Ellen: Here´s some more detailed info on each of the places, because we need a separate entry to make a point on the map.
What we mean by crappy city (in the nice way) is that everything is just pretty run down. Understandable, given that these are poor cities in poor countries, and that Hurrican Mitch went through recently. (Kevin: in Latin American time, that is. It was almost 6 years ago now). Gosh, I´m really trying to be descriptive without sounding horrible. But just to describe, all the buildings are no more than two stories, and look as if they are falling apart. Walls have cracks and holes in the nicer buildings, and are made out of wood and metal slats in the not-so-nice ones. Paint, where it exists, is crumbling off. There is trash and litter all over the place. Along the streets, and in piles. The heat and humidity can´t be helping our impression of these places, either.
We arrived in Rio Dulce in time for lunch and left soon after we ate. We are usually approached by touts when we get off a bus, but this time they were a bit more aggressive and actually got mad at us when we said, "no, gracias". So that wasn´t the best first impression. Kevin went to check out a few hotel rooms while I sat with the packs, and came back and said that it wasn´t worth staying. There isn´t a lot to do in the town itself, it´s more a jumping-off point for river activities, so we went down to the boat docks to catch a lancha (small boat, like a water taxi) to Livingston.
Kevin: The hotels I checked out were in Rio Dulce town, called Fronteras on this side of the bridge over the Rio Dulce, and they were generally either clean or had aircon, but not both. The aircon place I looked at was set down and back off the road, had standing water in the yard, and 7 foot ceilings--not enticing. The hammocks on the roof looked cool, but not really for us during the rainy season. The clean places were HOT! Generally with a fan, but few had good windows, or had good windows but no screens to keep the critters out. So we bailed, relying on our own eyes coupled with the testimony of earlier travelers we had queried.
Ellen: The boat ride up-river was really pretty, once we got going. Us and a couple from England and a couple from Honduras got in the boat, but went to a close island and pulled into a slip. The driver told us just to wait a minute while the Honduran couple were going to "ask about something". Since it looked like there was a resort on the island, we figured they were checking prices or something and waited. And waited. And waited. An hour later we found the driver, who had also disappeared, and were told there was a castle on the island they were touring. Not that we would have been interested, I guess. The four of us never figured out whey we were just told to sit there and not told about the castle.
Livingston is a Garifuna village. The Garifuna are people descended from Caribs from the Orinoco River Delta in South America and two shiploads of shipwrecked African slaves. (Check out garifuna.com, if you want to know more.) The village was a lot like what I pictured Belize to be like. Lots of reggae music, rasta-types, etc. It was the first place we´ve seen more than a couple of black people, and the culture was very different from everything else we´d seen so far. We stopped in a hotel from the book and a drunk (and high?) Garifuna guy came up to us to tell us about the greatest hotel for the cheapest price. For some reason we went with him. It had a private bath and a fan, for the same price as the rooms without private bath at other places, but it was a couple blocks off the main street in a regular neighborhood. We decided for adventure and took it. It was really hot, but fine for the night.
We were going to try to "blend with the native life-style of music and relaxation", as our guidebook suggested, but we just didn´t get a very good feeling walking around town. I think Livingston is more for "counterculture" travelers, and we were just ready to move on and head into Honduras.
Kevin: I think it is fair to say that younger travelers who still like to smoke pot and drink and dance all night would find Livingston very enjoyable.