Adventures in Shopping – Rio Dulce, Guatemala Provisioning

One of the things I love about the cruising lifestyle is the adventure called “shopping”.  I’m not talking about the typical USA ultra-consumerism, I’m talking about basic needs for food & keeping the boat afloat.   We’ve met cruisers that abhor the concept of trying to shop for necessities in third world countries.  We prefer to view it as our next adventure!   Here’s a typical “shopping” trip in the Rio Dulce!  Jan’s Note:  This was originally written in 2006, things change rapidly in the Rio, so check with other cruisers to find out where the best deals are when you arrive!
Our shopping adventure begins with a Saturday morning trip to the swap meet at Mario’s Marina.  Here you can see David parking our “car” in the parking lot.  Inside we find lots of cruisers trying to sell anything they don’t need on their boats.  This particular trip, I’m “shopping” for a CD/DVD external USB 2.0 player/recorder since the one in my laptop went belly-up.    The expedition is only a moderate success, we find neither the CD/DVD or the weights, but we do buy large hunks of fresh Robalo (Snook) from Jennifer, an American that lives in Gringo Bay, downriver.
Saturdays & Tuesdays are “market” days in Fronteras, the small town about a mile upriver from Catamaran Marina.  Mario’s is about a mile downriver, so as we go past Winterlude, we drop off the robalo in the freezer & head to town for veggies.  We find whiskiel (a type of squash), zucchini, lots of tomatoes – tomatoes here are Roma & delicious.  We also buy limones — here a limon is actually what we know as a lime, there are no yellow lemons, fresh garlic, onions, potatoes, carrots & are even lucky enough to find a yummy looking cantalope.  So we purchase lots of veggies from several different stands – whichever has the best looking.  Total we spent 23Q – $3 US.
After veggie shopping, we move on down the street — there is only one paved street & traffic is horrendous, semis, busses, motorscooters, pedestrians, bicycles, cars, trucks, unbelievable.  There are no sidewalks and to get to another store, you sort of scoot down the edge of the street between the traffic & the vendor stalls.  In this photo you can see a cattle truck reminiscent of my cow poop adventure last spring, if you remember the story!   🙂  I’m happy to say, we are much more wary these days & so far, have managed to avoid the repercussions of walking past a cattle truck stuck in traffic!  Below are the cattle up close, they’re actually cute when they’re not pooping on you!   🙂
Next we head to the Dispensa Familiar, this is the giant supermarket in Fronteras.  It’s where the locals shop & has a wide variety of stuff, but not a lot of anything.  You can buy Christmas decorations, chickens, kids toys, liquor, bread, some canned goods, etc.  Whatever you can find at Dispensa will be considerably less than buying stuff at other more “cruiser oriented” places, so we frequent it first.   Here we spend 59Q, about US $7.80 and get bread, UV longlife skim milk, red beans, rice, sliced cheese, Frosted Flakes (Tony the Tiger is alive & well in the RIo, if a bit expensive – BUT buying FF from Dispensa is about 15Q, $2 US.  The same box at Chiqui’s, more later about Chiqui’s, is 38Q $5.06!!!  you must shop carefully!!!).
Dispensa Familiar
Next, we head down the street to the Sun Dog Cafe … coffee as we know it is a new phenomenan here in Guatemala.  It always fascinates me that the best coffee producing countries in the world have no coffee — it’s all exported!  Sun Dog Cafe, has searched Guatemala over to find the best coffee & buy it for their little cafe.  There was such a demand, that now they sell it ground.  At 35Q, $4.66 US for a Starbucks size package, it’s a real deal!  We bought one package today to make sure it’s as good at home as it is in their cafe.  We returned to buy 6 more, a 6 month supply!  Coffee is hard to come by & I didn’t install that inverter to power my Mr Coffee for nothing!  (Jan’s Note:  I believe the Sun Dog Cafe has met it’s demise these days, but there will always be some little coffee place, so ask around for local knowledge.)
On the way back to the dinghy, we stop at Miriam’s for some Tanqueray.  She’s a great salesperson & offers us a CASE of Agua Tonica (Tonic Water), which we JUMP to buy!  Last year, we searched for 7 days for tonic water … every day we went to town, checked at Chiqui’s, then Miriam’s, finally tracking down the distributor.  Every day we were told the same … come back tomorrow — manana.  After more than a week & we were ready to leave the river, finally a fellow cruiser overhead us inquiring for the 7th day in a row & told us he had 3/4 case that he’d sell us if we stopped past his boat anchored in Shell Bay.  DONE!  So this year when Miriam offered us Agua Tonica we knew better than to not buy it immediately!!!

Then we stop at Mini Mart for pechuga de pollo sin piel — that’s chicken breasts, no skin.  You can buy any kind of chicken you want in Fronteras, even one that you carry by it’s ankles while it nips at your knees, but that’s just not our style.  Mini Mart has great frozen chicken breasts & we need to stock up to leave the river.  Alas, but none today and we hear the standard “manana”.  So we’ll check next time we’re in town.
Above is Chiqui’s … you may notice that NOWHERE does it say
Chiqui’s.  Last year it took us many many trips up & down the river in search of Chiqui’s before someone took pity on us & told us that the name on the sign said Tienda Reed.   AH, NOW we know!  Chiqui’s is the social gathering spot for cruisers needing stuff .. he has a bit of everything.  If you need chain or line, go to Chiqui.  We just split a water hose … go to Chiqui.  You want motor oil, beer or bugspray?  Go to Chiqui’s.  How about some varnish or paint?  Chiqui will have it.  Screws/batteries/tools … Chiqui.  Chiqui even has a nice selection of groceries that you can’t find anywhere else — US brands at WAY inflated prices.  But sometimes you just want an Oreo, you know!!!  🙂   The photo to the right shows inside Chiqui’s, the grocery store part.  We buy alot of stuff here, sometimes knowing we’re paying too much because it’s so convenient with the dock out front.  Beats lugging cases of wine or soda for blocks in Fronteras on the main street with no sidewalks!
Above, you’ll note a white chest freezer in the foreground of the photo with a green basket on top.  This freezer is what the meat is always in in any store.  It took us awhile to get used to opening all the freezers & looking inside.  We’d have friends that would get smoked chops or some wonderful treat & we’d ask them where.  Then we’d shake our heads in puzzlement & think, we’ve NEVER seen any meat in that store!!!  FINALLY we saw someone else open the lid & get some out & voila!  Now we know.  So to the left is the meat freezer at Chiqui’s open for my inspection.  This day we find nothing of interest & head back to Winterlude.

Arriving back at Winterlude, we unload the groceries & all our goodies.  Now the real work begins because all the veggies & cans must be washed & dried with chlorox water.  This kills any undesirables that might be tagging along.  For veggies, it’s usually giardia or parasites that it’s best to kill before eating!  For cans it could be anything spilled on them in a warehouse where sanitary conditions are not a priority.  We take as few chances as possible, so everything gets washed.  NO cardboard comes aboard because roaches love to lay eggs in cardboard & we don’t want that mess either!  Much more vigilance is called for after shopping than a casual trip to WalMart at home!
Today’s shopping adventure is capped off by a visit from the camerones man.  He rides around in his launcha yelling “Camerones, Camerones, Camerones Fresca Aqui” — translation — Giant Shrimp Here.   Even tho’ they’re expensive, we decide to splurge & get a pound & a half of these giant shrimp.  David notes while cleaning them that typical of the river, the shrimp are still alive until he twists off their heads.  Boy was that a yummy dinner!

Finally, any discussion of shopping on the RIo would be incomplete without showing the Casa Guatemala boat … Casa Guatemala is the local orphanage & is run by an American.  Twice a week, they bring around meat & dairy products from their farm to sell to cruisers.  They have really good quality & low prices.  Plus whatever we buy directly benefits the orphanage.  Hopefully Saturday they’ll have huevos (eggs) … they tend to sell out of the most popular items.   We generally buy frozen pork chops, chorizo (sausage), eggs, New Zealand butter, yogurt & cheese – of course, like everywhere here, you take what they have when they have it, the selection is not always complete!  🙂  Casa Guatamala also has a tienda in town.

So all in all a relatively successful day & we’re back before noon, lunch & time for the pool!   Shopping is always an adventure because you never know what you’ll find to eat.  It’s sort of like shopping at a TJ Maxx, they have lots of good clothes at good prices, but you don’t go in there expecting to find the perfect little black dress or orange swimsuit, it just won’t happen.  So you go, you see what looks good & put together your menu from there!     And Tuesday will be another day!!!   🙂
If you’ve been to the Rio more recently and have updated information, please leave a comment to share!   THANKS!


  1. Candy Ann Williams via Facebook says:

    I miss the Rio!! Thought we would be back by now…you made me homesick. (but I enjoyed your post!!)

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