Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Rolling Down the River Without Proud Mary

We love this hotel, but there is one drawback - no WiFi. The computers they have, they request are not used for anything other than e-mail to give other guests a chance at them. This is really limiting because I cannot even load blog posts on a stick to upload. Being dependent on the computer for multiple reasons, this is like tying one hand behind my back. 

The other disadvantage is that one is pretty dependent on having meals here as the town is a boat ride away or an hour’s walk. As towns go, this one is a village, not really inducive for traipsing there for a meal. Hence we hostages have breakfast at our hotel like most of the other hotels along the river or swim to another shore to dine. Hardly worth the time, energy, or efforts. Our hotel does offer free boat shuttle services 4 times a day; this is still not an incentive. Alternatively, the prices at the hotel are incredible reasonable and the food quality is above average, so it turns into a win-win.

The weather cleared, so we decided today is the day to take the Rio Dulce boat tour. The cost is 200 quetzals each, but it lasts from 9:30 to 3:30, making twenty Euros each a bargain. When it showed, there were already a number of people on board, but after we joined we still picked up 4 more people filling the boat to the max. Not a single life jacket in sight. Due to the weather, the water was choppy, causing the boat to act like an amusement park ride, jumping up in the air and then doing belly flops slapping the water with angry force. Needless to say, we bounced and flopped and slapped our seats in unison.

We cruised along for half an hour before we came to the Castillo or old fort. That is the amount of information we received. There was no opportunity to get off the boat to take a closer look and after snapping two photos, we were turned and already off to the next destination. At 10:30, we arrived at a stop off point, but hardly anything enticing. There was a small pool of thermal waters where one could swim, a restaurant and bathrooms. They were selling giant dead starfish purportedly for a decoration. Needless to say the only attraction for us here was the opportunity to use a bathroom.

Back on the boat, we passed numerous cormorants and pelicans resting on old abandoned boats. We whizzed by small islands of vegetation; the scenery was interesting. However that old song sung by Peggy LeeIs That All There Is”? Questions my mind could not answer were can I really withstand this butt abuse for 5 more hours? How many pelicans can one witness sitting about before they are no longer a novelty? Where is all of this leading?  Does this tour come with a commentary in any language?

Just as I was mulling the questions over one more time, we landed at Livingston. Relief, a diversion from cruising the river. This was short lived when the boat Capitan told us we had 3 hours here. Three hours for what? This pueblo is a postage stamp. What we learn, on our own, is this village is composed of the Garifuna people. Slave ships from Nigeria were shipwrecked on St. Vincent in the Caribbean where their intermarried, creating a new culture of West African and Caribbean traditions.

When you arrive at the Livingston boat dock, we quickly learn that all the shops and restaurants lining the main streets are owned by Guatemalans along with a few Chinese. What I later learned through my own research was that Guatemalans swarmed here during their own wars as this area was safe. They eventually bought up the best of the area from the Garifuna people. Garifuna people have been relegated to the side streets and the edges of town, living along the shore. 

What we thought would be an excellent diversion when a parade appeared from a side street as we were heading to the dock, turned into something very different. Masses of people were following a pick-up truck that had music playing from speakers on the roof. The crowds were holding umbrellas to shield themselves from the elements. It wasn't until the truck passed that we discovered a coffin was the cargo the truck was hauling. This was a funeral parade. I was so relieved we held off on taking any photos.  
One of the foods that is available everywhere is tapado, a Garifuna coconut-based soup overflowing with seafood and shellfish, two reasons while I did not try it. I don’t eat fish. We walked the town up and down the main street and over a couple of side streets too, but we usually try to avoid complete residential areas for fear of making locals feel like they are on display. Only one place gave any indication of wanting to share the culture of the area and this was a small business that had the history on a banner in Spanish and in English. However, it was difficult to tell what the business was, presumably a café, but lacking the accoutrements to provide such services. We read the history and moved on.

 We found the church open. It was plain, but had statues of saints on either side decorating the walls. Each saint was decorated in real clothing like someone played dress up with them. For some it was obvious that they were combining Catholicism with their own cultural beliefs. As the history stated, there are still Garifuna shamans which play the central role in the community regardless of other influences. Still, it was a long 3 hours waiting for the boat to return us to our respective hotels.

As 2:30 was approaching, the weather started turning; the sky was getting heavy with rain, clouds were darkening. A half hour before the boat was scheduled, the rain let loose. It was pouring rain. Most of our group huddled under awnings for cover without any intention on buying the product or services sold by the awning owners.

When we assembled on the boat, all grateful to be leaving, the wind had kicked up, the rain was coming in buckets and the water was rougher than before. Within minutes we were all soaked to the skin. The force of the wind and rain kept most of us covering our faces for protection. By the time we reached our respective hotels, we realized there was a positive and negative to this boat experience. The bad news was that just about all of us had the fillings in our teeth knocked loose. The good news was that those of us with hemorrhoids were cured.
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