August 31, 2007

Day 206 - Puerto Escondido, MEXICO

If you were to take a road trip, and I mean a really big one, say from New York to San Francisco, you would probably make a few strategic pit stops on the way. For instance, you might (if you were me) stop and linger at one of those wonderfully multi-faceted toll plazas off the Pennsylvania Turnpike. You might also slide off Interstate 80 long enough to catch a Cubs game at Wrigley, argueably the best field in America. You definitely wouldn´t miss a side trip in the Lake Tahoe region for some hiking. And when you arrived at the Pacific, 2904 miles after you left the Atlantic, you´d be satisfied. (Despite a new found hatred for the entire state of Nebraska.) But what this metaphor (hooray for symbolism!) is really about is all that you missed - like a stop to gawk at the squeaky clean streets (and people) of Salt Lake City or a detour in Des Moines to search for Bill Bryson´s childhood home, among countless other sites. Yet as you sit on a beach near San Francisco, facing a disappearing sun, the lot you missed no longer really matters.

And so it is with us.

As we sit on our beach in Southern Mexico, having barrelled through Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador and Guatemala in under four weeks, what we skipped is irrelevant. What mattered most was the open road and every mile we personally experienced along the way.

August 26, 2007

Day 201 - San Salvador, EL SALVADOR

The first question we asked ourselves upon arriving in El Salvador´s capital, the uniquely named San Salvador, was one we didn´t expect. "Are we in America?" Kari asked as we stood at an intersection that featured a Wendy's, Burger King, Blockbuster Video and Texaco gas station. Even the countries currency is the US Dollar, including quarters and pennies, and the public transportation relies heavily on those hand-me-down yellow and orange American school buses made by Bluebird. (Which, incidentally, are made in Canada. How far South will these yellow buses go?)

The question that we thought we'd be asking on arrival was "Are we safe?" - which is a completely valid question when you cosider that El Salvador has a strong reputation as the most dangerous place in Central America. And there is no doubt evidence of that danger here. Our bus from the Honduran border was stopped at four police checkpoints (more than Panama, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua combined), most places in the city are surrounded by that war-zone looking barbwire fence and even, get this, mall security guards carry shotguns.

Of course, we are in the capital where everything is magnified and where these two questions can be asked simultaneously on any street corner in the city. But as I sit down to my second Wendy's Frosty since Christmas, I have to be honest with you, I'm not that fussed about answering either of them.

August 23, 2007

Day 198 - San Juan Del Sur, NICARAGUA

[Crossing the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua echoed our passing from Thailand to Cambodia. Developing to Surviving. Decades of peace to a history of violence. Plump dogs to rib-cage-visible street scavengers. Recycling bins to trash-lined rivers. And much like Cambodia, we still love it.]

As we've now been on the road for 198 days, we've begun reminiscing. The people we've spent time with along the way hold their own vivid place in our memories. Our English friends in China, our Aussie companion in Vietnam, our LA crew in Thailand. We spent Panama and Costa Rica with family, and now we're sharing Nicaragua moments with old college friends.

As for everyone else, here are some gross generalizations of those we met along the way. Please take note that the following is always true.

Canadians: Socially awkward. We could usually tell a 'friend from the North' in a few minutes as they couldn't stop talking and always seemed to have the insecurities of a less successful sibling.

British: The English take home the prize for endless whining. I actually heard one Brit say about a certain beach they went to, "It was so great because none of the locals we're allowed."

French: Yes, they actually lived up to their stereotype. Rude and snooty. We actually watched a French couple ditch out on their restuarant bill because the food wasn´t good enough.

South Koreans: One word: BORING.

Israelis: Two words: STONED. LOUD.

Australians/New Zealanders: Though I would get shot by either of these groups if they ever found out I grouped them together, they both always had a "give it a go" attitude. Whether it was another drink or eating frog legs, they would always try.

Americans: Without a doubt the most overly enthusiastic and un-informed people on earth. We were constantly mocked for thinking that everything we did was the "best ever." And we often met isolated American's who didn't have a clue about their own country, let alone the rest of the world. Even personally, we often felt many Europeans knew more about our country than we did.

A few more photos here.

August 19, 2007

Day 194 - Santa Elena, COSTA RICA
[Interesting fact #482: Costa Rica was the first place in the world to abolish it's army - which so far has spelled PEACE.]

La Pura Vida (translated as The Pure Life) is Costa Rica's well earned catch phrase. This is a country of beautiful coasts, diverse rain forests, and active volcanoes, with an entire quarter of the landscape protected by law from developement. Signs line each tourist street for eco-tourism and adventure sports. The lakes are clean, the water is drinkable, and there is virtually no trash anywhere. It's sort of like being in Florida without the old people. Our adventures included:

*Zip-lining through the jungle in Monteverde. On some lines, we hung 425 feet over the forest floor.
*Canyoning near Volcan Arenal in La Fortuna. Repelling 300 feet down through waterfalls.

August 14, 2007

Day 190 - La Fortuna, COSTA RICA

So the other night I was sitting in our hostel reading Garbageland. It was late, maybe 1am, when an Irishman walked in and started chatting with me. We began, as all conversations do, by discussing whether Pol Pot's regime was worse than Hitler's. As it was the kind of conversation that can only be had when many unique variables exist (an Irishman, Passports stamped with Cambodia, the early morning hour), I was happy to put down my book.

A few minutes later, a twenty five year-old American from Albany strolled into our conversation. He wore his hat backwards and boasted a beard somewhere between full and patchy. I knew early on from his comments that he probably hadn't been out much, which only became more apparent when he shared his plans of exporting live frogs (which he had captured from the rainforest that day) from Panama into the USA through the US Postal Service.

It was maybe an hour later when the Irishman asked me who I thought would win the 2008 Presidential Election. While I was formulating an answer in my brain (Do I mention Gore as a long shot or Guillani as a fear monger?), the college educated frog exporter blurts out,

"Well, I just don't know how Bush won't win again."

The Irishman, perplexed, asked, "I thought Bush couldn't win again?"

I assured him quickly, "Yes, he was falsely elected once and miraculously elected twice. But thankfully, because of the 22nd Amendment, he can only serve two terms."

To which the American blurted, "Well, it's not like we're gonna vote for a woman or a black. I just think Bush won't have any competition."

"No," I said in complete bewilderment, "Bush can't be President again. It's not possible."

"Well, whatever. I just don't think Bush can lose." My eyes met the Irishman's and we exchanged a nod that was understood in no uncertain terms.

Our night with stupidity was capped off beautifully, around 4am, when the Irishman asked what volcano's were worth visiting in Central America.

My brilliant fellow citizen broke from his daze just long enough to say, "Peru. I think they have great volcano's up there."

August 12, 2007

Day 187 - Bocas Del Toro, PANAMA

Julie and I managed to get stuck in the second place that we ventured to. And it seems that everyone else does as well. A girl from our hostel came to Bocas Del Toro ten months ago and hasn't left. A Floridian stopped here on his world trip and is still here. He arrived in 2005. It won't be quite as dramatic for us, but we did manage to turn two days into five.

The Bocas del Toro Archipelago is on the Caribbean side of Panama, almost touching Costa Rica. We've been spending our days kayaking, hiking, biking, swimming and eating our fair share of local Caribbean dishes. A few shots with our less-than-adequate camera...

August 8, 2007

Day 184 - Bocas Del Toro, PANAMA

[Thanks for your patience - I understand these last few days without a post have not been easy for you. :) Since Turkey, we have been on a whirlwind schedule of flights and layovers, but rest assured, better updates (and pictures!) are coming soon!]

While Kari is at our best friend's wedding this week (and the biggest College reunion in history), I flew on ahead to Central America to meet my sister Julie. Tomorrow morning we cross into Panama where I (and Kari soon to join me) will begin the long journey home through Central America, Mexico and the USA.
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