we got the privilege of heading up to mefalia’s school the next morning on our way out of town. her class seemed like your typical group of six and seven year olds. they were studying their alphabet when we arrived, and many giggled and got shy once we came into the classroom. we said hello and introduced ourselves and mefalia had them sing a song for us. some got through the whole thing, others trailed off in embarrassment or because they forgot a verse. it was a pretty great thing to witness. so, we said our goodbyes to mefalia. but, it seemed strange to so quickly be leaving a family that we bonded with in less than 24 hours. i guess they were more used to it than us, but they all asked us to come back and we really felt like they meant it.
we headed out for our final destination with their son wilder that morning, and expected (or at least, i did) that it might be a quiet one. he was a pretty reserved and shy 18 year old, typically self-conscious. but, i guess we had spent enough time together over the last day that he really started to open up and became our favorite guide. he was very unassuming, hadn’t lived through the war but had definitely seen the effects of it, and was a curious eighteen year old having hours to kill with two wiling americans. so, we took turns asking pointed and sometimes random questions. we talked about technology in the US, medicine, more of his family history, what he wanted to do in the next few years, how to say hi the nicaraguan way. he was patient with us and our spanish and i think he was the best guide for helping us practice. he and bob launched into a long conversation about our current president and the state of US politics, which wilder wanted to know about, and i was so proud of bob’s speaking ability. i think it just took the right subject and the right listener for him to go to town in his newly learned language.
we walked with wilder for a good four hours, and by the time we got to our final destination we were beat. it was my favorite walk of the entire trip, though, because we went through a ton of farms and passed by lots of houses and men out working. i felt like we saw more of the daily functioning of miraflor that day. it was always an awkward arrival at each new family’s home, and this one was no different. they introduced themselves and sat us at a table on the porch for lunch. wilder turned back into his awkward teenage self (maybe because this family had four pretty and boisterous daughters). but, the mother, martha, made him stay for a plate of food with us before he took off on his four hour trip home. so, we had one last meal with wilder and then wished him well. and, we found ourselves unoccupied and tired once again. so, we quickly found the backyard hammocks and took a liking to the red, white, and blue arkansas model. a little random for miraflor, nicaragua.this one’s for you dad! ha.
we met a group of norwegian travelers who were staying there the night before. and they had just come from a hike to the local cascades. so, they gave us directions and we decided that was the perfect end to a long three days of hiking. we headed down to the cascades (it was a LONG way down a very long dirt road) and tried not to think about our walk back up. but, the water was cold and refreshing and we stayed to dry off once in the sun and jump back in for a second go at the sensation of freezing cold water.
our second swimming hole. this one was super deep, so you could dive straight in, and they were freezing cold!
bob, sunning himself before our second swim
we were pretty worn out by the time we got back to the house and got the impression that they kept themselves kind of separate from their guests. but, as soon as we sat down on the porch, martha, came out and invited us up to her outdoor-ish kitchen, where apparently everyone in the family hung out. so, we pulled up a chair and got to know her daughters and their daughters and sons (one was three months old). they were pretty talkative, especially the oldest. and we got to sit and watch them cook dinner which was a chicken from their yard that they would dip into the open flame (with everything intact except its head, of course). they served us strong, black, sugary coffee (i’m going to say the best i’ve had yet on this trip) straight from their yard. and we talked about their family and their knowledge of natural medicine. they are known around their community for helping folks with illnesses of all kinds and grow a lot of the things they use in their gardens. martha and her husband luis were also sandinista and were good friends of marvin and mefalia. luis used to be the president of one of the cooperatives back when things weren’t going as well for the area. while we ate dinner, luis sat and talked to us extensively about their way of life, the state of nicaragua, politics, economics, the standard of living in the US versus nicaragua. we could have gone on for hours and hours. but, the thing that luis kept coming back to was that a simpler way of life was key. he talked about how important the type of foods you consume are to your health, which we all know so well, but which our culture tells us not to worry about on a daily basis. we also talked about goals and what it takes to get things that you want. we shared our experience of preparing and saving for this trip and he talked about the family working hard for things that are ‘luxuries’ in miraflor: a phone, a motorcycle, etc. we felt like we connected to so many of his thoughts and ideals on life. and, it was another wonderful experience in practicing our spanish by trying to have a deep conversation about subjects that really interest us.
the next morning we got up and headed back to the kitchen for some more strong coffee and a delicious breakfast cooked by the oldest daughter. then we sat and cleaned a large bowl of dried red beans of extra farm debris (pebbles, straw, bad beans) while the family chatted with us for our last few hours and kept pouring us more coffee. we were having such a good time talking with them that we didn’t want to leave. but, we had a bus to catch back to esteli, so we reluctantly said our goodbyes and thank yous, and packed up to leave miraflor. we had a 20 minute walk to the bus stop, but got there plenty early for the 11:30am bus. or so we thought…
we waited and waited and by 12pm, got a little nervous. so, i walked back up the road a few meters to a hotel/restaurant (which there are NONE of in miraflor, so it was kind of strange to see) to ask about the esteli bus. i asked if it came through this way, they said yes, right down the road and maybe it was just running late. so, i headed back down to where bob was waiting and he said he had heard the horn down the hill, so it should be any time now before it was picking us up. well, 10 more minutes passed and no bus. the owner of the hotel was heading out on his bike but, when he saw us at the bus stop, he turned around and came back to tell us that we had been waiting at the wrong stop. 5 more minutes down the hill was the bigger stop at the main road where the bus passed. it didn’t come up to this stop unless you pre-arranged it. we already knew that the next and final bus of the day wouldn’t be coming for four more hours. so, there wasn’t much to do other than take him up on his offer to head to his restaurant for some lunch and a beer. it was a strange way to end our experience in miraflor. after three days of crazy intense bonding with some wonderful families, we found ourselves being served a huge plate of food and sipping canned beer at the most touristy place in miraflor, and playing cards to pass the time until the next bus was scheduled. we were a little disappointed. not only in our ability to comprehend instructions to the bus stop after days of Spanish language practice, but also because we felt trapped at this strange restaurant having zero desire to be walking out in the sun for a fourth day in a row. but, what’s a profound experience in another country without at least one humbling moment where you totally screw up just when you think you are finally getting it down. so, when our bus finally came we were relieved that we caught it and happy to be headed to flushing toilets, showers, and back to life on the bike.
here we are waiting at the wrong spot. what a way to end that adventure.
like many other experiences on this trip, it will take me awhile to see what the experience in miraflor has changed in me specifically. but, the amount of hours I layed awake there thinking about the history of the families and the values they lived by, i was already examining and purging pieces of my former lifestyle in my head. even with nothing more than we can fit on a bike, i felt like i still take for granted the items that i possess and the availability of so many comforts we have in our culture. one major theme of this trip was to simplify, and nothing has spoken more clearly to that desire than our experience in miraflor. and being welcomed into the daily lives of some pretty incredible rural families beats the hell out of being in a tourist city and being asked to buy something at every turn. we won’t quickly forget these past four days as they are part of what we were looking for in taking this journey.
it’s a little bit tricky to find the right words for our experience in miraflor. it is one that I think changed me in a profound way that I haven’t yet been able to fully process. but, let me start with trying to paint a bit of a picture of the place. UCA Miraflor is the parent organization of 16 small cooperatives. the entire area is officially a protected nature reserve and all the crops, coffee, etc. grown there must be organic. there are separate communities scattered all over the reserve and the deeper into it you go the higher the elevation climbs. eight of the communities participate in the culture exchange, three of which we visited. things that you are not likely to see in miraflor: running water, electricity (unless it’s solar powered), cars, two story houses, paved roads. things that are common in miraflor: horses, horse poop, cows, cow poop, dogs, gardens, farms, solar power, steep, rocky gravel roads, wells for community members to collect their water, sandinistas (more on that later), coffee, hardworking, generous people who have seen a lot for one lifetime.
miraflor is shadowed by a pretty devastating past, as it was one of the battle grounds in the war between the sandinistas and the contras (which started in the early 70s and continued for over a decade). many of the families we visited are sandinista. they have socialist ideals and seemed to lose a lot in the war that our government interfered so heavily in. pretty much every person we talked to in miraflor had lost a family member (or multiples), seen friends die, and the men over 40 had horrific battle stories for us from their memory of that time. it seems like it was a pretty bleak time for nicaragua. but, i don’t want to come across as being a history expert. i read a little of the history of the conflict and have many personal accounts from folks who lived those years of conflict, but that is all I have. so, that’s the story I’ll tell here.
from the first few hours into our first day, we were on an adventure. we left our hotel at 5am, still pitch black outside, and found a taxi driver who seemed to still be asleep as well. he took us to the bus stop that we were told to wait at. there were a hand full of people waiting there, so we asked to make sure we were in the right place and then we waited. our old US-hand-me-down yellow school bus arrived soon after. and, we hopped aboard. it was already full of people headed up to miraflor for the work day or headed home from a weekend night of partying in the city. we luckily found a seat, which barely fit the two of us, and watched as the local folks interacted, passed bottles of liquor around (mostly the older men) to ward off a monday hangover, or chatted with the conductor as he took everyone’s money. when he got to us, we gave him our fare and told him where we were supposed to get off. all we had was the name of our first community, but he seemed pretty confident that he would know when we should exit. so, we were content enough to get jostled around on the rocky, curving roads and watch the scene on the bus. at one very unassuming stop to let a passenger off, he motioned for us and we exited the bus. a young teenage girl was waiting there for us and her house was our first family of the three day visit. we were practically in her driveway, so we walked the few few feet to her house and met her mother and younger sister. they had what was called a ‘luxurious’ house by miraflor standards, which was concrete, electrified and had plumbing for an indoor toilet. it was still a very open house, with just a few rooms and a little gazebo where they told us to sit and wait for breakfast.
bob relaxing in the family gazebo
we awkwardly waited not really sure what to do and still feeling pretty sleepy. but, soon enough we were ushered into the little dining area next to the gazebo for a huge, filling breakfast complete with a thermos of strong coffee. we wondered what we were supposed to do next and wanted to help with the morning chores, but the older daughter told us we could help later that day. so, we sat for a minute not sure what would happen next and our first guide showed up. he chatted with the family and had some coffee and then shortly afterward we were off. we walked all over the community of coyolito with him that morning. we headed through some cattle farms to a beautiful overlook of the valley, walked down to his own farm to meet his family and hear him play guitar. he played mostly songs written during the war, which he fought in and watched most of his friends die in. but, he wasn’t overly jaded. he had a deep love of music and of nicaragua. it was obvious. after he and bob swapped a few songs we headed out again for a cascade. it was a long walk to the cascade. we passed through many other farms and when we were finally there we all enjoyed the freezing cold pool of water.
the view from the miradora in coyolito
our first swimming hole in mirflor
when we got back to the house we were exhausted from so little sleep and a long morning of intense hiking. so, we excused ourselves for an afternoon siesta and when we emerged, were hoping to help with some things around the house. there ended up not being too many things to do at this family’s house, so i helped reyna, the mom, feed their two rabbits on greens from the garden and we got to know each other a little better. we realized that reyna was just a bit shy, and she seemed to really want to talk but just needed a little coaxing. she wouldn’t let us help in the kitchen, but when she sat our dinner out we asked her to join us and ended up having a great evening talking about her family, her daughters, and a little bit of local history. we all went to bed pretty early, though, because we would be getting up to catch the same bus further on up into the reserve the next morning. and she (along with the rest of miraflor) got up at the crack of dawn every day.
one of the bunnies
the sunset at reyna’s house
so, we were up early again ready to head out for the bus. we knew we wouldn’t eat breakfast until we got to our next family’s house a few hours away. but, reyna wouldn’t let us leave until we had some of her strong coffee. she actually almost made us miss the bus. but, we were concerned about it enough that we downed half a cup and ran out to the road just before it came along. so, we were back on the bus with the name of another destination. this time we got to witness just how fast a bus tire can be changed in the middle of the mountains and full of people. the old one had apparently gone flat (we actually heard the air seeping out of it after a hard patch of rocks, and the guy who took the money, plus a few locals, jumped off and in less than 15 minutes had pulled the other (slightly less used one) off the roof of the bus, changed it and were back and had us moving again. it was an impressive job.
so we were motioned off the bus again, this time in an even more random spot and our guide for the morning was waiting for us there. this guy was much younger than the last, 23 to be exact. and, he was a little quieter in the beginning than our first guide who talked extremely fast and without much of a pause. so, we slowly made our way up some very rocky, very steep roads/paths between farms and slowly got to know darvin. he had quite a lot to say about the state of his family’s health, his siblings and where they all were living, his love of baseball, and his attempts to leave miraflor (once for the US, which was brutally unsuccessful and another time for an extended volunteer experience in costa rica). but, he seemed to really love his family and felt a duty to help take care of his father who was in very poor health.
after about two hours of hiking (mostly uphill) with darvin, we arrived at our next family’s home. it was much more rustic, but beautifully nestled onto the side of a hill with plants growing all around it to add to the privacy and two old hammocks under the front porch, which were perfect for catching little breaks throughout the day. this family was very different from the first. the mother, mefalia, was a teacher at the local school for the 6 and 7 year old class, the father, marvin, was the president of one of the local cooperatives, and was a super busy man. their youngest son, wilder, and his two cousins were left at home during the day to do chores and look after the house. so, when we arrived we felt that we might have caught them off guard. they didn’t seem to be expecting us just yet. and, it was easy to see that things can get confusing when they didn’t have a phone to confirm specific details of our stay. so, we contented ourselves with lounging in the hammocks while the boys ran around and got things ready for us. wilder, the 18 year old, cooked us a lovely breakfast of gallo pinto (beans and rice) fried plantains, and scrambled eggs. i was impressed. soon after we ate, mefalia came home, as her young kids only went to school until 11am. so, we chatted with her and got to know the boys a little better.
wilder would be our guide for the remainder of that day and the next. so, he took us to the local coffee cooperative and gave us a tour. it wasn’t harvesting season, so it looked pretty abandoned, but was neat to see where they processed their organic coffee. i’ve been buying organic coffee for years, but it was a profound experience to get to see the exact process and how much extra work it takes to make the product completely organic. and from the difference in the way it affects the folks who work directly with the coffee, i’m pretty positive I will be buying only organic for the rest of my life.
later that afternoon we went to the local well with mefalia and her tiny nephew, freider. he was nine, but looked more like a six year old from the US. anyway, we had a fun time filling big plastic jugs with freider. he made a sport out of turning the wheel that pumped the well. we all carried two jugs apiece and they were super heavy after being filled. after that i helped mefalia in the kitchen while bob joined a game of soccer that the boys in the house had started up. i learned how to wash dishes the way they do it with just a tiny bowl of water so that not much is wasted. and, I helped cut vegetables for dinner. but, before we ate we were in for a major treat. wilder and his cousin, Jason, took us to a lookout to see the sunset. we didn’t have much of an expectation, but once we arrived we were blown away first by how high up we were from esteli, which was visible way down below in the valley and second by how incredibly beautiful the view was. it may be the most impressive sunset i’ve ever witnessed, and that’s largely in part because of the scene that was before us, not the sun itself. it was enchanting, to say the least.
so, we headed back to the house to eat dinner with marvin, who was finally done with his day. he was a stern, but congenial man, who liked to talk. so, we had a great time at dinner and he discussed his work with the cooperative, the importance of what his community is trying to do and preserve, and the most important part… he stressed how important it was that we tell our family and friends back home about our experiences there. it was clear to him that what we had seen and experienced with his family was making an impression on us, but he (and I think many folks who’ve lived lives similar to his) knows what he’s up against when he invites two americans into his home. the US was not a friend to the sandinistas in their years of war. they (we) actually went out of our way politically to thwart any socialist efforts that were emerging in nicaragua and we did it in a way that cost many of the people whose homes we were sharing their brothers, friends, and parents. marvin didn’t tell us, but the next day his son wilder let us know that his father lost both of his brothers in the war. and, they were fighting for different sides. marvin and mefalia are a proud sandinista family. they work for what they believe is right and it was a beautiful thing to witness a snapshot of their daily life.
whew, ok. that’s a lot for one post. more on our last two days in miraflor to come…
somewhere in mexico
this is a guest commentary by bob. a lot of what we have been doing on this trip has been riding a motorcycle. our reason for this is to experience different places and cultures, in which bec is doing a very good job covering. being that i am operating the machine, we figured it was about time i write a post on what this part of the experience is like. maybe there will be some tips for anybody planning on operating a vehicle in one of these countries.
first off, it is an entirely different way of riding than in the u.s. and consists of three different environments (in my mind at least): the open road, city riding, and passing through small towns.
first, the open road: the roads are great in general. a lot of times you have to watch out for potholes, livestock, crazy truckdrivers, and broken down vehicles, but other than that these are some of the best roads we have ever ridden. one of the most significant changes from the u.s. has been that the a route number for a major thoroughfare consists of that road and all of the other roads within 20 or 30 miles. the important thing to know is what city you are trying to reach and what cities are along the way. the other big difference is that everybody on the road is aware of where you and every other car on the road is located at all times. this is really nice, because in the u.s. i am constantly on guard for the absent minded cell phone driver. here that’s not the case and it opens up a different type of riding. we pass a lot of people because the roads are steep and many trucks, buses, and cars are overloaded and moving super slow. being on a bike makes this task super easy since we can always merge over into our lane with no problem (again, the people are paying attention to motorcycles). the last new thing is something they call lane splitting. it took a second to have faith in this, but after seeing the way the traffic moves to the side to make a new, smaller lane for motorcycles it has been a pretty fun way to travel and after a few thousand miles in mexico and central america we are well accustomed to this when it presents itself.
second, city riding: there are very few cities we have passed that have a way around. most consist of going straight through the heart of the city. this means a lot of traffic, generally, and a lot of really aggressive drivers. so far, i have realized a few things that have helped get through them (we are not using a gps). first, when entering a city follow the hoards of traffic because more often than not people are heading to the city center. second, when the road changes into a material that is dated or seems like it just has a lot more wear it probably means you are getting close to the city center. third, and we have just recently started to use this one (thanks for the tip merrill!), when lost look for the names of cities you are trying to get to on the front or back of buses and go the same direction. when we have been trying to find a specific spot in a city and are having no luck – guanajuato comes to mind – we have hired a cab and followed behind. it works pretty well and is pretty cost effective. when we have been just passing through cities, i have been relying on signs and my compass to keep us heading in the right direction after passing the city center. there really isn’t a steady traffic flow out of town so that method becomes unreliable and signs are better once you’re about five or ten miles out of town so the compass has really been a good guide.
third, passing through small towns: most of the time when passing through a small town there are topes (toe-pays) to force people to slow down since there isn’t a whole lot of respect for traffic cops here. we have seen people pass cops at pretty high speeds in no passing zones with no repercussions. the topes are basically any version of a speed bump you can imagine and our bike’s center stand tends to remove chunks of them more often than not. the great thing about them is that bikes can hop over them a lot faster than the other vehicles so when traffic comes to a stop, we just pop around the side and avoid traffic all together. the open road lasts until we have to pass another bus or truck or slow car. this is the only good thing about topes. i am tired of them otherwise. aside from the topes, random construction and landslides have shown us that it pays to be on a moto. we are expected to jump to the front of the line and even drive right through the construction at times.
riding the bike all this way has been an eventful experience. we are over 5,000 miles right now and probably have another five to seven left to go. we had a very slow speed wreck on the bike one time back in mexico and have fallen over at a stand still on a few other occasions. the accident sucked but taught me a great lesson about how important momentum is when trying to get over obstacles. everyday has been its own adventure so far and we are learning a lot about our neighboring american countries and ourselves.
because it wouldn’t be me if i didn’t share some strong opinion i have, here it goes. the day we crossed the border into mexico, i had a lot going through my head. this was completely new territory for me and after so much negative commentary about mexico, guatemala, el salvador, and honduras i did have a slight worry that i may have possibly been in over my head. i also had a lot of excitement and trust in humans to be good to one another. when we were riding that first 50 miles i realized there was nothing to be afraid of and i got really excited to be in a new country and starting a pretty amazing journey. then i felt a little bit of anger underneath that. this is something i have dealt with for a number of years now. we are being fed bad information on a very regular basis. there is so much fear pumped into our minds about places we have never been and don’t even fully understand. it’s not just about mexico either, it’s about all of the communities close to our homes in the u.s. that we are programmed to think of as dangerous or having ‘bad’ people living there. i have visited these places i was told not to go for my safety and i am currently in the process of visiting more of them right now and i can report that, as one women in louisianna commented, “people are people.” i feel like our idea of what security is in the u.s. is actually a bigger threat to our safety than any gun or drug war or petty thief or whatever else we think is scary. we are losing our ability to easily connect with other people, and therefore our ability to understand our differences and why they exist in the first place. i think of my ability to travel as the greatest privilege i have in my life. this applies not only to the other side of the continent, but also the other side of the cities and states in which i have lived. i have learned so much about other people and myself from this. so to everybody who has seen a strange face in their neighborhood, thanks for being welcoming and nice.
here is a you tube video of us cruising through the mountains in the state of oaxaca taken from the passenger point of view. there is a lot of wind noise so you may want to turn the volume down and put something else on. my favorite jams for riding so far: chancha via circuito – cumbia murguera; robert quine and fred maher – fala
after leaving copan we decided that we really didn’t want to spend too much more time in honduras. there was quite a bit that we wanted to do in nicaragua. so, we planned and discussed and finally decided that we’d try to make it close to the southern border in one day. we knew that this was a toss-up, as land slides, construction, random protests, etc. could stall our progress. but, we made multiple plan b’s and hoped for the best. and, as luck would have it, we made it all the way to the border city of danli and still had a little daylight to find our hotel and walk to the nearby pizza hut that we spied on our way in. we were all craving something familiar. it’s funny because the taste was pretty much the same and it still gave me that too-much-grease-in-my-tummy sick feeling that it did when i was a kid. oh well, it was a fun experience because our server spoke with such a thick accent that none of us could understand a word she said. but, we made it through our meal and headed to bed early to rest up for yet another border.
this was a meal bob and i shared at a lakeside restaurant on our lunch break in honduras. we got to pick our fish from the pile of dead ones laying in a large deep-freezer, waiting to be fried. that was novel. but, the fish was good! the drive was smooth that day, but not without quite a few events along the way, the fish being one of the highlights. there was also a horrible accident that we had to weave our way through because it didn’t seem like an ambulance or police would be showing up for awhile. a man from one of the trucks involved was laying in the road and i am almost 100% positive he was dead by the look of his body and the reactions of the locals upon seeing him there. that was pretty unnerving. we also got stopped at a local police checkpoint, but they really just wanted to chat about our trip and the bikes. they were pretty hilarious and one asked if we had any lunch for him. we told them that all we had was candy, and passed it around, and they seemed pretty content to have a treat while standing in the hot sun all day. those were the major events on our ride through honduras.
now, back to the border. we had been told it would be the longest yet and wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to get through it and make it to esteli, which was about an hour and a half into nicaragua. i don’t know if we are just completely lucking out on borders, but it ended up taking less than 2 hours. it was a little more crowded with truck drivers and money changers. but, other than having to make a lot more small talk while bob and matt figured out the process, it was a piece of cake. i hung out with two old men who just really wanted someone new to talk to, so they discussed our route and places we should visit. and they both started showing me stuff to watch out for on the map. but, i only got half of what they were saying, because they seemed to just want to argue amongst themselves about where exactly certain things were. bob and i had bought some coconut cookies for our breakfast that morning, and we had a few left. so, i bounded with the old man who wanted to lean on the bike by sharing cookies. i know it’s elementary, but it still proves a great way to make friends.
we made it to esteli with half the day ahead of us to get settled and figure out our plans. so, we took our time finding a hotel with parking and headed to a well known cafe that served food from local organic farming cooperatives. the food was delicious and fairly cheap, so we quickly decided it would be a staple for our stay in esteli. it was also connected to a hostel that set up ecotours/culture exchanges in the nearby reserve where the organic food was coming from. bob and i decided we really wanted to do a few homestays in the reserve. so we set that up with the hostel. they had binders full of info on the different communities you could visit, each family that offered a homestay experience, and they offered local guides to get you from community to community through the privately owned farms. more on that experience to come…
while we were in esteli, we rested up and caught up on emails and other business. it was the first time we had internet access in a few days. so, we took it easy and ate most of our meals at cafe luz, which was just down the street from our hotel. it was a very easily navigable city. bob and i ran around and did some errands on sunday morning and got to view the beautiful socialist/social justice themed murals all over town. we told ourselves we’d come back out with the camera. but, photography is getting lower and lower on the list these days. sorry if that’s a big blog disappointment. it’s just where we’re at currently on the trip.
after our morning of meandering around town, we decided we wanted to check out the local swimming hole that afternoon. we headed out on the bikes and only had to ask once for directions to the turn-off road. it was a dirt road that wasn’t well marked, so it was easily missed. but, we found our way and headed the 5km down to the small parking area for salto estanzuela. once we parked and payed our 20 cordoba apiece (less than a dollar) for admission, we walked down a winding gravel road that was too treacherous for the bike. when we reached the cascade, it was a welcome sight. it was a lovely waterfall, about 50-60 feet high, and it ended in an icy cold pool, perfect for taking a dip. bob and i slowly inched our way in and were immediately rewarded for our efforts. the water felt so good on our stressed muscles. it was pretty therapeutic, considering what we put our bodies through on a regular basis on the bikes. but, after a short while there we felt rejuvenated and ready to make the trek back up to the parking area.
once we got back to the top (with the comfort of the cool water almost completely forgotten) we put our gear back on and matt made some friends with two local guys who had been hanging out at the house next door. as sunday is the only day off for most people here, lots of people live it up that one day a week. and these guys had definitely been having a fun afternoon. one of them was trying to get back into town, and really didn’t want to make the 5km walk. so, he convinced matt to let him ride on the back of his bike. he didn’t have any gear (obviously) and barely fit, but it didn’t seem to matter to him. most people we’ve seen don’t wear gear, so usually we’re a pretty big spectacle. anyway, matt being the superb driver that he is, got the guy back to esteli safe and sound.
that night we all headed back to cafe luz for one last dinner together before we went separate ways for a few days. matt didn’t want to do the ecoreserve thing, so he was headed down to granada to check out the city and the surrounding areas. while we ate, we made friends with two young nicaraguan guys who had stopped in for a beer. they were super friendly and spoke very highly of their country and the safety that tourists should feel there. they were fun to chat with, as they wanted to practice english and we were trying to practice spanish. but, bob and i had to catch a bus at 5:30am the next morning, so we called it a night early and let matt entertain our new friends a little longer.
we were nervously excited about what the next three days would hold. we knew we’d be doing a good deal of hiking and would be seeing multiple communities. we also knew that there wasn’t much electricity or running water in miraflor. and we knew a tiny bit of info about each of our host families. but, we didn’t even know where we would get off the bus, just the name of our destination community. so, we tried to get a good night’s rest, knowing that our alarm would go off at 4:30am. and, anxiously anticipated our next adventure.
i’m not going to lie. we weren’t super enthusiastic about driving through honduras. it doesn’t make it into the us news too often. but, lately when it has, it hasn’t been pretty. they seem to be having a pretty shaky time politically right now, and the last thing we wanted to do was get caught up in their internal struggles. but, there was no escaping it. we had to go through honduras to get to nicargua. so, we headed out early for the small border town of mesilla in guatemala. when we got there, it was a pleasantly tranquil sight. there were a few semis lining the sides of the road, but not many. we headed straight up to the hydraulic gate and were motioned through to park straight in front of the migration office. so, all three of us were able to get stamped out while watching the bikes. i got to sit in the shade for the second part, where the boys had to export the bikes. but, it didn’t take any time and we were off to the honduran side just 50 yards away. same deal, good shade, easy time. i made a friend while waiting this time. a young honduran man who was super friendly and just interested in chatting with a foreigner. i gave him some candy and we talked about speaking spanish, honduran economics, and other random things. just before we headed out for copan (which was only 15 minutes away) a nice belgian guy hopped off a camioneta (small tour van) and chatted us up for a minute. it turned out he owned a hostal/restaurant/bar in copan and was headed to guatemala city to pick up his new bike. so, he was excited to see some fellow riders. he said that once we got into town we should head to his place and tell them our first beer was on him. (and what do you think we did with that information!?)
so, we sailed through the first honduran border and headed the few miles up the road into copan. it’s a tiny town with steep cobblestone hills and not too much fluff. there are a hand full of hostels and hotels sprinkled through the city. but, it felt like a great size and we didn’t see too many travelers (non-hondurans) which was a welcome sight for a ‘destination’ city. we got settled at our small hotel and headed to the belgian hostel to have some lunch and try to get our free beer.
here’s pete posing with our gift! we were pretty excited that the free beer option they gave us was leffe. we hadn’t had anything close to a belgian beer in months. so, after one free round we decided it was only right to pay for a second one. (oh, and their food was delicious too)
so after an afternoon of relaxing to get over a long day of travel we made plans to visit the copan ruins the next morning. we were only a 10 minute walk away (that’s how small the town is) and found a family of americans who were looking to get an english speaking guide. so, we shared the cost with them and headed out to see on of the greatest civilizations in the mayan world.
this particular mayan civilization was known for all the amazing sculptures that were commissioned by it’s kings. i could fill the entire post with pictures i took, but i’ll spare you, and just show some of the highlights.
we had a great time learned about the rise and fall of the copan mayans. they had a good run of a few hundred years where they were considered the paris of the mayan world. the grounds were expansive and there were multiple large platforms to walk around. we also got to go down into tunnels that archeologists had dug to view the internal carvings and structures built inside of the larger external ones. a fun fact from copan is that they found a female body in one of the tombs many years ago. so, archeologists think she may have been a revered woman in the society, maybe a healer of some sort.
so, we thoroughly enjoyed the ruins, but our day was not over. bob and i had planned a date (yes, it’s a big deal on a trip like this to have a date night) to a spot that a friend of ours had recommended. it’s a hacienda outside of the city, and it’s up on a large hill overlooking the valley and the ruins. we walked there because we decided to go in the afternoon to catch the sunset. it was a long walk, but we got to see a little more local flavor on our way: men headed home from the fields with their machetes and rubber boots, kids swimming in the large river that ran through the valley, etc.
once we got there, we immediately realized how special this place was. it had a feel of total relaxation. the owner, named flavia, is pretty well known for her hacienda and her advocacy work in local politics. her hotel was a little too pricey for us, but we were convinced by bob’s co-worker, luckett, that we at least had to go for dinner (thank you so much luckett! it was an experience we’ll never forget) they don’t use much light after the sun goes down, so all the tables are set with candle light on the large verdana off the back of the main building. they don’t have a menu, but serve you a 5 course dinner that they call ‘mayan reclamation’ food. it was too delicious to describe. so, i’ll try to do it justice in pictures…
here we are having a pre-dinner drink and lounging in the yard. this was the most relaxed i had felt on the whole trip, so far. and after some hard days of travel, it felt so luxurious.
the yoga/meditation pavilion that overlooked the valley
the first of five amazing courses: pickled vegetables, fruit and homemade cheese, olives, and nuts (my favorite course of the whole meal!)
main course: chicken posado, beans and rice, and vegetables in cream sauce. the best part of this course were the sauces that you could add. there was a mole-esque sauce (minus the chocolate) that went on the chicken. i think we finished the entire bowl, it was so good. and there was a salsa for the rice and beans.
there was also a creamy corn soup, a chicken tamale course, and a dessert of rum cake, honey and papaya with raisins. we were so stuffed by the end that we felt drunk from the food!
a small taste of the ambiance at dinner, needless to say, it was a pretty great date
to top the evening off right, we took a tuk-tuk (those crazy little three wheel taxis) back down into town. our driver was the brother of one of the workers at the hacienda and was super friendly. but, he was a manic behind the wheel. we zoomed down the rocky dirt roads at a speed that didn’t seem too safe. but, i decided he knew what he was doing well, and just held on tight and enjoyed the ride.
after quite a bit of anxiety about traveling through honduras, i have to say, our introduction to the country was pretty opposite my expectations. the size of copan was really appealing and the fact that we weren’t surrounded by backpackers and tourists was also pretty sweet. it didn’t hurt that we had a tour of some beautiful mayan ruins and a 5 course meal all in the same day. so, maybe copan spoiled me a little bit. but, there have been plenty of aspects of this trip that have taught me how to live with less. so, i’ll take the posh time we had in copan as a gift and a way to rejuvenate for the long, long road ahead.
one more view from hacienda san lucas down into the valley and the small city of copan. if you ever get the chance, go there. if you have the money to splurge, stay at the hacienda (or at least eat dinner there) and enjoy the magic of the space.
and, one more huge thank you to luckett. you have amazing taste!
after leaving lake atitlan, we decided that we needed to hightail it to the guatemala/honduras border so that we could be on track to cross into honduras the next day. it was only 200 some miles, but it ended up taking around 10 and a half hours and was quite the adventure. in the morning, coming out of the highlands, we drove first through whispy, white clouds sweeping across the road (which was fun and pretty) then they turned to a cold misty rain and near zero visibility. that part wasn’t nearly as fun or pretty. so, after we got through a good long stretch which included some muddy road construction, we jumped off the road to get gas and grab a cup of coffee to warm up. we all geared back up for the misty cold and headed on down the road. and of course, two minutes later we were driving through sunny clear skies again. but, we were still glad we had a little break. the rest of the day proved to be just as adventurous. we got lost in guatemala city, where NOTHING is labeled, turned around twice and ended up driving through it for around an hour and a half. drove through a ton of dusty construction sights after that and then made one last, late afternoon stop for gas to make sure our destination city wasn’t too far away to reach by dark. we found out that it was only 30 minutes away and were all pretty relieved, as the sun was definitely starting to set.
back on the bikes, we headed toward chiquimula, and not 5 minutes from the gas station we hit stand still traffic. our past experience with this kind of pile-up meant one of two things: construction or a wreck. but, it also meant that motorcycles are supposed to weave their way to the front to investigate whether they can make it through. so, we made our way up and found total chaos near the front of the line. it was, in fact, construction, but the hold-up was caused by a bunch of impatient drivers who decided that the one lane at a time system wasn’t for them and tried to get their huge buses, trucks, cars up to the front in the lane where the other side was attempting to get through. so, there was a lot of yelling at people to back out, there were huge semis having to squeeze on the side of the road and snapping trees as they went. but, once again we got to watch all the action with tons of local people who had no other option than to get out of their cars and be entertained by the scene that was unfolding.
bob waiting patiently near the front of the line of stopped cars
when we finally got through, we were in a gang of motorcycles for a bit. all of us had gotten stuck at the same point. so, that was kind of fun. but, it was definitely getting dark and we tried to make fast time to our destination. once we reached the center of town we actually found our hotel pretty quickly, which was a relief after the day we had. and, we unpacked just what we needed for the night and immediately proceeded to the small pool in the back and took a dip. It was cold and refreshing which was pretty therapeutic for all three of us, as the second half of the day was in the scorching hot lowlands in the center of the country.
so, after we cooled off we went in search of dinner and couldn’t find much other than the long line of food carts in the plaza. not willing to tempt fate with street food the night before a border crossing, added to the fact that we were all famished, we settled for the guatemalan equivalent of KFC… pollo campero! it was bright, air conditioned, and the fried chicken was just what i needed at the moment. we headed to bed soon after that, anticipating another adventure-filled day with the honduran border looming in our immediate future. little did we know, it would be the easiest one yet, and we’d fly through the process in less than 2 hours. but, that’s the thing about a trip like this, you never know what to expect. you just have to be willing to deal with whatever comes at you in the present moment and not think too hard about the next one, or the one after that.
well, goodbye guatemala. this was the first ‘new’ country for me on the trip, so far. and, i was pretty impressed with the beauty of it’s countrysides and of its people. most of guatemala seems to be a world away from the way we live back home. and, it was a great transition into the dynamic cultures we have been experiencing in central america. i am beginning to feel that the us and mexico (they are actually pretty similar in the grand scheme of cultural understanding) are very far behind me. and in that line of thinking…
here we come, honduras!
wow, it’s been awhile. we’ve been doing a lot of traveling this past week or so. and, I last left the blog in antigua. so, let me try and catch up. we did our first stint of backtracking after leaving antigua because we were told by quite a few travelers that lago atitlan was a place that was not to be missed. i expected it to be remote and fairly bare-bones after the hustle and bustle of a tourist city, but that’s not quite what we found. the main town on the east side of the lake was called panajachel. it was a hodge-podge of hotels, restaurants, and souvenir stalls pretty much completely geared to tourists. we found the super cheap, yet super clean and friendly hotel that had been recommended to us pretty quickly, though, and headed down to the lake to figure out our plans for the next day. and, we wanted to take in the view.
of course, taking in the view meant a stop at one of the lakeside restaurants for a beer while we discussed which boat touring company we wanted to take in the morning. this was our view that evening.
we woke up early the next morning to catch our 8:30am boat, and were promptly greeted by one of the men we had met the night before, trying to get us to choose his company. he remembered us and herded us down toward the water. his actually ended up being one of the better options, so we allowed ourselves to be herded. little did we know, there would be much more herding to come in our day around the lake.
this didn’t end up being our boat taxi (because of which, i won a quetzal apiece from bob and matt because i picked the smaller, dingier boat and was correct!) but, it was the best view of the other side of the lake that we had all day.
so, the tour took us to four of the smaller pueblos around the lake, each known for something different. the first was a mecca for hippies and healers, called san marcos. you could get massages, reiki, do yoga, meditation, etc. it was the most simple and least modern with tiny alleyways leading through the village and most people were in local, indigenous dress. we had just enough time to head up into the center to a quaint little coffee shop and book exchange and grab some breakfast.
then it was back on the boat for our next stop. this one wasn’t far away, and was an unexpected stop. but, as soon as we got off the boat all three of us were hounded by three separate tuk-tuk (local, hilarious looking three wheeled taxi) drivers. they wanted to show us the sights of the village in the hour that we had there. it was tempting, seeing as how the road into town was straight up. but, we tried to head out on our own and started up the hill. one of the younger drivers was bound and determined, though. and, he jumped in his tuk-tuk to follow us. he told us we’d see way more of the town with him and said he’d take us to the local women’s cooperative where they died wool to weave the local textiles. i was pretty interested in seeing this, so we asked his price and decided it wasn’t a bad deal. and, i’m actually really glad we did.
each ball of wool was dyed from natural colors: carrots, beets, a plant that when heated gives off a beautiful indigo color, etc. etc. it was really fun to see the process and talk to one of the ladies who works in the colective
the next stop was a much less inticing pueblo, san pedro. it was larger than the others but seemed to only have cement block hotels and restaurants. but, bob had done some research on a good lunch stop there and we had an hour to find it and eat. it turned out that it was on the opposite side of the town and we wouldn’t make it there in time to get back to the boat. so, we went in search of something else. we trudged up and down the steep hills looking for a spot and finally found a nice coffee shop with delicious looking food. so, we sat and ordered with about 40 minutes left before our boat took off… 35 minutes later, our food still wasn’t ready and I decided to run down to the dock and ask for 15 more minutes from our driver. he was docked a few boats over from the spot I could get to, so I ended up having to yell a broken spanish conversation with him where I asked for more time, he refused, I told him our situation and he just kept responding that he would wait 5 minutes and no more. so, I ran back up to the café, and we got our food packed to go (it still hadn’t come out of the kitchen). but, they got it packed up super quick and we barely made our boat. i know, this is not a true crisis situation (so you can start laughing at us now). but, we were starting to tire of being herded around all day and not really having a sufficient amount of time in any of the pueblos. had we thought about this ahead and stayed a few extra days we could have chosen a different route. but, for before or worse, we were on the boat tour getting a lightening speed tour of four unique towns around the lake. because of this fact, we found ourselves eating burritos, empanadas, and salad with our fingers on the trip to the final town. the food was, in fact, fantastic! but, by the time we arrived at the final town and immediately got swarmed by teenage boys who wanted us to pay them to take us to see maximon, a local deity who was believed to be a protector of the people, we were done. most people actually do the boat trip just to get this chance. it had seemed pretty cool when we read about it ahead of time. but, after our morning of hopping from town to town and getting hassled left and right, all we wanted was a quiet place to have a beer and look at the lake. so, we fought off the local boys (seriously, we had to get a little rude for them to leave us alone) and wandered around until we found a quiet spot on the water. we slowly drank our beers and waited for our ride back to the town we were staying. overall, it was a pretty good flash-introduction to the towns around the lake. but, if we ever went back, i think we’d stick to one or two of them and spend some quality time there. my vote would be for the first one, san marcos, for a massage, some healing and maybe an occasional dip in the lake. but, you live you learn….
antigua ended up being such a refreshing week for all of us. bob and i were pretty happy when the school week ended, though! we went out and got a celebratory afternoon beer on friday. i hadn’t celebrated the end of a traditional week in quite awhile. it was just such an intense way to jump into studying, but it definitely improved our ability to speak. we stayed one more full day in antigua to decompress, and i’m glad we did. we were able to get a little more quality time with the other two students in our house. and on saturday we set out with them to tour a nearby coffee farm. it was a beautiful day and we really enjoyed learning the process from start to finish.
here’s the coffee bean in its five forms. the red ‘cherries’ are the bean straight from the tree, the lighter color beans are what you find when you peel the red outer skin off and then dry them in the sun. the top left is obviously the toasted bean, and the other is the grounds. i had never seen the entire process explained the displayed before, so i had a lot of fun learning about one of my favorite drinks!
our guide through the farm did an excellent job explaining the process. here he is walking along the drying beans.
the room where the beans were roasted smelled delicious. we got to eat samples of the beans at different strengths. the shorter amount of time, the milder the flavor but the less caffeine.
the farm we went to was all organic. they let us taste a small cup at the end of the tour, which was a definite perk. but, one of my favorite parts of the tour was a quote on the wall in the museum where they displayed the process, the lineage of the farm owners, and all the coffee making and drinking memorabilia through the years… ”Coffee should be black as night, strong as passion, sweet as love and hot as hell.”
here are our friends from our homestay after our tasting. they were both traveling along to brush up on their spanish and enjoy guatemala, but neither were first-timers. we really enjoyed our nightly dinner conversations with them, stumbling through our spanish (and a little french), and hearing about their former travels and recommendations of places for our next big adventure! i know, i’m getting way ahead of myself, here, but these two definitely have the spirit for adventure. they were both inspiring people to meet on this trip and we feel lucky to have had the opportunity.
it was a good end to a long, studious week. and we were pretty excited to get back on the road by the end of it all. but, having spent 9 days in one city really helped us see how much you can take in about a place in such a short time, especially when you don’t have one to call ‘home’ in the present moment. we started to find familiarity in our walks to school, our regularly scheduled meals, putting our heads on the same pillows night after night. but, i can at least speak for myself in saying that i am not in the mental space right now to get too comfortable. it was nice to slow down. but, i was ready to move on by the end of the week. i take that as a positive sign, seeing as how we have countless pillows left to try out in countless other cities… news from the next one down the road to come soon.
i’ve been in spanish class for two days and my brain hurts. i thought it’d be a good time to sit down and enjoy writing in english. my teacher is kicking my butt, but i think it’s worth it because i’m definitely improving. but, i’m getting way ahead of the blog timeline right now. a lot has happened in the last week and i need to review.
first, the landslide and adventure that followed…
pete wrote all about this in his blog, if you’ve already checked there. but, i just have to add that it was a really fun day for me. (obviously i wasn’t driving one of the bikes down the steep hill!) but, i got to hang out with a bunch of locals, practice my spanish, and try and gauge whether the route was worth the risk alongside bob. after hours of pondering, watching, interacting, etc. we decided that the road above was not getting clear in one day and went for it.
the alternate route (and pete getting a pic for his blog)
the brave boyfriend (correction: super skinny boyfriend, after four days of not eating due to montezuma’s revenge) who went for it and rode down the hill in the background, saving us a day of being stuck near the border of guatemala
FRIENDS!!! i can’t even describe how wonderful it was to get to spend a day with our friends juliana and ryan. we met up for breakfast on saturday morning and didn’t part ways until 11pm that night. it was so refreshing to be with people who know us after being strange foreigners for so many weeks. and, ryan and these two are total caretakers. we were all a little beat-up from the last week of travel. so, their presence came at the perfect time in our travels. they even took a backpack full of our second wave of purging home with them. (yes, we’re still purging… it’s a long process to figure out what is absolutely necessary on this kind of trip) we’re so lucky to have friends like them!
the rooftop of our hotel had great views of the three volcanoes and the surrounding hills
of course i jumped at the chance to work on an old client! juliana needed a haircut, and i wouldn’t have left home without my shears and cape. it was fun to dabble in my old craft for a night.
the bed in their hotel room was huge and we were all a little loopy at the end of the night from sickness and the tiniest bit of vino. this was the best shot of the bunch.
those are the highlights of the last few days. mostly the trip from san cristobal to antigua was just an exhausting cycle of riding, searching out a hotel for the night, and using the bathroom (with a landslide thrown into the mix). but, now that we’re staying put for a week, being feed three square meals a day by lovely guatemalan women, and know where we’ll sleep for the next four nights life is pretty easy. more on being a student for the first time in ages to come soon. for now… my homework awaits.
well, it´s been a long few days since my last post. we´ve all had some crazy stomach issues, crossed a border, found our way around a landslide, and met up with some dear friends from back home. i´ll have to take the time to give some photo updates on all these happenings soon. but, a quick update for now: we are starting to feel much better with cipro in our systems, we have found guatemala to be even more beautiful than mexico, and were so happy to get some time with our friends juliana and ryan. (if you need to see pictures now, just go to pete´s blog. he´s much more on top of his than i am right now)
we´re pretty excited to be staying put for a week and diving into language school. we start tomorrow and got settled with our host families today. mine and bob´s is a lovely old couple who have a house full of nick-nacks, a green parrot, and an amazing view of the volcanoes out their front gate. we´re also super excited to have a place to call home for a week. it´s been a very long time since i´ve been in one place that long. it´ll be a busy one with school and meeting new people, but hopefully a very rewarding one.
i want to go catch the procession that is happening in town today in preparation for holy week. (they get things started here pretty early in the easter season) so, that´s it for now. i´ll post some pictures soon!