Aug 31, 2005

Disordered Directions Detract from Deliberate Destination


Oddly enough a big part of what this trip is about is to figure out what to do when it ends. Before we left I boiled down my number one goal; I want to find a vocation on this trip. Happily, as we´ve been putting miles behind us, I´m starting to unravel the meaning of the years since I last seriously travelled and am finding glowing insights in the threads.

Throughout much of my time at university I followed a sort of inner lit path. I had a vague but solid sense of who I wanted to be after I graduated so I let that thought guide me in my individual day to day life. I wanted to tackle environmental issues and I wanted to do it from a worldly technical perspective. With a vision of what I wanted to know, how to put together a building that does little damage to the environment, it became really easy to choose and pay attention in classes. With a vision of what I wanted to see, an ecohouse on campus, I could find other like minded people that shared that vision. When it came time to apply for grants to live abroad I could easily write out my daydreams and the world generously responded.

When I approached finally graduating, confident that I´d easily step into a well paying ideal job, I buried myself in debt travelling.


I didn´t know exactly what I was looking for so I prettied up my resume put it on the internet assuming that my ideal job would find me. I was very hopeful, but kept things vague to keep my options open. I imagined I´d be happy to work designing wind-turbines, environmental buildings, government policy, or even teaching kids about eco-issues. Whatever, really. I didn´t even know what type of life I was looking for, nor where. I didn´t think I wanted to join the suit-clad army in Americas cubicles but at the same time I didn´t really have any idea of what else I wanted to do.

Resevoir Dogs?

I couldn´t barely concieve of what else I wanted to do but didn´t think it mattered that much. I assumed I should just get something, and the rest would make sense along the way. I started out hopeful but slowly learned the lesson many of my generation did in the post dot com boom world. Jobs alone were hard to come by, let alone good ones.

I was living in my Mother and Toms basement at the time, slowly but surely getting more depressed by the day. I worked as a temp doing data entry and then as a CAD monkey to the only people I could convince to hire me. I´d send out vaguer and vaguer resumes to an ever expanding breadth of jobs. The light I´d steered by through college got dimmer and dimmer until it was impossible to navigate by. My day to day decisions were driven towards short term directions and no longer any long term destinations.

At my lowest point I was downsized from the job I was doing and cut loose into the world without any real sense of who I was anymore let alone what I should do. The universe took pity on me, and gave me a piece of luck that I truthfully didn´t earn. Through a family friend I got an excellent job with people I really liked in a really wonderful part of the US. I still wasn´t working in my ideal field but I found myself living a good life. Slowly, and still without a vision of where I wanted to go, I clawed up out of the depths of my depression.

I met some great friends and lived in an area hopping with energy. At work I was blessed with a situation where, while I had a day to day direction of what I needed to do, I was offered an opportunity to expand it in any direction I had the capacity to. I was living in an area so civic minded and so congizant of issues I care about that it´d have been easy to join or start any movement I cared about. And to my shame, and dissappointment, I didn´t to either. I made halfhearted motions towards the daydreams I had in college, went to a green building conference and applied for a couple projects. But I still lacked a destination to drive to and without that I muddled through and instead focused on making my days in Massachusetts both acceptable and pleasant.

Northampton, MA

"Your work parallels your life, but in the sense of a glass full of water where people look at it and say, 'Oh, the water's the same shape as the glass!"
-Francis Ford Coppola

After I finally pulled out of my rut I didn´t really start moving again because I still lacked a light to guide me. While continuing to live a good life I realized that because I wasn´t moving I caught myself sinking, ever so slowly, into a new rut. I was fortunate enough to see this new depression of my own making coming on the distant horizon but had no idea what to do about it. I still had no destination so knew no way to steer into any new direction. So, desperate for a solution before things got desperate I decided to reboot and start over.
"Live your questions now, and perhaps even without knowing it, you will live along some distant day into your answers."
-Rainer Maria Rilke

Hence, this morning I woke up jobless, homeless, a couple thousand miles from my nearest base of friends and family but profoundly happy in Central America.

In the Ruins
"It's necessary to be slightly underemployed if you are to do something significant." -James Watson

The story doesn´t end here. In fact, in some really important ways, it begins here. One of the joys of travelling with Tyler is that unless we´re careful we can spend entire days volleying perspectives on lifes philosophy back and forth while strolling through exotic streets. One night in western Honduras, in particular, Tyler and I sat at a restaurant drinking beer, eating fresh shrimp and started teasing out this particular dilemma.

Before long we´d started referring to two different metholodogies about approacing life as destinations and directions. Destination is a long term goal, an idealized vision (ie. Our vague plan to make it to southern South America). Direction, on the other hand, is that path one takes day to day often due to neccesity (ie. Whenever we leave a place we go generally south). When the direction is defined by the destination it´s easy to know what to do next. And then, when you know you are on roughly the right path it´s easy to relax, pay attention to the world around and enjoy the ride. When all we have is a direction, and no destination, every moment loses some magic. In other words, its not living deliberately.

That, in a nutshell, was where I went wrong. Far too easily I let my vision of who I wanted to be slip away when trying to fit into Life After College. I let my dreams fade so I could more easily fit into any mold thinking that made me a better candidate.

Of course I still needed to do something, and to get some sort of job even if it wasn´t clear how it´d fit into my wider destinations. If it´s all I´ve got, earning enough money to live is a step in the right direction to almost any destination. And if my destination wasn´t immediately apparent in what I was getting paid to do, it should´ve been in what I devoted my own time towards. In the evenings after work I should´ve been designing and actually drawing the eco-houses I daydream about. I should´ve been writing the book I´ve been talking about for years. I don´t know how this would´ve added up to anything different, but in my heart of hearts I´m dead certain it will.
"...Listen, Kamala, when you throw a stone into the water, it finds the quickest way to the bottom of the water. It is the same when Siddhartha has an aim, goal. Siddhartha does nothing; he waits, he thinks, he fasts, but he goes through the affairs of the world like the stone through the water, without doing anything, without bestirring himself; he is drawn and lets himself fall. He is drawn by his goal, for he does not allow anything to enter his mind which opposes his goal. That is what Siddhartha learned from the Samanas. It is what fools call magic and what they think is caused by demons. Nothing is caused by demons, there are no demons. Everyone can perform magic, everyone can reach his goal, if he can think, wait, and fast.
-Hermann Hesse

The gift of an idealized destination was exactly why I found college so satisfying. And sacrificing it to enter the ´real´world was the biggest mistake I´ve made. So my goal, the destination, for the remainder of this trip has shifted a little. It is time for me to recapture my idealism, update my old daydreams into a clear vision and get ready to hold on tight.


"If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible."
-Soren Kierkegaard

Aug 28, 2005

Radical Review of Rational Writing

The Invocation by Paul Gauguin

As I mentioned before I started a brand new weblog to post what books I've read since this trip begin. I kept it seperate because it's largely for me to keep track of them and I read too much to inflict on you, our beautiful and charming readers.

But I just read a great book, -Guns, Germs, and Steel- by Jared Diamond and just posted a review of it here that I wanted to share with you. Check it out if you're curious.

Aug 27, 2005

Invest in life, and life will provide...

Yeah, yeah I know... "Shut up Tyler!" Anyone who knows me knows my mantra. Even any devout livedelibertarians are no doubt tiring of my prattle. I can't help it. Its too good. LIFE, is too good!

Self portraiture!

So I didn't really feel that way yesterday. I had been eager to explore my new found freedom. I jumped from the breathtaking lovely, if not terribly over-touristed, and slightly dull Granada, to Masaya. Forty five minutes away from Granada by Chicken bus, Masaya, is a great lot less touristed, similarly dull, and a hell of a lot mas feo! The only real draw to Masaya, is a proximity to lovely places, and its two markets. The first and main market is huge, filthy, and suits the practical needs of your everyday Nicaraguan... in other words, was little more than an obstacle for me. The second market is the artesan market, for which any torists of Masaya come. Its a lovely place, with an abundance of shops selling almost the same things, most of which, of corse, have no value save that of dust collection, which I imagine they do very well. I did, however, need, need, need some new beads, to replace the ones given away along the way. So, I payed too much, slid on my new digs (much better, thank you), and recalled my purpose for coming here... its close to beautiful places.

The first on my agenda was Catalina. A lovely little town (one of the Pueblo Blancos, after the whitewash the towns use) hosting an even lovelier Mirador, which has an exquisite view of the surrounding volcano-encrusted countryside. Supposedly. I wouldn't know. I was put on a bus to Managua, the most difficult, dirty, dangerous, hostile city in Central America. Sitting next to a fellow who I'm quite sure was 'rolling' at best, as he was rocking back an forth, breathing heavily, literally chewing chunks out of the back of the seat in front of us, and more or less scaring the puta mierda out of me! This is when the bus got a flat.

Two hours and a taxi ride later, I found myself back "home", in the least interesting (although not really unpleasant) city of my travels. Feeling dejected disappointed in myself, and hopelessly alone, I sought internet to write e-mails to loved ones back home. Not wanting to show myself to be a complete failure, i forced a positive mindset while writing them, in somewhere along the way, refused to give up on myself, my environment, or the people around me. As I left the internet place, the atmosphere had taken an unearthly hue. Armageddon stuff. I rushed to the parque Central just in time to be completely overwhelmed by the most brilliant sunset sky I've seen. Fortunately, although my jaw had fallen slack, just enough of my cerebrum was left intact to remember my camera (I know you're proud Micah). Its not doing justice, but its the best I could snap...


I spent some time speaking with a new friend, Alberto (not the spanish Alberto, a new one, Nicaraguan Alberto), before bumping into some Dutch travellers Micah and I keep seeing. A wonderful couple, you can check out their website (which hosts even more pics than we have) by clicking the link at the top of this blog. They told me about a festival in the Artesan market. Although it wasn't quite what I had expected, it was in fact perfect for the evening. It was an entire night of performed traditional dance. Lovely latin faces and bodies moving with that perfect latin rhythm, and exuding that latin... I don't know what it is, but it will undoubtably be the meat of my next blog!

Regrettably, no pics. I forgot my camera. I think God wanted that one to be just for me.

Today, I woke up invigorated. I climbed a Volcano (Volcan Masaya) whose gaping maw so resembles the open pit to hell, that a few centuries ago, a priest, Friar Francisco de Bobadilla actually enlisted the aid of indians to raise an enormous cross with which he exorcised the demons within. The trek was phenominal!

by the way, this crater is so enormous, this is only about a quarter of its girth

Fully recharged, tomorrow, I strike out for the calm wake left by my big brother in San Juan del Sur...

Aug 26, 2005

Baffled By Bitter Best Beach Boredom

Almost inevitably when someone I've recently met discovers I've done a bit of travelling they innocently ask me a question I loath. "Where was your favorite?" or worse, "What was the best?" It's a hell of a question, because I've had so many varied but wonderful experiences all over the world. Am I to do decide then that the kind Mexican who invited me to his home for dinner was "better" than the day I had a cup of tea on top of a mountain in the Swiss Alps with some newfound friends?

Cafe in Switzerland

I know the question is innocent, its only really intended to invite me to share a travel story. It's just the way its worded that rankles with everything I've ever felt about travelling. So, I inevitably deflect the question. I mumble something about experiences always being different and try to change the topic.

Today, in San Juan del Sur, I met a traveler who could answer that question, with ease. I arrived here, this beach town on Nicaraguas Pacific Coast in the afternoon. I'm sharing a dorm room with about half a dozen others and a couple of us got to talking. After an afternoon spent in an uncomfortable bus I was dazzled with this place. It's a beautiful spot, a small town in on a small bay surrounded by hills protecting a long sandy beach and a flotilla of yachts and fishing boats.

Sunset in San Juan

One traveler, a genuinely pleasant guy from Seattle, confidently stated that this beach wasn't barely worth it. That he'd found the "best" in Croatia and this one really was nothing remarkable.

"To each his own," I replied, "but luckily for me my beach is here!"

I shortly left for some swimming and then for dinner. While watching the sun set over the beach behind my spaghetti tried to sort out some thoughts about the conversation. He wasn't being obnoxious, he was clearly a nice guy who'd done a lot of travelling. I didn't feel annoyed so much as I felt pity. I got to look out onto the beach I wanted to see tonight whereas he likely will never see his again.

I started thinking again about the tyranny of the best. Human nature, it seems, drives us to rank things in order of value. Often with good reason, by recognizing somethings value it gives it even more. A great book that wins a Pulitzer prize will get more readers, thus magnifying the intensions of it's author. But it also costs something, a subtle detraction to everything else. What I don't know is if, on the balance, it's worth the cost.


As the sun set fire to the sky I realized that this same question could also be where the line between childish naivity and worldly experience is drawn. Once a child picks their 'best' friend they lose a little of the gregariousness to all the others. Of course the best friend changes, but does the open hearted innocence ever come back fully? Once you discover that Hungry Hungry Hippos is the best game ever, will you still learn every new game with that wide eyed and delicious possibility that it may be wonderful? It's the same reason I sometimes roll my eyes when a friend who wears her heart on her sleeve naively tells me that, once again, she found the love of her life. I may roll my eyes with a smirk, but that doesn't mean I'm not a little jealous too.

I don't really know what to make of this train of thoughts, nor what to do with them. All I've gathered is, based on what it can do, the word 'best' is an extraordinarily potent one that should be used with care. Perhaps its even, the best?


Aug 25, 2005

Estoy solo, pero estoy feliz

Ahhh... all is well.

Xalteva Church

As you all well know by now, Micah and I have taken reprieve from eachother. A little saddened, and a little lonely, perhaps. A little nervous about not knowing what to do if I bump into him, perhaps. This is our grace period. We're "taking a break"... no really, its mutual... I swear! I don't need him. He was a cabrone anyway (perhaps you've noticed, our form of censoring is by writing in spanish). There'll be others.

Oh wait, no there won't. He's the only one I got, mierda!

No, really, it wasn't like that at all. One day, over dinner, as we were having a particularly profound and inspiring conversation (of which, we will both assuredly post, later, when its percolated), I looked at my brother, and said; "Micah, we have to talk about travelling separately." To which he responds by smiling ear to ear. "I thought I would have to bring that up." You'd think that smile would hurt my feelings. That my brother was excited to leave me, to battle the road alone. But it didn't hurt. You see, brothers understand eachother to a much deeper level than that. Especially brothers who've shared every second of the past two and a half months. He was happy to stretch his legs alone, sure, as I was (its why i brought it up), but that wasn't where the smile was born. My big brother looked at me... and felt nothing but pride for his baby bro. I could feel it. It puffed me like Orville Reddenbacher.

Anyway, we've spent two days in the same Town, without crossing paths. I can't be sure of his plan, but i think as we both bolt tomorrow, radically diferent trips await us. Only time, and this blogsite will tell. During our time in Granada however, I have been damn busy takin pictures. The town is beautiful, and already in many ways home, but I'm ready to get into somewhere a bit more active. Mostly in Granada, you just sit and feel the city. Tomorrow I'm heading for some Volcanoes! Anyway, I'm putting a couple of pics here now, but I think you'd love to take a peek at the rest I've taken today, I got ALOT of good ones. I think its kind of hard to get a bad one here!

Main Cathedral with Cross

Anyway, many adventures await, and we'll relay them soon enough. I know I'll be checking this site everyday!

Suffering Sandinista and Slimy Somoza

Nicaragua is one of two countries in this hemisphere that pulled off an honest to goodness peoples revolution. In the first third of the last century, there was a charismatic figure named Augusto Cesar Sandino who had a unique brand of socialism. He championed socialist causes, human rights and rallied the poor people to his cause by speaking of the disparity between the rich and poor as well as his own, personal, connection to God. He was enormously popular and gaining steam until General Anastasio Somozo became head of the National Guard and ordered him killed in 1934. And with a shot it was over for a long time to come.

Three years later with no one left to stop him the same Somozo rigged the elections and became president. He was awful and ran the country as his own personal estate with a population of slaves. People were killed left and right including when things got rough, Somoza himself in 1956. It didn't affect things, Somozos kids picked up where he left off, and things kept getting worse.


In 1972 there was a powerful earthquake here, 10,000 people died and five times that number were left homeless. The Somoza clan stepped up to the plate to 'help.' They deposited a huge fraction of the emergency aid pouring in from other countries into personal bank accounts and took the emergency donations of supplies to sell at a profit to the victims. Nice guys. Real nice.


In May 1979 two things critically important happened in the history of Nicaragua. One was the Sandinistas, named after Sandino, started fighting back. They fought for a say in their own country, a more socially benovelent government and finally to break the stranglehold Somoza had on their country for four decades. By July 19, 1979 the Sandinistas took the capital. They won.

The second critically important event was one half of the MacAllen duo which would later steal the hearts of this country over a quarter century later, Tyler, was born.

Sunburn Anyone

The US responded to a brand new democracy in the hemisphere like a big brother. A vicious, repressive and controlling big brother (You be quiet, Tyler). President Reagan had $20 Million spent training and rearming the old National Guard members, Somozas crew, before sending them home. If funding right wing death squads in a country who won a democracy for idealists doesn't make me feel patriotic I don't know what would. Well, one thing that would is when the US Congress figured out how brutal the Contrarevolucionarios(aka, Contras) were they used their 'power of the purse' to cut all funding of these thugs. Its a pity Oliver North then went ahead and sold American Military weapons to the Iranians (wait, aren't those very same Neo-Cons in power now talking about war with Iran?) and sent the proceeds to the Contras. As a child of the 80s I was bored to tears by the Iran-Contra affair as it played out as hours and hours of congressional investigations on TV all the time. Now I finally get to see what it was all about. For the blatant disregard of Congresses demands, not to mention the thousands upon thousands of dead Nicaraguans, a lot of people in Reagans government got in trouble. Until, of course, Bush Sr. was elected and pardoned every one of them.

There is a happy ending. In 1988 the Sandinistas and the Contras signed a cease fire and this country has been a mostly functioning democracy ever since. Although the Sandinistas were voted out of power in 1990 there is still an air of respect and a people proud of their own fighting history. To this day there is lot of political street art and bumper stickers proclaiming 'Sandinista Siempre,' 'Sandinistas Always'.


Aug 24, 2005

Productive Pals Parting

Much of the travel I've done in the past was going solo, at least at the outset. Other times I've had some great trips travelling with old friends as well as the countless people I've met along the way. Both are wonderful, worthwhile, experiences although they feel distinctly different. One one hand it's wonderful to be able to share a moment or a place with someone you're close too. On the other hand travelling alone forces one to become a little more gregarious and a little more engaged into the exciting world around.

This trip, just to be different, has had a feel all its own. Tyler and I have gotten along really well for years and when he came out to visit me in Scandinavia a few years ago we discovered that we travelled really well together too.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Copenhagen, Denmark

It's great to travel with someone you love dearly and trust implicitly. Tyler and I have complimentary strengths and weaknesses and after a somewhat eclectic but shared youth we've grown up instinctivly knowing when to help and when to ask for help. Furthermore, we both trust the other and ourselves to do our own thing and be able to handle whatever they get themselves into (as opposed to the crazy things we get into when we're together, but thats another story). This makes it so even though we've been sharing the same bedroom every day of the past two months save two, its easy for us each to take our own space whenever we want it. Furthermore, for a long time Tyler and I have both been devout communists when it comes to eachother. There is nothing I have that I wouldn't give Tyler if he asked and vice-versa. This trip makes that ethos particularly handy because this trip goes until we both run out of money which means it doesn't really matter who buys dinner, pays for a hostel or owes the other a beer. All in all, we make a great travelling team.

With things going so well it felt odd that when we arrived to Granada, Nicaragua this morning we wished eachother luck and parted ways. We're both going to give travelling solo in Central America a shot and we started today. So, we found our way to hostels on the opposite side of town and are plotting to what to do with our new found freedom. So, pay attention close to this blog. Hopefully you'll get to see what this world looks like through our seperate eyes. We've both got vague plans to travel around a bit and won't see eachother until we reach a mystical island in the middle of an inland sea. We've heard legends about two vast cones bursting up from the water and figure that sounds like an appropriate place for a triumphant reunion.

Good luck!

Aug 22, 2005

Wiley ´wascals and worthwhile ´weading

Some of the books we have been reading

I dont know if you have noticed, but Tyler has been going all out to organize our photos online. He has been adding tons of comments and titles to the photos so if you have the inkling click any of these pictures to check out his work. While he has been doing that I´ve been lounging in a hammock like a literate sloth. One of the joys of travelling is having time to read and most good hostels have a place that you can swap books with other travelers or an ever changing library. Too keep track of things I started a new weblog (hey you, stop rolling your eyes, NOW!)where I am going to keep track of my literary adventures. I´m mostly doing it to keep track of the books myself, but if you are curious check it out please do so.

It has finally happened. Folks warned us about it coming here but we took in stride and promised to be careful. Somewhere along that border crossing journey we were robbed. Well, at least I was. Some sneaky fellow unzipped my backpack, overlooked a $300 empty MP3 player, all of my High Fashion clothes, and took my toiletry kit.

Yup, a toiletry kit. They got a used toothbrush, some toothpaste (thankfully I finished the good stuff, Toms of Maine, a month ago), razors, a beard trimmer, and nail clippers. As annoying as it all is for me to lose, what did they think they gain by getting it? How much would you pay for a used toothbrush on the black-market? What if they threw in some nail clippers to sweeten the deal?

The biggest loss was our electric beard trimmer. It was the only thing keeping the hairy MacAllen boys from turning into grizzled tangled messes. So, consider yourself forwarned when you check out our pictures from now on. Unless we get a replacement soon our pleasantly furry faces will dissappear under a tangle of mangy dreads!


Picture Page...

Red Tropical Church

Hey gang,

Micah had such tremendous responses from his cartographers query, that I thought seek a little advice of my own from the board.

We've been trying to start organizing the pictures on the flickr site, so that you can mostly get where you want without having to filter through two hundred pages of slow loaders.

Really, I'm finding one of the easiest ways to get around the flickr site is by accessing the sets on the left hand side of the first page. Right now, we have ten sets:

The Latin American Epic, is the largest, containing all the pictures from the trip.
The Notorios MacAllen Boys, are pictures of us.
Beautiful People, are the friends and loved ones we meet along the way.
Cool Pics, is an as yet fairly undeveloped set, containing some of our favorites.
Guatemala, is our pics from Guatemala.
Honduras, same from Honduras.
Nicaragua, nuff said.
Artwork, is the art.
Flowers, are the flower pics Micah particularly loves to stop and take... thanks Elizabeth!
And finally Food, is the pictures of some of the most wonderful things we eat.

Clicking the set brings you to a thumbnail page where you can scan through and find the ones you want easily and hopefully, quickly.

I don't want there to be too many sets, as organizing will get to be too much, but i wanted to know if there was any other set headings you would like to see. Do we have too many? Not enough? Has someone figured easier ways to get around? Perhaps by searching the tags?

Anyway, thank you for any advice you have... enjoy the site!


Aug 20, 2005

Down, Down and Away!!!

As the brothers MacAllen make headway into the deeper recesses of Central America, we find more "llaves del corazon" (keys of the heart). We've paused to catch our breath, which is a good deal faster than either of us would like to admit, in Leon, Nicaragua. Leon is a lovely little town, with seemingly limited tourism, despite the warm atmosphere and plentiful accomodations. We've been here not quite a full day, and have already fallen in love, but more on that later... I have yet to finish telling of Honduras.

Feeling the need to recover for spent (not lost, no, never lost) time in Guatemala, we raced through much of Honduras. A beautiful country filled with even more beautiful people, we found the fairly advanced infrastructure of Honduras easy to move quickly through. After spending our time in the Bay Islands, we longed to spend a little while outside of the influence of white (albeit, fairly multilingual) faces. Off the beaten path brought us to Amapala, on Isla El Tigre.

First, we spent a night in San Lorenzo, a moderately wealthy pueblo in the poorest part of Honduras, at the point of the Gulf de Fonseco. The money, we understand, comes comes in in the form of small crustacia... camarones. The shrimping industry there filled our bellies well. Micah and I found lodging in a fair sized hostel, standing almost completely empty, with the tiniest rooms we've yet seen. In fairness, the room was clean, and with a good fan, which goes a long was in this oppressive heat, but the dirt from our sandals was enough to reverse that on such limited floorspace.

The tiniest room ever

Here we learned our next lesson of hotel selection... never agree to a curfew. Walk down the street, pay more, and enjoy your evening, if there is evening to be enjoyed. A ten o'clock time limit in this good Christian establishment, with night watchmen making sure you get to bed, really limits the freedom of travel! Perhaps it would have reminded us of home, had we not had such a generous, and liberal minded mother.

The next morning, we passed through the tiny fishing town of Coyolito en Route To Amapala. A short, but interesting history to this almost completely forgotten town, includes a brief stint as the capitol of Honduras, if not Central America. Now don't quote me on this, as Micah and I have deduced everything from conversations in broken spanish, and our own non-expert knowledge of Central American history. There was briefly a unified Central American Government. We believe Amapala was selected as the capitol, because of its central location, and Pacific port accomidation. The only Latin American cut from direct sea route to Amapala would be Belize, which might not have even existed yet. Following the fracture of the C.A. Government, Amapala remained the Honduran Capitol for a solid day before it was brought back to the more reasonable Tegucigalpa, which remains capitol today. you simply can't run your government out of a tiny town on a miniscule island almost as near to two other countries as it is to yours. From the peak of the mountain which is the island, one needs only turn their head from El Salvador to see Nicaragua.

Our first challenge is always to find a place to stay. We found an apartment, payed way too much, but enjoyed our own kind of private bedrooms, cable TV (which neither of us watch at home, but catch ourselves extremely greatful for on the road.), and private bathroom. We found the manual filling toilet, and manual pouring shower to be every bit as exciting as it sounds. The very occasionally running water was used to fill a cement cistern from which we bathed and flushed.

Our shower, a concrete cistern of water and a gallon bucket.  It did the trick just fine

We were excited to accomplish every (or should I say both) things to do on the island. We walked around it, day one.

Happier than pigs at sunset

And up it, day two.


Both tasks lovely, and neither simple (the trip around is 18 km, and the trail up a brutally unrelenting and seemingly endless slope), we found the company we kept to be the best part of our journey. I really recommend going to the isla, but do it with someone you love.

We hadn't slept much in days, but rather than recover from that, we thought better two replace our exhaustion with hunger. Two days of grueling exercise on an island with almost no restaurants, and only on occasional tienda offering any number of three types of chips left us empty, and week, but deeply satisfied and happy. We did, after two hours of walking the island in the morning find some breakfast. Although not the morning meal I'm accustomed to, it was delicious!

Want some fried Fish and Rice?  It was Delicious!

Apart from the strange looks we got for begging much needed coffee in the blazing heat to accompany our fish, breakfast was fantastic!

The only foreigners on the island, we suffered an onslaught of catcalls by schoolgirls and women the likes of which neither of us have ever approached. We are, as they say "guapos", and they like "to watch us walk". "Ay, mi amor!"

The evening of day one, we met up with Nelsi,

Tyler and Nelsi

a lovely young lady who helped us with our spanish and unabashedly paraded her prizes around town. She brought us to a small, and poor, but incredibly entertaining circus, that hosted an actrobat, a gymnist, the three funniest (even though I had hardly a clue what they were saying) payasos (clowns) I've ever seen, and a small squad of lovely, scantily clad dancing girls, one of whom was a man. The transvestite took an especially kind liking to me, coming up into the stands to offer me a more "intimate" dance. apparently I hadn't recieved enough attention that day! Nelsi tells me the next day "Silia" (I think thats the dancers name) was asking where the "Americans" were. Oh well, I guess I've broken hearts before.

After two days on the island, we struck out for Nicaragua. Two launchas (one broke down mid-route) a border, and five busses later, we arrived in Leon.. where our story continues...

Bum Brothers Bewildered at Border Battle

Another day, another country. This morning we woke up in a very nice (and not very expensive) hotel a block away from the Plaza Central in Leon, Nicaragua.

Plaza Central of Leon, Nicaragua

Much has happened since I last posted. First of all, the first edition of Micahs Missives has gone out over Google Groups with only one real hitch. When I started it I added a bunch of folks who I thought would be interested but the google folks over-rode my plan and sent invites instead. So, only those clever folks who figured out (or cared to) click the link in the e-mail actually signed up for the list. If you didn't get a group e-mail from me this morning but would like to in the future click here to sign up.

Secondly, I really appreciate all the comments on my last post. The pictures on the right of this screen are the very latest we uploaded but unfortunately there is no way to have them be the latest chronologically. I just checked out Google Earth, and decided that it may well be the coolest thing ever (Has anyone else read Snow Crash?). Unfortunately, without installing the free 200MB program I can´t do much with it. Perhaps when I get back to my computer at home I will be able to post all the pictures on an interactive map but until then I need to stay woefully behind the game. Perhaps if I can get to an internet cafe with some good image editing software I can make a map that traces our path like an Indiana Jones movie, but until then I´m going to post another country map with highlighted notes like this one:

Map of Nicaragua

If you click on the above map you will be taken to the Flickr site where you will see a little note about where we crossed the border. Easy, right? The actual Journey across the border was anything but.

Our book suggested it was an easy point to cross from Honduras into Nicaragua so we were lulled into a false sense of complacency. We rode into the border town of Guasole on a "chicken bus," one of the millions of ancient American school buses that now form the transportation backbone for Central America.

How many school buses have you ever seen in one place.  Here they stretch on for miles!

We skimmed the book and it mentioned we would need to pay an exit fee of a couple Dollars to Honduras, and a couple more for an entrance fee into Nicaragua (And yes, you can only pay in dollars. It isn´t legal to pay Lempiras nor Cordobas to either government. Interesting, no?). But then, we arrived. Immediately the bus was surrounded with at least forty men screaming at us. Before we got up from our seats there were people waving a thick stack of money through the window in my face screaming "Cambio, Change, You Want CORDOBAs, Cambio! Hables Ingles?!? Trust me! Trust me!"

We had no idea what we were in for. By the time we made it off the bus our bags disappeared from the roof and we were totally surrounded by pushing, sweating, screaming men. It was all I could do to keep my hand covering my wallet and try to look over the teaming humanity for our bags.

Our bags had found their way to being loaded onto two bicycle taxis. The drivers of which were demanding we embark immediately, but that they were good and we could trust them (as opposed to everyone else.) Tyler and I stood awash in the mob, stunned for a full minute with neither of us having any idea what to do next. I was finally forced to act when one enthusiastic money changer sprayed me in spit while trying to proclaim that I should change with him. I turned away in disgust and started to negociate with the guy I was now facing because we did need Nicaraguan Cordobas.

Tyler meanwhile, had somehow convinced them that we didn't need two bicycle taxis so they had shifted both bags onto one as I was agreeing to pay my new Amigo 1000 Limpera for 700 Cordoba (about $50). He made a great show of counting out the money, a several hundreds and then a mess of tens. Thinking something was odd I counted it before I before I handed him mine, 600 Cordobas. Bastard!

Tyler and I were standing back to back against this crowd like the last two warriors making a final stand against a vast army. I could hear Tyler negociating to exchange a 1000L of his own for 700C so I tried to hand back the 600C in my hand to my new Amigo. He didn't accept it until I made like I was going to drop it and then he roared with anger when I turned to someone else.

After having been ripped off by an awful exchange rate, but honestly so, Tyler and climbed aboard our bicycle taxi. Slowly, but surely, our Honduran driver started pushing us through the crowd. And as we got going faster the last straggler gave up running next to us begging to exchange more money.

We rolled on a quarter mile into immigration, where we were guided into the non linear mass of people at the departure window of Honduras for a stamp goodbye. After eyeing us suspiciously they charged us $3 apiece to note that we were leaving Honduras. We then shuffled two feet to the right and were confronted with a new grumpy beaurocrat behind a the same window who was to invite us into Nicaragua. He demanded $7 apiece to stamp our passports. It seemed a lot, not to mention odd that it needs to be in dollars, but we were in no position to argue. He breezed through Tylers passport, but mine proved to be slower. He started closely checking every stamp while repeatedly looking up at me to make sure I hadn't bolted. As I've now been to 33 countries, with most of them stamped in that passport, it took an uncomfortably long of time in front of a long line to get my expensive stamp.

We paid the fees, clambered aboard our skinny Honduran drivers taxi and started heading over the bridge. Somewhere along the way he was rattling on in spanish to another driver so fast we couldn't understand. We did pick out one word, "Gordo," a few times. Perhaps I should've been offended, to hear only the word "fat", repeated a few times while he was pedaling us along but I could hardly complain. After all, between the two of us (I prefer the term 'thickly muscled'), himself, the bike, and our bags he was easily pedaling 600lbs uphill in the hot noonday sun.

Eventually, after about a mile, as we were rolling up to the bus terminal a random Nicaraguan started jogging next to us. He politely was letting us know that we should give his friend "at least" 400C for his trouble. By the time we pulled in, they were both demanding it immediately

Not that I didn't appreciate our driver, I did, but he was asking for a LOT of money. In a country where the average person makes about $7.60 a day he was demanding about $20 for half an hours work. I gave him about 250 Lempiras, a bit over $10, and said it was more than fair. He said ok, until he had it in his hands, at which point he started saying that was only good for one of us! I caught it on the way to his pocket, and as we both held onto it I stared him down and continued to argue. Eventually, he said that was great with a brilliant smile, and proceeded to shake both of our hands and wished us an happy journey. His friend demanded an additional 100L tip. For What you might wonder but we didn't bother asking. We just shouldered our bags, turned our backs on him, and walked into Nicaragua.

Nicaraguan landscape from Bus en route

Aug 16, 2005

Calling Clever Computer Cartographers

Those of you following this webpage might have noticed some changes over the past couple weeks. I have been cleaning up the website and adding little bells and whistles along the way. I´ve added more recent pictures to the side bar, and filled a footer up with with a random assortment of pictures from the trip. So, now that it is "done" I was wondering what you think about it. Is the page ridiculously slow to load? Is the page too wide or too thin? Do some bits never quite look right? Too few pictures of scantily clad travelers? Do you have any other suggestions? If you see anything, fire us a comment.

I´m also in the process of starting a GoogleGroups e-mail list to send my sporadic ponderings and updates to friends around the world. Once I convince google to let me I´m going to add everyone whose address I already have and send out a message, but if you´d like to add yourself to (or, remove yourself from) my list click on the new link over to the right.

One suggestion we´ve gotten already is to integrate a map where we could put in our route along the way. Personally I think it´s a fantastic idea, but I don´t really have a sense of how to do that. I´ve put a couple maps on the flickr site for the countries we´ve been to. And, if you click on them and go to the flickr site you can roll your mouse over them to see little comments showing places we´ve been and things we´ve done.

Map of Guatemala

Map of Honduras

You can always find these maps by going to our Flickr site and searching for "map." But that doesn´t show a path where you can see us working our way down and it´s about impossible to read any map that has more than one of these small countries on it. Does anyone out there have any advice?

Open(ed) Water

Well gang... if you've been following, you know how Micah and I had been taking our open water SCUBA course on Utila. We've been doing this with Ditte, a fantastic dane with indominable good cheer and great company. Anyway, I wanted to follow up, just in case, our first entry failed to impress upon the world the PROFOUND effect the great and deep blue ocean has had upon us.

Tyler Ditte and Robert

When Micah last wrote, we were within a day of getting our PADI cert. card, and two days from heading on to cheaper, and assuredly drier adventures elsewhere. That was most of a week ago. Obviously, we didn't make it off that island so easily. Rather than try to explain how it really feels to glide effortlessly througfh crystal waters with thousands of brilliantly colored fish... I think I'll show you the Brothers MacAllen on the day the Ocean embraced us to her cool, soft bosom...

Los Hermanos Barbes

Yeah, I love my big brother, and after the world we've shared, I couldn't find a better way to show it.

Every person on Utila will swear by their dive school. They are all excellent, and maintain a consistant standard of price, and quality, both of which being excellent. That being said, everyone who didn't go to the Bay Island College of Diving... is wrong. Everyone there is warm, friendly, knowledgable, helpful, and fun. Robert, our instructor,

Robert, Our Instructor

was the coolest guy one could study under, and made the whole course fantastic. Please, if you're at all interested in learning to dive, go to BICD and HARRASS THIS MAN!!! It was such a great experience, we stayed for the next course, making us Advanced Open Water Divers... and assuredly, lifetimers. Every time I've slipped into the ocean is better than the last. With more than a dozen dives each, we feel ready to explore the depths around the globe!

Micah, the amphibian

Tyler in his new home...

Micah rented an underwater digital camera on our last day, so we could share the magic with you guys. As a warning, I'll tell you, it is extremely difficult to take underwater pictures. You need perfect bouyancy control, tremendous patience, and good fortune. We didn't do the sea justice... but our adoring public demands that we try...

If you have a minute, click on one of these pics and dig through the underwater stuff. Its not anything near the majesty of the Carribean Sea, but its pretty damn cool.

Banded Shrimp
this Banded Coral Shrimp is the guy Robert was pointing to

Travelers Toys

Micah, suited up like a techno-geek superhero

It seems like a lifetime ago when Tyler and I were running around collecting things to bring on our trip. I just clicked back to the old post I wrote about what sort of electronic gadgetry I wasn´t going to be able to live without and am shaking my head in disbelief. Slowly but surely Tyler and are dropping weight out of our packs, something small is given or thrown away in most of the stops we´ve made. I´ve already dumped about a third of my clothes, and most of those electronics are far more trouble than they are worth.

First of all, the shiny new Palm Pilot (with detachable keyboard) I bought as my computer subsistute hasn´t worked out nearly as well as I´d hoped. I wrote a couple e-mails and a little story on it mostly to prove that it was doable. The trouble is the tiny little screen, while readable, isn´t something I found myself wanting to spend an evening staring at. So far we´ve run across a plethora of inexpensive internet cafes along the way (now I´m paying, roughly, $0.50 per hour), so if I feel the urge it´s easy to take my time writing and pondering on a big screen connected to the whole world. Worrying about few hundred dollars of delicate and expensive electronics is far more trouble than it´s worth. Thats why I was almost relieved when it stopped working (the battery instantly discharges) so I don´t have to feel bad about tossing it.

The MP3 Player, on the other hand, started this journey very loved but quickly caused the most divisive sibling conlfict of this whole trip. The vast majority of non-live music down here is recycled 80s pop. Old school Madonna, ABBA, and Michael Jackson are very much at the peak of their careers down here and are played constantly. I have a daydream of meeting a Latin American Radio DJ and telling them "Greetings Earthling, I am a visitor from the future and in order to prove it Í´ll make some predictions. One day there will be this band that changes the face of contemporary music. They will be called Nirvana and ...". There is, of course, a fair amount of Latin American music on Latin American radio, sometimes half of the airplay if you´re lucky. But at least half of that is the song "Gasolina" by the Daddy Yankees. It´s a catchy little dance song that I´ve heard is slowly coming to the US and Europe. Here it´s played constantly, hourly on most radio stations, booming from bars and on repeat out of the HUGE speakers set up by most of the sidewalk CD vendors. I´m not really complaining (ok, maybe a little) but it was nice to occasionally be able to sit back with our 40GB MP3 player and dial in any music we missed as we drifted off to sleep or sat reading a book.

But then, one fine evening, Tyler reformatted the whole $%&/ing hard drive. Puta Merde! We went from having all the music either of us have ever owned or loved instantly accessible to having to look after a small but heavy expensive electronic brick. The fact that both of Brothers MacAllen lived through Tyler telling me about the disaster means that we´ll be able to get along for this whole trip and beyond.

Now we`re looking forward to mailing a bunch of things back to NY to lighten our packs a bit. As well as the above gadgetry we´ve both started using the detachable top of our rucksacks rather than bulky daypacks to carry things throughout the day. The GPS has yet to prove handy, but I´m holding onto it in the hope that one day it´ll help us out when we´re hopelessly lost.

There is a bit of gear I put together along these travels which has proved invaluable. I got a little zippered pouch and a woven cord for a couple dollars from an 8 year old master saleswomen with big brown eyes. I strung some stuff I came down with on it and use it to carry day to day money (I carry my normal wallet in my back pocket while travelling as a decoy). There is a little flashlight, a compass, a Leatherman plier-pocket knife, all clipped onto my belt loop with a carrabiner. This little kit has yet to be more than 5ft from my body since I put it together and I´ve easily used it more than the $1,000 worth of advanced electronics (save my Camera) I´ve been hoofing around all combined. Live and learn.

Micahs Wallet

Aug 12, 2005

Brilliant Blue Backpackers


One of the first rules of traveling I try to live by is... Whenever I visit a new place I always find the Australian (there always is at least one) and hang out with them. Invariably wild things happen and good times are had by all.

The first Australians Tyler and I really got to know on this trip were Tom and Chani Blue. They were at Casa Rosario when we arrived, showed us the ropes of life in San Pedro, and told us about the first 6 months of their year+ round the world trip.

The reason I mention them is because Chani (sitting next to Tyler in the picture above) writes for a magazine and just published an article about life and traveling in Guatemala. Not only is it a good snapshot of what it was like to bum around, but she used a picture of ours of Tikal. If you're curious the article is here.


Aug 6, 2005

My Life as an Amphibian.


Long ago, before I left the US for the first time I was amazed by how different places were within my country. To go from barren mountains above the treeline, to the controlled chaos that is Manhattan offered such a breadth of experience it was awe inspiring. But then, once I got to Europe, I realized that many of the experiences I'd had before were similar and that Europe was totally different. It still bewilders me to know that a three hour train ride can take you too a different country with a different language, food and customs. It's not that uniqueness neccesarily makes things better but it is really spiritually refreshing. But then, alas, I got to Japan. There I realized that despite all the differences Europe and the US share a lot of how we think and interact and so, in many ways, are very similar. It was Japan that was totally, totally different.

Yesterday we took our first ever scuba dive in the ocean. It was incredible, and after 15 minutes of practicing skills (we spent 3 hours the day previous doing others in a pool) we got to swim around a coral reef for about half an hour. And I'm utterly flabbergasted. We saw thousands of brilliantly colored fish that make me seriously doubt pure Darwininian evolution. How could something evolve to be so aesthetically beautiful and to stand out like a masters painting on such a breathtaking backdrop? Floating in the water like a hummingbird was surreal but oddly felt really comfortable as well. However things work out for the rest of my life, I know this... There will be more scuba in my life. A lot more.

I also realized something else. Of all the places I've ever been they've been defined by one overriding factor. They were all generally dry. In other words they're all nearly the same. Life Underwater, however, is totally different.

... and then the locals showed up and smoked all our cigarrettes.