Another bus, another blast of arctic air conditioning. Luckily this bus was only about 3 hours. Alice and I have bus sleeping down to an art. As soon as the engine turns on, we are both out like babies, no matter what time of day, or mode of transport.
We arrived in the very grubby little town of Rio Dulce. Río Dulce is river flows out of Lake Izabel where there is Castillo de San Felipe de Lara a small colonial Spanish fort originally built to keep out pirates from the Caribbean!
We went in search of some groceries, as Tikal had killed our budget a little, we would have to try to cook a little for ourselves if the place we were staying at had a kitchen of course. We wandered the streets with our massive packs on, grabbed some veggies, cereal, milk and bread and headed for the docks, it was too damn hot for this.
We had done some research and “the place to stay” was Hotel Kangaroo, and who were we to argue with a name like that. Some of the reviews had said that the owner, an Aussie bloke, was a “know it all” and quite rude. Determined that he couldn’t be that bad we jumped on the free shuttle boat (there are no roads to Kangaroo Hotel, or the many other river front accomodations) and arrived shortly after to a beautiful double story wooden building right on the water. Gary the owner was not in yet, but we were shown to our room which was very basic and tiny, but would do the trick. The “hotel” (the term hotel is thrown around a lot here in Central America, nothing is ever really a hotel so it pretty much means accomodation of some sort) had a great set up with tables and chairs not only inside, but on the dock next to a rope swing and the river.
Sweet Jesus! The Jacana bird otherwise known as the Jesus bird due to its abilities to “walk on water” @ Hotel Kangaroo, Río Dulce
A couple other Australians were staying st the hotel, but we chose to avoid them as much as possible as they were the type of Aussies we really didn’t want to get to know. They were a bit older, and very rude. When I asked them where abouts they were from, the woman (who was pissed at 2pm) responded “straya”. So I left it at that, before I disobeyed the “be respectful to your elders”.
When Gary arrived home, he turned out to be harmless. He had a story or ten to tell, but he was nice enough. We both found him a bit “know it all” but he was lovely all the same. It just felt like (aslike most ex pats we meet who run hostels) he was well and truely over managing a hostel in Central America. Not only did it feel and seem that way but he also told us he was done and trying to sell. He also, despite having a Mexican wife and grandchildren and living in Guatemala for over 14 years had the worst Spanish. I just don’t understand how that is possible even if you didn’t bother having lessons.
He had bought the place as a house some 12 years ago and built it himself into a hotel. He met his Mexican wife on the river and had a nice little set up. By set up I mean he would go into his 30ft sail boat and smoke weed, come out to socialise and play with his grandson and then do some work on the house he was building himself. His wife Graciela came over to Guatemala to set up a Mexican restaurant with her sister. We had read a lots of good things about the Mexican food served in the restaurant but the food turned out to be really average and Gracila didn’t seem to be cooking that week. The place was very quite for our first night and the only one worker that was there seemed to be very stressed by the amount of work he had to do. I think it was partly that he had a lot of work but he also had a bad attitude.
They had a couple cats, 2.5 dogs (a pit bull cross called Rex, an ancient labrador called Bear and a chihuahua called Chiquita) none of who were super friendly except occasionally Chiquita who would lick you to death.
Rex Relaxing @ Hotel Kangaroo Río Dulce
That night we hung our food bag up with our fresh vegetables on the wall as to try to stop any animals or bugs breaking in. The next morning we went in to find an inch round hole in the bottom of the material bag, through the plastic bag and into just one of the avocados. A perfect inch hole, through to the pip. Nothing else. Asshole. We actually think it was a gecko rather than a mouse because we also had chocolate in the bag and if I’ve learnt anything from staying with Alice’s family in England is that they love chocolate!
Gary was really helpful with explaining what we could do in the area and organised a trip for us the next day. We woke up early to the sound of only birds and insects, got the boat to Rio Dulce town, jumped in a collectivo to a little village called El Estor about an hour away and met Ben. Ben had a boat and had worked on the river for his whole life. He took us out on his boat for a few hours for birds, manatees and monkey watching. We saw a few birds, a bunch of monkeys but sadly only the bubbles from the manatees.
Iguana Be Your Lover @ Lake Izabel
A Danish gentlemen from our hotel, Stein, had joined us for the morning activity. He was a “true hippy” as he called himself and a really nice guy. He was about 60, had had a few heart attacks and had just decided to live his life how as he wanted. He had a ve y long grey pony tail and a long platted beard that ended with a silver bead. He was really friendly and very chilled. On the way back from our boat trip, Al and I jumped out of the collectivo at a stop known for waterfalls with both hot and cold water. Stein accidentally jumped out as well, as he didn’t really understand what was going on. He decided to join us for the rest of the day, which was fine by us. I mean who doesn’t need a confused old man to look after, no only kidding he was awesome and was just going with the flow.
Green Heron About To Take Off @ Lago Izabel
The waterfalls were ok, the main attraction here was the fact that the water below was cold, but the water falling was extremely hot. We had a bit of a swim but the water was murky and who knows what lingers in murky water. Stein was kind enough to sit and look after our belongings as he would “frighten the families” if he jumped in as he was “unprepared, but happy to go in in his birthday suit”. We decided that no one needed that, including Stein.
Luckily for us, there were a couple English “new wave hippies” at the pools, who just so happens to have a tight-rope-walking line in their backpacks (along with hula hoops and god knows what else). We left shortly after.
We jumped back in another collectivo, headed home and spent the rest of the afternoon hanging out and swimming off the dock. Won’t lie, monopoly deal was broken out as well.
A Very Grumpy Monkey @ Lago Izabel
As we couldn’t get a shuttle to La Cieba, Honduras on a Saturday that would get us there in time for the ferry, we decided to stay an extra night. So instead of getting a long bus, the next day we jumped on a boat and headed for Livingston. We hadn’t heard a bunch of great things about this place but we were excited to explore regardless. The boat ride there was incredible, we went through a huge canyon and the scenery was stunning. We also made a stop at a part of the river where the water was bath hot. We dipped our feet in and as boats went by creating waves you could feel the cold wave then a hot wave, it was pretty cool.
We arrived in the Caribbean town of Livingston and within 20 minutes had walked it completely. We had 3 hours in this tiny little town that had absolutely nothing going on. It also felt about ten degrees hotter than on the rio.
After dipping our toes in the Caribbean Sea on the saddest beach ever we luckily found a hostel that was well known for food. When I say well known for food, I mean there were three reviews on trip advisor that pipped the one other restaurant/café on Trip Advisor by two reviews. We called into Hotel Casa Rosada and ended up reading, chilling and eating a lovely lunch, swinging in hammocks on their dock. It made for a lovely afternoon with a beautiful view of the entrance to the Rio Dulce and the coast.
Jess Relaxing @ Hotel Casa Rosada, Livingston
Back to Hotel Kangaroo that afternoon for more swimming, chilling and monopoly deal. That night the place was actually packed but they still only had the same one guy working there other than Gary and Graciela, the restaurant was really strained and we ended up eating at about 9.30pm. We didn’t mind but you could feel the frustration of the other guests including a French family with two young kids and a Dutch German couple we had sat and had a few drinks with. They were both nice and had perfect Spanish as they lived and worked in Alicante in Spain. The Dutch Guy was as all Dutch people seem to be- so lovely, but his German girlfriend was a bit “spicier”.
Baby Howler @ Lago Izabel
The next morning, nice and early, we jumped on the boat and were taken to another hostel on the other side of the bridge. Here we would get picked up ( with the Dutch German couple we had met the night before) by the shuttle to take us to La Cieba, Honduras. The shuttle was super late then when it finally arrived and we jumped on, we ended up waiting for another half an hour for two more people. The German girl asked them to check the names as she believed it was a mistake. What had happened was that the Dutch German couple had already booked on the shuttle and when someone at Kangaroo booked us on they must have confirmed four people more instead of four people in total. The German girl started getting really angry at the disorganisation as she was in fact right, we were waiting for two more people that didn’t exist but had a bit of an unnecessary go at the driver. We were under a bit of pressure to make sure we caught the last ferry so understandably she was a little cross but we were also in Guatemala where organisation is certainly not what it is like in Germany. At that point we wished the lovely Dutch guy good luck with his fire cracker and kept all conversation to a minimum.
After probably the easiest boarder crossing ever, where we pulled up, jumped out and lined up at a window, got an exit Guatemala stamp, jumped across to the next window which was a metre away, got an entry into Honduras stamp we were done. We were shocked that we didn’t need to show our bags, answer any questions and that we had not only exited but entered a country in a matter of 2 minutes between the two of us. BORDER WIN!!! A few hours later we arrived in La Cieba, all that was left to do was get a short easy ferry to Utila.
Guatemala, through the highest peaks, the fiery views and the crystal clear waters, you have given us a home away from home, friends that we will keep forever, and a family that we will never forget. We have been surprised us at every turn by your friendliness and beauty, we will be back. Hasta luego Guatemala.