Friday, January 30, 2009

The night in Tela - Dan Rodgerson

The hotel on the hill was $25 American a night. It was expensive but had an amazing view, hammocks on the balcony, and hot water. I had not taken a shower in three days.
Still disappointed and confused, I dropped off my laundry and walked down by the beach. It was a bit dark and rainy. I noticed there were three little kids following me; I was not sure why. I turned a corner, and they were still behind me. I finally realized why. I was drinking a Fanta soda in a glass bottle, and they were waiting for me to throw it away so they could dig the bottle out of the trash to recycle it.

I went to have dinner and bumped into a six pack of gringos. The cafe was crowded so I invited them to join me. Three men from Ireland came to help build houses. Two men from England were teaching English to the locals. And the sixth person was a tattooed girl with several facial piercings from the States. Of course, the one that looked like a clown was American.
Conversation was lively but hard to understand with such thick accents. The single guy from Ireland told a story of a woman who came up to him in a club the previous night. She was anxious to introduce him to her daughter. After a few dances, they parted and the mother approached him looking for payment. She was pimping her own daughter.

I enjoyed my time with them but was preoccupied with the thought of whether this would be my last night abroad or not. I walked home and was approached by a woman who asked for about $10 American for "services". I immediately left.

Early the next morning, I took a bus to San Pedro to see if I could catch a flight. I received a call from a municipality who wanted to schedule an interview. The bus driver left me on the side of the road and pointed toward the airport. I put out my thumb and was picked up by the first truck. I booked a ticket to Miami.

I planned to crash at my buddies’ place in Fort Lauderdale, but he was not returning from Miami until the following night. So, I found a cheap hotel in Fort Lauderdale. I was tempted to ask if they had hot water. I was without a car in South Florida and figured if I could navigate my way through four third world countries I could get around on the Broward County bus system. I was wrong. I found my way to a mall to buy a charger for my phone. When she said it would cost $20 I literally asked, "Is that the best you can do?" I was conditioned to Central/South American haggling!

I had made it back to the States and was still disappointed and depressed. I nearly had a meltdown the following day in Deerfield Beach and navigated my way back to the airport to meet my buddy.

The goal of the trip was to spend time with the Moskito Indians and hopefully forget about my life's dramas. I did not meet that goal. I did, however, meet some amazing people. I swam with rays off the coast of Belize, traveled through jungles and mountain villages, and most importantly really connected with many of the locals in regard to their lives, values, cultures, and traditions.

I really feel that when we meet our Maker, (however you define that) He/She/It will ask a series of questions. Did you visit foreign lands? Walk on the Great Wall of China? Learn about other people’s values and culture? Did you try to walk in the shoes of the less fortunate? Did you surf on the coast of Costa Rica? Hopefully Maker does not ask if you maintained employment.
Being there felt good, natural, and warm—until the realities of my life crept back in.
I feel that my purpose or mission is not done here. I will be going back. There are several chapters of my guide book that have not been opened, and several unstamped pages of my passport.

I think I am addicted to this type of travel. I caught the travel bug, and hopefully that was the only thing I caught while I was there.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The point of no return... Dan Rodgerson

Up to this point in the trip, things were very clear and easy to find. You could turn to a page of a guide book and pretty much find your way. La Cieba was the jumping off point to head deep into the jungle without organized transportation or roads.
Got up early and walked the streets just as the shop owners began to open up and put things on the curbs. The city did not seem as scary as it did the previous night, but it still had guards with machine guns in front of the banks.

I had a rough night sleeping. South America is one of the few places I have heard city sounds as well as a rooster crowing.
A woman in the restaurant the previous night told me that passage to Puerto Lempira would be three days on the deck of a cargo ship, three days!

Kerrie was heading to the Bay islands and was on her way to the port. She suggested that I go with her and check the boats at the dock myself.

At the port we got bread and some coffee and made our way to the bus stop. A taxi driver stopped to offer us a ride because he said there were no buses heading in that direction on Saturday. We did not fall for it, and the bus arrived in two minutes.

After I got Kerrie situated, I gave her a big hug and headed back to the docks. No boats were leaving for the next four days. Discouraged but determined, I checked with another 10 smaller boats with no luck. That meant I would be waiting four days to travel for three days on a cargo ship, then back again.

I was not ready to give up. The guide book said that it was possible to fly there for about $100. I grabbed a cab to the airport and missed the flight by 15 minutes. No other flights until Monday, two days later.

As I sat on the steps of the airport, I cursed and wondered I came all this way! I felt kind of like a member of the Griswald family in “Vacation”. Should I wait two days to fly or wait four days for the ship? There I sat in the middle of remote Honduras: confused, frustrated and discouraged. I had thoughts that things were not really settled in the states. I just had a sickening, hollow feeling. Do I turn back? Push on? The drama and reality of being unemployed settled in. But I had come so far!

Once more, I put out my thumb at the airport with my head hung low and hitched a ride to the bus stop. I landed in a small town outside a city called Tela. I sent an e-mail to a friend to ask her if she could check flights back to the States from a few surrounding cities. It would take me at least 5 days to get back to Cancun.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

punta to la cieba - Dan Rodgerson

I headed into town the next morning past dilapidated houses and shacks thinking that my tree fort that I built when I was ten was more structurally sound than most of these houses. I ate a quick breakfast: sausage, two eggs, and of course....tortillas with every meal.

I started the day as a solo traveler. When I got to the dock, I booked passage. Fifteen minutes later I met Kerri, a Canadian. She had been traveling with her boyfriend and this was the first day she was flying solo. She was a pretty girl, and you could tell that she came from money. I think she liked the security of having someone else there. We had a border crossing that day. We bumped into a two-pack from Switzerland: good looking younger couple and a father/daughter team from Pennsylvania. We were now six.

We wandered together though the fish market.

The boat ride was very cool. We put head phones on and watched as the mountains of Honduras become more visible.

Border crossings are nerve racking! My first crossing was into Belize. The guy at the Mexico border would not let me out because I had "bad documents". He said it louder and louder and smiled knowingly at the bus driver. He originally suggested a bribe of fifty dollars, but I was able to get though by slipping him a twenty.

Once into Belize they said I could not enter because my passport was not signed. He was looking for a gift (bribe) as well. I got out of the line, signed the passport, went to another border guy, and got in.

I got off the boat thinking we were in Honduras, but actually we were in Guatemala. My new friends must have thought I was an idiot. I spoke the language at last, so (although my directional skills were off) I was still handy to have around.

We changed our money for the local currency and walked into town. Kerrie was very concerned and made it her personal mission to make sure that she was not charged more than the locals. Any time she asked for price, she would reply "too much." I would translate...."demasiado". I would just shake my head and let her be the bitch, as if she wore the pants in our relationship. As if there was a relationship. It worked. We were a good team.

We caught a ride with 14 people in a minivan which weaved in and out of crowded streets heading for the border. Everyone starred at us, but mostly the two foreign blonds. We lost the two Europeans along the way, and our pack of six became four. The two from the states were traveling hippies, the cool kind who started their journey at the Rainbow Gathering in Southern California. They were dirty and smelled foul. They slept on the beach most nights, and their 15 year old daughter walked bare foot though the crowded border town.

It was a long bus ride but good conversation into San Pedro Sula. We switched buses, lost the dirty Americans, and settled in for another few hours in the bus. I sat with a nun and two Amish guys. It was just Kerri and me now.

We arrived in the rough city of La Cieba. We got a taxi after Kerrie did her normal routine...."too much." We found a room above a bakery but did not ask the critical water? We had cold showers that night. We found an internet lab, had tacos, and began to strike up conversations with the locals about the next part of the journey.

Kerri read a book and crashed early. I walked around a bit. I moved my wallet into my front pocket and kept a close eye on what and who was behind me. I did not feel comfortable. We went back to where I had dinner and three of the waiters came up to me and eagerly rubia (the blonde)? I said we were just traveling together....not "together". One sighed and said, “Que lastima....(what a shame).”

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cay caulker - Dan Rodgerson

I got up early in Belize City and walked around for an hour or so. I took some pictures: real rough place to live.

The two guys I was running with convinced me to go with them to Cay Caulker, a tiny island off the coast. I figured that since I had spent two days straight in a bus I needed to do something fun. I planned to leave that night and try to make it to a few more cities. I felt that my mission of going to Moskitia was getting in the way of my adventure. I went to the island with them, and it was truly amazing: an absolute tropical paradise. We had breakfast and looked around....great company, great setting. I am staying!

Booked a snorkel trip for $17 and swam with rays, turtles, sharks, etc. There was plenty of sun. After snorkeling, I came back, drank a few rum punches at the local hut, and began to think about dinner. I paid $15 for three drinks, lobster, rice, beans, and desert. I think we overpaid.

I really had a fun night with those two clowns; they were always looking for the party. The party crowd was young so I blew in and out, spending some time on a hammock. We laughed and drank too much. I could not get into too much trouble. I found a guy to make us hamburgers at 2am and stumbled home. My new friends were totally amazing. Jimmy was a carpenter, more quiet and smoked discreetly. Martin was the clown, easy to smile, looking for adventure, and wanted to throw a few back and talk about it. We shared a room, lots of drinks, and many laughs.

After getting back to the mainland I shared a cab with two girls from Switzerland. We knew that we were heading in different directions at the bus terminal, so we did not spend the time to get to know each other. They were young and brave. One was incredibly beautiful, but did everything she knew how to hide it. She had her hair pulled into her hat and wore baggy clothes. I would love for my daughters to do that!

I got up early the next morning, hugged the boys goodbye, and set out for Belize City. I caught a bus heading to southern Belize. I fell asleep on the bus and woke up in a tropical jungle with huge mountains. It looked like the place they filmed “King Kong”. As I headed more south, the landscape changed, and the people became darker. I had planed to go to Placencia, but like everything plans changed.

A couple from Europe said that the ferry from Punta Gorda was about half the cost. So, I went on to Punta Gorda. I jumped off the bus in Dangriga for lunch and just to walk around. The poverty is overwhelming here; I am glad I brought the pillow that Chloe made for me. It came in handy!

I am heading into areas with very few foreigners. My guide book is getting tattered. I need a few stamps in this new passport book. I settled into Punta Gorda. I found a bar/restaurant and met the owner and his wife. She was singing karaoke. It was nice to hear anything but reggae music. She sang a duet to Tanya Tucker’s “Delta Dawn”. I didn’t drink tonight as I was still sluggish from the night before.

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I spent the night in Tulum and loved it. I did not really interact with anyone until I was leaving and sitting at the bus stop. I noticed that most backpackers had covers over their packs. I asked a wise ass girl from Ireland “why”, and she condescendingly responded, “Because we are close to the RAIN forest.” I smiled and thought, “Does she shave her armpits?”

When you meet fellow travelers out here the first question is always, “Where are you from?” The second question is, “How long have you been out?” And the third question is, “Where are you going?” So, in the interest of time, people will greet by answering the questions without being asked. My response is, “Utah, four days, and La Moskitia”. This trip really seems like much longer than four days. When I tell people I am going to Moskita, their responses are concerning: "wild", "brave", "jungle", "rough", etc.

The weather has been about 75 degrees. Actually, that is unseasonably cold, but I think I have followed a cold front through (puddles everywhere).

Backpackers are very cool people. They are much different than tourists. Weathered, a bit dirty, and always quick to strike up a conversation for any insight about where to go and where not to go.

I was very relaxed in Tulum and loved walking the city streets at night: no fear at all. I realize that sounds stupid for a gringo with $300 bucks in his pocket. This country has many similarities to my time spent in Uruguay: smells of fruit, tortillas, and burning garbage.

Since I had an hour to kill in the morning, I offered to help a young man make tortillas. I don't think that I helped much, but he was amused.

To be down here is like walking into Disneyland....sensory overload.

On the bus from Tulum I met two guys who became running buddies for the next two days: Jimmy and Martin from Denmark. Traveling in groups is much safer and cheaper.

I spent 8 hours on a bus Tuesday. The first bus I took at the airport had air, TV, and total luxury. The second bus didn’t have TV, but it still had air. Then, the third bus....literally an old school bus from the seventies. I think it was the bus from the Partridge family.

I have been thinking that I wish my girls were here to experience this. Chloe would love it, and Aubin would bitch the entire time but secretly enjoy herself.

I watched a young family on the bus traveling with a 3 year old. The child was so content just playing with his mother for three hours. He was quite a contrast to the family on the bus at the airport from Illinois whose child squealed like a pig every three and a half minutes for attention. The Nintendo DS and DVD player were not enough to keep him amused. I wanted to stuff him into my backpack.

Helmets are required here on motorcycles, but apparently riding a family of 5 on a 1980 Honda Passport 70cc scooter is legal. Hmm Maybe that is why helmets are required.

I have been stressed about money and time. I am totally blowing my budget. Yes, it is possible to live here for $20 per day, but not with busses, taxis, internet, etc. My more realistic new budget is about $40 a day. So, I set a new goal as well: no more than 5 hours a day on a bus!
The nights have been a bit chilly. I did not expect that.

I need to lose some gear. My bag is so heavy.

We missed the bus at the border of Chetsumal. Our new friend from Ireland showed us where the other bus terminal was. It was a hot day now, and I was carrying a heavy bag 20 blocks in a border town.

I really don't mind when the kids beg for money. It just really bothers me when they touch and hang on.

I had my morning coffee and was thinking...should I really be drinking something that acts like a laxative? Especially if I am getting on a bus for 4 hours, I considered.

Long ride into Belize City. It is a scary place, and we arrived late. Three white guys with backpacks on the worst side of town. Horrible situation to be in; I was terrified. People offered us weed, coke, girls, and even little boys (okay, maybe better my girls are not here).

We finally found a cheap hotel: about $35 for the three of us. We had a private room with private bath and hot water (you need to ask about the hot water). Isabella’s Guest House. The three of us did the math by first converting to our own currency then dividing by three. The lady from the hotel highly suggested we NOT go out at night, but we had to get something to eat.

We took a cab and found a good restaurant. We had a few beers and local food. In the cab the driver once again offered us any and everything. I was going to ask for a monkey, but I was afraid he might have one. We were all exhausted from the day’s travel and crashed by ten.
Amazing how the world watched Obama take office. I had no idea. Jimmy, my running buddy, said that when the US sneezes, the world gets sick: sad.

I need to exchange money.

It is a simple life here. Many houses do not have front doors. There are homes made of cardboard, scraps of sheet metal, and even some shacks on stilts over swamp land. I know is sounds cliché after that description, but they are happy people.

I am now in an area not without any Americans: feels kinda good.

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Monday, January 19, 2009

Dont drink the water Dan Rodgerson

Had a long day but finally sitting in a cafe in Tulum Mexico.

Dad needed to work early and dropped me off a few hours before the flight. I routed through Charlotte and landed in Cancun about 3:30. I took the bus to Playa del Carmen and then another bus to Tulum.

Tulum is a very cool little town at the base of some amazing ruins.

I walked into my first hostel today and quickly turned and walked right out. I figured that I would rather pay the $25 bucks for my own room than bunk with 30 hippies. That was one of the first things that I learned down here: Hippieville. Granted, I love the lifestyle, but the idea of not bathing for a week or so, combined with the dreads..... I will have to pass. No amount of incense will cover the smell of urine, body odor, and weed.

There are certain levels of hippies. The first are the wannabe hippies who live in the suburbs, may have a small stash of weed somewhere, and say they believe in peace and love— but don’t really practice it. We can call this level of hippies Democrats. :)

It’s time for me to get on the road again. I will write more tonight.

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Off.... Dan Rodgerson


About two hours after getting my passport in the mail, I purchased a ticket to make this whole gig a reality. The cruise idea did not work. I looked at tickets to Cozumal and Cancun and called my brother to see if he could use my truck while I was gone. He was on the way to New York for my cousin’s wedding. I thought, hell, he is my cousin, too. I checked with Orbitz for a multi-destination fare through New York and found it was just as cheap as the direct flight to Mexico: Salt Lake to Denver-Layover-Denver to New York. I could be at the wedding on Saturday and fly into Cancun on Monday: funny how weddings and funerals bring everyone together.

I wanted to get in and out of Cancun as soon as possible. It seems like the tourist areas are so much more expensive. Hopefully, I would get to Tulum by Monday night. Some of the goals of this trip: avoid cities of over 10K and try to live off $20 per day.

I will pack mostly old clothes that I can shed or throw away if I pack too many. I will need medicines for just about everything, including pain killers if a kidney stone decides to be a problem. I will need water filters, shot records, passport, etc. I feel like a turtle with everything on my back.

The wedding was yesterday. My brother Scott and I walked in thinking it would be so exciting to “catch-up” with all of the cousins, and everyone would be so surprised to have the Rocky Mountain relatives there. Something felt off. Kind of like a black guy walking into a clan rally. After asking three of my aunts and uncles where my cousins were I was given a strange response. Apparently, none of the cousins were invited! Our status quickly went from that of “long lost cousins coming home to reminisce with family” to “wedding crashers”. Couple our status with an open bar and not drinking out of respect for my folks for three hours, and the wedding was nearly painful. Cute couple: bun in the oven. Bride was working as a waitress in a cocktail bar. That much is true.

Note to self....don't show up to a wedding unless you are actually invited!

I never realized how much my family gatherings actually look like an episode of the Sopranos. No gifts, just everyone discretely swapping envelopes; older ladies in cheesy fur coats; and Brooklyn accents, attitudes, and swaggers. As they raised their glasses in a toast, they all said “Salud” That sealed the deal.

I have a theory that people back east are about on the average two inches shorter than adults throughout the country. This theory has no real basis other than the fact that for the first time in my life I feel tall. Maybe it was just that I was at a family function, and my grandmother could have been technically classified as a midget. (I am not kidding. I think she was three foot heels.) I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz who landed in Munchkin Land. (I know that I could have associated myself with one of the other characters in the story, but did not know whether to pick the guy without a heart, brains, or courage.)

Need to run around a bit today and do everything I can to get out of going to church. Hopefully four inches of snow will help.

I am nervous a bit but excited.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Lessons Learned... - Dan Rodgerson

I am thinking that I may need to change career paths completely. Repo man comes to the top of the list. That is an industry that will be flourishing in the next year. I don’t really like being shot at. Maybe just continue dealing real estate. “Danny Day Care” was another suggestion as a local day care closed its doors. “Curriculum Writing by June” (my mother) even occurred to me.

I had a great conversation with my dad with inspiring words like, “You are only limited by your fears.” “You are well-educated and articulate, and you will rebound just fine.” My mother asked, "How are you at selling used cars?”

Another day….no passport.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Clinic...

Trekking into the jungle is not as easy as it seems. It takes time and planning to get the passport, shots, and gear necessary. My brother, who is a physician, was kind enough to send some warm and fuzzy videos about malaria, botflys, yellow fever, etc. So, off I go to the clinic on Friday to become a pin cushion. Other threats are dengue fever, rabies, hepatitis, tuberculosis, and typhoid fever (not to mention the high probability/certainty of explosive diarrhea).

I get to the clinic and talk with the receptionist. “Did you bring your shot records?” I answer, “Uh, no, I don’t think I have any.” She gave a half-smile, “Well, looks like we will be sticking you a lot today.” As the list of shots began to pile up (three, four, five, six) her half-smile became a full smile. She seemed to enjoy the fact that I would be in pain, or maybe she had some commission on the number of shots she stuck in a day.

“Do you plan to be sexually active down there? Just remember that 10% of the prostitutes in Central America have aids.” She winked at me.

I thought of a dozen missionaries that I knew who brought back walking-talking souvenirs from their missions. Don’t get me wrong, for some it is a pretty good gig. It is a great way for a
mediocre guy to land an attractive wife. Maybe you need to teach her that shoes are required in Wal-Mart or not to do laundry by hand in the front yard; but these are small prices to pay. “You can get a girl out of Central America, but cannot get Central America out of a girl”

The area that I am going is accessed by two routes: no roads. The first option is a small one and a half hour flight on a shaky airplane. One blogger suggested to check the fuel gauge before leaving and to check the blood alcohol level of the pilot before boarding. Considering I need two zanax to fly, or two doubles with Captain Morgan, I will probably take option two: spend the night and day on the deck of a cargo ship for about 24 hours. That option would be nostalgic and memorable even if there was rain, storm, or high winds.

The main reason I went to this clinic was to get a shot for yellow fever. Apparently, the countries I am going to do not require that shot, and it would not be necessary. The suggestion to head to Salt Lake was from my physician. I guess that is what you get when you have someone who is part farmer, part vet, and part doctor give you advice. Before my appointment he was delivering a breached calf.

I have been waiting for my passport like a kid anticipating Christmas. I want to get out of town!

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

The plan....

About 6 hours a day combing builder, monster, hot jobs, yeah! Staring at this box, thinking as each day goes by my income requirements seem to go down. (This is kind of like dating in your thirties.) Do I want to manage a beach in CA? Do I want to manage fairgrounds in WA? Or, do I want to be a Parks and Recreation Director in the small town where my ex in-laws live? Not!

When you are teetering on depression, you might consider that a small remote oil field town in Northern Utah where it averages 8 degrees in the winter is not one of the best places to be. I feel about as out of place as I did as a Yankee living in South Carolina. The only thing worse than not being Mormon and living is Utah is once having been Mormon and living in Utah.

I figured the best way to keep my head was to head out of town. I headed back east to eat turkey with my folks for Thanksgiving. I received an e-mail from Gigi Love, an artist/musician/friend, whose mother runs a foundation in a remote area of Honduras. I spent some time looking at the site...her mission...philosophy, etc. Suddenly, I thought, “How can I help?” I am not much of a builder or farmer, and I have no medical skills (besides putting hydrogen peroxide on everything). Hell, I could help them recreate! At least I am good at something. My girls and I met her as she strummed a guitar in a coffee shop in Sugar House about two years ago. I-tune her. Good stuff. She was singing a song about giving her a smile and making her day. Apparently, she was not specifically talking to me.

You can view the foundation at Enter the site and watch the video on U-tube. I particularly like the idea that they are not trying to cram an ideology or sell salvation for a pair of shoes.

I have spent years writing grants and soliciting money for municipal organizations. I figured I would visit the area, humor them with my attempts to help with manual labor, and come back to the States to help where I can. Since I am technically unemployed, I figured the trip would have to be cheap: dirty chicken busses, hostels, hitching a ride whenever possible, etc. The most expensive part will be getting there and back. I figured the best way for me to travel would be to fly into Cancun or Belize and travel down the coast.

While looking for fares on Orbitz, I saw one of those annoying ticklers about "Cruise to Cozumel for $199". Since I was on ambien and a bit dazed, I followed the link. I am pretty sure this is how gay porn infiltrated and took over my desk top computer (following links, not chasing porn). Twenty minutes later I was on the phone with the lady from Carnival Cruise Lines. "Sir, why would you not want to get back on the boat in Cozumel?" After lengthy communication three supervisors later, I learned you need the captain’s approval to "jump ship".

I have been on a few cruises before, and I felt that nearly every port on the K-mart cruises was so plastic, fake, staged, and no real representation of the local area. They were more like some cardboard cut-outs from Hollywood with 150 locals broken-English hawkers pushing taxi rides, tours, and weed. I was looking to quickly get out of the tourist areas. There is nothing about this trip that makes practical or financial sense. Not sure why I am inclined. I think mainly to help put things into perspective and realize there is life past Utah.

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