A Travellerspoint blog

By this Author: robingoka

Dia de Reyes, January 6th, 2007

Bogota, Colombia

After over a month sitting just on top of the equator, I have just started to understand how far I have traveled. How far I am from home, far from California, far from the Bay, far from Mexico, far from DF, our starting point in these travels, far from Central America, from Guate, El Salvador, Nicaragua and after all we have seen and traveled including the five day boat journey across the Caribbean, far from Panama. But at the same time I feel like we have achieved something concrete in our travels, we bridged the gap between Central and South America , we made it to another continent! And here we are, enjoying the company and awesome community of our hosts Hector and Monica, here in this cold city of brick skyscrapers, Bogotá.

We spent Thanksgiving in Portobelo , Panama , an old Spanish fort equipped with cannons which, despite all its’ amour, was sacked various times by English pirates, including Henry Morgan and Francis Drake. The town also received cargo boats of enslaved Africans, and where once was a slave auction block now lies a local cemetery, with a historical plaque remembering the inhumane past. The local church displays a Black Christ bearing a heavy wooden cross. The town itself, as much of Panama , is a mix of Mestizo, Black, Indigenous and Chinese, with a few international tourists trying to find passage across the Caribbean to South America. We made some good friends in Portobelo, drinking the rainy nights away with boxed red wine and cola. Some of the people we met in Panama proved the test of chance possibility as we bumped into them thereafter in Colombia. Our fellow crew members of our sea vessel, the Melody, included our skipper Mark, from California, and his lovely wife Paola, from Baranquilla; three Israeli friends traveling together, Meyer, Joan and Noah; a retired and well traveled Czech Canadian Peter; a funny and laid back Swiss bank lawyer, Daniel; and Julie, a very cute and friendly young woman of 18 traveling on her own from Vienna, Austria. While we were waiting in town and preparing to spend five days with our crew in a tiny space, we also hung out with other passengers-to-be including a great family living in New Mexico, Paola (Spanish), Bill (Jersey) and their inexhaustible son Kai. An aging surfer from Long Beach and a German traveler who tried unsuccessfully to hitch a ride to Colombia completed our company over that stormy Thanksgiving weekend.

We waited and waited and the rain filled the town square in plain view of the hotel balcony, where we chatted, drank, made sandwiches, played cards and lounged in the hammock. Vladi and I escaped when the rain was light and saw the eerie and wet stone ruins of the violent past around town. Our first intent on the Melody brought us back to Portobelo to wait some more. We met Mark at the wave smacked dock at six in the morning; it was still dark out. Our tennis shoes were already soaked with bay water and we were getting wetter by the minute; it hadn’t stopped raining all night and a light mist was sprinkling down. Mark ferried us and our backpacks in his plastic blow-up dingy to the Melody, where we climbed aboard. The waves were strong enough in the bay that Vladi started to get sick before we even motored out into the open ocean, where the waves were so high you had to look straight up to see them and the boat rocked to what seemed a good 30 or 40 degrees. Half of us got sick, myself included holding hands with Vladi, both of us bowing over the back of the boat. Mark eventually decided to turn around, saying he’d never seen waves like that around those waters. Two days later, the skies clearer, we were off again. I don’t remember much from the second attempt since I knocked myself out with two Dramamine, but we made it. After a days travel we arrived at a still bay surrounded by tiny Caribbean desert islands where Mark’s other baby was anchored: a Louisiana shrimping boat called the Old School, made in the same town as Bubba Gump Shrimp. We spent two beautiful days swimming, snorkeling, exploring a fraction of the 300 some tiny islands of white sand and coconut trees that make up San Blas, pot lucking with the international sail boat community, and visiting an indigenous Kuna village while our Mormon hosts went to Sunday mass. Each night we slept on the deck of the Old School under a blanket of stars. We then traveled for 36 hours straight towards Cartagena . It was ocean ocean ocean. Waves waves and more waves. Every possible shade of blue. No land in sight. While I watched the stars that night while almost every else snoozed away, I spotted another boat moving along the eastern horizon, lapping our small sail boat easily, and I thought of how dead on is the cliché, like two ships passing in the night. The next morning when we awoke land was visible! Colombia! On our way in Mark caught a small tuna fish, which he cleaned and cut me some pieces around the belly, which was, with a bit of soy sauce, the best sashimi I have ever tasted. When we pulled into the dock, a cosmopolitan city larger than Panama City was visible behind the huge fortress of Old Cartagena. A young Colombian man in a small fishing boat yelled to us in Spanish "Bienvenidos al pais de la coca!"; we had arrived at last.

Cartagena is a truly beautiful, old fashioned and romantic city, enclosed by the same walls long ago used to protect the Spanish gold stolen from the Indigenous population of the Americas from the royal crown supported English pirates. The gold booty was emptied from its storage place three times. Today international tourists and affluent Colombians rub shoulders within the walls confines. Vladi and I stayed at a simple, comfortable room a few blocks outside the walls, and we ventured into the real center of this expanding and impoverished urban jungle, which is needless to say, far outside the walls of Old Cartagena. We spent four nights in this charming city of contrasts, and after our long boat journey, we enjoyed a bit of privacy, the stability of firm land and a real bathroom, but of course, as the traveling inertia overtook us, we were soon off to Venezuela .

From Cartagena , which lies on the northern Caribbean cost of Colombia , we traveled to the border town of Maicao , crossed the border and caught a ride in a shared taxi to Maracaibo , a huge Venezuelan city on the northern tip of Lake Maracaibo . Our fellow taxi passengers included a Colombian woman residing in Maracaibo and a Venezuelan man, both strong supporters of Chavez and very talkative. The chatted us up the whole two hours about Chavez’ health programs, the price of gas (it costs less than water!), the jobs in Venezuela and migrating between their homes and Colombia . We dropped them both off on the way and arrived at the bus terminal. We were in Maracaibo less than two hours, but two hours too long because the heat was unbearable, and that was the last time I felt the Caribbean sun on my shoulders. We climbed aboard a small bus and climbed the mountains into the Sierra Nevada and reached the crisp air mountain town of Merida. We walked around, saw a student art exposition, witnessed Chavez’ re-election and the after party reminiscent of Nicaragua , and enjoyed strolling around town during the sunny afternoons, breathing the crisp mountain air. Until that is, I checked my on-line banking and saw that all our travel funds in that account save $4 had been spent in Caracas. I freaked out, calmed down enough to call the bank and made the report. After all the drama had passed, Vladi and I tried to figure out what to do. We decided to head straight to Bogotá, were Vladi has friends he met when they came to Mexico to work with the Zapatistas back in 2001 when they marched into the capital.

We arrived to Bogotá after traveling a good three days, the last 20 hours straight from Cucuta , a large, urban border town on the Colombian side. We awoke on the bus to a view of green foothills, mountains dominating the backdrop, and stopped for our first Colombian mountain breakfast of caldo de hueso con arepa. When we arrived at the northern entrance to Bogotá we saw the urban sprawl, got off the bus and hopped on a TransMilenio, the newest public transportation project in the city. We got off closer to the center of town and rang the apartment in hopes of crashing out, but with no luck. It was Friday, the part of the city we were waiting in was deserted. After hauling our packs to a coffee shop and almost sleeping on the counter in between running out in the rain to call, we finally got through and took a taxi to their flat. It turned out that it was a long weekend and Hector and Monica were crashed out all day after a late dinner with friends. They welcomed us to their home with open arms.

The first couple of days we walked around our hosts’ cute neighborhood and the center of town, which was decked out for Christmas with a huge plastic castle in the middle of Plaza Bolivar. The cold that kept my hands dug deep in my pockets, the crisp mountain air and all the Christmas hustle and bustle of the city made me feel like the holidays were coming on for the first time after a month of plastic Santa Claus’ on Caribbean beaches. Bogota is a beautiful city of brick buildings and green public parks. The avenue that runs from the apartment where we stayed to the center of town closes every Sunday and holidays to allow pedestrians, bikers, skateboarders and inline skaters free rein. We went to the semi-final soccer match Millos de Bogotá vs. Cucuta, where crowds of Rolos (Bogotanos) cheered their team to victory against the team that later became first time champions of Colombia’s professional league (in fact, that same season, Cucuta was elevated from the second division and the coach is now leading the national team to South America’s World Cup). We visited the National University and strolled between the mural covered academic buildings, drank chicha in an old artsy neighborhood la Candelaria , hang out at the apartment and cooked, played Risk and watched home delivered pirated VHS movies (including the Colombian movies La gente del Universal, La vendedora de rosas, and Alejandro González Iñárritu’s latest Babel). Most of the time we hang out with Hector and Monica's crew, chatting, debating and drinking til morning. After much indecision thanks to the endless sites Colombia has to offer, we decided to spend Christmas in a small town of Barichara with Jorge, an old friend of Hector’s.

Barichara is in the state of Santander , we had to back track towards Cucuta to reach the magical town which is just like a small Taxco . The houses in town, including the beautiful property we stayed in, are made of terra cotta and are fresh and cool during the hot afternoons, and warm during the chilly evenings. The owner of the property was a painter who displayed a large portrait of himself, his torso coming out of a log in a lush green forest; we called him Pacho Mamo (Father Earth) and attributed him to our fortunes and misgivings. On Christmas Eve, the five of us together cooked a sancocho, a yummy traditional stew of yucca, potatoes, chicken, pork ribs and chorizo. That evening we went down into the town square, which was full of families, including Paola, Bill and Kai from Panama! We caught up, introduced everyone and chatted the night away on the steps of the nativity scene, the baby Christ freshly planted in his trough bed. The next day we lunched together and made a Spanish tortilla and broccoli salad, and the three of them were off to Bogota. One day we followed Simon Bolivar’s footprints along the Path of the Liberators to the small town of Guane , where we tried the towns specialty of roasted goat, yum! We spent an especially hot day at a public pool right behind an old mission. We ended up spending New Years in the same town square, dancing to the carranga band Aires de Barichara, watching the fireworks and blazing Año Viejo effigies all night long and finally the sunrise. After a days recovering we packed up, said our goodbyes and thank yous to Jorge and were off to San Gil, where we spent a day at the river before boarding the bus back to Bogotá. Once back in the city, we rushed to get everything ready for our long overdue departure.

We got money changed, solicited Vladi's visa for Ecuador and contacted the farm we will volunteer at in Ecuador. We saw the museums we hadn't seen including the Donacion Botero, who is Colombia’s most famous artist known for his fat subjects: people, horses and fruit. We also went to the Gold Museum, whose displays of ancient gold artifacts reminded me of Portobelo and Cartagena, where all the gold that wasn't spared was melted down for Isabel, Elizabeth or the Vatican, the real gangsters of the indigenous populations of the Americas. We went dancing a few more times, once with Daniel from Switzerland, who we ran into on the streets of Bogota! Finally we made maki sushi for our send off, which was, of course, a big hit with everyone. We finally said our teary eyed goodbyes, after spending nearly six weeks together we had bonded like family. I can't wait to see those two again, in Mexico or wherever.

Muchisimas gracias Hector y Monica! Ojala que nuestros caminos se cruzen de nuevo, y que sus pasos sigan con suerte y buena vibra en donde esten. Les queremos mucho; un abrazote.

Posted by robingoka 17:21 Comments (0)

Sunday, November 18th, 2006

Panama City

I am just a speck of walking flesh in this immense universe. This is how I always feel in the company of skyscrapers. The city is clean and calm for the first time today, instead of car horns and alarms, Sunday mass choir singing rises to the 8th floor hostel balcony where I sit and ponder the vastness of our shared continent. This city is filled with waiting. A border town like no other I’ve seen: to the North lies the very lucrative and internationally used Panama Canal (which was just been voted to be expanded), towards the South the Pan-American Highway winds to an end at the Darien Straight, to the West is the Pacific Ocean, and to the East a skinny neck of land and the Caribbean Sea. Vladi and I will soon take the two hour jaunt to Portobello on the Caribbean coast and board a sailboat that will glide us to San Blas islands and finally, Cartagena, Colombia, South America!

Today the puffy white clouds backdrop the newly cleaned apartment and office buildings shimmering in the sun after a nights worth of rain beat down. It’s lovely, but of course I’m not fooled by this temporal urban beauty like the eye of a storm, this city has been kicking my ass from the moment I arrived, and come Monday, it will be crazy as ever with commuters, diesel exhaust and car alarms. I keep comparing Panama City (unfavourably) to San Jose , a city I absolutely loved. There were parks galore filled in the evenings with songbirds marking their territory at the top of their little lungs. Intercity buses like the kind we got back home took us to a free student design show and an independent cinema which screened (also free!) the Ecuadorian movie Entre Marx y una mujer desnuda (Between Marx and a Naked Woman). Old churches and theatre houses line the streets next to universities adorned with graffiti and stencils (my favourite: “viva Mesoamerica rebelde” or “long live rebellious Mesoamerica”). San Jose is a beautiful city I would gladly live and work in one day if the opportunity arrises; during this trip however our stay was short, three nights and we were of to Bocas del Torro.

When we were in Leon we met and befriended Javier, whom we called el Rastas, an artesano from Bocas who was totally down to earth and just such a nice guy that we were compelled to see his hometown. There was also an organic farm pull, but the Silicon Valley ex-programmer dogged me and never returned my emails. Still hopeful we could spend some time working the earth and saving our funds, we made our way to the Carribean for the first time this trip. Bocas is an archipelago of islands scattered in the sky-blue Carribean Sea close to the Panamanian border with Costa Rica . We arrived by ferry to the main town on Island Colon, one of the locations of Columbus ’ infamous arrivals to the Americas (Renee coincidentally is spending Thanksgiving at another site that Columbus happened upon, Roatan Island in Honduras ). Since we couldn’t find this farm on our own and still were without reply, we only stayed a few days. One beautiful afternoon was spent at Boca del Drago, where we splurged on the yummiest seafood lunch (menu: fresh shellfish mix of calamari, shrimp, little lobster tails and fish seasoned with coconut, fried fresh fish, gallo pinto rice and beans with coconut, salad and lots of Panama beer). The next day we island hopped to Bastamientos Island , where we hiked through lush green forest, led by our new crew Harold and Lee, slipping and slidding in the mud while surfers totting their long boards passed us with ease. We arrived at an amazing virgin beach lined with vegetation and palm trees where Harold and Lee found us some fresh coconuts to munch on.

We ended up chilling at the tourquois blue waters too short a time because since arriving in Panama City, we’ve been waiting and waiting and waiting for reasonable passage to Colombia . First we followed our noses around town looking for this cheap flight we heard about in Nicaragua . When we found a flight, it was three times more expensive than we had heard but even still we made a reservation five days in advance. Finally we decided to just spend the money and travel by sailboat. It's the biggest expense so far, but it turns out to be cheaper than flying since 5 days of food and room are included, plus a big Thanksgiving bash! All in all I am looking forward to returning to my cheap-o self once we hit land in South America!

Happy Thanksgiving to all! Eat tons of yummy food for me!

Posted by robingoka 05:53 Comments (1)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2006

San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

From Leon to Granada, we pass through Managua but briefly to change buses outside the UCA, University of Central America. We stick out like sore thumbs with our overstuffed backpacks as we wait in line for the bus. A young woman just in front of us in line is frightened when two small scruffy boys approach her and ask for the time, she covers her watch with her hand and shoes them off with a gestured nod. I look at Vladi in shock, how can a grown woman be scared of kids? I start to really watch my back, the dark blue of dusk I usually love starts to give me the creeps. We were warned about Managua from Miriam and Vicentino, our hosts in Leon at Hotel to Casa Viejo. But we are always warned about the dangers of the capitals, and it's never as bad as folks report. Something about Managua, her history of neglect and class conflict, the election around the corner and what I witnessed, made me think it hadn't been a bad idea, despite the Museo de la Revolucion Sandanista we missed out on, to spend as little time as possible in this crazy city.

After the Central America Lonely Planet that Betsy had gifted us was lifted from our hostel dorm room, we felt more than a bit like we were traveling in the dark, but made up for it raiding tourism offices of all possible maps and asking everyone under the sun for tips and directions. Luckily here in Nicaragua we are blessed with tons of info. Rafael, a friend of Vladi's from the UNAM Political Science department, kindly sent us a ton of recommendations throughout Nicaragua, after he spent a year living, working and meeting folks all around the country. Our trip has followed his footprints closely, and he hasn't let us down. From Leon we made our way to Granada, a picturesque and politically conservative town on the north shore of Lake Nicaragua, we toured around town and the surrounding islets with an Argentine heir of a feudal lord dictator we befriended, Diego. After working on Wall Street for the last ten years, including September 11th, he was finally coming home, road tripping all the way in his spiffy leather seated gas guzzling Jeep SUV. After parting ways, Vladi and I came back down to earth and were quickly off to the Island of Ometepe, and I can honestly say I have never been to another place like it.

Towards the south of Lake Nicaragua lies an island with two volcanoes, one active and one dormant. We stayed at the foot of the smaller dormant volcano Maderas, with an amazing view of the constantly steaming Volcano Concepcion, at the cooperative coffee farm Finca Magdalena. Anest and Joachim, an EU couple we befriended from Ireland and Germany, respectively, lent me the science, geography and history novel Krakatoa, which explains not only the basic geology behind a volcano, but entwines as well the scientific history behind plate tectonics (which seems to have been as hard for some scientists to accept as a round world once was) in the epic tale of the first worldwide disaster of modern times. From this Ethnic Studies girl's perspective, the novel has a particularly interest tweaking although unsatisfying chapter on the Banten Uprising of 1888, although the overall tone of the novel romanticized colonialism and was quite pro-Dutch. With butterflies and blue jays flying about the garden below, under the shadow of a volcano, my tummy full with the garden grown organic salads and veggie clear soups, I got lost in this novel which I hurriedly read before we parted ways with the EUs, and when I had finished and looked up I realized I had my head in the clouds whilst the election was fast approaching.

Vladi and I packed up and headed back to the mainland to Rivas, where we got caught up on current events and touched base with folks in DF. Emiliano, we soon learned, was safe in DF while the Mexican police and paramilitary moved in on the protesters and striking teachers in Oaxaca. Dick Cheney had commented on talk radio that water boarding to "save US lives" was a "no-brainer". The FSLN congress members had jumped the vote getting bandwagon against abortion that would save the mothers' life. Democrats had the lead in the polls to take the House in the upcoming midterm elections. There had been more scandals among the ranks of Catholic priests and US Congressmen. Red wine had been scientifically proven to be good for you (well at least there's some pertinent news!). Up to date, we set about debating where we would spend the election. Managua, a clear preference, also seemed a bit risky. We had seen in one hour that it wasn’t the safest of cities, and if there were fraud that pointed north towards Uncle Sam, it probably wouldn’t make it any safer for a gal like me, however far left my politics may be. Leon would be the best city to celebrate a FSLN victory, but was close to the northern border and required too much regression from our southward bound travels. Heading towards the Atlantic coast where English speaking and indigenous Creoles and Garifunas live autonomously from the Spanish Nicaraguans, as they are known there, would have been very interesting due to their special relationship with the Nicaraguan government, but would also take a good amount of traveling. We finally decided on a small town on the Pacific coast, close to the Costa Rican border, called San Juan del Sur.

We got settled in San Juan and celebrated a bit too much on the eve of the dry election weekend. The night before the election itself, after spending an unusually rainy but bright and hung over afternoon on the beach, we made our game plan. Get up early, head to the market, put our ears to the ground, interview folks, check out the polls, maybe talk with election workers and observers, and spend the evening watching the news with anticipation of the vote count.

Election Day, Sunday November 5th, 2006

We visited three polling stations in San Juan, each with short lines and tranquil vibes. Floating around town we stopped to chat with many folks about the situation in Nicaragua in the shadow of the US. The Nicaraguan woman who was working as an election observer explained the system of party representatives and elected officials who monitor the polling stations throughout the nation while outside a young man was helping people of all ages (we saw young people from 16 voting for the first time to older folks over 60) line up their electoral IDs and verify their stations. We couldn’t see what happed inside, of course, the handing out of ballots and the electorate filling out and casting them, though we did see the process when the news televised Rizo casting his vote in Managua. We heard mixed things about the turnout, some saying almost all had come to cast and some reporting few had exercised the right.

Around noon we headed over to a second polling station at the church lined central park, where we met Jorge, who was a strong Sandanista and war veteran. He was adamant that an Ortega win wouldn’t bring war, a US embargo possibly, but not another Contra war. A little girl we chatted with in Ometepe had voiced the popular notion among the right, and most likely that of her parents, that she didn't want Ortega to win because she didn’t want another civil war. Interestingly, Ortega is the only candidate with a real platform; while he specifies the micro credits, rural development and geothermal energy plans for Nicaragua, the other candidates focus on using fear of Ortega and another war to win the election. Jorge told us he voted for Ortega because he wanted more education and work opportunities for his son. He spoke in a low voice out of respect of the polling station within earshot and, despite being gregarious, didn’t want to be filmed, though he okayed this transcript. He said his goodbyes and good lucks and we sat in the shadow of the town cathedral until thirst brought us to our second interview under a sign for "raspados". We stopped for a cup of shaved ice and ended up staying almost two hours chatting with Don Rolando and his son Cristian, who were also strong veteran Sandanistas and very critical of the US. Rolando made the point clear that he was not at all against the people of the United States, he in fact had many friends and neighbors in San Juan del Sur from all over the states, a few of them even stopped by to shake his hand while we chatted. He did express vehemently his dislike for the policies of Bush and even more so, Reagan. He also recounted with disgust his experience at the US embassy, standing up and stretching both arms to illustrate how it was illogical to demand one to stand in crucifix form, take off their shoes and present their documents all at the same time. Cristian, who mostly chatted with Vladi, had been working the polls all day and was awaiting a FSLN win, which his own personal exit polls had convinced him would occur. We again said our goodbyes and moseyed on.

After we took a quick dip in the Pacific, as it was an especially hot day, we went on to the third polling station, where we interviewed Manuel, a young representative of the PLC party, the Liberal Constitutional party backing Eduardo Montealegre. Manuel was a bit tired from working the polls all day long, but happy that the end was near with only a half hour to go. He was positive that Montealegre had the best chance, and this he practically quoted the candidates slogan, at beating Daniel Ortega. He also pressed that the process had been smooth all day and all we had to do was wait. Waiting is exactly what we did all evening watching the news, which had nothing to report by one in the morning, when we finally went back to our room to play with the resident orange tabby kitten, who we christened güerito.

We woke up to the celebrations of our Sandanista hosts, Daniel had the lead! All day until evening people wandered around the town tipsy from end of the dry law and the historic change of power to the left. We watched the parade of pickup trucks filled with red and black Sandanista flags and screaming, hollering youth in pink FSLN ball caps and jumped out of our skin each time a rocket was hurled in the night sky. Fifteen years after Daniel Ortega and the Frente Sandanista de Liberacion Nacional won the revolution and opened the electoral process, they had finally been voted into power by the Nicaraguan people to begin their work. The infrastructure has been laid for the free market and international loans have long been spent and need repayment, and Daniel Ortega now faces the challenge of applying his social programs in contemporary Nicaragua's neoliberal context. He has the whole global village at the edge of our seats to see what he will do with this extraordinary opportunity.

Posted by robingoka 13:36 Comments (0)


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Saturday, October 21, 2006

León, Nicaragua

Recovering from food poising, or something equally horrible, and following the advice of Leon’s friendliest pharmacist after she heard me list off my various ailments, I walked into the public hospital here to have my blood pressure checked. Blood pressure within the normal range, the doctor tells me and prescribes an aspirin a day for the burst capillary in my eye and nausea pills if I feel like chucking my guts out again. No problem. Lets turn the tables, if a young Nicaraguan woman walked into a US hospital to have her blood pressure checked, how much would it cost her? Sure the hospital here in Leon is nowhere close to first world standards, but what is more pressing, to have a spic and span health care system where only those with resources receive attention, or a broad based one stretching resources to the limit where all can be treated? It goes back to what our host Vicentino said about democracy, that you can’t have one when working people can’t eat, buy medicine and house their families without sacrificing something else equally necessary.

Leon is the fourth of either rural or urban zones with socialist, revolutionary and defiantly laid back vibes. Livingston, Guatemala; San Salvador and Perquín, El Salvador; and now León, Nicaragua. Beto, an old friend and former co-Poetry for the People Student Teacher Poet (P4P STP), once said of Mexico that social movements grow in the soil down there, and this is just as true of Central America. While each country struggles with her community members' ever-increasing flight to the US and the influence of the all-mighty dollar on those who remain, the histories of these diverse countries are filled with revolution, armed uprisings and today remain rich with current direct action mobilizations against CAFTA (Central America Free Trade Agreement) and other abuses to their democracies and self-sustainability.

Livingston is a Garifuna town on the Atlantic coast of Guatemala. Vladi and I made the last leg of our road trip with Mauricio to Rio Dulce, but not before hearing two original members of the Afro-Cuban All Stars perform at a small club in their current town of residence, Antigua Guatemala. From the town of Rio Dulce, we took a boat to Livington, which is isolated from the rest of Guatemala via automobile. Cars, goods and people arrive by ferry, boat and canoe, the latter our skipper compared to bikes in urban areas, and the more affluent have shiny sailboats parked at the docks outside their river front properties. After unhurriedly boating down the Rio Dulce through a small canyon of green vegetation, flocks of pelicans, cormorants and cranes overhead reminding us of the Atlantic coast coming up, we finally arrived to Livingston to meet Kikis, who we ran into each day thereafter. He helped us find our housing at Javier's African Place; we settled in and wandered around the small town. (We met so many people I could never do them all justice in this piece; of course that is Vladi's specialty so ya'll will have to wait for his entry....) Tons of folks we met had at least one relative in the US or Belize who left to work and provide for their families back home, and everyone sports all the latest US fashions and listens to Snoop Dogg on the radio. However, I noticed how people actively work to preserve the richness of their day to day lives, protesting the construction of a road to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala and maintaining a proud sense of community visible from the streets and sidewalks, as everyone opens their front doors in hopes that a breeze or piece of gossip will find its way inside. Vladi and I waited for the rain clouds to blow south and enjoyed a few days of sun rays before packing up our mochilotas, saying our goodbyes to everyone, boarding the ferry to Puerto Barrios and finally crossing the border into Honduras.

Our stay in Honduras was short. We spent our first night in San Pedro Sula, an almost first world city full of malls, where I shocked Vladi when I craved and eventually dragged him to get an egg mc muffin from McDonald’s after seeing all the familiar neon fast food chain signs. We quickly moved on to the town of Copan Ruinas, where we spent an amazing day at the intricately detailed Mayan ruins. Copan is an UNESCO World Heritage site, and is comparatively expensive, very well kept and of course very well guarded. Throughout our travels in Honduras I spied many soldiers, noticeably more than her neighboring countries, who sport as uniform an eerily familiar blue grey and green grey camouflage I have seen on the Fox evening news back home with my dad when reporting on the young American soldiers in Iraq. Of course, because the fashion industry upholds the popular notion that to support one's nation one must support her unjust actions, the same camouflage pattern can be seen on civilians of all type, not excluding young people throughout Central America. Maybe because of the military presence, or maybe because we had less luck in meeting folks in Honduras than Guate, we spent one final night in Ocotopeque on the El Salvador border and were off.

We crossed the border early and arrived in San Salvador by mid-afternoon, found a cheap bed in the seediest of neighborhoods, crashed out and were awoken before sunrise as the local buses poured diesel exhaust into our hotel window. To escape the gas chamber-like hotel, we took off to the capital’s center, which by seven in the morning is crazy with buses, commuters, uniformed students, newspaper venders, breakfast venders and some pigeon feeders. After being overwhelmed before a decent morning hour or a cup o joe, we made the hasty decision to try the university campus, called as in DF la Ciudad Universitaria, and we laid our tired eyes on a refuge, both in the physical and ideological sense of the word. Posters, flyers, banners and murals decorated the campus and the predominate red and black stood out in the grey morning air. Conference to reflect on current social movements in El Salvador! Cultural Political Action Meetings of the Salvadorian Student Force! Remember the November 1989 Student Movement! Face portraits of Fidel, Che and Farabundo Marti. All these and more messages of involving oneself in political activity and social movements were scrawled on the walls and plastered to lampposts. The cool canopy of green I felt on my shoulders in the middle of the concrete jungle of San Salvador was a metaphor for how I felt the moment I laid my eyes on the consciousness of those students. My travels up to this point have been blessed with beautiful sights, friendly folks, smooth road tripping and trying yummy new foods, but at that moment I felt a familiar stir, like the one that brought me to Berkeley and later to Mexico City. Learning about the past and present social movements locally from people who lived them is one goal in many I have for my time in Latin America. I want to find my niche where I can offer myself and any services I can in a positive way while shaping the protest tactics I have picked up in Berkeley and DF. My time in the University of El Salvador reminded me like an itch of a mosquito bite that I needed to begin to actively pursue my goals, or I would end up touring and turning a blind eye to the challenges of those around me. We ended up leaving San Salvador after being there for less than 24 hours, but it was an important turning point for me.

From the capital, we headed for Perquín, El Salvador, on the northeaster border with Honduras, within the state of Morazan. Perquín was a guerilla stronghold during the Civil War, the site of Radio Venceremos and the Massacre of Mozote. The town is highly recommended by Lonely Planet thanks to former P4P STP Gary Chandler, but despite being the number one site to visit in all of El Salvador, it is still tranquil, traditional, and goes to bed by eight each night. We stayed with and eventually adopted la Abuelita as our own, and likewise she took good care of me when I got sick after eating a pupusa from a street vendor (note: while I was dying after half a pupusa, Vladi was a little queasy but overall kept his cool after eating three! Which proves that Chilangos really do have bullet proof bellies as Vladi loves to tell folks). La Abuela's stories of the Civil War and our visit to the Museo de la Revolucion Salvadoreña: Homenaje a los Heroes y Martires (Museum of the Salvadorian Revolution: an Homage to the Heroes and Martyrs), illustrated the words we read aloud to each other each night as the town snoozed away from the excellent book Las mil y una historias del Radio Venceremos (The Thousand and One Stories of the Radio Venceremos). We very contentedly ended up staying a few days extra while I recuperated and when I was strong enough, we made the long leg of our journey, crossing a small section of Honduras, into Nicaragua.

During the revolution, León was, and remains today, a bastion of Sandinismo, as we heard repeatedly on the radio and in person at the political rally held by FSLN presidential candidate Daniel Ortega. The election will be held Sunday, November 5 2006, between three main candidates: former Sandanista leader and FSLN ticket holder Daniel Ortega (popularly know as just Daniel), right wing and US hopeful Eduardo Montealegre, and right wing vote splitter Jose Rizo (known as El Feo). While Daniels popularity is high and the right divided, the United States is not hiding their opposition for the candidate against whom they fought so hard during the Reagan era Contra War (for a detailed overview of the Elections, check out the Democracy Now! Show from Thursday, October 26th, URL http://www.democracynow.org/article.pl?sid=06/10/26/1341242&mode=thread&tid=25). The support for Daniel is especially strong here in Leon, which we saw first hand as we accompanied thousands at his closing campaign rally. Sandanista, or I would venture to say Nicaraguan, is synonymous to poet, as many from that era and today wrote and published verse, notably Ernesto Cardenal and Leonel Rugama (who was introduced to me by the late great June Jordan). The FSLN fought for many social changes such as literacy campaigns, support for the arts, universal health care (which they championed in mass vaccinations, water cleaning facilities, and popular health education), women’s rights, the building of schools, roads and infrastructure, as well as the democratic system that people are readying themselves for in the coming week. After the Sandinistas won the revolution, they opened up the electoral process and their political party, the FSLN shocked everyone when they eventually lost the first, second and third free elections of Nicaraguan history. People today are becoming very aware of the fact that the international loan repayments and structural adjustment programs imposed on them by the liberal market are not helping them eat, buy medicine and house their families. I feel in the air, at least here in Leon, that they want change. Whether the electorate of Nicaragua opts for change or remains on their free market path is beside the point. What is urgent and imparative is that the Nicaraguan people decide the outcome of this election without interference from the US or any special interest parties.

Among the many activities Vladi and I embarked upon during our stay in León, including visiting the largest cathedral in Central America, viewing the political murals and graffiti around town, visiting the University of Nicaragua, we also paid our respects to the birthplace and resting place of famed poet, Ruben Dario, who is celebrated on the 100 denomination bill of Nicaragua's currency, the Colon. It is fitting since poetry, like social movements, grows in the soil down here.

I would like to dedicate this to the many brave activists right now supporting Oaxacan teachers demanding a living wage, and in memory to Brad Will, and Indymedia journalist killed while reporting on the police brutality against the strikers.

Posted by robingoka 18:05 Comments (0)

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