The mafia ruled the river

The Rio Dulce

While living on the river for a few months (see my blog: Life on the river )we heard the story of the Mayans that control the river. A long time ago when there were just a few settlements on the river, the police force would come by to dictate the inhabitants how to live their lives. This was interpreted as an insult and the river people kidnapped that police officer, the messenger.   

The colleagues of this officer got worried when they didn’t hear from him for 3 days, therefore they send more officers. Likewise, they didn’t return and eventually the army was requested to settle the situation with this tribal folk. 

At that point the town chief had many guns all of a sudden and was selling them to everyone. It was only 100 dollars for an AK 47 and the locals of the river where armed to the teeth. Eventually the army entered the jungle and a huge firefight took place. The first party to retreat was the army. Since then they have never dared to entered the river again. 

Who rules the river?  

The people that live alongside the river, own it. Every little township has a town chief and he calls the shots. Judging the story, you might think these are wild people to a certain extend. In my opinion, they are the friendliest humans ever. It can be hard to communicate with them though because they speak the Mayan language -intensely hard to master- and a few words of Spanish. Regardless of this language barrier, we tried to have a conversation. We got very close to the maid of the hostel where we were living, who was Mayan. She overheard our conversation about the upcoming year, 2012. At one point she gave me the phone to talk to one of her family members. Again, trying to grasp what was being shared with me was ambiguous. What I did understand was that there was going to be a special alignment of the planet and stars and there would be a ceremony. Unfortunately, we were never able to attend the ceremony. I presume Alissa and her relatives (Spanish name of the hostel maid) wanted to invite Ramon and me to one of the sacred gatherings but in the end got told off by her superiors.  


The Mayans believed these alignments were a sign of a supernatural force. At Chichén Itza you can still witness these ceremonies. During the equinoxes of fall and spring, the late sun creates shadows that give the impression that a snake is slithering down the Northern staircase of the pyramid. This pyramid is dedicated to Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan; the feathered snake that transcends and connects the earth, underworld, and heaven.

Life on the river

Hurricane shelter

A decade ago, at the beginning of our travels, we stayed on the Rio Dulce, Guatemala. From an expat’s perspective, this was the perfect location to seek shelter for sailors during the hurricane season. We met many of them during our stay at a hostel on the river. We were working for room and board at that time. We absolutely loved the river. It flowed from the town called Rio Dulce which means; “sweet river” but the name refers to the town. Transport further North East was possible by boat only. You would follow the river downstream for 3 to 4 hours on a spectacular boat ride. The river would be broad in the beginning and become so narrow at some stages that you could almost touch the base of the towering limestone cliffs flanking the water when stretching out your arms. The depths were very different too. At some point, it was more than 200 meters deep. The river was ruled by the Mayans. See blog; The mafia ruled the river 

Huts along the Rio Dulce

First close encounter with sailors  

Long story short; it was there that we came in contact with yet another walk of life. A floating one, one of the sailors. We stayed on the river for a few months and got to know these sailors quite well. We were living our lives to the fullest by meeting this specific crowd. It was 2011, a few years ago. Cell phones didn’t exist, the internet was in development and traveling with a big bag was not called backpacking yet. I tried to part with my backpack so many times but I can’t. It’s not as flashy as the ones you can buy nowadays. Therefore, I thought, Ramon and I were eccentric. We were traveling around with all our belongings on our back. My backpack’s weight was only 10 kg, really we didn’t have that much, but we had our spirit, we still do, where there is a will there’s a way.    

All of our belongings

Diehard folk

Anyhow, these sailors inspired us! To always be away from their families, to sail the world in times that keeping in touch was just not possible. They would call their family before they set off on long and dangerous journeys to cross an ocean. The next update would be weeks later so they could tell their relatives that they arrived at their planned destination. If they ever did, that is. This freedom and loneliness intrigued us and was something we had to look into in the future. All the sailors we met where loaded. For us, it would be a few more years until we could do that. 

We were very impressed at that time; it also might have been our age and ignorance that made us worship this crowd. The desire of having a boat and sailing around the world wasn’t that present back then. There was still so much to see on land and we weren’t land sick or people sick yet. With the latter, I address the sheep in our society who have no opinion about anything and just do the same as everybody else. That was certain for us, we won’t ever return to that life again. I think that there and then we decided never to go back to the countries where we had been brought up. Insane ex-pats are still a hell of a lot better than sheep.