Notes from the Lake — part two

“The captain is out to lunch and the sailors have taken over the ship.” (Charles Bukowski)

Day 3: Tom

Sleeping on the boat was not easy for me. I’m quite a troubled sleeper in general, and the boat didn’t help. Cramped spaces, fair enough. It’s no fun, but hard to avoid if you want to stay on a ship. But my body didn’t seem to be able to adapt to the rocking and swinging of the boat. Or at least not quick enough. The lake itself was flat as a pancake, but passing traffic caused waves, sometimes so strong that they could knock over your cup of coffee. Or keep you from your sleep. It was Friday morning and I was twisting and turning – early morning sunshine falling onto my face – in a vain attempt to still steal five minutes of sleep from an already expired night. My body had, however, accepted the harsh truth. No sleep tonight, it was a brand new morning.


Daeli had told us that this anchoring spot was much quieter than the marinas of nearby Rio Dulce. With one exception: on Saturday and Sunday, weekending Guatemalans would terrorise the waters around Friend Ship and Josée.

The previous evening, we had gotten ample evidence that the weekend actually starts around sundown on Thursday. We had finally escaped the loud Garifunas and their rowdy get-togethers in the streets and living rooms of Livingston and our quiet new surroundings had turned into an open-air karaoke in no time. Bad karaoke, if that should ever be in doubt.

Now, jet ski’s were racing all around us. They didn’t just disturb my morning sleep-in, but also created lots of waves for the poor little Mayan ladies in their dugout canoes, returning from grocery shopping in town. Lanchas, small motorboats with a roof like a party tent, ferried local tourists around the lake and towards the castle. Some of the tour guides, I noticed over the weekend, treated those gringos on their boat as an extra attraction.

The bravest/stupidest (strike through accordingly) of the weekend pirates sped right through the gap between the Friend Ship and Josée, no more than 50 metres. I remembered how Daeli had ordered us to light up the boats every evening, to avoid accidents. “Especially in the weekends,” he’d emphasised, “when people get drunk and drive home afterwards.” He told us that once, a drunkard in a speedboat had crashed into his boat when the guy, motivated by a drunk hubris, thought that he could easily manoeuvre his vehicle between the boat in question and its anchor chain at full speed.

Josée and Friend Ship at the mound of Rio Dulce


Our morning routine involved a swim around Josée before we’d stuff our books in a dry bag and row to the Friend Ship for our breakfast. I saw how Daeli waved at us and thought I understood he wanted me to bring the catamaran’s bucket that Anete had deposited on Josée the previous day. Assuming Daeli had an urgent call from nature, I complied as quickly as I could.

“Did you come here specifically to bring me the bucket?” asked Daeli.

“Yes,” I said, “I thought you really needed it.”

“Naah,” he said and shrugged his shoulders, “I just wanted you to bring it when you came over for breakfast.” And then, as an afterthought, he added, “O, by the way: I’m not going to Lake Atitlan after all. My girlfriend thinks it’s not a good idea if I can only come for a week. She’s right, I have to figure out a long-term solution. I’m sorry if I ruined your honeymoon.”

How to say fickle in French? Two hours later, instead of just us, there were five people on the Friend Ship. Two van lifers, a Spanish-German couple, had joined spontaneously, friends of Daeli’s girlfriend on their way to Honduras stopping by for a couple of days. “We can go sailing together on the lake,” said Daeli. Yesterday’s routine repeated itself, only now the instructions were shouted in Spanish. This was no longer a recipe in Chinese, it was a recipe in Chinese communicated in sign-language. Lost like a kitten, I sat down on the back of the deck, trying not to get in the way of the sailing operations.

Anete and Daeli on the Friend Ship


“I’m going to Lake Atitlan after all,” said Daeli after the sailing trip. “Now you can keep each other company.” That remark shone a different light on our dinner conversation from the previous evening. Daeli had asked us whether we’d like to be alone on the boat or if we preferred company.

I had danced around the question, said that we were writers and thus didn’t shun solitude. That it all depended on the kind of company. “Yes, of course,” Daeli had replied, “but if it’s a nice couple, you probably wouldn’t mind? Then you can talk about couply things.”

Yes, we had fallen victim to the diktat that states that, as a couple, you somehow have to get along with other couples. That you could babble endlessly about spa weekends, romantic restaurants, the latest episode of the reality show in vogue or the arranging of decorative pillows. The horror.


When I said that there were five people on the boat, I was not exactly lying. But I wasn’t exactly revealing the whole truth either. We shared the Friend Ship with Diesel, a black dog. When he had first revealed his plan to travel to the other side of the country, Daeli had said he would take Diesel with him. His girlfriend wanted to see the dog.

Daeli had complained about it extensively. How the bus drivers wouldn’t take him, unless he put the dog in the luggage space or on the roof of the collective buses. How instead he’d have to hitchhike and spend the whole afternoon in the backs of pick-up trucks, in the blistering Guatemalan sun. He made it sound like the whole undertaking was like travelling to the moon in a paper aeroplane – impossible until proven otherwise.

So when we were enjoying our communal meal in the evening, Daeli’s last supper before his midnight departure, I asked him how he’d do it with the dog. “Diesel? He’s not coming, he stays here.”

Day 4-5-6: Anete

Van lifers Marilene and Mario turned out to be a relaxed and quiet couple. Marilene climbed all over the boat to find the best places to read. Mario divided his time between fixing the motorboat engine and standing on the roof of the boat with a fishing rod hoping to catch his next lunch. They’d been on the road for six months. Marilene confessed that she wanted to make her trip more meaningful by trying to find a shaman who could open a door into the spiritual world.

Even though they lived in a van, they admitted that the sleeping conditions in their Volkswagen were bigger than the ones they had on the boat. Marilene especially was not very much fond of boat life.


One night, heavy rain disturbed our dinner preparations. We closed all the windows that we had previously opened because it can get fairly hot on the boat otherwise. But that was not all. Friend Ship was full of leaks. When we had placed dozens of pots and bowls under the dripping water, it was time to deal with the door. Or to be precise with the door hole. There was no actual door. You had to cover it to make sure the water wouldn’t get in. Or worse, that it would soak a bunch of wires close to the entrance.

After we had made sure the water couldn’t come into our waggling living space, Marilene stood in her bikinis in the middle of the living room. She shook her head and didn’t have to say anything. You could read from her face that she was not particularly happy with certain aspects of boat life.

Thinking about electricity, a vivid memory struck me. There was no light on the boat when we first arrived, so it had to be fixed. Knowing nothing about electricity, I was terrified when Daeli handed us two pairs of wires and asked to keep the ends of them tightly together. Then he pulled some handle. I sincerely hoped nothing would go wrong. Thankfully we didn’t get electrocuted and I guess somehow e managed to fix the electricity problem.


The great thing about having four people on the boat- someone was always on the boat, so others could leave for a trip.

Anete in a kayak on one of the side rivers of the Rio Dulce, with a bird in the background.

The day was bright and sunny as always when we heaved the yellow ocean kayak into the lake water. The mere idea of leaving the boat behind for the entire day was thrilling. In the end, it was just plain travelling. If you have been tied to one place, it’s always great to take a peek and to see what was on the other side. So we took off to discover the lake.

Exploring the Rio Dulce

When people say they love Rio Dulce, then often they don’t mean the loud and buzzing city. You have to take a boat and find the little rivers to discover paradise. The green jungle river systems form a little city in itself. There are jungle lodges, houses and restaurants that are accessible only by boat. Before staying on the boat, we spent a couple of days in one of the cutest guesthouses I’ve ever seen, called Casa Perico. To get there we had to call a worker to come and pick us up by boat. Entering the green wonderland, we found little bungalows drowned in a jungle. The restaurant was surrounded by water and trees. We admired jungle life from our bathroom window. Everything was peaceful and magical.

Casa Perico, the guesthouse on a side river of the Rio Dulce.

So I wasn’t surprised when, paddling into a green jungle river, we saw cute houses and fancy catamarans next to them, just like cars in the city. We stopped for a drink in a little restaurant. Admiring the river and boats passing by, you forgot that somewhere out there were roads and cars instead. My favourite attraction in this little getaway was a Tarzan rope with which you could swing yourself directly into the river. That was a well deserved relaxing day!


Arriving home, we were welcomed by a bad surprise. You probably remember our struggles of getting internet on board? Once, we didn’t take enough money to get the connection going. So we had to go back. Finally, equipped with the stick, a horrifying realisation struck us- unless you close all the background programmes, the data goes down really fast. Finally, we learned to use it in a way that it didn’t eat all the data during half an hour of browsing. We always checked only email and Facebook, avoiding any kind of picture-heavy browsing or video-watching to keep the data for the days we wanted to write and research.

Returning from our relaxing trip, Marilene and Mario admitted that they’d used Tom’s computer to access the internet. Within a moment, we realised what that meant. They probably didn’t close all the programs and without knowing used up most of our well-kept data. Tom was almost banging his head against the wall. The couple apologised and promised to buy us the missing data so we wouldn’t be left without the lifeline after they drove to Honduras next day. Now, it was just us and two boats on Lago Izabal.

Tom at Casa Perico, Rio Dulce.

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