Day 517 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
16:05 hrs - October 29th, 2008
Birthday blog

First stop Antigua…. After yet another adventure filled 7 hour bus ride via Guatemala city, which included an injury free but dramatic head on bus v’s pick up truck collision, very exciting Neville and I had front row seats, we found ourselves in Antigua. Along with having a curiously large number of ornate churches in various stages of decay, It’s a Unesco world heritage site and having been knocked around and down many times by multiple earthquakes, Antigua continues to get back up and flourish. 

One of my favorite Antigua treasures ‘Casa Santo Domingo’ was the site of a birthday surprise. Its a 15th century monastery converted into a blissful 5 star luxury resort hotel and museum and it had every blissful base covered.  There were flickering candles everywhere, 15th & 16th century religious art, choral and classical music softly wafting from unseen speakers, abundant fragrant flowers and unobtrusive 24 hr. anything your heart desires service, my every birthday wish was granted, it was truly birthday heaven!
I think the even monks may have been a little envious.

Next stop on the birthday express was Lake Atitlan.  It’s a huge pretty lake surrounded by imposing volcanoes.  There is a number of stunning cliff side homes and hotels dotted along the edges.  The one we stayed at had our room balanced on the edge of a steep cliff overlooking the lake and volcanoes. The only way up to it was via an alarming number of steps, too many to count but enough to encourage you to stay there when you got up, but the views were well worth the effort.  We also visited some of the towns around the lake.  In Santiago we made a visit to a real Mayan god Maximon, a wooden figure to whom offerings are made and blessings asked for in return.  He is considered to be a mixture of Mayan god, Spanish conquistador and Judas!  He is watched over by local Mayan priests and worshiped and prayed to daily as he is fed a continuous stream of cigarettes and alcohol, good thing he’s made of wood I suppose.

Then we went on to Chichicastenango which holds the largest markets in Guatemala.  We went on one of the 2 big market days there so we could see the place in full swing.  The main church there St. Tomas had a strong Mayan influence despite its imposing catholic facade.  The steps up to the front doors were covered with offering flowers with incense billowing up from the smoldering fires at the bottom of the steps. As it has a good vantage point and gives you a sort of birds eye view of the market, lots of people gathered all the way up the steps, talking, watching, resting, and some trying to sell their wares to a captive audience.  The number of children was overwhelming though. They were everywhere trying to make money by selling anything form a shoe shine to every kind of Mayan treasure or trinket, but as soon as we engaged one, suddenly there were many, most without any apparent adult supervision, and each one as persistent as the last.  It seems that for every beautiful part of this country, there is an equal measure of heartbreak.


Day 514 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
20:49 hrs - October 26th, 2008
Macho trip

Sometimes guys like to do, well, guy things. You know, play with fire, bash things with large sticks, climb mountains - pursuits that challenge us and test our mettle. Not surprisingly, when I introduced the idea of an early volcano summit to Catherine, she rolled her eyes, graciously declined and opted to stay in bed instead. So at first light on Saturday morning, long before the usual gringo groups had arrived, my guide and I were already trekking through the woods, climbing under barbed wire fences and marching with a purpose towards the smoking apex of Pacaya, one of Guatemala's most active volcanoes.

My guide, Irving, seemed to relish our early start and his one-man group, and quickly steered me off the well trodden path, used daily by the hordes of tourists that trek up the volcano, and onto a secondary, narrower route that wound its way up steep embankments and over razor sharp lava rock. We marched hard, in single file and in silence. I was focused only on keeping up with him - it was a total macho trip and I loved every grueling, labored step of it.

After 40 minutes of hard hiking, the lush green forest abruptly gave way to a barren, black landscape blanketed completely with volcanic rock and boulders. It was like we had suddenly stepped out onto another planet. We were nearing the top of the volcano and for the first time could see a river of molten lava spilling out from an underground furnace and rolling slowly down hill. After 'skiing' down a steep 60 foot embankment covered in tiny loose volcanic stones, we rejoined the main trail and made our final ascent to the lava flow.

As we drew closer the cool mountain breeze shifted and we were suddenly struck with a blast of searing heat released from the lava that belched out a plume of noxious smoke, now just 40 feet away. We carefully climbed our way closer, negotiating each step over treacherous piles of dried lava that creaked, crumbled and collapsed under foot. Irving stopped suddenly and, using my stick, thumped an area of smooth lava in our path, the third whack cracked the brittle shell, revealing an empty cavity below that dropped down over three feet. We continued with caution, the soles of our shoes warming and becoming sticky on the hot surface as we tested each step, we were now just 10 feet from the flow.

The heat was scolding, almost too hot to bear, but instructing me to get a little closer, Irving, with a broad smile and clearly relishing in my discomfort, snapped off a few photos. I had brought a cigar specially for the occasion, and wanting to light it in style, took 3 final steps towards the lava and with the hairs curling-up on my arm in protest and my t-shirt about to spontaniously combust, managed to scoop-up a satisfactory lump of molten rock with my stick. I enjoyed my cigar sitting quietly on a boulder, soaking up the magnificent panoramic view of Guatemala.

I got back in the hotel just before noon, exhausted, stinking of cigar smoke, volcano, covered in black volcanic dust, but happy. Catherine had just stepped out of the shower, took one look at me and asked if I was OK and how it went. "Great!" I replied smiling, "You would have hated every second of it!"

Day 505 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
12:13 hrs - October 17th, 2008
Rain check

The Rio Dulce looks more like a giant muddy puddle right now, rather than a "Sweet River". We're into our third consecutive day of rain as tropical depression "16" continues to move slowly west across Guatemala. The river has risen by over a foot in the last 24 hours and many of the local roads are reportedly flooded or blocked.

It's Catherine's birthday today, yes she's 21 again, and I had grand plans to whisk her away to a swanky retreat in Antigua - fire place, hot tub, chocolates - the works! But yesterday, as I watched the river steadily rise, I thought perhaps it would be wise to take a rain check. You see buses in Guatemala crash regularly, in fact there is at least one spectacular accident every week. They have head on collisions overtaking on blind bends, they skid out of control racing along at Nascar speeds or they tragically disappear over the side of cliffs, swallowed whole by the jungle, never to be seen again - and these accidents happen on clear, sunny days in what many would consider ideal driving conditions!

You see where I'm going with this? Subjecting Catherine to a seven hour gut wrenching, knuckle whitening, leg flinching, teeth grinding roller coaster ride, on a 30 year old bus that's held together by duct tape and dirt is no way to begin a romantic birthday retreat. So I've adjusted our hotel reservation to early next week, giving "16" a chance to move away from the area and when our chances of arriving in Antigua in sound mental and physical condition are more favorable.

This is one birthday treat that I won't get in to trouble for delivering late.


Day 503 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
12:20 hrs - October 15th, 2008
A new season

The sun is hidden behind a blanket of gray clouds that hang just above our mast and the air is filled with fat, heavy drops of rain that have been falling steadily on our cabin roof for the last 36 hours. Although October brings the most rain to the Rio Dulce in the soggy season, this recent downpour is compliments of tropical depression AL16. In addition, with hurricane Omar charging across the Caribbean to the British Virgin islands, it seems it may be just a little too early to venture out into the Caribbean Sea to continue our journey south. So, to entertain ourselves, Catherine and I will be heading inland tomorrow for one last look at Guatemala.

We'll start by taking a seven hour bus ride to Antigua, Guatemala's prettiest and most cosmopolitan city, where we'll be staying at the Casa Santo Domingo Hotel which resides amid the remains of an old monastery. After exploring the museums and cobble stone streets of Antigua for a few days, we'll head up to Lago de Atitlan - a fresh water lake surrounded by volcanoes and home to numerous traditional Mayan villages dotted along its shoreline. Then we'll continue north to Chichicastenango and haggle for goods at Guatemalan's biggest and oldest market. As we make our way back to Antigua, we'll stop off at Pacaya, for an up close look at one of the country's active volcanoes. And finally, on our return trip, we'll make a brief stop in Guatemala City to pick up food provisions for our passage south.

It's hard to believe that Dream Time has spent the last 79 days berthed in Guatemala, and that while sailors back in our home port of Glen Cove, New York are removing sails, winterizing engines and readying their boats for five long months of storage, our next sailing season is just about to begin, all over again!

Dream TIme: Installed Life Tag (man over board) system. Tightened standing rigging. Washed, compounded and waxed hull. Scrubbed decks. Fabricated teak toggle locks for cabin lockers. Installed the repaired Heart inverter/charger (It only took 8 weeks for the vendor to replace the circuit boards!)

Day 498 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
17:41hrs - October 10th, 2008
Bee free

As a lot of the world is trying to make sense of an unprecedented economic emergency, and in what promises to be an truly historic election, America has the additional responsibility of choosing a new, and hopefully improved, President who will have the unenviable task of trying to straighten out the pickle the US currently finds itself in….. the Rio Dulce ambles quietly along.

It’s still mostly hot and sunny here, and everyone is getting on with the day to day business of living on the river.  Even the many frogs along with their chirping and tweeting friends still perform their jungle symphonies and the marinas resident guard dog Heffe a fearsome looking pussycat of a guard dog still sits sleepily on my feet under the table in the restaurant, so life goes on as normal here.  Except of course for our latest insect story on Dream Time.

Bees, and lots of them on their continuous quest for buzz worthy real estate found the top of our mast an attractive prospect, and in a short time gathered in shockingly large numbers inside and around the top of the mast.  I was initially alerted to our bee situation when they started mysteriously appearing inside the boat, buzzing around furiously bumping into windows trying to get out, and just when I managed to shoo one bee out, another 2 or 3 would inexplicably appear in its place?  Turned out they were making their way inside by flying all the way down 55 feet of mast and out through a small opening at the very bottom where, upon arrival they would find much to their annoyance that they were now stuck inside a boat which was turning out to be unpleasant for all people and bees concerned.  We stopped further bee incursions inside the boat by taping up the offending mast hole, and went about getting the other bees, inside and outside the mast, to go away. We asked around and got all sorts of wise and helpful bee removal advice, which included everything from diesel fumes to flame throwers to good old fashioned fumigation. We opted for a couple of fumigations with some diesel fumes for luck, and I’m happy to report our visiting bees have decided to buzz off!