Welcome to Rio Dulce

Connecting the town of Fronteras, the big town, with El Relleno, our little town, is the bridge built by the US Army Corps of Engineers to create a better highway linking Central America. The only other route climbs through the mountains and is an arduous journey even today. The bridge has about 90 feet of clearance for boats, but the power lines to the west hang down a bit lower limiting mast height to about 75 feet. These power lines only came to the Rio Dulce area about 12 years ago, and electrical power in this area is still somewhat dicey. After the storm I mentioned earlier, we were without power for close to three days. Thank goodness for massive battery banks on board, but even though we had lights, fans, and refrigeration, 3 days without A/C in 90 degree heat stressed our bodies just a teeny bit. Needless to say, from about noon to 4 PM or so, we stayed in the shade and took a long siesta. The massive earthquake (7.5 on the Richter scale) that struck Guatemala in 1973 caused damage to the bridge which has only been partially repaired; some of the expansion joints are still missing the steel cover plates.

Another View from the Big Bridge
Another View from the Big Bridge

One of our favorite hangouts is Bruno’s Marina and Restaurant where Larry and Faith are docking their boat. The marina has side tie slips for about 24 or 25 boats in the 40 foot range, and afternoon breezes funnel down El Golfete cooling the outdoor restaurant. On the day of the big storm Joy and I had wandered over the bridge ( about a 20 minute walk) to the big town to do a little shopping, and when we were done we decided to stop by Bruno’s to see if the gang was around. They joined us at the restaurant, and lunch seemed to drag on to cool afternoon Pina coladas, Cervezas, snacks, and on to an early light dinner. While we were eating the storm rolled in from the west with torrential rain, heavy wind, and dark skies. Next thing we knew, the power went out and Bruno’s started their back-up generator. Needless to say, it was pretty easy to just stay put until the rain ran its course by about 6:30. It was pitch dark (in July) as there were no lights anywhere, so we figured we would grab a cab to head home. Well, there were no cabs; who in their right mind was going anywhere with no power anywhere? With no other options, Joy and I began our trek back over the bridge with not so much as a candle to light the way

Faith having her hair done by a new friend. Bruno's Restaurant in the background.
Faith having her hair done by a new friend. Bruno’s Restaurant in the background.

Shopping in the Rio is a real treat. There’s a very large grocery store in the center of town, but if we want the really fresh fruits and meats, we go to the street market. No chemically ripened fruit or vegetables here, and no antibiotic and hormone induced animal meats either. Everything on the streets is fresh, and the tastes are just scrumptious.
But to get back to our story, our walk over the bridge in the pitch dark was a real challenge. Joy was afraid she might fall through the one large uncovered expansion joint, so I had to go first since I have better night vision. When we approached the south side of the bridge, a large tree that earlier in the day shaded the entire westward descent had blown down in the storm and partially blocked the highway and the entire sidewalk. Joy had to dismount from the scooter, step down about a foot to the highway, and then we proceeded around the fallen tree. Now remember, at this spot in the bridge, that tree had been about 90 feet tall. The further we went, the more damage we saw as evidence of the storm’s intensity. With help from our marina security staff we made it safely down the docks to the boat, and the guys helped Joy get onto the boat in near total darkness, just their Mag lights for illumination. Our Angel was completely covered with branches and other tree debris. Clearly, the storm had been much worse on our side of the bridge.

Fruits are Plentiful in Guatemala
Fruits are Plentiful in Guatemala

Fresh Mangos
Fresh Mangos

Now that the power was off and with it our A/C, the boat’s interior began to get really hot, so off I went on another mission. Since my schedule for a nice new awning and my canvas guy’s schedule didn’t mesh before leaving the States, we needed some sort of canvas awning quickly. Another trek over the bridge to a hardware store where I had noticed some good-sized canvas tarps that would likely fit the job. About two hours later I had the big tarp installed over the main cabin, and the temperature under the tarp quickly dropped by a good 10 degrees, a significant difference. Over the next two days the boat’s interior was noticeably cooler, but even still, there was a big cheer that could be heard around the marina when the power came on and the air conditioners licked in. Whew!

Downtown Fronteras
Downtown Fronteras

You can tell from this photo that downtown Fronteras is a pretty busy place all the time. There are days when vehicle traffic will back up for as much as an hour getting through this tiny little town, about a half mile long main street. On the days when the fresh produce arrives, it is difficult to even walk through the downtown, say nothing of trying to get a big truck or bus through. And those truck and bus drivers, are they ever crazy. They all seem to think their horns are some sort of magic wand whose loud blaring will clear the road for them. All at once, blaring to beat the band; as yet, we haven’t gotten to the point where we ignore them, and I haven’t seen anyone move out of their way either.

One of the popular ways to beat the traffic jam, these and motorcycles.
One of the popular ways to beat the traffic jam, these and motorcycles.

On to our last few days of Leg One

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