Livingston, Guatemala, bears a bad reputation among cruisers. It’s known for dinghy thefts, greedy boat boys and other ripoffs. Or does it have a bad rap due to idle talk among cruisers?
It’s hard to sort out during our brief visit. We’re eager to move upstream and see the beauty of the Rio Dulce’s gorge, yet we don’t want to rush through and miss anything. A local festival and the lure of homemade street food in town persuades us to stick around and stay overnight.
Our customs and immigration agent, Raul, promptly brings his entourage to Happy Times. A big guy in a red shirt with an official-looking bag over his shoulder, he sticks out his hand and says, “Welcome to Guatemala!” His hospitality is refreshing.
The other members of Raul’s entourage shake our hands also. They include official representatives from immigration, customs and who-knows-what-else. They seat themselves around the table in the cockpit, accept glasses of water and quickly fill out the paperwork to be picked up later.
When Mike and Geoff of s/v Eclipse go ashore to collect the papers, they negotiate a fee of 20 quetzals, about $2.50US, with one of the gung-ho boat boys to keep an eye on Geoff’s dinghy. Walking through the streets they detect the scent of fresh bread baking and spot a vendor slicing and selling mangoes. Paulo, a local resident, thought perhaps they were lost and appoints himself as their tour guide. He wasn’t looking for a handout; he wanted books. His father once served as a diplomat in Arabia and Paulo had the benefit of a good education. He speaks seven languages.
Paulo explains an interesting fact about Livingston that the guidebooks somehow missed. The town is sharply divided between its ladino and Garifuna residents. On one side the mostly Spanish-speaking mestizos reside. On the other the Garifuna live. Originally slaves from Africa, they were forcibly deported by the British from St. Vincent in the Grenadines following a revolt to the Honduran island of Roatan. From there they settled along the Caribbean coast from Belize to Nicaragua.
The dividing line is invisible to us as the crews from Happy Times and Eclipse explore Livingston. Off one main street lies the public laundry. It’s a large pool where rain water collects and has 12 bays for washing clothes by hand. Each concrete bay or tub has a built-in washboard that the ladies use vigorously to clean their clothes. Laundry is a family affair. One young woman puts her baby to sleep in an empty bay and her two daughters help wash.
We join a parade, part of the festival, in which four men carry a statue of St. Isidro atop a platform through the streets. The Garifuna are celebrating the start of the growing season, and Isidro is the patron saint of farmers.
The parade peters out near a two-story residence where a ladino family is grilling chicken in the street. Around seven half-chickens, flattened and covered with charcoal smoke, sizzle on the grill. We buy four pieces at about $2US each, and I discover the best grilled chicken since my weekly lunch at Rosedale’s BBQ in Kansas City, Kansas, circa 1979.