Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Take 2...or 3...or...

Well, I got out of Zapata and into San Cristóbal de las Casas and entered the quick note about being safe and all...the next day I sat down to write a detailed entry about our time in Zapata and all was well. Then the NEXT day, noticed that the entry had gone in twice and in trying to rectify that situation ended up deleting the long blog about our time in Zapata! Frustration! I tried to recreate it, but that one deleted, too...so, basically...having some technical difficulties here!

I think I'll backtrack a bit to Guatemala.

After exploring the town of Xela a little bit, we ended up meeting a man named Ernie who invited us to prayer service at his church on Wednesday night. We were excited to meet with other Christians in the area and agreed to go. On Wednesday we started to leave the hostel to go to the church a few blocks away when Ernie pulled up outside to give us a ride. The church is very small, only about 25-40 people. We met with Ernie, the interim pastor and his wife, and two other men. They were all very happy to have us there and I had fun acting as a translator. Some of the prayer requests they had were (please excuse lack of specifics...I don't have my list with me...
* for the city of Xela, * for a pastor...they do not currently have one, * the nephew of one of the men was involved with drugs and gangs and has disappeared. They do not know where he is, but do know he was trying to leave this lifestyle and think he is possibly in hiding. His family is understandably frantic, * one of Ernie's friends who is a pastor is having marital problems.

The people here are hoping I will come to Guatemala to work with some of the many orphanages there. Ernie had heard of an orphanage that was for children with HIV/AIDS and we tried to find it, but weren't able to. The children here are the pariahs of society and are treated like leapors because the people are afraid of the disease and don't understand it. I think prayer for these children is also in order.

One day we thought we'd just get on a bus and see where it took us. We ended up in a small puebla and explored a bit...there was a really pretty view of a volcano from the church.

We decided to leave Guatemala and head back to Zapata. I was a bit wiser about the chicken bus prices!! We got to the border without any inicident, but there was a big traffic jam at the border, so we had to get off the bus and walk quite aways to get there. We finally made it and hailed a taxi to the border. I only had a few dollars with me and figured I'd head to the bank I saw at the border when we got there.

The bank was closed when we got there..."back in half an hour" said the sign. Now, I understand that time is relative and all that..but that was the longest 1/2 hour of my life! We were hungry and bought an ice cream and a bag of chips. The bank finally opened and I confidently went inside, wielding my ATM card, only to be told they only serviced clients of their own bank! Who ever HEARD of such a thing??? Panic set in as I realized I had only 53 pesos and no way to obtain any more money. I thought of begging the combi driver to take me to Comitan and waiting for me to run into a bank to get money to pay for the ride...I imagined the big tip I'd have to pay! I was heading across the street to do just this when the taxi driver who had brought us earlier drove up with another group. He started up a conversation and let me know that the combi ride would be 50 pesos!!!!! We were saved! Thank you Lord! We had enough and happily climbed into the combi.

Upon arrival in Comitan, we headed straight for the bank. It was dark by this time, so I was extra alert. As we approached the bank, a woman came up and asked if I would get money to give her for her sick mother who couldn't afford medicine. I said maybe...let me see. We went into the little booth and I instructed Sierra that this girl very well might have accomplices who want to rob us, so as soon as we stepped outside she was to make haste for the street and not stop! One of the lessons Sierra is learning in Mexico is how to have street smarts! As we headed for the door, I was relieved to see a family with children passing by. I pushed Sierra out and walked right to where the family was and stayed close to them. I hate to be so cynical, but you can never be sure and I wasn't about to be the unwitting victim of a robbery if I could help it! Once again..thank you Lord! If that girl was telling the truth, then I sincerely hope her mother gets the medicine she needs.

We headed into town and and went to the budget hotel...sold out. We went to the next one...sold out. I was not a happy camper! We ended up in a nice hotel that was a bit out of our budget, but it was pretty! The next morning we headed out to see the Centro a bit before we headed to Amatitlan to catch the lancha to Zapata. Comitan is said (according to my guidebook) to have the cleanest streets in Mexico. They were clean, and the Centro was really charming. I would like to return to see more of Comitan.

We took a taxi to the combi station...it was the nicest one I'd seen! Our combi took us to the town of Maravilla, the end of the line. You might notice that Amatitlan and Maravilla are not the same! Very astute. They are 40 minutes apart. There were no more combis or camionetas heading that direction. Also no hotels in town. I had been told the lancha would leave early Sunday morning, and it was late Saturday afternoon. About that time a guy with a horse in the back of his truck (as in...the pickup part....not a trailer!) offered us a ride there as that's where he was heading. We thought we might have to ride with the horse, but we got to sit up front.

We finally made it to Amatitlan! We headed over to the lancha site and were disappointed to find out that there were no more lanchas going out that day, unless of course we wanted to pay $80 USD for a private lancha. Well, we did not want to pay for a private lancha, so we started to ask around about a hotel. No hotels. Rooms for rent?? Possibly, ask at the house on the corner. We headed up there and they indeed had a room we could stay in for the night for $40 pesos. The room was an old storehouse with a bunkbed in it. The beds had fitted sheets and nothing else...we would not have flat sheets or blankets or pillows. And the sheets....oh my! They were filthy....dirty with who knows what. We did identify some blood (niiiiiiiiice) and basic grime and dust. It was so disgusting, and we were SOOOOO thankful for our own sleepsheets that my mom had bought us (thank you mom!). At any rate, we were safe and that was something. We went to bed without dinner and tried not to think too much about what we were sleeping on.

We awoke early the next morning and went to use the restroom. There is no running water, so after you go potty in the toilet, you get a bucket full of water and use that to flush it down. We decided against brushing our teeth for the time being and figured we'd just relish in our total nastiness until we could get to some clean, fresh water. We headed down to the river for a lancha and were told AGAIN there would be no public lancha heading to Zapata. Well, another night on those beds I could not fathom and figured I'd keep hanging around asking til the afternoon and then I'd bite the bullet and pay for a private lancha if I needed to. After awhile, we did meet a guy who was making a delivery upriver and could drop us off in Zapata for $200 pesos. Done! We finally had our lanch ride to Zapata. I was sitting up front and there was a little hole in the boat where someone had dropped their machete, so it was packed with mud to keep the water out...it wasn't very successful however and it was amusing to watch the water squirt up every so often.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Alive and Well in San Cristóbal

We just got out of the jungle after having been there for two weeks...we have been without telephone or internet (and essentially without electricity as well...) for two weeks, and just today got back to civilization! Needless to say, a hot shower was much enjoyed.

We're sorry that we worried everyone by not being in contact. I thought my family knew we'd be out of touch for these two weeks, and feel terribly that everyone was so worried. We are so appreciative of the outpouring of love, concern and support on our behalf...no one could ever claim we weren't loved!!! Please rest assured that we are doing fine.

Sierra has a stomach virus, or something, so we've holed up for a day or two to let her rest and veg out watching tv...then we'll start heading north toward Mexico City and Guadalajara - we'll take about 10 or so days to do it, and not rush TOO much.

I'll write more about our jungle adventures soon...just wanted everyone to know we're doing fine. I'm sure you'll all love the story about the night I decided to make chicken for dinner. Maybe the fact that there is no electricity (and thus no refrigeratation...) will give you some insight on the task that was before me.

One thing though...I've had enough eggs in the past two weeks to last a lifetime!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005


After we left Zapata, with a promise to return in a week or 10 days, we weren't sure what to do. Originally we had planned to go the Lagos de Montebello, a series of 14 lakes in the jungle, but the Dr said Sierra can't swim for a week to 10 days. We finally decided to go to Guatemala.

We originally thought we'd go to Antigua as I've heard it's beautiful, and we were told it was only 4 hours over the border.

We crossed the border about 2 pm and it was really easy. I almost think we missed some checkpoint or something because it was so easy. As I hadn't done ANY homework about Guatemala, I had no idea what the exchange rate for Quetzals (Q) to dollars OR pesos was. I changed my last $400 pesos over at a rate of 7 quetzals to 10 pesos. We asked about a bus to get us to Antigua and were told we'd have to get to Huehuetenango first, and then a bus to Quetzaltenango, and then on to Antigua. We were told it was $100 Q for the bus ride on a chicken bus. I was doubtful it was this much as that is about $12.50 US and I remembered reading it was only about $0.60. We went ahead and paid and hopped on the bus and I asked around about the price, but no one seemed to know for sure. This was a true chicken bus. The seats are about 1 foot apart and it's an old school bus all painted funky with Jesus stickers everywhere...right next to the profile of the naked woman sitting sideways you sometimes see on the big rig mud flaps. A land of contradictions! Everywhere we looked, there were christian churches, bookstores and signs proclaiming Jesus.

Sierra and I sat in our seats and we each had one to ourselves. Within 10 minutes however, the bus was filling up fast. They must have eventually squeezed 125 people or more on that bus! There were 3 adults to each seat, plus kids...with the two seats Sierra and I were in, there were 8 people across...this is on a bus that is intended to have 2 children in each seat. I couldn't sit straight because my legs simply were too long to fit. A man got on with a little girl and was holding her up and had nowhere to sit. I'd heard that in this situation you take their kid for them, so I offered to hold her. She was about 3 and just came right to me, no problem...quiet as a mouse. She ended up falling asleep on me and it was really sweet. Sierra was squished up against the side of the bus, but she seemed to be doing okay.

Three hours later we arrived in Huehuetenango. We hopped on another bus and they charged us another $100 Q...I was really feeling that I was being taken advantage of and asked the lady sitting next to me. She told me it should be $24Q for the ride, not $100Q!!!! I was being overcharged by about $10 USD. BIG STUPID GRINGO must have been painted on my forehead.

On this bus, Sierra had to sit on my lap for 3 hours....I had a numb leg! I was also crowded and the sound of chicks were in the background. The guy walked by and I told him I needed my change..he nodded and kept walking. Another lady and a guy from Spain found out about what the guy had charged me and were incensed and went to the front of the bus to confront him and get me my money back. He played dumb. We finally arrived in Quetzaltenango at about 9 pm and I cornered the guy, with the help of Victor, the guy from Spain, and got my money back (VERY reluctantly!!!)...he first gave me back 20Q, then with prodding he gave me 40Q...then with more, he gave me 42Q. The bus was pulling away and he wasn't going to give me the full 76Q...Victor stepped in and argued with him and he finally gave it all to me. I bet he was bummed!!

Victor and Alice, who was from Paris, helped us find a hotel and showed us a bit around. I didn't want to go further that night as it was dark and we'd already been going all day. They are volunteers here and Victor has been here 1 month and Alice for 2 weeks. I am eternally grateful the Lord brought them to me to help me out and that they were so kind.

We are now in Quetzaltenango, also called Xela (Shell-ah). It is the 2nd largest city in Guatemala and is over run with foreighners...we're seeing more Americans here than we've seen anywhere in Mexico. We'll stay here until Friday or Saturday, and then head back to Zapata for awhile. I like Guatemala, and think we'll come back after Zapata...and I'll be a little more savvy next time!

We haven't explored too much, mostly just relaxed yesterday and checked email and whatnot today. We will spend the next few days exploring and seeing what's around.

Zapata...a place to stay

You will realize that I have written several blogs instead of one big one...This is to make it a little easier to read. Don't miss the other new ones below!

I was down to about $500 pesos and our room at the cabaña was $100 pesos a night, plus about $100 pesos a day for food. All in all, it was costing us about $20 USD to stay there a day. The next lancha was supposed to Sunday, then moved to Saturday. I decided we'd have to leave. Sierra was heartbroken and wanted me to leave her there!!! I told her no way, but this was hard as many families were also begging me to let her stay with them!! I finally said, if we can find a place that is less expensive, we will come back.

Manuel and Manuela will let us stay with them for $50 pesos a day, so we are going back. We left via lancha with some other folks, including a veterinarian who goes up and down the way to treat animals, and some folks who were helping with some construction projects on the cabañas. They ended up taking us all the way to Comitan in their truck, and didn't even charge us! We think that we might meet up with them again in Zapata as they have to return to check on the construction project.

Toenails and Torture

We had a big storm one day. Sierra was up at the centro playing with the kids when the storm started, and I was doing laundry in the river. I had come back to the cabaña when the storm started. A few minutes later, a truck pulls up (one of the 6 in the town) and honks twice and a bunch of kids are helping Sierra into the room.

I look down and her toe is mushed. Apparently the kids were kicking the water and splashing each other when Si ended up kicking a little hole in the concrete. I tried to clean it, and the toenail was pretty bad. She was freaking out a bit, so I decided just to clean it, put on some anti-biotic and bandage it.

That night, it continued to bleed and I had to change the bandages 3 times. I told her we'd have to go to the doctor in the morning. She was not happy about this prospect.

The doctor is in another town called San Quintin and is about 15 minutes away. She wasn't up to walking, so I asked around and got a ride. We went to the doctor and he said he'd have to remove the toenail. Sierra was having a really hard time with it. The doctor was so kind, and another guy went and got his guitar and started playing it for her. She sat on my lap and they did it really quick and cleaned it up and bandaged it and she was done.

The doctor gave me anti-biotics in pill form and a prescription for some pain medicine. The doctor was free!! He didn't charge us anything. I bought the guys who gave us a ride a coke and gave them 20 pesos.

By the time we arrived back at town, Sierra was doing better and even having fun with her heightened celebrity status. That night we had to change the bandage and soak her foot in hot salt water and all the kids were gathered around to see it. At first she didn't want them to see, but finally she said it was okay and even ended up taking a picture of it.

I told her that in the old days during war that people would take off other peoples toenails to torture them.

That night as we walked back, the lightning bugs were so thick and the crickets were chirping. We pretended it was the papparazzi taking pictures of us because we are so famous. It was funny!

Friends at Last

There was a daily influx of one or two people showing up to go to the lake...as well as a daily departure of people who had gone to the lake the day before. We realized everyone stayed just one day and then left. No one seemed to take any time to get to know the people in the village.

We were getting to know the kids and some of the ladies of the village better and better every day. I decided I was going to figure out how to get Manuela a bit friendlier. Over breakfast one morning I talked with her a lot and complimented her and made an extra effort to get to know her. I could feel the ice thawing. After about an hour or so of visiting, I determined I had a new friend.

I finally left to go relax a bit. As I walked out, there were some ladies sitting on their porch across the way and they motioned to me to come sit with them. We went over and I ended up visiting with them for a few hours. Manuela was obviously listening to us and would poke her head out every so often to laugh with what we were saying. Sierra was playing with the kids and we were all having a great time. One lady was expressing how much she wanted to go tot he US and I was trying to let her know it is not all it's cracked up to be for immigrants and what a hard life it is for them and that she was better off staying here in her town. I explained that people are so busy in the US that they have to make an appointment days ahead of time to spend one hour together...that you would never just come sit on someone's porch for hours at a time to visit. They all thought that was very strange and laughed and laughed at that idea.

Finally I left to go back to my cabaña, but only made it a few more houses before more people motioned for me to come sit and relax with them. All in all, I didn't ever make it back to the cabaña, but I did cement in my mind that I loved Zapata and the people there.

Now we were like celebrities everywhere we went. We swam in the river with the kids, we visited with the people on the porches, the ladies taught me how to do my laundry in the river using the rocks. We were beginning to feel a part of the village and it's life. We decided not to leave on Thursday.

Laguna Miramar

We left at 7 am for the lake...it was a bit overcast, but still somewhat muggy. I was on Chapeco, a nice white stallion. I had some trouble getting on and off due my ankle being sprained, so I'm sure it was amusing for all of our admirers to watch! Ha!! It was NOT amusing to me and I was still struggling with whether or not I liked this town that was so fascinated with my size.

The ride was about 2 hours out to the lake, through mud that was sometimes up to the horses knees. It was beautiful and we saw an amazing number of birds, butterflies, and trees. We didn't see any monkeys which was a bummer, and we didn't see any exotic birds like parrots or toucans or quetzals. They told us that they are deeper in the jungle. This was a disappointment because our guidebook said they were prolific where we were going.

The butterflies here are beautiful...there are over 350 species of butterflies, and they flutter all around.

We finally got to the lake, and it was just simply gorgeous. It is a mountain lake, ringed by mountains all around. There is no settlement allowed within 1 km of the lake, so it is just as clear and pristine as can be. At this time of year, it is a beautiful green and you can see the bottom from over 20 feet above. The water is warm and inviting. We swam for hours. The Italians showed up after having hiked up and we all swam together. They were throwing Sierra into the air and she was having a ball.

Some kids from the town were there fishing and they would put a glass bottle into the water with a bit of maza in it and little fish would swim into the bottle to get the food and then they would use the little fish to catch bigger fish. We also took the kayak out on the lake and went around looking at the jungle around it. There were some beautiful caves and stunning scenery.

The lake is ringed with big rocks that jut out from the edge of the jungle, about 1 foot under the surface of the water. You can stand on the rocks and jump off the edge where it drops off 12-20 feet below.

We really loved the lake and were glad we went. We rode the horses back late in the afternoon and by the time we got back in town, I was definitely ready to get off the horse!

Sierra spent another afternoon playing with the kids and I spent some time talking with some of the women of the village. We found out there was a lancha that would leave on Thursday, which meant we would go out via a little boat on the river instead of the camioneta, and decided to do that.

That meant we'd be in town another day or so. I was still not so impressed by Manuela.

Monday, August 01, 2005

In the jungle, the mighty jungle, the Lion sleeps tonight

Our first night in Zapata...we arrived via camioneta at approximately 4 pm and learned our first bit of trivia...they go by Maya Time here, which is an hour behind regular time. As we learned, many Mexicans call the different times "Tiempo de Dios" and "Tiempo de Fox"...this is because Mexico never recognized daylight savings until President Fox introduced the concept about 5 years ago. There are many chistes (jokes) about this, and people in general don't seem to like the concept...thus, we have Maya Time, which doesn't recognize Fox Time. It was quite confusing at first!

We were shown to our cabaña and I was somewhat nervous to realize we were the only people staying there and it was some distance from the town. I did not feel safe at all, despite Manuel's assurances that it was fine.

There are no restaraunts in Zapata...and only the 6 little cabañas for people going to the Laguna Miramar. We ate with Manuel and his wife Manuela. There is also no electricity in Zapata, so the people cook over fires and wash clothes in the river. At night they use candles for light. After dinner, it was dark and I asked Manuel to walk us to our cabaña because I was nervous. When we got there, there were some men there which made me more nervous, but he assured me all was fine. I prayed that God would keep me from having to use the bathroom in the middle of the night!!!! Thankfully, He did! This is a big feat for me as I normally have to go potty in the night about 2-3 times. Okay...I guess that was TMI (too much information).

The next day dawned bright and early, and we were supposed to go to the lake via horseback. We went with the guide, but there was only one little pony for Sierra. My ankles were swollen and in a lot of pain from twisting them (again!), and the terrain to the lake is deep mud, rocks and tree roots and steep up and downs. I said I would have to have a horse. We decided to go the next day.

At this point, I was ready to leave. I had decided I hated Zapata. The people kept making comments about how HUGE I was....even Sierra is bigger then most of the people there, but I was getting really offended by it and all their interest in how big I am. Manuel's wife seemed to be a penny pincher and out for every penny she could get...she was charging us 30 pesos per person per meal for rice and beans and tortillas. She seemed unfriendly at best and said I was too big for a horse. I was so mad!!

Sierra begged me not to leave...she really wanted to see the lake and give it one more day. I reluctantly said okay. That day, without much to do, we ended up walking around the small town a bit and all the kids were looking at us. We finally went to the center area where there was an open air building. While there, about 50 kids and several adults showed up just to watch us. They were all peering at us and giggling. Sierra started acting silly and they just laughed and laughed. Then she began chasing them and playing tag and it was all over...50 kids were running all over playing and laughing. We tried to get a game of Duck, Duck, Goose started, but it ended up being a new game we called Mono, Mono, Mordida (Monkey, Monkey, Bite!!)...it was lots of fun...Sierra would tag the kids and make them sit down and when everyone was seated, she would say Mono, Mono, Mordida and point to someone to be the next one to be "It"...they even got the adults involved, and the ice was broken, I started to make friends.

Manuela still didn't seem very friendly, but I decided to ignore her unfriendliness. After the game, everywhere we went the kids would yell out "Mono, Mono!!" whenever we would pass by. That same day, some more people came into town to go to the Lake..they were all from Italy. I felt much better about being in the cabaña that night with some neighbors and some friends.

The Camioneta

Hi there! We are in Guatemala currently, for a week...then we head back into the jungles of Mexico. We love it there!!

First off, a hint for the pictures...if you double click on them, you can seem them in bigger form.

Well, we headed into the jungle about a week or so ago. We went from San Cristobal de las Casas to Ocosingo and spent the night there. Then, we left and headed out on a camioneta for Zapata, a town in the jungle about 2-3 hour hike from Laguna Miramar, the most pristine and remote lake in Mexico.

The camioneta was quite an experience, and I was relieved that there were two other women and a guy from Italy on it with us. Imagine a 1 ton truck with the sides built up about 5 feet in wood and a metal frame overhead. Then imagine about 25 people in the bed of the truck, another 3 on top of the cab and another 3 or four inside the cab...now you have in mind how it looks. Add to this a couple of 50 gallon drums of gas, and another 10 gallon plastic drum, a 5 gallon drum, an extra tire, a few boxes of chickens, about 15 industrial sized packages of maza, a few flats of tomatoes, some 5 gallon buckets filled with machetes, saws and other various tools....PLUS everyones backpacks, packages, boxes, etc. You get the picture. It was crowded. And it was hot, and dusty, and sweaty. If you can believe it, Sierra slept for a few hours under these conditions!

We passed by little communities and the kids would all laugh and point at us gringos and wave and yell out HOLA...they seemed fascinated by us. As we were standing in the back of the camioneta you had to duck as we would go by trees and vines. At one point, Sierra didnt duck and got smacked in the eye with a branch and had (another) recuerdo...a souveigner. She had a big scratch on her eye, but was fine.

We were on the camioneta for roughly 8 hours. Eight lllloooooooonnnnnnngggggg hours! We were the first ones on and the last ones off. It was actually a beautiful, if bumpy, ride. Oh..did I mention there was not a road...at least not one to speak of. It was kind of an exciting adventure...but this is the kind of adventure that you would only want to do once!

At one point, the front tire blew out, so we all had to disembark while they changed the tire. There was a little stream nearby, so we got our faces washed off and got our hair wet, along with our hats. We both had to go potty, and it was a jungle experience complete with drip dry. We tried to shield each other from anyones view but as we were driving away a few minutes later, two guys with big machetes were sitting right by the place we relieved ourselves. I just hope they didnt see my white bum flappin in the wind!!!