The Cruising Adventures of Joan & Ben Schuetz aboard
Part 16: Rio Dulce Bound
Sunday, 13 February 2000
Bluefield Range is a great place to base your boat for diving explorations, but as you know from our previous newsletter, the holding in the anchorage is the pits. If it doesn't blow during the day, we could count on the wind picking up at night, around 2:00 AM of course. After waiting there for a week, we concluded that the weather may never get better. The natives said that the recent cold spell was very unusual. During the last two weeks it rarely made it over 80 degrees. With the coolness and winds, swimming and snorkeling was less comfortable than we wished. So, we decided to postpone further visitation of the Cays and make our way down the mainland coast toward Guatemala. Then, in April or May, return to the Belizean Cays with warmer water and air temperatures.
On Friday, February 11, with partial overcast and 15 knots out of the east, we slipped out of Bluefield Range. The weather forecast for the next several days was for more of the same. Cruising inside of the reef is really easy. Only occasionally is there any concern for coral heads or shoaling and the sea state is rarely greater than 3 or 4 feet, even in a blow. Finding a peaceful and secure anchorage takes only a little effort, but the bottom and holding conditions are hard to predict. Close in toward the mainland, the water is murky and it's not usually possible to see the sandy spots for anchoring. More often than not, the bottom is grassy coral mud.
That night, we tucked into Sapodilla Lagoon. The lagoon is about ½ mile in diameter and has a narrow entrance. It is a real hurricane hole with mangrove protection on all sides. The wind had dropped out and I expected that the bugs would leave only our teeth for identification by morning. Surprisingly, we saw not one mosquito and there weren't any no-see-ums either. We enjoyed the best night in a week sleeping on the hide-a-bed on the flybridge. Occasionally, during the night, some large unseen fish splashed near the boat.
In the morning, we proceeded down to Placencia. Joan and I had visited there about 12 years ago and although it was a little larger now, it hadn't really changed much. Kind of dusty dirty and nothing to make you feel much like staying long. Even the tourists seemed kind of dusty dirty, matching the local ambiance.
Placencia does have two grocery stores, an acupuncture person, several funky restaurants and hotels, and an Ace Hardware store. Marv needed a wrench from the hardware store, and they had just what he needed. But, the price wasn't marked on it and the boss wouldn't be back for several days. No sale. Gasoline was nearly three dollars a gallon. I didn't check on the diesel price. We took our trash to shore and asked the guy on the fuel dock where we could discard it. He said leave it next to the tree near the base of the dock.
The best anchorage area at Placencia was to the southwest of Placencia Cay, a small island just off shore of Placencia. It was kind of crowded. Heide stayed there, but Joan and I decided that since the wind was projected to come out of the southeast, we would be just as well off on the northwest side of the Cay. That night, the wind howled out of the east northeast and Francesca was not in a good resting place. Heide had picked the best spot and had a smooth night.
The next morning the Vegetable Lady arrived at the Placencia dock where each morning she sells her wares. Joan and Marge stocked up on some very nice garden fresh veggies. Then, we set out for our next stop, Monkey River Town, about 12 miles south.
About a mile south of Placencia, Heide who was behind us, called on VHF and asked us to stand by. After a few minutes Marge called us and said that they had been stopped by some Placencia townie who was mad as hell that we left our trash where we did. He said that we should have asked a local official where to drop the trash. Sorry, but we didn't see anyone with “OFFICIAL” stamped on their forehead. Marge paid him a few dollars and he left happy.
Monkey River Town is located on, well-, Monkey River. Years ago, we met some medical missionaries who worked at a clinic in Monkey River. They had said that about 20 percent of the residents had malaria and also that it was hard to sleep at night because of the howler monkeys. The town looks like it has around 200 to 300 residents. Mostly, they are fisherman and guides for river and jungle trips. Francesca and Heide anchored offshore of the town and we dinghied into the river. The bar at the mouth has only 2 feet of water, but the river is generally 5 to 20 feet deep in the channel. The scenery was just beautiful with some Cieba trees, and all manner of jungle growth. Yes, we saw and heard a half dozen howler monkeys too. If your not familiar with them, they sound fierce, kind of a cross between a lion and a gorilla. There was a Cieba tree that had dozens of yellow bird nests. The nests hang like burlap sacks and appear to be 4 to five feet long. Yellow birds have a very distinctive and pleasing chortle. We ran our dinghies up river about 6 or 8 miles until it was no longer navigable and on the return trip visited some side channels and creeks. There were a several species of large birds that I had never seen before. Fish were jumping everywhere and Marv's depth sounder indicated that the river was chucked full of fish.
After the river trip, we walked through town. Mostly, there was cut grassy lawn everywhere, and the walking paths, with name signs, were about 1 foot wide sandy trails. The town had put signs up asking people not to litter and it was pleasantly well kept. The town is so isolated that I suspect there aren't very many different family names. There is a police station with a forbidding looking jail (no one home though), and a health care worker. Otherwise, there was no other evidence of bureaucracy. Everyone looked pretty well dressed and happy. I think that life is not too difficult there.
After that nice diversion, we had to leave the day anchorage at the mouth of the river and move north a couple of miles to a sheltered lagoon. Again, the anchorage was nearly fully enclosed by mangroves and I feared the worst for bugs, but again there were none. Marge and Marv joined us on Francesca for a great steak and lobster dinner.
During the night, porpoise caroused around the boat blowing and splashing and their companionship contributed to another wonderful nights sleep on the fly bridge. This morning we will head for Punta Gorda, our last stop, and check out place in Belize.
Joan, Ben, Marge, Marv and Maggie