A Pause in Texan Bay

Texan Bay
Rio Dulce, Guatemala

After a busy morning cleaning the dinghy, stowing provisions, washing down the boat, and otherwise organizing ourselves, we said our goodbyes and left Tijax for the Shell dock to fill our nearly empty tanks. Nestor, the security consultant at Tijax, had called ahead to the Shell station to ensure we could get our 700 gallons, but when we arrived, the proprietor told us the most we could have was 400. Luckily the Esso Station near Chiqui’s (Tienda Reed) was able to provide the last 300, so by 11:30, we set off down river for Texan Bay Marina, about seven miles from Livingston and the entrance to Rio Dulce. Emma Jo sure likes a full belly – she rides much lower and I swear, I can feel the difference her full tummy makes as we make our way over the lancha wakes.

Cruising downriver we were much more confident than we were coming upriver eight months ago.  Revisiting Golfete, seeing the little homes and businesses, and the lanchas zooming back and forth between Fronteras and Livingston made us aware of what a very hospitable, friendly place the Rio is.

The proprietress of the marina gave us waypoints for Texan Bay over the radio – and we confess to struggling a bit trying to find just where in the vegetation those waypoints were – until we realized the waypoints pinpointed the marina itself, not the entrance! For the record, here they are: N 015°46.035’, W 088°49.640’. With a little bit of coaching by radio, we found our way in through a narrow dog-leg behind an island to one of the loveliest spots we’ve seen so far on our cruise. At one of the ten docks, we saw an old friend (or is it nemesis?) – the charter catamaran Legacy that we had waited for at the dock in Belize City last March!

Texan Bay Mike

Texan Bay Marina is the dream of Mike and Sherry, lifelong residents of Corpus Christi. Mike is a bulldog of a man – barrel chested, stocky, and bald – with a Texas accent you could spread on a biscuit. Sherry is a skinny little thing with more energy than three women twice her size. And they are the happiest people we’ve met in a long time.

They left Texas three years ago on their own catamaran, with the idea of making a living on the reefs of Belize. They came upriver to Fronteras that first hurricane season, and became so taken with the place they began looking around for property. And find it they did – 13 miles downriver from Fronteras, a stunning, protected bay with a stream and several channels through the mangroves — and enough water for just about any cruising boat that can make it over the Livingston Bar. There was an existing structure on top of a small hill at the head of the inlet, with a Mayan family living in it “informally”.

Now, buying property in Guatemala is not for the faint of heart or the short of patience. Mike and Sherry got themselves a lawyer and made several trips to Guatemala City to be sure of a clear and unencumbered title with faultless paperwork. Then they had to deal with INGUAT, the Guatemalan Tourist Agency, and it’s cadre of government ministers and bureaucrats, to file a business plan, get all of the permits they needed, and begin working on building their vision on Texan Bay. Mike proudly told us, that first afternoon we met, that he did not spend one dime on “mordida” (bribes) – didn’t believe in it – and wouldn’t hear of anything standing in his way. It took him two years, but this summer he finally got all the permits and paperwork to approve the serious, backbreaking manual labor his project requires.

He’s rebuilt the foundation and repaired the original building and added a huge kitchen onto the back; he’s built a new home for the Mayan family on the property; he’s put in bathrooms and showers for the boaters; he’s built a reservoir to catch rainwater; he’s put in ten 50-foot docks, and has built the sweetest lancha/dinghy dock we’ve seen on the river; he’s brought in a generator, and runs it four hours in the morning and four hours in the evening, and has plans to extend power to the docks. All of this with building supplies hauled downriver by lancha from Fronteras and up the hill by himself and some hired hands.

Sherry told us that the Mayan family kind of “came with the property,” so they are currently supporting a family of 11 with the business. One of the men acts as guardian and resident muralist. The women help in the kitchen. The kids are learning English, and going to school. Sherry sponsors a medical clinic of sorts, with a doctor who visits once a month to look after the usual cuts, scrapes and bruises, as well as the general health of the kids and cruisers in the marina. While we sat in the bar enjoying a cold beer, she hit us up for a “small money contribution” as a graduation present for one of her “kids” who had just graduated high school. We were glad to offer 10 quetzales, as was everyone else in the place.

And they both cook. Coffee is free to boaters in the morning, and good old fashioned American breakfasts are cheap and home-cooked. Happy hour finds most of the boaters up in the bar enjoying a cold Brava or an improvised gin and tonic (Sherry will buy bottles from boaters when her bar stocks run low), with old time rock and roll via the Sirius satellite. And once in awhile dancing breaks out.

Mike offered to take us down to Livingston in his lancha on Friday morning to check out. The 7-mile trip took only about 20 minutes with his 4-stroke 50-horse outboard. He walked us up to Raoul the Agent, who collected our boat papers and passports, then suggested we wait at a local café for tapado, a spicy coconut fish stew unique to Livingston, complete with a whole mojarra (kind of river perch), a little swimming crab, and plenty of shrimp. By the time we finished lunch, Raoul had our boat papers ready for a November 11 checkout — and we zoomed back upriver to Texan Bay and a nap.

That night we opted for dinner at the marina — it was no kidding chicken fried steak with country milk gravy, just like mom used to make. After dinner, while daintily wiping his lips, Mike said, in a momentarily alarming dry drawl, “it always gets a might hard to breathe after a dinner like that.”

One of the highlights of our stay at Texan Bay Marina was a dinghy ride through the mangrove lagoons and channels that really put us in mind of the Tarzan movies of the 30s that were filmed in the Rio Dulce gorge. We were able to stalk a couple of egrets by rowing through the water lotus then just drifting to within 3 feet. And we heard the most amazing bird call, tracking it as it took flight to something called a Montezuma oropendola. (On the link is a flash of the call it makes…spooky!)

The nights at anchor were spectacularly quiet – save for sudden outbursts of British patriotism that broke out on one of the sailboats at the dock: Rule Britannia and Jerusalem at 200 decibels scared the night herons out of the trees but the incongruence of the music with the location made us giggle.

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