Santa Rosa

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Santa Rosa de Copan (Copan is a state on the Guatemala border of western Honduras)

WorkAway is an online community.  Like CouchSurfing, there are hosts and guests.  Federico, who worked at hostel La Hamaca in San Pedro Sula, told me I should join.

Most results in the cities near Copan (best coffee in Honduras) were schools or hostels.  There were also a couple of random ones.  I messaged about 10 places in 3 cities and got two replies, one from a hostel in Copan Ruinas (tourist town with Mayan ruins) and one looking for volunteers to start community projects in Santa Rosa.

The one in Santa Rosa was slightly closer and would be a long term commitment.  I told the lady that I would check it out.  The hostel would always be there because Copan is just one of those places you have to see when you are traveling through.  The place you go to take pictures with a pyramid or drop acid and try to communicate with statues of dead medicine men.

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Talk about a change in scenery.  The road tinkers up into the mountains and over mountains and through mountains and then the air hits you in the center of the skull and you sniff in a deep breath and say, “Damn, that’s some clear air!”  (side note: in freediving, we studied how oxygen bonds to red blood cells.  Other elements found in exhaust fumes bond to these even easier and take the place of oxygen.  It sucks that bad stuff is always more readily accepted by our bodies: low carb index food, burning muscle tissue vs. fat tissue, whatever)  When you learn about how air quality affects the bloodstream (not that I’ll be diving much in the mountains) it makes you acutely aware or it.  The smell and flavor is more noticeable.

So I got to the little town of Santa Rosa and met Sara.  Ever since I got the invitation to come to her place, I’ve had mixed feelings.  Staying on the road vs. staying still.  One of the dumbest yet most pervasive concerns is money.  Another is losing my sanity because I’ll be stuck in a house with a lady who might just be looking for company.  I have to pay for my own food (not the case in most workaways), and it may be too far from town and I may not have enough time to get a job since I’m already helping her with projects on most days.  Anxiety is always lurking, especially on a travel budget.  On the other hand, I have been looking for a comfortable place to chill for a while.

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1/4 mile driveway to house surrounded by 17 acres of forest and coffee fields

Sara´s spacious house rests on a hill beside the Seis Valles coffee plantation (I can see coffee fields from my window) with gardens completely surrounding the house and cascading farm hills painting the horizon.  All day I listen to crickets, birds, and sometimes John Lennon or zen flute music on vynil.  There is no TV and very limited internet.  This is a chill spot.

Sara started a mural project in Sarasota, FL and wants to start one in Santa Rosa.  If you look up murals in Lake Placid, FL, you will see the source of inspiration.  Chemainus is another mural town in Canada who saved their city´s economy when their logging industry collapsed in the 1980s.   Towns and cities are using murals all over the world as a means to attract tourism and simultaneously enhance the historical presence.

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Lake Placid, courtesy of campflaresort.com

In addition to this project, there are English schools she is working to revitalize, and eventually wants to turn her property into a cultural center with a cafe and some artisan venders.  Sounds to me like this could take years.  But, then again, I can leave whenever I please.

In the meantime, I’m going to learn how to roast coffee, read a couple of books, study Spanish, try out some cooking recipes, and learn about life from someone who has already traveled the world and is in “extra innings”, as she calls them.

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new coffee beans – when they turn dark red, they will be picked for the two seeds (beans) inside

Writing left-handed

I am right-handed.  Nearly every morning I write 3 handwritten, single spaced pages to clear my head.  Today I was sitting and writing and the orchestra of nature around me inspired me to start writing with the other hand.  I started thinking about dead president Garfield.  That dude could write in Latin with one hand, and Greek with his other (and I was told English with his mouth) at the same time.

You can do anything with your left hand just as well as your right, it just takes a little practice.  By the end of the first page, it was pretty legible, but still shaky.  The speed at which you write when you first switch hands is unspeakably slow.  It gives the mind three times the normal time to think.  Some of the thoughts will be profound.

“It’s difficult to accept that starting something new is difficult.”

“Why am I in such a damn hurry?  I’m not going to die until I die.”

“My pen stroke is only picturesque when my hand is completely relaxed.  It is only relaxed after confidence is gained from sufficient practice.”

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the baristas in Santa Rosa are relaxed. this is not easy to do

A note to Danielle on traveling:  (This also was also written with my left hand)

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I am telling you this, not because I care if you listen or not, but because if you do, at the end of your journey, you will be glad you did.  Here it is: don’t be wooed by deflated prices.  Instead, realize that you are entering a new economy.

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roast chicken (protein for a week): put chicken and chopped veggies in oven

If you just want to eat at restaurants, go for it.  People will recommend a bunch of really good places.  But I’m telling you, you will not believe the satisfaction you’ll get by grocery shopping and cooking for yourself.  Talk about cheap!  It’s like playing a game that is always exciting and you always win.  This is how you will really immerse yourself in the culture and meet people.

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spoon juices on top of chicken every 15-20 minutes. when you smell tasty chicken, cut meat around drumstick & body. if it looks good, it’s good

Your Spanish will improve quickly and you will appear interesting and wise in the hostel. The key word here is ‘appear’ 😛  You’ll also bring skills home, discover exotic fruits/vegetables, and learn tricks from other travelers.

the juices and chicken can be warmed in a pan of rice for leftovers

the juices and chicken can be warmed in a pan of rice for leftovers.  the red jello-looking stuff is from bone marrow, it melts and is used in consomme, aka soup

Even if you aren’t traveling for long, cooking demonstrates how long you CAN travel for.  You aren’t going to be upset if you come back home with more money than expected.  You’ll have more money to do cool things like ride horses to waterfalls or zip-line through jungles.  Things that you’ll actually remember instead of your 1,643rd chicken sandwich, which you can also make at the hostel.

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Tips from the road: Food

What is the least healthy thing about a PB&J?  Doctors will tell you either the bread or the jelly.  There are good jellies, jams, and preserves out there and they are easy to spot just by reading the ingredients.

The bread in some places, like the Bay Islands, is really expensive.  Granola is cheaper, is a better carbohydrate, and arguably tastes better.  It’s pretty dry, but when mixed with wet ingredients (fruit, yogurt, honey, jelly, kefir, milk) becomes an easy, cheap, tasty treat that you can eat at literally any hour.  Well, I can.  I used to eat this almost every morning in Key West.  Even with an expensive fruit like blueberries, it averaged out to be about $2.50/meal (in Key West a hamburger is about $14) and it was a big meal.

Well tonight I got a craving for something sweet and there wasn’t much in the kitchen.  I saw the peanut butter.  I saw the granola.  I grabbed a bowl.  There was a really hard, pear jam that I had no use for so I threw that on top of the granola and peanut butter and cut it up with a spoon.  After sprinkling cinnamon, I drizzled some honey on top and presto!

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Sara = rockstar

Have you ever tried hanging out with your grandparents and it’s just a little stressful because the pace of living is so different. There are two generations between Sara and I and it soon became stressful for me.  When I’m on the road, I am usually staying at a hostel with young people full of good vibes who are always excited about the places they are going or just came from.  In a house where a lady has been living for several years, the vibe is more like it is back at “home” wherever that may be.  Stationary life is just different than mobility.

After the first 3 days, I was ready to implode, but luckily I exploded.  She could sense it and asked me if I was leaving.  I told her I was, that I had tried it out and that it was not working for me.  She was devastated because the last few WorkAways (that online community where you can work for a place to stay) kept leaving sooner and sooner.  I didn’t even make it half a week.  She asked me for feedback.  I told her she made me uncomfortable, that I felt trapped and overworked, and that she was too difficult to please.  Maybe I was a little harsh, but every word rang true and she thanked me through her choking tears.

That was a week ago and since then we’ve been fine.  We give each other time to lay down or read and I’ve been finding creative ways to use my strengths around the house instead of following her around for an hour with a garden hose, taking directions on what to water.  I fixed a lamp shade, taught her some computer stuff, moved photos for the City of Murals project.  I feel useful and she is learning how to use my skills effectively.  There is nothing I loath more than inefficient labor.  I would rather clean toilets alone than go shopping with someone.  Shopping is a one man job.  It’s like the job of holding the light.  Seriously?  Find a way to attach it to something.

She has a ton of great movies and even more great books on every subject imaginable.  She has a record collection with music from Indian flutes to David Bowie.  There is just so much this house has to offer.  Her stories are cool, too.  I am an asshole for giving her a hard time.  I think we will end up helping each other greatly.

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Today I went to town to test out the bus system.  It costs 30 Lempiras (22 L = $1.00) roundtrip.  It was about 11:00AM when the bus dropped me off on the dusty concrete at El Terminal.  Across the street was the 5 story yellow hotel building with a refrigerated grocery store on the bottom floor.  Some pears, a banana, and bread were all I would need right now.  Before I got back on the bus, I would stop by again and grab some more food for the week.  It looks like only once or twice a week I will be coming into town.

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After some Honduran Tipico lunch consisting of roasted chicken, rice and refried beans, plantain chips, and grilled red onion for $3.50, I grabbed a shirt from a second hand store to use as a lamp shade for 5 Lempiras and walked a mile into town.  Santa Rosa is in the small mountains of Western Honduras.  Arabica coffee grows best at high elevation.  A mile in the mountains is like 3 miles on flat ground.  I finally reached Parque Central and tried out Cafe Honor’s mockaccino as they call it.  All cappuccinos I’ve had in Santa Rosa are lattes.  The lattes are also lattes.  No worries, I prefer lattes anyway.  In case you didn’t know mocha or any variation denotes chocolate.  They use Hershey’s which is sad because Honduras has amazing chocolate and Hershey’s is about as close to chocolate as Sunny Delight is to orange juice.  It’s funny to me that, growing up, the closest thing to chocolate I encountered was from Kinder Chocolate from Germany.  Read the label on a chocolate bar and you’ll see what I mean.

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After some spotty wifi and finishing my drink, I headed with my back to the blaring white two-story Spanish style cathedral and crossed the park to walk the streets lined with bright colonial houses, which I find enchanting even though it’s just a continuous concrete wall with bold colors and decorative tiles.  Latin people are so limited with their resources but can produce so much more beautiful houses than a ‘developed’ country.
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After a few blocks, I came across a coffee shop that was not on my map called Ten Napel.  A latte and orange icing on a cake-like pastry hit the spot.  It’s nice to be in a town dubbed “la Capital del buen Cafe” where I can get a grade A espresso drink for 20-30 L.  I wanted to speak with the owner about learning to roast.  He rattled off some Spanish to his business partner who signaled for me to follow.  We jumped in his car and spent a good 20 minutes finding a roaster in an unpaved, rather hilly part of the city.

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I felt bad for making him drive all over the place looking for the unmarked building.  He said he was glad to meet me and gave me a phone number in case I needed anything.  That’s how the Hondurans I’ve met are.  Even last time I was here a couple years ago in a different part of the country, a complete stranger bought us beers all night and let us stay in his other house.

The girls running the roaster gave me a complete tour lasting over 2 hours.  I couldn’t understand half of what they were saying.  It’s a technical field and they had every kind of coffee extracting machine I had ever read about and a couple more.  There were ceramic espresso percolators that you put on your stove.  They had 4 different kinds of Chem-X type glassware.  There was a closed distillation container which evaporates water into a bulb full of coffee grounds and then cools to drop filtered coffee into the original bulb.  We got to try 5 or 6 different machines.  They just kept giving me the freshest coffee I’ve ever had.  I was in heaven and laughing about it.

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this is the one that puts steam into the top, then condenses and filters coffee back into the bottom. cool

The roasting machinery resembled a 1/5th scale locomotive engine from the 1800’s.  We went up stairs to check out more equipment and a room designated for tours.  There I learned different aromas analyzed in new coffee during a process called “cupping”.  It’s similar to what a sommelier does with wine.  There was a box of essences from at least 36 different sources ranging from earth to honey.  You try to guess what it is you’re smelling (One smelled just like buttered popcorn, but I was always wrong) and then you look it up in the accompanying book to train your palette/olfactory.

We went through the whole cupping process of smelling the dry, freshly ground coffee, brewing coffee, filtered coffee after a certain interval, and finally slurping the coffee like a kid eats soup.  These are all at precise weights, temperatures, and time intervals.  It’s strange how much the aromas and tastes change over time from citrus to sweet to caramel to toasted bread.  The two coffees (from different parts of the country) were actually swapped places in regard to their aromatic qualities.  At the end we made a mix of 60% to 40% and it was really damn good.  I got one of their in house made orange sodas, a bag of roasted beans for my coffee supply, and a bag of un-roasted beans to see what I could do at home.

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After the tour, I asked if I could give them a tip or money for the coffee.  They refused to take anything and explained that spreading the passion of coffee was their gift to the world.  Actually I don’t know what the hell they said because it was in really fast Spanish.  The moral of the story is Hondurans are awesome.

How do you keep from wanting more?

People say be content with what you have.  I say put yourself in a situation where you have to overcome an obstacle with only what you’ve got.  That way you have the satisfaction of persevering and the realization that you didn’t need more after all.  Camping is a great way to do this IF you can leave all the unnecessary shit at home.  It’s easy to take a car that’s packed to the ceiling with creature comforts.  Traveling with a backpack is great because you just can’t fit that much stuff.

¿What ways can we extrapolate this to our kitchen?  I’m tired of peanut butter as a snack, so now I’m thinking Oreos.  My plain tortilla chips were delicious when I first got them, but now I’m looking for Doritos.  I survived the last 5 weeks without milk, but I really want some now.  Tomorrow, I’m going shopping.  Last week I got a weeks worth of groceries for $30.  I could easily spend $40 tomorrow and rationalize the difference.  But then what’s going to happen down the road.  In Key West, I used to spend $50/day easily, just on food.

The problem is our tendency to over-complicate our lives.  It happens everyday.  We take on more than we can handle, every spare second is spent on some task which could be handled tomorrow or even next week.  None of this stuff is important.  It really isn’t.  The stupid tasks…the unhealthy, expensive food.  The mind is distracted for another 10 minutes before it gets bored again.  Distractions.  That’s what we are looking for because we are bored with the present.

What’s wrong with the present?  Look around you.  What does your schedule look like.  Are you trying to squeeze in extra reading right now before your next important (wink wink) event?  Are you afraid of a having a minute to do absolutely nothing?  Try it.  Look at your clock and watch the minute hand go around one time.  Seriously, do it. Go.

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(If you did it, good job.  If you didn´t, you are an impatient imbecile.  Yea, I said it.  Go ahead, get mad at the pixels on your screen or the writer who already forgot he wrote this.  You can try it again and I promise when the minute´s up you won´t be mad anymore.)

Were you as sad as I was when the last 5 seconds counted down?  Did your breathing deepen and slow down.  Did your face muscles relax and eyebrows drop to rest?  It’s crazy that just about everyone is afraid to take a minute to just chill out.  Is it that we feel guilty that if we aren’t constantly being productive, we are letting ourselves down?  Or letting someone else down?  How did we learn to be such good little robots?

The next time you feel like you need to entertain yourself with a delicious snack, beverage, or look up something on YouTube, try watching the minute hand go around once.  Or just look out a window for a bit.  Maybe you don´t really want anything except the knowledge that you have what you want.

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Kaldi is the guy in the legend of how a goat shepherd accidentally discovered roasted coffee

I´m listening to birds cawing out the window.  It is definitely a mating call because the sound keeps getting higher in pitch and more intense.  I mean it is getting out of control.  Another one just joined in and it seriously sounds like NatGeo porn out there.  I have to be honest, I am slightly aroused.  This is freaking hilarious!  Ahhh… Central America, you crazy bitch

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Slacking off and San Pedro Sula

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Slacking Off and San Pedro Sula

It’s nice to listen to full albums again.  The hostel worker and I watched Montage of Heck (Kurt Cobain Documentary) which inspired me to sew a new musical patch on my soul.

I just finished the full “Nevermind” album on YouTube while reading the lyrics of each song.  I’m slowly learning to let myself out of my cage for extended periods of time.  When I can, these are the things I get to do.

Now I’m going through “In Utero”.  I’m doing this for artistic inspiration and because I  believe he knew things that I don’t.  And I’m eating honey roasted creamy peanut butter with my bare hands.  This is a good time.

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The thing I really respect about Cobain is that he hated interviews and never explained his art.  IT’S ART!!! There is no way to explain sufficiently where it came from or what it means.  Even talking about what you were doing when you made the art is misleading and sabotages both the artist and audience.  Being extremely vague or just silent is the only honest reaction.

The identity of the artist is not even relevant to the the art.  I have always felt it a conflict of interest to brand an individual art piece.  The signature certainly is not part of the damn painting.  Their names would have to be part of the original concept or come out randomly in the process.    You don’t hear Mick Jagger slipping, “Rolling Stones” at the end of every song.  It’s goofy and doesn’t belong.

The jam session we had after the documentary was difficult with only 5 rusty strings on his electric.  The guitar shop Google points me to is in the city center.  Cargo shorts or board shorts?  Barefoot or running shoes?  Big, expensive looking camera or no?  I think the labels are getting to me since this is the “murder capitol of the world”.  I wonder: Am I asking to get mugged and/or shot?  It’s 8:43AM.

I have to breathe out slowly and ask myself, “What would I do if I wasn’t afraid?”

This city is run by fear.  The gang members are afraid of the cops and overcompensate for this fear by constantly proving they aren’t afraid.  EVERY house has a tall concrete wall surrounding it with razor wire and/or shards of glass and sharpened steel exposed at the top of the fence.  There are signs for Super Perro (Super Dog) at every street corner, which is a business to help train your brand new, full grown Doberman Pincher.  The police stand vigilant in the streets with shotguns.

My hostel is in an area resembling an armored Beverly Hills, in the foothills of the green mountains surrounding the city.  There is even a cheeky Coca-Cola sign placed in the hills that resembles the Hollywood sign.  Surely there is a sect of people who do not walk around town with fear coursing through their veins.

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I had a powerful dream several months ago. The message was: all bad things that have happened throughout history were because of decisions made out of fear.  So it’s barefoot and board shorts for me with a big fat DSLR camera on my back.  Only about 20 blocks from my destination in the city center.

From the reactions of backpackers and locals and the Never Sleep Alone stickers around the hostel, I was beginning to believe I was walking into a gunfight without even a rock to throw.

I want to sleep in a hammock because it’s $5/night instead of $13.  I am denied because the staff were afraid someone would jump the 9 foot concrete wall in the night and accost me.  My logic at this point is completely overrun with scary labels.

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Several friends of mine have told me, “It’s all about intention.”  I repeated this mantra to myself as I headed into town.  Whistling “Dumb” by Nirvana helped my shoulders hang carelessly as I walked with an easy gait.  When I pass a security guard with a shotgun in his hands, I simply smile and say, “Buenas!”  It gives me more confidence each time they rock back on their heels and their stone faces morph into birthday party smiles.

Meanwhile I’m taking these pictures.  Sure, it’s interesting to share the various forms of electric fences and barking Rottweilers running up trees to get a look over the fence.  But showing how scary San Pedro Sula is will only perpetuate its tragedy.  I’d rather show you the soul glowing through the cracks.  We can discuss the rest and the reader is free to do their own research, which, rest assured is nothing but a cluster of terrorizing attempts to reach the headlines.

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This is what I see underneath the camera-infested steel gates and weighing fear the citizens wear like blood-soaked blankets.

Once inside the city center (roughly 1 million inhabitants) I am still bouncing and snapping photos of every good thing I discover.  Two gentlemen are talking amongst themselves and looking at my bare feet.  One has nervous, downward eyes.  The smaller, older one has piercing black holes where, long ago, his wrinkles consumed his eyes and the rest of his face. His forearms are stained with oil from working on cars all morning.

I ask them where I might find a ‘ferreteria’ (hardware store) to buy some super glue to fix the eye piece on my camera.  The younger man of about 40 answers in English. We quickly learn that we lived only 20 minutes from each other in New Jersey.  He has to get something from the store as well and invites me to ride on the pegs of his bicycle.  It’s a downhill ride and the music shop is on the way.

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We weave around cars and pedestrians for the next 8 blocks.  The thin metal pegs dig into the arches of my feet.  The ride is exciting and much more efficient than walking.  After 5 to 10 minutes we reach a music shop and I get some electric strings for my friend’s guitar, the main purpose of going to town.

Next, I buy some glue and we walk to the park at the center of the city.  He tells me about the various buildings and some history.  When he explains that he can’t find a job, I get the feeling he’s going to ask me for money when we part ways.  I decide I’d rather avoid the awkward situation, so offer to buy him a coffee if he can show me where the best coffee shop is.  It’s very close to the park and there isn’t a seat available.  Jorge is a latte guy.  I can respect that.

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He tells me that downtown is no place to be after the sun goes down.  I agree.  He also points out that there are a lot of street children, but no shelters.  The reason, and one of the biggest root problems in Honduras, is that fathers tend to leave their children.  Some leave to find jobs since the banana/agriculture industry still hasn’t recovered from the disastrous Hurricane Mitch in 1998, the second deadliest hurricane in Atlantic history.  When you have a basic infrastructure and get hit with 75 inches of rain in one week, it’s going to be bad.  Jorge said the bodies floating around were terrible, but the cows were the worst.

His father took off with another lady when he was but a lad.  From recently watching Kurt Cobain’s documentary, Montage of Heck, I can see the potential affects of abandonment.  Everyone wants to feel like they belong and are accepted.  It must be tough on a kid to grow up thinking no one gives a shit if you are still around tomorrow.

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According to Jorge, the former First Lady of Honduras, Aguas Ocana took in street children when her husband was in office from 2002 to 2006.  Here is a clipping from chinadaily.com.cn:

[Honduran first lady Aguas Ocana, a former Spanish diplomat with an affable manner, charms her way through state dinners and genteel charity events. her [sic] real passion is venturing out at night to dangerous parts of the capital to rescue street children from a life of begging, poverty and crime.

Since June, a program headed by the first lady has taken 670 street kids from Tegucigalpa and the northern city of San Pedro Sula into government care.]

There is another side of the story as told by this ‘rescued’ child:

[“I want to go home. Here they don’t let us go out to play in the field and they don’t give us a lot of food,” said Delmer Moises Duarte, 7, at a children’s care center.]

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 A generation of lost children looking for community seems to me a fertile field in which to grow an organization of criminals.  This is surely the source of the two gangs (the MS-13 gang and the 18th Street gang) whose war has divided the city.  There is infinitely more detail and I’m not going to pretend like I know much about any of this.  I really don’t want to live here long enough to have a genuine understanding of the culture.

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The violence is real.  I saw a nightmare in Jorge’s eyes when he shared a recollection from 2 years ago.  On his way home from work he saw, past the yellow caution tape, a man lying on the same street we had just walked down.  I really hope I wasn’t prying, but silence tends to get filled.  He ended his recount by saying that he could “see the brain”.  I really just wanted to understand the cause of the violence, but I guess he wanted me to understand the presence.

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But, if you stop to think about it, this guy lives in downtown Deathville, right?  He works in the heart of San Pedro pretty close to the most dangerous neighborhood.  He only saw one event involving one shooting in the last TWO YEARS.  Sounds like any town anywhere.

This is part of the sickness.  People feel the need to perpetuate and spread bad news.  That is why the news is so successful.  And it somehow makes you feel important when your city has a label, even if it is murder capital of the world.  The vast majority of the homicides involve Hondurans between the age of 16 and 30.  If you can refrain from hanging around with dangerous gangs, you will probably be just fine.  Like me.

Every time I’ve been in dangerous places, the locals have tried to protect me.  They know what it takes to survive, most likely by learning the hard way.  Police have told me in Atlanta to pump gas somewhere else.   In Harrison, NJ (where Jorge lived) police have told me not to stop at red lights.  In West Oakland, Baltimore, The Bronx, Tokyo, parts of L.A., San Salvador, and others I can’t remember right now, I have been told to leave.

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It’s difficult to understand why they can live there and I can’t even walk through.

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That story kind of took a turn down a dark alley.  I guess that’s the reality of the situation.  The original point of this post was to show the bright side of this much feared place.  The scientific method doesn’t always support the hypothesis.  Fear is learned by these people at a young age, making it harder to eradicate after maturity.

Jorge has seen positive changes in the past two years.   A truce has been made between the gangs.  The same two gangs in El Salvador made a truce and violence dropped significantly.  Also, the “big heads” of the gangs and drug trafficking have been extradited to the United States penal system.

This is ironic since both MS-13 and 18th Street gangs began in Los Angelos. A mass immigration to the States took place during civil wars in Central America in the 1980’s.

Looking back further, (dare we study history?) there are some curious finds.  Nicaragua, for example, had a “Sandinista” government which the “Contras” (with U.S. training and aid) would eventually eradicated in 1990.  Congress banned U.S. support with the Boland Agreements in 1982 and 1984, but the CIA and president in office continued to give covert support. {source: Brown University – Understanding the Iran-Contra Affairs}

Going back further, the Sandinistas took control of Nicaragua 1979 after they ousted a dictatorship which had been in control since 1936.  This dictatorship was U.S. sanctioned and followed the U.S. occupation of Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933.

If you had trouble following, The U.S. makes sure they have who they want running the sovereign nation of Nicaragua.  We aren’t going to get into the history of other sovereign nations right now.  It’s worth knowing your neighbors though.

A friend of mine has been living in Honduras on and off for the last 40 years.  When I asked her about the U.S. occupation, she said, “Yeah, the U.S. is still pissed that Honduras told them to leave.  Why do you think they keep saying it´s the most dangerous place?”

There´s also the Russian-communism-Coldwar-involvement-prevention excuse, but the timing is screwy and it’s really been going on since the Panama Canal was dug.  What other countries are being boycotted with scary labels due to misbehaving?

Yeah, it’s a scary place.  It was once and will once again be peaceful.  It will always be beautiful.

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Acting in fear may keep you alive, for a while, but it gives evil that much more power.

Underwater and Synchronicity

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Freediving

This week is freaking mind blowing.  At first, I think I am in the company of some sort of toolbags.  I am working every day on being less judgmental.  Thank you Erica for constantly catching me.

DAY 0

I go to this stupid, free Freediving course because everyone from the Caribbean Cup competition is there and that’s who I’ve been hanging out with.  I think it’s stupid until they get me doing these “ventilations” and then holding my breath.  I hold my breath for two minutes, easily.

Ok, I’m listening.  I decide to take the course.

DAY 1

Each day consists of about 4 hours in a classroom studying, anatomy, chemistry, physics, physiology, and psychology.  The other part of the day is spent in the water.  On this day we did our first underwater breath hold in about 3 feet of water.  I got 3:18, which was the shortest in the group.

DAY 2

So the teachers are being patient, but we are pissing them off something fierce.  I mean they are trying to get us to dive and safety is numero uno.  Well I, for one, am so focused on my dive technique (which is quite intricate) and keep forgetting to be ready when my diver partner is surfacing.  That is beyond important and I am basically a selfish jerk.  On top of that, my form sucks and I’m struggling badly with my 10 meter dive.  Pretty much anyone can do this if they know anything about equalizing their inner ear pressure.

I am pretty much the worst and weakest in a class of seven.  I tell the teachers that I am only doing the 2-1/2 day course.

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Our instructors. Ren is a safety and his wife Ashley is the one competing.

Ren comes over to my apartment and says he wants me to finish the full course and don’t worry about the rest of the fees.  Ren and Ashley love what they do and feel they would fail if I quit when the going got tough.  Great teachers like this are rare.

I did want to quit.  Being in open ocean always has always given me the heebie-jeebies, especially with 100+ feet of visibility.  I get tense after 10 seconds of holding my breath and swimming.  The boat looks pretty small from 33 feet underneath it.

This is the hardest part of the dive believe it or not.  In the first 10 meters, your body is positively buoyant.  This is ensured as a safety measure because 99% of blackouts occur in the last part of the ascent.  Out of those 99%, 90% happen after the diver has taken recovery breaths at the surface.

Hydrostatic pressure makes it feel like you are out of air.  At 10 meters (33 feet), your lungs are 1/2 the original volume.  At 20 meters, they are 1/3.  At 30 meters, they are 1/4.  The water squeezes you, triggering stretch receptors that tell your brain you have exhaled.  These are the instincts you must implement diplomacy with.  There is more than enough oxygen-rich air in your body.  Your mind has to convince your brain.

There is one instinct that actually helps.  It’s called the Mammalian Dive Reflex.  When we hold our breath and go under water, the heart slows.  Something called blood shunting happens and draws blood away from the extremities (purple fingernails after long dives) and concentrates blood at the heart, lungs, and brain.  We pee a lot to thicken the blood and increase blood pressure.

To make it to the goal of 30 meters (100 feet), I have to be cool as a cucumber.  But, I suck.  I am just about the opposite of a cool cucumber.  I’m more like a jalapeño in the oven.  I’m gripping the edge of panic, crying inside to get back to the surface.

It’s near impossible to equalize your ears when you aren’t relaxed.  The feeling you get when your phone buzzes in your pocket, yeah, that’s enough to tense your diaphragm.  If you fail to equalize, it feels like a pencil is being pushed through your ear and the pain increases if you continue, until your ear drum rips.  Then the pressure inside your ear will equal the hydrostatic.

Back at the surface, I’m cold and have to relax for the next few minutes in order to lower my heart rate so I can dive again, this time to 50 feet.  And this is how freediving goes.

DAY 3 is worse.

I add a Lava Core under my wet suit, but am still cold, so my breathing is still uncontrollable.  My ears are not equalizing and I’m a stress knot with a heart rate of 120 bpm and the fear of death in his eyes.  I need 60 beats per minute or less to be successful.

I start to feel like a student that can’t be helped.  That night, I do yoga to wear out my body and relax.  Erica (we met on Utila) and I do breathing exercises and I think about how Ren told me it’s all mental.

I realize that Erica is right: Freediving has a fundamental difference from other sports.  You can’t just be calm on the surface.  You have to physically be calm to the core. Your cells have to be calm.  You absolutely can’t fake it.  Tomorrow is going to be the big day.  My heart flutters just thinking about diving.  Each time I feel nervous I make myself understand fully that my psychological habit is unnecessary and will not help in any way. One way I calm down is by making sure my toes are relaxed.

In rock climbing and SCUBA, you have to rely on your gear.  In freediving, you are the gear.  The moment you loose a grip on your emotional reactions, your equipment fails.  The only remedy is focus.

DAY 4

On the final day, I have only a smoothie for breakfast.  There are special stretches while holding a full breath that prepare you for the hydrostatic pressure.  I also visualize the dive a few times.

Visualizing can be a very powerful tool to accomplish goals.  Athletes from golfers to boxers use this method to “watch” themselves accomplishing their goal.  Michael Jordan used to do this with free throws.  He counted dribbles, spins in his hand, bent his knees and bounced in his mind.  If you can picture enough detail, your mind hardly knows the difference between an imagined scenario and the real thing.  It’s like having a daydream where you’re falling and then you wake up by jumping in your seat.

Ren and Ashley tell us to visualize the 100’ dive, to capture every detail.  The water temperature, spitting out water that splashes into my snorkel, everything.  The trick is to keep it continuous and in real time so that you are enduring the emotional stress.  I go through the preparatory breathing counts in my mind.  I imagine going through the entry routine, making my body hydrodynamic, and counting kick cycles.  For me it is 8 hard kick cycles (because you are positively buoyant for the first 10 meters), 8 soft kick cycles (neutrally buoyant 10m-20m), and then no kicks for 10 seconds (you begin to sink after 20 meters due to gas compression).  Once I reach the plate in my mind, I grab the rope, pull hard, and begin my dolphin kicks.  At the last 10 meters, I begin to float again and can stop kicking to conserve oxygen.

Cool things happen on the ascent. the gas in your mask is expanding, which you can sniff to get a little shot of fresh air.  It’s difficult to keep the visualization accurate because, in real life, I am floating in the water and simultaneously doing my ventilation counts and waiting in line to do the actual dive.  I keep getting distracted and never quite touch the plate in my head.

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We take a small boat out into the crystal blue water under the warm morning sun.  The wind has changed directions so it’s dead calm.  The warm up dives go really well and a larger wet suit seems to be keeping me warm.  I finish the 66′ dive clean.

At 85′, my ear stops me.  Attempting 100′ for the second time, I can not equalize my ears again after 80 feet.  I decide to hell with it and to keep going.  It isn’t much further that my ear says, “Nope.”

I do a real quick u-turn using the rope and began kicking for the distant surface.  Burning lungs have to be ignored and those thoughts replaced with the knowledge that my body has plenty of air.  I tell myself, “Just keep looking at the rope in front of your face and stay calm.”

The ocean surface becomes visible at the top of my periphery, but I have to fight the urge to look up.  A short while later I pull my arms down by my side and exhale so that my lungs will be ready to breathe in when I breach the water-air barrier.  My head and shoulders burst into the atmosphere and I take in my first gasp of sweet air.  After the 30 second recovery process and I signal I’m OK, my instructor tells me I was one foot from the 100′ plate.  She says it’s close enough.  Who am I to argue with a 3-time world record holder?

Since the class, every time I feel anxiety about money or time, I stop, breathe, and relax my body commmmmmmmpletely.  Relax the toes.  Relax the feet.  Relax your ankles. Relax the muscles in your hands.  Allow your jaw to hang and relax the muscles of your face.  Breathe into the muscles of your back, neck, etc.  Work parts of the body and try to relax the tissue.  You have to be relaxed like you are drooling and don’t want to move after a Thai massage in order to freedive well.  I find it amazing how frequently my body tenses from unnecessary stress.


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Manifestations

Before our dive, Ashley tells us there are two kinds of fears: imaginary and real.  She asks us to name some fears and we decide if they are made up in our heads or legitimate.  Drowning, falling, and being eaten are real fears.  I ask about sharks.  Everyone in the boat has dove with sharks, yet no one has been bitten.  It’s kind of like bees; if you don’t make them feel threatened, they don’t attack you.

There are two ropes hanging from the boat to a weighted plate.  We split up into two groups and take turns attempting our dives.  When it comes time for the 100 foot dive, a 7-foot dusky shark swims 15 meters below the plates.  It was just curious, even a bit skittish.  He stays with us for about an hour.

Judging his distance, I guess we have about 150 feet of visibility before it gets dark.  At the Caribbean Cup I would watch the divers submerge, kick their fins down until they disappeared.  After 2 or 3 minutes, they would reappear from the abyss and come up to the surface with a tag proving they made it to their goal.  Some freedivers go deeper than 400 feet.

Erica and I go snorkeling around the bay.  I don’t have a snorkel, making it difficult to see the coral each time I run out of air.  I start thinking I should just go buy one.  Not two minutes later Erica pulls one out of the water and says, “Look what I found!”

Ever since leaving Utila, it has bothered me that I didn’t find Chris to say bye.  Erica and I take a cab, ferry, another cab, a bus, and a third cab to a hostel in San Pedro Sula.  When we arrive 8 hours later, we walk in and there’s Chris sitting on the couch, waiting to go to the airport.  Erica and he split a cab 2 hours later because they are on the same flight.

The universe is clever.  Erica and I were talking about making our own tortillas yesterday while we cooked lunch.  They are so much better fresh off a frying pan.  I get to the hostel and find this pillow on the couch.

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So I grab some Masa (corn flour) from the store and make some for dinner.

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These instances happen so much on the road that they cease to surprise.  You begin to expect it.  Then all you have to is decide what you want.  Be careful of your thoughts though.  If you are constantly paranoid of getting mugged, you probably will or at least freak out on someone who’s trying to help you.

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The legendary squeaver has been located.

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Listening too closely to advice sometimes interferes with my intuition.  Too much advice is eventually going to conflict because guess what?  It’s situational!  Use your head and don’t let all the pussies of the world scare you into avoiding the things you want to do.

It might not work out, but chances are good that you are going to survive.  Want proof?  Look at global and local population growth.  We aren’t very good at dying, no matter what TV says.  Will Smith’s character said in After Earth, “Don’t misunderstand me, danger is very real, but fear is a choice.”

Roatan

 

 

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Portrait of Roatan

I’m squatting on the shallow section of beach with this damn cute little kitten.  It’s quite a bit after sunset but golden flames of sky still exist between thunderstorms on the horizon.  The kitten keeps jumping up and rubbing his ear on my hand.  It makes typing this on the tablet hilariously difficult.  It’s amusing to watch him chase crabs, too.  When a jet ski rides by, he forgets the crab he’s almost standing on and watches it slowly as it passes us.  He might have better eyes than me.  After the jet ski is gone I can barely hear the ripples coming to shore 20 feet in front of me.  The curtain of low palms the same distance behind me is silent.  Then i realize this is all real and the beauty of the present moment almost burns a hole right through me.

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I’m doing a free diving course and held my breath for 3:00 on the first day.  Pretttttty stoked about that.

 

Last Look at Utila


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You can’t go far without meeting cool people.  We hung out all week playing volleyball going to bars/restaurants.  For everyone’s last day we went to Neptune’s Beach.

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Staph Infection Progression.  (Gross)

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Yes, when you travel, you will get banged up from time to time.  But the more injuries I recover from, the more realize how durable the human body is.  Staying safe at home creates the illusion that we are fragile.

 

This week I also got a stomach bug.  Some people thought it was Dengue Fever because of the constant spine ache.  Yack, run to the baño, lie down, repeat.  I don’t know what it was, but I could only consume water and pineapple juice for the first 3 days.  Then I got some fruit down and eventually half a chicken sandwich on the 5th day.  Looking for that beach body?  Come to Honduras and get in SICK shape!!!

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Picking Up Trash

I stayed at the house of chef/owner of a hippie restaurant.  She cooks for a weekly beach cleanup started 8 weeks ago at Pumpkin Hill.  Typically not my style.  My first impression: This is pointless, self-righteous humanitarian futility.  Next week will just wash up more trash.  It turns out only half of the trash comes from the ocean.  It became obvious when a week later we were finding 3-liter bottles along the trail far from the water.

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The biggest question I had is: Who is it affecting?  Obviously, Germanic, Scandinavian, Japanese, and other meticulous westernized cultures loathe seeing garbage outside of its designated bin.  Central Americans are not as troubled by plastic and polystyrene laying on the ground.  I can’t say I’ve ever seen an animal stress over the discovery of an empty soda bottle either.  Many bleeding hearts will google a picture of a turtle stuck in a 6-pack holder to show me how wrong I am.  Here’s what I think about animal intelligence:

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Courtesy of CollegeHumor.com

I’ve seen a cat get its head stuck in a small tree branch and take off in a panic, running into walls and bushes.

Many of bottles I grabbed crumpled in my hand.  They break down after being in the sun for a couple of years.  It makes sense to me that they would keep breaking down until they are at a molecular level.  Many individuals believe that plastic lasts “forever”, which of course is an empty, child-like statement.  While the plastic is really small it is consumed by birds and filter feeders.  This is arguably bad, but is heavily debated in the scientific community.

What bothers me is the inefficiency of single use products like plastic forks and bottles.  I never thought about how many of those products I’ve used until the beach cleanup.  I must have used several hundred throw-away cutlery sets and several thousand cups and bottles in my life.  It would be nice to have one cup, one spork, one knife that I could just wash.  I never thought these words would come from me, but all that crap has to eventually end up somewhere and it looks like Caribbean beaches are magnets for garbage.

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20 people x 5 hours = 2 truckloads

 

 

 

I have to admit it gave me a warm and fuzzy feeling when I looked at the finished product.  Motives aside, it went from being a gross beach to a pristine paradise.

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