Denny's Beach, Lake Isabelle

Denny’s Beach

Friday June 28, 2013

Denny's Beach, Lake Isabelle

After the fireworks show last night, we all made our way to bed at the incredibly late hour of ten o’clock. I don’t think everyone else on board was aware of mine and Matt’s ‘don’t roll out of bed before 9’ rule, and when the whole boat was bustling with people at 6:30 am, we couldn’t stay in bed any longer. Trudging up the stairs in our pajamas, we were greeted with a gorgeous view outside of early morning haze and clouds rolling off the mountains. It was postcard perfect, and we all sat on the transom, sipping hot coffee and taking it in. It was while we were figuring out what we wanted to do with our day that we found out one very important thing about our captain, Luis. He is an amazing cook. While figuring out what we wanted to do for breakfast he kind of looked around and said he didn’t have much on the boat, but he’d see what he could whip up. 15 minutes later, we were all treated to a spread of breakfast tostadas, where he’d crisped up some tortillas, spread on a black bean paste, and then topped it with scrambled eggs, fresh salsa, and cilantro.  The funny part was, when he kept apologizing that he had nothing aboard and this was all he could make us, and Matt and I kept thinking to ourselves, ‘Wow, this is one of the best meals we’ve ever had!’.

It didn’t take long for the sun to come out from behind the mountains and clouds, and it got hot fast.  We were quickly switching from coffee to cold sodas, still sitting on the transom trying to make plans for the day.  All the boaters in the regatta were preparing to go their separate ways and with some taking the river further inland to attend a rodeo in another town, others were stopping at a little beach resort place called Denny Beach, about half way between El Estor and Fronteras, and some of the others were headed straight back.  We had no reason to be back to the boat right away, and it was still early in the morning, so the two of us put our vote in to go to Denny’s Beach.  Cleaning up our breakfast and getting changed out of my pj’s, that’s when I came in to a conversation, or maybe just realized what the earlier conversation had been, that a trip to Denny’s Beach was not just a few hour stop over.  It was to be another overnight trip.  Hmmmm, what had we just agreed to?  Our only worry was Georgie, we had only planned on leaving her for two days, but another day out with friends sounded really nice too.  We agreed to this extra night on the condition that we’d up anchor first thing the next morning to get back to the marina.

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Luis and Luki enjoying a morning coffee.

boats at El Estor

  Speaking of upping anchor, that became a bit of an issue of us this morning as we tried to make our way out of El Estor.  Turns out we had anchored right on top of a fishing net, and had to spend the next 30 minutes slowly bringing up the line as we tried to cut the net off of it.  It was obvious it wasn’t an in-use net, otherwise we would have felt terrible about destroying someone’s livelihood.  The stench of this net though, after sitting at the bottom of the lake for I don’t even know how long, I think we could have all done without.

anchored on a fishing net

  The ride to Denny’s Beach was about two hours, where I napped through most of it, not having felt 100% that morning.  The resort’s lancha came to pick us up and brought us to a shore which was a very relaxed atmosphere, in the middle of a jungle of trees and no indication of a town anywhere.  We stepped from the dock onto the sandy beach in the midst of of swarm of yellow butterflies, and made our way over to a few picnic tables covered with shade.  Joining two other cruising couples from our marina that had also made the journey up to the regatta, we all got to know each other over a cold beer and lunch.  Having been cooped up on a boat for almost a full day now though, Matt and I along with Luki and Elmarie wanted to try out the hiking trails that ran up the hill behind us.  We set off with what sounded like good directions, but immediately got lost.  What should have been a ‘well marked path’ looked like nothing more than some possible previous footsteps on the ground.  It was 20 minutes of “Let’s just see what’s up around this bend” before we stumbled upon a gazebo high up on the hill with views out to the lake.  Looks like we had been taking the correct ‘path’ all along.

Denny's Beach, Lake Isabelle

little girl running through butterflies

hiking through jungle

cat and dog wrestling

 Joining everyone back at the picnic table, we caught a lancha back to Hydromax just in time to catch a rain storm that was coming through.  Luckily it was very quick and left and end to end rainbow right in front of us, which completely made up for the fact that basically my only pair of clothes were now soaking wet.  I was completely prepared to change into my pajamas at five o’clock in the afternoon, but then we all decided another swim was in order.  Or was it a bath?  Either way, we were all in our suits and in the water within five minutes of getting back to the boat.  Diving in and out of hot and cold pockets of water, we kept an eye out for those illusive alligators and enjoyed a cloudy and hazy sunset with some wine and beer.  Time to head back to reality and boat projects tomorrow.

rainbow over Denny's Beach

Matt on Hydromax



El Estor, Guatemala

Running Away with Strangers

Thursday June 27, 2013

El Estor, Guatemala

A kind of unusual thing happened when the four of us returned from the market the other day. We were all walking down the docks with bags in hand, when Luki was stopped by an older Latin American man along the way. It took only a moment to find out that he had a boat here at the marina as well, and the two dove right into a conversation that they must have been having on and off for the past few weeks that Skebenga had already been there. Then it popped up in conversation that Luki and Elmarie must be going somewhere with this gentleman, and he asked them to come aboard his boat to have a look at what would be their cabin. Then turning to Matt and I to ask if we’d like a tour of the boat as well, we set our belongings on the dock to hop on and take a look. It took only a moment to find out that the gentleman we were talking to was named Luis, that he was originally from Cuba, and that he had been here on his 42ft motor vessel for the past two years. The four of us climbed on to his boat and were astounded at what kind of space a 42 foot motor vessel could afford you. It was a tri-level space, with a salon, galley, and navigation space on the main floor; a small berth, steering wheel, controls, and a large foredeck with a bench on the upper level; and a head plus two cabins on the lower level.

As we wandered from level to level, gasping with ooooohs and aaaaahs at all the livable space, Luis showed Luki and Elmarie their master cabin, and then as we passed to the guest cabin, turned to Matt and I, and with a smooth Cuban accent said, “You two must come as well, this will be your cabin, I insist.”. Who…Where…What?! Go where? For what? How long? And who are you? It turned out that a town called El Estor, situated on Lake Isabelle and about 20 miles west of us, was having a Regatta in a few days, hosting a celebration and inviting all the local yachts in the are to come participate. It would just be two days, leaving on Thursday morning with a dinner and celebration that night, anchoring out in the harbor to sleep, and then maybe spend some time sunning and swimming the next day before making our way back to the marina. Although we already have a list of boat projects the length of our arms piling up, we agreed. Two days was short enough to leave Georgie on the boat alone (with tons of food, water, and ventilation), and we needed a little fun. We we worried about hopping on a boat with a guy we just met? A little. But all we had to do was make sure we could out-run or out-swim one person on Skebenga.

So at 8:00 this morning, with one backpack stuffed full between the two of us, we climbed on m/v Hydromax once more and got ready to push off. We found out it was not just the five of traveling as we had originally assumed, we had picked up two more people. One was a local girl named Janita that was Luis’ twice a week house/boat-keeper, young sweet, about eight months pregnant, and also in need of some rest, relaxation, and fun. The 7th was another young girl, Nicole, who’s also originally from the States, and has been traveling south for the past few months, already hitting Mexico and Belize. The five of us boat-knowlegeable people as well as a few deck hands from the marina, prepared to push off and join the fleet already heading up the river. It didn’t take long for everyone to congregate around the wheel, sitting four across on the berth that lay behind, with a few people taking turns to get some fresh air on the bench on the foredeck. The day was sunny with just a little bit of haze, and the water was flat calm. It didn’t take long for drinks to start being served, and not even the alcoholic kind. Luis went to work making everyone a cup of espresso, deliciously sweet, and then we moved on to the cool refreshing bottles of soda stored in the freezer. Everyone was having a great time, enjoying the slow pace up the river and into the lake.

espresso on Hydromax

Luki at the helm

Lake Isabelle

Elmarie on deck

foredeck of Hydromax

Matt at the helm

A lot of the other boats making their way up the water with us had all of their flair out, flags running up and down all of their spreaders. The ride took about four hours, where the seven of us soaked up sun and fresh air, working our way from coffee, to Pepsi, and finally the cold Gallos (local beer) stocked in the freezer. Arriving at the town of El Estor, we wound our way through the other boats already sitting at anchor and dropped ours. Since the festivities were not starting until that evening, we took advantage of the extra free time to take a dip in the lake. At first it was just little jumps from the transom and the railing surrounding it, but then we got more daring and went to the upper deck, getting a running start and feeling the rush as we fell the fifteen or so feet into the water. Any previous apprehensions we had about getting in the water since we’d heard reports of alligator sightings on the way up, were quickly gone as we dove, swam, and played in the water until we were too tired to keep ourselves afloat anymore. Changing into street clothes, we called a lancha over to take all all in to town so we could do a little wandering before the big banquet dinner that was being held for all the boaters that night.

view of El Estor

dropping anchor

boat coming in to El Estor

The shores were lined with hundreds of locals, and just on the water front a band had been set up, playing latin music as children ran around and vendors sold hot food. Making our way through the masses, we eventually fell out on one of the side streets. It was a little larger than Fronteras, but most of the shops looked the same, large street shacks with all of their goods stacked or hanging on display. We’d heard this was a large mining town run by Russians, and they were the ones putting the regatta on for the boaters. It turns out that although this town is beautifully situated on a large lake, no one uses the water other than for fishing. I guess they wanted more people to take advantage of it for recreational purposes (locals or cruisers, or both? I’m not sure) and they put on this big festival complete with a banquet including free food and drinks for anyone that came on their boat. I’m glad we found someone to come with, because after trying to back her in one time, I don’t think Matt wants to take Serendipity out of her slip until we leave for good. As we got further back into the streets of El Estor we found out that there was also a carnival set up. Along each side of the streets were games where you could win prizes, mostly cheap plastic Disney toys and coloring books that would be found in most dollar stores back in the states. We took a pass on those, and just slowly meandered through the streets, taking the whole scene in.

We were having so much fun getting to know a new culture that we almost forgot about the time and missed the parade of boats. Practically running back to the water, we watched as about 2/3rds of the boats that came, sail or motor around the bay.  Having come in a motor vessel, there wasn’t a big need to have participated ourselves, we had no flags or sails to show off, but we were more than happy to watch the show from shore. When it ended we slowly strolled up the dirt road to the boardwalk and sat down for some good people watching. This must have been a very big event for the residents of El Estor, and the cruisers were outnumbered by the locals at a rate of about 10 to 1. Long before we ever got to Guatemala, we kept hearing about how the women will wear very bright and colorful outfits, and even though it wasn’t every woman, many girls in the younger generation wore jeans and t-shirts, there was still a fair share of women in their traditional clothing.  There was a little boy that was coming around selling fried plantains, and each of us bought a bag for 1Q each, or $0.13.  I’m never leaving here.

streets of El Estor

fabric/clothing store in El Estor

fresh coconut water

carnival in El Estor

parade of boats on Lake Isabelle

Lake Isabelle

our group of misfits

fried plantains for sale

Dinner that night was in a large hall that was filled with about 80 cruisers.  True to their word, they wanted to keep us full with food and drinks.  I’m even guessing they over-purchased on the Stella Artois, since as soon as dinner was brought out to us, someone was right behind giving each person two bottles of beer, regardless of what they were drinking.  While we ate we enjoyed live music from a group of men playing instruments ranging from drums to cellos to xylophones.  Some of the songs they played were very traditional, but they even tried to appease their fellow visitors by playing things like ‘Thriller’ by Michael Jackson.  After the plates were cleared a few people got up and began to dance, but we were ready to head outside and see what the town had to offer after dark.  On the waterfront there was a large stage set up with another band playing more American instruments, but no one was out dancing.  Nicole, Luis, and I decided to change that and, after about 3 Stellas, had no problem shaking our money makers all by ourselves.  It was enough to bring just a couple other people out to dance, but mostly only other cruisers.  The locals seemed content just to sit to the side and tap their feet to the beat.  There was one local guy though, that took me hostage, and after three dances in a row, Luis had to come rescue me from his grasp.  The guy wasn’t being vulgar in any kind of way, he was just very excited to dance and didn’t get the hints (or Spanglish) I was throwing his way that I was tired and needed a break.

Our whole group was exhausted from the fun filled day though, and at the late hour of 8:30 pm, we hopped a lancha to go back to Hydromax for the night.  It wasn’t quite bedtime yet, so the five of us boaters brought a bottle of wine to the top deck to enjoy some conversation and a lightning storm off in the distance.  We were all taken by surprise when a fireworks show began at 9:00, and we sat there in awe as the bright colors exploded before our eyes.  It was a special thing for us cruisers, yet I could help but feel grateful that everyone in El Estor was able to enjoy the show as well.  I’m guessing this is the first fireworks display the town has ever had, and even though it was meant to be a treat for us gringos that came for the regatta, that people who had made their way down from their mountain villages were able to experience it too.  It was such a perfect day and I feel so lucky that we were invited.  We’ve only been in this country for a few days, and it has been so good to us.  I can’t believe that just a few days ago I wanted out of this lifestyle  What was I thinking?

banquet for regatta

dancing in El Estor



Fronteras, Guatemala

First Impressions of Fronteras

Wednesday June 26, 2013

Fronteras, Guatemala

We had a great time getting settled into our marina last night, and I think we’re really going to like it here. A lot. While sipping cold Gallos at the marinas bar the previous night, Luki and Elmarie told us a little bit about the small town of Fronteras that we were neighboring, and asked if we’d like a tour of it the next day. We had no idea where it was, how to get there, or what to expect, so we gladly accepted their offer. We made plans to go in the next morning bright at early at 7 am (huh….? I’m on vacation here!) by walking the road between the marina and town, and take the marina’s 9:00 lancha back on the water. So at 6:50 we had our backpacks strapped on our backs and set off under overcast skies. The first road we came to out of the marina was filled with a forest of tall green trees on each side, something we had not seen for months. I thought of what a great running path this would be…if I were a runner.

After a half a mile, the trees gave way to small shacks and run down buildings. I asked Luki if this was the beginning of the town, and he nodded that, yes, we were starting to enter the town. Not thinking that the town of Rio Dulce/Fronteras would be much of anything, I kind of nodded back, thinking to myself ‘Ok, just a couple of shacks here and there, hopefully we won’t need much during our stay here besides food, although I know Matt was at least hoping for some kind of hardware store’. We stopped in a very small bakery for some bread and rolls, the total cost for the four of us, about $2. Wha?! Two loaves of bread and four sugary rolls for $2? This place might work out. We continued in and out of a few more shops on that road as Luki searched for a replacement electronic part for his boat and I thought we’d basically seen the whole town, when we came up to an intersection in the road. In front of me were fresh produce markets, about six different fast food chicken restaurants, clothing stands, and much more. What I thought had been the town of Fronteras was just a side street leading up to it!

Now that we were on the main road, we were shown a small marine store, and then went to the ‘concrete mall’. Basically a small concrete strip mall that housed a couple of hardware shops, paint stores, and just the general parts section of town. We browsed through the hardware store where Matt was excited to see they had a lot of the things he would need for projects, and if not, the neighboring town of Morales, about a 30 minute bus ride away, should. So that was the part about town that got Matt all geeked out. For me, it was the food. Our next stop was the Dispensa Familiar, the town’s Walmart owned grocery store. Inside was a wide variety of food, and at cheap prices. Getting some of the basics we stocked up on break, milk, cereal, and pop. All our favorites. Ok, plus some chicken so I could make a real meal for dinner. Did I mention that we could get a 3.3 liter of the local soda for $1. Seriously the highlight of our day. But it gets better. While making our way down the main street towards the water and where the lancha would eventually pick us up, we made a stop at one of the produce stands, full of fresh fruits and vegetables that had just been put out that day. Filling up the plastic bags they have hanging above the stands, we grabbed lettuce, apples, grapes and nectarines, and the cost upon check-out? $4. I don’t think I will have any problem living here for the next 4-5 months.

dock gang plank

How we have to get on and off our boat everyday now.

lanchas in Fronteras

Waiting for our lancha to pick us up.

bathing in Rio DulceGot to watch a few guys take their bath in the river.

6.26.13 (2)Our ride back to the marina.




El Golfete, Rio Dulce

Sweet, Sweet River

Tuesday June 25, 2013

El Golfete, Rio Dulce

I love it when Matt lets me sleep in on my second sleep shift. Instead of getting me up at 6 like I’m supposed to, he let me sleep in until 7, and only woke me when we were 2-3 miles from Livingston. If it wasn’t for ‘The Bar’, he probably would have let me sleep until it was time to get the anchor down. ‘The Bar’ I’m referring to is the shallow entrance into the Rio Dulce at Livingston. We’ve heard that if your draft is over 5’6”, you shouldn’t attempt this at any time, and any boat with a keel should only enter at high tide. Which, luckily for us, was at 7:30 that morning. Remember the boat that almost ran me over in the middle of the night? They had eventually turned themselves around, again, and were making their way to the Rio as well, also most likely waiting for high tide to get in. When we approached the bar, with very specific details and coordinates of where to begin, what compass heading to persue, and which coordinates to end at, we felt confident about taking it on with our 4’6” draft. It was a little surprising to see about four other boats anchored outside of the bar, possibly ones that had arrived the previous night, and were sitting around waiting for this morning’s high tide before going through.

Never being ones to ‘follow the leader’, we charged right though, even though our charts warning us of 3 feet of water on each side of us. But, I’m pretty sure that after making it out of Dollar Harbor in April, in the dark and after a couple of rum drinks, I could navigate us through this area with no problem. Which is exactly how it happened. We never saw less than 7 ft under our keel, and the only issue was when the boat pursuing the narrow channel ahead of us couldn’t make up their mind of what they wanted to do and decreased their speed to a snail’s pace, leaving us to almost run them over. They finally picked up pace though and once we were inside it was time to drop hook and get us checked in. We’ve heard of an agent in this area, Raul, who will handle all the paperwork for you, supposedly saving you hours and for only a small fee (about $30 US), that we heard every other boat hailing on the radio that morning with no response. It had been our plan as well, to use him, but after no response for our call either we decided to put the boat back together while watching to see what all the others did. It was first thing in the morning after all, and we were in no rush.

Soon we saw a large tender/lancha stopping by all the boats anchored just inside the bar and assumed that if they were coming to us, we didn’t need to bother calling Raul. Save ourselves the $? Why not? When they finally got to us, about six people stepped off the lancha and tried to squeeze themselves into our cockpit. It turns out Raul was actually with them, and still offering his services. I guess that they collected the paperwork all at once, and with him you could just stop by his office 2 hours later, all ready to go, but without his help you spent the better part of the day tracking each official down in their office (and it sounded like they liked to take long daily breaks), maybe getting cleared in by that evening. There was still a 4-5 hour journey up the river to make that day before we reached our marina, and neither of us were keen on hunting down each of the six officials and/or waiting on them. Suddenly, that $30 seemed well worth it. After announcing to everyone that I was the captain and all questions should be directed at me, every official, even Raul, would only speak to Matt. He’d look at them and say “Ask her, she’s the captain”, and yet again and again they would only talk to him. Later they tried to explain it away that it was because he was the ‘boat owner’, but I’m pretty sure they only wanted to discuss business with a man.

We were given the ok for both of us to get off the boat once our papers were collected, and we decided to walk around town for a little bit while the paperwork was being filed. Finding a bank, we took out some local cash, stopped by a tienda, and wandered the streets with a couple of cold 7ups in our hands. It looked like a decent and bustling little town, but we had been warned that it was very dangerous, especially at night. Part of the reason we had wanted to get out ASAP and to the marina is we’d heard there was only one safe place along the river to anchor at night without as much chance of being boarded and robbed. Sounds nice, huh? Anyway, we strolled through the town, smiled at the locals, and didn’t feel threatened in any way while we were there. An hour later we picked up our cruising permit, had our passports stamped, payed $10 for a courtesy flag, since it was the ONE country in Central America we never anticipated going to and therefore did not buy in bulk with the rest, and we were on our way. Time to throw on the motor and travel up the river and through the gorge.

Just past the bar, Livingston

Livingston, Guatemala

entering the Rio Dulce

Lime-a-Rita in the Rio Dulce

Well, last can of Lime-a-Rita, we’ve made it a long way since St. Augustine.


Another reason for choosing Rio Dulce (translation, Sweet River) to spend hurricane season, besides the fact that we thought Brian and Stephanie would originally be with us, and we thought we might go insane with loneliness in the San Blas Islands of Panama, is we were promised tall mountains, gorges, and howler monkeys. After months, and months, and months of flat sandy beaches, we needed this. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Ok, so we didn’t see (or even hear) howler monkeys, but the mountains and the gorge, holy s%!t! I curse myself for not getting as many good photos as I could have, I think the battery was dead on the NEX, but we spent the next four hours in awe at the sights around us. Just after entering the mouth of the river were cliffs of bare white stone in some areas, and others so thick in greenery that they didn’t even look like individual plants making them up, but one large organism instead, ready to swallow everything whole. After a few miles we were dropped out into the Golfete, a large bay covered in an afternoon haze and lush mountains lining the outskirts. And for me, one of the equally rewarding things about the trip up the river besides the views, ha, was the calmness. No rocking back and forth. I was able to continue on with my life again, while we were traveling. I even checked two projects off my to-do list (sewing a rip in our US flag, and re-inking the registration numbers on the dinghy).


Getting to Guatemala and up the Rio Dulce, I was IN HEAVEN. Every negative feeling I’d been having for the past month was GONE. Even though we’d just arrived, I felt like I was home. That this was a place I could be happy in. Still making our way up the river, we enjoyed the warm, lazy, sunny afternoon, and came to the town of Fronteras where our marina is around 3 in the afternoon. Calling in, I found out that no one there spoke English, and after alerting them to our arrival, had no idea what we’d do since they had given us no direction. I’d caught ‘dos hombres’ (two men) from the other end of the line before our call was disconnected, but I had no idea what was meant by that. We were about to drop hook in the river and dinghy in to try and find more information, but it turned out those dos hombres were in fact two guys that hopped in their own lancha, ready to guide us into our slip. Our ass-to, Mediterranean style slip. Somehow Matt pulled off this maneuver like a pro, even though he’d never once attempted it in his life. All lines were secured, and we even had visitors waiting for us on the dock. Luki and Elmarie from s/v Skebenga were about five slips down from us and came to give us a big warm welcome, filled with hugs and the promise of a cold beer once we’d gotten settled in. Everything in my life all of a sudden felt right again. Although I didn’t know it a few days ago, I guess the ‘home’ I was looking for turned out to be right here in Guatemala. And I could not have been happier to get there.

Rio Dulce, Guatemala

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Someone’s a little tuckered out.

Texan Bay, Rio Dulce