Year 2: Return to the Boat, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Every year I forget how drastically our lives change when we switch from living in the midwest USA to living on Winterlude!  My last few days at the lake, I wandered from task to task, each time thinking … this will be the last time in 6 months I’ll use a washing machine … dishwasher … drive any vehicle …. etc….can you imagine not driving a vehicle for 6 months?

Returning to the US every spring, everything seems to move at light speed, it’s always an interesting transition.  Returning to the boat is exactly the opposite.  No tv, no a/c (away from the dock), no cell phone, no washer/dryer, no dishwasher, no hot tub, no garage …  At the lake, getting out of my king size bed for the last time in 6 months, hugging my kitty Mac for the last time in 6 months, enjoying my last cup of coffee when the Mr Coffee automatically turns on everything struck me as “the last time that I’ll do …. in 6 months”  life at the lake is the epitome of lazy, we take all these things for granted until we leave the land of ultra-consumerism & return to the boat….
Now we’re transitioning back from light speed to the slower, “manana” lifestyle.  There are pros & cons for both …. the view from the lake, altho’ wonderful, never changes other than with the seasons …. but come to think of it, the view from the lake never drags anchor in the middle of the night either!   Lest I give the wrong impression … waking up here on the Rio our first morning back, I glanced out the companionway & saw a flash of brilliant orange … following the telltale swaying of the palm fronds, I spotted a Baltimore Oriole… he’s chattering away as if to say “we’ve missed you!!!”   Likewise the 2 macaws squack loudly “Hola, WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???”    Our friends gather for happy hour at the pool bar & we catch up & look forward….   Life is good back home on the Rio!!!Catamaran Island Marina Tiki Bar and Pool for Happy Hour

Upon our return, thanks to Emy & King on ADL, all is well with WInterlude, the sails have been taken out of the cabin, so we can lug our 180+ lbs of boat gear, down below.  Luckily, altho it POURED rain on our 3 hour trip from the Flores, Guatemala airport back to Fronteras, the van arrived EXACTLY at the minute the Catamaran Marina launcha was ready to depart the dock.  The skies parted, we threw all our stuff aboard & were delivered back to Winterlude 5 minutes later!  Emy even left the gate in the port side lifelines open so we could just step aboard.    The boat was somewhat musty from not being lived in, but no ill effects other than that.  So far we’ve been spared the trials with locks corroded shut & the pressure water system exploding that we encountered upon our return last year … we’d like to think maybe we learned something from those escapades & were a bit more prepared this time!  🙂

So far, the biggest problem was David’s encounter with a Venezualan Killer Bee … it stung him on the back of the arm while we were re-commissioning the kayaks.   His arm swelled twice it’s size & the swelling moved around the arm for a couple of days… it was a bit disconcerting, but finally appears to be going away.  The other problem was when I forgot to re-apply my cruisers perfume after a shower last Sunday ….. if you’re not familiar with cruisers perfume, the brand name is usually OFF, Cutter’s or Muskol!  🙂    Anyway, in my excitement of watching NFL Football at the Catamaran (now featuring 3 “large screen” TV’s & the undefeated Colts), I forgot the basic rules of living on the Rio…  Unfortunately the next morning, I discovered literally 15 insect bites per square inch of leg ……   BIG mistake & I paid for it afterward.  Needless to say, I haven’t made THAT mistake again!

Halloween arrived on the Rio a few days after Winterlude’s crew.  Halloween baffles the locals, there is no such holiday here.  Costumed fiesta-goers descended on the “Dead Dog Cafe” (also a disguise, it’s normally the SunDog Cafe) & we were all participants in the murder mystery …. the poor dog’s outline was drawn on the floor where he was discovered & the entire bar cordoned off for the crime scene.  Much fun was had by all & if you want to see a few incriminating photos, you can go to the new Rio gossip website,, scroll down the page until you see my friend Emy, dressed as Poky-Hon-Tus on the left.  Underneath click the More Halloween Photos link.  You might even see David dressed as a “Buck-An-Ear”.

NFL Football at the Catamaran Bar

Look Closely at Buck-an-Ear, Fluttering in the Breeze in the Catamaran Launcha with Arnulfo, our Rio teak expert

The basic concept is that just because something is SUPPOSED to be open, doesn’t mean anything at all in Guatemala.  The lady might be next door getting a glass or water, or across the street visiting with friends, or ????  Anyway, on THURSDAY, after attempting the post office several times, I finally struck pay dirt!   The doors were OPEN!  I practically RAN into the open doors, there was mail scattered everywhere on the small counter, but no one in sight.   I cleared my throat several times & said “hola” in my best spanish accent, but to no avail.  The doors were open, the mail was scattered about within reach of anyone (or any dogs, cats, chickens, etc that happened to wander in) but there was no one home.
I decide to wait it out…. after several minutes, an unhappy postmistress wanders in & I explain about mailing my postcards to the US.The Infamous Fronteras Post Office

She slowly nods & reaches into a drawer where she finds a pad of receipts, complete with the little card to place under the one you’re using so the carbon doesn’t go through all the rest of the receipts.  Apparently someone had done this incorrectly because the next 10 or so receipts all have the carbon writing …. the postmistress proceeds to take her eraser and work up a sweat trying futiley to erase the carbon… she is NOT happy & apparently cannot sell me any stamps to get my cards to the USA until the receipt book problem is straightened out….   so I wait a bit longer.    Erasing has worked enough to satisfy so she begins to rummage through drawers … I’m left to wonder, what now???   Several minutes later, she pulls out a manila envelope with stamps.  Each stamp has a handwritten number on the back (the gummed side) and she writes the numbers of the stamps she is selling me…. each stamp is 4Q (just under 50 cents) and she puts 2 on each postcard.  48Q later AND a specifically numbered receipt showing all 12 numbers on the back of those stamps, my postcards have stamps ….   well sort of, the edges aren’t adhered very well, leaving me to wonder if they’ll ever get out of this shack, much less make it to the US, but we shall see!!!   🙂

Another closing had a more drastic effect on this little community, and the entire country.  We are so lucky to live in a country as stable as the US.  We forget that once upon a time, banks closed & bad things happened during the depression.   We assume that cannot happen again.  But here in Guatemala, one of the largest banks, BanCafe (where we used to get our quetzales, one of the few banks that would give cash advances on a VISA), shut it’s doors.  When we went to town on Monday after arriving, we had the most difficult time getting Quetzales that we’ve ever experienced.  Little did we know that was just the beginning of our frustrations!  We only got enough Q to last us for basic provisions & had to use the ATM machine.  We don’t like using the ATM machine because it has a bad habit of grabbing extranero’s (foreigner’s) VISA cards & then we have to go through the rigamarole of getting them back.  We also don’t like using them because you can only get 2000Q, which is roughly $268 US AND you pay $20 in fees for the privilege.  Getting money inside is better, you can get up to 5000Q and the fees are the same.
In the meantime, back on Winterlude, item by item, we’re knocking off projects on our list before we can leave.  Truth be told, Winterlude could leave today, except for final provisioning (we want to buy enough staples for 3 months because everything is more expensive in Belize & the Bay Islands).   But we’re waiting for the weather to improve, the tides on the sandbar over the mouth of the Rio to be in the right phase of the moon for maximum clearance of our 5 1/2 foot keel over the 5′ sandbar and for our friends Doug & Rayene on s/v Kristiana to finish replacing their standing rigging.The Catamaran Launcha that delivered us and our luggage directly to our boat!

Keep in mind, this is totally a cash society, you don’t buy anything with a credit card!   Because BanCafe is shutting their doors, people are lined up literally for blocks down the town’s only paved street.  There are police officers carrying large guns guarding the lines, as well as guarding the entry doors.  You never just walk into a bank here, you must be granted entry by a uniformed & armed policeman.  Jennifer, another of our friends, literally waited in line 3 hours & hadn’t moved more than a few feet.  Everyone that has “Q” accounts is able to get their “Q” out, everyone that had investments lost every dime.  Most Guatemalans don’t have “investments”, if they have an account at all, it’s a small savings or checking account — or a “Q” (for quetzales) account.  They all had to retrieve their “Q”s, then go to another bank to open a new account.  Needless to say, the impact is HUGE & just keeps impacting everything here.  Unbelievable.  In the meantime, we’re back to getting our “Q”s whenever we can find an ATM that has a stock …. mostly they’re empty…   We’re lucky that it’s just an inconvenience for us… I feel sorry for the Guatemalans!

David & Doug are off on an adventure this morning — they’re going to find a machine shop in Morales (about a half hour 16 passenger jitney van ride from here).   Doug has a bushing on his windlass with too much play, causing it to jam when under load — not a good thing for a windlass since you only NEED it when it’s under load!  They’re hoping the machine shop can re-create the exact same part only eliminate the play.  People here don’t think about anything being disposable because you cannot replace items that wear out.  Instead, you go somewhere & there will be a skilled craftsman that can make whatever you need, usually for a very reasonable price.  We’ll have to see when the boys come back what they discovered on this adventure!

Entrance to the famed Rio Dulce Canyon National Park

I think we’re targeting to leave the Rio by no later than Thanksgiving, hopefully a bit earlier. So for now, our days are spent, listening to the morning Rio VHF net, enjoying our coffee, doing morning boat projects, then cooling off in the pool with the rest of our friends who are on the same tight schedule.  About 3:30 every day, unless it’s been raining, we walk up to the tennis court to play tennis for an hour & a half, then back to jump in the shower so we can make it to happy hour at the pool tiki hut.  Then it’s back to the boat to prepare dinner (last night was fresh camerones – shrimp, yum yum yum)!   Then we’ll read & chat for a little while & usually we’re asleep by 9 PM….. Then wake up & do it all over again!  As I said, Life Is Good!   🙂

Cheers!   Jan & David, currently 15.4 N  88.6 W, at Catamaran Resort Marina on the Rio Dulce, in Guatemala
Are you a commuter cruiser that’s returned to the Rio?  Any favorite experiences, please leave a comment!  THX!  Jan



  1. Candy Ann Williams via Facebook says:

    Awwww! Fond memories of the Rio! I miss it!! AND Emy is a jewel!!

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