Is it dangerous outside of the U.S.? Here are some photos from living over a year in Latin America. You decide.
(The following photos are from 2 separate trips, a year apart, paid for in full by working entry level jobs at restaurants.)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
A note to Danielle on traveling: (This also was also written with my left hand)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
(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.
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