My first two columns introduced you to the cruising life. Now you know about the boat we live on in the winter and a normal day. But that’s not the whole story.
Our blissful life occasionally is interrupted by unplanned drama. That’s when it gets very exciting on a boat.
Many people ask us if we are afraid of getting attacked by pirates. We don’t personally know anyone who has been attacked by pirates. In fact, we have never even seen a pirate. There are places in this world, like Somalia and the Ivory Coast, where pirates have been known to attack vessels, but not in in our part of the world.
Our travel has been limited to the United States, Central America and the Bahamas. There is some violence in each of these countries, but it usually involves the drug trade and is mostly confined to the big cities or border areas. The coastal areas that cruisers visit are mostly crime-free except for petty thievery, which you would find almost anywhere.
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Honduras is probably the most dangerous country we have visited. It was recently named “murder capital of the world.” Honduras has been wracked with crime due to its extreme poverty, government instability and drug cartels.
A couple of years ago we needed to leave Guatemala because our visa had expired. We had to get our passports stamped in another country in order to return to Guatemala and get a new visa. Our closest choices were Belize to the north and Honduras to the south. We decided to visit the offshore Honduran islands of Utila and Roatan. They are about 130 miles from the Rio Dulce, where we were staying, and the trip would require an overnight passage.
About halfway there as we motor-sailed along the northern coast of Honduras, something got wrapped around one of our propellers, and the weather suddenly turned nasty at the same time. We were not far from the mainland and decided to duck into a small bay and anchor so we could clear the propeller and get some protection from the weather.
The bay was beautiful and deserted. Once we entered it, the crashing waves were replaced with calm clear blue water. The bay was ringed with white sand and palm trees that teemed with monkeys and colorful birds. It was peaceful and serene, but we were still cautious about being there.
No firearms aboard
A few minutes after we had anchored, a small boat with three young teenagers puttered into the bay and headed for our boat. They came alongside, and we greeted them. A net in the boat told us they had been fishing. I asked them in my halted Spanish if they had caught any fish, and they laughed and said no.
They kept looking around our boat, and we definitely felt like we were being checked out. I asked them if they would like some cookies and Cokes. They nodded, and I went below to fetch the offerings. They thanked us and left the lagoon.
I was not afraid of the young men, but our presence in the bay would be common knowledge once the boys returned to their village. Phil dove under the boat and untangled the line from our propeller. Then we had dinner and turned in early, locking ourselves in the boat. We pulled the anchor at first light and made it to Utila that evening. We heard later that a cruiser had been murdered in that bay a couple of years earlier.
We do not carry firearms on our boat. If we needed to defend ourselves, we would be limited to a machete and a flare gun. Fortunately, we have never had to use either.
The only other crime we have experienced in seven years of cruising occurred last winter in Guatemala. One of the poorest countries in the world, Guatemala suffers like Honduras from criminal activity in the big cities associated with drugs and petty crime in other areas.
We were walking along the street in Fronteras, the small town close to our marina on the Rio Dulce. Headed for the local grocery, I was carrying a shoulder bag. The streets were teeming with people, and we were behind a woman in a green shirt who kept stopping in front of us, apparently for no reason. Another woman was walking behind me, nursing a newborn while she walked.
Thievery not uncommon
We finally arrived at the local grocery, and Phil went on to run another errand while I shopped. There is a locker area where you must stow any items you are carrying, but you can keep your purse. After I stowed my bags and started to leave, the woman in the green shirt blocked my path. The mother nursing the baby was behind me again. I said “Con permisso” to the woman in front, but she didn’t move. I said it again, and again she didn’t move. After asking her to move three times with no response, I gently pushed her aside and went around her.
Later, I discovered that my shoulder bag had been sliced open and my small purse inside was gone. The culprit must have been the nursing mother. The woman in the green shirt kept me occupied while the woman with the baby slit my bag. I only lost a few dollars and figured the two women needed the money more than I did.
In another case of thievery, friends of ours at the marina lost their dinghy and outboard motor to thieves who came in the middle of the night, cut the strong chain securing the dinghy to the dock and got away without waking them.
We have tried to put ourselves in the place of the locals in these poor countries. Most of the people we interacted with in Guatemala are Mayans who live in small villages in the jungle. They construct their homes from cement blocks, small trees, palm fronds and castoff building materials. They grow much of their own food and eat lots of beans and rice. They often don’t have enough money for meat in their meals.
If they are lucky enough to find jobs, their wages are meager. Many are fishermen and spend the day tending to fish traps in their dugout canoes. Others work at odd jobs for the equivalent of $10 U.S. per day. A few are skilled craftsmen. No matter what they do, the Mayans are hard workers.
No road rage
Children growing up in these families have little chance of breaking out of the cycle of poverty. Most have only a primary school education because high schools are private and cost more than their families can afford. The lure of money from selling drugs is understandable when you consider the choices these children face.
The growing tourist trade in coastal areas and the outer islands does bring jobs and money, but there is also a downside. Cruisers arrive in their boats filled with expensive gear and computers. Compared to the locals, we seem very rich. If your only means of travel is a dugout canoe and you fish every day just to feed your family, it is easy to understand that life does not seem fair to these people.
A few may feel justified in confiscating an outboard engine or stealing money to buy meat for their children.
What we have not seen in Guatemala, Honduras, Belize or Mexico is the level of frustration and anger prevalent in the U.S. Things like “road rage” are unusual here. People seem genuinely happy, even if their circumstances are difficult.
Mayan crime that does occur is usually dealt with by the villagers themselves rather than the police. Someone who commits a serious crime may be ousted from the village.
Compared to the level of crime in the U.S., the parts of the world we have visited are relatively safe. Friends and family seem to worry about us, but we feel safer on our boat than we do at home in the U.S.
If I ever do see a pirate, I will let you know.