April 20, 2007

Go to Tikal!

We had a great trip from the San Blas to Providencia Island, then the Vivorillos, Honduras, and on to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala. The first leg to Providencia was made with a reef in the main the whole way, hard on the wind with spray flying over the boat. Minke did well, but for some reason we were pumping a lot of bilge water the whole way. We arrived in Providencia just at dusk. As usual, the welcome in Providencia was very friendly. The port agent there, Mr. Bush, arranged a soccer match between our cruising kids and the locals--our kids got whupped! Clear in and check out was very easy, and the total charge for everything was $40.

We stayed with Kalani and Lightfoot on the leg to the Vivorillos Cays, a coral reef with a couple of small islands. There were rumors of mysterious fishing boats approaching too closely at night, so when this very thing happened to Lightfoot they called us on the VHF and asked us to close ranks. However, as far as we could tell, all of the boats we saw were just fishing. I've seen the same sort of thing in New England and other waters. Fishermen are not watching you or anything other than their nets. They then appear to be operating oddly when they approach too closely, when in reality they are trying to steer the net around some obstruction. In any case, no pirates for us, though another boat nearby was boarded and inspected by the Nicaraguan Coast Guard. The moral of the story is to pass east of Media Luna and stay close to Gorda Bank to avoid fishing boats, pirates, and possible Coast Guard encounters.

The Vivorillos were just an overnight stop to catch our breath then on to Guanaja, where the check in (contrary to some rumors) was easy and free. The tiny town, with a population density something like Hong Kong, is a fascinating maze of narrow walkways and shops. We were surprised by the wide variety of goods available and the very friendly welcome as we had heard nothing about the place. I even got an alternator rewound by sending it off to the mainland overnight via plane, for a total charge of about $50, including a new rectifier. The large fishing fleet means that marine services are pretty good for this part of the Caribbean. On Guanaja we really enjoyed visiting Graham's Place on tiny Josh's Cay. The island resort is very welcoming to cruisers with free moorings, water, ice, pet parrots and other creatures, a neat pool with turtles, sharks, and groupers, and a nice restaurant.

The trip to Roatan was uneventful, and again we were really happy to visit a big grocery store complete with ATM machine and lots of U.S. products. West End on Roatan is a diver's paradise, and snorkelers enjoy it too. Right behind our boat was one of the best reef snorkles we've had in the Caribbean. We also enjoyed walking the narrow sandy street and doing all the touristy things.

We had a perfect forecast for the 150-mile run to the Rio Dulce, except the wind never appeared. Minke's big engine ate up the miles and we crossed the Rio bar just after dawn. About one hour after low tide our 5.5-foot draft just squeaked across with no bumping. Livingston officials soon came out to visit us, then we trekked all over town to complete the business of checking in, all for around $80. We were soon motoring up the "canyon" of the Rio Dulce, where steep cliffs covered in vines drop off into the river. It was very reminiscent of going up the Hudson River back home.

Mario's Marina found spaces for us just at dark and we were soon enjoying the cold comforts of the pool and the bar. Dragging the kids away from the Internet was tough, but we hired a van to take us to Tikal to see the Mayan ruins. The van was comfortable, the roads were smooth and safe, the hotel was comfy, and the tour guide was informative. It was a fantastic trip! The temples loom out of the jungle, just like you've always dreamed of lost civilizations. Unlike the U.S., we were allowed to scramble up the pyramids via rickety ladders and slippery stone stairs--not for the vertigo impaired! Our kids are now writing about their experiences and what they learned about Mayan civilization. Go to Tikal!