I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Can I paddle right to Guatemala City?

The Guatemala City garbage dump showing the ravine that the river runs through on the left
Would it be possible to paddle right to the garbage dump?  Rio Dulce and Lago de Izabal are prime sailing destinations in Guatemala, so I had originally planned to paddle up the Rio Dulce to go inland towards the dump.
Folks said I couldn't paddle beyond Lago de Izabal, so I had planned on taking a bus from there to Safe Passage.  Over breakfast today my son asked why I couldn't paddle all the way to the dump.  So we poured over Google maps and followed a river upstream out of Lago de Izabal.  We ended up in Semuc Champey, on the Rio Cahabon, well north of Guatemala City.  On Google maps there were lots of sections of the river that were white, which is not a good sign.  A quick trip to Wikipedia told us that the rapids on that river were class III to IV, which means they are at the limit of my abilities to paddle downstream, but no way could I paddle such a river upstream.  So that river is not an option.
Rivers of Guatemala
I recalled standing at the garbage dump and seeing an incredibly polluted river head north out of the dump.  So back to Google earth to track that one.  It headed north and east so at least it was going in the right direction to hit the Gulf of Honduras, the bit of the Caribbean along the coast of Guatemala.  I saw a big hydroelectric plant.  That could be good as lots of rapids could be drowned by a dam.  I kept following the river as it joins the Rio Motaqua, and twists and turns and eventually dumps into the Gulf of Honduras.  So instead of going up the Rio Dulce I could kayak up the Rio Motaqua.  It would make the expedition much longer, and I might need an armed escort in some sections.   There are still some rapids.  Maybe I could portage around them?

Back to Wikipedia to read about the river.  In looking at the rivers by watershed I saw the Rio Las Vacas mentioned, and remembered that is the name of the river coming out of the dump.  So I clicked to learn more.  It's origin is in Guatemala City.  Bingo - I have the right river.  It's source is at 1,800 m, so I'm hoping a lot of that drop occurs at the hydro electric dam, but that's not likely, which means paddling upstream on this river would be a challenge, if not impossible.  Reading the text provided the ultimate reason NOT to paddle the Rio Las Vacas.  "The river is the major outlet of Guatemala City's raw sewage.  Its highly polluted waters contain little aquatic life, and contribute to the pollution of the Motaqua River and the marine ecosystem in the Gulf of Honduras."  

I'm distraught as this is clearly not a safe river to kayak.  My sadness is not so much about me not being able to kayak all the way to Guatemala City.  It's because there is a group of workers at the garbage dump who call themselves "The Miners" (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/04/guatemala-trash-miners_n_1076938.html).  They search the outlet of the Rio Las Vacas as it emerges from under the garbage dump.  Heavy items of metal like gold rings find their way through the layers of rain soaked garbage to end in the river.  The miners wade through, and in high water even dive into the waters to find these items.  Some lose their lives by drowning.  Other lives are shortened by the repeated contact with the polluted water.  Yes, the payoff can be high when they find valuable jewelry, but I can't imagine living under such desperate conditions that I would risk my life and health to support my family being one of these miners.  Thinking about this makes me even more determined to kayak from Maine to Guatemala to raise money for the Safe Passage school so the children can have a different future.  Please click on the Donate button on the blog to make a tax deductible contribution to help add more grades to the school, so that no more children become miners in the Rio Las Vacas.

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