Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Homeward Bound

Hi everybody,
I changed my flight so that I arrive this Saturday instead of next. I'm disappointed that my time in Mexico City wasn't the glorious end to a wonderful 4 months, but that's life.
I'm very excited to get home and see you all (those of you in the Bay Area anyhow) and be HOME. What with living in New Mexico before the walk, I haven't lived at home since the beginning of August. For now, home will be my mom's house while I earn some money and look for a place.
I might just keep up this blog. It's been pretty fun and the most consistent form of journaling I've ever done while traveling. And, once I get a camera again, I can keep putting pictures up, which seems to be a big hit.
So, until next time...

Monday, April 27, 2009

Swine flu bananarama

So, more people are dying and the city is getting more scared, understandably. Yesterday about 50% of people were wearing masks outside. Today was more like 65%.
The Reunion General, the Quaker thing in Monterrey, was canceled, as was the wedding I was supposed to go to. So, I'm thinking about coming home early. I wouldn't mind being in Mexico City for two weeks if everything wasn't shut down and my life weren't in danger. Sigh...
Also, my camera broke yesterday. It got knocked out of my hand while the lens was zoomed out and it landed right on the lens and bent it and it won't open or close or turn on at all. I'm kind of bummed (and you might be too, because I will have no pictures to entertain you with) but at least it didn't break while I was still visiting new places. I've never destroyed two cameras in one trip before, so that's a new record.
I'll let you know what day I decide to fly home. Think healthy thoughts.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Back in Mexico City

First of all, if you've been paying attention to the news, you might be worried about the fact that I'm in Mexico City. Yes, 80 people have died of the swine flu, but I anticipate that I'll come home alive and well. Schools, museums and public places are closed. Soccer games are still happening, but with no spectators and Mass was cancelled today. About half the population are walking around with face masks (the other half are living dangerously, apparently) and working from home when possible. There's still lots of people out and about, but considering this city has a population of 20 million, it feels slightly ghost townish.
I'm happy to just hang out with my friends and not go out too much, but it is strange to be in Mexico City and not take advantage of all the great culture.
I'm supposed to go up to Monterrey this coming weekend for Reunion General, a gathering of Quakers in Mexico. I'm playing it a little bit by ear because this flu scare might affect travel. Hopefully they'll get the epidemic under control before there are more deaths and life can go back to normal.
I don't have any pictures for this blog, sorry.
Oh, one cool story from San Jose: I met the President of Uruguay on Friday. He was giving a talk at the Institute for Human Rights and Rolene's friend invited us to go as her guests. He didn't say anything too revolutionary, but talked about hope and other stuff I couldn't understand. After the talk we strategically placed ourselves in his path and got to meet him for a minute. Rolene quickly told him about the walk and he officially invited her to Uruguay. After shaking my hand he touched my arm. I am here as witness to the fact that President Vasquez has very soft hands.

It's good to be in Mexico again. I'm pretty distracted from feeling sad about leaving the walk. Actually, I had a couple days of feeling really sad and emotionally overwhelmed, but once the day came to leave I felt pretty ready. I'm glad to have these two weeks in Mexico to slowly transition home and it's great to be here with my friends.

I'll try to have pictures for you soon.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Barra Honda y Playa Tamarindo

This will be a kind of short blog posting because after leaving Monteverde, I had a pretty uneventful week and didn't take many pictures.
We camped at Parque Nacional Barra Honda for two nights and it was HOT! The day we arrived it was 104F in the shade and pretty humid. We walked into town and Rolene talked to a school and the principal gave us the fruit. Strange and beautiful, no? And, very tasty!
The last three shots are from Playa Tamarindo, on the Pacific Coast. Rolene's family came to visit so she stayed with them and I stayed in a hostel in town. It was kind of lonely, but I think it was good to have that down time to process and get ready to leave the walk.

I'm in San Jose now and on Saturday I fly to Mexico City for two weeks, and then I'm homeward bound! I can't believe it's the end of my trip. I'm so sad I can barely think about it, so I'm not. This is not to say that I'm not excited to come home, because I really am, but these 4 months have been wonderful to say the least--life changing is more like it. I'm nervous to come home to "real life" with jobs and school and trying to find a place to live and paying bills and all that stuff I haven't had to think about. Luckily I have so many of you to lean on when I need it.
One curious difference in my life that I didn't anticipate is that I've been eating a mostly vegan diet for a couple weeks and I like it. I never had any interest in it before, but a series of events led me to try it out and I feel really good and plan on continuing to eat almost no meat or dairy (though I've had some fish, and in this area it's really hard to fully avoid animal products). I'm no purist so I'm not worried about cutting everything out, but after reading the first 3rd of a book called The China Study, I was convinced. Plus, for whatever reason, for the few weeks before reading that book, I had been reacting badly to meat and dairy anyhow, so I was ready to hear what the author had to say about eating animal protein.
Anyhoo, enough about that.
I hope everyone is happy and healthy, wherever you're reading this from.
Abrazos a todo!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009


It's been so long since I last wrote I kind of feel like sticking my head in the sand--it feels overwhelming to try and catch up and fill you in on all that's happened. I'll write about Monteverde this time and the beach and San Jose next time.
We were in Monteverde for a week. It was supposed to be 4 or 5 days, but we loved it so much we could barely make ourselves leave.
Monteverde is a community in the cloud forest of Costa Rica, started by a few Quakers who moved there in 1951 after being jailed for refusing to sign up for the draft during the Korean war. They chose Costa Rica because it is the only nation without a military and because the area of Monteverde was a good place to move their dairy farming. They started the Monteverde Cheese Factory, the Quaker Meeting and the Friend's School in the first few years and later started the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve. This picture is of the Meetinghouse and Friend's School.
This is the home of Joe and Jean Stuckey, who have lived in Monteverde for about 30 years. They are dairy farmers and Jean runs the icecream parlor in town. Joe took us on a great hike on their land, most of which is saved as forest. Rolene stayed with Jean and Joe and I stayed with other friends, Veronica and her son, Stuart. The roads are not paved in Monteverde and many people walk wherever they need to go. It has become a tourist destination because of the Reserve and the cute town, but it still has a small community feel.
From just outside the entrance to the Cloud forest reserve.
It was hard to get good photos of the Reserve because it was so big and beautiful. This was taken from a hanging bridge so it was easier to get some perspective, but I want to stress how much more beautiful it was than the photos show.
A carnivorous for your lives! Their only prey is other snails because they can't catch anything else.
This is the endangered Quetzal, taken with Rolene's camera through a telescope. The last time they were counted, about 15 years ago, there were only about 300 Quetzals left. We also saw monkeys, lots of insects and many kinds of birds. 20% of the worlds species are found in the Monteverde Cloud Forest.

Just outside the Reserve is a hummingbird garden. I've never seen so many kinds of hummingbirds! I read that there's 45 kinds of hummingbirds in Costa Rica. Big ones, small ones, purple ones, green ones...
In this one, I'm standing inside a strangler tree, looking up. It's not actually a tree. Where I was standing was once a tree that was slowly covered by these roots and vines and the tree inside died and rotted away. Now there is a shell, that appears to be a tree. Neat, huh?
This was taken from the edge of Jean and Joe's land of the San Luis Valley. The clouds are where the Reserve is and they basically stop right there. As they move west, they evaporate and the land to the west is markedly drier just a few kilometers away.
Cremita, the baby sloth! Benito, the son of one of original families to move to Monteverde, is nursing it back to health and will release it to the wild once it's well. It's mom was killed by something and it was injured quite badly. I never imagined how soft a sloth's fur was. She goes most everywhere with Benito, and is a hit around town in Monteverde.
This is Stuart. I stayed with him and Veronica for the week. He is the most open, loving person I've ever met. One day we were drawing and he asked if I wanted to sit on the floor. I said I'd like to sit at the table. He said, "Then I want to sit at the table too because I want what you want because I love you so much." He is a playful kid, but can follow grown-up talk too. We had a really good talk about spirituality. I'm going to keep an eye on this kid because he is a teacher in every sense of the word. Do I need to say that I love him, or is that obvious? Veronica, his mama, is also amazing and loving and insightful. She helped me figure out a lot of emotional stuff in just a few days. Sometimes (or always) people come into our lives for a reason and at just the right time.
Rolene, me, Joe, Jean, Veronica, Stuart at my birthday party. My birthday was great! There was morning worship at the Meeting/Friend´s School and all the students and Meeting members sang to me. Then I went to Jean and Joe´s house and prepared lunch for my birthday party. I made pita bread by hand and a veggie stir-fry kind of thing, and Jean made hummus and soy meat something-er-other to put in the pita bread. Sounds like a strange lunch, but it was delicious. Veronica and Stuart brought fruit salad and Rolene made a lemony cake. And they gave me presents. In the afternoon, I read a little then checked email and went to Veronica´s for a little salad for dinner. Then Rolene and I went to the Monteverde Choir´s final rehearsal for their concert on Saturday, followed by a great concert put on by Annie and Jordan and their visiting friend, Emmy. The last song of the night (a band with guitar, banjo, fiddle--kind of flolky, sometimes bluegrassy, sometimes soft and beautiful music) was a birthday song for me that one of them wrote for another friend, but she adapted for me! It was such a special day.

Monteverde is definitely a place where I could live long term (don't worry, no plans yet!). The sense of community and care for the earth are very strong. If you ever have a chance, GO! But be prepared, because you won't want to leave.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Nicaragua to Costa Rica

We are now in Monteverde, Costa Rica. I'll tell you about it in the next post. For now, I'll tell you about the last 10 days...
These first 5 pictures are from Isla de Ometepe in Lake Nicaragua. It was so ridiculously beautiful there. I'm disappointed because I didn't remember to put most of my photos onto my flash drive, so I only have a few to share.

This is from the shore before we got on the ferry to go to the island. I climbed the smaller volcano on the right, Volcan Madera. It's a long story, but let's just say that it was the absolute hardest physical challenge I have ever put myself through, including the marathon I did. It took 10 hours to go up and come back down and it was so steep I had to pull myself up with my hands sometimes and much of it was so muddy, my boots sank all the way in and I fell countless times. I thought I might not make it down before dark and I was all alone and scared and tired. I cried when I finally got back to the hotel. It's a good story now, but at the time I was cursing the volcano and my decision to climb it.
This is the other volcano, the one I didn't climb. It's still active.

These next photos are from Playa Madera, just north of San Juan del Sur in southern Nicaragua. It was a long, rocky, dusty road to get there, but very worth it. We stayed at a surfer hostel right near the beach. It think we were the only non-surfers in the whole area, but we got along just fine. It's very hot on the coast so we did a little walking but didn't push it.

Howler monkeys! These little monkeys are the second loudest animal on earth, after the blue whale (or so I'm told). They sound like a cross between a dog, a bear and a T-Rex and they're the loudest at dawn and dusk. Good thing I sleep with earplugs (but they still woke me up a few times). The babies looked to be about the size of big kittens and the adults like very large cats. I also saw capuchin monkeys but didn't get pictures.
There really is nothing like swimming in the warm-ish Pacific ocean until dusk, then sitting in the sand to dry off while the sun sets.
I am in love with these yellow trees. I've posted a picture of one before, back when we were in El Salvador. But they are everywhere here! The hills are dotted with them. The Costa Rica countryside reminds me a little of Oregon in the summer and a little bit of Napa Valley in California, and sometimes of Mendocino. In any case it is very beautiful. So far, Costa Rica seems more middle-class. We haven't seen any poverty yet, but we've been in rural areas almost exclusively.
This is a coati. We saw it and others at Palo Verde National Park in Costa Rica, where we camped for two nights. The lizard in the picture below was about 3 feet long. There were lots running around.

Look at this crazy vine/branch. I was amazed because this was the first one we ran into on a hike, but then we saw lots more. It was a gorgeous trail with interesting plants, animals, rock formations. If it had been about 15 degrees cooler, it would have been perfect.
The forest had my favorite yellow trees and the floor was littered with the flowers. It was like someone went in front of us and spread these to make our walk beautiful.
The view from the highest point on our hike. Awesome!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Masaya and Granada

Hiya folks,
We are currently in Granada, Nicaragua, which is right near the shore of Lake Nicaragua. It's partly very pretty and colonial and geared towards tourists (US food prices and all) and partly a good example of foreign wealth juxtaposed against local poverty. I struggle between feeling uncomfortable with my relative wealth next to their obvious lack of wealth and being happy to have delicious organic green vegetables and comforts like wireless internet available to me.
Most of these photos are from Volcan Masaya. This was my first active volcano experience, as far as I can remember. Very cool...or hot, depending on how literal you are.

This is Jeanette McDermott. She's traveling with us for a couple weeks and filming a movie about Walk With Earth! She's a journalist with a long history of environmental and social justice work and is a generally wonderful person. We laugh a lot and have great conversations about justice issues and spirituality. I'll let you know when the film is posted to YouTube.

This is the group of us who went with a guide to the bat caves at Volcan Masaya. I've been to more impressive caves, and seen more bats at one time before. However, I've never been this close to bats (the pics are too dark to be very cool) and we went down into the caves with flashlights. When we got deep into the cave we all turned off our lights and sat in the pitch dark. It was so dark, there was no difference when my eyes were opened or closed. We learned that where we were sitting was where the indigenous people of long ago had an altar and celebrations after offering sacrifices (animals, virgin women, children) to the volcano gods. Kinda spooky, but mostly just really really dark.
Cemetery near Granada.
This is the street that leads into the market area of Granada. Imagine, a few blocks away is and area with beautiful buildings, cobblestone streets and lots of tourists paying lots of money for lots of things. Strange, to say the least.
On the walk somewhere near Masaya, the town near the volcano. I have a love/hate relationship with the buses. Mostly love because they are frequent, cheap, fast, and interesting. The assistant hangs out of the door to ask people if they are getting on with a flip of his hand while yelling the final destination of the bus. I can't think of anything I hate about the buses right now. Maybe I only have a love relationship with them.

I'll probably say this a lot over the next month, but I'm very aware of how little time I have left. I don't want to leave and I can't wait to come home!
Oh, yesterday was Rolene's 60th birthday. The whole restaurant sang to her at dinner and a Canadian bought us bad wine. It was lovely.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Ciudad Sandino

This photo was taken today on our first walking day since before the conference. It's so very nice to be walking again. This was Rolene's first walking day since the accident a few weeks ago so we took it easy and only did 8k. As you can see it's pretty dry. We've been told that if we were here a few weeks later, we would be in a lush green wonderland. Oh well, we can't be everywhere at the most beautiful time of the year.
Garbage on the side of the road continues to be a sad eyesore. I usually put lots of pretty pictures on this blog, but there's lots of ugly stuff too. In general, Managua is pretty rundown. They had a huge earthquake in '72 that destroyed a lot of the city, which used to be the most modern and happening city in Central America. They still haven't rebuilt a lot if it and we heard that many of the ruins were just cleaned up in the last couple years. Samosa, the last dictator, basically stole all the money that came in to clean up and rebuild so not much happened. There are like 19 fault lines that run under the city, so there's a reticence to rebuild big buildings but there also seems to be an overall feeling of hopelessness. It kind of feels like a ghost town. There really isn't a city center or downtown and someone who has been living here for a while couldn't think of anywhere that she would recommend we visit within the city limits. Rolene feels compelled to walk through Managua today, so we'll do that. I hope we see some beauty so it's not too depressing. ***It's later today now and we did walk through Managua. We were trying to walk as far as the University but a guy pulled over and said that he thought some guys were planning to rob us and that we should walk on the other side of the street. Then a minute later a cop came by on a motorcycle and said we shouldn't be walking around in that area and escorted us to a taxi. Well, there ya go. I don't really know what to say about that.
Ciudad Sandino, where we stayed Wednesday night, is the poorest area in Nicaragua. This little house is made of scrap metal, cardboard and black plastic.
It pisses me off that in the poorest area someone decided to take advantage and put in a casino. And it makes me even more mad that they're probably making a lot of money. Nobody here has money to burn.
We were walking along the highway and saw a sign for a reserve so we took a detour and ended up in Xiloa, where there is this pretty lake. It's not connected to super-polluted Lake Managua but during hurricane Mitch the water levels rose enough to connect the two lakes for a little while so some of the contamination came over from Lake Managua. But, people were swimming so we took off our shoes and waded in a little.

The place we stayed, Jubilee House Community, has two monkeys. This one is Bella and she's very sweet. I've never been this close to a monkey before. It was sort of like holding a baby except that she was holding on to me more than I was holding her. When I tried to put her down after a half hour she wrapped her arms around my neck, clung on with her feet and wrapped her tail around my leg. It kind of broke my heart because she seems lonely. I gave her one of the many mangoes that had fallen from the trees in the yard but she was still mad at me for leaving.

This is bales of organic cotton and part of the cotton gin at Jubilee House. Technically they are the Center for Development in Central America, but the community of 7 adults and 5(?) children who live there are JHC. They are a very cool group who have been working with and for the poor for 30 years, 15 of them in Nicaragua. The work they do is recommended and prioritized by the local community leaders and everything is a partnership with the communtiy. They anticipate providing credits for 100-150 small farmers to grow organic cotton. They also support the cotton gin and baler, an up and coming spinning plant and Genesis, a sewing co-op. They are the only worker owned Free Trade Zone in the world, which means that they can do business with all the Free Trade rules, or lack thereof, but their workers are treated well and paid farily.
The JHC/CDCA also supports organic coffee and sesame cooperatives, a security co-op, a community health clinic, a community pharmacy, and dental clinic. They also provide technical training, a Shared Risk Investment Fund, they produce biodiesel, provide volunteer opportunities and host delegations. I'm sure they do more, but you get the point--they are great!
This is Becca and her daughter Orla, who are part of JHC. It turns out that Becca and Rolene's niece are old friends. Small world, eh?
If you want to know more about JHC or to support their work, go to