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

6.25.13 (6)

Someone’s a little tuckered out.

Texan Bay, Rio Dulce

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