Geographically speaking, I haven’t moved that much from where I was last week, but sometimes I need to hibernate for a few days to catch my breath. I am currently in Rio Dulce, a small town 30 minutes down-river from Livingston, my port of entry from Belize. Livingston is an interesting place in that it has no road access- even though over 24,000 people live there. The motor bikes outnumber the cars at least 5 to 1 and the culture is a mixture of Caribbean Garifuna and Guatemalan Maya. I wasn’t a huge fan of the city just for the fact that it was a bit boring. I shared a hostel room with a really nice French fellow named Gerome, who teaches French in Mexico and was on his holiday break- he planned to spend New Year’s Eve in Livingston, but I decided to move on.
From Livingston I caught a boat down the river to the town of Rio Dulce, which is no bigger than High Prairie and basically exists as a supply town for the small yachts that come to dock from the Caribbean. The river flows along through a gorgeous limestone canyon and ends in a wider bay that eventually joins up with Lago de Izabal (Lake Izabal) and spanning the narrows is the largest bridge in Central America. When I got to town I checked out a couple hostels and eventually was directed to Hotel Kangaroo. You can only access it by boat as it is tucked away down a little mangrove tributary of the main river. It is run by an older Aussie named Gary who got tired of doing construction in Queensland and moved down to Guatemala. He built the whole place himself with hand tools which is an impressive feat for a building constructed on wetlands. Arriving on New Year’s Eve, I was treated to a big feast of shrimp after which everyone clamoured into the boat to go check out the fireworks at the bridge. We partied at a dockside bar and I counted in the new year in Spanish. I was the only backpacker in the hostel- the only other folks that weren’t staff were a semi-retired American physicist who works part time for the US government at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and his Guatemalan girlfriend. He told me that he works on radiation shielding and not on the nuclear weapons the place is known for. Of course if he was working on nuclear weapons, he probably wouldn’t be telling me anyway…
On New Year’s day there were no buses or public transportation running so I stayed at the hostel and just hung out with the staff all day. The on-site restaurant is run by a Mexican lady named Graciella along with her niece Dani. Dani’s little brother Raul was also visiting for the holiday and I spent some time helping him with his English. The food is amazing and the dorm is one of the nicest I have come across. This is probably why my two night stay has turned into five. I have done a couple of day trips to town and one to the hot waterfall down the road (a hot-spring fed stream that falls over a 5 meter cliff, apparently the only one in the world), but mostly I have just been reading and watching the river and visiting with Gary and Dani and Graciella. I will probably move on tomorrow, but we’ll see how I feel when I wake up. I think that is one of the key difference between backpacking and going on a proper holiday. On a holiday the whole idea is to relax and de-stress, but the nature and length of a backpacking trip means that occasionally you just need to shut off and recharge. Every day you are making decisions about where you are going to sleep and how much you are going to spend and where you are going to eat and if you don’t park in one spot every once in a while, you’re going to get burned out and want to go home early. And that is the last thing I want to do right now. Happy New Year everyone!