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Waterfalls, Caves and Monkeys on Lake Izabal in Guatemala
A series of articles written by the homeschooled Calder children about cruising the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

By Pippin and Paul Calder, ages 11 and 9
Posted Monday, May 9, 2005

All of the sudden we heard a loud roar that sounded like King Kong! It was the howling monkeys! We saw a family, including a little baby, sitting in a large tree close to the river bank.

Lake Izabal is a big lake in Guatemala. It is about 30 miles long and 20 miles across, mostly surrounded by tropical jungle with mountains behind this. Last week we sailed around it.

At the mouth of the lake we came across a stone fort built by Spain in the 1600's. It was built to protect Spanish goods and treasure from attacks by pirates, but it wasn't too successful because over the years the pirates destroyed it three times! Each time it was rebuilt, but then it fell into ruin. Some years ago the Guatemalans found blueprints for the fort in Spain and rebuilt it again.

To get into the fort we crossed a drawbridge over a moat. Inside we found three or four passages, or tunnels, into each room and hall. It is like a maze so that if the pirates attacked one spot, the Spaniards could come in by a different entrance making a surprise attack. On the battlements we saw a number of cannon, some of which were captured from the English. These have the English lion engraved on them.

From the fort we went to a "finca"- which is a big ranch- where there is a hot waterfall. after anchoring our boat, we had to walk for a couple of miles. During the walk we saw hundreds of Brahma cattle, the same as they have in India, and many leaf-cutter ants. These ants are up to a centimeter long and they can carry leaves or seeds several times bigger and heavier than themselves. They cleared a trail about a foot wide leading many yards from the side of a dirt road to their nest. If an ant brings a leaf to the nest that is rejected, it is brought out and dumped on the side of the trail. Because of this, the edge of the trail was littered with many small leaves.

Further along the trail we began to smell sulfur, which smells like rotten eggs, so we knew we were getting close to the waterfall. We came around a bend in the trail and there in front of us was the steaming waterfall tumbling into a lovely pool surrounded by vines and tropical vegetation. We stripped to our bathing suits and jumped in! The water was cool where we jumped in, but as we got closer to the waterfall it got steaming hot. This is because most of the water comes from a river, which is not volcanic, while the waterfall comes out of a separate, underground, volcanic spring. Our parents could withstand the heat of the waterfall, so they sat on the rocks directly under it, but it was too hot for us. We were able to duck under an overhanging rock below the waterfall so that we were right behind it. It was a very small space, just like a sauna.

After swimming, we met a Mayan Indian who offered to show us the way to some caves where the cold part of the river comes out of a mountain. We first followed a trail and then had to scramble up the riverbed, climbing over large slippery rocks and wading through the water, with the walls of a canyon on both sides. We finally came to a cave where the river flowed straight out of the mountainside.

We swam into the cave and up the river into pitch blackness. We had one tiny flashlight which we had to keep above the water. we swam around a corner and the pinpoint of light that marked the entrance disappeared. It was cold and eerie and spooky! We had heard that spelunkers (cave divers) have found a way all through the caves and out the other side of the mountain miles away, finding three waterfalls inside the caves, so we kept going, feeling our way along the rocky walls. We could hear a waterfall in the distance. Pippin got cold and went back with Dad. Later Paul and Mom stopped and sat on a rock in the pitch black. Our Aunt Renee and Cousin Jamie went all the way to the first waterfall and then came back, and we all swam out. It was good to see the daylight again! We clamored back down to the hot waterfall and had another swim before going back to the boat.

Next, we sailed to the other side of the lake to find a good calm anchorage for the night. In the morning we took our dinghy up a jungle river. The trees were linked together over our heads and dripping with lush green vines. We saw beautiful birds and turtles. One of the turtles was so cute because it was trying to swim across the river but was getting pushed down by the current.

All of the sudden we heard a loud roar that sounded like King Kong! It was the howling monkeys! We saw a family, including a little baby, sitting in a large tree close to the river bank. We had seen these monkeys in the same place on a previous trip. On that occasion, we had gone right under them without seeing them. The first we knew of it was when they started pooping on us! Luckily they were only pot shots and they missed!

It started raining so we went back to the boat. The next day we sailed out of the lake to a marina where we left our boat to go inland to see the Mayan indians in the Central highlands of Guatemala. We'll tell you all about the Indians next time.

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