The Sweet River

If you’re a regular reader here, you most likely sail, dream about sailing someday, or like to read about those of us who suffer from this incurable disease called, Wanderlust. Maybe you are one of the afflicted as well. I cannot shake the desire to move and travel. To see what’s around the next bend, whether it’s a bend in a river or a winding stretch of road. I have to know.

Recently, Melody and I were talking about where we are and where we’ve been. She mentioned to me that I’d never written anything substantial about our time in Rio Dulce, Guatemala. I couldn’t believe it, so I looked and she was right. Knowing how special a place the Rio holds in my heart, I can’t imagine how she slipped through the cracks.

Looking back now, I realize we had a lot going on. Little did we know the Rio would be the place where our lives would be shaken to bits and we’d be forced to take an unintended detour. If you’ll indulge me in a look back, I’d like to revisit my beloved sweet river and see it through the lens of time gone by.

We checked into Livingston at the Caribbean entrance to the Rio at the end of April, wanting to make our May 1 reservation at Monkey Bay Marina. After four months of cruising through Cuba, Mexico, and Belize, we were taken aback by the murky river water and black mud that came up on our anchor.

Livingston – Servamar is where you go for immigration paperwork
Livingston is a lovely town

We had been snorkeling in water so clear it was hard to tell the difference between five feet and twenty-five feet. This river water was so different, but I was happy that “V” had fresh water flushing her pipes after years in salt water.

What struck me was how the flat, palm tree-laden beach landscape disappeared and so quickly transformed into sheer, 300-foot limestone cliffs that dove straight into the water.

The gorge area, known as La Cueva de la Vaca (the cow cave), is home to monkeys, toucans, parrots, and countless varieties of orchids and other tropical species. Vines and lush vegetation dipped and swayed in the swift current. A current trying its best to push us back out to the Caribbean. For a moment, I remember thinking that maybe we should let it turn us around, back to a world we knew pretty well.

Our normal. Crystal blue water and white sand beach.

15 miles up from Livingston, the Rio opens wide as you enter the Golfete, where you’re likely to catch some manatee if you time it right. A few more miles up river is the one road town of Fronteras.

Just off the water’s edge of this intense village is the main anchorage and several marinas. A large and legendary bridge connects the two sides of the river. It’s a perilous structure, so old and questionable that there are men stationed at each end to keep two tractor trailers from passing over the middle at the same time. A structure that raises my blood pressure at the mere thought of crossing over or under it.

The dinghy ride to Fronteras and the infamous bridge

Our first trip to Fronteras hit me like a shot to the temple from Ali. When we summitted the crooked, concrete steps that lead from the gravel path to the main road, fumes from the tractor trailers choked my throat.

Noise. Heat. People. Totally different environment from the one we’d been living in for months.

Just a normal day in Fronteras

Fruit and vegetable stands were less than a meter away from the mud-caked cattle trucks. In between was us, the pedestrians. Guatemaltecos in straw cowboy hats and dusty boots carried large sacks on their backs. Motor bikes buzzed around and honked impatiently.

The sensory overload assaulted our laid-back beach personas. This place was hazardous to flip-flops and it was evident we’d need to harden up… fast.

Once loaded down with tomatoes, eggplant, broccoli, peppers, eggs, and beer, we made swift for the dinghy. We were in full retreat back to the dock at Monkey Bay. There was no road to get us there. No bar and no restaurant. Just a couple of hammocks and a cooler full of beer.

If you’re looking to be in the mix, but not right in the mix, this is the place.

Monkey Bay Marina at sunrise

Jim and Kitty on the sailing vessel Dream Away run a lovely spot with some of the best showers on the Rio. It’s a tropical setting where howler monkeys growl at you from overhead and orchids cling to species of trees I know nothing about.

Hummingbirds flit from blossom to blossom on the huge mimosa that covers the Ranchito. Every afternoon we’d gather in the large, open palapa to recount the day’s events, catch up on the chisme (gossip), and share a rum or cold Gallo.

Enjoying the afternoon Captain’s Hour in the Rancho

With the timing of a Swiss watch, the afternoon winds arrived to chase down the heat. Being the tropics, the rain, thunder, and lightning followed. On the Rio it’s unlike any I’ve ever seen, but never seemed to stop the activity on the river. A few times it was fatal.

The days went quickly while we were there. So did our cruising kitty. We were at the end of it and trying to replenish. We released Burning Man and Mel took on a few new clients. It was difficult at times working remotely when the wifi or the electricity (which powered the wifi) would go down without notice and be down for an unknown amount of time.

If you told me there was wifi at all in jungle, I wouldn’t believe you. If you said it was down because a howler monkey chewed through the cable, well… let’s just say it puts an entirely new twist on the term working remotely.

One of the many howler monkeys who started off our day each morning

The Rio was also the place where we realized Jet’s eyesight was worse than we imagined. After he took a couple of scary falls off the boat, we began the discussion about selling and finding a patch of land where he could grow old without the stress of moving around in a cramped cockpit.

We thought it would be a long and drawn out process. We thought we had time. But we never know how much time we have do we? I can’t think about this too much or it winds me up tight, like a garage door spring.

His eyes may not be as clear as they once were, but his heart is as big as a house.

This is the point where the story of the Rio meets the story of Vacilando being lovingly passed to her new owner. It’s been written.

As I write this recap of the Rio, I’m staring out at the Sierra Norte mountains here in Oaxaca, Mexico, far from any water, amazed that I’m okay with that for now. The sun is blazing, like it does in the mid-afternoon. The purple, red, and peach bougainvillea burst from patches of dark green and hummingbirds flit from blossom to blossom. An afternoon breeze has just kicked up.

It reminds me of a very special place. A place filled with incredible people telling equally incredible stories of how they got to a far away river in southern Guatemala.

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