There are few places that I have visited thus far in Central America where I have unpacked my bag for longer than a few days. Usually, I live off of the “top” layer of clothing, rarely rooting deeper into the depths of my backpack. Though I loved San Pedro la Laguna and settled near Lake Atitlan for ten days, I soon got itchy travel feet and was ready to leave after my Spanish schooling was finished and I had sufficiently visited all of the village’s cafes and side streets.
Then I landed at the Round House, a bona fide oasis along the Rio Dulce in eastern Guatemala.
My first stop following a quick stint through Belize was Livingston, and I circled back into this Guatemalan port via a boat border crossing. The Rio Dulce area of eastern Guatemala was on my way to the Honduran border, and Mike, a good friend whom I met in Semuc Champey, and I both wanted to see what all of the fuss was about.
We didn’t plan on spending seven whole days in at the Round House and really had good intentions to travel through other towns in the Rio Dulce area. But we just got stuck. And for good reason!
Mike was coming down from the north of Guatemala so following one evening in Livingston, I called the Round House for a pickup. Paul from the Round House greeted me in Livingston, and we cruised up the Rio Dulce on a jaw-dropping ride through canyons, towering cliff walls, encroaching jungles, and tranquil fishing villages. Several local fishermen floated by in handcrafted, dugout canoes, or waited patiently to throw out their nets near the riverbanks.
The Round House is actually that – a round house built upward in layers. The kitchen, communal, and bar area form the bottom circle, several double rooms and a large veranda make up the second layer, and the third is an open dormitory. The other guests were quick to introduce themselves. Tash and Danny from England, Ben from Oregon, Jaz from Australia, Sven from Switzerland, Dani and George from New Zealand/England, Kate and Alex from England, and a few other friendly faces made up our gang for the next several days.
The funny thing about staying at the Round House was that we didn’t actually do much. Not really. We woke early to wander downstairs and find coffee. Perhaps we sat on the dock to catch manatees making their daily voyage to the mouth of the river or found a spare hammock to read. The strong sunshine soon burned off the mist hanging over the jungle and it was often time for a river swim around mid-morning. Then we contemplated lunch, snoozed with dogs on the dock, and chatted in the shade until it was time for an afternoon beer. The sunsets were always gorgeous! Dinner was served family style, and the choices (and portions) were amazing! We had lasagna, curries, shepherd’s pie, pastas and more. In the evenings, we played poker, listened to many of the talented musicians staying with us, or settled for watching flickering candlelight bounce off the walls of the bar area.
There wasn’t any wifi or television at the Round House so we were forced to interact and communicate with our neighbors (which I loved). Too often, I see that our attentions are directed towards our laptops, phones, Ipads, or kindles, and I find that we often ignore our fellow travelers. With no technology to distract us, we traded books, played games, and talked about our shared wanderlusts.
Mike and I went kayaking twice, once up the river to the “hot springs” and another time we traveled downriver to Livingston, an epic half-day kayaking trip that left our shoulders sore for days. I learned that I cannot steer a kayak and have no right sitting in the stern of the vessel.
Our hosts at the Round House, Chris and Dani, are a genuine, wonderful couple. They helped us plan further travels, organized bus transfers, fixed fantastic cocktails, and filled us in on the history of the Rio Dulce area. I also celebrated my birthday mid-week, and Mike (and the kitchen staff) surprised me with a banana-coconut cake, candles, and flowers.
All good things must come to an end, and sadly, one-by-one, our friends left to continue their travels elsewhere. Most of us had originally arrived with plans to stay two, maybe three, evenings and it had turned into a full week for many. Thus, it was also for me to move onward into Honduras. (But we are already planning a reunion for….someday!)