The chant Isabel started our day with “Guatemala here we come!” She was very excited to go to Guatemala. We pulled up anchor in Southern Belize before 8am and traveled our last 20 miles to arrive in Livingston, Guatemala. The mountains of Guatemala just got bigger and bigger as we got closer. The water turned a little greener as the fresh water run off from the rivers mixed in and we could tell we were traveling in the Gulf of Honduras, no longer the Caribbean Sea.
Although we didn’t plan it, we happened to arrive at the port at high tide, a good thing. There is a portion of the port that shallows to about 5.5 feet at low tide. We draw just a little more. Many boats get pulled in over this shallow bar at high tide by a local shrimp boat. The bottom of the bar is sand/mud and in our experience we were sure we could just motor our way across it with a little rub on the bottom if necessary. We bumped bottom just slightly, but David thinks we drifted a little toward town and off the path of the deeper water, so had we stayed on track we may not have touched at all with it having been high tide. No worries though. Once thru the entrance we anchored near 2 sailboats off the main Livingston dock, and hailed our clearance agent, Raul, on the VHF. We had called him on our Sat Phone about an hour earlier to let him know our approx time of arrival and to ask a few last questions—like “when is high tide?” and are they going to take any food from us? I wanted to be prepared for it, he assured us over the phone that all would be fine. Over the radio he let us know he was picking up the official and would be out to the boat in 10-15 mins.
He arrived with 4 officials, Customs, Immigration, Health Dr, and we think Port authority. We offered them cold waters, and the last of grandma’s coca cola stash. We don’t drink it but had leftovers from grandma’s visit in the fall. They all happily accepted a cold drink and sat down to stamp our passports, fill out our visa’s, quickly review our boat documentation and approve the boat. They didn’t even look around and no food was taken. Then off they went. It was a piece of cake. We are not sure if it was because of Raul, but we like to think his $30 US fee was definitely worth it. We paid, including his fee a little less then $150 to clear in. He allowed us to pay all the fees in USD, as we did not even have any Guatemalan Q’s as we hadn’t left the boat at all. He even took a few Belize dollars that we had left over for payment. We will be contacting Raul for sure when it comes time to clear out.
Once they left, time to pull anchor and head up the river of the beautiful Rio Dulce, which means “sweet river” FYI, the only way to reach the town of Livingston is by boat. There are no roads leading there. We did not go into Livingston as we have heard it is not a very safe town, and we have really been concerned for the kids. Their government is very weak here and crime is very high. The police and courts here do not follow thru with punishing criminals. We have been told that on the Rio Dulce, the locals are very interested in keeping tourism high and therefore the last few years, the Rio Dulce has had much less crime. Robbery was the most common problem and that is much less now. The Navy and tourism police help patrol the area and keep it safe. We were also told that the local mob is involved in keeping it safe for the gringos, that is important to them and their business. The rule we have been told is lock your stuff up, otherwise the locals will think you must not want it anymore and will take it.
Okay, back to the beautiful scenery…entering the gorge and heading up river was such a different scene to the Caribbean islands we had just come from. The green 300 foot cliffs rose above us as we meandered our way around the curves and turn of the river. We could here the buzz in the forest around us and pretty white birds perched on the trees. As we got further and further up river we would see locals in their canoes and wooden Cayucos fishing along the rivers edge or bringing their kids home from school. The kids all brought their lunch up to the fly bridge so we could enjoy the scenery together.
We had just about reached the marina zone when we heard a loud bump. David quickly slowed our engines while we tried to figure out what it was. We wondered if we had hit something on the bottom. As we looked back over the way we had come we saw that it wasn’t the bottom we hit, but a piling barely above the water line. David checked all the bilges and the engines, everything seemed to be working okay and we weren’t bringing in water, so we think the boat is okay. Not sure how we missed seeing the pilings other than they were almost submerged, but we should have seen it—too distracted by the new world around us I guess.
The first marina we called didn’t have room for us, so we called the one I had been hoping for, Hacienda Tijax. It is located on a rubber plantation. They could take us, so in we went. There are about 10 marinas here that operate with the tourism board, so we have encouraged to use those particular marinas. We got tied up and were welcomed by the Tijax staff and a few of the other boaters. It is a small marina and hotel. They have cute little huts for rent all over their waterfront property and a pool. Because they are on the Rubber plantation they have other activities on the plantation that I was excited to see. Overall, in the area there are a few hundred boats, but maybe around 100 boats with people living on them. The majority of them being sailboats. We are definitely different, being a large motor trawler. We had people driving by us in their panga boats or canoes taking pictures of the boat. In another month or 2 I imagine more boats will arrive as hurricane season approaches. Because you can travel so far inland on the Rio Dulce, this is considered a “hurricane hole” and is a safe place to spend or leave your boat for that time of year. But we don’t expect to be here then.