Sunday, December 10, 2006

And one more thing...

I never really told you about Mendoza. Sorry about that.

Imagine wine country as far as the eye can see, grapes ripening under celestial blue skies that are sunny almost all year long. Natural conduits carry fresh mountain water from Rio Mendoza to the vineyards, and the dry climate keeps almost all the insects away, so grapes can grow nearly free of pesticides, practically organic.

This was Mendoza, our first stop after leaving Buenos Aires. A solid twelve hour bus ride brought us to this beautiful part of the country and the foothills of the Andes - a short ride from Mendoza takes you to Aconcagua, the tallest mountain in the Americas. That means North America, too.

We nabbed another tandem bicycle and sped off into wine country to taste and explore. We took an official wine tour in a bus the day before and decided we'd rather venture off on our own. We bought wine directly from the owners of most vineyards and took TONS of pictures. Malbecs and Cabernet Sauvignon are the most popular types of wines in this region - white wine grapes grow better in the northern parts of Argentina. Merlot grows really well... somewhere else.

And back here in Patagonia we enjoyed a lazy day of lounging in the park with a picnic lunch, taking spectacular pictures of the mountains and planning our next sojourn. We'll let you know how they go!

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Patagonia is more than just an outdoor store!

It's true, we made it all the way down to Bariloche, Argentina which is in Andean Patagonia, a gigantic area of mountains and glaciers and other cool things the size of New England. We're smack in the middle of the lake district and spring has just arrived. It's cold and windy sometimes and warm and summery other times. It's 9:30pm right now and it's just a little after sunset and still bright outside. As Emily says, it's probably the only place on the planet worth a 20 hour bus ride sitting behing British backpackers having a farting contest.

Somehow we timed our kayak/mountain biking trip today just right and ended up being the only people signed up. This meant we had just the two of us and our guides for an entire beautiful day. We biked along gravel roads with stunning views of the Andes, ate a picnic lunch on the edge of Lake Gutierrez and kayaked all afternoon. It was absolutely delightful, and our guides were topnotch. Marisa and friends started their own guide business three years ago taking people kayaking, biking, hiking and trekking all over the place. We asked if they needed partners.

Yesterday we telefericoed to the top of Cerro Otto, a small mountain close to Bariloche with a great view of the mountains and lakes. A teleferico is what you take when you miss the trailhead to climb a mountain and walk an extra unnecessary 4 miles along a busy highway with no shoulder. Some would call it a Skytram if you've been to Six Flags Great Adventure or Disneyland. The ride was great, we were just a little bitter about missing the path up. We spent the better part of the day enjoying the views, taking pictures and eating dried fruit.

Since we're staying in a Swiss Chalet (Bariloche was settled mostly by the Swiss in the late 1800s which is why they have incredible chocolate), we are now headed downstairs to have some cheese fondue. Yep, we are pretty excited too. Until next time!

Friday, November 24, 2006

¡Feliz Dia de Gracias!

Next time you travel around the holidays, you should know that it is really difficult to explain our tradition of Thanksgiving to others. It started with descriptions of settlers and indigenous folks all getting along and eating together for a day of peace, or a time of thanks, or...when we got the part about eating a lot and gathering together with your family then we started to make some sense. When we mentioned turkey and wine, we were speaking the same language, literally.

In order to avoid the sure homesickness that would come on this special day of thanks, we celebrated our first holiday together by finding an all you can eat and yet true blue Argentinan Parrilla. Picture a huge room full of friends and families gathered around tables with wine, all talking loudly and descriptively, hands waving everywhere, a long stretch of appetizers and all types of salads inbetween the tables including tortas and empanadas, and-the best part-a HUGE grill with 4 or 5 guys behind it just ready to serve up any cut of beef you can imagine and as bloody as you can handle it, or some lesser meat like chicken if they must. We found Thanksgiving here! Except for it was just a regular Thursday night at midnight for this place, perfect for us. And, for the record, one of the salads had some turkey in it.

Since our last entry, we have celebrated ¨El dia de la musica¨ which was fantastic! We were basically a small fan club of two running around this gigantic city´s many plazas, parks, and busy corners to see as many musical events as possible ranging from funk to jazz to folk to classical. For the morning we involved ourselves in a small parade with a creole jazz band hiding behind the tuba and ended the night after class in the midst of a huge celebration at the grand finale. There we learned about a type of music more Argentinan than tango with a dance that seemed even more difficult. Very beautiful.

Classes continue to go really well, we have a favorite teacher named Manuel with whom we discuss the many problems of the world, politics, religion, career, and friendship all through the perspectives of different countries and different people. He is a fascinating guy who has also been instrumental to our learning, especially because he is so encouraging and because we really enjoy talking with him. Our favorite thing that he says is ¨Miravos!¨ when you say or do something correct or interesting, it basically means ¨Look at you!¨ Always makes us laugh...

A parting story to tell: This week we have started to try and speak only Spanish, even with each other (exhausting but necessary). So last night as we entered the pharmacy while shopping for a phone card, we were feeling quite confident. I asked in my best castellano for a ¨tarjeta de telefonico¨ after which the guy nodded knowingly, left to retrieve it, and promptly returned with some pills. I shook my head and explained more-no for the phone, for calling another which he responded that they didn´t sell them there. We thanked him, still somewhat confused as to what had occured, and started to walk out of the store when he stopped us, ¨Wait, do you still need the anti-diarrhea pills?¨

And a final confession: This is Emily! Could you tell?

Love you all! Cant wait to see many of you soon!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Yesterday we were crossing the widest street in the world (Avenida 9 de Julio, 12 lanes in each direction) and we were talking English really loudly when a little old lady sidled up next to us and said in perfect English -

"I have a question for you... I am an English teacher here in Buenos Aires, and I've heard that people in the United States say 'Bologna!' (when something is ridiculous) Is that still true!"

Emily and I were stunned into silence for a moment, and then we stammered together, "Yes, actually, yes we do!"

"Thank you so much, I really wanted to know that. Enjoy Buenos Aires!" and she left us in the dust.

I'm sure the same vigorous old lady was at the ice cream place we went to last night at 1am. A well dressed gentleman was crooning his lungs out for an elderly audience, standing room only, at the oldest gelato place in town. We left them all to their music and their ice cream and went to bed - we have class to go to! I think Buenos Aireans have their priorities down.

On a final weird note, we have a building superintendent named Guillermo who is impeccably dressed, has a long ponytail and always pats you on the back when you leave the building. He is incredibly difficult to understand, however, to the degree that we have had a broken toilet for almost a week and no sheets or towels last night. How quaint.

One more final note. We went to this giant building last night, Palacio Correo, during the end of a run down by the waterfront. It was packed full of art exhibits, crazy audio and visual displays, and floors and floors of music, DJs, cafes, and fascinating cultural displays. For the next two weeks Estudio Abierto is going to be having art all over the city, and tomorrow will be a day of music with something like 100 musical events occurring all day. We're excited to explore it all, it's like nothing we've ever seen. We made the schedule of events our Spanish lesson of the morning, it was so interesting.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Our New Business(es)

We've had a number of business opportunities present themselves on this trip. We've mentioned some of them, the most recent being wine importation from Argentina. One of our teachers at the Spanish school has a small business as a wine distributor in Buenos Aires and we talked about possibilities of importing to the US - all in Spanish, of course. We feel pretty close to the guy, especially since we both kissed him. It's a Buenos Aires tradition to greet and leave people with a kiss on the cheek. Builds trust, that kind of thing.

We're on for another tango show tonight, this time professional. We've had one lesson so far, then we attended a Milonga, which is where regular people like you and me get out on the dance floor and strut their tango stuff (arguably semi professionally) and now we're on to the big leagues - tango show, night out, all that good stuff. We also attended a jazz/tango fusion concert which was REALLY great, and gave us a feel for the music. We feel up to speed on the tango, all except being able to dance it - we only watched at the Milonga, it seemed like you were supposed to know what you were doing. The women dance with their eyes closed, to give you an idea of the intensity. Maybe a few more lessons.

We've been shopping, and you might not recognize us if you saw us. Buenos Aires is notorious for shopping, and we've done a fair amount. We're just trying to fit in after scrubbing around in Chacos and quick dry shorts.

If you've heard anything about Buenos Aires, you may have heard about La Boca, a brightly colored neighborhood by the city's oldest port. On a weekend you can see people tangoing in the streets, outdoor flea markets, and crazy colored buildings - it's quite a trip. It's a little touristy but worth checking out next time you're in town.

We've got class, so hasta luego! (see you later)

Thursday, November 09, 2006

You're Absolutely Right - It's Been More Than Four Days

Moreover, there were some other things in the last entry that were a little scattered and unruly. It was a test to make sure you readers were paying attention, and you passed with flying colors.

Today we got Mate (mah-tay) mugs with handmade designs of our favorite things about Argentina and customized names engraved. Mate is the national drink here, imagine it as really fancy tea out of a cool mug with a straw for a teabag and all the loose tea floating on top - I guess you need to see it to understand. The designs included an outline of the famous obelisk of Buenos Aires, a bottle of wine, a cigar and a tiny espresso coffee. We put the names "Emilia" and "Brian" on them, because that's what we're known as down here.

We enjoyed some time in San Martin park, doing our homework and looking at hundreds of giant hearts on display. Like the Northwest does occasionally with pigs or other creatures, Buenos Aires has a fundraiser where businesses sponsor artists to design giant (5 feet across) hearts of all different colors and designs.

We also enjoyed crossing the insanely busy streets of the financial district. It's akin to the battles of old, with the opposition waiting on the other side of the street for the signal to cross. You have to fight your way through the ranks, if you've watched fight scenes from Braveheart it's exactly like that only with shopping bags and briefcases instead of picks and axes.

Speaking of Mel Gibson, we've recently experienced the phenomena of understanding Castillano (Spanish) and can now understand (mas o menos) the conversations around us - just like in What Women Want when Mel Gibson can suddenly hear the thoughts of women in his vicinity.

One last clarification - Spanish and Castillano are ESSENTIALLY the same thing, but Spanish is spoken everywhere except Spain, Argentina and apparently Uruguay. In Castillano you use your hands as much as your mouth and it has an accent and a rhythym that will make your head turn. Otherwise, they are the same. Oh, and they say "Ciao" here.


Friday, November 03, 2006

A Lot Can Happen in Four Days

We made it to Buenos Aires on Tuesday morning, arriving right around 3am - apparently the perfect time to go out dancing, if we'd only known. This town is substantially cosmopolitan compared to all of Central America, which has sparked numerous conversations and desires to change hairstyles.

To give you Buenos Aires in a nutshell - even though it would be more at home in an adorable leather purse - imagine an inexpensive version of Europe, heavy on the Italian, beset with amazing restaurants, incredible wines, beautiful people, and abundant steak. People talk with their hands, drive badly, are passionate about almost anything, and live in the moment.

We got ourselves an apartment in the center of town, our first real home! We've been taking Castillano classes here (much cooler than Spanish) and trying to get settled in. We've explored a lot of Buenos Aires by foot, taxi, bus, subte, and foot. The many barrios (neighborhoods) keep unfolding, there's always something more to see, and the people are a hoot.

Then we got our camera stolen. The good one. Suddenly Argentina became a nation of thieves and brigands hell-bent on our demise. It didn´t take too long to realize that it could have happened anywhere, it's only a camera, and it could have been a lot worse. That and a really nice dinner made everything ok.

We've had a lot of interesting conversations lately, together and with our various professors. Today we were talking about the tragedy of high school shootings, and our teacher postulated that it was related to the concept of "winners" and "losers" in our competitive country. He said that, for better or for worse, Argentines aren't as ambitious or competitive which makes their lives less intense or he thought possibly less successful, but also somewhat more peaceful. In learning the nuances of the language, we found out that the word for "loser" doesn't exist - only for the result of a particular situation. The concept of someone who is worthless doesn't exist in the language or the culture... He asked us what we do with "losers" in our country, and thought that maybe children who are pegged at a young age as worthless are likely to be the ones so dissatisfied with their lives as to take it out on their peers. Interesting perspective to see your country from the outside.

We have also been talking politics and probably have better established residency here for voting than we do at home, citizenship aside that is. Hope the elections go well today and that you remember to vote! As a side note, anyone following Nicaraguan politics? Very interesting...

The language training is going well...we're able to converse about politics, ask about cameras, order several tiny espresso coffees a day with ease (very important if you want to fit in here) and get around the city. People talk with their hands here, which helps a lot when you can't understand someone but they're pointing and waving wildly in the direction you should go. Or at least that's what you think they're doing.

Something you must know about the Buenos Airean schedule - it's insane. Lunch is around 1pm (not too crazy), afternoon snack (coffee) is around 5pm (still reasonable), dinner gets going around 10:30-11pm (what!?) and, especially on the weekends, things really start hopping after dinner ends around 2am. We tried to get a table at one of the cities nicer restaurants at 11:30pm and had a 45 minute wait. There were probably several hundred people eating, every table was packed, and people were still coming in to eat when we left after 1am. You might be interested to know that very restaurant served me the best steak I've ever had in my short time on this planet.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Monteverde and the Cops

We left Tamarindo and headed for Monteverde on Friday morning and had a crazy drive up into the mountains. Stop wondering about the cops part and pay attention, this part is cool too. Imagine the bumpiest road you can for two hours, the kind of bumpy that makes your stomach churn, the jack rattle loose from its mounts under the seat of your rental car, and your vision first blur and later get those weird little sparky things in the corner of your eyes. For me, the excitement of pretending to be a rally driver was enough to keep me going. For Emily, it was the prospect of entering the lands of coffee. The mountainous highlands of Costa Rica are famous for their shade grown coffee that they sell to Starbucks, of which there are none as far as we know of in Costa Rica.

First stop, Belacruz coffee shop/gift shop/bird watching sanctuary/home of the nicest people on the planet. They fed us, showed us birds, translated difficult Spanish words into English with a dictionary and gave us 3 great recommendations for hotels complete with maps and the traditional "Con mucho gusto!", roughly translated "with pleasure!" I liked the empanadas, Emily loved the coffee. We successfully got a picture of a hummingbird.

We stayed at Sunset Hotel, run by an uber-friendly German named Klaus who was filling in for the owners while they were on vacation. Klaus has traveled the world, has bright eyes and a firm grip, and calls you by your first name. As long as you don't beat around the bush - ever - you're going to like Klaus. Our towels were folded in the shapes of a swan and a fan. I got the fan.

So what's in Monteverde? It's really a few sleepy towns at the end of a horrific road with nature reserves, canopy trekking, ziplines, coffee, and some serious gift shops. We hiked in the reserve towards dusk and got immediately lost. That's not fair, we got steadily lost as daylight faded. We think the caretakers are a little sick - they provide brightly colored, well marked maps of trails that start with matching colors corresponding to the map. As soon as you are far enough into the woods to be disoriented, you encounter multiple intersections with no signs or colors. Then the colors change, purple for blue, green for yellow... before you know it, tarantulas are salivating over your sweaty panicky self. We got out by going the opposite direction of signs pointing towards the information office. That was after it took 4 circles to realize we were going in circles. The place was beautiful, however, and I found the ants as fascinating as Emily found the coffee beans growing in their natural state.

We took a canopy tour and ziplined the next morning. Incredible! It was really high, really fast, and really... safe? The guides had radios, first aid kits, we were clipped in to standards acceptable in no less than 4 countries, and we never really touched any of the equipment or got stuck or had any problem whatsoever. It was a little eerie, but you really had nothing to do but enjoy the incredible views whizzing by as you zip over canyons, through forests and down mountainsides. Like 4 G's, 500 feet down, and half-mile long ziplines. Skytrek tours, everyone. I think someone chipped a toenail in '97 or they would have a plaque from the International Safety Federation for their perfect record.

We arrived in Monteverde wondering what a cloud forest is - what, never heard of one? "Cloud forest - A wet, tropical forest, often near peaks of coastal mountains and at an altitude usually between 1,000 and 2,500 meters, that is characterized by a profusion of epiphytes and the presence of clouds even in the dry season." We were at the right height, and exactly the right humidity, but I swear we never saw an epiphyte the entire time. There are Quakers that supposedly founded the area, and we saw a couple people who looked Protestant, but I don't think that's even close.

We said goodbye to Klaus and our breakfasts as we trounced back down the more-pothole
-than-road ... road and hit the highway. (This is the cop part). After a ride that slow, I hit the gas and rolled through a speed trap at 99km/h, whatever that is. It sounds faster than it is, but the cops were serious about it anyway. Apparently there was a town or something hidden in the woods, and it was a slow area. The friendly but firm officer wrote us a ticket for 55,000 colones (that's MORE than it sounds like) and took my license, suspending it for six months. I explained to him that a driver's license issued by a government with recognized diplomatic ties to his nation can't be suspended with pre-approval from said government as it is a right conferred by the citizen's government and thereby irrevocable. Of course he didn't buy it and wrote a ticket. Then Emily explained that we were leaving the country the next day and we couldn't possibly be in court the following week to get my license back. That made him pause, and he talked the matter over with his colleague. After much hemming and hawing, they decided to tear up the ticket for a couple of Cokes (international currency). Of course we didn't have any Cokes, but when they asked again with a knowing look, a couple of Cuban cigars seemed to make them really happy.

So now we're back in San Jose, license in hand and trying to organize ourselves for the jump to South America. We bumped into a couple of fellow Portlanders, Deb and Barb, who we met a week ago and just happened to be back in San Jose at the same time. They moved down to Costa Rica this week and are headed to Monteverde for a permanent stay. We relayed our story about the police here thinking it would be helpful, and hopefully we'll bump into them back in the Northwest when we're all up that way.

Speaking of new friends, we want to say hi to some new ones we made in San Juan del Sur during those less pleasant times - V and E, if you're out there, we salute you. You guys were the highlight of Saint John for sure-hope Ometepe is treating you well! They are a couple of South Africans spending a whopping year on the road, doing an around the world tour - with surfboards. See all the cool people you meet on the dusty trail?

See you all in South America.

Thursday, October 26, 2006


What a day in Tamarindo!

We just had a glorious day in Tamarindo Beach, Costa Rica. Last time we blogged you got the impression times were "tough"; things have improved! Let's do this all backwards. And maybe upside down.

We just got done surfing some incredible waves on the beach at sunset. Emily has been teaching me how to surf without making spastic ungainly movements. Before that we took a two person kayak out to an island in the bay and watched critters in tidepools and the waves crashing on the rocks. There were shells piled high, almost a wall of white that was blindingly bright. We had the little island all to ourselves to explore until the tide began taking it away and it was time to move on. On a sad note, we saw a pelican who looked like he was on his last legs. He would hold his head up high until we turned around, and then he would slump to the ground, almost as though he was too proud to let us see that he was dying. He did that a number of times, it was almost eerie. We then took our kayak through some surf in the bay which was exciting as the waves come in and turn in all sorts of crazy directions. Only one kayak capsize, though, and we were very glad the camera was safely back at home. We even managed to recover most of the little "treasures" we had found on the island, well, Emily had found I should say.

Yesterday was our beach tour. I think we saw four or five beaches along the Pacific Coast of Costa Rica, some of them relatively remote and some of them INCREDIBLY developed. There was a peninsula with jaw-dropping hotels and homes built into the sides of the cliff overlooking water on both sides. Costa Rica is astonishingly built up compared to the rest of Central America that we've seen. And expensive!

Before the beach tour, we spent the night in Playa Coco. Not our favorite place, it reminded us of San Juan del Sur. Something about the cheezy touristy overbuilt syndrome that's a little repulsive after seeing so much natural beauty.

I'm sure at this point you're wondering how we're getting around... we rented a car in San Jose! It's been killer having our own wheels, making our own schedule. A few days on the road makes us shudder to think what it would have cost us to be at the mercy of tours and shuttle buses here- everything has a price tag, even seeing waterfalls or parks. Much of the $$$ goes to preserve the natural habitat, but it's nice to see waterfalls for free back home in the Gorge.

Getting to each place has been pretty hilarious in our tiny four cylinder 4x4. The little Hyundai something or other has done a fine job though, as I'm pretty sure updated maps might show a few new roads that we forged.

Before Playa Coco we were in La Fortuna and Volcan Arenal - yes, another volcano. Fortuna wasn't much to blog about, but Volcan Arenal... We hemmed and hawed about staying at a nice resort that had an amazing view of the volcano. They had hugely discounted rates for low season, but we weren't sure. They told us you could see the volcano erupting at night, that was a big draw.

Sure enough, we opened the curtains to see the volcano before going to bed, and caught a view of glowing rocks and boulders hurtling down the sides of the volcano! We've seen a few volcanos on this trip, but that was really sweet. We hiked close to the volcano the next day and could see and hear the flaming boulders rolling down the mountain. Cool.

Before that we were in San Jose, which is a really nice city. We enjoyed the cosmopolitan atmosphere, ate some really nice meals and washed all of our clothes. We hate to be snooty, but there is something delectable about all the amenities in a major city. Like dryers. Like hot water. Like good restaurants.

So here's some more big news - our trip is about to take a turn. We decided that we're almost done with Central America, and we're really close to a major airport... so we booked flights to Argentina, South America. Somewhat whimsical, but we've been talking about it for a while now and figured - why not!? We've got the time, we're interested in continuing our Spanish education, and we're intensely curious about South America. We'll arrive in Buenos Aires, Argentina on Tuesday morning and see what happens!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Saint John of the South

I don't know what you have heard about San Juan Del Sur, or what you think you may have heard, but get ready for the skinny on this Nicaraguan not-so-sleepy weekend vacation paradise.

We've been on the road for a bit. You've been a faithful follower. It's time to cut through the worn out "everything's great!" facade and let you know how it really is.

San Juan doesn't have power from 11am-3pm every day.

The water turns off intermittently. This means the fan doesn't work at night. If you've ever been to latitudes south of Miami, you just gasped.

The town's only coffee shop is closed on Tuesday and Wednesday and is only open until 3pm other days of the week. If you live in the Northwest, you just gasped.

Rainy season started, meaning we very innocently gave our laundry to our host family, and it's been hanging out in the yard for three days. You have to duck under my boxer shorts and Emily's unmentionables to get a seat at breakfast. I can only estimate that our clothes have moved more than 10 times as the rain comes and goes, the side benefit being that sometimes the underwear you confront has a different pattern. Today it was boxers with white with red polka dots (sale at the Gap, post-Christmas sale '04 - neither here nor there).

We've made the most of it - we went surfing in the rain today, we've done a lot of reading, and learned a ton of Spanish. We also researched flights to South America, and we're thinking about pulling the trigger if the rainy season is here to stay. South America is smack in the middle of Spring right now. At least that's what we think, we left the South American guidebook at home. Maybe we've been enjoying the best Central America has to offer on borrowed time, and as they say here, the fiesta may be finito...

Don't look surprised, it's all part of the experience. First we found out paradise has an off-season, now we found out it has a rainy season.

(Don't think we're down-and-out or anything, and please don't feel sorry for us. We're well aware we're stuck in the dramatically cliff-enveloped cove of a Central American beach town with some great surfing, amazing cultural experiences and bueno fish tacos. We just wanted to let you in and let you experience the real thing in all its gritty, sweaty, sand-in-your-bathing-suit splendor. It's good for you.)

Gotta go, time for rice and beans. It's the national food of Central America, even for breakfast.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Active Volcanos Are Much Easier to Climb

We moved on from Granada and caught a ferry to this crazy island called Ometepe. There's a silent TL on the end, it's supposed to be Ometepetl in the native language of Nahuatl, but TL is just too hard to pronounce so they gave up.

The word Ometepe means "between two mountains", it describes a crazy island that is made up of two huge volcanos and a little piece of land in between where the lava flowed together. Yesterday we climbed the active one, Concepcion. It was 10,000ft lower than our first but it was still a rough climb. They don't know about switchbacks in Nicaragua, so it was 5,000ft straight up the mountain, often on all fours because it was so steep. Our guide was Ramon, we met him the night we arrived while the bus was stuck in the middle of the road with a flat tire. We were late meeting him for our climb because the same bus had another flat tire before it got to us. They are quite expedient about fixing flats, however - happens a lot I suppose.

Again, Emily rocked the volcano, carrying the backpack all the way up. I carried it back down again as my contribution.

The views from the top were spectacular - the lake is gargantuan, the other volcano looks like another stranded island, you feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he gets to the top of the island and realizes where he is. The mystery is increased by the hot sulfur and gases pouring out of the still active crater. The volcano looks like a model volcano you would make in 7th grade, complete with a perfect cone at the top, lots of old lava flows down the sides and clouds of hot steam and gas pouring out the top. Way cool. Luckily it hasn't erupted since last year, and even that was a little one. Now that I write this, it explains why the island isn't so popular with tourists. We were surprised at how few tourists we saw during our visit, but I would attribute some of that to being off the beaten path and the rest to the fact that there's nowhere to run if the volcano goes.

We also went horseback riding, which was GREAT. We rode up to a beautiful viewpoint, down along the beach at sunset, and through the jungle under lots of low hanging branches. I thought the horse would automatically recognize a tree branch at head height and move around it, but Emily knew better than me and I ended up eating them involuntarily. Luckily a lot of the plants are medicinal.

In summary, Ometepe is quite amazing and really undiscovered. We spent last night sitting on the shore, looking up at stars untainted by city lights and listening to some local guitarists croon songs in spanish. I leaned over to mention to Emily that it couldn't get any better and a shooting star went flying past our heads. Honestly!

This morning we reluctantly left our hotel in Ometepe and took a bus, a ferry and a taxi to San Juan del Sur. Welcome to the Pacific Coast! This place is really beautiful, lots of restaurants, hotels, shops, two dive shops and a bunch of spanish schools. We're going to stay for a week and soak up some local language and some sun. We start a homestay tomorrow, we'll let you know how it goes.

On our taxi ride here, we learned about local politics which was fascinating. Their election is in only 23 days away and we have seen several horse carriages, streetlight poles, bicycles, and tuba players campaigning. Now we know who to vote for if we can just fit in enough...we also confirmed that the official Nica's favorite type of music is American soft rock from the 80's. Everywhere we go we hear Chicago and Brian Adams. And "Guilty feet have got no rhythym." Unfortunately, we already know all the words and can only entertain ourselves by trying to translate them into Spanish.

The morning before our volcano climb Emily and I were waiting for the bus around 4:45am, just before the sun started coming up. We saw men and women walking to work, men driving cattle on bicycles (think about it before you say something, it'll make sense), dudes with machetes and a bottle of water, women carrying things on their heads, teams of oxen, people on horseback, and pigs, howler monkeys, stray dogs, chickens and roosters running around. It was amazing to see such a vibrant and active community, alive even before the sun rose, and it made us think about everyone's lives around us, how different they are from what we do every day. Especially the guy with the machete and a water bottle, what does he do?

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Charger Wanted! Fluent Honk Speaker a Plus

You're waiting for the bus, and off in the distance you hear the honking before it even comes into sight. As the yellow tin can/toyota minibus/stagecoach (take your pick) comes to a tooth rattling halt(more of a pause) and you try to decide if it's the one you want, a gentleman jumps off, grabs your bag and throws it on board and scoops you up as the bus starts to pick up speed. He barely gets on behind you. As you barrel down the road, he determines where you want to stop, collects your fare, and returns to lean out the door to nab his next customer. The bus never completely stopped during this process, mind you.

This is the infamous "Cobrador", the "Charger"(more of a human revolving door), and it is one of the exciting and adventurous jobs available to you in lovely Central America.

It's entertaining enough to keep you captivated for an hours-long bus ride, and Emily and I came up with the job description as we rode (it was an eight hour ride, we had plenty of time) -

Energetic and sociable person wanted as a Charger on the Tegucigalpa-to-Managua Bus Route

-Must be excellent at handling money and people of all sizes
-Photographic memory for tracking paying and non paying customers
-Rapid sales skills helpful for convincing people to ride your bus
-Balance and timing critical for last minute grabs
-Former experience as an auctioneer with a quick tongue optional
-Fluent "honk" speaker a plus

"Honk" with its many dialects is an unofficial language here spoken universally by bus drivers and commonly by others operating motor vehicles. There are different honks for letting people know you are coming, honks for people who are in the road about to get smashed, a different honk for a bicycle in the road, honks for other buses that the driver knows, honks to thank local police for waving them through checkpoints, and honks when you nod off on the steering wheel. Several people have enhanced their vehicles (especially taxis) so that honks can have intonation and charater. As non-speakers, one night we were sure that R2-D2 was about to run us down. If you do speak honk, than you have an edge on the other would-be Charger applicants.

While we're on the topic of buses, it's important that you understand how they work in CA, or Central America. (It's even more important not to confuse it with California, though it was fun to think there were hundreds of other Americans on the road for the first couple weeks of our trip before we figured it out). Our eight hour bus ride from Tegucigalpa, Honduras to Managua, Nicaragua only covered the distance of about four football fields. However, we covered about 400 nautical miles of lateral movement through switchbacks over mountains and around pedestrians, cows and cyclists. Ugh.

One more mental picture of public transportation and we're done. Honduras has just purchased one of the nicest high-speed ferries we've ever seen for travel between the mainland and the Bay Islands. Big picture movie screen, brand new chairs, ICE COLD air conditioning - the works. WAY nicer than any ferry we've ever seen in the US, hands down. However - when you arrive, they keep you behind a fence like an animal with your luggage mere feet from your grasping hands, while people press up against it to try and collect luggage like it all might disappear before their very eyes. You don't get your own luggage, you wait for one of a couple people to hear you yelling, pick it up, bring it to you and check your luggage tag. It was like being at an auction and a traffic accident all at once. People in the front who didn't see their bags wouldn't move to let people in, once they got them they couldn't get out. It was mayhem, and really funny unless it took you 45 minutes to get yours. You should probably know, as an important aside to information about the Honduran Bay Islands, that there are hundreds of suicidal crabs that come out in droves at night and litter the streets to play chicken with the taxis. And they, of course, require a different honk.

Sorry for the diatribe on Central American public transportation, but it's a critical factor in understanding the place.

On a more personal note, we're enjoying Granada, Nicaragua today. We've explored the beautiful colonial town, wandered its cathedrals, walked the waterfront of Lake Nicaragua and took a boat through some of its 350 volcanic islands. We then relaxed in the city's lively Parque Central in the shadow of the largest church and had a giant glass of refreshing fresh squeezed juice and...fried pork skins. They were a "must-try" but I think we each only had one. Finally a local pizza place, a couple of beers and had an ice cream cone to finish the day off. It has been great. (and we just learned how to say that last sentence, that very tense in Spanish last week)

As always, if you really want to understand Central America you should come down and visit us. When you do, take the bus - it's an experience.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Two Octopuses equals Octopi

Hey it's me Emily! The other half! I am quite proud of my husband's excellent writing skills but since I can't get him out of the ocean for long enough to blog, I am filling in for today. We have officially spent more time in wet suits and in the sea than on land over the past week and are loving it. We wander back to our little cabin at some point each night, but otherwise everything you need in life you can find on the deck of a dive shop. Who knew?

Diving certification has been an intense amount of fun over the past week and a bit of whirlwind too. Ryan was already a diver and is now at the advanced level as of this morning so I have had some catching up to do. I completed my open water course yesterday afternoon which qualified me just in time to jump in on the night dive of Ryan's advanced course. A full moon, octopus sightings, huge night creatures of the sea made this an incredible experience. And it was our first dive together! At one point we sat on the ocean floor and turned our lights off to watch our arms glow with plankton as we began waving them around. The ascent towards moonlight at the surface was equally incredible. We highly recommend it. Any divers or divers-to-be out there to join us in the future?

We already mentioned the fun variety of people on this island and we have definitely continued to enjoy them. I do think there is heavy representation from the British Isles. We are working on our accents, but those people from small towns we've never heard of really throw us off. My instructor, Lauren, is from Scottland, has lived in England, Africa, Egypt, and Australia (hope I'm counting right), and has been diving all over the world at the ripe age of 23. She was awesome, and I even got to pick up a few Norsk words from the Norwegians I learned with. I won't do them the dis-service of trying to spell them here...Will has been Ryan's instructor and is quite a mover and a shaker as well as a lot of fun. He and Ryan were scheming about dive software for the shop last night while we were out celebrating at one of the two bars in town. It was fascinating until I had to escape.

Sand fleas, flies, and mosquitos are VORACIOUS so I think the time has come to read up on DEET toxicity after this week. I have traded showers for bathing in it.

We love and miss you all! Thanks for your comments, we love reading them! Much love until next time....

Monday, October 02, 2006

There's Something About an Island...

We checked out Rio Dulce in Guatemala, didn't love it, and headed on to the Bay Islands of Honduras where we do love it. It was a heck of a journey to get here, and most say that you can't do it all in a day - but we did.

It's not as impressive when you look at a map and figure it's about 110 miles if you flew straight here from Rio Dulce. It's another story entirely when you sleep through the 5am ferry, catch the 6:30am boat to Puerto Barrios, take a shuttle to the Honduran border, get ripped off by the shuttle driver when he lies to you about the exchange rate and shortchanges you while you're running to catch the yellow-tin-can-grade-school-bus to Puerto Cortes, then another bus to San Pedro Sula, miss the hourly bus to La Ceiba by ...let's just say you don't want to know what we said to the bus as it drove away... load up on snacks from the street market and catch the next "luxury bus" to La Ceiba, then negotiate a cab from the bus station in La Ceiba to the ferry terminal, and take the 4:30pm last and final ferry to Roatan. Of course there's the taxi to the West End of Roatan, which ended up being the most pleasant leg of the journey. We were plotting on shortchanging the cab driver just to make up for the abuse we suffered at the Honduran border, but he was just too nice. He took us to four different places to stay, to an ATM, told us all about the island and helped us learn Spanish. What goes around comes around.

So now we're in Roatan, Honduras. We're staying at a cool little jungalow complete with monkeys, kayaks and free internet. Emily is in dive school right now, I'm going to meet her in a little bit for lunch. We like this place, it's like a UN summit. We've met people from tons of different countries, most living here for the last few years. And OH the diving! We haven't been yet, so I won't gush, but it promises to be good and the prices are ridiculous. $20 a dunk.

Emily and I were talking and wanted to pose a thought to you, while it's on our minds. We were talking about different views on careers and work, and how in the US and some other places, what you do is who you are. We've bumped into a lot of people who don't see it quite that way, and it's a relief. The thought came up because we've gotten such different reactions when we explain what we're doing. A lot of Americans are really surprised we're on the road for four months and say something about how they would love to do that if they could find the time. Some have done it and have a knowing look on their faces. We've bumped into some Brits, Aussies, Israelies, and other Euros who say things like "I guess you could see a lot in only four months. That's a nice trip." One Australian girl we met moved to England on her last backpacking trip, stayed for a while and hit the road once more before completing her round trip journey back to Australia - 5 1/2 years after she left. Granted, we've got a biased opinion, but it's nice to get outside what you know and see how other people live. We are learning that "what you do" is certainly not "who you are." What do you think?

I'm off to pick Emily up for lunch, see how class went, and then we'll dive together this afternoon for the first time. I'm really not handling being apart from her well, I've been by the dive shop a few times in the last couple hours.

This is a nice place for you to come and visit when we're here in the spring! We are here to scope it out for you...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

We Got Social in Placencia


It's Emily's birthday today, please celebrate with us and show your appreciation by posting comments... it's weird to celebrate far from home. We miss you all!

We've mentioned some folks we've met here and there in our journeys, but until we left San Pedro, Belize you could say we were "honeymooning". We're back in exploring and adventure mode, and made some new friends in Placencia.

Like the movie credits, we'll go in order of appearance. Omar own's Omar's diner and guesthouse, right in the middle of Placencia. We woke him up from a nap in his hammock and asked if he could make us lunch. We got some amazing seafood burritos from him and learned that he catches all his own fish, or gets it from his buddies if he can't find someone to watch his hammock while he's out fishing. Omar is what you might call a character, tells a lot of jokes and keeps you on your toes. He said he's been in Placencia thirty years or more.

Our second time at Omar's (dinner this time), we ran into a couple of Omar's customers - Jerry and Judd from Louisiana. These were some good ol' fly fisherman from waaaaaay south, and they were characters of a different sort. These two are hard to describe, but we'll leave you with a quote... Jerry was describing his wife's cooking, and when asked how good it was, he exclaimed - "Make you slap yo' momma!" He went on to explain that you wouldn't normally slap your mother under any circumstances, unless you tasted his wife's cooking and then reacted by slapping your own mother for not cooking as well.

Jery and Judd

While at Omar's for the third time (breakfast), I saw our friend Luke walking past on the sidewalk. We knew our friends Luke and Molly from Portland would be in Belize, that in fact they were in Dangriga the day before. We had no idea Luke would be wandering around Placencia, so I tackled him. Apparently this is very uncommon in Placencia.

Later we got to experience the way the locals catch dinner (see Luke and I below). Good thing we could also buy dinner from locals who were somewhat more successful than we were.

spear fishing

We really got out and about in Placencia, taking a snorkeling trip and a jungle trip before meeting up with Luke and Molly... then we made our own custom trip, getting a boat for the day and visiting three islands out near the reef. Two of the islands were in the Silk Cayes and were stunning, the third was equally interesting but just known as "The Sandbar", which was sand and a few million conch shells previous fishermen had left.




We said goodbye to Jerry and Judd a couple of days ago, Luke and Molly yesterday, and Omar came with us on the water taxi part of the way to Livingston so we said goodbye to him last. We took a water taxi, a regular taxi, a bus, an international water taxi from Belize to Guatemala and a "private charter" to Livingston where we are now. The private charter was a boat that our stuff got thrown into as we arrived in town, and because we had six people going in the same direction we got a group deal. The normal ferry goes at regular hours but apparently takes a lot longer.

Now we're back in Guatemala, a bit of an adjustment after Belizean beaches. We hiked through the jungle all day today, seeing some incredible views and some tiny towns. We ended in a pool of 7 waterfalls, not quite as high as those our homeland boasts, but with beautiful smooth rock formations. When we reached la ultima, our guide stripped to his smiley face undies, climbed to the top, and jumped in! After a moment of hesitation, we joined and it was fabulous and quite refreshing after the muddy sweaty hike. We even went for a second leap and got a pic at the top.

Tomorrow we're going to try and make it to Rio Dulce, a town at the head of the river we're exploring. Maybe we can get some kayaks and go with the flow, come back here and then on to Honduras!

Here are some pics from San Pedro that have been on backorder.

dragonfruit-a new fave

balcony of our honeymoon suite

golf cart-we got wheels!!

Friday, September 22, 2006

And the Beach Goes On...

We're in Placencia, Belize, about halfway down the eastern side on the Caribbean. The beaches are wide, the town is sleepy, the food is good, the weather is incredible.

How did we get here?

We left San Pedro two days ago after our third night straight of celebrating with the locals. Roll up the celebration of the Battle of St George's Caye, a party put on by Belize's largest beer distributor, Belikin, and the 25th anniversary of the nation's independence and it gets really hard to leave the tiny island.

The Belikin party lasted two nights, and everyone on the island and a few people from other islands showed up for the fiesta. The crowd was a little stoic at the beginning, but warmed up after a few hours, a few Belikin beers and some thumpin' reggae. The music here is a little unbelievable - we have pictures of a stack of speakers in Belize city the size of a building. I'm getting ahead of myself.

The third night was the eve of independence day, complete with a marching band, delegates (they had cool sashes on and we got kicked out of their reserved seating area, so we can only assume they were delegates) and tons of dancing and music. Pretty much every resident of San Pedro (officially a "San Pedrano") was in the streets either enjoying beverages from or working at one of the makeshift bars on every corner. They had a music-off between them-whoever had the higher stack of speakers won. Miss San Pedro herself led a random parade down the street at midnight-ish while 6 year old girls were shaking what their mothers had yet to give them onstage...then the fireworks show everyone was waiting for.

These things only made it harder to leave San Pedro, but alas, at some point the honeymoon has to end. We boarded the ferry back to Belize City yesterday (seems like a lifetime ago) and arrived just in time for the mainland independence day festivities to start. Every store and shop in town was closed, and everyone in Belize City and a lot of people from everywhere else were just wandering the streets trying to implode their eardrums. As a tribute to tourists they played Shakira every other song, so we could follow along with the pop music and be assured that our hips weren't lying. It's ok if you don't know who Shakira is.

We wandered around in the blazing sun until we were overstimulated and then went back to our hotel and read while still enjoying the sounds of the celebration. Probably the biggest party we'd ever seen, probably the biggest party Belize has ever seen. We highly recommend being here for the 50th anniversary celebration.

Actually we don't. It was a little too crazy for our tastes, so much so that instead of taking the traditional bumpy bus ride out of Belize City we snagged a Tropic Air puddle jumping flight from Belize City to Placencia. All of an hour and a half later we were checked into our hotel, sitting on our private deck listening to the waves crash on the beach. The flight was incredible, we got some stunning views of the Belizean coast with its many cayes. And both take-off and landing were quite successful despite the looming ocean just beyond the edge of the runways. We're confident that our bus STILL would not be here if we'd chosen public transportation. Apparently the last 18 miles to Placencia is still unpaved.

So we've got Placencia to ourselves, so you're quite welcome to come and visit - there's plenty of room. We're snorkeling tomorrow at 9am if you're really ambitious.

We've still got some country to cover, but Belize in the off-season is turning out to be an undiscovered gem. The beaches are amazing, the prices reasonable, the people incredibly friendly and it's all ours.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

We Stayed

Ambergris Caye (pronounced "KEY") has been really good to us. We stayed and turned this into our honeymoon. We've been enjoying AMAZING weather, incredible meals (seafood!), some fabulous snorkeling, some remarkable good luck, and fun new friends.

We wanted to share just a few of the blessings we've received...

Several restaurants we've gone to lately have given us appetizers and drinks "on the house" for no apparent reason.

Our hotel is on sale - we're enjoying the sunrise suite overlooking the ocean for less than half of the price listed in front of me...

The prices are listed in front of me because I'm at the front desk enjoying free unlimited internet, normally $10 an hour at an internet cafe.

Our hotel also provides all the bottled water we can drink.

We learned all about a time share on the island, and won prizes just for attending. Prizes from the raffle included a 24 hour golf cart rental (something we really wanted to do anyway), a week vacation in Hawaii (we had the same reaction you just did), and we enjoyed kayaking and snorkeling on the reef in front of the resort gratis.

The idea isn't to brag really, it's just that we are extremely grateful for all the big and little blessings that have come our way and we wanted to share them with you. We were going to go gamble at the slots in our hotel, but thought it might be pushing our luck.

Today we spent the day at Caye Caulker, a slightly bizarre little step brother of our island. The land is almost completely owned by three families that are really reluctant to see the island developed, so it's really ... interesting. It's a paradise of sorts with no real amenities to speak of, just a cute town with some cafes and restaurants and a whole lot of beach front without real beach. It's weird, you should see it. Maybe when you do you should bring one of those little spray-bottle-fans, it was ridiculously surface of the sun HOT there too. We were glad to come back to "our" island.

More chilling out before we help celebrate the 25th Anniversary of Belizean Independence. Should be wild, it's all happening on Thursday!

You should probably know that Emily and I brought an Ipod on the trip, but it has almost no music on it. Not on purpose. We've postulated that if you spend enough time on a mostly deserted island without music, all the weird music trapped in your head starts to play. Weird enough that I don't want to mention any by name, but we've taken to humming strains of 80s tunes as we walk around.

We also had a competition to find the smallest intact shell on the beach today. Are we relaxed or what? It's not all paradise though, we've been arguing about who is tannest. Tannerest? Darkest. It's Emily, but it's fun to debate.

Following the smallest shell competition was a volleyball tournament with the Creole speaking inhabitants of Ambergris Caye. People here are from... everywhere and speak English, Spanish and Creole... Creole is really English, but English like you would speak if you lived on an island all your life with all the same people.

"Chayse-affa-dee-bull" becomes "Chase after the ball"

We asked someone to teach us Creole, but it just kind of happens over time. It can't be taught.

We like it here. It's going to be hard to leave. Un-Belize-ably hard.

You probably saw that one coming.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Paradise has an off-season...

Emily and I have taken turns sitting behind the front desk of the hotel we're staying at, checking email and trying not to look like we work here. It doesn't really matter that much, as the title suggests - I would guess there have been 7 other guests at the hotel since we've gotten here.

Before we forget, Tikal was amazing. The ruins were pretty spectacular, but their setting might be even more impressive. It was a lot like Jurassic Park, complete with CRAZY noises. We never saw but heard a group of howler monkeys that made spine chilling sounds. They started quiet and far away and by the time they got close Emily and I were running away. We thought they were either a pack of wild boars or a dinosaur.

The jungle was full of huge insects, other playful and less noisy monkeys, and colorful birds. The Mayan temples had incredible views of the jungle and landscape. Remember to bring tons of bugspray and sunscreen next time you're there.

From Flores we took a shuttle to Belize City, a 6 hour BUMPY journey. Most of the road is unpaved. We got to Belize City just after 1 pm, but with the time change from Guatemala to Belize it was just past noon - just in time for the water taxi to Ambergris Caye, Belize. We hopped on the boat as it was leaving the dock with no idea what we were in for. We grabbed a taxi who recommended we stay at Coconuts, where we landed the sunrise suite. We've been there since, and we booked it for another week. We practically have the island to ourselves, and though it's one of the more touristy islands off of Belize, it's really quaint and quiet. There are more golf carts than cars. Our room is about 40 feet from the water, and each morning we walk out to palm trees and sunshine hitting the ocean.

Life is good. Our next blog entries might be a little slow, but we need to unwind. It's almost comical how hard we've crash landed in the islands.

Apparently paradise has an off season.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Overnight Bus Ride... suprise comfort?

They gave us tuna fish sandwiches for a nine hour bus ride. Is that a good idea?

¨Panes de pescado¨ aside, the ride here was pretty darn comfortable. A double decker bus with reclining seats, leg rests, TVs with the movie ¨Click¨ in English, a juice box and some cookies made the journey relatively painless. Covering the entire upstairs windshield with a big curtain also helped keep the passengers at ease. We never knew if the horns honking past were at us or some other double decker monster.

We left Panajachel yesterday around 4pm, an uneventful day spent gathering snacks and shipping stuff back to the States. We met an incredibly friendly and helpful Guatemalan named Christian who ran a coffee shop/international shipping company. We really wanted to give him our business but he was more into shipping metric tons than the small box of gifts. He ended up selling us an incredible latte and giving us packaging so we could wrap our stuff up in his shop and take it to the post office where it would ship for half price. We really hope he does well - he´s also a painter, I forgot to mention his shop triples as a gallery.

The post office re-wrapped the package with more paper and tape than the entire contents, but we´re confident that whatever destination it arrives at, it will be intact. The US Postal Service could take a cue from the Correo Guateo, they have SERVICE. I should apologize to the amiable young man who helped us - I tried to ask if they had ¨boxes¨ at the Post Office, and asked him instead if he had any ¨nuts¨. Crazy Spanish! He didn´t flinch.

So now we´re in Flores, a little island of a town literally a couple hundred meters across. (Multiply by 3 for feet - remember the volcano?) They say it´s in a lake, and kind of dirty, but it´s in more of a moat and somewhat quaint. A bit surprising since it´s a stopping point for the area´s big attraction - Tikal! A small ancient Mayan city is located about an hour from here and boasts some incredible pyramids, ruins and carvings created by kings with cool names like Two Comb and King Chocolate thousands of years ago. We haven´t gone there yet, so we might be a little off on the names and dates. I´m sure it will be astounding.

We got a great room in Flores, third floor with a view and a balcony. We successfully negotiated the price down to twice what it should be, a source of pride for us! We are getting more comfortable with Spanish and making new friends here in Central America. Emily is becoming a force to be reckoned with in the marketplace, she actually resold some traditional Mayan crafts at a profit.

So we´re just going to wander around this afternoon, take it easy and then rock Tikal tomorrow - apparently there´s a lot of walking involved and a lot of ground to cover. We´ll try to get some pictures out there next time. Won´t that be nice!?

Monday, September 04, 2006

The Days Are So Bloggable!

There is so much to write about. I just realized you´ve been hanging in suspense since LAST Wednesday. Unacceptable. Vacation or not, the world needs to know things like ¨agua caliente¨ at a hotel means only between 7 and 10 in the morning.

You need to know that vendors here sell EVERYTHING, and I mean everything. I am writing you from an internet cafe, where above my head hang lovely woven shirts for sale. You can also buy CDs, purses, jewelry, and placemats (the government mandated in 1992 that every operating vendor needs to carry hand woven placemats called individuales...we've bought plenty). I´m almost certain the kind gentleman that runs the place would be happy to rent us a bicycle, book us a flight to Honduras, loan us his horse or find us one suitable for the day, and cook us a typical Guatemalan breakfast. All this for a reasonable price. All I have to do is go next door and ask, they´ll have very similar services perhaps including a photocopier and pharmaceutical supplies.

Now that you know that, you need to know that the weather is STRANGE here. By strange, I actually mean somewhat ... predictable. Today, the thunderstorm was off by 1 hour but it typically rains at 3pm every day, within 20 minutes. Today was an hour late, catching us in an open boat flying across Lake Atitlan - one minute we´re drinking in sunshine, the next we´re battening down the hatches (luckily they have unusually small hatches in Guatemala) and I found myself in an emergency row - aka holding the tarp that kept the rain out whilst Emily held the window in the rear of the boat. Luckily someone else took over tending the boat and securing it to the dock since it was my first time. We were on our way back from the little town of San Pedro where we were exploring and kayaking all day. Yes, one of the guys who offered us horses, a place to stay and matching luggage mentioned kayaks and we tried to call his bluff. To his credit the kayak appeared in 10 minutes. To his discredit the kayak was more like a bunch of packing peanuts taped together with two folding chairs strapped to it. San Pedro is full of colorful sights, like seeing nine guys fixing the dock by jumping up and down on the pilings to secure them. We had breakfast amidst breathtaking views of the lake and volcanoes surrounding us, and old ladies EVERYWHERE that you simply can´t say no to... two skirts and a huge piece of pineapple cake later... People swim in their underwear on San Pedro, that was pretty neat. And bathe in the lake, not so neat.

Those are the basics. The really interesting stuff has a more personal touch, like an allergic reaction to Guatemalan wool. I won´t get into the details, but the experience hit rock bottom with me in the shower just after being zapped by the poorly insulated built-in water heater (it´s in the shower head and looks scarier than it sounds) with shampoo in my almost swollen shut eyes. Emily exiled the blankets to the darkness outside saving me. Then we slept in everything we brought with us.

Grotesque, but you need to know these things. We switched to a hotel with synthetic blankets and inconveniently but safely externally heated water and things have been much better.

What´s the food like? I can imagine someone asking... we've had everything you can imagine, this afternoon it was banana curry soup from an ?Asian? restaurant/travel agency. We also had a lovely dinner at a Uruguayan steakhouse. The tequila cider was not to be missed, we'll be enjoying it at Yuletide with you all this year. The band was composed of mostly guys from Michigan on vacation and a couple of locals - colorful! Guatemalan fare really is quite delectable, with fried plaintains, crazy good sauces and intense guacamole. The pico de gallo is easily the best on the planet. Emily is obsessed with the chicken soup and corn tortillas and I'm obsessed with the everything else.

We've really taken a liking to the freshly baked cakes and pies that local women sell. Those are not to be missed.

If you're going to stay in Panajachel, you should ask how many roosters are near your hotel, and how close they are. You should also find out when the local high school is having its reunion and whether the band will be practicing in the same building as your hotel. These kinds of specific but helpful questions will help you have an incredible experience in this sweet but well touristed town.

An apology before signing off - more updates needed! We'll be writing more regularly, there´s too much to tell about in just one sitting.

Love you all - even you, weird guy who just stumbled onto this blog.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

The Moldy Mesita De La Noche

We were going to update the volcano entry to include some more flattering pictures, but then this happened and so VOILA - a new entry.

THIS being: a horrendous mold smell in our "luxury" apartment in the Centro Linguistico Internacional (CLI for short, different from the TV series "CLI: Antigua"). One minute we were almost asleep, the next minute sniffing around, looking for the culprit. We blamed towels, the closet, musty clothes, each other, other students, outside, our language teacher who really had no connection to the incident and finally the Guatemalan government. We were on the edge of giving up when Em opened the drawer of the Mesita De La Noche and almost keeled over. For those of you not currently enrolled in Spanish Language School or unfluent in the beautiful language, Mesita De La Noche is a nightstand. It was a raunchfest, to quote my blisteringly hot wife. We diplomatically discussed the best ways to deal with the problem, ranging from ignoring it to hurling it out the window. Alas, bars killed the latter idea.

Truth of the matter was it got a little heated as we commanded one another to deal with the janky furniture. The story ends well, with us sleeping soundly, the nightstand in the far corner of the room and a makeshift nighstand concocted out of an ordinary stool. Brilliant! Being married is exciting, but when you throw a moldy Mesita in the mix it's downright caliente!

Now that you've suffered through our latest entry with us, enjoy pictures of some random Guatemalan kids (Brenda is on the left, and there's another cute little girl on the right)


A much more slimming picture of myself and Em on Acatenango (just shy of 14,000 feet in case you missed the last entry). We're smiling because we're still 4,000 feet shy of the summit.


And a gratuitous tourist shot of an indigenous woman walking with a basket on her head next to some doofy guys looking for their car in front of a fantastically beautiful colonial arch.


If you've read this far and haven't lost interest yet, you're about to be rewarded with some fun Antigua facts NOT in the Lonely Planet guidebook.

-Minimum drying time for clothes during the rainy season: take them to another country. Seriously, one week and counting for our first load of laundry hanging in our room.

-Size of Guatemalan mosquitos: Em went to pet a cute dog and noticed it had a really long snout and wings.

-Non stop lightning. As soon as the sky gets dark enough, it's lit up with serious pyrotechnics. Only locals can tell the difference between thunder and small volcanic eruptions without climbing to the top and checking for flying sparks and hot magma.

-The granola is really good. It's got pumpkin seeds in it. Bet you didn't know that!

-Not really a fact, but it would be cool if everytime someone stubs their toe wearing Chacos they called it "Taco your chaco" because your sandal folds in half like a taco. And gave us credit for it. And sponsorship. Chaco, USA Inc. That means you.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Oh, that's in METERS!


Acatenango, the volcano, kicked our butts.

We figured that when a guide company says "extremely strenuous", they mean for everyone else. We were humbled by this monstrosity whom we originally thought was just under 4,000 feet high. Try just under 4,000 METERS high, which when attempted from the lowly valley of Antigua is quite a haul. We didn't see it coming.

It's the typical story - a guide picks us up at the hotel at Oh Dark Thirty (that's really early for those of you who don't speak military time), we have a silent ride to pick up the other victims, then it's off for an hour to get to "base camp". The road turns to a single lane dirt road about four minutes into the ride and we have a harrowing, dark ride halfway up the mountain passing buses. How did buses get up here? We went over a bump in the road that I was sure was the volcano.

We won't take you through all the gory details, but 4 hours later we summited and were met with blasts of icy wind and rain and views that made your stomach drop. So incredible it made the slog back through the mud endurable. Easily the hardest hike Emily and I have ever taken part in, possibly any physical feat. Luckily my bride is of hardier stock than I and carried our pack with all our water and gear up the entire mountain while I gasped for breath. I love her. We also have to give credit to Michael and Sarah, a brother and sister team who also made the climb and who were arguably more hardcore. For example, not only did Emily carry our pack up the mountain, the Angel Michael literally pushed me the last few thousand feet to the top.

Since then we've been nursing sore muscles and enjoying Antigua. We recently moved into the Honeymoon Suite of our language school, which is all of seven feet from where we enjoy our Spanish lessons. Four hours this morning, a little grueling but definitely worthwhile. It was fun to explore the nuances of language in a beautiful courtyard with other students happily chatting away. If you're going to get the same room when you visit, be advised everyone shows up at 7am and congregates outside your door.

I don't think you can visit Antigua without snagging a kid. They're so cute it hurts; we'd post pictures but I want you to read the rest of the entry instead of calling a Guatemalan adoption agency.

Other highlights include the discovery of coffee that once ingested causes you to crave it every 45 minutes. It's a little scary, but once you figure out what's happening it's a remarkable alarm clock.

Speaking of, we've been on the internet 43 minutes now and we're at least 2 minutes from the nearest coffee shop. Gotta go!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Rip Van Winkle and Antigua

So we got here and slept about 18 hours. Then we figured out where "here" was... Antigua, Guatemala. I semi-consciously remember getting off the plane and taking a shuttle straight to Antigua at 6am yesterday morning. It was really reasonable for an hour shuttle ride ($20 for two people), we had the whole thing to ourselves, and our driver was courteous and agile. It is important to note that the shuttle costs 20 times what a bus ride would have cost, but it´s SO much nicer to ride inside the vehicle instead of outside like a lot of the passengers we saw on "public" transportation. At least on the first day.

Guatemala City was a blur. Antigua is INCREDIBLE. There are three volcanoes bordering the view at all times, huge ruined churches, an incredible central park, and rows and rows of shops, hotels, courtyards and anything else you can imagine behind brightly colored doors and stuccoed walls. Pictures will be forthcoming. During the day, you can look through the open doors and see fountains and plants and people enjoying food, but at night when the doors are closed you have no idea what lies behind. Take our hotel, for instance. An incredible open courtyard with ferns and big wooden columns and lazy sunlight drifting through during the day... and an unmarked door at night. Very unmarked. We walked past twice, then asked the guy watching the door of our hotel where our hotel was. Our Spanish is still coming up to speed, so we tried to conjure images of the beautiful courtyard and lush plants with our hands. He looked at us like we were crazy and rang the buzzer. Home!

It´s been a bit of a blur these last few weeks, so we´re doing everything we can to rest up and catch up. I described the experience to Emily like being put in a sack, beaten with a stick, and waking up in another country. It was actually a lot more pleasant than that, but we were tired at the time.

We want to say thanks before we get too deep into our trip. Family and friends coming out for the wedding, the incredible times we had leading up to the wedding, and the support and love we got before we left were all very humbling. We´ve been marveling at the deep relationships and love we´ve felt from all of you. Know that you are all in our prayers and that you are the ones who have made much of this adventure possible. THANK YOU!

With that, we are off to explore Antigua, get our feet under us, get our bearings, and get some Malaria pills.

Love you all -

Ryan and Emily

Monday, July 24, 2006

The Next Adventure...

We bought Chacos. These are the footwear of serious adventurateering. These enigmatic sandals were designed with one purpose in mind - to elicit the response "Are those Chacos?" from everyone you meet.


We should start at the beginning... we're Ryan and Emily (see pic if you're confused) and we're in the starting gates and the gun is about to go off. We wanted to start a blog to at least remember these times as they fly by, and to share them with family, friends, and randos (a rando is someone who doesn't fall into one of the first two categories).

In less than a month, we're getting married here in lovely Oregon. Then we'll officially be RyanAndEmily2006 instead of just plain old Ryan and Emily. THEN we hit the road, starting in Guatemala City at the end of August and hopefully gravity, spare change and a few chicken buses will help us meander our way through the entirety of Central America. From there, we may continue through South America (this comes after Central - there's a link to a map if you're having trouble), and then maybe continue along the natural route down to Antarctica since we're headed that direction. Or maybe we'll come home, but that's seems a long ways away when the trip hasn't even begun yet.

Estimated Time Frame: End of August through December
Intended Destinations: All of Central America, Chile and Argentina
Gear List: Chacos, toothbrush
Excitement Level at Time of Posting: nearly unbearable
Readiness State: see Gear List

We'll be posting regularly, though they may be sporadic over the next few weeks as we get married. Then there will be a flood of pictures, then a brief gap for our honeymoon, then we'll post of our travels in earnest.

You can get in touch with us at
while we're on the road, so drop us a line.

Hasta Luego, Amigos!