Utila to Rio Dulce the long way round

Making a deftly quiet exit from Utila at 6am in the morning we were a little worse for wear after a big Christmas Day and a little flustered after discovering at the last minute that the ferry dock location had been changed from the one we’d arrived at a few weeks earlier. Once again with the trip back to Rio Dulce in reverse, we knew there was going to be somewhere along the way that we’d have to crash for the night.  This ended up being Puerto Barrios. Somewhere along this journey we met a German guy, mid-twenties we presume, whom seemed alright at the start.

Flores, Guatemala.
The striking colours of Guatemala

Making it to the Honduran side of the border, we were approached by a guy hawking for business to fill his collectivo (minivan) on the Guatemalan side. Having paid Q20 on the way here he now wanted Q50, and after talking to the locals we go it down to Q40.  This happens when it’s dark and it’s the last mode of transport at 7pm at night.  Anyway price negotiated in Quetzals and settled on the Honduran side, the three of us proceed to immigration, and before too long we are screaming away from the border, thankful that it’s dark and we can’t see the crazy shit the drivers pulling to get home as fast as he possibly can.

Guatemala and rain.
Wet & rainy northern Guatemala

Paying the fare, the German guy pipes up that he only has Honduran Lempiras, 40 of which equals USD$2 or Q14.  He begins a small argument with the money collector, claiming that as we was quoted on the Honduran side he should be paying in that currency.  No wonder he thought it was cheap.  This is the first sign we get that this kid is not the full quid. The money collector then asks us to pay for him, we refuse telling him to charge him in Lempiras (by the way the German had been on the road for months, lived in South America for a while, and spoke perfect Spanish…so we’re not sure how he got so confused).

Tikal, Guatemala.
The spectacularly coloured Guatemalan birdlife

Right, we get to the final stop on the collectivo and are lucky enough that Pension Nineth had free beds.  These places are the most unimaginative spaces in the world, and even though clean, are really only a bed to rest your head on.  Heading out for some food we find the busiest street stand that was posh enough to give you a table and chairs to enjoy your lovely plate of BBQ cardboard roasted beef, we think.  German refuses to eat at road side stands because ‘it’s unsafe’, going so far as to tell us this was ‘bad, very bad’. Okay then, no worries. He heads off in search of food only to come back empty handed and contemplating whom of which will take his $2 US dollars.

‘There’s a bank with an ATM over there if you want to get Local currency’ we tell him.

‘Don’t use ATMs in Central/South America, it’s not safe’.

Christ, how does this guy operate? We finish our meal and he’s grinding our gears so hard we leave without offering to exchange his two dollars so he can eat.

Next morning we are out of there before we chance upon him.  How this bloke get through life is beyond us.

From Puerto barrios there’s two options to travel back to Rio Dulce, land or sea.  Having done the land on the way over, the thought of taking the coastal route to Livingston was a nice way to go. And it was. This part of Guatemala has some money in it, as evident by the many large abodes complimented by cruise yachts on private jetties.

Livingston is a place cut off from the rest of Guatemala and is only accessible by sea.  This makes it a less visited place and it still retains some charm of a time gone by.  Known for it’s unusual mix of GarífunaAfro-CaribbeanMaya and Ladino people and culture, Livingston’s tourism appeal is on the rise.  Wanting to get back to Porkchop as soon as possible in order to get back on the tarmac, we only had an hour to spend here, so with the early start the first priority was food to keep us from wanting to strangle one another.

Lancha from Livingston, Guatemala.
Lancha from Livingston to Rio Dulce

The square immediately adjacent to the lancha dock has several comedors and we sat down to a breakfast of eggs, refried beans (getting sick of these by now), cheese and tortillas.  A cheap feed that filled the void in our stomachs. With about ten minutes until launch time, we casually strolled over, kicking stones, to the dock only to find that they were pulling away as we were arriving.  Frantic yelling ensued, all in vain, until someone had the phone number for the captain whom promptly, to the dismay of the passengers already on board, swung it around and came all the way back to collect us. Under the stares of the other passengers, we heaved our bags on and with barely a foot off the jetty the lancha roars into full throttle.  Talk about an awkward entry onto the boat.

Up the Rio Dulce. Guatemala.
Heading up the jungle covered gorge to Rio Dulce

If you’ve never experienced a bone jarring, arse numbing battering on a lancha before, we’d recommended to take something soft for your tush.  These things are vicious and have a habit in a mildly choppy sea of bouncing relentlessly without warning.  Thank fu*k we were soon veering right out of the Bay of Honduras and into the Rio Dulce, though not before a couple of goodbye smacks on the butt.

Sulty staff at Bruno's.  Rio Dulce, Guatemala.
Sultry staff at Bruno’s Marina, but loaded nachos and huge fruit shakes kind of make up for it

Once inside the gorge, which gives the best protection to seafarers during hurricane season, things calm down tremendously with only the other passing lancha tipping the top of the water to any extent.  Whilst an enormously lush and verdant green enclosure, we were disappointed by the lack of wildlife that so many others had gone on about. This, along with the short distance until the waters open up into a wide lagoon, made disappointment creep into us, leaving us thinking the maybe the long, more pricey may around (USD$15 each!) was not worth it for the arse slapping, ball jostling ride we received.

Outback of some
Chilling out at Hotel Cancuen, just before our private firefly show right on our doorstep

Back at Bruno’s we braved the chaotic traffic of the Rio Dulce main street for supplies and got a start towards Semuc Champey, making it as far as Raxruha for the day. The Hotel Cancuen were more than happy to let us camp in their grounds, with our own little patch of grass and the use of their bathrooms. That evening in the as the sun set, hundreds of fireflies performed an enchanting luminescent dance right outside the van, captivating us for what seemed like hours, with the backdrop of nearby jungle covered peaks silhouetted against the sky.

Chilling out at Hotel Cancuen, just before our private firefly show right on our doorstep

Want more Guatemala photos? Look no further than our Flickr page!


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