Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Back across the bar

Rio Dulce Sea BuoyThis photo by sv Pacifico, via Picasa. Thanks.

Back across the Rio Dulce bar, now more confidently, early on a grey day with showers brewing in the hills. This time the some of the officials were wearing face masks (medical, not Halloween), in honor of swine flu (gripa porcina). They took them off as soon as they got below. We had more prolonged negotiations with Customs this time, so maybe that's why she gave me a hug when she left. They'll all have to get more serious about protocol before the next outbreak!

Security among the yachts has been a concern lately, as people will insist on leaving their very attractive outboard motors floating loose behind their boats throughout the night. Other people will seize the opportunity to swim past and silently slice the painter. There have been a few recent incidents, but as always, when you count up actual cases and compare them to the population at large, it sounds worse than it actually is. At least, until the missing boat is yours, in which case life as you'd want to live it gets complicated.

Theft is one thing, but violent attacks are another. They happen everywhere in the Caribbean, probably everywhere in the world; yet any such incident will reverberate throughout the cruising community for years. And one of the worst happened less than a year ago right here in the Rio Dulce aboard an anchored vessel. Boarders with machetes killed a man, and wounded his wife. What they wanted was dollars, which the couple didn't have enough of.

Not only was the cruising community stunned, but the local community as well. There are perhaps as many as 400-500 boats spending time here each year which amounts to a giant goose laying many golden eggs. This may explain the subsequent murder of a local woman and her son, reputedly notorious receivers of stolen goods, by other local interests. 'Vigilante' 'justice' is said to be a more and more common response to increasing levels of crime throughout Guatemala.

Where is the government, the police force, in all this? Well, while we weren't paying attention in the last few decades, there's been a long and vicious civil war. Lack of effective government has been both cause and effect. In short, don't count on the police for much. In a sense the yachties are lucky - we get a naval launch on constant patrol. Some of the issues the Guatemalans, especially the Mayans, have to deal with, are less tractable.

Go back further to United Fruit Company days and you'll see how the political situation evolved. Guatemala seems to have been particularly unfortunate in its dealings both with 'El Pulpo' and with UF's friends in high places, particularly compared to, say, Costa Rica.

It's all too much for what's meant to be a low-key little blog, but I listen curiously whenever these subjects come up. There is a lot more nuance to each story.

And then there's the varied gringo community, some of whom have been here decades and others, like me, still wet, wide-eyed and wondering. Some are better behaved than others, and some can keep their opinions to themselves.

Meanwhile, we're spending the summer in a kind of 'gated community'; the inland river keeping us safe from hurricanes, the Navy patrol boat and the marina security guards protecting us from 'the bad guys', and the locals living in their own villages nearby.

I think we'll make out just fine. We've already done a great side trip to Agua Caliente in Lake Izabal, and we're going back next week. Then I guess we'll settle into marina life (but probably not the afternoon mah jongg game), inland travel, boat work and Spanish lessons, in no particular order.

Some fellow cruisers have great blogs. If you're coming this way check out
I'm a friend of tourists. The tourist develops (unfolds) the country and benefits (well-being) my family. Or something like that.

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