Sunday, August 7, 2011

Honduras: Days 6-11

Day 6 - This is what most of you ("you" being the few that are reading) have been waiting for: this was the morning that Davean & I left for our hike up Mt. Celaque - the tallest mountain in Honduras atop which I had some surprises planned for her. Being the inexperienced campers and hikers that we are, we each had our backpacks stuffed with mostly our sleeping bags along with minimal clothes, snacks, and other belongings. I can't forget that we each had a bottle of water - our only water to last us for two days. Getting there was interesting as we had to get up early and take 3 different buses along the way. The first bus we took was more or less your typical charter bus minus a couple small amenities. It was a painful ride as I really, really, had to pee - worse than I've had to in a very long time. Please understand I am not exaggerating; I mean serious business when I talk about urinating in a public forum. After what seemed like an eternity (maybe a couple of hours) we finally made our first stop in La Entrada. Where we stopped was a small area in which several different buses made their stops, crowded with tourists and travelers. Naturally, there were also a lot of different shops and vendors. Lots of vendors. Even literally inside of already crowded buses. After we arrived we went inside of a makeshift convenience store whose owners were kind enough to let me use their private restroom (a broken toilet that thankfully I didn't have to sit on) and as a thank-you I purchased a Snickers bar. Next we wound up hopping on a large passenger van and sitting together in the front seat with the driver. In spite of being repeatedly hit in the head by the children of the very large family behind us I was tired enough at that point to fall half-asleep. Our next stop was Santa Rosa - a much nicer town but otherwise much the same in terms of their communal bus stop/marketplace. This time we wound up packed like sardines on an old school bus where we shared a seat with a strange man. All we could do was stay as close to each other as possible. For me it was a little bit overwhelming to be surrounded by so much chatter up close in a language I didn't understand. Eventually we arrived in Gracias - a small town at the foot of Celaque. I ordered a fried chicken meal at a restaurant nearby which really turned out to be cole slaw with a few small pieces of fried chicken. Then after awhile we found a moto taxi to take us uphill a long distance to the visitors center (which supposedly they don't do, except they must've felt sorry for us American tourists). By "visitors center" I really mean a big empty room with no restrooms or concessions.

Then things became eventful as we began our over 9,000 ft. hike up the mountain. We actually had a very good start and enjoyed the initial exercise along with the beautiful scenic scenery. In fact, we made it to our camp much earlier than expected. At that point, we determined based on the map that we would surely make it to the next camp on the way up the mountain before sunset, making our return the next day much earlier than anticipated. Unfortunately, oxygen sickness began to set in as the climb became almost completely vertical. As exhausted as I was, Davean was even more exhausted and frustrated over that fact along with it almost being dusk. Thus, the decision was made to stop for the night on the trail where we were at v. risking to go further in the dark (and I do mean "dark" - there's not much you can do for light at night when you're crawling on all fours up a mountain). We were forced to find one spot to lay down at where we didn't think we would slide down the mountain, and as you'd expect, it was not a comfortable spot at all. The rest of the night was spent trying to sleep and stay warm. Then it began raining. Hard. Picture a torrential downpour you'd expect in the middle of a rainforest. It was basically just like that. Thankfully I had a waterproof sleeping bag and was mostly protected. She, on the other than, was not so fortunate as her sleeping bag was being rained in. She began to shiver and feel feverish so eventually I squeezed her inside of my sleeping bag with me to keep her warm, using her sleeping bag to cover our heads. She was able to sleep for at least a couple of hours. I don't know that I was that lucky, but the important thing is that we survived and that we had a story to tell.

Day 7 - We awoke early (as if we even slept) and surveyed our belongings which were soaked from the rain and dirty from the mud that resulted. We stuffed our bags with our now soaked and even heavier sleeping bags and went on our way. By the time we made it to the next camp we tried to get to the night before (about a 30 min. hike - ha!) we were already exhausted again. Oxygen sickness is something else. Within a couple hours, though, we finally made it to the top! Regretfully, we were not greeted by the picturesque open view we were expecting (based on what we saw from Internet searches and even pictures on the signs along the trail). Instead of seeing clearly above the clouds, we were surrounded by trees. Instead of beholding the open skies, swarms of giant gnats & mosquitoes beheld our sweaty bodies. I am not capable of communicating the level of disappointment we felt over the end of our uphill hike. I definitely cannot communicate my personal level of disappointment based on what I had planned for at the top of the mountain. After taking a few not-so-flattering pictures at the top, we sat & rested for awhile. Sadly, no amount of bug spray was able to keep the insects from feasting on us - we were actually bleeding from being bitten by them non-stop! I read some more Psalms on my own to try and get my heart & mind in a better place than it was. Here's what came next:

I pulled out the notebook that Davean & I had been writing letters to each other in and mailing back & forth between the U.S. and Honduras, which sadly was soaked. Thankfully the ink didn't completely bleed through the pages so she was able to read what I had written to her in Honduras before we left for Celaque - that in spite of how many things had gone wrong since my arrival, there was no place I'd rather be because I was with her; also, this was our 17-month dating anniversary (or "monthiversary" as we like to call them), so I acknowledged that, explaining that we made it to the top of this mountain and that I had a few surprises for her. At that point, however, I had some surprises I wasn't ready for. What I had done prior to leaving for Honduras was write down some of my own personal reflections from Proverbs 31 (how I see the traits of the virtuous woman in Davean) and Song of Solomon 4 (how passionately Jesus loves us, His bride, and how He's revealed Himself in the growing love He's given me for her...not to mention the delight I have for Davean). I read both of those passages and did my best to explain my thoughts without my written notes which were left behind on accident, otherwise they likely would have been illegible from being rained on. Then I explained that I had written & recorded a song for her in which I intended to tell her "I love you" for the first time, and that I was hoping we could listen to it together on top of the mountain; however, I absentmindedly left my iPod in her apartment, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise due to the previous night's rain. So, likewise, I did my best to use the "L-word" verbatim and explain my desire to spend the rest of my life loving, serving, growing old with, and living life with her. I then pulled the ring (the only item that wasn't soaked or ruined) from my backpack and asked her to marry me - to which she responded "Tim...of course I will" in her sweet, innocent, oxygen-sick, sleep-deprived voice. Who knew a size 4.5 would be too small for her tiny fingers? I guess I should consider myself fortunate to have kept it a surprise to her until the day before when I told her that I was wanting to listen to my iPod on top of the mountain.

At that point we were anxious to get down the mountain so we could get home, clean ourselves up, celebrate, and rest. Who knew, though, that it would take longer to travel down the mountain than up it? Thanks to some afternoon flooding, this was the case as we made painstaking effort to avoid the mud slide that once was the mountain's hiking trail. I was honestly having a hard time as this was happening - I was trying to safely look after my now fiance, telling God how much I didn't like Him for what was happening (on top of the botched proposal) while asking Him for our safety and a thankful heart. Eight hours later, we made it back to the "visitors' center" where many other families were sheltering themselves from the storm. Fortunately, we were next in line for the only moto taxi there who barely made it down the mountain with us back to Gracias. Because of the weather conditions there were no buses to take us out of town, so the moto taxi took us to the cheapest non-trashy hotel in town ($15 U.S./night!). It was wonderful to finally drink water after barely having any all day, and they were wonderful for bringing our dinner to our rooms. Sadly, my "typical Honduran plate" (eggs, salsa, avocado, refried beans, plantains, and an unknown cream) wasn't very appetizing. Alas, we celebrated our first night as an engaged couple by falling asleep to Hispanic television...before waking up and going to our separate rooms.

Day 8 (Good Friday) - We awoke after a much needed full night's sleep and packed our things in hopes of finding some mode of transportation out of town since the buses were taking a holiday. Our options were to stay another night or to hire a private vehicle for over $100 U.S. After laying out our belongings to dry we spent the day walking around town. We watched the locals decorate the streets with colored sawdust art. We found the closest thing to a supermarket (more like a convenience store) and bought a lot of American junk food which we ate while people-watching at the parque central. Unfortunately we kept moving locations due to some friendly neighborhood bees of which I have a phobia. We spotted a pizza restaurant that we agreed to try for dinner that night. I listened to Davean make conversation in Spanish with a local and didn't understand a word of it. We looked inside of a Catholic church sanctuary after their morning Good Friday mass. We toured the rest of the town which took all of an hour. We talked about attending a Good Friday service somewhere in town but lost the motivation to wait around that long. We toured a local museum with a small park inside of its gates - a nice reprise from the heat. We ended our tour of Gracias with a visit to a really cool old Spanish fort where we enjoyed the view of the town below and took a lot of neat pictures. As storm clouds started to roll in we debated and then took our chances on the 10-minute walk back to the hotel...and made it just in time for another torrential downpour which lasted all evening and knocked out our power for most of it. Without going into too much detail, we had a difficult conversation involving feelings of fear over the series of unfortunate events since my arrival in Honduras, and for a short time I thought I would be returning home with the ring. We prayed over the situation and ended our evening much like the evening before, trading our night out for pizza for a night in with our "typical Honduran plates".

Day 9 - After a makeshift "American" breakfast at the hotel restaurant we finally were able to check out of our hotel and get on a bus back to Copan. On one of our stops a man who was seemingly mentally unstable kept trying high-pressure tactics to get me to buy his not-so-fresh tomatoes. Somehow my nonchalant refusal encouraged him to say things in Spanish which I assume were racist comments toward me being a Gringo. Other than that and the crowds on the buses it was a pretty uneventful trip back to Copan. We were so happy to finally change clothes after staying in our only dry set of clothes for almost 3 days! Davean's roommate, Tiffany, returned from her Spring Break trip right after we did so we hung out with her for a little bit. Then later that evening, after another rain, I walked my fiancee to a local pizza restaurant and then a bistro nearby. We walked back to the balcony above her apartment where we plugged in headphones and finally listened to the song I wrote her.

She liked it. :-)

I then expressed my discontent over the idea of going back home with the ring and reminded her that the promise I'm making with the ring is unconditional. At that point we "reaffirmed" our engagement and called our families via Google Voice (free calls to the U.S. and Canada through 2011) with the news.

Day 10 - I was so happy to meet with the English church group again and share: food, our engagement story, worship, and communion. Needless to say, we were overwhelmed by God's grace that day. We were "touched" as the group each individually laid hands on us and prayed over us for our engagement and future marriage. Pun. Intended. We took our sleeping bags to have them dry cleaned and ran some other errands. Then for the evening we grabbed some burgers to go (one of the perks of staying in a tourist town in another country) and enjoyed a movie in the living room, otherwise soaking up our last moments together before saying goodbye for another few weeks - thankfully our last goodbye.

Day 11 - Between dragging my luggage on foot across town to make a 5 a.m. bus, leaving my now fiancee behind, and traveling all the way back to the U.S. (Approx. 2,500 miles. It feels like 5x that distance. Without looking at a map, you'd never guess the distance was shorter between that of NYC and LA.) was a long, long day. My first surprise was the 2nd bus to the airport not actually being scheduled, thus being put on a taxi all the while living out the part of Dumb American who knows no Spanish. My next surprise was the $38 (U.S.) tax for taking a return flight to the U.S. out of Honduras. Oh, and we can't forget my nose hair trimmer being confiscated by Customs and the filer being ripped off of my toenail clippers. Otherwise, I ate the last of my snack foods and watched TV episodes on my laptop. The airport terminal in San Pedro Sula was nowhere near as orderly as we're used to here. Thankfully I happened to finish my episode and see someone's boarding pass to know when it was time to board my first plane. I was also surprised in ATL when I had to claim my bags, check them again, all within an hour whilst learning that one of my bags was lost. I finally returned to KC only to discovered that my 2nd bag (a.k.a. my guitar) had been lost. Thankfully I have wonderful friends who live near the airport and have a spare bed.

The end. For now. Between a story that will be told for years to come, a most excellent wife-to-be (mark your calendars - New Years Eve!), and God's provision in the middle of it all, what I'm taking from this trip is, without a doubt, priceless.