March 30, 2020
It’s been two weeks since all the guests left the hotel and Fantasy Island is starting to feel more like a gulag. Electricity and tap water are no longer certainties. Ivan, the manager/owner, cares not a wit about the marina, focusing all his energy on the resort. He appears friendly and eager to help on the one hand, but it’s all smoke and mirrors. One day I mentioned the rotting dock boards and he immediately sent his carpenter to survey the situation. The following day, the fellow came back with some new boards and workers. I was immediately impressed, until upon closer examination, I saw that they only replaced 25% of the rotten pieces. Some of the worst ones went untouched.
No one is picking up our trash anymore, so we carry it ourselves to the dump which is really just an uncontrolled, designated space at the back side of the island. It is spreading out in a wider circle as animals come to scavenge then drag pieces away. The mangroves are encroaching on our vessels, threatening to wrap limbs around the rigging, so we cruisers use saws and machetes to prune them back. For those reasons, and a few others, we decided it was time to move to another marina.
A couple of short videos from Fantasy Island.
April 5, 2020
On April 1st, we moved over to Brooksy Point marina only a stone’s throw from Fantasy Island, but we had to sail all the way around Fantasy Island because a bridge to Roatan proper, precluded a direct passage. This required permission from the Port Captain which our Brazilian friend Ana, at Brooksy Point, arranged for us. The marina had been closed for three years, but Ana, ever a mover and a shaker got it up and running again. She was quite the force in Rio Dulce, arranging cultural day trips, movies and game days back in Rio Dulce. Ana accompanied us on the trip from Fantasy Island in case we were given any trouble by authorities, as she was in contact with the port captain. The half hour trip went without a hitch and gave us a small taste of freedom on the ocean.
So now we’re settled in at Brooksy Point where we have electricity and a dependable water supply. We do miss our beach walks, but we can go out the gate and walk the streets and visit the iguana reserve and our friend, Sherman Arch, who runs the place. Sherman also created the marine reserve all on his own and patrols for poachers in his skiff called “Ballistic Missile.” Yesterday I went over with some others from the marina to feed food scraps to the iguanas. They are always hungry and love banana peels, so it’s advised not to wear yellow or the little buggers nip at your clothing.
We are still lucky to have zero confirmed cases of the virus here in the Bay Islands of Honduras. The mainland is another story. This is why no one is allowed in here at the moment, not even Hondurans. The governor is playing it safe. Masks are now required at the grocery store and hardware store. Many people here are very casual in their behavior, but we remain vigilant, following the recommendations put forth by the CDC and our governor. We are advised to go out only for urgent needs and on specific days corresponding to the last digit of our passport numbers. My day is Monday and Kenny’s is Friday.
I did accompany Kenny out for a medical need last Friday. Our driver, Reyna, recommended by the dock master here, said it would be OK to take two of us, since it was for medical reasons. She’d be able to explain it if we were stopped by authorities. Kenny had been having some pain in his kidney and dark colored urine, so we thought it wise to get it checked out. Wearing gloves and makeshift masks with urine sample in hand we entered the delightfully air-conditioned vehicle. It was our first trip out of marina land in over two weeks. Reyna asked if we wanted to see a doctor, or just take the sample to a lab. Kenny thought we would start with the lab and let the test results determine the next step. She knew just the place. We arrived at the lab in less than ten minutes and it was nearly empty, so we were attended to immediately. For three dollars they would do the tests and send the results via email the same day. Wow.
Driving through town we witnessed endless lines snaking down sidewalks outsides of banks and Eldon’s, the large supermarket. Although people were leaving a bit of space between each other, it was a long way from textbook. The new system of limited days for errands, may have worsened the very situation it is intending to mitigate – large gatherings of people. Right now everyone with a passport or identity card ending in 1, 2, or 3 is permitted out on Mondays. Wednesdays are for those ending in 4, 5, and 6. Fridays is for everyone else. And the hours are limited to 6 a.m. – 3 p.m.. I’ve heard the government is going to change the system to five days and lengthen hours, to lessen the crowds.
Reyna needed to stop at her father’s shop to pick up some things and asked if we needed anything. I decided to go in with her for some odds and ends. The shop is in a crowded little neighborhood, where no one seems to have gotten the memo about social distancing. Thankfully, when I entered the shop there was only one other customer, but before I could exit with my booty, the tiny space had filled up and I couldn’t extricate myself quickly enough. I practically ran for the car. The door was locked, so I tapped on the window hoping Kenny would open up. Then I realized I was at the wrong car. Ours was the red car, behind the red car that I was attempting to enter. Both had tinted windows, so I could not see Kenny inside! On the way back we stopped at a fruit stand to pick up some sorely needed fresh fruit. The mangoes here are delish and Ana recommended pineapple for Kenny’s kidney.
I heard that starting tomorrow the curfew will be extended until 5 p.m., and Eldon’s recently started selling wine again openly. No liquor or beer. Just wine. Maybe it has something to do with Semana Santa. Blood of Christ and all. Sometimes Eldon’s offers delivery service and sometimes not. Sometimes you can get a delivery even when they declare they’re not delivering. Whatever you read on-line may or may not be true. In any case, life goes on and we roll with the punches.
Kenny forwarded his urine test results to his urologist in the states. He said there was no sign of infection but that he might be trying to pass a stone. He recommended lots of liquids and tylenol for pain. So far Kenny has been doing okay and only feeling a small bit of discomfort.
We feel blessed to be in a place that appears to be untouched by the virus, but we cannot separate ourselves from it. We have our ups and downs and try to remember to live in the moment and take pleasure out of small things. We pray for those who are suffering and for those who have remained healthy, and especially for those working on the front lines in hospitals and the airline industry. We take heart in the fact that mother earth is getting a bit of a break from the carnage we have wrought upon her for so long. May we learn from this and come out the other side more wise, more loving, and kinder to our planet.
At the behest of our friend Dick Juppenlatz, who has a vacation house on the island, local businessman, Stephen Arch came to visit us the other day. Stephen generously offered to help us if we were in need in any way. During our conversation, he said that the best thing we can do besides staying home is to report any new boats coming in to the harbor. He also stressed the importance of contributing to help feed all those in need who are out of work due to the lock down. Helping them also helps us be safe. https://www.facebook.com/RoatanBecauseWeCare
In the carefree days before the Coronavirus outbreak, we sailed Mary T joyfully in Lago Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake prior to heading on to Belize and Roatan. Perhaps recounting those times will bring a lightness to our hearts and provide a bit of distraction for you.
Adios Rio Dulce
Leaving the dock can often be one of the hardest things to do while cruising, especially when you find yourself at a comfortable marina like Tortugal, in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. We kept discovering small problems on the boat which needed attention and then I came down with a case of shingles which slowed me down. Fortunately, Amy correctly diagnosed me, so I started taking antivirals keeping the shingles discomfort to a dull roar.
Luigi, the Italian sailmaker, delivered our new headsail (genoa) soon after we arrived with strict instructions on how to use it. He hoped to come for a sail with us to check out his work, but it was not to be. We eventually managed to tie up all the loose ends and depart the comfy confines of Tortugal Marina on January 16. While we had the best of intentions to personally say goodbye to many of the staff and other cruisers, we felt the need to rush before the wind picked up and pinned us to the dock, so goodbyes were rushed. Backing up, Amy ran over a mooring ball, but she saw it coming and went into neutral, and avoided snagging the line on our propeller. Close call.
We didn’t go far from the marina – only a mile or so down river to anchor and do some major provisioning. Then came the torrential rains, soaking us for four days straight. Some leaks emerged and the canvas bimini (cockpit shelter) we thought was waterproofed, wasn’t. Yet we were delighted to be away from the marina and on the hook enjoying the views and breeze. The leaks were not difficult to mend.
After filling the larder, we headed for Lago Izabal, the source of the Rio Dulce, a few miles to the west. We’d only sailed upon it one day back in 2016 and decided to do a mini-cruise and try out our new headsail. We wanted to make sure everything was as it should be before we departed for good. The wind was light but we managed to sail and the new genoa pulled us along like a charm. As we cruised deeper into the peaceful, empty lake we drank in the views of mountain ranges in all directions which reminded us of cruising in Maine and Newfoundland, apart from the temperature which was rising with every minute.
Our first stop was Denny’s Beach—an old resort on the south shore of the lake. Shortly after dropping the anchor, two young boys swam out to the boat to greet us. One clambered into our dinghy and the other treaded water while we chatted. They wanted to know where we were from and practice their English. After about 10 minutes they swam back to shore. When we got things settled aboard, we rowed ashore in our dinghy, Marshfellow, thus dubbed by granddaughter, Trynity. Although it’s seen better days, the restaurant at Denny’s was still up and running and the staff were friendly and informative. We were the sole diners. Denny the proprietor was back in Canada for health reasons, so sadly, we didn’t get a chance to meet him. A sign on the bulletin board declared the resort for sale. It includes several cabanas, a couple of launchas and kayaks. Anyone interested?
The next day we hiked the beach trail in both directions and discovered a vibrant village to the east called Punta Brava. To the west were some lovely views of the lake. After a farewell beer at Denny’s restaurant, we took our leave. Sailing leisurely on 7 knots of wind, we crossed over to the north shore of the lake. En route Amy frantically chased a gecko around the boat, finally trapping it in a tupperware. In the scuffle, she broke off the last inch of the gecko’s tail, which continued twitching after being severed. Amy felt horrible, but the gecko seemed unfazed.
We anchored off of Finca Paraiso resort where we bid goodbye to our stubby-tailed gecko and plopped down in the restaurant under a huge cone-shaped palapa. Amy ordered the local fish and declared it some of the best fresh fish she’d ever eaten. We met some other cruisers there also enjoying the lake. The three nights we spent on the lake we saw only three other sailboats. For one reason or another, not many of the Rio Dulce cruising community take the time to see this gorgeous spot. Perhaps they’re scarred off by stories of dinghy thefts or too busy working on their boats. Of course we were very lucky with the weather. Often there is a brisk west wind which kicks up in the afternoons and evenings, making for lumpy anchorages. There are few sheltered spots on the lake.
Resorts in this part of the world are more humble than what many North Americans may conjure up. Don’t think Club Med or Sandals, but cabanas and eco-lodges with open air restaurants. The big draw at Finca Paraiso is the natural hot water falls about a mile or two from our anchorage. We went there by bus back in 2016 and thought about walking there this time but the heat of the day prevented us from strolling too far.
At the west end of the lake is the town of El Estor. This town was in the Guatemala news last year for a shootout between soldiers and alleged drug dealers. Three soldiers were killed and the region was put under a curfew for a few months. We anchored off the town wary of it’s reputation, but aside from the extremely loud music emanating from one of the bars, we had no problems.
Our walk about town revealed a fairly busy place with disproportionately wide streets and high tech traffic lights. Though few vehicles plied the streets, there was a policemen in the center of town directing traffic. Having worked up a thirst, we stopped in a bar near the waterfront for a beer. It turned out to be a total dive. One man was passed out at the bar and the music was so loud we could only communicate by screaming. The bar tender however was very friendly and pleased to have our patronage as was a couple at a nearby table, who raised their glasses in “salud.” I kept poking my head out the door to check on Marshfellow tied up at the town dock. A bunch of people were in the water and some kids were playing in the dinghy. I thought it was time to return. Back at the dock, the wet guilty kids stood by looking sheepish and watched us intently as we boarded Marshfellow and rowed away. I couldn’t help but chuckle.
El Estor had a very strange vibe. Nearby is an infamous and controversial nickel mine that has been the source of much division in the town and surrounding area. It is owned by an Estonian under the auspices of a Swiss company. While the government claims the mine helps the local economy, others decry the very negative environmental impact on the water and fishing industry. Locals who have written about the detrimental effects are now hiding for their lives. Amy insisted on taking water samples despite our lack of scientific equipment. The next day, we gave them to our friend, Julia, in Rio Dulce hoping that she’d find someone who could analyze them. Last we heard they are still in her fridge.
After our trip to Lago Izabal, we spent our last night in Rio Dulce at Mar Marine, our old hangout from the previous year where we worked for so long on Mary T and where I broke my knee cap. We filled up our water tanks, did a final shopping and even had time to relax by the pool. I was reminded of how much time I’d spent at the pool working on rehabbing my knee and how long it took me to move from the boat to the pool with my brace and crutches. I was grateful to have two working knees again.
The following day we sailed downriver to Cayo Quemado, our jumping off point for exiting Guatemala. We felt nostalgic for the place, knowing it might be the last time we sailed there, as we planned to return to the USA this year. Of course now all plans are in limbo “waiting for the break of day,” as Jimmy Cliff once said.
While in Cayo Quemado we had a refrigeration expert replace a controller on our Frigaboat system. We had the part already and he was angry we weren’t buying it from him, though he was the one who suggested we get the spare. He grumbled about coming to do a job for the low price he’d offered, when we weren’t purchasing anything else. The job only took 10 minutes, and we offered to pay him whatever he wanted to quell his mood. He clearly had other concerns on his mind and we were receiving the brunt of his unhappy state.
Then we met with Tom the rigger about the water samples from Lago Izabal. Julia, with whom we’d left them said he might had a connection to a lab at the university in Guatemala City. Indeed he did have a connection, so it was just a matter of Julia getting him the samples. I felt good about my efforts then, so hopefully, some day the samples will find their way into the right hands and reveal the level of pollution the nickel mines are creating in Lago Izabal.
We spent the sweltering afternoon sitting on floaties in the water trying to stay cool. In the evening we went to Cayo Quemado Marina and resort, which had just re-opened after a long time dormant. New caretakers, Verena and Stephen, had got the place up and running again. Verena served us drinks and complimentary canapes and told us about their previous lives as installation artists in Germany. They moved into towns with vacant buildings and transformed the spaces using video, photography and other mediums to try and capture the essence of that space and surrounding village. After opening to the public for a couple of weeks, they would dismantle the whole thing and move on. Their old website link is: Stephanundverena.de
Stephan who arrived at dusk with a new guest and two interns from England, prepared us a most delicious and unusual dinner with chicken, pasta, squash and coconut. We all sat at a large round table together chatting like old friends. Ahhh the good old days.
The following day we departed at first light and made our way through the winding river canyon to Livingston where we would check out of Guatemala. I needed to capture the images on my phone, as it was the last time we thought we’d see this dramatic scenery. A thick layer of fog hung above the water and draped itself around the cliffs lending a mysterious aura to our exit.
Check out in Livingston went smoothly and we headed out to cross the shallow bar. The sailboat in front of us got stuck in the mud and had to be tilted by Hector, who attaches a line from his fishing trawler to your mast and drags your vessel into deeper water. After extricating the first vessel, Hector waited to see if we’d need help. It’s a good business, with all the sailboats coming and going. When I saw 5’1” (Mary T draws five feet.) on the depth finder, I sped up a little. The bottom is soft, so it’s possible to plow through it, if you’re not too deeply mired. After a few tense moments, the water became deeper. We made it through without touching bottom. Sorry Hector.
Adios Rio Dulce. Thanks for the memories, sweet river.