SAILING MEXICO

    Greetings friends and family!  In our last journal entry we told you that Southern Belle had made it safely across the Gulf of
    Tehuantepec and is now in Central America.  I guess that means we should change our e-mail and web site names to Cruising Central
    America.  We will put that item on our to do list, but it may be some time before we actually get around to doing it.  In this journal
    entry we will tell you all about the time we spent in Guatemala and El Salvador.  You can find corresponding pictures by clicking on the
    Photo Album button above.  And remember, you can always look at our previous ramblings by clicking on the archived Journal Entries
    (above) and the corresponding archived Photo Albums on the Photo Album page.

    We sailed south along the coast of Guatemala, heading for Bahia Jiquilisco (pronounced hee-kee-lee-skoh) in El Salvador.  We received a
    report of very strong winds to hit this coast line that night and decided to pull into Puerto Quetzal, Guatemala to ride out the
    unfavorable weather.  We had planned to give this port a pass because we had heard that it was overly expensive.  Well the report was
    correct, it was stupid expensive!  But at least it was grimy and had no services.  Overall we wish we had gone ahead and taken our
    chances with the foul weather.  We got out of there as soon as the weather eased up a little, and continued down to El Salvador.

    We sailed an overnight passage and made it to the staging area off Bahia Jiquilisco at around 1000 AM.  The staging area is where you
    wait for a pilot from Barillas Marina Club to come out and lead you over the sand bar and into the estuary.  Many a boat has been lost in
    this area by skippers who do not wait for the pilot to lead them in.  As we hung out waiting for the pilot the wind started building.  By
    the time he got there, the wind had piped up to 25 knots and the seas were building.  The trip into the estuary was very hairy, and down
    right scary!  Hey, that rhymes.  The wind was blowing right into the mouth of the estuary and the current was flowing out, which made
    for big breaking waves all around us.  But we put our trust in the pilot, a young El Salvadorian guy in a panga who kept disappearing in the
    waves directly in front of us, and he got us in safe and sound.  Once we passed the dangerous part it became very tranquil as we travelled
    9 miles up the river to the Barillas Marina Club (BMC).  We arrived at BMC, picked up a mooring ball, and within 20 minutes a boatload of
    officials came out to Southern Belle and checked us in to the country.  It was a very friendly and easy procedure.

    BMC turns out to be an absolute paradise.  We were way up in the river so it is perfectly calm with only the sounds of the surrounding
    jungle to keep you company at night.  And the BMC facilities were beautiful.  They have an outdoor restaurant/bar, a great swimming pool,
    a small store, laundry services, wf-fi service, and even a playground for the kids.  The staff were all very friendly and helpful.  All of
    this set in beautifully sculpted and maintained grounds with an abundance of flowering plants.  The only down side to this place was that
    the no-seeums were pretty bad at dusk.  But this did not last long and we learned to control the problem by either applying bug spray or
    hanging out in the restaurant area under a strong fan.  One day we had one of the BMC guards lead us on a short hike to the neighboring
    sugar cane farm to see the Spider Monkeys.  The locals folks who live there and work the sugar cane fields maintain the area as a
    protected zone for these monkeys.  Otherwise, the locals tend to hunt them.  When we arrived an older gentleman, who was the head of
    the household, led us out to the rear of his property and started yelling... "Pancho! Pancho!".  Eventually we saw a large group of monkeys
    come swinging through the trees.  The old man gave us bananas to feed to the Spider Monkeys.  Be sure to check out the pictures.

    From BMC we left Southern Belle on her mooring and took a bus trip to Guatemala.  Our first stop was in San Salvador, El Salvador
    where we met up with our friends from s/v Caravan (Gene, Vicki, and Fiona).  We rode what the locals call the Chicken Bus for 3 hours to
    get to San Salvador.  It was quite an experience.  People actually did get on with live chickens and hold them out the window by their
    feet.  We all spent the night at a cute little B&B and the next day we took the kids to the San Salvador Zoo.  We also visited a shopping
    mall that would rival any in the US.  We didn't buy anything but it was strange to walk around this huge mall in what is considered a 3rd
    world country.  That afternoon we said goodbye to Caravan and caught the first class bus to Guatemala City.  This was the polar opposite
    of the chicken bus.  It was a double decker with the first class section being on the lower level.  They had huge seats that would recline
    almost completely into a bed, they had an attendant that served drinks and a dinner.  They also had good movies even in English.  It was
    without a doubt the finest bus ride we had ever taken.  In Guatemala City we used some of our many travel points we had built up before
    we became unemployed to stay at the Westin Hotel.  It was great!  Big fluffy beds, air conditioning, toilets you don't have to pump to
    flush, and showers where you can let the hot water run as long as you like.  George's sister-in-law, Margarite Salley, has cousins that
    live in Guatemala City.  We contacted Mickey and Marissa and arranged to meet them for the day.  Marissa picked us up and gave us a
    tour of the city.  We visited the College where she works part time teaching.  They have a couple of very nice museums there.  One that
    is dedicated to traditional Guatemalan weaving and clothing was especially interesting.  We then met up with Mickey and went to the
    Country Club for lunch.  The club is awesome and has a very nice looking golf course.  Joshua had fun hitting balls at the driving range.  
    The next day we left Guatemala City to go explore some other spots in Guatemala:
                 
    We travelled to Antigua which was the capital city of Guatemala until it was heavily damaged by an earthquake in 1773.  The
city is overflowing with colonial architecture and beautiful churches.  The city contains many ruins of churches and buildings
damaged in the earthquake.  Mayan women in their colorful clothes sit amid the ruins and around the Parque Central selling their
wares.  We stayed in a small hotel that had a nice courtyard and roof terrace for viewing the city and the surrounding volcanoes.  
There are many volcanoes in Guatemala.  Antigua is a popular linguistics centre with many schools teaching Spanish.  Some of the
schools will even set you up to live with a local family as long as you are studying at the school.  We wished we had more time to
take advantage.  One day we visited a local coffee plantation that caters to tourists.  It was beautiful and Joshua was able to go
on a horse ride.

       After Antigua, we travelled back to Guatemala City and met up with Mickey who took us on a hike up Volcano Pacaya.  Pacaya
is approximately a one hour drive outside of Guatemala City and is an active volcano.  We got to the trail head and Mickey met up
with 16 year old Louis who was hired to lead us up the trail to where the volcano was erupting.  That's right, erupting.  Louis
arranged for a horse for Joshua to ride up the trail.  This made it a wonderful hike for him.  Melinda and George learned how out
of shape they are.  But we all made it up to the area of activity, which was about half way up the volcano (a 1.5 hour hike).  You
stand on a grassy knoll, which is now more of a cliff, and look down into what was a grassy valley until the volcano started
erupting lava about two years ago.  It is amazing!  You are looking at this vast pile of basalt that is in various stages of cooling
and flowing with the remainder of the smoke spewing volcano rising up in the background.  As if standing on the perch looking down
at this site wasn't enough, Louis led us down onto the basalt and to within 50 feet of a river of flowing lava.  That is as close as
you could get due to the heat.  At one point as we were standing there, the side wall of the river gave way and the lava started
flowing toward us.  It was moving slow and was easy to back up safely, but it drove home the danger of getting too close.  For a
couple of rock-head geologists, this was an amazing sight!  After the hike we had a wonderful Guatemalan style dinner at Mickey
and Marissas house.  Thanks so much to Mickey and Marissa for their hospitality!

       The next day we caught a shuttle to Panajachel at Lake Atitlan.  It was a long hard drive over tight roads with lunatic bus
drivers everywhere, but the reward at the end was seeing Lake Atitlan.  The lake is in an ancient volcanic caldera and is
surrounded by younger volcanoes.  The shores of the lake are dotted with colorful towns and villages.  We stayed in Panajachel at
a lovely hotel right on the shore of the lake.  Joshua was rewarded by the hotel having a great pool with a water slide.  We only
had one full day to spend in this area so we made the most of it.  In the morning we hired a boat to take us to two of the villages
for shopping and lunch.  We visited Santa Catarin Palopo and San Antonio Palopo.  In the afternoon we visited the Parque Natural
and did a zip-Line Canopy tour.  You hike up a steep trail past beautiful foliage, trees with monkeys, and running waterfalls.  Then
you use zip lines to traverse the canyon on the way back down.  It was beautiful and exciting!

       We departed Guatemala and headed back into El Salvador.  We plan to continue our exploration of Guatemala when we visit
the Rio Dulce on the Caribbean side in a year or so.  Back in San Salvador we spent the night and had dinner with  Margarites
other cousin Richard Mussack and his family.  It was a short visit but great to meet them.

    Back at the BMC in El Salvador we found Southern Belle to be safe and sound on her mooring.  We were happy to find that the
    refrigeration had not flattened the batteries, which was a concern because there had been some cloudy and rainy days.  We only have
    solar panels and wind generator to replenish battery power at the mooring while we are gone.  Our friends aboard Ketching Up made it to
    BMC shortly after we returned.  Noel and Ashley are originally from South Carolina and have three boys:  Cooper Age 7, Wills Age 8, and
    Griffen Age 10.  Joshua was in high heaven with kids to pal around with after school.  They got into bike riding, swimming, playing baseball
    and just had a grand old time.  We stayed at BMC longer than we thought we would because it was so nice.  One day we all took a dinghy
    trip to the neighboring port town of Triunfo.  It was about 25 minutes by dinghy along the river.  We had a nice lunch and did a little
    shopping.  We will give you another update soon.  Until then enjoy the pictures of Guatemala and El Salvador, and as always we wish you
    all fair winds and following seas!
Guatemala & El Salvador
Southern Belle at Anchor in Northern Costa Rica
ARCHIVED JOURNAL ENTRY #19