Christmas Weekend travels

Rio Dulce Travel Blog

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On my third weekend in Guatemala, which preceded Christmas Day, I went by bus and boat to Livingston, a Caribbean seaside resort town.

I started by taking a bus from Antigua to Guatemala City, this is

supposed to be a 45 minute ride over the mountain, but the bus

made a zillion stops and the traffic in the capitol was

incredible. We arrived an hour and 15 minutes after we started.

Once in Guate, I had difficulty finding a bus to Rio Dulce,

actually a town named Fronteras, but everyone just calls it Rio

Dulce because it sits a the mouth of a lake from which flows the

fresh water river (rio) to the ocean about an hour away by boat.

When I finally found the bus station I was looking for, I found

that they had only two busses per day; one at 8:am and one at

2:pm. It was a couple of minutes past 10:AM and I was not about

to wait for 4 hours in a bus terminal in the crime-ridden capital

of Guatemala. I sat down and looked through my guide book to see

if maybe there was another bus line. I discovered that

"LineGuate" had busses to Puerto Barrios and I could take a

launch or ferry from there to Livingston. Not as picturesque as

going down the Rio Dulce by boat, but definitely better than

waiting in Guatemala City for 4 hours and arriving after dark.

After arriving at LineGuate, to my surprise, there was a bus

headed to Puerto Barrios with a stop at Rio Dulce! It was

leaving at 11:am. I purchased a ticket and bought a cup of

coffee and some cake at the little cafe and prepared myself for

the 4 hour bus ride on the "first class" bus. I still don't see

much difference in the first and second class busses. They still
let a dozen children sit for free on their parents laps (or the

convenient lap of their gringo neighbors) and they still let

people stand in the aisles, or in some cases sit in the aisle on

folding camp stools.

I arrived in Rio Dulce about 4:30 pm and the bus dropped us off

about a 100 yards from the dock. I went towards the dock and a

man asked me if I wanted a boat to Livingston, "How much?" I

asked. "250 quetzales." Too much. I was hungry and thirsty and I

heard someone speaking English and some cool reggae tunes coming

from the little thatched roof bar next to the dock. I thought

maybe I could get some information there.

The American women tending bar was named Holly. She owned the bar

and named it after her: The Hollymar. She was very nice and

there was an speaking Canadian girl talking to her. They said

the going rate for trip to Livingston was 50 quetzales, but there

would probably not be any more collectivo boats going this late.

It would be almost dark by the time they arrived. They suggested

I take a room there in town for the night and then leave in the

morning. Since the beer I was drinking was wet and cold and I

could really use some dinner I was in agreement with her.

They recommended a hotel a few minutes walk up the road (both the

owner and the Canadian were staying there) and I took my gear and

rented a room for the night. Q30 for a double. ($6.17 U.S.) It

wasn't all that great, just four concrete walls, two beds and a

fan. The two toilets and the shower were at the end of the

courtward behind flimsy wooden doors, but no matter I had a place

to sleep but more importantly some new friends to drink beer and

speak with.

I ordered eggplant parmigiana and it was very good. Served with

some fresh from the oven herb bread; delicious. I had several

beers and spoke with Holly and her help, Jackie from Florida, a

girl who had been helping out at the orphanage and working part

time at the bar for tips and dinner. Around 11:pm, I stumbled

back the hotel.

I woke up about 7:am and packed up my stuff. I returned to the

dock hoping to get some coffee at the Hollymar. The place wasn't

really open but there were a couple of gringos sitting on the

front stoop with back packs. I asked and they were also going to

Livingston. Soon after, two more gringos showed up and one of

the boat captains said he had enough people to go. After some

haggling and arguing between two launch captains, we finally

agreed to pay Q50. per person. That would include a stop at the

Biotopo and the hot springs.

Along the way the we introduced ourselves. Steve and Brad,

gringos about 25 years old one from Chicago and one from Seattle

I think. Two Brits, Darren and Heidi about the same age. I

was the grandfather of the group. We stopped at the Biotopo, a

nature reserve carved out of the ungle along the river with an
information center and a Jungle hike trail 10-20 minutes. I

found it very interesting. You could camp there if you wanted

but it seemed very wet. I don't know what else you might expect

in a rain forest. The little trail was great and the Jungle was

amazing. Lots of different colored butterflies, and tree ferns

and giant trees. The trail had been engineered and constructed

with a water drainage channel next to it for erosion control.

Steve even saw some kind of wild pig animal which he described as

having the back end of a pig and the face of a chihuahua. Later we

identified it from a panorama painting of the jungle in the

visitors center, I can't remember the real name and I don't think

I have ever seen one of these animals in the zoo before.

After the Biotopo, we stopped briefly at the hot springs. It was a

small trickle (okay, maybe a little more than a trickle) of hot sulfur water

into the river. As one guy in the bar described it "not enough

to keep two people warm." There was another launch already there

and I could smell the sulfur in the air as we approached; like

rotten eggs. I said, in Spanish "Who has the eggs?" and our boat

captain yelled out "I do!" Everybody giggled and it was then

that I remembered that Eggs (huevos) is the nickname for

testicles in this part of the world, just as balls or nuts are

for us.

We stayed long enough for me to wade over to the springs and

feel the temperature and then headed for Livingston. The captain

asked us if we wanted to stop at a restaurant for a beer, and we

all told him "no." To our surprise he stopped anyway at a little

two story thatched roof hut right on the water. He ordered a

beer, I ordered coffee (It was only 10:am) and we all had a look

around. The captain then told us that he really didn't have

enough fuel to get us all of the way to Livingston and he had to

stop there anyway.

After half an hour we were finally on our way to Livingston. It

was only a few minutes down the river. Our first stop was at a

hotel with a private dock called Hotel Rosada. The guy there

told us there were no rooms and they were very full. He said it

might be difficult to find rooms anywhere in Livingston. After taking us to the

main dock, I started talking to the two Brits. They were going

to try a place recommended in their guide book called the African

Place. It was recommended in all three of my guide books also so

we all went together. There was a gringa woman at the entrance

and we asked her if there were any rooms left, she replied that

she thought there was one. We found the girls that seemed to run

the place (black Caribeans with their own "Garifuna" language) and she

said that she had a triple for Q47 and a single for Q30. I said

that the single was good for me, but Daren and Heidi looked a

little apprehensive. I asked them what they were looking for and

they said something for a little less was what they had in mind.

I asked them if they wanted to share the triple for Q16 each and

their faces lit up. Now these were some folks who had a budget

to keep.

After settling into the room, the Brits went out exploring and I

took a much needed shower. After cleaning up from 2 days of

traveling, I too went out to explore Livingston. Not really

different from the towns I was used to after being here awhile

but the feeling was totally different. For one thing there were

black people everywhere. You almost never see a black person in other

Guatemalan Cities, and they dressed a little strange. One might

get the feeling that one was in the old south at in the 1930's or

40's. No buses here and no cars, to speak of. I returned to

the Hotel Rosada and drank a beer while I read and smoked a

crude hand rolled cigar I bought at the tienda, yuck! I wondered

around the entire town in less than two hours and finally

returned to the African Hotel and sat on the balcony and drank another

beer, read some more and just watched the people. Darren

returned and asked for the key to the room and he and Heidi

stayed in the room and napped while the skys blackened and a

tropical rain storm ensued. I loved watching the people

scurrying from the rain. The big 'ol black women in their nice

sun dresses ran for cover while the children didn't even seem to

notice that it was raining.

It rained for hours, in fact for the rest of evening and into

Christmas, and I stayed on the balcony or in the restaurant for

most of the rest of the evening. Once I returned to the room

only to find my companeros asleep on two of the beds. I sat at a

picnic table under the back balcony and tried to converse with

another Brit, but a different British girl who had been working

in El Salvador joined us and the discussion soon turned the

scandles in the British press. I didn't really understand what

was going on except for the topic of the Royal family, and then I

just didn't care.

I returned to the restaurant for dinner. The power went out

briefly and I thought things might get interesting but it only

lasted for 15 minutes or so. After I had finished, Darren and

Heidi joined me. Not for dinner, but for a beer, or two, or

five. We drank until 10:30 or so until we moved down the street

to a Garifuna or Reggae bar. Very lively, with a little 7 year

old boy drumming up a storm on the bongos and all of the gringo

patrons swaying and drumming the tables in Caribbean bliss. I

only stayed for one beer as I didn't really get much sleep the

night before and I was exhajusted. So Christmas Eve found me

drunk, staggering back to the African Place in the tropical drizzle

to the music of drums. I barely woke up enough to say "feliz

navidad" to the Britts when they returned (2:AM?). Heidi replied

in her cockney accent, "I'm tired of feliz navidad, happy

fucking Christmas!" I rolled over and went to sleep. The hotel

may have been cheap, but the sheets were clean and smelled fresh

and the bed was most comfortable!

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photo by: islander23