Retire Early Lifestyle
Retirement; like your parents, but way cooler

 
 

Retire Early Lifestyle Blog  Free Newsletter Subscribe/Contact Us

Advertise on RetireEarlyLifestyle.com info here

In 1991 Billy and Akaisha Kaderli retired at the age of 38. Now, into their 3rd decade of this financially independent lifestyle, they invite you to take advantage of their wisdom and experience.

Livingston, Guatemala

Where the Jungle Meets the Sea

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli

Currency Conversion Site 

An unanticipated joyous blend of Caribbean colors, Garifuna flavor and Maya culture, Livingston is the other side of Guatemala! With no overland access, this tiny outpost stays beyond the ordinary.

Even 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.

The 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.

 

A far 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.

"Reee-oh DOOOOOL-SAAAAAY," he says to me and then sucks in his bottom lip. "Why that bus station is on the other side of town!"

What?!?!

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! 

Silly us! Of course!

Billy 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.

 

Map of our water route to Livingston

We 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 following morning.

After a quick and much needed shower, we head into town to see what's cookin'.

Our 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 everywhere.

Billy takes out his camera to take a photo and --

Phhhhhttt!!

His cameral no longer works!

 A bit peeved, we go back to the hotel, and --

Phhhhhtttt!!!

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 forward into 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 limitations.

 

Arriving in Livingston by water taxi

This was an unexpected travel glitch comparable to being on a bicycle tour and having a bent tire rim.

Billy 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.

 

Boat 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 seen.

We heard of the Garifuna culture but had never before encountered it.

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.

At 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. 

 

Billy has a Caribbean soul he can barely control... and he found a piece of it here!

In the language of the Black Caribs, they called themselves Garinagu or Garifuna.

In 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 more 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 destroyed.

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.

Eventually, 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 London.

 

The local cyber cafe with Caribbean style colors

Most Garifuna speak Spanish, some English and their own Garifuna language which is a mixture of  Arawak, French, Yuroba, Banti, and Swahili words.

There 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

Known 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

There 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.

We always like to get local, as we find it more interesting.

 

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!

Yummy.

 

Human baby or recently hatched chick?

Not 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 would be.

 

Garifuna story teller

This is Polo. Or Richard. It depends on what day one speaks with him.

Polo 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.."

A 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 play.

Jerry 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.

Polo 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 believable.

And all we were drinking was iced tea... Honest.

The Adventurer's Guide to Guatemala

Donít go to Guatemala without this book! Take advantage of what we know. Click here

 

Garinagu call Livingston "La Buga"

La Buga (lah BOO-gah) is the name the Garinagu use for the town of Livingston. Buga means river mouth in their language.

A term of respect and endearment given to women in the town is "Buga Mama." And you don't wanna mess with these Mamas!

 

A Buga Mama hands us an amazing Garifuna meal

Street food comes in all styles, and this is some of Livingston's finest.

Down 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 jacaranda tree.

 

20Q's 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.

A word of caution! These vegetables are spicy!

 

Colorful Caribbean flavor mixes with Guatemalan culture

There were times and places where we thought we were on a Caribbean Isle and found ourselves looking for Margaritaville!

 

Main street in humble, historic La Buga leads straight to the sea

It's 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

The Garifuna make their presence known and are proud of their creative, individualistic nature.

 

Dirt roads along Amatique Bay

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.

 

Billy taking a rest in the shade

Like a fishing net, Livingston life is intertwined with the river, the sea, fishing and boats. There is no separating them.

 

Freshly caught and ready to eat!

It's 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.

 

Not 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.

There 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?"

"Livingston. All 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."

And 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 the moment.

How 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.

'Nuff said!

 

Some 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.

 

The swimming pool behind Gil's

At 400 Quetzales a night the rooms were bright and the hotel had a good location.

 

Cell phone and camera repair shop back in town

We 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.

Then 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.

So Billy 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.

His wife was so pleased, she gave me an orange!

For free!

 

Boats 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.

 

Off 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

If 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

Not 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 together.

 

A whimsical footpath through the jungle

It 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.

 

The local Maya population

We 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.

These 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.

A 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.

My saucer-like eyes betrayed my caution and the Maya woman told me not to worry, it was "just a turkey."

(!!!)

Yes, I know, but his head is almost to my shoulders!

 

Sunburned and windblown, we head back into Livingston on the water taxi

We 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 Garifuna Topado

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

The 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.

 

The Immigration office in Livingston

The 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.

We walk into this tiny air-conditioned building and show Mr. Immigration Officer our passports.

"Hmmmmm," he says while shaking his head sadly. He tells us he doesn't like our stamp into his country of Guatemala.

 Huh?!?

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 Huehuetenango.

"Oooooh," 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."

What?!?

We 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.

He 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, and all of a sudden heís happy now. Broadly smiling he gives us a "legal receipt" - which he neither stamps nor signs... and we are on our way!

We continue our 105 Day Adventure with our entry into Belize!

For more information, stories and photos of Guatemala, click here

Free Newsletter, Subscribe here

About the Authors

Billy and Akaisha Kaderli are recognized retirement experts and internationally published authors on topics of finance and world travel. With the wealth of information they share on their popular website RetireEarlyLifestyle.com, they have been helping people achieve their own retirement dreams since 1991. They wrote the popular books, The Adventurerís Guide to Early Retirement and Your Retirement Dream IS Possible.

For more information about financial independence and travel, visit our book store

 

Sign up for great stories, interesting tales, and superb retirement information.

Contact Billy & Akaisha  TheGuide@RetireEarlyLifestyle.com

Advertise on RetireEarlyLifestyle.com contact Ad-Info@retireearlylifestyle.com
Over 1,400,000 visitors annually.

Billy and Akaisha continue to journal and photograph their world travels.

HOME   Book Store

 

Retire Early Lifestyle Blog      About Billy & Akaisha Kaderli      Press     Contact     20 Questions     Preferred Links     Retirement     Country Info    
Retiree Interviews
      Commentary     REL Videos