Guatemala Journal/Lago Iazabal: We journeyed to the Rio Dulce area on Day 5. Our quick one-night layover in Antigua allowed me to stay in with the kids and supervise homework, while the other adults fanned out in small groups to check email, get in more supplies for our river trip, etc. I needed to do a little laundry, drink a little wine, get a little tipsy… I didn’t set out to get tipsy, but I did; I was just so happy to not be on the bus! The kids noticed something was up when I started belting out a french song I had learned as a kid- ‘Alouette‘. Because they are all taking French in school, they understood the lyrics. Snapping the wrinkles out of shirts, and joyfully hollering out lyrics while folding laundry, I looked up at one point to see four jaws dropped; they were horrified that I found a song about plucking an innocent bird ‘entertaining’. A lecture on song and work fell on deaf ears. However, I do sense they were somewhat amused because from then on, anytime evening drink orders were being taken, they asked if I would be singing…
We stayed at ‘Shanty Town’ on the northern shores of Lake Izabal, very close to the entrance to Rio Dulce. The sun sets here shortly after 5:00pm, so we stashed our suitcases and hopped into the lake. I found a sit-upon kayak and a couple of us managed a wee paddle before it got dark. The sky turned gray fairly quickly, and the rain that followed was soft, warm and pleasant. It was great to be on the water once again, even in the rain, and everyone was looking forward to our trip to the Belize Keys the next day.
Our hardy vessel had been built by the captain. We were ferried to it in groups the next morning. It had seats for 4-6 on the aft deck, 3 or so in the steering compartment, 3-4 on the seating area floating above the pilothouse, and space for 4 to huddle comfortably inside in inclement weather.
We were a group of 10 plus the captain, and the weather was about to get very inclement… However, motoring up the Rio Dulce was magical. We took turns sitting in the seats that hovered above the pilothouse; the view from here was grand and it gave one a sense of spaciousness that was lacking below. The path the river takes is slow and undulating, like a huge sea creature. As we left the small marinas and homes built on the banks and in the mangroves, the walls around us began to rise higher, growing evermore more dense and impenetrable with vegetation. Bright white egrets flew alongside, and local fishermen would occasionally glide by in their boats hollowed from trees. These boats, sometimes painted but more often a weather-tinged grey, were propelled by one person with one oar. The fishermen would stand to throw out their nets, which spiraled open gracefully into domed shapes that resembled delicate jellyfish being tossed back to sea.
As the hours passed, once again the sky began to grey over with clouds. These clouds were denser than the ones that had brought in the gentle rain the night before; they looked much more serious. As we passed by Livingston, Guatemala, the seas too began to darken, until it looked like our boat was sandwiched between two thick slices of gray quartz. The air temperature started to drop, and then the rain came too, getting louder and colder by the minute.
Willing ourselves into believing this weather silliness was a temporary situation was easy. Beyond the stormy skies and seas, we could see a bit of light, as well as the humps of land that marked the southernmost points of the keys. For months, we had all pictured ourselves snorkeling over one of the world’s largest extant reefs. My husband, especially, was eager to swim in this place so direly threatened by mankind’s excesses. It was the thing that had prompted him to become more environmentally active so many years before.
As reality begin to set-in, we set to hunkering down. Tarps were secured to create more rain-protected indoor space. Sleeping slots were allocated. I got the triangle-shaped bed under the foredeck, which I shared with all four kids. We joked that we’d have to turn in unison or end up with elbows in our faces. Dinner was made; spaghetti, sauce and even a tossed salad. Instructions on pooping had been given at the trip’s start: ‘No Pooping in the toilet!’. However, pooping over the sides of the boat was strongly encouraged. You could literally hear everyone’s digestive system voluntarily shutting down.
I went to bed early with the kids, my thinking being that the faster I got to sleep the sooner I would wake up and when I did, the skies would be sunny and someone would have figured out how to get the coffee maker going. The other adults decided to stay up and monitor the weather, keep an eye on the anchor, and break out the beer and the cards. A noisy, rollicking game commenced. And while I could hear something groaning as it was dragged along the seabed, I didn’t make the mental leap connecting the sound to the potential of danger.
No one else heard the sound either. No one else thought we might be moving in a less than optimal direction until lights from a house onshore flashed on and the captain realized we were but a few feet from ending up in someone’s living room.
Probably not a good idea, given the stories we’d heard of drug running in this area… It was all ‘asses and elbows’, as my dad used to say, as the the anchor was brought up and the engines were fired so that we could motor into safer waters. This time two anchors were set and an all night watch was commenced. It was a fairly sleepless night for all but the kids. Perhaps they were still close enough to babyhood to think that all the rocking and rolling the boat was subjected to was soothing. They were such troopers, and come morning, one of them even managed to follow captain’s orders, and poop off the boat.
We never did get to Belize. Weather conditions were bad in that area, and we spent the rest of the day motoring slowly back across the bay, down the Rio Dulce and into Lake Izabal. Our 2 1/2 days of snorkeling turned into 2 1/2 days of lounging at Shanty Town, with further adventures at hot springs, and a rubber plantation and watching the entire ‘Bourne’ trilogy and even a couple ‘Bond’ films. It ended up being a good respite for all, but when it was time to pack up for the drive to Flores and the pyramids of Tikal, we were ready.