GUATAMALA & BELIZE- 2017
09 March 2017
Jim and I are feeling a bit frustrated right now. We have been here since January 14th and we are waiting for an engine part to arrive which will arrive “manaña” but never does. Today it is February 10th! Looks like we will not be in Placencia for the annual Boardwalk Art Festival and for Rosie’s big birthday bash with free food and lots of cake and ice cream on February 13th. Very disappointing but hopefully we will make up for it later this month. We will miss saying goodbye to our friends on Scot Free and Cordelia when they leave Placencia as they head towards Mexico and then on to Cuba.
Enough of the complaining! We left Canada on January 2nd and flew down to Cancun, Mexico. From there we took a taxi to Playa del Carmen for the night. Our hotel there was something else! This boutique hotel was called Hotel Reina Roja. The decor was very interesting with chain link fencing. Two porters brought our bags to our room and unlocked the door for us because the electronic room keys did not work. They opened the door and we entered. Wow. Lots of red and the size of the bed was very impressive, but not as impressive as the large art work above the bed which at first appeared to be a beautiful lady getting ready to lick a penis. On second look, it was a beautiful lady drinking drops from a faucet. Modern art and innuendo. On our balcony was a mannequin, very scantily dressed and the shower had interesting nozzles everywhere. I checked out the free toiletries to see if “blue pills” were included but there were none.
The next day we rented a car. This took most of the day because we could not find any available. Eventually Jim found a car at a premium price compared to what we would of paid if we had rented online before leaving Canada. This deluxe car had roll up windows and air conditioning that did not work. No matter, it was big enough to hold all our luggage. We packed up and headed to Tulum to meet up with our good friend, Bil Philips.
Once we got to Bil’s Speleotech Dive Shop, we unloaded our gear and suitcases and got settled into our very comfortable room. Bil made us very welcome and showed us around his facilities. Very impressive! Check out his webpage at: www.speleotech.com. Bil arranged for a friend to come and take us cavern diving for the next couple of days. Paul (Pul) was great to dive with and we went to Dos Ojos, The Pit, Angelita and Dreamgate. The highlight was our very last dive at Dreamgate. Although not a deep cavern, the formations were pristine and awe inspiring. All the dives we did featured something unique. The Pit (totally loved this one too) had a large cavern. At the back of the cavern there was enough light to light up the huge space. Paul and I hung suspended away from the walls. It was magic! Jim missed that experience because he was busy taking pictures of the formations at the back.
After a couple of days in Tulum, it was time for us to head to Cozumel and Papa Hog’s Diving. The plan was to dive for 5 days. We stayed at Papa Hog’s Penthouse. It was a large suite with a small kitchen. Facilities had changed since our last time at Papa Hog’s so we found it a bit lonely at night. The main building with restaurant and dive shop used to be part of the building that housed the penthouse. The new facilities are across the alley from us.
Margaret and Mike were as hospitable as ever and the food at the restaurant was great. Their margaritas were as strong as we remembered. I only drank one margarita while we were there. Too dangerous.
Diving was good. We were on a boat with other like minded and like aged photographers who enjoyed poking slowly along. One of the divers, Christine, had dove with Dave and I many years ago when she was working at the Diving Locker.All of us were good at finding spots with no current and everyone was generous with the sharing of cool creatures to photograph. We saw several toad fish this time.
In the afternoon of our second day of diving, a large northerly storm hit Cozumel. This made diving impossible for Day 3. We enjoyed more diving on Day 4 but on Day 5, Jim got sick. I opted to stay with him and I was glad I did as the group encountered some serious current conditions that threatened to take them out to sea. They even had some vortex type of currents. When they surfaced, there was no boat nearby and it took some time before they were picked up. After hearing that story, I was happy I had stayed back with Jim, I love diving but I am not a fan of adverse currents.
On January 10th we flew out from Cozumel to Guatemala City via Mexico City with Interjet Airlines. This is the 2nd time we have used them. They are great. Their jets are modern with lots of legroom and comfortable seats. There is no weight restrictions on the luggage - apparently that is because it is a Mexican airline and when Mexicans travel they like to buy lots of stuff and bring it home. It was nice not spending hours trying to make all our suitcases weigh less than 50 pounds!
We arrived in Guatemala City late at night and had no trouble collecting our luggage and checking into the country. The shuttle from Crowne Plaza was waiting for us and he got us to our hotel safely. Jim was suffering with his sinuses and so he spent much of our first day resting. By the next day, I was getting a bit stuffed up too. We visited the nearby grocery store and bought some cheeses that are hard to find in Fronteras. That night we had a nice dinner at the restaurant and an early night before catching the bus to the Rio Dulce.
Rio Dulce and Emerald Seas
We arrived back on the Rio Dulce on the 14th of February. There to greet us were our friends, Scott and Heather, Rick and Marsha, Dick and Lizzie and many others. It was great to be back “home” at Tortugal Marina.
Emerald Seas looked clean and tidy and there was no damp or mould anywhere. However, within a few days we fired up the engine and realized that she needed some more loving care. Jamie our mechanic ordered up some new valves and gaskets. Our hope was that it would take only a week but this is Guatemala and nothing takes only a week. We had to be patient.
In order to pass the time, Jim ordered new solar panels and installed them. We were very happy with the results. Our three new panels produce a total of 20 amps of power per hour on a sunny day. Jim is overjoyed! We donated our used solar panels to Pass It On Guatemala. The three panels will be used at isolated villages to provide light at their single community building which serves as school/hospital. Our three panels will benefit three communities.
I passed the time taking some coffee Spanish lessons with Erica. Doris, from Magic, joined me. We had a great time using our Spanish on Erica and asked all sorts of nosey questions. Erica was very patient with us. Afterwards, Doris and I would do some shopping in Fronteras before heading back to Tortugal. We were pretty confident with our Spanish and enjoyed trying out our skills. The lessons I have been taking in Canada have really helped and I can understand more of what people are saying.
Doris taught a hand weaving course at Tortugal. She is a great teacher and it was fun learning a new skill. I am a bit of an “all thumbs” person, but she was patient with me and the rest of the cruisers. Doris visits weavers wherever she finds them. She is writing a book about her sailing and weaving adventures.
Many of our cruising friends were still at Tortugal because of boat problems. Jim helped wherever he could in solving electrical issues and finding where deck leaks were coming in on other boats.
We crossed the Rio Dulce Bar on February 17, 2017 along with Magic and motor sailed over to Bahia Graciosa for the night.
Next morning we set off for Placencia, Belize. It was a motor sail the whole way. We anchored in a protected spot near Placencia Cay. There were not a lot of boats as most of them were out enjoying the calm conditions on the outer reefs.
We checked into Belize on Monday, February 20th. Afterwards we celebrated with ice cream and a nice lunch out. Our friends, Dave and Ellen, of Cordelia were in Placencia. Originally they were going to Cuba with Scott Free but their transmission broke and they had to return to Placencia and order a new one from the US. We sat outside Tutti Frutti with them and listened to a reggae/jazz band playing. The musician on the saxophone was excellent.
After a few days of enjoying Placencia we headed up to Sapidilla Lagoon to await the passage of a weather system. Chris Parker was forecasting for strong winds out of the west and the south and Placencia is not the place to be for that kind of wind. It gets very rolly and so its better to move further into the Placencia lagoon or head to a place like Sapidilla.
We enjoyed our time at Sapidilla. The protection is great on all sides of us. The boats that stayed in Placencia had a very difficult time when the winds arrived overnight as the sea conditions in the harbour became very rough.
Pelican Cays was our next destination and Jim did some diving to try find some of the moorings that used to be there. Apparently three catamarans had tied up to one mooring in strong winds, broke that loose, and then tied up to another mooring and broke it loose as well. Without the moorings, boat traffic to Pelican Cays is reduced. At 60 feet of depth, it is a deep anchorage, especially compared to the usual 10- 15 feet of depth we like to anchor in. Dustin, Kim and Alma of Hideaway Cay were very thankful that Jim and Mike (Mike and Mam of Genesis) were trying to find them.
While Jim did the diving, I enjoyed the playing with 4 year old Alma. We played Uno and she beat me 5-2. At first I thought I would have to play “gently” as she was only 4. After the 1st game, I realized that she was a card shark and I better try a bit harder to win. After she won three games in a row, I finally won one, but only barely and partly because I think she took pity on me. We played a few other card games and she beat the pants off of me.
Leaving Pelican Cays, we headed to Coulson Cays and met up with Doris and Dennis of Magic. The next day we tried to make our way between Middle Long Cay and Bluefield Range and go to Rendezvous Cay. We followed the Rauscher guidebook. For once, the advice was wrong!!! We soon found ourselves in very shallow water. Jim decided to turn around and get out. Too late. Emerald Seas was not moving. We were stuck good.
Magic was still on their way and called to see if we were ok. We lied and said all was well and that we were going to stop here for a bit and do boat chores. It is not a good thing to run aground in Belize. Fines have been levied in the tens of thousands of dollars! Magic understood our plight and kept quiet.
Jim and I spent the next three hours on a falling tide trying to kedge Emerald Seas to deeper water. I was pushing the bow with the dinghy and other times I was pulling the halyard and making Emerald Seas rock and roll. While Jim was kedging with our anchor winch, the winch stopped working and Jim had to go to the cockpit and use the winch. It was hard work and it was hot work. And it was not working.
We took a break and discussed the situation. The tide was almost low, which does not mean much when the difference between high and low tide is less than a foot. The next high tide would be 10 PM at night on a moonless night. Winds were picking up already and at night the winds can blow even stronger.
Taking a chance, I put in a call to friends on My Island Queen, a big powerboat. Lucky for us, they answered right away and even better, they were only about a mile away. They came to our rescue and in no time we were pulled free. Jim and I were overjoyed!
We headed north and anchored for the night at Shag Bogue. Great, protected anchorage. Although it is right beside Bannister Cut, it is a better anchorage because there is no fighting the current against the wind. Magic and ourselves enjoyed a quiet night.
After a wonderful sleep, we set off for Cay Caulker. The route there is quite shallow, especially around Port O Stuck. We followed our previous route and had no problems. After Port O Stuck we were joined by two dolphins. Our sail to Cay Caulker was fabulous and we were able to find good holding fairly close to the town. Near us were Lapis and My Island Queen.