Cruising 2007

To Return or Not?

Chapter 6: Guatemala

Livingston, located at the mouth of the Rio Dulce, is where we have to check into Guatemala.  Although Livingston is only a mile from the buoy marking the channel entrance, it is protected by an ever-changing bar at the mouth of the river.  At Placentia I had gotten waypoints (latitude and longitude) from a cruiser who had just departed Livingston.  These, of course, are not the same as those in the Cruising Guide.  These waypoints are now in my computer and I feel better about crossing the bar.  But soon after passing the mid-channel buoy my depth sounder is showing 7 feet, then 6 feet.  Sirius II draws 5.5 feet of water.  The prop stirs up mud.  I am nervous!  Very nervous.  I let the boat drift in the current for a moment while I look around.

That’s when we notice a Guatemalan navy patrol boat working its way across the bar toward Livingston.  She is not on the same course as I am. The vessel seems to be following a series of black buoys.  These are not even on my chart nor mentioned in the guide book.  I’m no dummy.  I steer toward the black buoys, keeping one eye on the depth sounder.

Thirty minutes later I anchor off the dock in front of immigration and proceed to prepare the dinghy to go ashore to obtain clearance.  But within minutes a launch approaches with immigration officials.  No doubt they are responding to the yellow quarantine flag that we raised before proceeding past the entrance buoy.  We are invited to bring our paperwork and ride into town with them.  (The fee for the launch is, of course, added into the other landing fees.)

We soon find that checking into Guatemala is just as difficult as crossing the bar to enter Livingston.  Americans, and Canadians, with valid passports can travel anywhere throughout Latin America and the Caribbean.  The one exception for US citizens is the travel ban to Cuba, that bastion of military might and economic strength, travel to which could threatened the economic stability of the entire region!

Carmen travels on a passport from her native country, the Dominican Republic.  Mexico was not a problem for her, as she has been living there for over a year.  Neither was Belize.  But Guatemala is; she cannot enter the country without a visa issued by her country or one of its consulates!  The closest Dominican consulate is Belize.

Immigration officials allow us to return to the Sirius II and take her to a run down marina about a mile upstream—the only marina in the Livingston area—where I manage to get the dinghy tow line caught in the propeller. 

We arrange for a water taxi to pick us up the next morning to take us back to Punta Gorda, Belize.  Fortunately, these officials recognize our plight and don’t charge us reentry fees (nor exit fees later).  From here we take a bus—which breaks down en route—to Belize City, spend the night in a hotel and are camped in front of the locked gate of the Dominican consulate by 8:00 the next morning, an hour before the consular shows up. After getting the visa, we retrace our steps, find our water taxi waiting for us the next morning, and back to Livingston—all in the daily activities of cruising.

Rio Dulce
Water taxi along the Rio Dulce, Guatemala

The 16 mile trip upstream on the Rio Dulce is a delightful change from what we have experienced so far.  Lime stone and steep, tree-covered cliffs come down 300 feet to the river’s edge. The river depth varies from a few feet to over 80 feet, so we are constantly vigilant.  We see fishing boats powered by outboards in the river; just as common are the dugout canoes propelled smartly through the water with handmade oars.  We see many water taxis as well, as this is the only way to approach Livingston from Fronteras, where we are headed.

Fishing the Rio Dulce
Guatemalans fishing the Rio Dulce

Thirty years ago Fronteras was just a sleepy little village, home for a local bus stop and a smattering of markets and tiendas.  The completion of the 90-feet high Rio Dulce Bridge in 1980 almost overnight transformed Fronteras’ main street into a national highway.  And over the past several years more and more American, Canadian, European and Caribbean boats have come to recognize that this spot on the river is a safe and secure hurricane hole.  There are now well over a dozen marinas, more restaurants than you can count, two more bus stations connecting Fronteras by express bus to Quatemala City (the City) and the outside world, and many fruit and vegetable markets encroaching onto the highway, often reducing it to a snarling one-way lane.

Paying the fee to use the catwalk at La Hoya del Rio

Our destination takes us underneath the bridge for about a ¼ mile to Suzanna’s Laguana, now called La Hoya del Rio.  It’s a marina in a lagoon along the Rio Dulce.  A very quiet, private, well-protected marina.  The only contact with the rest of the community is by dinghy or a cat-walk across a swamp (for a price of 5 quetzales, about 60 cents), then walk across the bridge to Fronteras.

Now I have to make a decision:  1)proceed to Honduras and Panama with only one solar panel to keep the batteries charged and an auto steering system with a cracked motor casing and held together by duct tape.  This passage is about 800 nm with only two convenient stops.  Or 2)leave the Sirius II here and return to United States to get the parts I need.  For solo sailing, a dependable auto steering and an extra solar panel are almost necessities.  Hence, I decide to return to Key West, via Mexico where Carmen will stay in Los Mochis with her family.  We leave the Rio Dulce on August 21 by bus for Quatemala City.

(For a recap of my land trips, and a sad story about the corruption of the Mexican police, see Appendix 1.  Also Appendix 2 has follow up letters I sent to Mexican government officials.)


Chapter 5 Chapter 7

Copyright © 2008 Steven Jones. All Rights Reserved.
2007 Cruising