Week 30 – Ruins and Caves and Ancient Cultures, Oh My

Having spent a week or so in Rio Dulce… checking out the different swimming pools and happy hours around all the marinas, and enjoying the excitement of the World Cup. We decided it was time to head out and explore some of this country.

So we got up early…
Sunrise Rio Dulce
Sunrise over the Rio Dulce

And jumped on a bus to Guatemala…. “Hey! Wait! I thought you said you were in Guatemala already??” I hear you say… well for some strange reason the locals refer to Guatemala City just as Guatemala… so you can travel from anywhere within the country of Guatemala to Guatemala ) or sometimes Guate… it was little hard to get used to at first… but we got with the program.

Although the country is pretty small, though incredibly densely populated, it seems to take ages to get anywhere as the roads are great and super windy, up and down through the mountains. It means some spectacular views of course, and sometimes you get to enjoy them even closer than you care to when the bus and truck drivers play a little chicken while passing on the curves… but they do seem to know what they’re doing.Six hours (well more like seven) later we arrived in Guate at the terminal of the Litegua bus, feeling rather sore , but glad to arrive (and this was on a semi-luxury bus). Luckily as we arrived rather later than scheduled we only had a few minutes to wait for the next bus out to Antigua… actually Antigua Guatemala (which means old Guatemala… how many Guatemalas can they live with in this country).We were headed to this lovely, colonial town to meet up with some friends, one of whom we’d met in the jungle in Belize… but my stupid local phone was not allowing me to text her… so we rolled into the beautiful old town of Antigua wondering how to find the girls… when Tadd suddenly points and shouts, “There’s Cassie!” … it wasn’t the first time that had happened with her… we had sent her an email once we arrived in Rio Dulce, and as she and Jill walked down to check their email and see if they had a message from us… they bumped into us at the bar!!

So we jumped out of the bus and yelled down the cobblestones as the girls disappeared around a corner… but only for a second, as Jill popped her head back around and spotted us. It turned out Jill was grateful that we found them at that moment, as she was saved from going to wander around some supposedly wonderful old convent or something and dragged off by us back to the hotel and on to Happy Hour!!

Antigua by night
Antigua by night
We had hoped to go hike up the nearby live volcano Pacaya but it had apparently spewed lava only the week before and so, most likely wisely so, they weren’t allowing silly tourists to climb all the way to the top. Instead we spent a couple of days chilling with the girls, shopping, wandering around, enjoying the night life, a little salsa dancing, and waiting to bump into a jewelry-making friend we’d met in Placencia (Just ask for Alan in the plaza he said… well no one knew him… but just when we had started to think it was a joke, we turned around and there was Alan!).We picked the girls’ brains about where to go and what to do in Guatemala and then Cassie headed for Mexico, Jill back to the UK and we squeezed into a minibus with a bunch of other gringos and another crazy driver and set off for the mountain town of Lanquin.

The drive wasn’t too bad, well, until we headed down the dirt road from Coban to Lanquin. It was worth it though! On Cassie & Jill’s advice we had called ahead to one of the popular and busy backpacker hostels – Zephyr, so arrived another 7 bus hours later in Lanquin and just grab our bags and wander off to our new temporary home on top of the hill.

The tiny town of Lanquin is dwarfed by the surrounding mountains.
Lanquin Town
El Zephyr was pleasant enough place, full of backpackers, dogs, kittens and run by an English bloke and a Belgian guy. Apart from not getting too much sleep the first night (it was Julie’s birthday apparently) and the water pump going out on the 2nd or 3rd day requiring bathing in the river… we had a lovely time.

There was some amazing food and drinks,

Pizza night Tadd

Fortunately we arrived for the infamous Pizza Night…. Yummmmy!!!

…tubing with the birthday girl, and then the essential trip to Semuc Chempey. A bunch of us climbed into a pick-up truck

On our way to Semuc
On our way to Semuc

But us oldies decided we’d be more comfortable inside the truck’s cab (you should have seen how many of them wanted to try to squeeze in the cab on the way back!)

And we headed up and out through Lanquin,

Hacia Coban 3

Semuc bridge
Semuc bridge
and then proceeded to drive straight up the side of a mountain and down the other side.The first place we arrived was at Las Grutas Marias (The Maria Caves?), but before we could venture in we were strong armed into playing on a rope swing over the river. Tadd went first and claimed it was no big deal…

Then we hiked up the hill, past the waterfall to mouth of the cave.
Semuc jungle trail
Semuc jungle trail
semuc cave waterfall
semuc cave waterfall
Where our guide began handing out candles!! One each… and then lit them… interesting!! The group of 10 or so of us then followed him into the cave… I’m sure this is the start of some stupid horror or vampire movie!! But it actually turned out to be pretty cool.
Grutas las marias
Grutas las marias
We walked through the waist-high water, scrambled over rocks, swam, climbed ladders, and clambered up small waterfalls… all while holding a candle… that amazingly stayed alight most of the journey!!
Grutas Las Marias 4
Grutas Las Marias 3
There were the occasional bats… but otherwise just us and the caves. We’re pretty sure that if they had really explained what we were going to do, we might have passed on it!!After emerging from the caves, we wandered across the river to Semuc Champey.
Semuc raging river
Semuc raging river

 

We checked out the map and decided that we didn’t need to walk up to the “mirador” (lookout) as that would undoubtedly mean a big climb. But when the guide came up and announced that was exactly where we were headed no one bothered to say no!
Semuc sign
The trail started off as a pleasant ramble through the rainforest, but we quickly came to our turnoff, which sent us pretty much straight up a sequence of steep wooden staircases… half an hour and much sweat later… we made it… and while we were mostly red in the face and still trying to catch our breath, the group decided it had been worth the trek… WOW!! What a view we had.
Semuc view 3
And it was even better than the crappy picture my blackberry could take… there is a big, gushing river flowing down through the forest, that suddenly disappears underground for about a quarter of a mile… while up above there a series of turquoise pools that look a lot like the terracing of a rice paddy from this high up.

After the picture taking, we hiked back down and went for a swim, slither, swim, jump, swim dive, swim down through the different pools, before finally heading back, exhausted to El Zephyr. Fun, Fun, Fun!!

Semuc view tadd

 

semuc rio 2

Semuc pools

Week 28 – Chillin’ in the Rio

Life here on the Rio Dulce is pretty chill… but I’m not talking about the weather… that is sizzling!! I had been warned by another cruiser who spent last summer here and said they spent most of their time in the pool at their marina… but, having survived chartering these last few months in Belize, we thought we’d be ok… HA!

So like I said, we are settled at Vista Rio marina…

S/V Third Aye at Vista Rio
S/V Third Aye at Vista Rio
which is right next to the bridge here… purportedly the longest bridge in Central America
The longest bridge in Central America
The longest bridge in Central America
The bridge does look cool… and generally you can’t hear the traffic… but every once in a while a truck with next to no breaks, and certainly no break pads screeches it’s way down our side into Fronteras.
We’ve been enjoying our time hiding out on board Third Aye with our wonderful air conditioner (thank you Jim for helping to sort that out!), but we try to make ourselves get out a bit here and there to avoid going totally doolally!So, the other day we headed off in our little put-put of a dinghy to check out one of the few tourist attractions locally… El Castillo San Felipe.

Sign at Castillo San Felipe
Sign at Castillo San Felipe
Apparently (as you probably can’t actually read below) was built in the 16th century, originally as a watchtower, to look out for pirates. Over the next century or so, many pirates sailed all the way up from the coast here to Rio Dulce and so the Spanish needed to prevent them getting further in land here at the narrows and stop them from pillaging local towns.
Castilllo San Felipe tower
Castilllo San Felipe tower
Over the next couple of centuries the pirate activity came in waves of force and so they built and rebuilt the place until it became a full-on, miniature castle – yes! it was a very cool little castle but really quite compact and bijoux!!IMG00032

It’s really a maze of little (they must have been short and rather skinny Spaniards stationed here) corridors, rooms, stairwell and turret with cannons. Quite elaborate and very cool by the looks of it – if anyone had infiltrated one part of it, they would never have survived beyond the next corner where a sword or rifle would have undoubtedly been waiting for them.
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Tadd loved the big, old cannons

Tadd and Lindsay aboard "Ayelet"
Tadd and Lindsay aboard “Ayelet”
After our history lesson we headed back out on the dingy…
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to find a pool to cool off in. That day it was courtesy of Hotel & Marina Tijax.. not a bad setting for the pool, but the most expensive cokes in the area at a whopping $1.30 each!! Outrageous!

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Sadly we couldn’t stay too long as the I noticed the sky darkening through the trees, out over the lake…
So it was back in the dingy..  And time for Happy Hour!

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p.s. and yes, Linda, I did take these pictures… our camera died but we managed to get my ignored blackberry to take over the job until we can get a new one in the States. 🙂

Bye Bye Belize… Hola Guatemala!!

We spent the last days of June getting ready for our departure from Belize after 10 months in the country. It’s been a great experience and we got to see most of the country, but we were definitely ready to move on… there were just a few things that stood in our way…

Tadd had to completely dismantle our dinghy’s outboard, soak every little bit of it in penetrant and oil, and painstakingly coax each bit back to life… we had left the sturdy 1964 Johnson sitting on the back rail of Third Aye the whole time we were working … didn’t even try to start it once… ahhhh… so won’t ever do that again. But in Tadd’s expert and determined hands, the dinosaur once again came to life and gave us hope that we would be able to make it ashore on our travels.
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We did our best to enjoy a rather soggy Placencia Lobsterfest and the World Cup matches while Tropical Storm Alex washed through.

Fresh lobsters on the grill in Placencia, Belize!
Fresh lobsters on the grill in Placencia, Belize!
It was no where near as bad as some expected and we had a few good nights out and another hiding out in our cozy little Third Aye.
hurricane alex
Tropical Storm/Hurricane Alex hitting land in the Gulf of Mexico

What we thought would be the biggest hurdle before departure turned out to be a formality. We were required to temporarily import Third Aye into Belize and therefore hand over a bunch of cash to Customs. They had assured us and our customs broker, Mr. Billy Valdes, that the money would be safe and sound, waiting for us in a treasury account when we came to leave… but every other sailor that we talked to while in the country offered little hope or confidence that the cash would turn up when we asked for it… ugh!

The Belize Central Bank almost never gives up her American Dollars
The Belize Central Bank almost never gives up her American Dollars

But as it turned out, Billy was a star!! He not only got us our money back, but he convinced customs to cut us a cheque before we cleared ourselves and our boat out of the country (normally they say you have to physically leave before you can claim your money back!! Huh!!??). So all we had to do, in the end, was turn up in Belize City and have Billy drive us around to pick up the cheque and stuff. He rocks!!

So, all that was left was to stock up on some food, diesel and ginger ale… and do a run around all the local banks to change Belize dollars back into US dollars, as they won’t let you change more than USD 250 at a time… definitely time to move on!!

First thing on Thursday July 1st, we untied from the dock and set sail SE to Tom Owens Caye.

Tom Owens Cay in Belize
Tom Owens Cay in Belize
We spent a few days hanging out with our friends Polly & Roland at Reef Conservation International, and doing some diving. It was a fabulously relaxing few days with some amazing dives, tagging along with the students that Polly was simultaneously teaching PADI Open Water, Rescue and Divemaster to!! What an amazing lady!!
Polly Wood on Tom Owen's Cay
Polly Wood on Tom Owen’s Cay

But by Sunday it was time for us to head off and on to Guatemala. We had checked out of Belize on the mainland and couldn’t check into Guatemala until Monday morning, so we just sailed west and anchored for the night off Cabo Tres Puntas in Guatemala.

Primitive houses on Cabo Tres Puntas near Guatemala
Primitive houses on Cabo Tres Puntas, Guatemala
Then early Monday morning we sailed across to Livingston, to official enter Guatemala.
Third Aye arriving Livingston
S/V Third Aye, arriving across the sandbar into Livingston
With the help of the infamous Raul, we expedited our entry and within a few hours we were on our way up the Rio Dulce… out of the saltwater and into the sweet!

S/V Third Aye on Rio Dulce
S/V Third Aye on Rio Dulce
The trip up river was pretty spectacular… through a gorge, where the towering limestone walls were draped with green robes of rainforest plants that clung to the steep rocks. There were many herons, egrets, pelicans and butterflies buzzing around, keeping us company as we slowly made our way inland, against about 1kt of current. Absolutely stunning!!

The canyon walls of the Rio Dulce River are astounding
The canyon walls of the Rio Dulce River are astounding.
Winding our way through the gorge… the walls were much higher than they look in the pics!

Tadd driving S/V Third Aye up the Rio Dulce river
Tadd driving S/V Third Aye up the Rio Dulce river
Tadd driving us up river… keeping a close eye on the depth sounder for errant sand bars and submerged pilings… not just a jaunt through the gorge when you have a draft of over 4′.

After a couple of hours we emerged into the wide waters of El Golfete… we considered stopping at a marina here for the night… but when we set our anchor in Texan Bay and realised the only wind was that which we had be creating ourselves… we opted not to sit and cook until sundown, and headed back out again and pushed on to our marina at Fronteras.

Lago El Golfete
Lago El Golfete
Our new home on the dock at Vista Rio Hotel & Marina
S/V Third Aye at dock in Guatemala
S/V Third Aye at “Riverview” dock in Guatemala

It is probably the cheapest marina on the Rio… but as the only one who responded to our emailsand had space available for us… it is now home… and actually, as we check out the other places around here we are very happy with our choice!!