SOUTH AMERICA: 4 MONTHS - 11 COUNTRIES (Letters 1-5)
Below are links to Ben's letters (with photos and maps). These letters are from 1998 and the Godchild Project you will read about has changed it's name to Common Hope. They can be reached at www.commonhope.org or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hello Fellow travelers:
I'm off on a research/writing trip. I'll be writing you as I travel. My hope is that I can communicate every one to two weeks if all goes well and internet access is available.
My trip so far has taken me from Bozeman, MT to Billings, MT to drop my dog Kokee with the greatest dog sitters in the world (Thanks Jay and Amy). I headed to Cheyenne, WY. and spent my first night. Am trying to get the bugs out before I head into Mexico. Things like securing the license plate so that is isn't tempting to others.
I'm already starting to write my next book.
Travels will go from Cheyenne.......Denver......Tuscon,AZ. And then into Mexico. Please join me as I travel and explore the Mexican culture.
Oct. 21 Left Poncho Springs, CO and travelled over Wolf Creek Pass. Elevation is 10,857 and they get 38 feet of snow every year. It was snowing as I crossed. I think it will be the last of snow until my return in Feb.
Oct. 22 Explored Sunset Volcano NTL Park and Walnut Canyon NTL Park. The best part was the cave dwellings and the beauty as the rain and fog lifted bringing beautiful sunshine.
Until next time.... adios, Ben
Sat, 31 Oct 1998
Hello Friends, new and old,
What an adventure. I traveled from Patagonia, AZ to Los Mochis, Mexico via HWY 15. The road was great except for the few topas (Speed bumps that are small and can quickly turn into monsters) just ask me, I scraped myself off the ceiling along with the computer and a few loose items. Getting through customs was not difficult, but took patience. I did have to go from window to window to get copies and pay a visitors' fee.
I arrived in Los Mochis ready to depart for the Copper Canyon at 5:30am the next morning. The Copper Canyon is 3 times as big as the Grand Canyon and 285 feet deeper. The train traveled through many villages, going from sea level up 6000 feet to the canyon rim. I saw many box cars at the base of canyons making me question my sanity. The trip was beautiful starting with desert country and going to Montana-like trees. I stayed in Creel where I hiked to cascades and visited a 1744 Jesuit Mission. The church had painted walls from the Tarahumara Indians, human skull on the altar, and an icon of Jesus on the Cross. The mission is still active and serving a very poor indigenous population.
From there I traveled by train to the village of Barrancas to the hotel Mirador. It had a spectacular view of 6 canyons. They also had hummingbirds 10-15 deep waiting to get at 5 different feeders. I was told that there were 10 different species. The sunset gave a glow to the canyon that went from purple, orange, green and then blue. The hotel was excellent!
I also met new friends who have given me great advice and instructions on how to get through the borders. A big thanks to all for the help!
I did meet a very interesting group that went by dirt bikes through the canyon and another group that have antique motor rail cars that crossed the rail from Chihuahua to La Fuerte. (These are the old work cars that the railroad system used for making repairs, before trucks and pickups on the rail) They were kind enough to let me ride for three kilometers. I went through a tunnel, no lights! I was grinning from ear to ear.
The day I was to travel back to Los Mochis a car had derailed and so I was on hold. It was fixed by departure, but gave me more food for thought. Ha Ha Ha.
Today I find myself in Mazatlan with my neighbors Jan and Karen. They are teachers at a local school and we are catching up on old news and exploring Mazatlan.
Again thanks to everyone who has helped me along the way.
Warmest regards, BEN
Nov 5, 1998
Hello Friends, new and old:
A big hello to everyone, I traveled from Los Mochis direct to Mazatlan on Highway 15. I can see increasing amounts of cactus, dry rocky soil, along with some traffic. The roads have been great and the scenery is beautiful as I travel along the Pacific Ocean. I spent a night in Mazatlan with Kale, Hanna, Karen and Jan Krieger. They are Montana neighbors that teach English in a school in Mazatlan. I body surfed the waves on very sandy beaches and took an overnight trip to Teacapan. This is south of Mazatlan about 80 kilometers and is an estuary full of osprey, pink spoonbills, egrets, cranes, and many more shore birds. The birds are increasing because of their migrations south. I camped Sunday night on a sandy beach that had little crabs running all over. If you like shrimp...the fisherman sold directly from their nets.
For those interested: The peso is the Mexican dollar and the exchange rate is 9.85 to one dollar US.
Monday I continued on from Teacapan back to the toll road so that I can make time. I still have a long ways to go to get through Mexico. These roads tend to be very good.
It is a holiday in Mexico called The Day of The Dead. Nov 1st honors the children and Nov 2nd honors everyone. It is large procession to the cemetery, bringing flowers, candles, and food. This is a very big celebration and very colorful. I watched a procession at Chapala (80 kilometers south of Guadalajara). I spent the night in Chapala by a lake that is drying up because of high usage for agriculture and population of Guadalajara.
My plan had been to stop through Morelia for the large butterfly sanctuaries. I'm too early because they have not migrated this far. I understand that you can become surrounded by butterflies. Oh well, next time.
Onto Mexico City and head south to Oaxaca. ..An early start and advice on how to get around Mexico City left me with great confidence. Ha Ha Ha! I found myself with one wrong turn right in the middle of Mexico City. Wow! You would come to an intersection and 8 streets would emerge into the center (like spokes on a wheel). I asked directions and luck had it a gentleman was heading out of the city. I tried to follow and that was a challenge! I made it, but only because of the kindness of someone and we don't even know his name. I must admit the Mexican people are most helpful. But if you are traveling. . .heed the warning of the book. . .I have not always been given the right change back at the gas stations. Well, told you of getting lost but the city was beautiful. Old architecture, colorful people, and lots of cars. I have never seen so many VW Bugs in one place. There would be 8-10 lined up at a stoplight. It looked like a race. ( At times it seemed like a race.)
I headed onto Oaxaca, which is at 5000 feet, and the climate is mild with clean air. This is one of the oldest continuously inhabited regions with human settlement dating back to 8000 BC. The first civilizaton was the Zapotecs and I visited Monte Alban. It was a Zapotec ruin that was taken over by the Mixtecs and they in turn felll to the Aztecs. The ruins included temples, game for playing ball, medical history that is recorded on stones, water containment areas. It was a most impressive area that is on the top of a mountain.
Oh yea! The fleas! I can't forget the fleas...I caught a herd of fleas passing through my bed one night. The whole herd stopped to forage. I'm not sure but the $7.00 hotel should have been my first guess. Needless to say I have washed a few clothes and hope that doesn't happen again.
Well from here I go to Guatemala. Adios till next time. BEN
....arrived in Panajachel, Guatemala without any problems. It took me less than one hour to get through customs. It cost an extra $15.00 of propina for a gentleman and the director to assist me. But all went well and I had a few laughs too! The hard part was the fumigation of the car. They spray the car down...inside and out. I had the windows down for about an hour. I thought they were trying to get rid of the fleas.
The northern part of Guatemala has had rains also, but not as bad. I would see landslides about every mile or two. They had all been cleared except for the last 20 kilometers into Panajachel. I was detoured through a cornfield and village road. Many of the indigenous people were on their way home from market and the dress was a bright multicolored vision of the rainbow. I was unable to get pictures because of the dress.
I have sent 3 pictures. The Catholic cathedral is in San Christobol, Chiapis, MX. This area is beautiful with many tourists, but the underlying sentiment is distrust between church, state, and indigenous. They sell many dolls of the rebel heroes and often will not meet your eye. I was not allowed to take pictures of the people and it was suggested that one does not talk politics. I would love to return to this area to spend a week because of the ruins, lake, caves with stalagmites, and amber galore.
This area is known for one of three largest amber sources. Amber is a sap that is petrified. It can contain bugs, moss, and bark. It is Very light and many pieces can be reproduced to look like plastic. I was able to get a few rock pieces!
The next two days will be spent in Panajachel to deliver books to a library, The Common Hope Project , and School of Dr. Mono. I am also getting the school goals and directions for the next year. The director Miguel Tzul and Teacher Villma are making plans for a new location. They had a little difficulty with a private residence and will organize the school so those additional cleft lip and palate children can get help with their speech and additional schooling.
My plans are still being dictated by the needs of many. I will let you know as we continue our journey. I know of friends with families in southern Guatemala, and Honduras that are devastated or completely destroyed. It is very heartbreaking to be hearing their stories.
Hugs to all, Ben
Travels to Antigua November 14, 1998
Hello again to everyone,
It truly has been an adventure. I arrived in Panajachel, Guatemala that is close to Solela, Guatemala. Panajachel is beside a lake at the base of a volcano and mountains. The lake has risen 28 meters because of the rains. The sunrises and sunsets are fantastic. My adventures have taken me to a butterfly sanctuary, gardens, and a boat trip to the small villages around the lake. The villages Santa Cruz and Santiago were the most special. The traditional dress of the different villages give color a new meaning. The material for blouses and men's pants are loom woven and then embroidered. The color patterns identify the village. Panajachel is a trade center for selling the hand woven bags, shirts, belts, sandals, and pottery of the different villages.
I have spent 2 days here with Miguel and teacher Villma. (Miguel Tzul runs a travel agency and also is the director of the small school that I started in Chimaltenago, Guatemala for children with cleft lip and palates.) I have decided to move the school for many reasons and have worked on those details. Jose is one of the students who is 9 years old and had 3 different cleft lip and palate surgeries, and is doing very well. His speech is improved, but even more he has learned his basic reading and writing skills.
I'm now in Antigua with The Common Hope Project (based out of St.Paul, MN). Director John Huebsch has opened up many ideas for our future plans. It sounds like malaria, dengue, respiratory infections, and fungal infections are the worst. The last few days Common Hope has been gathering supplies, antibiotics, soaps, chloro for water decontamination, clothing, and contacting places in Honduras for me to deliver and help as is needed. Many of the problems are starting because of continued mud and water depths throughout Honduras and Nicaragua. I hope to leave in the next week but, are waiting to hear if antibiotics can be sent down from the US mid week. I started on Chloroquine (antimalarial) and stocked up on mosquito repellant. I have also decreased my needs down to the basics to make room for supplies.
Antigua was also hit with very high rains, mudslides, and loss of homes. Especially hard hit are those who have nothing. For those of you who are involved with , one family was totally wiped out from 2 feet of mud running through their home. I arrived to watch a work team shovel mud, help move the small amount of belongings that they had left and to help them rebuild a small structure (8x10) for a family of 8. Their muddy clothes were hung on a line to dry... remember the mother has to go to a pella to hand wash everything. I will try to get a picture of a pella for you. Life is not always fair..but I must say a big thank you to John and Common Hope for everything. They have been very busy and still have time to open their hearts to those in other parts of Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.
Well, it is time to get this sent. I will email one more time and try to give you our route and plans.
Hugs to all, Ben