Thursday, September 22, 2005

"Bruno's Hotel and Marina", Rio Dulce, Guatemala

This is what less than $5 gets you at "Bruno's Hotel" in Rio Dulce, Guatemala: a cinder block "dormitory". (I actually had to step outside to take this photo.)

Arrived in this town well after dark. A hotel sign advertising "internet" caught my attention and I pulled off the road into a muddy posada courtyard. An older gentleman came up in the dark and asked what I needed. When I asked if he had internet, he replied "Bruno's," and pointed toward downtown.

The streets downtown, wet from an earlier downpour, were crowded with pedestrians and lined with dimly-lighted market stalls. One must be constantly on guard for people walking along the highway shoulders or crossing the road, particularly at night, or in foul weather.

In the States, we anticipate this only in towns and cities, but south of the border, more people walk than drive, and you will find pedestrians anywhere, in town or out on rural roads, even when it's pouring rain. And the rain only slows activity briefly. As soon as it relents, the people flow back into the streets.

In the heart of the downtown marketplace, I asked a policeman for directions to "Bruno's". A young fellow joined in, quite uninvited, but he took the initiative to provide directions, then asked if I would require a water taxi in the morning. I followed his guidance a couple of blocks, then found him waiting to lead me through a muddy grove, cluttered with buildings and vehicles, toward some lights shining through.

I was hoping this was indeed to "Bruno's" he was taking me. He showed me where to park, directed me to check in at the restaurant counter, then repeated his offer to provide water taxi service.

I learned the hotel was full, but they had space in the "dormitory" for 30 Quetzales a night (About $5.00). With some trepidation, I asked to see a dorm. A stocky young man led me over to a row of cinderblock stalls with padlocked metal doors. Inside, on a dirty concrete slab, an old bed filled the tiny space. The painted walls were peeling and shabby curtains "sort of" covered the windows. It was stuffy, but the young man assured me the two fans worked. "I don't know..." My "guide" was hanging around, probably concerned about his commission for bringing me here.

"Mi securo aqui?"

He pointed to the gate and indicated it is locked at night. He added that if there are any thieves, "I shoot them", then pulled up his shirt to reveal the pistol stuck under his belt.


I was still undecided as my two friends accompanied me back to the open air restaurant. The security guard pointed to the "specials" board and said the "Pepian chicken" is very good.


So I paid my $5.00 and unloaded the bike into my "cell", trying not to look too closely. An English-speaking fellow said I could park the bike in a shelter alongside several others. He was the manager and told me to put it next to his Kawasaki.

Took a table on the restaurant patio, which was a concrete dock, surrounded by boats. Sitting amongst aging, somewhat inebriated, mostly American and European sailors, I felt I had stepped into the world of Jimmy Buffett. At the next table, two men were drinking margaritas. I looked down and saw the pistol holstered on the fellow with his back to me. "Jeez! This is the friggin' Wild West down here!" The TV was turned to a music station, playing rock and roll from the past thirty years.

Ordered the Pepian chicken, rice and tamal, and a "Gallo" cerveza. Quite good. Still, I kept an uneasy eye on the gun and the two "gentlemen." (And this was just the only gun I could SEE.)

Spotted a familiar face at the counter: it was Rory, wearing a hat and poncho. I waved him over and he joined me. He and Letty were also staying at "Bruno's", Letty catching up on some much-needed rest. Over the next couple hours, I learned more about their three-day trek from San Miguel to El Zatz ("the bat") and then Tikal, and he related some of his experiences working on wildlife documentaries. Up past midnight.


Left El Remate around 2:00 today, after a parting photograph of my hosts. As David suggested, I took a ride into Flores, past the Air Force and Army bases. An interesting town set on an island in Lake Petén Itzá. Noticed an internet café on one of the backstreets, crowded with young travelers.

Before heading south, filled up at a new "Puma" gas station (the nearest competitor was called "Jaguar"). 80 miles down the road, I noticed the gas gauge down halfway. I watched it carefully after 100 miles, where it "historically" would pop back to full. It dropped to a quarter. Did they not fill it at "Puma"? Could they have simply charged me for two and a half gallons, but not have added any? That's the way it was looking. "They ripped me off!" How did they do that? I had been chatting with the attendants as one filled the tank, and I recall turning back to the bike and seeing the gas cap closed (I ALWAYS have personally closed the cap after monitoring the filling.) I registered it as odd, but didn't double check the fuel level.

The clear-cutting in Guatemala's tropical forests is astounding. Emerging from the relatively pristine forests of Northeast Guatemala, the landscape changes dramatically as grazing and agricultural consume the more densely-populated regions to the south and west.

I was anticipating the low fuel indicator, and starting to become concerned, when I came to an "Esso" station, (just as the rain started.) The tank only took enough fuel to make up for the miles traveled from Flores. So, it was the gauge, not thieving Guatemalans! I sat out a deluge under the station's canopy, drinking a soda, and trying to converse with the idle crew.

Once again, I was caught on the road as darkness fell. My mind expects the days to be longer, since, to me, this is summer weather, and summer connotes long days (in the far northern or southern latitudes), with the sun setting around 9:00 p.m., or even later. In the tropics, when the light begins fading soon after 6:00, and I'm still driving, a slight sense of panic sets in.

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