Crocodiles, malaria carrying mosquitoes, fire ants that live up to their name and temperatures in the mid 30s with 100% humidity – welcome to Guatemala Dr Ropata!
We’ve had a fascinating time since arriving at our hurricane hole 30km up the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. This is the most popular place in the western Caribbean to hide during hurricane season and there are hundreds of yachts/motorboats here. It’s unlike anywhere else we’ve been not only because it’s fresh water but because the marinas are mostly small, family run businesses. They’re friendly, cheap and they bend over backwards to make your stay as enjoyable as possible.
Fronteras is the town here and it’s very local…..just the odd yachtie walking around buying fresh fruit and veges at the street stalls….hardly a tourist in sight. Produce is dirty cheap – fat and creamy avocados 10cents each, juicy mangos 15cents each, papaya and pineapple 50cents. In fact most items seem to be “cinco quetzales” per kg…..about 75cents. Meat, pork and chicken is also cheap and excellent quality…..a good piece of fillet steak for two is $3.
Fronteras is a bustling town with no footpaths. You weave your way past roadside stalls and shops, dodging scooters and other pedestrians keeping a wary eye out for tuktuks and stock trucks carrying cattle…….no need to go into detail about the danger there!
Locals are friendly although quite reserved. If we say “buenos dias” they reply but seldom instigate a welcome. Women are very shy and tend to avoid eye contact. Many dress in traditional clothing and mothers carry babies in slings tied either around their back or head – no strollers here. They’re almost impossible to photograph.
There’s a huge bridge crossing the river here and it takes the main road right through Fronteras and the hundreds of buses and stock trucks that cross it use their exhaust brakes constantly – noisy!
When we first arrived it was stinking hot with the mercury hitting 38 degrees most days with 100% humidity. We got up at 5am to work before it got too hot. However after a few days the rain came and it was so welcome as the temperature dropped to a mere 30 – 28 at night - making life much more comfortable and sleeping a breeze.
There’s a huge contrast here between the rich and poor in Guatemala. We sat on Bandit and watched locals paddling past in dug out canoes fishing while jet skiers flew by heading to their expensive waterfront properties. Lots of wealthy Guatemalans have holiday homes on the river and there are some amazing complexes, fully staffed. Many have the distinctive traditional high pitched thatched roof and are often completely open downstairs – amazing to live in such a climate.
Watching the thatching process is fascinating….the leaves are put on green (unlike in England where it’s quite dry) and they obviously dry out in the intense heat. It’s labour intensive stuff.
The river is a lifeblood for locals. They live on it, fish in it and wash themselves, their children and their clothes in it. We followed their example and had regular cool offs in it hoping they were right when they told us they’d eaten all the crocodiles!
We were incredibly wary of the mosquitoes which carry both malaria and dengue fever but out on the river we only ever saw one. We’d lather up with DEET before going out but they just weren’t a problem. The only insect that attacked us were the fire ants which hurt like hell! But then……I was stupid enough to stand on an anthill.
Tortugal marina, where we anchored off, organised lots of activities. Most intriguing was the demonstration of harvesting and roasting cashew nuts. The cashew tree produces a fruit from which the cashew seed hangs off. The nut sits inside a pod which contains poison and needs to be burnt off. The cashew is then removed from the charred pod. All this is done by hand so that’s why cashews are so expensive!
We also went to a fantastic self defence seminar put on by a fellow yachtie and a fun Brazilian night hosted by two visiting Brazilians Luah and Danilo who had spent the past year travelling the world. They made caipirinhas, usually made with limes, but they made us samples using mango, pineapple, strawberry and grape – delicious!
All too soon haulout day rolled around and we reluctantly upped anchor from outside lovely Tortugal and headed to RAM Marine. As our lift out time was 8.30am we were up bright and early.
Hmmm….wondered why we bothered when we were still sitting in the scorching sun at 2pm. As one American worker said to us – you’re on GMT here…Guatemalan Maybe Time! It was a very long day.