[:en]We arrived in Rio Dulce on a whim. That morning we were rushing to catch a bus from Flores to Semuc Champey. After inhaling our breakfast to be on time, we waited. And waited. About half an hour after our bus was supposed to pick us up, we found out that a mudslide had covered the route. And if that wasn’t enough, a river flooded onto the road, just for good measure. After a bit of mulling around, the driver arranged for us to go the alternate route. However, this would bump the drive from 8 to 14 hours, so we decided to stop off about halfway through in Rio Dulce.
We had absolutely no idea where we were going, as Oscar, and our two friends from the UK, Martin and Luke, and I hopped off the bus. The city, if you could call it that, was not somewhere you’d want to stay. So, we decided to catch a boat that would take us down the River Itzabal, all the way to a city called Livingston where the river met the sea.
We arrived at the ferry just 10 min before the last shuttle and bought tickets for 125 Q each way (about 12 USD). By then it was late afternoon and we hadn’t gotten a chance to have lunch, so we rushed about 20 yards towards the nearest restaurant. We ordered the cheapest and quickest thing on the menu, Tacos. While we waited we kept glancing at our ferry. About 5 min later they signaled us to come. Luke and I grabbed the bags and tried to stall, climbing into the lancha as slowly as possible without looking completely obvious. Finally the boys ran over and jumped in with the food. The last ones on the boat, we pulled away just a few seconds after.
The river was breathtaking. It is comprised of one main lake with a wide river head snaking out towards Livingston. Off of this river are several lagoons and small rivers, some only six feet wide. The entirety was boarded by dark, dense vegetation. In places the jungle was so thick it had eaten away the beaches, so you couldn’t even see the rim of the lake. It went directly from grey-blue water to deep green jungle.
On one side of the lake, the dark mountains rose above the trees, casting jagged silhouettes into the sky. In places mist clung to the banks, drifting and rising to obscure the peaks, and settling again to cover the water. Everything looked magical, much better than being stuck on a bus for another 7 hours.
As I leaned over the edge of the boat to look at the rippling wake it left, I felt a drop of water hit my shoulder. Soon the drop turned into a downpour. I looked back at the boys and could see the wonder on their faces start to vanish. It was replaced by a look of self pity, the pathetic kind you have only when you are cold and wet and can’t do anything about it.
The boat slowed and the driver pulled out large blue tarps, aka Guatemalan rain coats. We placed it over our laps, but as the boat progressed the rain got worse. Soon the view was obscured by the pounding drops, so we hid underneath the tarp. After about an hour and a half of this, we stopped to drop one off a couple. We poked our heads out from under the tarps, we were at a small pier that seemed to emerge directly from the jungle. A friendly Australian came to great us, and at his side lumbered a massive black Rottweiler. We looked at each other and decided why not jump off here, primarily just elated to be out of the rain. As we followed our new guide into the jungle, a paradise opened up before us. Beautifully constructed buildings connected by a network of small raised paths emerged from the river, shallow water flowing underneath. It looked like the kind of place you would pay $300 a night for. We got our private cabana with a bathroom for only about $12 per night.
As we explored our new home, the depressing mood disappeared, replaced by beaming grins. We felt exceptionally lucky. That’s one of the joys of traveling, waking up and jumping on a bus, not knowing where you will end up at the end of the day. The trick is to keep an open mind and commit to the unknown, something very difficult in our normal lives, where calendars and schedules take precedence.
Our new home was called Finca Tatin, owned by a friendly Argentinian and run by a very warm staff. Oh yes, and you can’t forget Negro, the massive teddy bear of a dog. He took a liking to me and Oscar and would escort us back to our bungalow ever night. Occasionally, he even slept on our floor.
Aside from the individual bungalows scattered through the jungle, there was a main hall with long tables. Here, everyone gathered to hang out, chat, and eat the family style meals prepared at night. On the dock where we landed there was a rope swing. We spent an entire afternoon trying to figure out cool tricks, which ended in laughing at each others epic fails. The river was beautifully warm, so we could go for swims even when it was raining.
If we ever got tired of our little paradise and wanted a change of scenery there were many things to explore around the lake. We rented canoes and got a boat drop way back down the river near the lagoons. We kayaked about 2 hours back, exploring the many alcoves and pools around the lakes edges. We stopped for lunch at a restaurant that was built on stilts above the river. Next to the establishment was a pool of natural sulfuric hot springs. After lunch we spent another hour huddled around the rocks that were radiating the heat. It was a funny game of musical chairs as we danced around trying to find the perfect spot, not too hot, not too cold.
We decided to take a boat and go to Livingston, the famous city we originally meant to stop at. I had an extra motive, I also desperately needed to purchase tampons. Most of you ladies can appreciate the severity of being stuck in the jungle without proper supplies.
It was only about 20 min by boat to Livingston.
Once we got to Livingston, our driver said he’d give us a few hours in the city and wait for us by the boat. A couple of hours was generous. If you ever go to Itzabal, stay on the river, not in Livingston. The town is a strange mix of black and indigenous people. The best way I can describe it, to put it plainly, was a shit hole. There was garbage everywhere. Emancipated stray dogs wandered the streets, and even the people looked miserable. There was only 2 main streets, and absolutely nothing to do. Even our guide book had no recommendations for activities, sites to see, or even places to eat. We walked around most of it; we had to go to about 7 stores looking for tampons. Apparently they are a rare commodity, so I trapped around town with three boys on a scavenger hunt. After finally purchasing my supply, we headed directly back to the boat.
It rained two of the other days we were there, so we took the opportunity to relax, swim, and make new friends at the hostel. When the time finally came to leave, we were very reluctant to go. But I guess that’s the best way to move on, leave a place loving it rather than getting tired of it and itching to get away. Finca Tatin and lake Itzabal will forever be a kind of happy accident, a bonus paradise I’m grateful we came across.

-Lodging: Finca Tatin
-Kitchen: No
-Cost:~$20USD/double
-Date:Oct 2014
-Rating: 5/5
-Review: An awesome hotel in the middle on the jungle, solar power and communal dinners. The staff was fantastic and our stay was absolutely memorable. When you visit, please say hello to Negro, our loyal Rottweiler friend who liked sleeping in our room and make sure you do the tarzan swing into the river.

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