Monday, June 29, 2009

Finca Paraiso and Agua Caliente

Beyond the bridge at Fronteras lies Lago Izabal, the biggest fresh-water lake in Guatemala, at about 30 miles long and 12 miles wide, and up to 50 feet deep. At first it's bordered by waterfront houses, but gradually they dwindle and land appears in the form of a coastal plain and a ridge of mountains to 4 or 5000 feet arising on each side.Photobucket

Most of the yachts don't go here. For one thing, there's hardly a proper anchorage. Like many inland lakes (I've read, hardly ever sailed on one in my life) when the weather comes up, the chop can be short and hard. Here the only place to shelter is the other side of the lake. And still, so far as I can tell, there's no way to know when and how the weather will change. We see lightning in still and discrete little clusters some nights, and other nights we're in them. Some nights it rains and or blows a little, and other nights you can wait until dawn in unrequited anticipation. Seems that 'rainy season' is a little overdue. I'm not sure what I think about that, as if it matters!

Part way up the north shore, and also accessible by road, is Finca Paraiso. Photobucket
One of the reasons to go here is because you're welcomed ashore and allowed to wander through the 'ranch', alongside the stream, between pastures, under some nice trees, including one where women, as well as boys, throw sticks at the mangoes in an effort to bring them down. Your primary destination is the Agua Caliente waterfall a mile or so inland.
Yep, that's right, a waterfall of hot water which pours steamily down into a cool stream, and on to you, if you can stand it! My guess is about 140 degrees. Doug thinks it's less. But when I asked the 'attendant' for more information, he just told me that it was as God had made it. Claro! But Nico helps God by sweeping away all the leaves with a fine-twigged branch and whacking any offending limbs with his machete.

It's a beautiful spot and I could easily spend hours here adjusting my temperature. Photobucket

You can even duck under the ledge at the right and sauna-fy your head and shoulders, as hard-beaked nipping little fishies tidy up below. I once read of a Japanese spa where fish nibbled the calluses off your feet. Here they're less discriminating. Just keep moving!

But wait, there's more. There's a short little hike to the nascimento, the source, a little, linty-looking belly button of water at the top of the hill.
The nasciemento of Agua Caliente

Another twenty minutes further up the cool water stream there are a couple caves. It would have been churlish to bushwhack rather than pay the small sum the guide asked to take us to the caves. For one, he knew which of the several paths went directly to where we wanted to go, saving us the 'discussion'. And at every steep drop, where I'd be checking my footing, he'd pipe up with "no tocar" "don't touch" just as I was reaching for a porcupine-spined tree to use as a prop. He even kicked damp leaves off the rocks for me. It wasn't a particularly difficult trail for someone with two spare hands, but it was not a place for wet clothes draining into squawking Crocs.

We'll definitely go back to Agua Caliente and the caves, better prepared. The upper cave is lovely enough (Fernando said it was a 'special Mayan place')Photobucket
A stream runs through the lower cave, another waterfall comes down inside the cave, and maybe you can swim through to the other side of the mountain. Photobucket
But you have to swim in, a hundred yards perhaps, so I'm not going without a good and waterproof light. It will take another couple dozen fish nips before I get inured to them, and able to look curiously around at the bats and whatever else there might be.

This is a big finca full of cows and people, at least 30 families if I understood correctly - more than enough to support a school, built by the finca but staffed by the state. The young man in the restaurant was happy to indulge my efforts at Spanish and we got quite a pleasant call-and-response going: "Una pregunta, por favor", "Digame".

I'll be writing more about cows after some additional Googling. Whooppee, I hear the cheers! But seriously, once you get away from the water, cows seem to be a main raison d'etre for this area. This fine animal is perhaps a Brahma, brought from India because of their heat tolerance. Photobucket.
And don't forget cowboys and their rides. All the saddles (and half the bicycles) have machete holders.Photobucket

By the end of the day milk from these cows will have been turned into some kind of cheese.

So all in all, it was a pleasant stop, and I'll hope to go back several more times.
"Una pregunta mas, por favor!"

Finca: n.

A rural property, especially a large farm or ranch, in Spanish America.

[American Spanish, from Spanish, real estate, from Old Spanish fincar, to pitch tents, reside, from Vulgar Latin *fīgicāre, to fasten, from Latin fīgere.] (according to

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Fer de Lance hatbands

Jennifer's snakeThere's an intrepid gringa who's living a full life on a handmade finca down the river from here. She comes to the Saturday morning swap meet. One of the things she sells is snakeskin hatbands and bracelets. When I asked her about them, here's what she said:

"The locals kill every snake they see. I try to discourage this by telling them how good some snakes are, but even I make an exception for the fer de lance (barba amarilla) when they live around people's houses.

Wikipedia says:
Bothrops asper chiefly inhabits tropical rainforest and evergreen forest, but it also occurs in drier areas of tropical deciduous forest, thorn forest and pine savannah near lakes, rivers and streams. This species is mostly nocturnal, hiding in leaf litter or among roots during the day,Sometimes referred to as the "ultimate pitviper," these snakes are found in a wide range of lowland habitats, often near human habitations. Large and nervous, this species is the main cause of snakebite incidents within its range. They are deadly and death can be instantaneous.

"So when they kill those snakes, I've asked them to bring me the skins, and sometimes they do. In fact they bring the entire snake, at the end of a long stick or wrapped up tight in bags. They hate them and don't want anything to do with them."

Anyone who has seen my present number one hat knows it's in serious need of a decent hat band, and more. But much as I'd like to support this woman, it just doesn't seem right in any way to have something like that wrapped around my brain.

heliconia maybe wild platanetto I'm too busy looking around at stuff like this, although now more mindful of leaf litter, which I've noticed is pretty assiduously cleaned up.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Our new estate

(alas, she's not me, and he's not Doug)

We came into the marina at the first of June, and it's been nothing but work ever since. Well, okay, a little socializing too. Happy hour, potluck dinners, trying to figure out who will still be speaking to us at the end of the season, and vice versa. PhotobucketPOT LUCK SALAD (green mangoes, cucumber, beet, onion, lots of lime juice. This photo is included because I wanted to try the 'food' auto setting on the camera. Does a nice job, doesn't it!)
Actually, 'they' say it's exceptionally quiet on the Rio this year - plenty of boats but almost all the people have gone home, and some businesses are crying the blues.
The work list: First the windlass, which has been manually operated for a couple months, came off and went to a machine shop for a new shaft.
Then the sun awning project: shade is proving absolutely essential, and the only fabricator available was me. No blood (except that drawn by some nasty 'tabano'horseflies, but plenty of toil, sweat (dripping from the elbows) and tears. Luckily, right in front of the boat is a lightly used, shady little palapa, which made the task more pleasant. Photobucket
Eero Saarinen-like it's not but it is effective and is beamier than the boat, so the rain, when it comes, might drain too. Next week, the front end.

Then, spring cleaning. Ah, the thrill of running a toothpick under a piece of trim and gouging out a pile of greasy grit. The excitement of buried treasure from ancient eras in the bilge. The drama of the plunger on the sink drain. The endless wonder of wood grain revealed by sandpaper. And the sick, guilty pleasure of peeling up loose varnish with improper tools. Folks, there's just nothing like it!

But more about our estate. We have a cool dipping pool,and a beautiful tree- and bird-song-filled garden that will surely feature in every blog post henceforth.
The afore-mentioned palapa, serves as a porch and patio and has a lovely small view over a 'fish pond' and the kaleidescopically sun-dappled orange building at the top of the stairs. It's not thirty steps to a bathroom big enough to dance in, should I feel the urge, and nearer than in some houses I've been in. It's all mine to enjoy but maintained by someone else. There's a store with good bread, fresh eggs, wine, ice and fun stuff too. I have a night watchman, resident musicians, I think I have satellite TV, tho I've never watched it, being too busy with the Wifi, on the boat. I could however chose from a variety of corner offices, or hammocks.
My fitness group does a brisk walk every other morning along the pipeline through the rubber plantation.Photobucket
I even have a handsome hound, walked and fed by the folks next door, but barking for me. PhotobucketSAPPHIRE isn't the only one hot but happily wagging her tail.

Health is the greatest possession. Contentment is the greatest treasure. Lao Tzu

Monday, June 1, 2009

More about Insects

Those of you who were rooting for the rebellious but seasick ants of February should maybe sit down.

Those ants are gone. Dead. They all ate the honey laced with boric acid, or ate someone who did. They're in ant-Valhalla now, where the males all live after mating, and the females' work is fulfilling.

Their cousins, the little nano-ants, so called because of their zippy ways, are still here. They have a fondness for tight narrow dampish places and have one outpost outside somewhere under the companionway hatch trim, and another between the insulation in the lid of the fridge and the bottom of the counter. I can live with that, and apparently, so can they. I'm always glad when I can achieve equilibrium without playing my homo sapien card.

Less entertaining was the cloud of midges we sailed through on Lago Izabal. They're just little insects, and not biters. But there were millions of them, with nowhere else to go.It reminded me of a memorable image from the journal of William Dampier, an early explorer of Australia, and multi-circumnavigator, back when it was quite the accomplishment. He described the native population as so apathetic they didn't wipe the flies away from their faces. I was almost that worn down myself with the midges, though still battling, zip-lipped, squint-eyed, taking shallow little breaths as I flailed away with a towel. At nightfall, thankfully, most of them orgiasticallyself-destructed in the glow of the anchor light and could be swept away.

Ashore, there are some absolute spectacles in the insect kingdom. I'm referring particularly to the leafcutter ants. It's really something to see a parade of them weaving across the ground with disproportionately large sails of flower or leaf. They're not giant ants, but they have worn bare dirt superhighways wide as my foot through thick grass at the marina, en route to their tribal Manhattans or Chichen Itzas or Las Vegases, one tiny footprint at a time.

They look like endless camel caravans in the desert, like Nubian slaves building the pyramids, a line of stevedores loading a ship, a Windsurfer regatta, porters in a safari movie, a Mardi Gras carnival parade with elaborate headdresses, or maybe, like leaf cutter ants.Photobucket

Then, check Wikipedia, and learn that the queen can produce 150 million offspring and live fifteen years. The colonies can be hundreds of feet away with populations in the millions. I have seen them defoliate a hibiscus bush in a day. I'm worried that the bush is finished, but another couple days reveal new budding leaves everywhere. They like the abuse - a chance to 'freshen up' perhaps. There are several lessons here.Photobucket

Then, know that these ants are farmers. All the leaves and flowers they carry are only fodder for their main product, a fungus they're growing. This fungus they tweak like master vintners. These aren't just ants - this is a civilization!

And such a civilization. Here's another quote from Wikipedia:
The waste-transporters and waste heap workers are the older, more dispensable leaf-cutter ants, ensuring that the healthier younger leaf-cutter ants can work on the fungal garden. Off the subject just a little, and don't think I'm particularly paranoid, but the other day, discussing a problem with software I'd bought, I was told "nobody under thirty ever PAYS for anything like that." That was also right after I met a group of backpackers and said something about what a useful address book they were accumulating as they travelled. "Oh", said the young man, "Nowadays we have something called Facebook."

So, Doug is dealing with all 'waste' from now on. I'm busy with fungus.

At Mario's Marina one route carries the ants across the paving near the pool, and every morning it's swept off. Every afternoon they're back. But sometimes their baggage gets hung in puddles splashed out of the pool. It's like watching a tire-change on the side of the road to see the ants unstick a petal from a puddle. Gradually, they're diverting to a dry sidewalk.Photobucket

Rather than gushing even longer, I'll refer you to another nice website about the Rio Dulce area published by a man whose fascination with the insect world, and photography skills, exceed my own.
Click on the image for more information. Bees are there too, and lots more.
Kevin does tours and runs a marine consignment shop under the Fronteras bridge.