Thursday, January 18, 2007


so we got on this bus which we thought was headed for la ruidosa, but we found out from the cobredor that it was going into a town called morales. we didn’t really know what we were doing, but we just decided.....whatever. that sums up how i travel, and since courtney’s the same way, we travel pretty well together. i mean, we have an idea of where we need to go and all that, but when we get to a bus stop or whatever, we just tell a cobredor or bus driver or local where we want to go and they pretty much point us in the right direction. people are usually really helpful so there’s no need to freak out when the route gets a little changed, or the buses are different than what we had read in our travel books. sure, we’ve had our share of people telling us buses are coming at a certain time when it’s not exactly the correct time. but for the most part, things work themselves out and when you’re on vacation, it’s not worth it to get all revved up about it.

anyway, so we got into morales, which looked like this big agricultural pueblo....agroservicios and agropecuarios were all over the place. we circled our way around town, then ended up in the terminal and the cobredor walked us over to this microbus that was going to the río dulce. so we got on this thing and finally left morales and make our way back towards la ruidosa and onto the río. this was one of the most packed micros i’ve ever been on. there must have been 25 people in this thing....they just kept piling in. it was pretty claustrophobic. when we finally arrived i was not impressed. talk about a run down place. we were dumped off on the main drag in town and quickly saw that it was full of gringo backpackers and dirty roadside stands. we had arrived fairly early so we decided to find somewhere to eat breakfast and stopped in this restaurant which turned out to be one of the worst place i’ve ever eaten food in my life. i can’t even explain the ridiculousness of it. we just wanted normal breakfast – beans, eggs, tortillas, cheese and this slow girl was totally confused by our request. in fact, i’d rather not remember it! anyway, so we found where we needed to be to meet the sailboat – a restaurant called the río bravo. we waited around in the restaurant and kept seeing people and wondering if they were going on the boat with us. finally, an hour after we were supposed to meet the boat, some guy came and told us he would be taking us over to the sailboat on a smaller motor boat. so we went over in groups and were finally deposited on las sirenas – our sailboat for the next six days.

me on the deck of the boat, as we were sailing up the río dulce

well, you guessed it. it was raining and when everyone finally got on board, it was not looking good. it was cold and drizzling and we were wearing raincoats and sweatshirts and wondering how the hell this could be a caribbean trip with this crappy-assed weather. we all introduced ourselves and here were our ship mates for the rest of the trip: the crew – raúl (the captain), carlos (the captain’s assistant...what is that, first mate?) and zacharias (the cook); nate, kellen, pablo, jackie and ashley (this group of college-aged kids who apparently had formed their group of five in antigua); adam and kate (a boyfriend/girlfriend couple from england); alex (really funny guy from the states); and mary and luisa (a young lesbian couple from sweden...they were exact opposites....luisa was tall, white-blond haired, typical nordic looking girl. mary was really short, dark skinned, dark haired. in fact, before we met them on the boat, we saw them in the bathroom at the restaurant and courtney thought that mary was luisa’s adopted CHILD from guatemala....she was that little! hee hee).

so after that the sailboat got moving, we headed up the river and it just kept raining and raining. it was soooo depressing! after a couple hours or so we docked at some area along the river and had our first meal. the rain stopped so we were all kind of hopeful that we were gonna get lucky the next day and the sun would come out. so at some point i crawled into our cabin (which was really just a double bed with shelves on the side...we couldn’t stand up or anything.....i could barely sit up straight without hitting my head on the wooden beams across the top) and zonked out.

the next morning it was looking kind of promising. there was no rain, but it was overcast and there were clouds enveloping all the mountains around us. the boat set sail pretty early (well, we didn’t actually use the sail until we got out onto the open water) so i went up on deck and had some coffee and just watched the amazing rainforest-filled canyon of the río dulce pass by. we ate our breakfast and then finally pulled into the waters around lívingston. lívingston is a guatemalan town that is only accessible by boat and it was here that the captain had to take our passports to the immigration office and do the paperwork that would allow us to go into belizean waters. because we weren’t actually going to be going onto land in belize, we didn’t need visas or anything – but the captain still needed to officially let the guatemalan/belizean officials know what we were doing and who was doing it. so while the captain took care of that, carlos took us over in groups to lívingston in the motor boat. there, we were given a couple hours to check out the town and get whatever things we thought we might need for the sailing trip.

the beautiful río, surrounded by rainforest on both sides

well, by this point it was practically pouring – but we all went over and milled around. things were pretty dead just because of the rain but it still looked like lívingston was pretty cool. courtney and i were debating whether or not we wanted to get off the sailboat a day early on the return trip back and stay for a couple days. there is a pretty big garífuna community in lívingston and it seemed like it was a really interesting culture – different from the traditional latin culture we’d been living with in el salvador and had seen with the highland maya in lago atitlán. so we decided that we would cut our sailing trip a day short to check out lívingston. besides, all we would have been doing that last day is going back down the río dulce and back to that god-awful town. so after walking around town a bit, we stopped by lívingston’s alligator pool. you guys would not have believed this thing – it was a cement circular pool, split up into four separate pools. the walls were only about four feet high or so, maybe four and a half. anyway, inside each one of the pools was a huge alligator – i mean HUGE. this was the most dangerous thing i could even imagine. and there we were, leaning our heads over the wall to get a closer look. i know – stoooopid! but whatever.

so we headed back to the dock to wait for our return motor boat trip to the sailboat and shortly after boarding, we were off again. everyone slowly started to disappear into their cabins or into the sala (the communal room where everyone played cards....and when i say room, again, we’re not talking a den with a lazy-boy and coffee tables. we’re talking a 4 x 6 coffin where maybe only 6 people could be in at one time comfortably). courtney and i hung out up on the deck of the boat, under the tarp the crew had put up to shield us from the rain. the crew only spoke spanish and since courtney and i are pretty fluent now, we kind of chatted with them a bit about the boat and the trip and all that. we finally made it out to the open water – past the bahía de amataque and into the golfo de honduras. and yes, it was still raining. only now it was raining and we were moving up and down on this choppy water like a buoy. thank god i don’t get seasick or motion sickness or anything because we were really moving.

the dismal view of the bay surrounding lívingston

a boat filled with pelicans near lívingston

our sailboat, las sirenas

on the deck of our sailboat

despite the rain and all, it was really cool to be out there. it was really relaxing to just be out there on the sea and away from all the buses and people and craziness that you find on land. we sailed for the better part of the afternoon and towards the end of the day we arrived at the first place we dropped anchor. we were now officially in belize and in the sapodilla cayes area. we were anchored near an island that looked like it had nothing but a small house on one end of it. it was still raining so they put up the tarp again (they had to take it down when they put up the sail) and we ate dinner and crawled back under shelter.

courtney looking through the hatch (one of two entrances to our cabin)

the island we anchored near for the first part of the trip

everyone on the boat was pretty tranquilo except for the two swedish girls and ashley – from the group of college kids. they formed some kind of powerpuff girls group pretty early on. they just gave off way bad vibes and it kind of made the trip a little stressful at times. under normal circumstances it’d be something that you’d laugh at and then just ignore. but limited to the confines of a sailboat during bad weather kind of made things unbearable at times. the two swedish girls were just so loud and overwhelming that it was really hard to ignore. everywhere you turned, there they were shouting and being loud and making snarky comments about everyone. i don’t know, i guess at age 34 i see the world and people differently than these young girls did. it was like they were still living under junior high circumstances...”let’s sit around and judge everyone on the boat so we can make ourselves feel better about ourselves.” a couple other people on the boat made some comments to me and courtney about the ridiculousness of it which was funny. they were also being really shitty to the crew, like the crew were their servants or something. i felt really bad because during this rain and bad weather they kept complaining like it was the crew’s fault. when, in reality, the crew were working their asses off and doing a really good job of just getting us to where we needed to be, cooking awesome meals and doing the best they could to make us comfortable....putting up the tarp, giving us rain jackets, putting the tarp over the two hammocks where two people were sleeping. and those girls just continued to be rude and obnoxious. puhleeze!!!

anyway – so that second night was kind of crazy....just because of the aforementioned stress. also, our cabin was next to the sala, and the only thing separating the two “rooms” was a thin curtain. so it was still really hard to get away from the junior high antics and they just seemed more amplified because of the close confines. but i managed to fall asleep. you know what was really, really scary? having to get up in the middle of the night and go to the bathroom. you had to hoist yourself out of your cabin and onto the deck which was only visible because of a tiny light near the center of the boat. you’d look out and seeing NOTHING but darkness. the boat would be rocking back and forth, which made for walking to the end of the boat (where the bathroom was) very, very creepy. then you’d have to open the bathroom hatch, slide on down and do your business while the boat was still rocking back and forth. has anybody ever tried this? have any of you lived on a sailboat before? (besides my uncle pete who is probably reading this and mumbling “god laura, you’re such a whiner!”). well, for those of you who haven’t had this experience before, let me explain it to you. it’s the equivalent of snowboarding or surfing, while trying to use the bathroom. seriously. not for the unbalanced or the uncoordinated. or the those of us who are tall. anyway, then you’d make the same trip back to your cabin and it was just an eerie, eerie thing to be out there in the middle of the sea at night like that.

the next day was even worse than the previous one. it was raining, even harder, and there was nowhere to go. i mean, we were on a sailboat....that’s pretty much all there is. i was not feeling good that day – i had a horrible headache which could of developed as a result of a multitude of things: 1) being crouched in the cabin for hours on end, trying to read and/or sleep; 2) repeatedly hitting my head on the wooden beams on the “ceiling”; 3) listening to the three “we’re so cool” girls and their yakkity-yak bullshit about how cool they were for too long; 4) the thought that if the weather didn’t clear up, i’d have to live with the thought that i paid actual money to sit in a tiny, tiny cabin and listen to the three above-mentioned girls for hours on end; 5) having to listen to jack johnson repeatedly (courtesy of the college kids.....don’t get me wrong, i like jack johnson, i like his music even if it does all sound the same. but honestly, enough is enough. jack ain’t that cool. nobody’s that cool.); 6) all of the above. oh, and on top of all this i hadn’t showered in three days....nobody had.

regardless of all this, there were some good things going on as well. alex, adam and kate were really cool. the crew was super nice and i ate some of the best food i’d had in a long time on that boat. i don’t like fish, so i told them when i got on the boat – because it was basically fresh seafood every day for lunch and dinner. but even so, zacharias (the cook) made me fish-free lunches and dinners and it was excellent. and again, we were on a sailboat in the caribbean!

finally, the following day was sunny! not only was it sunny, but it was blazing sunny. things seemed to improve 150% that day. after just catching some warm rays from the sun for a couple hours, courtney and i decided it was time to go snorkeling. if anything, i just wanted to get in the water to clean off because i was feeling mighty gross after not bathing in three days. anyway, i’ve only ever been snorkeling in lake erie so i have to admit, i was a little weirded out about jumping into the middle of the caribbean and swimming away from the boat. a couple people had already seen a nurse shark in the area and while i know that usually sharks don’t give two shits about humans swimming in the water, i was still kind of uneasy about it. i love sharks, i really do! they are phenomenal creatures. however, swimming around in their territory is not something i’d put on my list of things i enjoy doing.

but when was i ever going to be able to check out one of the world’s largest barrier reefs again? so we got our masks and fins and jumped into the beautiful turquoise water and it was amazing. just so many fish with these stunning colors – bright blues and yellows and oranges. there were starfish and moray eels and just bunches and bunches of sea creatures that i had never seen in the wild before. the coral was beautiful too, but since it provides hiding places for all those creatures, it got kind of stressful swimming over big clusters of it. you’d never know what was going to be behind or under the coral and every once in a while a big fish would come out when we were swimming over it and it’d freak me out.

i didn’t see any sharks while we were snorkeling, thank god. you know, i just don’t think i’m underwater material. i like swimming and i’m not afraid of drowning or anything, but the deep sea weirds me out and i just don’t have the guts to be one with the sea. everyone keeps saying how you can get scuba diving certification for super cheap in the bay islands in honduras – it’s apparently the cheapest place to get certified in the world. and for a few minutes i was thinking that maybe that’d be something cool to do. but after those few minutes, i realized that no, i’m just not feeling it. i’m sure scuba diving is an amazing thing to experience, but it’s just not for me. i’m good sitting in front of a television watching other people scuba dive and make videos about all those cool underwater animals for the discovery channel and national geographic. i’ve said this before – we can go to the moon and farther into the darkness of space, but there are parts of the ocean that we just can’t manage to get to because it’s just so deep. that freaks me out. i know that the whole no gravity thing is easier to deal with than the pressure of the depths of the ocean and that alone is enough to keep me above water on a boat or on the shore. i don’t like messing around with the ocean. period.

later that day i went paddleboarding with alex, nate, kate and adam. we had a race from the boat to the nearby island in which alex and i kicked ass. when we were all on the island we started walking around and it was the strangest place. the island was so small that you could see pretty much everywhere. there was this huge abandoned building and another less deserted-looking wooden building. this, along with a huge wooden gazebo on the shore and the abandoned-looking house on the other end of the island were the only structures standing. there were signs scattered about that said that the island was a protected area for turtles and their nests. the combination of everything made me feel like we were in the middle of one of those creepy horror movies. anyway, so as i was coming up from the beach on one side of the island, this guy came out of one of the buildings and i asked him a couple questions in spanish and he only responded vaguely. then i realized that, duh, this is an island of belize and in belize they speak english. so after i realized that and said stuff in english, he had more to say. the rest of the group came up and the guy was saying how the bigger abandoned building used to be a disco back in the day, but the owner ran out of money and so the island became deserted. apparently there are only two people that stay on the island: the guy we were talking to and this other dude we saw later on the other end of the island. they take care of the island and make sure the turtle nesting areas are protected. despite talking to this guy, though, the island didn’t lose any of its creepiness. we finally left the island and headed back for the sailboat on the paddleboards. alex and i tried for at least a half an hour to both stand up on our paddleboard without having any success whatsoever. we got close a couple times, but were never able to both stand up. oh well.

some of the fish raúl and carlos caught

the first in a progression of pictures i took to capture the amazing sunset on that first day of total sun...

....and gone

me and my qué horible sunburn i got that first sunny day

the rest of the day was spent doing pretty much nothing except eating and watching the spectacular sunset. the next day was filled with sun once again and the crew sailed the boat to another part of the caribbean. we passed a couple tiny islands and finally ended up at an isolated spot that was pretty shallow. the water was so beautiful and this time we saw a bunch of sand sharks swimming around the boat. raúl had told me that the sharks were really tranquilo so i wasn’t too scared when we went snorkeling that day. however, this time, the thing that was scary was that there were these huge drop-offs that were really dark. i felt weird swimming from the relatively shallow area into the great abyss. then at one point, i was swimming around some coral and i had just seen a stingray or manta ray (not sure which) and nate came up behind me and shook my shoulder. i about flipped out!

so the whole day was spent snorkeling and hanging out on the deck, eating papaya and watermelon and drinking gallos. it was the last night for courtney and i on the boat, as well as the last full day out on the caribbean so everyone busted out the booze and it was some night. courtney and i hung out with alex, kate and adam, and i drank a lot and sang reggaeton, but i slept like a rock and amazingly woke up the next day with no headache or nausea or anything. poor courtney didn’t have it so good. she was really, really sick and spent the whole trip back in the cabin, passed out. it was bright and sunny once again and we set sail for the return trip, just hanging about the deck, reading and eating more food.

sailing to our next destination...this is one of the small islands we passed on the way

the last of the fish do you know what they do when they catch a fish? well, first they pull it up on deck. then they club it with a wooden mallet. then they just leave it there to slowly die. it was horrible! i sat watching this fish die for like 15 minutes and felt awful about it. poor thing.

it was a long trip back and finally, around noon or so, we could see the mouth of the bahía de amataque. at one point i was walking to the other side of the boat to look for the dolphins that raúl had spotted off in the distance and raúl asked me if i liked lobster. i told him yeah, i liked all is just fish that i don’t like. so he says something like “great! you’re lucky!” so i’m like “cool, we’re having lobster for lunch!” every day on the trip carlos and raúl would go diving and bring up huge fish for the lunches and dinners so i was excited because it was gonna be fresh lobster. so later, carlos starts bringing up the lunch plates and i notice that everyone has fish, and i felt stupid because i had told alex that we were having lobster for lunch – based on what raúl had said to me. but then, i saw carlos carrying a plate with a whole, humongous grilled lobster on it and he brings it over to me and i’m like “what the hell?” you should have seen everyone’s faces. their mouths were all dropped open and everyone kept going “what???” there were actually a couple people that looked downright pissed off. hahahaha. i was dying laughing inside. and i think raúl was a little amused as well. courtney was sitting next to me and despite being horrendously sick, she was like “that is sooo funny.” so those two swedish girls were like “hey, how come you got the lobster?” and i answered, “i don’t know. i don’t like fish?” and the one is like “i don’t like fish either.” so i go on to tell her that, well, she should have said something to the crew before the trip started. then a couple people wanted to try a bit of it and i shared with whoever asked me. and during this whole thing i said, outloud, “oh, i guess everybody’s my friend now.” dudes, it was the most priceless thing EVER. i just kept going “this is GOOD!” the whole time i was eating it. i didn’t care. i was getting off that boat in less than an hour. i kept trying to reassure everyone that they’d probably get lobster later that night for their last dinner, but i knew they wouldn’t because that whole time on the boat, they only caught one lobster. and they gave it to me, bitches.

anyway, shortly after that hilarity, courtney and i hauled our stuff up, got our passports and hopped into the motorboat so carlos could take us over to lívingston. it was kind of raining again and i felt such a relief to be off the boat when we finally got to the dock. courtney was barely hanging on with her hangover/motion-sickness thing, but it didn’t matter because we were on to the next phase of the trip.

all in all i really enjoyed the sailing trip! i had been sailing before in san francisco bay with my friend kai and it was a much smaller boat, and everyone had to help sail the boat at some point....which was hard! this boat, being much bigger, gave you more time to relax. but with the couple days of bad weather it was almost too much time to relax. i guess what i realized about this trip was that i like hanging out and doing nothing for a day or so, but anything more than that and i start to get a little antsy. i like hiking. i like swimming. i like DOING something. and when you’re on a boat in the middle of the ocean (and don’t want to get in the water, really) and it’s bad weather, you really don’t have any choice but to sit around and do nothing. and being forced to do nothing is even worse than choosing to do it.

but it was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime experience. there were some cool people we met on the trip, the sailboat was beautiful and the scenery was out of the this world. i got to see some of the most amazing animals and the coral reef there is gorgeous. i hope they can continue to protect it so that all that marine life survives and you guys can get a chance to see how awesome it is!