though there is no way to reach Livingston except by
boat, we still needed to go by land to Guatemala's
capitol city and then to Rio Dulce first.
At 7 a.m., we were able to catch the bus at the corner
of our street in
Antigua. For 8Q's per
person, we had the privilege of experiencing The Ride
from Hades! Every hair pin turn found us slammed
into our seatmate. There was no slowing this driver
down, and there was nothing gentle about the ride.
bus was fully packed with passengers sitting 3 or more
to benches on both sides of the bus, plus people
standing in the aisle. After twenty or thirty minutes of
this vigorous and embarrassing smashing into strangers on both sides
of me, any effort to maintain a sense of sophistication
seemed absurd. Still, I had to rustle up my courage to
ask the handsome man next to me (whom I felt I almost
knew personally by now) about which bus we were to take
to get us to Rio Dulce.
more comfortable bus to get us to the river.
Rolling his eyes to the heavens let me know that he
thought we were complete idiots.
It's one of the things
that I enjoy about city dwellers. There is no hesitation
in giving me a look that lets me know that - while
I have traveled the world - I am still a country
bumpkin to this man who lives among millions by choice.
DOOOOOL-SAAAAAY," he says to me and then sucks in
his bottom lip. "Why that bus station is
on the other side of town!"
Relieved to get out of this bus, we jumped off at the
next stop, right in the middle of belching exhaust,
street vendors, foot traffic and horrendous horn
honking. But the fine featured man with a hesitancy to
smile assured us that we should just take the next taxi to -
well, - to the bus station that would take us to Rio Dulce!
us! Of course!
grabs a taxi, bargains a ride for 25Q's and we
make the station just in time to catch the 9:30 a.m. bus
to the sweet river town.
of our water route to Livingston
arrive in Rio Dulce at 4 p.m. Bounced and bumped on the
first bus, we endured a boring, dusty ride on the
second. Anxious to get out and about after all this
sitting, we promptly find a room right on the river for the night,
and check into boats that will take us to Livingston the
a quick and much needed shower, we head into town to see
first grazing is delicious!
10Q's each for Carne asada with chile, 3 tortillas and black beans. A great
price with solid Guatemalan flavor. After a trying day on the road,
we are looking forward to some delectable food options
and a leisurely walk riverside. Picture perfect vendors and street stalls are
Billy takes out his camera to take a photo
His cameral no
peeved, we go back to the hotel, and --
The whole town
is without lights.
In the darkness
of our hotel room and by flashlight, we discuss our
options. We just left two of Guatemala's largest cities
with millions of residents and where cameras can easily be repaired or purchased. We are now
heading into less populated areas of Central America for the next 2 months
with little or no options for either.
Should we repeat
that grueling bus trip back to Guate City or Antigua to
repair or replace the camera? With the travel and repair
this would easily take a week and delay our entry into
Belize by that same amount of time. Or should we move
Livingston and Belize with a major piece of our
travel equipment not functioning?
This was not a
small decision for us, as each choice had their
Arriving in Livingston by water taxi
unexpected travel glitch comparable to being on a
bicycle tour and having a bent tire rim.
and I are the types who are inclined to continue moving
forward into the unknown rather than going back trying
to recoup things. It was disturbing and distressful not
to have an operable camera, but we thought we would
take our chances on the future.
Morning arrives and we hop aboard the boat that will
take us to our last stop in Guatemala. Our trip down the
Rio Dulce went as planned and the scenery was awesome.
Not having a workable camera, Billy was pained watching scene after photographable scene
pass him by.
service schedule in Livingston
Livingston is at the edge of the country where the
river meets the sea, and has
its own unique society unlike anything we have ever
heard of the Garifuna culture but had never before
In 1635 Spanish ships were
transporting slaves from Nigeria in Africa to their colonies in
America when their ships wrecked just off the Caribbean island of
St. Vincent. Survivors of the wreck took refuge on that island.
The Garinagu (plural of Garifuna) are
the living descendants of these African slaves and the Caribs
who lived on St. Vincent.
first there was conflict between the Africans and the
Caribs, but the Caribs were already weakened by wars and
disease and it was difficult to maintain their societal
sovereignty. Eventually the race became predominantly black
with some Carib blood and they were known by the British
as the Black Caribs.
Caribbean soul he can barely control... and he found a
piece of it here!
the language of the Black Caribs, they called themselves
Garinagu or Garifuna.
1783 the British imposed a treaty on the Garifuna, but
the treaty was never accepted by them. They continued to
defy British rule and that defiance resulted in even
physical clashes. In 1796 the colonial authorities
decided to deport the native and unruly people. Hunted
down by the British, their homes and way of living were
Eventually, a few thousand survivors were shipped to the
island of Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Not long
after that, the Spanish took over the island and shipped the
agriculturally proficient Garifuna to the mainland of
Honduras where their skills were in great demand.
their culture and their numbers spread to Belize,
Guatemala and other areas along the coast. Today, there
are Garifuna populations in New Orleans, Los Angeles and
The local cyber cafe with
Caribbean style colors
Garifuna speak Spanish, some English and their own
Garifuna language which is a mixture of Arawak,
French, Yuroba, Banti, and Swahili words.
are many legends, myths and misconceptions about the
Garifuna. They still share their dialect, circular
dances, religious practices, Punta rhythms, banana
cultivation, and rooster and pig sacrifices with the
indigenous people of the Amazon. The majority of Garifuna
in these Central American areas
have only reached the 3rd to 6th grades of school.
Garifuna drum music is internationally famous
as the Pulse of the Punta, you can experience this
regional dance with a fast beat in the bars in town. Or
you can purchase one of the CD's being offered by the locals.
Excellent sandwich shop
are small eateries everywhere and are worth seeking out.
The main drag generally attracts the tourists who come
through, but the smaller places on the side streets will give you a chance
to hang out with those who live here full time.
always like to get local, as we find it more
Grilled fresh bread, and newly caught fish
While walking down one of these narrow streets, we discovered a sandwich
shop that offered tasty bargains. This huge
made-to-order sandwich cost only 20Q's or about $2.50.
It's hard to
maintain a specialized diet when on the road. It is
our tendency to eat the local offerings and submerge
ourselves in day-to-day of where we are. We can guarantee that
this is NOT a low-cal option!
or recently hatched chick?
sure whose idea this was, but it expresses the
creativity and sense of humor of the people in the area.
Perhaps we missed a deeper
meaning...?... but I couldn't possibly tell you what it
Garifuna story teller
is Polo. Or Richard. It depends on what day one speaks with
had tales to tell longer than his arm and we were
curious. Offering him a cold drink of his choice
anywhere he wanted to go brought us to Buga Mamas - an
open air restaurant with a sea view where we listened to
his personal history, stories and perspectives.
Decades ago, his job was to unload cases of
Coca-Cola from a truck into the neighboring restaurants
and bars. In an unguarded moment, a case of coke fell
directly on his thumb, splitting it open. Being a Garifuna drummer, this was terrible news, as he could no
longer work lifting the cases of coke and could no longer drum
in the bars at night.
Living in the tropics, his thumb eventually became
infected and "swole up, size of my foot.."
kind and funky-looking hippie took pity on his condition
and gave him 200 Quetzales. This paid for medical care
for that damaged thumb, and the two became fast friends. Soon
Polo was securing fresh fish, any sort of living
supplies and ganga for this man. The odd looking
eccentric then gave Polo a guitar and taught him how to
Garcia was his name (yes, that Jerry Garcia of Grateful
Dead fame), and their association lasted for
years. They became such trusted friends that Garcia paid
Polo's way to the University of Illinois.
continued telling tales that could have been straight
out of one of Carlos Castaneda's books. These stories
were complete with apparitions of Oltec Indians, caves
full of jade and other semi-precious stones, time travel
in dreams and amazing synchronicities.
They were so wild
and off the charts that
they were completely
And all we were
drinking was iced tea... Honest.
The Adventurer's Guide to
Donít go to
Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click
Garinagu call Livingston "La Buga"
Buga (lah BOO-gah) is the name the Garinagu use for the
town of Livingston. Buga means river mouth in their
A term of
respect and endearment given to women in the town is "Buga
Mama." And you don't wanna mess with these Mamas!
Buga Mama hands us an amazing Garifuna meal
Street food comes in all styles, and this is some of
by the dock, several Buga Mamas set up their mobile
restaurants around noon. Patrons come by and purchase
their lunch and sit in the shade of a frangipani or
buys this dee-licious Garifuna lunch
Chicken, slaw, fried plantains and red beans and rice.
Chicken stew broth is ladled over the rice and beans for
extra flavor. No one goes hungry with these meals! On
the tables are vegetables marinated in spicy jalapeno
juice and red peppers.
word of caution! These vegetables are spicy!
Colorful Caribbean flavor mixes with
were times and places where we thought we were on a
Caribbean Isle and found ourselves looking for
street in humble, historic La Buga leads straight to the
a simple town and yet there is more to it than what meets
the eye. Cruise ships land and tourists walk the streets
in groups. Locals have their own manner of speaking and
interrelationship. The town has its unique blend of
seaside life, African infusion, Spanish speaking Latino
influence, Caribbean tone and ancient Maya perspective.
We, of course,
sat back and relaxed in the shade enjoying
the slow passing of time.
Caribbean and African colors mix with Garifuna music
Garifuna make their presence known and are proud of
their creative, individualistic nature.
Dirt roads along
One day we
decided to discover more about our location, and took a
walk along Amatique Bay. This is a small bay before the Golf of Honduras
which is before the Caribbean Sea.
It's a peaceful
side of town
and easy going with brightly colored cottage style
houses and picket fences dotted along the way.
taking a rest in the shade
a fishing net, Livingston life is intertwined with the
river, the sea, fishing and boats. There is no
Freshly caught and ready to eat!
an uncomplicated life and the fishing is good! Many
locals take advantage of the opulence of the sea. It's
quick eating, the price is right, and one can always
sell their catch to the restaurants in town.
grand beaches, but lovely nonetheless
Leisurely walking on the dirt paths that connect this
river town to Amatique Bay, we stopped at a shack-styled
bar and had an afternoon beer.
were two tables and 4 stools. A Garifuna woman was
sitting on one of the stools, letting her thoughts drift
out to sea.
Interrupting her reverie we exchanged pleasantries, then inquired, "Whatís
the name of this bay?"
of this is Livingston."
"But whatís the name of the bay
of water here?" we pursued.
"Livingston. All of this is
Livingston. Itís Livingston water" she clarified.
"And out there? Is that the Gulf
of Honduras? Then the Caribbean Sea?" we pressed
just a little further.
"Yeah. But right
here itís all Livingston."
that is all we needed to know. There was no point in
getting all snarled up over something that wasn't
important or had nothing to do with life right here in
could it possibly matter what someone calls the water so
far out in a place she'll never go?
It's a beautiful day, the sea is lapping the shore, and
there's a fine breeze.
peaceful hideaways with ocean views are available also
around Amatique Bay
Gilís Resort was
really sweet. It provided good views of the bay, the
hotel was clean and a
restaurant was downstairs as well.
swimming pool behind Gil's
400 Quetzales a night the rooms were bright and the
hotel had a good location.
Cell phone and camera repair
shop back in town
had not given up on the idea of getting our camera
repaired in this tiny town. We had already inquired
about purchasing one. Lo and behold, in this town of
6,000 people, there was only one lone camera to buy.
we discovered "John's Place." John repairs cell
phones and was willing to take a look at our equipment.
After a couple of days, John informs us that due to a
defective wire ribbon, our camera cannot be dependably
fixed in the time frame we have.
gave John our camera in payment for his efforts and to
John, it was like Christmas! He knew that he could
purchase a wire ribbon at some point in the future and
have a working camera, something he could never have
afforded on his own.
wife was so pleased, she gave me an orange!
waiting for passengers
Getting around the area is done by boat. Across the
river, up the river, around the bend in the bay -- all
the small towns and villages are reached by water taxi.
we go to tour the area
Miramar is a village close by and for 4Q's each we
grabbed a public launcha to take us there. We
float through peaceful, tropical beauty and see some homes
on the shore that are right out
of Architectural Digest. We're not sure what we'll find
in Miramar, but that's part of the mystery!
Arriving in lush, beautiful Miramar
you love the sea or river life, you could find a niche
in this area of Central America and fashion your own
version of paradise. The land is lush, the views are
gorgeous, and there is no belching city traffic.
The Garifuna speak
both Spanish and English and the Maya speak
Spanish as their second language, so knowing some
Spanish would be useful.
Tropical green extravagance
too far from leaving the dock we find ourselves in the
midst of lush greenery. Worn dirt paths and an
occasional cement platform tie the mountain homes
whimsical footpath through the jungle
was other-worldly walking on this path through the dense
jungle on both sides. Where were we going? It was like
being Alice in Wonderland.
local Maya population
popped out into a clearing of sorts with homes scattered
here and there on either side of the pathway. Young Maya
girls marry around the age of 18 and are soon pregnant.
Women stay home and raise the family and the men travel
to wherever they can find work.
young women were friendly yet shy, and their command of
Spanish was limited. However, across the path was a
Maya woman with whom we were able to chat for some time.
sugar cane fence surrounded her thatched roof home and
it was guarded by an aggressive male turkey. This macho
bird would fluff his feathers and vigorously shake his
body as this lovely woman and I spoke together.
Occasionally, he would move in closer to me to make me
understand that he was the "guard turkey" and I had
better watch out! Great gobbles would come out of this
bird along with his energetic fluffing and shaking. I
had never seen anything like this blue, purple and
maroon headed turkey before and I didn't know if I
should laugh at this furious absurdity or step back and
let him have his territory.
saucer-like eyes betrayed my caution and the Maya woman
told me not to worry, it was "just a turkey."
I know, but his head is almost to my shoulders!
Sunburned and windblown, we head back into Livingston on
the water taxi
love visiting the indigenous peoples in their villages
and homes. All over the world they are friendly, open
and generous. The experience fills us up with
satisfaction that people are people everywhere and we
share the same human concerns and challenges.
Antojitos Gaby II, a restaurant famous for their
Back in town
we're ready for some food so we stop at Antojitos Gaby
for a local lunch of distinction.
Topado is a
native Garifuna specialty that you must try. A coconut seafood soup
fills a large bowl to the brim with whole fish, shrimp,
clams, and crab. At 65Q an order, it will easily feed
two. Ours came with fried plaintain and buttered toast.
Here's a closer look
broth is spectacular, made from healthy coconut milk and is filled with
protein. You won't get this anywhere but in Garifuna
country! We ordered some red beans on the side but it
ended up being too much food to finish.
Immigration office in Livingston
boat to Belize leaves tomorrow at 7 a.m. so we must get
our visas stamped out of Guatemala here at this
Immigration office before we board. We cannot even
purchase the 200Q per person ticket until we show the
captain our exit stamps in our passports. So we list our
names on the manifest and proceed on to the immigration office
just up the street.
walk into this tiny air-conditioned building and show
Mr. Immigration Officer our passports.
he says while shaking his head sadly. He tells us he
doesn't like our stamp into his country of Guatemala.
Billy and I look at each other quickly and with
confusion in our eyes. For two or three full minutes we
explain to Mr. I'm-Giving-You-Trouble that we entered
Guatemala through the Mexican border at
he says as he fiddles around behind the counter looking
for the correct stamps with which to mark our passports.
"That will be 80 Quetzalez per person."
explain with great respect to our newest best friend
that our guide books didn't mention a thing about being
charged a fee for the exit stamps...
With a ferocious "harumph" in his eyes, Mr. Immigration
Man states flatly that the guide book is wrong. He says he has been
working at this job for 20 years and for each of those 20 years he has been
requiring payment to leave Guatemala.
demands to know the name of
the guide book and what year it was written, but then he
interrupts himself and simply states that the book is no good.
So we give him 80Q (or $10USD) each to get his stamp,
all of a sudden heís happy now. Broadly smiling he gives us a
receipt" - which he neither stamps nor signs... and we
are on our way!
105 Day Adventure with
entry into Belize!
more information, stories and photos of Guatemala,