Travesía Panamericana
Week 8

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Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica

May 27, 2002

Lago Yojoa, Honduras.

Odometer: 203,510

Written by: Barbara

We woke up in Lago Yojoa with the sunrise. We saw fishermen walking by our car to catch fish in the lake early in the morning, the best time for fishing. The family of our host Alvaro, had given these fishermen "right of way" so they could access the lake through the backyard. Alvaro's mom was listening a religious radio that resonated in the whole yard, while doing household chores. One of Alvaro's brothers was walking the family burro to another sector of the yard, and the day started to unfold in this humble, yet welcoming home.

That morning we had a long conversation with Alvaro, a hardworking young man who have done multiple jobs and was always thinking of projects to make ends meet. He talked calmly, exposing his thoughts with clarity and intelligence, and at the same time letting his sadness filtering through his big black eyes. It was sadness for having to live in a place where there was little hope for the future, no matter how hard one works. He told us about long journeys up the hills, where his family has a small piece of land, to work for hours in a coffee plantation, only to have his coffee poorly paid in the midst of plummeting international prices for this crop. He told us about his father, who had immigrated to the U.S. more than a decade ago to help the family, and the big fiestas they make when he returns to Honduras once a year. He told us about his journeys to bigger cities to study, where he lived with a sense of dangerousness, taking even inexpensive rings off his fingers for fear of being mugged. He explained how hard it is to look for new horizons in the capital or San Pedro Sula, when you don't have a place to stay, and you don't have a car for transportation from Lago Yojoa. Most of the jobs he could access in the capital would not pay enough to buy a car, even if he saved his whole salary for many years. Working in a resort, like he does, does not offer job security either, as he sometimes is let go for the day with no pay because theres not enough business. He also talked about social violence and the pervasiveness of people with guns throughout Honduras, some of whom we had seen ourselves (for example, men with big machine guns in the gas station, or just along the road). We said goodbye to Alvaro with a "knot in our throat" (as we say in Spanish), thankful for his warmth and hospitality, admiring his courage and determination to go ahead, and at the same time feeling pretty down and hopeless.

The rest of the day we crossed a large stretch of Honduras, traveling roads that climbed pleasantly cool hills surrounded by pine forests, and enjoying the beautiful landscape. We had planned to enter Nicaragua that same day, but an unexpected encounter before we crossed the border changed our plans... While in a gas station, we were approached by a "gringo" who recognized we were foreigners by our U.S. license plates. He invited us to visit his finca, located in the nearby area, and to stay there overnight if we wished. We thought this invitation was a good opportunity to see a finca in Honduras, and it was getting late to reach the border and look for a place to camp anyway. Surrounded by trees offering their shade, cool and spacious, and with a chorus of birds, the finca seemed the perfect place to stay. The finca's owner overwhelmed us with generosity, including a good meal, gifts, and all kinds of help offers, all to which we felt thankful. At the same time, this man freaked us out (especially me) with stories about bodyguards, CIA agents, and violent confrontations. Many of his tales reflected both his power and his deep mistrust of and contempt for Hondurans. In the finca grounds, there were men with big machine guns guarding the property, and the finca owners explanations about the need for these men, did not make me feel any safer... He talked for several hours, as we remained mostly speechless, telling one amazing story after another one. Even when I disagreed with things he said, I was not sure of what to say, not knowing how he would react. Despite the beauty of the place, I felt nervous because of our hosts stories and the presence of men with guns. We left very early the following morning. Later we reflected on the fact that we have seen two strikingly different life worlds in one day, two extremes in the reality of Honduras.

May 28, 2002

Honduras, close to the border with Nicaragua

Odometer: 203,660

Written by: Barbara

As we approached the border crossing with Nicaragua, a bunch of male teenagers from Honduras, jumped out of the pick up ahead of us, and started to yell things in English to us. "Mister, mister!," "We help you" and other things indicating that they thought we spoke English, and that they wanted some money in exchange to help us navigate the apparently complicated border crossing system on the Honduras side. We had been warned about these kids by other travelers we met before, so their approach did not get us by surprise. It turned out that hiring one of them does help since it is not very clear what is the paperwork you need to do to leave Honduras, and these kids know exactly what you need and where things are. After we did all the paperwork in the Honduras side of the border, we had to do likewise on the Nicaraguan side. Fortunately this side was a bit more straightforward and organized, and we did not have any problem dealing with the bureaucracy.

For several hours we drove towards Managua, crossing mostly rural areas, and small towns. In Managua we were expecting to contact Roberto, a friend of my friend Carlos from the University of Oregon, and originally from Nicaragua. By the time we arrived in Managua it was pouring and for the first time in the trip we really felt what it was meant by rainy season. After unsuccessful efforts to locate Roberto, who was out of town, we decided to continue to Masaya, a small town close to Managua. By the time we left Managua, some parts of the city were flooded, creating traffic jams and confusion in the streets. Once in Masaya we found a good place to camp: the backyard of a house, which also was used as parking lot. Masaya's streets are full of activity, with cars, trucks, and buses coexisting with horse carts that are used for public transportation purposes (i.e. carrying passengers the way buses do). Many of the houses are old and spacious, and a lot of small shops are lined up in the streets alternating with the houses. These shops, as in other parts of Central America, seemed to not have been originally designed for businesses, but are rather parts of a house. We walked in Masaya at night, looking for a place to have dinner, and we had the opportunity to have a glimpse of peoples lives. The streets did not have many lights, making more visible what was going on inside Masayas homes. A family sat around the dinner table; in another house a man and a woman were sewing quietly; in another one, children attentively watched TV; and a group of teenagers hanged out at the front door of another house. Each home seemed a whole world, and at the same time I felt there was a link connecting what happened in each of them. We had dinner in one of the restaurants right on the streets, where you can eat delicious and abundant dishes for relatively little money. A big plate of fried banana, roasted chicken, rice, beans, and salad cost a bit more than one dollar. We went to sleep exhausted, fully satisfied after a good dinner, and happy to have our camper to protect us from the heavy rain.

A Public Transportation Option in Granada

May 29-30, 2002

Masaya, Nicaragua

Odometer: 203,890

Written by: Barbara

The rain was falling relentless over Masaya on May 29. Because of it, we did not feel like doing much, even though the city's inhabitants continued to go about their lives, apparently unaffected by the rain. The following day, we decided to continue our trip and head to Costa Rica, hoping for better weather. We would have liked to go to the Caribbean side of Nicaragua, to Bluefields (where my friend Carlos is from), but it is not possible to get there by car. The road goes only to Rama, from where you have to take a boat that travel to Bluefields. We did not want to leave the camper and our dog Chance unattended in Rama, so we decided to not visit Bluefields (I still hope we will be able to visit Bluefields and the Nicaraguan Caribbean with Carlos some other time.) A few kilometers from Masaya, you can find the city of Granada, a town on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, with some beautiful colonial buildings, and a lively street market.

We stopped at the Casa de la Cultura (House of Culture), partly because the building was beautiful, and partly because we wanted to get a sticker of Nicaragua for our car. There was a small shop inside the building that was likely to have what we wanted. While the vendor was looking for the sticker, something beautiful happened. As I waited for the vendor to come back, I looked absently at a table full of souvenirs and some books. The colorful cover of one book called my attention. I took the book with my hands and looked at it closely, and I read "Carlos Castro Jo." I thought, "It can't be" but sure enough, as I turned the book to see its back cover I see the picture of my friend Carlos. I felt so much emotion, that I had to share with the vendor that the author of this poetry book was my friend. I bought the book, deeply enjoying this coincidence, which seemed no coincidence. I had my friend in my mind since we entered Nicaragua, and I found him in this way, unexpectedly, waiting patiently on a dusty table, on a shop of a building we had had not plans to visit. As we drove through the South of Nicaragua, I read aloud Carlos' poems. Nothing seemed more fitting at that moment than reading wonderful poems about Nicaragua, by a dear Nicaraguan friend

A Survivor in Playa Hermosa

On the morning of May 30, we entered Costa Rica. The border crossing was relatively uncomplicated. Having our car fumigated is one minor nuisance to which we are still getting used to (our record was two fumigations in the same day, when we crossed Mexico to Belize, and then Belize to Guatemala in one day). We drove straight to the ocean, to Playa del Coco, a touristy beach area, which seemed nice, but not particularly great for camping. We continued to nearby Playa Hermosa, a nicer beach and way more quiet. We camped right next to the beach, after having the OK of the owner of a restaurant there.

May 31, 2002

Playa Hermosa, Costa Rica

Odometer: 204,052

Written by: Barbara

Volcán Arenal

The first thing we saw that morning from our bed was a serene ocean in between the tree branches surrounding our car. The sea was too perfect to resist. We spend a good hour or so in the ocean, a huge salty swimming pool that even attracted Chance. We left Playa Hermosa refreshed, and eager to see more of the amazing natural features of this country. We drove around Lake Arenal, a quiet area with some fincas, resorts, and a spectacular view of the still active Volcan Arenal (Arenal Volcano). As we got closer to the volcano, we saw less "domesticated" nature in the form of gardens, and more exuberant green jungle. We did not see many camping places as we approached sunset, but we were lucky to find a good camping spot in the grounds of a hotel in the area, for free. We camped right next to a big tree, close to cows and horses, and with a view of the volcano.

June 1, 2002

Volcan Arenal, Costa Rica

Odometer: 204,173

Written by: Barbara

Highland Town in Costa Rica

June 1st was mostly dedicated to travel from Volcan Arenal towards the Caribbean. Even thought the perspective of a beautiful tropical beach was quite attractive, it also involved leaving the cool highland weather that we were very much enjoying. One of the objectives of the day was to find a relatively inexpensive hotel, but with TV in order to see the Argentina-Nigeria World Cup soccer game (the World cup being a major event in Latin America and many other places of the world). We both wanted to see the game, but Cris was particularly anxious, so he was very excited when we found what we wanted in the town of Turrialba. Argentina's winning the game was HAPPINESS. After the game, which ended around 1 in the morning, I fell asleep, but Cris continued watching the following two games until sunrise.

June 2, 2002

Turrialba, Costa Rica

Odometer: 204,305

Written by: Barbara

Our Campsite at Cahuita N. P.

We woke up around 7 in the morning because of a big tremor that made a loud noise as it shook the building. Fortunately it was not a major earthquake. After having the traditional "gallo pinto" (rice with black beans), eggs and juice, we headed to the Caribbean. The plan was to avoid Puerto Limon, which a according to Cris experience was not very nice, and go directly to Cahuita, a small, laid back town on the coast. We camped in the nearby Cahuita National Park, one of the best campsites we ever visited. The camping spots are right on the beach, in between a blue ocean with coral reefs and multicolor fish, and a thick jungle with howler monkeys, beautiful lizards, and all kinds of birds. There was practically nobody there, with the exception of the people who worked at the ranger station. We parked the car with the back facing the ocean, so we could see the sunrise. In the middle of the night, Cris woke me up to look at the most amazing moonlight on the ocean. I was too sleepy to take a picture, but I put my glasses on to see this magical sight more closely, and then fell asleep again. Oh, what a life...

Week 9