Diary and Commentary
La Prensa de Hoy
One good way to 'get inside' a foreign country is to read its print media. Now, a journey to Hungary or Finland might present problems, but many can work their way around a Spanish language newspaper. Here in Honduras the number one daily is La Prensa. So let us take a look at today's edition and find out what is of interest and importance to Hondurans.
On the front page is Cuban refugees land in La Ceiba. It seems a group of 14 Cuban fishermen spent one month at sea trying to get to Honduras. They said they would not return to Cuba, as they had heard good things about Honduras and wanted to stay there to find a better life than the one they had in Cuba. Now, I can well understand Cubans (or anyone) who wish to come to the USA however it can be arranged---by boat, airplane, life-raft, inner-tube, pogo-stick---but to Honduras? Please do not get me wrong, I very much like it here, but the quality of life here is...well, this is Honduras. Well now, just what does this desire of the Cuban fishermen say about Castro's socialist paradise? If Cubans prefer even Honduras to their own island...I mean, damn!
Can we stay?
On page 9 we find Evangelical Pastors Ask for Public Acceptance. It seems that Protestant Christianity---the Fundamentalist, conservative sort that is---is making great headway in Central America, especially in Guatemala. In Honduras it has run into some difficulty, however, especially from the Catholic Church which enjoys special privileges here. The Church is losing a few adherents, most of whom flee to the Evangelical churches. Now, do not get me wrong---no one can 'out-Catholic' me. I am as orthodox as the pope. I love the Church; I need the Church. But if some Hondurans (for reasons known only to God) can only find Salvation in another form of Christianity, then they should be able to do so without any troubles from anyone. After all, these Protestants are against all the right things: abortion, homosexual privileges, immorality and so on. They speak with authority and are remarkably strong-willed and dedicated to Christ. (Would that my faith were as strong as that of these Evangelicals.) More power to them. Better to be Protestant than to burn.
Can we pray?
On page 17 we find a public service announcement. It concerns Dengue Fever, for which there is neither treatment nor cure. There has been an outbreak of it here, especially its most virulent form. This plague is carried by mosquitoes, and this being Central America, these pests are ubiquitous. The announcement's headline reads She is no longer with us, below which is a photo of a beautiful seven-month old child named Blanca Lorena Almendarez. She will never see eight months, as she died of Dengue. The announcement reads "Dengue knows no special level of society or age, it only attacks and kills." Open letter to God from me: "Dear God: Why did You make mosquitoes?"
In the 'Living' section---yes, Honduran papers have these!---we find The Baths of Cleopatra. In the age-old desire of the female of the species to indulge itself in exotic beauty treatments---and what could be more exotic than Cleopatra's baths?---the article gives helpful tips about bathing with milk and with rice water. It recommends using common kitchen spices to smear on the skin---stuff like olive oil, salt and lime juice to remove 'unwanted colors'. I do not know about you, but being around a woman who smells like some bizarre pesto sauce does not really appeal. Still, Cleopatra was known for having written a manual on cosmetics and for taking---how does one say it?---rather interesting baths. After all, she kept Julius Caesar and Marc Antony well and exotically entertained for years, so perhaps there is something to the article.
On page 41 we find in the 'International' section O'Donnell Marries in order to Defy Bush. There was a photo---blessedly small---of the remarkably fat and wholly unpleasant Rosie and her lesbian...um...'partner'. They seemed in high spirits with flowers in hand as Rosie bellowed into a microphone. She---she?--- was scowling mad---is she ever not so?---because Mr. Bush will support a constitutional amendment in favor of man-woman marriage rather than one of the myriad San Francisco varieties. So she 'married' her bosom buddy simply to irritate Mr. Bush, to let him know of her 'outrage'. Gee, call me old fashioned but does not one marry to express love and a desire to share a home and child-rearing? Why would one marry simply to make some stranger mad? Anyway, here is the grotesque couple in a yahoo photo on their way to wedded bliss and---one hopes---to Cleopatra's baths.
We're so gay!
I often wonder what Latin Americans think of all the perversion that exudes from El Norte: from Hollywood, from MTV, from Super bowl half-times, from San Francisco's streets, from Rosie O'Donnell's mouth, from Massachusetts judges, from Bill Clinton's antics. After all, Latins are remarkable for their stable and large families and strong and traditional values. But I wonder no more! On the 'Opinion' page we have...well, it speaks for itself.
And that would be all, folks!
I was walking home---OK, to my hotel (it feels like home since I have spent many nights there all told)---when I noticed a commotion among some Hondurans on both sides of a busy street. I looked for the cause of this merriment and saw a gray, long-tailed rat trying to cross the road. The creature was having a difficult time making it as there was much traffic about. It would skitter part way across, but then would head back to the safety of the sidewalk as some taxi or car tried to run it down and send it to rat Heaven. The beast's perplexity brought great hilarity to the human onlookers. Many people stopped walking only to observe the animal's plight. Finally, as if there had been a 'rat god' somewhere directing things---rattus ex machina?---the rodent made it across, to the applause of the crowd. It stuck its snout into a tossed out McDonald's hamburger wrapper and began to nibble on some hidden leftovers. The crowd, once easily amused, now became bored and went about its own business. I thought for just a moment of kicking the rat from here to eternity but thought better of it. I continued my journey to the hotel. The last I saw the rat had emerged from the wrapper and was headed for the door of a donut shop.
Off To Nicaragua
Tomorrow I take a 9 hour Ticabus ride to Managua and then a microbus to Granada the same day. It will be tough to leave the Goose as I have gotten quite used to beer and donuts and Chinese food. And I have much enjoyed being able to write to my heart and soul's content on my site. As I have written before, when something pops into my head it begs to be written down. I really have no choice in the matter, and I cannot be comfortable until I get it out.
Granada is on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, and from there I will boat it to the island of Ometepe. Some hiking with neither tent nor stove is in order, as I will try to make it all the way around the island, staying in the odd hotel or shack. I need to be back to Granada and off to Matagalpa on the 8th or 9th to meet a friend of mine, an ex-student of Lincoln School. From there off to Costa Rica to participate in a real life buddy movie in a very tough jungle with some very cool guys.
Some say that Nicaragua is wildly entertaining and that I should stay longer there simply to get a feel for the place. Well, no. I am traveling to backpack---the purpose, after all, of this 'year of living dangerously.' There will be time enough later in life for tourism. Besides, there is not much backpacking in that country, truth be told. Honduras is where the real adventure is.
So perhaps no web updates for awhile, as who knows if there will be the proper software in impoverished Nicaragua? Until then...stay out of jail.
I am in Granada, Nicaragua on the shore of Lake Nicaragua. Surprised again am I by the Internet takeover of Central America. The place where I am now working has a superb connection---faster than the one I had in Argentina---and has the software I need to write on my web. So, the addiction gets fed today.
Granada is a colonial gem, the finest example of it in this country---which of course says not a lot as this is Nicaragua. Nicaragua went through so many years of revolution, counter-revolution and civil war---not to mention terrifying earthquakes and volcanic eruptions---that hardly a building has escaped some type of destruction---except here, more or less, and the island of Ometepe. Now Granada is experiencing a tourist renaissance of sorts, as foreigners flock here. An entire host of things have sprung up to satisfy them: hotels---not nearly enough---cool little coffeehouses---all of which offer the superb Nicaraguan coffee (I am in java Heaven)---and regular boat service across the lake to Ometepe.
The place is hip for sure, in the same way that Antigua, Guatemala is hip---and to tell the truth, Nicaragua tries very hard to be so. My first visit here was in !983 during the Sandinista era. The 'revolution without frontiers' was in full force then. Young Sandinista soldiers were everywhere, with a cool Chè-type swagger and brandishing AK-47s. (Posters of the Argentine revolutionary are still all about.) Because the Sandinistas openly and brazenly allied themselves with Cuba they earned the unwelcome attention of the US. Thus, the Contras, more war and so on. But international leftist-types---all those feather-brained coeds and skinny chested sociology majors and bearded philosophy professors and itinerant campus rabble-rousers---poured into Nicaragua to give that nation their support, such as it was.
What they mainly did was to join 'international coffee brigades' whose organizers herded all that leftist flotsam to coffee plantations that had a dearth of workers. (The workers were in the Sandinista army.) So off to work they went, with shovels in the air and singing the Internationale, these 'sandalistas'. After a few weeks of real work these saviors of the world would head back to the air-conditioned and pampered comfort of campus life in the USA, there to regale the ignorant and silly with tales of daring-do and heroism in protecting Nicaragua from the evils of American imperialism. At any rate a stint in the brigades seemed a great way to pick up college chicks. (And there was a rumor going about that the brigades were a good place for American co-eds to rid themselves of their virginity, but I have been unable to verify this.)
I met scads of these touchy-feely leftist creepy-crawlers both during my travels to Nicaragua and while in college. Odd, those who were in the US were bombastic, shrill, loud---all long-haired and finger pointing. The 'sandalistas' I met in Nicaragua were a different breed. We would often debate the politics of Ronald Reagan and Daniel Ortega over (many) beers---this beverage being one of the international languages for sure. Usually we ended up laughing, I by accusing my opponents of communism, they by accusing me of being in the CIA. (To put it briefly, I was right and they were wrong.) Anyway, the beer was good, the conversation refreshing and the experience better than any Political Science seminar.
Those days are long gone now, replaced by Internet cafes and myriad restaurants, and those ex-sandalistas, now a bit gone to seed, drive SUVs and carry American Express cards. The beer here is still cold, however, so all is certainly not lost. Last night I was sitting at a table with a Canadian and an Australian---all of our countries being former members of the British Empire, by the way---when we all marveled at the quality of cuisine to be had in this once Sandinista socialist workers paradise. And we were not oblivious to the beauty of Nicaraguan women either. (They got prettier and we got handsomer the more beer we drank, but this happens anywhere.)
I think I will hang out here until tomorrow at least. Then, probably off to Rivas and San Jorge, from where there are several daily boats to Ometepe.
Today I returned from the island of Ometepe. I traveled there because, as one prominent guide book says, "it is the highlight of any trip to Nicaragua" with "the friendliest people in the country." Well, OK, though I found it somewhat different from that breezy description Look, I am not traveling to visit chic or trendy areas of any country or to have a 'cultural experience.' I am traveling to backpack. Period. I have traveled many times all through every Central American nation beginning in 1983. What I want now is to push my physical and spiritual limits while traversing God's acres. To put it briefly, Nicaragua offers very little backpacking and very little solitude. (Of course it offers many other attractions---Nicaragua is beautiful, and I have only seen a small part of it in my three visits---but I am not buying right now. Maybe later.)
Ometepe is a case in point. From a map it appears that one could simply walk around the entire island, taking around 7 days. And technically, one could do this. But---and there is always a 'but'---there is absolutely no shade to be had (and the sun is serious business here). All is dry and dusty to boot. And once you leave Bagues, the last real village on the north-east part of Ometepe, there are no villages. If you have no tent and are relying on places to stay---I left all my camping gear in Granada---you would be out of luck. And there is more: Water is very scarce everywhere on the island, in all hotels and restaurants and homes. It simply quits, sometimes for the entire day. And the island sits in a huge freshwater lake! Granada, the third city of the republic, also suffers from water problems, and it is on the shores of Lake Nicaragua.
While the Americans look for water on Mars, the Nicaraguans cannot seem to find it in their own backyard. It baffles.
There are other reasons why the island did not appeal to me. It is chock-full of child beggars, for one thing. Also, Ometepe has become a haven for the North American and European New Age tribes that wander around certain parts of Central America. They are the same sort that infest Panajachel: the entire hippy touchy-feely types who dribble down from Mexico and Guatemala---stopping at every tattoo and piercing parlor along the way---and congregate in places such as Ometepe. There they disrobe, imbibe, inhale, and idle away their time. It pleases indeed to know that I never see these types in the forests and jungles that I love.
So I am back in hip Granada---and it has water today. In a few days I bus to Costa Rica, there to backpack with some very cool guys. And I have already decided to fly from San Jose back to Tegucigalpa. From 20,000 feet I will be able to look down upon thirsty Nicaragua.
I feel as a stranger writing on my site again as almost one month has passed since I have had the luxury of doing so. And what a month! Granada, Ometepe, Lake Nicaragua---and the highlight of about everything, a nine-day backpacking trip in Costa Rica with five ex-Lincoln students. This adventure has its own page here.
Anyway, I have much to say---when do I not?---but now for the first time during this 'year of living dangerously' I suffer under the constraint of time. Briefly, I have less than two months to go before I am back in the US, and there are still miles to go before I sleep. I leave tomorrow for La Ceiba where I will finalize the plans for the most difficult part of this entire year, a 12-day solo walk in rural Honduras from the village of San Esteban to Dulce Nombre de Culmi to Paya, and then on to Sico and the jungles of the Mosquito Coast. After this I return to Guatemala to walk through the jungles there from Carmelita to the Mayan ruins of El Zotz and on to Tikal. After this, a well deserved break in my own nation. Which reminds me...
I have decided to return to the US of A permanently. I have not lived or worked in my own nation for 11 years. Time to rediscover a place that Americans with good reason call `God's Country´. What this means is that I will be back in Oregon around May 10 or so, there to buy a car---my first in 28 years---and a cell phone---my first ever---and then to load up and head out on a nation-wide job hunt. (Of course, much Internet spade work will be done before hand.) And I will walk 300 miles across Oregon from the Columbia River to the border of California. And buy another guitar. And find an apartment. And stay out of jail. And so on.
But all of this will not arrive until May. Until then there is a wild Honduran trek to finish. And much, much writing do do at my site, but not nearly enough time for commentary---only travel stuff. Too bad, as I have page after page of ideas to put down. Some other time perhaps...
Except for one thing: Bush is not Clinton and Falluja is not Mogadishu. Prepare for...well, let a US general speak about the certain American reprisal for killing her people and dragging their corpses through the streets:
It will be at a time and a place of our choosing. It will be methodical, it will be precise and it will be overwhelming.
Go for it. But have a drink first, as this is not going to be pretty. No room here for New Testament Mercy. Now is the time for Old Testament Justice.
Bye---and do not forget that drink.
On February 27 I wrote:
There is a certain scent that one takes on around day three while doing such things as I do.
It is a combination of old sweat, new sweat, bug repellent, sun block, rotting plant life, dried saliva,
animal feces, spilled food, dirt, mud, blood and the pulp of crushed insects---not quite Paco Rabanne.
It is unnerving at first, but then one accustoms---as one always does in such situations.
After hanging out with the boys in the jungle for nine days, I need to add 'the smell of stale tobacco, yesterday's rum and sea brine.'
I have been in La Ceiba a few days preparing for the penultimate journey of my 'year of living dangerously'. With every visit I like this place more and more. It is friendlier and more laid-back than the rest of Honduras. Coastal people in tropical Latin America tend to be more open and less traditional than their fellows who live elsewhere. Think of Rio and Sao Paulo, or of Guayaquil and Quito. Anyway, here I am enjoying writing on my site and eating great food---until tomorrow, that is, when a 6 AM bus will take me far into the province of Olancho to the village of San Esteban. This tiny place was for ten years the scene of a rather sordid series of murders between two families. More than 80 members of both families were killed in a clan war until the army stepped in to end it. Soldiers are still there to enforce the truce.
Anyway, I will stay there tomorrow night and then on Tuesday begin the first part of my plans, a 30 km walk to the village of Dulce Nombre de Culmi. This will take two days, and then I head north by foot or truck to the village of Paya. (Do not bother looking for it on a map.) From Paya the way is all mule track and must be covered on foot. (I refuse to ride mules or horses as I hate these things. They smell, they are stupid and they are bigger than I am.) In five to seven days I will---I hope---reach the village of Sico in Mosquitia. From there I will get a boat to the coast at Palacios---about two hours or so. This place is one of the entry points for Mosquitia, the largest jungle area in Central America.
Stay out of jail.
Igitur qui desiderat pacem, praeparet bellum
The Spaniards have neglected their Vegetius: "If you wish peace, prepare for war." The next quote is from Winston Churchill:
You chose between dishonor and war. You chose dishonor and you shall have war.
It was once said that 'Europe ended at the Pyrenees.' This was an insult to Spain, actually. It implied that those south of France had not yet entered into the elysian fields of European culture and sophistication. That is, Spain had never: surrendered to Germany, produced a Hitler, tossed Jews into ovens or gave herself over to communism. In fact, for 150 years (1500 - 1650) Spanish soldiers formed the finest military in the world. It took only a handful of conquistadors to overthrow and destroy the great New World civilizations of the Aztecs and the Inca.
Alas! Spain has now become European indeed---or more accurately, she apes French habits. The sight of 9 million Spaniards with raised hands in abject surrender to terror is a national humiliation for the once proud nation. All that was needed was for Zapatero to stand in public and declare 'peace in our time'. Spain will always remember her cowardice just as the French will always remember Vichy.
The Pyrenees exist no longer---for France has conquered Spain.
And what exactly was purchased by this craven capitulation to those who killed her people? Peace? Not exactly:
Spanish police found explosives Friday on a high-speed rail line between Madrid and Seville, near Toledo.
A train employee called in bomb-disposal experts, who discovered a suspicious bag that had 22-24 pounds of dynamite,
430 feet of cable and a detonator inside, Interior Minister Angel Acebes said.
Being left alone by the killers? Hardly. They have smelled fear, and have raised their demands:
The Spanish newspaper El Mundo reported Saturday that the Spanish Embassy in Egypt received a letter from an Islamic militant group
threatening new attacks if Spain did not withdraw its troops from Iraq and Afghanistan.
In the letter, the Brigade of Abu Hafs al-Masri, a group that also claimed responsibility for the March 11 attacks,
threatened to strike against Spanish diplomatic missions in North Africa and the Mediterranean region
unless Spanish troops are withdrawn in four weeks.
Spain needs to be reminded of what the barbarians are after:
Hussein Massawi, a former Hezbollah leader, put it with admirable clarity:
“We are not fighting so that you will offer us something.
We are fighting to eliminate you.”
Mud and Blood
I returned two days ago from an unpleasant three-day hike from San Esteban to the village of Dulce Nombre de Culmi. It was unpleasant for a variety of reasons. For one thing, there was not much to see as I crossed the Sierra de Agalta mountains. Much of the land has been deforested and there was little shade---and it was blistering hot always and everywhere. The mule track between those two villages has been severely chopped up by beasts of burden, and the mud was the worst I had been in since Guatemala in December. There were armies of ticks scurrying through the dirt, and their attaching themselves to my flesh was a constant annoyance.
Of course, I have been through all of this and more many times. What really destroyed whatever enjoyment was to be had by walking through this part of rural Honduras was the ever-present threat of violence. I scarcely passed anyone who did not warn me of roaming gangs of thieves and killers lurking about in the hills and preying upon all and sundry. One man on horseback I ran into was armed with both pistol and shotgun---and he was afraid. He told me tales of thieves hiding off the trail who had robbed him twice. The man related how in the Honduran hills there is no law enforcement whatsoever, and so the law is defined by him who wields the most firepower. He absolutely refused to allow me to camp on a riverbed where I had set my tent and strongly insisted that I camp in his front yard. I was a bit spooked by then and so complied. Just how safe I was camped there was clear the next day. He pulled out his complete armory, which included a Chinese-built AK-47. I tell you, if any gangs raid his home they will get a faceful of bullets for sure.
I decided then and there that my plans to head north toward the Mosquito Coast were out of the question. Besides, there had been rain up north, which meant more oceans of mud---no thanks. To top things off, the village of Dulce Nombre de Culmi was borderline hostile. The people were indifferent and suspicious, and the "hotel" I stayed in was the worst I had seen, a truly ghastly place filled with insects, ancient filth, blocked plumbing---if that bizarre series of oozing pipes could be termed such---a terrible stench and shady characters. But wait, there is more: Because I arrived there on Passover Thursday, there would be no transport the next day, Holy Friday. So I was stuck in this pestilent s*** hole ( pardon the expletive, but I am in a foul mood) for two days. But wait, there is more: There were no places to eat in this damned place. I lived off beer and stale bread, and a dish of typical Honduran food that a woman agreed to make for me. Returning to Tegucigalpa was like crossing the Jordan River.
And I praise the Risen Lord for bringing me out of that forsaken spot.
I have had enough. I am tired, bone tired. I have simply had it with:
Sweat soaking my clothes and running down my face.
Being always covered with insect bites.
Lugging two huge bags over four thousand miles.
Drinking iodine-laced water.
Taking cold-water showers.
Going to Spanish language Masses.
Seeing the most vulgar wealth amidst the most degrading poverty.
Arguing with taxi drivers.
Hustling about in a search for a bed when I enter a city.
Walking through populated areas with a loaded pack.
Being the center of attention while traversing rural Latin America.
Smelling like a goat while backpacking.
Always preparing for or cleaning up after a backpacking trip.
Pretending that I have more lives than a cat.
Pushing myself beyond any reasonable physical and mental limits time and time again.
Always being ready to deal physical violence if the moment calls for it.
Look, in this past 'year of living dangerously' I lived at an accelerated pace. I took all sorts of chances and won them all. I accomplished most of what I had set out to do, and some that I had not. I ran into extreme cases of mental disability, unspeakable cruelty and astounding kindness. I felt the presence of both Christ and Satan, One always saving, the other always tempting. I read 34 books and sent hundreds of e-mails. I drank perhaps 500 bottles of beer and one bottle of rum---a necessary expenditure. I spent hundreds of hours before computer screens while writing one million words and perusing thousands of internet pages of news. I walked the world's deepest canyon and strolled weeks through Andean peaks---sometimes lost, sometimes found, always entranced. I slept in pre-Colombian ruins and an astoundingly luxurious inn. I gave away a lot of dough and spent far more.
But enough already. I want out of this place. I want to come home---home to America the Beautiful, God's Country, the envy of the world, to be precise. I am as a stranger in my own land, where I have not lived or worked for 11 years. I need to rediscover her, soon and very soon.
Have Gun Will Travel
With farmer's AK-47 near Dulce Nombre de Culmi.
Bring 'em On!
Honduran farmers await gang members near Dulce Nombre de Culmi.
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