October 2016 - Back on board
7th - 14th October
After a rather long journey back to Guatemala we are now home on board Ocean Rainbow. We flew from Heathrow to Toronto and then on to Houston where we had to wait 9 hours for our connection to Guatemala City. Once in Guatemala City we caught a taxi for Q70 to the Litegua bus station. (We work on Q10 = £1) From there we caught a mini bus to the outskirts of the city where we were transferred to a waiting air conditioned coach. Unlike UK coaches, the seats are numbered so, having settled ourselves nicely in some comfy seats we found that we had to move!! The trip to Fronteras cost Q80 each which represents great value for a 7 hour bus ride! It shouldn't have taken so long but there are roadworks at a major bridge which slowed the trip by at least an hour. We did stop as well for a 'comfort' break and some food. We didn't need to indulge as we had purchased food at the main bus station but next time we shall see what is on offer ... we did have an ice cream though!
Claudio (s/y Makani) met us in Fronteras with a taxi for the short trip to Nana Juana. It was a mammoth effort to get our bags on board the boat so we were very glad of Claudio's extra muscle. Once we had sorted ourselves out enough to be able to sleep (Claire had left the fresh bedding within easy access when we left the boat) we went over to Makani for a glass of wine and catch up. It's lovely to be back.
After a great night's sleep we woke to the task of sorting out the boat. Everything packed away had to be unpacked, checked and restowed. All the new things had to be found homes and as we were doing this so we found that some little creatures had also found themselves new homes onboard! Ants had invaded the boat - a really common problem (so we found out) when a boat is on the hard but one we hadn't experienced before. We'd had sugar ants in Curacao but nothing like the army that we found in the gas locker. We shall fumigate the boat once we are back on the water but at the moment we are just spraying them and leaving 'ant houses' strategically positioned. (Houses is perhaps not quite fair ... they're traps!). Whilst sorting out under the doghouse we found some cylindrical mud nests that had once housed what the Guatemalans call 'fairies'. These creatures look ferocious as they are black and yellow like wasps and fly along trailing what look like two long jointed legs. We thought their legs must have a sting of some sort but apparently not. We still don't like them though. Anyway, we also had visitations from a fair few fairies and have had to clear up the mud nests left behind. The most bizarre place for a nest was in the fan in the galley!
Victor Volvo has been put back together with a little help from the experts! Actually a lot of help from the experts - 3 of them! We would never have got everything back together in two days let alone the two hours it took them ... thank goodness they were free to help when we needed them. Our thanks to Horacio and his team. We have sourced a welder and solar panels so now we need to alter our gantry to take the extra panels (we're hoping we can fit two rather than just one with a greater capacity than the present panel) and we need to design the bracket to take our tiller pilot. It all takes time.
We have been social though. Claire went off to play Mexican Train Dominoes on Sunday which was fun (James continued to tidy up his chart table!). We went to Mar Marine for supper on Tuesday night as there is a French cook who serves a delicious two course meal which costs Q 50 and includes a small rum punch. Great fun as we caught up with friends from the Suzie Too OCC Rally: Rob and Rhian from Beyzano, Di and Jeff from Horizons, Jon from Oystergo as well as Claudio.
Oh, and have we mentioned exercise? Possibly not! Four months off the boat has taken its toll on our bodies. We are not as fit as we were. James is faring much better than Claire who has resorted to yoga to get her recalcitrant muscles into shape! Some of the poses are just not human and it's debatable if the 'pain is worth the gain'! Still, until Pilates is back on offer it's yoga or 'do it yourself' and that - as far as Claire's flip flop will is concerned - is not an option. James continues with his daily exercise routine - nothing flip flop about him!!
Productivity levels are increasing. James has now fully serviced our super-duper Brunton propellor. A minor catastrophe when the grease gun lid separated from the barrel spewing grungy grease everywhere. How the manufacturers ever managed to get so much grease into such a small barrel will continue to amaze us - the mess was horrible!! He has also replaced all the anti-freeze coolant in Victor Volvo. Good job done and no mishaps! Claire has been busy with the sewing machine - well Claudio's sewing machine to be exact - and refurbished the dinghy chaps. We thought Alex - who made the chaps for us in Bequia - had said he would be using UV resistant thread to sew the panels together. Apparently not, as all the seams were starting to disintegrate so after 5 hours hunched over a hot sewing machine Claire now feels the chaps are back to good health - can't say as good as new because the patches would definitely not pass professional inspection! The staysail boom end caps have been replaced. Our beautifully refurbished sails have been returned from Tom's sail loft, although our Yankee has had to go back as the sacrificial strip is the wrong colour! Tom was very philosophical and will remove the 'Sunsail lookalike colour', replace it with marine navy and have it back with us in a day. The bottom of OR is being given some professional help. Arnie and his team work slowly but surely and do an excellent job so we thought we would treat ourselves and have the sanding and preparation work done by them. We might even splash out and ask them to do the actual anti-fouling!
The routine of life on the hard continued with yoga, trips to Fronteras to source things for the boat - torches, solar panels, wire brushes, oil etc., food shopping, plus there was the bi-weekly Swap Market and the weekly BBQ and dominoes. All shopping takes time but we are improving our Spanish vocabulary. On Sunday, Martin Maillé came to measure up OR for the new solar panel and bracket for the tiller pilot. He and his wife are setting up a welding business in Fronteras, so we look forward to seeing the results of their labours. The solar panel is on order (only one, as two would just not fit so that we were comfortable with the design), a new charge controller is on its way from Germany and Claudio is in the middle of an invention to protect our 12v socket while we use the tiller pilot. With nothing left for us to do except wait for goods to arrive, we packed our bags, caught a bus and headed inland.
Our first port of call was Flores which is an island in Guatemala's second largest inland lake - Lake Peten Itza. We'd taken a local bus from Fronteras on Monday morning to Santa Elena. It was well and truly stuffed full with people standing in the aisles, so we were very grateful we'd reserved our tickets. It made them twice as expensive but worth it even though our seats were set at strange angles! We were turfed out of the bus somewhere near the Belizean border so that the bus could be checked for illicit fruit - luckily our precious apples weren't found!! - and then we all continued on our way. We hadn't realised about the fruit embargo and we're still not sure why we couldn't have them in a bus that was only driving in Guatemala. On our return trip we weren't stopped but that was probably due to the fact that we were in a First Class bus!
The locals use two types of transport to get around the country: 'urbanos' or 'chicken' buses which are scary beyond belief but very fast, or coaches which come in two classes - economic or first class. Tourists (not only foreigners but also holidaying Guatemalans) can book a shuttle bus (12 seaters with up to 15 people!). These are generally air conditioned and roadworthy and take you 'door to door'. They too can be pretty full but sometimes you are lucky - as we were when we travelled from Antigua to Panajachel – just the two of us. In towns there are always TukTuks and taxis. Taxis for the occasions when you have lots of luggage or it's late (TukTuks don't run in Fronteras after 8pm).
There are also a variety of places to stay the night - Hostels, Posadas and Hotels. We thought we had it all worked out: hostels for backpackers with only very basic facilities; posadas for budget travelers with no need for a ‘hotel’ restaurant, and hotels for those who like a bit of comfort, a mini bar and an in-house restaurant. It appears we are somewhat mistaken! Our worst accommodation was in a hotel while our best was in a posada! While in Flores we stayed in Hotel Mirador Del Lago which was quirky, clean and adequate; in Antigua we stayed in two places Posada Casa Maria Jose and Posada de San Carlos. The former was very nice, we had a lovely breakfast and the staff were super but it is the latter that we would recommend. Nice rooms, mini bar (not that we needed it!) and a restaurant with good prices. The only negative was the amount of nylon(?!?) in the sheets that caused a veritable light show at 3am when Claire felt a tad cool and tried to wrap a blanket around herself! In Panajachel we stayed in the Hotel Victoria where the only good thing to say about the place was that breakfast was included in the price … if you call 3 pieces of toast, margarine, jam and a cup of coffee - breakfast! All the beds, though, were comfy and having walked our feet off each day, we slept like logs.
So, to our sightseeing. The reason for staying in Flores was to see Tikal, an ancient Mayan city in the northern rainforests of Guatemala. It is only partially excavated showing Temple I (Temple of the Giant Jaguar), Temple II (Temple of the Masks), Temple III (Temple of the Jaguar Priest) and Temple IV which is the highest pre-Columbian structure in Central America. We had an excellent guide in Donald Gonzalez and learnt so much about the Mayan calendar, the reasons behind the positioning of buildings, the way the seasons were worked out, the culture and traditions and on top of that he was a walking encyclopedia on all flora and fauna. A fascinating trip which will be an enduring memory for us.
From Flores we took a very long bus trip to Antigua but it was worth it. Antigua is an astonishing city and, once upon a time, the magnificent capital of Guatemala. However, much was destroyed in the earthquakes of 1731 and so many of the buildings are still in ruins; subsequent funding has become available to restore only the most significant ones. The Church and Convent of the Society of Jesus, destroyed in 1717 by another earthquake has been restored and is now used as a library, meeting and conference centre. The Santa Catalina Arch, built in the 17th Century to connect the convent to a school, still stands today and is the site for a colourful itinerant street market. The Catholic Cathedral was largely destroyed in 1773 but restoration is taking place. The Santa Domingo Church and Monastery is preserved within the grounds of an extremely smart (5*) hotel. For Q48 we had a snapshot of life and artefacts in the early 18th Century. Old church silver, icons, art, weaving , candle factory, pharmacy, chocolate factory and a superb display of ancient urns and masks juxtaposed with modern glass (Kosta Bodo, Lalique, Daum). The museums are all located within the ruins of the church and monastery. We saw an awful lot of old bones too in various crypts! We also went to see the old public laundry facilities – Tanque l’Union- and sat in the Parque Central and admired the old colonial buildings and St James’ Cathedral. We walked miles.
Our second day we trekked up Pacaya Volcano. A great trip with a lovely bunch of people. We cooked marshmallows in the hot lava rocks and took photos of the crater from a safe distance. This volcano last erupted two years ago so we weren’t allowed any closer. Once back in Antigua we continued with our sightseeing, visiting the market – huge! – more ruins, more cobbled streets that rattle the life out of the cars and tuk tuks, and a Jade museum. There are two types of jade in the world, nephrite and jadite. Guatemala’s jade is jadite, a silicate of sodium, aluminium, iron and other traces. It can be found in up to 25 different colours and the latest colour, discovered in 2005 is Lavender Jade and its offshoot Rainbow (as in Ocean Rainbow!) Lavender Jade. Now you know why Claire has a new necklace!
We ate local food at all times, enjoying a wonderful choice of tasty grills, soups, stews, tacos, empenadas (sandwiches) and sausages. It was all so cheap and absolutely delicious. We really didn’t have enough time to do the city justice but it’s a big country with lots to see.
From Antigua we moved on to Lake Atitlan. This involved another bus ride but this time we were the sole passsengers so we travelled in luxury all the way to our ‘not so wonderful’ hotel! Panajachel grew on us. Our first reaction was that it was nothing but a backpackers/touristy paradise but by our second day based there we had become used to everything and found the locals helpful and smiley. After Antigua there wasn’t much history though! We did, however, witness a wedding which was so colourful with everyone in traditional dress. In fact, it is rare to see a local woman wearing western clothes rather than the other way around. We took a boat trip around Lake Atitlan, renowned as one of the most beautiful lakes in the world and also the deepest in Central America, visiting three of the towns: San Marcos, home to all things hippie, mystic and yoga; San Pedro, home to innumerable Spanish schools; Santiago, where the church of St James the Apostle was stunningly decorated in a blend of Christian and Mayan traditions. After a wander around the streets of all three towns we felt we had a flavor for life in the Guatemalan Highlands of the Sierre Madre.
We cut our visit to Panajachel short and returned to Antigua for another night to ensure we could get back to Rio Dulce in one day! This time we were able to visit the Monastery and Church of Santa Clara. It is an extremely large series of buildings that are gradually being restored after destruction in 1717. We also returned to the market and bought James a pair of ‘typico’ trousers …. You have been warned!! Spending the extra night in Antigua was the best possible way to end our ‘backpacking’ travels. We had an exceptionally enjoyable time. Out of 9 days away, we spent 36 hours on a bus but we reckon it was worth every second.
We are now back on board Ocean Rainbow and ready to start work again.
Well, we have certainly knuckled down to some boat jobs after our travels. James has finished cleaning and oiling the anchor and chain; done an engine and sail-drive oil change; mounted the propellor once again; replaced the waterproof covering sheet over the coach roof (it had disintegrated and we still need it while we're on the hard) and replaced our salt water whale pump. Doesn't sound much but it's kept him busy for the last week. Claire has done a massive 'cook in' and is girding her loins for another session. We have collected the solar panel and works begins on Wednesday 2nd. We have also been off sight-seeing again.
We joined a group of sailing folk for an organised trip with guide to see the Kite Festival of Santiago Sacatepequez and Sumpango. This involved a bus trip from Fronteras to Antigua for an overnight stay in Hostel Antigua and the following morning an early start for Sumpango to visit the cemetery before walking up the hill to see the kites. We had to leave after just after midday for the return trip so a really short visit with a very long bus journey (total 14 hours), but we reckon it was worth it.
On route to Antigua we stopped at Santa Cristobal Acasaguastlan to see the church which was built in the 16th Century, destroyed by earthquake in the 1976 earthquake and is now being restored. It's a landmark building in the area but sadly the doors were locked so no opportunity to see inside. We then continued to Guatemala City where we stopped to have a look at the Mapa en Relieve de Guatemala which is a relief map of Guatemala and Belize designed by a military engineer and officially opened in 1905. Constructed from cement in days long before GPS the map is remarkably accurate and would have helped Claire's mental picture of Guatemala! However, once again, the whole area was locked up and we could do no more than poke our cameras through the railings!! So far our guide was not earning himself too many brownie points!! We arrived in Antigua at 2pm and made our way to our hotel - this time Antigua Hostel, which was very nice and we even had a bedside light and coat hangers (although no bath mat or hand towel!).
We decided to skip the official tour of the city as we had already covered the sites the guide was visiting on his tour. Instead we went to find some street food near the Iglesias de la Merced and then went off to see the city's cemetery. This was not as macabre as the idea might suggest. The cemetery is very beautiful and, on the eve of the Day of the Dead, it was filled with people visiting their family graves, cleaning and sprucing things up and filling the vases with flowers. We went into the Church of St Lazarus to find it swathed in black drapes which will stay for the month of November (at least that's what we think the cleaner said!). A bit of a change to the colourful drapes we have become used to. Then, after a wander along the tree lined avenues, we left and headed off to the Artisan Market looking for cushion covers. It was fun visiting and chatting to the store holders but we didn't find ones we both liked. The colours are so vibrant one needs to be a bit choosy if the cushions are going to look good back in England!
Our evening turned into a bit of a party - well it was Halloween after all. First we had supper with Robert and Carla (Moody Mistress) in La Sopa. Another delicious meal which we all enjoyed. Then it was off to the park along streets crammed with families and adults mostly in fancy dress. The park was really vibrant with people everywhere just enjoying themselves. We then went off to the London Pub for a nightcap and were surprised when Rob and Rhian (Beyzano) and Jeff and Di (Horizons) walked in and joined us. We stayed rather longer than intended as it transpired that Martin, who ran the Pub, came from Plymouth (Di's home town) and on the strength of that he treated (not sure that's quite the right word on this occasion) us to a round of tequila!!! Ah, well, it was only the one!!
On Tuesday morning, bright and early we checked out of our room, walked to the park and met up with our group. The bus driver was late but it didn't really matter as we arrived at the cemetery in Sampungo in good time to wander around and get a feel for the occasion. The Day of the Dead is equivalent to our All Saints Day but with the emphasis very much on celebrating life. Families gather around their family graves and tombs chatting, clearing and cleaning their plot. The graves are dug over and then smoothed and covered in lime. In some cases the freshly smoothed earth is covered in pine leaves and flower petals. Vases are filled with cut flowers, fixtures and fittings are cleaned and painted. If the family wish - and can afford it - wandering musicians play and sing at the sit of the grave to honour those who have died. Then it's time for the party! The families bring their own food and drink or purchase it from the street vendors outside the cemetery - or ice cream and candy floss from the vendors inside the cemetery!! It really was an amazingly colourful and uplifting experience, we're wondering if the idea could catch on in UK?
We then moved on up the hill to the football field where all the kites were being built. What a Herculean task to fabricate the giant kites out of coloured tissue paper stuck together with glue (made from yucca juices and lime in the old days - looked like the stuff you buy at the Early Learning Centre to us!) then mount the design on to a framework of bamboo poles tied together with string (or, in the case of the huge ones - wire!). The huge ones don't fly but the medium sized ones did. It took a real effort to get them up in the air, especially with the crowds pushing in from all sides to get a good view. The marshalls did a great job of keeping a 'flight alley' clear for each team as they launched their creation.
We tasted the local food, sat amongst the crowds, wandered between the kites and generally had a wonderful time surrounded by hordes of Guatemalan folk. Although sad to have to leave before the evening Kite launch we were so glad to have visited the festival and, as we watched the crowds pour in from every direction, we wondered if we hadn't actually had the best of the day by coming early and being able to move around and see everything clearly.
Our return trip to Ocean Rainbow went quite swiftly thanks to our kamikaze driver (once we had found him, that is!) and we were back on board OR by 8pm to reflect on yet another amazing memory of our time in Guatemala.