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 www.jhc-cdca.org

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Conference!

The conference was a raging success! The event was called Foro Nacional de Technologias Apropiadas (National Forum of Appropriate Technology). There were groups doing work with solar technology, recycling, biodiversity, alternative energy, organic farming and production, sustainable building, bio-diesel, alternative health, free software, education and more. I don’t know exact numbers, but a couple hundred people came to the evening speeches and discussions and about 4,000 came through the tabling fair on Saturday and Sunday. We had a booth with information about Walk With Earth, solar ovens for sale (we sold all of them within a few hours), and art activities and games for kids. Our coolest feature was the “Arbol de Esperanza” or “Tree of Hope.” We drew a trunk and branches on a big piece of butcher paper and asked people to write or draw their hopes for the earth on paper leaves. People got way into it and the tree is now going to live at Universidad de la Tierra in Oaxaca.

Here’s the Arbol de Esperanza on Saturday morning, then on Sunday afternoon. The woman with the piece of paper is Renata Austin. She is from Berkeley but is living in Oaxaca until August. Rolene hired her to help with the conference planning and she is a great organizer and friend.
This is Gustavo Esteva who founded Universidad de la Tierra, the major co-sponsor of the conference. There were about 10 people on the planning committee, but Gustavo was the major organizer. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to spend much time with him because I was sick before the conference and then we were all too busy during the conference. He is planning on doing another conference in 6 months since this one went so well.

Rolene led a workshop based on the work of Joanna Macy. We talked in small groups and shared with each other as if it were the year 2039 and we had already made great changes and had learned how to live in harmony with the earth. We got to talk about how bad “it used to be” back in 2009 and the challenges we faced in making it better.
The next activity was called “Council of all beings” and people volunteered to wear a mask and speak for the animal they were representing. The masks were pretty hilarious, but people were emotional in their responses and spoke very deeply about their concerns for the environment. This was a very cool way for people to talk about their fears and passions. Mr. Cheetah spoke about how scared he was about the loss of habitat and how he didn’t know if he could care for his children.

This group, CAMPO, built a small house in two days right in the middle of the tabling fair. They made the frame and then poured dirt in and compressed it with a machine and then moved the frame up to make the next layer. If they were making a permanent house they would then mud the walls to seal it, but at the end of the conference they just knocked it down and hauled all the dirt away.

bike-powered water pump

We were in Oaxaca for the first day of Spring. Part of their celebration was this parade. The kids were all dressed up and needless to say it was CUTE!

We just got back to Managua, Nicaragua and are headed out to visit friends of my friend, Lisa, today. I only have a few more weeks of walking, then back home after a couple weeks in Mexico. Time flies!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009


Hello from Oaxaca (again)! We’re here for the conference Rolene has been planning along with other environmental activists in Oaxaca. At this point, about 50 environmental groups from outside of Oaxaca have registered and we’re expecting several more from within Oaxaca. I’ll have to fill you in on more conference details later. Honestly, I’m a little out of the loop about the conference stuff because this is the first time since Sunday that I’ve been out of bed.
I got hit with a bad case of amigdalitis. Sounds fancy, huh? It’s only strep throat so don’t get too excited. I’ve been pretty miserable. Being sick far from home is somehow worse. Luckily, we arrived at the hotel in Oaxaca before I started feeling really terrible, so I haven’t had to camp or travel while super-sick. I saw a doctor and got antibiotics and they are starting to kick in, thank goodness.
Sorry I've been so slackerish about writing and posting pictures. I have my excuses (less internet opportunities in Nicaragua, having too much fun in Mexico City to sit down and write, getting sick) but I'm sorry anyhow. Also, it makes it harder to write a good entry when I'm trying to remember what has happened over the last two weeks instead of the last few days.
Here's the short story: We (Rolene, Juan, Kent and Carol from New Zealand, and myself) left Marcala, Honduras and moved to La Tigra National Park, where we camped for two nights. Then we crossed the border into Nicaragua and stayed a night in Ocotel and a night in Estelli before going to Managua to catch our plane up to Mexico City en route to Oaxaca. We left Kent and Carol just outside of Managua and Juan caught a bus home from Managua the same morning of our flight. We stayed in Mexico City for three nights because it's so hard to leave that place, what with the fun and friends, and came to Oaxaca by bus on Sunday. I've been in bed since then, and that's that.

These two photos were taken in La Tigra National Park.

This was at the park too, but inside the truck. Who wants to play Canasta (Kanasta?) when I get home? It's my new favorite game. Even better than Rummikub, if you can believe that.

I saw this tree while walking with Juan. Rolene hasn't walked since the accident but Juan, Carol and I walked. The walk must go on!!! It's very different to walk without Rolene. We have a rhythm and a pace that we fall into and having other people isn't better or worse, just very different. The walk this day was very difficult for me. Not sure why exactly, but I was much more tired than I usually am. Maybe I missed Rolene.

In Nicaragua, between Ocotel and Estelli. We had to hotfoot it through the first part of Nicaragua in order to make our flight on the 12th, so we did more driving than walking. I'm looking forward to getting back and walking for a few weeks through Nicaragua and getting to know that country more intimately.

Our family portrait the day we were going our separate ways. It's amazing how close you can feel to people after only a week of traveling together. It was sad to say goodbye but Rolene and I have a feeling we'll be seeing these friends again.

The grand reunion with Jenny Barry, aka Yenny. We volunteered and lived together at the Casa de los Amigos back in 2006 and haven't seen each other since. Even though we only lived together for three months, Yenny quickly became one of my forever friends and it was more than awesome to see her again. She has recently moved back to Mexico City from Baltimore. Just another reason to keep going back to good ole' Mexico City!

I only included this because it's hilarious. To us, at least.

Agnita, daughter of Nick Wright and Jill Anderson, from the Casa de los Amigos. Kids these days won't let you take their picture without wanting to see it right away. It's a new generation.

Alright, that's it for now. I'll try to write more frequently--I don't want to lose my loyal audience...you guys are still out there, aren't you?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Ilobasco and Perquin

Hi! Long time, no write. We had little or no internet for a while there and the few days we did have internet I wasn´t in the mood to write. The last week or so has been really intense so I´ll do my best to recount the most important bits. There will be some depressing information in this post because we were in areas that were very affected by the war.

These yellow flowering trees are pretty common and very striking. The only plant I can think of from home that is this yellow is a daffodil, but this is like 5,000 daffodils all bunched together.

We left Suchitoto last Thursday and headed east to the town of Ilobasco. On the way, we stopped in Cinquera at a bioreserve, which was a guerilla camp and hospital during the war. We took a beautiful hike with a guide and saw where the soldiers cooked (they had an oven like the ones used in Vietnam. The smoke is directed through a tube and exits far away from the camp so that if the army saw smoke and bombed the area, they would miss the camp) and there were still rough cots made of sticks from the hospital area. This tree is a ceiba. It has these spikes when it´s young but they come off once the tree is bigger.

This is part of the campus of Moje, a trade school for youth in Ilobasco who have dropped out of high school, or never made it there in the first place. They teach ceramics, woodworking and metalworks. They let us park on campus and camp out there.

This is in Perquin, in the state of Morazan. This area is very pro-FMLN, which is the political party made up of leftists, many of whom were guerilla fighters. These young people are painting a sign for the FMLN presidential candidate. The elections are on March 15th. According to a friend, the last elections were totally corrupt so the Arena candidate won. Some people have said that if that happens again, there will be a violent response from FMLN suporters. This country really doesn´t need more fighting so lets pray that doesn´t happen.

Near Perquin is the town of El Mozote, which was the site of the worst massacre in contemporary Latin American history, December 11th, 1981. This is a wall with some of the 1600 people who were killed by the El Salvadorean army, 450 of whom were children. The women, men and children were separated and killed, far enough from each other that they couldn´t see each other, but close enough that they could hear each other screaming. Only one woman, Rufina Amaya, survived. She was last in the line of women who were to be killed and she was able to sneak into the woods where she hid for 6 days until someone found her half-dead from starvation, dehydration and surely heartbreak. When her story reached the US, the Reagan administration denied it´s validity because they didn´t want to admit to having supported (we´re talking billions of dollars) a corrupt El Salvadorean Army. 10 years after the massacre, Argentinian archaeologists began excavation and quickly found hundreds of skeletons. Rufina Amaya died in her 70´s from a heart attack.

This is the mural in memory of the slain children of El Mozote.

Juan Franco is travelling with us now. He is an English teacher at Moje, in Ilobasco. He thought he would join us for a couple days, but is now planning on joining us as far as Managua, Nicaragua. It is really nice to travel with him--he is very sweet, thoughtful, faithful and easy to be with. I´m really glad he got to go to El Mozote with us because, though he is from El Salvador, he had never learned about the massacre. His family was very affected by the war. His family is Seventh Day Adventists, so they don´t go to war (the pacifist in me can appreciate that!). So, they were threatened by both sides and his father was almost killed three times. Each time his mother bought him back from the army or the guerillas. His mother was caught in crossfire three weeks after his older brother was born and still has shrapnel in her back. They had to leave their home town or be killed for not joining the war, so they left Chalatenango and now now live in Ilobasco.

Perquin is mountainous enough to have lots of pine trees, but still hot enough to grow bananas.

Me, Juan, Rosa, Karla, Iris. Karla is the 15 yr. old daughter of the family we stayed with in El Gigante, a small community about a kilometer from Perquin. The parents are Salvador and Reina and they also have a 7 yr. old son, Ali. El Gigante is a cooperative made up of people who all fought together with the guerillas. Salvador joined the guerillas when he was 11 years old because the army was killing boys his age if they didn´t join the army. He and Reina met and married during the war (she was a soldier too). Her whole family fled to Honduras because they were threatened with death by the army for living in guerilla controlled territory.

The fence at the entrance of a preserved guerilla camp next to the war museum in Perquin.

A 500 pound bomb dropped on this site, which created a crater the size of a house. The sign tells us that the bomb was made in the USA.

The view from the top of a hill in Perquin, looking north towards Honduras.

Reina and Ali at their home in El Gigante.

Salvador and Ali took us on a walk to see the land where he and Riena grow (organic) bananas, mango, cafe, oranges and several others. They also have more than 30 bee hives which produce excellent honey. We took a short cut through the forest to get back to the house because the sun was going down. It was absolutely gorgeous.

Salvador and Ali at a restaurant on our last night in Perquin. Ali got sick and Salvador was holding him so sweetly. It was wonderful to be with this family that so obviously love and care for each other. It turned out that Ali was really sick, so we cut dinner short and Rolene took him and his parents to the clinic. From there he was taken to the hospital in an ambulance. It was really scary because it seemed that he might be having a reoccurance of a blood infection he had several months ago, but we just called them today and found out it was a parasite and he´s back at home with medicine.

Whew, that was a lot of picture-loading and story-telling.

We are now in Marcala, Honduras. We had a really scary time getting here over a really terrible mountain pass (this is the worst road I have ever seen--huge holes, rocks, dips). When we got to the Honduras border, Rolene lost control of the truck and slid backwards a little and went into a ditch. She got out of the truck to look at whether the wheels were touching the ground. When she was out of the car (Juan and I were in the back) it began sliding backwards again and the open drivers door knocked her down, crunching her legs between the door and a big cement block. Then she went all the way down and we rushed out of the camper to help her. She was screaming, ¨Get me out!!!¨ When we got around to the drivers side, we saw that her legs were trapped under the front wheel. Juan and I pushed as hard as we could and moved the truck just enough so that Rolene could slide her legs out and then we couldn´t hold it any more. We let go and the truck slid back another 10 feet before crashing into the mountain wall. The miracles are threefold. 1)As Rolene was going down, she had the sense to turn the wheel to the left so the truck would hit the mountain instead of going over the side of the cliff, possibly saving Juan´s and my life and certainly saving the truck. 2) Somehow Juan and I were able to push a 6,000 pound truck uphill far enough that Rolene could escape. 3) Rolene is bruised and sore, but she has her legs and her life. If I didn´t believe in divine intervention before, I do now.
We´re taking it very easy while Rolene heals. Today we are headed to a El Tigre National Park near the capital. A few other things were amazing about the accident and the past couple days since then. 11 people, some border agents and some people just passing by, dropped everything to help us. Also, while our accident was happening, a bus pulled into the border area and broke down. A couple got off and asked us for a ride. We didn´t want to at first because we just wanted to get to Marcala (a couple hours away on the terrible road) and take care of Rolene, but we decided to help them out. Then we stopped for 4 more people and two of them happened to be Carol and Kent, New Zealanders we met back in Suchitoto. So, we had 9 people and all their stuff in the truck. It was really great to be able to help other people after our traumatic event. It took our minds off of what happened and gave us good company and extra support. Kent fixed the driver´s side mirror and is working on the door, which got pretty bent and Carol gave Rolene some healing medicines and did some body work on her. They are coming with us to the National Park, which we are very glad about.
Well, if you´ve gotten this far I applaud you. Send Rolene healing energy and keep us in your thoughts and prayers.