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Day 428 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
20:06 hrs - July 29th, 2008
Day spa

Covered in mud, sitting in a pool of water deep in the jungle, with bats whizzing past our heads, and just inches away from a 6" spider clinging to the limestone rock, Catherine and I were completely and utterly content, experiencing a supreme state of relaxation.

We visited Finca Paraiso today, a hot spring, actually, to be exact, it's a hot 100+ degree waterfall that streams over the edge of a 30' limestone cliff into a cold freshwater river below. Imagine, standing under gallons of piping-hot water pouring over your head as the rest of your body is submerged in a cool pool. And as if that's not enough, hot pockets of cleansing mud and clay can be scooped from the river bed and applied all over your body and allowed to dry as you sit in the shade, listening to the waterfall and all the groans, hoots, chirps, whistles and sounds of the jungle.

We began our day with a bone-jarring, hour and a half drive into the country over a rough, corrugated, pebble road that wound its way into the hills, through banana plantations, and into the jungle. The first part of our tour consisted of a 30-minute ride up a narrow, freshwater river in an authentic Mayan dugout canoe. As we wobbled our way upstream, our canoe operator didn't really appear to relish the task of having to paddle two gringos up a river and back. I'm sure she had better things to do with her time, like finish the pile of laundry she was washing on a rock by the river's edge before we had interrupted her. Anyway, we traveled slowly against the current, marveling at the towering walls of vegetation that hung from the cliffs. The water was so refreshing I opted to drift back down stream, leaving Catherine alone with our local guide.

After our Mayan river tour, we climbed back into the minivan and drove for another 15-minutes over to the hot springs, dodging potholes along the way that were so big you'd need directions to get out of. We paid our entry fee into the park and under the watchful eye of the friendly Mayan rangers, spent our afternoon paddling, laying against the warm limestone rocks, covering each other in mud and soaking in the hotter pools of water above the waterfall. We even discovered a natural steam room hidden under the waterfall where the limestone had been eroded away, allowing just enough space for us to stand inside the submerged cave with only our heads exposed, behind a continuous curtain of warm tropical water.
We spent almost three idyllic hours enjoying our jungle spa. The same treatment back in New York's luxurious Bliss Spa would have cost hundreds of dollars for a poorly simulated experience, our entire afternoon, complete with fresh banana bread, oranges and giant, watermelon size wedges of fried bread fruit (that tastes like french fries) supplied by three giggling Mayan girls, cost us 66 quetzals, ($9).

Our heads bobbed lazily on our relaxed bodies as we weaved our way slowly back to Dream Time along the bumpy road. Smiling to ourselves and to the Mayan children that waved as we drove past, Catherine and I sat in complete silence all the way home. When we got back to Dream Time, we curled-up in the
v-berth and immediately fell asleep. It was 4:00 in the afternoon.



   

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Day 424 - Rio Dulce, Guatemala (N 15° 39.0 W 89° 00.1)
20:46 hrs - July 25th, 2008
Guatemala - Sweet!

Our journey from South Moho Cay, Belize, across the Bay of Honduras and into the Rio Dulce, Guatemala, took us from a little sandy island surrounded mostly by ocean into a brown, freshwater river, surrounded completely by jungle. Never before has Dream Time experienced such contrast on a short 20 mile journey. We navigated the infamous unmarked shoal at the river's mouth at 11:00 am, an hour after high tide, with a generous 18" to spare under our keel and dropped anchor off Livingston to clear into the country.

Livingston, a remote seaside fishing town, has no highways, roads or trails connecting it to the rest of the country and is accessible only by boat and small aircraft. We cleared-in with the help of a local agent, Raul Veliz, who organized the immigration officer, customs officer, port captain and local doctor (wearing blue scrubs) to visit Dream Time for the official 'inspection'. They stayed onboard for only a few minutes, never searched the boat and asked just a couple of questions. For only $135, Dream Time and her crew are permitted to stay in Guatemala for 3 months, extensions are just a few dollars and can, we've been told, be renewed indefinitely. The Rio Dulce (Sweet River) is home to hundreds of cruisers seeking sanctuary during the hurricane season. Many cruisers leave their boats here to tour the country or to fly home, but a number of ol' salts never leave. The low cost of living, secure waters and inexpensive marinas are just too appealing, and so they sail up the Rio and some never sail out.

We stayed in Livingston only one night, the 2-knot current against opposing ocean winds resulted in a bumpy anchorage and Dream Time was never really sure which direction she should be facing. Early Wednesday morning we raised anchor and slowly motored upstream, towards what appeared to be just a sheer wall of jungle. As we drew closer the river meandered to the right, revealing the beginning of the gorge where 300' limestone cliffs, blanketed in lush vegetation, rose directly out of the river. This was were, in 1935 Johnny Weismuller, the original Tarzan, was filmed swinging through the jungles, screaming "ahhh-ahh-ahh-ahh-ahhhhhh" sporting only a leather skin loincloth.

Besides the occasional ponga that raced past ferrying local Mayans to Fronteras, the river was ours. As we motored through the mountain range, the brown water dropped to depths of over 60', the muddy surface was covered with confused whirlpools and eddies causing Dream Time to veer wildly as we pushed our way upstream. That's when I heard a high-pitch whistle coming from the engine, we were after-all motoring into a strong current and the ambient air temperature was well into the 90's. I quickly dropped the revs to investigate, the engine gauges registered that everything was OK, and with our Yanmar idling, we realized the noise we heard was not a mechanical issue, but rather the sound of millions of insects and animals that saturated the jungle around us. We dropped our anchor, shut-off the engine and for an hour, sat quietly on deck listening to a natural orchestra of bugs, frogs, birds, monkeys and jungle creatures welcoming us to Guatemala.

Dream Time: Engine hours 1,130 hours. Changed engine oil and secondary fuel filter. Re-bedded last of port lights. Painted cowel vents.



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Day 419 - South Moho Cay, Belize (N 16° 09.3 W 88° 40.2)
20:46 hrs - July 20th, 2008
Bye, Bye Belize!

We first arrived in Belize on May 27th and we are in the final days of our visit to this beautiful vibrant country.  We have spent most of our time here scooting around and between the reefs and shores, with the occasional inland expedition and we have been entertained and delighted by all of it. Having said that Belize is still a young and developing country with all that that entails.  Sometimes it feels a little like a room full of unsupervised children who aren’t entirely sure what they are supposed to do next, there is this sense of exciting possibility, but with an occasional burst of misbehavior.  Definitely a work in progress.

We have spent the last few days here in Placencia, waiting for paperwork from our attorney in Belize City so we can finalize the documents for our little piece of Caye Caulker land.   When he set it to us for signatures, we spent the rest of that day hunting down someone who could notarize them for us.  Now Placencia is a small town, and as it turned out it has no notary public, so when I asked the local bank manager, he suggested a trip to a Belize City lawyer! We had been planning to head south the next day so that was going to be a problem, so we called the attorney again to find out if a Justice of the Peace might suffice?  Thankfully he said yes, so we went about looking for one.

We found one, in the shape of ‘Miss Janice’ one of only two JP’s in Placencia.  She and her family actually own most of the surrounding area and she’s a formidable presence here.  She’s Belizean, but has spent many years working finance on Wall Street and knew New York very well, and it showed.  She was sharp, bright, funny and interesting and she spends a great deal of her time here working on local boards and committees and, legend has it, no one ever crosses her.  We found her that day behind a bar in one of her restaurants at the end of the main town dock.  Having introduced ourselves and explaining what we needed, she graciously agreed to notarize all 3 documents right there at the bar, and then had a helpful dart playing bar customer witness our signatures. It’s not the way I normally handle real estate transactions, particularly having come from NYC corporate real estate, but this is Belize and we did it the Belize way, with beer! 

Our last night in Belize we are anchored off tiny ‘South Moho Caye’ which rather beautifully turned out to be a tiny luxury 5 star eco-resort, complete with glorious 360 degree water views from its perfect little restaurant, we had a leisurely dinner and spent the last of the daylight gazing at Belize in all her glory.  A perfect end to a great first visit. 

Belize, we’ll be back!


   

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Day 412 - Placencia, Belize (N 16° 30.5 W 88° 21.7)
19:51 hrs - July 14th, 2008
Honey, we're home!

We've just got back from vacation. After extending our visas for another month and not wanting to sail into the jungles of Guatemala just yet, Catherine and I decided to fly up to Caye Caulker for a little getaway and to check on a recent purchase. We took a small, eight-seater propeller plane with Tropic Air, "The Airline of Belize" from Placencia up to the municipal airport in Belize City, then another short 10-minute flight over to Caye Caulker, an island surrounded by turquoise water that sits just under a mile away from the barrier reef.

We spent a week in Caye Caulker a month ago and immediately fell in love with the island. The white sandy streets, relaxed atmosphere (the island's official motto is "go slow"), friendly locals, clear waters and convenient location were so irresistible we bought a little plot of land overlooking the Caribbean Sea.

Boasting the second largest barrier reef in the world, three coral atolls just a few hours sailing offshore, hundreds of barrier islands to explore and cooling trade winds, Belize is a sailors paradise. When we've finished cruising, we plan on building a little hut on the beach. In fact I've already carved a sign and during our visit to the island, and after carrying Catherine over the threshold (actually under the wire fence that Nick, our good friend and owner of Sirena del Mar Real Estate had built for us) we staked our claim together. We hung our sign, "Maya Hut" (as in "welcome to Maya Hut") under the shade of one of our three palm trees, approximately where we'll lay the foundation for our new hut away from home.

We spent our time grooming the land, which of course is just a little premature, but we enjoyed ourselves anyway, discussing hut designs and scratching ideas into the sand. Relaxing on our beach Saturday afternoon we happliy listened to the surf breaking on the reef carried over by the trades, and occasionally, when the wind dropped just a little, we could make out the faint mellow beat of another reggae CD playing at the Lazy Lizard - paradise!


 

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Day 408 - Placencia, Belize (N 16° 30.5 W 88° 21.7)
11:48 hrs - July 10th, 2008
A drop in the bucket

Bertha has stayed on her predicted path and is on her way to harass Bermuda, so it seems, for the moment, it's safe to stay in Belize. However, as our visas expired a few weeks ago, Catherine and I took the Hokey Pokey ferry, an open 20' ponga, over to the neighboring town of Independence today to see immigration and extend our stay for another month. Unlike Placencia, a picturesque seaside town that has seen a dramatic increase in tourism over the last 10 years, Independence, tucked away up a little muddy mangrove estuary, has little to offer tourists or foreign investors and so remains a simple town, home to many of the locals that work in the seaside resorts, restaurants and bars. Houses sit precariously atop wooden stilts, seemingly just on the edge of collapsing. Dogs wander the dirt streets in constant search for food, and in the shade of a tin shed outside one home, a young boy happily bathed himself in a little tin bucket.

We spent the morning wandering around the village which is far enough away from the "gringo trail" that it gave us a better perspective of the living conditions for the majority of the 300,000 Belizeans living in the country. Locals are relieved that the old, and as many have said corrupt Belizean government, was voted out in February of this year and was replaced with a new administration that seems determined to make positive change. Oil was discovered in Belize which many thought would help finance better schools, healthcare and living conditions for families across the country. However, a public message commercial we recently heard on the radio claims that while 80 million barrels of oil has already been pumped from the rich soil and shipped out of the country, not a single cent from profits have benefited Belizeans.

Still, the locals we've spoken to have said things are improving, albeit slowly, but they're generally optimistic about the direction the country is going, and, like the little boy in the bucket, are making the most of what they have in the meantime.

Dream Time: Installed new Sea Gull freshwater filter in galley. Fixed leaking water hose in forward bilge. Cleaned and recaulked four dripping port lights on starboard side.



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Day 402 - Placencia, Belize (N 16° 30.5 W 88° 21.7)
12:22 hrs - July 4th, 2008
Happy Independence Day!

This time last year we were anchored in Oyster Bay New York getting ready to watch one of New York’s most impressive private firework displays, and I’m sure right about now there are countless boats circling that same bay searching for the most advantageous spot to be able to fully appreciate the entirely sky filling explosions of color and light that express what is it is to be an American on this day of hard won independence, the 4th of July. 

Interestingly a year later we are anchored in another country that also managed to gain its independence from Britain. Belize, having been Mayan then Spanish and then British, officially became an independent nation on Sep. 21, 1981.  I know its early days yet, but so far Belize hasn’t managed to match America’s financial success following its independence, but it more than makes up for it in relaxed, happy enthusiasm, and we have been treated to fireworks here almost every night, but in the form of lightning storms. It’s pretty hot here this time of year, around 85-90+ degrees most days, and even hotter inland, so that with the humidity creates ideal conditions for all kinds of remarkable weather. 

Speaking of which there is a piece of remarkable weather by the name of Bertha, on her merry way over here from Africa right now.  She is riding the prevailing trade winds westward, final destination uncertain, but certainly in our general direction so we are keeping a very close eye on her progress as she weaves her way west.  We don’t want to be around if she chooses to come this way, so we are getting ready to get out of here if we have to, and go south.  We will know more in the next day or so, but we are hoping she decides to go harmlessly north, so we can stay here for just a little while longer, before we have to go into our little hurricane hiding place in Guatemala.  Happy 4th of July!