SOUTH AMERICA ADVENTURE: 4 MONTHS - 11 COUNTRIES (Letters 6-12)
A photo of the pella where the women wash their clothes. They scoop clean water onto their little basin area, using soap and scrub against the cement. The water drains away from the area by pipes if it is newer.
The next photo is of the devestation that mud has done in the Antigua, Guatemala area. This is part of Santa Domingoes' stations of the cross. It was eight feet deep and filled with mud. This is an area near The Common Hope Project. There was a 3 -4 foot wall of mud, personal belongings, and trees going down the road.
Hello to everyone,
Monday finds me gathering supplies for a departure date of Saturday. I'm waiting for antibiotics to arrive Friday via The Common Hope Project and Kathy Iverson/Mike Menzel of Minneapolis. They are coordinating the antibiotics from the office in St.Paul,MN and John and Theresa at Antigua, Guatemala's Common Hope Project are helping us gather soap, water purification, clothing, medicines, and basic medical supplies. Dr. Chad has helped us coordinate with a Bishop Muldoon in Juticalpa, Nicaragua. He has asked me to stop first in Obispado in Choluteca this area is between El Salvadors, Hondoras, and Nicaragua where the hurricane has left much devestation and medical needs. I have heard that the road is passable although I'll have to ford a few rivers. If the supplies are not needed I'll go onto Bishop Muldoon to see if I can help.
I will plan the trip for you on a map as close as I can so that you can follow. I am not a big person for solicating funds, but if you would like to donate fungal medicines, antibiotics, anitmalarial medicine, or funds for Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.......The Common Hope would be very thankful. You can e-mail them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well....I hope all is going well for everyone. I love to hear from home. Yes, I am a little homesick, but not bad.
Loaded medical supplies, rice, beans, sugar, antibiotics, and additional medicines.
November 20, 1998
My last week has been spent in a very beautiful town called Antigua, Guatemala. I went to see many of the earth quake ruins of the 1700 convents. I'm now ready to start heading south. But first will go to Totonecapon for a library dedication in the village of Miguel Tzul. This is a small pueblo in central Guatemala where many of the books were donated too.
Saturday will find me back in Antigua to load medical supplies rice, beans, sugar, antibiotics, and additional medicines. I hope to get near the border of El Salvador. I have been told that the northeast entrances are the best...but need to ask a few more questions before I start. I'll travel directly to Choluteca to deliver supplies to Mons. Raul Correveau of the Catholic Diocesis. I'm looking forward to the next step of my adventure.
By now some of you have already heard that two gunmen held me up in broad daylight (noon). The gunman that was yelling at me was not understandable. I thought he wanted my billfold and so I kept trying to give him that only to realize later that he wanted the car keys. There was a little struggle and chain of events that caused the robbers to leave. The Antigua police have two people in custody and a third one is wanted. So to make a long story short it all turned out well. I did re-evaluate security and the event has made me much more wary and safety conscious.
I want to say a big hello and will try to email soon.
PS...Thanks Connie for taking some of our junk home from Guatemala. PS...A Happy Birthday hug to Tabetha.
PS...Thanks Mike and Kathy for all the antibiotics.
PS...A big thanks to Common Hope Project for EVERYTHING!!!!!
November 25, 1998, Coco Beach, Costa Rica
A Big hello to everyone,
There is so much to tell and I am not sure where to begin. I will try to do this by country and in some organized fashion.
Sunday morning I left Antigua via Guatemala City on the Inter-American Highway also called CA 1. At Santa Rosa I took the northern route through Jutiapa to San Christobol Fronteria.This is the El Salvador border. This border crossing was one of the more difficult ones. It started by having 20 young boys (10 years old running at the car banging on the side yelling; hire me, hire me. These guys are here to guide you through the border paper work for a propina or a price. And they also seem to give everyone else a little extra money also. It has been costing me about $!5-$40 US dollars to enter and exit each country. Some with the most corruption have cost as much as $85. This is very similar to the exit tax when you travel by airlines, doubled because of inefficiency and corruption. Well back to the story. I was able to pick a young boy who smelled so bad , I tried to pay him not to help me. Because of my fully loaded car, boxes of medicines, bags of clothes on top of the Toyota, and the 100 pound bags of beans and rice, they were not sure what to do with me. They tried to say I had to pay $100.00 to go through to El Salvador until I told the top official that I would tell the bishop and relief officials of his charge to help earthquake victims. Suddenly the head official felt generous and gave me a special pass and official letter if I got stopped. This caused me to be at the border for about 3 hours. As you can imagine the humidity is high and the heat leaves you drenched without doing anything physical. Add to this a dozen panhandlers and a little stinkpot for a guide . Well you get the idea.
I headed through El Salvador via Santa Ana onto Nueva San Salvador and San Salvador. There aren't many road signs so I was stopping frequently to ask directions. And cities often do not have names posted. Many locals gave me dumb Gringo looks when I stopped to ask where I was. I have come to appreciate very much our U.S. road system. I have had a few good roads, but for the most part they are rutted, pot-holed, or washed out. One day I made it only 65 miles in a whole long day of travel. You just get your speed up and bam. The whole load would shift and I prayed that the heavy-duty shocks would hold. (A big thanks Steve the Toyota is holding up fantastically). Most days we average about 30 mph.
In El Salvador, my travels took me through San Vicente and onto San Miguel for the night. This was the poorest country I have visited but had some of the best roads. The wide paved roads had shoulders that the locals used to dry their coffee, beans, or corn. If you ever pulled off the highway for a breakdown, you would have to worry about running over somebodys crop. The men would beat at the dried plants and the bean would drop down to the road. It was then swept up and placed into 100 pound sacks. It was an amazing amount of time-consuming work by many people, but you could see stretches of 50-100 sacks about every 20 feet. The hardest part about El Salvador was the amount of garbage. It truly looked like a land fill everywhere you looked. The people were friendly and helpful. They operate with the Colon peso, which is about 8.8 colones to $1.00. We spent the night in San Miguel. My diet has consisted of eating where ever the truck drivers eat. This is mostly tortillas, beans, rice, and chicken. VERY GOOD FOOD!
After leaving El Salvador, I entered Honduras and passed through customs in a record 1* hours. In one of the first towns, Goascoran, I'm told that the main bridge is out but cars are getting through. As I drive, the road damage is unbelievable from hurricane Mitchyou. You will be driving along and see a big pile of dirt on your side of the road and behind the dirt pile is a drop-off that goes 50 feet down. The highway has completely disappeared into a crater or a cliff. If lucky there is one lane left to carry all the traffic. At one of these huge washouts all that marked the abyss was a few branches. I could see where large amounts of water had washed trees and mud into houses and crops that were devastated. Next I hit the Nacaome river where the bridge was washed out. The river is about * mile across and a earth road had been built up by earthmovers half way across when we arrived. I crossed at that point hoping that I had picked the least deep section. The water came up to the sides of the door and at one point I bogged down a little, but kicked in the 4-low and floored the gas and away I went. My heart was pounding a little, but when I looked back, a semi was plowing through behind me. There were a few vehicles stuck and being pulled through with two big D-6 cats. And then imagine 100 people out to watch the excitement on each shore. It almost seemed like a festival, if the devastation hadn't been so bad.
After drying my feathers, I took a right turn at Jicaro Galan to head to Choluteca, Honduras, where the worst hurricane damage had taken place. It was heart wrenching to see the miles and miles of mud, tree roots, garbage, and rooftops with black sandy mud inside and out of a house. In some areas, whole villages were completely buried. I would walk out on the sand, knowing I was walking at roof top level to what had once been a thriving village. Beneath me, buried by the sand were the remains of a village, including some of the people. I was able to find the Obispado in Choluteca where Padre Bernardo Gomez and many other Padres helped me, but I wasn't able to get everyones name written down. Padre Bernardo took me on a tour of the devastation. We passed a soccer field that you could only see the tops of the goal posts, a cemetery that was all mud except for a few of the highest tomb stones, houses that were filled with mud. He explained that they had had torrential rains for 15 days. Friday night at 8 pm the water was running through the streets thigh high toward the river. Then the river began to rise and over a 4-hour period the river swelled sending boulders, tree trunks, cars, houses, animals and people down river. 4000 people were killed in the Choluteca area alone. Over 7000 died in all of Honduras. Tens of thousands were left completely homeless. Needless to say the medicines, food, and clothing I brought only made a small dent in a very large need. I was happy for having been able to help in some small way, but was saddened by not being able to help more.
I toured the hospital where there were no extra beds. People lined up at 4am in the morning to be visited by a doctor perhaps by noon. They were running out of antibiotics and purified water. The only water was a few wells at the different institutions like the Seminary and Obispado. The different religions had joined to make the Obispado a clearinghouse for all the supplies. The medicines I had delivered were given to a Nun/nurse who distributed the supplies to the hospitals and care professionals. They were very appreciative of the supplies and thanked me many times. So a big Thank you goes out to everyone that worked so hard to help get the supplies. I only wish you could have seen the smiles of appreciation that were extended to me. (A medical team is wanted and needed here...badly. Anyone interested? Mike and Kathy this is a must do. They need everything, including dentists, optometrists, and the cleft lip and palate team. And you needed to be here to accept the thank yous...I had tears in my eyes and heart.) (Beth and Dr. Chad the connection you gave me was fantastic..The warmth and genuine concern for the people was so strong with this Catholic organization..a big thanks!) (To the Common Hope Staff, John, Theresa, Dawn and ALL:.you guys are very special in extending your hearts to the hurricane Mitch victims the needs are still very great. Mons. Raul Corriveau or his representative said that they would send a note to you.) (Dick a very special thanks because the pediatric ward had 30 cribs with only one extra and I saw no intravenous IVs so that rehydration mixture was the best thanks)
That night I stayed with the Catholic seminary students. The students gathered after supper and treated me to an evening of guitar music and Honduran songs. Three or four of them would become Padres in December. It was a very special night that is difficult to put on paper. (A big thank you to Padre Bernardo for his graciousness, hospitality, and kindness.)
The next morning was a beautiful sunrise, parrots flying over, and very big bugs all around. I left early, heading toward Nicaragua via the El Espino border. The other border is out because of road and bridge damage. Damage is a misconception. In many cases the roads or bridges simply do not exist anymore. The border crossing went as smoothly as could be expected and so I headed to Esteli and onto Tipitapa in Nicaragua, north of Managua where I took the left branch toward Granada. I stayed at a nice hotel, had supper, and went for a horse and buggy ride. I was able to see Christmas lights inside homes as people sat out front in a very social and festive atmosphere. Granada was beautiful and very clean, and unaffected by the hurricane damage. It was my first taste of normalcy again. The cordoba oro is the money system in Nicaragua and is 12 cordoba to $1.00. And I managed to get some bad food and spent the night (my birthday) in the bathroom..hopefully it wont happen again.
I rose early and drove south to Rivas to Penas Blancas and into Costa Rica. I drove about 3 hours taking a right at Liberia landing me at a great B & B to decompress, write, and swim in the Pacific. So the long and short is I have had a great deal of adventure in a small period of time.
I have felt very safe, the people of all countries have been extremely helpful. I wish everyone a great Thanksgiving because we have much to be thankful for...clean running tap water is the biggest thing I miss. I also miss all of my friends.
Hugs again, Ben
Wow! So much has happened since I last wrote.
Phones and E-mails are a little more difficult to find and not as popular in Costa Rica. Hopefully Panama will be easier.
Entered Costa Rica at Penas Blancas and drove to Playa del Coco near Ocotal. This is on the pacific northern coast. I arrived in Costa Rica to what is truly a coast of riches. This country has the Pacific and Atlantic coasts which is divided by rain forests. I spent 3 days swimming in the ocean, birding (parrots flying over every morning and evening), watching white faced Capuchin Monkeys, green iguanas, and had a great Thanksgiving feast with many of the resident Americans living in Costa Rica. This has been a great time to decompress, write, relax, and get acclimated to the heat. The mugginess and heat is increasing as I continue south.
I took a day trip up to the Vocan Rincon de la Vieja. This is a national park with a gently active volcano. The drive was about 1 _ hours of the most unbelievably rutted road. (Almost as bad as Mexico!) I watched 5 Toucans sitting in a tree next to the road. It is very difficult to explain the vivid colors of the (Fruit Loops bird) Toucan. I was so excited and hopefully got a few pictures with the big camera. The volcano is covered in clouds, but did see fumorales, boiling mud pots, and steaming rivers. This is very similar to Yellowstone Natl. Park, USA except for the outside temperature and lush vegetation everywhere. My hike brought me face to face with a White-nosed Coati. It snuffled through the tree roots and between stones looking for insects. At one point it came right up to the camera lens and was neither afraid nor aggressive. It has a very long nose and tail but acted like our raccoons. Then, I almost stepped on a Coral snake that was about 6 inches long. This snake has orange, black, and white stripes. . .and very poisonous! Yikes!
My next adventure was to see the Leatherback Turtle lay her eggs. This turtle has a carapace (shell) up to 1.6 meters long and an average weight of 360 pounds. She travels over the sand leaving about a 4-foot swath about 5 inches deep up the beach to lay approximately 100 eggs. I was able to watch her dig a large square hole about 4 feet deep with her hind flippers/legs and then lay her eggs. The leatherback is an endangered turtle so all the eggs are being taken by a conservation group for hatching because of pollution, dogs, human consumption, and disease. The conservation group has had a 90% reintroduction rate. Watching this huge reptile struggle to climb the sand, dig a hole, and lay eggs was one of the most powerful, moving events and so different from the disaster of Hurricane Mitch.
I traveled from Playa de Coco down to Nicoya to Puerto Moreno where I took a ferry across the Gofo de Nicoya. From there I traveled to the Reserva Biologica Monteverde (Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve) at Santa Elena. I ascended to 1100 meters into the most delightful mist/cloud, one minute it would be pouring rain and the next minute a gentle mist. The temperature was cool and needed a light jacket, which was most amazing after the coast. I hiked in a reserve and walked over 5 suspension bridges that looked down over the rain forest canopy (so many shades of green). Costa Rica is trying to preserve its rain forest through park reserves. Throughout the Americas', rainforests are being destroyed by deforestation which is habitat for many of the endangered birds, plants, and animals.
The money of Costa Rica is the Colon and is equal to 270 colones to $1.00.
I traveled south on road CA 1 going through San Jose to San Isidro. This route took me through more tropical rain forests at 3300 meters and the most spectacular views of lush vegetation, volcanoes, and birds galore. I descended to 702 meters in 30 Kilometers. I then traveled to Palmar Norte and then into Panama. This has been an area of lush bananas, sugar cane, coconuts, and papayas. The roads have been great in this agricultural area. It rains in deluges for about 15 minutes and then you see some sunshine.
I arrived into Panama City by crossing the Canal. What a site! Ships of all sizes at different locks in the canal. The canal stretches for miles. It was a welcome site after a very long day of travel. I have started to gather information on shipping, air freighting, or selling the car. I have decided to go directly to Ecuador or Chile because of the problems that are occurring in Columbia. Will let you know more in a few days.
I hope all is going well for everyone at home.
Dec 8, 1998 Panama Travels
Hello to everyone,
I have spent the last week in Panama. It has many similarities to Costa Rica in volcanoes, Pacific and Atlantic oceans and the Panama Canal. I traveled through the Ciudad Neily, Costa Rica into Panama. This was an easy border crossing and the roads are good. Panama is rich with banana and pineapple plantations. You can see palm trees everywhere and rainforests as you rise in elevation. I traveled from David, Panama into Panama City crossing the Panama Canal. Wow! What a spectacular site. The ships are so big and the locks seem so small, it is hard to believe that they will fit. This is definitely a highlight of Panama. On Saturday, I sailed on a small ship that traveled through the locks of the Panama Canal. I was able to see the Miraflores Locks and see the workings of the canal. Next year the canal will revert to Panama and is now mostly run