Thursday, April 23, 2009

Unannounced visitors – namely, us.

The reason for coming to this part of Guatemala was to visit a jungle eco lodge on the Rio Dulce. But contacting one to set up arrangements was proving to be a little more difficult than we had hoped – the wireless at the hostel didn’t work so sending out emails relied on getting online for the public (free) computers. I’d found a couple of places in my research during the last year. One was a big established one and the other a smaller place that looked pretty fancy on their website yet completely reasonable in price. I found some pretty awesome reviews on trip advisor for the small one and not so good ones for the big one which helped make up my mind. However, my email inquiry to the small one, Hotelito Perdido, was immediately replied to with an automatic “we only check email once a week. You should phone with any urgent inquiries” but I hate the telephone and using a phone in a country where you don’t speak the language was a challenge I wasn’t up for. I decided we’d chance it and just show up on the dock of the lodge.

We booked the boat at the desk of the hostel and the boat would pick us up from the hostel dock which meant no need to go into town or over the bridge. The boat even arrived early and we were the only people on it (picture above). I was hopeful but when I asked the captain just laughed and shook his head and then headed to the dock on the other side of the river where dozens of people were waiting so many that the group was split into two half full boats. But all the space was filled up as the boat pulled into other hotels, guest houses and lodges to fill out the empty spaces. Soon the boat was full and the luggage was piled high. We continued with the trip getting a tour of the Lago de Izabel and Rio Dulce, including the old fort, small creeks. It was a tour we hadn’t really wanted when the water got really rough once we pulled out of the city. The captain pulled out tarps for us to sit under, too late for some of the passengers – the guys behind us were sopping wet.

We traveled from the Rio to the Golfete passing indigenous folks fishing from small boats. They were Mayans who don’t like getting their picture. Unfortunately, the French couple in front of us didn’t get the message even when every Mayan kept shielding their faces when they pulled the camera out. Thankfully, the French women was soon distracted by the numerous birds in the trees. She was trying to use a super zoom on the very bumpy boat ride while her husband kept pointing out other ones. I’m sure their shots consisted of a lot of waves and sky maybe even a few thumbs but few birds.

We were only on the boat for an hour but it already felt like a full day. Thankfully, the Hotelito Perdido was halfway along the boat route (leaving the rest of the folks having to sit for another hour to Livingstone). And we pulled up to small dock where a Captain Jack lookalike and bearded tall man sat. As Adrian got out two dogs appeared to happily licked my face as I got off the boat. The dogs were followed by a petite woman who greeted us.

“Hi, we hope you have room because we’d like to stay here tonight. Surprise.” I announced once I was on the dock.

Luckily they did. They were Captain Jack, I mean, Chris, a guy from East London. And the woman, Aska his girfriend from Poland. The dogs – Bernie and Bali. Together they ran Hotelito Perdido. And it really was a Hotelito. Only 4 rooms/cabins. And two were already taken – one by Douglas, the tall man from the dock. I know realized that I should have phoned ahead. Gulp. But Chris and Aska were super nice and accommodating. And the accommodations were as great as the pictures. Unfortunately, they had people coming in a few days so our stay would be limited to two nights. Oh well. Some time better than no time.

The Hotelito was more like Chris and Aska’s cottage and dinner was not at in a restaurant but at a big communal table served and made by Aska. Joining us at dinner were Douglas, and two Spanish girls, Belen and Elena, that I recognized from our shuttle to and from Tikal, and volunteers from the clinic across the river, Jessie from the US, and Anna and Brem from belgium. Dinner was delicious and vegetarian but so good that Adrian said “I don’t even miss the meat.” (his ultimate culinary compliment) I’m surprised our systems didn’t go into shock or at least cry from the blessed sight of vegetables.

Dinner was awesome not just because of the food but because of the company. Despite arriving unannounced, we immediately felt welcome and part of the small group. We learned a lot about politics in the country. Basically, the war has never ended in Guatemala. Only 14 families still own all of Guatemala (including the government, the banks, and business) and run it like the mafia. These 14 families are proud of their Spanish blood and don’t mix with the largely indigenous population of the country. In fact they are still actively working to repress the Mayan population. There are still some revolutionary forces in action. Recently some agitators nearby burnt some villages in protest and so we were advised to stay away from the manatee reserve until Chris and Aska could figure out if it was safe for tourists or at least arrange for a local guide. They assured us we were never in danger (both the government and the revolutionaries want tourism in the country – for different reasons) but they didn’t want us to stumble into the middle of any local trouble if they could avoid it. As I’d been beginning to suspect, my images of shiny happy Guatemala was a bit of an illusion.

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