"In the world we are recognized by our achievements, but in the kingdom of God we are known by our hearts"
Central America in six weeks. We realized we were running out of time since my Astrology gathering was just around the corner and we were still in the Yucatan. There was still so much we wanted to see and do. Eventually we came to terms with the fact that we would have to prioritize: which places stirred the strongest wanderlust? There would not be enough time to explore every country at our leisurely snails pace. Of course the consolation was that we could spend more time returning to the places we skipped on our way back. So we set off for this chapter of our journey with ambition: Six countries. Six borders to cross. Six new cultures to experience. Six weeks of overland travel.
Not knowing what to expect, we decided it would be best to cover more ground in the beginning in case we needed to deal with unexpected circumstances (road conditions, mechanical issues, the not-so-unheard-of problem of just falling in love with a place, etc). Since we had already been to both Belize and Roatan (a small island off the Honduras coast) we decided to cut back our time along the Caribbean and instead opted to make our way to the Pacific coast.
Belize was a fun change after Mexico. Suddenly there was English again (with a very unique dialect). Belizian Dollars. Architecture that was distinctly different in a more-British, less-Spanish kind of way. Caribbean culture alongside Mayan. Different fruits and vegetables. Different spices. Different cars and trucks. All in a landscape that looked pretty similar to the one we had just left. We found a quiet overlanding spot on a nature reserve overlooking a tranquil lagoon, and just relaxed. This was the quiet before the storm. We ate watermelon and chatted with Earl, our host, and some other new overlanding friends. We sat with our binoculars and noted the interesting rare birds that came to nest there. There were Wood Storks and Jabirus. We watched the boys go fishing and stomp around in mud puddles. It was nice to be off the beaten path for a few days. We took time to breathe and center ourselves. And after nearly a week, we knew it was time. Another border. A new country.
We crossed the border into Guatemala in the northern area near Tikal and fell in love with the wild, lush jungle that thrived, absolutely untouched. There were small villages and heavily potholed dirt roads. Livestock roaming free. Enormous lakes and gushing rivers. Sunsets the color of fire. We made our way south toward Antigua to enjoy a few days of city life in this colonial labyrinth of cobblestone and soon it was time to bid adieu to Guatemala also. After dipping in a balneario (its like a Latin American outdoor spa- usually with natural mineral waters) near the border, we found ourselves in El Salvador.
It was a Sunday morning when we found ourselves on the bridge that led out of Guatemala and into El Salvador and below, we could see a cluster of people wading into the water to be baptized in the green river. The mountian views were incredible as we winded thru meadows of wildflowers and tall, overlooking trees on this lovely spring day. As we passed thru towns, we saw families and neighborhoods walking home from church in their Sunday best. The vibe was really sweet and wholesome. Just another day in Latin America, as quaint as you could imagine. When we reached the coast (finally! the ocean again!) we celebrated with fresh oysters and ceviche.
The coastline was rugged and beautiful and we realized how much we missed the Pacific. However, to our surprise, the Semana Santa traffic had already begun (it was still two weeks before Easter!) and we found the beaches to be congested with little opportunity for camping. We spent a couple days fighting the crowds around El Tunco before we decided to head further down the coast. We ate our bodyweight in papusas and frozen fruit liquados (sandia is our favorite) and somehow survived the heat as we moved even faster than we anticipated thru this wonderful country.
Despite hearing really nice things about Honduras (really, we did!), this ended up being the country we spent the least amount of time in. Being that most of the travel accommodations were located further north, and we were sticking to our route along the Pacific coast, we transited thru the country in a matter of hours. Ironically, we spent more time in Honduras when we had a cruise port in Roatan a few years earlier. That was a day for the books, with two border crossings, several hours of construction stops, an accidental fumigation (I got a big surprise when the fumigation hose broke open and bathed me in chemical perfume) and a false reading on an atm that showed we had no money in our accounts. That's what we get for trying to skip out on a potentially awesome travel experience. A heart attack later, we realized that we were in Nicaragua with a round of cold drinks in front of us. Cheers ~ to next time!
We found Nicaragua to be absolutely incredible. Gratefully, we made such good timing in our transits that we were left with nearly four weeks to explore this gem of a country. And explore we did, from the upper highlands where it was cool and dry to the beaches offering world-class surfing, we stayed on coffee fincas, learned about cacao cultivation, rice production, and their famous cigars. We gazed into active volcanoes with red molten lava swimming inside. We were even invited to stay in the homes of multiple lovely Nicaraguan families. We were blown away. Our hearts were so full. Stay tuned for our upcoming blogs that will tell the whole story of our delicious time in this wondrous new country.
With perfectly divine timing, we arrived in Costa Rica. My upcoming conference Astrology Rising was only three days away. We were so happy to have made it there, as it was our destination all along. But as the saying goes, it is not about the destination, but the journey. It couldn't be more true. After all, it was nearly a year from our starting point that we had finally arrived. So much had happened in those months in between. New countries. New friends. New insights and new growth. We felt we were somehow different after such a wild adventure. The last six weeks proved to be pretty climactic.
We had made it! And we learned a lot in those six weeks. Lessons that were genuinely sweet, completely unexpected, and most of all, very humbling. That the world could feel so small and familiar and safe, while at the exact same time, so new, so foreign, and so radically extraneous- that I would liken it to being a child seeing the world for the first time, or an alien landing on an unexplored planet. And trust me, when we arrived in some of these remote and less-traveled places in our Crystal Starship, people looked at us like we were indeed from a different universe. Yet these were some of my favorite memories, of being very comfortably out of place.
My favorite learning experiences happened time and time again in the mercados. Every little puebla has at least one, and this is where we did most of our shopping for fruit and vegetables. Each country presented a slight variation of some mostly-familiar foods, and then there were random things that just completely blew my mind. Exotic staples that I had never seen or heard of. Yet, being the foodie that I am, I was always so excited to bite right in!
With my broken Spanish, I would ask a million questions of these lovely people who looked curiously at me like I was from a different planet all together. Here is a sample conversation:
Me: "Que es esto?" ("What is this?")
I would notice a funny smile as they grinned awkwardly at one another, wondering where the hell I was from.
Them: "Es..." (Fill in the blank: lorroco, chayote, zapote, carambola, casseva etc)
"Hmmm," I would say. "Es picante o dulce?" (It's spicy? or sweet?")
More giggles and funny looks. "Es una verdura. Como una papa. Tu conoces que es una papa? Necesites cocinar" (It's a vegetable. Like a potato. Do you know what a potato is? You have to cook it.")
I would look at the thing again, poking it suspiciously. "Umm... bien. Puedo tener uno?" ("Umm... fine. May I have one?")
More giggling. "Solo uno?" ("Only one?)
Me: "Si, quiero probar." ("Yes, I want to try.")
Them: "Claro, claro. Disfruta tu papa! haha!" ("Sure, sure. Enjoy your potato! Haha!")
Lots of laughs and strange looks, but eventually I just got over the awkwardness! I learned to laugh at myself a lot. And I also really appreciated all the kind people who offered me samples of their delicious harvest! Luckily the learning curve is high :)
Also, the money situation was humorously puzzling. Just as I was adjusting to a new system of currency, it was time to move on to the next: Mexican Pesos. Belizian Dollars. Quetzales in Guatemala. Back to US Dollars in El Salvador. Then Lempira of Honduras. Nicaraguan Cordoba. Costa Rican Colones. My brain was so confused with currency conversion. Sometimes there would be a left-over bill from the previous country crumpled in my wallet and I wouldn't realize it, confusing my calculations even more. I am certain every idiots guide to travel book cautions against it, but there was more than one occasion when attempting to make a purchase that I pretty much just gave up- fumbling all of my money onto the counter in complete surrender to my trusted cashier- “Por favor” I giggled nervously, “Dale”. Take my money and please give me back some change. If I lost a dollar or two in these transactions I just considered it a simple service fee and was grateful for the assistance. (We were also left with an ambiguous collection of money from each country that couldn't be exchanged. So, naturally, we got Joey a little piggy bank and he couldn't be happier- his very own coin collection with jingley coins from all over Central America!)
This is the Central America that I want to remember. Not that some of the places we ventured were dirty or destitute. Instead, the incredible warmth of the people. The generosity offered so freely. The smiles and eye contact I shared with someone I will most likely never even see again. The times we entered a new country and got nothing but waves and cheers by locals admiring our awesome rig. The times complete strangers would notice we were stopped and offer us directions.That we literally could not back out of any tight alleyway anywhere without like numerous guys popping out of nowhere offering hand gestures and whistles. “Derecho, derecho, derecho- Alto!!.” Or that any time our son looked longingly at a cookie or a piece of fruit in the market, he was met with warm smiles and offering hands. Or that without any warning, we were invited into so many people's homes to stay with them and have our every need satisfied: the families that cooked for us, showed us around, helped us fix things, take showers, do our laundry, and made us feel so comfortably at home. What we felt the most as we traversed these countries was the amazing abundance of spirit.
To anyone interested in traveling to these far-away places, I urge you, do it. You will find that there is so much reward in these sights, tastes, and feelings. Its a rare thing in our world to experience such warmth and sincerity. Your heart will be touched in beautiful ways. I know that ours were.