The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 8: Back to the Rio
In the previous newsletter, I failed to mention that we revisited Monkey River and Monkey River Town. What a disaster. Most of the houses were still standing, but what was normally a town of very simple, small frame houses on stilts, was reduced to a town of mostly empty shells and debris. Rebuilding was going strong, but without money, it will be rebuilt with recycled lumber picked up wherever it can be found. The Monkey River was even worse. We dinghied up river five or six miles and found nothing but broken trees and destroyed habitat. In the distance we could hear the howler monkeys, but it will be many years before the hardwood trees and jungle canopy recover anything like they were before hurricane Iris. A large portion of Monkey River Town's income has been derived from taking tourists up river on birding, flora and monkey sighting trips. While there were a few pangas with tourists on the river, I think they were there to see the devastation more than anything. How sad for an already income challenged area.
Returning to the present, after leaving the Mangrove Cays, we caught a small tuna and a Spanish mackerel, Just the right catch for a plentiful meal. The next stop, 10 miles south, was Punta Gorda. It is perhaps the cleanest little town in Belize, with paved streets, a town park, ice cream shop, and sports bar. Population, perhaps 1000. There seems to be no main source of income for this town, not fishing, farming, or? Still, there are more cars and trucks in town than one would expect. It must be supported by remote farming. We arrived there on Sunday, spent the night anchored a quarter mile off the town dock, and delayed by lack of government interest, we were checked out of Belize around 11:00 AM Monday. By that time, it was too late to make a no stress entry into Guatemala.
Since we left the Rio in the spring of 2000, the stories of misdeeds have continued to flourish. Last fall, both banks in Fronteras were robbed simultaneously by 11 armed men in pickup trucks. Dingy theft also continued, for a time, unabated. One yachtsman, who didn't take precautions against dinghy theft lost his dinghy. So, he bought another, yet continued his errant ways. Wow, a new dinghy, zip-zap, and it was gone too. We are told that last year local vigilantes, not the law, got fed up with the thefts hurting business and fixed the problem. No one dares ask how the problem was fixed. In Isla Mujeres, we met Bea and Karl on Obsession. They told us that while they were at anchor, one night in the Rio, armed men boarded their boat. Feisty Bea squirted one man with pepper spray and the lot of them cleared out while firing weapons into the air. Then, two years ago, there was the Japanese tourist couple who were wrongly thought to be kidnapping children to harvest organs. The townspeople in a western Guatemalan village stoned them to death. And when you consider what previous governments did to the indians, it is clear that there is a very brutal element in the country. Some of you may also remember the tragic loss of our friend in 2000. For a long time, we said we would never return because of it.
There are lots of stories and they are all true. The only real law one observes are the measures taken by the businesses for protection. So why do cruisers, including us, go to and return to the Rio. The reasons are fairly simple. It is a weatherproof haven, incredibly beautiful country, very inexpensive, fantastic fruits and vegetables, and kind of like the old west. While no one would want to return to the ways of the old west, it is an interesting era to visit. Hey, maybe you are old enough to remember the early Tarzan films with Johnny Weismuller. Well, they were shot in the Rio Dulce Gorge. And while some aspects are bad, in reality the risks fade to near nothing with reasonable precautions and the security of the mass of the boating community. Lock up or lift up your dinghy, and for us, never anchor out without another boat, not anywhere, not ever. Yet, to put my personal concerns in perspective, I'd rather be in the Rio than spend one day driving in New York, Boston or (gasp!) Paris.
Although the most recent information is that the Rio has been quiet for a while, dinghy thefts, holdups, etc. will, with certainty, sporadically continue for years to come. When they do become history, many of the other, very special aspects of the Rio will also disappear. We're glad to return, but will not let our guard down. Guatemala is, more or less, on the right path since abandoning a military form of government a few years ago and becoming a democracy. With many new roads and a developing infrastructure, all that is needed is continued government improvement and law enforcement for the people. One wonders though, that with Costa Rica as the relatively prosperous shinning success of Central America for the past 40 years, why didn't the rest of the Central American countries see this light long ago.
Today, Monday, January 14, after the painfully slow checkout, we motored about 20 miles south to the Guatemalan Border, just south of the mouth of the Sarstoon River. There we have anchored for the night and it is rolly. With an early morning departure, we will be in Livingston around 8 o'clock in the morning.
Joan, Ben & Maggie