February 21 - 22, 2005

After the marathon border crossing adventure, the town of Rio Dulce was a perfect landing.  The main drag is not much to write about, but it was dinner time and the smells coming from the local restaurants and street vendors were awesome.  It was tempting to eat right there, but the need to ditch bags and get settled at a hotel was too overwhelming.  We had been considering a couple of hotels in the area that sounded cool, but a really nice guy on our last bus who worked at Hotel Tijax on the other side of the bay convinced us that it was the way to go.  He was right. If you get here, we canīt recommend it enough. Oh, and after some interesting flirting with a boat boy half her age, our traveling Beglian friend opted to stay on the town side, which we didnīt strongly object to.

As with a few other hotels in Rio Dulce, Tijax is located on the water, and you have to take a little lancha from the town to the hotel.  The Bay is populated by lots of really cool boats, ranging from little sail boats to yachts.  This is definitely a pretty high end area of Guatemala. The 4 minute lancha ride, in the dark, and under a full moon, delivered us to a bayou hotel on stilts which can best be described as looking like the cabin and Blue Bayou restaurant at the beginning of the Pirates of the Carribean ride at Disneyland.  When we got to our little cabin, we opened our door and sure enough we had this little porch over the water with a chair on it, almost exactly like where that old mechanical man sits smoking his pipe at the begining of said ride.  Mike tried his best to recreate the picture . . . though he had neither pipe nor bayou chic.

Not only was the setting quaint, and unlike anything we had seen yet, but the food at the restaurant was great.  We had grilled Robalo (Snook in English), which was a first, but is delicious, especially in all the garlic they used to cook it.  The restaurant also had liquados as big as our heads, which was a nice way to get our 5 daily essential sevings of fruit, and then some. Sleeping that night unfortunately wasnīt great for Mike because the beds were for 5 foot tall people, but other than that, its a great hotel.

The next morning we booked space on a catamaran to sail Rio Dulce to Livingston, on the Carribbean, which is which is supposed to be, as seemed to us to truly be, one of the best if not the best rivers in central america to travel in terms of cleanliness and beauty. While we were only 2 of four people on the boat, which can hold 16, one of the four was, you guessed it, the Belgian.  Her company was . . . entertaining for the next 6 hours.  The trip takes about 3 hours each way which gives you a lot of time to take in the scenery.  The first half is a fairly wide river, with lots of little towns and fancy houses and yachts on the shore.  At abou the half way point is the Isla de Aves  which is a little marshy island populated by thousands of birds, many of which we had never seen before.

After the Isla, the river narrows considerably with 100 foot canyon walls on each side.  The jungle grows all the way down to the water with vines hanging just into the river.  The canyon walls are generally light grey granite, but appear to be painted white in many areas.  We couldnīt get a clear answer as to why the walls were so white, but thankfully it isnīt paint.  The pictures are worth checking out, but they really donīt do the river justice.  We also made a quick swimming stop which was wonderful.  The water is not only very warm, but feels almost silky like soft water in a shower.

We docked at Livingston for 2 hours and cruised around and had lunch.  The town is small, but has a lot of character.  The docks are populated by fishing boats and some hotels, while the main commercial part of town (which is not very commercial) is at the top of the hill with beautiful views of the Carribean to one side, and the Rio Dulce to the other.  Most of the locals are of African decent, which is almost non existent on the main land, but somewhat more common in the Bay Islands.  Overall, Livingston was quaint, but not terribly memorable . . . except that they keep 5 live alligators in an open fountain (about 5 feet deep) in the center of the townīs waterfront park.  They are not very active, in fact they looked dead till we saw one open his eyes, but nonetheless, they are still pretty intimidating. 

The ride home was even more beautiful with the sunset, and the fact that we actually had enough wind to sail.  Next time we will make stops at the National Park on the river, as well as a waterfall which has 100 degree water flowing from it, which unfortunately we missed.  
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