Friday, July 15, 2011

Honduras: Days 2-5

Day 2 - My first morning in Honduras was quite peaceful. I spent some time on her balcony reading Psalms before the town became busy, and couldn't help but thank God for getting me to that exact moment and orchestrating all of the necessary details. After months of waiting, saving, and planning, I was finally far from my everyday problems and reunited with my love in her home of the last several months. We started our day by heading to the local Mayan ruins (Copan Ruinas' namesake and main tourist attraction) and I experienced the first of many hot & arduous hikes that week. We took several pictures around the ruins (especially overpriced for U.S. tourists). Afterwards we found a nearby trail which led around a local farm and back to the museum at the ruins. Afterward we ran a couple of errands around town, we enjoyed some amazing fruit smoothies and I purchased a pair of shorts (as I left all of mine at home). Then it felt good to make it home after several hours in the heat - but not literally as Honduran homes do not have A/C and most do not have fans. Also, by that point some lovely Honduran bacteria made their home inside of my stomach, hampering my ability to really enjoy any of our activities for the next few days. Nevertheless, we spent the rest of the day relaxing at home, making dinner and watching a movie, followed by lugging my luggage to Davean's co-worker's home, where I stayed while she was away.

Day 3 - I had another relaxing morning outside before we started our day. I was able to experience what Davean has described as "English church" for the first time. It is a group of American Christians who gather each week for what I would describe as an organic church meeting, and I had the privilege of bringing my guitar and worshiping Jesus with them. To say it did my heart good would be an understatement. What started as a few people sharing a meal turned into a spontaneous but Spirit-led conversation in which life was shared. The group consists mostly of those on staff with a ministry called Urban Promise Honduras (whose office they meet in each week), but also includes Davean's co-workers from Mayatan Bilingual School. They started as an "informal gathering 0f Jesus-followers", but an important part of this body is that it includes some who are not Christians. I love that even though they aren't Christians, they are still given a "place at the table" (in the words of my pastor) and they can all be unified in the pursuit of the knowledge of who God is. I'm convinced that's something that Jesus intended when he said, "Ok, finish what I started", and it's sad to me that the Church drops that ball so often. I've listened to Davean share week-after-week about how the Holy Spirit "showed up" in this way or that way and it was so good to be in the midst of that. God is good! The day was finished with a couple more errands, eating Chinese (in Honduras), and another movie.

Day 4 - We woke early for an all-day guided tour of the Finca el Cigne ranch & coffee plantation. The stomach bacteria helped make this a trying day, unfortunately. But, we were part of a fun group with a Russian girl and an English couple, all in their 20's, and Carlos, our quick-witted tour guide who spoke very fluent English and whose family runs the farm. We got to see where and how the coffee and cacao beans are grown and processed as we toured the farm and the processing facilities. We ate a delicious home-cooked meal consisting mostly of their own agri-products. Before lunch, however, we took a long horseback ride through their expansive property. Though I clearly stated I was not an experience horseback rider, I was instructed to ride a strong stubborn horse named Maximo. Maximo refused to be anywhere but in front of the pack. My back muscles were strained and almost pulled as he often would race full-speed down the trail and literally throw my body around in the process. With nausea and a sore back it was difficult for me to maintain a positive attitude. We ended the day relaxing at a nearby natural spring until dark. We were creeped out as there was a mysterious man roaming the springs and we were unable to tell if he was an employee or not. On the ride back to Copan we became jealous as we listened to our new friends' tales of their frequent international travels. It was a very long day and we were glad to be home, albeit at a late hour.

Day 5 - This proved to be a more trying day as I experienced more bacteria-related symptoms and we hiked in the hot sun an hour & a half uphill to a village called Llanetios. It was there that Davean introduced me to Doña Lucas, a sweet old lady who, though she knew no English, her sense of humor was still very evident. Unfortunately it was difficult for me to play along and really enjoy myself as we did pottery together. I made a coffee mug as Davean made a teapot (I think?), and Doña Lucas kindly "polished" up our handiwork. This was followed by preparing a meal of black beans and tortillas topped with ground squash beans served with coffee. Had I not been sick this would've wreaked enough havoc on my already-picky taste buds; sadly I was physically unable to finish my meal (and trust me, I tried). In Honduras it's very common for people to start their own uncontained trash fires; on our long walk back home we had to almost walk through one as we literally covered our eyes and mouths to shield ourselves from the heavy smoke & ash that filled the air. Had we been even a few minutes later we likely would've been trapped on that road. That was eventful to say the least. Also, this day in particular, because I was physically not feeling like myself, it was difficult for both of us to cope with my lack of enthusiasm over my visit which, despite my efforts, I was unable to help...or even fake. Neverthless, we continued the evening by attending the Passover Seder of her Jewish co-worker with a group of other teachers. It was interesting considering we were the only ones actually observing this spiritually; however, it turned out to be a fun & relaxing time and the evening breeze proved to be a welcome respite from the intense heat & humidity.

To be continued....

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Honduras (or, perhaps more accurately: The Proposal or Murphy's Law Goes Abroad): Day 1

Where better to start than when I left off 3 months ago? This is for anyone who's asked and I haven't had a chance to tell, for anyone who's doing the Facebook/Twitter creepy-stalker-ish thing...or, we can say this is for anyone who's in the mood for a love story told old-man style (as most of my stories are). Whether it happened to me or anyone else, trust me - it's a good one.

My adventure saw a casualty before I even made it to my first gate: a jar of all-natural honey peanut butter of whom my now fiancee & I share a mutual love for. By the time I was given the option to check it my bags were long gone and it just wasn't worth the trouble at 5:30 a.m. My layover in ATL was exactly what you'd expect: too much distance to travel in such a short amount of time. However, I made it with the help of their handy dandy airport subway. On the flight to San Pedro Sula I met a Christian middle-aged dating couple from opposite sides of ATL (which makes my fiancee & I living on opposite sides of KC seem not-so-bad) on their way to Honduras for a mission trip. I spent most of the flight staring out the window like a small child before I fell asleep watching Tron: Legacy (which I highly do NOT recommend). Up until then it was sheer excitement keeping me awake after only 16 hours of sleep spread throughout the entire week.

I then arrived on Central American soil. It's amazing how after only 6 hours of travel I can be what seems a world apart. After the most disorganized & crowded customs experience of my life I found myself playing the part of the stereotypical confused tourist in an even more disorganized & crowded terminal. I was then able to garner the assistance of who looked to be an employee of the airport in finding the bus terminal; however, this individual, who turned out to be a taxi driver, began hustling me. By the time an airport security guard chased him off he seemed to lose interest upon discovering there was a language barrier. As if things weren't already interesting, I discovered that the bus leaving from that terminal was in fact not the same bus that would take me 3 hours away to Copan Ruinas where my girlfriend was waiting for me. Unfortunately, there was also a language barrier between me and the clerk behind the counter, but thankfully I found a cheap iTouch offline translator app which came to my rescue and I was able to buy my ticket to the Grand Central bus station (a whopping 10 min. from the airport), from whence the bus route which I actually had a ticket for would depart. After dealing with that I met a friendly English-speaking Canadian couple who provided me with some sanity and entertained me with tales of their nation's ample required vacation time and all of the expensive vacation plans they had in Honduras. I asked the nice couple to watch my belongings as I discovered in all the excitement of things that I needed to exchange my money if I wanted to buy food. After spending 20 minutes in line watching the teller's co-worker not do anything and who appeared to be her manager also not do anything (except stare at me quite awkwardly) I got to the counter only to discover I left my passport with the Canadians, thus losing my place in line and getting to wait another 20 minutes. I rushed back to the bus terminal thinking that I was running late...but I forgot I was on Honduran time at that point (meaning they are more lax with their punctuality). Being the scatterbrained person I am, I then discovered I hadn't eaten anything and then rushed to the food court to grab a Wendy's Baconator. Luckily the bus was just arriving when I ran back. While in line for the bus, the friendly cabbie returned again offering to help me with my bags. Apparently he didn't appreciate me playing the dumb American a second time.

Immediately I began reaping the benefits of the exchange rate as I took my private seat (read: recliner) on the most spacious and luxurious bus that $20 has ever bought. I spent most of the ride taking pictures of everything through the windows (again, like a child) while enjoying The Nutty Professor. The amount of pollution on the sides of the roads was astounding, as was the way the Hondurans drove (picture downtown Chicago). I was annoyed by the constant slowing down of the bus up very steep hills (this was of course due to the gradual increase in elevation en route to a mountainous region). Nevertheless, I was finally able to relax.

Finally, after 14 hours of traveling, my girlfriend greeted me upon my arrival in Copan Ruinas, Honduras. A moto-taxi (or tuk-tuk in some cultures) drove us recklessly through hilly & uneven cobblestone streets to her house on the edge of town. I met her roommate for the first time, though I suppose in some ways I already knew her based on months of my girlfriend's stories of close living and bonding. After unloading my things we went out for baleadas (a combination of meat, cheese, beans, and rice(?) sandwiched between 2 thick tortillas) made by whom she affectionaly dubbed as the Crunchy Baleada Lady, known for two things: 1) operating her restaurant out of what appeared to be her home and 2) making her baleadas crunchy (apparently not typical in Honduras). I also had a chance to experience a small dose of the exercise I would be getting that week - and that my girlfriend had been getting for several months walking across town to work and back everyday. We ended the night by relaxing and playing guitar (I taught her roommate how to play Gungor's Beautiful Things), and of course I couldn't end the night without brushing my teeth. Had I not been so ready for bed after a hectic week followed by a day of traveling, I would've paid more attention to what water I was using to brush my teeth.

To be continued....