On the Road Again

Río Tatin, Guatemala, Central America 15 46.695 North 88 48.200 West

| | To accommodate the replacement compressor, Ithaka needed to have four new hose fitting made. After a four-hour, round-trip chicken-bus ride, we located Juan at the a hydraulic-hose shop in Santo Thomas, who made perfect ones while we waited.* * *| Gloriously, it feels like we’ve busted free. Hurricane season is officially, and in reality over, and as we slipped _Ithaka_’s lines from the docks at Tortugal Marina in the Rio Dulce and pulled out into the River, motoring downstream toward the ocean, we were roaring with pleasure. Yes, I’ll miss long, hot showers and ice cubes, but it’s wonderful to be finished with the majority of projects for which we needed electricity and a stable platform. The new radar’s installed, the seams by the coach roof are resealed; the switch for the windlass has been decrudded, and all systems have been checked. Most amazing of all, my friend Harold and I rebuilt _Ithaka_’s refrigeration system, which has been dead since we left the States. We installed a used automobile compressor, replaced the expansion valves, bled the system, filled her up with freon, and once again we have a working engine-driven freezing system that’s humming cold. This task was far too daunting for me to attempt a year ago, and it’s a sign of our changing life on _Ithaka_, that we successfully turned it around—at least for now!

But as we looked astern at Tortugal and waved goodbye to the good friends we made there, both human and canine, we felt sad too. Erika and Lobo, and their baby Juan, on Arenas, have become our friends, as have Daphne, who owns the marina, Thierry, who runs the place, and Arnulfo, who works there. Arenas is destined to leave Tortugal soon, but I wonder when we’ll see them again. The pooches, Mancha and Joe Friday, both of whom can execute exquisite run-off-the-dock-belly floppers when trying to corner fish, have been fine entertainment and friendly mascots, sometimes sleeping on the dock right behind us. But it’s time to move on to new places and new friends. On of the ironies of cruising, which is so much about encountering the new, is that the dues one pays most often are having to say goodbye. Such is, I suppose, the privilege of longer life for all of us.

| | We’ll miss the sweet pooches of Tortugal Marina, Joe Friday and Mancha. Every day for the past year, the elegant Mancha gently nursed two motherless kittens she found—now resident at Daphne’s house at Tortugal, and named Thelma and Louise.* * *| Only 500 yards down the river from Tortugal is a massive cement bridge and the hell-hole of a town, well-named as Fronteras, because it really does push at the boundaries of just about everything. But, as we passed beneath the bridge, I thought about the fresh tortillas I bought there most days (_un mano por un quetzal_, five—one hand—for one quetzal, about 13 cents). As we rolled by I looked toward the dinghy dock, my mouth watered, and I even felt the tiniest bit sentimental about Fronteras, but sanity returned and those feelings passed quickly enough.


| | Harold and Douglas study and trace the parts of Ithaka‘s refrigeration system.* * *| We’re both excited to feel liberated, to no longer be within earshot of trucks and telephones and neighbors. While we’ve loved traveling about Guatemala and Salvador and visiting the United States, there’s a season for all things, and our season, like our refrigerator, is reborn now. Onboard are new flippers and masks, a new speargun, a slew of books crying to be read, a galley full of provisions, a series of charts we’ve only started to study, and guidebooks for islands and countries we hope to visit. I hesitate to lay them out in detail in print, because it seems every time we make plans and say them out loud, it all but guarantees we’ll end up doing something else. This isn’t peculiar just to us. It’s a familiar refrain among cruisers, who often say that plans are what most often get in their way of life. The other night Bernadette and I started to talk of where we’d like to spend _next_ Thanksgiving, which is likely to mean hurricane season, but we stopped ourselves short lest we jinx it somehow. I know that over the next months we’ll each make hints, linger over particular charts, muse aloud with the occasional “what-if”—yet we’ll fall short of stating in a full-on declarative sentence: “I want us to be at such-and-so.” Normally direct with each other on so many things, this minuet has some odd moments but seems to work without invoking the wrath of poltergeists, dybuks, or curses. One day, one of us _will_ say, “Jeeze, why don’t we just spend next hurricane season…” and through a series of delicate dance steps, voila, the consensus will have been reached. I don’t quite grasp the whole process yet, but this seems to be how it works.

| | The busy tienda La Samaritana in Fronteras. * * *| Having just spent our second Thanksgiving on the boat, we marked that as a milepost. At Tortugal, Daphne cooked a turkey feast, and we shared it with cruisers from Argentina, France, Belgium, Italy, Canada, and the United States. It was an internationally ecumenical affair, and the fact that this version had been rooted in the States didn’t matter a bit. It’s a holiday that translates well because it’s free of religion and full of harvest; plus, everyone out here has plenty of reason to be grateful.

Anchored tonight in a quiet bend of the Rio Tatin, we see kerosene lights flickering on shore in the few huts and houses. No longer wired to the docks, we’re using fewer lights, and turning them off sooner. We’re reacquainting ourselves with the groan of the anchor rode and the strain of the snubber, with the echo of waves and currents against the hull, and the turn of the boat as the tide switches direction. We can hear wind in the rigging. It’s light, though, just strong enough so we don’t need screens to fend off bugs. And the sounds around us are of nature, not civilization.


| | * * *| I’ve got a fishing line off the stern. I’ll check it before I go to bed and, if nothing, again in the morning. We’ll see. This afternoon a group of youngsters in _cayucos_ were only a few yards from _Ithaka_, flinging their nets and hoping to pull in roballo. More of them though were paddling about and splashing each other, the impulse to play being so much more seductive than the obligation to work. It’s good to be on the road again.

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