Rio Dulce: The luxurious yachts gently bobbing around the edges of Lake Izabal, Guatemala’s largest lake, are incongruous with the poor villages of bamboo and thatch houses clustered on the shore. This mangrove-lined lake, home to manatees and caimans, is the safest place in the Caribbean to moor during hurricane season, according to the US Coastguard, making it an important stopover for many an expensive bath toy.
The lake flows into El Golfeto lake, which joins the sea at Livingston, a Garifuna town of English-speaking descendants of former slaves and indigenous Mayans.
We stop at Rio Dulce, a dirty, bustling market town on the edge of Izabel. We see a few black people for the first time since Panama, and the area has a more exciting, cosmopolitan feel to it. Rio Dulce is also known as ‘Fronteras’, a throwback to the days when it was the last pitstop before the boatride north into the Guatemalan jungles. Now, Central America’s longest bridge spans the lake, taking travellers easily north on a new, paved road.
Our hostel, accessed by boat down a small mangrove channel, is a rustic collection of cabins, connected by wooden boardwalks. It rains continuously, everything is damp and cold, and it feels like months since we last had a hot-water shower. When I hear about a nearby hot waterfall, I’m onto it immediately.
A couple of hours into the hills above the lake, squashed into a tiny bus with too many other passengers, squeaking chicks and a squealing, grunting pig in a rice sack, and we arrive at the mountain river. We follow the fast-moving water upstream until we reach a high, multicoloured rock furnished with tumbling, steaming water.
Undressing in the chilly rain, we wade through a pool of unmixed cold water – fed by mountain streams – to the base of the cascade, where the hammering water is so hot it burns our skin. Fantastic!
The hot springs tumble 12 metres down over us and into the cold water pool, where a variety of fish peck at our legs, attacking mosquito bites and freckles they mistake for food. The rocks are coated in a strange amorphous yellow and green minerals, where the sulphur has crystallised out.
We spend a couple of hours soaking in the hot water, relaxing in our exclusive jungle pool, until our skin turns white and wrinkly.
We needed the bath: next morning, we take a series of buses on a 14-hour journey down into Honduras, through San Pedro de Sula to La Ceiba, where we overnight in a squalid shack. We’re en route to Utila Island in the Caribbean.