Monday, September 15th, 2014
It’s raining again after a few weeks of comparative drought. The water level at my berth dropped so low that Speedwell was touching the bottom every time the water was disturbed and I was forced to move to another spot before we became totally stuck. I was very tempted to leave the marina and just anchor in the bay but was seduced into staying by the recently vastly improved free wifi network and the prospect of the new swimming pool which is almost complete. How quickly decadence sets in.
I took advantage of above-mentioned internet access to make online applications for my 10-year US visa renewal and the Canadian visa which I also need. This kept me occupied for a few days and I was very grateful to be able to do it on board with easy access to all my documents. One of the Canadian forms, demanding detailed information about my family, had to be downloaded, printed and signed before scanning and uploading again. I needed frequent breaks to keep my cool.
Monday, 8 September 2014
I needed to be in Guatemala City on the 10th for my interview at the US Embassy and decided to give myself a few days to explore the city. The first half of the 6-hour bus trip was through the very green and steamy countryside that I’d become used to. Newly planted acres of rubber trees; green fields with cattle contentedly grazing (happily ignorant of their ultimate destiny); small settlements half hidden by mango, banana and breadfruit trees. Later the road wound its way up through some spectacular mountain scenery with a river far below. Jungle gave way to thorn trees and cacti. The road widened to a dual carriageway which cut straight through any importunate hills, leaving steep, raw rock faces on either side. Quite often rock falls blocked half the road. A truck had overturned at one point. The accident must have happened a while ago, as one enterprising spectator had already set up a roadside stand selling refreshments. Tow-trucks queued rapaciously. The traffic crawled past.
The outskirts of the city sprawl a long way into the hills. At last the bus pulled into a terminus in Zona 1 which is where I hoped to find a cheap hotel.
Wednesday, 10 September 2014
Spent yesterday exploring my surroundings and reconnoitring the route to the US Embassy for the visa interview. My hotel is in Zona 1 on the north side of the city and the embassy is in Zona 10 way down south. Z1 is the historical part of town with many very impressive buildings and a long pedestrian mall lined with trees. Anywhere outside of this narrow stretch is pretty shabby. I went to the covered Mercado Central which is an Aladdin’s Cave of colourful textiles but was refused permission to take photos.
A little later I was strolling around the food market next door which is crammed with fresh sea food, fruit which I’d never seen before, over flowing vegetable stalls, flower sellers and enormous slabs of bloody meat. I surreptitiously took my camera out and tried to snap some pictures. It was crowded and I was being jostled by people buying bowls of soup for breakfast. A caring lady warned me to hide my camera. Not because pictures weren’t allowed but because it would be stolen. I hadn’t felt the least bit threatened but decided I may as well put it away and just enjoy the sights.
My visa application was successful which means now I can relax and take my time getting up to Chesapeake Bay. It also allows me into Mexico. So the trip up the coast should go smoothly.
The Embassy is in Zona 10 which is the affluent part of town and I spent a few hours in the nearby Oaklands Mall quite enjoying the weird materialism. So much money being spent on labels and glitz. I was able to get a reasonably priced ‘lite’ Galaxy tablet to replace my wrecked old one. No frills: but it has real GPS and a slot for a SIM card should I ever desperately feel the need for a phone. I reloaded the Navionics charts and voilá I have a chartplotter again. Had a coffee in a slick coffee-bar and contemplated on the vast difference between where I sat and main street, Rio Dulce. My Brazilian workman’s hat which I normally never move without would not have earned me any cachet here.
Each morning I took advantage of the hearty traditional breakfast that was included with my room at the Hotel Ajau. Coffee, black beans, scrambled egg and tortillas. No need for much more the rest of the day.
I enjoyed wandering around the partially gentrified parts of Zona 1. A long pedestrianized street leads all the way to the enormous Plaza Municipal, flanked by the Presidential Palace and a big cathedral. Hundreds of pigeons, peanut sellers, fruit stalls and aimless wanderers like myself.
I watched as a big turnout of military types in full ceremonial uniforms, some with impressive swords, went through a slow and solemn flag folding ceremony. It seems that the country is celebrating its declaration of independence. As I watched, troops of drummers, trumpet players, two tubas, more drummers arrived and took up positions. I waited thinking that something worth watching might be about to happen. An hour later they were still shuffling about or trying to stand stiffly to attention.
I glanced across the square to the clock in the cathedral and was mildly surprised and impressed to see that it was actually working and showed the right time. I noticed a turnout of dignitaries on an upper balcony of the palace. Rain was threatening. Those drums must have been getting really heavy. At last I decided to get something to eat before the afternoon thunderstorm started and left them to it.
Thursday, 11 September 2014
Before dashing back to Speedwell I decided to pay a quick visit to Antigua Guatemala which had been the capital city until it was largely destroyed by earthquakes way back in the 18th century. Nowadays it is touted as a tourist ‘must see’. It was only an hour away and soon I was established in another budget hotel and spent the day wandering about the picturesque town. A beautiful central park surrounded by historical buildings and an enormous partially ruined cathedral. Colourful markets selling kaleidoscopic displays of hand woven textiles. Cobbled streets and plenty of up-market coffee shops and ATM’s. A real tourist Mecca. It is also popular with American expat retirees and the locals have fine-tuned the art of coaxing cash from the gringos. One day was enough for me. I left early the next day after spending a while watching a parade of schoolchildren marching in another independence celebration.