Our Central America tour (19): the wettest journey of our lives

Sunday and already time to leave Livingston. At least with only an overnight bag, packing was no problem. Now there is only one way to leave Livingston – and that’s the same way as you entered it: down the Rio Dulce. Our boat was scheduled to depart at 8.30 am, but the heavens had opened and our captain decided to give it half an hour and see if the weather improved. Miraculously the rained stopped but, minutes after we embarked, it started again – first spitting, then very soon the heavy stuff.

The grey mist descended to meet the grey water and it was sometimes difficult to discern an horizon, especially when your eyes are smarting with driving wind and sharp rain. When one is powering and bouncing forwards through a wide river, the effect of the rain is intense, so we were issued with heavy black plastic covers to pull over our legs. Combined with the orange and yellow life belts and the various coloured kagools, we we did not exactly represent a picture of sartorial elegance.

Any such concerns rapidly gave way to a desperate, and ultimately futile, attempt to stay dry at least somewhere. You would be surprised at how cutting on the face rain can be at such speed and how penetrating down through every layer of your clothes water can be, when you are storming through a downpour. The din of the motor, the splashing of the spray, and the flapping of clothes and covers added to the sense of us being at the mercy of the elements, as we huddled forwards to minimise our body profile.

But, heh, the river trip back only lasted one and a half hours since we did not stop to look at birds and gave up any idea of visiting the fort at Frontieras. All of us had experienced the wettest journey of our lives. One of the group called it “horrendous”; Vee confessed that she didn’t enjoy it at all; Roger found it strangely exhilarating.

We left the boat at the little town of Puente Rio Dulce on the opposite side of the river to Fronteras and had a welcome coffee at a ramshackle place called “Backpackers Hotel”. Sandra was keen to get us to this evening’s hotel so that we could be reunited with our luggage and change into dry clothes. So at 11.25 am we headed north and, except for a quarter of an hour comfort stop, we did not halt until we arrived at our hotel four hours later. Some of us had to sit in our wet clothes and it rained much of the way, so it was not the most enjoyable of journeys.

Guatemala consists of two huge chunks of territory: an oblong section in the south, comprising about two-thirds of the territory where almost everyone lives, and a square section in the north, constituting about a third of the land mass where perhaps a a mere seventh of the population lives. This northern province is called Peten and the provincial capital is the town of Flores which is right in the middle.

Flores – a place of only 30.000 – is noted as the stopping off point for the mother of all Maya ruins, Tikal. It is spectacularly located on an island in the Lago de Peten Itza but connected to the nearby mainland by a 500 metre causeway linking to the twin town of Santa Elena. Our accommodation – the Hotel Peten Esplendido – was in Santa Elena.

For Roger & Vee, dinner was at the usual time (7.30 pm) with the usual friends (Brian & Cally) but not at the hotel this time. Instead we took a couple of tuk-tuks across the causeway into Flores and had excellent fillet mignon at a place called “El Jardin Maya”. We walked back and felt safe.


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