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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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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