Published: September 13th 2010July 9th 2010
For the next stage of our trip we are headed for a town called El Estor, out of Rio Dulce at the Western end of Lago de Izabal.
The guide book seems to suggest that its not worth spending much time in Rio Dulce town, but as we pass through it seems like a popular spot for yachts to shelter and much more interesting to look around than we expected.
Anyway, in Rio Dulce we find a bus heading for El Estor, filled with a bunch of ‘green’ tourists who don’t realise they’re taking the real back way to their destination which will be many hours on. We leap off early into the trip at our town, after asking the driver to drop us at the posada. At the last second we realise that the posada is nowhere to be seen and he must be more lost than us, but its too late and the bus has gone! Eventually after walking the streets we locate the accommodation and get a basic room. By this stage it’s super hot and we are about to have a refreshing cold shower (the only choice), but alas there’s no water. Seems there’s some
El Paraiso Cascada Caliente
Beatiful spot not sure about the curious creature on the left
sort of pump that only gets turned on at certain times in the day. We start negotiating!
El Estor town is bigger than we expect, and quite a rambling place with a nice lake frontage. There are great lightning shows and the thunderstorms and rain start by about 7:30 each night. One evening there is such great lightning that we decide to head out in the pouring rain in our togs (swimsuits) to check it out from the lakeside. It is quite a spectacle all around us, but the rain starts to get cold on our skin, so we head home for a cold shower that actually feels warm after the rain.
The next day we catch a public bus to El Paraiso, a 20 minute trip that becomes a marathon when the large bus gets a flat tyre. The driver and ticket taker suddenly become the pit crew and struggle with the tyre changing process in the by now extreme heat. Finally we make it to El Paraiso, a place hardly signposted in the middle of nowhere. After a short walk we come to a cool river with a beautiful hot waterfall cascading down the rocks. This
Not a pleasant moment
Luckily full-on action not quite caught on camera
is the confluence of hot thermal springs and the cold river and this creates a true paradise, like a natural spa resort with mudbaths for the skin, cool water for a wash down afterwards and a sauna effect in the overhang under the hot falls. For the keen biologist there is a super smelly bat cave full of chiroptera (bats) as well as lizards and even strange insects feeding on bat excrement! To top it all off for the hydrologists you can follow the hot water to its source at the springs above the waterfall. What a beautiful place. We have the place to ourselves and could stay all day, but eventually we have to emerge, super wrinkly and dripping wet (no need for a towel in this heat) and we drip all over the seats on the bus back to El Estor.
We pass through the town market, picking up some fruit and snacks, get to chatting with some locals (in slowly improving Spanish) and end up teaching some of the kids how to juggle with limes. We head on to a small comedor to get some dinner and while we wait for our food we watch locals
By lancha on Lago de Izabal
Benjamin our wonderful guide
preparing for a social game of basketball in the square. We’re looking forward to the game until the thunder and lightning comes on strong and the rain starts pelting down in bucket loads. They’re not as hardy as we think, they run for cover and that’s the end of our entertainment. Our meat is cooked on a barbeque with wood and some sort of fuel for accelerant, which unfortunately becomes the only taste in the meat. We attempt to ignore it, eat up and try to think nothing more of it. A quick walk down the road with our jandalled feet in the rivers of water and then its off to bed in preparation for an early start in the morning with a trip out on the lake.
But in the middle of the night it is all on for Tessa and me, from both ends, if you get my drift. Keith can’t sleep through it and by 5am he has to phone our guide, Benjamin and cancel the day’s activities. Instead it becomes a quiet day of recovery, with Keith feeling a bit off too and the only food to be touched is basic biscuits and lemonade.
On Lago do Izabal
Under the howler monkeys
By the next morning we are all much brighter and are up at 5 to meet Benjamin at the lake edge. On a beautiful glassy Lago de Izabal, with the sun just starting to rise, we are taken across the lake in his lancha towards the Reserva Polochic. The water is so calm, and it’s very quiet, with just a few distant fisherman in their small lanchas to be seen. We ease up some of the many channels with water plants, orchids, bromeliads and trees and Benjamin stops to reach for some fruit for us to try. We spot all sorts of birds, including pied cormorants, kingfishers, egrets, falcons and Tessa’s favourite - hummingbirds. It’s a cool morning after the rain in the night, but not cold for us as it’s probably around 28 - 30 deg C. There are howler monkeys only slowly waking up after the cooler night and we spot their dark shapes in the trees. As it gets warmer they start calling eerily across the reserve.
It is a very tranquil place and we spend most of time in the boat as the water is a metre higher than normal, but there are so many
Lago de Izabal monster
Something strange emerged from the depths
arms to explore. In the distance we spot a 3m crocodile in the water. We keep an eye out for manatees (large marine mammals), which feed on the water plants in the area and after following the trails of bubbles and wavelets eventually Tessa spots the back of one as it dives. Yay! We have time for a swim and snorkel but only see a couple of wee fish.
We hear from Benjamin that this beautiful river delta area is called a reserve, but actually has no meaningful protection. There are problems with locals cutting trees for firewood and housing, foreign interest groups and ongoing fishing and hunting. Benjamin says 80% of the biology has disappeared since he was a child. And there used to be lots of tapirs and jaguars before the nearby nickel mine went in. It’s such a beautiful place, it’s sad that it may all be gone in another 30 years. It seems that to find the most natural, clean areas with wildlife you need to find the areas with the fewest people. A sad reflection really.
We return quietly across the water after one of the highlights of our trip so far. We were out on Lago de Izabal for 5 hours and it was great value with an excellent guide who really cares for the area and wildlife.