02-10-2016 – Guatemala Excursion

We’re back from our latest land-excursion, once again a delightful trip through Guatemala – but this time we did it with a family of four in our backseat! From the first day we met the family on The Vortex we knew that we liked them. Don and Rae are a fun, vibrant and thoughtful couple with two early-teen kids: Henry is 14 and Aminah is 12 (but most people think she’s the 14-year-old!) We hung out with them a few times beforehand, including a long day’s drive into San Salvador for lots of errands. We also spent a fun afternoon at the beach playing in the waves, and trying to learn how to stand on our surfboard. 🙂 They had flexible plans, and were enthusiastic when we suggested traveling together and recommended Guatemala.

The Vortex Family


Although our car is really only intended for 5 passengers, we managed to travel hundreds of miles with 6! We all tried to pack lightly enough that our luggage could fit in the trunk, leaving as much room as possible for 4 people in the back seat. And although the family was “game”, it was undoubtedly an uncomfortable way to travel. Nevertheless we traveled together for almost three weeks before going our separate ways. Initially we expected to trade around seating, but it never happened, because of the odd interactions of personal space when it isn’t available. It turned out to be more comfortable (especially for the kids) to be uncomfortable along with one’s own family than to intermingle elbows and sweaty skin with new friends that you still want to please. We tried to minimize our long-distance travel and take breaks for snacking and stretching our legs, but there’s only so much you can handle in one day!

We visited most of the country’s “must-do” sites, spending 3 or 4 days in Antigua, Lake Atitlan, and Semuc Champey. In Antigua we found a new favorite hostel, the family took a half-day class on chocolate-making while we two enjoyed more time people-watching in the main square, and we all took a hike up to a park on a nearby hill with a huge cross and a spectacular view of the city.

Antigua Overlook

We spent a few days in two of the towns around Lake Atitlan: San Antonio Palopo and San Marcos La Laguna. San Antonio is somewhat off the beaten path, with the Mayan women wearing traditional clothing in patterns of deep blue and looms being operated in houses all over town. Rae and Kathy both enjoyed some textile shopping here! San Marcos is known for its spiritual vibe, attracting hippies, musicians, and all sorts of people with interesting stories. Aminah was excited to learn of a place that offered an aerobatic silk course. It was at a yoga retreat up in the hills – a cool hike for everyone, but a little nervous-making coming home in the dark. The retreat is as self-sustaining as possible, promoting permaculture and using renewable energy. This, admittedly fuzzy, action shot shows Aminah grinding corn for tortillas with a bicycle-based grinder.

Bicycle-Based Grinder

We also visited the market of Chichicastenango, and all went a little wild with more textile purchases. We bought a new spread for our bed, and are pleased at how much nicer our stateroom now looks! Dan got a couple of T-shirts and Kathy got a shawl and a daypack – all made from colorful woven Guatemalan fabrics.

Chichi Market

Next we stopped in a town new to us in the Western Highlands, called Nebaj. We had initially suggested Todos Santos, which we had fallen in love with previously, but someone had told the Vortex family that Nebaj was a real highlight for them, and we agreed it would be fun to go somewhere new. Nebaj turned out to be a really big town (but not quite a small city!), quite different from Todos Santos. We all enjoyed an evening together in the town square, getting a feel for the local people. The women wear long straight skirts that are predominantly scarlet, with vertical stripes of various colors, and twist their hair up with a thick cord that ends in big pom-poms that frame their head like a crown. Rae bought one of these cords and learned how to tie her hair up like a local and got lots of appreciative smiles – and a few surprised chuckles! On a recommendation from a Peace Corp volunteer over dinner one evening, we hiked over a ridge to a nearby town called Acul and rode a local transport van back. It was a really remote and charming adventure!

Nebaj Fashion

Rae Tying Pom-pom Cord

The last portion of our trip together was a visit to the pools at Semuc Champey. It was a long drive there, and we stopped a little short of our destination when we ran out of daylight. We also wanted to experience the bat caves near the town of Lanquin. When we bought our tickets for the caves, the kids noticed that there was also an option for tubing on the Rio Lanquin (which gushes out from the mouth of that cave) and expressed some strong interest in doing this the next day. Through a tenuous internet connection that night, Dan got some news that was unsettling, although not unexpected: his father David had died (peacefully, at home). We only briefly considered the possibility of trying to get back to Atlanta (we were several days hard travel from the nearest airport). But advancing technology has changed our experiences from just a generation ago; we got the news almost immediately rather than receiving a telegram or letter days if not weeks after the fact. This event has brought home to us both how far from “everyday life” we’ve ventured.

The next day, we reconfigured our itinerary; the two of us drove to the Utopia hostel (with everyone’s luggage) while the Vortex family went tubing and caught a tourist transport out to join us late that evening. We were surprised to find that the hostel was almost completely booked that night, and that we got 2 of the 3 last available rooms. It was serendipitous that we didn’t decide to all go tubing that day! We went to the pools, which are on the Rio Cahobon, and later enjoyed an afternoon of tubing on the river. The family enjoyed an adventure tour of another set of caves, which involved a lot of climbing through tubes and jumping into dark pools – they were all pretty jazzed at the end of that day! And we all enjoyed (in fact, are still enjoying!) the handmade 4″ disks of chocolate that the local children sell for 2, 3, even 4 for 5Q(uetzales), about $.80!

Dan Diving at Semuc Champey

Tubing the Rio Cahobon

The Jumping Bridge

By the end of our Utopia stay, the group dynamic had shifted, and it was clear that we were heading in different directions. The family decided to take a bus back home, via Antigua, while we decided to go directly home. Although it was sad to be parting ways, we all knew that we would reconnect back in the estuary in El Salvador. We have built a strong bond of friendship that will last many years.

When we got back to the boat, we were surprised to see that there were no cruisers left in the marina. We had left our dinghy hanging from Lungta’s davits on the back of the boat and gotten a ride in to the marina, and now had a minor dilemma getting back out to our boat. We arrived midafternoon on a Sunday, when all the cruisers gather at Lynn and Lou’s potluck party. Fortunately it didn’t take long for us to hail a passing panga and ask for a ride. We were pleased to see that the boat was essentially in the same shape as we’d left it in. Our power monitor program did its job effectively, and the freezer and batteries were both merrily ticking along.

Unfortunately, though, we had left a problem brewing which “popped” once we started using the boat’s systems daily again: our generator’s cooling water pump had been leaking, and on our return suddenly got dramatically worse. At first, Dan was topping off the radiator every time we started it, but then he was adding water every 20 minutes, and by Tuesday night the water was pouring out as fast as he could pour it in. We removed the water pump Wednesday morning and took it into town to find a shop to rebuild it, but couldn’t find anyone who had the correct bearings or seals. At the end of our rope, we stopped in at Moldtrok,, the machine shop that has helped us and so many other cruisers out, to see if our friend Jose Ramon had any suggestions or references. In desperation we asked him for help with the pump, and he responded by giving us a huge hunk, probably 10 lbs, of grouper from his freezer! He loves hunting and fishing, but always has more than he can consume himself, especially since his three children are now off at college in Boston. (He’s a very proud father!) The next day the shop repaired our water pump from parts scrounged from two different distributors.

For a short while, before Jose Ramon became our guardian angel (again), we entered into one of those dark places where everything seems to be heading south. The air conditioning on our car went out the last day we were coming back from our travels, which may not sound like a big deal to our readers who are wading through banks of snow, but those who have spent time in the sub-tropics will understand! The generator stopped working. And, when we thought that we would just use the hydraulic generator attached to our main engine, then the engine started spewing a funny cloud of steam and an odd sound after the first hour of working just fine. We turned it off quickly and spent a fretful night wondering how we would get out of this quagmire! The next morning, Dan donned his grubbies and went down into The Dungeon to diagnose the engine’s problem, which turned out to be a pin-hole leak in the hydraulic hose feeding the generator – hooray, the engine itself was fine and the fix would be straightforward! That Friday we took a third trip into town, this time with our friends from The Vortex (parents only!) to pick up our repaired water pump and get a new hydraulic hose. Our dark spell lifted pretty rapidly! We really do feel fortunate to be living the life we are!

Now we’re back to working on various projects around the boat, in preparation for our next “excursion” to South America in two weeks. We completed fabricating and installing the segment of caprail that had been taken apart when we were addressing the rust incursion into our hull. This week we have hired a local wizard, Reymundo, to sand and varnish the entire caprail. If we stay on top of it, adding a coat of varnish every 6-9 months, it will stay beautiful forever. The major work only comes in if we leave it for too long in the damaging sun. It feels weird to have someone else doing so much work on OUR boat, since we tend to do virtually all of it ourselves! 🙂 We have lots of irons in the fire right now. We hope to complete some enhancements on our power monitor system, adding wifi capability so that we can see the data from our web-site while we’re away. We’re still polishing and installing the bronze connectors to our chainplates; only have a few to go, but probably won’t be done this month. There is also a shipment arriving this week from the US that includes a sheet of Acrylic for a new skylight, new chain for our rusty standing rigging and spools of new line for some of our halyards and sheets. Also, we’ve started playing chess together. Dan has long loved this game, and Kathy is quickly learning to play.

Isn’t life grand?

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