Journey through Central America 2010: Part 1 December
Dearest Friends and Family,
As you may know, I recently embarked on a month long journey through central America, with Ecuador as my final destination. I have been traveling with my roommate Julia, who will accompany me until new years or so, at which point she will have to return to Cancun to fly back to California for school. Its hard to believe we are already half way through our trip together, but it also feels like so much has happened. It has been a different experience for both of us because we have spent a lot of time traveling alone in the past couple years, and its a whole different game to work together, but so far we have proven to be a very strong team! This trip is also unique because we are making it happen with very very little money (I will most likely barely have enough to get me to Ecuador, where I will be working with a father-son team of wood carvers from New Zealand, playing the role of ¨Conductress of Collaborative Entertainment¨as we work to build this eco-village/wood carving center/circus school/performance venue in the small town of Ayampe, just north of the popular surf town of Montanita). We have been camping and couchsurfing a lot, hitchhiking when its safe, taking cheap local buses when its not, and cooking as much as possible to save money.
Our journey got off to a bit of a rough start when we failed to check the caltrain schedule and barely made it to the airport on time. Then we had a 12 hour overnight layover in Miami and ended up going dancing at a really funny club in the middle of nowhere in a mostly Latino neighborhood. We got back to the airport and couldn´t get our bags (or our sleeping bags) from baggage claim, so we nearly froze, cuddled together on the floor upstairs until it opened at 5 am. Then we slept warm and in peace, but our alarm failed and we woke up just over an hour before our international flight to Cancun. We would have made it except that the check-in machine wouldn´t scan our passports and we had to enter all our info, making us 3 minutes late. We were frantic and dragged ourselves over to talk to an agent thinking we´d really fucked up. And we had....but then luck changed. The woman at the desk told us we would probably have to pay at least $150 to get on another flight, but when she saw our faces and we started to beg her to just send us anywhere in Central America, she listened to our story, took pìty on us and somehow worked some serious magic. She was quiet for a long time, typing away, and then took our hands, gave us two tickets on the next plane out and told us to please just be careful! So needless to say we learned some serious lessons that day....
And then, there we were on the white sandy beaches of PLAYA DEL CARMEN, just south of Tulum. We found a really cool hostel with chill people and lots of latino travelers, and ended up staying a few days and meeting up with our friend Ana Diaz from school at the Coba Ruins and spending one final night in Playa. But the touristy Yucatan peninsula was not what we were looking for, and we began to follow one of the primary rules of our trip: head south, always south. We learned of a beautiful lake in the town of Bacalar in the southern part of mexico and made our way there by bus. It was dark by the time we arrived and were dropped off on the side of the highway and we had no idea how to get to a camp ground. Luckily we ran into an awesome guy from Estonia in town who took us to the back yard (Escocolitos it was called) of an older couple that had allowed him to camp right on the lake. They let us stay too, and we made dinner, shared chocolate and stories and slept our first night outside. The ¨lake of seven colors¨ as it is known was absolutely stunning, and we spent the morning bathing and waiting for the sun to emerge from behind the passing clouds. By noon we knew it was time to get out of Mexico and were able to hitchhike very easily down to the border.
BELIZE! What an amazing country! The landscape, the water, but most of all the people just blew us away. It´s so diverse....lots of indiginous people (mostly of Mayan descent), lots of Garifuna people of African descent who mostly inhabit the coast and give belize it´s relaxed Caribbean vibe, and strangely enough, tons of Dutch Menonite farmers who live in their own separate little colonies. We almost died of shock when two little blond, blue-eyed dirty kids boarded the bus to sell us homegrown peanuts! Most of the menonites wouldn´t smile or really even look at us, but everyone else was super friendly and wanted to know what we were up to and make sure we were enjoying our stay in Belize.We spent our first night couchsurfing in the small coastal town of Sarteneja in the north.The couple who we stayed with have a little hostel called ¨Backpackers Paradise¨where they rent out a few rooms, grow a lot of their own organic food (suprisingly the soil there is terrible because all the rich vegetation sucks the nutrients out of the ground-you basically have to make all your own dirt if you want to grow things without tons of pesticides), and then Nathalie will cook it up whenever your hungry in their little restaurant-house. The town itself was very quiet but we took a nice walk, met some really cute little girls who hung out with us all morning, and walked out to see the boat that Edward was building-so beautiful! We stayed 2 nights in hammocks, helped out a bit in the garden, and had a great time hanging out with Nat and Ed and learning about their experiences in Belize.
Then we headed out and spent a good part of the day traveling south to the Garifuna town of Hopkins. We were looking for a place to camp when we were suddenly scooped up by a funny American woman named Trish who has a little hostel called Kismet right on the beach. She let us pitch our tiny little tent for super cheap and before we could even set it up we were surrounded by a group of little boys who are studying Garifuna drumming (they gave us a show and taught us how to dance Punta later on and were an amazing introduction to the local community) and were very interested in my hula hoop. We stayed for 2 nights, got to know some of the locals, played beach volleyball, drank too much of the local Birikin beer, and swam in the beautiful ocean and lagoon. Then we headed out early (all the buses leave super early in the morning here because people have to get to work in the bigger cities) to San Ignacio, close to the Western border with Guatemala. We were supposed to couchsurf with a guy in a small town nearby but couldn´t get ahold of him, so we stayed at a place called Bellas Hostel, which is run by a really interesting dutch woman from the states and her 3 beautiful half-belizian children. We went for a walk and saw a lot of huge iguanas up in the trees, made a fritatta and finally ate some veggies, and then ended up taking full advantage of our beds (it had been a while) and basically going to bed at 6 pm.
Yesterday we crossed the border into Guatemala and had a really long day of traveling on small little collectivo buses all the way through to Coban (a little city which turned out to have a lot of gang and drug issues and hence had started enforcing a 9 pm cerfew just a week before!). We couchsurfed with 3 young German kids who are doing a gap year program and working at a school for kids who live on a nearby rubbish dump! We had planned on trying to go to Guatemala City or Antigua for Christmas, but we really want to spend more time on the Garifuna Caribbean Coast of Honduras and decided it was too out of our way to be worth the time and money. So instead we headed east this morning, hoping to see the beautiful limestone river called Semuc Champay, only to discover after a very long, uncomfortable and rather frightening bus-van ride through the mountains that we were too late to catch a bus out there, and that we wouldn´t be able to make it to El Estor, where we had planned on spending the night, until tomorrow morning (The bus leaves the town of Cahabon, where we are now spending the night, at 4 am!). But luckily the bus ride to Cahabon was more comfortable and beautiful and we are finally getting a taste of the real Guatemala. The road was gorgeous, winding through the lush mountains on a small dirt road with sleep inclines on either side. Traditionally dressed women and children would suddenly emerge from the slopes, scrambling up onto the road with urns full of water on their heads or heavy sacks of produce or bundles of wood on their backs. Everyone seemed to stop whatever they were doing to watch us go by, all crammed in together with chickens, rolls of banana leaves, and crying babies. Here in Cahabon we are quite possibly the only gringos, and everyone just seems to giggle, with us and probably at us, as we walk through town. Tomorrow it´s on to the hot spring waterfall near Lago de Izabal and hopefully across the border into Honduras so we can settle in for a relaxing Christmas on the beautiful beaches.
Its been such a blessing to have all these experiences in just a couple weeks, and even though we are working with time and money crunches, things have been going well. We are both healthy aside from some itchy mosquito and sand fly bites (for some reason they dont´ really like me, but poor Julia has been itching like crazy for the past couple days!), and can´t really complain about much, especially now that food and travel is cheaper since we are no longer in Belize. I wish you all a very warm and enjoyable Christmas and New Years. Please do keep in touch. I probably won´t get to upload my photos until I get to ecuador and have my computer, but I will surely send some along then!
So much love,
Polly (or Liviana, as I have come to be known on this journey)