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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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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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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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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The Trap

 

 

“I call it ‘the trap’. You think you gonna go there and stay for a week; you get there and stay for a year. Some people stay there forever, never leave,” Leonardo, a sailor and a dear friend of ours we met in Cuba, told us a few weeks ago.

Notorious among cruisers for being a place protected from hurricanes, Rio Dulce has become a main destinations for boaters from around the world during the stormy summer months. We also came here to hide from the hurricanes and Rio Dulce quickly became home.

 

View of Rio Dulce from the bridge

View of Rio Dulce from the bridge

 

Rio Dulce is a small area nine miles upriver from the town of Livingston, at the edge of Lago Izabal. All there is here is a bridge linking two aldeas (small villages), Fronteras and El Relleno, and the many marinas and anchorages in the waters around them.

 

The Rio Dulce Bridge

The Rio Dulce Bridge

 

In 1980 a massive cement bridge designed by the US Army Corp of Engineers was built by a Puerto Rican company. Standing 90 feet above the water, the bridge connects the east and the west banks of the river and the main road between Guatemala City and Tikal with lots of heavy truck and bus traffic. On the east bank of the bridge is the small village El Relleno, and on the west bank is the bigger town of Fronteras.

 

The Anchorage in front of Fronteras

The Anchorage in front of Fronteras

 

In the past few years Fronteres grew from a bus stop to a small town with everything that a small town might need: a school, a clinic, a post office, a few banks, many small shops, hardware stores, panaderias (bakeries), cernicerias (meat shops), shoe shine stands, pharmacies, fruit and vegetable stands all perched on both sides of the main road, the same heavy-truck-and-bus-traffic-road.

 

Quiché women making and selling tortillas in Fronteras

Quiché women making and selling tortillas in Fronteras

 

By the way, there are no sidewalks, you exit a small shop and you are on the street. It is an adventure shopping there especially on market day, which is Tuesday, when the vegetable stands are packed with fresh produce (always at very low prices) and everyone, locals and cruisers, are out to stock up.

 

Fronteras Main Street

Fronteras Main Street

 

El Relleno, on the other side of the bridge, is nothing like Fronteres. It never grew up. There isn’t a busy market street, but a few tienditas (small shops) on the ground floor of people’s houses and a small primary school where our daughter Maya, almost ten, has been accepted in fourth grade and is currently studying along with the local kids, learning Spanish.

 

Noial, Kaila, Sofia, and Maya in front of El Relleno Primary School

Noial, Kaila, Sofia, and Maya in front of El Relleno Primary School

 

And then there are the surrounding waters with their many marinas and anchorages, a city of masts. There are probably more boats here than houses in the two villages, and more boaters, mainly Americans and French cruisers, than locals. Twenty five years ago, there was only one marina in the area. Today there are about twenty competing to attract clientele. Each one has excellent services and amenities. Electricity, water, hot showers, laundry 24-hour security, book exchange, trash disposal, open air community rooms under grass canopy roofs and hanging flowers, work-shops, tiendas, beautifully decorated restaurants and bars under thatched roof, swimming pools, Wi Fi, gym, beach volleyball, tennis and pool rooms. Many of these marinas are accessible only by water and are surrounded by jungle. Some even offer jungle bungalows for rent. The best thing about all these marinas is their prices ranging from US$ 150 to US$ 250 per month. In United States you would pay more only for your monthly gym fee.

 

Maya and a friend enjoying the swimming pool at marina Nanajuana

Maya and a friend enjoying the swimming pool at marina Nanajuana

 

Us, and all the other boaters not staying in any marina but anchoring out for free wherever we chose for the week, are welcome to use some of the nearest marina services gratis. We have been welcomed to all the dinghy docks, swimming pools, volleyball courts, book exchange, and Wi Fi, as well as to free popcorn movie nights, Wednesday at Mar Marine and Saturday at Tortugal, yoga and Pilates groups every morning in Mar Marine and Bruno’s, watercolor painting groups Wednesday mornings at Bruno’s, Pot Luck Dinner Monday evenings at Mario’s marina. Every Sunday there is the boaters’ inter-exchange market happening at Mar Marine, where cruisers bring anything they want to get rid of and try to sell it. Here you can buy used boat parts, anchors, generators, cruising guides, even used clothes and shoes.

 

Ilan, Maya, Noial, and Lovam drawing a Quetzal bird. In Mario's Marina

Ilan, Maya, Noial, and Lovam drawing a Quetzal bird. In Mario’s Marina

 

It is easy to feel home in a place like this. Here we met new friends, young cruising families with kids, and with all those activities our days are pretty busy. And there is so much to explore around Lago Izabal and beyond. Rio Dulce is a trap, such a lovely place…

Mira choosing fruits at the Tuesday market in Fronteras.

Mira choosing fruits at the Tuesday market in Fronteras.

 

 

 

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Waters with a Taste of Mountains.

„First the earth was created, the mountains and the valleys. The waterways were divided, their branches coursing among the mountains. Thus the waters were divided, revealing the great mountains. For thus was the creation of the earth, created then by Heart of Sky and Heart of Earth, as they are called. They were the first to conceive it.“

-Popol Vuh

River and Mountains

River and Mountains

 

Very gently, like a thief entering a sleeping house, the fairy Morgana slides through the gates of the mountain: the mouth of Rio Dulce. It is the entrance to another world. Rocky shores (temples without roofs) overgrown with dark trees. Dark trees (sorcerers with sleeping birds and snakes in the hair) stretching thin fingers down, down to the green waters of the river. Green waters of the river (messenger of the tallest mountain and forgotten places) carrying aromas and the petrified reflections of ancient gods.

 

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

The Entrance of Rio Dulce

 

Nothing happens. Like in a vacuum. Like in a dream. Rocky shores, dark trees, green waters of the river-serpent. Only forest butterflies, men of maize in cayucos carved from tree trunks fishing with nets made out of Mayan secrets, and our alien boat sailing through the mountains perturb the slumber of this enchanted world.

Nothing happens for three days and three nights. We remain anchored near Cayo Quemado, a few mile before the town of Rio Dulce, unable to continue, slowly letting Guatemala soak in our bones through our skins, through our eyes, ears, and mouths.

Our mornings are populated by crystal drizzle, the smell of small fires, and the cry of a black forest bird.

A silent cayuco sneaks next to our boat. A mother with three children older than time are selling tamales. She made them this morning over the fire, with her hands and her magic. She put a chicken bone for a skeleton in the middle of corn-rolls and wrapped them, like you would wrap a newborn baby, in palm leafs. Over the fire, under her spell. They taste of palm leafs, smoke and flesh.

 

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

Quiche woman with baby selling Tamales from her canoe

 

Our afternoons move slowly in the heat of the summer and even stop for an hour or go backwards. Time here is not the same.

On the second day we meet the river people. Half human half fish they live in the river from the waist down and in the forest from the waist up. They have small wooden houses built on the river banks. Their canoes glide like snakes on the surface of the waters. They have no other roads but the rivers. Their enemies are the invisible river crabs.

 

River People's House

River People’s House

 

Our evenings are purple with white dots. Purple like the mountain. The white dots are river lilies and egrets returning to sleep in the trees.

 

River Lilies

River Lilies

 

Our nights are filled with the distant songs of frogs and cicadas, and the melancholic cries of the river manatees.

 

Sunset over Rio Dulce

Sunset over Rio Dulce

 

Daily prompt 

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