Goodbye Guatemala … or not!! – by Gill

For a month now we have been trying to leave this beautiful and compelling country but so far without success.  We had set the date of 5th November as fortuitous for our departure – the tide was at its highest to allow us over the bar at Livingston and the hurricane season was coming to an end – but this plan didn’t take into account late deliveries of first the solar panels (from the US) and then the cable for the SSB which the shippers lost in transit.  And would you believe it, they also lost the replacement after which the original order turned up (US suppliers and customer service do not inspire confidence in us!)

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Mike and Roger fitting the solar panels to the new gantry

Having reluctantly resigned ourselves to the extra two weeks’ wait, we were then anxious to go at the next high tide – but fate stepped in once more and two days prior to leaving (and following our farewell party) the fridge packed up – a new compressor followed, plus the brand new state of the art alternator went phut on first firing.  Obviously someone was trying to tell us something!!  Plus to cap it all we both went down with virulent tummy bugs (dose of both salmonella and amoeba for good measure), not good sailing companions;  so, another wait for yet another new alternator and the next high tide.    The second new alternator duly arrived, Roger the “electrical whizz” came to fit it – nothing straight forward of course and his “does this wire go here or there” didn’t inspire much confidence in the outcome – rightly so as it turned out.   Sure enough, we left the Rio Dulce (engine sounded good) and headed for Livingston where we checked out (Mike was only two weeks over the permitted 90 days, a mere trifle here after paying the fine of Q10 per day) and we psyched ourselves up at 6.0pm to hopefully sail unhindered over that dreaded bar – the engine had other ideas though and not a peep was to be heard.  Roger remained calm and reassuring when an ever so slightly irate Mike requested the pleasure of his company here in Livingston (an hour down the river by high speed lancha).  As I write this and following Roger’s visit today, we have everything crossed that the engine will perform when the time comes to set out this evening, just one more day late and exactly a month after we first tried to leave.

When we look back, the amount of work completed on Romano has been enormous and we have lived for months in a constant state of “work in progress”.  It was, at least some relief to be able to escape the endless workmen and their projects onto the adjoining palapa area (a thatch covered communual space frequented by adults in their hammocks or working on various boat projects and children playing or heads down with mum doing their school work.  This was the hub of our social centre and a great meeting place where there was always someone to talk to and Saturday evenings turned into the social event of the week with everyone bringing something to share.

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One of our international Saturday night Palapa parties

Many new friendships were forged and the mix of French, Australian and us, which started somewhat hesitantly with some language difficulties, gradually evolved into a closeknit and interesting community.  Audrey (delightful young French mum) who arrived in May with virtually no English now speaks the language like a native and Ella (15 year old Australian with no background in languages) is becoming proficient in both English and Spanish.  The children who have all become firm friends prattle away together without any problems, of course.

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Nanajuana Marina showing the palapa

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Nanajuana was a beautiful place to weather out the hurricane season

I mentioned our farewell party which was held on a really grotty evening with heavy rain just before one of our planned departure dates.  All turned out to say goodbye to us, including some newcomers we hadn’t even met before and it was a sad evening with a few tears and even presents from the children.  One occurrence not to be forgotten is Mike’s unscheduled swim when he disappeared for a while and although he was vaguely noticed like some sort of large water rat climbing up the back of a boat out of the water right opposite the festivities, Nick the Australian owner remarked in his usual laidback way “well, yeh, I thought I saw you coming up out of the water onto my boat” but he obviously didn’t think that was anything remarkable or worth mentioning.  Mike had slipped off the plank which only reached halfway to our boat (a hazardous access at the best of times) and weighed down by waterproof jacket etc had problems finding an exit from the water – and nobody heard his cries for help!  Not only had he got a soaking but to crown it all nobody even noticed!!

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Gill doing the washing as the men fixed up the boat!

The biggest projects on the boat were without doubt the adding of a new bimini and the gantry for the two huge solar panels (which so far are exceeding expectations and producing enough energy to keep up with the power hungry fridge and freezer).  Mike finally settled on Carlos the Welder as the manufacturer and installer of the metalwork (aluminium) despite Carlos’ rather dubious reputation as not the most reliable craftsman in town.  As it turned out, Carlos did a brilliant job and produced everything asked of him including some folding steps for me to be able to get back into the dinghy from the sea – not sure if he was amused or felt sorry for me when he heard that I had had to be dragged on a line for a mile or so because I couldn’t get back aboard after snorkelling.  Whatever, he certainly had a soft spot for us – we hear many stories of others who are still waiting but he either likes you or he doesn’t!!

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The boat with new bimini and solar panels

The list continues with a new mainsail (the old one was scathingly condemned by Luigi the Italian sail expert), the new bimini and sprayhood in cream (not very practical but so light!), with many new projects in wood, both inside and out, including beautifully varnished boxes to hold the extra diesel containers on deck, a very useful box/extra seat which clips to the table and so the list goes on.

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The new mainsail being fitted by Luigi Bellotti

The cockpit sparkles with its new varnish, two windscoops (they would be the dearest in existence if I calculated the amount of time taken to make them by hand!) funnel the breeze down into the boat and Mike successfully located a new gas regulator to give us a cooker temperature other than hand warm.

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Gill proudly displaying her fantastic wind scoops

Now we can even make bread, and as discovered today, the pressure cooker makes very good cakes!  We’re in business!!

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The proof and it was good – mmmm!

We did manage a day out in the dinghy up to Castillo San Felippe, about two miles up river from our marina. It was a glorious day as the photos show and the Castillo which had been built in 1500 by the Spanish to keep out pirates and of course the British who used to turn up regularly to steal the gold from the ships moored in the lake.

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The Castillo as seen from the dinghy

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The view from the ramparts over the river

During November we organised a few days away from the work site and headed north with Annie and Liam (Australian friends) to explore Tikal (one of the most important Mayan sites in this whole area).  We set off with expectation and a cheap ticket on the Publico bus, only to find that the bus was already full when we joined it in Fronteras – well, full by our standards!   45 Persons is just the beginning with more standing than sitting and just when you think you can’t be expected to cram anymore aboard, there’s another shove and another few are added – they don’t seem to turn anyone away!  The prospect of 4 and half hours standing  whilst the driver throws the vehicle around the bends and in and out of the potholes whilst conducting an ongoing mobile phone conversation and eating his lunch at the same time wasn’t one to fill us with happy anticipation.  I was the lucky one as a young woman offered me her seat after an hour of trying to perch on a narrow arm and I travelled in luxury – not so the others.  To our amazement the bus stopped at one point to allow a rather portly lady with her basket of food on her head and her sidekick with a bucket of drinks to board and move into the bus – how is still a mystery – to sell a mixture of hot food (sandwiches would have been too easy!) to the passengers – all passed from hand to hand to the back of the bus.

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Meals on wheels

We spent an hour or so in Flores (a quaint little island on Lake Peten to explore the cobbled streets and were sorry we wouldn’t be able to return that evening to join in the festivities of the Christmas tree lighting.  We had booked ourselves into a little French run hotel further along the lake at El Remate – half way to Tikal.  The Mon Ami was certainly situated in the most picturesque spot right on the edge of Lake Peten and afforded us the most spectacular sunset as well as a wonderful swim in clear warm water surrounded by tiny fish.

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Sunset over Lake Peten 

We had opted to take the very early morning tour to Tikal leaving at 4.00am with the idea of arriving to catch the dawn, hear the howler monkeys in full voice, enjoy the dawn chorus, as well as experience the rising sun as it emerged eerily out of the swirling early morning mists.  We did eventually see the sun and waited quite some time to catch sight of the various monuments floating out of the shrouding mists.

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Temples appearing out of the mist at Tikal

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A little bit closer and later

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A little furry friend we met in the jungle at Tikal

The monuments were as impressive as any we have seen in this part of the world, more so than Mexico which has inevitably become overly commercialised and we were able to climb as many as we had the energy for!   I must say that by 10am we felt we had already done a day’s hard labour.

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Amazing to think these were built over 1000 years ago

With the intention of spending two to three months in the San Blas islands, where we understand provisions are non-existent, we shopped to accommodate this with Mike declaring at every sortie that “there’s nowhere to put it”!  Ah, but there always is!  We had thought that we were to be joined by friends in the San Blas (not now coming) so we allowed for four including meat ready frozen for us in suitable four-sized packets.  Upon collection of the meat, we saw with horror what amounted to a mammoth stack of boxes, all for us.  I must admit this time I had rather overestimated the size of our freezer and we had to prevail on friends to take the surplus which we then cooked up for the farewell party, so it didn’t go to waste.  From tins of everything, to toilet paper, to the occasional box of wine, we’re set for the next few months.

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The saloon table laden with provisions – but where to put them?

After six months in this part of the world, we have so many memories to draw on and so many new and valued friends, most of whom we hope to meet again in the San Blas Islands or when we congregate to go through the Panama Canal as most of us intend to.  As one of the young girls said to me with tears in her eyes as we left, “it’s like saying goodbye to family”.  We have lived next door to one another and been part of each other’s lives for a brief but intense period.   I shall miss the constant drone of the heavy traffic labouring its way over the bridge (the same bridge that a number of the younger crowd jumped from on the end of a rope and not entirely without incident either).

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The not so low bridge – some folks are barking mad!

You soon forget to marvel at the beautiful scenery and area in which we have been living, the distant mountains, the lush vegetation, the river and its ongoing life of fishermen in their canoes, the myriad of birds.  We have been spoilt by the wonderful and abundant fruit and vegetables, the colourful and interesting local peoples and the opportunity to explore a little of this beautiful and dramatic country – thank you Guatemala, we have loved being here.   Honduras here we come!

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Leaving the Rio at 45 degrees

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Hector to the rescue!

Addendum:  Yes, we did get away finally but not without more dramas – Roger’s fixing wasn’t fixed and Mike had to jump start the engine (a loose connection is suspected) and the high tide wasn’t as high as we had thought!!  We spent the night rocking gently in the mud of the estuary after gunning through the first half of the sandbar.  Hector, the local fisherman who had dragged us in in May, was prevailed on for the fee of $50 to come to our rescue at 6 am after his night out fishing and we were dragged out sideways.  Sounds like another dose of gel coat to the keel.  We are now safely in Utila (Bay Islands, Honduras) and further news about this part of the world will follow in due course.

2 thoughts on “Goodbye Guatemala … or not!! – by Gill

  1. hope things are going well – we think of you often but as you can see doesn’t translate into an email! We are in upstate NY sitting in front of the fireplace right now. We plan on heading back to Tsamaya in early April – she is currently on the hard in the Netherlands. Plans are still to do the French canals down to the Med this coming season – time will tell! Best wishes to you always – Bob & Janice sv Tsamaya

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