August 13, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Organic Chocolate Farm in Costa Rica

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Cost/day: $20/person

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

Yes, I am nine months pregnant (today is my due date). But instead of sitting at home waiting around, we decided to visit an organic chocolate farm (and swam in a tropical river on the way. Okay, I just took pictures, I didn’t swim.)

We had to travel along the same bumpy, dirt road that we did to get to the beach just a few weeks ago, but only part way.

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Describe a typical day:

We’re staying in the mountains of the Central Valley, with a gorgeous view of the ocean waaaay off in the distance. Grandma and grandpa have come to visit, in anticipation of the birth of our sixth child. We’re all a little antsy just waiting around, so we decided to have an adventure. Enter the trip to the chocolate farm, just an hour from our house.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: This chocolate farm is run by a family who has been in business for decades. They have volunteers who come and live and work to help out during harvesting. Learning about the entire process of making chocolate from cocoa bean to indulgent treat is very fascinating.

Dislike: The cicadas are in town, and they are very loud. It’s hard to hear our guide as he gives the tour. Oh that, and the biting ants. Don’t stand in one place for too long.

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Describe a challenge you faced:

My biggest challenge was simply trying to get around with this very large belly!

What new lesson did you learn?

How chocolate is made, and that hands-on learning (worlds-schooling as we like to call it) is one of the best ways to learn, and some of the best experiences you can have. Plus we’re creating memories.

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Where next?

Staying put here for a while for sure… we’re having a baby!

I’ve recently written a post — The Mother’s Guide to Funding Family Travel, check it out here. You can also connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

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Category: Central America, Destinations, General

July 9, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: flat tires and bumpy road adventures (while pregnant) in Costa Rica

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Cost/day: $50/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

We left the beach life in Nicaragua and are housesitting in the mountains of Costa Rica, above San Jose.

I’m 8 1/2 months pregnant, but that doesn’t stop us from taking a trip to the beach after we’ve been here a couple of weeks. You can see the ocean from our house in the mountains of Costa Rica, but it appears deceptively close. What we think will be a short drive to enjoy the sun and waves, turns into a 2 hour bumpy, off-road adventure and a flat tire.

I hope I don’t go into labor. ;)

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Describe a typical day:

Our days have been spent at home at the mountain house, preparing for the birth of our sixth child.

But today we decided to take a trip to the beach today. Two bumpy hours and a flat tire later we finally arrived. The beach was large, the sun shone high, we picked fresh coconuts from the tree and found sand dollars in the sand.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: Costa Rica is a beautiful country. We love being back (we lived here in 2007-2008). We’re excited to explore it once more — the beaches, rainforests, oceans, waterfalls and rivers.

Dislike: After living in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua for the last 1 1/2 years, Costa Rica is comparatively more expensive — housing, food and activities… but I think we’ll adjust. We’re loving it here.

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Describe a challenge you faced:

I’ve had all my babies at home (except for my adopted daughter ;) ) I’d like to have this one at home in Costa Rica, but we’ve been working out logistics… can the midwife make it in time? Is there a hospital nearby?

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What new lesson did you learn?

Every travel experience offers joy and disappointment, pleasure and pain, beauty and the unsightly. Traveling well is learning how to embrace both… still true.

Where next?

Staying put here for a while… I’m sure you can guess why. ;)

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

June 11, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Living the beach life in Las Peñitas, Nicaragua

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Cost/day: $30/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

After crossing two borders in one day, and hanging out in León and Las Peñitas, we’ve finally found a place to stay for a little while.

My oldest son discovered a bat on the floor in the room where’s he’s staying in our rented beach house. He tried to let it go outside, but it doesn’t fly. It crawled up a coconut tree, then glided into the attic of the neighbors house… oops. Sorry neighbors.

Describe a typical day:

In the morning we do study time with the kids, then they spend a few hours working on their projects (like creating with clay or drawing and coloring) while my husband and I do our work (with breaks for meals, which we eat together). Every evening we take a walk on the beach and watch the sunset. When we need groceries, we drive into the colonial city of León.

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: Loving this beach. It’s great for beginner surfers (like my husband and kids — I’m not surfing, because I’m 7 months pregnant). It has beautiful sunsets, great sand and is good for wading and swimming at low tide.

León is a quaint city, with dozens of cathedrals. Doing our shopping there is a pleasure.

Dislike: Mosquitoes. Bats. We moved here in November and it was mosquito season. We were eaten alive. Hundreds of mosquito bites. Ahhhhh! And there’s a couple of families of bats that have taken up residence in the roof.

Las Peñitas has a great beach, and a great surf, but the town itself is run down. It’s up and coming, and there are a couple of nice rentals, but many of them are sketchy.

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Describe a challenge you faced:

Dealing with the mosquitoes was an annoying challenge, until we moved into a house that was on the beach. The ocean breezes helped to eliminate them, although we still put on pants and long sleeves in the morning and evenings, and slept under mosquito nets.

Oh, and I’ve had to take multiple cold showers per day, and sit in front of a fan from 10 am until 5pm. That’s what comes of living on the coast while 7 months pregnant.

And where will we have this baby??

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What new lesson did you learn?

Every travel experience offers joy and disappointment, pleasure and pain, beauty and the unsightly. Traveling well is learning how to embrace both.

Where next?

A housesitting opportunity has come available in Costa Rica. I think it will be a good place to have a baby.

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

May 14, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: Crossing two Borders in one day (and running out of money)

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Cost/day: $100/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

We left El Salvador and crossed the Honduras AND Nicaragua border in one day with our five kids (and ran out of money at the Nicaragua border.) Oh, and I’m six months pregnant.

Describe a typical day:

This was an untypical day…  after being unable to find a house we wanted to rent in El Salvador, we decided to head to Nicaragua to find a place. Since there was only a small portion of Honduras we needed to pass through, we opted to cross both borders in the same day.

What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: There’s something special about being on the road, on the move. It feels good to see new places.

Dislike: Literally, the moment we crossed the border into Honduras we were stopped by police who attempted to get us to pay a bribe. Then we were stopped 5-6 more times that day before reaching the Nicaraguan border… not cool. (But we refused to pay one single bribe, so that’s good.)

Describe a challenge you faced:

There was a little bit of cash left in our wallet, but most of it had been spent on groceries. If necessary, we planned to withdraw any money we would need at the border. When we arrived, the entry into Nicaragua was more than we had remembered/expected ($12 per passport, and there’s seven of us.)

My husband attempted to withdraw money from the ATM to pay the fees, but the machine ONLY accepted Visa… and the only cards we had were Mastercard. We could not access our money, and the nearest ATM that accepted Mastercard was an hour into Nicaragua, or a couple of hours back into Honduras. What were we going to do?

Soon my husband spotted some European backpackers and thought he better take advantage of any opportunity he might have. He struck up a conversation, then asked them if he could offer them a ride to León, Nicaragua, in exchange for a loan to pay our visa fees (and a promise to pay them back as soon as we found a Mastercard ATM.)

Thankfully, they agreed. We paid the fees, then made room for our new friends and drove into Nicaragua. By this time, however, it was getting dark and starting to rain. The drive was a little intense, with lightening flashing, pedestrians walking in the rain, and the reflection of headlights off the wet asphalt.

At last we made it to León, made a withdrawal at the first ATM, paid back our friends then dropped them off at a hostel.

What new lesson did you learn?

Always have enough cash on hand before you arrive at a border crossing.

Where next?

We’ll be renting a house in the beach town of Las Penitas.

Learn how to become location independent this year, connect with me on Facebook, or join our Fantastic Family Fridays.

 Dennings Antigua Guatemala

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

April 29, 2014

A Pedestrian Experience of the Cinta Costera III: Casco Viejo, Panama

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Panama is not the most walkable city but there are newer pieces and parts planned in pedestrian friendly style.

The Casco Viejo is a city of contrasts, a city under restoration intertwined with a city crumbling down. When I arrived there unexpectedly for a week’s stay I was surprised at the intensity of traffic crowding through the narrow streets.

Walking along the waters edge from the old town to the fish market, I watched the construction progressing on an elevated road above the bay. A u-shaped causeway was taking shape. Heavy machinery and work crews stood silhouetted against the skyline. Viewed from the top of Cerro Ancon (a hill looming above and directly west) the shape was reminiscent of ancient fortress walls.

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I peeked past the barriers and around the guards stationed in front of the entry to the on ramp, wondering where this over water ring road reconnected with the city.  Then one morning in my hostel lobby, an announcement on the news reached my ears, the opening celebrations of the Cinta Costera III was scheduled for that evening.

There were fireworks over the Casco Viejo that night. Fireworks with rainbow LED lighting streaking around the historic port, emphasizing the route and adding another level of pizzazz to the display. Since noticing the ring road, I hoped I could run the length of it and discover its destination on foot.

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The next evening, the traffic in town was noticeably less. Out there in the bay, I could see cars and trucks zipping along freely. I checked in with my fellow walkers/runners/skaters and confirmed, the pedestrian walkway took you round to the other side of the old town. I walked it, I ran it, I watched skaters and cyclists ride it, I dodged groups of pedestrians strolling with their dogs. I looked back at the magnificent views of the colonial city, views previously witnessed only by fishermen, sailboats, pirate ships and barges returning from the open sea.

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I learned from talking to locals, the project was unpopular. Unimpeded views to the horizon were now marred by a busy roadway. Now, with this barrier, Casco Viejo was no longer truly a port city. It’s UNESCO World Heritage status was questioned and then left intact. To the locals, the Cinta Costera III had ‘ruined’ the historical heritage of Panama City’s most popular and important sites. To me, a visitor, Casco Antigua’s streets had become more inviting to the pedestrian. I enjoyed a safe passage, a vibrant connection to the public, the views, and a lovely evening stroll along the boulevard.

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Category: Central America, Destinations

April 9, 2014

Vagabonding Field Report: The coast of El Salvador

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Cost/day: $55/day

What’s the strangest thing that’s happened lately?

Between my husband and my son, they were stung three times during the one week we were in El Salvador!

Describe a typical day:

We’re driving most days, exploring the coast and searching for a place where we could possibly rent a house. Stopping at towns along the way, such as El Zonte, San Blas and Liberia, we check out the beaches and rental prices.

The roads are windy along the coastline in the north, with cliffs that offer vistas of the sea. Sunshine reflects off the ocean. The breeze blows, the windows are down and our favorite tunes are playing on the radio. It’s great to be alive, exploring this big, beautiful world!

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What do you like about where you are? Dislike?

Like: There are no speed bumps! After being in Guatemala for so long and their countless tumulos it’s refreshing to be able to drive without slowing down for speed bumps.

The people are super friendly, and love the children. They are constantly coming up to us every time we stop and asking questions.

We also found a great little place to hangout in El Cuco… a great campground with a pool and a short jaunt to the beach.

Dislike: We’re shocked with the prices here — food is about 20% more than Guatemala (we’d heard it was cheaper), and rental rates are outrageous! Prices are high, but the ‘niceness’ of accommodations are not. This was not at all what we expected. We can only surmise that rates are being driven up because the coast of El Salvador is very popular for surfers.

Describe a challenge you faced:

We’d hoped to find a house to rent for a month or two, but all rental rates were outside of our budget, and even if they hadn’t have been, nothing we found would work for our family of seven (soon to be eight.) Given my condition of being 6 months pregnant, I was disappointed by having my expectations unrealized.

What new lesson did you learn?

Expect the unexpected. You never really know what a destination has to offer until you hit the ground. Besides, everyone’s desires are different, so it can affect what their experience is like.

Where next?

We’re heading to Nicaragua where we hope to find a house on the beach that we can rent for a few months.

Download 101 FAQs about our travel lifestyle, connect with me on Facebook, or learn step-by-step how to fund travel.

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 20, 2014

Getting robbed and questioning connectedness

Hike Around Lake Atitlan

We turned the corner on the path and my heart immediately dropped. We had seen this man before. He passed us a while back, while we were taking pictures of our idyllic setting. Now here he was, standing amongst the corn, looking out over the lake, and waiting- for us. I knew something wasn’t right and I froze.

He mumbled one word: “dinero.” Aaron looked to me for a translation, not believing what was happening. “He wants your money”, I said simply. “Money, rapido!”, the man said. I registered, not for the first time, the machete in his hand, hanging at his side.

Everything I believe about people, about our connectedness, started to waiver and all I could see was that machete.

Aaron handed over his wallet and threw his hands up. I stayed frozen. I was hyper aware of every move, sound, and feeling but I did not move. The man approached me and I instinctively threw my hands up as well. He took the money out of my pocket, the machete still at his side, and ran off as soon as Aaron made a move towards us.

I exhaled and we took off. We practically ran over the thin path to the next town. Both of us were shaken and afraid that the man who had robbed us on a cloudy day on Lake Atitlan would follow us. He didn’t. He ran as fast in one direction as we ran in the other.

We felt angry, scared, and confused. Where did our beliefs about people fit into all of this? Where did our deep convictions on connectedness and the basic goodness of all people come into play? What exactly had just happened? We weren’t just robbed, it was as if our inner most thoughts had been exposed, challenged, and proven false.

We found a local cafe where we could re-group and I pulled my computer out of my backpack to work….. and stopped.

I had my computer, the one I had been carrying in my very visible backpack in an effort to search out a better internet connection in town. My camera, the same one the man who had robbed us had seen us using, was still dangling out of Aaron’s pocket. My wallet, holding an emergency 100 quetzales, was still floating around Aaron’s backpack. In fact, everything we had brought on our hike was still with us- minus the cash from our pockets.

I started replaying the event in my head. Thirty minutes ago I had been frozen in place focused on a man and a machete. Now I went back over the scene in my mind. He never raised his machete, in fact he seemed to forget he even had one, using his finger to point at us for emphasis. He never touched our backpacks; never reached for the camera whose red strap hand glaringly out of Aaron’s pocket. He never demanded more, accepting what was thrown easily in his direction. And when it was over, he ran. He ran as fast as we did.

Clarity started to overtake Aaron and I. We had just been robbed by a desperate man, likely out of work at the end of rainy season, not a career criminal. We had known enough to be grateful for our safety seconds after the attack, but what had eluded us in those first moments of escape was clarity and the ability to apply our connectedness with the man who had robbed us.

We will never know who that man was. We will never know his story or what ultimately led him to decide to wait for us on that path. What we do know, without a doubt, is that he never intended to hurt us- he just needed money. And ultimately, he needed that money more than us.

Understanding that even good people do questionable things when their backs are against a wall is a difficult lesson to internalize. The moment someone harms us, invades the sanctity of our space, or challenges our convictions, fear takes over and our instinctual response is to protect ourselves, physically, mentally, and emotionally. We make enemies out of men, turn the characters of the story into monsters, and delve into a realm of moral superiority that serves us in that moment. It separates “us” from “them”. It makes us feel better when we decide that the one who just attacked us or offended us was simply “bad”.

But what if the attackers aren’t “bad”? What if they are men and women with their backs against the wall and a family to feed? What if they are as scared of what they just did as the victims are? What if, in some situations, a closer examination blurs the line between “attacker” and “victim”? It’s an uncomfortable thought because it challenges the stories we create to protect ourselves. It also means that there might just be a day when that wall pushes against our own back and we do something we never thought we’d do.

There’s no way around it, getting robbed is no fun. But if travel has taught me anything it’s that our beliefs and our convictions cannot truly exist if they are never challenged and that every single situation, the good and the bad, are the puzzle pieces that make up the whole beautiful journey.

Sunset on Lake Atitlan

Travel is not always pretty. Neither is life in general. It’s the moments of clarity, sandwiched between the exceptional and the horrible, that make you think, for a moment or maybe more, that we are all just human beings at the end of the day and that we are all, truly, connected.

What might change and what might we gain if we stopped separating ourselves into “us” and “them” and started recognizing the common humanity we all share?

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Category: Central America, Ethics

March 12, 2014

Vagablogging Field Report: Extreme Bungee Adventure in Guatemala

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Cost: $22/adults $12.50/kids

What’s the coolest thing you’ve done lately?

Extreme Bungee!! Get strapped into a harness and shot into the air with up to 4G forces pressing against your body… basically you’re a human catapult. That’s extreme bungee.

Describe the experience:

We are picked up by Lionel who owns and runs Xtreme Bungee. He drives us a few minutes outside of Antigua where he has an incredible human catapult machine set up.

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One by one, all the members of my family (except for the two youngest and me, the pregnant mommy) take turns being shot into the air, reacting with screams and funny facial expressions while G forces press against their bodies and free falls turn their tummies. (The video is hilarious!)

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What do you like about the experience? Dislike?

I loved watching my kids and husband as they experienced something new and faced (and overcame) fears and uncertainties in order to create great memories, build confidence and have unexpected fun!

I did not like the music that was played at the site. It was in English and inappropriate for children. However, the owner has since stated that he will be more aware of that in the future.

Describe a challenge you faced:

Convincing my oldest son that he could not have more than two turns!

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What new lesson did you learn?

Giving children an opportunity to get out of their comfort zone and try something new is ultimately what travel is about. It helps their confidence to grow, and expands their minds.

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Where next?

Next we’ll be heading to El Salvador.

See more family travel adventures on my blog, or connect with me on Facebook.

Rachel Denning Lake Atitlan 500

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Category: Central America, Family Travel, Vagabonding Field Reports

March 6, 2014

Is there really such a thing as “us” and “them”?

As we travel around the world, one of our most important goals is to connect with people and find out what common threads exist that bind humanity together. It is so very easy to categorize people and to explain away the worlds ills with generalizations and dinner table chats on politics.

But who are the individuals who inhabit our earth? Who are the people we talk about dismissively during those dinner table chats, sandwiched somewhere between the main course and dessert? How are they affected by the grander conflicts of our world? What do we have in common with them?

Does the key to changing our worst behaviors as a species lie solely in seeing people as individuals who are very much like us? 

Mayan women in procession

Recently, I had the honor of meeting a woman named “Katerina”, who chose to share her experiences during a very dark period in Guatemala history- a period many have categorized as genocide. Her experience is her own and her perspective is uniquely hers, though many suffered in a similar fashion.

The period in Guatemalan history Katerina talks about is very recent history. It was a period of brutality fueled by politics that affected the lives of every Mayan, every Guatemalan, at the time. Out of sheer panic over the possible spread of Communism, the US played a now well-known role in the events during this period, supporting a brutal regime and fueling anti-indigenous sentiment in the country. Guerrilla groups cropped up (some backed by Cuba) and, in their zeal to fight brutality from government backed groups, often tormented the local populace in their own right. The results were catastrophic with hundreds of thousands of people killed or “disappeared” and many more tortured and brutalized.

I was barely alive when this all took place but, as an American, I cannot help but feel remorse and utter helplessness over the horrific experiences Guatemalans were forced to endure due in part to my country’s politics.

Katerina said, in part:

“They would come in the night. They would burn buildings and start fights. No one had arms to protect themselves but they would still come. They would kill men, women, and children- they didn’t care. It didn’t matter if they were guerrillas or military, they were all the same.

My family was one of the lucky ones. There were police in disguise all over our village but my family had no one with the guerrillas so we escaped much of the problems. People where I lived were always afraid. The military was always demanding free food that we could not afford to give. They would rape our women; kill people as they went about their daily lives. My mother protected us fiercely and somehow, none of the females in my family was ever raped. The guerrillas were always causing problems and they were not much better than the military and police officials.”

Can you imagine what she is saying for a moment? Close your eyes and imagine strangers coming in the night and killing your child. Now imagine those strangers are dressed in the military uniform of your own country. Imagine that the greatest achievement you reach as a mother for over a decade was in protecting your girl children from being raped. Imagine, on top of all of this, that you have absolutely no idea what is going on.

Mayan Child

“In Chichicastenango, there were military and guerrillas everywhere. No one knew where these people were from, they were strangers. The guerrillas dressed in the typical, local clothing of the Mayan people in Chichi and so the military was constantly coming after the Chichi people. But these guerrillas were not from Chichi, they were strangers who dressed like the Chichi people to fool the military. No one in Chichi knew who they were. It was very dangerous for the local people.

In the time of the guerrillas, there were still a few foreigners coming in and out of Guatemala. A friend used to drive these foreigners from Guatemala City to the Panajachel area. Along the highway between Guatemala City and Pana, you can often see sacks filled with crops, lining the side of the road, waiting for pick-up. One time when this friend was driving these foreigners, there was a stretch of road that had sacks upon sacks but there was not one single person around. The foreigners asked the driver what was in those sacks because there were just so many and the driver told them it was likely potatoes.

They dropped these foreigners off in Panajachel and turned around to head back to the city. On their return, they noticed the sacks were still there. They went on for what seemed like kilometers. The driver’s helper convinced the driver to pull over and see what was in those sacks. There were just too many and there was still not one single person in sight. When the driver pulled over, he opened the bags and discovered the heads of indigenous people stuffed into those sacks. Who knows what happened to the rest of the bodies of those people.

Why would anyone do this? It was political. It was always political. We had no freedom of expression. We were stuck in the middle of violence that wasn’t ours. It’s always the same but now the problems we see are different. There are really no more guerrillas now but extortion is a very real problem these days. But it’s always political.”

Why would anyone do this? How could they do this to fellow human beings? Simple. They stopped thinking of Katerina and her community as human. The perpetrators created a political problem, a threatening philosophy that happened to wear indigenous Mayan clothing. Katerina and her community became “collateral damage”. Today that political problem wears a turban and has a beard. Collateral damage still exists and lately, it seems to exist far too often at Middle Eastern weddings full of children and families.

I wonder sometimes what clothing our political problem will wear tomorrow? Who knows. 

“The guerrillas and the military were all the same to us. They all wanted something, they all did bad things. The military would tell us we had to have documents [identification] an then the guerrillas would come and tell us “no documents!” They were always fighting. They decimated us financially. We are still struggling to support our families after all the fighting. We work harder to earn [the equivalent of] one dollar. Kids to take care of, no land, no work. When you live like this, you end up with no love for life.”

When you sit sit across the table from a woman like Katerina, sharing a warm empanada, and listening to her story, it is hard to view her, or her community, as anything but human. They are not a political talking point, they represent no ideology. Katerina, her family, and her friends are people. People who woke up one day to torture, rape, violence, murder, kidnappings, and abuse around every corner.

Travel brought me to Katerina’s table and her face is the face I will always imagine when I here the words “those people” fall off the lips of someone discussing politics at a dinner party. Those people have names, faces, feelings, and terrifying fears because of political ideologies. We create enemies, reasons to wage war, and imaginary barriers that divide humanity into “us” and “them”.

But there is no “us” and “them”. The very concept is an illusion.

Katerina is, at her core, absolutely no different than me. There is nothing at all stopping the horrors she faced from showing up on my doorstep tomorrow….. or yours.

Travel creates space for clarity. It pulls away the curtain of political ideologies and forces us to think for ourselves instead of internalizing the agenda of our next “leader”.

It creates the space to see our own hypocrisy and to see the simple facts in those situations we make far too complex, in a never ending search for justification.

Travel forces us to look “them” in the eye to see if our justifications, political talking points, philosophies, and biases hold up.

It creates the conditions where a citizen of, arguably, the most powerful country (currently) on earth can sit across the table from a descendant of one of the most powerful civilizations in history and discuss the very simple fact that there is absolutely no difference between human beings- no matter what corner of the earth they call home or what period of history their society inhabits.

When our common humanity is illuminated and we accept that there is no “us” and “them”, it becomes impossible to ignore the “collateral damage” anymore. 

“Me, I am lucky. I like my work. I work everyday between my two jobs and I get one day off every 15 days. I don’t drink, not at all, for 9 years. My kids, my spouse, and my family are more important to me. But what about the others? They work in ways they weren’t meant to for money they do not care about. The kids are forgetting our culture. They drink to feel better. What about them?

We still have problems after what happened.”

Yes. We certainly do.

In memory of

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Category: Central America, Ethical Travel

January 21, 2014

Traveling Wisdom: NTAF

Chicken Bus

You can trust me when I say that any morning beginning with vomit and a side order of anti-diarrheals with breakfast for two thirds of the family is a harbinger of things to come. Add the words “chicken bus” to the breakfast conversation and it’s the perfect storm of endlessly horrific possibilities.

Every single chicken bus ride is worthy of it’s own blog post somewhere. I’ve yet to ride one in which I did not have a near death experience, sit within a whirlpool of humanity that just begged for comment, or just suffered enough to feel justified in a good rant; and that’s without giving time to the animal passengers that enliven the experience from time to time.

There really are no words adequate to the experience of being whisked aboard an old Bluebird bus, painted like a time machine, pimped out like a seventies low-rider and covered inside with enormous neon coloured stickers of the Virgin Mary and others reading things like, “God bless your entrance and exit of this bus,” “Please don’t mistreat the signs,” “Your children’s safety is our priority” (a Bluebird original) “Jesus is my co-pilot” or “Driving slowly saves lives.”

Taking a page out of the Mayan mujeres book it seems entirely reasonable to genuflect slightly to the Mother Mary sticker, cross one’s self and say a quick prayer to the patron saint of the slightly insane for deliverance from this necessary evil.

The bus up from Antigua to Chimaltenango gets a gold star for being the most harrowing thus far. I really did see my life flash before my eyes, and I was reminded of the tornado scene in The Wizard of Oz as I, like Dorothy, watched the swirl of cows, bicicleros, old men with goats and numerous small cars whirl just out of the way of the flying bus. More than one expletive was uttered, in more than one language by the passengers and there was a muttered undertone, that didn’t need translation, as to the appropriate description for our confident driver.

Getting seven people ON to one chicken bus is one adventure. Making sure you get the same seven OFF at the same stop, is quite another. I confess, on our previous exchange in Chimaltenango, to actually chasing the departing bus down the main street shouting, “HEY!!  I’ve got one more kid on there!! Dang it!!” in Spanish before realizing that there were actually two kids, and Daddy too, being whisked away at lightning speed.

Tony was off circulating between the tiendas up and down the block looking for ginger ale with real ginger for Ruth and Ez, who were both feeling green, while the rest of us held down our piece of sidewalk with the crowd of hopeful passengers waiting for their next bus on the corner of Washington and Jefferson on the main drag when it happened:

Ezra groaned, threw back his head in his signature “Oh man!” look and announced, “I have a personal problem!” Which is quite an improvement from where he started at three, in Mexico when he had “a personal problem” and threw himself down in the Cancun airport shouting, “I’m POOPING TO DEATH!”

I rolled my eyes on the inside and asked, as cheerfully as I could, “I’m sorry, what it it?”

“Remember what Dad said about never trusting a fart… well…” 

I rolled my eyes on the outside as the news passed between the children met with varying degrees of guffaw and disgust while Ruth just laughed. Tony wandered by, without ginger ale in hand, and muttered under his breath, “It’s a party now!”

After several moments of drama and debate that I’ll leave to your imagination I found myself standing shoulder to shoulder with my red haired cousin, our backs to a niche in the concrete wall, giggling, uncontrollably.

“You know all those people that send us gushy e-mail, wishing they could travel and have our life? THIS is totally what they’re missing. EVERYONE wants THIS life!”

Ruth, also giggling uncontrollably nodded beneath her straw hat and we peered over our shoulders just in time to see Ez finishing his clean up with what was left of his underwear and getting back into his drawers, commando.

Emerging looking only slightly scathed he settled under his Dad’s big eyeball trained directly on his two little beady ones and they made the agreement, one more time: Never, NEVER trust a fart.

 

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Category: Central America, Family Travel
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