Our Boat Just Got Bigger!

Fata Morgana

Fata Morgana

You might think it’s impossible for a boat to get bigger. Usually the opposite phenomenon occurs: boats get smaller with time. Stuff accumulates and every niche, every corner gets filled with things. Books, clothes, shoes, dishes, tools, food reserves, extra sails, and spare parts slowly and almost unnoticeably pile up on top of each other and inevitably conquer the entire space.

Fata Morgana´s salona dn galley

Fata Morgana´s salon and galley

Usually, there is no remedy for this situation. In the battle of stuff vs. people, stuff always wins. People, defeated, simply abandon the boat and move to a bigger one where the process repeats. But there are a few rare instances where a boat can get bigger, which has nothing to do with stuff. And I am not talking about adding a second floor or half the crew members moving out taking the salon table along. No, I am talking about an enclosure.

 

The cockpit with its new enclosure

The cockpit with its new enclosure

Fata Morgana got her new custom made „jacket“ here in Rio Dulce, and she is sexier than ever. We always wanted to have a dodger and an enclosure as it transforms the open cockpit into another roomy space sheltered from wind and rain where the family can now enjoy dinner ever when the weather is nasty and the helmsman doesn’t get soaked while sailing in the rain. It is like installing glass panes around a balcony.

 

But the first time we got a quote for a dodger and an enclosure in Florida, we got shocked. The cost of such a luxury in the United States is more than the price of most boats we have seen until now. The materials are expensive and the per-hour fees are lethal. So we considered making an enclosure or at least a dodger ourselves and ultimately dropped the project, as we don’t have a clue how to do it. Until we got to Rio Dulce and met Elmer Rauda.

 

Elmer Rauda

Elmer Rauda

Elmer has the biggest upholstery company in Rio Dulce, AquaMarine, with six full-time workers and an extensive 15-year experience in the business of making furniture, marine enclosures, boat cushions, dinghy covers, hatch covers, and whatever canvass work you need for the boat.

 

AquaMarine office

AquaMarine office

We found him by asking around and he was the only one strongly recommended by other boaters who have been using his services, even though there are four more small upholstery shops in the area. For less than a quarter of the price we were asked to pay in Florida, he and his men made for us not only a dodger and a full enclosure but also a dinghy cover and even repaired a big hole in our jib. The jobs were done in less than one month: from measure taking to installation. We also got an additional discount thanks to this blog: AguaMarine is now one of our official sponsors. Check them out on our Sponsors page!

 

Elmer and an employee taking measurements for the dodger

Elmer and an employee taking measurements for the dodger

Conclusion: If you are ever in need of a custom-made dinghy cover, dodger, enclosure, cushions, etc. for your boat and you want to save money and time, head to Rio Dulce and call Elmer at: 4966-7095. AquaMarine is located in Fronteras de Rio Dulce, Cruce San Felipe de Lara (in front of the Panaderia San Antonio)

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Installing the enclosure

Installing the enclosure

 

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The Cave Expedition

 

 

The week after our first failed attempt to visit a cave, we (FiendShip and Fata Morgana crews) sailed to Finca Paraiso on the north shore of Lago Izabal. We leave the boats anchored there, sneak past the Agua Caliente hot springs and waterfall and after about 40 minutes hiking through the jungle, we finally get to the entrance of a big deep dark cave.

 

Maya walking through the jungle

Maya walking through the jungle

 

The members of the this time successful cave expedition are: Daeli, Noial, Lovam, Spirit, Ivo, Maya, and myself. Three adults, three kids, and a dog.

 

Mira walking towards the cave

Mira walking towards the cave

 

The walk through the jungle is fun, the kids are running in front, and even Lovam, the youngest member of the expedition doesn’t complain. I am at the back of the group, stopping from time to time to take pictures and am the last one to arrive at the cave entrance. I hear the others go „Wow!“ one by one as they come out of the forest and very suddenly face a giant gaping black hole in the rocky wall of the mountain. I go „Wow!“ too.

 

Entering the cave

Entering the cave

 

There she is, finally, awaiting, hungry, her sharp teeth drooling with underground waters; spiders, the squeaky sound of bats, disturbed. We enter, eager, cautious, our flashlights illuminate her bowels: strange textures and shapes.

 

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Our eyes widen in the dark, we cling to each other. Her breath is humid and cool: the sweet-and-sour smell of guano. Our voices travel the dark walls of the cavern’s huge chamber in a weird way: bumping, disappearing, coming back again.

 

Inside the cave

Inside the cave

 

We go further. We get to a place where it becomes impossible to continue without ropes. The cave plunges some ten meters down and we don’t know what lies beyond. There is nothing more mysterious than the entrails of a cave.

 

The kids staring in the dark

The kids staring in the dark

 

Cave Picture Gallery

 

 

 

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Noial, Maya, Ivo, and Lovam

Noial, Maya, Ivo, and Lovam

 

 

 

 

Mira

Mira

 

 

 

 

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Daeli and Ivo lightpainting

Daeli and Ivo lightpainting

 

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In Search of the Lost Cave

 Hiking Across the Guatemalan countryside

 

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The mountains around Lago Izabal are home of many caves. Most are difficult to find and hard to access as there are no roads, not even paths leading there but wilderness. Once, we walked up and down Sierra de las Minas all day searching for a cave we never found.

Our journey started on a Friday afternoon. Together with the FriendShips we sail to Dennis Beach, on the south shore of the lake. We leave the two boats anchored there and we head for the mountains looking for a cave.

 

The beginning of the long walk.  Noial, maya, Ivo and Daeli walking past a traditional mayan house

The beginning of the long walk.
Noial, maya, Ivo and Daeli walking past a traditional mayan house

 

Joni stays behind chilling on the beach with Elan and Lovam. The rest of us: Daeli, Noial, Ivo, Viktor, Maya, and I, with Spirit and a random dog that joined us, spend the day hiking through the Guatemalan countryside following a narrow path through the jungle, past a small Mayan village, across rivers, bamboo forests, cornfields, and cow pastures.

 

Bamboo forest

Bamboo forest

 

We meet people carrying wood and people working in the fields and every time we ask them for directions to the cave. “Down the path, across the river, past the orange orchard is the cave”, they tell us, but we lost our way and cannot find it. And it doesn’t matter anyway. The green of the land, the hot smell of the cornfields, the coolness of the river waters, and the spectacular view of the lake shining beneath the mountain is worth it.

 

River crossing

River crossing

 

We return to Dennis Beach before dark, tired, our feet covered with mud, our sight filled with green landscapes.

 

More photos from the hike
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Cornfield

 

 

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Daeli with cows and two dogs

Daeli with cows and two dogs

 

 

 

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View of Lago Izabal

 

 

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A Traditional Mayan House

 

 

 

 

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Maya and Noial met a family of ducks

Maya and Noial met a family of ducks

 

 

Maya and Noial chilling in the stream

Maya and Noial chilling in the stream

 

 

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Twenty Kids in One Kayak

 

Where I live is practically a paradise, the country is so beautiful. There are no big roads, and no cars. Only people can reach it. Everything is taken down the mountainside on horseback or else we carry it ourselves. 

-Rigoberta Menchu Tum

Finca Jocoro

Finca Jocoro

„Ivooooooo, Ivooooooo!“

We hear the kids calling from the shore.

„Ivooooooo, Ivooooooo!“

The kids have remembered Ivo’s name. The kids remember how much fun they had playing football with Ivo and his jokes. We told them we would return to play with them again and bring kandies and we kept our promise. They have been waiting for us for three weeks, and now they have seen the boats near the shores again. They have been expecting us. They are excited and happy.

 

The kids waiting for us to come ashore

The kids waiting for us to come ashore. Fata Morgana and Friendship anchored in the distance.

 

Three weeks ago we sailed to Finca Jocoro and spent a day there playing with the kids. Finca Jocoro is not one of the tourist attractions in the cruising guides, as there is nothing there for the tourists to see, no beach, no waterfall, no cave, no restaurant, no shop. Only a tiny village of a few wooden houses populated by kids who speak Q’eqchi and a little Spanish. There is a school, a church, and a football field. When we approach the place from Lago Izabal we recognize the great hundreds of years old ceiba tree, a few small buildings and a bunch of children playing near the waters.

 

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View of Finca Jocoro from the lake

 

There are no streets in the village but a few narrow paths between the houses.

 

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The main „street“

 

The houses are small wooden constructions with dried palm leaf roofs, same as they were a thousand years ago. It takes a couple of weeks to build such a house, and the entire community helps.

 

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A traditional mayan house.

 

Up to twenty-thirty people could be living in one of them, along with chickens and other domestic animals.

 

A boy and a pig in front of a house

A boy and a pig in front of a house

 

The houses are grouped in communes: six or seven homes separated from the others by a fence. In Fnca Jocoro there are four or five communes, or aldeas. We walk around escorted by kids. For them a visit by „estranjeros“ is a huge event.

 

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Kids in one of the aldeas

 

Every time I pull my camera to take a picture, the kids pile up in front of the lense. For them it’s a fun game. They pose, often very serious, and then come around me to look at the picture on the small screen of the camera and lough.

 

Posing for a picture

Posing for a picture

 

Then we play football. The field is at a slight angle and there is cow poop everywhere, but that doesn’t stop anyone from enjoying the game.

 

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Football game in Finca Jocoro

 

At the end of the day the kids don’t want to let us go. They devise a plan: to steal our kayak so we cannot return to the boats.

 

The kids steal our kayak

The kids steal our kayak

 

Their mean plan works for a while, but is overall unsuccessful. Ivo brings them back making sure all of them fall in the water once or twice at least.

 

Ivo pulling the kayak loaded with kids back to shore.

Ivo pulling the kayak loaded with kids back to shore.

 

As we paddle back to the boats, the kids swim after us and try to convince us to stay a bit longer.

 

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„Ivooooo! Ivoooo!“, they shout.

We promise, again, we will return.

The kids of Finca Jocoro

The kids of Finca Jocoro

 

 

 

 

 

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Most of all, I need a friend

 

Maya with candies

Maya with candies

She was crying.

„You know how much I need a friend? I would give up all the candies in the world and all my toys for a friend right now… And every time I make a friend we leave or they leave… You know how many friends I’ve lost? Too many…“

„Don’t cry, Maya, you are making me sad. A friend you never really lose. You always keep them in your heart. Your heart will become a piggybank of friends, a map of the world with a million pins: a pin for each friend, you will see. You will become Million-Friends-Maya.“

“ I only need one now…“

 

 

This was weeks ago.

Maya met Noial on a Friday, at noon. By 2 pm they were best friends.

 

Maya and Noial. Breakfast after a sleepover in the boat.

Maya and Noial.
Breakfast after a sleepover in the boat.

 

Since then, they have been together all the time. At school, at the boat, at the pool. In jungles, in rivers, in caves.

 

At school

Noial and Maya In the schoolyard with chickens

Noial and Maya
In the schoolyard with chickens

 

 At the boat

Noual and Maya Making art while sailing

Noial and Maya
Making art while sailing

At the pool

Maya and Noial At Nanajuana Pool

Maya and Noial
At Nanajuana Pool

In jungles

Maya and Noial Hiking up the river

Maya and Noial
Hiking up the river

In rivers

Maya and Noial Chilling in the river

Maya and Noial
Chilling in the river

In caves

Noial and Maya Light-painting in a cave

Noial and Maya
Light-painting in a cave

They have been taking showers together, dancing together, jumping together.

Shower together

Noial and Maya  Taking a river shower off the boat.

Noial and Maya
Taking a river shower off the boat.

Dance together

Maya and Noial At a school party

Maya and Noial
At a school party

Jump together

Noial and Maya  Jumping off the boat

Noial and Maya
Jumping off the boat

The best moments are the ones we share with a good friend.

Maya and Noial  Taking El Poderoso (the kayak) for a ride

Maya and Noial
Taking El Poderoso (the kayak) for a ride

Maya and Noial In traditional Guatemalan costumes at the school dance.

Maya and Noial
In traditional Guatemalan costumes at the school dance.

They even cried together once…

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Exploring Guatemala’s Natural Wonders. Agua Caliente

 

Vista of Lago Izabal

Vista of Lago Izabal

 

Guatemala, a Biodiversity Hotspot

 

Between the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean, just south of Mexico, lies a small Central American country. Guatemala, a place of many trees, is one of the most biologically abundant regions in the world with a unique ecosystem: a reservoir of biodiversity. Coming from Canada where half the time we were looking at snow covered landscapes, it took us some time to adjust our vision to the Guatemalan green around us. The Nature here has gone crazy.

The country has been designated as one of the world’s biodiversity hotspot, a rich biogeographic region containing distinct fauna and flora of which over 6% of animal species and 13% of plant species are endemic, many under threat from humans.

There are five different ecosystems in Guatemala with climate varying from hot and humid tropical lowlands to drier and cooler highlands. With mangrove forests, ocean littorals, rivers and lakes, jungle-covered mountain ranges, wetlands, small deserts, valleys, volcanoes, caves, and cenotes, Guatemala offers countless destinations to nature-lovers like us.

 

Guatemalan Green

Guatemalan Green

Agua Caliente

It’s Friday. After dropping off the kids at school Joni and me go grocery shopping in Fronteras, stocking up fruits, vegetables and beer for the weekend. As soon as the kids finish school, at noon, we lift anchors and spread the sails. Fata Morgana and her best friend FrindShip are off for the weekend. Past El Castillo de San Felipe, we  navigate west for a few hours. It is an absolute pleasure sailing in a lake. No waves, light wind, green shores all around us. Two families, two boats, five kids, one dog. The lake is ours!

 

FriendShip and Fata Morgana sailing together in Lago Izabal.  Photo by Joni

FriendShip and Fata Morgana sailing together in Lago Izabal.
Photo by Joni

 

Lago Izabal is the biggest lake in Guatemala with a surface of approximately 600 km² and many rivers draining into it, of which the biggest one is Polochic River. The lake is surrounded by evergreen mountains, Sierra de Santo Cruz to the north and Sierra de las Minas to the south. At the foot of the mountains near the shores of the lake there are a few small fincas (villages) where Q’eqchi and Q’iche communities still live in the same way their ancestors did, in small wooden houses with roofs of dried palm leaves.

 

FriendShip and Fata Morgana anchored near Finca Paraiso

FriendShip and Fata Morgana anchored near Finca Paraiso

 

After about ten miles of navigating we drop anchors in front of Finca Paraiso. The next morning we all go to shore and head to Agua Caliente (Hot Water). We start early, to make sure there will be no one else but us, as the tourists start to arrive there by bus around 10 am. After a short hike parallel to a small river, past cow pastures and a village from a different era, we get to the place. From the green mouth of the forest above us a small waterfall tumbles down into a deep pool. Not a big waterfall at all. If you have seen many waterfalls (coming from Canada- Niagara, hello!) you might not even notice this one. But wait until you feel its waters.

 

Agua Caliente waterfall

Agua Caliente waterfall

 

The waterfall is hot! There is a geothermal spring above the river. Before reaching the edge of the rocks and plunging thirty feet into the cold river below, the hot spring waters form two scalding shallow pools and then cascade down the rocks. Speaking of hotspots! The deep pool below is a mixture of hot water from the fall and cold water from the main river.

We spend a few hours there swimming in the cold river below, soaking in the hot pools above, jumping from the rocks. Standing under a hot waterfall is a bizarre feeling. The water is heavy, pushing me down, falling relentlessly, booming, never stopping. I close my eyes. Only the compact hollow noise, the unforgiving liquid weight and a gentle smell of humid vegetation and minerals. The most extreme shower I ever took.  

 

Photos of Agua Caliente Waterfall

Joni, Elan, Noial, and Spirit on the rocks next to the river

Joni, Elan, Noial, and Spirit on the rocks next to the river

 

Maya jumping

Maya

 

Joni

Joni

 

Daeli

Daeli

 

Lovam and Spirit

Lovam and Spirit

 

Mira

Mira

 

Viktor

Viktor

 

Noial

Noial

 

Ivo

Ivo

 

Spirit and Daeli

Spirit and Daeli

 

Viktor

Viktor

 

Spirit

Spirit

 

Lovam

Lovam

 

 

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Aquatic Protest of Powerlines in Rio Dulce

 

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

October 4, 2013.

Good morning Rio Dulce, Guatemala! It is a hot day today in the Rio hotter than usual. It is also a historical day.

We just came back from the first ever aquatic boat parade here in the Rio protesting against the construction of a new powerline over the river, a project by the TRESCA corporation to provide a enormous power supply to the El Estor mining operation.

 

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

 

El Estor Mine

El Estor mine is one of the largest nickel mines in Guatemala located in El Estor, Department of Lago Izaba, not far from Rio Dulce. The mine has a dark history. It all started in 1960 when a Canadian mining company Inco purchased the open pit nickel mine near El Estor. During the 36-year Civil War in Guatemala, the mining company cuts a corrupt deal with the military to provide „safe operations and security“. The result is somewhere between 3000 and 6000 innocent peasants killed in the region by the military whose chief of operations was nicknamed The Butcher of Zacapa. In 1970 he  is elected president of Guatemala, Colonel Carlos Manuel Arana Osorio. He promises that if necessary, he will “turn the country into a cemetery in order to pacify it“. Q’eqchi Mayan farmers are expelled from their land to make space for the mine and the construction of a town to house the miners. Public protest grows. The tension between miners and the local community rises. In the years to follow, murders, gang rapes, and more extraditions of Indigenous Mayans become regular incidents. After the end of the Civil War in 1996, new Peace Accords promise returning of historical Mayan land to the Mayans and restrictions of military and police forces. Still, the conflict in El Estor continue. In 2004 another Canadian company closely related to Inco purchases the mine without consulting the indigenous population. mayan Q’eqchi return to their lands only to be evicted by police again, without a court order. The eviction is accompanied by burning homes and gang rape of Mayan women. Today, the mining company is property of a Russian company, Solwey Investment Group, which bought it from the Canadian one in 2011 and the tensions continue. The same issues remain today: exploiting Mayan land and Guatemalan resources by foreign companies, evicting indigenous populations from their ancestral lands, clashes between miners and locals, between military and civilians.

 

 

*For more about the history of the mine read here, and  here, and watch the short documentary Violent Evictions at El Estor, Guatemala

 

Protest in Rio Dulce

 

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

Rio Dulce Powerline Parade October 4, 2013

 

Today about 50 boats of all kinds assembled under the bridge for the first time in the history of Rio Dulce  to protest peacefully against the construction of powerlines for the El Estor mine. Fata Morgana was in the middle of the boat-soup, along with other sailing and power boats, locals and from the international community,dinghies, lanchas and fishermen’s cayucos. The whole thing turned into a huge aquatic party-parade to the sound of „Johnny, la gente esta muy loca“ song.

 

Casa Guatemala Orphanage was represented!

Casa Guatemala Orphanage was represented!

Unfortunately, those opposing the project are doing it for the wrong reasons, it seems to me. It is not an opposition to the mining company and its operations in the region, nor it is in support of the local populations still suffering displacement, injustice, and oppression. The Rio Dulce boaters simply try to protect their beautiful view of the river and the Castillo de San Felipe from getting obstructed by powerlines. And the scariest part for the boaters is the possibility that the powerline clearance will be too low for some masts to pass under. Therefore, some proposed, let them build the lines under the river…

Mira holding a sign:  El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido.

Mira holding a sign:
El Pueblo Unido Jamás Será Vencido.

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Fiesta, Piñata, Pollo, Cerveza. Celebrating Guatemala’s Independence Day in Mario’s Marina

 

Not only the local community of Rio Dulce celebrated Independence Day. Everywhere in the marinas the gringo cruisers took part in organised games and fiestas.

The celebrations of Guatemala’s 192 years of Independence from the Spanish Crown in Mario’s Marina started early in the morning on September 15 with a volleyball tournament. Six five-person teams showed up and played for two hours.

 

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The team of Los Invencibles won, of course. Ivo played with the winning team, of course.

Los Invencibles

Los Invencibles

 

Next were games for kids that included throwing water balloons and raw eggs at each other, pinning the tail of the quetzal bird, wet sponge competition and of course, a piñata.

 

Maya is beating the candy out of the pinata

Maya is beating the candy out of the pinata

 

Last, but not least, there was the chicken lottery. Someone brought a frightened chicken and placed it on top of a large cardboard with squares and numbers on it. The participants marked their names on a square of their choice paying 10 quetzales for a square. Then we waited for the chicken to poop on a square and thus determine who would win the lottery. But the chicken was not at all in the mood for pooping. It was so freaked out, it remained petrified and constipated in the middle of the cardboard surrounded by a crowd of people who wouldn’t stop bothering him. Someone tried to lure him with rice, another one gave him a relaxing massage, but nothing worked. Twice the chicken darted out and breached the circle of people absolutely unexpectedly running so fast it took skill to catch him and bring him back. Overall, it was painful to watch. I am sure that the chicken would sue its torturers if he was a gringo chicken with animal rights and had a lawyer, but he wasn’t… At the end the chicken was released his honor intact. He never pooped in public and on demand.

 

The chicken

The chicken

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Celebrating Independence Day in Guatemala.

Guatemalan boy and girl in traditional dress.

Guatemalan boy and girl in traditional dress.

Guatemala

Cuauhtēmallān, a place of many trees, of monumental stone structures in the midst of cloud forests, the cradle of the Mayan Civilization, one of the most biodiverse corners of the planet. Color of maize, scent of cacao, sound of a feathered serpent in the misty depths of the highlands. 

La Conquista

There was a brave and magical prince of stone in the place of many trees: Tecun Uman.

There came from the belly of a great ship a cruel god with shiny armor, like a red sun, to take the land and the souls of the maize men and their lord Tecun Uman.

There they were face to face Tecun Uman with all his warriors and captain Pedro de Alvarado with an army of beasts and weapons of thunder. Tecun Uman and his warriors never surrendered, attacking many times, until the prince fell mortally wounded. When he died, blackness fell upon the land of many trees.

The Colony

Blackness fell upon the land of many trees for many years illuminated only by fires of burning men and ancient gods.

Independence

On September 15, 1821, Guatemala, Cuauhtēmallān, the place of many trees, proclaimed its independence from Spanish Crown.

Celebration

Now September 15 is a day of jubilation like no other. The entire country celebrates after weeks of preparations.

The celebrations in Rio Dulce spanned for many days starting with a beauty pageant in the school. One girl is chosen to represent every class. Then the kids from the entire school vote secretly to choose the most beautiful one. It is an impossible task as they are all magnificent.

Estrella, the queen this year.

Estrella, the queen this year.

 

Another activity to celebrate Independence Day on September 15 organized by the school is a dance competition. The kids, after many days of practice, perform a traditional dance wearing trajes (traditional costumes) in front of parents and friends. While in many parts of the world traditional native dress has disappeared, the indigenous women of Guatemala still proudly wear their trajes identifying with their ancestry through them. They are also village-specific, every region has its own traditional dress. In the region of Lago Izabal the women’s traje consist of a long pleated corte (skirt) and a colorful lace huipil (shirt). The fabric for the skirts is very expensive, so is the huipil. We had to borrow them for a day from a K’iche woman so that Maya could participate in the danse. 

 

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.

 

Maya and Noial

Maya and Noial

 

 

The indigenous men’s clothing in Guatemala, unlike the indigenous women’s clothing, is disappearing at a fast pace. It is still visible, especially in the smaller towns, but in most places jeans from the north have already replaced the hand-woven textiles that formed pants or shorts identifying each man’s region and heritage. For the traditional school dance the boys showed up wearing traditional men costumes. I think, much more impressive than jeans.

 

Los varones

Los varones

 

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El palo ensebado

Then there was a traditional palo ensebado (greasy pole climbing). This ancient tradition has its origins in Naples, Italy in the 16th century. In Spain and in other European countries similar rituales known as el árbol de mayo and la cucaña were practised in time of religious celebrations as a cult to the gods, where dancing around the post symbolized a prayer for fertility both for the land and for the women. With the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors and the catholic religion in the New World, the ritual was adopted by the local populations. Today, it is a tradition that has lost its religious significance and has become a fun game and a dangerous challenge.

For more about the game, its origins, history, and variations, read (in Spanish) here.

 

The boys climbing the pole

The boys climbing the pole

 

The kids from the school helped to erect a 10 meter high wooden pole greased with butter in the schoolyard. An envelop with 200 quetzals was stuck on top. The kids split in two teams, boys vs. girls, and for about one hour struggled to get to the top. There was much laughter and screaming and an impressive demonstration of teamwork. Finally the girls, after piling up on five levels, won.

 

The girl who reached the top won 200 quetzales (about 28 US$) and shared them with the rest of her team.

Miriam reached the top and won 200 quetzales (about 28 US$). She shared them with the rest of her team.

 

The celebration was complete with a roast for the entire village. On the morning of the second to last day of celebrations a gift from the mayor of the neighboring village arrived: a cow. The cow, a young male calf, came in a small pickup truck and was brought to a slaughter place to be sacrificed. 

 

The calf before being slaughtered

The calf before being slaughtered

 

The next day, the entire village was invited for the barbeque. There were tortillas, black beans, salad and roasted beef galore.

 

The roast

The roast

There was the entire village lining for a piece of meat as well as many visitors from other villages.

Mira enjoying the meal in the company of two Mayan women and their children.

Mira enjoying the meal in the company of two Mayan women and their children.

 

In the evening, there was a dance party which ended with the arrival of the torches at midnight. La marcha de antorchas is the greatest of traditions celebrating Independence Day in Guatemala. Thousands of Guatemaltecos from the entire country participate each year in organized marathons that last over 12 hours. Starting early in the morning people of all ages join on the streets and run for many kilometers carrying lit torches. The participants from El Relleno started at 5 in the morning, ran to the border of Honduras, over 50 kilometers, and returned at midnight. The sight of people running with torches in the night is unforgettable.

 

The torches of Independencia return after a 19-hour marathon.

The torches of Independencia return after a 19-hour marathon.

 

 

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Maya’s New School

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„Good morning students! This is your new classmate, Maya. She will be studying with us in fourth grade. I want you to welcome her in our class and show her respect. Maya comes from another country, from Canada. We all have to help her to feel welcomed in our school and in our country, Guatemala. We are all happy when someone from another country comes to study with us. That means they want to learn about our country, our culture, and language. But we are also lucky to have them among us because we also learn from them, about their country and culture. The foreign students enrich our knowledge about other places in the world. And this is why today we are very fortunate to have Maya with us, we have to appreciate this. Welcome in fourth grade, Maya! Luis-Pedro, bring a chair and a desk for Maya from the other room and put it over there.“

 

Maya's classroom

Maya’s classroom

 

Facing the class, Maya beside him looking at the cement floor, her heart racing with excitement, el profe Estuardo says these words in Spanish, his right hand resting on Maya’s shoulder. She doesn’t understand what he has just said, she doesn’t speak Spanish yet, but I do. I lean at the door of the classroom peeking inside. About twenty kids in uniforms, from eight to fourteen years old, are standing up very still, listening carefully to their teacher. His words bring tears in my eyes. I will never forget this moment. 

 

Maya's first day at school.

Maya’s classmates on her first day at school.

 

Maya starts school two days after we arrive in Rio Dulce. The subscription procedure takes less than a minute consisting in meeting the teacher and asking him if she can start school. Sure she can, no problem, he answers with a smile, and so she is immediately admitted. No paperwork, no photocopies, no fees. The only thing we have to provide is a few cuadernos (notebooks) and a school uniform.

 

Taking measurements for the school uniform. This woman is the only tailor in the village who makes the girl's uniforms.

Taking measurements for the school uniform. This woman is the only tailor in the village who makes the girl’s skirts.

 

The school is a small one-story building under a great ceiba tree: a row of four classrooms with permanently open doors and windows where a total of about sixty local kids between five and fourteen years of age gather every day from 7:40 am to 12:30 pm. There are a bunch of sun-stricken village dogs who also attend the classes on daily bases walking in and out the open doors, undisturbed, occasionally chasing the neighboring chickens who venture in the schoolyard looking for bugs.

 

Kids in front of the school building

Kids in front of the school building

 

The schoolyard is covered with gravel and mud puddles, with palm trees and flowers that never cease blooming in the humid hot air of Rio Dulce. Between classes, kids run around and women from the village come to sell snacks: coquitos (peeled orange halves with salt and pepper), jugo (juice), heladitos (small ice creams).

 

 

Maya playing with the kids in the schoolyard

Maya playing with the kids in the schoolyard

 

In the morning, instead of a school bus, a lancha passes by to pick up Maya and the other boatkids as well as kids who live further down the river.

 

The school lancha (like a school bus) passes every morning in the anchorage to pick up kids

The school lancha (like a school bus) passes every morning in the anchorage to pick up kids

 

Maya is not the only boatkid going to El Relleno school.

 

Cline, 4, s/v Souricat

Coline, 6, s/v Souricat

 

Noial, Lovam, Ilan, and Coline, also go there.

 

Lovam, 5, s/v FriendShip

Lovam, 5, s/v FriendShip

 

Maya loves her new school. Next Monday, she will be doing an oral presentation about Guatemala’s national flower, La Monja Blanca.

 

 

Maya waiting for the school lancha in the morning

Maya waiting for the school lancha in the morning

 

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