The Journey

The Continuing Quest To Find Land for the Development of an Integrated Living Environment that Pays for Itself

Somewhere in Central America or

South America

After spending 6-weeks in exploring Ecuador and looking at many parcels of land, I decided to explore Belize and other Central American countries for possible land acquisition- an area in Latin America I can call home.  To view my immediately preceeding 6-week Ecuador journey with my friend Niyama, click here.

Ecuador and Central America, Country-Country Travel Timeline:

November 23, Landed in Quito, Ecuador

January 5, left Quito, Ecuador and traveled by plane to Cancun, Mexico.  I took the bus to Belize the next day.

January 17, left Punto Gordo, Belize and traveled to Pueto Barrios, Guatemala by boat.  I spent all of my time in Guatemala in Antigua and at Lake Atitlan.

February 3, left Guatemala and traveled by bus to Granada, Nicaragua passing through El Salvador and Honduras.

February 8, left Nicaragua and traveled by bus on a bee-line course for Boquete and Volcan, Panama passing through Costa Rica.

February 16, left Panama by bus and entered Costa Rica though the border at Rio Serreno.

February 28, left Costa Rica heading for the Corn Islands, Nicaragua.  Bused to Managua, Nicaragua then flew to the Corn Islands.

March 13, left Nicaragua by bus heading back to Costa Rica.

March 22, flew from San Jose, Costa Rica back to Denver.

I’m writing this as a journal to myself, so I can look back and remember what worked and what didn’t.  I also have family and friends that are enjoying exploring these areas through me.  So in that light, enjoy the journey.  I’ve also included some other informational pages on “fear”, “the prosumer economy”, “my background and how to contact me”, as well as “resources” I’ve discovered along the way if you are interested.  To access them, you can just click on the tabs at the top.  I’m focusing on the day to day costs of traveling around and staying in hostals.  Eating a normal diet, but purposely not a tourist approach.  So many people have no idea how they can travel and yet spend about the same amount they do back in the US, just living their normal lives.  So far, the trip has been more expensive than I expected, because I’ve spent so much on travel- buses and planes as well as about $700 on dental.  Without those added expenses, once a place is discovered, where a home could be rented on a longterm basis, then, in the countries I’ve traveled to so far, you can live very comfortably for about $1,000 per month or less depending on your lifestyle.  It is beautiful and safe in Ecuador and Central America- a great alternative to being in the US and much safer with the coming economic breakdown.

Getting to Belize

Monday, Jan 3

I was going to take the bus to get to Quito, but apparently no busses from Loja today to Quito, so off to the airport.  I didn't know it was another 45 minutes past Loja, good thing I left some extra time.  $15 bucks later, and a fast taxi driver, I arrived without a reservation and no hotels at the Loja airport.  It was the last flight of the day so not speaking Spanish well enough to call the airport or even having their phone number, I took a chance that there would still be room available.  If I didn’t get on the flight it's another 45 minutes and $15 back to Loja and try to find a hostal or go back to Vilcabamba and try again tomorrow.  Got in the wrong line and had to wait through a second then had to wait on the side for another hour to see if there was enough room left.  There was someone there who spoke enough English for others like myself who are still learning Spanish.  Fortunately I'm writing this from Quito, so there was enough room on the flight.  I'm at L’Auberge Inn- the place Niyama and I stayed at last time I was here.  It’s clean and very European.  A room with a shared bath here is $9/night.  There is a Swiss restaurant here and the hostal serves a good breakfast buffet for $3.25.  The wifi internet is also free.   There’s plenty of room for people to either use the provided computers at a small fee or sit and work on their own laptops for free.

It's a long way from the airport and a $10 cab fee but I need to go to Mr Books- the largest bookstore in Quito tomorrow and see if they have a Belize "Moon" series book for Belize hostals and hopefully a good map.  It’s very close to this hostal.  I'll tell you one thing, after 6-weeks of buses, I forgot how nice a plane is.  Less than one-hour and I'm here after expecting that grueling 15-hour bus ride.  Best 96 bucks I have ever spent and I could charge it too!  Tame, a local regional airlines, flies very modern jets around Ecuador.

Spending a Day in Quito

Tuesday, Jan 4

I caught a taxi this morning to head for some of the big malls downtown to find a new cord for my Sony camera to download photos.  I checked out about a half dozen photography stores plus a Sony store and had no luck.  This was really surprising because I bought this camera only about 6-months ago, so it’s still very new- certainly not an outdated model.  Then I was in a large electronics store, and it just dawned on me that all I needed was a generic flash card reader, so that’s what I got.  So I now have the ability again to download photos from my camera. 

No luck with the Belize travel book though.  Fortunately, I’m going to land in Cancun, Mexico tomorrow so I’m hoping they will have the book and a good map of Belize there since it’s such a large tourist destination.  If not, maybe I’ll have luck in Belize itself.  It’s been about 65 degrees in Quito today.  Sunny all day until about 1pm and now it’s starting to rain again.  It’s amazing to me how much cooler it is here than Vilcabamba.  Quito is about 8,500 feet and Vilcabamba sits at about 5,000 feet.

I did notice at the malls though, some really nice hiking and tennis shoes from North Face and Timberland that I was thinking didn’t exist in Ecuador.  Just about every possible type of American junk food restaurants are there too.  Unfortunately nothing I wanted to spend alot of money on for hiking sandles, which I will certainly bring next time.  If I could only bring one pair of shoes, I would have brought Keen hiking sandles.

I was sitting in the wifi/breakfast dining area here and glanced at the bookshelf here.  I noticed a “Moon” series book for Central America.  Glancing through it I found Belize- unfortunately it was dated 1999.  I just thought there would be a separate book devoted to each country.  Next time I’m in a bookstore, I’ll look for the title “Central America”.  Such is the advantages of staying in hostals and networking information.  I wouldn’t have recognized my short sightedness if this hostal didn’t have these resources. 

Tomorrow will be a very early day.  I’ll get up about 4am and catch the plane from Quito at 6:30 am, catch another flight in Panama City, Panama at 10:00am and land in Cancun at 11:30am.  After 6-weeks in the tropics and no snorkeling yet, I can almost taste the salt water!  I don’t know if I’ll be able to pass up the snorkeling around Cancun and Cosumel on my way to Belize.

The erupting volcano plume over Banos, Ecuador at 30,000 feet

One of the dining/computer wifi areas at  L’Auberge Inn-

the hostal where I’m staying in Quito.

More Reflections on Ecuador:

I was just laying in my room resting up for the early departure tomorrow when I was listening to the traffic noise outside my window and realized I have never seen or heard a fire truck here.  As I look around, everything is made of brick, concrete and some little wood for trim and doors.  Maybe that’s the way they have handled fire insurance here and the costly infrastructure of a fire department.  They just build with materials that don’t burn!  This also saves the trees from needlessly being cut down.  What a great way to simplify and reduce a growing cost in the US- insurance for fire, and taxes for fire departments. 

I also thought about the postal service.  I haven’t seen any letters being delivered since I’ve been here either.  How are they handling utility bills and other correspondence?  I’ll ask someone about this as soon as I can.  I also notice that even though I’m in the middle of the largest city in Ecuador, I think it’s estimated at around 2-million, I hear far less police sirens than other large US cities I’ve been in.  Interesting how with far less money being spent on government services than “developed” countries, this country functions so smoothly.

As I’ve been writing this section, strangely enough, I’ve heard four sirens.  Each time I’ve looked out my window they were ambulances.  Not one was a police car or fire truck.  But up until this point, I hadn’t recalled hardly any sirens at all.  Interesting how you notice things when you pay attention to them.

Traveling to Cancun

Wednesday, Jan 5

The day has started out very smoothly.  The hostal called a taxi for me and I found the driver sleeping in the cab outside our hostal at 5-minutes before 4am, which was 5-minutes before our scheduled departure.  When I asked him what the fare would be, he asked me what I thought.  I offered $5, since it cost me $10 during rush hour and he accepted.  It’s really nice being up at 4am and driving through Quito with no traffic.  Everyone slows down when the lights are red but continues on through them.  I just love the common sense here, how people function perfectly well without traffic cops.  I gave the taxi driver a two dollar tip- and we had a truly wonderful handshake and connection as he departed.

Another interesting item is that all the taxi drivers own their own taxis here.  The taxi driver in Vilcabamba that showed me some properties, had to sell all his cows to purchase his first taxi.  I learned this from the realtor that showed me the properties.  Another case of why the taxi’s are so well taken care of, even the older ones usually have plastic coverings on the headliner, visors and manytimes even newspapers on the floors to protect them.

Quito airport is very modern.  They even have free wifi here, as that’s where I’m writing this from. After arriving in Cancun I took a bus into town and found another bus that left within an hour to Chetumal, the border town between Mexico and Belize.  I planned to stay the night there.  As soon as I got into the bus station I saw the prices and my jaw dropped.  They wanted $198 just for a 6-hour bus ride there!  After asking around I realized these were in pesos, so a quick division by 12 gave me a much more reasonable price- still four times more than an Ecuador bus trip would cost though!

The bus was very luxurious, even a little better than the busses in Ecuador.  They have classes of busses in Mexico and this was for long distane purposes the middle grade at “first class” .  Apparently they also have second class and executive class.  When I was waiting I decided to try and find a travel book for Belize since I found them to be really important when traveling.  After quite some time of no luck, a local guy kept trying to give me assistance and I new he just wanted money so I kept ignoring him.  But finally I broke down and he took me to a hostal close by.  He apparently knew the owner, and he had a 2007 edition of the “Moon” series for Central America.  The owner said I could have it for the stated price of $25, so I gladly paid him for that and gave the guy helping me $5 for his trouble as we were walking back.  He left me after I paid him and went back inside.  I’m sure he also got a “commission” from the hostal owner as well.

I met a woman with a child on the bus that had stayed in Chetumal before and she said she knew of a place that was really cheap and clean to spend the night, so I followed her in another taxi to the place.  It was $65 in US dollars!  Certainly not my idea of cheap, so I took my bag and walked for about an hour through town between 9-10 pm looking for a hostal.  Seems no hostals are to be found in that area at least, but finally found a hotel for $12 which included internet and private bath! 

Arriving in Belize in the Border Town of Corozol

Thursday, Jan 6

Cozumal from the air- notice the beautiful tourquoise color!

The Cancun coastline

In the morning I had a taxi driver take me to the bus terminal for the bus to Belize.  He brought me to a place with no bus markings of any kind and no buses.  I kept trying to communicate with him that this certainly didn’t look like the right place to me, so after leaving his cab I got another one back to the bus terminal that I landed in last night.  I thought they could give me the right address of the bus company that goes to Belize.  I had them write in down and handed it to a third taxi driver who proceeded to take to exactly the same spot.  Another Westerner was there and I asked her if this was the right spot and she said it was.  The next bus was scheduled to leave in about 1-hour, so I had some time to look around.

The bus showed up on time and going through the border was extremely easy on both sides.  They never looked through my luggage even once.  Very friendly on both sides.  I was almost shocked when the customs agent in Belize spoke in English!  How much easier traveling is when you can speak the native language fluently.  I got dropped off in downtown Corozol which was the first stop and after dragging my luggage around town for about an hour found this place I’m currently staying in right over looking the water in the photo above.  I wouldn’t have found it without my trusty guide book, so that was a well used hour yesterday before the bus ride.  It costs $60/night in Belize dollars. Two Belizian dollars to are constantly worth one US dollar.  Again, I had a few moments of “sticker shock”.

Met a young traveling couple from Canada and Mexico staying at the same hotel.  We combined our talents and discovered we both had similar interests, so with joint efforts decided to go to Caye Caulker tomorrow.  It’s a small laid-back island only 8 -miles from the famed “blue hole”.  Lots of diving possibilities right from the island.  To get there I’ll be taking a bus from Corozol into Belize City.  A taxi from the bus station once in Belize City and then a water taxi to the island.  Cost for the total trip from here to the island itself should be about $25 USD.  I’m not that crazy about Corozol.

Impressions of Mexico:

Mexico sure seemed easy after Ecuador.  There are speed limits here so everyone seems to drive so slowly.  The food is also more typical Mexican and it looks and tastes more familiar than the food along the bus routes in Ecuador.  Our whole bus was also full of English speaking people.  The prices though are about 4 times what we would pay in Ecuador for buses and taxies, and about double for accommodations.  Food is about twice as much also.

First Impressions of Belize:

The first thing you notice upon entering Belize are Remax signs everywhere.  Much of the land coming into the town has been developed with lots for sale.  I didn’t see one commercial “Se Vende” or “For Sale” sign in Ecuador in the small towns.  It’s certainly plenty warm here and I feel like I’m back in the tropics again.  The busses are pretty crappy-  essentially old school buses.  Of course, you notice that most of the language barrier is gone also. Much less crowded than Mexico.

Still haven’t got in the water yet.  No good beaches that I see here in town.  I’m going to get some food, as I’ve essentially been fasting these last couple of days traveling. 

Panoramic photo from my balcony where I’m writing this segment today from.  The road is actually straight, the panorama exposure just makes is look curved.

After a 6-hour bus ride (for $5 US) I arrived in Belize City.  I met a brother and sister from Ireland traveling together on the same bus so we split the taxi fare from the bus terminal to the boat dock.  That was $10 Belizian or $5 US for all of us.  Then the boat ride to Caye Caulker from Belize City was $20 Belizian dollars or $10 US.  So the total travel expenses for the day were $20 US.

On my way here on the bus I was shocked at the price of gasoline.  I saw $9.99 on the sign posting the price and thought my eyes were fooling me.  But upon speaking with several people, they confirmed that gas does indeed cost about $10 a gallon in Belize dollars or $5/gallon in US dollars.  What a shock especially after being in Ecuador where gas costs we around $1.50 per gallon in US dollars.  This must have been the reason why taxi’s have been so much more expensive in Belize.

Well this place is definitely the tropics!  Clear, warm water and lots of sun!  I’ve included some photo’s getting here and of Main Street here.  Just a sandy one-lane road with golf carts used for taxi’s and the local mode of transportation with bicycles being a close second.  I finally got in the water today and really enjoyed myself.  Got here a little late so I’m going to wait until tomorrow to rent a snorkeling setup ($5 US for the day) and explore the reef close by.  I think I’m also going to take a 1/2 day snorkeling adventure which will cost about $22.50 US.

I found an inexpensive place to stay here at $15 US/night with a shared bath, no internet and no breakfast.  Not much to write home about but it is cool for the tropics and quiet.  Drinking water is $2/gallon and the food is reasonably priced.  You can get a lobster dinner with 2 side dishes and dessert for $12.50 US.  It sure feels so good to be in this water.  My body has been craving this more than I had imagined!  This is really a laid back place but more touristed than I had imagined.  I’d love to go in on a boat rental with a few close friends and explore this reef for a few months.  I understand there are over 400 islands that go from one end of the Belizian coast to the other.  That’s 185 miles of some of the best diving in the world.  Anyone want to join me?

Traveling to Caye Caulker

Friday, Jan 7

This home is on it’s own island!

The dock where the water taxi landed.

Looking down Main Street.

Looking up Main Street.

Panoramic shot of a restaurand/bar right on the water.

Enjoying Caye Caulker

Saturday, Jan 8

I had a nice restful day here.  I rented a snorkeling outfit for $5 US for all day and then rented a bike checking out other parts of the island.  Not really much here, but it does get even more peaceful when you get away from the town.  Lots of property for sale including waterfront on this island now.  I’m not really interested in living here myself so I didn’t spend alot of time looking at prices.  Just too developed and touristed for me.  But I am remembering that I love island living!

There is something really relaxing about being totally surrounded by water on a small island.  The nice thing about this island though, is that it has a regularly scheduled water taxi to Chetumal, Mexico which has a Sam’s Club and other major outlets for food and so forth can be probably purchased at 1/10th the cost here.  Cost for the ferry is $75 Belizian each way or $37.50 US.  Of course it would be even cheaper to take the boat to Belize City and then the bus to Chetumal, Mexico which would run a total of only $30 Belizian each way.  You’d also have to give yourself an extra 8-hours or so each way.  I think I’d just take the boat!

Finished the day with my friends from Ireland.  We all went out to dinner together.  Found a lovely place right on the beach. The owner cooked on an open barbeque grill and had two picnic tables right on the beach.  One of the best dinners I’ve ever had!  I am leaving tomorrow with my Ireland friends for the Mainland at around 7:30am.  Thinking that traveling through Belize City will be much easier on Sunday.  I’m Going to San Ignacio in inland Belize and they are going to Guatamaula after we all land at the ferry terminal and then take a taxi to Belize City.   At the bus terminal in Belize City we will either take different busses or the same for awhile until our paths diverge.  I haven’t got that far in the planning stages yet.

Beach scene from the split between North and South Caye Caulker.

(Sorry about the wind noise, haven’t figured out yet how to get rid of it.)

The passenger ferry between Belize City and Caye Caulker.  It carries about 80 people.

Hard to see in the photo, since my flash wasn’t working. But I was trying to show the incredible size of the lobster here. The dinner came with 2 drinks, a full lobster, coconut  rice, baked potatoe and cheescake for $25 Belize, that’s $12.50 US.

Traveling to San Ignacio

Sunday, Jan 9

Took off on the 7:30am boat this morning from Caye Caulker back to Belize City.  A taxi to the bus terminal and then the bus to San Ignacio.  First time I had to stand up due to no seats left on this entire trip for a 2-hour journey.  I landed in San Ignacio around 1:30 pm here and found a hostal here for $15 US/night.  Nice little town.  Laid back and easy.  Of course it’s Sunday, so hard to know what the week workday will bring tomorrow.

Going to try and connect with Phyllis here that has a couple hundred acres, an Inn and wants to build an ecovillage.  It’s short notice and it might not happen on this trip.  I was going to connect with her and come down here last winter but changed my plans at the last minute and spent last winter in Montana for the holidays.

Panoramic view of the beach at Caye Caulker this morning at about 7am before departure.

Sunrise on Caye Caulker

A brother and sister team from Ireland I traveled to and from Caye Caulker with.

I spent the today in San Ignacio.  Went to a Mayan ruin just a short 20-minute walk outside of town.  Lots of tours going to other ruins but not interested in the tour scene. Seems pretty much like any other little town I’ve been to with a western presence.  A couple of western restaurants and the same type of food carts and farmers market.  The produce here is not as prolific as that in Ecuador.  There you can get mangos and avacados all year around.  Here they are seasonal and unfortunately not in season at this time.  Good deal on coconuts though, really learning to love fresh coconuts. 

Met a couple of women from Vermont traveling up the coast and who had some good experiences in Hopkins, Tobacco Caye and Placencia.  Was unable to connect with Phyllis on such short notice.  It was a longshot, sometimes she’s out on treks with guests where there is no access to internet connections.  I’m heading back to the coast and going to work my way down to the Southern most end of Belize which should take a week or so.  I really enjoyed the coast and don’t really want to be this far away from it with any land purchase.  At this point, I’m thinking there is a good possibility that I may check out Guatamaula and Nicaragua before this trip is over.  Heck, I may must see a bunch more countries if the right area doesn’t show up.

A Day in San Ignacio

Monday, Jan 10

Traveling to Dangriga and Finally Placencia-

(Further South on the Coast of Belize)

Tuesday, Jan 11

I took the bus this morning from San Ignacio to the Belmopon bus terminal, (Belmopon is the capital of Belize), where I got a bus to Dangriga, the largest town on the Southern coast of Belize.  On the way, I sat next to a 74-year old guy from Oregon that has been living here now for 17-years.  He has a 34-acre organic farm and another 17-acres he’s selling off at $5,000 per acre.  He said he’s planted teak trees on that 17-acres, so in about 20-years, at the going rate for teak, each acre would have $100,000 worth of harvestable teak on it.  Excited to get back to the coast, I didn’t stop and take a look at his place, but I think I might on my way back.

Arriving in Dangriga, I checked into Vals, which was the hostal recommended in my guide book.  I walked around town for about an hour, and found Dangriga to be one of the ugliest and most depressing towns I have ever been in.  I went back to the hostal and checked out.  Unfortunately, Val wouldn’t give me my $21 Belizian dollars back, but it was well worth it to leave as soon as possible.  Fortunately another bus left for Placencia in less than an hour, so what a relief that was!

After about a 2-hour bus ride I found myself on this lovely penninsula that feels much like an island.  It reminds me alot of Caye Caulker except that it is even more built up and you can drive to it.  I found a great place in my guide book that is only a few hundred feet from the ocean but with direct ocean access down a little path.  It has a beautiful view of the ocean, shared kitchen, internet, hammock and RO water for $35 Belizian dollars or $17.50US.  My room is on the second floor and looks right out on the ocean with windows on two sides and two fans, so the circulation is really great.

I met a guy at the Dangriga bus station from Florida that has been coming here for 17-years and finally moved here a year ago.  He was really helpful in orienting me.   He told me where the best restaurants are and where the locals buy.  Having lived in resort towns before, I knew this was very valuable information.  It’s great to be back on the coast! 

An ancient Mayan ruin about a 20-minute walk outside of San Ignacio.

Archeology students from around the world cleaning artifacts at the information center that they found that day at the site.

Guiness Book or World Records

The thinnest Main St in the world

View from my front porch at the hostal here.  Beach access is through the path between the thatched roofs and the building on the left.

Hanging out in Placencia

Wednesday, Jan 12

Click on the “Satellite” tap on this map and you can zoom in and out and see the actual land masses from Palencia, Belize.

Loved just hanging out today in paradise.  Didn’t do much of anything other than rest in a hammock and sleep under a palm tree on the beach.  Oh, yea, I also had a terrific honey barbaqued chicken lunch on the beach.  Also stopped by a ReMax office here to look at some local listings.  After 7-weeks on this trip, I finally feel like I’m getting some deeeep rest!!!

One of the tenants here is a guy named John from Nova Scotia, Canada.  Yes, I know, a real hotbed for terrorist activity, but I’m taking my chances anyway!  He’s been coming here now for several years and has been helpful in directing me to the best eating places.  We were talking today about the best place to snorkel in this area.  He was talking about a guy that runs a private resort on Glover’s Attol.  The boat leaves from Sittee River- about 10-miles from here.  Apparently the attol is on the reef and great snorkeling can be had without taking a boat anywhere once you get there- which really adds up.  We are going to check into this more tomorrow.

I just love the way palm trees sway in the wind.

A typical beach scene here in Palencia

I can’t remember how many hours today I would wake up and then fall back asleep looking up at this palm branch.

Looking down the beach

Looking up the beach

A nice place to be.

The view of Quito, Ecuador out of my hostal room window.

Hanging out in Placencia- 2

Thursday, Jan 13

After some independent research, I shared my findings with John and we both decided that the week-long trip to Glover’s Attol was just too expensive.  We figured the costs out to be $500 US each.  If you were only going to be spending a few weeks here costs like that might not be too bad, but when you are spending 4-6 months or so on the road, you have to be very careful how you budget your money. 

It was a stormy day here today.  Lots of wind and rain.  Went on walks inbetween showers and just rested and worked on the internet.  It’s amazing how ATM’s, the internet and guide books assist in making traveling like this so much easier.  One of my biggest challenges here in Placencia is the food.  It is incredibly expensive.  For example, 8 ounces of “Western Family” cheese is $4 US.  Produce is also very limited in the grocery stores here, but today a produce truck came, as it does I understand every Thursday, for a few days until it sells out.  What a difference this makes.  Until this truck arrived you couldn’t even buy papayas in town.  But today I really loaded up on papaya, limes, bananas, kiwi, shrimp, celery, spinach, eggs, tomatoes, and zuchinni.  Items I can’t find here in Belize in general are mangoes and avacados- since they are out of season.  In Ecuador, they are always in season.  In Placencia there are no coconuts to be purchased even though they are hanging all around here, but if you pick them you get charged a $25 fine!  I bought them for $1 each a few days ago in San Ignacious.  So now I’m sitting pretty on food until I leave in a few days.

A couple from England is staying at the hostal tonight.  They rented a car here for a month- which costs $1,500, and are making up for the cost of the vehicle by camping.  This was the first time in two-weeks they stayed in a hostal.  They told me about several fabulous areas that the bus didn’t go by.  Another bit of information they related that I found fascinating is that in the total population of Belize, about 5% are Menonites from the US.  Yet they account for 80% of the food production!  They found an area I’ll check out later around San Ignacious that has some beautiful land for sale at less than $2,000 per acre that has been organically farmed by Menonites and sits in a beautiful valley.  They also had some better guide books than I have, so I traded them my computer to check their emails for a look at their books.

A well-traveled couple from England that are staying at the same hostal.  He’s retired and wants his wife to retire also so they can travel more.  She thinks he retired too early.

John, a well-traveled man from Nova Scotia, Canada.  His wife is not retired yet so she joins him for 3-weeks and then he stays for 3-months!  Go John!

Traveling from Placencia to Porta Gordo, Belize

(And a Few Thoughts on Going with the Flow...)

Sunday, Jan 16

It’s been a few days since I updated this log, so I thought I’d add a few thoughts in retrospect.  I spent Friday and Saturday just relaxing around Placencia and doing some internet research on what seemed to be the next place to land.  Funny how this seems to work, you just are in an area and spontaneously feel how long is the right amount to stay.  I kind of screwed up though, in my research I found out that the Spanish schools start on Mondays, and I will not be arriving in Antigua, Guatemala until Moday night. I probably should have left a little earlier.   I’ll see if I can locate one that will let me start on Wednesday or so, so I have a day to check around.

I took a water taxi from Placencia to Independence, Belize today, Sunday.  From there I took a bus to Porta Gordo today which is the last reasonably sized town on the Southern Beliziean coast.  This is also the town that the water taxi goes to Puerto Barrios in Guatemala.  I’m going to catch the first one leaving here tomorrow, which is at 9:30 in the morning.  It takes about 2-hours to cross, costs $25 US, and then catch a bus which takes about 5-hours to Guatemala City.  I really don’t want to be in GC after dark, so I’m hoping the connections go smoothly.  I will then take a mini-bus shuttle to Antigua, which will hopefully get me there before dark, but if not- oh well.  I understand there may also be a shuttle directly to Antigua from Peuto Barrios- that would be the best.  Antigua, I’m told, is the largest tourist destination on Guatemala.

I met Donnie, a young man that was traveling most of the way with me today.  As it turns out, he manages two restaurants in Placencia.  He starts at 6am and works until 11:30pm 6-days a week.  He told me he has a large family to support, so I assumed he had several children.  But he told me in his family he had 7-brothers and 5-sisters.  He is the only one out of his whole family to be able to find work right now so he supports them all including his parents, and he said his 2-paycheck are not supprisingly, enough.  We dropped him off on the road, about 25-miles before Porta Gordo.  They have no electricity, and you could see everyone living in a very small rustic building.  I didn’t have the feeling like it was appropriate to take a picture of their home as the bus left. 

He told me unemployment in Belize is terrible.  The restaurant worker makes about $18 Belize dollars per day (which is $9 US).  Then they take social security out.  I didn’t ask him how much that was.  But considering the cost of gas and food, I don’t know how these people are making it here.  It really takes my breath away sometimes when I look around the bus and I’m the only white guy on it.  I really count my blessings at what I have when you are surrounded by such poverty.  However, they all own their homes and they have no property taxes.  I told him about foreclosures in the US, and he had a difficult time understanding how  a family could loose the home they are living in.  It certainly doesn’t make sense from a humanistic perspective does it?

I found a great little hostal from my guide book and had a good time chatting with a traveler from England that is expecting to spend 2-years traveling in Central and South America.  He’s been on the road about 6-months so far.  Another guy here, Mel, is from South Carolina. He’s traveled quite a bit in his life, but on this trip he’s only about 2-weeks into a 6-month trip.  It’s very fluid here meeting travelers along the way.  There are quite a few people moving from hostal to hostal around Central and South America I’m finding.  Between the ATM’s, guidebooks (in particular- “Lonely Planet, Central America) and the internet, traveling like this is actually quite enjoyable and fairly easy.  You just have to accept different ways of doing things without trying to impose your old routine on them.  I’ve found it’s taken me almost 2-months now to really loosen up and go with the flow.

What I’ve Learned to Help Me Go With the Flow on this Trip:

When dogs bark all night, you just let it pass right through you rather than try and muffel it out or get upset about it.

When I’m not hungry, I don’t eat.  We get used to 3-meals a day and when I am in the tropics, I notice that I’m not as hungry in general.  I find that if I eat out of a routine or that I think I should eat, more times than not I don’t end up feeling so good.  Sounds so obvious, but I’ve only been eating when I am really hungry and I’ve been feeling great.  It’s not alway convenient, and I’ve passed up many great breakfasts in these hostals just because I wasn’t hungry at the time.

When there is nothing in town to eat that interests you, you just don’t eat or you learn to eat the local food.

When you are the only white person in a town or bus and/or the only one not speaking Spanish very well, you just accept it and relax.  At first this can be really intimidating, but if you try and speak, the local people will help you out and are very patient. 

When poverty is everywhere. At first, the poverty and lack of beauty in many of the small rural towns can be depressing and unnerving.  Especially when you see so many guys just hanging out with no work  and you need to walk by them on the way to or from your hostal.  You soon see that they are still very friendly, helpful and respectful.

When you have no idea of where you are going next, you just let the answers and the day unfold for you.  You let the trip present itself.  This is great experience for letting go in life as well.  What a relief to know that it’s not you figuring it all out, even in your daily routine, it’s not your ego in control but rather life in its infinite unfathomability flowing through you.  Putting yourself in a totally unknown environment helps one to see how this is so. 

When you go to order a meal and you only have a vague idea of what you are getting, you learn to live with it and just eat what you normally may not. 

When the music starts blarring at 5am, you just learn to tune it out.  For example, in Cotacachi, Ecuador the streets are very narrow, so unlike the US, there is no room to put garbage containers out at night, so the trucks come by in the morning with incredibly loud music and when the truck comes down each street, the garbage is put out minutes before they pick it up.  This works great for garbage pickup, but if your schedule is to sleep in, you will have to get over that!  All over Central and Latin America people love loud music, in fact music so loud that the speakers are usually distorting.  This is why is can be quite a relief to find areas or enclaves where westerners are grouped, because there you will find it to be exceptionally quiet. Especially on the buses, depending on the bus driver, you may be subjected to hours of ear throbbing sounds with singers shouting to a pounding beat that you are sure would be the perfect music for torture.  Schools are another matter.  Seems like a large percentage of the hostals I’ve been at especially in the small towns are next to schools.  These bells start ringing at 6am.

When you have fear, you just walk through it.  There are so many times traveling to foreign countries when you are out of your comfort zone.  Daily you are challenged to either not go to or through a certain place, or do something new due in part to fear you may have.  Everytime I have confronted this within myself, whole new experiences open up and I see that there was nothing to it other than my thoughts keeping me from experiencing something.  Maybe this means just walking down a dodgy road to your hostal, and finding a beautiful place at the end with no problems what so ever.  Maybe it means getting on a bus without another westerner on it and nobody speaks English.  Maybe it means passing through a town that has a terrible write-up in your guidebook.  What I find that constantly being confronted, is not so much the situation as my thoughts and beliefs about it.  It is so freeing to get past these limiting beliefs that I might not have even been aware of if I hadn’t been put in these out-of- the ordinary situations.

When you are alone and have no one to talk to.  What a great opportunity to get to know youself better-  for introspection, reflection and to experience just being.  

When you see someone just throwing their trash out the window or to their side after finishing something contained in plastic or styrofoam you just have to accept it.  Westerners here don’t dispose of things this way of course, but if you tried to police almost every local that does this in these Central American countries, you’d go crazy.  The first time I was on the bus and saw someone just open their window and throw out their empty bottle I was dumbfounded.  But along the roads everywhere you see garbage.  It’s such a shame to see these beautiful places polluted with especially plastics.  Even in the touristed areas like Placencia you see garbage along the road, in the waterways and along the trails. In the areas where there is a large concentration of westerners, this is usually not the case .   I’ve found this much worse in Belize than in Ecuador.

Traveling from Porta Gordo, Belize to Antigua, Guatemala

Monday, Jan 17

The water was flat and calm as it could be this morning as I departed from Porta Gordo, Belize in the water taxi photographed above.  It was a two-hour journey and it was a beautiful ride in ideal temperatures.  We arrived in Puerto Barrios, Guatemala at around 11am.  I met a young guy on the boat from Oregon, we shared a taxi from the waterfront to the bus station.  Good thing I didn’t take the time to walk the 10-blocks or so because the bus left about 5-minutes after I purchased my ticket.  Ah, it’s so nice to be back on comfortable buses.  The buses in Belize are old Bluebird, US schools buses and really uncomfortable.  These long distance buses in Guatemala are like the ones in Mexico, Ecuador and probably on par with Greyhound buses in the US, although it’s been 30-years since I’ve been on one of these in the US.

I got to Guatemala City about 4pm and this young guy I met from Oregon and myself connected up with another westerner woman that has been living in Placencia, Belize for 23 years now.  We all split the cost of a taxi to Antigua which was $10 US each, which took about 40-minutes to arrive at our hostal- that again I found in my trusty guide book.

I took the room, which is my first dormatory-style room on this trip.  It has 6-beds in it.  It’s got wifi, breakfast included, shared kitchen and purified drinking water for about $6.50 US/night.  Private rooms here at this hostal are $19/night which is really expensive for what I was expecting, so I’m going to check around tomorrow for a private room that is more reasonably priced.  My guidebook said private rooms here were $8/night which is about what I expect to pay here with all the extras.  But I didn’t expect breakfast to be included as well.

All right, that’s it for now.  I’m going to go out and get something to eat.

Panoramic view of the bay in Punto Gorda at 9am this morning from the pier, when I left for a 2-hour water taxi to Puerta Barrios, Guatemala

The water taxi to Porto Gorda- it holds about 20-people

The waterfront in Porta Gordo by the hostal I stayed at.

In Antigua for the Morning, Leaving for San Pedro, Guatemala at 2pm

Tuesday, Jan 18

I am loving Guatemala!!!  From my first experience with the buses to the friendly and inexpensive living, to the wonderful selection of fruits and vegtables, this is the best place I have been yet!  I spent the morning looking at other places to stay and some Spanish schools here.  I found the place I’m staying at is still the best deal.  I just couldn’t believe the breakfast.  Eggs, fruit, toast and marmelade, beans, cooked tomatoes, oatmeal, and tea- all included in the price to stay here of $6.50 US.  I also had a great experience in the dorm last night.  Not one person was snoring.  People would come in late and leave early very respectfully without turning on the lights.  There are theaters, internet cafes, tons of services, dance classes, and a public market that is the most vibrant that I’ve seen anywhere yet on my trip.The street are amazingly devoid of not only barking dogs, but any dogs at all and loud music.  Antigua sits at about 5,000 feet almost identical to Boulder.  Because of this altitude, it is a much cooler temperature than on the coast.  As you can see by the videos, people here dress in long pants and sweaters in the early morning and evenings.

As lovely and international as Antigua is, I think I can tweak it up even another notch.  I was talking with Dave, a guy from San Diego that comes here frequently and he told me about San Pedro on lake Atitlan.  I looked it up in my guide book and wow!  Spanish lessons are half the price of here as well as the homestay part.  That means I can get 20-hours of Spanish lessons, 3-meals a day and my own room for around $95 US/week.  Lake Atitlan is the poster child of Guatemala as it’s surrounded by 3 volcanos and has hot thermal pools near by as well.  What’s not to like here?  San Pedro is the main place with about 10,000 residents and San Marcos in the quieter place with more of a Spiritual and Sustainable bent.  I’m going to explore San Pedro first and then on to San Marcos with a population of about 3,000.

It is a 3-hour shuttle bus ride from Antigua to Lake Atitlan, and costs $7.50 US.  The shuttle bus stops first at San Marcos and then continues on to San Pedro.  It’s door to door service, so it picked me up right in front of my hostal in Antigua. 

At this point, I expect to spend a week or so in San Pedro and San Marcos learning Spanish and enjoying the lake, I’ll then come back to Antigua for a week or so and practice and then go back to San Padro and San Marcos again to learn more Spanish for another week.  I’d like to further explore Guatemala and then on to Nicaragua- especially Granada.  But let’s see how San Pedro and San Marcos is- places are always different than you imagine.

The veranda on the second floor of the hostal- a great place to be and still connect with the wifi here.

Another view of the veranda here.

Looking down the road from the veranda

The Street Scenes in the Towns:

All these towns are built quite differently than the towns in the US.  They all have walls that come right up to the roads.  In the downtown areas, even the roofs come right to the roads.  Then as you enter the property, it usually opens up into a perimeter of buildings that center around an open courtyard.  These courtyards usually have an abundance of plants, dining areas, and sometimes even water features that give them a very peaceful autmosphere.  Since it’s separated from the road and street sounds, it’s usually very quiet except for the ever-present dog barking and loud music on the streets in the background.  The music and dog barking does subside during the night and early morning hours.

The main town square in Antigua, Guatemala

The Public Market in Antigua, Guatemala

The art of building and repairing coblestone roads in Antigua, Guatemala

Looking for Land:

I’ve decided that the first thing I need to do is to find a spot that I really enjoy.  A place that’s beautiful but also within range of a major town that can supply mechanical and cultural needs.  I’m also spending time just getting used to Latin America.  I’m beginning to see that I will probably not purchase land on this trip, but rather see a larger range of countries than I had originally anticipated.  I’ve found that when I find the right spot, I can rent a place by the month for about half the price of the daily rates I’ve been paying and a place that will be much more comfortable.  Also, the travel expenses can really add up.  That would also not be there when one spot is located.

The Shuttle picked me up yesterday at 2pm, and it was a long windy and crappy road, especially the last 1-hour into Lake Atitlan.  Lots of potholes and bumps.  There were 13 passengers on this shuttle.  I didn’t talk to everyone, but the ones I did talk with, I found out that they were from Argentinia, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and Germany and California.  That’s one of the beautiful aspects about Antigua, it’s truely international.

We dropped people off at San Marcos first and then drove to San Pedro.  I had found out that the hostals in the guide book were not in the best locations so a local person there just appointed himself as my guide.  We looked at several places and finally found one that cost about $3.50 for a 3-bedroom dorm-style room on a third floor with a medium distant view of the lake.  It has internet in the restaurant below.  Luckily, I am the only one in the room tonight.  He took me to the Spanish school he recommended, and I’ll check them out tomorrow morning when they are open.  I paid my guide 10 quetzils for his trouble.  (8 quetzils to the US dollar)  I later found out that the hostals pay these guides about 10% of the price of the room for bringing guests to them.  So don’t feel quilty if you don’t want to give them a tip.  I will definitely reduce my tips in the future after learning this.

My first impression on seeing the lake is that it is larger and even more beautiful than I had expected.  It’s overcast so the clouds are covering the tops of the peak.  Even after being in Latin America for 2-months now, I still get shocked when I see the ramshackled buildings, in this breath taking scenery.  I have to remind myself that these are not typical resort towns.  These are working towns with people living here along with the tourists.  But still, the cobbled together and half-built structures are a constant reminder that this is not Kansas!

I spent about 3-hours this morning walking around the town, purchased some food at the local market for breakfast.  Some cooked shrimp, 4 mangoes, a papaya and a small watermelon for about $2.50 US.  Yes, they have mangoes and avocados here which I couldn’t find in Belize.  Took some video footage and photos and then came back to my rooftop balcony to eat.  I’ve decided to try San Marcos today, leaving here about 10:30 am.  Boats run every twenty minutes between San Pedro and San Marcos.  I’d like to rent a kayak here in San Pedro, but the dorm room I’m staying at has no locked area for my computer and I don’t want to take it in the kayak with me.  So I decided to forgo the kayaking and see what the more quiet and laid-back town of San Marco has to offer.

Arrived in San Marcos about 11am and found a hostal for the same price as San Pedro which is 50 Quetzils or about $6.50.  It has a shared kitchen but no internet or anything else.  I spent the day just walking around the town which is set up totally different than almost any other place I have been in Latin America.  It essentially has no central plaze, instead most all the businesses are set up on paths.  This is a really quiet and restful place, but if you want to get anything done, it would be difficult here.  Just one internet shop and one restaurant/hostal that has wifi.  No banks, so if you run out of money, you need to take the water taxi over to San Pedro, which is only about $2.50 US round trip or 20 Quetzils.

Still haven’t found a good Spanish school I feel comfortable with yet, and not sure what I’m going to do tomorrow.  I’d really like to begin seriously learning some Spanish.  Living way under my budgeted daily amount now.  Cost for the last 2-days, including travel (which has been $10 for both days), has averaged about $15 per day!  That’s $10/day, excluding the travel, living in paradise.  I took some videos today but I’m have a problem loading them into my computer.

At night, San Marcos becomes a magical place.  All the trails are lit at each business with candles and small lights.  Quiet music and laughter can be heard as you wind down a path, that leads into other paths until you reach your destination.  Even the indigenous that sell their wares at night, light their stands with candles.  You see several baskets hudled around a solitary burning candle. It is particularly still night, so the candles burn as if they are inside your home.  The stillness of the flame, mirroring the deep peace and stillness of this place.  The lake is a sparkeling gem tonight under the full moon.  Everything is so quiet and peaceful.  If you want to get deep rest and rejuvination, I would certainly recommend this place.  Even the dogs bark very little here at night!

A Morning in San Pedro, the Rest of the Day in San Marcos

Wednesday, Jan 19

Looking back at San Pedro from the water taxi to San Marcos

Looking to the left of San Pedro from the water taxi to San Marcos.  Is this lake beautiful or what?

Latin America, the modern and the ancient: A Mayan woman carrying a large load to the market contrasted with the Mayan guy on the left traveling with mountain bike and backpack.

Arriving at the dock in San Marcos

A Day in San Marcos, a Quick Trip to San Pedro

Thursday, Jan 20

I moved today from the first place I was staying at here to a new place right on the water.  It’s got an amazing open air kitchen, a private room with shared bath and it’s only 40 Q/day or $5.00 US when I pay for a week at a time.  Before leaving my first place, I realized it was for sale as well as the holistic health center right next to it.  Seems the owner has been away for 4-months and just got back.  I thought, what the heck so I spoke with her about her two properties.  Those were interesting possibilities, but she said she also had a 20-acre parcel for sale just a 5-minute walk out of town with stunning views of the lake.  Funny how things work out, especially when I had just came the conclusion a few days earlier that I would probably not find “the” property on this trip.

As you can see from the photo’s above, the views are stunning.  The land is steep though, but there is a home above this property where a woman from Denmark just built a place.  The whole place with just a path going to it.  No road, no driveway.  I have included a photo of the path going up to her place and it’s hard to believe that every piece of stone and tile and every bag of concrete was carried up that hill by human labor. 

Since San Marco has no bank machine and most places here take only cash, I took the $2.50, 20-minute each way, water taxi to San Pedro to get some cash and a few food items that are not found here.  Looks like I’ll be staying a few more days.  Still haven’t got out in the kayak yet nor found the Spanish school. 

This doesn’t capture the full 180 degree view of the lake from a 20-acre parcel I looked at today just a 5-minute walk from San Marcos for $60,000

A path or “Main Street” in part of San Pedro

A 2,000 square foot home just to the top of the property I looked at today, all brought up on the path to the left- no driveway!

These steps were how all the materials for the 2,000 sq ft house on the right were brought up.

A sitting area over the water, at the hostal

A view of the lake (the outdoor shared kitchen is at left) from the hostal that I am currently staying at.

I have been spending my time looking at Spanish schools and figuring out how to work out my internet connection.  The internet is very important to me because of the research I am doing regarding the importing of doors for my business.  I am also still staying in touch with potential customers when I return via email  The place I’m staying at has not got internet so I’ve been paying money by the hour at the internet place here and eating at a restaurant that has free wifi.  The problem is that the wifi is slow in both places and the restaurant food is OK but very expensive.

Ah, finally a breakthrough with the internet connection.  The manager at the hostal I am now staying at turned me onto a Tico Modem.  What you do is buy a little modem that looks like a USB information storage device.  It costs about $25 and then about $20/month for unlimited internet anywhere you get cell phone reception. 

I have found today that it’s much faster than both the internet places here in San Marcos. The signal comes across the lake from a tower at San Pedro.  Both places in town have massive tree interference.  However, at the hostal I’m currently living at, I can get right over the water with a direct shot across the lake to the cell tower.  So now I have the two items that are most crucial in my living arrangement.  Internet connection and a shared kitchen.

I spent quite a bit of time today checking out some of the other towns on same side of the lake as San Marcos.  I visited Santa Cruz, San Pedro, and Panajachel- the largest town on the lake at about 15,000 population, which is where I got my modem.  I really enjoyed Panajachel, but Santa Cruz is just a couple of low-keyed resorts with a few private homes scattered around the shoreline.  The indiginous people that live in Santa Cruz live way up in the hills overlooking the lake.  I didn’t know this and must have hiked 2,000 feet above sea level today thinking that is where this western enclave was.  I just couldn’t believe it, it was like some lost city in Nepal, it kept going up and up and up.  After the air got too thin to breath, I decided to turn around- just kidding!After walking down I realized that the western enclave was just a few structures on the water’s edge.  Oh well, I certainly got a good hike out of the whole deal!

San Marcos, San Pedro and Panajachel

Friday, Jan 21

Looking down a street in San Pedro

Looking down a street in San Pedro

A blurry photo showing how the individual businesses are lit up at night in San Marcos

Relaxing in San Marcos

Saturday and Sunday, Jan 22, 23

The last couple of days I’ve been just kicking back and enjoying Lake Atitlan.  Talking to various people here and just relaxing.  I really feel at home here in Guatemala.  I’ve also been doing quite a bit of research, and connecting on the internet, now that I have unlimited access.  It’s quite amazing to be able to talk and see people in the US from my computer while sitting on this lake in Central America with Skype.  For anyone who has never used Skype, you should try it.  It costs me about 2 cents per minute to call and see anyone through video, anywhere in the world. 

This coming week I have signed up for Spanish classes between 8am and 11am Monday through Friday.  I’m really looking forward to some specialized one-on-one tutoring.  The cost here is $5 US per hour for private lessons.  I’m going to try and take lessons every other week or so while I travel around Central America.  It’s time to really get serious and learn Spanish!

At this point I’m expecting to leave next Saturday after my Spanish lessons are through and head for Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama.  I’m going to take the bus and will also travel through El Salvador.  I may be traveling with a woman I met here as a friend. She has land in Panama and speaks fluent Spanish.  She’s been teaching English in Central America for 4-years so she knows this area very well.   Apparently, both Costa Rica and Panama have areas that are like Vilcabamba, Ecuador in that they have towns where people live to be over 100 years old quite frequently.  In Nicaragua, I am looking forward to exploring the area around Granada- a town on lake Nicaragua- the tenth largest lake in the world and has a very international population.  I may even get to the Northern coast of Columbia, which I have been told by many travelers is absolutely wonderful- we’ll see what unfolds.

I’m finding I absolutely love international autmospheres where people from all over the world live in small towns like Antigua, Guatemala.  The towns are clean and realitively quiet.  Plus there is an incredible diversity of interesting shops, services and people.  

A sweet Don Quixote and Dulcenea metal sculpture on the beach at the hostal I’m staying at.  This has always been one of my favorite stories to read about and plays to watch.

Back to School

Monday and Tuesday, Jan 24, 25

So much for a vacation at this point.  I have  a 3-hours of one-on-one Spanish lesson from 8-11am M-F and then study for about another 4-6 hours each day.  I had no idea I was going to delve into it this deeply.  I was sort of expecting a few phrases, but I’m glad this turned out to be a very indepth school that is teaching the whole language from the ground up.

So who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, anyway?  I am really hunkering down and getting serious with this Spanish stuff.  Besides, Chusyta isn’t giving me any breaks for my age, so I’ve really got to perform here.  On the bright side, I don’t remember my teachers in school looking as good as Chusyta!   I’ve got a workbook and everything.  Only wish I had a brain that was about 30-years younger.  The old memory just ain’t what it used to be.  Ah, but the life of a student is not all that bad.  I figure I can handle it for a few weeks maybe.  I was just going to stay here for classes for only one week, but I have been really impressed with how well other people my age are speaking only after 3-weeks of classes.  I might just have to bite the bullet and stay here 3-weeks.  Maybe I can just extend my trip a few more weeks to make up for the extra time here- we’ll see.  It’s still pretty cold weather in Colorado in mid-March, so it probably makes sense to come back near the end of March anyway.  It will make an incredible difference to be able to communicate in Spanish as I continue my journey.  I’m finding that it’s really easy to convince myself to keep extending the time here.

It’s really beautiful to see how the local people know how to celebrate.  Today is Tuesday and the whole town pictured above is shut down to business and celebrating with a ferris wheel, lots of local foods, household things to purchase and lots of dancing and of course- extremely loud music.  We’ve been hearing fireworks shot into the sky for the last few days starting about 3am and lasting past midnight. These sound like sticks of dynamite shot into the air.  They vibrate throughout the mountains here.  And of course everytime one goes off it sets off a whole round of dogs barking.   I walked over their today and someone that speaks fluent Spanish inquired about the festivities.  Seems the music and dancing is going to start about 6pm and go until 4am tomorrow morning.  Did I say it was a good idea to bring ear plugs when traveling in Latin America?

OK, that’s it for now.  Back to conjegating those verbs!

Chusyta, my Spanish tutor at a class in San Marcos

One of the local modes of transportation.  I’ve seen as many as 25 people standing in a truck of this size!

Scenes from a town about 2-miles from San Marcos celebrating their patron Saint’s birthday.  Apparently all the towns around here have a patron Saint, and their birthday is celebrated once each year- it’s quite a production!

Back to School

Wednesday, Jan 26

I’ve always wanted to build a pyramid home, so when my friend Chris told me she was taking a 3-month course and living in one, I just had to come and see it.  This outfit is one of the oldest companies in San Marcos.  They offer a 1-month course for $500 and a 3-month course for $1,500.  I think that includes room and board, but  I’m not sure.  People seem to really enjoy it.

Still studying and already getting behind.  I think they need to redesign the Spanish course for the over 50’s crowd!  But I am seeing progress.  I was amazed at how much better I could communicate already when I visited these pyramids and only local women were in the reception area.  I surprised myself!

Inside a pyramid cabin

A pyramid cabin from the outside

Pyramid meditation places in the garden

Still in School

Monday, Jan 31

God this place is hard to leave!  At first I was going to stay here just a few days, which turned into a week and now it may look like another week.  I’ve got some other amazing places I want to explore in other countries, but everytime it comes time to leave here, something else occurs and another week seems to go by.

I was going to leave several days ago and then I found that a direct bus to Managua, Nicaragua that gets in mid-day only leaves here on Wednesday.  So I just took a few more days of Spanish lessons which have been so helpful.  Today, I went to purchase my ticket and I find out that the bus gets to Managua on Wednesday and it leaves here on Tuesday.  I’ve already got an appointment to view a door manufacturer in Antigua on Tuesday afternoon, so the bus this week is not going to work now.  So here I am, another week in this stuningly spectacular place.  Oh well, I guess worse things could happen!

I keep asking myself, what it is about this place that makes it so hard to leave.  Maybe it’s just the raw beauty of this place- one that caught Aldous Huxley’s eye too when he said that in all his travels, Lake Atitlan was the most beautiful lake in the world.  Maybe it’s just the peace and stillness, maybe it’s the friendly and humble local population that is here...  I’m so charmed by the simplicity of life here.  How you see children especially playing with a stick and the top of a 5-gallon plastic bucket held on with a stick with a single nail and pushing it around town, or seeing their pants with holes in the butt or with patches all over them- with nobody paying attention to that fact.  No designer clothes here.  And almost no locals that are constantly plugged into their ipods.

I love the wonderful traditional dresses that the locals wear.  The men all wear levis and t-shirts but the women and girls still wear the lovely dresses from locally hand woven fabrics.  The industry of the small business and home-based business is just awe inspiring.  No business licenses, no big overhead, usually just a basket of stuff, usually homebaked goods, fruit or vegtables and they are open for business.  No one standing on a street corner with a sign that says, “Out of work, homeless, please help, God Bless”.  If someone has a pound of beans, they are on the street or walking around town, nonstop, respectively approaching anyone they may think wants their humble offerings.

When the global economic economic system collapses, I’m not sure it will make much of an impact here.  The economy of this small town is definitely effected by the tourist trade, but I’m sure it could stay afloat no matter what else happens because people are so self-sufficient.  The trade and marketplaces here are such a collage of hundreds of small businesses that all seem to find their niche some how.  No big supermarkets.  There many small markets that sell some limited canned goods, a few dairy items, packages of rice, noodles, sugar, bottles of oil, beer, wine and liquor, limited ice cream novelties, and a few other items- pretty much the essentials.  The rest of fruits, vegtables, meats and housewares are provided by ultra small micro businesses that give this area such an organic color and texture.

I’m not looking forward to the sterile grocery stores back home.  The impersonal approach to selling and the unripened-not-on- the-vine fruits with the vegtables that have been usually transported over 1,000 miles.  I’ll miss looking into the eyes of the indigeneous person and knowing that my purchase is supporting their family directly.  Seeing the care and dignity with which they display their food and wares.  Seeing the small child whose parents can’t afford to send them to school, so is working at age 5 and comfortabely handling money transactions.

Sitting next to a 12-year old girl on the boat and looking at her dirty toes in her sandles that haven’t been bathed for probably a week, and wondering what thoughts go through her mind.  Such color and richness of human interactions here combined with a simplicity that is just so refreshing.  I don’t know, maybe those are some of the reasons I’m finding it hard to leave here and maybe none of them matter.  I don’t know.  I just know that it sure feels good here!

Learning Spanish at Lake Atitlan:

I learned an amazing fact here at the lake.  Guatemala has the largest indigenous Mayan population of anywhere in the world.  There are 24 dialects of Mayan here and they are so different that one dialect cannot speak easily with the other.  There are 2-distinct and different dialects here on Lake Atitlan alone!

So what Guatemala has done is to use Spanish as a second language to tie everyone together.  What that means is that for most of the people here, Spanish is a second language.  Because of this, Spanish is spoken much slower and clearer here than where Spanish is the first language and spoken from birth.  It also makes it much easier for these people to teach it, because they had to learn it and study it in school as a second language. 

So Chusyta, for example, my tutor speaks three languages.  Mayan, Spanish and English.  We may think in the US, we are so much classier than these third world people, but how many people do you know that speak 3-different languages?  Now of course, not everyone speaks English, but a fair number of indeginous in these international areas do to varying degrees.  Small children that help you with your baggage as you get off the boat for a small fee have an incredible English speaking capability that they have learned on their own with the people they help daily, with no formal education and certainly with no help from parents.

If you are considering learning Spanish, I would really think about spending a few weeks at Lake Atitlan.  It’s cheaper than Antigua- at about $5 US/hour.  The school I’m at is called “Orbitas”.  I have provided more information on this school in the “Resources” section at the top of this page.

Yours truly in one of the most scenic classrooms in the world!  (in San Pedro)  The dress that Chusyta is wearing is typical of the clothes Mayan women here wear everyday.  No tight pants or low cut blouses as in Ecuador.  The Mayan men wear t-shirts and levis.

The director and owner of the Spanish School- Rene and one of his teachers, Chusyta.  Rene may be helping me with my wood refinishing business in Colorado, during his slow season, which is my high season.  Both Rene and Chusyta are Mayan.

Those school blues!  But hey, the classroom makes up for the stressful life of a student!  In the background is Lake Atitlan, a lake Aldous Huxley called the most beautiful lake in the world. 

One Last Day Back in Antigua, On My Way to Granada, Nicaragua

Tuesday, Feb 1

I finally left Lake Atitlan yesterday about 1pm along with Rene, the director of Orbita Spanish School on a shuttle van that cost about $6 US for each of us back to Antigua.  He is helping me to coordinate door manufacturers here in Guatemala and doing the Spanish interpretation for me as well.  He’s excited about coming to the US and working in the US during his low season here in Guatemala, which is my high season in Boulder/Denver.  It’s looking very probable that he will work with me in my wood door refinishing business in the summer.  It’s developed into a real nice friendship and working relationship between us.

After meeting with a local door manufacturer in Antigua last night, I’m spending the day here, getting all the necessary details together for an overnight bus trip to Managua, Nicaragua.  From here I could get a bus all the way to Panama City for only $100/US, but for some reason it costs the same amount to go just to Managua, Nicaragua, which is only about half the distance.  I do want to go to Panama and I’m tempted to just save the money and go all the way at once, but I’m really interested in Nicaragua and Costa Rica (a little bit), so I’m going to bite the bullet and take this journey southward in steps and spend a little more time and money.  Flights from Guatemala City to Managua Nicaragua amazingly run around $400 US.

From Antigua, the bus that works the best is a top-of-the-line bus, which includes really comfortable deeply reclining seats, A/C, food and shuttle to Guatemala city from Antigua.  There is a stop in San Salvador for 6-hours between 9:30 pm and 3:30 am at a hotel just across from the bus station.  The most expensive hotel I’ve stayed at yet, the cost is $32 US, which I’m not real crazy about, but at this part in the trip comfort is not such a bad thing.  The bus will arrive in Managua, Nicaragua at around 1:30 pm which is perfect and will allow me to get out of the big city in a shuttle bus to Granada before rush hour and night fall.  All the other busses came in later at night- too late to get a shuttle out of the city.

I am back at the Yellow House hostal (or “Amarilla Casa”) in Antigua.  I really love this place, and got a back dorm room this time with only 3-beds and off the street, breakfast, internet, drinking water, for about $8/US per night, and the best part is there is a travel agency right in the hostal that has been able to make all the bus and shuttle connections for me, both going to Lake Atitlan a few weeks ago, and now leaving for Nicaragua.  I got lucky tonight and have the whole room to myself.  It would have cost me $11 US more here to have a room all to myself, so I got a real bargain here tonight. 

So all in all, it’s been flowing incredibly smoothly.  I could have left today on the bus from Guatemala City, but we couldn’t find an available shuttle from here, so I guess this wasn’t my last day afterall.  It always seems to turn out for the best, because I’ve caught a cold and it feels good to rest up for a day and enjoy Antigua for one last day and night.  Tomorrow I don’t have to catch a shuttle to Guatemala city until 12:30pm, which picks me up right at the hostal here, and delivers me right to the bus station in Guatemala City, so I can just take it easy tomorrow morning.

Walking Around Antigua My Last Night Here

It’s hard to get across in words, the amazing beauty of this town that was once the capital of the entire area of, what is today, Central America.  But maybe that will give you some food for thought of the magnificance of this place.  The main plaza with a grand fountain and hundreds of lit up trees at night is at least four times as big as any square for a town of only 50,000 people that I have yet seen in my travels.  Several cathedrals and arches spaning entire roads and all lit up at night.  The peace of the totally still air, a perfect temperature of about 70 degrees, not one misquitoe and the sound of the main fountain fills the space with such silence it’s undescribable.  No music, no barking dogs, in fact no dogs anywhere!  This square is so beautiful.  People just peacefully, joyously and safely sitting in the many park benches, walking around, and enjoying the shops and restaurants that surround the square.  I’ve been to all the Five star resorts on Kaui, Maui and the Big Island in Hawaii, during the five-years I lived there, and none of them can even come close to the spectacular beauty, silence, richness, diversity and history of this place.

Just imagine visitors from almost every country in the world walking on the streets and sitting in the park benches at night in a town that is over 500-years old form a westerner’s perspective dotted with incredible ancient ruins thousands of years old- in fact, one of them taking up an entire side of the whole square.  Also imagine the lovely indeginous women in their beautiful traditional Mayan dresses intermingeling- some selling their wares, some lost on a parkbench in a loving embrace.  Old and new living side by side.  The sterility of a resort is a pale experience compared to being in an environment where indigineous and westerners from all over the world live life side by side.  I’ve discovered, these international towns present an opportunity that can not be duplicated by a planned community.  They have evolved over time, each in their own unique way. Whatever form the ecovillage takes, one thing is clear to me now, it will be very close to one of these international towns.

An indeginous woman selling beads tried to sell me some tonight as I sat on the parkbench just absorbing the silence here.  I told her I just wanted some tranquility.  She sat down with me and quietly began to speak in very basic Spanish.  I was amazed at how I could communicate so much better than just two weeks ago.  She was very patient in correcting my conjegations and pronunciations.  She spoke a little English quite well and we had a good time sitting there in the silence of the night, each from two seperate worlds yet linked together at a very basic level.  She was 44 and had been in Antigua all her life.  I would have really liked to speak to her better, to more completely understand her situation, history and thoughts.  I have really fallen in love with these people and nothing drives me harder to master Spanish that just the pure joy of connecting with these lovely people at a deeper level.  Of course, I feel that intuitively and consciously, but language is a very special connection that I’m looking forward to mastering. I had the thought as I walked back to my hostal that I should have set an appointment with her in the park tomorrow morning and paid here for an hour of her time to continue our Spanish dialogue.  Maybe I’ll get lucky and she’ll be there tomorrow.

I’m expecting a similar experience in Granada, Nicaragua, but I know it will be unique in its own right.  That town is about twice as big as Antigua and sits right on Lake Nicaragua which is the 10th largest lake in the world.  It also has a very rich international presence, a long colonial history with a vibrant indeginous culture, and the same pleasant climate, since it sits at an elevation of about 5,000 feet also.  Since I’m seeking water in the winter, maybe this will satisfy both desires for a small international town and one that is by water.  I’m hoping I can find a rowing shell on the lake to rent.  I’m really craving some upper body excercise.  We’ll see, only about 36 hours until I find out! 

It was a long day or so of traveling.  Started out on yesterday, got picked up by a mini-shuttle on my way from Antigua to Guatemala City at around noon.  The bus left Guatemala City at 3:30 and it was the nicest bus I’ve ever been on. They served food, snacks, soft drinks and provided blankets and pillows.  They played 3-movies and I can tell you the A/C worked plenty.   I found out that there is big savings if you just buy your ticket at the stations instead of at travel companies here.  I just assumed that they would get a commission and buy at wholsale and sell at retail so that there would be no penalty using them.  But not the case.  Would have saved about $20 by buying the ticket directly from the bus company.  My ticket which cost $100, a friend I met from Canada who bought his for only $80 right at the bus station.

We had a layover in San Salvador, and both major bus companies have their own hotel facilities, so when you get in late, you don’t have to look around town, but you can stay right there.  So the room was $25 for one $35 for two and $45 for three.  I buddied up with a guy from Canada and a woman from Pittsburg, so we got the $15 each rate.  We went through 3-border crossings on our way to Nicaragua.  Guatemala/San Salvedor, San Salvedor/Honduras, and Honduras/Nicaragua.  That’s actually six times to have your passporte reviewed, fees paid (which only amounted to a total of $16 US), and baggage searched.  All in all the border crossings and customs are amazingly simple and straight-forward, especially when compared to US customs.

After arriving in Managua, Nicaragua, I shared a taxi with my new found friend from Canada on the bus to Granada.  This was the worst part of the journey.  Fortunately it was only an hour or so.  But it was the most crowded and slow bus of the whole trip.  For a while leaving Managua, it seemed like it stopped every 50 feet or so to pick up more people ever after they were standing two wide in the aisles.  Fortunatley we got on first, so we had seats.  Upon arriving in Granada, I was a little dissapointed at how hot it was.  I was thinking that Granada sits at about 5,000 feet in elevation when in actuality it is just a little above sea level, so it is much more hot and humid than I thought it would be.

Dave, my friend from Canada and a few other travelers from England all met up at a hostal in Granada called “The Bearded Monkey”.  A place with a great courtyard, lots of hamocks, a great restaurant and bar, great caribbean music and internet service.  I’m sharing a dorm room with eight others.  I just stayed here tonight, after walking down to the lake earlier in the late afternoon, and worked on some internet correspondence.  An increadible chicken, vegetable and rice stir- fry dinner was $4 US.  My Tico internet modem is not working here in Nicaragua, so I’m going to have to see if I can get another chip for it tomorrow.   But no problem for tonight, the hostal has a pretty quick wifi system.

A nice relaxing place to spend the night.   

On My Way to, and Arriving in Granada, Nicaragua

Friday, Feb 4

One More Day in Granada, Nicaragua

Saturday, Feb 5

Had a day just looking around Granada today.  Walked to a Radio Shack store about 10-blocks away looking for a new modem and a Skype headset.  But the find of the day is a place just one block from the hostal I’m staying at.  For just $20 US they teach how to make chocolate bars from scratch.  That’s from grinding and roasting the cocoa beans and adding the ingredients.  I’m so tired of looking for chocolate bars that don’t have loads of sugar.  Now I’ll be able to make my own from organic honey at a fraction of the cost.  Maybe I’ll start a little cottage industry and sell them to others. 

But because of this new chocolate workshop, I’m not going to be able to leave tomorrow as planned.  I’ll need to stay around here another day since the class in not until tomorrow around 6-8pm.  Also found a local gym here tonight from a Canadian entrepreneur that’s lived here 6-months/year for the past 5-years.  I’m looking forward to working out tomorrow.  Also found the public market here.  I’m just loving the organic nature of how so many small businesses work together to supply the majority of stuff with just a temporary cart or stand.  Maybe I feel so drawn because when I went through college I used to manage produce departments in grocery stores in Washington, Alaska and Colorado.  I really get into the colors, smells and textures of so many little businesses in one area.  It’s kind of like all the colors I remember in those produce departments- in a small way.

So I’m back here at the “Bearded Monkey” again tonight and tomorrow night as well.  Relaxing and listening to soft music with maybe 40-50 others staying here tonight, swinging in hamocks, reading, reconnecting with old friends met at previous locations and connecting with new ones for the first time here tonight, connecting through the internet, having beers, eating dinner amongst a courtyard of palms, other tropical plants, soft lights and an open starlit sky.  On Monday morning I’ll head off to San Juan Del Sur on the South Pacific Coast of Nicaragua, only a short distance from Costa Rica.  It’s the best surfing beach in the country.  Not much into board surfing, but I really enjoy body and boggy-board surfing.  Then on to Ometepe for a few days before leaving for Costa Rica.  Have to say, at this point, I’m looking most forward to Panama and the Valley of Longevity.  We’ll see what unfolds, it’s always so different than what I expected!  I updated the map location at the top of the page today, so if you click on the minus button you can zoom out and see where this place is from a regional perspective.  Hit the satelite button and you’ll see Granada as it is from space.  I’ll try and take some photos tomorrow.

Had a relaxing day here today kind of waiting around until my chocolate workshop tonight as well as some misc things like washing clothes- not my favorite thing to do, but, well, you know, it’s kind of necessary!  Tonight I found out just how simple and inexpensive it is to create custom chocolate recipes from scratch.  So I’ve got all kinds of entrepreneural ideas now.  One of those nights when the wheels are really spinning.....

Tomorrow, I’m off to Southern Nicaragua for either San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast or the magical Islands in Lake Nicaragua called Omepete.  I’m just going to have to let one of them present themselves to me, because it’s just not clear yet.  Yes, I know, a tough decision to have to make.  Oh well, I think I’m up for the challenge!

One Last Day in Granada, Nicaragua

Sunday, Feb 6

The instructor with the beans

The beans

Mastering the secret art of roasting the beans with incredible focused attention.

Dehusking the beans.  The husks are used to make chocolate tea- Yum!  Husks on the left, beans on the right.

I would definitely automate this part.  I think my Vita Mixer would really speed this part up!

An ancient Mayan chocolate drink.  I’ll tell you later what it’s supposed to do....

The finished product.  Rum chocolate on top and obviously almonds on the bottom.  We have to wait until tomorrow to taste the finished product so it has a chance to set up.  There is another layer of cholocate that I later put over the nuts.

The graduation class photo.  John and Nancy are from Seattle, WA- which is where I was raised.

Another, One Last Day in Granada, Nicaragua

Monday, Feb 7

I wasn’t sure today whether I was going to head for San Juan Del Sur on the Pacific Coast or Omepete in Lake Nicaragua, but it didn’t dawn on me until this morning that it would be neither- I didn’t consider that as an option.  This morning, I just realized that I’m drawn to the David area in northern Pamana and some of the few surrounding towns that sit up about 5,000 feet- an elevation that seems to be ideal for my makeup.  Hot springs, crystal clear water (tap water you can drink claimed to be the world’s purest) and clear, fresh ocean air, fresh vegetables and fruit, some of the largest trees in the hemisphere, close to a town of 150,000 for most all needed services including good hardware and electronic companies, and an international population mixed with locals.  Enough seeing the sights on the way down.  It’s time to get there, and to settle into an area for a while that I can call “home”.

It just “clicked” this morning that it’s time to get there ASAP.  So the soonest I could find an available bus is tomorrow, Tuesday leaving Granada at 1pm.  Interesting how when there seems to be two options open, neither is not an option you usually consider.  It’s pretty obvious, that if my mind was in control, it would have chose one of the two original options.  Oh yes, much larger currents of intelligence move through us!

Jeff interviews Rene, The Director of “Orbita” Spanish School in San Pedro, Guatemala

Getting  Into David, Panama at 8am This Morning, Then Taking the Bus to Boquete Later in the Afternoon

Wednesday, Feb 9

I’m glad I didn’t take that last 20-hour bus trip when I just got to Latin America.  The first crossing from Nicaragua to Costa Rica was not too bad yesterday, especially since it was at a good time of the day- that being daylight.  On the side of the border you are leaving, you get out of the bus, hand your passport and sometimes some money to the driver, he takes it in and then an official comes back and hands them back to you one at a time as you get in.  The photo is of that procedure. 

On the way into the new country, you get out of the bus, remove your luggage, so they the new country can go through it, and usually one by one in a line, have the official stamp your passport directly.  The can be a very smooth process and a few days ago, going through 3 borders in the daytime it was.  But today, we arrived at the Costa Rica/Panama border about 3am and waited until 6am for the office to open while standing/sitting in line.  Why in the hell the bus didn’t let us stay on it until the office opened was a question we all asked many time.

I got dropped on in David, a few hours before Panama City, which is the place to catch the bus for Boquete and Volcan.  I was going to spend the night at a hostal in David, but after walking around the town, and feeling the heat and stuffiness of the hostal, I decided to check out again, a few hours after I checked and caught the bus for Boquete about 4:30.  Since I didn’t spend the night at the hostal, I only had to pay $3 for the day use at the hostal, so that wasn’t too bad. 

Upon arriving at Boquete, I found that it is very similar here to a ski town.  It’s about 5,000 feet high, and very cool.  It was raining earlier.  I really love this altitude.  I could see living in this climate but having the beach only an hour or so away.  Very close to what I had when I lived in Maui for 4-years.  No view of the water here though.  I really do miss that part.  So many people say this area is too built up, but haven’t found that at all.  It is clean and no dogs, which sets it apart already, but still alot of unfinished structures and roads- not all that much different than other towns in Latin America that I can see so far. 

So I can breathe again!  The fresh air feels so good.  I have a tentative Spanish tutor set up informally through the hostal here tomorrow as well at a trip the thermal hot springs which I understand are about 45-minutes away.  The formal Spanish lessons are about $15/hour, which is 3x what they were in Guatemala, so the owner of the hostal is connecting me up with a freelance Spanish teacher, that he says, also speaks English- something I’ve found that critical for learning.  He says she is really cheap- I didn’t press him on that part so we’ll see tomorrow how that he defines that.

Not sure how long I’ll stay here, but it sure feels good right now.  Still haven’t got into that clear warm water for awhile.  I’m looking forward to that also.  So about a day ago, I was in Granada, Nicaragua and now, about 28 hours later, I’m up in the mountains of northern Panama, after spending 6-hours today in David.  Oh, by the way, David, I found to be nothing special.  Just a small city with some good services.  The kind of place that’s good to have close by and visit from time to time for provisions, but not the type of place I’d like to spend alot of time at.

I’m at a place tonight called the Palacious Hostal.  I think they were a little generous with the name, because it certainly is not palatial, but it is comfortable.  I guess the name “The Comfort Inn” was already taken.  Too bad because it would suite this place just fine.  It’s got that magic combination of wifi, shared kitchen, great location and hammocks!  It’s a beautiful crescent moon tonight.  Can’t see any stars right now from this hammock, but it’s a very peaceful night up here in the mountains of northern Panama.

A Day in Boquete, Panama

Thursday, Feb 10

Apparently Modern Maturity magazine did an article on Boquete in the mid-Nineties and rated it as their 4th best place in the world for people to retire.  Since then, the word has gotten out and lots of westerners have moved here.  I walked on a loop road that head out of town and then back again today for about 6-miles and took a few shots so you can see just how lovely this place is.  Of course, I took the best shots, but there are plenty of local run down homes and half built commercial structures in town, just like any other Latin American area.

The climate here though is really wonderful. It gets up to about 75 degrees during the day with a light breeze always blowing.  There are lots of creeks and rivers coming off the surrounding mountains.  The trees are also really big here.  This spot kind of reminds me of Makowa on Maui in that way.  Only the climate is much more pleasant.  I didn’t get a chance today to get to the hot springs.  I may forgo that and go to Volcan tomorrow, which is supposed to be like Boquete without all the development.  We’ll see, as I’ve said many times, it’s always different than expected.

A Day in Volcan, Panama

Friday, Feb 11

I left Boquete this morning around 8am on the bus back to David.  Spent about 20-minutes in the bus station there and then up into the mountains again on a slightly different road.  This time a lesser known place, that a friend in Antigua told me about.  I got here around noon, and spent about an hour walking around looking at the town and finding a place to stay for the night.  I eventually found a little hostal bordering a park here run by a Cuban woman that speaks zero English, so my Spanish lessons are really paying off.  Volcan sits at an elevation of 4,700 feet.  A nice climate.

I checked in and walked around the town a little more without much connection to this place.  Came back and took a rest.  Went back out again around 3 and found a couple at the grocery store that I could tell spoke English and were living here- I could just tell.  They are from Oklahoma and have been living here about 5-years.  Hadn’t been able to locate an internet place, since the hostal didn’t have a wifi.  They were kind enough to take me to a restaurant where there was wifi, so I could just check my emails.  Had dinner there and met Wally, a 70-year old retired guy from Alaska with alot of pizzaz, that had been living here for about 5-years as well.  He turned me onto a realtor here that I will check out tomorrow and also he told me about the next town up the hill that I should check out.  He also turned me onto a craftsman in town that has been producing all the doors around here- who I’ll check out tomorrow too.  So I’m starting to feel a little more connected here now. 

I’m the only one in the hostal here tonight so it’s much quieter than the previous two nights where the hostal was very crowded, noisy and cramped. 

A Day in Cerro Punta, Panama

Saturday, Feb 12

Took the bus today to Cerro Punto a town about 1,500 feet higher and about a 15-minute bus ride from Volcan- further up into the northern Panamanian Mountains.  Apparently, 80% of the total food consumed in Panama is grown in this area.  Fertile soil, and lots of springs, creeks and rivers.  So at 1,700 meters, Cerro Punto is about 6,000 feet in elevation, which makes for really comfortable days.  Some say it’s a little too cool so they stay around the Volcan area with an estimated expat population of around 200.

Once I got to Cerro Punto, I walked about 6-miles out of town up to where the trail starts that connects to Boqueta- the town I was at about a day ago.  It’s called the Quetzal Trail and is about 6-miles one-way.  I just had some crappy sandles on, so decided not to go too far on the trail, but I did go perhaps 1/2 mile and took a few shots that I’ve got posted.

So far I really like Panama.  The people are very friendly and there is great infrastructure here.  Even in the remote areas, when internet is available, it is almost as fast as the states.  I found several parcels for sale that I’m going to check on.  Looks like the RE companies here are not open on the weekend, so I’m going to have to wait until Monday.  I’ll be staying here a few more days.

**I ran into a couple at a Chinese restaurant at lunch today up here in Cerra Punta, that have been living outside the US since 1995.  They told me that after January 2012, the US government is going to be charging US citizens a 30% fee for any money taken out of the US.  Something to think about if you are considering setting up a residence outside of the US- don’t just “think about it” for too much longer!  I would encourage everyone to check into this to see if this is real, and if so, what the specifics are.

An example of some of the largest trees in Central America- and they are found in this area- compare with house to right

Scenes around Cerro Punta

Another Day in Volcan, Panama

Sunday, Feb 13

No real estate companies open here on the weekend, so this was a good day to study Spanish.  I also spent some time with Wally, who gave me a computer tour of his travels in South and Central America.  We split a watermelon and had a good time comparing notes on traveling.  As it turns out Wally is in a bind tonight.  He has two dates for a dance in town that sounds like a spicy blend of Panamanians and expats.  I’m sure alot of guys, even 40-years younger, wish they were in this kind of bind!  So what can I do?  He asked me to bail him out of one of them and show up tonight.  As it turns out, the blind date he has me set up with is the same woman who teaches Spanish lessons informally here.  So at least we will be able to communicate and I’ll meet some other expats living in this area as well.  I could really use some more Spanish tutoring.   I’m not the greatest dancer in the world either, so we’ll see how this one unfolds.  It’s always different than how I imagine it in my mind.

I’m looking forward to checking into some real estate tomorrow, with a realtor that Wally suggested.  I also keep hearing about Argentina and Uraguay in South America from a number of travelers I’ve met along the way.  Wally also had experience in these countries and raved about them as well.  I’m considering extending my trip through April and maybe spending mid-March through April there.  We’ll see what unfolds, but it’s still pretty crappy weather in Colorado through April.  Besides, I could realize my goal of 6-months working and 6-months setting up a second residence outside the US now.  But on the other hand, the groundhog didn’t see its shadow this year, so it may be an early Spring and a good time to do my business in Colorado in April.

But then again, I keep thinking, why wait until next year to find out if Argentina or Uruguay is the right area for me?  I also keep thinking I’m more than half-way there already.  This thought is coming up more and more- “there has to be a way that I can just stay down here permanently, now”.  Is there any substance to these thoughts?  We’ll see, time will tell.  It’s always different than how I imagine it in my mind!

I just got back from a night on the town and found that the community here is very friendly.  I met about 20 people living here both from outside the country and several that are native to Panama.  As it turned out, Wally’s second date didn’t show up so I was able to just mingle.  I found out that you can be a crappy dancer here and still have a great time.  Acutally the dancing tonight was just the 60’s where you move individually to the music, and I’m not bad at that. 

I’ve got a Spanish lesson tomorrow at 9am with Norma who, it sounds like, has a much more practical approach to learning Spanish that the formal study I had before.  Thre has to be tricks to learning this language faster.  Also, tonight, I met the ex-owner of the restaurant, who installed amazing woodwork throughout, especially the doors.  He knows the company just a couple of hours away that owns the largest teak plantation in Panama, complete with a shop that builds doors and furniture.  This is the same company that built his doors.  We are planning a trip together to this plantation/factory in about a week.  Of all the door connections that I’ve made so far, I feel the most hopeful about this one.  I would love to be able to provide my clients solid teak doors and entry ways made from plantation-grown trees. 

Wally and my new Spanish Tutor, Norma

A restaurant in town where a lot of expats get together.  (Sorry about the blury photo.  I’m having trouble with the flash setting on my camera.)

Another Day in Volcan, Panama

Monday, Feb 14

Had a really good day here starting off with my Spanish lesson with Norma.  She took a different tack than the lessons I had before.  Instead of conjegating verbs and trying to memorize them, we stayed in the first person and looked at how to speak in present, past and future tense.  Instead of memorizing all the exceptions, we just started with the simple rules and she also really pushed me to speak more in Spanish and use complete sentences.  I think that the fact that she is 50, instead of 19, like Chuysta was in Guatemala, she had more patience with me.

After that, I connected with a realtor and gave him a few phone numbers I had found yesterday on my walk, and asked him if he could call them up and find out what the asking price was.  He speaks perfect English as well as his native Spanish.

I came back to the hostal and met a family from the US that had also lived in Fairfield, Iowa and were good friends with some of my friends there as well.  Small world!  They have been in Panama just a few days and are renting a home in Costa Rica.  They gave me a totally different view of CR than I had been given by others.  Seems land prices there are about the same as in Panama, yet a far superior infrastructure.  They told me about a 6-hectare (about 15-acres) piece they were looking at there that had an asking price of $150,000.  By the end of three days, the seller had come down to $60,000.  Apparently in this market, cash can purchase land at 1/3 to 1/4 of the asking price.  The days of boom times are definitely over and sellers are slowly waking up to this fact. 

They also told me about another border crossing that’s only about 1.5 hours from here, I don’t have to go through David, and it’s a very easy crossing- unlike the 5-hour crossing I experienced on the Pan American highway route.  Plus, I can stay up in the mountains where it’s cool.  What a great connection!  We exchanged emails and they offered to put me up in a large house they are renting in central Costa Rica if I wanted.  Since I’m so close to the Costa Rican border, I think I’ll go back and explore that in depth next before I go any further into Panama.

There is also another gathering tonight, being as it’s Valentine’s Day and all.  There should be many times more people there tonight than were there last night, so I’m looking forward to getting the real skinny about how it is to live here, from many people that have been living here for quite some time.  More when I get back.

Just got back from a wonderful community event that was attended by probably 60% local people and 40% expats.  Great entertainment from some of the local children dancing traditional dances.  They then served a wonderful buffet dinner with dessert and wine.  Later a gringo band came on and played some great 60‘s dance music.  An incredibly fun night at $7.50 for everything.  It’s great to see how well the gringo community has integrated in with the local population. 

I was able to connect again with the couple that told me about the 30% fee on money coming out of the US after next January and it’s called the HIER act.  I don’t have internet at this hostal, so I’m going to have to wait until tomorrow to check into it. 

Children at the Valentine’s evening town gathering performing traditional Panamanian dances in Volcan, Panama. I was lucky to be sitting at the front table to get this video.  I ran out of memory, and had to cut the second dance short.

My last day here in Volcan today.  I looked at some property and had a Spanish lesson, and did some other internet business stuff.  I’ll have my last lesson tomorrow morning and then head for Costa Rica.  Volcan is only about 1-hour away from the southern Costa Rican border, and I’m going to cross a place at the border which is supposed to be very simple.  Looking forward to exploring the mountains and coastline of southern Costa Rica.

I like it here, but I’m in an adventurous mood, so onward to other places. 

One Last Day in Volcan, Panama

Tuesday, Feb 15

A near-full moon and the beautiful clouds against the mountains around Volcan, Panama

Reflections on Costs in Panama:

I don’t know how the local populations make it here.  In the small mountain community I was in you see new SUV’s and especially new Toyota trucks everywhere, and these are local people driving them, not just expats.  Food prices are similar to those in the US, yet the local populations have incomes at around $10 US/day.  For example, the woman who was teaching me Spanish (in the photo above), has taught elementary school there for 25-years.  She makes about $400/month doing this.  She owned the land that her house was built on, which is probably a 1/2 acre- she estimated it would have cost her $30,000 to buy that small lot.  Her house was a very basic 1,000 square foot home- 2 bedroom, 2-bath, with just a caport that cost her around $40,000 to have built 3-years ago.  She has a 30-year mortgage on that.  She also is making payments on her car, which she says costs about the same each month as her mortgage.  Do the math.  These two payments alone just about eat up her total monthly income.  She showed me a couple acre lot close by with a broken down house on it with an asking price of $80,000.

Seems like where ever I go in Latin America, prices are at the very top or over the top for the local populations to get by.  Banks, offering their 30-year loans are sucking populations dry in these countries, just like in the US.  This seems to be especially true in Panama.

I took the bus this morning, out of Volcan, Panama heading to Costa Rica.  After talking with several people I decided to try a new border crossing at Rio Serreno.  The bus took about an hour to get to the border.  It pulled into the terminal at Rio Serreno, and I found just a town with no directions or signs anywhere to get to the border.  I walked up and down the main strip maybe 3 times asking people where the border crossing was but nothing made any sense.  Even after 3-weeks of Spanish lessons, I was still unable to communicate that I was just looking for the border into Costa Rica and decipher their directions.  Finally, after about an hour and a half of walking back and forth on the main street, I spoke with a security guard at a bank and he in his very basic English, directed me to a place up on the hill where I could see a communication tower in the distance.  So after about 1 and a half hours of walking around town, I walked up this hill to a small building where I found out that they were gone to lunch so waited around for about 45-minutes for them to return. 

In the meantime, I met a fellow from Vermont that had been in Costa Rica for a week volunteering building some trails in a private park.  He had just come from the Costa Rica side of the border and needed his passport stamped to get into Panama, where he was now.  He gave me directions to a place called San Gerrardo de Rivas, in Costa Rica that sits about 5500 feet and had the following write up in my guide book.  “Fresh mountain air and a gushing river... with a hot springs just 2km away.....”  Sounded like a great spot.  We both waited and he told me where to go on the other side of the fence opening to get my passport stamped in Costa Rica, after I got my passport stamped here, leaving Panama.

In the meantime a couple of Border police came out and were showing us how all their guns, bullet-proof vests and other clothes were all made in the US, how they wanted to be in the US special forces.  They were really friendly and just sat down on the steps there and in their basic English and our basic Spanish, had somewhat of a conversation.  The office finally opened, and fortunately we both had copies of our passports, because you had to give them one.  The first time I have encountered that in my travels.  We were the only ones there. We just went into a room with a guy sitting at a desk and he stamped our passports.  The whole process took about 30-seconds.  No questions, no exit fee, no checking any baggage, just a very friendly, easy process.

So I walked through a fence opening into Costa Rica, no guards, signs or anything to indicate that I was in one country or the other and walked down a dirt road that my friend from Vermont had told me about.  There were no markings anywhere.  Without his directions, I would not have had a clue where to go next.  I walked up to this building, which was about the third one on this dirt road, and sat down at in front of a desk, again, I was the only one there and handed my passport to the guy who filled out a form for me and just stamped my passport.  Again, no fee or anything to enter the country.

He directed me to a restaurant area, maybe a block away, where buses come about every half hour to pick people up and take them to a town that’s a hub into other areas in Costa Rica.  OK, so now I’m officially back in Costa Rica.  I sat down with a couple of guys from the US who were living in Panama, and found out that the bus leaving on the half-hour was the one I needed to take.  Fortunately that was just in another 15-minutes.  Even though Costa Rica has its own currency, they easily accept US money and the exchange rate is 1- US dollar to 500 of theirs.  Don’t get too excited though, because everything is pegged to cost about the same in the same here as in the US.  For example, a small bag of potatoe chips costs about 500 of their dollars or $1 US.  The bus ride to the next town cost me $3,500 of their dollars or, $7 US dollars.

So the bus gets into the station, and everyone gets out.  Again, no signs anywhere as to where to catch the next bus.  As a last resort, I just follow the majority of people as they leave the bus hoping that one of them is going to need a bus transfer.  Finally, everyone seems to vanish into cars waiting to pick them up or just going off into various divergent directions.  I found one guy with a large sack of something over his shoulder walking rather quickly, from the same bus I got out of, so I asked him if he knew where the bus was leaving from.  He indicated that it was straight ahead, in the same direction he was going, so I kept following him.  In just a few more blocks, we turned into a building and a bus was almost ready to depart.

I walked up to the bus and sure enough, it was the last bus that day heading to my destination. That was a big relief, because this was a very dirty, congested town- not someplace I really wanted to spend the night.  As I loaded my backpack into the bottom of the bus, a small kid called out to me from a window inside the bus- it was the same family on the bus I had met at the hostal in Volcan.  They knew the area well.  Ah, a sigh of relief!  It feels so good to meet people that speak English and know the area.  I could now relax, knowing that they had the details handled.  When the bus finally arrived in San Isidro, they gave me a quick tour and orientation.  Their house was still rented, for a few more days, since they came back earlier than expected, so we went to the town square- where market day was tomorrow.  They went their way and I found a hostal from my guide book right on the town square.

It all worked out perfect.  I got in too late to take another bus to my next destination a couple of hours away, but I wanted to see the market, which is the biggest in the region tomorrow.  So my hostal is right on the main square where the market is being held tomorrow.  Cost is for the hostal is $14 US or 7,000 of their dollars.  I’ll be able to pick up some food here, for my stay in the little town in the mountains for the next couple of days and take in the local culture.  OK, time to grab some dinner and bed down for the night.  I’m looking forward to more of the Costa Rican experience tomorrow.

Traveling to Costa Rica

Wednesday, Feb 16

San Isidro and San Gerrardo, Costa Rica

Thursday, Feb 17

Thursday, Public market day in San Isidro, Costa Rica.  Not sure what it’s like on other days, but today this place was filled with all types of fruit and vegetable sellers, also meat (even in refrigerated cases!), cheeses and baked goods.

The public market is about 4-blocks from the town square, and it’s in a large covered facility, which makes it nice and comfortable.   An average sized cantaloupe was $1 US, Mangoes about $.50 and a whole fan of bananas for about $.50.  Prices are determined by the Kilo (about 2 kilo’s to the US pound).  A very high gringo population here.  In fact, several gringos had booths and were selling cheese, granola and gluten-free baked goods.  There were no signs delineating “organic” from chemical and pesticide produce, but if you live here long enough, you probably just get to know which is which.  People really stock up here.  Lots of big carts full of produce, so this indicates to me that this market day in definitely not the norm.

Broke a sandle today, and found a well-stocked hardware store to replace the part.  I can always judge the town by the quality of the hardware store.  On a scale of 1-10, this one would probably come in at a 6.5, in my opinion.  I missed the earlier bus, but went to the station and was told “dose” and they held up two fingers.  Dose means 12, but the fact that they held up two fingers seems to indicate 2.  I think I’ll just assume it’s at 12 and wait around if I’m wrong.

OK, so doce meant two o’clock.  But I had time to look around the town a bit.  I met a couple of retired guys from Canada on the bus that were able to orient me and let me know when to get off the bus.  This is quite an amazing place here.  I’m staying in a beautiful place here with a view of the river valley.  The air and river are so clean up here and lots of places for sale.  I’m going to go on a long walk tomorrow and visit the hot springs.  Very quiet and peaceful.  I’ll take some shots tomorrow. 

Arnold Schwartzenager Chickens

Eating chicken in Central America is a whole new experience if you are used to eating chicken in the US or other developed countries.  Here chickens run around all day long, scratching for grubs and staying away from dogs.  It’s like they are constantly on an aerobics routine.  Not surprisingly, there isn’t much on these birds other than muscle.  If you could see them without their feathers, they would probably look like Arnold Schwartzenager!

So the next time you eat a tender, plump, juicy chicken, understand that, that chicken has probably been locked up in some pen and forced fed multiple hormones which you now have the pleasure of taking into your body.  What a great thought.  I just had to say something about this because I just had chicken for dinner, which is hardly recognizeable by US standards.  Not much to eat, but it definitely gives your mouth a good workout. 

Bi-lingualism and Alzheimer’s

Sometimes you hear things and you wonder, is this really true?  Especially, when you would like it to be true.  Norma, my Spanish instructor has been teaching Spanish to first-grade students in Costa Rica for 25-years now.  She is just completing her Master’s degree in English.  She told me that people that are bi-lingual have an almost zero percent rate of Alzheimer’s disease.  She told me it’s due to the increased neural connections that are made when a second language is learned.

I haven’t had a chance yet to check this out, but she said, you could just google it up on the internet and there are many studies proving this.  Seems like if this is true, you might want to learn maybe three or four languages just to be safe.  I wonder if it could be used as a theraputic technique after the onset of the disease?  That way you wouldn’t have to learn it until you knew you had no choice.  Just a bit of information I thought I’d share with you.

A Day in San Gerrardo, Costa Rica

Friday, Feb 18

One of the shared bathrooms here.  Even single rooms use shared baths.  I just love the way they raised the faucet on the right so you can get underneath it.  A simple and inexpensive pvc solution.  Maybe not the best looking but it sure does the job, and much more user friendly than expensive hotels with a short distance from the faucet to the bottom of the sink.  The object to the right on the left picture is the door handle.  Moisture is not a problem in this bathroom, the upper windows have no glass.  The green above the shower base is not mold, it’s mineral residue including a high calcium content naturally occuring in the water.

Clear, fresh water everywhere.  A river, streams and creeks flowing around every corner.  This place is really lush!  It usually rains for a half-hour or so in the late afternoon, even in the dry season, but look what you get.  This beautiful river winds back and forth through San Gerrardo.  It’s kind of like main street here.

The dorm room at this hostal.  I just think it’s amazing how they incorporated the existing boulders into the room here.  My bed for tonight, is in the left photo.  It’s sitting on top and into a whole natural boulder assembly.  There are also two traditional bunk beds.

I could have gotten a ride back into San Isidora today with my new friend Topher and his wife, which would have been alot easier than taking the bus which only leaves here at 7am, but I decided to stay another day or two here in this magical valley of clear flowing water and fresh air.  I’m beginning to realize that spring water that I can drink straight out of the ground, is one of my main criteria for finding a suitable place. 

I checked into the El Descanso hostal when I got here last night and then walked around for an hour or so and found the El Pelicano hostal.  The El Pelicano was built by a woodworker and everything was done really well.  It even had a beautiful custom swimming pool and hot tub.  I usually don’t spring for such an expensive place- $24 US, but for some reason, I just found myself walking back to the El Descanso and asking for a refund and they gave it to me- which is very rare.  Even though it was only $14 US- almost half the price of the El Pelicano, something was moving me to leave and to check into the El Pelicano.

This morning at breakfast, I found out why I was moved to check into the El Pelicano and spend $10 bucks more for the night.  I met Topher, a guy and his wife that have been living in Costa Rica for the last 4-years.  We had one of those great connections and talked for about an hour over breakfast.  One of those meetings, where you have known the person before and know you will spend time together in the future.  Anyway, we had a great time talking about the UFO coverup, zero point energy, abductions- which I experienced when I was only 3-years old, alternative building techniques and the evolving police-state in the US- just to name a few.   I’m going to connect with him in a few days in a location right above the Pacific, sitting at about 3,000 feet with a great view of the ocean in a community of like minded individuals.  I’ve already got a place to rent there with one of his friends.  I’ve been looking for such a place now for 3-months.  We’ll see, it’s always different than I imagine it will be in my mind.

Today, I checked into the hostal that is pictured above.  I get most of the questions on this trip, from people asking me about my hostal experience.  I thought I’d just include a few photos to show how unique some of these hostals are.  You just don’t find such unique features in traditional hotels.  I especially like the faucet in the bathroom in the photo above.  It’s just so functional and such a cheap solution to taking an inexpensive fixture and positioning it in such a way to mimick an expensive fixture.  I can’t tell you how many bathrooms I’ve been in where you can’t even get your mouth under the faucet when you brush your teeth.

This hostal, Casa Mariposa, which is not in any of my guide books, is right at the end of a four-wheel drive road which turns into a trail into a private preserve that has a wonderful trail system and 3 waterfalls.  It has a shared kitchen, with all the fresh spring water, tea and coffee you can drink for $13 US/night.  They also provide the oil, spices and stuff like that, you just pick up the staples at the little market in town about a mile down the road, one way, and about 1,000 feet lower in elevation.  Without a car, it’s almost impossible not to get an aerobic exercise just being here.  Even to get the internet, you have to walk 1-mile into the park to reach the ranger station and their wifi hotspot.  Actually, I just realized, right next door, they do have a very basic market and a restaurant in that hostal.  I looked at their menu and it’s not bad.  Especially, if you’re tired of walking it’s menu can look pretty good by the end of the day!

I really haven’t taken the time on this trip so far to explore reserves, jungles and waterfalls, but I’m going to start tomorrow.  This is the draw for this area, and there are several hostals for sale.  I could see owning a hostal here, so it’s important to see what’s up in the jungle reserve.  Apparently there are some great swimming holes at the base of the waterfalls.  I’ll take some photo’s of the Costa Rican jungle, especially these waterfalls tomorrow.  My projections were that the jungle is hot and steamy with lots of misquitoes, but up here at 5,000 feet it’s very comfortable and since it’s the dry season- no misquitoes.  In fact, during this whole trip I’ve experienced fewer misquitoes than I experience in the summer around Boulder.  This has been quite a surprise to me.  I figured that in the tropics you’d find bugs and misquitoes everywhere- but this certainly has not been the case.

Another Day in San Gerrardo, Costa Rica

Saturday, Feb 19

Started out the day with another great conversation with a young couple here from Ukiah, CA.  They bought a piece of property up in this valley recently.  Went for a hike into the Cloud Forest Reserve and took some photos and video above.  This trip is taking a quantum leap in relevancy to what I intended to get done while I was here.  Finally connecting with great people, places and information.

I had a very relaxing late afternoon, enjoying the thermal hot springs a couple of miles away.  It’s always amazing up in the mountains here.  When you walk somewhere you are always going up or down, there is no such thing as level.  So to get to these hot springs, you first walk about a mile down hill, and then a mile up hill.  I couldn’t believe how high up on the hill these hot springs were.  I was invisioning them right along side the river.

Early morning full moon

Early morning clouds

Stone path lights from the main house to the dorm still on in the early morning hours.

A couple of beautiful water falls in the Cloud Forest Reserve, just next door to my hostal

The trail to the waterfalls- about a mile each way

  Sorry, I didn’t know how loud I was speaking until I got back to the hostal and formatted the video.  Some nice footage at the end with no speaking.  About a mile inside the Costa Rican jungle.

The shared kitchen at the hostal

Thermal hot springs a short two-mile hike away

Traveling from San Gerrardo to Dominical, Costa Rica

Sunday, Feb 20

I had intended to take the 5:30am bus out of San Gerrardo this morning heading to Dominical on the coast.  But for some reason I was moved to just relax and take the 11:30 bus.  As it turned out I had a conversation with Jill, one of the owners of Casa Mariposa, which would not have happened if I had left when I had planned to.  I was telling Jill, that I’m looking for a place that sits maybe 3,000 feet high, has a veiw of the ocean and is within 20-minutes or so of great snorkeling and swimming. 

As I was describing the type of place I used to live in Maui, her lights came on and she told me about a place that’s just coming up for sale in the Caribbean side of Costa Rica.  It’s more than I want to spend right now, but I would have never taken the time to explore this area, had it not been for Jill.  It’s looking at this point, like I can easily spend another month exploring Costa Rica.  Unfortunately, Argentina and Uruguay may have to wait until next winter.  We’ll see what unfolds, It’s always different than what I imagine it’s going to look like!

Bilingualism and Alzheimer’s

OK, I finally had some time to look this up as I was waiting for my bus to depart today.  I had heard some vague info from my Spanish tutor in Volcan, Panama.  The study I looked at said the bilingualism postponed the onset of Alzheimers by 4-years for people that have been speaking two languages for their whole life.  Even thought that’s not a good as preventing it totally, apparently, it is still better than any known pharmaceutical solution available today.  So that’s still a significant improvement.  I’d be interested in what happens if someone speaks more than two languages, or someone who learns a second language late in life.

A Day in Dominical, Costa Rica

Monday, Feb 21

I spent the day in Dominical today, swimming, studying Spanish and trying to connect with some local contacts.  The water here is amazingly warm.  I’ll bet it’s over 90 degrees, especially when the tide is coming in over the warm sand.  Fortunately there’s lots of shade trees here to escape from the heat when you’re not in the water.

There is a strong rip tide here however.  The lifeguards recommend just staying at about waist depth if you don’t have a surf board.  Not much in the way of snorkeling here.  Just a sandy beach.  Also, some yoga studios and Spanish lessons at $300 for 20-hours.  About 4 times what it cost in Guatemala.  I’m going to leave here early tomorrow- around 6:30 am, to meet some friends that live up around San Isidora- about 1.5 hours from here.

Nice clean and affordable place to stay.  Dorm rooms are $10/day or $8day if you pay for three days in advance.  Single rooms are $15 with a shared bath and $20 with a private bath.  Shared kitchen and internet also included.  Easy access to the beach.

Had a great conversatin tonight with a fellow from Ireland that’s on an 11-month journey.  2-months in Asia and the rest in Central and South America.  When I spoke with him, he was 9-months into his travel.  Asking him which country he enjoyed the most- his response- Columbia by far.  The people are friendly.  He said he spent the Christmas holidays with a family in Bogeta that he didn’t even know- they didn’t even want any money from him.  He said it’s so safe there, he felt absolutely comfortable.  Again, a striking constrast to what you hear on the evening news. 

Looking back at the shoreline from the water.  No large scale development yet!

The beach.  Still lots of room to surf, boggy board or swim.

Main street right along the beach. 

The upper deck of the hostal here.  Camping is $5/day.

Traveling From Dominical Back to San Isidro, Costa Rica

Tuesday, Feb 22

I left Dominical this morning around 6:45 am, not able to connect with a connection in the surrounding hills and went back to San Isidro to connect with the family I met earlier last week.  They are renting a home just outside of San Isidora for a couple of months and extended an offer to spend some time with them there.  They said that the area where they are is just a short area from San Isidro, but on a hill with a pleasant cool breeze always blowing.  It can be opressively hot on the coast, so 3,000 or so feet in elevation makes all the difference in the world for comfortable living.

In the bus ride back to San Isidro, I went by many properties for sale that I would like to investigate at a later time.  I’m still just getting a feel for the area.  My next step later in this trip or on the next trip will be to rent a car and explore Costa Rica more in depth and check out some of these properties for sale.  So far, to my surprise, I like the Costa Rican land the best of any I’ve seen so far.  It’s lush and lots of water.  Also the drinking water quality is the best yet.  There’s so much land here that is just inaccessable due to no roads. 

I met up with the Runyans today about 1pm in San Ramon, Costa Rica.  They are renting this 6-bedroom home right on a beautiful river for about $350/month.  Bill’s 7-year old son, Leo showed me the river and the area around their home today. I’m spending the night with them tomight and am going to sleep really well tonight!  It’s been along time since I tried to keep up with a 7-year old!

In their backyard along the river, you find the largest bamboo I’ve ever seen.  I must measure at least 8 inches in diamater and stands 70 - 80 feet high.  This would make amazing building material and I am really anxious to start exploring its use.

The largest bamboo I have ever seen.  Diameter about 8 inches!

Bill Runyan and his son, Leo

Traveling to the Mountains of Costa Rica

Friday, Feb 25

After a wonderful couple of days with the Runyans, and meeting their neighbors a few miles outside of San Isidora, I left yesterday at 7am for the mountains to the south of San Jose.  It’s an area only a short distance from the Caribbean yet high in elevation.  Still being drawn to that magical combination of high, cool elevation within the close proximity of the tropical ocean.

Last night I stayed in San Pedro, which is a suburb of San Jose.  When you look down the road here, you would think you were in the US.  All the fast food restaurants are here, people driving the same make and models of cars, and lots of westerners.  The food is more expensive than in the US as well as everything else that I can see except for the occasional stand of fruit and vegetables.  Yet in the stores, even mangos and bananas are more expensive that the US.  I went through a Tru Value hardware store here and prices were also about twice as hight for power tools and other items maybe a third higher.  I just can’t understand how the local population can afford these prices.  They must be indebted to the banks just like Main Street in the US.

The hostal I stayed in cost $25/night which is 5-10 times what I’ve paid in other countries, especially Guatemala, which is still my favorite country so far.  If you stay at this hostal a month, the cost is only $250 for the month- not a bad price, which includes a private room, shared bath, shared kitchen, laundry facilities, internet and a nice location being in a University district of 3-Universities.  Also, I am going to check it out a chain-store in the large Central American cities that resembles Costco. There’s one here in San Pedro and also a store similar to Home Depot, not far from the hostal I’m staying at.  I’m very interested to see how prices compare with the similar stores in the US.

I guess the only advantage to this area is that it’s not the US and the increasing police state- which is still a big advantage.  I’ll know a little later this weekend how life is up in the mountains here, and then I’m heading back up to Nicaragua, to do some scuba diving in the Corn Islands from about March 1-13.  After that, I’ve got a decision to make, whether to fly down to South America and explore Argentina and Uruguay or continue to explore this area more for the remainder of my trip this year.  Since it’s now becoming Fall in the Patagonia area of Argentina, I’m beginning to feel it may be a little late this year to fly to that area.  I’m also getting so much positive feedback on other countries in South America, such as Bolivia, Chile and Columbia, that I’m feeling like it might just make the most sense to do that whole continent next winter. 

The other advantages of being here in Costa Rica is that it feels like the US light- in that the roads and cities are very clean, meaning garbage is not just thrown along the roadsides.    Recycling is utilized here.  The dog population is not out of control.  On the other hand, speaking with many westerners that live here, they dislike the mentality here- especially other westerners ripping them off at every opportunity.  I’m not sure what to make of this yet, it’s one of those things that takes a little time to evaluate after you live here for a while.  I haven’t heard this, almost constant barage of negativism, in any other Latin American country I’ve been in.

It’s one of many things I’ve learned on this trip.  Whatever area I might land on, I will definitely live there for at least a season before buying any land.  We come from a culture where we think we have to own the land we live on, but renting is so cheap here in Latin America. I find that many people from the US and Europe just come here for the winters and rent a home or even, like here, just a hostal, and bypass the hassels of ownership in a foreign country.  I know for me, that’s not a long term solution, but it may just have to be the reality for the next few years.  We’ll see how it unfolds, surprises constantly come up every day!

Spending Time Around Turrialba Costa Rica

Friday, Feb 25

I’ve been spending time these past few days at about 3,500 feet in the mountains to the South of San Jose a couple of hours.  The views here are stunning and the air is very fresh.  Not as cold as San Gerrardo, of course, it’s a few thousand feet lower in elevation here.  The hills are more rolling so there are more level areas for building.  Also a lot less gringo population per capita here, so I understand the land prices are much less as well.  Seems like land prices are adjusted upwards depending on the density of the gringo population.  When I say gringo, I’m meaning US, Europeon, Chinese, Japanese- people from essentially anywhere else in the world that have moved here other than the local population. 

I have decided to come back here after my time in the Corn Islands and further explore Costa Rica.  I may rent a car during that time or part-time.  One utility item I’ve found in these parts is an on-demand hot water heater that is not much larger than a typical water filter, made by a company called “Titan” that allows for a flow rate that is as much as $3,000 dollar on-demand gas heaters sold in the US.  This little electric unit is small enough to fit under the bathroom sink and costs only around $150 in Costa Rica.  I was amazed this morning at both the rate of flow and the hot temperature.  This is a really big savings in both upfront costs and electric costs when compared to a 40-gallon hot water tank or the typical on-demand units being sold in the US today.  Just one more important find in reducing the costs of home construction.

It has been raining quite a bit these last few days and I understand that December and January are quite rainy in the part of Costa Rica.  When I come back in the middle of March or so, I will spend time exploring the Pacific Side which is much dryer during the times of the year I will be here from Colorado.

I checked out the Costco and Home Depot look alikes here and found out food and hardware items are definitely higher than in the US.  On the construction side just for a few examples: An 8-foot fiberglass step ladder here cost about $190, in the US for the same quality it would be about $90.  A 95 pound bag of cement here is about $14, in the US that same bag would run around half that price.  I saw a 16 foot 4x4 for around $28, as opposed to around $12 in the US.  I bought a bag of almonds for about $14, in the US that would be around $9.  Cheeses and other items are all about twice as much as well.  Wine was about 35% more.  Electronic goods are about twice as expensive also.

The key to living here is to really simplify your life.  You would just have to use more local materials such as bamboo and pressed earth block for instance to build the structure of the home.  I would use screen and shutters instead of windows.  Tile is cost effective here and stone is plentiful.  Somehow you would need to get electronic devices into this country from outside rather than buying them here.  A friend of mine here has a problem with her Mac and there is no place to service it here.  If she wants to purchase a new one, it’s about twice as expensive as buying one in the US.  Gas is about $5/gallon.

I left Costa Rica yesterday morning on the 6am bus from Turrialba bound for San Jose, Costa Rica.  After a short taxi ride from the drop off point of the bus from Turrialba, I arrived at the Tica Bus station.  The bus leaving for Managua, Nicaragua was scheduled to leave at 12:30 and cost $23, arriving in Managua at around 9:30 pm. 

I arrived in Managua just as scheduled and checked into a crappy hostal just next to the Tica Bus Station that I found in my trusty Lonely Planet guide.  The plane for the Corn Islands left at 6:30 am this morning so fortunately, I didn’t have to stay at the hostal long.  It was a single room with private bath, but one of those places you suspect fleas in the matress, so I just slept on top of the sheets in my jeans, socks and long pants.  Fortunately there was a very good ceiling fan, because it was very hot there.  It cost me $12 for the night.

The taxi driver picked me up at our scheduled time of 4am and for $15 US took me to the airport which was only a 15-minute drive that time of the early morning.  He said the night before that it was a 40-minute ride.  I should have probably paid $10 at the most.  It was a modern overwing model aircraft that seated about 50 passengers, 2 seats on each side of the aisle.  I think the flight took about 1 hour or so. 

We landed on Big Corn Island and I took another taxi to the water taxi bound for Little Corn.  The wait was about 2-hours.  There was a restaurant on the dock that had internet, so the 2-hours went very fast.  The boat ride to little Corn was the roughest boat ride I have ever had.  It was really choppy and some big rollers.  I was sitting in the front of the boat, so  everytime the boat was just about totally airborn and then crashed down in a trough, those of us in the front got the worst of it.  I tried to stand up a little and absorb the shock in my legs, instead of my back, since the cushons were wet and flat.  The moral of this story is sit in the back of one of these boats if you are ever in this postion.  These are open boats seating about 5 people across on each bench with about 7 benches.  Cost was $5 US.

Reaching the island reminded me a little of Caye Caulker in Belize.  Only a lot less developed.  No airport on this island, and no roads.  Only paths.  They are in the process of concreting the main path, improving it over mud which can get pretty bad during the rainy season, and even short down pours which has been happening lately.  I signed up for a refresher scuba course tomorrow, since I cannot find my scuba certification card and the data base only goes back to the mid 80’s.  I was certified in the 70’s.  In order to purchase air to scuba dive you have to be proficient or the company opens up themselves for a liability.  Fortunately they have a scuba “light” program.

The normal certification takes several days and costs $300.  But they have a second option which costs only $65 and can be done in just one day.  The catch is you can only dive to 40-feet, but most of the color and reefs are in that first 40-feet so it’s good enough for me.  I’ll just have to find my certification card when I get back to colorado. 

It’s nice to be here.  I spent the day orienting myself here and a few hours in the water.  The sand here is amazing.  I’d say it’s the best beach I have ever been on.  The ocean tonight was very etherial.  There were some stars out overhead, but on the horizon were very wet clouds.  They were lit up with starlight and when looking out at them, it gave you a wonderful sensation of looking out into nothingness.

But I am so thankful in the middle of the winter to be walking barefoot in 80 degree water watching the white foam on the incoming waves become illuminated by the light of the stars.  Looking up the beach the glaze on the beach as the waves wash back, makes it seems like a mirror looking out into space.

Not much to do here at night.  No nightlife to speak of.  After dinner, some people are playing card games or sitting around talking over a drink or two or three or......   But for me, I love to walk on the beach at night to the far end, where no people usually venture at night and absorb the silence of the evening.  Most of the small living units here are on the windy side of the island, so it’s always very comfortable.  There is a constant strong breeze, but not too strong to be uncomfortable.  Just enough, like a good fan would do.  Most of the accommodations here are small individuals cabins that range in cost from $65 to $10.  I got one just off the beach for $25 with a private bath.  This is one of the most expensive rates I’ve paid on this trip.  But alot of the lesser priced units don’t have good circulation and the shared baths look pretty bad. 

I met a guy from Canada, when I was in Granada, Nicaragua a few weeks ago, and I met him again here today.  He is staying in a cabin with a shared bath and paying only $10/day when he pays by the month.  Unfortunately thay are all booked up, or I’d be there too.  Not for a month, but maybe a week.  I’m looking forward to scuba diving again tomorrow.  I had a couple of advanced scuba certifications when I was in my late teens and early twenties.  But it’s been over 30-years since then.  We’ll see just how good the old memory is. 

Arriving in Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Tuesday, March 1

Traveling Alone

I get quite a few questions about how it is to travel alone, and I was just thinking about it today.  I probably meet only about 10% of the people on the road that are traveling by themselves.  Face it, when you are in unfamiliar situations, it sure is nice to have more than one mind to figure out what to do next.  For those who have someone to share an adventure with, I’d say why not?  But if you would like to travel alone or just cannot find anyone, I’d like to point out a few very good benefits that I’ve found by traveling alone. Most of all, I’d like to encourage you to not wait, if you get the urge to travel- go for it! 

You open yourselves up to meeting more new people when you travel alone.

When you travel with a partner, especially if it’s an intimate partner, you will more than likely stay in private rooms with just the two of you.  You eat meals together and do just about every thing else together- it’s just natural, nothing wrong with it.  But If you are traveling by yourself and especially if you take an extended trip you will more than likely use hostals and sleep in dorm rooms where you will meet many new friends along the way that you wouldn’t have if you were always staying in a room with your traveling partner. 

I’ve found that I have met some of the same people I met in one place in other places as well.  When this happens it’s an amazing  feeling of home coming.  Besides the familiarity with this person, you are both on a journey of exploration.  It’s a very precious time, because you know it’s only for a short time, then you are both off on your way again. 

Freedom:  You can go where you want when you want.

When you are with others, you are always negotiating with what everyone wants to do.  If you are with people who are easy, it’s not bad, but when you have more than one person who wants to go at different times and in different directions it can be very fatiguing and take much of the fun and adventure out of the trip.  I have found that the journey has it’s own way of unfolding, hour by hour.  You may find yourself really loving a place and stay longer than you thought you might have.  Then all of a sudden, you get the urge to move on.  If you are by yourself, this is easy.  With others, they may not feel this urge at the same time you do. 

When you stay at hostals, almost no one makes reservations.  You just check in when you get there.  What this means is that you can stay as long or as short you want.  Unlike a resort or hotel that is largely reserved ahead of time, and you need to plan how long you are staying ahead of time because your room is already booked after your reserved period of say, with hostals, you usually have the room as long as you are there.  This really adds to your freedom when you travel.  Some places just sort of stick and you have a hard time leaving, maybe extending your stay for weeks, while other places you might change your mind and not even want to spend the night a few hours after check in.   The hostal traveling experience enhances that personal experience of “going with the flow” as you explore what can only be described as life moving through you and unfolding one day at a time.


Think about this.  Most people have a set routine during the vast majority of their whole lives.  We go to school, then we go to work, then we retire- if we are lucky before we physically die.  People think it’s going to be great when they retire, but most people live their retirement fairly similar to how they did during their working lives.  If you don’t venture out a little during the prime of your life, what makes you think you are going to do it when you retire? 

Heading out on the road alone, is a marvelous opportunity to discover who you are.  How do you handle new and unfamiliar situations?  Where will you go?  How long will you stay?  What will you eat, say, do....?  There are a million “what if’s” you will deal with, all totally different than if you had stayed in the safety of your normal routine at home. 

Less Expensive:

Depending on your partner, if you have simpler taste, it can cost alot less than traveling with a partner that may need more expensive meals, or more extravegant places to stay or whatever the case may be.  This difference in cost may be the deciding factor to take your trip or not.  This savings can be substantial, especially, if you are contemplating a trip of several months or even years. 

Self Sufficiency:

Personally, I started out on this trip with my friend Niyama, who spoke much better Spanish than I did.  It was so easy to just have her do all the speaking and translating.  When I went off on my own, after about 6-weeks, I could no longer rely on her in this way.  It was me and me alone that now was responsible for communication.  One of the first things I did was to enroll in Spanish lessons in Guatemala.  It seems like it was only at this point that I became more serious about learning Spanish. But learning a foreign language is only one of the aspects of traveling alone. 

When you travel alone, you need to become self-sufficient in every aspect.  Where are you going to sleep, and go next?  When, where and what are you going to eat?  If you get sick, you deal with it.  When you feel fear, you walk through it yourself.  When you feel happy, or any emotion, it’s yours to deal with- no one else to blame or give the credit to. 

When you are in your home environment, you get into a routine and life becomes almost as if on “automatic pilot”.  One day blends into the next with almost no change.  It’s a very familiar comodity.  There’s nothing wrong with this as long as it works.  But if you want to really get to know yourself in ways that a normal schedule does not bring out, traveling where there is almost nothing familiar, shifts your reference point from the familiar to you.  From “out there” to “in here”.  Your resourcefulness replaces the familiar systems you have come to rely on as your daily roadmap.  

Actually, I have found that traveling alone and hosteling it, is very addictive.  Every day is so rich and unique.  You meet such interesting and well-traveled people that have experiences to share from their travels all over the world.  Their extensive travel usually creates a world view that is unlike the message from main stream media.  I’ve found this is because main stream media is bent on creating fear of the unknown world.  People that travel have less fear.  They are not paralized by what they hear on the TV, in fact the vast majority do not even watch TV.  They can fill an evening of wonderful experiences in areas that the media will paint of fear and terrorism.  This is a reality check that can only be known through personal experience. 

It’s a very self-sufficient and satisfying experience when you know you can go into another country that does not speak your native language and that you can not only make it but thrive.   For me personally, I see a big breakdown coming in the world as the financial systems are due for a collapse very soon.  I find it very reassuring to know that I can comfortably live in Latin America on very little, in cultures that are frugil themselves, and live much closer to the land and their local resources. 

What a paradise!  I pictured a place like this, thinking about spending my winters in the tropics, but finally after three and a half months traveling to 9 countries, I have found an island paradise.  This isn’t a place where I would consider buying land for an ecovillage, but it certainly is one of those rare spots where you can get a really deep rest.

I’ve been taking some scuba classes since I forgot my divers certification back in Boulder.  It’s a good review anyway, since I haven’t been diving for over 30-years.  The progress I’ve noticed that’s been made over the last 30-years in dive gear is in safety and comfort.  The water here is in the mid 80’s and the blue is phenomenal.  Nothing like jumping into water that is warm and clear.  This little island is right on the reef, so you can even snorkel out to it without a boat.  But if you are scuba diving, then you would want to take a boat out to areas that are even better than you can swim to off shore.  If you are certified, dives are $35/one or $65/day for two dives in the same day.

The islanders here are really friendly, and there seems to be a good give and take between the non-locals and the locals.  This is the first island I’ve been on where there is not one car.  All there is, is a path through and around the island.  Two times per week a boat comes in with supplies for the island and it is unloaded by carts like the ones pictured above.  All by hand and then these carts are pushed all over the island to the various shops and bungelows that have ordered them ahead of time.  There are several small grocery stores here and some month to month rentals that run as low as $250 per month with shared kitchen, private room and shared bath.

The stars at night are amazing.  Nothing like being in the middle of the Caribbean with no lights on.  The electricity is generally only on from mid morning until maybe midnight.  There is a diesel generator here which supplies electricity to the island.  The internet is really slow and not very reliable.  You can drink the water as the island is fed with a natural artesian well.  There are several restaurants here, but none that are fancy enough to offer dancing.  Just relaxing music, that is such a welcomed relief from the loud Spanish music so prevelant throughout Latin America.  The locals almost all speak very good English.

I expect I’ll be here through mid-month and then spend another 2-weeks back in Costa Rica before coming back to Boulder.  At this point I expect to return back around April 1.

Really Enjoying Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Monday, March 7

The beaches on Little Corn Island

Commercial Transport- the largest vehicles on Little Corn.  No roads, cars, trucks or even golf carts.

Loving Little Corn Island, Nicaragua

Wednesday, March 9

It’s really going to be hard to leave this place.  I’ve had an amazing time here meeting some really wonderful people and enjoying some exquisite diving.  The locals here are so friendly and speak very good English.  I haven’t figured out how they have learned it almost in isolation of the rest of Nicaragua.  This is one of those “sticky” places as travelers call it, where people just end up staying alot longer than they expected to stay.

I’m going to look at a 4.5 acre waterfront piece of property today.  It’s a longshot, but I’ve met some people from Bellingham, WA here that are purchasing property and we’ve become friends.  It’s hard not to get to know people here. 

Hanging out while getting high on Little Corn Island

Wonderful snorkeling on Little Corn Island

Casa Iguana- The place I am staying at from the balcony looking down at the beach.

This place reminded me of the TV show “Gilligan’s Island”

Casa Iguana- Looking up from the beach to the bungelow. These were the most luxurious accommodations on the island- no 5-star resorts here!

Casa Iguana- The trail system from cabin to cabin

Casa Iguana- Sleeping under mosquito netting

Just some of the local art

Some much appreciated dive time

Little Corn was definitely the highlight of my trip.  I met Marcie and Lucas, her nephew, there who flew in from Denver.  She treated Lucas to his open-water dive certification and the trip for his 21st birthday gift.  I met Marcie on and we scheduled to meet up here a while ago.  We had a great time.  This is the most exotic internet date I’ve ever had.  The people here are so friendly.  You can see the young girls at the top who asked us to take their photo as they posed like models.  We couldn’t figure out how they learned to pose like that!

I booked a flight from San Jose for $244 one way on March 31 into Denver. I’ve heard that the cheapest flights into Central America come through Costa Rica, so that’s another good reason to build an ecovillage in Costa Rica.  I’m heading back to Costa Rica to look at some land around San Isidore and connect with some people who are building homes with bamboo.  Bamboo is an amazing renewable resource and I’d like to know more about how to use it to replace solid lumber in homes built in the tropics. 

Also, in all my travels so far, Costa Rica seems to be the best bet yet for land to build on.  I’ve got a few weeks still left, so at this point, I am thinking I’ll check out the area around San Isidore with my remaining time left this year.

I left Managua, Nicaragua on a Tica Bus.  The first class service which would have cost $23 was sold out so fortunately another one with Executive service was leaving one hour later for $38, which had one seat left.  Executive service is no different than first class other than they served two really crappy meals, rice and beans for lunch and a big mac cheeseberger for dinner.  I was on King Quality- another bus company and they served really good food.  If you want the best bus experience, I’d check out King Quality.  The other long distance bus service here is Trans Nica.  I haven’t used them yet.  It always depends on schedule too.  It might just depend on when you want to go as to which bus line you will take.

We got to San Jose around 10pm.  I met a guy traveling from Chicago and we split a room in the bus terminal for $38.  I’ll take a taxi tomorrow morning to the bus take off point for San Isidora, a town I’m becoming quite familiar with here.  That’s the town that has the great public market on Thursdays.  I’ve got some pictures of it a few weeks back on this blog.

Leavin Little Corn Island, Nicaragua Heading to Costa Rica

Sunday, March 13

Some local models

Our friend, Igor owns this 42’ boat and takes passengers out at $50/day.  Getting to Boca in Panama, from Little Corn would be about $100 with him.

Not one of the best underwater shots- I’ll post some better ones in a few weeks.

Lucas and Marcie

A boat just like the one we went from Big to Little Corn Island on

Managua, Nicaragua to San Isidro, Costa Rica

Monday, March 14

Vendors at the border crossing between Nicaragua and Costa Rica

The bus pulls in and there is about an hour wait while the driver takes your passports to get them  stamped.  Cost is $4 US to leave Nicaragua on a bus.  At the stop a series of small businesses are there to handle food and other needs travelers might have while they wait.

It doesn’t take much to be in business here.  A small board of watches or a small bucket of home baked goods to carry around.  If you want to get fancy- a table and 2-chairs- maybe even a table cloth!  Everyone doing what they can to get by.  The world’s Main Streets all over the world seem to be stuck in survival mode.  A common theme to all the countries I’ve visited this winter in Central America. 

Debit Card Fraud in San Isidro, Costa Rica

Friday, March 18

I went to take money out of my bank account at the ATM and was told “insufficient funds”.  Funny, because I know there is plenty in that account.  I called the bank through Skype and found out that someone had gotten access to my card and was pulling out my maximum daily amount, so when I went to withdraw money, the account had already had it’s maximum daily amount tapped out.  We quickly closed the account.  Fortunately, M/C guarantees against this type of thing.  Other than a 6-week wait to get the funds replaced and some inconvenience right now, everything is OK.  What a different experience traveling is, when you have little cash in your pocket and no access to money.  The whole experience quickly changes.

Fortunately, I’m working with Western Union and and some friends to get more money sent here.  On future trips, I will bring at least two cards, one that works with M/C and another that works with Visa, since many ATM’s in small towns have ATM’s that work with one or the other but not always both.  Looks like business is picking up in Boulder and we are having an early Spring.  I expect to be back in Boulder early next week.  About 10-days earlier than I had planned.

In the future, I will purchase a one-way ticket at the last possible minute.  My life is so fluid now, it almost seems impossible to figure it out until the last minute.  This is just one of the many lessons I’ve learned on this trip.  I just had to let my March 31st ticket go.  Since it’s an international flight, it costs $150 for the change fee.  Not much more than the whole ticket.

Now that my travel plans are solidified and the money thing put in order, I am looking forward to looking at some land and bamboo structures in the next three days before I leave. 

Stuff Handy I’ve Learned That’s Handy to Have During this Past 4-Months in Ecuador

and Central America

Shoes: A pair of Keen hiking sandles and flip flops would have been perfect.  The large hiking boots and Keen loafers I brought took up almost half of my pack and I only used them a couple of times.

Flashlight:  Bring a flashlight for unlit paths and getting into bed in dorm rooms after or before daylight.  A small LED one is perfect.

Debit/Credit Cards:  Bring at least 2 and make sure you have cards for both M/C and Visa.  Small towns many times only have an ATM machine that accepts only one of them.

Tickets:  If you don’t have a date when you absolutely have to be back just purchase a one-way ticket at the last possible minute.  You may pay a bit more, but it’s better than just wasting the ticket or paying the international change fee of $150.  This will not only give freedom as to when you need to come back but almost as importantly where you depart from.

Clothes:  Bring your most comfortable favorite clothes.  The world over seems to be wearing the same things that I can tell so you can travel anywhere and not have to worry about fitting in.

Bring a Laptop and Headset: If you are going to be on a trip for a few months or more, keeping in touch with home and business is usually very important.  Skype with a headset is an amazing resource to keep you in touch at a fraction of the cost and it’s infinitely more convenient than trying to locate longdistance phone shops.  The exception to this might be Ecuador, where longdistance phone shops are in every town I visited.  A small laptop is definitely best and the longer the battery life the better too.

2-Way Adapter:  Bring a 2-way adapter if you don’t want to pull off your grouding plug on electronic equipment.  Many times accommodations are old in these hostals and still only have two prongs.  2-way adapters are not expensive, but they may be hard to find in small towns and villages.

Maps:  I found far superior maps in the US of the various countries I visited than were available in the countries themselves.  So if you can find a good one before you leave it may be a good investment to buy it ahead of time.

Guidebooks:  Don’t leave home without one!  This was the most invaluable resource I found.  You can usually find them for the country you’re in if you are in a large town, but why waste the time when you can just bring one with you.  Especially if your destination is not large towns.  If you are in a pinch, sometimes a hostal has extra copies that you might be able to purchase- but don’t count on it.  If you are short on space and are going to be traveling to several countries, area guidebooks are available like Central America.

Travel Light:  No matter how many clothes you pack, we always seem to wear our favorite outfits.  Save the room and weight.  If you don’t wear it around the house, don’t bring it with you on your trip.

Camera:  They make really good underwater cameras now that are shock proof and obviously water proof at almost no more cost than regular ones.  If you can aford it, buy one of these so you don’t have to worry about getting it wet.  Also, if you do any ocean journeys, it’s really nice to be able to take underwater photos.

Insect Repellant Pants and Other Expensive Specialty Clothing.  Save you money and don’t spend it on these.  The mosquitos and bugs that I encountered during the four months I spent traveling were less than what I encounter in the summers in Colorado.  In fact, they were almost non-existant.  Regular pants, shorts, underwear work just fine.  I hardly ever used the expensive zip-off shorts that you see almost every gringo wearing.  Save yourself the $60 or so.

Waste Pouches and Money Belts:  Probably a good idea, even though I was never robbed or felt unsafe at anytime.  If you loose your passport, you are really screwed when you are traveling.  You need it to even just check into a hotel or hostal.  I wouldn’t take the chance of loosing it in your luggage or forgetting it in your room somewhere.  I would suggest always keeping it in the same place.  A hip belt worked great for me.

Insect Repellant:  If you have a favorite brand, I would definitely bring it or you will have to most likely make due with some deet products.  I was lucky to find some natural stuff on Little Corn Island in Nicaragua, but I think I was just lucky.  Many people I traveled with did get bit quite a bit.  I would bring this with me ahead of time.

Sunscreen:  I’m not crazy about this stuff as I’ve heard it’s responsible for causing alot of the skin cancer.  I heard from Marcie that the low ones like “15” are not nearly as toxic.  I don’t know what to believe, but I do know that it’s almost impossible in the places I was to find anything under “30”.  So again, if you are partial to sunscreen, you may want to bring this with you.

Finger Nail Clips and Hair Sizzors:  Gues what?  When you are on an extended trip your hair and nails grow.  I found these two items to be essential.

Learn Some Important Words in the Native Language:  I heard from almost everyone I spoke with before I arrived in Lating America that almost everyone speaks some English, so don’t worry about it.  Well, in the small towns, this is definitely not the case.  You certainly don’t need to speak fluently, but if you’re not going to hang out at resorts, you will need to be able to communicate in the local language.  Less people spoke English on this trip than I thought would.  I’m definitely going to bone-up on my Spanish before next winter.

A Lighter:  I was at more than one shared kitchen on this trip that had everything but a way to light the propane.  Nothing like having everything ready to cook and then not being able to light the stove!  I would consider this standard equipment if you plan on doing the hostal circut and some cooking.  Just a simple cigarette lighter works fine.

Clock or watch: If you have your cell phone with you, even if it doesn’t get service or you turn off your service, the clock function usually still works.  You are going to need to tell what time it is to catch early buses and flights.  If you have a laptop, it’s clock will do just fine.

Check the Room and Seat You are Leaving a Second Time Before You Leave- Especially the Wall Outlets.  On this trip I lost 4-hats, 2-sweaters, and 2-battery chargers and a battery due to just not checking before I either left a bus, taxi or room.  It’s not so much the cost, but the hassle of finding a replacement that works or that you like.  With camera chargers, it’s almost impossible to replace them in most towns and villages and it’s difficult to find them even in large cities.  What a shame to not be able to capture a photo because you left your camera charger in the room in the last country you were in.  I remember taking what would have been an amazing photo, but I couldn’t turn the camera on- damn thing, they don’t make them the way they used too!  Oops, upon opening the camera, I realized I had forgot the charger and battery back in the last country I was in.

A Small Backpack and Daypack Works Great:  I spent alot of money on a daypack that zips onto the main pack and never used it once.  I did like the option to either wheels my pack behind me or utilize it like a backpack.  I think this option was great, but I probably could have saved some money by just getting a separate day pack and main pack.  My luggage was made by Osprey and really held up well.

A Fruit Knife: Hey if you’re taveling to the tropics, half the fun is eating all that tree ripened fruit.  But unless you have big claws, you are going to need a knife to eat it.  If you’re not checking this luggage you’ll obviously have to preplace this everytime you get off a plane. 

Final Day on the Trip- San Jose, Costa Rica

Monday, March 21

Almost to the day, I’ll be returning back to Denver tomorrow morning, exactly 4-months from when I left on November 23rd.  I’ve changed this departure date several times now.  First, I just scheduled a round-trip ticket to come back on Feb 17, for some reason thinking that I could only stay a little less than three months in Ecuador for visa reasons.  It didn’t even dawn on me that I could stay longer and just visit other countries.  So I purchased a second ticket after only 6-weeks to Cancun, and bused down to Belize, which was my second choice of countries I thought I’d find land in.  After only two weeks, I realized that Belize was not it either so I ended up going through every country in Central America plus Ecuador on this trip.

About a week ago I purchased a one-way ticket to come back on March 31, which was a little over two-weeks away at that point.  I ended up having some debit card fraud problems and just realized, for many reasons, it was time to get back.  So I ended up purchasing a third ticket to get back tomorrow, about 10-days earlier than my second ticket.  The lesson learned.  Don’t purchase your ticket until the last minute.  There are always good deals 3-4 days before you leave.  I learned that you get the best deals here by going right to the Continental or Frontier websites.  You can get similar deals on American Airlines but their hub is in Miama, which extends the trip back to Denver from 6-8 hours to 18-22 hours and sometimes with an overnighter in Miami.

I’ve learned that traveling like this has been very rich.  Traveling from one country to another is easier than I thought.  The customs are so much more easier than in the US.  It just makes the whole adventure much easier when you are not having to deal with Nazi-like customs agents.  I’ve found it’s really easy to fall in love with the people in these countries.  They are friendly and very accommodating.  There is a simplicity here where people are not trying to claw their way to the top but are more relaxed in their day to day lives than people in the US.

I haven’t traveled much in Europe, but I’ll bet it’s similar to Central America in that you can travel to many countries in a realitively short distance.  Central American Countries are quite small compared to say South American Countries.  I’ve also found that I gravitate to the international cities in Central America that I’m sure have an Europeon flavor.  I love areas where people are speaking many different languages- it’s a world community in one town.  In these international areas you also have the added benefit of no barking and crapping dogs walking the streets, quiet as compared to loud music, clean streets as opposed to garbage-strewn, and a variety of interesting shops rather than just the local tradition.

In all my travels this winter, Antigua, Guatemala exemplified this the best.  It was my favorite city of around 50,000 population.  Guatemala was also my favorite country.  I really loved the way everyone had a small business and I especially loved the indiginous Mayan people.  My favorite small town was San Marcos on Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.  I could have easily stayed on that lake for my entire trip if I didn’t want to explore other countries.  My favorite get-away spot was Little Corn Island off of Nicaragua.  That place would be very easy to stay on for several months also.  It’s probably the most peaceful place I’ve been in my whole life. 

The best place I’ve found so far to build the ecovillage in would probably be Costa Rica.  It has the lushest foliage and the most developed infrastructure, but definitely the most expensive.  It has that combination I’ve been looking for which is areas that are 3-5 thousand feet in elevation, with views of the ocean and cool breezes blowing.  There is also abundant water flowing in the forms of innumerable springs, creeks, streams and rivers.   It’s become very clear to me that fresh water sources, on the land, without having to drink city water is a very important part of the mix.  Costa Rica definitely has this added benefit.  I would like to be farther from North America however, and next year I’d like to explore South America more.  Specifically, I’m considering Argentina, Columbia, Bolivia, Brazil and Uruguay.

I was introduced on this trip to the whole hostalling culture and I loved it.  I walked by the Holiday Inn tonight in my walk around town and went inside the lobby to just get a flavor of it.  Rooms starting at $85/night and what a desert!  The lobby was cold and empty.  No one was interacting.  It seemed dead.  I came back to my hostal and found it such a rich environment.  Posters up as you walk in of other hostals all over Central America.  Light jazz playing in the background.  Lots of people milling around the common areas talking, resting in hammocks, checking emails on the internet, drinking tea, coffee or beer.  It’s a whole different culture- the traveler versus the tourist and business.  I paid $10 for the night.  The bad part was the taxi ride to the airport was $20.

At the place I’m at tonight, I’ve noticed something I haven’t seen before which is such a large amount of people around my age.  Usually the group is quite a bit younger, but here there is probably 30% or so around my age.  Not sure why, but it feels good to see my age group traveling this way, not just younger people. 

As I’m sitting in this hammock, writing this, the late afternoon is turning to the evening.  The lights are coming on people are beginning to settle in for the night.  I notice clouds in the sky, car doors slaming, traffic noise- the music of a city.  I can’t help compare this with the solitude I remember in the Corn Islands recently.  How varied is our human experience.  People all leading such different lives but all of us connected in our humanity.  All of us, doing the best we can with each passing moment given our individual experiences of life.

I wonder how this work-season will be different than the last one.  What are the things I’ve learned that I haven’t even noticed?  The misquitoes are starting to bite, first time on this trip.  I get up I think I’m going to end this blog here, at least for tonight.  Maybe I’ll add more tomorrow, when I return to Boulder.

From San Jose, Costa Rica to Denver, CO

Tuesday, March 22

The taxi to the bus station was only $4 and then the bus to the airport another $1.  I was told at the hostal that buses started at 4am, but the taxi driver said not until 4:30.  I wasn’t sure who to believe, but just to be safe I had him take me to the airport for the chance that I wouldn’t have enough time if the buses didn’t start until 4:30.  I was helpful to get to the airport before the long lines of passengers I walked past as I checked my luggage.  Departure fee here is an additonal $26 when you leave.  Airport security is much like the US except for no Nazi-like body scanners or intrusive pat downs and all the airport security is friendly.  What a concept, treating people with respect!

I’m now sitting at the airport gate and have over an hour to go before we board the plane.  After 4-months of a wonderlust lifestyle, I’m only a few hours away from a new season at work.  Even though, my business has been evolving over the last 7-years, I have no idea what this year will bring.  I’m becoming fascinated by micro-manufacturing and 3-D printing and how that will integrate into the ecovillage concept and the larger world in general.  I’ve been writing about it on the tab at the top of this page under “the Prosumer Economy” tab above on this website.  I am really drawn to explore this further.

I’ve also, on this trip, had renewed interest with my hypnotherapy background.  I’m interested in plugging into the collective consciousness and exploring how to learn from remembering instead of memorizing.  I’m going to be applying this in my learning of Spanish, which at this point is going extremely slowly.  I’ve also got a workshop scheduled with Russian healing in Mount Shasta this summer which explore the regeneration of organs, tissues, limbs and teeth through the work of Arcady Petrov who has been pioneering this and having remarkable results with regeneration in all these areas in Russia.

Another area that I’m very interested to explore is the work of an inventor in the Phillipines that has developed the first over-unity motor for a car that has been approved by a country’s Department of Energy.  These technologies have been surpressed for years, but somehow this one seems to have gotten through the illuminati’s radar.  This energy breakthrough, Petrov’s work and the new micro-manufacturing technology are game changing revolutionalry technologies that can change the course of human existance and I’m very excited and look forward to being more engaged in all of them.  I have had this last week to really look at these areas in San Isidro, Costa Rica.  I thought I’d be spending my time looking at land, but my energy just naturally moved in these directions.

It feels like whatever amnesiac boundary that has been covering awareness of where I have been previous to this lifetime is lifting.  I feel, I’m not alone in this and many breakthroughs are going to be on the horizon that are going to herald in a new prosperity for all humanity despite the Wall Street/Government Coalition’s work to destroy humanity.  I’ve had the chance on this trip to write more about my insights on this in both the “Fear” and “The Prosumer Economy” sections of this website.

Back in Boulder, CO- My Last Entry

Wednesday, March 23

I’m back in Boulder now, and beginning another season with my wood refinishing business and exploring many other areas that have to do with the ecovillage as well.  I mentioned several of these in the last entry above. I’d like to thank all the wonderful people I met along that way and that were so gracious and helpful. 

I expect to take these adventures every year and look forward to exploring South America next winter.  At this point, it looks like I’ll be working my business in Boulder for about 8-months a year, and then taking off in the winters for about 4-months.

With the recent developements in the world, I feel more of a pressing desire to create an ecovillage with “game changing” implications, that can take the world past resource wars, than ever before. 

If you have any information or would like to be part of this exploration with me, I would love to hear from you.  Thank you for taking your time and following this blog.  It’s been a real pleasure sharing this adventure with you!

Jeff with Mickey and Igor. Igor owns the boat up top.  Mickey was getting her dive-master certification and connected up with Igor a few months ago.