We turned our backs to the sea and headed up the Rio Dulce through the outskirts of Livingston, admiring the houses mostly built directly on the river, some on stilts, and some only a foot or two above the water, all with boat-ports in lieu of car-ports or garages. No roads, remember? And no traffic noise.
Then I realized that we were on a highway after all, but the other vehicles were mainly cayugas
, paddling or fishing under the overhanging branches. When I say cayuga
, I mean dugout canoes with freeboard measured in single-digit inches. They move surprisingly fast, up the shaded edges.
Every so often a bus would roar past – lanchas loaded with people, sometimes tourists (pink!), taking the ride from Livingston to Fronteras. The lanchas are long lean outboard-powered fiberglass, up to 30 feet and they do the heavy work. They usually don’t leave much wake, but nothing seems to unsettle the cayugas.
When we got to the gorge part of the river, green and sometimes cliff-walled, hills of varying hues marching off beyond, we just kept saying Wow, this is neat, or some such mundane exclamations of surprise and pleasure, bend after bend. It wound on for five or six miles, mostly deep (50′) water, full of white herons and other birds.
After the cliff section, scattered houses appeared, many of them, despite their palm frond roofs, clearly not built for local residents. Sometimes the mouth of a stream,a small store, a restaurant, or pentecostal church (solid concrete).
Eventually we came to a shallower and wider ‘lake’, the Golfete, rimmed by mountains a bit farther off. It was absolutely still, beyond the sweet song of frogs and birds. I had the eerie sensation of having climbed to a plateau in the clouds, and can’t shake the feeling that I’m not at sea level any more. But we didn’t have that much current against us, and water seeks its own level, doesn’t it?
It’s such a different world that I can see why people (other than insurance agents) have no concern about hurricanes here. I hadn’t visualized the scale of the place – our destination was still another ten miles off, and beyond that lies a 30-mile long fresh water lake, Izabel, largest in Guatemala.
When people talk about the Rio Dulce, their comments are always prefaced by “You’ll love it. It’s so beautiful, and the people are so nice.” Spending the hurricane season here clearly won’t be a hardship!