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May 1, 2011,
Dear Friends and Family,
I left you on the last log having just checked in to Guatemala. This country has limited Eastern shore line but does have access to this major river which feeds in to the Caribbean Sea. The Rio Dulce is quite beautiful. The first part of our passage took us about half way up the river before we stoped at an anchorage called Texan Bay for the first night. That is where Chris and Kelli live on their boat most of the time.
Along the way, the river becomes high cliffs on either side only covered with tropical vegetation. The white egrets were everywhere in the trees and the pure white stood out in stark contrast to the lush deep green of the trees. It was beautiful and one bend in the river after another showed more and more beauty.
We started to see how much they use the plant type roofs on the buildings here. It is easier to get a hold of and is very water tight. It looks like it belongs here as well. You would see some very simple homes and you would also see some really amazing structures. As we got to where the land became flat by the river, you saw a lot more homes and more activity on the water. The river is like the interstate here. There are small personal size dug outs, larger family boats and then of course the larger and faster launcha’s which have the outboard engines on the back. Everywhere were people in boats. Most of the places we saw didn’t have any roads to them so the only option is the water.
As we got to Texan Bay we found a three part bay, each part moving further back from the other. It is very well protected and even though we would shift at anchor, it was like living on the hard as there was not a ripple in the water unless a power boat came by. Such a quiet night!
We met with Kelli and Chris for cocktails. No one was hungry for dinner after our late lunch in Livingston. We heard stories about their life there. It will be a year in June that they have spent at one time at this location. They are coming up on their third summer here. They live full time on their boat and don’t have a land base as we do.
I was surprised at how much of a community that anchorage is. There is a marina there that keeps about a dozen or more cruising boats and has a restaurant. There are some small locally operated businesses that have some food items for sale. There is another restaurant and a sail loft as well. Many people live in this area or along the little streams that go back in to the trees.
What is interesting is that most of the homes around here are not built on land but instead over the water. The land is so full of plant life and is swampy so the houses are built up on stilts with a dock and dock like walk ways to connect parts of the house. If you want to go to your neighbors house just a stones throw away, you must go by boat unless you build a raised platform to connect the houses.
Chris and Kelli (now known as C&K to be quicker)told us about how life is in this area. As I said last time, the indigenous population is Mayan but there are about 28 different types of Mayans in Guatemala. Each has it’s own language and they can’t always communicate with each other. Of course Spanish is a common language but they don’t all speak that either. In general, they are the poorer class of people and many still populate the remote areas. Each area has a village government and many times village law supersedes Guatemalan law. In some cases a village doesn’t even permit a Gringo to visit let alone live or work in their area. Some are just as tough on fellow Guatemalan’s. Kelli said that not surprisingly, they are usually the most poor villages. Of course, we are talking river people here. There are populations that are land locked or mountainous as well.
C&K are very aware that they live where they do under the permission of the village council but that village would be hurting without the input they get from C&K and some of the other Gringo’s in the area.
Security is an issue for C&K although no one that is from that area would rob from them, strangers do come through the area so they always secure the boat and dinghy when they leave or even while sleeping.
In one case in the village a young man was caught stealing. Because he came from a good local family who had lived in the village and owned property there for a long time, he was given a warning. Four years later he stole again and the village made the entire family leave. Often local justice can be settled as in the wild west, even in a more violent way. C&K said that in many ways it is a lot like that. That may be the difficult part of it but the good part is that you have a supportive community and local issues can be handled in a way that suits the local population. Just like the Wild West of the US in the 1800’s, they know that their neighbors are looking out after them and would come to their aid should they need it.
Kelli is quite good at Spanish and is still learning. Chris, not so much. Kelli has started an English school for the kids and the adults. They meet at the regular school once a week. The actual village is located a little way from the anchorage and has more houses and a school. The village houses are built with no paths or public areas in mind. It takes just a little of a small point of land and many of the houses are built out over the water’s edge.
What is interesting is that the village alone has built the school and hired the teachers. Each year they have to apply for a grant from the government to get salary for one of the teachers. The others are funded by the community. One of the local gringo’s who lives in the area provided the money for the building and the community provided the labor. Chris’s aunt donated 8 lap tops that were being phased out by her company to add to the older desk models that had already been given to them. Though the programs are in Spanish, they still need to get some Spanish key boards to allow for the use of the symbols in the Spanish language. Chris is going to help with the moving of the computer lab at the school to the top floor because the first floor gets too dusty with the dust sifting from the floor above and off the ground from the lower level. He will help with the wiring. They have about 18 computers in all and only one printer. Nancy and Steve donated some money to Kelli to help with the school and they hope to get two more printers and enough for more ink. Things are expensive here because of shipping and duty on electrical items. The school hopes to be accepted by the Government so that there would be more funding.
The little ones attend school in the morning and the older kids in the afternoon. We could see the older kids coming to the village for school in their little cayukas. No bus here.
Many of the children don’t go to school past about a 5 grade level because they often times have to help support their family. What would be considered high school is difficult and expensive as you have to go and live in Guatemala City, a 5 hour bus ride away, probably with a relative if you have one there. Consequently, educating this part of the population is difficult and thus, their lack of education disenfranchise’s them in making an impact on the way their own country operates.
When you look at how poor the country is and how spread out are the people, you can see that even that the task would be great even with efficiency, the will, and the money, all of which are in short supply. We have seen this and continue to see it in some of the mountain and other rural areas of our own country.
Kelli doesn’t get paid for doing her English classes and in fact has cost in providing paper, pencils, etc. for the class supplies. The whole thing started as a trade to teach her Spanish and evolved in to a classroom environment. She is still learning Spanish as each lesson is in both languages.
Besides doing the school, Kelli is sewing purses and blender and microwave oven covers. One of her friends cuts out the material and sells the finished product. Kelli does the shopping and the sewing and they share the profits. We brought down a sewing machine that they bought to get one of the women started sewing on her own so that she can go in to business herself.
Chris has taken on a partner in the business they are starting. Chris will do bottom cleaning, boat maintenance and some repair and watching out for boats left in the water. He also does electrical and mechanical work. His partner Carlos does wood work on the boats and some other things as well. When they took Carlos on, they suggested that he become a partner. He had no idea what that would mean. He had never anticipated doing anything but working for a daily wage. He is so grateful for what C&K have done for him and his wife and 6 month old son. It was interesting to realize that so many don’t have much of what we would consider “a chance in life.” There are many reasons for it but an over riding one is that they have no comprehension of any other possibility for themselves or a clue how to change things. It has not been easy to teach this idea and harder to learn it. I realized that on a different level, you could say the same for our population, especially those that don’t seem to know how to “get ahead.”
A group of 23 women in the area got a grant from the tourist bureau to build a restaurant. They take turns with three of them each day doing the work. They only have to work one day a week. The day we stopped in, we didn’t have time for lunch but we hope to stop and be their customer on our way back out in a week or so. I don’t know if they had any business the day we were there but maybe that night.
Though Chris can’t wrap his head around Spanish, he is excepted by the community and helps out in so many ways. He helps with construction, wiring, transportation, training Carlos and wherever he can help. Of course he also spends time doing his business. It is called Sea Kissed and you can check it out on line.
There are so many more stories to tell but too long for this log. If you are interested, we can have a conversation some time.
I mentioned that life on a river is a different experience than life in the salt water. It is amazing how nice it is not to have salt everywhere on the boat. Things don’t deteriorate as fast and the water is so much more useable for washing everything. The locals wash themselves and their clothes in the river and many probably drink the water as well. The fish are fresh water and smaller than the ocean fish but where C&K live, the salt water can come up but it stays under the layer of fresh water. Some times you can catch Jacks which are a salt water fish, about 12 miles up the river because of this.
Tomorrow I want to share with you the type of homes people along the river live in, including the Gringo’s. It is amazing.
As I write this, we have already come to the town of Rio Dulce and are busy getting the boat ready to leave on the hard.
Hope this isn’t too much detail but believe me, I am editing a lot.
Loving it here,
Sue and Rob
Rio Dulce Guatemala