Marina to San Salvador

On Saturday March 23, 2002, we left Barillas Marina to travel to Guatemala. We were excited to see Antigua, especially during Semana Santa, but also a bit anxious. We were going to travel through El Salvador, which does not have a very good reputation for safety, spending a night in Guatemala City and then live with a Guatemalan family in Antigua while taking spanish lessons for a week with no idea how comfortable the accommodations would be. In addition, we had been warned that all the pickpockets of Guatemala City would go to Antigua for Semana Santa and that we should be prepared to loose our wallets. The US State department also warned that tourists had been attacked in Guatemala and that crime was increasing there, but mostly in the northeast region, which we were not planning to visit this year.

So we packed light to stay mobile, each carrying a small backpack (daypack size), had 2 credit cards in different locations, many travelers checks and no jewelry (I even removed my wedding ring). The valuables were in a belt and we were particularly happy to have a small digital camera, which fit in a pocket and looks like a cheap instamatic camera.

We took a taxi from the marina to Usulatan, where we caught the direct “especial” bus to San Salvador. We were not planning an extensive visit of the capital of El Salvador as fellow cruisers had indicated that it was mostly uninteresting and very dirty. Even our guide to Central America did not express much enthusiasm for San Salvador. But since we had a few hours before getting aboard the luxury bus to Guatemala, and the luxury bus office was located in the rich part of town, and the guidebook did recommend a museum there, we took a taxi from the especial bus terminal and asked the driver to drop us at the Museo Nacional de Anthropologia. Unfortunately, it was closed despite what my guidebook said. So we walked to the nearby craft market, coughing on the way as the city buses belched black smoke along the avenue. The city buses are poorly maintained used school buses from the US painted in various colors and packed with passengers. They are often referred to as “chicken buses” because it is not unusual for locals to carry live chickens onboard with them to sell to the market.

The craft market was small and sleepy. The local curiosities are “sorpresas” (surprises). They are tiny detailed scenes and figures in little oval shells about the size of a walnut. The outside may be designed as an egg, apple, walnut or anything round. You lift the top to see the scene. The market was also selling many textile, hammocks, pottery, and tourists crap. We bought a shirt for Clark with weavings in the front and a friendly stuffed yellow cotton parrot for the boat. Clark had always dreamed of having a parrot aboard and our stuffed parrot, named Salvador, would be much easier to care for.

After shopping, we walked back into the Zona Rosa, the rich neighborhood of San Salvador, and had a leisurely lunch in a nice restaurant.



Zona Rosa includes rich homes, nice landscaping, American labels stores (Guess, Subway, Levi’s etc.) and the best hotels. Local buses are not allowed in. We saw a lot of armed guards around and some were checking each car entering the neighborhood. We do not know if that is usual as we found out that the American president was expected at the Marriot hotel the next day for a conference with all the presidents of Central American. His visit may have prompted increased security.

After lunch, we tried to find the luxury bus terminal but the address was not clear to us and locals were not very helpful either. They directed us to the Marriot and as we walked by, a friendly American asked us if he could help us. He turned out to be the general manager of the Marriott and he simply took us in his car and drove us the two blocks to the bus terminal, while apologizing for the Salvadorans for their lack of tourist assistance and signage. That was very nice.

Guatemala City

We got on the bus for the 4 hours drive to Guatemala City plus one hour at the border.


In Guatemala City, we took a taxi to drive us to the hotel we had selected but the taxi driver talked us instead into renting a room from the bus ticket agent, cheaper, in a better neighborhood and walking distance from the luxury bus office. We decided to check it out and it turned out to be a good choice, especially for Clark, as we had cable TV along with a large comfortable bed and private bathroom. But, it was weird to be in someone’s home. The mother was still at the ticket office so her son, speaking great english to our surprise, showed us in. He assured us the neighborhood was safe and told us were to find restaurants for diner. We had decided not to visit Guatemala City as the guidebook recommended to spend more time in Antigua and warned that many areas of Guatemala City were not safe.

The next morning, we took a taxi to Antigua. We were surprised to discover, as we had been told, that the Spanish spoken in Guatemala, even by a taxi driver, was much clearer and easier to understand than the Mexican or Salvadorian Spanish. The driver turned out to be from El Salvador, born in the region where the marina is located. He emigrated as a kid with his family to Canada during the civil war but did not like Canada much and decided to resettle in Guatemala. He had not desire to ever return to El Salvador.

Antigua – Sunday

The taxi driver dropped us in front of our language school office, where we registered and were assigned to a family. Marco, the father, came to pick us up. The home was within a few minutes walking distance of the school.


There we were introduced to Maria, the mother, Julia, a grown daughther married to a Belgian and on vacation in Guatemala (small world!), Chris, another Belgian who was a cruiser and charterboat owner for 20 years and now is living with Marco and Maria while studying yoga and spanish and finally Shelly, an Australian doctor currently on a one-year vacation. Our room was barebone, a bed, a table, a chest and one fluorescent bulb. The mattress was fine but the pillows were stuffed with used clothing, including buttons! After massaging a depression for the head in the pillow stuffing, we got used to them. We shared the two bathrooms with the other students and the family. Maria cooked three meals a day for us, except Sunday and holiday (Friday).

Semana Santa or Holy Week is the week preceding and including Easter Sunday. It is celebrated throughout Guatemala, still a heavily catholic country, and particularly in Antigua. The churches organize processions commemorating the events of holy week and local businesses, families, schools and churches create alfombras (elaborate carpets, made of flowers or sawdust patterns) on the streets where the processions will pass. These carpets are destroyed by the procession. Semana santa starts with Palm Sunday. In the afternoon, a large procession was going to weave its way through the city, commemorating the triumphant entrance of Jesus in Jerusalem.




After lunch, we walked through the city, visiting the central square which is a pleasant small park, and walking by numerous impressive churches, inluding the butter colored “La Merced” and the white catedral.We also admired the alfombras in the street.


Most were made with pine needles and flowers as the streets were not closed long enough in advance of the procession to allow the creation of the more elaborate sawdust carpets.


Then we encountered the head of the procession and stopped to watch. On each side of the street a row of serious men clad in purple was progressing slowly, they kept coming and coming until we wondered if the entire male population of Antigua was there.



After a while roman soldiers appeared and more men in purple swinging incense burners. Behind them was the anba, a large heavy platform supporting a statue of Jesus carrying the cross. It was carried by at least eighty men.



Another smaller anba with a statue of the virgin was carried by women wearing veils. A brass band closed the procession. Behind them all, street sweepers gathered the trampled remains of the alfombras and threw them in the garbage truck. These processions are sort of an inverse of a big American parade like the rose bowl event. Instead of highly decorated floats the street is decorated and a small parade walks through it. This makes it more effort to see it all but allows many more people to participate in the event.

While we wandered through town, we came upon a small craft market in one of the squares. We knew that Guatemalan weavings were beautiful and were planning to buy a few pieces. We also knew Antigua was one of the most expensive places to buy them. We had told ourselves that we should do careful price comparisons between various stores and market before buying, but the colors and textures of the weavings were so tempting that we soon found ourselves with belts, wallets and a backpack!

Antigua- Monday

We were a little worried that we would be fed beans and tortillas 3 times a day in our family home but we were pleasantly surprised in the morning with guatemalan mosh (a version of porridge made with milk and more liquid and sweeter than the north american version) and pancakes. Maria explained that a previous American students had taught her a few recipes including pancakes and french toast.

We met our teachers at 8 AM. We each had our own teacher so we were forced to participate and learn. The teaching style is supposed to be flexible and tailored to the wishes of the student. My teacher immediately asked me about myself, where I came from, what I thought of Antigua, etc., in Spanish, and to my surprise we chatted two hours before I realized I was actually speaking in Spanish (although haltingly). Then we worked on conjugation. Clark was less lucky, he had a high school teacher who believed in methodical learning, with lots of writing. When Clark tried to explain he wanted limited practical conversation Spanish, he realized that his teacher did not understand a word of english and could not change his teaching method. Clark learns orally better than visually and writing down verbs was not helping him in the least. So he requested a teacher change at the end of the 4 hours lesson and was much happier with the new teacher the next day. They found topics of conversation they both enjoyed and she let Clark speak with whatever words he had without constantly correcting him which built his confidence. It was still very tiring for him and they took breaks by visiting the nearby churches or going shopping together. We both felt we learned a lot in a week and gained confidence.


Three volcanoes loom over Antigua.

After lunch, we went to the bank to convert traveler’s checks to the local currency (Quetzal), visited a few travel agencies and settled on a tour for Tuesday including visits to villages nearby Antigua, a coffee plantation and a macadamia nut plantation. We also stopped by the supermarket and tasted some of the local orange and blackberry jellies. They were incredibly fresh and intense tasting and we had to buy two jars even tough it will be heavy to carry back.

At 4 PM, the school was sponsoring a salsa and meringue introductory class, in Spanish of course, and we tried to remember the salsa moves we had learned last year in Puerto Vallarta. After trying both dances, Clark decided that meringue suited him better so we might pursue it in the future.

Then it was back to our room, to plan the weekend trip to Lake Atitlan and do our homework for the next Spanish class.

Antigua- Tuesday

After school and lunch we went on our tour around Antigua. We were the only 2 in the van with a driver and a guide who was supposed to speak English but who didn’t (that’s what happens when you go with the cheapest tour!).


We saw several churches (of the 78 in the immediate area!), drove through 3 villages, including the second capital of Guatemala but spent most of our time at the plantations and in the last village: San Antonio Aguascalientes.


At the coffee plantation, we had a patient Spanish speaking guide who walked us through all the processing of the coffee beans.


We picked some of the ripe berries and tasted the sweet flesh surrounding the bean and then learned how the various layers around the beans are removed by washing, fermenting, washing, drying and scraping. It was very interesting.


At the macademia nut plantation, we met Nicolas, an Englishman full of enthusiasm about the trees and nuts. The plantation is a private experimental station dedicated to preserving a large diversity of macademia nut trees, educating the locals about the advantages of macademia trees, and distributing free trees to interested Guatemalans. The trees can be used to provide shade to coffee trees (the coffee beans are of better quality when shaded), can be planted in soil superficially depleted of nutrients by corn, and are supposedly very efficient at immobilizing carbon.


The nuts contains vitamin B17 which Nicolas claimed was very effective in preventing cancer, and two natural fatty acids found in skin, making the nut oil an ideal moisturizer. For more details see In any case, we found their nuts better tasting than the macademia nuts of Hawaii and the moisturizing cream I bought is indeed very effective.


In San Antonio Aguascalientes, we saw some Mayan women still weaving by hand with a belt loom. This is a setup they tie to a post and wrap around their waist for tension there is a bit of a frame (really a couple of sticks of wood) woven into the work in front of them.


I spend a lot of time looking at all the weavings for display and finally bought a table spread, which the vendor claimed took a month to make. It is bright and colorful with a dominant red background. I doubt I will dare putting on a table but it will make a nice tapestry to hang on a wall.

On our way back home, we stopped at a supermarket to buy snacks for Clark for whom the servings of Maria are insufficient most days.

During meals, Marco and Maria try to keep us all talking in Spanish. The subject of tonight’s discussion was how dangerous the chicken buses were, with accidents reported in the newspaper daily. Maria gave detailed descriptions of the last few incidents. The chicken buses careen through the narrow streets of Antigua as well, but at intersections the fare collector, usually a teenager, jumps on the road and checks the roads before shouting the go ahead to the driver. The teenager also assists the driver in negotiating tight corners or passing parked cars in congested streets. It is an interesting system that compensates for the lack of streetlights.

Antigua- Wednesday

We realized that we were spending more then anticipated on textiles and decided we needed to get more quetzals. Unfortunately the first two ATMs we tried refused to accept our VISA credit card even though they posted the Cirrus logo. So Clark played hooky the first hour of class and went back to the bank to exchange more travelers’ checks. All the banks were closing at noon on Wednesday for the rest of the week. We later found one ATM which did accept our card.

I studied 6 hours of spanish to compensate for the lack of class on Friday, a holiday here. Afterwards, we were planning to visit the museum of music but it turned out it had moved out of town 2 years earlier and it was necessary to take a bus to go visit it, and the last bus had already left. So instead, we visited the craft and vegetable markets. The craft market behind the vegetable market turned out to be cheaper than the market we had visited on Sunday, so we let ourselves be tempted again. I bought a casual jacket and two tablecloths, which I intend to use to make pillows. Clark bought narrow straps to be used as guitar and camera straps. The vendor said the tablecloths were made by hand on a foot loom but we heard elsewhere that they were machine made copies, which explained their regularity and relatively low cost. It does not really matter, the patterns are Mayan and the colors beautiful. I find the typical colors used in house furnishing in the USA rather drab, the blue is a grey-blue, the pink is dusty, the green is dark forest or a subdued seafoam. The colors in Guatemala are vibrant, full of life and I look forward to add touches of colors in my home with pillows and tapestries. We have already collected pieces made with three different styles of weaving, and there are many more here.


Women doing laundry in the public washbasins


In the vegetable market, we saw jocote maranon which are the fruit of the cashew nut tree. The nut is on top of a red fruit, which has the shape of a red pepper. The nut is toxic until roasted. Guatemalans use the fruit to make a sweet sour juice drink and also to make an alcoholic beverage. Nature is certainly imaginative!


After diner, we went to the San Francisco church to see the large alfombra inside. The alfombra had been created for the “Velacion” or adoration taking place all day and all night in the church. The carpet was very intricate and beautiful. See for yourself on the picture.

Then we went to the Irish pub to drink beer and chat with Shelly. Shelly is the Australian doctor on a one year vacation. She had already spent 3 months in the Middle East (Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, and Syria), 3 months in Africa and was now on a 3 months tour of Central America. We wanted to hear about her adventures and had a fun evening. By the way, Antigua is a very cosmopolitan town and you can eat or drink food from any region of the world, from France to Thailand, passing by Ireland.

Antigua- Thursday

Today was Maria’s birthday and, in accordance with tradition, we were woken up by loud firecrackers in the morning! All the students in the house (at this point 7 with the addition of Mike from England and two French Canadian high schools students) decided to buy together a cake for Maria and Clark took his teacher shopping for the perfect cake during class.

During my last day of class, I read a newspaper with my teacher, which sparked some questions about the economic situation of the country. The country was about to receive food assistance and a loan from the international monetary fund and the World Bank. ½ million children were predicted to die from malnutrition and millions of poor uneducated Mayan peasants were without jobs or sustenance due to the drought affecting crops, and the disappearance of coffee plantation jobs as the coffee price plunged. Apparently, new countries such as Vietnam have entered the coffee market, flooding the world with coffee with the result that the price of coffee has dropped sharply. The events of September 11 have also affected tourism revenues, and very directly my teacher who was without much work for 3 months after that. She is 21, has a trade school degree in business administration, makes about $35 per week teaching Spanish 4 hours a day, and lives with her family. In Antigua, you can live with a family, as a guest, paying $5 per day for the room and $5 per day for meals. The actual cost of food for a frugal Guatemalan leaving with his/her own family is surely less, so the $35/week she makes working part time covers food and a little more. But the concept of taking year long vacations was totally alien to her. I assured her it was pretty alien to the majority of people, even in the US, even though Antigua seemed to be full of students on such long vacations. By the way, workers are paid $3 per 100 lb of coffee beans picked (about a day’s worth), and it takes 6.25 lb of fresh beans to make 1 lb or roasted coffee beans ready for making coffee. 84% of the price of coffee in the US is marketing and distribution cost, 16% goes to the producing country. So coffee may appear expensive, but remember that most of it is marketing.

The solution is diversification, developing manufacturing jobs, education of the peasants and maybe … macadamia nuts! An American helping to rebuild housing in El Salvador after the earthquake, whom we met at the marina, pointed out that most Salvadorans were begging for manufacturing jobs (typically making parts for the american market) because they pay more and are more dependable than crop-dependant jobs. Labor unions in the US tend to call these manufacturing plants sweatshops because the workers are paid a lot less than in the US, typically have less benefits and longer hours, but compared to other jobs available here, they are better. The local government is promoting them as well. Basically everyone likes them down here and of course American buyers get much lower prices. These manufacturing plants are a good example of capitalism (that is why the unions hate them) they provide a better job than the alternatives available. Do not read this as general endorsement of all sweatshops. We do know real sweatshops exist with unhealthy work conditions or organized so as to maintain the workers in financial slavery, and we are certainly against those. The word sweatshop covers everything from enslaving jobs in unhealthy conditions to normal manufacturing jobs with salaries much lower than in the US.

After lunch, we bought our bus ticket for our weekend trip to lake Atitlan then I bought 2 sets of place mats at a street stall, a beautiful dark green one for Christmas and a butter yellow for the spring.


In the afternoon, I helped building an alfombra in front of the school for the late-afternoon procession.



After diner, we walked back out to see the end of the procession and watch people starting to work on the most intricate alfombras for the biggest procession on Friday morning. Many people spend the entire night working on the alfombras, patiently placing the pattern, filling the spaces with packed colored sawdust, then moving the pattern along the alfombra edge and repeating the process.


We also visited the church of Escuela de Cristo to see another intricate alfombra placed in from of a scene showing Jesus ascending into heaven. The scene was lit in blue, white and yellow alternatively making it an impressive (maybe tacky) light show complete with angles on strings. People were packed in the church, taking turns praying in front of the alfombra. It was perfect pickpocket turf and Clark was hit violently in the back by someone likely hoping he would drop his camera or hoping to take his wallet from is back pocket. There was no wallet in the back pocket and Clark held fast to the camera so we lost nothing.

At diner, Marco told us that starting at 3 AM, Romans soldiers would be walking the streets of Antigua, beating drums and reading the condemnation of Jesus. The first procession was at 6 AM and we had to get up before then if we wanted to see the best alfombras near the church where the procession started. So we went to bed relatively early!

Antigua – Friday

5 AM, the alarm rings and we get out of bed to venture in the still dark streets seeking alfombras. We were rewarded with some beautiful examples as you can see from the photos.


One very impressive one was made entirely with vegetables, red radishes in the heart-shaped center, carrots and beets bringing touches of color between lettuce, sweet peas and cabbages. Later we saw many of the participants in the procession carrying carrots or lettuce. The vegetables were not going to be wasted!

While wandering, Clark got tempted by the guatemalan drums and flutes sold in the street and acquired an example of each. The drum (a tumba) sounds neat but the flute is difficult to play! We saw the procession also, very similar to previous one, then went back home to rest before the next 2 processions in the afternoon.

The alfombras for the afternoon procession were mostly made of pine needles and flowers as people had only a few hours before the morning and afternoon processions to make them. The afternoon processions were commemorating the death of Jesus and the participants were all clad in black instead of purple.

A lot more incense was used until we were engulfed in a scented fog, which made the long lines of black men very spooky. The anba were different, showing Jesus on a satin bed in a gold and glass casket.


We caught the second afternoon procession on the central square in early evening. It was a special place with the square filled with people carrying candles, and a choir singing on the steps of the cathedral as the procession passed by.

After diner, we went back home and packed for our weekend trip to lake Atitlan.


Panajachel – Saturday

At 7 AM, we boarded the bus to Panajachel, the main resort town on the shore of lake Atitlan in the Guatemalan Highlands. The lake is 128 square kilometers and surrounded by volcanoes. We had been warned that the town would be very crowded because it was a very popular vacation spot for Guatemalans and the weekend was part of the long Easter weekend holiday. One travel agency actually refused to organize a tour there that weekend because of difficulties finding reasonably priced hotels. Prices were expected to double the weekend. But we could not stay any longer in Guatemala, so we took our chance. Shelly had said not to worry, Guatemalans were helpful and resourceful and if the hotels were full, the manager would find an aunt with a spare bedroom! We were counting on the numerous cheap hotels that do not take reservations in advance.

It was a three hour drive to Panajachel through green hills and winding roads. We had no trouble finding a room when we arrived there but the town was packed with vacationers, mostly Mayans in their traditional dress crowding the beach on the lake. Music was blaring and it was difficult to make way in the street. It was unpleasant and I was glad we had planned to immediately take a boat across the lake to the smaller town of San Pedro La Laguna.

Unfortunately the weather was overcast and mist hid the shores of the lake so we did not get the majestic views of the sparkling blue lake against the sharp green volcanoes. But San Pedro La Laguna was much quieter. It seemed to be a hang out place for hippies mostly.


After lunch, we rented 2 horses and a guide (only $10) and took a leisurely ride along the shore of the lake and through coffee plantations with the guide riding a bicycle behind us.


It was a very pleasant afternoon, and we both would like to come back to lake Atitlan to spend more time hiking between the villages and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We took the last boat back to Panajachel, which had quieted down in the evening and had a very good meal before returning to the hotel for the night.

Chichicastenango – Sunday

At 8 AM, after a rushed breakfast, we boarded a shuttle bus to Chichicastenango, a town further in the highlands. Citizens of Chichicastenango are famous for their adherence to pre-Christian religious beliefs and ceremonies. Versions of these old rites can be seen at the church and at a shrine nearby. It is also a big trading town and its Sunday market is very well known. We arrived in time to see a procession coming out of the church with religious statues carried by men in traditional costume, which is pretty rare. Mayan women still wear the traditional costume bu their men usually wear western clothing, except in more remote villages of the highlands.


The statues were in a naïve style very different from the realistic looking statues carried in Antigua. They were surrounded by frames of colored feathers and had money pinned to their chest. Inside, the floor of the church was dotted with offerings of corn.

Dscf1631We spent the rest of the morning admiring the various styles of weavings from the highland villages and bargaining with the vendors. I was particularly admiring the long belt, which are supposed to be wrapped around the waist 5 times. The weaving is part weaving, part embroidery with no consistently repeated pattern. But I had no use for such an unpractical belt and the price was out of our range. So we left, but the vendor pursued us until she halved the price and convinced us to buy it. I am not sure what I will do with it yet although the most practical use is to cut it in segments and make pillows. Clark bought another embroidered cloth showing a typical Mayan ceremony. While we were walking through the market, we heard quite a bit of Mayan language being spoken. There are apparently still 22 dialects being spoken in Guatemala, particularly in the highlands where the villages are quite isolated.

We were out of Guatemalan money, so we picked a restaurant which accepted credit cards and had lunch. We still had dollars, which the vendors accept readily, but we wanted to save them for diner and the next day. The shuttle bus back to Antigua was at 2 PM. Since we were not part of an organized tour, we managed to negotiate a lower price to fill some of the spare seats in a tour bus.

As we sat in the bus, vendors started coming to the window to try desperately to make a last sale before the tourist left. And guess what… we ended up buying a Mayan blouse, which is heavily embroidered by hand. The woman said it took her 6 months to make it. She might be exaggerating a bit but it is quite intricate. The price was 25% of the typical quoted price for a blouse. It turned out it was because it was a used blouse, which we did not realize immediately (OK we are a little naïve but also awed but the workmanship of the Mayan weavers, and prices do vary widely with your bargaining skill and the time of the day). The main problem, though, is that she apparently had dyed the blouse to brighten it before selling and the red dye bled on my hands and jeans during the trip back home! We will have to rinse it many times, and then, we still don’t know what we will do with it. It is heavy and awkward to wear as it just a large rectangle with a hole for the head. You are supposed to wrap all the extra cloth around the waist, which may be warm, but not exactly stylish. In any case, we have injected money in the local economy!

A note on bargaining in Guatemala, it seems that when we offered about 75% of the asked price, we got the piece without much arguing, which probably meant we paid at least what the vendor expected, and maybe more. Based on our experience in Chichicastenango, it looks like with skillful bargaining or when you really can’t afford the piece, the price can drop to nearly 50%. On the other hand, these women get a lot less for their hour of weaving than do waitresses or spanish teachers. Weaving is likely something they do on the side, after working in their home or in the fields and is not their only source of income but it still gives pause to think of the little value of their talent.

Clark was also amazed to realize that labor is so cheap that is more cost-effective for them to hand whittle the stick for the drum than buying a machine-made dowel. The flute is also hand carved even though it would be easy to have a machine reproduce the same carving.

Antigua – Monday

Monday, we went to the museum of music and museum of coffee. In the museum of music we saw a slide show with music showing Mayans playing traditional instruments. Then a guide walked us through the museum, demonstrating the various instruments and explaining their history. It was a very nice museum.

In the coffee museum we learned that caffeine is produced during the roasting of the beans. The museum was part of a very small but active plantation that had received a prize for best coffee at the International Exposition in Brussels in the 19th century! We got a taste of the coffee, which was truly delicious and quite strong.

In the afternoon we got on a shuttle bus back to Guatemala City and went back to the same house we had stayed in the week before.

Return to El Salvador- Tuesday

At 6:30 AM, we were on the bus to San Salvador and were surprised with breakfast being served on the bus. Unfortunately, we had already seen the movie presented and it was really syrupy and bad. We retraced our steps back to the marina without trouble and arrived exhausted but happy to the boat. I had to promise Clark that he could sleep as late as he wanted for the next few days. He was pretty tired of our early morning rising and the fast pace of our trip. I came back with the flu and was in bed with fever for 3 days. I was glad it did not start until I was back.


We really enjoyed Guatemala and would like to come back to explore the country more. We did not see all the famous mayan ruins in the northeast of the country. Guatemala is much cleaner than Mexico and El Salvador with a lot less garbage along the road (at least where we have been). The Spanish is easier to understand and the people very friendly. The country is used to tourism and equipped for it, unlike El Salvador, and it is still very cheap. Semana Santa in Antigua is very special. Try to make it someday!

Barillas Marina

March 16, 2002. Barillas Marina, Bahia de Jiquilisco, El Salvador.


After arriving here Monday, we spent a couple of days just resting, reading books in the hammocks, enjoying the pool, the hamburgers, and mostly the very calm estuary where Temptress sit as still as if attached to a dock, even though she hangs on a mooring buoy. Tuesday, the marina was offering a free van ride into Usulutan (the nearest town) to buy groceries. We drove through cane fields with volcanoes looming on all sides. Usulutan was architecturally similar to many Mexican towns, but looked more rundown. The van dropped us at the supermarket and we walked first across the main road to the open air market to buy fresh food and vegetables. The market was cramped, with some street impassable due to the density of people, and dirty. Unsold lettuce from the previous day was left on the ground along with other refuse. Many vendors had a tiny stall with a sun awning, but others were just standing in the middle of the human traffic, holding a string of garlic or live crabs tied together. I was walking with Ann from sv Ku’uipo, who also has light colored hair, and we were attracting attention. El Salvador is not exactly run over by tourists! We were hearing whispers behind us and twice a local extended a hand to touch my skin to see how white skin feels. It is quite a change from Mexico where most locals are used to tourists. Some wanted to chat with us but unfortunately I have not made much progress with my Spanish. All the women were wearing dresses or skirts, most with a fancy apron with lots of lace. My shorts were probably inappropriate and I plan to wear a skirt next time. After finishing our shopping in the market, we returned to the supermarket and ate at the cafeteria before finishing our supermarket shopping. We heard that some other cruisers were afraid of the market and did not enter it. We noticed that there were guards with machine guns at the entrance of most larger stores, just like we had one travelling with us in the van. But even in the midst of this small town far away from the US, with rare tourists, there was a Dominoes Pizza with two pizza for the price of one on Tuesday, just like in the US and in Mexico. We have started working on our long list of repair and maintenance projects. It is much nicer to deal with them in a place with flat water so you don’t have to struggle with your balance at the same time as you try to screw a nut on a bolt deep in the bilge. Clark has reinforced the autopilot mounts and stiffened the dinghy further to reduce hull flexing at high speed. He has found and fixed the leak in our sink drain water pipe which was filling the bilge with wash water. And he has started working on installing a motion detector and alarm for the cabin to discourage intruders. Costa Rica, where we are going next, has the reputation of being a land with lots of theft. Besides occasionally helping Clark, I have continued my upgrade of mosquito screens and finished replacing the screen material on all of them to protect us against no-see-ums, and I am planning our land trip to Guatemala.

We plan to visit Guatemala, and particularly Antigua, during Holy week. Antigua is know for its holy week celebrations which involve daily processions and the creations of alfombras. Alfombras are carpets made of colored sawdust or flowers (sometimes placed over sand to create relief), created in the streets where a procession will come by. They are put together by businesses, schools, churches and families. The procession shuffling by will destroy them but new ones will simply be created the next day. It is very difficult to get a hotel room during that week but we decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and registered for a spanish class, 4 hours a day for a week, with lodging in a Guatemalan family. This will give us the afternoons to visit Antigua, participate in alfombra creations, climb the active volcano nearby and visit the great weaving towns in the vicinity. We will leave from the marina Saturday 23 and take multiple buses all the way to Antigua. We expect to be back Monday April 1.


Today, we took a walk outside the fenced marina compound to visit a family with semi-tamed monkeys who lives close by. We walked by sugar cane fields and into a forest of tropical trees of which I only recognized the mango. One of the trees had seed pods in the shape of a large ear. The father of the family called the monkeys and after a little while, they started coming, descending from the very tall trees with ease and grace, barely touching the tree limbs in the process.


The Salvadoran gave them bananas which they took eagerly, even though they were banana trees around. The monkeys seemed all arms and legs, just like fast growing teenagers. One mother had a tiny, nearly hairless baby monkey holding on to her tightly while she scampered around. It was fun to see them try to grab the bananas from a swinging branch. We had brought some gifts for the kids to thank the family for showing us the monkeys. We hope all is well with you.

San Salvador Barillas Marina

3-11-2002 4 pm San Salvador Barillas Marina

N 13 15′ 47″ Air 104 F Water 83.6 F
W 83 29′ 05″ Tied to a mooring

We got similar wind the next night (last night). But this time we were ready and had sails reefed. Before it happened. We also made our way to right inshore. When the worst of it hit we were only about 3 miles from land. We would have been closer but the water was shallow, we were in only 60 feet of water. Being so close to land and having the wind coming off the land we saw only mild waves. It still made for a bumpy ride but the smaller waves and the fact that we were not moving as fast made for a much nicer ride. We slept better then the night before but not great. Once you get so tired it is hard to sleep.


At 8 am this morning we made it to the entrance to this marina. It is up a river with shifting bars and a breaking entry. A ponga (small boat) from the marina meet us at the entrance and we followed it up a river to the marina. The trip took about 2 hours as the marina is 10 miles inland. We expect to have a very protected time here. It is surrounded by tall volcanos and is deep in a mangrove river.


We each had showers and cleaned up the boat while we made the entrance. Upon arrival we took a mooring and after a bit a ponga arrived carrying the port captain, the customs inspector, and the marina owner. They had a look around the boat and did some paper work. Then the marina owner took us to the immigrations office where we finished our check in. The process was convenient and easy and only cost $10 US each for our 90 day visa. Very refreshing compared to the Mexican system. We then had lunch on shore and went back to the boat.


Salt accumulation on the window sill, due to ocean spray

It is so nice not the hear the engine running. I think we used it for almost 90 hours in the last 4 days or so. It is also nice to not move at all. The boat is absolutely still here. I think we will stay here for a while. Probably 3 weeks. I have some projects planned and we plan to take a land expedition into Guatemala.

At Sea San Salvador

3-10-2002 6:45 pm San Salvador

N 12 18″
W 89 28″ No wind NOW motoring at 4-5 knots

Did I say I wanted more wind? We get a wind from the sea to the land every afternoon when the land heats up and the air rises. Cooler air from over the ocean then moves in to fill the void. In the early morning we get the opposite when the relatively warmer sea water heats the air over it and the cooler air from over the land fills in. This morning we got a dozy. There were other sun generated phenomena working as well and a point of land backed by a mountain range. All together they caused a gale that started at 2 am and lasted until about 7 of so. It came with very steep waves that were formed in the shallow water just off shore and grew as they came out to us. There was more wind then our tehuantepec experience but the waves weren’t quite as bad. Though they were bad. I also left way too much sail up for most of the gale. I was sure it was about to end anytime. All of our big books that we store on the shelf beside the TV fell across the boat. We discovered a lot of new leaks and they leaked a lot with all the water rushing over the deck. When I did finally reef I was hit with fire hose quantities of water that knocked me off my feet. I was glad that I was harnessed and locked into the boat. The worse part of the little experience was that we are already so very tired. This was much harder to deal with then it should have been. The gale started at the beginning of my second shift and I stayed with it until it was over. Then I couldn’t get to sleep. On top of that I decided to be a nice guy and gave Birgitta a bit more sleep on my previous off watch so I only had about 3 hours of sleep last night and no real food. I feel really bad today. I think Birgitta looks worse. Good thing tonight is our last night at sea. And this is our longest passage this year.

At sea off Guatemala

3-9-2002 4:45 pm Guatemala

N13 54′ Clear skies flat seas Air 98F Water 85F
W91 31′ Motorsailing at 5-6 knots with no current or just a bit against

We are about half way down the Guatemala coast at about 10 miles off. We can see a big cloud of smoke rising which is probably some rain forest being burnt for crop or pasture land. Quite a bit of fishing right in this region. Just passing through pongas with nets. Earlier we passed through a lot of big purse net boats. It’s a bummer to have to actually watch where we are going. The middle of the tehuantepec was ours alone. Here we have to share the water with other traffic.

Nothing much to do. I just moved some fuel from the storage bladder into our main tanks. I think we should make it even without much wind. Would be nice to have wind though, as it saves a lot of fuel and we can go faster. Would be nice to have enough wind to shut the motor off completely but we aren’t probably going to get it in this area. I guess that’s what you pay to have these flat seas.

I don’t think we mentioned it before but we have a pet on board. A hunting spider (probably more then one, we can’t tell them apart) got on the boat when we were in San Carlos. The little guy doesn’t seem to want to go below and doesn’t spin messy webs so we decided to leave him be and hope he eats some bugs. Well he seems to be thriving. He is noticeably bigger then he was when we first saw him. Though he is only about 3/8 of an inch long now. And it’s something to do watching him run across the deck from one interesting speck to another. I don’t know what he is eating but whatever it is I’m sure we don’t want it on board. He seems very good at not getting crushed as we walk around the deck or sit on our bean bag chairs.



Had some bottle nose dolphins (like flipper) playing on the bow wake this morning. We don’t see turtles anymore. I guess they all like the area with the up welling better then here or they don’t like fishing nets.

Just another 80 miles to El Salvador and 200 miles to our marina. This is a long one. Birgitta wanted to stay 12 miles off Guatemala because we don’t have a courtesy flag for the country. I vetoed that. Didn’t want to go any more miles then we had to. We took down the Mexican courtesy flag this morning upon leaving Mexican waters and it looks like it was just about in need of repair again. Birgitta replaced the last (red) panel of the flag last year. The white center panel is starting to fall apart now. We should be able to fix it enough to use it for the short time we will be in Mexico next year on the way to Florida. We now carry a yellow quarantine flag as we have not officially entered a El Salvador and will be putting Birgitta’s El Salvador flag up tomorrow morning. We got a big collection of courtesy flags from a friend (Alan Vogt) as a wedding gift and ones we bought ourselves but they were for countries we are no longer going to visit. Birgitta is now making our flags. She borrowed a book of patterns from one of the other cruising boats and we copied the pages that described the flags we will need.

One of our Navico displays failed yesterday. This device was put together without seals so water got in and killed the display. The design had seals but this one was assembled without them. Got to hand to crappy British manufacturing. At least they were very expensive. I reset the electronic compas display to speed and we will have to get this one repaired this summer. That means dealing with Simarand the American company that recently bought out Navico. One of the worst repair divisions I have ever dealt with. We lost our first speed display at the end of last year. I chose to buy a new device that allows speed to be displayed on any other display instead of fixing the old speed display. I also had a lot of trouble getting our autopilot repaired before we left. Cost me a lot of money to fix a problem that was built into the unit. And at that they didn’t even test their work and I had to uninstall it and send it back again. Then I had to buy a new one because they weren’t done when we had to leave. The whole process took about 6 months. I wouldn’t recommend anyone buy Navico. The devices are great but the support and manufacturing are crappy.

Another interesting thing, we seem to have been hit by lightning. One of the LEDs that tells when a binge pump is running blew up. We also lost both of our mast head Deep Creek Design LED lights. One was not working months before and the other just died. Could have been while we were on the hard and the hurricane passed over or during the big thunder storm we saw in Ztown. Either way we consider ourselves lucky nothing else failed. We have quite an elaborate grounding system on Temptress. That might have saved us. Unlike Navico-Simarand, Deep Creek Design stepped right up and offered a replacement. They have been shipped out and should meet us in El Salvador. See the equipment page for a description of the LED lights.


**** On the subject of the thunderstorm which destroyed some of our LEDs, Clark mentions that Temptress has a great grounding system which may have saved our electronics. What he forgets to mention is that I got up when the storm started (during the night), unplugged the radios from their antennas and placed our GPS and autopilot control unit in the oven, which act as a Faraday cage, while he was happily snoring. That may have helped protect our equipment too. .