Loc: Puerto Queztal
Acc: Hilleberg Allak 2 tent
Dist: 46,8 km
Start: 06:40 End: 14:40
I was falling asleep as usual early around eight o’clock, tired from the day’s physical workout. But at ten o’clock, three torches shine on my tent, and men are calling something, sounding at least not too unfriendly. I shine back with my super-torch, and see three uniformed policemen, armed to the teeth with machine guns, standing across my kayak. Well, it least the machine gun was not pointing at me.
WTF? Who was calling you? I HATE to get woken at night in darkness on a lonely beach by anyone, especially authorities, even when they are coming in friendly mission. We chat a bit, I explain my trip, pass my card, refer to the support of the Navy people, my embassy and the local tourism office, and all is fine. But I could not find out why they were coming to disturb my precious night rest. Maybe they heard about me in the press and simply found my position on my blog and Facebook which I made the mistake to post that night without one or two days of delay. I cannot imagine they were sent by my local contacts to disturb me. I quickly deleted the entries, and will in future take well care to post with delay, not to become a geocache again.
In the morning, the single friendly man from yesterday (I cannot put him anywhere either…) came back to watch my packing and launch. No problem. Three more younger guys came by, and do the same. I laugh to them and say, strong men are appreciated this morning to help me launching. I was thinking of the last few hard meters pushing my heavy barge over the sand to get it finally afloat. Glad they have shorts and sandals on.
After I am done with my ritual breakfast while sitting on the kayak watching the surf, I get up to put the guys to work, pushing my kayak further to the water. They first like a bunch of pictures with me, no problem, but only now I notice a red rescue float like beach lifeguards use in one of the young guys’ hands. “Hey, we will not need this one for my launch”, I joke.
When I ask them to push on the stern now, please while I am dragging my heavy baby backwards downhill, I suddenly see two of them almost fully stripped, standing each in bright red and tight rescue swimmer’s Speedos at my stern. The two figures are looking like freshly escaped from “Baywatch”. WOW! Who sent you out to my safety? So sorry I forgot to pull my camera. I think they might be better dressed in a solid PFD and helmet when the shit hits the fan, not to get hit by my exploding composure when I might get trashed in the really nasty surf. They probably wonder why I am “armed to the teeth” with helmet and padded PFD.
I take the luxurious chance to already jump into the cockpit and close my deck before the wash, and we wait for a higher wave to get me afloat. A risk, but they do well to get me back straight after a half-hearted wave pushes me sideways. The next one gets me afloat, and now it is only me to be responsible to get going through the full-high-tide nasty break. Unfortunately, already the first line hits me fully and I get thrown on the back deck. But as it was not the worst full water power, I stay upright and straight, recover, and keep on going. I wait carefully three or four nasty BIG ones, but can safely paddle into the washing up foam not to lose ground. And then I see already my break-out chance! I paddle like hell out to the unbroken open ocean, and finally can punch my fist into the air to signal I am fine. I try to imagine the faces of the rescue swimmer guys. Are they relieved not to have to act, or would they have loved to fish me out of the foaming surf? Chances are always there for the latter!
I prepare myself for a long paddling day as usual, helmet off, PFD off, speaker and phone on deck, skeg launching line off, bow line on my spray deck, and get going. The wind is not friendly low following like surprisingly yesterday, and also the swell is lower which is at least still with me. Soon I notice I would have to paddle into the night to reach Puerto Queztal, as my energy level is lower today due to the unwanted night rest disturbance by the three curious policemen and conditions are worse.
I text Captain Edwin Loarca I prefer to land already in Juan Gaviota, as I see no reason to push so hard today to land in last light. He says it will likely be all right to go in there as an “emergency landing”, when I explain my trip. I also texted Mauricio Fernandez, the Tourist office manager, about my plans. He was not happy, also says it is a private place and asks if I can do some effort to reach Puerto Queztal tonight? Well, I am not keen to paddle in the night, have not slept well and long enough, and would love to reach the main port of the country in daylight and well-rested.
But when I approach Juan Gaviota, I already sense what I saw on Google maps, this “harbor” entrance is not full protected and has some surf, especially at this rough time of the day on the windy hours and rising tide. Also, this area looks not inviting to me at all, I am not keen to have to discuss my existence with private guards of millionaire’s villas protecting freshly raked “public” beach areas which no one is using but could. Another reason is an unusual massive amount of dead fish the last kilometer before the entrance to Gaviota, thousands of small fish carcasses float on the surface, as if this area is contaminated by something. What might be the reason? I also notice half an hour earlier a strange black “rain” of dropping ashes of plant pieces. Maybe a palm tree leaves roof caught fire and finger-size light ash pieces got sucked up to the sky. After conditions changed, they slowly but continuously rain down on the area where I am paddling. This spooky precipitation lasts for about an hour. Smoke clouds of fires, not sure if they are unwanted bush fires or trash fires, are everywhere over the country.
When I leave Gaviota behind me, I feel I did the right thing, not to risk this not fully safe entrance, and not to discuss if I am allowed to be there or not. My usual energy level is already back anyway as seas are quite lumpy now, and I prepare for paddling at least one hour in darkness into the big port area. The surf around the southernmost river entry of La Barrita looks horrible on dark steep walls, but I can see already the breakwater of the main port. I texted a few times my position to the Navy contacts, and expect to see an escort boat anytime soon. Natural light is slowly but surely fading, but hundreds of artificial lights pop up in the city to my left, in the port area and on five huge ships mooring offshore while waiting to be unloaded. The green flashing light of the port entrance is my guiding star, also my GPS screen shows my direction clearly.
At some point, I see a dark shadow coming up to me, my Navy friends! The boat is unlit, I am too, and I am sure they might have missed me if I would not have been flashing. We are not talking much; they stay behind me and all is good. I get a bit irritated at some point when another huge container ship, barely lit, looks like it is squeezing itself out of the port. But suddenly – it turns around and glides toward me? No, thankfully, it glides back into port, I soon realize. It is sometimes so hard to tell which moving lights belong to what and what maneuver they are doing. I still remember my arrival into Panama City at pitch dark night, there was no Navy boat beside me, and it felt sometimes like riding a ghost train.
I finally kept my red headlamp on to be at least seen, the Navy guys still ride unlit. But no other boats are around, the monster ship is already in his matching port corner when we turn into the harbor. I roughly know the direction from my GPS and keep on paddling to the Navy base. On the last bit, the guys on the boat direct me more to the right where some light is flashing at a boat ramp. A prefect landing area, it is a sandy ramp.
A reception committee of a dozen officials applaud on my arrival, thanks! The commander of the Navy base greets me officially, and welcomes me to his country. I very much appreciate this warm welcome, though in darkness, sorry to be late!
I unload, and all I want is a shower, change and a bed after seventy kilometers of paddling in party lumpy seas. But they have organized already for right now the formal entry, and I have to present passport, Covid-test and vaccination. They even have a doctor in the team who is supposed to examine me, but they see reason I must be fully healthy coming from the sea under my own steam and power and skip any examiniation. Thanks, I get my stamps. I reassure my baby is guarded safely by the night watch, and follow Rocio, my personal lady officer escort. She drives me to my accommodation in the officers’ quarters. So nice, thank you! . After a wonderful shower, still a bit shaky and dizzy from the tough long ride on the sea, she takes me to the officer’s mess for a late dinner, an omelet with beans and fruit cocktail. So nice from all the service people to stay up so late to provide me a dinner! “Hotel Navy” is always a good choice, which I learned already in South America, LOL! They really took a lot of effort to welcome me and to keep me safe.
Two more days in Guatemala where I will likely paddle the inland Canal de Chiquimula for over sixty kilometers before I cross over to El Salvador and land safely in the port of Acajutla. Claudia Plehn from the German embassy has prepared there everything for me, thanks!