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...