Friday, July 8, 2011


Central America or Estados Unidos?

I made a separate blog for my travels out west. You can find it here:


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Sasha says... Seabreeze, Snorkeling, Sailing, Sunburns, and Salutations

Being the awful Colocha that i am, this is my eighth and final week in Central American, but my first post on this here blog...
Caye Caulker is the Caribbean Island oasis that we landed on. We were greeted by Bobby who didn't have to convince us too hard to stay at his guest house, because we were immediately wooed by his bicycle, which was sin handle bars, retrofitted with the steering wheel of a retired EZ-GO. (two of my favorite things; ingenuity and bicycles)
Caye Caulker is a limestone coral island about 20 miles off the coast of Belize City. Quite small, the island was split in half in 1981 during a hurricane. One of the halves is full of Creole, Rastafarian and Garifuna islanders, accompanied by sunburnt Europeans on Holiday, biking and lulling about dive shops, open air restaurants with swings swinging to the bar, and lying in hammocks over the water. Typically the other side of the island, (which is being held onto as a nature preserve) is reached by a 30 second boat ride. It is not advisable to swim because of the very very strong current that would turn the couple hundred meter journey it into a 9 minute swim. Elisa and i were unaware (of course) and swam it unknowingly. (I did twice when i thought that Elisa was stuck on the other island at sunset, crawling with giant crabs, iguanas, lizards doing pushups and little birds). Turns out a lot of people go to Caye Caulker after Tikal, so there were a lot of familiar faces on the little island. Including our favorite lanky German couple that I toured Tikal with while I kept losing Elisa and Ari.
My newest addiction and wonderfully simple altered state is snorkeling. One moment, i am in the harsh sun, traversing the choppy waves crashing on the coral reef, and with a simple downward tilt of the head, my breathing becomes intentional, my body feels light and i can see the underworld clearly, things move slowly and with beautiful grace. Who would have known that there was a world full of millions of creatures, colors, textures and methods of exploration where my feet were treading a moment ago.
Much cooler and a whole lot weirder than outer space.
After returning from a day trip snorkeling with Manatees and stingrays, we discovered that we could take a sailboat down the coast for three days, snorkeling all the way.
Upon boarding the little green yellow and black sail boat, everyones shoes were put into a black garbage bag and and seen for three days. Two Italian men, two lads and one gal from Holland, a British couple, a Dutch couple, Tyl and Laura (our German Friends who we didn't have to push very hard to join us) and the tres coloches all squished into the hull as we departed in the rain. The crew sailed us off into the cloudy abyss as we all sweated and stared at each other. After ten minutes the skies cleared up and the ocean was our oyster.
We stopped a few times a day to pull in the line to bring in a fish or to snorkel , then ate sandwiches and cookies soggy from our salty hand. Rasta Mon and Jakob (the first mates) taught us how to spear fish for our dinner, and Captain Ramsey taught us how to steer the boat to the sounds of bob marley and Jack Johnson. All three of the crew were cousins from the town of Hopkins and Santa Monica, CA, but each persons story of how they were related was different.
The first night we arrived on an island no bigger then two acres. We pitched our homes for the night then snorkeled to the reef right from our front door of our tents until the sun went down, the rum punch stared flowing and the campfire lit... the island was ours.
Ari turned out to be quite the little pirate, sailing the boat in her bikini and black bandana, catching then (when we arrived the next evening at our next island) gutting the biggest Baracuda of the day. We celebrated Ari´s new found piratedom and our last night all together by drumming, dancing a hula hooping with some islanders on Tobacso Caye, one who had fashioned a drum out of a turtle shell. We tried to undersatnd the Creole that they spoke over the sound of the waves gently rolling up to the bar.
After a beautiful sunrise, followed by an encounter with a horrifying and GIGANTIC moray eel in the reef we continued on our way. Everyone on the boat was crispy tan by now and Elisa has come down with a strage condition only to be described as Puffy Lower Lip Syndrom.
That afternoon the inevitable happened... we arrived in Placencia and dumped the garbage bag of shoes on the dock. Ari and the rest put their shoes on their tan-line-less feet while Elisa and I tucked our rucksacks back into the hull. Elisa and I would sail back to Caye Caulker while the rest slept in placencia or hopped another boat to the next oceanside destination
In true lovers fashion, Ari waved and blew kisses goodbye from the end of a rickety wooden peer, green skirt blowing in the wind. We laughed and waved and joked as we sailed into the sunset. But as Ari´s little silhouette became smaller and smaller, the lump,made up of knowing that something beautiful and irreplicable had just ended, sank into my throat. Elisa and I didn't say anything, because there was only one things to say, and we both knew it. ¨damn I'm gonna miss that girl¨... so we hung our feet over the side of the ship, sat real close and let our tears mix with the salty ocean spray.
Sailing back with the boat meant a free ride north, no need to hire a hostel for the night, and guaranteed lanky wild dreams of the floor of the hull. We kept whoever was on shift company, watching the impossible amount of stars in the sky, learning about the people of Saint Vincent island mixing with the arriving Africans who never made it to slavery, tricking the European settlers, and canoeing to the mainland to become the Garinagu, And the story of our captains missing toe, And explanations of why the plankton glow at night. When we grew tired, we found our beds on the floor of the hull, being hazily woken throughout then night by rain, hollering and scurrying when the captain yelled for Rasta Mon and Jakob to wake up and help him, sails crashing on the dock, violent sloshing side to side, the announcement that we were half way there and out of fuel for the motor...
It was in all honestly one of my favorite nights thus far in my life.
With sadness, and excited wonder; ordering our first meals for just two in Mexico, we wonder what adventure Ari is having.
We are not ust over the Border in Chetumal, the Capital of Quintana Roo which is unfrequented by tourists.Within hours of arriving we find ourselves on a local radio show, and planning a 5am rising the next morning to ride bicycles with a group from the local college to a nearby Mayan ruin. After riding a few hours to the Ruin, and playing a scavenger hunt in the park, we drank gatorade and ate fiberey cookies. On the way back, I lost the handle bars from my bike, but not to worry, thanks to the ingenuity of some folks in a pickup truck and a man with a toolbox, i was back in shipshape to end the ride and catch up Elisa and the rest.
We are turning into starfish in the afternoons to escape the heat. And woke up before the sun again this morning for early mass, complete with guitar that is almost tuned, simple drumming and xmas light decorated Jesus.

Monday, August 17, 2009


When I first crossed the border into Belize, I immediately longed for Guatemala again. These two countries, right next to one another, are immensely different and it took me a while to truly warm up to Belize. Belize seemed less cultural and more Americanized, more touristy. And it is... yet it is a very diverse place as well, with Mayans, Garifunas, West Indians, and Chinese. With how beautiful the country is and its access to some of the world's most amazing coral reefs, it is no wonder the country is a big tourist attraction. And your experience here will only be what you let it. If you only snorkel or dive and sit on the beach with other tourists, then you'll never fall in love with the native people. Every country has it's hardships and you can't blame the locals for how their government has sold out on their own country's resources. Belize's coastline is mostly owned by rich American, British, and Canadian expats; most of their produce is shipped to first-world countries; their taxes go towards building more over-the-top resorts instead of education and health care. The people speak of corruption and poor education systems, while they serve this visiting little white girl a breakfast of eggs, beans, fryjacks, and plantains. And such is life here.

Last Tuesday, the girls and I embarked on a three day sailing trip from Caye Caulker to Placencia on the southern coast. This was one of our most expensive excursions, but well worth it! I got to raise the sail and steer the sailboat a couple of times, so that makes me a pirate now, right? :) My first time fishing, I caught a mutton snapper on the first day and a barracuda on the second. Sure, I'm vegetarian, but I will eat what I've caught and gutted for myself. Maybe I'm a pescatarian for this trip, lol. We snorkeled among the corals and brightly colored fish about three times a day, and then camped on little islands each night.

The end of the trip was a happy and sad one, since it was my last day with the chicas. Sasha and Elisa returned to Caye Caulker on the boat in order to get to Belize City and then to Mexico. Sasha has a flight to catch back to the states on the 20th and Elisa will be meeting her friend up there before she flies to Honduras for her new teaching job. Honestly, the past 6-7 weeks were so wonderful traveling with them! I haven't been that close with girls in a long while. We shared everything! I wouldn't have wanted our trip to be any different than it was, and I felt so comfortable traveling with such strong (and silly) women. And so las tres colochas have gone their separate ways... for now. I will miss you guy! <3 <3 <3

My first night alone was okay. I'm not a huge fan of Placencia-- too touristy. I'm so happy I traveled to Hopkins on the next day. Hopkins is a small coastal town home to a community of Garifuna people, the descendants of African slaves mixed with indiginous Caribs from the islands. I spent three days there, at a drumming center, with some of the warmest people I have ever met. If you ever go to Hopkins, stay at Lebeha! The place was cute and cozy and I don't think I could ever complain about the noise, some of the best drumming I've ever heard. Jabar teaches traditional Garifuna percussion while his Canadian wife blends smoothies and greets the guests. Jabar's drumming group consist of several young drummers from the village, who have competed nation-wide and are said to be the best. They performed for us on Friday night, and everyone danced until their feet swelled.

The next day, I traveled to Cockscomb Wildlife Sanctuary with KB, a traveler from Austin who was staying at the drumming center too. We hiked to the top of a ridge and then down to a double waterfall, with crystal blue water perfect for swimming. That night, the center arranged a traditional Garifuna dinner with us and invited the townspeople. Coconut barracuda soup with mashed plantains, yum yum! The group was excited that we happened to be there in time to experience a traditional celebration that occurs after the wake of a village member. The village played drums, drank, danced, and handed out traditional foods until 6 in the morning. This tradition is to send the spirit off properly after recognizing their life. If this wasn't enough, the drummers brought us to another party in a thatch roof hut on the edge of town, with a DJ that blasted reggae and punta all night. From the hiking and the dancing, my legs were done!

It was hard to say goodbye, but I knew I had to make my journey to Punta Gorda (PG) and here I am. Tomorrow, I will take a boat to Livingston, Guatemala and continue my travels through the eastern part of the country till my flight to Costa Rica on the 25th. On the way, I'll visit some thermal waterfalls and caves. In CR, I'll meet up with family and try to learn how to surf, visit more sea turtles and volcanoes before heading back to the states.

Until my next internet encounter, love

Saturday, August 8, 2009

The ruin of an ancient land

Entonces, this past week was spent traveling from Pana to Flores. In Flores, we stayed in a hostel for a night and rented bikes to take around the little island and to the neighboring city. Never could you appreciate the breeze from riding a bike as I did, lol. Then we splashed around in the crystal blue lake, watching the sunset before Sasha ran into a water snake and swam as fast as she could to get away. The little kids giggled and said it was harmless, then showing us another snake along the marsh, dead but of the same kind as Sasha had seen. The next day included more swimming, a boat ride to a mirador that overlooked the lake and the little island, and then off to Tikal! On that day, we picked up our fourth "Colocha" for the third time in our trip. I don't remember if I explained this, but some people have been naming us "Las Tres Colochas" for our curly hair, though Sasha has waves more than curls. And when you travel in a group and meet those cool cats traveling alone, you take them along with you for your next adventure. Colocha Uno was Hannah, who joined us in Monterrico after meeting us at the mountain school. Colocha Dos was Abby, who we met in Monterrico and then traveled with to San Lucas and Reu for the permaculture project. For our trip to Tikal, we traveled with Stephen, a german guy we had met at the hostel in Flores. Ok, more of a Colocho than a colocha, but he did have curly hair!

We arrived at Tikal in the late afternoon, still determined to see something that day. Despite the fact that the park closed at 6, we stayed till dark and bribed the guards to let us watch the sunset from Temple 4, the tallest of the temples. We were then escorted back through the jungle, amongst only the sounds of lively creatures and the light from the full moon beside the Temple of Jaguar.
The next morning was an early one, waking up at 4:30 to have the guards sneak us in to watch the sunrise from Temple 5. The fog hung close to the tropical trees and seeping through the ruins we could see in the distance. The howler monkeys began their morning choir, adding goosebumps to the whole experience. These temples were built aligned to the rising and setting of the sun, as the Mayan compass was with the east as red with the power of the sun and the west as black for the sun heading to the underworld.
In our sleepy stupor, Eilsa and I went back to the hotel for breakfast. We only had two or so hours left to explore before our bus would take us on our way to the Belizean border. Elisa truly wanted a guide to answer all of our questions, and somehow we found the guide of all guides, Francisco Esteban, who had worked at the park for 60 or so years. Francisco told us a bit of the history while leading us through the jungle. All the while, his senses were open and perked up to the slightest sounds. The ears and nose of Francisco led us to a family of Howler monkeys, some spider monkeys, a tucan, a baby croc, leaf cutter ants (that farm fungi!), and a furry creature that's a relative of the raccoon. No jaguars, sorry! Our guide also showed us the meaning of Tikal by clapping his hands in front of one of the temples, the sound traveling to the top and bouncing back to us. The city had been designed with these acoustics to represent the gods response from the tops of the temples. They were incredibly knowledgeable people, able to build amazing structures and farm in unison with the environment all with their technology. Researchers only have guesses to why this great ancient city was abandoned, including Spanish invasion, weather changes, soil fertility, and other speculations. Francisco mentioned how the Vatican still holds some of the sacred Mayan texts and won't let archeologists view them. There is something about the year 2012 in the texts as well. There was so much more described, I'll have to write about this later.

And so, two days ago we crossed the border into Belize, saying goodbye to Guatemala after 6 weeks of incredible journey. I'll return to Guat for a week after I part with the girls and before I head to Costa Rica to see my uncle and sister.
Belize is quite a different place with more of a Caribbean feel to it. The people here speak Spanish, English and Creole. I hope I don't lose my Spanish while I'm here since everyone has been speaking English to us! We've been staying at an ecolodge type place with a butterfly sanctuary, composting toilets, and little wood cabins.
Yesterday was spent on a trek to a magical cave! We swam through the clear blue water in the cave and scrambled along the sandstone, limestone, slate rocks till we reached Mayan artifacts among the sparkling stalactites and stalagmites. This cave was seen as the underworld to the Mayans and they performed sacrifices and rituals here to release evil spirits. Broken pottery and calcified bones were sealed into the floor once a pool of minerals and mountain water. I felt like I was on some Disney ride, it was so unreal! I kind of didn't want to leave, the water was so wonderful to swim in and the ceilings were covered in natural crystal chandeliers. Actun Tunichnil Muchnal, the name of the cave, is said to be one of the most interesting caves in Central America and was featured in a national geographic special. The guides work to keep people from stealing or touching the artifacts and crystal structures in hopes to preserve the cave. It was truly an experience.

Tomorrow we leave for the Caribbean coast. We have a little over a week left with each other. I really have no perception of time here and now it is almost over! I'm sure Elisa and Sasha will write some more in the next week.
Hope all is well at home! Love and miss you all!

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Ex. Guerrilla Coffee in the Mountains

Santa Anita is a beautiful coffee finca, tucked away on a bumpy dirt road accessible only by a packed pickup, babies and baskets of produce balanced on its sides. Like the other rural towns, Santa Anita had a little school, slanted grass used for football and little open houses with dirt floor, wood burning stoves, and plastic lawn chairs as the main furniture. The special thing about Santa Anita, though, is that all of its 40 families were members of the Guerrillas during the civil war in Guatemala, many of them exiled to Mexico for a portion of the children's lives. After exile the community banded together and decided to make their own paradise in their home, Guatemala, and bought an abandoned coffee farm. Now producing organic fair trade coffee and bananas the community has learned to grow coffee, working communally to run their community.

They also have a small eco tourism operation, which is how we were there. We got to live in the old plantation owners house, and Ari and Sasha worked during the mornings with members of the community filling little bags of dirt for planting the newly donated better producing coffee seeds in to grow baby trees. I got to teach English in the school, working one hour in all three of the different age groups, playing games about colors or running pretend fruit stands. I even taught the kids "Hi, my name is Joe" for those of you that know that silly song.

Each of us got to eat with a different family, Sasha spent her nights hiding under beds playing hide and go seek with the little big eyed scragamuffins that lived in her house, Ari got in political discussions with her house father, and I mostly sat around, admiring the beauty of my house mother and how she joked with her three little boys, and never seemed to stop smiling.

We had to leave Santa Anita too early--we all felt like we could stay there for months (and a lot of people do) and set off for a music festival that the Guatemalan hippies of last week invited us too. Yesterday we arrived in Panahachel (or gringo-tenango as people here call it) full of flowey yoga pants, yogurt, and hand made earrings. The town is set on the lake and is beautiful, we are already dreaming about renting kayaks, eating lots of things that aren't eggs and beans, and all the presents that we can buy. The festival was not really what we imagined it to be, but i think that it will be hard for us to flag down a brightly colored bus and bump up the mountain to a new location, even though we know we must leave soon.

The pressing time constraint is me and my future job teaching English in Central America. I cant write any more yet, because i am not sure, but i think that i will have a decision very soon, and be able to drop the elephant of concern and nervousness into the lake and head off on a new adventure.

Hasta luego,

photos! yes, finally! and more to come..

In order as shown:
Elisa and I sipping our drinks at a cafe on the white sand beach of Cancun. (day 2)
Elisa and Sasha wallowing in the heat of Monterrico, reading from the hammocks we were glued to. (week 3)
Our first arrival at the Pacific. We dropped all our belongings and ran to the waves! (week 3)
Assessing our wet crotches due to the waves. (week 3)
Jungle Lady Sasha looking over the sprouts at IJATZ in San Lucas Toliman. (week 4)
Our pet pig! No, just another piggy at the Santa Anita co-op coffee farm.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Mujeres Mam

Hey everyone! We are back in Xela to clean up and take care of some business. We really needed a nice hot shower, lol.
First off, I feel it is a little unfortunate that I have not been including my thoughts and discoveries in this blog, only our whereabouts and doings. There is much that I can´t describe through these posts, not only without enough time and without being able to upload pictures, but also in a cognitive beyond. I am trying to record some of my thoughts on paper and hopefully will have time to write some true posts in here. I´m not regretting it though, because this is travel of course and is of no surprise. I just want to share a lot more with all of you and I´ll probably do so when I see you again. My only worry is about forgetting all I wanted to say! The fact that I can use my camera again (thanks to a fellow friendly traveler lending me his camera lens and another fellow traveler helping to store some of my photos since my card is full) will certainly help bring back the moments to memory. You know how I love to take photos!

This past week we worked with a man named Rony, who is essentially a Guatemalan hippy with a wealth of knowledge on the surrounding flora, permaculture, politics, and other insights that I was able to relate to. Very nice guy. I found his contact online and set up for us to volunteer at the permaculture projects he has going at San Lucas Toliman off of Lago de Atitlan. He does run on ¨Guatemalan time¨ but he certainly came through with putting us to work. The first two days were spent working with the IJATZ, an association that is switching from coffee farming to ecotourism and has a plot of land designed to alleviate the flooding and sediment problems in San Lucas. Rony wants to work more with land used for producing food for the people of the village and so does not want to deal with IJATZ´s coffee production (as coffee is a cash crop and the king of these parts). So we weeded their medicinal herb garden, husked red beans, cleaned rabbit cages (the rabbits are food for the people) and so on. We also make tortillas with the women´s cooperative cooking group that is associated with IJATZ. Very exciting, but difficult for us gringos! I´ll have to practice.
On Friday, Rony took us down to the ¨costa¨out of the mountain highlands, to a pueblo near Reu. There we worked on a blitz project with a women´s cooperative that also has a Mayan weaving school. We fixed up their garden and helped them build a water system. It was an awesome experience working with the women, who had such community in their little pueblo. They spoke a dialect of Mam (Mayan) that was so neat to listen to. I couldn´t understand them much and they hardly understood me, but it was easy to work side by side with them and respect each other.
After working on the project, Rony and his friends showed us an archaeological park with Mayan ruins set in the jungle. It was so beautiful, I was beaming! Yeah, imagine me running around with my camera. Rony and his friends helped translate what the guide was saying and helped explain the significance of the stones. The spiritual presence was felt.

Ah! OK I must go! Tomorrow we leave to work on the organic coffee co-operative farm and then back to Lago for a music and art festival that Rony´s friend Rene is performing in.