Life on the River…

May 2, 2011,

Dear Friends and Family,

Rob is busy getting the boat ready to leave.  So much work to accomplish.  As usual, my stuff can only be done after he does some of his so instead of working like he is at the moment, I will take time to tell you more of the story we have found in the short time we have been here.

First, let me say that without the interaction with C&K, we would have no awareness of this and our view of the country and the people would be very different as we would be seeing a macro view.  With the help of C&K we are seeing more of a micro view and it makes all the difference.  I am trying to learn not to be so judgmental and this is a reminder of that.  When you see the surface you may give less worth to the society.  When you see the individuals and understand the human drive to be content, safe, happy and free, you realize that there is no difference between us, only in the way we may go about realizing those same goals.  To judge anyone is to judge myself and I certainly am not ready for judgment.

With that in mind, let me tell you about the way some of the people along this river live.  As I said, the houses are built along the river or small little riverlets that finger back in to the jungle.  There are rarely yards although if you go back away from the river or have some little bit of high ground as the village near C&K has, you will have what we might consider a regular land home.  They are built more to traditional walls, and floors, though some have dirt floors on the land as well.

With all the talking about security, the local houses we saw in the Texan Bay area, had no walls or doors.  It would take nothing for a person or an animal for that matter, to come in and walk around.  The animals are less a problem as unless they too have a path, they can’t climb up the pilings to get in the house.  I asked about insects and surprisingly, they are not an issue and in fact we noticed that it really is not a big problem.  Of course there are flying insects, but not oppressively.  No mosquitos either which I can’t understand given the water, the heat and the vegetation.  At night when lights are turned on, you get insects responding to those but many people here live their life by the sun anyway.

Let me start by describing three of the houses we saw.

The first place is the home of Carlos.  He is married to Elizabeth and they have a 6 month old son, little Carlos.  Chris, along with other villagers, helped them build the first part of their home which you can see in the picture in the last log showing Chat-Eau at anchor.  C&K’s boat is to the left in that picture and in between is a thatched roof structure.  That is where Carlos and Elizabeth live.  The structure is a raised floor over the water with a dock beside it.  Right now there is a boat there and Carlos is watching it for someone who is away for awhile.  He earns money that way.  The platform has support posts and is topped by a thatched roof made with locally harvested plants.  I guess the tree that the thatch comes from does not have to be killed when taking the leaves but it takes about 4 or 5 years for the leaves to grow back.  Nature is pretty good on timing as that is about how long the harvested leaves will last in a roof.

Chris said that it was amazing to watch how quickly the structure went up.  It only took a week and that included cutting the trees, hauling them some times long distances to the water and getting them cut and  the construction accomplished.  A platform was built under the roof edge over half of the structure and a ladder used to access it.  This was the bedroom area for the couple and they used the building this way through the 8th month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.  At that point she went to stay with her parents in Guatemala City, 5 hours away by bus from Rio Dulce and another few hours to Texan Bay by boat.  Because of time and money, Carlos didn’t see her or the baby until they came home.  She stayed one month with her Mother as is customary here.

While Elizabeth was gone, Carlos built some more to the house as a surprise.  Off of the platform is a walk way that leads to a smaller covered platform that has the cooking area.  They do have a refrigerator but the food is cooked using wood fire.  This is customary for most of the locals and because of that respiratory problems are common in the women from inhaling all the smoke.

Another walk way leads to a room with walls all around,   Openings are there for windows and a curtain makes the door.  The windows can be closed with little shutters and they hope to make a half door at least to help contain the baby when he is mobile.

A cruiser who had twins on board his boat, left them some netting that they will string around areas that will keep the baby from falling over the sides.  There are no railings or any kind of protection from falling over, even for us.  You would not want to wander without a light at night or come home having consumed too much adult refreshment!  I don’t think any of these houses would pass inspection as we know it!  Somehow, the babies survive and so do the people.

Carlos is just starting out, so some day they may have more and can add on where and when they need it.

The second house is more middle class for the area.  It is the home of the woman who is selling the things that Kelli sews.  You saw a part of her kitchen in the last log.  When Kelli asked her what they could sew that would be things people would buy, her first response was to sew covers for blenders and microwaves.  I was shocked because I looked around and wondered how homes without walls could have those kinds of appliances.  Surprisingly, they also do have electric power available.  Kelli said that it is because they don’t have walls that they cover things to protect them from dust and bugs, etc.

This second house I am describing probably started more modest and grew.  The main part of the house is in two parts, a small living room with one hammock in it for seating.  The walls in this room have a few shelves for some treasures and quite a large sound system for music.  The walls are covered with pages from magazines.  The pictures are of so many types of things and all the wall is covered with something.

The second part of the house that has solid walls is about the same size and is the sleeping area.  I didn’t see inside as it had a sheet for a door.  This is a family of 6 though one of the daughter’s is away at high school so not there very often.

Behind the walls of the house is a covered area with a table that holds some items.  Along the side of the living room area is the kitchen, which is pretty large considering the rest of the house.  It is very neatly organized.  The walls are made of loose small limbs which allow air and light and smoke to pass through.  The room is covered.  All of her many pots and pans and other items are hung along the walls.  She has the microwave and blender and a refrigerator and a propane burning cook top.  She also has the wood fire for cooking.  It is located in the corner with a backing for protection.  It is built on a very thick wooden table.

Behind the house on another platform with a room is a table and chairs for their dining area.  Also, they have a platform leading to an outhouse.  They collect rain water in a large tank which they use for cooking and washing and drinking.  C&K collect rain water on the boat and said they have never run out, though they have capacity for 300 gallons.

Surprisingly, there is a walk way that leads to the neighbors who live behind them.  There is a little finger of land that they live on so they both have water at the front of their houses and share a “back yard.”  There are no barricades of any kind to keep the families from coming over to each other’s place.  What is interesting is that the sister lives one house over and there is no walk way to link them.  They have to go over by boat though it is just a short distance.  The house they are linked to is being built by a Canadian couple and I will use that as my last example.

The Canadian couple have been living on their trawler until recently when the house has started to be finished.  The house has a large boat dock that leads right to the raised platform which is the home.  The space under the roof is about 4 times that of the rest of the houses we have seen.  The roof is massive.  In one corner of the floor area is the kitchen.  It is a small L shaped free standing cabinet with very little counter or storage space.  It has a double sink though as well as a regular propane stove including oven.  It has a half size refrigerator built in to the counter.

The only other furniture in that large area is a high counter that comes off of one of the support posts and there are high chairs on either side.  The rest of the space has about 4 hammocks for relaxing with friends.  All this is completely open on all sides.

There is a raised walk way in the back that leads to another building which has the shower, toilet and sink.  Another walk way, decorated by two wooden boats with plants in  them, leads to another raised and roofed area that is the work shop for the construction.  You have see the walk way picture in the last log.

Instead of a ladder, a beautiful staircase curves up to the loft.  There is an equivalent space up there.  The woman plans to put her work shop at one side.  In the front area is a large bed and a round table with two padded chairs and a lamp on either side.  Otherwise it is empty with no dividing walls.  What is amazing is that the roof opens to the front and back.  It is done in a way that protects from the rain but allows one to have beautiful views.  On the front, it opens up on to the river and in the back, on to the trees.  The couple is still partly living on the boat until they get things complete but most of the time is now spent in the house.

Maybe things are still on the boat but there were no boxes, closets, chests or anything like that to hold their clothes or other items of property.  There were not even tables that held items.  I would guess that this life style doesn’t require a lot of stuff but still?

What is so strange in all this is what happens when they leave for the summer as they do.  There is no way of securing any of their belongings.  The Canadian couple can put some things on their boat and lock that up but it wouldn’t be the furniture and appliances etc.  I need to ask about this because C&K always lock all their things.  Not so much from the local people who know them but from outsiders who come passing through the area.

Not only are the houses built this way, but this would also go for the restaurants and businesses in the area.  The kitchen area may be able to be locked but the rest of the restaurant is all open all the time.

I don’t format these blogs, our son-in-law Craig does that for us, but I am sure there won’t be room for all the pictures of the things I have talked about, so check out the picture section of the blog.  I also noted that when checking the satellite pictures of our location, it was cloudy on the day they took the shot for Texan Bay so all you see is white clouds.  Too bad.  I would love to see it by air myself!

The next log will discuss out arrival here in Rio Dulce and impressions of life here.

By the way, some people have been asking when we were planning to be back.  Steve and Nancy left today to go touring until return, probably on Saturday.  On Monday, C&K are taking us about an hour inland to a place where they have a natural hot water falls.  It will be appropriate that we are doing this with Chris as we went to an amazing falls in the Dominican Republic with him when we were just getting to know each other in 2003.  Then on Tuesday, we will leave the marina and head back to Texan Bay where we will hopefully have dinner at the Women’s Collective restaurant and say farewell to C&K.  The 11th, we will check out at Livingston in the morning and head back in to Belize.  We shouldn’t have weather problems in Belize because it is protected waters, but hopefully the weather will cooperate once we are in open waters past Mexico and the three day passage home.  At least we will have current with us and that will speed things up considerably.  At the latest, the end of the month should put us home in Punta Gorda, Forida.

We are connected to internet so a great time to send pictures and messages as it is really easy on our rs.linehan@embarqmail.com account right now.

Working hard,
Sue and Rob
Still aboard Catalyst

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