgana.

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“Would you like to travel as well and visit the world?” we ask them.

“We don’t even think of traveling. Every people has its place. This is our place. We are connected to our community, our home. Our land it is our life.”

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A Q'eqchi home built with bamboo trees.

A Q’eqchi home built with bamboo trees.

A turtle from the lake makes for delicious soup, a great delicacy.

A turtle from the lake makes for delicious soup, a great delicacy.

 

A kid carrying the turtle.

A kid carrying the turtle.

 

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Young Q'eqchi woman with a baby washing clothes in Lake Izabal.

Young Q’eqchi woman with a baby washing clothes in Lake Izabal.

 

Early morning fisherman.

Early morning fisherman.

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Mira holding a baby in Comunidad Indigena Caxlampom Pataxte, Lago de Izabal, Guatemala

Mira holding a baby at Comunidad Indigena Caxlampom Pataxte, Lago de Izabal, Guatemala

I have promised to help our Q’eqchi friends. Even if ‘help’ only means ‘expose’. I promised them I will tell their story to the world.

If you want to help too, please share this story, and contact me if you know of an Indigenous Rights organization or a group who could help them further. Thank you- Bantiox!

Stop NaturAceites

Stop NaturAceites

 

For further information about the palm-oil company NaturAceites and the history of violence surrounding the Q’eqchi communities in the region, please read the following article by clicking here.

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Fishing In Lake Izabal, Guatemala. A Photo Essay

 

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In Guatemala, indigenous people of Mayan descent make up almost 50% of the population, concentrated in the mountains and rural areas.

This is the country with the largest indigenous community in all of Central and South America.

 

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The Maya of today have preserved to a great extend the culture of their ancestors: languages, clothing, rituals and beliefs; the vital connection to land and nature.

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Chac-Uayab-Xoc: the Great Demon Shark

 

Corn and fish are the main food source of the Mayan Q’eqchi communities we met on the shores of Lake Izabal.

For thousands of years the Mayans worshiped the maize god; they believed their ancestors were made from maize.

They also had a fish-god.

Chac-Uayab-Xoc, also known as the Great Demon Shark, is the protector of fish and patron of fisherman. He feeds off the bodies of drowned fishermen, but ensures that the fishermen have good catches.

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Photos by Mira

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Mayans of Guatemala are the only indigenous culture that constitutes a majority of the population in a Central American republic. – See more at: http://www.minorityrights.org/2555/guatemala/maya.html#sthash.7kI5NaZ4.dpuf
The Mayans of Guatemala are the only indigenous culture that constitutes a majority of the population in a Central American republic. – See more at: http://www.minorityrights.org/2555/guatemala/maya.html#sthash.7kI5NaZ4.dpuf
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Men With Machetes, Bones With Souls, Mountains With Secrets

“Not even anthropologists or intellectuals, no matter how many books they have, can find out all our secrets.”
-Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Lake Izabal

Lake Izabal

„Are you afraid of death?” he asks me with the same intonation as if he is asking Do you like yellow flowers. I don’t know how to answer. My mouth becomes dry. „When you go to the graveyard, are you scared?” he clarifies.

„When I was a little girl, yes, I was scared of death and to go in graveyards, but now no. Now I am more afraid of the living than of the death.“ We both lough at the joke.

 

Hiking through the jungle

Hiking through the jungle

 

We are walking on a dirt road through a vast plantation of palm trees, the guy and me, past a palm-oil treatment plant, across a wide shallow river, and into the shadow of a jungle-covered mountain. Ivo, Joni, and the two other guys are walking ahead of us. We met them this morning. We don’t know their names. We don’t know if they are good guys or bad guys. All we know is that they are young indigenous Q’eqchi men who agreed to take us to a cave in the mountain above their village. They are wearing jeans, t-shirts and black rubber boots, carrying small backpacks and machetes.

 

Cutting a nut-like fruit called Monok from a spiky tree

Cutting a nut-like fruit called Monok from a spiky tree

 

The whole thing happened spontaneously. We were sailing along the remote edge of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s biggest lake. It was getting late; we had to find a place to anchor overnight. We approached the shore where a big column of grey smoke was coming out of the forest: a village, we thought, and that’s where we stopped. From the boats we saw a few houses on the banks of the lake. Tiny, made of thin logs and roofs of dry palm leaves. Behind them, the heavy humid mountains of Sierra de las Minas: white limestone covered with thick intensely green jungle. The night fell.

In the morning the entire village gathered on the shore to meet our kayak. Caxclampon Pataxte is a small community of a few hundred indigenous Q’eqchi, mostly children. Tourists don’t stop here often, and so our visit is a huge event.

 

The people from the village greeting us

The people from the village greeting us

 

“Are there caves near-by?” I ask. Only a few speak Spanish.

„Yes, there is a cave not too far; we can take you there if you like.“ Thus begun our journey.

Once we enter the jungle and start climbing the mountain there is no road anymore. Our progress is slow and difficult. The guides use their machetes to cut a path through tangled vegetation and dig holes in the steep slopes making steps for us. The terrain is extremely harsh, at places seems impossible to pass.

 

Hiking

Ivo with one of the guides, hiking through the jungle

 

By the time we reach the cave, our guides tell us all about their struggles against the Colombian palm-oil company which, since over a decade now, is exploiting and polluting their land. The vast plantations of palm trees we have seen on our way, the smoke of the palm-oil treatment plant, the channels dumping chemical waste in the lake, are all killing the trees, poisoning the water, and bringing disease to their children. They have been robbed of their ancestral land by a corporate giant and are now fighting to get it back.

 

Road through the plantation

Road through the plantation

 

By the time we come back from the cave, we have become friends. The kind of friends who look out for each other and can count on each other. We could count on them for protection against the village crooks and the company people who saw us taking pictures and filming around the palm-oil treatment plant; they could count on us to tell their story of struggle against injustice.

 

Taking a break, sharing stories

Taking a break, sharing stories

 

We get to the cave’s entrance after about three hours of extreme hiking through the jungle. It is a small hole in the grey rocks leading down. The three guys stop at the edge of the hole to say a muffled prayer in Q’eqchi before going in. We follow. It is a place they rarely visit, they say, a sacred site for prayers and rituals; for secrets and secret knowledge. We are the first white people to ever enter this cave.

 

Saying a prayer in front of the cave entrance

Saying a prayer in front of the cave entrance

 

They lead us into a narrow dark corridor, humid and cool. We get to a chamber. The light of a small flashlight illuminates scattered objects on the floor: yellow bones, human skulls, lower jaws with crooked teeth. Some are calcified to the cave’s walls; others lay loose on the ground. It is a Tomba Maya, they explain, a Mayan burial ground. The skeletons must be hundreds of years old, they say, from the times before the Conquista.

 

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

 

Being in the presence of ancient Mayan remains is something both strange and beautiful. In the dark, my mind begins to wander. The cave with its breath of a carnivorous flower becomes a temple; I become a ghost from a faraway land.

“I am honored and deeply grateful, I whisper, to be here with you: men with machetes, bones with souls, mountains with secrets.”

 

Mayan remains inside the cave

Mayan remains inside the cave

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16 Advantages of a Simple Kayak

A simple kayak will:

 

1. Get you to a shallow place

A simple kayak will take you to the place you want to go, even if it is too shallow for a dinghy.

The drought of a kayak is 0.0002 ft.

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Near Comunidad Indigena Caxclampon Pataxte, Guatemala

 

2. Get you to a quiet place

The kayak has no engine, therefore it makes no noise.

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

Sneaking near an indigenous home on Lake Izabal, Guatemala

You can sneak upon people’s properties without being noticed; or float downriver without disturbing the wildlife.

 

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Floating down the River Polochic, Guatemala

3. Get you to a tight place

You can paddle even in mangroves, between roots and branches.

 

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

Mangroves near Cayo Levisa, Cuba

4. Get you to a beautiful place

With the kayak you will be able to explore the most beautiful places on your journey.

 

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Lago Izabal, Guatemala

5. Not pollute the waters

Keeping the environment clean (and having your conscious clean) is another advantage of not having an engine.

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

6. Save you money

This is an obvious one. No engine= no fuel= no dollars

 

Mira and Ivo paddling. Photo bi Joni Spencer

Mira and Ivo paddling.
Photo by Joni Spencer

 

7. Provide a nice spot for kids to do art while under sail

 

8. Provide a dark shady spot on the boat for resting

Maya sleeping under the kayak

Maya sleeping under the kayak

9. Keep you in shape

Paddle, paddle, paddle! Often living on a boat means less physical exercise. Paddling the kayak will make you spend that extra energy and it is good for your heart and muscles.

 

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

Maya and the kayak in front of Fort Jefferson, Florida

10. Take your kids and their friends off the boat

The kayak will become a favorite jumping-off platform and transportation for your kids, no matter how old they are. They will paddle between boats to pick up their friends, go to shore, or to explore the region.

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Maya and Noial in Rio Dulce, Guatemala

 

11. Provide transportation for Cuban officials

If you ever sail to Cuba you will be unpleasantly surprised how many times you will have to deal with officials. Every time you move the boat from one cayo to another you will have to do another immigration checking out and checking in. The Cuban officials will board the boat every time to verify if there are any undocumented people on board (you are not permitted to have Cuban friends visiting the boat EVER even if the boat sits at the marina). Making the officials paddle to the boat instead of taking them there by dinghy is a nice little revenge.

 

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.  Here Ivo and an immigration officer paddle the kayak, El Poderoso (the name of the kayak means The Mighty One in Spanish) back from the boat anchored at Cayo Levisa. Fastest kayak ride ever, said Ivo.

The Cuban officials will come aboard no matter what; if you are on a dock or at anchor.
 Cayo Levisa, Cuba

12. Be loved by children everywhere

When you show up with a kayak in an indigenous Mayan village in Guatemala, you become The Event of The Year. Not you, the kayak!

Finca Jocoro

Finca Jocoro

There hasn’t been any scientific research done on the subject of How many indigenous kids can sink an unsinkable kayak, but the experiments have already started.

 

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

Near Finca Jocoro, Guatemala

13. Help you make friends

Your new indigenous friends will visit your boat if you invite them. They are as curious about your way of life as you are about theirs.

 

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

Friends from Playa Pataxte visiting the boat

You may take a few kids to the boat on your kayak, the rest will arrive shortly with their lanchas and cayucos.

 

Our kayak also has new friends!

Our kayak also made new friends!

14. Transport you and your groceries

You can park your kayak on the docks everywhere and visit the local village or town. Be sure to lock it against theft, though. When you comeback with bags full of fruits and vegetables, the kayak will be there for you. It will take more load than you think.

 

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Angelica and Andrea... Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Agent Orange waiting for us next to Anthonia and Andrea…
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

15. Transport 10 cases of 24 beers!

Yes, it will. You can load as much cases of the cheapest beer you ever saw on a simple kayak as you want. 10 is not the limit!

 

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

Ivo, happy, with 10 cases of Brahva, El Estor, Guatemala

16. Pull your boat

When there is no wind there are but a few alternative ways to advance with a sailboat without using engines. Put your flippers on and go push the boat; or jump in your kayak and pull! Ivo has done both, but he prefers to pull: it’s more efficient. His record speed pulling the boat by kayak is 0.5 knots!

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

Ivo pulling the boat, Lago Izabal, Guatemala

 

The story of Agent Orange

 

A few months ago, our good friends Neith and Sherry gave us a kayak along with a bunch of other useful things, before heading off to the desert in New Mexico where they will take part in The Solar Ark Project. We named the kayak El Poderoso which means The Mighty One in Spanish after Che Guevara’s famous motor bike. But after some time, we nicknamed him Agent Orange, as the kayak’s most notable feature is his bright orange color.

 

Agent Orange is a simple plastic unsinkable kayak. We didn’t realize then how much we will be needing it on our travels. The kayak became one of our most treasured possessions. We use it for transportation to go from the boat to shore and back when we are anchored someplace, as well as for a number of other things and I am sure that the list of ways to use it will keep growing with time.

Sailing into the sunset

Sailing into the sunset

 

 

 

 

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Demons of The Forest. Owners of Trees

„And they climbed up to the top of the tree. But the tree begun to grow larger. It swelled in size. Thus when they wanted to come back down, One Batz and One Huen couldn’t climb down from the top of the tree.

Thus they went up into the tops of the trees there in the small mountains and the great mountains. They went out into the forests, howling and chattering loudly in the branches of the trees.“

-Popol Vuh

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You will hear them.

When the day and the night and the night and the day start to blend and the light becomes enchanted and purple, they begin to howl. They begin to cry, and to moan, and to roar, and to scream. You will hear, even when you are still miles away, the most heartbreaking cries, the most ominous moans, the most arrogant roars, the most melancholic screams. What wounded  animals -or demons – could be, you will ask yourself, capable of such violent sadness?

Only a few miles southwest of the town of El Estor a river enters Lake Izabal. El Rio Polochic, the biggest tributary to the biggest lake in Guatemala forks in a few smaller channels before reaching the lake to create a basin, vast and remote, of intimate hidden bays surrounded by flat swampy shores where dense grasses, bushes, and trees form an impenetrable green mass. The abundance of tropical vegetation is hysterical.

Fata Morgana, Friendship, and Blizzard anchored near Bocas de Polochic.

Fata Morgana, Friendship, and Blizzard anchored near Bocas de Polochic.

The three boats drop anchor in a little protected bay. Here every day is blessedly the same. There are no other people. Nothing moves. A place entirely devoid of civilization. This is one of the world’s most biodiverse areas. The waters of the delta are kingdom of fish, otters, manatees, and crocodiles. Its shores are home to coyotes, jaguars, sloths, and giant anteaters. The skies are patrolled by over 250 species of birds, among which herons, egrets, toucans, and parrots.

 A channel of Rio Polochic

A channel of Rio Polochic

But while all those creatures try, at all cost, to make themselves as elusive as possible: hiding hushed beneath the waters, behind the grasses and bushes, there are those who announce themselves from the top of the trees as „the seers upon the face of the earth“. At the break of day and just before the night falls, their screams knife the forest penetrating your chest to chill your blood. You might think, as i did, these are the voices of some huge ghostly creatures, abandoned, hurting beyond hope. Or you might think, as i did, they are fierce and mean, messengers of Satan, and are probably devouring somebody right now. Such are their howls: deep and sinister as if coming from hell. The howls of the Black Howler Monkeys of Guatemala.

Black Howler MOnkey

Black Howler Monkey

We would hear them at dawn and at dusk, never got quite used to their unholy cries. Later, I would miss them. The first evening of silence I kept listening for their violent moans, in vain. When we sailed away after three days, just a few miles south, to a place where indigenous Mayan people live on the shores of the lake, there were no more howler monkeys. They don’t share their territory with people. And their voices didn’t travel to this place.

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The first time we went upriver by dinghies and floated back downriver with the motors off, we saw them far in the distance. It was a last chance kind-of-thing before darkness fell and swallowed their shapes. We saw them, a group of about 10-12 up in the tree without leaves. Silhouettes sleeping upon the branches. Then the night came. And the enigma: How ware these creatures, not larger than dogs, capable of such loud screams?

A group of Howler Monkeys

A group of Howler Monkeys

„Howlers are New World monkeys found in tropical Central and South America. They are aptly named for their cacophonous cries. When a number of howlers let loose their lungs in concert, often at dawn or dusk, the din can be heard up to three miles (five kilometers) away. Male monkeys have large throats and specialized, shell-like vocal chambers that help to turn up the volume on their distinctive call. The noise sends a clear message to other monkeys: This territory is already occupied by a troop. These vocal primates are the biggest of all the New World monkeys. Unlike Old World monkeys, howlers and other New World species have wide, side-opening nostrils and no pads on their rumps. Howlers also boast a prehensile tail. They can use this tail as an extra arm to grip or even hang from branches—no Old World monkeys have such a tail. A gripping tail is particularly helpful to howler monkeys because they rarely descend to the ground. They prefer to stay aloft, munching on the leaves that make up most of their diet.“ (National Geographic)

Howler Monkeys chilling.

Howler Monkeys chilling.

The next day, we saw them again. We went kayaking for five hours upriver and floated back downriver with the gentle current, and a couple of howlers were chilling just above our heads, in a big tree. We looked at them, and they looked at us. To me, this first close encounter with the wild animals was like some sort of a miracle.

They looked annoyed by us, watching us with mistrust and disapproval. We were trespassing. One kept chewing leaves, stuffing them in his mouth with a very slow motion, returning my stare, telling me: „Move on, can’t you see I am trying to eat here in peace. This is my private branch. How would you feel if I came to your window to stare at you while you are having supper?“

Black Howler Monkeys eating leaves.

Black Howler Monkeys eating leaves.

He looked sad, mean, and ugly, I thought. His teeth yellow and crooked, his fur black, full of lice. His tale long and thick holding the branch like a dark tentacle. His mouth, incapable even of the slightest smile, endowed him with a bitter melancholic expression. But what impressed me the most were his eyes: wet, deep, full of secrets. His eyes were the eyes of someone who remembers the times, forever lost, when he was a prince. When he and his twin-brother were punished in a cruel act of revenge and banished to live in the tops of the trees, in the small mountains and the great mountains, never to return to the world of men.

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El Boqueron Canyon

A Photo Journal

After the River-Cave Expedition we sail west to El Estor, the biggest town on the shores of Lago Izabal located at the foot of Sierra de Santo Cruz on the far north-west corner of the lake.

Less than ten kilometers east from the town flows Rio Boqueron cutting a deep 250-meter-high limestone canyon through the mountains.

 

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

Anchorage and dock in front of El Estor

The three boats drop anchor in front of the main docks of El Estor and we all except Josef head to El Boqueron Canyon. Josef has already visited the canyon and prefers to stay and keep an eye on the boats. El Estor is not the safest place to leave three yachts unattended.

We are twelve people: Daeli, Joni, Elan, Noial, and Lovam (s/v Friendship); Jana, Kachka and Anichka (s/v Blizzard); and Ivo, Mira, Viktor and Maya (s/v Fata Morgana).

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

Our journey starts with an epic thirty-minute ride from El Estor to the canyon in an old packed to the rim minibus. Way too many people are already piled inside before our group of twelve board the vehicle. The mothers are holding bunches of sweaty kids in their laps (us included), the men are sticking on the outside of the minibus (our men included), holding on for deer life while the driver goes with a hundred km/hr, accelerating on the curves, stopping abruptly a few times to pick up some more passengers!

 

El Boqueron Canyon

 

Finally we arrive at the canyon’s entrance, safe and sound. There are no other visitors but our group. A few young local guys are sitting around all day waiting for tourists, charging 5 quetzals (less than a dollar) entrance fee and another 10 quetzals for a lancha (a boat) ride up the canyon.

 

Our lancha ride upriver

Our lancha ride upriver

 

Joni, Jana, me, and the kids take the lancha while Ivo and Daeli decide to swim upriver, for free.

 

 

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

Ivo and Daeli getting ready to swim upriver.

 

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

Our lancha meets Ivo and Daeli.

 

We enter the canyon.

 

The entrance to the canyon.

The entrance to the canyon.

 

It is a different world: a world of giants. We are like a small family of ants in our little boat drifting in the yellow river, huge rocks towering above us.

 

Rio Boqueron

Rio Boqueron

 

A huge spider on the rocks.

A huge spider on the rocks.

 

We reach a boulder in the middle of the stream and the lancha stops. Our lanchero explains that this is our destination, the boat cannot pass, and so he leaves us stranded on that boulder and heads back. He will return to pick us up in a few hours.

 

The last stop of the lancha.

The last stop of the lancha.

 

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

Ivo helping the lancha pass across some rocks.

 

 

We are left alone on a huge rock in the middle of the river. The rock is fun: we sit on it, we have a picnic there, but soon we get pretty bored and decide to explore further, on our own.

 

The boulder.

The boulder.

 

And this is where the adventure begins.

 

The adventure begins.

The adventure begins.

 

The twelve of us, men, women, and children, with Elan, who is disabled, born with cerebral paralysis, and the two little girls Kachka 4 and Anichka 2, start heading upriver walking or swimming against the current.

 

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

Journey upriver in El Boqueron Canyon

 

The water is cold and the day is rainy and cool.

When the current is too strong, the men swim ahead and pull the rest of us one by one or all together with a rope we brought, women holding children, children clutching the rope, struggling to stay afloat.

 

The rope was a good idea.

The rope was a good idea.

 

We reach a point where the river curves slightly and we have to cross to the other side. The water is deep and fast.

Ivo manages to swim across holding one end of the rope, Daely is holding the other end and the rest of us are in the middle.

In order for Ivo to pull us to the other side we have to grab the rope and hold on to it, and then Daeli has to let go.

But we have to do it all together and quickly, we have only one chance.

The weight on the rope is too much, it drags us down, and we all struggle to stay afloat. But we succeed.

 

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

Daeli holding one end of the rope.

 

After probably about 30-40 minutes of this ordeal we reach a small beach where we can finally step ashore and rest on the rocks.

 

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The kids are tired and frozen, their lips blue, but no one complains. We love the adventure. The place is so beautiful.

 

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Ivo and Mira

Ivo and Mira

 

 

Ivo and Daeli want to explore even further. There is always further. The human curiosity is infinite. Who knows what will they discover upriver.

 

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They „discover“ a small cayuco left on the bank of the river and decide to borrow it for a ride downriver.

 

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

Ivo brings a cayuco for the ride downriver.

 

A cayuco is a small traditional wooden canoe carved from a single tree trunk which the mayans use as transportation and to fish. Usually, it takes one or two people. We are twelve.

 

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

Loading up the cayuco with women and children.

 

And I am sure that this is the one and only time in the long history of this particular cayuco when it took ten women and children, safely, back to the end of the canyon, Ivo and Daeli swimming beside it guiding it down the stream.

 

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

The epic ride downriver in a cayuco.

 

It is a fun ride. When the lancha guys see us arriving triumphantly all piled up in the little cayuco, happy and wet, they can’t believe it. They have never met a crazier bunch of gringoes before, that’s for sure.

 

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Then Ivo and Daeli have to swim back upriver dragging the cayuco, which almost broke and almost sunk twice, to the place where they found it. We wait for them probably for over two hours.

 

Kachca and Lovam

Kachika and Lovam

 

When the guys return we have to figure a way to go back to El Estor and we decide to hitchhike.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

Twelve people hitchhiking.

 

The first car that passes down the road doesn’t stop, but the second does.

 

"Come on , Mira, stop with your pictures and jump in the truck, hurry up!"

„Come on , Mira, stop with your pictures and jump in the truck, hurry up!“

 

A pickup truck pulls over and we all pile up on the back, twelve men, women, and children. No one wants to sit in the front with the driver, riding in the trunk with a good company is a lot more fun.

 

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

Riding in the back of the pick-up truck.

 

We are back at the boats in the late afternoon, hungry and tired, but ready for the next adventure.

 

 

 

 

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The River Cave Expedition

 

 

The River Cave Expedition is the first of series of expeditions we went on together with our friends, the Friendship crew and the Czechs, on the north and west shores of Lago Izabal where we sailed together for almost two weeks.

 

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

Fata Morgana, Blizzard, and Friendship crews

 

The members of the River Cave Expedition are: Josef and Katchka; Daeli, Noial, and Lovam; and Ivo, Mira, Viktor, and Maya. Total of nine people. Meanwhile, Joni with Elan who was born with cerebral paralysis, and Jana with Anichka, spend the day at the Agua Caliente waterfall. They will join us for the next adventure.

 

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We start at the Agua Caliente waterfall going up river. There is no other path but the riverbed. In the beginning it is wide and shallow surrounded by lush jungle vegetation. But soon it gets narrower and the water becomes deeper and faster, cutting a deep canyon through the mountain’s grey rocks. An awe-inspiring view.

 

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Some places are difficult and dangerous to pass; we help the younger kids climb big boulders and swim across deeper waters. Josef has to carry Katchka most of the time. Lovam accepts help very rarely and only if he truly needs it, trying to keep up with Maya and Noial who are jumping from rock to rock with great ease leading the expedition.

 

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After a while we get to a small pool of green water where the river suddenly stops, turns towards the eastern wall of the canyon and enters a dark cave. We follow. The water inside the cave is still, deep, and freezing cold. This is the place where the river sleeps. We only have two submersible flashlights for nine people, so we keep one in front and one in back of the group. We swim in the dark cold water getting deeper and deeper into the cave until we don’t see light from the entrance any longer. The world becomes black. Colors never existed here; the sun has no memory of this place. We are blind.

It is a completely new and bizarre feeling swimming in a cave, in total darkness. We hear the tiny sounds of bats above our heads. We are trying to hold on to the wet slippery rock-walls covered with guano. Everything is mysterious. Who knows what  thing without eyes is lurking in the waters beneath. Who knows what thing without soul is listening from the cave’s ceiling some 30-40 feet above our heads.

Only if you abandon yourself to the cave and its secrets you will be able to feel and appreciate it. Fear should not enter the river-cave.

Everyone is silent. At places there are big rocks we have to go over one by one helping each other. I am expecting some of the kids to start panicking in the darkness, but it seems they all are truly enjoying the ride, even Katchka, she is so brave! And Viktor tells me later this was his favorite of all expeditions so far.

 

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Then, gradually, the silence gets filled with the muffled sound of water booming in the distance: an underground waterfall. The roar trapped in the cavern gets louder as we go further and soon we cannot hear each other anymore. We now feel the strong current against us. The waterfall is about fifteen feet tall and the only way to continue would be to climb over it. So we turn back. The journey back to the cave exit is a lot faster, going with the current.

Exiting the cave is a happy moment. I think of Plato’s caveman and his amazement at the outside world. The trees, the river, the clouds, the rocks. We look at each other and we lough. Wow, what an experience!

We have reached the end of one more unforgettable journey.

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The Cave’s Exit

 

 

* All photos were taken by Daeli with his GoPro camera

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Princesas Maya de Guatemala

Mayan girls of Lago Izabal, Guatemala.

When our sailboat drops anchor for the first time near Finca Jocoro we are greeted by a hundred kids. Most don’t speak Spanish but Qeqchi. They are wearing secondhand American clothes, the younger ones are naked. An average family here has between 7 and 10 kids and the village seams entirely populated by children. I notice that many of the older girls are holding babies in their arms, the way girls back in Canada are holding dolls, but they don’t look like kids playing with toys, rather like miniature mothers.

A Mayan girl starts working helping with chores around the house as soon as she turns three: feeding the chickens and ducks, the cats and dogs, cleaning the house, washing the clothes. The older girls’ responsibilities include carrying firewood, making tortillas, selling produce at the market, but mainly: taking care of the youngsters. Thus, they are ready to be mothers and housewives even before they reach puberty.

Everywhere I go: in Finca Jocoro, El Estor, Finca Paraiso, Playa Pataxte, I am captivated by the indigenous girls’ maturity and mysterious coarse beauty. I ask them if I can photograph them. The bravest ones face my huge camera, some for the first time in their life, with reservation and mistrust, but many refuse to be photographed, giggle and hide. Still, in just a few days I accumulate an impressive collection of girl-portraits from the local Qeqchi communities of Lago Izabal. I name the project “Pricesas Mayas de Guatemala”. It attempts to reveal the Mayan girls’ present reality in their natural surroundings challenging the western norms for beautyand and innosence. 

 

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