Just as you are leaving the lower stretch of the river and just before you enter El Golfete, you will find Cayo Grande to starboard. Behind the cay is a lovely and well-protected anchorage, which you may have yourself, and there is a restaurant there for dinner (reservations recommended). The local businesses — and most everyone else along the river — monitors VHF Ch. 68.
As soon as you enter El Golfete a series of small bays stretch out to port. The last bay is affectionately known as Gringo Bay because it had been settled early on by a few hearty Americans who built modest homes on the bay accessible only by boat. Cruisers familiar with the area will tell you to stop in Gringo Bay and visit with a local fixture known simply as Jennifer.
Continuing across El Golfete you soon enter what is known as the Marina District. The river narrows and marinas are along both sides of the river. Unfortunately, this is about as far as most boats get after they arrive. If you arrive after mid-August, space at the marinas becomes hard to find.
Don’t expect to find U.S.-style marinas here. Almost all are set up for a Mediterranean mooring, or Med-moor, type of a tie up and not conducive to coming and going frequently. They are designed to cram as many boats as possible side by side. The process of getting in and out usually involves a day or two notice, a small boat or two to assist, and retying all your neighbors once you are out. There are no finger piers or pilings, with few exceptions, and the outer tie consists of lines run to something under the water. We could not find anyone to clarify for us just what that something is. Then you are tied in a crisscross fashion to your neighbors on both sides. Plenty of fenders are also required since, depending on where you are, the boat traffic and wakes can be constant and at times excessive. Since we had not been in a marina since Belize City we decided to stop and do some boat cleaning, laundry and a few other projects that are better done at the dock with electricity and water available.
The walk over the bridge to Fronteras on the other side of the river is a good workout and we learned early on not to do it in the middle of the day when the temperature can be brutal. You can also dinghy across the river and tie up at Bruno’s Marina or the town dock. Bruno’s is the preferred place to leave the dinghy since security can be an issue at the town dock, and the traffic from local boats coming and going can be damaging to small dinghies. This river is a main thoroughfare, and most facilities and homes are only accessible by water. At times of the day the boat traffic can remind you of being on a liquid freeway.
Along the main street there are a number of tiendas or small grocery stores, restaurants, open-air produce markets and variety stores selling toys, pots and pans, and a number of different items. Except for the middle of the day, the town is bustling with people, and every shop and market is crowded. On certain days of the week the produce is brought in fresh and on those days the town becomes even more crowded. You can also find a couple of hardware stores as well as pharmacies and repair facilities in the town, but most are very basic.
They also have a few banks in town complete with armed guards standing inside and outside the front door, and a small room where you can check your gun before entering. After you complete your business your gun is then returned to you on the way out. This is a different world and lifestyle than we have been exposed to for most of our lives but we found it more fascinating than fearful.
In addition, there is a bus station that is a central hub for travel throughout the interior of Guatemala, and to Mexico and Honduras. Later we would use the bus system to explore and further sample what this wonderful country has to offer.
All of this and we have only been in the country for two days. Our heads were spinning, and with the endless possibilities before us it wasn’t long until we wondered out loud just how long we were really going to stay here. By the end of this day we were exhausted and happy and looking forward to what tomorrow would bring.