Emma Jo Arrives in Guatemala

Fronteras, Rio Dulce
Izabal, Guatemala

Once we decided to go, we left yesterday morning about 6:15 a.m. with a “buddy boat” called Chickcharnie, with Don and Rosie from Montana aboard, to attempt to cruise to Punta Gorda, check out of Belize, cruise to Livingston, check into Guatemala, and find a quiet anchorage for the night.

Cruising in open waters now has Jan wary, so we thoroughly secured for sea, only to find ourselves in flat calm, almost glassy seas across the Gulf of Honduras. FINE with me!! We were in Punta Gorda in less than three hours, and the formalities went fairly efficiently, so off we went immediately toward Livingston, arriving there just after noon. We figured we’d have to wait for the officials to finish their lunch before coming out to our boat to clear us in – apparently lunch lasts until about 3:30.

When they arrived, the party consisted of Customs, Immigration, Health, and the Port Captain – all were very courteous and pleasant – especially Raul of Customs, who spoke fairly good English. They were charmed by the cats – and their only concern about them seemed to be their names.

We thought that once the party had been aboard that would be the end of it – but apparently now that they had seen us, we had to dinghy ashore to dance with them at: 1) the bank, to change dollars into Quetzales; 2) Immigration, where we had to pay out some of those Quetzales to get our passports stamped; 3) Customs, where Raul gave us a 90-day permit in exchange for still more Quetzales, that 4) the Port Captain, in exchange for even more Quetzales, stamped for us. FYI – there are 7.5 Quetzales to the dollar, and we figured it was just about $75 to clear in.

We could probably have managed this on our own, but at the town dock, there was a gaggle of 12-to-13-year old boys who argued for the privilege of watching our boat and guiding us through the rounds. Our tour guide, a charming local boy of 13, boldly took charge and led us around to each place, chatting with Jan in Spanish to explain each step of the “cha-cha.”

Livingston is a typically gritty third-world seaport town, built on the north shore of the Rio Dulce, with narrow streets, and a long uphill walk to the Port Captain’s office, high on a cliff with a magnificent view of the entire river mouth, and guarded by a young man with a well-practiced scowl who didn’t look old enough for the AK47 he was holding. While we waited in the Port Captain’s office for the Port Captain to arrive (about half an hour), the tour guide broached the subject of “el tip” very delicately, explaining that this is his job, and he would like to earn enough money to get something to eat – the same for the boy who was watching the dinghy. It seemed a fair exchange – the boy had a smile that would melt chocolate, and Jan was happy to practice the Spanish.

Anchorage at Livingston

We were finished at about 5:30, hoisted anchor, and traveled about ¾ mile upriver to find a spot not heavily zoomed by the fishing fleet, just south of an old dock that used to service oil barges supplying a defunct nickel mine. As advised, because of the “loose” application of maritime custom and the fact that the fishing fleet goes out at night, we turned on our deck lights in addition to the anchor light, to avoid being bonked in the dark by some industrious fisherman with more horsepower than nav lights.

Friday morning we started the 20-mile cruise upriver through the Rio Dulce gorge. We are definitely not in Kansas anymore, Toto. The shoreline rises up several hundred feet from the river, sometimes straight up, and is covered by jungle vegetation including palms, mahogany, strangler figs, philodendra, and the like. Once through the gorge, the shoreline gentles a bit, and we were charmed by some of the homes we saw.

The river widens to an area called “El Golfete,” where we encountered families fishing from canoes – usually with the wife manning the motor, and the husband throwing the net; and we found we had to change course from time to time to avoid running through arrays of nets and floats.

And just past El Golfete, the settlement of Fronteras appeared, just under the highway bridge that connects this area to Guatemala City inland and Puerto Barrios, the town on the south shore of the river mouth.

Catamaran Island, where we had originally intended to stay, was fully booked. We aimed instead at Hacienda Tijax (TEE-hosh), on the same side of the river and a bit closer to town. As we approached, we were not impressed – until the owner himself came out in a lancha, consulted with Ole, and found us a perfect side-tie that catches a bit of the afternoon breeze. By paying in advance for three months, the monthly moorage is $243, which includes water, armed security, use of the pool, grounds, and trails, and free wireless internet. We’ll pay about 30 cents per kilowatt hour for power (less than we paid at Riverview in Ft. Lauderdale!), and have signing privileges at the hotel, restaurant and bar. We haven’t fully explored the place yet, so have included just a couple of pictures. Until we have more pictures to add, you might want to explore their website: www.tijax.com .

In the coming days, we’ll explore the town of Fronteras, the property here at Tijax, and the waterfront scene. In the meantime, another interesting website for those of you who are really interested in our adventures is http://www.mayaparadise.com/

So we’re settled for at least three months. Ole will be going back to the ship next week, and Jan will be staying here for the duration. The cruise log will be updated at least weekly, but will focus more on life on the Rio than cruising per se.



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