Saturday, July 30, 2011

Traveling Maniac - Honduras Day 5, Gilligan Has Some 'splaining To Do

Today I was up at 7:00, threw on my bathing suit, and went for a walk around the island. When I got back to the house Molly was just getting up. We made coffee and lounged around outside until about 9:00 when we started to get hungry for breakfast. As I was making a breakfast of eggs and rice & beans, a boat pulled up to the dock with two men in it.

One was our co-host George, but we did not know the other man. George spoke limited English and the other man spoke none. They came to check on us because we never were able to complete our radio check-in the day before. I suppose the second guy came along to help move our dead bodies to the boat if need be! With George's limited English and our even more limited Spanish, we let him know that we had tried to call but the radio did not appear to be working. He played around with it for a while and finally got it working. He asked us (in English) to call every day at 10:00, but then just before he left he said 12:00 in Spanish. After much back and forth in English and Spanish we finally established (in Spanish), that we needed to make radio contact every day at 12:00. And with that they left and we didn't see another human being until we were picked up on Saturday.

We ate our breakfast with a sense of relief that the radio was now working. Things were looking up. We knew that if they didn't hear from us they would come out to see if we were okay, my allergies were greatly improved, and it was another perfect 10 of a day. I decided to read a bit and then head back out to the reef.

We had found a new, easier waterway out to the reef over a sunken tree. This was important because the top of the coral reef was so close to the surface of the water making it very difficult to swim over. It was tricky and sometimes a bit overwhelming because of the feeling that you might get stuck and not be able to turn around. It was also easy to feel like you were lost in the reef because of all the waterways that were throughout. But when I felt that way I just came to the surface, looked up and around, noted the location of the island, and then went on my merry way.

Today I spotted wha
t appeared to be a sand shark lurking in one of the coral caves. We were each a bit startled by the others presence. He and I kept a very close eye on each other and I kept my distance to make sure that he didn't feel trapped by me. When I went back to the house, I looked him up in the book and found out that he was actually a nurse shark. Very safe, but really - still a shark! During my second snorkeling run of the day, I went over to his lair to check him out and he was still there. I convinced myself that we now had an understanding and then I headed out in search of an underwater route around the island.

Because the island was essentially surrounded by coral reef, it was difficult to swim around the island along the surface unless we went out to the abyss. In my Magellanic quest I kept getting trapped by shallow coral reefs with no room to swim over them. Backing out while in a coral reef is a bit intimidating because you have no rear view mirror. You can't see what or who is behind you. I finally got frustrated and my mask began to fog from the shifts in water temperature - so I decided to head back the way I came. On my way out I made one last check on my shark, bid him farewell until the next day, and then headed back to shore over the sunken tree.

There is a lot of comfort in beginning to recognize areas of the reef, and despite my
frustration, I am at peace in the water at last. It has taken a few trips out to gain comfort with the snorkel. My claustrophobia coupled with my fear of drowning (I know, huh?) were now both conquered and I am finally able to linger longer in the reef.

For the first time since we arrived here, there was no evening storm on the island. I saw a hummingbird perch briefly on a tree and I saw the resident pelican for the first time. We could see storms and lightening off in the distance, but it was dry on the island and it remained light outside later into the evening. There was no wind so I sat on the dock watching the sunset, the storms in the distance, the fish, and the movement of the beautiful clear water. The only sounds were the rumbling thunder in the distance and the tiny waves lapping the shore. I felt as if I were in paradise.

Today was such an incredible experience. I didn't want it to end. I went inside to grab a beer and then came back out to relax and enjoy the remainder of the tranquil show. I wondered to myself why Gilligan and crew would have ever wanted to leave their island. When the moon rose, the sky was overcast so we were unable to see the evening sky. We had been looking forward to seeing that amazing starlit show of beauty and splendor that you only get to see when you travel far away from the light pollution. We had hoped the clouds would blow over before bedtime, but there wasn't even wind to turn the windmill. We had a candle lit dinner, read for awhile, then were off to bed by 9:30 PM, hoping for a great night's sleep.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Christian Extremism - The Truth

Okay - I really am pissed. I don't often get this angry, but I am angry. It really concerns me when individuals co-opt anything that I believe in to justify hatred. Especially when they hijack my faith. I am a Christian, I am unapologetic, I believe in the resurrected Christ. Period.

This murderer in Norway is claiming my faith and is using it to justify his hatred and his murderous ways. His called himself a Christian and then, wearing that disguise, he killed innocent people. Let's be clear, he is not a Christian. He is a hater, he is an extremist, but he is not a Christian. And me? Well I just want to start tossing some temple tables.

What is a Christian? "One who professes belief in the teachings of Jesus Christ." How is extremism defined? As the "quality or state of being extreme." - Merriam-Webster

So how then does one apply Christian Extremist and hate in the same person? It's an oxymoron. If one has an extreme belief in the risen Saviour then one does not behave with hatred. One behaves with extreme love. Christ teaches that there are two things that are the most important commandments of the Christian faith. When discussing the law, He was asked what the most important commandment was. His reply:

He answered: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind'; and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' " ~Luke 10:27

My interpretation of this? That I am to love everyone, even this man who abuses my faith for evil. Extreme Christianity is extreme love for all individuals regardless of race, sex, sexual orientation, religion, lack of get the idea. Am I always successful? Of course not, but my failure is not in Christ, it is in my humanity. We as Christians cannot sit by while anyone uses Christ's name as an excuse for hatred, ever.

So much evil has been done in the world - for centuries - in His name. And what do we as Christians do in response? Seriously, it is time to claim our faith back. It has always bothered me that the Muslim community sat back and said nothing while extremists used their religion for hatred and terrorism. And now here we are as a Christian community doing the same thing. Well, I will not be quiet.

I know that Christ doesn't need me to defend Him. But we, as people of faith, cannot stand quietly by while others use the name of Christ for evil. I will oppose the view that this is Christianity in the extreme. That is a lie, he is a liar and a murderer, and the worldwide press is being duped into believing him. Why? Because it sells.

No - Christian Extremism is the complete opposite of what this man did. Christianity in the Extreme looks completely differently. It looks like Extreme Love. It looks like a hand extended in friendship toward those we may not love or agree with. It looks like Christ dying on the cross for me, for you, and even for this murderer.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Traveling Maniac - Honduras Day 4, Into the Abyss

Neither Molly nor I are morning people. Under normal circumstances we would both sleep until at least 11:00. On this day Molly awoke for the day at 7:00 AM, while I was far more leisurely and slept until 8:15. At first this was a shock to our bodies and we were really not sure how to navigate the early morning. But we eventually came to appreciate getting an early start to our days. The sun went down fairly early and with the exception of the moon it was completely dark by 8:00 PM. Sleeping in would cause us to miss the best part of the days spent on this paradise.

When I awoke I couldn’t stop sneezing. My allergies were in full force. It took some time for me to figure out what was causing all the sneezing. I finally realized that it was the dust in the mosquito netting. Every time I moved while I slept more dust would fall on me. I took the netting outside and hung it on the line to let the breeze blow through it and get all the dust off. Problem solved! Although I did continue to sneeze for the remainder of the day.

I made a breakfast of eggs, coffee, and guava juice. I do not love instant coffee – it is a huge sacrifice for me not to have my French press here with me. But on missions trips I have had much worse, and have been very appreciative even when it tasted like mud. So when I look at the beauty that surrounds me here, I decide that I can adjust.

After breakfast I strolled around the island with yet another cup of coffee. Surprisingly, the tree was still smoldering even after the rain storm the night before. I decided that the fire inside this tree must be incredibly hot and intense and that it must have been burning for quite some time. I just needed to be unconcerned. At this point I began to refer to it as the “fire tree”. Molly and I joked about throwing a crab on the fire for my lunch. I found a conch shell on the beach today. It was uninhabited so I brought it back to the house and added it to the collection left there by other visitors to the island.

When walking through rather than around the island, we need to be sure to look up and see what might be raining down on us. Coconuts are everywhere on the island, falling at will from the many palm trees –all day and all night. They make such a loud thud when they land that I am surprised by how loud the sound is. But then I realize that there is little other sound out here, just the waves, the birds, and the coconuts falling. There are no boats that go by, no planes that fly overhead, no music, no television. It is very, very quiet.

In the states, we are so used to seeing coconuts in the market with their outer shells removed. But they are really huge when you see them still wearing this outer shell and I am determined to open one before I leave this place.

Around lunchtime, Molly makes an attempt at calling Barry on the 2-way for our daily check-in to let them know we are okay. After several attempts we have no luck with getting a response from them. We tried several times throughout the day and joked that we were pretty much screwed if we had a real emergency.

Snorkeling today was another amazing experience. We found more wondrous areas of the coral reef. We saw parrot fish nipping at the algae on the coral, barracuda and trumpet fish, and countless other amazingly beautiful fish. I swam with a school of what seemed like millions of itty bitty fish. I swam out to the abyss; the place where the coral reef ends and the bottom disappears and the water gets very dark. It is here where Molly said that I was most likely to see rays, turtles, or sharks. I stayed there for quite a while hoping to catch sight of one of these amazing creatures, with no luck. I came back here along the edges of the abyss again and again, but each time I was too chicken to go out too far for fear that I would come face to face with a shark or some other big sea creature and not know how to get away fast enough. Near the reef I at least had a chance to hide, but in the abyss there is nowhere to hide. Contrary to my normal approach to life, my risk/reward calculation was far too conservative and as a result I never saw anything other than a jellyfish in the abyss. This has since become a great source of regret, but one that I will some day rectify by heading back out to the abyss and lingering for quite a bit longer and venturing out quite a bit deeper.

A lot of people have asked me about the bugs on the island. The mosquitoes here are vicious day and night. They bite Molly constantly, but for the most part they leave me alone. The closer I stick to her, the fewer issues that I have with the little buggers. Flies are somewhat relentless in the kitchen as the day heats up, but are fewer in the evening. On this particular day I saw what I was convinced was a brown recluse spider, I freaked out and crushed it into about 20 little pieces and thinking he might have friends – resolved to just forget I ever saw him. Well, he did have friends, and once I got a closer look at them realized they weren’t brown recluse at all, but I still didn’t spare their wretched little lives.

When it got dark, we very extravagantly turned on a light in the living room to read by. I quickly fell asleep and napped while Molly made a delicious dinner of rice and red beans. We ate by candle light and then watched the sky as the thunder and lighting rolled in with another storm. I was relieved whenever it rained at night because I knew that we would have water in the tank the next day for showers, cooking, and flushing. We again switched from solar to wind power and were off to bed and under our mosquito netting by 9:00 PM. With the help of some Benadryl, I was off to sleep shortly thereafter dreaming about parrotfish and sharks.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Traveling Maniac - Honduras Day 3, Two Tickets to Paradise

On Sunday morning we were up early to catch the ferry to Utila. Our hostess made us a delicious breakfast of toast, scrambled eggs, and red beans, with hot black coffee. We paid our bill, wished our hostess goodbye and told her we would see her again in a week. We jumped into a cab and headed to the ferry. At the dock we bought our tickets for the ferry and waited to board the boat that would take us to meet our host Barry who would then take us to Sandy Cay, our very own private paradise.

The ferry was very small with no open air blowing through and the surf was high. Molly sat facing forward and I sat facing her so we could talk. Within 15 minutes, I began feeling like I was going to vomit. I was experiencing seasickness for the first time in my whole life! The windows were high so I could not see the horizon, which meant that I needed to stand for the remainder of the trip on the high seas, about 45 minutes. I have pretty good sea legs but that was a long time to ride out the waves. But I knew that if I didn’t stand facing forward looking out the window I would vomit like a school girl. I had visions of the captain having to call the school janitor to throw that sawdusty stuff on the vomit puddle. How humiliating that would have been!

We arrived in Utila I am proud to say that I made it all the way without vomiting. Once we got out of the high surf and into the harbor, I suddenly felt fine again like nothing had happened. We got off the ferry and found an ATM where we withdrew some Lempira and then headed to Bush’s Supermarket – the biggest store on the island – for our week’s food and supplies. The name “Supermarket” was a considerable misnomer as this was really just a great big convenience store. And, this being Sunday, the store was going to close early. We had little to choose from for food and no real time to plan a menu, but we actually made out okay in hindsight. We bought 6 ½ gallons of water for our 6 ½ days that we would be on the island and a whole bunch of food.

It was now noon and Barry wasn’t supposed to pick us up until 2:00. We had cold stuff and frozen stuff and it was about 95 degrees outside. The grocer was kind enough to contact Barry for us (who oddly enough she had on speed dial) and asked him if he could meet us earlier. He said he would be there in a ½ hour so we bought some ice to keep the food cold. We were very politely plopped out on the dock behind the market in the shade to await his arrival. We waited on the dock with our boxes of food and our duffel bags and watched the marine life off the dock. Before long Barry arrived in his boat and greeted us with “you are looking to go to Sandy Cay?” I couldn't have been more relieved. We loaded the boat with all our supplies, took off, made one stop to pick up our co-host George, and before long we arrived in paradise.

We went ashore and received some short lessons in how to power the water pump, manage the solar and wind power, use the 2-way radio, and light the gas stove. We were instructed to call into them with the 2-way radio with “Cayos, Cayos, Sandy Cay” once every day so that they would know we were okay. We could also call them on the radio if we needed any supplies or if we had any type of emergency. We waved goodbye to Barry and George and were now on our own until Saturday. We wondered aloud if we had brought enough drinking water and food, and investigated in our travel guides how long we had to boil the rain water from the pump to make it drinkable.

We unpacked the food. There were two refrigerators – one for cold food and one for all other food. The house is wide open so the food had to be tightly stored or the birds would get into it. We each chose a bedroom and bathroom and then had a light lunch of cheese and crackers. We spent a bit of time exploring the nooks and crannies of the small house, found the mosquito netting for our beds, found a living room stocked with books on the shelves, and even found some dive books with information on fish and coral that would later become a great source of information for us.

I set out for a walk around the small island, something that would become a morning ritual for me so that I could see what the storms and tides washed ashore. I found a large fallen tree that was smoldering from a fire. I attempted to put the fire out but had no luck because it was deep inside the tree and intensely hot. The shores of the island were white and pink coral sand and dead coral lined much of the island. Hermit crabs, a resident pelican or two, mosquitoes, crabs, and flies were our constant companions.

After my walk we decided to go snorkeling and went in search of the beautiful coral reefs with brightly colored fish. We began on the north side of the island only to find out quickly that the best reefs were on the west and south side of the island. Molly located a beautiful area of caverns and coral with fish that were unbelievable beautiful. She came back and told me about it and said that she felt like the Little Mermaid. I went to investigate and she was right. It was tough going out to the area because the coral was so close to the surface, but once I got there I didn’t want to leave. I was still adjusting to breathing through the snorkel and was beginning to feel a little light headed, so I headed back in.

For the remainder of the day we rested, read, and caught up on each others lives. It got dark very early – a rain storm was coming in so we switched the generator from solar power to wind power. We ate dinner and chatted some more over a cold beer. We went to bed at 9:00 PM and I quietly hoped that the rain would put out the fire in the tree.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Traveling Maniac - Honduras Day 2, A Very Long Day

At 5:00 AM the airport sprang back to life and I was awakened by the sound of a coffee bean grinder at the Dunkin’ Donuts (room service?). That and the uncorking of a bottle of wine have to be two of my top ten sounds in the whole world, but seriously...5:00 AM? I opened my eyes and I turned to my right to find a bunk mate! An older gentleman curled up asleep on some chairs about 5 feet away was sharing my hotel room. He woke up too and we watched each other’s bags while we took turns freshening up in the restroom. I replaced all the furniture and prepared myself mentally to begin my long wait for Molly. I chatted with my bunk mate for awhile and then had breakfast with a nice older Honduran couple. We chatted in broken English (theirs) and grade school Spanish (mine) about our families, our lives, and what had brought us to be at this airport at 6:00 AM on a Sunday morning.

After breakfast, they were on their way and they wished me the best of luck in finding my sister and continuing on my journey. I was still without an internet connection and needed to recharge my iPod battery. I wandered closer to the airport desks to find a power outlet and voila! Up popped a Taca Airlines wireless hotspot! I helped myself to their wireless connection and was finally able to find my dear Molly. I learned that she was bumped at LAX and was now en route to El Salvador. I was also able to message my son Dave to assure him of my safety and to ask him to call Molly’s boyfriend Andrew to let him know that I was safe just in case Molly contacted him. She eventually reached El Salvador but she still had no idea where I was. She begged to be allowed into the VIP lounge so that she could try to contact me. The hotel in La Ceiba that we were to stay at the previous night had contacted her to let her know that I never arrived. She was quite concerned about my whereabouts and safety as you can imagine. She messaged me about where she was, questioned what had become of me, let me know that she had rearranged all our forward going plans, and because she was not sure where I was, also gave me the address of our hotel in La Ceiba hoping that I could take a cab there. By the time I received her message and replied to her, she was already on her flight, still unsure of where I was.

I spent the remainder of the day reading, emailing Dave, and awaiting Molly. Then the most incredible thunderstorm hit. The trees were blown sideways by the wind, the airport roof was a sieve, and the airport was closed down for all flights. Even the flute man packed up again and left the airport for the safety of home. It was at this point that I began to lose hope that I would see Molly on this day. But as quickly as the storm had blown in, it blew right back out again and the airport opened with half an hour to spare before Molly’s flight was to arrive. When the time came, I watched the arrival board – no flight – I waited 20 more minutes – still no flight! I checked on line and the Taca website said that there was no flight 222 from El Salvador to Honduras that day. Completely disheartened I asked a Taca agent what was going on. She radioed someone who told her that the flight was in fact en route but would not arrive for another 20 minutes. Hallelujah!

I found a very conspicuous spot to wait for Molly and resumed reading my book, completely immersed in a great gruesome British murder mystery knowing that all would be well. Before long there was a tap on my shoulder and a familiar voice saying “are you as happy to see me as I am to see you?!?!?” We smiled at each other with those goofy smiles that can only come with the profound relief of finally knowing that the other was safe and okay. What stories we each had to tell the other of our respective adventures in flying! I messaged Dave that all was well with both of us and that we were in fact together at last. After approximately 30 hours in the San Pedro Sula airport, I boarded the flight to La Ceiba with my lovely sister.

30 minutes later we landed at the airport in La Ceiba and were met by the owner of the hotel who whisked us back to her place. We had an amazing dinner of rice, plantains, and ice cold beer at the Rainbow Village Hotel. We were so happy to have made it this far in our journey to the island, albeit 24 hours behind schedule. I took a hot shower and washed the airport off my body and out of my hair and fell into bed and off to a very restful sleep – one where I could lie completely prone if I so chose, where I didn’t have to hug my purse to my sleeping body, and where I knew that the next morning we would begin the next leg of our journey.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Traveling Maniac - Honduras Day 1, A Terminal Experience

For about half the cost of a week’s summer rental on Cape Cod, my sister and I rented an island in Honduras. Let me begin by saying that my sister and I have traveled a few times together and we always have prepared a detailed itinerary with all the details of flights, hotels, contact information, dates, times, sometimes even sunrise, sunset, and the expected weather. This time, we did not. We got cocky. The more one travels, the more one realizes that there is always something that goes pear shaped during a trip. We knew this, but we threw caution to the wind nonetheless. She would fly in from the west and I would fly in from the east and we would meet in San Pedro Sula Airport in Honduras.

July 1st was departure day. I left my house at 4:30 AM to catch a plane out of Logan Airport that marked the beginning of a journey. This would be a journey of planes, cars, taxis, and boats that would eventually land me on my private island in the Caribbean, off the coast of Honduras. The first flight took me as far as Atlanta where I had a brief layover before boarding my flight to San Pedro Sula. There I would await the arrival of my beloved sister Molly who would be arriving about 3 hours after me. When we arrived the plane circled the airport for what seemed like forever, but was probably only 10 minutes. 10 long minutes, during which my eardrums felt as if they would rupture. When we eventually landed, I joined the long line waiting to clear through Customs and Immigration. I was in no hurry, I had hours to occupy until Molly would arrive. After a very uneventful screening I was cleared through. I amused myself at the very tiny airport by reading, eating, drinking coffee and water, and waiting. I listened to the flute man – a local craftsman selling his wares and playing music for the arriving passengers.

I checked the board to see if Molly’s plane would be on time and was quite surprised when I saw that there were no flights from LAX coming into San Pedro Sula. None. Not one. Hmmmm. There was a flight arriving from El Salvador at the same time as she was to arrive, so I assumed she must have had a layover there and must not have been flying direct. Sadly, without the itinerary, all I knew was the arrival time. I didn’t know the airline, flight number, or origination of her flight.

At last the time came for her to land (I was hoping anyway). I joined the crowd of people outside the Customs and Immigration area and waited as the passengers began to trickle through. One by one they came, but not my Molly. The crowd began to thin as more and more passengers were cleared through and were greeted excitedly by family and friends, but still no Molly. Even the flute man was beginning to pack up his wares. I watched and waited with a sinking heart and knew she was not on the plane. I waited until the last person came through. Even the flute man was long gone by this point. I had no phone with which to contact her and we were booked on the next flight to La Ceiba which was leaving in about 2 hours. I did not panic, and instead went to the airline counter to see if she had already checked in for our flight and had headed to the gate. Instead of hearing what I wanted to hear, they told me that she was booked on the flight to La Ceiba for the next day. This was not the plan, so something must have happened. They investigated a little further and told me that her inbound flight had been in an oversold situation; she was bumped involuntarily and would be arriving the next day.

Well now what was I to do? Should I go on or should I wait? Since Molly had made all of the arrangements I wasn’t entirely sure of the name of our hotel in La Ceiba. I did remember that La Ceiba is a kind of shady place for tourists so I decided to stay in San Pedro Sula, wait the 24 hours, and fly with Molly the next day. The airline re-booked me for a small fee and offered to help me find a hotel for the evening. I declined and opted to overnight at the airport. The shops all accepted US dollars so I knew that I could eat there with no problem. And I really did not feel at all unsafe. I made several attempts to secure an internet connection using the free airport wi-fi but I had no luck. I had hoped to get a connection to see if there was any word from Molly. I wasn’t sure where she was bumped, LAX or in El Salvador, or what time she would arrive the next day, or how we would rearrange all our plans forward going. But I chose not to worry about things and spent a remarkably enjoyable, albeit noisy, evening camped out at the Dunkin’ Donuts. When it was time for bed, I cleaned up the best I could, brushed my teeth, made a little bed out of a couple of easy chairs and my duffel bag, covered myself with my beach towel, and fell asleep. I actually slept quite soundly and was awakened only twice by well meaning strangers who were concerned that I may have missed my flight or that I would get in trouble for using the Dunkin’ Donuts as a hotel room.

For someone in my situation, I was pretty chilled. I felt entirely confident that I had made the right decision. I only regret that I hadn't taken pictures of the airport to share. Oh well, I will have many of those in upcoming posts. Stay tuned!