Tuesday, September 15, 2009


** The Winnie Estelle, former 100 year old Chesapeake cargo boat, a historical US vessel still in work.
** Our temporary home in the Rio Dulce, on the WINNIE ESTELLE, a 65 foot boat.
Hot springs off Lake Izabal, Guatemala.
*** The HOT water falls pouring into the very cold mountain creek. Your bottom is cold, but the head and shoulders get inundated with hot water. The minnows in the cold creek bite like heck, taking off your dead skin. VERY NICE SPOT THOUGH! You can reach it by collectivo mini-van from Rio Dulce and enter at the gate, paying a small fee to walk up the shaded jungle trail to the hot springs.


We spent the weekend down in Susana Marina sleeping on the 68 ft., Chesapeake refurbished cargo boat, the WINNIE ESTELLE, skippered by Robert Smith , retired from Tourism in San Pedro, Ambergris Caye in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. I used to run this 30 ton cargo boat, buying lumber in Puerto Cortez, Honduras and selling the lumber in Belize some forty years ago when a young man, sea captain. This Rio DULCE area has dozens of marinas for world traveling yachts along the Rio Dulce river banks, in fresh water. Must be 500 yachts, most of which cost more money than my previously owned HOSTEL. Huge yachts and lots of big ocean going catamarans, which seem to be in favor, by the person living aboard and traveling the world by water. The MARINA was full, due to the Hurricane Season and yacht people were sitting out the Hurricane season here, some 26 miles up river at the mouth of Lake Izabal. My daughter Tina Auxillou of Caye Caulker, TINA’s beachfront HOSTEL fame, was due to arrive, as she was crewing a big catamaran delivery from San Pedro in Northern Belize, down there also, to sit out the Hurricane Season. Tina was to park across the dock from the WINNIE ESTELLE. We didn’t meet, as we arrived some days before she even left San Pedro and she probably would not arrive until a couple of days after we left, coming under sail alone. Rio Dulce was packed with Guatemalan tourists. It is a small village stretched along the highway before the high span bridge across the river, near the Lake entrance. There are a lot more Mayan villages accessible by water along the river banks. It’s hard to tell the tourists from the locals, as they are all dressed up in Indian costume mostly.
The TOUR BUSES, SPECIAL EXCURSIONS and BUS CHARTERS were coming in from all over Guatemala. From as far away as the Pacific Coast and Mexican border on the Pacific. Nearly all of them Mayan Indians in their colorful costumes, blouses and skirts. One of our planned things to do, was the trip down the Rio Dulce gorge to Livingston and back by public water taxi. About 26 miles each way, with a stop at the old Spanish Fort on the river. Unfortunately, the water taxies were packed like sardines with Guatemalan tourists ( different Mayan Indian language groupings , in colorful costumes, from all over Guatemala ). We abandoned the idea of that excursion, jam packed in the hot sun like that for this trip. I think it was a National holiday weekend? Prices were more or less the same as in Caye Caulker for tourists. Pretty high, compared to how we travel and eat in Western Belize TWIN TOWNS where we live. Though we found food and prices more to our local appetites and customs in cuisine when we got away from the tourist centers, and ate where the ordinary farm people eat in the Rio Dulce. Mostly we cooked aboard. Roberto had a neat grill, sort of like a hub cap, that he could place on his butane burner and grill chicken, or fish. Great food mon! I want one, said he bought it at Simon Quan hardware in Belize City. Next trip to the city will look for one. I want one of those small portable ovens too, you place on a one burner stove. Haven’t seen those in Belize for baking, since kerosene cooking went out of style some decades ago in favor of Butane gas.
We spent a lovely day sailing on Lake Izabal, the first time for me on that lake. I was surprised to find average depth was only 45 feet with a mud shrimping bottom. The boat was a sailing boat, 32 ft, trawler configuration, recently bought by Marcos who has the MOPAN HOTEL on the Melchor, Guatemalan side of the frontier, between Guatemalan Immigration and the MOPAN river. The entrance is to the side of the new river bridge, the Guatemalans are building at our frontier in the WEST. Marcos used to live in CALLA CREEK in Western Belize, but believe the story is; that he and his wife divorced and she went off with Fairweather the surveyor. Marcos a SWISS by birth, tall lanky fella, moved across the frontier and got married again. His helper on the yacht for the weekend was Sergio, a cheerful OAS diplomat from Belize duty, who is from Paraguay. Then there was my wife Silvia and I. Anyway, Marcos is now the proud new owner of a yacht in a Rio Dulce marina. ( with help he sailed it down from Texas - lot of cheap yachts for sale these days ) ( Marina dockage in Isla Mujeres, Mexico was quoted at $800 usa / month. Average in Rio Dulce is $150 to $200 usa per month with electricity, water, laundry facility, toilets and hammocks in the marina, with restaurant. ) We eventually got dropped off half way down the lake at FINCA PARAISO and spent the night there in a lakeside cabin with two bedrooms and bath for $50 Bze. Marcos and Sergio went off learning to sail and handle the boat alone and got caught by a storm building up over the mountain range dividing Guatemala and Honduras. The storm move over the Southern side of the Lake and they got the fringes of it, with dark falling, we watched them drop sails, then lightening bolts started hitting the water all around them, as dark fell over the scene. That had to be a thrilling introduction to ownership of your first yacht solo trip. Especially since your mast and boat is the highest conductor around over the Lake water. We also got to see and swim in the very cold mountain creek, under the very hot volcanic hot springs waterfall on the FINCA PARAISO, which has become a tourist destination on the North side of Lake Izabal. You can get to the hot springs waterfall by collective passenger vans along the lake road. Lovely spot shaded by trees in flavor similar to the Hummingbird Highway Blue Hole cenote swimming spot in Belize. Most of the tourists were Guatemalan and a sprinkling of Europeans. We returned to the Rio Dulce by local collectivo mini-van bus on the lakeside road, ( about 22 miles - $6 Bz ) which is NEW and being paved as I write. We slept two nights on the boat WINNIE ESTELLE and one at Finca Paraiso on the lake shore. Did a lot of swimming in the fresh water Rio Dulce, where our boat was docked in the marina. Just jumped over the side every time it got hot and swam around to cool off. Since the MACAL RIVER here in Belize is now polluted by the hydro dam, muddy discharge and killed off the fish and river bed, you can’t find any place to swim anymore in OUR, Santa Elena Town. You can’t even see the bottom, the mud is so thick. They tell us; take the mud, or the electricity, but you can’t have both. Goodbye pristine Macal River!
We found the best bus from Rio Dulce to the capital of the Peten, Santa Elena on lake Flores, was one called RAPIDO del SUR. It runs from Guatemala City to the capital of the Department of the Peten via the Puerto Barrios main highway, during the daytime and then dog legs up into the Department of the Peten. There is an agriculture check point on the dogleg. All roads are paved. The highway from Santa Elena, Peten to the Melchor de Menchos frontier is being paved with asphalt and has reached within 28 miles of Melchor on our Western border. The road is much improved and faster now. A lot happens in Guatemala in six months, since the last time we came this way. The same bus returns during the night to Guatemala City from Santa Elena - PETEN, then turns around and comes back South during the day.
What amazed me was the INTERNAL Guatemalan tourism, which we are missing in Belize. Due partly to the Melchor road, but which should be finished by Christmas and partly to the impression given Guatemalan tourists by our rip off, overcharging taxi drivers at the Western Border. Nor does there seem any particular interest in regional tourism by our institutional agency the Belize Tourist Board? A coastal Creole bias from our port town, who control our Belize Government, against our wealthier neighbors? The plane flights were full of Guatemalan tourists to TIKAL, mostly Mayan Indians seeing their country and heritage. Our port town folk, and the bureaucrats seem to think Guatemalans are all poor folks. Whoooosh! Not at all! Ordinary folk have cell phones, and computers. Most very remote FINCAS and ranches we found had satellite dishes, but these do not operate the same as the favored USA HUGHES satellite systems imported into Belize. They are sold by CLARO, one of the Guatemalan telecommunications companies. The satellite dishes seem to be using the VENEZUELAN satellite over Caracas? That is my guess from the angle and direction they are pointing? I plan to check this out more. In Banco Rural in Guatemala, ( Santa Elena – Department of PETEN branch ) we found brochures for computers, laptops and desktops at the same prices you would buy in the USA, from discount places like Tiger Direct, or Wal Mart. Banco Rural was financing them, or you got them cheaper if you paid cash. We plan to get our next computer from over the border. Why fly to the USA, when you can get USA cheap prices next door? Somebody must be importing from CHINA direct into Guatemala?
We had a good vacation though. Delightful indeed. The swimming off the boat we were staying on, was the best thing, several times a day. Loved it and the exercise at my old age. The camaradie of the marina was excellent too, with aboard drinking parties and food. Most of the huge yachts owners were absent though. Not many people in the marina, just lots of huge expensive yachts. I counted about 50 yachts in our marina where we were staying in the Rio Dulce.

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