Living the life in Rio Dulce

Published: September 15th 2008
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I was a bit apprehensive of this particular stop before I reached Rio Dulce due to news of murders and the like of both tourists and locals in the weeks before. The area is known as a point of entry/departure for the drug trade coming through the Caribbean via Livingston. However, I emerged unscathed and this area (and Livingston) is probably one of my favourite places in Guatemala. Rio Dulce is a unique area with Carribean influence and American ex-pats living in their yachts. Post-Hurricaine Katrina, Rio Dulce and its Lago Izabal are one of the few areas that yachts can be insured during hurricane season. As a result, local shipyards and carpentry have flourished to support this new influx of people.

Our accomodation was a cute hacienda complete with boardwalks leading to cabins on the swamp. They also offered sunrise kayak tours to see Howler monkeys in their natural habitat. I'm not sure what possessed me to get up at 6am let alone kayak having never done so (with a guide who spoke no english and offered no instruction on basic kayak technique). Luckily, Michelle had sea kayaked previously and was able to keep our kayak somewhat zigzag free and mostly on course. The kayaking was worth the trip as we were rewarded with howler monkeys climbing directly above us in the trees. There were about fifteen different howler monkey groups in the area each with a collective of about 25-30 monkeys. The leader would howl/growl to notify others of tasty food sources or to mark territory. The other highlight of the sunrise tour was checking out the Islas de Pajaros filled with thousands of waterbirds including beautiful storks.

The boat ride to Livingston passed through a gorge called La Cueva de la Vaca with sheer limestone cliffs covered with lush green jungle foliage. An enterprising boy made numerous quetzales off of us when we paddled alongside our boat to show us the blue crab he had just caught. Like the photo-happy tourists that we were, we eagerly snapped pictures of him sitting with his crab in his wooden dug out canoe.

The town of Livingston itself had a festival going on when we visited celebrating a black Jesus who was carried into town off of a boat and then paraded through the streets. It was interesting to see the town unified by this religious figure despite cultural differences as Indigenous Guatemalan or Garafuni (Caribbeans with descent from St. Vincent where hundreds of years earlier African slaves intermixed with the local Caribbean population). Highlights of this town included an alligator tank in the middle of a children's playground (where one local nearly lost a limb weeks earlier when he was drunkenly encouraged to climb in) and new favourite soup - Tapado. This soup requires you to have at least a two hour lunch as the soup is made fresh with coconut milk, fish, shrimp, shellfish and seasoned with coriander. Michelle and I were a bit squeamish to eat the fish and crab thrown in whole otherwise we would have been there a lot longer picking the shells and bones clean. Locals are also proud of a drink called guifiti they claim is not moonshine but has aphrodesiac powers and medicinal qualities. They lied. It smelled deceptively sweet with hints of caramel and vanilla but tasted nothing of the like and had a strong lingering bitter taste.

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16th September 2008

Hi, im from Guatemala but i live in Fort Lauderdale Fl. im glad i found your page n that u enjoyed ur trip to Rio Dulce. Im plannig my next trip to Guatemala n i wanna go kayaking there too since i've never been to Rio Dulce. my family there also told me about the climb to the active volcano near Guatemala city they say its a really nice trip n you can do it in 1 day. again its one of those nites n i cant sleep :p Have a nice n safe trip n keep up the great pictures!

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