Panajachel to Rio Dulce
13. April (Friday): This morning we were to be fetched at 6:00 from our hotel room so we got up exceptionally early to be packed and ready by then. Somehow I still had some doubts that we would actually be picked up in time, since I had already paid for the trip in full and this really was an odd time to start on a trip.
At 6:00 no-one was waiting for us outside the hotel and at 6:15 we were getting nervous and asked the hotel watchman whether we could use his telephone to call the driver whose number I luckily had written down at the travel agent yesterday. He said he couldn't help, since the hotel telephone was inside and locked. We'd have to walk down the street to use a public telephone.
We wait a bit longer then decide to start phoning. We couldn't operate the first public telephone we found and we guessed that you could only use calling cards. We walked down to the lobby of a higher quality hotel in the hope that we could call from there. The receptionist was quite friendly and made the calls for us. The person at the other end said the bus "should be around soon". So we walk back to the hotel to wait, but no bus arrives.
We're pretty jittery by now, since we imagine that due to this delay we won't be able to catch our sailing boat in time, thus jeopardizing the entire trip. We decide to take the long walk to the other hotel again to try to call once more. This time the conversation is longer and it seems the bus is at another town busy picking up additional passengers. So we return to our hotel.
Eventually the bus does arrive! Whew!
We're mad at the driver, saying we expected him to be there more that an hour ago and that we had a boat trip to be caught in Rio Dulce. He apologizes and tells us to get in so we could start. The back seats were already full with a number of young tourist girls so we have to squeeze both of us into the one seat next to the driver. We had a nice view out from the front but it was a tight fit!
After about an hour or two's drive, our driver suggests (wants) to stop at a highway restaurant for breakfast, saying there is none other open along the way due to Semana Santa. We say ok, not knowing that it would rob us a lot of time till everyone had ordered breakfast (the girls didn't seem to be in much of a hurry).
We again indicated to the driver that we were in a bit of a rush and I think now he grasped that we were serious, since we only stopped once more for a short toilet and coke during the entire trip to Rio Dulce!
He now stepped nicely on the accelerator, making a very visible effort that he was trying to make up for lost time.
In all, it was a long, tiring drive (about six or seven hours).
The landscape changed from winding roads through hilly terrain to plains some distance after Guatemala City. In the plains the temperature rose quickly and it started to warm up in the bus.
Near Rio Dulce, the scenery suddenly changes again to a very strikingly beautiful, lush countryside setting.
Reaching Rio Dulce at last, we are really thankful to have made it on time!
We are immediately surrounded by men offering us rides to Livingston. Among them is a person having a T-shirt of our sailing trip organizer, asking us if we were there for the trip. What a relief to know that the boat was here too!
We wait in a Pizzeria at the waterfront, having a drink. Eventually the captain of the boat arrives to greet us and he transports the passengers two at a time in a small motor boat to the catamaran. Eventually it is our turn and we embark on the shaky ride.
The catamaran is nice, large and painted white, and there are already some tourist passengers on it. We are not the last ones to be transported, so we have the privilege to choose between two 'cabins'.
I'm dumfounded how small they are! You enter either from the top through a square hatch or from one side through an entrance from a small passageway. There is just enough place for both of us to lie down side-by-side. One side is curved following the boat's hull.
There are two toilets in the front of the boat (one in each float), we were taught that the left one was for men and the right for women.
We have all youngish passengers on board. There were two two American guys (one with red hair and freckles, the other more of a hippie with glasses and a beard), an Argentinean couple (both with dark hair, him very energetic and constantly talking, joking and playing pranks, she quieter and quite petite), two Swiss girls (one large, the other smaller), a lanky Swede and a dark-haired American girl, the Captain (small and businesslike with quite a few gray hair and darting black eyes) and a cook called "Hans" (wonder where he got that name from). Cap was from El Salvador and wasn't very talkative, restricting himself to Spanish (although there were indications that he understood English quite well).
Cap explained the basics of the boat and one of the Americans translated everything into English. Food and water would be included in the trip but coke and beer needed to be paid extra (the American translated 'Quetzals' into 'Units', which amused everyone).
Eventually we started our trip. We were using the outboard motor, since there was not enough wind for the sails. The tape player on the boat blared the 'Beatles'. We would have both preferred no music at this moment, prefering to listen to the sound of the water and wind.
The cook presents some refreshing cut fruit (melon?), one of the many times he did so during the trip.
We sailed under the large, high bridge of Rio Dulce and past a castle called San Filipe.
A bit further down, the captain pulls up one of the sails and we now use the power of the wind to carry us along. There is good wind by now and we proceed swiftly. Annewien and I are at the back of the boat, having moved away from the music.
Somehow we're drunk from this wonderful sensation of our swift and silent glide through the water. The sun is gradually setting in the now-orange sky, adding to the experience.
Eventually we stop and anchor. Dinner is served. Most of the times the food is exceptionally good, considering that we are on a boat and the extremely limited resources the cook had at his disposal.
After dinner Annewien and I decide to jump into the dark nighttime waters and the captain attaches a ladder to climb down from to the side of the boat. The others look at us with interest but in the end we would be the only ones ever going to the water after dark! Perhaps they were a bit scared of not knowing what was lurking the dark waters?
In the water, the night sky became even more brilliant due to the missing light from the boat and it seemed as if there are infinite specks of lighted shimmering diamonds in the sky. The water is wonderfully warm and extremely pleasant. It is so great to be here with Annewien!
Our fellow passengers are very talkative and get even more so after the Argentineans unpack a bottle of rum which is profusely passed around in drinks mixed with coke. The talk continues into the night and one of the Americans is imitating howler monkeys quite well.
Eventually we retire for the night, and after the cooling effect of our swim, sleeping in our tight quarters is quite bearable. We are as quiet we can be and it is brilliant!