01 August 2016

A trip to the Mayan land

One of the reasons we chose to spend hurricane season in Guatemala was to do some travelling in Central America, a place none of us have visited before.

This week, we made the first trip. Renting a car is not available in the small town of Fronteras, so the only two options were to go with a bus (the first class even has AC) or to pay a driver of a van to take us there. Because there was 10 of us,  having a driver and splitting the cost of the van was about the same price as the first class busses. But a lot more comfortable.

After about 205 km and 4 hours of driving, we got to the small town of Flores, one of the closest settlements to the Tikal National Park. Flores is a very touristic island and is full of gift shops, restaurants, hostels and hotels. Staying a night is cheap, with prices ranging from US $20 to US $80 for a double room.


A restaurant in Flores

The Tikal National Park is open from 6 am to 6 pm and so we asked Humberto, our driver, to pick us up at 5.15 in the morning to make sure we were at Tikal when the park opens and take advantage of the cooler hours of the day.

Tikal is one of the biggest Mayan ruins of Central America with some of the architecture dating back as far as the 4th century B.C. It is believed that Tikal dominated the Mayan region politically and economically, with a population of about 90,000 people. As with many of the other Mayan ruins, Tikal was later abandoned, around the end of the 10th century. And it was to remain abandoned and forgotten until 1848 when the governor of the region visited it.

At the entrance of the park, you're given a map and you just follow the different paths and signs to get to the ruins. In the process, you find lots of wildlife: we saw toucans, coatis, lots of birds and even howler monkeys.

Start of the hike in Tikal

Temple II

Another shot of Temple II

Temple I

Burial Grounds in between Temple I and II

On top of Temple II, overlooking Temple I

The kids playing "Let's go up and down the pyramids"

Camila on top of a pyramid

Temple V

On top of Temple IV, overlooking temple III and Temple II. Here  a scene for Star War's New Hope was filmed.

Mom, I'm tired...

Before going to Tikal, I used to wonder how could such a place just disappear. But after visiting it, it became clear. The ruins are located in the middle of a massive jungle. You're surrounded by luscious green vegetation, looking for pyramids you  know are there and yet you can't see them, Then you get to a clearing and there they are. Some temples are low but some, like Temple IV, are about 65 meters high.
Some of the pyramids have been maintained and others, whether for lack of resources or simply for educational purposes, have not. In those cases, it's really clear to understand how nature simply takes over after some time. In a lot of places, there are unearthed ruins yet to be seen.

Nature taking over a pyramid.

The place is absolutely stunning and it took us about 7 hours to see all of the temples and pyramids. By the end of the hike, we were all really tired of walking and going up and down the pyramids, but our hearts were fuller. 

18 July 2016

Guatemala - another season that ends

With hurricane season upon us, we headed to Rio Dulce, Guatemala, a well-known hurricane hole, with 4 other boats.We had a great sail and we were glad to see the thunder storms always in front of us. At some point, we slowed down the boat on purpose to stay well of one. We even got a mahi! Not a bad way of ending our third season as cruisers.

Capt'n with the catch of the day

Because the entrance to the Rio Dulce is shallow, we decided to anchor in Cabo Tres Puntas and approach the Rio Dulce the following morning, at 5 am, with the high tide that would give us an extra 2 ft. of water.
And so we got to Livingston, the town at the Rio Dulce Delta, in the early hours of the morning. We didn't touch bottom but it was quite close, as we saw 6.4 ft of water (Taia draws 6 ft.). A few of the other boats did touch bottom, but they just plowed through the mud.
The check-in process is supposed to be simple but lengthy, requiring trips to several buildings and a visit to the bank after each one. Alternatively, you can use a company that does all the work for you for about $50. We always do the check-in process ourselves, but because there's been some theft incidents reported from boats anchored in Livingston (some friends of ours had their sheets cut and stolen from the boat) we decided to pay the fee and make the whole ordeal easier and quicker.

As soon as we were checked into the country officially, we lifted up anchor and proceeded to motor the 20 nm to the marina where we'll spend hurricane season. The Rio Dulce is beautiful. I wasn't expecting it to be as stunning, a gorge whose sides rise up to 300 ft.covered by luscious vegetation. It's hard to describe it with words and pictures; as usual, they don't do it justice.

This year we'll stay in a marina, as it's safer than being anchored. Also, the cost of the marina is really cheap compared to the rest of the Caribbean. Being in the marina offers the kids the ability to get off and on the boat at their will, without having to rely on us parents. And they are taking advantage of that, sometimes disappearing for hours on end. They spend a lot of time just walking around the marina, other people's boats and the pool. It's good for them, and it's good for us.

Entrance to the Rio Dulce

Local fishermen

Home for the next few months.
The pool at the Nana Juana marina
A quick dinghy ride or 30-minute walk over one of the tallest bridges in Central America, lies the small town of Fronteras. Some people call it just Rio Dulce. I wouldn't say the town is nice but it's very interesting to see at least once. It's a big loud mess of people, trucks full of cattle, motorcycles and animals coexisting together. There's a lot of small shops selling a bit of everything, a decent-sized supermarket (always important to us cruisers) and lots of market stalls full of fresh and very cheap vegetables and fruits. We're loving the strawberries and the watermelon!
The town of Fronteras.

The local market at Fronteras

08 July 2016

Roatan and Utila

After spending 8 days in Guanaja, we departed to Roatan. We had a short and easy sail to French Harbour, something we hadn't had for a little while.

We had a lot of expectations about Roatan, having heard from other cruisers and friends that the diving there was excellent.

French Harbour is nice, although I was a bit disappointed in the fact that the beach at Fantasy Island can only be used by people staying at the resort or marina.  We did, however, have a beer at the marina bar where we met other cruisers and were introduced to Cheeky, the local monkey, who is wild but makes a point of making an appearance at the bar for happy hour expecting some peanuts.

We were anchored close to French Cay, a small private cay where tourists go and spend the day. They have a mini-zoo, 3 or 4 bars and restaurants, lots of kayaks and standing paddle boards to use, and, more importantly, a tower about 12 feet high from where to jump in the water. We paid $5 each and spent a whole afternoon there, where Camila and Matias spent hours jumping from the tower.

Matias jumping off...

We moved to West End next, where we got reunited with the crews of La Smala and Gone Walkabout, whom we last saw in August of last year in Grenada. Both of these boats have kids, so we were all excited to see each other.

West End Beach

The town of West End is pretty but what got our attention was the snorkelling and diving around the anchorage. Anywhere we went, the coral reef was healthy and just plain beautiful. It's been one of the best spots so far.

We did some snorkelling and diving in Utila too but we preferred Roatan and are looking forward to going back in October/November.

After each dive, with a little bit of spare air in the tank, Ernesto taught Camila and Matias the basics of scuba diving. Camila absolutely loved it and she was doing so well that, after a few lessons, Ernesto took her down to 15 feet and she was super excited. Matias likes it too but he's having some trouble equalising.

Camila on her first dive, using the octopus.

Camila's second dive, with BCD and all

25 June 2016

Guanaja, Honduras

The sail to Guanaja was interesting. With lots of wind we were moving fast! With 1 reef in the main sail and the jib partially rolled in, we sustained a speed of more than 7 knots. We didn't see any squalls or thunderstorms. But (and this is a very important but) the waves were big and they were coming from the side, making Taia roll uncomfortably. Therefore we had a very fast but uncomfortable sail.

We got to Guanaja, the most eastern of the Bay Islands of Honduras, at 8.20 am local time. We anchored and, as is customary now after spending a few days sailing, we went to sleep for a few hours. After that, we wanted to stretch our legs and decided to go say hi to our friends from Seraphim and go walk around in Bonacca, the capital city of Guanaja.

Bonacca is a very picturesque small island where about 6,000 people live. Nearly all of the houses are built on stilts. There are no streets but rather small sidewalks and water canals. There are no cars in Bonacca and because of the canals, some people call the island the Venice of the Caribbean.

Bonacca, seen from the anchorage.
Walking around Bonacca

Another view of Bonacca

One of the famous canals

A house or an experiment? Nobody seems to be living there.

The next day we decided to anchor at El Bight, a small but protected bay less than 2 miles east of Bonacca. With a total of about 8 or 9 boats there, the daily ritual was to do some kind of activity in the morning (or some school for those of us with kids) and then finish the day having a cold beer at Manati, the biggest bar/restaurant of the bay.

The snorkeling in Guanaja was really great. The coral reefs are very healthy, in contrast with some of the places we visited in the eastern Caribbean. But, for some reason I don't understand, we didn't see a lot of fish and the ones we found were, for the most part, small.

One day Tim, from Seraphim, offered to take his tree-climbing harness out of the boat and teach Matias and Camila how to climb trees. They got really excited about it and the following day they spent quite a bit of time going up and down. Of course, all the adults watching ended up having a turn too. What a treat!

We did two hikes in Guanaja. The first one, from Michael Rock, where we walked for about 45 minutes to get to a beautiful waterfall.

A nice cool shower after a nice hike.

To get to the fall, we had to use a rope to get across two rocks.

A swing in the middle of the forest. What a treat!

The second hike, where we walked for about 3 hours to get to the top of Michael Point, the highest point in Guanaja. The hike itself is easy and not challenging if it weren't for the heat and the ticks. We were all wearing long pants and long sleeves to avoid catching the ticks we were warned lived in the area. We had to take a few breaks and drink lots of water but we managed to get to the top. The view from up there was gorgeous and there was lots of wind which was very welcomed by our hot bodies. Unfortunately, we started seeing ticks on our clothes half way up there and, at the end of the trip, we did a full search for them in our bodies and clothes. We found a few of them in Matias and Ernesto but none on either of the girls. Are these ticks sexists or what? Not that I'm complaining, though. That was my first close encounter with such creatures and they are not very good looking. Fortunately, these ticks don't carry any disease.

A nice view from Bonacca

We were on a break here. You can't tell, but it was really windy!

Getting to the top. Finally!

Fixing the world's problems or just having a break?

Lunch at the top of Michael Point.

On our way down...