The Maya of Eternal Time
and Guatemala's Rio Dulce
by Daphne Becker
Spectacularly beautiful, the Sweet River has escaped, for mysterious and possibly quite beneficial reasons, much commercial development, remaining a little-known cruising area in the Caribbean.
Very well located and safe from hurricanes, Rio Dulce and its entrance port of Livingston lie almost equidistant between Honduras’ Bay Islands and Belize’s Reef and islands through which one can quickly navigate to the famed Yucatan of Mexico.
Rio Dulce is sited directly on the ancient path of the Maya, known as La Ruta Maya, The Mayan Route.
The Maya of Eternal Time and What’s Happening Now
Those of you who have heard Drunvalo Melchizedek repeat what Don Cirilio and other Guatemalan spiritual guides have to say regarding this year of 2012 already know that The Maya believe they have been present on this planet for at least five 52,000-year cycles. We are now at the end of the most recent cycle.
If you are interested in an experience that goes beyond the normal cruising environment, if you happen to be open to learning about one of the most powerful yet humble cultures and their wisdom: well, you cannot go wrong if you decide to come to Rio Dulce, to Guatemala.
Besides, it is sweet water and your boat will love it. You will also appreciate the prices, the food, and the people.
Slip fees are incredibly low. It is easy to find range fed beef and chicken, organic fruit and vegetables that actually have flavor. You just need to be something of an adventurer and get yourself going. Enter into the unknown.
If you do decide to come, please take the time to read a little of Guatemala’s history. Learn some Spanish as well.
Don’t come into the country terrified or be put off because you have heard rumors that Guatemala is dangerous (the best places I have been were described in this way) or that it is impossible to cross the bar into Rio Dulce.
Those stories are not true.
Once in the Neighborhood
You will soon be headed across Amatique Bay toward Livingston, Guatemala. For vessels with a draft of less than seven feet, there should be no problem. If you are drawing more than seven feet, you may have to enlist the help of a small powerboat that will attach a line to your mast and guide you over the soft sand.
You will begin calling “Capitan del Puerto” followed by your vessel’s name on VHF channel 68. If you need help crossing the bar, this is the time you would ask for help: “Necessita ayuda para cruzar”. A small powerboat waiting nearby will be happy to hear this news and very willing to help. It is not a complicated procedure (see photo) and should not cost more than US$50 to $75.00.
Once anchored and with your Q flag up, very friendly Customs and Immigration officials will lancha over to your vessel to greet you and assist in processing visa and navigation permits (initially three months, then 12 months). You will be given permission to dinghy into town (Livingston) to pick up your completed permits and to have your passports stamped. Take the first road to your immediate left after passing the basketball court visible from the main dock/road into town. You will see a yellow building, that is where you will find Raul Veliz, who speaks English and who will handle your boat’s visa.
Across the street from Raul, check out the very nice handicraft shop just behind and to the side of Buga Mama, a restaurant and its companion handicraft store which I like to support as they are part of the project of Ac Tenamit, a cooperative of the Kek’chi.
In Livingston the ever-industrious Maya are the ones primarily involved in commerce. You will see a good many restaurants and tiny shops, nothing too commercial, as you begin to walk up the hill to have your passport stamped at Immigration. The little community of Livingston is a combination of Maya and Garifuna folk, a culture removed from the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent. Garifuna people are well known for their music and one day a year is the Garifuna Festival, well worth attending.
Livingston is not the most peaceful place to spend the night. I’d advise you to be on your way upriver into and through the great (but not long) Canyon of the Rio Dulce. The Canyon of the Rio Dulce surely must be one of the beautiful places on earth — one of those rare places which evoke the primeval: familiar yet unknown, time before time, lush green water, limestone cliffs, lianas, occasional native huts of interwoven cane and thatch, peacefulness, tranquility.
This location of the first Tarzan movie ever filmed leads into a large lake called the Golfete where you will find a good place in one of the bays to port where you can anchor your first night of this new adventure. You have come about six miles from Livingston to the Golfete. It depends on how fast your boat goes, and the current will be against you, but it should not take more than two hours motoring.
As you enter into the Golfete there’s a little island ahead, the Island of the Tiger. You can go between that island and shore to port. There’s a little sign at the end of a bank of trees announcing the entrance into Texan Bay. Texan Bay is a nice anchoring spot in the area. You will meet other cruisers; there is a restaurant.
After spending the night or nights at Texan Bay, after crossing the Golfete, the channel once again narrows and the more populated as well as commercial aspects of Rio Dulce begin to appear.
To starboard and in order of appearance are Mango, Mario’s (restaurant) and Catamaran (hotel, restaurant). To port is Monkey Bay, with Ludwin’s small marina to the left of Monkey Bay.
Past Monkey Bay and a little farther along (port side) you will see a larger bay containing Nana Juana (restaurant, hotel) to the far left. Next to Nana Juana is the marina and haul-out facility of Ram Marine. Another notable marina in the same bay, located on the western curve, is Mar Marine (restaurant).
To starboard you will see the slightly set back from view village of Fronteras, Rio Dulce, and Bruno’s (hotel, restaurant and marina). Directly across that bay are Tijax (hotel, restaurant, marina) and a few other small marinas.
Straight ahead are the bedraggled remains of Bird Island and the magnificent span of the bridge crossing the Rio Dulce. If you cross under that bridge you will be upriver from the village and the more commercial parts of Rio Dulce.
Under the bridge, about a half-mile ahead at one o’clock, lies Tortugal (restaurant, hotel, marina). Across the way from Tortugal is Capt. John’s Marina. Directly behind the bank of trees where Captain John’s is located is Joya del Rio. The entrance to Joya del Rio is through the small cut just beyond Captain John’s.
Marina prices vary depending on services. Most are in the range of US$150 (for no service) to $300 (for full service) a month. Multihull rates are a bit higher. Potable water is usually included.
Castillo San Felipe and Lake Izabal
Straight ahead you will see Castillo San Felipe outlined on the end of the peninsula on which it was built in the 15th century. This Spanish fort has been meticulously restored to its former glory in a very picturesque setting. To the right of San Felipe is the well-known haul-out facility of Abel’s.
Lake Izabal is just around the corner and just ahead from Castillo San Felipe. This enormous freshwater lake is fed by multitudinous streams cascading from the highlands of Guatemala, most notably the Polochic. This abundant water keeps the Rio Dulce fresh and clean. In Lake Izabal at Finca Paraiso (you can anchor here; watch out for the rocks) and at Boqueron Canyon (not accessible by water) you can explore mysterious caves that stretch for unknown miles with intermittent waterfalls, cliffs and canyons, all underground. Or, take a sauna behind a hot waterfall.
In Fronteras, buying organically grown fruits, vegetables, free-range chickens and beef is on everyone’s list. Best days are Tuesday and Saturday. There is a fresh fish and shrimp market. Once or twice a week, Casa Guatemala comes by lancha to your boat or to your marina’s landing selling milk products, cheeses, pork chops, eggs and other good things.
Medical Care is Wonderful and Inexpensive
Medical and other basic living costs are a fraction of the cost in other countries. Doctors are well educated, usually in more than one country and hemisphere. Pharmaceutical availability is often months if not years ahead of USA approvals. There is wonderful medical, dental, plastic surgery, and every other kind of medical treatment available in Guatemala City. A Guatemalan physician using stem cell therapy to control various disorders including Parkinson’s disease has recently been recognized internationally. When I have had minor problems, I usually go to my favorite pharmacist right in Fronteras, Rio Dulce.
With medical problems, life is much more simple here, or so I have experienced, than it would be in the States. I hope that I will be in Guatemala if I have any serious health issues! (I could go on and on about this topic.) An excellent internal specialist as well as endodontist practices in Morales, about 45 minutes away from Rio Dulce. There is a fairly new hospital in Morales, but I would probably choose to go to a Guatemala City facility.
Services Available in Rio Dulce
Rio Dulce offers fantastic services at reasonable prices. Air conditioning, canvas, diesel engine and generator repair, groceries, haul-out, hull repair, marinas, refrigeration, restaurants, sails, upholstery and carpeting…. Most folks here provide really good services just as they do everywhere, because they truly care and know what they are doing. If we are a potential consumer, we need to be and do the same. We need to knowledgeable, caring and appreciative. Don’t just pick up the radio and begin demanding that some unknown person come to your boat. Go to the shop and meet the person; let them see who you are. Take a look around; ask how things are going. You will be amazed at the difference in the way you will begin to feel and be treated.
I think the best deterrent to having security problems anywhere is to be genuine and to be humble. That includes respecting (not making fun of or disparaging) the country and its people. Remember that we are usually uninvited guests. Misunderstandings can often be traced back to lack of intuition and inability to discern. So, we should all work on our intuition and kindness while we’re here.
The Rule in Guatemala is: Dress and act with respect. When coming and going to work, the native women of this great country sometimes wear dresses that one would wear to church (and then change into uniforms).
Sometime I see visitors assuming territorial rights upon arrival without even saying hello or being in any way respectful. Even worse are inebriated or smoking folks. Most native folk are very clean and do not appreciate either. Sometimes we destroy any positive vision of who we are and open the possibility of negative occurrences.
I could tell you about my personal experiences with security, which include leaving a backpack with everything (passports, money, credit cards) on the street in Fronteras (returned). Or a wallet that fell out of my lap into a ditch in Guatemala City (returned). Or, going up a hillside outside of Antigua with a friend with a fancy watch, fancy tummy pack (not returned).
The Rio Dulce is a romantic kind of place and legends and stories abound. Virtually every horror story I have ever heard about Rio Dulce had extenuating circumstances called “The Other Side of the Story”. The other side of the story is rarely if ever communicated. Why? Well, maybe that other side of the story would involve our responsibility, our part in the play.
Rio Dulce is not any more dangerous than Trinidad and certainly not as dangerous as Venezuela. The last rash of stolen outboard motors took place about 2004. What every cruiser should know is: If you purchase a 15-horsepower Yamaha and keep it looking factory fresh, resellers everywhere will be grateful.
There were two publicly unsolved (however, privately, there are folks who think they know why) homicides. One involved a person believed to be a DEA agent. The other involved intruders well acquainted with the boat and an owner with a machete.
In 2004, owners of some of the major establishments in Rio Dulce, along with government assistance, took the magical steps of hiring the Navy to patrol, and the marina area of Rio Dulce has been patrolled ever since. Things have been pretty well in order and quiet ever since.
Since returning from the cruising waters of the Caribbean I have lived an enchanted life in Rio Dulce, occasionally visiting the States to see my favorite relative, my mother.
Rio Dulce IS La Ruta Maya, or The Mayan Route. Some of the marinas have information about the Maya and offer opportunities to experience contact with spiritual guides who are our respected and revered Elders.
I invite you to come to Rio Dulce, to Guatemala. I cannot begin to tell you the joys of being here. It is the perfect place, at the perfect time. It is the time of the Maya and we are here as a part of their energy and space, and that of eternity.
Daphne Becker is the owner of Tortugal marina on the Rio Dulce, www.tortugal.com.
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