overlooking Rio Dulce, Guatemala

The Long Road Home to Guatemala

Thursday September 26, 2013

Bay in front of Tortugal, Rio Dulce Guatemala

I don’t know why, but I hadn’t really put any thought into what it would take to get us back home from South America to where Serendipity is sitting in Guatemala.  We had our plane tickets booked, we had already made it in once piece on the way out of Guatemala in the first place, how hard could it be?  Surprisingly, a little bit more than I had anticipated.  Or maybe that’s because I’m the kind of ‘Go with the flow, whatever happens, happens’ kind of girl, but the problem lies in that I’m married to an OCD ‘every minute detail must be planned all of the time’ kind of guy.

While wasting away in our hostel the day before we were supposed to leave he asked how we were getting to the airport.  “I dunno”, I responded, “Cab it, I suppose”.  That led to a search on how to get to the airport in Medellin where we found out that any regular taxi cab will charge you $50 to get there since it is about a 45 minute drive out of town. Ooops, should have looked into that one before.  Through a quick bit of online research I found a guy had written a blog post specifically on cheap ways to get to the airport, and read that by taking a yellow cab to a certain gas station in town we could then jump into a shared cab and split the cost with the other passengers.  Then there was the next question from Matt of how we were going to get from the airport in San Pedro Sula Honduras back to Rio Dulce Guatemala.  I knew what bus line we had been on before, but their website doesn’t work for crap, and I had had Ana Bianca walk to the office in Rio Dulce with me to translate when we bought our initial tickets out.

I’m not kidding when I say the rest of our afternoon was spent online researching websites and forums and sending very simple emails that Google Translate should have no problem with, just to try and find out when a bus was leaving from San Pedro to Rio Dulce.  This was all on Matt’s request though.  My solution would have been to show up to the bus depot and if we found out that we had missed the bus for the day, we just wait until the next day.  We’re not on any kind of schedule.  He was having none of that though.  We found out roughly from cruisers that wrote in a forum for Rio Dulce that they had made this trip before on a bus that departs at 5:30 am.  Our plane was scheduled to land at 1:00 am, there should be no problem getting there in time.

So here’s how our travels actually went.  We had packed up 90% of our things the night before and even though our flight wasn’t until 2:00 in the afternoon, got up early and left the hostel by 9 o’clock.  I had carefully written down directions where we needed to go, in Spanish, so that when a yellow cab picked us up all I had to do was point to the piece of paper, to which he gave me a wink and said “Ahhh, aeropuerto!”.  He dropped us off at the gas station just in time for us to jump into a shared taxi with two other men, and 30 minutes later we were at the airport for half the cost of a regular taxi and now with 3 hours on our hands to kill.  We spent our remaining 30,000 pesos on lunch at a little cafe, and then almost missed our flight when they changed gates on us and we didn’t know.  Good thing I had gotten up to use the bathroom and noticed a line of gringos (the flight was bound for Ft. Lauderdale) standing in line three gates over from where we had been sitting.

Landing in Ft. Lauderdale around 6:30 that evening we got through customs and immigration, with a little extra questioning since Matt apparently made it sound like we were in the drug dealing business.

“Where are you coming from?”


“Were you there for business or pleasure?”


“What is your occupation?”

“I’m retired.”

“And how old are you sir?”

“I’m 31.  My wife and I, we’re traveling around the world on a sailboat.”

(Pause for a confused and suspicious look from the immigration agent)  “So, you’re 31, you don’t work, and you were doing what in Colombia?”

After a few more question, lots of curiosity and someone disbelief on behalf of the agent (really guy, you live in Ft. Lauderdale and you’ve never heard of cruisers?) we were finally able to go and I was finally able to turn on my cell phone.  Important, because I needed to contact another cruiser, another Jessica in fact, that we had landed.  See, when we knew we were headed back to the states due to our flights, we bought a s#*t ton of stuff for the boat that we needed but didn’t want to pay the exhorbitant shipping fees for, close to $900 for the package we wanted to send.  The smart thing to do would have been making Michigan our last stop so that we could collect our belongings and get straight back to the boat with them.  We did not do this.  So with a desperate cry on Facebook and a little help from my friend Brittany, she hooked me up with another cruiser living in the Ft. Lauderdale area that was nice enough to let us ship our belongings to her house, and even nicer, agree to bring them to us at the airport so we could check another bag for our flight and get all our new goodies back to the boat for a mere $25.

As soon as we connected to the wifi I put out a message which exclaimed “We’re here!!”, and waited for a response.  Then I waited some more, waited a little bit more, and then started to get worried.  It had been an hour and a half and I had not heard anything.  I started to think of other options because we needed to get this package before our flight left that night (luckily, not until 11 pm). I started messaging anyone I knew that I though might know Jessica, and either have them give me her #, or put a call into her themselves.  I tried Brittany, although I knew it was a long shot because I also knew that she was cruising between islands at that point, and then I tried a girl named Melody, whom I’d never met or even spoken to before, but was another cruiser that I was aware knew Jessica.

Another 30 minutes and no responses from anyone later, I knew I’d have to get myself to Jessica’s house if I wanted to be sure I’d have the package that night.  Leaving Matt at guest pick up with my phone, in case a message did come through, I hopped in the back of a Lincoln Towncar from a very nice gentleman who had watched us sitting outside for two hours, and agreed to give me a very good price on a round trip ride to and from the airport.  I had Jessica’s address in a little notebook I’d been carrying around with me everywhere which was probably my saving grace of that night.  As I pulled up in front of her house I knocked on the door and introduced myself “Hi, I’m Jessica, I had a package sent to you from Michigan”, but all she could do was look at me with shock and repeat “You’re here!  Oh my god, you’re here!!”.

Turns out she had gotten her days mixed up and thought I would be in the next day, and also hadn’t received my message (or the ones that Melody ended up sending as well) since she had just started a new job and forgot to turn on her phone after work.  Something that I would totally do myself (and usually did), so I couldn’t even be the least bit upset about.  She invited me to stay for a drink, which I wish I could have if I had more time on my hands, but I was only able to stay long enough to get a big hug from her and grab the package which had been sitting in the trunk of her car, ready to go for the next day.  I think both of us had been excited to meet and do some story swapping, so it is now my goal to try and get Serendipity to Ft. Lauderdale at some point to make that happen.

Back at the airport in a furry of box unwrapping, we transferred all the items over to our empty suitcase, including a new (to us) headsail which will be great for the heavy winds we’ve been experiencing in the Caribbean.  No more partially furled headsails for us in the future!  Matt was of course freaking out that because we still had to check in for our flight and get through security that we would undoubtedly miss our flight.  I had to remind him that 1.  We still had 2 hours, and 2.  It was after 9 pm.  Probably not rush hour inside the airport.  There ended up being 1 person ahead of us to check in, and 1 person ahead of us at security.  I’m so glad that we were rushed and I missed the opportunity to have a drink with and get to know another young cruiser (you can’t see it now, but I’m giving Matt the stink eye).  There was still plenty of time for us to sit around in the terminal and stuff our faces with $18 of airport priced hot dogs and sodas.  Although, luckily I used the bathroom again, I noticed that this flight was boarding 40 minutes early.  How nice of them to make the announcement.

Our time at the San Pedro Sula airport was mainly uneventful.  We had secured a taxi to take us to the bus depot at 4 am, and took turns trying to nap at the table we were sitting at in the food court.  We were dropped off at the bus depot a few hours later, which looked sketchy enough during the day, but at 4 in the morning, it looked downright perilous.  We walked inside with our belongings and found the ticket counter for our bus line, with a sign taped to the front saying the counter would be open for ticket purchasing between 4:30-5:30 am.  A confirmation by a few young bi-lingual men also waiting to buy tickets and any remaining fears about getting home were put to ease.  This was the last step, all we had to do was get on that bus and we could at least get ourselves back to Morales, the neighboring town to Rio Dulce.

We assumed they didn’t take credit cards and Matt was quickly off to find and ATM and came back with 500 limpera, or approximately $30.  We hoped this would be enough to pay for our tickets since that’s what it had cost us to make the ride before.  The window finally opened at 5:10 and we waited patiently to buy our tickets, somehow having ended up at the back of the line even though we were among the first people there.  Then as the guy in front of us was getting his ticket he turned back and said, “The bus is leaving, if you want to get on it, you must go now!”  I asked about getting a ticket, and he just replied that I could buy it while on the bus.  Throwing our bags on our shoulders, we chased after him as he darted around a corner and outside to where the bus was.

We still had no idea how much tickets costs or if we had enough in our pockets to pay the charge.  Plus now we’d be leaving any access to Honduran money behind.  Stepping onto the bus, it was already so crowded that we couldn’t find seats next to each other and had to sit a few rows apart.  As the sun broke the sky and we pulled out of the station, we still had not been asked about tickets and I wondered when this would come along.  What would they do if we were already miles away and we didn’t have enough to cover the ride?  Would they drop us off on the side of the road?  Now I was started to get a little worried.  Matt, was having a full on panic attack.  Even a few rows up I could hear him muttering and cursing about the lack of organization in these countries.

The answer to our question finally came about two and a half hours later as we were getting ready to cross the border into Guatemala.  As a guy came walking back to check the already purchased tickets of others, I told him I needed to buy two ‘Para mi y mi esposo’, as I pointed to Matt two rows up.  I handed him the 500 limpera as he wrote something down on a piece of paper and kept walking.  Matt whispered back to me “How much was it?”.  “I don’t know”, I responded, “He took the 500”.  I didn’t get any change back but I was also not asked for more money, so I left it at that.  Although after not getting any kind of receipt or ticket, we’re both pretty sure the guy pocketed the money for himself.  Whatever, at least we knew we were going to get to Guatemala.

Once we reached the neighboring town to Rio Dulce, we switched buses, paid for new tickets (In Guatemalan money which we had a little bit left of, thankfully) and were dropped off at our familiar main street at 11:30 am.  26 hours of traveling and about two hours of sleep, but we had made it back.  Getting to the marina we found Serendipity right where we left her and excitedly opened the companionway to see what we’d find after six weeks away.  Matt kept having fretful feelings that the bilge would have stopped working and we’d come home to a flooded boat, but everything was dry inside.  The only casualties of our absence was abundant mold on any teak that has not yet been varnished, as well as two pillows that were well past saving and had to be trashed.

As ready as I was to crawl into bed, sans pillow now, Matt put me to work cleaning up all the mold that had popped up.  Vinegar in hand, I worked for the next hour until I couldn’t spot any more mold in the galley, salon, or v-berth.  The aft cabin was quickly touched up, but I had nowhere near the energy to disassemble all of it to check for mold at that moment.  Luckily, that was the only work Matt insisted that get done right after our return, and the rest of the afternoon was open for leisure.  We picked up Georgie from being babysat, found out she had taken a trip to a vet in Guatemala City about the scabs on her neck that had apparently gotten worse (some kind of fungus I guess) and found out that she actually did miss us in our absence.  Quick side note, if you’re ever pet sitting for someone, when they come to retrieve their pet again, don’t make your first words to them “By the way, about your cat….”.

When the tree of us arrived back to the marina, we found out that Georgie had actually missed us so much that she was now acting like a dog that wouldn’t stray more than two feet from where we walked.  She even let us pick her up and put her in the hammock in the ranchito, where the three of us napped well into the afternoon.  Man it feels good to be home again.

lounge at Tortugal Marina, Guatemala

Georgie in a hammock

overlooking Rio Dulce, Guatemala

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