Saturday, December 27, 2008

Inspiring Story!

A gentleman I met while riding my bicycle across the USA named Joze Marlot from Slovenia just sent me a Christmas email along with some pictures from our meeting. At any rate, Joze was also riding his bicycle across the USA and he was in his seventies! How fantastic is that? He rode on a recumbant bike with a device called a Schlum that gave him something like 30 or 40 gears if I remember correctly, it was quite an engineering marvel.

So I am very happy to report that he made it all the way! Way to go Joze. That is incredibly inspiring and I would hope that if anyone is considering making the trip that this will prove that all it takes is the will to see it through.

Here is a link to his blog, although it is in Slovenian.

A funny picture of me contemplating something or other. We crossed pathes in Florida, in the panhandle.

Mr. Marlot on his bike, crossing the USA.

Back in the US of A!

Well I made it back home and it feels great to see friends and family again. It was a bit of a marathon getting back, but I made it.

I am experiencing reverse culture shock having come from the third world where I have been for so long to California in the middle of the Christmas shopping frenzy. It is such a dramatically different set of circumstances that the average person lives in here, and I hope everyone appreicates how amazingly good they have it! Plus, its cold! Holy smokes, I went from incredible heat and humidity to dry, cold December weather. It played havock on my sinuses, but that is a minor price to pay.

I am returning to Brazil on Februrary 11th, after my birthday (turning 28, when did I start getting so close to thrity?!?!) and will be there through Carnival with my buddy, then I am heading south through Argentina to do some trekking in Patagonia, which is something I have always wanted to do.

As for my sailing down the Amazon trip, I am postponing it for now. Why, you ask? Because I bumped into a friend in Colombia, a guy I had met earlier in my travels who also enjoys adventure and risk taking, that had attempted what I was planning on doing, but with a group of locals as guides. Well, long story short, they beat him to a pulp and robbed him. On top of this, this guy was no wimp either, he was a big solid dude, with a shaved head, biker beard and tattoos all over the place. He was not the kind of person you would expect to get victimized. He and I talked for a while and I decided this is still something I want to do, but with at least one other person. It is just too great of a risk to go it alone. I think I am getting older to make that kind of deiscion, as a few years ago that would have just made the trip more appealing. I would have simply brushed up on my Ju Jitsu, got a weapon of some sort and gone for it. These days though, I prefer to take calculated risks wherein the reward is worth the potential loss, which is the same reason I did not hike the Darrien Gap.

At any rate, I hope everyone is well. All my love, I hope Christmas was wonderful and that the New Year is as well. I am going to let the blog go silent for a few weeks here, so I highly recomend that if anyone wishes to continue to follow along in Februrary that you have the automated blog updates sent to your email. To do this there is a box on the left hand side of the web page where you fill in your email address and each new blog update will be sent to you. You wont get any spam mail, so no worries about that.

So for now, I will be resting up and spending quality time with loved ones, and then it is back to South America for some more adventure!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Lessons learned and great news for me.

Day: 282

Location: Santa Marta, Colombia

Well, I must say, this trip has been a huge learning experience for me. I look back and see that I set out to try and ride a bicycle around the world because I wanted to do something big and exciting. Something that would make me feel good about myself and that would impress people.
Well, I got sick as a result of riding my bike too much, chose to stop and continue on by backpack. At first I was terribly upset that I would have to fall short of my goal, but with some thought I came to realize that a big part of me wanted to stop because I was no longer enjoying myself as much as I had at the beginning. With time and introspection I came to realize that the reason I felt this way was because I had set out on my journey for the wrong reasons. I wanted to ride a bike around the world not because I love to travel by bicycle so much as because I wanted to do something that would impress other people, which in turn I thought would make me feel better about myself.

It was a tough lesson to learn and it forced me to eat a big slice of humble pie as I had made such a big fuss out of my attempt, but in the end it was a very good lesson. You should only do something because you love to do it. If that is your motivation, then no matter what happens, what anyone else thinks of you, if you succeed or fail, you will be happy with yourself and feel fulfilled.

So, as I have toured around Central America with my backpack, I had a chance to do a lot of things that I would not have been able to do on my bike. I saw a lot of amazing things, met some wonderful new friends, and had a chance to really get to know a portion of the world that I did not know too much about beforehand. I also had a chance to see what volunteering was all about and had a chance to give of myself to those in need. I had a lot of fun in the process and feel that I am now doing everything that I really want to do because it is what I enjoy.

I had another moment like this the other night while I was out with some new friends. A big group of us at the hostel went out to dinner and it was a typical backpacker international crowd, and we were having a very typical backpacker conversation, consisting of where are you going, where are you from, where have you been, how long are you traveling, etc. Etc. Etc. If you have ever backpacked you know the routine. I swear we should just make name tags with answers to the main questions to save each other time.

At any rate, during the conversation an Australian girl was saying that she was going to go to the USA as a part of her trip, I said great, make sure to visit San Diego, as I always tell people, and proceeded to tell her about some of the many great qualities of California and San Diego, specifically. She smiled and said it sounded great as she didn´t like America in general.
At this, I reacted in the way I always react, and sprang to my country´s defense. I asked her why she did´t like America and didn´t she think it was unfair to make a blanket statement about a place and all of its people when she had not even been there? That it was imposible to make a statement about a group of people, especially when its 300,000,000 people, that would apply to them all? I have heard the same rhetoric so many times that I have a sort of stock response. We went back and forth a bit, with different people adding their opinions and in the end all I succeeded in doing was making her feel bad and defensive.

So, later in the evening, I was talking to a some of our group and going over the fact that I couldn´t believe people thought it was OK to trash talk an entire group of people, that America was by no means perfect, but it was an overall great place to live, etc. Then Chris, my traveling companion, who is a truly kind and gentle person, looked at me and without any malice at all said, well Reece, you have a really strong personality and I can see how you can anger people when you express your opinions.

Now, if anyone else there had said that to me I probably would have just gotten more angry and argued with them, but Chris is such an unassuming guy with his ego very much in check, that it made me realize that it was just an honest critique, and not meant to be a character slam.
So I started thinking a lot about it and a sort of domino effect went off in my mind. I wouldn´t say it was a revelation or anything, perhaps just a moment of clarity when I saw myself as other people probably see me.

It made me realize that in all of my impassioned appeals to her to see things from my point of view, I never even really listened to her beyond trying to find faults in what she said to counter when it was my turn to speak.

That really isn't communication, that is a form of verbal combat. The point isn't to prove someone else wrong, its to listen to their ideas and to hopefully communicate what essentially were noble ideas on my part that came out all wrong.

The problem as I see it was this: when she said she didn´t like America (which, as it is her opinion, she is perfectly entitled to) what I hear is that she does not like the people and places that constitute America, the people and places that I love, and ultimately, that she (or anyone who says these things) does not like me, as I am forever a product of those things.

Now, she may not have meant it that way, but that is what I heard. So, feeling that all of the things I love, my town, my family, friends and myself, have been attacked, I react in kind. The problem is, that if I really want to help someone to see that America is not a country full of stupid, frightened, greedy, warmongers (which sad to say, is how a lot of the world sees us) then verbally attacking them is not the right strategy to use. All I really end up doing is reinforcing the stereotype.

So, it dawned on me that if I want to help people to see all of the things there are to love about us Americans and our home, I need to change up my tactics. I need to listen more first of all, try to understand what they are saying and see if I can, gently and with respect for their opinions, show them that perhaps they should rethink some of their beliefs. You can not control what other people think and you should not want to. I know that there are plenty of things that can be improved back home and I would love to hear them, but blanket negative remarks are not constructive nor very thoughtful. In order to show people this, I need to ask them more questions as opposed to just talking at them. The greatest teachers in history asked more questions and listened more than preached. Demagogues talk without listening, and that is not what I want to be or how I want to represent myself as an American.

So, while I feel that my opposition to blanket negative statements regarding vast groups of people are inherently flawed and lead only to conflict, hitting someone over the head with my ideas isn't the right way to share that. Being kind, patient and attentive to others, and hopefully through well placed questions and personal example I can show people that America is not the land of the idiot.

So that is that, it was one great lesson learned on this trip for me out of many. Also, I apologized to the girl for jumping on her back, and we made up. I just asked her to please think about what she said in regards to groups of people in the future and she agreed that that was a good idea.
As for Santa Marta, this is a killer place. Its on the Caribbean, beautiful with a ton of nice people. Colombians are just very engaging socially. They walk up to you, shake your hand, chit chat with no reservation. And they are also a very passionate people that love to celebrate life.

Parties here are something else, we went out with some locals we met to go dancing and wow. First of all, everyone was smiling and laughing and dancing seductively with one another, having a wonderful time. And let me tell you, the rumors of Latin people being good dancers is so, so, so true. I have never felt inept on the dance floor before in my life. Back home, I would say I am above average when it comes to strutting my stuff. I always feel confident and have a great time. Am I Justin Timberlake? Not even close. But I would say I have better moves than your average guy!

Well here, I felt like an epileptic with two club feet. Everyone here is so amazingly graceful on the dance floor, it was crazy! They all salsa like champions and they have grown up with the steps so they can improvise and change things up as they go which is fantastic to watch. Some girls were trying to show me the steps and while I got the basics fine, as soon as they took me out on the floor and started really going for it, I was just getting in the way! Despite the fact that I looked like a big tall oaf, I had a lot of fun and was continuously blown away by how friendly everyone was.

Oh yeah, and I had to cover this for my buddies back home. All the rumors of beautiful Colombian women are very true. There are some jaw dropingly beautiful girls here.

Lastly, and this is such great news for me, I found a cheap ticket back home to the states so that I can be home for Christmas! It is actually cheaper for me to fly home, and then return to Brazil to meet my best friend for Carnival than it is to fly there form here??? Go figure. But, I am not one to look a gift horse in the mouth. So, I will be home for Christmas!

All the best to everyone and happy Holidays.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Just pictures for now

I am not feeling very good so I wont write much, but I have plenty to write about. For now, I will just put up some pictures.

Leaving Panama City

The airport we got to spend 13 hours in.

Chris and Tim, my really great traveling companions.

Tim and Chris took some of these really cool panorama shots.

Cartegena, Colombia.

Chris and Tim in Cartegena.

Some of the beautiful streets of Cartegena.

The walls of the old town in Cartegena.

My cheesiest tourist pose.

The city really was gorgeous, Cartegena.

The walls and the Caribbean sea of Cartegena.

Another shot of the old town.

This was an enormous hotel in Cartegena,like a city block in size, it was crazy.

A park in Cartegena.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Made it to South America, finally!

Day: 277

Location: Cartegena, Colombia

Beautiful sunset at Las Penitas, Nicaragua.

Las Penitas, Nicaragua.

The mostly empty beaches of Las Penitas.

I love this place, Las Penitas again.

Rooftops of Leon.

Leon, Nicaragua.

I arrived yesterday in Cartegena Colombia after a bit of an adventure. I got to Panama City after a marathon bus ride only to find out that the next boat to Colombia was not leaving until December 22nd, which was too long of a wait for me. On the bus ride I had met two English brothers, Tim and Chris, who are also on an around the world trip and were also on their way into Colombia, so we decided to go together and started hunting around for other options to get there. We found a flight from Panama City to Cartegena, Colombia for $158, which was about half of what every other airline charged.

Thinking that this was a great deal, we promptly bought our tickets and prepared to leave bright and early the next morning.

We got up at 7 to get a taxi to the airport, as we had been told that frequently this particular airline would change flight times, sometimes even leaving earlier than scheduled, so we wanted to make sure we were there to catch our 11am flight.

Well, the flight time was changed, but not to an earlier hour. We were delayed after getting on the plane because they said they did not have enough gas to get to Colombia. So, instilled with a great sense of confidence in our airline, we got back off of the plane and went to wait until 1:30, which they told us would be the next flight. They also gave us a $10 credit towards lunch, which was nice.

So, we ate, figured we would burn some time until 1:30 and then get to Cartegena while it was still light out. I do not like arriving in a new city when it is dark.

Well, 1:30 comes and the flight is delayed 6:30. So, we accept the fact that we will be arriving after dark, call ahead to a few hostels to make sure we can get a room and settle in to wait another 5 hours.

6:30 comes around and apparently they still have not scrounged up any gas so they comp us another $10 bucks for dinner and tell us to wait until 9:30. At this point, we are losing our minds with boredom, and in what was probably a bad decision, decided to buy a bottle of Vodka at the duty free shop. It was $11 bucks for a liter and we prefigured we would just have a few sips to pass the time and save the rest for Cartegena.

Well, a bottle of Vodka and three hours later we stumble onto the plane after 13 hours of waiting in the stupid airport. We arrive in Cartegena after midnight, a little inebriated, tired and more than a little annoyed.

We had to get a cab to our Hostel and assuming that the same breed of human sharks ply the asphalt oceans here as in other Latin American cities, I decided to go in prepared and asked people in the airport how much we should pay to go to Old Town. They told us 1,000 pesos (about 40 cents American) should do it. So, I flag down a cab, ask him if we can get a lift to our place for 1,000 Pesos. He says sure, that is fine. Then I tell him that we only have American dollars (we had not had a chance to exchange currency and did not see an ATM at the airport) and he says, yeah, no problem.

So, we get a lift to our Hostel which is in a bit of a shady part of town, get out and I hand him a dollar and tell him to keep the rest as a tip, more than doubling his asking price.

He proceeds to tell me we owe him 5 bucks. I say, no, you said 1,000 pesos, this dollar is 2,200 pesos. He tells me a dollar is just 500 pesos (which would mean we would owe him 2 dollars anyway, not 5), and I say no it is not. He says it is a different exchange rate in Cartegena, I say he is a lying $%&/!! which probably did not help the situation, but I was still feeling pretty loose from the Vodka we had stupidly downed in the Airport.

The guy gets a little upset because of my colorful words, and says he will call the police, and a crowd starts to gather. I tell him to go right ahead, which was really stupid because often, police in Latin America can be very corrupt and you are better off simply having nothing to do with them if you can help it. I even ran into an internet Cafe right next to us and pulled up the current exchange rate on the internet to show he and the other knuckle heads what the exchange rate was. Then I offer to go to the ATM, and get pesos to pay him with and he says no, he wants 5 bucks. I even asked one of the guys in the crowd how much a dollar was worth and he said, 2,200 Pesos. The Taxi driver said he told me it was 10,000 pesos, not 1,000, which I call out for the lie it is and then more local guys come out and start defending him and I blow up and start yelling at everyone, which again, was dumb as it only escalated the situation further. Eventually, in an inebriated, I can´t believe the injustice of this situation fury, I storm off to the ATM to get some Pesos to pay the lying crook of a Taxi driver.

On the way, I found the ATM but it was closed, so I started heading back not wanting to leave the English brothers alone too long with the gathering crowd. Heading back, I bumped into a couple of young Colombian guys who were hanging out on the street corner who were drinking a bottle of something which they kindly offered to share with me. So I did, and I told them in my broken Spanish what had happened as we pass the bottle around, and they said that was baloney, got really angry and then we all stormed off together to find this crook of a Taxi driver and tell him what was up.

I come charging in with a couple of drunk Colombian guys ready for WWIII, and find only an empty street with two rather fed up looking English brothers. In the time I was gone, they had simply paid the Taxi driver what he asked for and he had left. I was pretty upset that they had done that as it was pandering to a lying, two faced jerk, and my blood was up so I was looking forward to yelling at the guy with some locals to give me more leverage.

However, Tim and Chris said they just didn´t want to deal with it so they paid him and got it over with. Honestly, that was probably the smart thing to do, but I just absolutely HATE being taken advantage of or encouraging that type of behavior. The amount of money was negligible, but it is the principle of the matter. If you make a deal, you stick to it, end of story. That is why I can´t stand most cabbies in this part of the world, its par for the course to try and screw every gringo that gets in your cab. Not all of them are like this, many cabbies I have met were really nice and honest guys, but the majority have been terrible.

At any rate, the Colombian guys and I had a laugh, they offered me some Cocaine (hey, it is COlombia after all!), which I kindly refused, and we parted ways friends. Tim, Chris and I found a decent place to sleep and crashed, with me muttering and fuming about the jerk cabbie the entire time.

Well, lesson learned. Do not expect a flight to leave on time in South America. Do not enter a country without some of their money beforehand, if at all possible. Do not get drunk before entering a new country, especially one that is one of the 5 most dangerous places on earth. And lastly, video tape a cabbie agreeing to a price before getting in the cab, draw up a notarized contract as to said agreement and have him sign it in blood. Simple!

Cartegena though is a beautiful city, surprisingly so. It is very old, founded in the 15th century, and the old town is surrounded by a huge wall used to keep Pirates out in days gone by. It feels very European and I have to say, other than the not so fun episode last night, is a great place. The city is filled with beautiful building, both old and new, and everything is very colorful. There are huge forts around too, also used to defend the town from marauding Pirates, and they add a really neat flair to the place. It is very cheap too, with hotels at every price range, from 5 bucks a night to some very expensive, ultra luxury hotels. You can get a glass of fresh squeezed, ice cold Orange Juice on the street for 20 cents, or a fried piece of bread filled with cheese for 25 cents, both of which are delicious.

Walking around, we bumped into one of the young Colombian guys that had come to my aide the night before and we had a laugh and talked for a bit. Then he told me he was going to meet up with his buddy because they had found some magic mushrooms and were going to eat them and walk around the city. He then started doing a really funny dance pretending that he was on a good one and seeing funny things, which had us cracking up. He then jumped in the air and took off, laughing the entire way. He was a cool cat, if a little fixated on drugs, and he and his buddy were really funny.

I have to say that Colombia seems like it will be a lot of fun, provided I can avoid any more difficult situations like the one last night. Tomorrow we are heading up the coast to a city called Santa Marta for some beach time on the Caribbean.

Monday, December 8, 2008

A change of anyone surprised?

Old pic, but some of the cool costumes the kids run around in in Leon.

Two pups hanging out by the water.

Not a bad way to end the day!

Day: 273

Location: San Jose, Costa Rica

Well, these plans they keep a´ changin! Although at this point I am taking for granted that the only constant on my trip is change, but that is OK, I like to travel by the seat of my pants.

Sarah and I met up a day later than anticipated in Managua, and then took off to Leon. From there, We went for a few days to a wonderful beach called Las Penitas. I almost do not want to spill the beans on it as it is such an amazing place, but it is already turning into a tourist town and so I doubt my blog will do much to speed up the transformation.

Essentially Las Penitas is a small fishing village on the Pacific coast, but now it is turning into a tourist and surf destination. To get to it you have to grab a chicken bus down a long, bumpy dirt road. The town itself is really just two streets along the water with untouched coast along either side of it. We went for a walk down the beach for a few miles and saw nothing in either direction from the town but wild grass land, sand dunes and beautiful ocean. It is remarkable how untouched parts of the coast in Nicaragua are. Especially the Caribbean side, there are hundreds of miles of virgin coast line there, but also no infrastructure at all.

At any rate, Las Penitas is a great place with sunshine, nice people (as is true is all of Nicaragua, I have found) cheap hotels and great food that comes in large portions.

We planed to only stay for the day but ended up staying for two. I will assuredly be returning to that town at some point in my life. I have some great pictures, but i am having trouble getting them uploaded. I will do so as soon as possible though.

Back in Leon there was a huge festival celebrating the Virgin Mary. We didn´t actually see much of it as we left town that same day. We did see a lot more of the strange costumes that I saw last time I was in Leon. They consist of a group of kids, usually boys, that roam the streets. There is always a big costume of a woman in a hat, that stands about 10 feet tall, and a little costume of a man with a great big head and little arms and legs that is about 5 feet tall. Two little boys wear these get ups, while two to three other boys play an assortment of drums. They roam the streets dancing and banging on their instruments getting people they pass to dance with them. It is really neat and good for a belly laugh when you see them going full swing.

Leon is a very cool place. Each visit has me liking it more and more. It is a bit run down and at first you feel like its a bit on the dirty side, which it is, but it has a charm you catch on to if you stay long enough. At night, families sit in front of their homes talking and passing the time, and kids run around playing soccer and baseball. It is a very safe feeling city unlike some you encounter in Central America. There are also a load of beautiful churches and squares to check out if you are so inclined. There is also a cemetery which is huge and full of some amazing tombs, although the grounds could use a bit better maintenance!

I have really come to feel normal and at ease in Central America. I forget how much of a shock it is for people from the west to come here and experience all of the differences. For me it just feels normal now to have cold showers, ride crowded chicken buses and walk the chaotic streets of the cities. You come to realize that life is essentially the same for everyone, its just the details of how one goes about it that change. But, we tend to notice the differences first and they can shock us at times.

I am now in San Jose, Costa Rica, getting ready to head to Panama City tomorrow. I am going to catch the first boat out of here into Colombia which I am very excited about. Sarah and I decided to part ways, and my Buddy is going to be a lot later getting to where I am than I had thought, so I am going to catch up with him, or more precisely, he will catch up with me in South America.
I have an 18 hour bus ride tomorrow, then I should be out of Central America (finally!) within the week. I am very excited to change Continents after me extended, but wonderful stay in Central America.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

New Traveling Companion and my Computer is back!

Day: 269

Location: Leon, Nicaragua

ood news all around today. I have a new friend to travel with, I got my computer back in action, and my best buddy is going to be flying into Central America in a few days. All things that make me very happy.

My new traveling companion is Sarah, one of the people I had been hanging out with way back in Bocas del Torro. She decided that the working world just was not what she wanted to do for the time being and so sold her stuff, quite her job and came out to Central America with the intention of working for a few months. We had tentative plans to meet up in Argentina down the road, but since my plans totally changed and I ended up staying in Central America for so much longer and my buddy was going to be arriving soon, everything ended up working out.

Its funny how much things have changed for me on this trip. I had only intended on being in Central America for 2 months, but here now I am going on 5 months! I have really grown to enjoy Latin Culture. There are downsides to it of course, but for the most part it is a great place to be.

I think there is really something to be said for taking it easy and traveling at a leisurely pace. I feel that going slower and learning more about a few places is more enjoyable, at least for me, than rushing through places and getting only a surface level understanding of them. You may see less this way, but you get more out of what you do see. When I set out on this trip I had the intention of trying to see as much of the world as possible, but I have come to realize that its just to big to see it all. I believe now that you should only go to the places that call to you, get to know them really well, make friends there, maybe even live there for a while. Revisit them from time to time, and branch out to new places only when you really want to go, not just going to say you have been. In this way, I feel like your time and money are better spent and you will be happier. But then, that is just me, everyone has there own preferred method of travel.

So, now I can continue to travel with a friend, soon to be 2 friends, which is fun. Also, Sarah was kind enough to bring out a new wall charger for my computer as I lost mine the first time I was in Nicaragua and have been unable to get a replacement. I can not even express how happy I am to have this little guy back back! Now I can take time to properly edit my posts as I won't be paying per minute to use computer, and in a situation where people are waiting on a me to finish. Plus, I can upload pics onto this computer without a USB cord so I will have pictures again! I am very happy to have my trusty little computer back in action.

As for the current game plan, we are going to hang out in Nicaragua until my friend arrives, who is also traveling around the world, and we will all join forces to spend Christmas together, which will make it less lonely. After that we are heading into South America where we have a lot of fun things planned.

Things are going well and I will post some pictures in the next update.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Goodbyes are never fun.

Today was a bit of a sad day, I said goodbye to Tamarah as she flew back to Costa Rica to finish out the last few days of her trip and then head home to Canada. She is going to visit some faily friends and then take off. It is never easy to say goodbye to someone you have grown close to, but that is the nature of traveling and knowing that coming into anything makes the seperation easier. She is a fantastic person and I feel lucky to have gotten to know her and spend the time with her that I did. I hope our pathes cross again some day.

I learned another thing too, and that is that traveling with a girl can be a lot of fun. Now, I know to a lot of people that sounds a bit rediculous and that what makes someone a good traveling companion depends far more on their personality than their sex, but here is my reasoning. I have only ever lived or traveled with guys as an adult. With guys, I know what to expect for the most part. I assume they wont mind getting dirty, traveling in places that may be a bit intimidating, occasionaly sleeping in places that may be a bit dirty, and dealing with stressful situations that invariably arrise while traveling in a way that I am used to dealing with.
With a girl, I had a bit of a fear that there would be too many feelings involved with everything, and that there would be a need on my part to have to always look for ¨cute¨ places to stay as opposed to practical places. I was afraid that I would have to skip out on stuff that I wanted to do as most girls would probably not be interested in the same types of activities. I was afraid that during a stressful situation I would have trouble communicating and dealing with it in a way that I was used to and that would not cause friction. And, mostly, I was afraid that I would always be on high alert and stressed out a bit trying to look out for the girl with me as a lot of the places I have been are a bit on the scary side around here.

Now obviously those thoughts are stereotyping quite a bit, and that in reality there are a lot of women that would love to do out doors types of activities, explore chaotic central american cities and be fine in stressful situations but in truth, the types of girls that I am normally around, would not. So, to meet a girl that I was attracted to, that was fun, self reliant, easy going and helpful in any situation, no matter how stressful really was great for me. I was happy to have my fears disproved, and now with experience, they seem silly to me. There were still times where I was a little on edge going though rough areas with Tamarah, but that is an unavoidable part of traveling and an acceptable risk.

So now I look forward to traveling with anyone so long as they have the right charactersitics. It also makes me think that one day down the road I can live with a girl, as that was something that I have always worried about! I have only ever lived with guys as an adult and it was tough for me to imagine it otherwise, although it would be a pretty lonely life for me if I didn´t try it! These past two months have really been a great learning experience for me and have made me reevaluate how I look at a lot of things.

As for now, I am in Managua, which is a pretty rough city. I have never seen a city so impoversihed as this, not even Tijauana. People live in dirt floored houses if they are lucky, and cardboard lean-toos covered in plastic tarp if they are not so lucky. The roads are as often dirt as paved and covered with mountains of litter and the people drive like maniacs, especially the cabbies. Speaking of which, the cabbies here are absolute sharks. They try and screw every gringo out of their money. I dont mind paying a bit more than the locals, but here it is obscene. They try to charge you 20 bucks for a ride that should cost 4. They lie, beg, renig on deals agreed upon, all to try and squeeze you for ever last penny. I hate it and seriously lose my temper at times and start yelling at them. When you agree on a price, get in, and then the cabbie tries to up the fare mid trip, I just cant handle that. I dont like most cabbies much, to be honest.

We got stuck here because our luggage didnt come with us from the Corn Islands on the morning flight we took back to the mainland. So, we had to wait for the second flight over of the day, which arrived at night. That ruined our plans as we were going to go to Leon and hang out there for our last few days, but obviously we couldnt go anywhere without our stuff. So, we had to get a room in a hotel in a really bad part of town, go back to the airport and find our bags which luckily did make it over. Then to get our bags, we had to ¨tip¨ the guys who helped us. Tip here meaning bribe. Finally, we got our stuff, and then decided it wasnt worth it to go to Leon for only a day and come right back. The Corn Island trip turned out to be a really bad move as the weather was terrible and it is very expensive there. It was really dissapointing as we had been looking forward to it, but oh well. Lesson learned, always check the weather before going somewhere! We managed to warn a group of Canadian travellers staying at our Hotel about the Corn Islands and saved them from a similar experience.

The people here are very poor, too. You see kids everywhere working their butt´s off. They stand in traffic carrying all manner of food and drinks to sell for a few cordobas (one cordoba is 5 cents). Sometimes you see little kids swinging hammers or diggin ditches alongside their parents, its crazy. I am gong to bring my kids to the third world when they are young and show them how other people in the world live. Hopefully they will see how incredibly lucky they are to live in the States.

However, despite the poverty, Nicaragua is still, along with Costa Rica, the safest place in Central America. The people are really nice so long as they aren´t sitting behind the wheel of a cab and I still love this place, despite some of the downsides.

So that is all for now, all my love to everyone back home and I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Quick Update: The Corn Islands

Well, I am questioning the intelligence of our decision to come out here. First of all, getting here was a big pain in the rear, invlovling a million different forms of trasportation, including a little puddle jumper airplane that felt like it would fall right out of the sky if one of the passengers broke wind with a little too much gusto. The thing bounced and bumped its way to the tiny Big Corn Island and we arrived to pouring rain and howling winds, which have not ceased since we have been here.

Thankfully, the room we got is very nice with a pool that sits right on the water. Unfortunately, the weather has been so foul that we have had no chance to enjoy it. We were meant to meet up with friends that we have travelled with that got here a few days before us, but the ocean was so rough that they were stuck on Little Corn Island and could not get back over to the big island. They finally made the voyage back yesterday but said the boat ride over was a harrowing experience, and that it felt like it would capsize at any moment in the huge swells.

Tamarah and I are going a bit stir crazy as all we have to do is eat, watch DVD´s and look out the window at the near hurricane like weather. Well, it is not that bad, but it feels like it. I may not stay here for long as I am considering fairly strongly to return to the mainland where it is nice and sunny and cheaper. Everything out here is the same price as back home so my wallet has definitely been taking a beating.

The connection here is very slow and due to the weather, not always working, so no pictures for now.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Heading back to the Caribbean!

Day: 257

The last few days have been a series of big build ups to rather unexciting climaxes, rather like a lot of people´s Prom night.

When we arrived in Leon, we knew coming in that there had been a lot of political tension, warnings by the state department for Americans to stay out, and political protests, some of which had turned violent. We decided to come anyway and on our way in saw bus after bus of protestors making there way into Managua, the capitol, waving Black and Red flags. Apparently in the recent elections there was such a high level of fraud that the government decided to veto the results and hold a new election.

So, in light of this decision locals expected huge protests with rallies clogging the streets, cops with tear gas, rubber bullets, fire hoses, the works. The night we arrived we heard constant firecrackers, what sounded like gunshots and sirens going off. People were walking the streets banging on drums and dancing around in bizarre costumes, which looked to be culturally significant, but as for the political meaning, if any, I never found out. It razzled us a bit and the owner of the hostel here told us to expect a crazy day of political activism and that there was a good chance we wouldn´t be able to go outside. So, Tamarah and I called it a night wondering if we had made a bad choice in coming, but also a bit excited by the electricity in the air and for a chance to see firsthand people exercising their rights to protest a corrupt government (or in some cases, their support for said government).

The next morning was beautiful, sunny and hot, with people peacefully going about their day. We hung around for a few hours to make sure nothing would erupt suddenly, but in the end nothing happened. We were both relieved and a little disappointed to be honest.

So, we made our way out to a little village called San Jacinto, which was home to what we thought were hot springs and warm mud baths. We were picturing warm, bubbling mineral pools we could relax and soak in, and exotic mud pools possessed of some cleansing powers that cured the locals of all manner of illness. Well, this turned out to be another overly hyped tale, and in reality consisted of a few bubbling pools of sulfurous mud so hot that the local kids could cook corn in them. It was more like a vision of one of the middle levels of hell than the relaxing paradise we imagined.

But, it was still a fun excursion as the local kids that showed us around were very funny and energetic and made the day enjoyable. The village itself was really interesting, being built along a dusty, rocky road. It is crazy to go from Leon, a beautiful if somewhat run down colonial city some 500 years old to a tiny village just down the road and probably just as old that looks like it is just a few steps from the stone age. Every hut was dirt floored, with no electricity or running water. The kids had to run down to the river with large buckets to get water for the household. People got around on horseback and there were all kinds of livestock milling about.

The people were however, universally friendly and nice. A characteristic that seems pretty common in this country. The kids were just kids too, the boys running around kicking each other and laughing, shooting things with sling shots. The girls smiling and picking flowers. Its funny, no matter where you go, kids are all the same. Its only the culture they live in that shapes them into adults different from those of any other place.

We gave the little munchkins a few bucks for showing us around and came back to Leon. Tomorrow we head off for the Corn Islands, which we are both really looking forward to, but it will be a bit bittersweet too as it will also mean the end of our time together. That is the thing with traveling, you meet great people, bond, only to go separate ways with the chance of seeing one another again not so good. But, you never know. I have two friend coming in to travel with me in the near future too, so that will be nice.

Until next time!

The oh so luxurious mud baths...

Looks inviting, doesnt it?

It smelled like rotten eggs.

We saw a lot of people walking the streets in this strange costumes playing music.

The kids that helped us out, weird, none of them are smiling in the pic, but the entire time we were with them they were running around laughing and singing and what not.

San Jacinto in all its glory.

One of the little boys made this for Tamarah, he even put her name on it, although he speeled it wrong, but that makes it even cooler!

Rush hour!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Leon, Nicaragua.

Day: 255

The amazing man powered Ferris Wheel!

The fair with the Rodeo in the background.

Some of our new friends.

More of our new friends after the moonshine incident. Just for the rcord, I almost never smoke, that was a rare, rare occurance.

New buddy.

The city of Granada, Nicaragua.

A very happy cat.

One of the many abandoned houses near the lake, this one providing a home for a family of goats.

The beautiful lagoon.

Sunset over the crate of the volcano.

The festival in Altagracia was a fantastic time, Tamarah and I definitely blew off some steam. The day began with a parade in which the locals were wearing costumes and carrying palm fronds. I do not know why they did this, as I never remembered to ask any of the locals.

After the parade, we made our way to the fair, which was a load of fun. I really enjoy fairs back home and this one reminded me of a fair that we would have seen in a small country town in the states if we stepped back in time about 60 years.

There was a rodeo with bull riding, roping, horse showmanship, etc. A wide selection of tasty and cheap food, beer, the local liqour of choice, Flor D´CaƱa, potent stuff, a dance hall and some rides. The rides were the coolest part of the fair as they were all hand made out of spare bits of metal and plastic from all kinds of sources like car parts, scrap metal, and kids toys that were somehow melded together and covered with a coat of paint. The craziest part about it though was the fact that they were all man powered! There was a merry go round that used the transmission of an old truck and children's toy carts and bicycles and was powered by the owner of the ride who manually spun the thing. The kids didn't mind though and enjoyed the experience as much as kids back home enjoy our fancier merry go rounds. The ride that really blew me away though was a Ferris wheel that was made of scrap metal and was spun by two burly guys. They literally flung each carriage into the air, spinning the entire massive contraption! I was thoroughly impressed.

We met a ton of people to hang out with, including some expates from Colorado that moved to Ometepe island to farm and open a small hotel, a lone traveler from Kentucky and a boat load of very friendly, and very inebriated locals. I, being the dummy that I am, decided to take them up on a drinking challenge they issued to me. Thinking that it would be beer, I was sorely mistaken when one of my new buddies pulled a clear, unmarked bottle of moonshine out of his jacket and encouraged me to share it with them. Well, being the hyper masculine guy that I am, I couldn't let a challenge go unanswered, so I took a big chug of the stuff and it felt like someone shot a flame thrower straight down my throat! That stuff was potent! So, after going rounds with these guys, we all hit the dance floor and made quite a ridiculous site. First of all, Tamarah and I are much taller than the locals, plus we were the only two gringo's dancing, and lastly, we were both feeling pretty loose at this point and so ended up dancing like total idiots with a bunch of Nicas. Despite that and all the attention we were getting from the locals, we had a great time. We were out most of the night before we bid farewell to our new buddies and made our way home.

The next day we both strongly considered drowning ourselves in the lake to make our hangovers go away. Whatever they distill that rotgut with must be pretty crude stuff. We stumbled our way to the city of Granada, which is a great place to hang out. Its a lovely city and easy to get around.

We went on a day trip to a lagoon outside of town that sits on an active volcano and so has nice warm water. We spent the day there with a big group of travelers and floated around the water on inner tubes, played some basketball, and passed the time with fun people and good conversation.

We came back to Granada that night, had another excellent and incredibly cheap meal and got ready to head to Leon. We arrived today and are getting set up to go on a day trip to a hot spring that also has hot mud bathes. It sounds like a really fun day of relaxing and soaking up some natural beauty.

I sincerely love Nicaragua. It is a great country with friendly people and it is so cheap that you can really have a great time without breaking the bank, unlike Costa Rica which is fairly pricey. It reminds me of the stories I hear of the way America was during the great depression. I don't know if that is an accurate comparison obviously, as I never lived in that time, but from books and movies it seems like a good fit for the most part. People don't have much but they are still proud of who they are and their culture. They work hard, share what they have with each other and make up for any deficit in financial assets with a good attitude. People seem happy despite not having a whole lot. There are down sides though, things go a lot slower and there is a ton of corruption in the government, but hopefully that gets worked out in the next few generations.

Speaking of which, the state department issued a warning about traveling in Nicaragua as the recent elections here have caused a lot of protests, some of which have turned violent. We have experienced none of this and feel perfectly fine, but we have seen a lot of the protestors on their way to rally's. Things like that really make me thankful to live in a country where a pretty dramatic change in leadership can occur peacefully.

Well, I am enjoying my last week with Tamarah before we go our separate ways. Until the next update!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Goin to a watch some bull runnin!

A picture of our hotel in Merida, wonderful place.

The waterfall that I never got to see!

The new gang in front of the chicken bus that took us to Altagracia, this thing was so full you cuold barely move.

Walking from the bus to our hotel.

A shot of the lake from the beach.
The path to the beach from our hotel.

Me in the lake, busting the pose as usual.

My foot after my not so smart Ninja jump into the water.

The view from out place in Chaco Verde.

Another shot of the lake.

Our hotel in Chaco Verde

Our ride to the other side of the island.

Altagracis gearing up for the festival.

I cook a mean omlete!

Volcan Concepcion, the one I climbed last time I was here.

Making our way to our hotel in Chaco Verde.

I forgot how great of a place Nicaragua is. The people are just so nice here, for my money the friendliest people I have met so far on this trip (even the guy who tried to rob us on the bus pointed us in the direction we needed to go when we got off). It is very cheap here for traveling and the countryside is gorgeous.

After staying at Chaco Verde, Tamarah and I made our way to the other side of the island that is formed by the smaller volcano, Maderas. We intended to climb it as there is a waterfall on the way up and a lake sitting in the now dormant volcano´s crater.

Ometepe is a wonderful island full of friendly people and amazing scenery, but the infrastructure leaves a lot to be desired. Getting from Chaco Verde to Merida, which is maybe a 20km journey, was like trying to perform brain surgery. There is no bus stop there, you just have to flag down a bus, but most of them do not go to the Maderas side of the island because the roads are not paved there, but instead are horribly potholed, bumpy and muddy trails. We would have had to take about two or three forms of transportation to go the short distance. Fortunately for us, a tour was leaving from out hotel to go to the waterfall on the other side of the island. We asked the driver if we could get a lift to Merida and he said sure. Then, an Italian tourist tried to tell me that we had to pay him so that he could get his tour cheaper.

Now, I don´t know how things work in Italy, but where I am from, you pay the person performing a service for you, not some other yahoo that happens to be there as well. I told him I was paying the guy who owned the truck, and he threw a hissy fit like a true baby. After wasting everyone´s time, the owner finally relented and said I could pitch in on his fair. That isn´t right in my opinion, as if you agree to pay a certain price to go on a tour, then some other people join in, your price doesn't get divided by the number of new people, they pay their own fair. But, this guy was being a cry baby and had to save himself 3 bucks or else he was going to make every body´s day miserable. That three bucks would mean a lot to the guy operating the tour, as most of the people on the island are very poor, but this jerk had to save himself that money so he could feel like he got a good deal. As soon as we get going, the guy pulls out a camera that looked like it most have cost a good 3 grand complete with a lens that would make a National Geographic photographer turn green with envy. What an ass!

Then he and every other stupid tourist on the truck made the driver stop every time we passed some locals that were going about there business, washing clothes in the river, cooking over a wood stove, etc. to jump out, take their picture without asking permission, then jump back in the truck and drive off.

That sort of things just pisses me off so much and is what makes locals hate gringo tourists.You do not just run up to someone and take their picture without asking first, these people are not animals in a zoo, they are human beings just going about their day. How would you like it if a tour bus full of foreigners came through your neighborhood and then took a bunch of pictures of you taking out the garbage and then drove off, and then the next day a new bus full of idiots came and did the same thing? I was about to tell them all they were a bunch of morons but Tamarah asked me not to make a scene so I swallowed my protests. For the record though, she hates that too, she just doesn´t like confrontation whereas I almost enjoy it when I feel I am in the right about something.

At any rate, we got to where we were jumping off and the idiot Italian guy (henceforth referred to as the IIG) then tells me to give him double what the truck driver asked me to pay for our fare. So then I really gave it to the IIG and told him what I thought about him. It was petty but it felt good anyway.

Once in Merida, Tamarah and I hiked up to our Hotel, which was a great place overlooking the water. It was $10 a night and the restaurant had amazing food for about $3 a plate. We met some great people and had an absolutely wonderful time. It is the kind of place that you could spend a few weeks in, just hanging out, taking life nice and easy, enjoying a beautiful lake, mountain scenery and hikes, and great food served by the friendliest family you have ever met. I loved it there.

The gang went on a hike to go and see the waterfall but I had to skip it as when we were swimming the day before I managed to injure myself.

The water in the lake is very high right now as it has been raining a lot. So, there are quite a few rocks and such that are now underwater which you would normally be able to see. So I in my infinite wisdom, climbed onto a tree and swung off of it into the water right onto a rock.
Now the part that shows how dumb I was is that I knew the rock was there, but I thought that with my Ninja like agility, I would be able to land on it and balance without falling.

Well, apparently I need to brush up on my Ninja skills because I didn´t balance on it at all but slipped and my foot went down the rough side of the rock like a piece of cheese on a cheese grater, taking all the skin off the inside of my foot near the toes. Needless to say, I had to skip the hike. I should be fine though, I cleaned it up and have been taking good care of it.

Today we are in the little town of Altagracia, the place I stayed last time, as there is a big festival today and night, with bull running, food, drinking, dancing, etc. We are in a group of 8 and just got settled in and are looking forward to a fun night.

Until next time!