Belize Adventures

Friday, April 20, 2007



Two of my roommates (Danny and Monica) and I went to Honduras during Holy Week.

Inspired by Jenn Knorr (I just got a top 10 list from Andy and Jenn's trip to Mexico) I decided to write a top 10 list for my Honduras trip.

10. TRAVEL: lots of it! We thought it would take us 5 modes of transportation (bus and boat) to get to Gracias, Honduras. It actually took us 11!! Many buses, a few boats, and two taxis later, we arrived in Gracias. Even though it was frustrating trying to track down buses that didn't exist, I really enjoyed all the transport and seeing the countryside. We took a boat from PG (Belize) to Livingston (Guatemala) where we spent the night. We originally planned to go to Honduras the first night but that didn't exactly happen, so Guatemala it was. Livingston is really touristy--but VERY cute and I am glad we stopped there. We went to Palm Sunday mass there and walked down the beach and drank beer that wasn't Belikin....ahh..... The next morning we took a boat to Puerto Barrios (still Guatemala) then a taxi to the border, then lots of buses to Gracias. Transport was a bit of a hassle because it was Holy Week and schedules (which are spotty to begin with) were all off and buses just didn't come. We caught some rides from Gracias to Comayagua. Although the dust was enough to suffocate us (bouncing around in the back of trucks on dirt roads...ugh), the views were extraordinary. Taxi's in Honduras were little 3 wheeled carts and Monica and I thought they were adorable; Danny thought we were crazy for thinking a taxi was adorable, but they were! We had a miraculous travel day on Holy Saturday--we were going to try to travel in one day, the distance it took us 4 days time to reach. But we wanted to be back in BZC for Easter, so we got up at 4:30am on Saturday morning and we had a travel miracle. Buses appeared, boats were there, taxi's were nice! The bus from PG back to BZC was the fastest bus I have been on yet--faster than the express even! We could not stop talking about our travel miracle. We woke up in Honduras and were back in BZC (via Guatemala) by 8, ON a holiday, IN a country where transportation is completely unreliable!

9. GETTING OUT OF BZC: Well, this relates to #10 (travel) because we had one heck of a time getting OUT of Belize! I had to work until 4pm on Saturday and we were told by SEVERAL people (including the bus terminal folks) that there was a 5pm bus to PG. Yeah. There's not. We got a drop at the terminal and found out that we were out of luck. We decided to head down to Dangriga (that was the farthest we could get at that point) and hope for the best. We arrive in Dangriga after dark and realized we could make it to PG that night. Monica and I were ON a mission though--and Monica walked up and down the bus asking people "Are you going to PG....are YOU going to PG?" Sadly, no one was going to PG! We stayed in Dangriga for the night and then woke up super early the next morning (we were trying to catch at 9:30am boat from PG) and tried to flag down cars. What a sight. We were eating chips and happy cow cheese too early in the morning; it was spitting rain so we alternately had our raincoats on and stuffed in our bags; we would run to the road whenever a truck passed....all to no avail. We finally caught a bus to PG (after two previous buses got us to Hopkins) and completely missed our 9:30 boat. Apparently it's okay in Belize (and Honduras and Guatemala) to tell people any lie about transport you want to tell them. For example, if you asked 4 people what time the bus left for San Pedro Sula and how long it took (you know, PURELY hypothetical) you would, without a doubt, get 4 different answers. It really doesn't matter if you actually know when a bus leaves--just say that it leaves at 1pm! It's completely fine to tell folks that the bus takes 5 hours when the person standing next to you told them the bus takes 2.5. It did not matter in the least the effort put into trying to figure out buses and schedules--it was fruitless. I am not exaggerating when I say that for every person you ask, you will get a different answer and they will vary by HOURS...not minutes, hours. There is no such answer as: 'you know, I'm just not sure....." Nope. Just go ahead and say the first thing that pops in your head! Sigh. You may be wondering why this made the top 10 list. Well, I was so impressed with our adventure. This speaks so much to my roommates' patience because we laughed our way through this and weren't frustrated (well maybe a little) or angry. We just kept trying option after option and laughed at ourselves and our situation. Plus, it made it that much sweeter when we finally arrived at our destination.

8. BEING ON VACATION: Man, I forgot how GREAT it is to be on vacation. To see new things, taste different foods (no rice and beans for a week) and relax. To not worry about work, about commitments at home, about making sure I do everything on my list. To have exciting new things to do each day. To spend time with my roommates in a different setting. This was such a blessing. In this way, this trip was really life giving. I LOVED our trip to Honduras!

7. LIVINGSTON, GUATEMALA: again, I described this in number #10, but our unexpected stay in Livingston was so great! It was a cute little town, filled with colors and smells. One of my favorite memories from our trip was sitting on plastic chairs on the beach under palm trees drinking beer and just being. It was wonderful.

6. LICUADOS: Licuados are smoothies and it's possible that Monica and I were obsessed with them. We must have consumed our weight in licuados this trip. We searched them out at every stop and tried as many flavors as we could (my fav: melon and fresia--cantaloupe and strawberry). They were our lifeline! Monica vowed to pray for the licuado workers of Honduras upon our return!

5. DANIEL MACRI: Danny was our hero this trip. He studied abroad in Florence and his Italian is great. He took a Spanish class here but said that he wasn't too good. My goodness--he was a star! I was so impressed with his language abilities. He was not at all afraid to ask every question that needed to be asked; he negotiated our rides; he basically did everything for us. Monica and I could very well have done much more, but we didn't need to--Danny did everything! He was a champ. All this, AND he put up with Monica and I laughing, giggling, and being ridiculous. We were teasing Danny about being his sisters but then we decided that we were better than his sisters cause we were more fun (I have never met his sister, by the way, but somehow we deemed ourselves better than her! What?) It was really fun seeing Danny in a completely different context than BZC.

4. LAUGHING WITH MONICA: This obviously goes along with #6. Monica and I laughed our way through Honduras (while drinking Licuados....). We had such fun. We let loose and were just free to be silly and spontaneous. . I'm pretty sure Danny has a magical ability to tune us out completely because otherwise he might have killed us the first night with our giggles. We thought we were HILARIOUS and we thought every situation we were in was hilarious. I haven't laughed that much that consistently since spending time with my sister! We commented that traveling sometimes brings tension and stress to friendships...not ours! Apparently traveling makes us funnier! Just ask us!

3. GRACIAS, LEMPIRA: One of the cutest towns ever. If I said I was obsessed with licuados, I revise that statement and say that I am obsessed with Gracias. I don’t know how many times on the trip I said, “I HEART Gracias!” It was SO darn cute! It felt very authentic—very quaint. Danny found (of course) a great restaurant that only uses local ingredients and our dinner there was amazing. The woman there is not only the cook, she makes all the stuff in the restaurant as well---plates, chairs, placemats, etc. She was so kind and talked to us at length about customs of Gracias and festivals held there. With my Italian, I was able to understand a lot of it, but she was talking for so long that I admit, I zoned out a bit! I don’t feel like I’m portraying how DARN CUTE Gracias is—but I’ll send out pics and then you can see some for yourself!

2. HIKING THE HIGHEST MOUNTAIN IN HONDURAS: You see, as mentioned above, Monica and I did very little ‘planning’ and ‘negotiating’ on this trip! Danny, our roommate turned professional tour guide, mentioned a hike we could go on outside of Gracias. Great! Hiking! I thought, I like hiking! Let’s do it. Yeah—this ‘hike’ (if you will) was actually straight up the tallest mountain in Honduras. There are two camps along the way because it is NOT recommended to do in one day. What did we do? Run UP and back DOWN the mountain in ONE DAY. Yeah. Maybe not a great idea. We were so very unprepared for this adventure. We had very little water and very little food, and yet we thought, ‘heck, why don’t we ascend to around 9000 feet and back in one day? That sounds like fun!’ In Gracias, we ran into a JV from Nicaragua who was going to attempt the same silly hike we were. Danny had not seen him (Matt) since orientation a year and a half prior! We figured out that we couldn’t have met up if we planned to! All of our missed busses and transport problems let us be in the same spot at the same time—who knew! All four of us spent the night in the visitor’s center in some bunk beds (the visitor’s center was already higher than the tallest peak in Belize—how sad is that!!). We rented sleeping bags from a lady in town--she only had two—Monica and I shared a sleeping bag that night---hmmm, perhaps not the comfiest I’ve ever been…however, Matt didn’t have one at all and he slept with his rain jacket as his blanket! Matt was less prepared that we, and he was counting on the groundskeeper to come through with food. Miguel’s mother did not, in fact, come through and Matt left us after a few hours into the hike because he had no provisions. Our meager provisions were two liters of water each, a few pb&j sandwiches each and some granola bars that fellow hikers donated to us! The hike was gorgeous. Absolutely beautiful. The cloud forest was amazing. Trees everywhere, GREEN GREEN GREEN, mist (as we neared the top), plants, flowers, leaves…everything. It was great. Parts of the hike were easy, parts we were using both hands to help push ourselves straight up (and then straight down) the mountain. It was great for the first 6 hours. Monica and I started to wonder at what point we should turn back---we were nervous that we would get caught in the dark after a multi-hour hike with no food, water, or extra clothing! Our fears were NOT unfounded, based on our lack of preparation! But Danny was determined to make it to the top, and after another hour, that we did! From the top, if it is clear, you are supposed to be able to see to Guatemala and El Salvador. Yeah—it was completely white. The clouds did not part in the 5 minutes we allowed ourselves at the top before we began our race down the mountain. We made it up in a little over 7 hours and back down in 5.5 When we met Matt at the visitor’s center, his first words were “you made it all the way to the top? YOU’RE CRAZY!” We said very quick goodbyes and continued down past the visitor’s center to the road so we could find a taxi and get back into town for some food and water. A crazy hike, I admit, but awesome. We paid for it the next week as our legs refused to bend properly and we hobbled around the town of Comayagua (our next destination).

1. GOOD FRIDAY: We spent Good Friday is a town called Comayagua. Wow. Starting at midnight on Holy Thursday, folks set out to make ‘saw dust rugs.’ They are works of art covering the street from sidewalk to sidewalk made from colored sawdust and salt. They are truly breathtaking. The art that can be created with saw dust is so neat. They create these saw dust rugs all through the night and into the morning. Then, around 10am, a procession starts from a church and walks the path of these ‘rugs’ destroying each and every one. This procession involves men carrying large floats of Jesus and the saints. They have the living stations of the cross along the route with children portraying the characters. All in all, it was such an experience—somber, moving, and very powerful. We felt very very lucky to be there.

Gosh, I think I’ve gone on long enough now. I hope that’s a good picture of our trip! I’ll try to send out pics soon and since I never seem to be able to attach captions (even though I write them for each picture) maybe these descriptions will help set the scene!

Be well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Amazing God Moment...

I had the best God moment yesterday. It actually began on Monday night. I go to the Salvation Army homeless shelter on Monday nights to play dominoes and hang out with the guys. About 20 or so old men sleep there at night, but there's normally only about 8 guys around when I'm there. They're phenomenal. I love them. Now that I've been going for a few months, I chat and banter with them instead of just breaking out the dominoes. They're super funny. They all came out to watch us finish La Ruta Maya, but due to the false start and the delay on the 4th day, they gave up and left before they saw us come in. Well, the delay was the main reason, but Emilio didn’t help things---he started this rumor that a helicopter came to pick me up from the river and took me to the hospital. (It was quite an involved rumor—he had worked out all my aches and pains and everything.) Because they never saw me come in, some of the guys (and the woman that works nights at the shelter) actually believed Emilio! They asked me all about my pain and they said they were so worried. Poor Vernon kept saying 'i almost went to the hospital to visit you; i was so worried about you i almost dropped.' Emilio thought he was mighty funny by starting this rumor and laughed and laughed and laughed!

Emilio is a trip. He lost a leg three years ago in a car accident. When he told me about it he said, ‘lucky I’m alive. Lucky I still have one leg.’ He has one leg, a great big belly, lots of problems with diabetes and high blood pressure, and is nearly blind. He also has a great laugh and LOVES to be mischievous, as you can tell by the helicopter rumor. He doesn’t go out much because, as he says, he can’t keep up with everyone and he says most people are up to no good! He does go to the Mercy Kitchen when the Mercy Kitchen bus comes round to pick him up. The Mercy Kitchen is a center that offers services for the elderly of Belize City. It has a medical clinic, chapel, soup kitchen, and a large room with a television for folks to hang out. I think it’s one of the neatest services in Belize.

All right—so back to Monday night. Two of my roommates, Chris and Adam, are in a play with the Belize Theater Company that performs this weekend. They have been dedicating 4 nights a week plus Saturdays to rehearsals for this play and have worked so very hard. I am so excited to see them on Friday night! When I went to the shelter on Monday, I brought paper, markers, stickers, and scissors and had the guys make Chris and Adam cards. At first, the guys were NOT into it—at all. In fact, they were pretty resistant. I started out by placing the stickers on the paper and having the guys press down to make them stick. I then had them all sign their names on the card—unfortunately, lots of the guys don’t know how to write and so I ended up writing most of their names! Finally, Puerto gave in and took a marker and started scribbling on the paper. I’m not kidding. Literally scribbling. Then Emilio, Vernon, Norman, and even Ray showed some interest. Soon Puerto was practicing on a scrap piece before he made his creation on the actual card. The card ended up being the cutest thing I’ve ever seen with stickers ALL over, scribbles, and notes from Vernon (he wanted me to write things: I like circus. You want to go to circus? I go to circus in Belize City). So CUTE!!

I knew I was going to the Mercy Kitchen the next day so I told Emilio I would see him there. He said he only goes when the bus picks him up and he didn’t know if the bus was coming for him tomorrow. I said, fine then, see if I see you at the Mercy Kitchen!

Tuesday morning I had almost reached when I looked over to the side of the road and there I see Emilio, wheeling himself and his big belly down the road. I went over to him and he said that the bus broke down but he wanted to come to the Kitchen so he pushed himself all the way there. He said, “Maria, I nearly turn around at the bridge. I punish, Maria, I punish. It so hot!” I could NOT believe that Emilio had pushed himself ALL the way from the shelter. He never goes anywhere; he’s not used to pushing himself places. I’m positive the only reason he came was that I told him to! He was almost to the Kitchen, but I told him that if he could push my bike, I could push him. So there we were, on the side of the road, Emilio and I. He was leaning out of his wheelchair to get a grasp on the bike and I was behind him in his wheelchair pushing him down the road. What a sight. Cars were looking at us—bikers were looking at us. I thought---this is IT. Thanks God. This is it….Emilio and I, trucking down the road…me pushing Emilio, Emilio pushing my bike, and God behind it all….