A trip to town and a grand day out

Phil & Nikki Hoskins
Tue 28 Jun 2011 21:32
The town situated near-by on Rio Dulce is about a mile upriver from Monkey Bay Marina and is called Fronteras. It's hard to miss, looking from the waterfront its a ramshackle collection of shanty buildings barely defying the laws of gravity. Behind the waterfront lies a one road oasis of colourful small shops, butchers, bakers, grocers, hardware and clothing stalls and even a small supermarket reputed to be part of the Wal-Mart empire. The Post Office however seems to be locked and bolted most of the time. There are some opening hours posted on the building presumably as some joke to lure you into town from miles away to find a locked door separating your letter from a stamp. 
Through this one road flows a lot of heavy traffic with Guatemala's only Caribbean port just a few miles away at Puerto Barrios. You have to be careful where you walk as there isn't really much definition between the road and the walkway. Apart from massive tanker trucks squeezing their way through the town and seeming to raise the street temperature by 10 degrees as they pass there also seems to be a lot of cattle trucks transiting the area. Every time we looked around or heard a horn sound (no pun intended) there would be a truck load of cows not looking as if they were enjoying their open top ride through Guatemala. Truck drivers here use the throttle and brakes with equal pressures so it was rather depressing to see these hefty bovines being thrown against each other as the brakes were slammed on as the traffic came to a sudden stop.  Then they would be hurled in the opposite direction as the lorry accelerated with the moving traffic once more belching out clouds of un-burnt diesel in the process. That said the 'people' trucks were equally as crowded - in fact so full that regardless of the braking the jammed masses in the back didn't budge an inch. But at least the people have a choice - the cows don't.
It was useful to know that we can get most things in this smallish community so we certainly won't starve. Phil bought some new long swimming shorts (2 pairs 110 Qs)  whilst the Admiral replaced her worn out 'frocs' with a new pair for 25 Q's (can't find real Crocs in the right colour). We can even get local money from the ATM machine in the supermarket which doesn't swallow your card! That's useful. Approx 12 Q's to the £.
                Busy Fronteras AKA Rio Dulce town.......                     ... full of enticing smells of street food and some not so enticing smells from other sources
Letters will never arrive from here - period!                      Saddles seem to be popular in hardware stores but the moggies have taken to drinking cheap local booze
                Lots of fruit and veg in the 'covered' market  plus ... the odd parrot........                                                    "Who's a messy eater then?"
And now to our grand day out.....
Roberta from Chanticleer suggested a trip to the waterfalls some 30 minutes drive away. You can 'bus it' but Paul suggested we could hire a van instead which seemed more sensible. The next morning we took our own dinghies to Hacienda Tijax Marina on the opposite bank nearest to where the hire van was. 
                       Wow - this marina has a swimming pool! are we jealous? - possibly! OK -YES WE ARE !!!!
After negotiating some interesting rope bridges and walkways at the back of the marina complex...
Our first jungle challenge! a wobbly rope bridge - It's clear Roberta's done this sort of thing before (is that a huge first-aid kit carried on the left shoulder)
.... all 9 of us squeezed into a minibus which had, to be honest,  seen better days. It was only a 7 seater so one brave soul sat in the luggage compartment and we squashed 3 on the middle seat meant for 2. In a new-ish vehicle the extra payload would have been just about acceptable. For this well worn van which seemed to have lost it's shock absorbers sometime over the last 5 years it was almost more than it could stand and every small undulation in the road had the back end bottoming out with a loud bang. If this wasn't enough the sliding door on the starboard side never quite closed properly despite the grunt of two strong men behind it and at one point as we sped along the open road it slid open admitting a blast of hot air which was actually quite welcome given the lack of air-conditioning being shared by the 9 of us. At least nobody fell out.
                                                      View from the luggage compartment - 5 in view - 4 hidden - Admiral guarding the loose door!                                                     
Despite some heart-stopping moments we made it to the waterfalls and all staggered out into the car park which was nicely shaded by tall trees. In the stream were local ladies washing their family's clothes whilst the smaller family members frolicked naked in the warm shallow water. A scene that's probably not changed over the centuries.
                                             Boy are we glad to get out of there!     Dam -   should have brought the laundry with us
                                                                               Moth-wallets united  -  all digging deep for the 10 Qs to get in - except Kent.
The falls were another quarter mile further upstream so paying our 10 Q's entrance fee each we set off looking forward to a nice swim. On the way we passed a tree that was slowly being denuded by a huge colony of Leaf Cutter Ants which formed a procession high into the tree and from the ground stretched some 30 yards into the undergrowth. There were as many ants heading back up the tree as there were ants carrying pieces of leaf walking down the tree. What an industrious lot these leaf cutters are!
                Leaf cutter ants in action - a one hour video of these insects hard at work could provide a lasting cure for insomnia
The pool under the waterfall was accessed down some steps where we all stripped off to our shorts and swim costumes (ladies) before wading into the warm water and swimming towards the hot - in fact very hot waterfalls. With such a variance of water temperatures you could swim round and find a spot that was just right although investigating an overhang where the falls cascaded into the pool Phil's ankles were nibbled by something in the water. We never did find out exactly what did the nibbling though!
                                                                    Reminiscent of one of those moving wall features found in cheap Chinese restaurants
We were cautious, taking a while to get into swim mode.                                                  The dog certainly wasn't cautious though - but disliked peanut butter sandwiches. 
We had all packed lunch boxes and after the swim we sat perched on the rocks enjoying the peaceful ambience of our surroundings watched by a local dog with doleful eyes waiting for anything surplus from the lunch packs. There wasn't much. Then it was back to the bus for the drive back to the marina (once we had managed to close the sliding door).  Despite the banging of the suspension the 'Admiral' managed to capture some images of the Guatemalan countryside -  it's not all jungle you know. 
                    Like England really but with straw huts for houses.
Naturally we needed a refreshing drink to celebrate our safe return to the Rio Dulce. However it was a very enjoyable trip and we all had a great time - even Kent who slipped on the rocks as we arrived at the falls injuring his arm but who no doubt enjoyed the attentions of Chanticleer 's 'nurse' who was on hand with that huge first-aid kit containing enough medical supplies to set up a large military field hospital.
                A strawberry/banana 'smoothie'                                                                                            before heading home to Ajaya (when I've undone the padlock!)