Tijax Farewells

Hacienda Tijax
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Well, we’ve completed most of the items on our “before we leave the dock” list, including a major jaunt into Puerto Barrios for some serious grocery shopping. But the weather doesn’t seem to want us to go quite yet. There’s a long front extending from the mid-Atlantic coast of the US all the way through the Bahamas and down through the Gulf of Honduras, making for 20-25 knots of wind and 6 to 9-foot seas. Sorry – been there, done that – getting t-shirts made. We’re using the time to knock off a few more items from the list and socialize a little bit as we watch everyone making ready to leave.

Friday night, we hosted another barbecue out by the pool. It was pouring rain, but damn if cruisers are anything, they’re intrepid. With enough kerosene on the grill, steaks and shrimps were plentiful, and cruiser-brought treats were sufficient to satisfy all of us.

We had barely enough time to recover for the barbecue lunch hosted by Eugenio up at his farmhouse the next afternoon. Nestor, his Israeli security consultant, did all of the cooking – from perfectly grilled steaks to homemade hummus, tahini and flan. Several of Eugene’s staff were on hand as well, and it was wonderful to be able to thank them for such a wonderful stay.

After about a 5-hour lunch up at the finca, we were not at all hungry for dinner. So we joined Sid and Tuve of Blue Moon, Ken and Patti of Novena, and camped out on Alianna’s back deck with Sim and Rosie for more beer. We had only been there about a half an hour when we heard a frantic call to turn on the radio: there had been a collision between two lanchas under the bridge and someone was thrown into the water, reported missing.

Recently the editor of the Rio Dulce Chisme Vindicator, the online “newspaper” for gringos in the area, compared this area to the Wild West of the 1880s. That’s about the level of emergency service here. Coast guard? EMTs? Rescue divers? Fuggedaboudit. Lights on the river? Dream on. A local missionary who lives aboard a trawler and is fluent in English and Spanish was contacted by the Navy station a few miles up the lake, to see if he could coordinate a volunteer search. Sim and Ken, armed with as many flashlights as they could collect, along with our gas tank joined the searchers. There may have been 10-20 dinghies on the water, along with the navy lancha, who searched in the dark for about 90 minutes. The current under the bridge usually boils a bit, and creates whirlpools under certain conditions. And at 20 miles up from the ocean, there is not much tidal influence. The navy overestimated the flow, and the search was concentrated about a quarter to a half mile downriver from the bridge.

Needless to say, they did not find the man that night, and after about an hour, they knew if he hadn’t swum to shore and walked to a local bar for a drink, it was now a recovery rather than rescue mission.

We heard this morning that he had been found under the bridge. And that his fiancée, also in the lancha with him, had been thrown out of the boat as well, suffering propeller damage enough to kill her.

As a developing nation, Guatemala does have laws. Like running lights, speed limits and licences for lanchas. But they don’t have the manpower or resources for enforcement. The driver of the lancha responsible for the accident leapt into the water, swam ashore, and ran away. The locals probably know who he is, but he’ll never be caught, much less prosecuted.

I’ve been out in the dinghy at night, and have experienced narrow misses. The lancha drivers have this “more is better” attitude to engine size and speed. They think it’s cool that the bigger the engine, the higher up their bow goes. They operate solo, with nobody on the lookout up forward. When we’re out at night, we madly wave a flashlight around, hoping that the lancheros will at least notice us.

The river community is all abuzz about this incident, coupled with recent dinghy thefts. All it does is remind us that while we are relaxed and comfortable here, we can’t afford to be careless or complacent.

Rosie, Tuve, Patty, Me, Ans

We went out for a last shout with Ken and Patti of Novena, Sim and Rosie of Alianna, and Gerald and Ans of Spirit, to partake of the Sundog Happy Hour and dinner at Rosita’s. What wonderful luck we’ve had this year, with these fine folks as neighbors. We can only hope that our future is full of kindness and community like we’ve had here.

At the end of the day, it looks like we may head out of here on Thursday, November 8, sail downriver to “Texan Bay,” at the upstream edge of the gorge, and wait a day or two for the weather to calm down.

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