Well our trip is all but over for this season. Maiatla is bedded down for the summer in Marina Chiapas, about 14 miles from the Guatemalan border. We are sad to leave our girl but she is in god hands as the marina staff will be looking after her. So its back to Vancouver island, home and to see the family. That part we are looking forward too, but not the cold. Although it will be nice to get a break from the 35C weather we have been having for the past 5 months.
Friday, March 14, 2014
Well, after spending almost five months sailing down the coast from Mazatlán Mexico to Guatemala, Jan and I are preparing to leave Maiatla for the summer here in Chiapas Mexico. The last two weeks we have been cleaning and spraying every nook and cranny with mildew stat to prevent the growth of mold in our absence. Sails have been removed and any loose items removed from the deck in the event that a hurricane just happens to pass by here during storm season. To celebrate our last couple of nights Mexico, we took the dinghy across the harbor to Puerto Madero to find a palapa for dinner and drinks.
Puerto Madero is an old fishing port that has seen a better day. Most of the streets are dirt lined on either side with decaying buildings of concrete and correlated metal construction. Despite the abject poverty the people were friendly while appearing to be genuinely happy to see us there. After landing on the volcanic, black sand beach we took a tuktuk to El Centro to have a look around. A Tuktuk is a three wheel motor bike the locals use as taxis. They are cheap and a great way to go site seeing. Check out more pics on our blog.
As it was Jan and I walked till almost dark before taking another Tuktuk ride back to the beach where we had left the dinghy. We sped back across the harbor in the dark back up into the estuary where the marina is located. The Marina restaurant is called BAOS where we got a hamburger and fries with a side order of garlic prawns for dinner. As we dinned legions of geckos hunted bugs in the rafters above and on the pillars that held up the thatched roof. We also spotted large bullfrogs leaping across the lawn. It was a great day and we will be sorry to leave this place. In a couple of days.
Thursday, March 06, 2014
Jan and I spent the day on a Mexican collectivo bus taking our laundry into Tapachula. A 30 kilometer ride in 90 degree heat to drop it off at the Laundromat in a 9 passenger Van with 16 people jammed inside. At least there wasn’t anyone hanging on the outside or on the roof as in Guatemala. Tomorrow we get to do it all over again to collect our hopefully clean laundry. The highlight of the day came when we got back to the boat to find that a bird had built a nest near the top of our mast.
In the morning I will have to go up and evict him…or them! Think we have been sitting still to long! Think I need a rum!
Monday, March 03, 2014
Guatemala shares the border with Mexico and being so close we decided to make a road trip into the hinterland of Mexico’s much poorer southern neighbor. Since we heard navigating the border could be a bit of a challenge we hired a local Mexican guide ( Macaw Tours of Tapachula) who brought along two Guatemalan drivers who arrived at the marina to pick us up in a brand new, air conditioned van. A plus as our day time temperatures were always in the low 30s with enough humidity to forever purge the wrinkles out of the clothes that you were wearing.
Twenty minutes after leaving the marina the two lane, Pan-American highway narrowed as it squeezed between a pair of chain link fences topped off with razor wire and to the left, the ubiquitous Mexican army dressed in their very hot looking “Jungle fighting garb as they stood stone face while clutching their well-worn automatic weapons.
Other armed guards had placed cones across the road forcing us to a stop. Our guide hustled us, Jan and I along with two other cruisers who perhaps foolhardily decided to come along on this venture, out of the van and escorted us to the Mexican customs office. We needed to clear out of Mexico for which they charges us 700 pesos for their trouble.
10 minutes later were out of Mexico and walking across the bridge that spans a boulder strewn river that is the border in this corner of the state. As I peeked through the fence I could see several people wading across the river from Guatemala to Mexico. When I asked Arturo, our guide about them he informed me that they were “wetbacks” running the border as they have no papers. I was surprised that they would attempt such a thing in plain view of the border guards and again Arturo said that they are so many people running the board that the guards don’t bother chasing them anymore. As if to demonstrate the casual nature of this process, I watched as one of the wetbacks, once reaching the Mexican side, took the time to take a bath. Perhaps a prudent thing to do as he had most of his clothes off anyway.
A little further up the river there was a long rope that stretch from Guatemala to the Mexican shore and attached to it was a small barge made of old oil drums with decking and apparently, for a fee, the more affluent “wetbacks” could pay to be hauled across the river without getting their feet wet.
As we moved along the barbed wire corridor, we were accosted by dozens of individuals speaking in rapid fire Spanish. Arturo explained that they were currency traders who wanted to exchange our Mexican Pesos or US dollars for Guatemalan Quetzales, a requirement if we wanted to purchase anything in the county. The small seething mob was very aggressive as they vied for our business. The whole thing reminded me of the scene of frantic “Wall Street Traders” scrabbling to buy or sell the world, but of course in a much less formal environment. Jan and I were glad to be separated from them by the sturdy fence. After a quick negotiation, wads of bills were passed through the chain link as we converted $30 US into the local currency. We now had beer money.
Leaving the currency traders behind, we pushed our way through the crowd of locals coming and going as we made our way to the Guatemalan immigration office. We paid a small fee based upon how far we were going to travel into the county. Arturo told them that we were only going to the next town so our fee was about $2 for both Jan and I. With our passports sporting yet another counties stamp of approval, we passed by more armed guards, this time Guatemalan, and were finally permitted to leave the secure area and enter what looked like a narrow public market teaming with peoples selling everything from cocoanuts to dresses.
But we didn’t have time to look about as our van and drivers were waiting for us on the opposite side of the street and as it was already almost 5 pm, we needed to hurry if we wanted to get to our hotel before dark. Our first trip to Guatemala was going to be a short one. We had only planned on staying only one night. Arturo had arranged a little excursion for us.
A two hour drive through the countryside to a small but relatively prosperous town of San Marcos where a Guatemalan dinner awaited for us . Then a trip around town to visit El Centro, some government buildings then the local market. After which we decided that a beer was in order so with Arturo keeping a close eye on us we did a mini “Pub Crawl”. Then to our hotel for the night. Our second day would take us back into the hills for a little bird watching before returning to Mexico.
On our way to San Marcos, we would carry on down the Pan-American Highway, a misleading name as it seemed to wind around every well beaten goat trail and village with “ Los Topes” (speed bumps) that would threaten to rip the chassis off of the van or kidney punch you if you were traveling little too fast.
The small villages were sad looking to say the least. Many of the homes were nothing more than a concrete block shells with clay tile or corrugated metal roofs and ratty old curtains for doors. Some of the nicer homes had plumbing which consisted of a black water tank mounted on the roofs or up a small tower with an outhouse nearby. We saw children being bathed in a bucket in the middle of the backyard and open sewers leading from homes to the ditch alongside the roads.
Firewood seemed to be stacked everywhere as it was the principal source of fuel for cooking which caused a bluish haze to hover above most towns. We often saw people, old and young alike with great bundles of stick strapped to their backs as they came out of the jungle or were wandering down the roads. We also saw swayback mules and horses loaded down with firewood heading for the villages to sell the wood to those who could afford not to collect their own.
Between each village the jungle was thick, humid and reeked of fertility as the thick musty earth smell drifted out from under the jungle canopy. Not entirely unpleasant smell that would stick to your cloths. Where we crossed the border it was hot, but as we traveled east, deeper into the country we began to climb up into the mountains. It wasn’t long before the air-conditioning was shut off and jackets and pants put on as the temperature dropped to an almost pleasant, 10c.
As we drove into the town of San Marcos, there was evidence of their last severe 7.4 earthquake which occurred less than two year previous leaving 39 dead. The rubble from collapsed homes no longer blocked the narrow streets but piles of concrete debris could still be seen with many homes boarded up as they were too badly damage to live in. Even the brand new city hall was condemned after the quake.
Dinner turned out to be a pleasant surprise as the restaurant was reminiscent of a country lodge from the Pacific Northwest with knotty wood paneling and great beams holding the ceiling up. The only difference perhaps being that the windows that lined the walls on both sided gave us a perfect view of the brick walls that lined the alley the restaurant was located in. The food was a traditional Guatemalan dish of beef, corn tortillas and black refried beans with vegetables which was quite good. The old lady who ran the place was reported to be an award winning chef who owned two other restaurants in town. The five of us dined in relative peace as the establishment had been opened strictly for us.
After diner it was some sightseeing around town. The town is defiantly a few steps up from the country and jungle dwellers with indoor plumbing and street lighting but on steep, narrow streets better suited for horse and cart as opposed to vans and busses. However, the motor bikes and scooters seemed to rule here. The public market was nice as it had a colonel air to it and the town square was quaint but in needed of some dressing and litter collection and after dark, it was full of people, young and old alike, many trying to sell coconuts or roasted peanuts and cashews. Lots of young people sitting about holding hands or recumbent, discretely hidden in the bushes doing what teenagers do. We attracted many inquisitive glances but all smiled and waved when we said “Hola!” (hi.)
We never felt threatened, even while walking through some deep dark alleys but what did make us feel just a bit uncomfortable was the presence of soldiers sporting some pretty serious weaponry.Civil war has not been long gone here. The Guatemalan Civil War ran from 1960 to 1996. It was mostly fought between the government of Guatemala and various leftist rebel groups supported chiefly by ethnic Mayan indigenous people and Ladino peasants, who together make up the rural poor. The very folk we passed by on the road coming here.
The government forces of Guatemala had been condemned for committing genocide against the Mayan population of Guatemala during the civil war and for widespread human rights violations against civilians. Hard feelings between the two groups are still evident but thankfully a truce, albeit, and uneasy one exists.
After the town square we wandered down the streets to find a beer. One thing that you will notice here as in much of Mexico, almost everyone sells something from their door steps whether its food , clothing or gasoline in one gallon jugs, commerce abounds which often spills out onto the street hindering traffic.
We found a little bar owned by a friendly guy by the name of Jimmy who was happy to sell us 5 Gallo beer, the local brew. When I say little bar, I wasn’t kidding as the place only had 5 stools and when we sat down I had to be careful not to lean too far back as I was liable to be clipped by a passing motorcycle carrying Dad , Mon with baby on her back with the family laundry nestled between the handle bars.
After a single round we were off to find the next drinking establishment and so went our night. Our hotel again proved to be a pleasant surprise as we not only had a shower in our room, but a tv with and english channel. Ah Law and order with Spanish subtitles to distract you! The room was nice, not exactly the holiday inn but comfortable. There was no need for an air-conditioner here but a heater would have been nice as we were well up into the mountains and it was still cold and the room had no heat but lots of blankets and comforters to snuggle under.
Jan and I sleep well but we were up early, 530 a.m. to head further up into the hills for a little bird watching. We were actually looking for the very rare state bird. The Quetzal was almost wiped out as their plumage was collected to make feather headdresses. It’s now protected and making a very slow comeback. Arturo knew a couple of guides who said they could take us into the jungle where they had made nests for the birds and recently a pair had claimed one for its home. So with sleep still in our eyes at the crack of dawn we were marched down a misty jungle trail into a deep valley the bird was reported to reside.
The trail was narrow, muddy but descent through a dense bush that was thick with giant ferns and dangling vines and the calls of exotic birds. We crossed two cascading streams and posed for pictures next to tall waterfalls that burst from the greenery above. It was great hike but what made the day was we actually got to see a matted pair of Quetzals at the nest.
When our guide pointed out the nest we saw the bird with only his head protruding from a hole in the tree. I focused my big Nikon with its telephoto lens on the tiny head and began snapping away. It was a strange looking bird with big eyes and green and red plumage, the bird didn’t look real. In fact, it looked remarkable like a stuffed parrot from Walmart and after several minutes of the bird not moving, I began to feel like we had been had. Just when I was about to tell Jan that I think the bird was a fake, it twisted its head and popped out of its hole and flew off, trailing its great tail behind. With cameras in hand we snapped dozens of photos of the bird at it roosted nearby.
After about an hour we left the bird and hiked back out and by 9;30 we were sitting on a ridge top with one of Guatemala’s active volcanoes on the horizon to ogle at while having a breakfast that Arturo had driven in.After breakfast I, along with the other couple we were with, made a second descent into the valley to see if we could get some more bird pictures which we fortunately did. This time the female showed herself as well. Jan’s back was hurting so she declined to return to the valley and returned to the van for a late morning nap.
By noon we were retracing our path though hill and dale back to the border and Mexico, but not without a stop to purchase some beer where I asked the very young and heavy armed guard if I could take his picture. He first refused waving me away. But I really wanted the shot so I gestured that he should strike a combative pose, again I again asked for permission. He seemed to soften his posture just a little. I could sense that I was making headway so to further break the ice I turned my face so he could see my profile. I then rubbed my face as if I were checking to see if I needed a shave while saying “Muy guapo no?” (very handsome no?) the kid broke out in a big grin. He then let me take his picture.
Our trip back to the boarder was for the most part, uneventful except for when a local collective (buss or passenger van) decided to pass us on the windy road. There is a running joke that goes, “How many people can you get in a Mexican ( Guatamalan ) Bus????????” answer is…. One more!
As I watched the van overtake us on the blind corner, I could see that not only was the inside of the van filled to capacity, as indicated by the faces and chicken pressed tight to the glass, but the sliding door was wide open. This was apparently to accommodate the two people standing on the running boards who were desperately clinging to the door frame. And if I thought that their perch was precarious, the guy clinging to the ladder on the back of the van had it worse as he was being whipped from side to side as the driver, obviously wanting to save the brakes from needless wear, did little to slow down on the sharp corners.
By evening we were happily back aboard Maiatla and thankful that we had left the air-conditioning on as we had left the cool of the mountains far behind.