We did finally escape the grip of Guatemala after a month of sorting the boat and final preparations in the water (2 weeks for me upon return from work in Australia).
Other than a few days on the boat on the hard when I visited in September, I had not been onboard for over 14 months…..where had Chris moved everything? I honestly felt like a foreigner on our boat, our home. Chris had been onboard for nearly 4 months and was well and truly settled in. This game of where did Chris move everything continued on for a few days of “where did you put xxx?” before he would later be asking me “where did you move xxx?” generally followed by a grrrrr when he would find it and mutter something I didn’t bother to understand. I started to find my rhythm and relearn the systems onboard and soon everything seemed to settle down and we found our flow.
Before clearing out, we went for a motor up the Rio Chocon Machacas which is sort of en route to Livingston with our newly made sailor friends Jay and Josh(lin) on Elixir. They were also checking out, heading back to their home in Placencia, Belize after sailing down for dental appointments; the Guatemalan Dentists in Guatemala City have an excellent rep and price tag too. We had a British guy we met in September join us for the ride to Belize too. He came aboard Aeolus the last night we were alongside Catamaran Marina. The next day Aeolus and Elixir departed in rain for the short sail across Lake Golfette. Half way along the lake on the northern side, through a small gap in the reeds of 12 foot depth (hug the port side), is a glorious deep river of 25 to 50ft depth that weaves it’s way north through jungle, a few small villages, farms and even more jungle. The rain stopped and the sun finally made an appearance as we motored up the river. The Rio Chocon Machacas is rarely visited by cruisers but it is mentioned in Freya Rauchers cruising guide so it is not unheard of by any means. We were reminded of it when we were back in Australia and “Sea Change” released one of their excellent videos of their travels, this time in Guatemala featuring the Rio Chocon Machacas. These guys don’t release videos often but when they do, they are of top quality. I believe one of them is a videographer back in the USA and has brought some serious equipment along for their voyage. Check out the video on the Rio Dulce and the Chocon Machachas here, you will need to select “Into The Rio Dulce”. When we passed some of the villages the kids were either shy and hid or waved and the Mothers stopped their laundry day by the river to also wave, although the look we got seemed to be expressing “What are these crazy gringos doing here? Crazy gringos!” A few families were out fishing on their cayucos (handmade timber canoes) and all politely returned our waves as we passed, probably thinking the same….crazy gringos….yep, guilty as charged!
We motored on for about 10’ until we got to the point that our mast clipped a few branches and a quick round turn was necessary (yep, we pushed it and went that bit too far!). We anchored in 12ft about 6ft off the edge of the river bank. There was a good southerly flow which kept us perfectly off the bank with no swinging around. We awoke to a very hungover guest who we thought was drinking water the previous evening but it was straight vodka. We left him asleep on the cabin sole in the saloon and launched the dinghy to join Jay and Josh for a dinghy adventure further upstream where the yachts could not pass with the overheard trees. We killed our outboards and just drifted for ages down the river listening to the birds and sounds of the jungle. Despite a lot of motoring the previous day and more to come to get out of the river, we were both grinning from ear to ear to be back onboard Aeolus and continuing our adventures to who knows where. We returned to the boat and our guest had found the aft cabin bunk to sleep in which made getting around easier, the problem was the windlass main power switch is located in the aft cabin and we were ready to weigh anchor so being the courteous people we were (yep, past tense), Chris pulled it in by hand and left our guest asleep. We motored downstream once again past the villages and farms and more jungle, before finally one last 90 degree turn to port and we were back in Lake Golfette again. Our guest woke and seemed to be in good spirits, albeit feeling a bit sheepish, but all was well.
We gently motor sailed in the light breeze to our last anchorage before Livingstone where we would clear out. Texan Bay to me was bliss, a beautiful lagoon surrounded by lilypads that is sheltered from all angles. Local families were spread out all around this area, not just living in the lagoon. A dinghy adventure revealed so many houses on stilts hidden in little off shoots from the lagoon, down mazes of mangroves that had just enough room for our dinghy and therefore cayucos and launchas too. Chris said it reminded him of Yodas swamp in the original Star Wars. Certainly an anchorage we will return to when going back to Guatemala for a few months at the end of this season.
The next morning was an early departure to ensure we made the high tide across the bar at Livingstone after checking out. We motored (argh more motoring) down the Gorge as the mist lay low hugging the jungle, the sun started to rise and the light through the low cloud was errie. Large cliffs towered over us as we quietly cut our way through the glassy waters in the Rio Dulce Gorge. The Rio Dulce sure gave us some very special memories. Fronteras where all the yachties converge is a busy busy town accompanied with a fair bit of noise but down this way, paradise.
As we arrived in Livingstone we noticed the tide had already turned and was already ebbing even though we supposedly had the right tide times. We had perfectly planned our arrival for the end of the flood tide, then go ashore, do our check out and return to slack water and depart. This was obviously not the case seeing the water already heading out to sea. We rushed in to town and I met Raul to check out. With out me saying I was a little worried about the bar, he had one of his guys run off with our passports and gave us crew lists already typed up and our zarpe/departure papers. Man, I had spent so much time writing my own crew lists in Spanish and here they were already done by Raul and already stamped by Immigration before we arrived at 8.30am, how is that possible? We paid our fees and our passports were returned 10 minutes later and we got out of their quick smart. We touched the bottom on the way in to Livingstone over a year ago crossing the bar and now, with a new antifoul, we particularly did not want to do that again on departure at the start of cruising season. We had never wanted to use an Agent until we heard about Raul and how much smoother he makes checking in or out for cruisers. I was dubious when we checked in over a year ago but for $40 we got to roam around town, enjoy a cold beer and lunch whilst everything was done for us. All we had to do was meet with the Port Captain once they had done everything else completed. We totally recommend spending the $40 and using Raul instead losing half or all of your day doing it yourself.
It was pity we couldn’t linger in Livingstone on departure but our schedule was run by the tides so we weighed anchor and hurried on out of Guatemala. With refined waypoints and glassy seas, we got over the bar and passed the sea buoy without incident and pointed the bow towards Belize. The wind filled in, we killed the motor and Aeolus really came to life. Except for our additional person onboard, we were ecstatic. We got a bucket load of work done, had managed to save some more money and had escaped Guatemala where so many people have got stuck before. It’s not known as the river that swallows sailors for nothing! We were out there again in the big blue, sails up, on an excellent close reach on starboard tack, no sound but the waves and the crack of a cold can of bloody well deserved beer.