About Me

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A man of many words. Profane, profound, loyal to a fault and a right rat bastard. I love the finer things in life: expensive cigars, cheap women and all the salted, cured meats I can eat. A friend to dogs, lover of humanity and despiser of people. If I were King the world would be a better place, because, well...I would be King! Oh, and I like ice cream.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Our Day of Days....

I'm enjoying my time with Mick. He's not as accustomed to this kind of travel as Jason and I are. The frenetic pace is more familiar to me through working with my friend Joseph when we do the Middle East tours. This is actually much easier because I NEVER have to get dressed up or represent some barely-caring institution. Mick's about ready to get back to Columbiana. Makes no difference to me. I'll never feel at home there again. Maybe I'll never feel at home anywhere.

So we get up early to catch the San Jose-bound bus back to Liberia in order to snag the connector to Playa Tamarindo. The landlady hits us for 36 bones. Seems the price was PER PERSON, not per room. Which means I had to cough up and extra 12 for Jason who had left at 3AM for San Jose.

Anyway, we got to the busstop in plenty of time. Arrived in Liberia right at 9, or so we thought. We had just missed the 8:10, but another was scheduled for 10. Maybe we had time to hit the Papa John's or Burger King we had passed by a few blocks away.

We bought two tix, and just to be sure asked what time the next bus left. The ticket lady said 8:10. 8:10? How could that be? I had 9:05. She CAN'T mean PM!! Then she says "You have five minutes." How the Heck can THAT be? I thought all of Central America was on the same time zone. Turns out we had picked up an hour crossing into Costa Rica . How had we gone for two or three days without time mattering? Guess that's the beauty of it.

Oh well, two and a half hours to Tamarindo. MUCH more built up than San Juan del Sur or Coco. They had Subway, Pizza Hut, TCBY, condos, mucho Americanos...the works.

We snagged some breakfast and walked around til we found Cabinas Doly. Simple room on the beach, private BR, fan and that was about it. Twenty-five bucks per night for the room.

We laid about and read for much of the day. Took a walk and found another book store mentioned in Lonely Planet. Off loaded the finished and much-despised "Condo," the Whitman book of poems and a Spanish book I had ill-advisedly picked up in Manaugua. The owner, a California ex-pat, actually was happy to get a spanish book. Got two bucks for it for a net loss of $3.50.

Picked up a Thereaux (The Family Arsenal) and Elmore James "Tishomingo blues." If I could finish "Chaos" soon enough I would be back for more trades. There was a Michener book on the writing process for his novel "Mexico" I would have liked to read. It never happened.

Around six Mick and I walked up the beach. In the waning sunlight we ran a barefoot mile together. Walking back to the room we made plans for dinner. There were some interesting looking restaurants around.

I showered and sat out on the balcony outside the room reading.

I heard Mick calling to me from inside the room. He is a self-admitted hypochondriac, always worrying about this spot, that mole, this perceived rash and, of course, the ever popular balding. Always fearful of some dread disease. I once had to find pictures of him from five years previous to show him a freckle he had just noticed. He gets it from his mother. Therein lies the rub. After years of worrying about having every newly discovered disease or catastrophic illness, one day it came to pass.

So anyway I entered the room to see what was afflicting him this time. He was laid out on his bed, ashen from pain and fear. He was absolutely white.

"Dude, I went to piss and just about passed out. I've NEVER felt this much pain." Mick was hurting bad. Appendicitis? Kidney stones? Cancer? Our minds ran the gamut.

Ever so slowly the feeling ebbed. He got up and walked around a bit. It felt a little better. Maybe it was a muscle cramp. I suggested we walk around outside. The Costa Rican weather was stifling. Mick has always perspired like a faucet and he was dehydrated.

He kept talking about the fierceness of the pain. Mick is a tough SOB. I've seen him many times take a fastball (lean INTO a fastball to be precise) without a flinch. This thing dropped him.

We bought water, decided against dinner and headed back to the room. It was dark and the street was fairly busy with tourists and locals. Out of the shadows what should appear but two local guys with stethoscopes draped around their necks. One spoke no english, the other some. Turns out they were medical students.

With Mick interpreting we described his symptoms. The one with the english skills told us it was common with tourists in this area. Dehydration and heat combine for a knockout punch. He didn't think it was kidney stones. "Drink lots of water. You'll be fine." They offered to take our blood pressures (both normal) and asked for a donation for a local children'sclinic. For easing our minds it was worth the eight bucks we dropped on them. Money well spent, we thought. Didn't even care if they went out and drank it.

Then came his next tentative, fearful attempt to whiz. Squatting to avoid falling over, Mick gave it a shot. Again the sharp lightening bolt of pain drew him up short.

We obviously had a situation on our hands. There was nothing to do but get Sra. Doly (the proprietess) involved. She spoke NO english, but after initially assuming I was the one with the problem, we got the point across. A short call to the local clinic contacted a doctor who spoke some english. At this point I was wondering how I would get Mick all the way to San Jose. The capitol city would have a major hospital facility. I couldn't think anything anywhere else here would be sufficient.

The doctor, a young woman, arrived in an ambulance, lights flashing, about 20 minutes later. After checking his vitals, all normal, she gave him a morphine injection for pain and an IV drip to dilate the ureter. Mick was at wits end, fearing morphine addiction, questioning appropriateness, worrying, worrying, worrying. I did my best to reassure him, but to no avail.

We were faced with two options at this point. The doctor was thinking kidney stones. We could sit it out overnight and see what the morning would bring, estimated cost $60. Or take the ambulance to Liberia to a clinic where ultrasound and ultrasound treatment was available, $680. We were going to take a ride.

I dashed to an ATM. Had to talk my way to the front of the ATM line and cashed out $600 to add to the $180 I had in hand.

The run to Liberia was an hour and a half over washboard dirt roads. I hadn't noticed the rotten condition on the drive from Liberia to Playa Tam. To be on the safe side we checked out of Cabinas Doly. It was a good call in case we had to stay in Liberia. Wouldn't want to make that same trip twice more.

Got to the clinic around 9:30PM. It was closed. Locked up. But, soon a black Hyundai pulls up and out stepped Dra. Monica Guardia Caldera. AND she spoke excellent english. Turns out she had once worked in Miami. She was quick to reassure Mick. And me.

The ultrasound showed two healthy kidneys and no stones in the ureter. "You already passed the stone. That was the pain." Mick wasn't buying. She wanted a urine sample. That prospect had him pissing his pants. Figuratively.

He braced himself against the wall while a male nurse held his arm in support. The water flowed freely. No pain. I knew he was feeling better when he came out quoting Seinfeld's Kramer, the most famous fictional kidney stone sufferer in history.

Naturally the worrier in him would not let Mick relax (One month later he's still fretting). "Maybe only the morphine allowed me to go without pain." But, though approached with trepidation, each subsequent piss was without incident.

After having his urine and blood analyzed at another nearby clinic (which had to open for us), Dra. Guardia was more than certain the problem was a passed kidney stone. She even called the local Best Western to have them hold a room. She wanted us to return the next afternoon for a follow-up. The ambulance took us to the hotel. That will NEVER happen in the US.

By midnight we were watching HBO in our air-conditioned room. Out of pocket expenses for the ambulance ride, the doctor coming out on a Sunday night, the Med Tech coming out on a sunday night, all the blood and urine tests and the follow-up doctor's office call was less than a thousand dollars, all payable by credit card.

All things considered it was better than what ine could expect in the States. Mick's insurance said we could submit the bills for reimbursement.

In the end it was a good day. Just another stop along the way to Ithaca.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

San Juan del Sur(Nicaragua) to Playa del Coco(Costa Rica)

Well, we got boned on the breakfast again. The owner apologized all over herself the day before and promised it wouldn't happen again. Jason shamed her into doing free laundry, so it wasn't a total loss. We headed out, looking for a cab to the border and some breakfast. A couple other tourists out for a morning stroll told us about "El Gato Negro," The Black Cat coffee shop and BOOK STORE. Bingo! If we had known about this place Mick and I might have stayed another day. Kharma being Kharma, it would turn out for the better. The Black Cat had a stunning selection of new books. Nicaragua has a low literacy rate and books in English are at a premium. This place was a gold mine. The Anglo-owner was a former commodities trader (oil) from Houston. Can you say Enron? The books were a tad pricey, but considering the circumstances who cares? I bought "Chaos," Mick picked up a Salmon Rushdie and Jason nabbed "Ghost" by Chuck Pahlenhiuk.

Grabbed a cab and off we went. We were told to anticipate a long wait at the border. But, it wasn't so bad. I bought a Nicaragua passport cover for fifty cents. Want to see if the customs guy back in the States picks up on it.

I've been reading "Condominium," the one I picked up in the chicken bus station. It's a bathroom pot boiler. Actually, although written back in the 70s, it had a few good points re: retirement in sunny climes. It presaged Hurricane Katrina by a few decades, but the effect in the end was similar. The guys tease me about reading it, but I'm in it to the finish (which I did). I've started "Chaos" before finishing Condo, but I'm really holding out until I'm done with the first.

We caught a crowded bus to Liberia, CR, about two hours from the border. Smoke Monkey's shenanigans were acting up again and I had to pay twice to use the crapper. There was some confusion about where to catch the connecting bus to Playa del Coco. After walking around the area from place to place for about half an hour we learned it was the station we had just arrived in. The boy's Spanish wasn't helping out all that well. I was taking my second "break in the action" when Jason yelled the bus to Coco was leaving. I'd have been really pissed if he was screwing with me. But, he wasn't.

The bus to Coco was also crowded But it was only a 45 minute ride. Playa del Coco isn't as nice as San Juan del sur. Jason used to have a friend at one of the bar-restaurants on the beach, so we stopped in. His friend had moved on to Jaco it turns out. But we ate then hiked around looking for a room.

A couple B&Bs looked good, TV, A/C, pool, but were a bit steep ($45 & $75). I was ready to spring for the $45 one for two nights, but the boys didn't like the looks of the surfer dudes hanging around. The pool looked awfully inviting though.

There was another place listed in Lonely Planet. While looking for the joint a lady at a Bufete came out onto the street and asked if we were looking for a room. Nice house, upstairs bedroom, bath, fan, TV, sweet porch, GREAT wooden floors. $24. Done! Cold water shower, but who cares. This year, especially after Sri Lanka, I have a great appreciation for the cold water shower.

We hit the beach for some sun and reading. Afterwards we hit the bar for a Pina Colada. They tasted so good we each had two. Pretty light. Didn't feel a thing. Could have gone for a third, but at six beans per not worth it.

We weren't hungry, so we hit the tick to watch some tube. Around 10:30 Jason and Mick slipped out for some pizza.

Another day in a tropical paradise. The adventure part of the trip seems to be winding down. Unknown to us one more blogworthy event awaited.

(I know, I know, EVERYTHING I post is blogworthy. But, thanks anyway.)

Isla de Ometepe

Jason has started to catch up with me on his posts. Check out his story here.

We keep talking about taking some time to chill, but can't seem to do it. Again we were up early. When we checked in the previous night the owner told us breakfast was included. Sadly, the staff seemed unaware of this offering. After much cajoling we were able to snag a couple slices of bread, some Tang and a cuppa. Finally we decided this wasn't worth the hassle. We walked into the center of town and found a "Collectiva" cab to San Jorge for the ferry to Isla de Ometepe. A collectiva is a cab that sits around and waits until it has a full load. They take longer, but are WAY cheaper than the ordinary hacks. We were lucky as there was only one other lady going our way. Time and money-wise it was a winner.

Isla de Ometepe is one island formed by two volcanos situated in Lago de Nicaragua, supposedly the largest island in a fresh water body in the world.

We hired a cab for four hours. Jose was our driver. Mick read about petroglyphs on the furthest of the two volcanic land masses. So off we went. The road initially was well-paved and we made good time. Eventually we turned off the main road onto the "neck" between the two mountains.

Jose took us to Albergue Ecologico, which unlike in Honduras, actually existed.

This place was idyllic. Could have stayed for a week.
Six bucks a night, it evoked memories of the Green House at Adam's Peak in Sri Lanka. Good place to write a book.
For a buck a pop we were shown several samples of petroglyphs dating from AD 800 and before.

Yeah, I know, Jason has this pose on HIS Blog. Too bad.

Mick says you can tell when the ancients had discovered hallucenogens by their art. The appearance of curves, arcs and circles instead of geometric patterns heralded the introduction of mind altering substances into the culture. I don't know if this monkey indicated that or it is just a monkey.

This is my artsy-fartsy shot.
Back on the road we were looking for the Museo de Archeologico. We found it alright but it was closed. As is common in the developing world people almost always try to please. Jose, our driver, was determined to find us artifacts. A local Catholic Churchyard contained original statuary. Mick thought they were maybe Nahuatl or Aztec. These were magnificent examples, but standing out in the open exposed to the elements.

We stopped to eat at a nice seaside (OK, lakeside) restaurant. It was a relatively upscale place. We wondered what it must be like for the locals to have a place like this in their midst, yet be unable to afford to bring the family here.

Back on the ferry I was hit with a touch of Smoke Monkey's Revenge. No way was I going to make it all the way to shore without serious consequences. It was the ship's head for me. OK, this may be TMI, but the facility was spartan. No TP. You may or may not know this, but in many cultures (including apparently this one) the left hand is referred to as the "dung hand," used for body functions. The right for eating. An early form of hygiene. Problem is I'm a lefty. Just a barrel of cloudy water was available for personal use. Fortunately I had a small bottle of Sanihands.

We returned to San Juan del Sur, but first another ATM hit. It had dollars! Like a little taste of home. Took out $200. Gave $100 to Jason to get to San Jose, Costa Rica the next day. We were splitting up again. A couple of Jason's friends were flying down to hook up with us in Jaca, CR for the close-out of the trip. He had to meet their flight.

Back in San Juan del Sur, we stopped at a seaside bar, had a beer, flirted with the waitress and watched another Pacific sunset.

La Pura Vida!

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Another Wigal Strives For Greatness

This Garageband out in California has taken the name of it's lead vocalist, guitarist and songwriter. In other words, he's the whole band. Sounds alot like Creed.

Don't know anything about the cat. Except he's yet another Wigal genius.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Tegucigulpa to Managua to San Juan del Sur

In keeping with the theme of not letting any grass grow under our feet we were up at seven for the run to the bus station. We wanted to get to San Juan del Sur on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua. We had to go through Managua along the way.

Today marks two weeks out. Our buns ached from the previous days hiking. The "Tica Line" bus station was in a dodgy part of town, so we took a cab. Even at that early hour security at the station was tight. We had to be buzzed in.

Jason had lost his ATM card. He got it cancelled, but I was carrying him. He had done the same for me in "The Country That Shall Not Be Named." Mick had a few USD. Maybe we would have to dip into that fund at the border.

A word about ATMs. Love 'em. The best thing in the world when travelling. You don't have to carry lots of cash and you can draw out dough in the local currency. In yet ANOTHER dream sequence I dreamt Visa called me to verify my card usage. They wanted me to give them the name of the hotel I had stayed in before. I couldn't remember the name of my hotel. In the morning, after telling of the dream, we all recited the names of every place in which we had stayed.

As the time neared for the bus the waiting room filled with hawkers. Watches, sunglasses, calculators, cell phone covers, DVDs (They had "Cars" which was still showing in theatres in the US), CDs...whatever you wanted. Or, whatever you DIDN'T want.

The Tica bus to Nicaragua was OK. Seven and a half hours, no movie, no rest stops, but the bus company handled all our passports when we reached the border.

Loved the border crossings. So much more fun than the airports. The moneychangers lined up six deep as we exited the bus. Then came the beggars, hitting Americans or other westerners (read: white people), then MORE hawkers.

Small towns, countryside, volcanos in the distance as we approached Managua.

The Lonely Planet led us to believe the Managua bus station to be a rough place. Turned out to be brand new, decent residential neighborhood. No problemo. There was a mall nearby. Perhaps Jason could get his credit card to work, so we headed there. That didn't work, but we ate in the food court. Could have been in Ohio.

On to the chicken bus for the last (NOT) two hour bit to Rivas. The bus station reminded me of a Sri Lankan station. As we were starting to pull away Jason spots a stall with piles of used books. He says, "give me some money, quick!" He yells out the window (in Spanish) if they have any books in English. We were on constant prowl for stuff to read. But, the book stall lady indicates she has none. Then something happens that only occurs in the developing world. Before the bus turns the corner this kid hops on with a huge pile of books, all English titles. The word had gone out that some dipshit on the bus was wanting English books. I bought "Condominium", written in the 70s and a collection of Walt Whitman poems. The price was too high, but I wasn't going to haggle. The experience alone was worth twice what the books cost.

The bus rolled on. Later the assistant driver asked us if we need a cab from Rivas to San Juan del Sur, the implication being he could set it up. Twenty bucks, he'll call ahead. No way we're paying twenty. When we get to Rivas the cabbie comes on board. Ten dollars. Bueno!

We reach San Juan del Sur, a nice beachside place, after dark. We quickly find a hotel (which for some reason none of us can ever remember it's name), $40 including breakfast and A/C. No TV. People from Virginia own the place. They seem nice, even though it turns out they are big Bush backers. A note on the room door welcomes all "nationalities, skin complexions, religious beliefs, political views, social status, except arrogant." But, isn't that the most obvious Bush supporter trait?

Pizza again for dinner. Bed by eleven. The next morning the guys were talking about a huge thunderstorm during the night that actually shook the building.

Slept right through it.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

New Day, New Adventure

This day was a good one.

We got up at 5 to catch the 6 AM bus to Tegucigulpa. The streets of SPS were still dark, so we were steppin' and a fetchin'. Got to the station at 5:45. BUT the 6AM bus left early without us. A guy ahead of is in line (another Rasta dude!) was farting around getting 15 tickets plus the system was S L O W. Fortunately we managed to get on the 6:30 ride. Nice bus. Even had a movie. A Martin Lawrence flick. It sucked.

At a rest stop we met two young Harvard coeds. Cute. One immediately sat by Mick, to which he was oblivious. To make matters worse, they were PEARL JAM fans. Mick is a huge PJ fan AND they had tickets to the same concert in Seattle (Update: Mick got back from Seattle last night. Natch he didn't see her. Of course there were only 20,000 people there.)

These honeys had managed to get themselves ROBBED at gunpoint TWICE in the previous two days. How do you do that? They were headed to the US Embassy in Tegu to get their passports replaced.

Scenes along the road to Tegucigalpa
We had read about Parque Nacional La Tigra located about 22 kilometers outside Tegu. Looked like it would be an interesting place for a little hike. As soon as we hit town we grabbed a cab for the trip to the entrance. We figured the cab would run us 500 Limpiezas. The cabbie asked 300. Hot dog!

We were soon to learn (or at least have reinforced) that, in general, cab drivers really have no idea where you are going. They always ACT like they know. But, they don't.

So about five miles out he stops to ask some cops where the hell he's going. Further, it turns out. About then we left pavement. Then the dirt turned to ruts. To call it a road was REALLY being generous. After a few more starts and stops we reached the "entrance." In the end we gave the guy the 500 Limps we initially figured.

The park official (no english) seemed vague about where we wanted to go. We figured to hike the six miles through the park to a hostel (Eco-Albergue) the faithful Lonely Planet told us was at the other exit. We would stay there overnight then catch an early bus into Tegu for the next leg of the trip to Managua, Nicaragua. What was so hard about that?

The cat charged us $10 US per for the entry fee. I'm almost certain that went straight into his pocket. I doubt he would see three other gringos in the next three months. However he did give me a pass, which I slipped over my head.

Off we went. We climbed. And climbed. and climbed. And climbed some more. Did I mention we sweated too? We did that in spades. But, the place was beautiful. Old mine trails wound through a green cathedral.

At length we came to a gorgeous waterfall. We took quite a while resting and taking pictures. Little did we know it would be our last rest for several hours.

The Best Picture of the Trip

The Best Picture of the Entire Trip
In all honesty we weren't as pissed as looks would indicated. LATER we would be. But, for now it was all good.

After a couple more hours hike we left the rain forest. The trail led down for miles. As it was mostly downhill the load on our quads was tough. We ached for days afterwards.

A dearth of signage had us constantly second-guessing ourselves. Jason and I had been in this situation before (unless I dreamt it). I never allow myself to be lost. Temporarily mis-oriented maybe. Never lost.

At long last we came upon Eco-Albergue, our home for the evening:

Uh Oh. Looks like Eco-Albergue had seen better days. We were on to plan "B." Trouble is, we never really had a plan "B." There was a sign to the town of San Juancito. Having no better ideas we set off. This is when our hike for the day actually began. Remember, we each had our fully loaded backpacks with us.

Oh yeah, there were no Park officials on this end. I still have my official park pass. Wonder what that guy back at the entrance was thinking?

Down, down, down the valleys we went. Far below us we eventually spied the town of San Juancito.

There was even a chicken bus there taking on passengers. Of course, it was long gone when we got there an hour later.

A local guy told Mick another bus would pass a spot either 500 meters, one kilometer or 1.5 kilometers from where we stood in about twenty minutes. At least the road, while hilly, was paved. The weather was nice although rain threatened in the distance. We hauled butt. Twenty minutes later we reached the bus stop, sweat running down our backs like the waterfall we had earlier enjoyed.

Just in the nick of time. The nick of time, in this case being a half hour. It was to be our first actual chicken bus. Alas, no poultry. It was an old American school bus, still in pretty good shape. The driver had installed a hopped up stereo system which was blaring Chris Izaak as we boarded.

We figured we had hiked more than 10 miles. I wasn't doing any running on this trip, but my fitness level was paying off.

Funny thing, on the bus (and pretty much everywhere else in the developing world) young people simply could not resist staring at us. It was like we each had three eyeballs. What is it about White people that makes other cultures want to stare at us and charge us more money for things?

We hit Tegu just before dark. Not a bad looking city. After ten minutes we found Hotel Granada. The room was noisy to the extreme, but it was cool, had a TV, hot showers and tile floors (always a plus).

Walked to Parque Centro and found a Pizza Hut. One delicious pepperoni pizza later and all was well. Waiter and bus jobs at chains like Pizza Hut, McDs etc. are prized in other countries. They are a step up from the usual.

Later back at the room we watched an episode of Law and Order. Important point concerning if someone is "date-worthy": Would you rather be out with them or home watching Law and Order (or Seinfeld in my case).

Many would call. Few would answer.

The Hurrier I Go the Behinder I Get!

World Heritage grows richer

Eighteen new sites have been just added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List, bringing the total number of protected properties to 830. These sites not only fulfill scientific criteria necessary for inscription in the List, they are also places that are alive and tell their own stories.

I gotta get moving.

Off Topic:

Since I started keeping count "The Best of What's Left" just today had it's 2000th hit. Of course, 1378 of 'em are me.

Good-Bye To Copan Ruinas

We could have spent another day or so kicking around Copan. But, we were to meet Jason in San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The pictures are of scenes around town.

San Pedro Sula was just a big ol' city. Nothing special. A crossroads. The hotel we had agreed to meet at was OK. What do you want for $30 a night for a triple room? They didn't accept plastic, so I had to find an ATM. There was a bank with an "Internacional Desk." Internacional as long it was strictly Spanish. Imagine, if you will, playing charades trying to describe what I call the "Magic Wall?" Fortunately, as I was desparately acting out the ATM thing I happened to look out a window and spied an ATM across the street. Problem solved.

Jason showed up as planned.

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Ruins of Copan

Another UNESCO World Heritage site. The actual site is about a kilometer outside the town of Copan Ruinas. Archeological evidence indicates people lived here before BC 1200. The Mayan kings had some great names: Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw (whom later kinfs revered as the semidivine founder of the city), Mat Head (How'd you like to be called that?), Waterlily Jaguar, Moon Jaguar, Smoke Jaguar, 18 Rabbit, and my personal favorite, Smoke Monkey. Smoke Monkey wasn't a noted king, but the name appealed to me. In fact I took to calling Mick "Smoke Monkey."

Smoke Monkey surveys the Copan Museum
To be honest after Tikal the Copan ruins lacks the impressive temples jutting above the jungle canopy. However, it has it's own charm. The Mayans had clear-cut everything to build their sites and grow crops. When the population grew too fast it out-stripped the area's ability to support itself. Thus most of the Mayan sites were abandoned by AD 900, long before the Spanish arrived. Since Mayan blood still flows among today's Centroamericanos, that was probably a good thing.

The flatter stone is where human sacrifices were performed.

The ol' Ball Yard.

The Museum at the Ruins
We spent a couple hours kicking around, bought our first souvenirs of the trip (not counting tee-shirts). The rest of the day we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Copan Ruinas.

Mick has spent the past nine months working on an archeology internship in the US Virgin Islands. His main area of interest is the Taino Indians, those whom Columbus met. So he showed a good appreciation for the Mayans, often pointing out similarities in pottery, culture, etc.

We are different personalities, Mick and I. As you might expect we share many commanalities, views of life, morality and so on. Like most, if not all, fathers and sons we often disagree over things. What son doesn't believe his father is hopelessly adrift? For my part he can do no wrong. He's grown to be a hell of a man. I know his mother would have been very proud.

In the night I had a touch of what I came to call "Smoke Monkeys Revenge." The usual symptoms, which were easily handled by Immodium Advanced. Ah, better living through chemistry!

We had read of a museum in Copan itself. Sunday afternoon we stumbled upon a free museum just of the plaza. Turns out it was a children's museum. Two young guys, each about 12 years old were excited and happy to show us the rounds. Neither spoke a lick of English, but their enthusiasm was infectious.

I'm only sorry I didn't get their names

A little later we found the actual museum. Being Sunday it was closed. We would have time in the morning to visit before leaving Copan Ruinas for San Pedro Sulo and our rendezvous with Jason.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Travel Day: Flores to Copan Ruinas

Travel days aren't usually very interesting. But, I loved them on this trip. Even though most of it is experienced while sitting on a bus, there is always something for the inner dialogue. You can have your sun drenched beaches and summer novels while sipping pina coladas. Give me a crammed, smelly bus traveling bad roads for eight hours any day. But then that's me.

The night before the trip we asked around to try to figure how long it would take us to get to the city of Chiquimula, near the Honduran border. We were told variously: four hours, four and a half hours, six hours and eight hours.

It took nine.

The tuk-tuk pulled up at the hotel precisely at 5:40AM. We were mildly surprised at the Guatemalan efficiency. By 6:20 the bus was rolling. At first it looked like we were golden. After all, it was an Express bus. Like most buses in Central America it was a little older, but comfortable enough. There was no A/C, but in the early morning with the windows open it was nice. It was fairly empty and we were flying along well-paved roads.

The Driver's Assistant was curious about my camera. The beauty of digital technology. Nothing makes friends faster in the developing world than to take one's picture and immediately show it to them.

Gradually our progress began to stall. At first there were the brief stop-and-gos along the highway to pick up the odd passenger or three. Later we would briefly leave the main highway to dip into a small village to drop off or gain others.

We couldn't locate the city of Morales in our Lonely Planet map of Guatemala, but it took an hour to get in and out. Morales had a proper (well, Centroamericano proper) bus station. The stop gave me a chance to hop off and relieve myself in an absolutely filthy bano, which cost me 50 cents (I think) for the privelege. I gave thought to negotiating a BM. But, dropping trou on that urine-flooded floor was a non-starter. Discretion being the better part of valor, I went into intestinal lockdown. And I would maintain that status until reaching our hostel in Copan. (TMI?)

It was pouring rain in Morales. June being the height of rainy season. The merchant's stalls extended so far into the roadway the bus could barely clear them. Turns were a fiasco of back-and-forth attempts to change directions. At the same time hawkers of various goods were boarding and making a nuisance of themselves. "Comidas! Comidas! Comidas!" Heladas! Heladas! Heladas!" "La Prensa! La Prensa! La Prensa!" It was Developing World chaos I love so well.

In the countryside one could see every shade of green but neon. And maybe that too in a certain light. Paul Theroux, in "The Family Arsenal" wrote of the "green heat of Guatemala."

There were more villages and towns. One, for some reason, we passed through twice. Eventually, with a more or less full load, we rolled into Chiquimula. Or rather we crept. More narrow streets and intermittently parked vehicles made the last few blocks maddening.

Another chaotic bus station. Our journey was not yet ended. Not even close. We were still a couple hours from the Honduran border. Our bus driver pointed us toward a place where we could find a mini-bus for the final hop to the border. We immediately got lost. We were stumbling around a market-place right out of Indiana Jones when we emerged onto a crowded street where sat a white mini-bus looking for a few more passengers. From the moment our bus stopped at the station until we boarded the mini-bus took fewer than five minutes. We were moving so fast I hadn't the time nor presence of mind to take photos. Too bad.

Happily we took our seats in the back. The ride to the border was more of the same, picking 'em up and laying 'em down. I calculated at one point we had 36 passengers in a vehicle designed for 25. Impressive, but would be bested in another ride before we got to Copan.

Again we crept through various small, but busy villages. Rounding one street corner I looked down to see a bodega owner packing a nine millimeter automatic in his waistband. We weren't in Kansa anymore. (Actually I NEVER been in Kansas.) After that we stopped for 15 minutes. Why I didn't know, but the pause allowed us to see one of the strangest sights of all. I've seen transvestites and cross-dressers before. In Mumbai, India they were hooking in broad daylight at a busy intersection. Hideous looking creatures.

Here I saw wat at first appeared to be a non-descript middle aged Hispanic woman standing on the sidewalk having a conversation with passers by. She seemed a tad flat chested, but not overly amiss. Then I noticed the bald spot. About this time she headed down the sidewalk toward our bus. I'm stage-whispering to Mick, "Look left! Look Left!" He caught just a glimpse, but his expression said "I saw it all." Then she winked as she passed by. Later Jason said cross-pollination or whatever was common down there.

Eventually we got moving and soon we arrived at the border. Typical border crossing scene in Central America. The money changers helped free us of our Guatemalan Quetzales, the proper stamps were acquired in our passports, and we were in Honduras. Country 33 for me. On to Copan.

We were under the impression Copan was only a kilometer from the crossing. Turns out it was ten Clicks (six miles) of dangerous, narrow,mountainous, windy roads. I wanted to hump it anyway. But, Mick held out for the supposedly frequent mini-buses. So we sat and waited. After ten minutes I was chomping at the bit, so I convinced him to start hiking. About 100 yards up the hill Mick says, "Well, it's only about three miles." To which I replied, "You don't quite have that metric thing down yet, do you Bud?" An inflammatory remark to be sure. After about five minutes here comes a little minivan headed BACK towards the border. They stopped, telling us to hop in. They would only be there 20 minutes to pick up more passengeros. Then we'd get going.

I hate to cover the same real estate twice, but Mick was for it. So in we jumped. The driver spoke Spanish so fast Mick could barely follow him. We pulled off the road for the 20 minute wait. Fifty minutes later the twenty minute stop was over and we got going.

While waiting for incoming passengers there was some excitement nearby. Someone spotted some kind of wild animal in the hill above us. We couldn't understand what they were calling it. Jokingly Mick asked if it was a Chupacabra, "The Goat Sucker, famous in the Caribbean and throughout Central America. This got a laugh from the driver. Eventually we decided what had been spotted was a boar. I never saw it.

Finally we were loaded and we crept up the hill we had previously hiked. If I thought the mini-bus from Chiquimela was crowded I was soon to be further impressed. Picking up others along the road we soon had 18 passengers in a vehicle designed for maybe 12. Sure, there were a couple kids, but could you see getting away with that in the States? Later in our hostel an Australian traveler told us her minivan on the same route had 20!

At a buck a person I couldn't gripe. We hit Copan probably within ten minutes of when we would have walking. It was OK, but since the hiking I had done in my dream of Cuba we hadn't been getting much exercise beyond climbing the steps of Temple IV in Tikal a few days before and I had wanted to stretch out my legs.

Utilizing the trusty Lonely Planet we were soon esconced in a four dollar a night per bed dorm room with shared bath. It was co-ed, Mick, me, two well-traveled American lesbians from Wilmington, NC and the aforementioned Aussie. They were nice enough and we exchanged travel stories.

The Aussie (maybe 20 years old) was traveling alone, to which Mick later admitted was gutsier than anything he would do. It's funny. Mick is a well-built, formidable target. He speaks passable Spanish. He's done some world travel, but seems overly concerned about his safety. I've been in much dodgier areas, but have never felt in danger. I guess my attitude is pretty casual. As I always say, "If something bad happens and you live through it, it's ahelluva story. If you don't, your troubles are over anyway."

Maybe that comes from living longer and having your wife die too damn young in your arms. You're going to die anyway. Why worry about it? I'm not in any hurry to go, but better doing something like this than lying in your own piss and shit in a "nursing home" not knowing your own name.

But, I digress (yet again). Copan was ours. the ruins awaited.

Our Hostel in the village of Copan Ruinas.