Rio Dulce, December 2018
After being asked repeatedly over the past year by everyone we know, “when are you going to get your boat?” It’s nice to finally say, “We are getting our boat!” Hurrah. We’ve been back in Guatemala for two weeks “getting the boat,” and we shall continue to “get the boat” for several more weeks before we get her keel wet and move aboard. It’s a slow, messy process, full of challenges and surprises. Each day is an adventure.
Traveling here was easier than expected, as we received help every step of the way. First off Kenny’s brother, Jack, met us in Palmetto, FL where we left our car, Turtle, in the hands of Mike. Kenny found him on Craig’s list. Mike zips around his property on a golf cart accompanied by a giant white dog, Rockie, who jumps into your car and all over you, when you arrive. Mike’s aging father roams the estate with his rifle shooting at..squirrels? The place is littered with containers and abandoned vehicles and boats, but the price is right and Mike seems like a nice fellow. When we left him our keys, “In case of emergency,” he looked surprised. “No one’s ever left their keys before.”
Jack drove us and our eight pieces of heavy luggage to his place in Land O’ Lakes Florida where we spent our final night conversing, playing parlor games and enjoying a delicious stew prepared by Jack’s wife, Mary. The following morning Jack made the supreme sacrifice of taking us to the Tampa airport at 4:30 a.m. Departing his neighborhood he mentioned that there had been quite a few traffic accidents in the area recently due to drunken drivers embracing the wrong side of the road. I suggested we preemptively drive on the left side to prepare for the inevitable. Believe it or not, we made it to the airport unscathed.
We were greeted there by an amazingly strong young, thin, woman who single-handedly moved our ten tons of luggage to the baggage check, got our boarding passes for us and sent us on our way. We felt mighty light with our four pieces of leaden carry-on bags. (Why do they have so much luggage? Is she ever going to get to the point?) We arrived in Guatemala City early afternoon without a hitch and employed another baggage handler to help us out of the airport and into transportation to Antigua. Although we did get the red light at customs, which means your bags are to be inspected, our handler just shoved all the bags through an x-ray machine and back on his cart and moved forward. No one opened a thing.
We quickly found a van and headed to Antigua with one other passenger. The driver was hoping for a another, but after waiting 15 minutes I offered to pay for the fourth passenger. Ten dollars seemed a bargain to be able to depart immediately. I couldn’t help but think our remarkably smooth travel day had something to do with the small Buddhist statues I’d carefully stashed in the luggage. Thanks to my Buddhist friends/teachers Gen Chodor and Sangzin, we have a little shrine in our current dwelling. It will move to the boat with us and protect us wherever we go.
We snaked through the dense slow moving traffic of Guatemala city and its outskirts. Everywhere smelled of wood smoke and exhaust. My exhaustion turned to elation as I took in all the new sights and sounds of a foreign land. Is there anything more exhilarating than travel? Colorful billboards for cell phone companies, hardware stores, and hotels flew by in Spanish. The smokey, exhaust rich air filled our lungs We gawked at motorcycles carrying entire families and pick-up trucks racing along with people casually sitting in the back or standing up with no hands facing the wind arms spread eagle. Ralph Nader has no footprint here.
Entering Antigua, former capital of Central America, we bounced over the ancient cobblestone roads, past brightly colored, drop dead gorgeous colonial haciendas, churches, hotels, restaurants, shops and finally arrived at Posada San Vincente, our home for the next three nights. As fate would have it, we landed in the same room where we’d spent a week on our previous visit two and a half years ago. The beds are hard, the windows rattle, the sandpaper towels are the size of postage stamps, and it’s LOUD. You can hear everything inside and outside the hotel and the people of Antigua have a passion for firing canons at all hours. The hotel does have a lovely courtyard, nice employees, a rooftop with incredible views, and the price is right.
It’s located in the center of town, near the main square, where folks lounge on benches and countless Mayan vendors dressed in colorful homespun garb hawk their wares of intricately woven cloth, hats, wood carvings, toys, food, fresh fruit juices and countless other baubles. Antigua is a heavily touristed town and home to a large number of expats from North America and Europe.
It’s nestled amid volcanoes, one of which is active. Fuego erupted violently last June, killing 100s of people dwelling in its shadow. In November it went off again, but more gradually, so locals had time to escape from the lava flow. Each morning, from the safe distance of Posada San Vincente’s roof, we watched Fuego let off steam. A majestic sight indeed.
We’d visited some museums and a convent on our last trip to Antigua, so this time we contented ourselves by just wandering the streets, eating out and catching random cultural events like the annual Christmas parade on December 1. There were more marching bands than in the Thanksgiving Macy’s parade in NYC. There are so many inviting looking restorations in Antigua with perfect ambiance, it can be hard to choose. We visited a couple of old favorites and discovered some new ones. We really liked Frida, as in Frida Kahlo. They sold cool t-shirts which we were tempted to buy, including one with an image of Donald Trump we’d noticed on our previous visit. On it are printed the words “Donald, eres un pendejo.”
One evening in Antigua, Richard Voswinckel, a cruiser we met several years ago in the Bahamas, invited us to his beautiful hacienda for cocktails. He’d just sold his boat – a relief tinged with sadness. This time I got to know his wife Diana, better. She’s a talented artist who creates everything from jewelry to surreal collages on pots and dressmaker’s busts. They’re a tall, handsome worldly couple who are always just returning or jetting off somewhere. They are so generous to make an effort to have us over when we’re in town.
Kenny found a jazz club our last night in Antigua, where we listened to one of the best flamenco and jazz guitarists I’d ever heard. He sounded like two or three people playing and he wasn’t using one those repeater gizmos. That night, a little over two weeks ago seems like another lifetime.
Now we are back in Rio Dulce, the home of Mary T since June 2015. Life here is centered on the river. It is a boaters’ haven, full of marinas and sailors from around the world. The river is the locals highway, source of food, and a place to bathe and play. The town center is just a busy dusty strip so crowded with traffic and vendors, it can be difficult to navigate through it on foot. The fruit is fresh and cheap and restaurants down on the river have delicious fresh fish, local dishes and western-style fare. I wrote about this area in past blogs and for Cruising World magazine so I won’t repeat myself here.
When we arrived at Mar Marine on December 2, Marline, the owner who was to rent us an apartment for a month, couldn’t have been more surprised. Raising two granddaughters on top of running the Hotel-Restaurant-Marina + apartments, makes her one busy woman, so I can understand why she overlooked my recent emails confirming our arrival. It turned out, someone was in the apartment we were supposed to occupy, so she gave us a larger apartment three floors above the marina office at the same price.
As no one had lived in that apartment for sometime, it wasn’t exactly ready. Neither the fridge nor the stove worked, so our first morning some fellows came up and took away the empty propane canister for the stove. It took another trip down to the office to get it filled and returned, by which time the lack of coffee in our systems was making itself felt. Marline had the restaurant send up a kettle of hot water to tide us over. I requested an additional mug as there was only one in the kitchen. (We enjoy drinking our coffee in unison rather than taking turns). Later, the most talented refrigerator repairmen came and created a new coil and welded it to the back of the fridge. Several hours later, it was up and running. And a couple of days later, someone came and cleaned the place. Marline was doing her best to keep us happy.
Our bedroom is right next to the longest bridge in central America, taking traffic across the Rio Dulce. We can see it out of the corner of one bedroom window, but most of our view is obstructed by a great billboard advertising the Marina and Gallo beer. Impressively loud trucks go over the bridge all night and it feels like they’re driving through our heads. Sometimes the bed actually vibrates. Next door is the busiest tree in the universe. It is home to a vast variety of the most loquacious birds imaginable. The sounds of birds and bridge traffic is occasionally punctuated by firecrackers and fireworks, often in the wee hours of the morning. On the floor below us, a great construction project is underway which involves the demolition of tile and concrete. Needless to say, carrying on a conversation is rather challenging. (She is just complaining and complaining!) The thing is, we are so happy to be here that none of the noise or inconvenience bothers us in the least…or not very much. Out on the back porch we have a lovely view of the river, marinas, and distant mountains. (But what about Mary T? They came to get their boat and she’s barely mentioned it.)
A week into our stay, our friend Julia, who does tremendous volunteer work bringing everything from lights, to medical supplies and clothes to locals in need, asked if she could show Red Dot on the Ocean for movie night at Mar. Of course! It was very well attended and the audience of boaters was very appreciative, commenting on how they enjoyed hearing Matt Rutherford’s life story as much as the sailing story. He is an inspiring figure, indeed. We made our first new friend that night, another cruiser named Worth Gray. He was sitting alone so Julia put him with us for dinner. Worth proved to be delightful company, and we enjoyed a few more meals together after that evening. But now he’s gone to Antigua and we’re not sure when we’ll see him again. He asked us to look after his boat, Satori, and gave us all his food, which was quite generous and very wise, as it will keep the insects at bay. Would that we had been so wise…
As for Mary T, we had requested last April that she be moved from Capt. John’s Marina to RAM Marina, where she was hauled out of the water. (RAM is owned by Marline’s ex-husband, Richard. It’s Mar spelled backwards)! Mary T had taken on about eight inches of water through a hose in the head at Captain John’s. The bilge pump hadn’t worked because all the batteries were dead except for one. Captain John’s bunch did manage to get the water out, but we figured it would be a good idea to let her dry out for awhile.
Our dinghy and a bunch of other boat stuff remained at Captain John’s, so his wife picked us up in a launcha and brought us over there for a visit and to take stock of our stuff. They had kindly pumped up our dinghy for us and it was in the water with outboard on it, when we arrived. We were delighted when the outboard actually started, but it didn’t last. It was immediately clear that the impeller needed replacing. Captain John’s man, Irwin got on the job pronto, and the next day our dinghy, dubbed Marsh Fellow by granddaughter Trynity several years ago, was good to go. This is an essential mode of transportation when living on the River, because it’s the most direct route to get to most places and the only way to access many marinas and restaurants.
Our first trip to visit the landlocked Mary T revealed that she’d been playing host to a large community of very healthy cuccarochas. Foolishly we’d left some dry food goods on the boat, and the clever buggers had found their way into the packaging and were flourishing. I immediately set to throwing away all the food, while Kenny examined the source of our leak. Captain John had suggested replacing all of our seacocks, which are the little gates that let water into and out of the boat for sinks, shower, toilet and engine cooling. In the following days, Kenny pulled off the hoses leading to all five seacocks, while I emptied cabinets and vacuumed up cockroach poop, which was EVERYWHERE! We came to the conclusion that it would be best to hire a paid assassin to deal with the cockroaches.
A few days after getting the our dinghy back, we fired her up to leave RAM, but Marsh Fellow didn’t budge. Kenny put it in reverse. Nothing. He tilted the engine out of the water and the propeller was gone! Thanks to Kenny, we had a spare, and Irwin came to the rescue again and put it back on, because we did not have the right nut to attach it. Back at RAM, the following day, a young fellow named Elvis was diving in the harbor to examine a boat bottom, so I asked him if he might conduct a search for our propeller. The prop is black, the water is not very clear, and Elvis said there was a lot of garbage on the bottom. After a couple of dives down, he was not feeling very hopeful about the mission. I had given up and gone to my purse to pay him for his efforts. Elvis dove once more, and much to my surprise and delight he surfaced with prop in hand! “Lo tengo!” he cried.
Meanwhile, underneath Mary T, workers from the boatyard were sandblasting her bottom to remove years of old paint. Ouch! They found hundreds of blisters which needed grinding out, too. Ouch! On the upside, the electrical system seems to be working with AC from the boatyard, so we hope with new batteries that will continue via DC. We have yet to put in the repaired chart plotter, so we’re keeping fingers crossed on that score as well.
Kenny’s inspection of the seacocks revealed electrolysis creeping in, so all the seacocks need to be replaced. The folks at RAM are so busy, they permitted to us hire Irwin from Captain John’s to do the job. Many hours of grinding was required to pull out the seacocks, which had been sloppily installed with mountains of fiberglass. A strange choice by the boat builder, rendering the removal exhausting and time consuming. We’ve been staying away from the boat while this work is underway to avoid inhaling toxic fiberglass dust. It’s given us time to pack up and move into the apartment we were supposed to be in at the get go. It’s not nearly as big and we miss our view, but it’s quieter, and now that the hot water has been fixed we can take showers! It also has an oven, while the other place only had a stove. Shepherd’s Pie anyone?
Given the work to be completed and all the cleaning to be done, we estimate another three to four weeks before plopping Mary T back in the water. She’s a sad sight these days, but after the interior jobs are completed and she receives some epoxy and paint on the exterior, she will rise from the dust and sail on! We are two happy sailors in waiting.
Oh, Merry Chrishannakwanza! May the holidays and coming year be full of gay traditions surrounding the baby Jesus, Santa, Menorahs, feasting, gifts, peace, love, friends and family. Love to one and all!