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Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Portobelo-- kicking myself I wasn't carrying my camera for this beauitful sunset on ruined ramparts last night

Just finished in time for Colombia

Have yourself a merry little Christmas

Hopefully I will be on a sailboat tonight on the Caribbean to the San Blaas islands, and then on to Cartagena, Colombia! So you may not hear from me for 5 or so days.

On the other hand, this trip seems rather disorganized and I just heard the possibility that we won´t be embarking until the 26th, so maybe you will hear from me...

BUT keep all fingers crossed that I will, indeed, be embarking tonight. Because if I have to wait any longer to get to Colombia I may just implode.

I am so so so so so so so happy to be out of Panama City. I am in Portobelo now, a very very small town, with ruins of forts that make you feel like you just stepped into Pirates of the Caribbean. Indeed, this town had quite a hard time with pirates back in the day.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Happy Anniversary Sar-- I mean, myself!

So here I am, month 2 anniversary. Casco Viejo in Panama City. Well, I think month 1 beat month 2, but I have very high hopes for month 3 as I head into South America.

-sped through El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua
-fell in love with Costa Rica
-hitched 2 long, free rides, and 1 short one
-lots of relaxation time (not my forte)
-within 6 feet of poisonous snake, 20 monkeys various times, raccoons, large exotic butterflies, sloths
-saw the elusive quetzal. I don't care a fig about this but everybody else in Monteverde seemed to
-read 4 books and so many pages of my Rough Guide
-hiked through Monteverde cloud forest
-hiked up Cerro Amigos in Santa Elena (I don't think I ever blogged about this, but it was an hour and a half hike that was all the steepest incline you can imagine without it being steps. I was pretty proud of myself. From the top I could see all the way to the Pacific! I also discovered that my favorite form of entertainment while hiking is to sing along to anything that comes up on the shuffle mode in my iPod. That includes pop, instrumental soundtracks, musicals, alternative, jazz. As loud as I generally would in a car. I am really glad I didn't meet anyone else on my way up there, because yes, I would have been exceedingly embarrassed. But it was great fun. I am so cool.)
-hiked to San Luis Falls
-hiked to those awesome falls in Montezuma and jumped off
-Fell in love with my name. If I had a drop of Latin blood in me, I would insist that my name be pronounced in the states like it is pronounced here. I. Love. It.
-Pacific Ocean! Again and again and again...
-two of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen
-one of the most dramatic days I've ever lived (top 10)
-met a Tico boy I really liked
-surprised myself
-broke up with my best friend
-was buoyed up by surge of love from family and friends
-spent WAY TOO LONG in Panama City
-snuck into a national park
-developed an absurd tan

Tomorrow I am off to Portobelo from where my boat for the San Blaas islands and Cartagena, Colombia embarks the next day! This waiting is KILLING me. I've heard that San Blaas is paradise and that I will never want to leave Colombia. Let the good times roll!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Open up your plans and, damn, you´re free

Kathryn and I took off for Isla Taboga for the last two days. We are basically just treading water until the 23rd when we´re off on our cruise, though of course trying to fill these days up rather than wasting precious time.

Isla Taboga is an island south of Panama City. It´s where a lot of locals go for the weekends. It´s a very small island, tiny town, and one beach that gets swallowed up in the tides as the day goes by. Very calm, pretty, nice getaway. I swam, sunbathed, snorkelled, read, got stung by jellyfish. We meandered around looking for a cheap place to spend the night and ended up in this guy´s house basically. He has a few rooms I think only Panamanians generally use. I´m not going to say it´s the sketchiest place I´ve ever stayed, because I didn´t feel at all in danger. I guess I´ll say the poorest. Really nice people. As always.

Staying in this town overnight was great. The island is off the backpacker´s trail, and definitely way off at night when all the day-trippers have returned on the afternoon ferry. It felt like a more ´legitimate´experience.

We took a walk through town during the sunset and happened upon the island´s graveyard. The graveyards down here all look like little towns because tombs are built above ground. There are many, many flowers, especially now when it´s not too long after the Day of the Dead. There was a door cut out of the back wall, and leaning out we saw maybe 5 old coffins thrown out back there amidst piles of old and rotting artificial flowers. We think there may have been bodies in those coffins. And there were definitely bones in one of the tombs that was falling apart.

We sat by the waves, eating dinner and looked at the stars, water, and long line of ships waiting to get into the Panama Canal. I loved looking at that line of ships, perfectly qued up along the horizon, all lit up throughout the night. The line was always long.

Meandering home after dinner, we heard singing, and all of a sudden every single person who lived in that town turned the corner. They were parading through the town singing Christmas songs. So we tagged along the end. Everyone ended up parading through one house where they were given a drink, a muffin, and a bag of snacks. We of course tried to politely decline, and they of course pressed them upon us. That was a lovely, unexpected experience.

We spent today on the beach again, though talked a bit with a German doctor who invited us back to his place on the island for coffee, and then he gave us a ride almost back to our hostel back in the city. We have two places on that island we could stay at for free now if we wanted.

So. I am feeling pretty content. Being here right now beats being back in NYC right now any day. On the launch back to the city, Kathryn turned to me and said Aren´t you so glad you´re alive right now? Yes. Overwhelmingly yes. I am not saying it´s not hard, but I am saying I am back to having the time of my life. I am so excited to get on my way, and to get to Colombia. I can´t believe I have to wait til Thursday! The journey there sounds genuinely wonderful. I am so glad I am spending Christmas out on the open sea. That is perfect. And South America is just waiting for me.



P.S. Kathryn knows this guy who is taking a boat up the coast all the way to Oregon. Planning on making it there by August. She thought she could hook me up as crew. It was hard to say no to that.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

P.S. Costa Rica is B.E.A.U.T.I.F.U.L.

Just, seriously. The cinematic view out of the window of a bus is literally unbelievable. I hope you see it someday.

I will be back.

Panamanian Devil

Yesterday´s bus ride was fantastic. I had two whole seats to myself and an avocado. It was 14 hours, but pretty painless despite the frigidly cold temperatures. I got to the point in the middle of the night when I actually pulled the Parada (stop) cord a few times to let the driver know something was up in the back. I figured, it´s so dark, no one will know it was me. I was desperate. I was literally dancing in my seat from the waist up trying to drum up some heat. In my sleepy stupor.

I also saw a pretty terrible film. Can´t get through a Latin American bus ride without one truly terrible film I guess.

I rolled into Panama City at 5 in the morning with no other plan but to hang out in the bus terminal for a few hours until a normal time to show up to a hostel. But a taxi driver told me Zuly´s would be open, so we zipped on over and indeed it was. Much better alternative. I checked my email, practiced my spanish with the attendant guy, and then bunked down for a few more hours of sleep. (For anyone heading to Panama City ever, go to Luna´s hostel in the old city. SO MUCH BETTER. And it´s an artist´s enclave. Best hostel I´ve seen for a while.)

My previous post mentions what it was like waking up here.

I met a fellow lone traveling female, Kathryn, who´s traveled quite a bit in South America and answered a few questions for me. I settled on showing up some place tomorrow and seeing if a cargo ship was indeed going out. If not I could grab a launcha? Small speedboat going down the coast= pretty uncomfortable, long ride down to the Colombian border. I wasn´t feeling great about these options, and after spending most of the day chatting with Kathryn, I ultimately have decided to opt for a 5 day cruise she is taking to the San Blaas Islands and more, ending in Cartagena, Colombia. It is definitely over my budget, and it doesn´t leave until the 23rd, but it seems like a much safer, more plan-able option. I am getting to Colombia later than I would have liked, but I still think the pros outweigh the cons. I´ll be on the sea for Christmas! That sounds great. I´ll lie low for a week here to try to save money. You know what that means-- plenty of beach time because the beach is free!

Today I headed out to the Old City of Panama with a gaggle of randoms here headed that way. I liked it a lot more than expected. Some beautiful streets with some urban ruins tucked away alongside. Some nice architecture, with modern skyscrapers right across the bay. Street markets. I was pretty content sitting in the midst of the market with all the hustle and bustle of a 3rd world country city swirling around me. I think I may be growing more comfortable in my mighty female lone traveler shoes. I´ll embrace this yet.

I had a dream on the bus yesterday that I was on a bus back home. The feeling of relief to be heading back into my comfort zone where the arms of loved ones waited for me was palpable. And then I woke up. On a bus to Panama City. With 4 more months left to go. This is hard. I know that I wrote before I came that I was expecting it to be hard, but I did not expect it to be this hard, every day. It wouldn´t have been if things had worked out the way I planned. But they are now. And my feelings vascillate constantly between This is too hard to be worth it, let´s head home early, and This is fantastic let me stay here for a couple extra months. Talking with Kathryn today made me really excited to get to South America. I really fear I´m not going to have as much time down there as I want when you add in the work time I´m going to have to do since I´ll run out of money.

Today a friend asked how I wasn´t freaking out. This was when I was going to try for the cargo ship, granted, which had a wildly uncertain and possibly dangerous air to it. But she was also referring to my lack of funds. And all I can say is, right now I don´t have the option of freaking out. I´m not in a place where I can indulge in that. I´m not in a comfort zone, with people I could freak out to. I´m in a kind of scetchy hostel in Panama City with complete strangers, trying to pull strings to hoist myself to Colombia. Freaking out wouldn´t get me any closer to where I need to be as soon as possible.

Today I also saw New Moon. Dear internet, I am humiliated I am admitting that to you. I don´t want to talk about it. All I will say is it was the best of options at the movie theater, and it cost $2!!! You wouldn´t believe how badly I´ve been craving a movie in a movie theater. It was worth it. I still hate everything about the Twilight series, that will never change.

I also had Starbucks. The kind they sell in a grocery store, but Starbucks nonetheless.

I woke up this morning to start asking vague questions in spanish about going to Colombia. The living area is full of people drifting around talking about different ports or dollars or cities that are completely foreign to me. So far I have gathered little useful information but apparently I could go on a cargo ship to a port near Colombia, sleep on the floor or in a hammock, maybe work on the ship, show up in a town I know NOTHING about it, and take a bus to Colombia? Or I could go 2 hours away to Portobelo, take a boat out to the different ships floating in the dock, and say Hey Captain, would you take me to Colombia if I worked on your ship?

This all sounds so completely out of my element my mind is a little, and by that I mean majorly, boggled. This is when I need a partner.

Time to continue asking completete strangers what they know about getting to Colombia.

In the meantime, picture me on a cargo ship filled with latin men. Whaaaaat.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Very enjoyable. A Sorensen book.

This nowhere near does Manuel Antonio justice, but imagine howler monkeys crying as you float in the sun

Planning on continuing the journey as previously planned, but cutting out Brazil. Brazil is just so massive, and really deserves a trip in itself (though you could say that of any of these countries). But it would give me a lot less land to cover in my last two weeks, and give me some extra time if I want to pause some place to work, volunteer, or WWOOF. Because money is an issue. Making my way to Buenos Aires in 4 months sounds a lot more doable than also heading up the eastern coast of this gigantic continent.

I do not, however, have any idea how to change my plane ticket. Here we go.

it´s hard to get by just upon a smile

Hey folks.

Eva left this morning to head back north, while I must now head south. And in her absence I find many thoughts and feelings swooping in to fill that cavity. I guess now is the time for the processing of all these thoughts and feelings to begin. It´s rather daunting, as I feel a lot of things I have never felt or experienced before, and I´m not sure how to proceed. I guess all I can do is trust in my instinct. It´s lead me through foreign lands before relatively successfully. I think I´m blessed with a good head on my shoulders, combined with a pretty good gut instinct. I´ve always been inclined to overthink things rather than barrel through them heedlessly.

The last couple of days have been lovely. Eva and I make good companions, and when combined with a beautiful location it´s difficult to go wrong. On Saturday we rambled through Manuel Antonio reserve, greeting monkies, sloths, poisonous snakes, and raccoons, and spent hours on its famous beaches. The water is in a cove, or a bay, and so the waves are incredibly gentle. The forest comes right up close to the beach, so you feel like the land is curling its arms around the beach, protecting it. It´s so relaxing. The water was warm, and we could just float for hours. Sometimes I like a rough beach, to feel like I´m really interacting with, contending with the forces of nature. But this beach is just what the doctor ordered and we decided to come back the next day to enjoy it even more. Saturday night we went to a bar where those party people from Friday were playing. And I sang with their band in a sort of open-mic situation for the first time. I sang ¨Bitch¨by Meredith Brooks and Cat Stevens´¨Wild World¨. I know, natural pairing. But both songs actually do hold a lot of personal meaning.

When I was in ¨Papa Married a Mormon¨at BYU, Katie (who was stage managing) and I created a soundtrack for the show. We chose a song for every character, and the song for my character, Aunt Cathy, was ¨Bitch¨. I belted along to that song with Katie quite a few times in the car, and whenever I hear it I think of her. She´s been on my mind a lot lately, as the anniversary of her death recently passed, and this trip is the kind of thing she would be all about. She always longed to travel (though she mostly talked about NYC or Europe), and didn´t have the opportunity to before the accident. I keep thinking she´s watching over me as I adventure down here. And I keep thinking how I wish she could have seen the world like this. I thought of her as I sang, and how proud she would be of me, singing out in front of all those people. Since someone so close to me passed away so early, it makes me appreciate life more every day. Even though it happened 4 years ago. Honestly, her death was a major impetus to grab my life by the horns and come down here. To live my life the way I dreamed, to not let life pass while I´m looking the other way. It´s an effective, if morbid or painful reminder.

I was first introduced to ¨Wild World¨when I watched Harold and Maude for the first time. But it really set in when my friend, Julie Glover, put it on her graduation CD she created for her friends in 2002. It´s been a treasured song ever since, one that continues to resonate with me years later. And reminds me, as songs do, where I was in life when I first heard it, as compared to where I am now. What it communicates to me is a casting off into the world. Something we were doing as we all set out from high school to college, where we would really discover who we were. Something that I do every day down here, as I set out to discover new cultures, new places, new experiences, continuing to discover who else I can be.

There is ample opportunity for reflection when you travel.

The next day we spent all day on Manuel Antonio beach. It´s extremely easy to sneak into the park, by the way. During these days I´ve been so content to be with Eva. But I keep trying to imagine what these activities would be like when I´m on my own. I would think, I´m really enjoying myself on the beach right now, but would I feel this way if I were alone? I´m really enjoying having this drink as I watch the sunset from this terraced bar on the hill, but would I have come on my own? Would I have the guts to show up to a bar and sing with a band if I didn´t have someone next to me encouraging me? I worry.

But I also optimistically move forward in my plans.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Montezuma's Revenge

I am such a lucky a girl to have such supportive people in my life. Your messages have moved me to tears more than once. Thank you thank you thank you.

The last two days I was in Montezuma, on the southern tip of the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica. I love Costa Rica. I feel a little lame for doing so, because it's a pretty typical American destination. But I have been going the places that aren't as ritzy, aren't as typical, though you just can't get away from strips of road solely dedicated to hotels and hostels. But. The people here are heavenly. So kind, so easy going, so helpful, so giving. Pura vida. That's the Tican saying, and the people here live it and love it. I am moved again and again by small acts of kindness and consideration that are practiced so commonly by the local people towards me, just another tourist. Pura vida. That's right. Some may expect that to mean a laid-back, carefree existence. For me, it has been something somewhat more intense. But pura vida nevertheless.

I was sad to leave Santa Elena, but travel is travel, and it was time to move on. Montezuma is a very chill, very small town right on a GORGEOUS beach. I took a nap once I got there, checked out the town, and then picked Sarah up at the bus stop. We had a relatively brief debate, then I passed out for 11 hours (I was exhausted, obviously). Retrospectively, I really don't know what the point of that debate was, when Sarah knew she'd be leaving in 5 days. And probably knew how'd I'd receive that news. The next morning we headed to some waterfalls I'd heard about. Fantastic. They are the hidden waterfalls in the forest you've always dreamed of stumbling upon. The first one, at the bottom, was the largest and had a 10 ft jump off point, which I conquered. After swimming around for a while there, we climbed up a wall of roots, clambered up forested ravines, hanging onto vines for an extra hand here and there. And finally we emerged above the bottom waterfall, to jump into and swim in two other waterfalls feeding into that first one. There was a tarzan swing, and a perfect high branch to jump off of. It was heavenly.

Headed back to the hotel, and you know what happened there. And then I spent the rest of the afternoon at the beautiful beach. Where I was able to appreciate the vista despite my emotional calamities.

I had dinner with a most delightful couple I'd met as I was traveling from Santa Elena to Montezuma. I am so thankful I met them, not only for their fantastic company, but especially for this perfect preoccupation which prevented me from stewing by myself at the hotel. They are both finishing up med school in Boston, they are pediatricians, and I am blown away by their ease of friendship, conversation, genuine interest in others and in bettering the world. Very optimistic couple. Spending time with them was really refreshing. I'm so thankful to be meeting so many truly lovely people. Pura vida.

I headed to bed, Sarah came in quite a bit later, and then this morning I was up and out by 5:45 and on my way back to Puntarenas to meet Eva, and then on down the coast to Manuel Antonio. Not another word to Sarah, she's out of my life for good.

The bus was 100 degrees. 9 hours of traveling. Just saying.

But here we are. Walking around town we passed a party that demanded we be their judges for a Santa tissue paper costume contest. And in exchange they gave us dinner, pumpkin pie, and invited us to come sing with their band tomorrow night in town. Done and done. Love it when random lovely things happen like that.

Tonight we're chilling with a bottle of cheap red wine, looking forward to a leisurely beach day and walk through Manuel Antonio reserve. Whilst I contemplate my future.

Having Eva here is such a wonderful support. She, another lone traveller, really is an inspiration.

I am, of course, forging forward on my own. I don't know for how long, and I'm not even sure where. But, as most everyone has pointed out, I would regret leaving at this stage. And I can always head home at any point on my journey. But I do have a lot of choices to make now, a lot of different avenues I could head down. I have to figure out where to spend Christmas (daunting day that it is), I have to figure out how to get through the Darien Gap on my own (the land border between Panama and Colombia is extremely dangerous, not generally used unless you're a drug runner. Alternatives are plane or boat. Both quite expensive.) Where will I celebrate my New Year's? I hear amazing things about Colombia, maybe I should just get there as quickly as possible.

Will I pause somewhere for a month to save money? Will I volunteer for a couple of months? Will I WWOOF? Will I follow the plan as it formerly was? There's a lot of thinking to be done tomorrow. Good thing I'll be at the beach.

Something my sister Anne wrote to me was the saying, "What would you attempt if you knew you could not fail?"

And yesterday, when I fled to the internet cafe for the comfort of my loved ones, a lovely email was waiting for me from my sister, Amy.

"Laura, I must say that you are proving to be a uniting factor for everyone. You have supplied us with hours of conversation. There is much speculation on where you are, what you are doing, how you will do this or that, lots of "I can't believe she _______" (hiked the volcano in Chacos, is hitchhiking, is actually there), when will she do this or that... I think you would enjoy being a fly on the wall. In fact, without fail, every time I have spoken with a family member, you seem to come up, you are quite popular in the Sorensen circle."

What an amazing thing for someone to say. It was encouraging more than I can describe.

So I persevere. Pura vida. On into the wild.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Sarah told me 5 minutes ago that she is leaving in 5 days.

I said "Fuck you" and walked out.

I went back and said "How in anybody's brain is this ok?"

"I didn't say it was ok."

"Fuck you. You just lost a life-long friend. All I need you for in the future is to get my shit out of storage when I get back to NY in April. After tonight, I don't want to see you ever again. Leave the key at the front desk when you leave."

And I ran straight to this internet cafe because right now is when I need to hear/read a familiar voice. I need the support of everyone right now.

I am reeling. If I were a good writer, I could write a book about this day, this moment. It's amazing how many things you can think and feel in one moment. I am trying to silently cry in this internet cafe, struggling to keep in the sobs that are going to be freed approximately 10 minutes after I leave this cafe on the most deserted part of beach I can quickly find.

My life is not supposed to be this dramatic.

I am overwhelmed. How does a girl, how does a best friend, do this? How has she known that she was going to do this and not tell me in the 19 hours we've been together? In the countless hours before that? How was she so spiteful to me when she knew she was going to throw this at me? You'd think if you had this kind of bomb to drop you would be unfailingly nice to the person you supposedly cared about previous to dropping it. You'd think you'd find a gentler, more generous way to deliver this news. I am not only reeling from what the fuck I'm going to do now? but what kind of betrayal am I experiencing right now? How can I have laid out my heart and soul to someone who has so easily spit on them? Because, read this with complete belief in how genuine it is, I loved her. Like a sister. I cared for her more than I've cared for someone in a long time. I had believed that she also cared for me like that. She's the one that used the term "best friend" first. I can't tell you what we've been through together. Really bad shit. I've had two best friends in my life. Katie Renville, who died suddenly in a car accident during college, and Sarah Wolstein, who has hurt me more profoundly than anybody else on this earth could at this moment. I am a good person. My love is worth a lot. And not only was more than a year's worth of my love just rejected, but I was severely emotionally injured. She knew me. She knew me. She knows how this is pulling my world apart.

My therapist is going to have a great time sorting this trip out.

Am I going to travel alone? Am I going to complete this trip? I have a deposit already paid on the Inca Trail the last week of January. Is this possible? To travel through Panama, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Guyana alone?

Please write to me. I need you now. Write anything and everything you want. Write advice, support, I-told-you-so, I don't care. Just write to me.

Monday, December 7, 2009

My next read. May make me miss NYC even more

Perched in the beauty of the mountains.

Santa Elena. I feel like it´s my convalescence.

I ziplined through the canopy this morning. Great fun. And did the closest to bungee jumping I´ve experienced so far-- the ´Tarzan Swing´. I sreeched. The Tican guys working there flirted with my quite a bit, and they were very cute. Good morning.

Yesterday I hiked out to San Luis waterfall in the cloud forest. Saw the sunrise and a rainbow on my way there. It was completely deserted, AMAZING. It took me maybe an hour and a half-- 2 hours to get there, though I was taking my time. Then I spent a few hours there and hitched back. I was so happy. Tiny paths, forging streams, crossing wobbly logs. Perfect. Mossy. Beautiful. Not touristy. Special. My favorite thing here.

I really could move here.

Every morning I wake up, walk a block to the local bakery, buy some fresh baked cinnamon bread, and eat it with my free coffee. Such simple happiness could be mine, if I always find an apartment by a bakery. That should be the plan from here on out.

I finished that book. I´m a little concerned by how close to home it hit on many different levels. But beautifully written. I picked up another book the other day for $1, so now I´m carrying around 4 books waiting to get to a good book exchange. It´s ok, it´s been totally worth it.

One more day here, then on to the Nicoya Peninsula and reunion with Sarah finally. I´m really savoring my last day and a half here. And Eva arrives tomorrow, that will be a happy reunion indeed.

And now I´m going to drink more free coffee and lay in a hammock, thank you very much. And yes, study some Spanish.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

I rambled, sang, finished my book. Delicious. All to myself, 10km out.

Up before dawn, hiking to a beautiful waterfall, not another tourist in sight

Saturday, December 5, 2009

¨But Lucy had been alone too much in her life, and in her loneliness she had constructed a vision of what a perfect relationship would look like. Love, in her imagination, was so dazzling, so tender and unconditional, that anything human seemed impossibly thin by comparison.
Lucy´s loneliness was breathtaking in its enormity. If she emptied out Grand Central Station and filled it with the people she knew well, the people who loved her, there would be more than a hundred people there. But a hundred people in such a huge space just rattled around. You could squeeze us all into a single bar. With some effort you could push us into a magazine shop. If you added to that number all the people who loved her because of her book, all of the people who admired her, all the people who had heard her speak or had seen her on television or listened to her on the radio and loved the sound of her odd little voice, you could pack in thousands and thousands more people, and still it wouldn´t feel full, not full enough to take up every square inch of her loneliness. Lucy thought that all she needed was one person, the right person, and all the empty space would be taken away from her. But there was no one in the world who was big enough for that. She believed that if she had a jaw that was like everyone else´s jaw, she would have found that person by now. She was trapped in a room full of mirrors, and every direction she looked in she saw herself, her face, her loneliness. She couldn´t see that no one else was perfect either, and that so much of love was the work of it. She had worked on everything else. Love would have to be charmed.¨
Truth and Beauty, Ann Patchett

Traded Kurt Vonnegut for this-- loving it

A not uncommon state for my feet these days

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Puntarenas. Sketchy McSketchertons.

really enjoying Mill Colour application on iPhone. It allows you to tweak your pics, and it´s free! My new favorite bus time activity.

Coke and toilet paper. My hotel in Puntarenas. For some reason this sums it up for me.

My night in sketch-town. This nowhere near does it justice.

In Granada, Nicaragua, I ran into a couple of dutch boys I had met in Antigua. They were driving to San Juan del Sur within the hour, and then the next day on to San Jose, Costa Rica. I was so sick of travelling alone, that I went with them. And catching a ride is so much easier than messing with multiple buses when crossing the border.

Now, I had intended to write a whole post dedicated to the positives of lone travelling. For now, suffice it to say that is is incredibly empowering. I feel so exhilerated and strong and amazing when I am travelling alone, conquering the world alone. In a country that speaks a language I am not that skilled in. In a dangerous country. Far, far from my comfort zone. Not to imply that this is a walk in the park, the opposite in fact. I feel strong because travelling alone is hard. It strikes at my primary weakness, loneliness. I feel strong because I feel weak. I feel brave because I feel scared. I feel that after this trip, I will be able to do anything. Because I travelled alone. I climbed a volcano alone. I manoeuvred through foreign lands alone. With the patience and help of the local people, of course.

Nevertheless, travelling alone is exhausting. I have to be so vigilant. All the time. I have to do all the thinking, make all the decisions. Figure out every detail. I don´t get any help with that. And I was sick of it. I wanted a companion in travel, and I wanted it immediately. I thought Kriss would have departed by the time I got to San Jose, so I went with the dutch boys. Well, turns out Kriss didn´t leave when I expected. So the dutch boys dropped me off on CA 1 where I caught a bus to Puntarenas. A small peninsula town really just used as the point to catch a ferry to the Nicoya Peninsula. Or, for me, as a point where I could catch a bus the next morning to Santa Elena, instead of going all the way to San Jose just to turn around again.

The problem with traveling on local buses is that I know the name of the place where I´m going, but I have no idea what it looks like, so I don´t have any clue when I´ve gotten there. I always have to be asking the person sitting next to me on the bus where we are, or if they know when I need to get off to get to Basilica Guadalupe or something. Sometimes that doesn´t work so well, like in Puntarenas, where I expected the bus to drop me off at the bus terminal. Which it didn´t. And there were no road signs. And no one recognized the name of my hostel. Or recognized anything on my little map. And it was getting dark. But what I think I am learning about Costa Ricans is that they are really friendly, and will take care of a wandering traveler. 2 people helped me to a random hotel around the corner from the bus station. It is absolutely the sketchiest place I´ve ever stayed a night. But it was just a night.

What do I do with myself in a sketchy town? I finish internet cafe-ing and dinner (ceviche, and a cocacola in a glass bottle for dessert) early, and spend the night in my tiny hotel room. Which miraculously has HBO. And I watch 1 episode of Friends (one I´d never seen before, I didn´t think those existed anymore), 1 episode of Skins, 1 episode of Mad Men, take a shower, hide my valuables, and booby trap the room should someone try to enter during the night (I guess I never recovered from that one time drunken men tried to enter my room in Kenya). I watched an episode of Frasier this morning. Can I tell you how much I love Frasier? When I worked at Sephora for that year at home, I would come home from my shift every night and watch 2 episodes of Frasier. What a comforting show for me. I was glad it showed up through the wires in my hotel room in Costa Rica.

Woke up at 5, caught the first bus to Santa Elena, and I love it here. It´s back up in the mountains, and I´ve got to say, mountains are really what I´m responding to on this trip, I can´t get enough of them. It was a longer bus ride than expected, the last 35 km took a long time as that´s when we hit the slopes, in a large bus, not always with pavement beneath us. The views were spectacular. I met this Italian lady on the bus.

Against all odds, I´ve been pretty content the last two days. And today especially. I immediately felt comfortable in Santa Elena, which is nesteld alongside Monteverde, a reserve and cloud forest (love the term cloud forest, those words conjure great images). Enjoyed some local food, and then off to tour a biodynamic, organic coffee farm which is part of a fair-trade co-op. The farm was BEAUTIFUL, the farm was soooo nice (and a demonstrative member of Farms against Arms, love it). His family has been practicing biodynamic, organic farming for generations, and apparently it´s pretty common around here.

What is biodynamic farming you ask (I´ll assume you know organic by now)? It´s when you take into account the placement in the moon cycle when you plant, harvest, water, cut crops. And you´re extra caring and nurturing of the soil. Fantastic.

I was so enamored with this place, this farmer, and the little coffee trees and beans-berries, that I asked the farmer if I could come back tomorrow and help him farm for a day. But I guess there isn´t much to do on the farm just now. I was pretty disappointed. I feel at the moment that I could easily stay here and work on such a farm for a good long while.

I think I will stay a week. And take walks through the cloud forest and other surrounding forest every day. I have a cold, which sucks, but hopefully it will pass quickly and not distract me too much from this place.

It´s days like today which reminds me why I´m doing this. Even alone.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Hear me roar

Caught a free ride to the beaches in El Salvador with Maxim, a guy
from Quebec who has driven all the way from his hometown, and will
drive all the way to the bottom of South America. Amazing. Spent the
last day or so at El Zonte beach in El Salvador: black soft sand beach
with crashing waves, as with all the La Libertad beaches, popular with
surfers. Sidenote: I do not find surfer boys particularly attractive,
but if I find you otherwise attractive and then I find out you can
surf (and especially if I see you do so), that is HOT. I then
navigated 2 chicken buses, and found my hostel/hotel in a large,
dangerous city ALL BY MYSELF with my turtle packs and my basic level
of Spanish. I did not get lost, and I did not get robbed. I am AMAZING.

I did get slightly visually/sexually assaulted. Just as well I had to
switch chicken buses.

Saw a guy wearing a tee-shirt with a picture of a common armadillo.
Underneath was a picture of a Nicaraguan armadillo, it was all decked
out with guns and grenades. As I am on a bus tomorrow at 5 AM to
Nicaragua, solo as always, this was not very comforting.

Sent from my iPhone

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Loving every moment of this.

I want to buy everyone I know a hammock

Not a bad place to spend Thanksgiving

Some quick pics.

Darren, Ellie, Jonas. At the top of Pyramid IV in Tikal.

Darren at the top of Pyramid IV.

This is the most famous pyramid at Tikal.


The gang loafing at Tikal.
Part of the waterfall I jumped off.

My feet are so dirty. You have no idea.
On my 9 km hike through the Guatemalan mountains outside of Lanquin.



The guy on whose bike I hitched a ride back to Lanquin.

Eddy and Eva in Antigua, without the smoking Volcan Fuego behind them.


On the way up the Volcano.
Just entering the scorched section of the Volcano.
At the top of the demon volcano Pacaya, above the clouds at sunset.

My spanish teacher, Cony!

Volcanoes are always a presence in Antigua-- this was last night at sunset. There are multiple volcanoes ringing the town.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Mi maestra

Maybe my favorite thing about Antigua has been spending time with my spanish teacher, Cony. Meeting every weekday for 4 hours, and conversing for all that time, has allowed us to get to know each other pretty well. It has been so wonderful getting to know so many things about her life-- one which is so different from mine. She has had plenty of difficulties and unfairness to deal with, plenty of heartbreak too. And she emerges a strong, self-assured woman. Honestly, the way that she deals with life, she seems more than just one year older than me.

Throughout this difference of expectations, regarding the trip and Sarah, Cony keeps telling me how I can't fully rely on or trust anyone. Because, as the Guatemalan saying goes, even my own self could betray me because even my own shadow could frighten me. I'm not sure how best to translate that, but it really struck me as both beautifully poetic, and so sad. I have been burned before. In my formative youthful years, I had several friends just suddenly decide I wasn't cool enough to be friends with. Or people have turned out to be more meaningful to me, than I was to them. And still, I optimistically resolve that I should be able to put all of my trust into someone. People should be able to rely on each other like that. Yes, currently I feel pretty burned, but I hope this doesn't mean that I will never trust anyone else in the future. But Cony insists, time and again, you can't rely on anyone else entirely. Only God (she is pretty religious/spiritual).

So it causes me to imagine my life, if I were only ever to fully rely on myself, no one else. Yes, I can trust other people partially, but never fully. And it seems potentially lonely. Though perhaps less painful. Is that tradeoff worth it?

I don't know how she remains such a positive, cheerful person, when she feels she can only rely on herself. Or how she can be so strong, when all she has is herself. That's truly impressive. I'm glad I've had this time with her.

Anniversary

Saturday was my one-month anniversary of this trip. So what have I accomplished so far?

4 Mayan ruins explored
1 major getting lost experience which we totally conquered
loads of awesome backpackers met from all over the world
became a certified SCUBA diver
learned Spanish
had a big-ass fight with best friend
mastered flying solo in foreign lands
jumped off a waterfall
climbed a demon volcano and enjoyed s'mores at the top
witnessed earth being created in all its molten glory
survived climbing down said demon volcano in the dark
hiked 9 kms of mountains by myself
swam in the warm Caribbean waters a lot
been played by a Scot
sick: only once! and I didn't even puke so I'm not sure it even counts
read: 4 books
not gotten any smaller; thanks to Guatemala
careened around mountain cliffs in the back of a pickup
eaten some coconuts
haggled
faced my fear of ocean creatures (jellyfish!)
explored 3 pretty different Central American countries
ridden in Chicken Buses
gazed out over miles of jungle from the top of Mayan ruins
learned salsa from Latin men in an Antigua mansion at 3 in the morning
been bowled over by the natural beauty down here countless times
gashed my knee cave diving
watched the sun rise over the Caribbean
had some fantastic conversations
had some awful conversations
found myself in the company of crackheads
played a lot of cards (too many rounds of Kings/Ring of Fire)
been a 3rd wheel
hitched once
listened to some amazing guitar work (Antigua)
become far more outgoing than I ever have been before
ridden a horse
been commended for my strength and courage (thanks guys)
become hooked on coffee
hiked through jungle
been offered weed so many times

So glad I came. I'm already a different person than when I left. 5 more months to go!

Pacaya

Saturday I set out at 2 PM to climb a volcano. Volcan Pacaya. It feels kind of bizarre to be in a land of volcanoes. In grade school I always felt like volcanoes were this prehistoric phenomenon-- only really existing with the dinosaurs. Yes, I realized there is a volcano in the states, but it was far away, not really in my world. Well. There are a lot of volcanoes in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. And they are not only volcanoes, they are active volcanoes. So on Saturday I went to experience one up close and personal. Maybe the most surreal, insane experience I have ever had.

As you may know, the only shoes I brought with me were flip-flops and my Chacos. Well, I'd been told that under no circumstances should I go up Pacaya in my Chacos. But one person said I might be ok, and I did not want to shell out $10 for some new used shoes, nor have to carry them around after. So. I went in Chacos. Well, I can now tell you that UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE CHACOS APPROVED FOR VOLCANOES. I love my Chacos, but in this instance, not the wisest choice. Also, I forgot the bottoms of my zip-off pants, so I had to go up in shorts. Again I tell you: shorts are not approved apparel for volcanoes. Learn from my mistakes, people, when you yourselves climb an active volcano. Because I tell you, this is something you should do before you die.

This experience also had some sentimental value for me. I've been planning this trip for what, 7, 8 months or so? before embarking. And that time period was filled with excitement, doubt, nerves, trepidation, the list goes on. Well, in my NYC subway stop, there was the following advertisement:

And every time I saw this advertisement, it re-inspired me. It encouraged me. I wanted to be that guy conquering the world. I wanted to be that guy experiencing bizarre, amazing, unusual journeys. I didn't want to pass by an advertisement in NYC every day without venturing out on my own to live the adventurous life beyond my comfort's walls. Sometimes I wouldn't think the trip was going to happen, and seeing this ad reaffirmed my determination to make this trip happen. Sometimes I felt scared to go. This ad helped me remember that nothing was ever gained without some risk. I didn't want to stay the boring retail Laura forever. I didn't want to stay the boring retail Laura one more day. I was going to go conquer flaming volcanoes.

And on Saturday, I was this guy. It looked exactly like that. Yes, it was a little bittersweet doing this on my own. And really, I cannot believe that I did this on my own, because it may be the most dangerous, the most terrifying thing I have ever done. I thought that waterfall was scary? Hah, that was nothing compared to this volcano.

What I regret is that I didn't have 3 more hours to experience this volcano. I would have liked to stop again and again on the way up, because it was a stunning view. We kept rising over the valley, over Antigua, with other volcanoes on our horizon. The volcano itself is so fertile and beautiful before you get to the scorched part. The sun was setting, and we kept ascending above the clouds. I'd never seen anything like it.

And then we got to the scorched part. Nothing was growing, the ground under our feet was a ton of tiny, black rocks, that slid as soon as you stepped on them. And immediately, my feet were in terrible pain. The pebbles, of course, wedged between my foot and my sandal, so it was like I was ascending the volcano barefoot. It hurt so bad after about 1 minute that I was shaking. Thank heavens Eddy gave me his socks otherwise I would not have made it for 5 more minutes. So, wearing white mens socks and my Chacos was not only an amazing fashion statement, it also made wearing the Chacos a little slippy. And when we got to the part where we were walking on cooled lava, this proved to be a little perilous.

The thing about walking on recently cooled (well, not really cooled, it's warm and even hot in places) is that this newly formed matter is like Satan's version of glass. It is exceedingly sharp, all over, in fact, it's like needles, because it could pierce my skin and leave little pricks inside if I just touched it when losing my balance. It's black. I was terrified of losing my balance (which is a pretty common occurrence for me), because if I fell, or even just bumped up against that satanic mass of needle-rock, my skin would instantly be shredded. Understand why shorts are NOT recommended? To be honest, if I had known what the experience was going to be like before I was there, I probably wouldn't have gone, I don't think I would have been brave enough.

As I was internally freaking out about the potential to get really hurt, I was marveling at how cool it was to be walking on this lava. Not only is it Satan's version of glass, it is also so evident how recently it was liquid. It's rippled like thick fabric.

At one point my small group of climbers was left without a guide-- they'd all gone ahead. And we were at a point on the dangerous, cooled lava that we weren't sure what the 'safe' route was. The guy before me fell (miraculously not getting hurt besides some scrapes on his hands). (The cooled lava would give off this awful, foreboding scraping sound when it wasn't strong enough to support human weight; we heard this sound a lot). So, I became the group leader. What?! What?! I moved forward, striking our path, not believing what was happening right then. Other people in the group had started to get a little panicky when they realized our guides had left us, so my 'Jack' instinct kicked in and I, of all people, struck out to choose our ominous path over hot, unstable, sharp rocks. And we made it.

We finally joined the rest of the group at the molten lava, flowing over the side of Pacaya. When the wind changed just a bit, the air hitting our faces was scorching. We stood above the clouds, by glowing, flowing lava, as the sun was setting. It is the most surreal experience I've ever had. I've never been anyplace that looked like the top of that volcano. It was a completely new experience. And I only had about 5 minutes up there, I was SO upset I didn't have an hour to not only just spend some time experiencing it, but to take pictures. I mean, as a photographer, being some place so foreign, so new, so texturally appealing, so beautiful, so different, so dark, so dangerous, it was torture not having time to capture it. It was such a different place, and it had such a surreal feeling to it, that I decided to forget about pictures and just experience it. I didn't want to spend my entire 5 minutes behind the lens of a camera.

I think I made the right choice, but it makes me sad I don't have a good record to share with family and friends, as this was truly a different experience I would like to share. I have a few, I'll put them up soon. But otherwise, this experience will just have to live on in my brain.

We roasted marshmallows over the lava and made s'mores up there. I will never have s'mores again without thinking about the top of Pacaya.

And then coming down. Oh. My. Heavens. When I was at the top, I couldn't stop thinking about going down. Because getting there had been so perilous for a sandal and shorts-wearing clutz that I couldn't imagine descending. In the dark. But, all you can do is move forward. And I'm telling you, every instinct in my body and mind and soul was telling me not to take the next step, because I knew that I was going to fall, and end up sliding down this unbelievably sharp, deadly mountain. It was DARK. And every step we took caused a small avalanche. And I've already described what the rock was like. It was steep. Everything in me was screaming to me to stop, and the only way that I moved forward was because I knew I had to. There was no other way of getting down that volcano. (I really wished I could just stay camped out at the top til morning. Not only would I get the time I wanted to experience the volcano, but then I wouldn't have to descend in the dark.) Seriously, I am not a brave enough person to willingly go down a volcano in the dark. The only reason I took the next step was because I. just. had. to. And then the next step. And the next. And the next. Until finally I was on relatively solid, level ground. Still being those little pebbles, but at least I wasn't on such a steep angle.

Fuck. (I'm sorry people who are shocked right now that I just said that word in such a public space as the Internet, but this experience truly calls for a strong expletive.)

I can't believe people don't regularly die/get severely injured on that trip up and down the volcano. I can't believe my travel insurance wasn't called into action. I could SO EASILY have been seriously injured.

And you know what? When I was coming down in the dark? People were still going up. LUNATICS. What the f*** are these people/guides thinking?

The walk down was great. I chatted with these 2 Irish guys the whole way, and then continued to on the hour trip home in the van. We went out for drinks after we got home and showered, and ended up staying at the pub til they closed at 1. And then I had to get up at 6 for my trip to Chichicastenango yesterday. But it was worth it, those guys know how to have some good conversation. And they were a riot. How I appreciate a good sense of humor. I really wish I could spend more time with them, but they're off to Lake Atitlan, and I think I may be off south, to the beaches of El Salvador.

I'm not quite sure what my next move is going to be. It actually turns out that I have quite a bit more time flying solo than anticipated. So wish me safety as I go it alone, and off I go to conquer more world.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

In case the last one didn't strike enough fear into your heart.

Pretty frightening. Brought to you by local crafts.

In cas you ever felt the need to sit on Jesus

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

This was my favorite. Chilean.

All of the artists were from Central or South America

This gallery was the most beautiful space-- a giant old tree wa flourishing right smack in the middle

Yes, I got in trouble for taking pictures

These two depict Santa Semana when the whole town parades up to a giant cross on the hill

Went to the Antigua Art Gallery last night

Sunday, November 15, 2009

mis libros

I think I was mentally debilitated when I decided not to bring reading books. I was being really strict, paring down my pack, but what was I thinking? I've found the following two books at hostels, but I am dying to read Jonathan Safran Foer's new book. Aaaaah Housing Works, how I long for your cheap used books right now.

Liked it-- beautiful imagery.
Just finished this one this morning, I really liked it. I was a little doubtful in the beginning, but there is some beautiful writing, great characters, and great stories. I learned a lot reading this as well. I'm sad it's over.
On to some Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

Poco a poco

Oh dear blog, where to start?

I am in Antigua. Sarah left this morning for Honduras. I will be here for another week and a half studying Spanish. We didn't exactly part well, things are kind of unresolved. I feel like I've been through a bad breakup, but instead of being able to curl up in bed with ice cream and my best friend, I am all alone in a completely foreign place.

Instead of ice cream, I grant myself as much internet time as I can stand. This is about the one thing keeping me together right now.

I don't really know what I can say here, anything I write is obviously from one perspective. I have already been reprimanded for sharing too much here. Suffice it to say, I suppose, that things have profoundly changed. In our relationship, and in our traveling situation. I will rejoin Sarah in about a week and a half, but I don't know what that's going to be like. Yesterday I woke up and the question actually passed through my mind, "What if I just go home now?" I hate that I thought that. I worked so hard for this trip. I expected so much from it. I was brave. And now I'm thinking about giving up? Well, I'm not giving up yet. I also seriously thought about the possibility of traveling alone-- I honestly don't know what Sarah and I are going to feel upon our reunion.

Maybe I'm jumping to ridiculous conclusions here. I certainly hope I am. But, undeniably, things have changed.

I am trying hard to put myself back together here, because this is still my life-altering adventure I'm on, and I will be damned if I regret losing a week to emotional upheaval. I do wish I wasn't tied to Antigua at this point, I think new sights and new people would be good for me at the moment. But I paid ahead of time to get a reduced price, so Antigua it is until the 25th.

I am trying hard to meet new people, and forge a new idea of what this journey will be for me.

So. Antigua. It is a beautiful colonial town. I was actually really surprised upon driving into it because it is so different from the rest of the country I've seen, which is in general a very poor one (though rich in aforementioned natural beauty). It feels old and established and european. It's a very romantic town. And apparently somewhat dangerous. My spanish teacher scared me quite a bit the other day when she told me never to go out past 8, and ABSOLUTELY never to go out past 10. The Guatemalans don't. But every social backpacker knows the action doesn't start until 10. So. I am now paranoid that a pack of armed men will rob me if not worse on the way back to my Guatemalan family's house which is in the southern end of town-- the more risky end of town. Great, I'm alone and I'm scared. But let's not get dramatic here, I will just have to find someone to walk me home every night. Perhaps that will be good for me-- I'll have to befriend a guy enough to ask him to walk me 15 minutes away.

Living with a Guatemalan family is also not quite what I anticipated. I thought there would be a lot of family time, a lot of practicing spanish time. My family, however, is very small, and they house students like a bed and breakfast. They provide a bed, and meals when I want them. No family meal time. But Elder and Marina are very nice, and I didn't want to offend them by switching to a different family. My fellow student boarders are old people. Who are not that interested in interacting with me. So my hopes of finding new friends there died immediately. My food is traditional and simple. And prepared with plenty of oil. But tastey and plentiful. I will probably be gaining a few pounds here.

My spanish teacher, Cony, is great. She's 26, and since all we do during our 4-hour lessons is talk, we're getting to know each other despite the language barrier. I'm impressed with how much I can understand already, even if my own communication is still slow. We had a great conversation the other day about the traditional Guatemalan woman's place in society, and exectation in the home and in life. She got married at 17 (something she regrets), and is no longer married. She is, apparently, very lucky to be able to have a career outside of the home, and she is definitely one of the more feminist Guatemalans out there.

I am planning on spending time at El Gato Negro, the hostel I stayed at my first night here. It's one of the most popular, and has a great little restaurant, so I hope to pick up new friends there. I am, of course, spending a great deal of time with the lovely Eva, whose pateince, independence, and maturity continues to impress me.

The big touristy thing to do here is Vulcan Pacaya. It is constantly erupting, so tourists make the strenuous hike to the top to roast marshmallows over the lava. It's supposedly AMAZING. I think I'll do that next weekend, I was too immersed in my internetting to make it to the tour today.

I have also only recently gotten over my extreme soreness after Semuc Chempey. The day after our trip to the falls and bridge, I decided to hitch a ride back to the falls so I could take all the pictures my heart desired, and then walk back to town and the hostel-- a 9 km hike through the mountains. Brilliant. Yes, it was beautiful. Yes, I think I got some great pictures. Yes, I loved meeting, greeting, and conversing with the indigenous people I met on the road. Yes, I was so sore. Yes, it was EXHAUSTING. I think it was worth it though. I mean, I am pretty impressed with myself, and everyone at the hostel was too when I walked (limped?) in at 3 in the afternoon. Good training for Macchu Picchu, perhaps? And a quarter of the way down the last hill, I hopped on the back of this guy's bike for the remaining km back to Lanquin. I did, unfortunately, miss some of the best photo opps that way, but who can say no to a motorbike down a steep mountain road? Not I. Thank you mystery Guatemalan guy on the motorbike-- if only I had the Spanish to have a conversation with you. So the soreness, particularly in my left thigh, only intensified the day after, and the day after that. Today was the first day it was completely gone. My knee continues to recover, though I think that's going to be a long process.

Please, overwhelm me with loving responses. Sometimes I feel bone-crushingly alone. I have met a lot more people so far than I expected. This is wonderful. And I am relying upon the expectation that I will meet more, even without the extroverted Sarah at my side. But new acquaintances do not quite make up for old friends with whom you have memories with. Friends who know you beyond the backpacker.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

take you wonder by wonder

Well despite all of my emotional baggage here, I just had the most amazing day.

As you know, I had french toast and coffee for breakfast. It was peaceful, I got up early and tried to embrace solitude. So, good start. Then we hop in the back of a truck which gives us a truly rumbly ride for 8 km to the river. The ride itself was worth it, seriously the views around here took my breath away. There are so many mountain tops, and fog is constantly shrouding the peaks. We went through the town and up and down hills and mountains, getting joggled around, sometimes whipped by branches. It was exhilerating and beautiful. We arrived at a green river. First stop, swing out into the river. The drop was longer than I expected. I'm pretty sure I'm one of the least graceful people I know. Next stop, into the caves!

I don´t have a lot of experience with caves, but these were at the top of a beautiful cascade of water, and we waded in, everyone with a candle. The candles, obviously, enhanced the atmosphere. Trailing through in a long snake of people, bobbing up and down in the water that came up to my eyes at some parts, hands raised above to protect the flames. I don´t have much tolerance for group activities, but today was just so wonderful all around that I managed just fine. Bats swooped, we clambered up and down, swam, avoided stalagmites and stalactites, at one point I lost my balance and fell, banging my knee. It hurt, but all you can do is continue on. When we got to a part mostly above water I saw I was bleeding quite a bit, and I hoped no one else would notice so they wouldn't send me out. Later, after returning to daylight, I realized it was quite a gruesome gash. The deepest cut I've ever had, and if it wasn't on my knee I would probably get stitches at home. But all we had was some alcohol to clean it out, and I sure as hell wasn't going to miss out on the rest of the day because of a silly flesh wound. It was nice to hear everyone say how tough I was, I've got to say. In the cave we continued along until arriving at a pool where we could climb up and get a perfect cave dive. I'm not going to lie, I was kind of scared. It was fun jumping so far down in a place where you imagine you must hit some rocks, but you don't. It's the perfect underground diving area.

On the way out, one of the guides motioned to a "shortcut", and I was the first one who got to go through. It was a tiny opening in rushing water. I was the only one on the other side for a while, alone with a single candle and my headlamp (thanks Anne!) I wasn't sure which way to go, as the guide was helping people through the small opening on the other side. I could either go up a ladder, or continue into another cave. I went on ahead alone, but it was so dark! and the reflections in the water looked like people, it was so creepy! I kept asking the guys behind me to come with me to see if that was the exit, but they wanted to stay for the guide, the pansies. So I went ahead, and lo and behold Sarah soon followed so I wasn't alone for long. We emerged into the light and the green and the trees. It's jungle here, but more woodsy than Tikal was.

After the cave was waterfall jumping. I have no skill at measuring distances, but let me just say that I think that jump was the scariest thing I've ever physically done. I'm not sure it compares with some emotional courage I've displayed, but as far as physical action goes, I think it wins. The waterfall was beautiful, the footholds climbing up to the top were perfect, everyone watched as you jumped out and plummeted (what looked to me to be very far below) into the current. And wow, my ass hurt SO BAD. I was so scared that my gut instinct was to curl up my legs as I approached the water, so I landed right smack on my butt. I wouldn't be surprised if I woke up with bruises tomorrow. And the water was cold. WOW.

And then there was more! We went tubing down the river! The waterfall, trees, moss, water, sky, gentle current, vines, birdsong, mountains soaring above, fog... Again, the photographer in me was crying all day because we were constantly in or surrounded by water so I couldn't take pictures.

And then there was more. We hopped back onto the back of that wonderful truck which drove up to the limestone bridge. One of the cute guides flirted with me, which helped salve my pride after me recent rejection of sorts, and despite my bleeding and gruesome knee, Sarah, Kriss, and I opted for the climb up to the top for the view. It was a 20 minute steep climb, and no, despite my 20 lb weight loss for the trip, I am not that fit. So there was plenty of heavy breathing and sweating, though I'm glad we did it, the view was worth it. We made our way slowly down to the bridge and the pools that have formed along the top of it. They're perfect wading pools that you can even dive into in places. It rained.

So, even though I was with Sarah and Kriss, and I like them both obviously, and their company, I still feel pretty alone. You know, they're all into each other, and I have no one to share my significant looks with as I experience this beautiful place. Sarah's looks are spent on Kriss, and I have... myself. I am so familiar with this feeling, but it doesn't make it easier. And it's just a week, after that I'll have Sarah back. So yeah, I can last through a week. But I want someone I love right next to me, grabbing my hand in a thrill when there's a beautiful moment. I also wished I could be out there without the big group, it's a transcendent place.

The ride back was even better, I was right in front of the truck as it whipped around corners, sending me leaning over a steep fall as I see Dr. Seuss mountains towering above. And so much mist and fog, I had a few jaw dropping moments. To add to this vista before, my truck was spirited enough to belt out Disney classics on the way back. Yes, this is undeniably completely cheesey, but I couldn't help but thrill when belting out A Whole New World, careening around corners of some of the most beautiful country I've ever seen, high up in the mountains.

Semuc Chempey is a MUST for anyone traveling in Central America.

We're going to stay another day because I love it so much here. I'm going to take a really long walk through the little mountain village of Lanquin that's nearby, and maybe even hitch a ride back to Semuc Chempey just to be able to take pictures. Though I am going to be outrageously sore from everything we did today. I haven't been so physically taxed in a long time. Walking in water and clambering over rocks where you are constantly at risk to fall painfully on your butt requires a lot of muscle control!

Dinner tonight? A plate BURSTING with vegetables. It is sooo wonderful to eat produce again! There are magic chefs in the kitchen here because everything is perfect. It's not just everywhere that makes such fantastic vegetarian cuisine. This just makes my cup overfloweth.

Wow.

Heaven, I found heaven

I woke up bright and early, and what did I have for breakfast? The best french toast ever, fresh fruit, granola, and coffee-- for $3. And the valley is breathtaking. Heaven.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

ups and downs in the mountains

Well friends, I am in some outrageously beautiful mountains in Guatemala. We recently got out of a little van we´d been squashd into for 7 and a half hours, and the photographer in me just about cried not being able to take proper pictures out of the window of a moving (rumbly) vehicle. I can´t wait to go to bed so I can wake up in daylight to see more. (I am slightly appalled by how much of a morning person I´ve become on this trip.) We are in a hostel called El Retiro in Lanquin, and it may just win Best Hostel Yet. We´re in bamboo cabins, in a beautiful valley, right by a river, down the road from Semuc Chempey. That´s a national park with, apparently, a stunning, natural limestone bridge. We´ll be exploring that tomorrow. For now it´s another night at a hostel with a bunch of people who drink A LOT. Seriously, these travelers, it´s getting a bit ridiculous. Is there really nothing else you can do with your nights?

We spent the last couple of days in Florse, and didn´t actually get that much accomplished there. Flores is a lovely island people generally stay on when they visit Tikal, a great Mayan ruins site. Flores means flowers, for a reason. And Tikal was deep in the jungle, massive, very overgrown, with wildlife around. I loved seeing the birds just wheeling around and around these ruined pyramids, gaping empty doorways. The best part, by far, was climbing to the top of Temple IV, where you can sit, above the treetops, with an amazing view of the jungle, uninterrupted for miles except by the tops of other Tikal ruins. Sar and I went with Darren from New Zealand, a complete laugh. Jonah from Denmark, another complete laugh. These boys have a great energy about them, even if they are pretty steep partiers. And Andre, a tagalong. We sat at the top of that temple for a good long while.

The hostel we stayed at in Flores was another winner. Called Hostel Los Amigos, it´s full of flowers and growing things, has a fantastic dining, living area, incense, occasionally great music, and was full all 3 nights we were there. Great atmosphere. And DELICIOUS vegetarian cheap restaurant. Umm, this place was made for me. It even played music from Amelie.

We are traveling with Adam and Ellie from Scotland. We met these two at Bellas in Caye Caulker, and planned to meet back up with them in Flores, and our path remains the same all the way through Antigua. So we´ll probably be with them for 5 more days or so. And then Kristoffer, from Norway, whom we also met at Bellas in Caye Caulker, opted to change his travel plans to spend more time with us, so he´ll be around for about a week as well.

So Sarah is currently in 7th heaven, and I am... a little miserable. I just keep trying to focus on my beautiful surroundings, waiting the week out while not losing my opportunities here. I don´t know what to say, I´m lonely. We´ve had some great company recently, but the past couple of nights my brain hasn´t exactly been that exercised. And I feel COMPLETELY lame at the thought of hanging out by myself reading or writing, my usual fallback. And my other usual fallback, Sarah, is currently occupied. At least while I´m writing this I have some excuse for being alone. Why do I suddenly feel like I´m in middle school again where I had to eat lunch all by myself? Part of the problem is that at night, when it´s dark and there´s apparently nothing else for people to do, they all drink a ton. And that´s not exactly my bag. Sure, once in a while, but every night?

I can´t wait til we get to Antigua and I can see Eva again, I know I really enjoy her company.

Sometimes I fall into these negative or lonely funks, and it takes me a while to get out of them. I almost wish it was just Sarah, Kriss, and me. Then I could just hang out by myself without feeling quite so lame.

But buck up! I seriously can´t believe how gorgeous this place is!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

where's the Jew?

Sarah has not been contributing to this blog enough, but if you are her facebook friend, you can see a lot of pictures from our trip. Just a tip.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Caye

OMG blog. If only the internet wasn't so expensive in Caye Caulker I would have updated you long ago. And more frequently.

After heading out of Tulum we ended up in Chetumal, a large Mexican city tourists mainly use just to pass through to the border of Belize. We arrived after dark, and promptly got lost as our taxi driver had no idea where our hostel was, even when we showed him on our map. Passing a group of missionaries, we bailed on the taxi, hoping to prey upon the helpful natures of these Mormon brethren. Alas, they could not let us curl up in the primary room, nor did they have any other bright ideas. So, having spent our taxi money already, we decided to walk. We periodically stopped to check in with locals that we were headed in the right direction, as there weren't any street signs to be found ANYWHERE. And no one knew where anything was. Literally. Not the hostel, not the street it was on, they couldn't even agree as to what the street's name that we were all ON. After at least 20 minutes of very muggy trekking with all our belongings, in the dark, in a questionable part of town, we asked a cop. He was confident that we would have another 20 minutes to go, at least, so we needed to get a taxi. We were SO LUCKY that the next taxi knew where our street was, and it was a block away. Success! And this hostel had a bunch of fun travelers in it chatting on the porch. Our walk had tuckered me right out though, so I left Sarah to be the sociable one.

On to Belize! We traveled with 5 other backpackers from Chetumal to Belize City, and then took the water taxi to the island of Caye Caulker. And let the backpacking bonding commence. We hung out with these five people for the next few days, and it was like having a wee family.

Eddie: 41, pretty socially awkward, occasionally crossing the line into inappropriate ("You should go to China, they'd love you there. Why? Because you are white and have big boobs. You'd have a rich Chinese husband in no time.") Completely well-meaning, and VERY well-traveled.

Matty: 26, Australian, tattooed extreme sports enthusiast. Spearfisher, amongst other skills. I believe he is THE funniest guy I have ever met. Fantastic comedic timing, and so friendly. Great addition to any gathering.

Celine: 24, Canadian, Matty's girlfriend, easy-going, sweet and has traveled a TON.

Eva: 20, from Holland, young but comes off so mature and on top of things, theatre person, total delight to be around. We're going to meet back up with her in Antigua.

Christa: 38, Minneapolis, traveling solo after her daughter graduated high school.

We hung out together during the day, and ate our breakfast and dinners together. We were so sad when the group broke up.

When we arrived at Caye Caulker, we planned 2 days there. And that was being generous, just because we felt we'd been on the go and had plenty of time for the small country of Belize. But as soon as we walked down the main street of this tiny island we knew we'd be there for at least 3 days. And, as it turned out, we decided to go back to school there-- for our Scuba Diving Certificate. We'd planned on going on at least one dive on this trip, but options are kind of limited when you don't have your certificate. Going for the Open Water Course would get us 6 dives, and far better opportunities for diving for the rest of our lives. So we committed to Caye Caulker for a week, since the class didn't start until Friday, which wasn't a problem for us at all. So here we are, bona fide scuba divers. It was fantastic. Caye Caulker is super chill, incredibly friendly (I mean really, by the time we left we were friends with so many islanders, these Belizians may be the friendliest people I've ever met), and it is gorgeous. Aqua waters, palm trees and coconuts, white sands, colorful buildings. There's one main street in town, you can walk it in 10 minutes. There's a fantastic hostel (which everyone in the group but us stayed at-- we opted for cheaper), called Tina's. Great ambiance. We hung our hammocks at Bella's, which is also lovely, though located next to the town brothel, with better kitchens, and we paid $4 a night-- pretty amazing for Belize, which is kind of expensive for Central America.

We met so many people during our week in Belize! Backpackers kept coming into Tina's and then Bella's and we hung out with fellow travelers every night, talking of the world and where we were going and coming from. After our core group broke up we hung out with a few European boys (Kriss, Pete, Tibor) who ended up in our hostel, add a couple of Scots (Ellie and Adam) and Frenchmen (David and Well) the last couple of days. And that's not including the locals yet! If you don't know Sarah, she loves getting to know the boys on the street. And there were plenty of boys on the street to get to know. We kept wondering where all the women were on this island because there was such an abundance of single men bumming around.

We, and all the locals, walked everywhere barefoot. Grocery shopping barefoot: delightful. One of the island dogs also adopted us, we named him Sherwin. I felt bad abandoning him today on the dock, but someone's been feeding him, so I'm sure he'll be alright.

So we just had a really lovely, chill week. Everyone on the island embraces Island attitude-- don't worry, be happy. No stress, running on island time. We had so much conversation, I read a book (Like Water for Chocolate), journaling, swimming, sunning, arguing, drinking, peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Some weird things happened too, but we just put it down to the name of the game when it comes to adventuring. We even ran into Adam from Cancun-- small world!

Scuba diving is beautiful, I recommend it to one and all. So peaceful, and beyond imagination. We were a big fan of our teacher, Hillary. It was cool to here her switching to Creole too-- she doesn't look the type.

I was sad to leave Caye Caulker today. It's a place Sarah and I both agree we could return to. A week sounds like such a long time to be in one place, and it kind of felt like it. We did a lot in our time there, and kind of turned into morning people, and as previously mentioned had an all-around great time, but i definitely had the itch to move on after a few days.

I am going to try hard to write more. So much has happened that I just don't have the time to write down now. Mostly just conversations or interactions, or arguments, but i would like to have a record of everything, not just posting where in the world we are. I'll do my best.

We are in San Ignacio tonight, and then on to Guatemala and Tikal, more ruins, tomorrow. I visited the ruins in town here today, I liked them because they're not groomed, things are growing all over and you can climb everything. In the jungle, really peaceful. Inland Belize is verdant. Rain forests. Beautiful (I know, i need to come up with another word already). I hope everything I see my eyes drink in, and it remains a part of me forever, because i've seen so much beauty in these two weeks of adventure.

Just a few

Our first day on the trip. Pretty good start. This is Playa Delphine in Cancun, in the Hotel Zone. There was hardly anyone on this beach.

Chichen Itza had fantastic goodies to buy. I bought one of these guys, I LOVE them. And I obviously loved them all sitting in a row together even better.

Forest of pillars at the Chichen Itza ruins.


After climbing up on some ruins (that weren't behind ropes), we caught a great view of the top of El Castillo over the treetops.


Unfortunately not the right direction, but here's a requisite foot shot.


A church in Valladolid-- a town we stayed in for one night after visiting Chichen Itza.


Tulum. Guh guh guh. The most beautiful beach I may ever encounter. I wished I could take a picture from the waves, because swimming out in that gorgeous warm water, gazing up at the cliffs and the ruins, is stunning.


Tulum at sunset.

Frenchie's! Where we got our Scuba Diving certificate. For 4 days I woke up, made eggs, walked barefoot to class at the dock, and spent most of the morning under the sea. Having your classroom be a sandy circle in the midst of a coral reef 33 feet below the surface is pretty incredible. And everyone at Frenchie's is fantastic.

We spent an afternoon babysitting Tyler, the son of the overseer at one of our hostels in Caye Caulker. He was so sweet, and so beautiful! More pictures to come. He brought out Sarah's maternal side. Hmm, is the clock ticking, Sar?


I wish I could put so many more! But the files are pretty large when taken with a D-SLR, so they take a while to upload. Now that we're getting into Guatemala, which is much cheaper, i will try to find more internet cafe time to catch up a little better. I feel like I could write a post a day if I just had the opportunity!