Livingston was the main port before construction of nearby Puerto Barrios. It also is the entry port into the famous Rio Dulce River, a well-known hidey hole for the areas boating crowd. Another important distinction is its unusual mix of Garífuna, Afro-Caribbean, Maya and Ladino people creating quite a different culture, than mainstream Guatemala.
Livingston is indeed a strange mix and well worth a visit. You won’t find fancy resorts at least not to Western standards anyway. The majority of accommodation is very basic and less than clean, in fact count yourself lucky to find a place with a private room with hot water for under $30 a night. However if you are willing to travel a little further out of town there are some very nice places catering to Guatemalans looking to vacation on the coast. Venturing down the Rio Dulce opens up a wider range of options too including many Eco Lodges.
We arrived only slightly soggy following our 45min boat ride from Punta Gorda, Belize with Memo’s (some travel sites list only the Tuesday & Friday service between these two points, Memo’s runs daily trips, this time of year, at 1 PM to both Livingston & Puerto Barrios). Our research had also led us to believe that the ferries are met by very aggressive touts, especially for those without prior booked accommodations; we did not find that to be the case and were left in relative peace and quiet.
Immigration is required as your first port of call and it is easy enough to find, head straight up the one main road, it is on the left hand side and very well signposted. The arduous process was completed in seconds, and we found adequate accommodation’s 2 doors up at Rios Tropicales.
This is our second country on this trip and the first time to Guatemala, so we were interested to see how it compared to Belize, the similarities were quite obvious, English or a Creole version is widely spoken especially within the Garifuna population, the blend of skin tones and features was very reminiscent of the Cayo district in Belize. One of the biggest differences was the dress style of some of the local ladies, whose choice of full, long print skirts, combined with lacy, voluminous huipils. The huipils are delightfully dainty, feminine and cool, however the effect combined with the short, plump stature of many of these ladies leads to a rather striking resemblance to a bowling ball.
The second major difference was rather more olfactory, the source of the rather pungent aroma that assailed our nostrils was soon tracked down. One of the many docks was completely covered in salted fish drying in the sun. The source of all those fillets was two docks over. A school of Jack Trevally was under attack……. Not only from the flies that swarmed around the catch but the two very industrious men who were skillfully, splitting and gutting them. The guts and spines were quickly disposed of by the waiting flotilla of Pelicans, who were obviously not impressed at the speed at which the proceedings were going. Daring raids on to the dock to snatch a whole fish were repelled constantly by the gutters. The successful raiders now had a problem, watching a Pelican trying to swallow a whole, spiny fish which was so large and heavy it was impossible to toss it back, you soon realized that a Pelican with its large soft pouch is not the smartest bird in the world.
Several hours later the pile of fish were being hand packed into tubs of salt, from where they would spend their days drying in the sun. Salt fish is obviously a big business here, most mornings fishing boats trailing their own flotilla of Penguins and Gulls steam in to discharge their loads.
Tourism appears to be the other industry here, the main street would sprout piles of trinkets to tempt a few Quetzals out of the tourists pockets. Large plump starfish and carved conch shells seemed to be the most popular offering, marine conservation doesn’t seem to have caught on here yet. What was more impressive was the sheer volume of goods that were set out on display each day and then patiently packed up and removed every evening by these small ladies and their even smaller helpers.
The Garifuna influence here was most noticeable one evening, the rhythmic, toe tapping pulse lured us back out onto the street and into the nearby bar from which it emanated. We watched bewitched and amazed that so much wriggle can be put into one set of hips and buttocks, if you have ever watched Hawaiian dancers in action you have experienced the same sense of awe! “How the heck does she do it?” was the thought going through my brain. Not sure if that was the thought going through every male head in the bar though.
Sadly like many of the poorer countries of the world, the dog and cat population appears to exist despite utter neglect. The tiny mangy black pup gasping its last gasp just a few feet from a street vendor is a image that will stay with me for a long time. What we have noticed is that wherever there is a growth in foreigners or ex pats taking up residence, thank fully there is a marked decrease in the sight of those tragic little bodies.
More insights to follow as we take a guided tour through mud, fields, rivers and yes more mud to see the Seven Altars and explore the Rio Dulce