Saturday, December 22, 2007

I must be out of my f*#@ing mind!

I am currently in northern Thailand preparing to start my meditation retreat in two days time. That means I will be spending Christmas and New Year's in silent meditation. I am, to be quite honest, terrified of what the coming ten days of meditation could be like. I will be studying Vipsanna (otherwise known as Insight) meditation. The focus of this is to look inward, being mindful of your thoughts, emotions, and physical state. This is a very intense meditation, and when I went to sign up for the course yesterday a girl was crying and dropping out of the course (she had been there six days). What makes this so intense are the strict rules that I will be obliged to follow. A standard day will look like this:

Pray from 3:30 a.m. until 6:00 a.m.

Breakfast from 6:00 until 7:00 chewing each bite fifty times to be mindful of my food.

Pray from 7:00 until 12:00 followed by one more meal (the last of the day).

Meditate or walk in silence until 10:00 p.m. then go to bed.

No talking, reading, writing, or listening to music is allowed. We are asked also to try to refrain from making eye contact with other students.

So that is what is ahead of me. Perhaps I am crazy for doing this, perhaps not. I do know that this entire trip has been one long journey, not just around the world, but into myself as well. I visit new places every few days, always meeting new people and seeing new things. While it might sound like I am living in a constant state of change the only thing that I find to be changing is myself. New people and new places seem to be a constant, and it is my sense of self that is the variable. Ever changing. Yet, if this trip can truly be compared to a mathematical equation then this variable, this sense of self, is approaching a limit and in doing so an answer to the equation is beginning to emerge.

I happen to know that there are a few math majors out there reading this blog so please let me know if, as a biochem major who was only required to take two years of math, this metaphor makes any sense. I was always a bit of a dunce when it came to calculus. Man...I must have to much time on my hands to becoming up with this stuff! All jokes aside I hope that the metaphor made sense (at least to those of you with degrees in mathematics).

I will be checking back in in a couple of weeks. So until that time...

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good fortnight!

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Does life get any better than eating spicy curry at 8:00 a.m.???

I am in Thailand! Having spent my first week in Koh Tao I am just now finally seeing every ones usual first stop, Bangkok. To say that Thailand is nothing like I expected it to be would be a very gross understatement. I was certainly not expecting such an industrialized nation, and the fact that there is a 7-11 on every corner is still freaking me out! On the plus side food is super cheap now that I am off Koh Tao and I am walking around stuffing myself on noodles and curry every chance I get, which comes to approximately 8 chances a day so far. At this rate I will be back up to 195 in no time, though I don't think it will be an attractive 195!

Arriving in Thailand just over a week ago I flew immediately to Koh Samui on the very luxurious Bangkok Airways. From Koh Samui it is a mere 1.5 hour ferry ride to Koh Tao. Unfortunately, it was 10:00 p.m. by the time I arrived in Koh Samui, therefore necessitating waiting until morning to catch the ferry. After a ridiculously expensive cab ride (I was still figuring out how developed Thailand really is) and a desperate search for a hotel that was still open at 11:00, I finally found a little cabana and crashed for the night. The next day I left for Koh Tao excited to reach what the LP had called a "hidden jewel among Thailand's ever popular islands". Unfortunately for me this "hidden jewel" seemed to have been discovered by hoards of invading divers. The beaches, which I was told were either uncrowded or deserted, were crowded and loud. Hammocks? Forget about it. I searched, and searched, and searched and only found a hammock towards the end of my week. So did I hate Koh Tao? Surprisingly, the answer is a resounding NO! I swam in beautiful crystal clear turquoise water, rented a motor bike and cruised the island, and, of course, stuffed myself on delicious Thai food!! It was a pretty great week. Throw in some diving, beers, and books and you get the picture!

Now I have returned to the real world (if that's what you can really call this). As I was eating my curry this morning (mmmmmm...sorry I am going to have to come back and finish this in a bit, I need some more curry.) OK, I'm back, though I was just sending a few emails and, like before, am now feeling another curry craving coming on. Where was I? Oh yes, I'm in Bangkok now staying just a few blocks from the very famous Khoa San road. This is truly a crazy place. There is a Starbucks (yes I did indulge), McDonalds, Burger King, and last but not least a CRAAAAZZZYY number of tourists. This is unreal. Not backpackers. Tourists. The streets are lined with people selling knockoff clothing and DVD's. There is sex a plenty (which sadly draws a large number of tourists. It is pretty weird watching old creepy white guys walking down the street with their arms around young Thai girls) as lady boys strut their "stuff" and at night you can't walk ten feet without being invited to a ping pong show (If you don't know what those are I am going to let you do your own research on the topic).

The whole atmosphere is a bit much for me so I am headed north to view some of the ruins of northern Thailand before heading to Chang Mai to begin a meditation retreat. I have always wanted to practice meditation and am relishing the opportunity to finally seriously practice meditation. With that said I am also quite nervous as I will be spending a minimum of ten days in almost complete solitude, sleeping only a couple hours a night, eating very little, and spending all my time focusing my energy inward. I am scared to face August like this, though I have been waiting for this moment for a while now and it seems that the time has finally come. I will try to post another blog before I head into the monastery but if do not get around to it please send me lots of positive feelings over these next few weeks. I have a feeling I am going to need them.

paz y amor

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Farewell to Shangri La

Before I get started I want to quickly update people on August's physical state these days. After hiking the Annapurna Circuit I am feeling very healthy and fit. With that said, I have undergone quite the physical transformation in these last four months of travel. I am currently estimating my weight to be around 155 pounds (down from 195 in April) and as those of you who have been checking out photos know I was sporting quite the beard when I left Central America. I say WAS sporting quite the beard because a horrible tragedy befell my beard shortly after my arrival in Kathmandu. I had decided that it was time for a haircut (my hair was really really really nasty looking) and while I was at it a teensy weensy trim of the beard (I was tired of looking homeless). The haircut was great and I went into great detail trying to communicate to the barber (who spoke no English whatsoever) that all I wanted was for him to very gently tim my beautiful beard. Clearly he misunderstood this as he proceeded, with one swift chop of his scissors, to hack off all but about three weeks worth of growth. I was shocked beyond belief but it was too late. He finished, I paid, and then walked out with tears in my eyes, my dream of continually growing the best travel beard that has ever been grown dashed forever. The beard is making a comeback but it will be at least another month before it returns to its previous state of burliness. Please take a moment and help me mourn the loss of a close friend and damn good travel buddy. May God watch over my beard wherever it may be.

Since wrapping up the Annapurna Circuit my time in Nepal has flown by. I spent four days in Pokhara gorging myself on everything in sight and then took off for Lumbini, birth place of Buddha. The journey was long and when I finally arrived completely exhausted I found that Lumbini was, as one fellow traveler informed me it would be, Buddhist Disney Land. There were monks everywhere. It seemed like there were thousands filling every street, by which I mean both streets as Lumbini was not much more than two streets, four hotels, a handful of restaurants, a few shops, and about 30 temples. After finding accommodation in a shitbag hotel (and I say that with the utmost love and compassion) I ventured out for dinner. I walked into a very crowded local restaurant and was immediately invited by a young monk to join him for dinner. Now a lot of you must be thinking "wow! what an amazing opportunity to discuss Buddhism, Enlightenment, or Meditation with a friendly Nepali monk". But what did we discuss? His iPod (his brother sent it to him from New York), his Gameboy, Hollywood movies, and of course American pop music. Quite an entertaining meal to say the least.

From Lumbini I made my way to Chitwan National Park, which is a.) the largest National Park in Nepal, b.) a world heritage site, and c.) comprised mainly of jungle and grass land. Yeah, I didn't know Nepal had jungle either!! The area was truly breath taking and I started my first day there by taking part in the bathing of an elephant. When I say "bathing an elephant" what I really mean is being repeatedly thrown into a river by an elephant. I was sitting by the banks watching elephants come down for their morning baths (these are trained elephants that people take on tours through the park) when one of the trainers invited me to come join him on the elephant. Since I have not rode an elephant since I was like four years old I jumped at the opportunity. I kicked off my sandals and headed for the water. The trainer helped me climb up the back of the elephant which I quickly found is the most uncomfortable animal in the world to sit on. How these trainers do it everyday I will never know. The elephants backbone is about five centimeters in diameter. Just wide enough to (sorry I don't know any other way to say this so I am just going to go for it) spread open your butt cheeks and press and rub a very sensitive area in a rather insensitive manner. As soon as I was "comfortably" on we walked out to the middle of the river where, with one command from the trainer, the elephant started ferociously bucking from side to side and hurled me into the water. It was pretty hysterical and a lot of fun. The best part was climbing back onto the elephant. To do this I would grab both of its ears and put one foot on its trunk. Then (like I weighed nothing at all) it would simply lift me out of the water and onto its head. Definitely one of the funnest things I have done on this entire trip.

I passed the rest of my time in Chitwan hiking through the jungle searching for rhinos and tigers. This might seem like a lot of fun, but at the end of two days I was glad to be done with the hike. For one I had to have two guides with me, which in many ways was great because they were able to find a lot of animals and without them I would not have seen any rhinos, but was also a bit of a drag since I don't like hiking with guides. I was not fortunate enough to come across any tigers though I did see many tracks and a couple piles of tiger poo...

So Nepal is coming to an end. I feel quite sad to be leaving such a wonderful country. I was looking at a map the other day and was amazed to see the amount of the country that I had trekked across during my time on the Annapurna. Despite this, I feel like I saw very little of Nepal, and will definitely be heading back here very soon to further explore this wonderful country! As for now I am back in Kathmandu, which, hang on let me check...yup is still polluted, packing my bags and getting ready to head to Thailand. First stop Koh Tao where I am going to get back to the beach life; sipping drinks with tiny umbrellas, relaxing in the sand, and doing a bit of diving. Best of luck to all my friends back home in Seattle, who I hear are putting up with torrential downpours and even a bit of snow. I'll let you know how the beaches are!

Monday, November 26, 2007

7000 m. peaks don't look too high from 5416 m.

Revised November 27th

Another epic adventure has come to a close. I returned to the land of mechanized transport, Internet, hot showers, and most importantly, good food!!! Trekking through the Himalayas may have been the most amazing experience of my entire life! Sadly, I lack the ability as a writer to convey the sheer impact this trip had on me. Words such as magnificent, awe-inspiring, phenomenal, and overwhelming do not come close to describing what it is like to wake up in the morning and stare at 8000 meter peaks from your bedroom window. Nor do words like spiritual, moving, or blissful express what it is like to walk through monasteries, hike past Mani walls, or stare at rows of prayer flags strung across sheer vertical cliffs.

The trek took me deep into the Himalaya , and while there were many travelers passing through the area, thus creating more wealth than in many other areas of Nepal, the poverty I witnessed along the route was truly shocking. Again, I find it difficult to write about how I felt as I watched a young child gnaw on a hunk of raw, fur covered, yak meat, or how I felt watching 100 pound people struggle to carry equally heavy loads of fire wood or straw to prepare for the coming winter. I was also equally overjoyed by the genuine friendliness of most of the Nepalis I met. The feelings of false friendliness that I felt so strongly in Kathmandu were replaced by feelings of true friendliness as I chatted with porters, guides, and guest house owners. These conversations left me feeling that the people of Nepal are truly the warmest people I have met on my travels.

I have taken the time to list some of the memories that stand out from these past eighteen days. There are many many others, some to gross to share (though after reading the giardia section you might wonder what could be worse, but trust me IT GOT WORSE!), and others that I think I will keep tucked away for just myself. I hope you enjoy them...

Day 0. I am on my way to Pokhara with my soon to be trekking partner, a Canadian named Natalie, who I met in Kathmandu. Pokhara is a pretty weird place to be going considering it is four hours from Besisahar, the starting point of the trek. This is a clear case of why you should have a guide book to help you navigate around a foreign country. As we are riding along we start to realize our error when we start seeing spray painted rocks indicating that we will be going through Dumre (two hours from Pokhara, and where we were hoping to catch a bu tos after we reached Pokhara). As we drive through the town I take a risk and ask the bus driver to let us off hoping we can catch a bus to Besisahar. He obliges, and soon we are sipping tea and waiting for a bus. After half an hour a man comes over, rushes us to a bus (which looks like it should have been retired 50 years ago), and asks if we would mind riding on top of the bus for the two hour trip. I say yes at the same instant that Natalie says no, and after a brief discussion we are riding on the top of a bus with some Nepali kids as it whips around hairpin turns on the way to Besisahar. What a way to start the adventure!

Day 2. I am climbing a steep, rocky, hill and sweating profusely. I stop for a quick rest and look behind me to see a guy climbing quickly with a mountain bike over his back. He was a Dutch guy named Jack and he was biking the Annapurna Circuit!! As his guide he had hired the Nepali mountain biking champion, an 18 year old kid, who made me very jealous of his skills on a bike! Imagine carrying a bike on your shoulders all the way to 5416 m.

Day 3. The Maoists. I come to a Maoist controlled checkpoint and have to give them a "voluntary donation." I have never had to pay a bribe before and despite the fact that the situation is non-threatening I feel a bit nervous. I pay the fee and continue on my way. That's it, nothing more. Oh, one of the Maoists was wearing a red white and blue U.S.A. jacket. Kinda funny, huh?

Day 4. We stop for a rest on our way to Chame and are invited to join the village celebrating Dashain. Dashain is the most important festival in Nepal, and celebrates the goddess Durga vanquishing evil spirits. During the final day, known as Tika, elder family members bless younger family members, brothers bless sisters, etc. by giving them Tika (painting their forehead). Everyone in the village celebrates with dancing, food, and of course booze, Riksa a homemade wine reminiscent of moonshine that I found to be very potent. We are blessed with the Tika, eat, drink, and watch the dancing on the rooftop for about 30 minutes before heading on our way. Truly incredible.

Day 5. I am wearing long underwear, wool socks, a beanie, and am shaking violently. I am huddled with my trekking partner (who is similarly attired and also shaking violently) under two -20 C down sleeping bags. Who knows what we have, but we are not in good shape. The aches and chills are probably the worst I have ever had, and it literally takes all my strength to drag a Clif Bar out of a stuff sack and dip it in peanut butter for a very meager dinner. Exhausted, I fall into a fitful 13 hour sleep that does little to replenish my strength.

Day 6. After a small breakfast we decide to continue trekking despite the previous nights horrors. Taking a very difficult route from Pisang to Manang we struggle to keep moving for eight painful, yet incredibly beautiful, hours arriving in Manang at nightfall utterly exhausted.

Day 7. Rest Day. I do almost nothing all day, but do manage to drag my ass to a makeshift movie theater (the only one on the whole trek) where I watch a camcorder recorded version of Super Bad while wrapped in all my cold weather gear and huddled in front of a fire. If this seems unremarkable, remember where I am. There are NO roads here, and this is a pretty small village, where most of the buildings would look right at place in the middle ages. Also, Super Bad (which was hysterical) isn't even out on DVD, yet here I am in the middle of the Himalayas watching it in a "movie theater".

That night I listened to an incredibly talented young Nepali play all my favorite Metallica songs on an acoustic guitar. Anyone who knows how much I covet Metallica knows what this must have meant to me.

Day 8. Acclimatization hike to 4600 m. The symptoms of giardia (which I did not know were symptoms of giardia at the time) have been ever present for the past few days and on this hike the parasite finally strikes hard. I am rushing off the trail to evacuate my bowels every 20 minutes. I complete the hike and feel fine by the time I return to Manang. The next day I will continue the trek, though I will feel miserable the whole day.

Day 10. I arrive at Thorong Pedi, which is to be the base camp from which we will mount our attack of the pass the following day. A group of six of us have been bonding over the last few days, and as it is recommended to do the pass in groups, we decide that we will stick together tomorrow and help each other over the pass. I am feeling well, and am getting very excited for the following day. That afternoon our anxiety begins to mount as we begin hearing stories of the guy who died a week and a half earlier on the pass, and as a Frenchman is evacuated by helicopter in the early evening after spending the whole day unable to move (due to giardia). All day acquaintances of ours have been turning back first it's the English couple, then the Israeli girls and so on and so on. It is quite disheartening to see the mass exodus from base camp. The final blow is delivered when our friend Tariq, who was attempting the pass that day, comes stumbling into base camp without his pack, and barely moving under his own power. When I see him 9 days later in Pokhara I will almost be unable to recognize him. The image of his pale, ashen face is burned into my brain. Having worked in a hospital for several years I am accustomed to seeing very sick or dying people, though I don't think I can ever recall seeing anyone who looked as bad as he did at that moment. Later we will find out he had giardia (much like I do) and made it to within 200 meters of the top before becoming violently ill and having to be supported down the mountain by several fellow hikers. With all this drama at the high camp floating in my head I turn in early feeling a mixture of anxiety, excitement, and nervousness.

Day 11. Pass day. This is a day I will remember forever. Not because of the physical challenge of crossing the pass (it actually was not that difficult), but because of everything else that happened that day. The six of us meet at 5:30 for a quick breakfast and by six we are on the trail. We are climbing 1000 m to the top of the pass and this is going to take about four or five hours before will begin a brutally steep 1600 m descent down the backside. Over the first 45 minutes we are going to climb 400 m and then after this is over the rest of the climb will just be a slow grueling walk to the top. After gaining about 250 m of elevation in half an hour we take a quick break to check on everyone and to watch the beginning of the sunrise on the Himalayas. As we start out again Natalie remains seated on a rock and is not moving. I am alarmed, though I can't imagine AMS setting in this quickly especially after just 250 m. We talk for a few minutes and I am concerned enough that I make the decision to take her down to base camp. I call up to the others, tell them our plan, and wish them luck on getting over the pass. This was not the way we had hoped to say goodbye, but under the circumstances there is little time for formalities.

As we start descending Natalie becomes incredibly dizzy and says she is blacking out. Soon I am supporting all of her weight (plus her pack) and half dragging half walking her down the steep slope, while yelling at her not to close her eyes and to keep putting one foot in front of the other. We descend about 100 m and she is feeling fine. We slowly walk to base camp, have some tea, and talk things over. After deciding that it was not the altitude, and after deciding that it was not to late to try to still make the pass we start out again, reclimbing the same steep section we had just did.

The views we have as we pass 5000 m are truly incredible and we take our time enjoying the views. The progress is slow, but we are both feeling fine and soon we are passing groups that had set out ahead of us (woohoo for being in good shape!). We reach the pass without incident, though I am starting to notice the symptoms of giardia again as we reach the summit. For those of you who do not know what the symptoms are let me now take the time to list some of them. They include the following: eggy burps, excessive flatulence, stomach pains, and of course diarrhea. I am not feeling good, but do not feel the need to mention this to Natalie since I know that it is not the altitude that is affecting me and I do not want her to worry. We pose for some pictures, have a Snickers and then start the long steep descent. Immediately I begin feeling much worse and within 20 minutes I have the worst diarrhea of my life. I am racing off the trail and finding cover where I can, though there are not always places to hide and I am forced to evacuate my bowels in plain sight. At one point in time it comes on so suddenly that I don't even have time to make it away from the trail and Natalie has to ask other trekkers to turn their backs and wait for me before coming down. After this incident I collapse on my pack gasping for air (remember I am still above 5000 m while all this is going on), and trying to collect myself. A man walks by and in a stern voice tells me that next time I need to move farther away from the trail. The burst of anger that I feel when he tells me this is so sudden and so strong that all I want to do is get to my feet and just start pounding this guy. Of course I am way to sick to do this, and simply remain lying on my pack and ignore his comment. I start moving again and for the next five hours will hike in a dehydrated haze, continually rushing from the trail to relieve myself before continuing down an incredibly steep trail. I recall very little of the descent though I do remember the feeling that I was not really in control of myself and that I was sort of just waiting to see what would happen. I have only felt this once before. Standing in line at a pharmacy after having surgery I had the feeling that I was no longer in control of my body and it wasreally sort of up to my body to decide what happened next. In that instan my body chose to shut down and I blacked out, collapsing in line. Thankfully this was not the case and I sort of just sat back and watched myself navigate down the icy path.

At this point I need to make several things clear. There were not a lot of people around, and I could not simply sit down and wait for medical help as it would most likely mean staying overnight in the open before anyone could return. The best case scenario would be someone reaching Makutinath, finding help (which is doubtful), and them returning that night by 10 or 11. These are obviously not good options and so I continued downward. Finally after an exhausting nine hours we reached Makutinath where, by word of mouth, our friends had heard we had actually made the summit and were on our way down to meet them. They had reserved a room in the guest house they were staying in. I was escorted to my room with its own western toilet. I have never been so happy to see a toilet as I was that night.

Day 12. After a rough night and a MASSIVE dose of antibiotics I awoke feeling much better and ready to keep trekking. There was a town three hours from Makutinath and so our group made our way there where we enjoyed good meals, a temple, and a celebratory beer.

Day 14. I watched for 30 minutes as at least 20 enormous vultures pick a mule clean to its bones. These birds were incredible! I watched in awe as they tore through flesh, scraped bone, and routinely buried their whole heads inside the carcass to feast on the inards.

I also passed several fields of marijuana growing along the trail, and yes, I did frolic through them singing happy songs.

Day 16. I hiked through the most amazing landscape of the entire trek. Imagine the Shire from Lord of the Rings. This was almost identical...minus the Hobbits.

Day 18. Descended 1700 m, including a stair case of almost 4000 stairs. Arrived in Pokhara after a seemingly very long and uncomfortable two hour bus ride, checked into a fancy hotel, which cost all of 6 dollars (and seriously, this place is posh!! It would probably cost at least 80 dollars back home), and took a long overdue, and much needed shower before blissfully drifting off to sleep.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

Additional thoughts

Since it was reported to me that I sound pretty negative (something some of you have accused me of in the recent past), and because I am kinda just hanging out today waiting for the ACAP to open tomorrow I have decided to add some follow up thoughts. I am not as negative as I sound. It is really great here, but like the American news media with which I was raised I recognize the appeal in reporting negative things!

1. While I still feel that people are overly polite maybe I have been looking at it in the wrong light. I feel incredibly uncomfortable being called sir and having people constantly apologizing for possibly insulting me. Everyone is so nice how could I possibly be insulted? Last night I spent a couple of hours hanging out with a Local guy who worked at my guest house. We shared several hand-rolled cigarettes and spent a great deal of time talking. I found him to be intelligent, caring, spiritual, and incredibly funny. Yet despite the fact that I was enjoying his company and found his views on life to be very interesting it was difficult to converse because of his continual apologies and the fact that he called me sir constantly. Perhaps, I need to spend more time here before I get used to the role of a "senior" as he called me. When I addressed this issue he explained to me that a.) I was older and b.) I had more money than him. While he had absolutely no interest in getting any money from me the fact that I had it meant I had a higher status. I tried explaining to him why I had so much trouble with this concept, but he simply insisted that it was a cultural belief and that was just the way it was. Hmmm...I don't know if there is much more to say about this, I definitely need time to mull it over and to digest this.

2. Kathmandu....remains polluted.

24 hour observations

I have been in Kathmandu for 24 hours now. I am still really messed up on sleep and such, but I wanted to record my initial feelings about Kathmandu. More specifically, I want to record my thoughts about Thamel district as I have not been away from it yet. Please recognize that these are only initial observations that I am drawing broad generalizations from.

1. The people here are overpolite. I saw overpolite because I feel treated like royalty (i.e. I am loved to my face but I feel it is insincere.)

2. Kathmandu is very very very polluted. I don't think this observation will change.

3. The poverty level in this country is unlike anything I have seen so far. Nicaragua and Guatemala were very poor countries. Yet this is a new level of poverty. It is truly heartbreaking to see peope living like this. Sadly, I recognize that there is nothing I am currently doing, or have previously done that makes one damn bit of difference. The world produces enough food to feed everyone. Why are we not doing it, and how can I change that????????? Two questions that have been running through my head all day long.

Friday, November 2, 2007

And now...another continent!

I made it to Kathmandu!!!!!!!! What an adventure getting here. In four nights I only slept once, did a whirlwind tour of London in two days, and flew somewhere in the neighborhood of 10,000 miles!

After leaving San Jose I spent Monday night in JFK international before flying to London. I arrived Tuesday night, checked into my hostel and then wandered the streets of Kensington aimlessly for about two hours. It was one hell of a shock going from Central American cities to a ritzy neighborhood in London! And, DAMN is London expensive. I only ate one meal out, walked everywhere, went to free museums and still spent the equivalent of 10 days budget in Central America in just over 48 hours. Despite the cost London was really great. I went to the V&A, the Natural History Museum, and a tour of the city on Tuesday. Then my friend Beth and I (thanks for the tour Beth!) hit a couple of pubs so I could have some proper English Ale, and a great dinner. i had forgotten just how much I missed really good food and wine until that meal! Then after a restless night of drunken sleep I hit the streets of London one more time visiting the British Museum and the Tate Modern. Then it was back to my hostel to collect my things and head to Heathrow. I left my hostel three and a half hours before my flight, in order to give myself a bit of a buffer on the Underground. Thank God I did that, there was some sort of delay and instead of arriving two and a half hours early like I though I would I made it 45 min before my flight. I rushed through check in and security and then to the gate just in time! Phew! It was a close one!

The flights were uneventful and I arrived jet-lagged and exhausted at 7:00 p.m. last night. I then had to deal with getting a visa, which took over an hour, getting my bag, and trying to figure out where to stay. Stepping out of the airport I was immediately assaulted by a vicious hord of taxi drivers who began pulling me in all directions. I fought them off and sat down, recognizing that I really needed a few minutes to collect myself. Again, the sleep deprivation was killing me, and I did not want to do anything stupid. after sitting for about ten minutes and being constantly harassed (I practiced swearing at them in Spanish while smiling), I negotiated a ride with guy for three dollars. He took me to his car where he and two friends jumped in, though I had no worries at this point in time. They drove me to my destination, and that was when things got interesting. We all got out of the car and I collected my bag from the trunk. Then when I turned to pay him he asked for about five times the agreed upon price. I said no and told him we had agreed on 200 rupees. I tried handing them to him but he kept pushing it back at me and asking for more money. After about 30 seconds of this I realized that he and his friends had completely surrounded me, and were pushing me up against the trunk of the car. Yikes! OK, stay calm I thought. Looking around I was scared to find that there was no one else on the street. I am too tired to deal with being mugged I thought and if these assholes take my pack then I am really screwed. I calmly tried one final time to hand him the money. When he did not take it I dropped it on the trunk of the car, dropped my shoulder into his chest, and gave him a shove to clear myself a path. I calmly walked away as they shouted curses (or so I assume) in Nepalese. What a shitty way to start a new country. Despite that and the lack of sleep (for some reason only two hours last night despite my exhaustion) I am happy to be here and am excited to get my permits and get on the trail! I do not feel like my first experience is going to be representative of the population as a whole (they were clearly drunk) and the people who I have met since then have been very warm.

With any luck I will be starting my trek next Wednesday. Don't expect any posts for a while, I don't think I will be finding any internet cafes along the way. Wish me luck (my fat ass is going to need it to get up Thorong La)!

Saturday, October 27, 2007

More Photos!!

Central America has come to an end...

Looking back on my travel experiences from the last three months I am amazed at how much I have changed. Those first few days when I was scared, confused, and lonely seem so long ago. I have had some great experiences here (and some bad ones as well), and the memories from my first travels will be with me forever.

I left Puerto Viejo Thursday morning, though not before heading down to the beach for one final dip. As I swam in the warm, clear, water of the Caribbean I could not get over the fact that in one weeks time I was going to be in Nepal, having spent three days in London as well. So, that means; The Caribbean, London, and Nepal all in one week. I still have not quite wrapped my mind around that. This is one hell of a journey...

More photos have been posted to my Picasa account.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


I have not been writing much lately mainly because I have had nothing new to report. After an exhausting couple of weeks I ended up in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica. It is a bit touristy, and I am continually frustrated when I say something in Spanish only to be given a reply in English. My Spanish is really falling apart right now...nonetheless, I have been relaxing and recharging my batteries. I have been here for almost a week now, and have spent most of my time either reading in a hammock or getting exercise and relaxing on a beach. It is beautiful here, and while the rest of Costa Rica is dealing with torrential downpours, I am enjoying sunny skies, white sand beaches, good books, good music, and drinks with little umbrellas in them. OK, maybe no drinks with umbrellas, but everything else.

I am getting a bit bored now, and am REALLY REALLY excited to be starting another leg of my journey in just a few days. I will head back to San Jose for the weekend, and Sunday night I begin my five day journey to Nepal. When I first purchased this ticket I though that I was being incredibly clever giving myself a two and a half days in London, but now it just seems like it will be a nightmare! Oooops!

I get to Nepal next Thursday, and with a little luck will be starting the Annapurna circuit by the following Wednesday. For those of you who do not know this is a 21 day trek through the Himalayas, which will probably be the most hardcore thing I have ever done. Four months ago I would not have worried about it, but as my fitness level has steadily declined, my anxiety has steadily increased! However, I am hoping that this last week of moderate exercise and rest will go along way towards getting me ready for it.

Since it is hot and sunny right now I think I will wrap this up, grab my book, and head for the beach. Cheers to all of you back in rainy ass Seattle, I will be thinking of you when I order that drink with the umbrella, and dive into a picture perfect blue sea. Enjoy work suckers!!!

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

The Kindness of Strangers

WOW! So much has happened since I last sat down to write that I really don't even know where to begin. I had a pretty rough week, but am in a better place (both mentally and physically). This is probably going to turn into an incoherent rambling monologue, but here it goes...

I have definitely had the lowest points of my trip over the past week and a half. Facing adversity, I was able to resolve a tough situation, and handled myself surprisingly well. Nonetheless, the sheer emotional drain that it caused has made me feel wrecked. I am sooo tired right now. I have been on buses everyday since last Wednesday without a break, and I have one more to go today. I will then arrive on a Caribbean beach in Costa Rica! I am not going to move from that beach for a minimum of five days!! OK...back to what I was talking about before (told you this was going to be a rambling monologue! Chalk it up to a. a minor hangover, and b. no coffee). The point is, I have had a stressful time, but I worked through it and am in a better place now, and am feeling great about traveling again. Indeed, I can't even wait for that bus this afternoon, after all it is talking me to a Caribbean beach!!!!!!!

I think that the thing that keeps recharging my battery, and keeps me going is not the desire to see new places (though of course that is a huge part of traveling), but to meet new people. I now almost take it for granted that I am going to see something pretty spectacular on almost a daily basis, but meeting new people and sharing memories with them is something I will never take for granted. The underlying theme of this trip so far has become the kindness of strangers. In an attempt to prepare myself for all the things that were going to come my way (which of course you can't) I read a book entitled The Kindness of Strangers shortly before departing on my journey. I am amazed at how spot on the book has been. Many of the wonderful experiences I have had involves strangers, whether it be another traveler that I shared a meal with, a local who did something nice for me simply to be helpful.

As an aside, this happens with amazing frequency. For example, and this is just one of many, a Costa Rican guy that I asked for directions took me to a bus stop, waited with me and chatted, then paid for both our tickets when the bus came. He took me to where I needed to go, we said goodbye, and then he just walked off. I don't if he was going somewhere nearby or not. Truly, he is just one of the countless amazing people I have met.

Meeting so many great people has truly changed my life. I have always been a trusting person, and so when people talk to me about their overwhelming fear of being robbed, beaten, raped, etc. I try to simply share my experiences. Yes, bad things happen and not everyone is a good person, but if you open your heart and choose to believe in the decency of mankind it is amazing just how many acts of random kindness you will experience (hopefully on both the receiving ANNNNDD the giving end). As I write this I am sitting in the living room of an American couple living in San Jose. We met on the bus yesterday, and they invited me to stay at their place. They prepared an amazing meal, and we drank beer and chatted (In Spanish only, as a Tica friend of theirs was here and insisted that we speak only in Spanish, though, her English was perfect.) into the wee hours of the morning. Yet another in the constantly growing library of random acts of kindness. As before, I would really like to encourage everyone who reads this to stop for a minute and think about how they are treating the people in their lives. Are you acting with kindness in your heart?? I try everyday, and as a result I have had amazing experiences that no one else will ever have (i.e. they are MINE!!). Indeed the experiences I have had are changing my life. All because people act with kindness in their hearts...

Friday, October 5, 2007


Most days are good. Some are not. And yet I usually just take the good with the bad and keep on going. Today is different. Today, October 5th, 2007, is the first time when I have actually just wanted to quit traveling. This is not a good sign as it is currently only 7:28 a.m. and I have only been up for an hour and a half. Nonetheless, this is exactly the mood I am in as I start my day. I went to bed pretty grumpy last night, but with hopes that a good night's sleep would cheer me up.

Instead, I awoke, showered and then began packing laundry only to discover that I had lost a pair of underwear. "How?" you ask does losing a pair of underwear put me in such an awful mood that my first instinct was to go get on a plane? Well...that story really begins three days ago with the amazing rebirth of my iPod (which had not worked for about 6 weeks), and the subsequent loss of my iPod charger all in a 24 hour period. After leaving my iPod charger in Leon, I have since lost my flashlight (no idea where), and now a pair of underwear (again no idea where. I was wearing them when I got to Granada and now they are gone.). The fact that losing a pair of underwear could be so detrimental to my state of well being might also have something to do with the fact that these are not simply underwear. They are one of three pairs that I had (now I have two), each pair costing somewhere in the neighborhood of $30 dollars. Losing one of my most expensive and most prized possesions (they are sooooo comfy) has really caused my already dampened spirits to become more soaked than damp. What now???? I don't know...I will head to class, study Spanish, eat lunch, and all the while I will be missing my underwear. Despite the fact that I have a wonderful family, partner, and friends none of them ever gave me the same support that these underwear provided.

R.I.P. Black Pair

Monday, October 1, 2007


So I am pretty awful at organizing photos and today is actually the first time in like 5 weeks that I have been able to upload anything. Below is the link to my Picasa account. Enjoy!

Eight Weeks Already?????

Wow!! Hard to believe that it has been eight weeks now. The time is really flying by. At this rate my trip will be over before I know it!

And now for your enjoyment I am going to go on another rant. WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH THE UNITED STATES FOREIGN POLICY??? I have been abstaining from reading the news much (unless it is local), but as I sat at breakfast this morning reading an article in the local Leon paper about the Bush administrations plans for a war with Iran I just about lost my shit. SERIOUSLY??? We are going to go through this again. HAS EVERYONE LOST THEIR FUCKING MINDS??? Hmmm...Here's an idea everyone hates us, we fucked up Iraq to no end, why don't we just go start another war. That's the solution! Let's send more kids to kill and be killed. Nothing like destroying a few million lives so that we can say we are being "tough on terror." WAKE UP ASSHOLES you are creating the terror.

I hope my over enthusiastic use of obscene language conveys my fear, anger, and utter bewilderment that this could actually be happening again. A wise man once told me "There is enough pain and suffering in this world. I don't need to be responsible for any more." If only the powers that be would adopt this same philosophy. Perhaps they could do some good. Rather, they choose to create a climate of fear, racism, and violence. Needless to say this climate will do nothing but cause greater pain and suffering for everyone.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

y las cosas malas tambien

While I have been writing about a lot of great experiences lately not everything is so wonderful. Here are a few of the bad things that have been happening.

1. My Gortex raincoat was stolen.
2. I watched a woman and her kids get hit by a car and could not do anything about it. I think they were OK but it was scary!
3. Last night a group of five men insisted on walking across the street with me from my hotel to a restraunt. They said I would be robbed or killed if I did not walk with them.
4. A Nicaraguan guy who ate dinner with me last night told me that he did not have money (after we had finished eating) and that I had to pay for him. I knew he had money, but did not really know what to say so three of us (myself and two other Americans I went to the border with) ended up paying for his meal.
5. I was harrassed to no end at the border today. I felt lucky to make it out of there. I had to pay extra money to the immigration officer and was accosted by no less than twenty kids and ten adults for various reasons. It was the scariest experience so far.
6. I woke up yesterday morning to the sound of gunfire in Tegucigalpa. No idea what was going on.
7. I was on such an unfriendly bus this morning that I was not even offered a seat when one came available. Instead the people filled the empty seats with their belongings and themselves, preventing myself or the two other Americans from sitting. That has never happened to me before.

Well that's really the only bad stuff. The good far outweighs the bad, but I didn't want anyone to get the idea that it is all fun and games! Traveling can be stressful!!! I am in Leon, Nicaragua. There is not a lot going on here but it is a pretty town (minus all the trash) and the Cathedral is truly breathtaking.

Friday, September 28, 2007

And Another Crazy Experience

I think I am starting to figure this traveling thing out a bit. I am alone, that is all there is to it. I make friends, share experiences, and then I start all over again. Always alone. This morning I said goodbye to Michael and Marketa and started off on my own once again. As a result of my laziness, and because I wanted to get my money's worth out of my $11 room (the most expensive of the trip), I did not get up at four to catch the only bus from Gracias to La Esperanza. I decided to try my hand at hitchhiking and started a new adventure.

The first driver picked me up about 1 km from Gracias and drove for about an hour before pulling over and just dropping me off in the middle of nowhere, and telling me that the town I wanted to go to was like 15 km down this dirt road. "Just follow the road, it will take about 2 hrs" he said. OK I thought this is getting interesting. I started walking and about 15 minutes later was relieved to hear a vehicle coming up behind me. I turned and tried to flag down the driver, who just sped up and shouted " tu puta madre" at me as he drove off. Well that didn't work out so well so I just kept walking, enjoying the clean mountain air (if I had known just how disgusting Tegucigalpa would be I would have savored it even more). Soon another truck came driving up and I again flagged down the driver. He stopped and I asked him to take me to San Juan. He didn't seem to happy at my request, but nodded his head and so I walked to the back, and threw my backpack in with his three teenage kids, who had made a little bed with some blankets and pillows, and were just chilling listening to music. I climbed in and off we went. We stopped shortly after when we came to a place where the road had washed out and where a work crew was furiously trying to repair the damage while about twenty cars waited on either side to get by. During this time I chatted with the driver who said that he was going to a town near Tegucigalpa and would give me a ride all the way there!! I was really excited and thanked him repeatedly. This was the first time (but certainly not the last time) that I experienced the overwhelming kindness this family offered everyone.

We started off again about thirty minutes later. With eight of us crammed into a small pickup, the quarters were certainly cramped, but we made the best of it! Soon we arrived in La Esperanza, where we stopped and they bought ice cream. Sure enough when the daughter came out of the shop she was carrying an extra cone for me. I was again surprised by this act of selfless kindness. The journey continued and I drifted off to sleep for about an hour as we drove along the deserted highway. I awoke suddenly when we pulled over to the side of the road and the dad hopped out to buy us all (again myself included) huge bags of fresh pineapple. I asked if I could pay for this but the mother simply smiled and shook her head. If I have not made it perfectly clear let me reiterate that this family certainly did not have a lot of money, their clothes were old and worn, and the truck we were in had certainly seen better days. About two hours later we pulled over for lunch and as we all sat eating fried chicken and potato salad (I only had the potato salad) a man and his two kids came up and started trying to sell a book to anyone who would buy it. The book was some thing like "Metals and Materials" not a book that anyone would be interested in. The conversation was rapid and I could not understand much of what was said, but it was clear to me that the man was trying to feed his kids. The mother looked slightly annoyed, but after a couple of minutes the dad simply smiled, put down his fork and handed an almost full plate of food to the man telling him it was for his children. The kids were clearly starving and ferociously started shoveling food into their mouthes. "God guides me" he told his wife with a smile and then she too passed over her plate to the children. I was so moved by this that I was practically in tears as I walked to the register to pay for my meal. As we stood there I told the man as he was paying that I wanted to buy everyone's drinks to thank him. He looked a bit surprised but said OK. Clearly I was not understood by either him or the woman at the cash register who handed me a bill for the entire meal!!! Now, granted it was a roadside cafe in the middle of nowhere, but a meal for 8 people plus drinks still cost $16 dollars. I was quite surprised when I saw the bill, but tried not to show it and simply handed over the L304 and again thanked the man for his kindness. They drove me to the bus station in the town near Tegucigalpa and we said goodbye. They wished me safe travels and I again thanked them for their overwhelming kindness.

Each day I am amazed at the kindness of strangers. Whether it is this family, or the old woman who took me into her house and offered the best meal she could for next to nothing. These selfless acts move me everyday. I strongly encourage everyone who reads this to stop and think about whether they are passing up opportunities to help others??

Thursday, September 27, 2007


Well I am in the small town of Gracias, Honduras. I left the Bay Islands on Monday and made a 13 hour bus ride here. The first stop was La Ceiba where I was going to say goodbye to Michael and Marketa, two Germans I had met the week before and absolutely loved hanging out with!! We had a blast together in Utila and as we were standing at the bus terminal I was telling them my plans for heading to Gracias to climb the highest peak in Honduras (sticking with the climb the highest peak in every country theme). Marketa decided this was a great idea and soon the three of us were traveling to Gracias together, continuing our week of gut busting laughing the whole way. The ride was really long, and when we finally made it everyone was exhausted. On the last bus ride I started up a conversation with a Honduran named Rudy. He was incredibly friendly and despite the fact that I cannot understand a single person down here (Hondurans are notorious for slurring their speech, making it very difficult to understand them. AHH I miss Guatemalan Spanish) we somehow managed a descent conversation. Upon arriving in Gracias he escorted us to a cheap hotel and helped us settle into our room. Michael and Marketa immediately passed out, and so I went out with Rudy to have a couple of beers. It was so wonderful to meet a nice Honduran, the whole day the three of us kept commenting on how unfriendly everyone was and how we missed the hospitality of the Guatemalans. After a couple of beers and a nice conversation I returned to my hotel room for ten straight, uninterrupted hours of glorious sleep (Without Jeff's morning mix to wake me up. Jesse, Sybilla you guys are the only ones who will get this).

The next morning we started our quest for climbing Montaña Celaque. First we needed to find a tent and an extra sleeping bag. This was more difficult than we had imagined as once again the Lonely Planet gave horrible advice (this is really becoming quite a trend.) We eventually located both items and went shopping for supplies (which turned out to be cans of vegetables, tuna, granola, and pringles). After we had gathered everything together we struck out for Parque Nacional Celaque. It was only a 7 km hike and, as we intended to stay at the park entrance in a ¨bunkhouse¨(I would describe it as a shack) that night we were in no hurry. This was fortunate as it was about 37 C and 90% humidity. We were pretty tired when the afternoon rain finally came and drenched us. Now I have lived in Seattle for almost five years, so obviously I am no stranger to rain. Additionally, on this trip I have been in the middle of some of the worst flooding different areas of Guatemala have seen in twenty years. None of this prepared me for a downpour of this nature. Imagine someone continually pouring buckets of water on you for thirty minutes straight. We trudged up to the bunkhouse (i.e. shack) soaking wet and very thankful to be out of the rain. As I came around the corner I was shocked to see an attractive blond hair and blue eyed westerner staring back at me. She and I stared at each other for a minute, I think we were both in shock as niether of us ever expected to see anyone else out here. I mean this is A. Honduras and B. The middle of nowhere, Honduras. As is becoming another common theme on my trip she was, surprise surprise, from Germany.

After the four of us rigged up a clothes line and stripped down to our underwear (we all got to know each other very well) we sat around chatting and waiting for our clothes to dry. It quickly became apparent that this was not going to happen and so the wet clothes went back on and we set out for the house of the Park Ranger, whose mother, we were told would cook us food. Again I was surprised at the overwhelming generousity of this woman who invited us into her house and began preparing a sumptuos meal of rice, beans, eggs, tortillas, and coffee. I say house, but again remember this is Nowhere, Honduras we are talking about, so she cooked over an open fire in the middle of the 3m x 3m room and prepared a truly amazing meal that cost about $1.50. We all left stuffed and settled in for an early night.

The next morning Michael, Marketa, and I started for the summit at about 5:30. The going was slow as the trail was fairly overgrown in places and very, very steep. At around 7:00 I became convinced that we had missed a turn and were on the wrong trail, but with no map we could not verify this. At 7:30 Michael had had enough and decided to turn around and head for the town. And then there were two. Marketa and I pushed on and around 10:30 we came to the summit of whatever peak we had climbed. Looking across the valley I could see Montaña Celaque rising about another 200m above us. We stopped, ate lunch, and then in an hour and a half covered all the ground it had taken us five hours to climb that morning. We stopped back at the bunkhouse, had a swim, and decided what the hell, we might as well stay another night and enjoy some more great cooking. The second dinner was by far the best. My Spanish is rapidly improving and so we chatted with the woman, sipped coffee, ate bananas, and took a few photos, which the woman absolutely loved. IT WAS SO INCREDIBLE!!!!!!!!! I wish I could explain the experience better, but unfortunately none of you will ever know...

Well, that was the abridged version, sadly I don't have the time to write it all, and you are all probably pretty bored reading about it so let me quickly sum it up. All in all it was one of the best experiences of my life. Despite not making the proper summit I got exercise, met great people, and explorted Honduras a little more. Tomorrow I head for Nicaragua, where I will enroll in another Spanich school and start some new adventures with new people (my traveling partners are returning to Guatemala). My spirits are high (though a week ago I really hated traveling and was cursing David Bonderman) and I am excited to Meet People, Go Places, and Do Things (Again, Jesse and Sybilla you are the only ones who will get this, so enjoy! Unless any of you have taken the PADI open water course lately, in which case I hope you also enjoyed that last line!).

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Eat your heart out...

Despite my initial misgivings about Utila and it's touristy atmosphere here are the facts.

1. I am learning to scuba dive.
2. I spent all afternoon lying in a hammock and reading a book.
3. I am on an island in the Carribean, which means the water is amazing.
4. A Mai Tai costs about $1.65 from one of the coolest bars I have ever seen!

Back to my hammock. Or maybe I will get a Mai Tai. It's early but what the hell I am on vacation from traveling (i.e. a vacation from my vacation. I might take a vacation when I finsh traveling (i.e. vacation) as well. Maybe somewhere I have not been yet!)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


I'm back, but still feeling awful. Hopefully this will pass as I am planning on heading to Honduras tomorrow.

This last Sunday was the national elections. The people turned out in force and narrowly elected Alvaro Colom over Otto Perez Molina. I have been trying to follow the fascinating world of Guatemalan politics as much as possible over the last month and a half. So what is so fascinating about this election? Well, Colom is a business man who has ties to narcotics dealers, and Molina before becoming head of military intelligence during the civil war, participated or ordered the execution of 300 mayans in one village and countless others during his command. As I mentioned earlier on the first day of our trek we were guests in the house of an American expat named Don. Don's story is pretty incredible. He was a soldier during the Vietnam war, and after returning home he left the States for Guatemala. He lived in Guatemala throughout the civil war participating in training many of the guerilla forces fighting for independence. As we sat in his living room sipping licuados and smoking spliffs someone said something about the election. He gave a bit of a snort and began telling us about Molina (at this time I could not remember who Molina was and whether or not he was a serious contender for the Presidency). Colonel Molina was a vicious man who was involved in bombings, executions, and other horrors of the war. "Of course" said Don "this was before he became General Molina, head of G2." "What's G2?" I asked. Taking a long drag from his cigarrete he let out a little chuckle and said "Military Intelligence. Yes, I remember Molina well." Chills went down my spine as I heard this.

Ten minutes later I was standing in the Nebaj graveyard, looking at a plague dedicated to members of the resistance who had been executed in Nebaj. Additionally as I wandered through the graveyard I found several familes who had all died on the same day. These deaths were not from floods, or other natural disasters, but from the regular executions carried out by the army in this region. Sadly, the same people who had murdered so many, and caused so many to die of starvation while they hid in the mountains were now handing out bags of flour and sugar marked with logos of their political parties. Twenty years after the end of the war these people are still in power, and thanks to an uneducated public, desperate for whatever assistance they can get, they are openly supported in areas where they once ruthelessly murdered, raped, robbed, and oppressed. I guess I would have chosen a drug dealer too. Beats the alternative...

I picked up a newspaper yesterday and began reading about the election. However a picture of riot police firing tear gas at protestors soon caught my eye and I began reading about the turmoil surround local elections, apparently many of the local elections were rife with fraud and there were widespread protests in some areas. The pictures became particularly horrifying when I realized that I had been in several of these towns over the past couple of weeks. Yikes!

Next time on August's blog: Rampant Alcoholism and its effects on the health and well being of Guatemaltecos.

Aren't these cheery topics!

Mass Murder, Drug Dealers, and Assorted Happenings in Guatemalan Politics

"August, you are not a typical American." I am not associating this quote with any specific person because it has been stated by several people I have met on this trip. I am opening with this because it is a topic that I really want to discuss at length in a later blog. The question is why do so many other travelers who get to know me decide to complement me by stating that I am NOT A TYPICAL AMERICAN?!?!? What characteristics do I posess that make me liked and other Americans despised? Well I'm sure many of you know that this is a loaded question, and that I will giving my opinions on this topic very soon. Until then, I would really like all of you to think about that statement for a while. I should also add that I have never been insulted by this statement and always taken it at face value as a genuine complement, one I am proud to recieve.

There is a lot to get to today so let's get started! I am back in Xela after my six day trek through the highlands. After Hurricane Felix died out we started off (only one day later than planned). Starting in Nebaj we stayed our first night in a hostel owned by an amazing American expat (he will appear in this story a bit later so bear with me). We left Nebaj early Friday morning and began our journey. We never hiked more than 7 hours in one day, but soem of the hiking was unbelieveablely challenging. The rain had caused massive mud slides, and on some of the steeper sections we were plodding through knee deep mud. This might not have been bad, but some of this trek was incredibly steep and climbing through mud like that was very tiring! The country side changed everyday and on the final day I swore that I was hiking through the Cascades back home. I will try to post pics soon (I am having a hell of a time trying to upload photos here). The trek was hands down the best experience I have had in Guatemala. We stayed in a couple of schools, at a guy's house, and two hostels (on the first and last night). At the first school I handed my camera to a couple of boys who went wild taking pictures of everything. I did not realize it at the time, but it was the best idea I have ever had. After sorting through the 100 or so pics they took in about five minutes I had about 10 shots that I never would have been able to get. I am going to send one to Lonely Planet and see if they will publish it in their next addition (it's that good!!!) Well, I realize that I am jumping around a bit here, but I am doing a bunch of things at once and feel a bit scattered at the moment. Perhaps this will help sum up the trek a bit quicker.

- We traveled through a region heavily effected by the civil war, and heard many chilling stories about the atrocities commited here.

- During the hike we encountered five different languages being spoken.

- The small villages we passed through had no roads and rarely saw westerners, so we really were treated as an oddity by many of the people.

- Two nights we were treated to Temescals (traditional Mayan saunas). They were AMAZING!

I am going to talk a bit about the elections that took place over the weekend, but unfortunately I am feeling quite sick (and have been for a few days now) so I need to make a run for it. More to come later today...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

I Don't Want To Go On A Rant Here, But..

First, anyone who gets the humor in the title you rock! Call it an homage to my misspent youth.

Now it is time to rant. ARGH!!! My six day trek has been cancelled thanks to Hurricane Felix. This is the second category five hurricane this year. I understand that this is the first time that there have been two category five storms in the same year, and think, they have been within two weeks of each other. Does anyone else think there are some fucked up (Yes I'm still swearing, no I'm not stopping. I find it a very effective way to communicate emotion.) things going on with the weather lately? I know some of you are going to say this is because of global warming. I just have one thing to say to you crazy folks who think that all the horrible floods, hurricanes, blizzards, etc. are caused by global warming. Come on, huh?!?! Come on?!?! Fa get about it. Actually I'm quite alarmed. I don't have a solution to this problem, but if occurences like this are not opening peoples eyes to what is going on, what will? OK I really don't have much else to say, so let me wrap this up with a few bulleted points.

- Global warming is fucking up my trip. This makes me angry.

- If we do not start taking drastic action our species might not be around for much longer.

- If you want to learn how you can help go to To be honest, I think that this is a drop in the bucket so to speak, and if we do not radically change our lifestyles and our wonderful dependence on oil NOW we are screwed.

Well if that was not a rant I don't know what is. Looking back on what I just wrote I'm not sure if I come off sounding angry, but uneducated on the matter, or just plain sensible. Take the bus or walk tomorrow people. One of the best things about Guatemala is that we can cram 125 people on a bus. Try it OK, you might actually enjoy it. I know I do!

The storm is supposed to hit Guatemala city tomorrow night, and we are already getting a hell of a lot of rain. I am stocking up on books and wine tonight and bunkering down in my room for the next day or two. Wish me luck...

Friday, August 31, 2007

How To Survive A Guatemalan Bus Station

Well I am not going to explain Germans or pineapple pie in this entry. I am back in Xela (freezing my butt off). It's amazing that you can go from hot beaches to cold mountains in just a couple of hundred kilometers. I leave to climb the highest point in Central America tomorrow (Volcan Tajumulco at 4220 meters it is just a little shorter than Mt. Rainier). I am not expecting good weather, so the weekend might not be much fun, but I really want to climb this peak and am glad that I passed on El Salvador.

What I really wanted to do with this post was describe how I have been survivng some of the crazier bus stations in Guatemala. This way if anyone is planning on coming here in the near future they will have a survival manuel.

1. Arm yourself to the teeth! Shotguns and machetes are readily available, and I recommend one of each. Also slightly more difficult to find (as in it will take you ten minutes) are 9mm handguns, these are also recommended, but remember that a 9mm does not have a lot of knock down power and some of these women selling bread have been known to take several rounds before going down.

2. Make an example out of someone as soon as you get to the station. This will establish your dominance and after this you should be able to walk around freely. The first couple of times I tried this technique I picked the biggest, toughest looking bastard I could find and made sure plenty of people were watching. Usually using the butt of your shotgun and coldcocking him will bring even the toughest man to his knees. This technique was somewhat effective, but the women with bread and fruit did not seem deterred. I quickly realized that if you target the oldest lady you can see, and drop her with a swift elbow to the stomach everyone will back off. Here is why. If you are willing to hit a helpless old lady selling fruit, they figure there is no telling what you are capable of. You will find that everyone becomes much less obsessed with slamming you around and shoving fruit in your face.

3. Remember to smile and thank everyone for their help!

OK I was killing sometime, and just having fun. I do not endorse violence of any kind, and certainly do not support targeting old women selling fruit. However, if anyone would like a shotgun or machete, they are seriously everywhere! I am going to count the number I run across on any given day and will report back. My estimate is that I see at least 20 shotguns a day.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Una cosa mas

After just posting that last bit, I realized I did not explain pineapple pie or GermanS (plural). For the rest of the story you will have to tune in next time, as there is a beach, a licuado, and book beckoning me to return!

Buses, Germans, ¿and Pineapple Pie?

At times on my travels so much happens during a short period of time that by the time I sit down to write about it so many other things have happened that I quickly forget what I was originally going to write about. So here is a brief list of things that I remember I wanted to share (sadly there are probably twice as many that I simply do not remember right now).

- I was hit by a car in Xela. It was scary as hell, but thanks to my superpowers I survived with only a sore shoulder.

- I went to the Sunday market in Chichi. It was crazy!! I met this German guy there who I had bumped into the night before in Xela. At the time I thought he only spoke Spanish and German, so we spent a bit of time trying to converse in Spanish before, to my surprise and relief he started speaking English, though we practiced Spanish as much as possible all day. We spent the day bus hopping through Guatemala (nine buses four destinations).

- I fled Xela after two days with my tail between my legs. It was super cold, and as I am doing a six day trek next week through the highlands I decided I wanted a bit of warmth first. I hit Monterrico Monday night and have been loving it. I am splurging a bit and spending $8 dollars a night on a room. It is super nice with a great pool! Monterrico is deserted, there are like maybe 6 or 7 travelers here. Apparently on the weekend the place is packed with people from Guatemala City. I ran into a fellow traveler (Paul from UK) who I have been meeting everywhere I go (except Xela). He is headed to San Salvador and I am thinking about tagging along and, doing a blitzkrieg strike into El Salvador for a couple of days.

- I am giving a lot of thought to trying to fly to Cuba in about three weeks, and skipping Nicaragua. Castro will only be alive for a bit longer and if there is ever a time to go NOW is it.

Finally, I want to quickly try to explain the emotional events that are occuring on my travels. I have had many great times (now is one of them), but also a lot of bad. The sense of isolation that I feel every single day can be, at times, incredibly overwhelming. The week I spent learning Spanish in San Pedro was the worst. Even when I hung out with fellow travelers or locals I felt completely alone, but not in a good way. Yet, despite this I can definitely say the best experiences I have had have been when I am alone (or at least without fellow travelers around). For example, I have been taking only Chicken buses through Guatemala, something that I quickly learned most travelers only do when necessary. I have maybe seen three or four other travelers on the chicken buses. Meeting locals on these buses is great and, excuse the language but there really is no other way to say this, the bus drivers are fucking insane! If you want an adrenaline rush forget extreme sports, ride a bus in Guatemala! As a rule they pass on blind corners at 80-90 km per hour whenever they get the chance. Any bus designed to hold 50 people can easily accomodate 125. On Monday I held two children because we were so crammed in and their poor 100 pound mom was dying trying to hold them both. Memories like this, as well as the overwhelming kindness of the people I meet on these buses have been the best experiences I have had.

Arriving in Monterrico at about 6:00 p.m. Monday night I quickly discovered the town was deserted. After checking into the hostel where I stayed the first night I decided to find some food. Despite the fact that I was the only one in the town I was filled with happiness from the wonderful experiences I had had on the buses all day (and it was warm and humid, two very welcome sensations after the freezing temperatures in Xela). I found a small restraunt, which of course was completely empty, and using my new found Spanish skills I started a conversation with the two women owning it (for those of you who don't know I should mention that these restraunts also double as their houses, so you basically just sit on their front porch). I said that all I wanted was a huge plate of beans and rice with a basket of hot tortillas. They were more than happy to accomodate my request and soon I was stuffing myself on an incrediblely simple, yet delicious meal. I savored every bite, taking in the flavors as if I had never eaten anything so wonderful in all my life. Afterward, I paid the bill, which was 15Q ($2 dollars) including a Coke and walked back to my hotel as happy as I have ever felt in my life, enjoying every noise, smell, sound, and sight. A truly wonderful night, one which will not be forgotten no matter how many other wonderful nights I have!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

No Hablo Español

I am in San Pedro this week, a trashy village on Lago de Atitlan, studying Spanish. It has been raining like crazy thanks to Hurricane Dean and the two things I wanted to do here (kayak the lake, and climb Volcan San Pedro) have not happened yet, and I am not hopeful that they will get done before I leave.

So about Spanish, I was really starting to feel confident asking directions, ordering food, and bartering, but now I just feel hopeless. I am doing four hours of class everyday this week, and while I am learning a lot, I am quite certain my teacher has decided I am hopeless. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I have difficulty understanding English if there is any noise around. Usually at bars conversations with me are one sided and I just nod my head when I feel it is appropriate. Now would be a good time to say that if anyone has had a really weird conversation with me at a bar, and I was agreeing with something truly bizarre, I probably was just nodding along so please don't hold it against me! As usual I digress. The original point was that I have trouble deciphering English, so imagine how hard it is for me to understand Spanish when I am on the street, or even at my school. I will hear a word (or group of words), have no idea what the hell is being said and after several minutes my incredibly patient (though becoming less so every day) teacher will write it out and I find out she was saying something like: Hola, Como estas? I heard: Jolacom oesates.

Resolving not to be defeated by something as trivial as learning a new language, I am headed to Xela on either Saturday or Monday to continue with language school and to volunteer in either an orphange, a clinic, or both. I am hoping after two weeks I will be on solid enough ground that I can continue learning on my own for the next two months. Wow!! It is weird to think that I only have a little over two months left down here. By the time I leave Guatemala, I am really going to be in a rush. Considering that I will be in Utila for at least a week getting my diving certification I think I will need to start cutting areas from my trip.

Here is my tentative itinerary for the next few weeks.

8/27-8/31 Spanish School in Xela

9/1-9/4 No clue!!!

I interrupt this blog to bring you an important announcement. A Guatemalan girl just brought me steaming hot banana bread (one of the other reasons I love Guatemala)!!!!

9/5-9/11 Trek with Quetzaltrekkers through the highlands.

9/12-9/15 Copan and making my way to the Bay Islands

9/16-??? Diving in Utila

That leaves about a month to hit the rest of Honduras, Nicaragua, and then fly out of Costa Rica. I am feeling a bit panicked about the time crunch...

OK that was a pretty lame post, but there really isn't anything else going on.

Monday, August 20, 2007

By Popular Demand

OK, OK!! After the emails and comments I have decided to drop the vulgarity from my blog posts. However, I must point out that I am a product of the public school system so my vocabulary is rather limited (especially when it comes to expressive adjectives).

I apologize to all who were offended. Please send me some of your favorite expressive adjectives and I will start using them from now on.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

TIG (This Is Guatemala)

Two posts in one day! OK I admit it I'm bored. I am in Antigua waiting for a bus to take me to Lago de Atitlan and hae some time to kill. Antigua is awful, I strongly recommend no one ever comes here. The entire town is built on tourism, and unlike Flores which is also very touristy, Antigua is expensive, consumer driven, and has a fucking Subway. If there are two things I hate in this world they are paying too much for beer and Subway. After buying one beer my first night here I decided to boycott Antigua and refused to either go to bars, or eat at any restraunt that was not attached to wheels. I met an American couple here on holiday who were spending $125.00 a night for their hotel room! People are driving Mercedes, Land Rovers, and get this, a fucking H2. So actually I hate three things because I really really really hate people who drive H2s (especially in Guatemala). OK enough ranting about the evils of Antigua, below is a short list of the things I love most about Guatemala.

1. The People. OK I had one bad experience on a bus, but I am convinced the Israeli I was traveling with was being rude to someone when I was out trying to find another bus. I will get into another rant about rude travelers at another time, but I digress. Everyone here is super friendly and some of the best times I have had so far have been with people I meet on the chicken buses. It is so cool to get off the beaten path and meet people who are just plain nice. Hey everyone in Seattle, why don't you try this for a while (no one in Seattle ever invites you to join them if you are sitting alone, here everyone does).

2. The Country. Wow is it ever beautiful. I don't really know what else to say...just WOW!!

3. The Pace of Life. Buses breakdown, roads wash out, and floods happen. No ones pulse ever gets above 60. SO RELAXING!!!!!

4. Two dollar meals that are DELICIOUS and HEALTHY!

Hmmm there are more but I need to go catch that bus...

The Curious Incident of the Woman on the Volcano

I hiked Picaya yesterday, an active volcano near Antigua. The hike was short, but steep and I left my group behind in order to get a workout racing up the mountain. At the top I took some great photos, then joined my group to watch the lava flowing down the magma field, and to roast marshmellows. It was very hot!! I again decided to leave my group and hike around on my own for a while. As I was getting ready to leave the lava fields and catch back up to my group, who were already making their decent, I passed two young women climbing off the hardend magma on to the ground. As I was passing them the one in the back suddenly lost her footing and took a short fall. Normally you would not expect some one to get her just slipping on a rock, but these rocks were incredibly jagged and she sliced her wrist when she tried to break her fall. I ran over to her and was shocked at the amount of blood oozing from her wrist. She was bleeding like a stuck pig, and her friend was freaking out! When I was packing for the short two hour climb, as an after thought, and basically just because I had so much room I tossed my first aid kit into my pack. Phew! Was that ever the right move! I poured some water on her wrist to figure out where the big cut was (I don't think I can emphasize enough how much blood there was), and then applied some gauze and pressure to stop the bleeding. After a few minutes and a couple of gauze pads (remember, just keep adding pads never remove soaked ones!) I wrapped her up, and we hiked out. She found her group and I rushed to catch up with mine, who by this point were quite a ways ahead of me. I figured I would see her at the bottom, but my group was waiting and we immediately left. Hope things worked out for her, but I never got the beer she promised me at the bottom...damn a good deed for nothing, next time I am demanding a monetary payment before I render my services!

Thursday, August 16, 2007


Disclaimer: Skip the first paragraph if you don't want to read about bowel movements.

So I am going to try to keep this short, as I am having a pretty bad bout of travelers diarrhea, which has waylaid me in Lanquin for an extra day at least. I guess on the plus side if you are going to be stuck somewhere and emptying your bowels every five minutes this is the place to be.

I'm not really sure how to start a post like this so let me just try to come out and say it. Traveling is really lonely. I am definitely having a good time, but as I was laying by myself under an amazing sky last night marveling at where I was, the thought that I was completely alone hit me like a freight train. It is interesting that I have met so many great people and am having fun exploring Guatemalan culture, talking to the locals, hanging out with travelers, playing volleyball, hiking, swimming, drinking beers, and discussing life yet can still feel such a sense of complete isolation. Looking at that sky last night (and it really was one of the most amazing sights I have ever seen) I felt as though I was the only person on this earth. Not really sure where this rambling is headed, just wanted to share what is one of the weirdest sensations I have ever felt. It may come across a purely negative by the way I just described it, but I assure you it was not. There was a weird mix of sorrow and joy filling every cell of my body as the 'aloneness' washed over me. Very intense experience.

OK so now that you all know that it took less than two weeks for me to lose my mind, I need to head back to the bathroom!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

The Adventure Continues...

So when we left off last time the hero of our story was wading through sewage and trying to get the hell out of Coban. After two hours of searching the city we found a bus willing to make the drive to Lanquin (we were told no by the fist three we asked, as the road was flooded). Rapidly gathering our things Nir and I raced to the bus and set out for Lanquin hoping everything would be O.K. Of course it wasn´t. The road out of town was flooded so we had to take a weird detour that added about an hour to the trip. After that we hit two other crossings and spent about 45 minutes at each one while the driver figured out what to do. Eventually he crossed both, though after the first one the bus died and would not start for almost 20 minutes. After the second one we had to get off the bus, ford a third crossing that was to deep to cross in the bus, and then get on another bus that had been stuck on the other side. We arrived in Lanquin after 4.5 hours of travel (the trip usually takes just under two), and went directly to El Retiro. The place was packed with travelers who had been unable to leave, and because we were the only two travelers to make it to Lanquin they had two beds still available! The night was spent at the bar with fellow travelers drinking beer and playing cards.

According to some of the locals this is the worst flooding in over 15 years. Semuc Champey is flooded, and even though I am here until Thursday it does not look like I will be able to go visit what I hear is the most beautiful place in Guatemala. I may have to come back after my language schools, which is where I am headed after this. Though from what I have heard I am going to have quite a difficult time studying in San Pedro, so I may take a few days to hang out before I devote myself to studying full time. I am quite anxious to start the schools, and am already amazed at how quickly my Spanish is improving. At this rate I will be fluent in a month!!!

I also have some unfortunate news to report. The night of the flooding 6 people died in Coban. Sorry to leave on such a grim note. I have been having trouble dealing with the fact that people were dying while I was just taking pictures and having an adventure. Sadly, none of the other travelers seem to give a damn about this and that is also bothering me.

Hasta la vista