Friday, August 17, 2007


One of the most astonishing facts about Belize, is that it s hardly inhabited with about 350,000 people, of whom the most distinguishable are the Mayans, Garifunas, and plenty of Guatemala immigrants. Its a beautiful country full of forests, wildlife and beaches.

My first stop was Cayo where I went to meet up with a friend's cousin- Tim- who has been living there for 4 years. He's staying in a great house overlooking the beautiful forest around Cayo (San Ignacio). Lovely mornings on the porch with REAL coffee and lots of birds. One day we all went to the Pineridge Forest for swimming and exploring. Our rented Trooper broke down that same night and we ended up walking the last two blocks to his car-- Belizean style, I was told. BTW Tim's car is a story in itself bc it well represents life in Belize: He drove it into an unexpected river that flooded a bridge-- they had to drag it out of the river but the electronics have been shot since then. Someone threw a huge stone thru the window and he now uses this stone to set up the plastic needed to cover the window to keep the rain out. Then, just before I showed up, Tim banged on the dash to fix a rattle problem and punched a big hole in it.

Then I went to Dangriga for 3-4 nights. Now, this is considered the center of the Garifuna culture and Punta Rock. The Garifuna are an ethnic mix of Caribbean and African and are lovely people. They speak like they are reciting poetry-- a beautiful version of English that would be interpreted as highly descriptive street slang in the US. At first glance Dangriga's not the nicest looking town (the hotel owner was surprised to hear that we would be staying a second night). But the Garifuna are so charming and there were so many things going on, we just had to stay. Ahright mon! There was a cultural show with music and dancing one night. Great music! I LOVE the music! Imagine a town where you can walk down the streets in the evening and find that every house listens to good music-- Carribean, Latin, reggae, African, Garifuna beats. Que bonito! You should see these women dance. Their hips (read: ass) move as an altogether independent body and they risk some moves that border on vulgar-- a woman jumped up on stage to dance and stopped several times dramatically to flex her crotch muscles for the crowd. Throughout all of this, there was this multiple day dugu (spiritual healing) ceremony going on at a spiritual center (made of bamboo and thatch), which we attended intermittently. I joined in some of the dancing, which is accompanied by 3 big hand drums and lovely singing. The last day that we attended began with greeting the fisherman at the beach, who were bringing in seafood for the ceremony. It was a bit of a rough town (Lots of crackheads; we got robbed at gun point on the street one night, can you believe?) but it was completely exotic and interesting to me.

Spirit center in Dangriga.
Dangriga at sunset.

I headed to Placencia with the chief objective of staying out of trouble for the last few days of my trip. My first day there, I met a couple of girls (India and Italy) who invited me to share a room with them. They had a full out efficiency with a fully equipped kitchen, bathroom, and big veranda on the second floor of a wooden building (30$/night for the whole place!). It was perfect! Beaches were lovely, place was chill, sun was hot, and the water was clear. A perfect ending to over 3 months of travel in Latin America.

Quechi Mayan boys selling crafts made by their families.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Itza Mayans

I am on the other side of the lake (close to Flores in Northern Guatemala) in a little pueblo called San Jose. It is a very old town of several hundred years-- fully Itza Mayan. I´m staying with a family who is very (very) basic. I have my own little room enclosed in plastic and concrete with a tin roof. I eat carbs and carbs and more carbs for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Our toilet is a couple of holes in the ground (but fairly clean). And the mother of the house cooks on a fire-- yesterday I made tortillas! She´s got two ducks and 1 pig and I spend some time everyday watching them roam around and eat stuff (I like the ducks). I live at the top of the hill-- almost next to the Spanish school. The school is outside in a big garden overlooking the lake and we look at the wildlife that come to the garden everyday during my class. I am the only student at the school, so everything is one-on-one. The teacher is so-so, I tell her what and how I want to learn. She´s great for conversational practice but terrible with explaining grammar. I get my own private guide everyday-- and he is a really fabulous guide and speaks like he is reading out of book! Today we are going to another Mayan ruin for my own archaelogical and ecological tour. Yesterday I had a tour around this town of 3000 people. Tomorrow we are going to a cave. Some of the houses are still traditional with mud walls and thatch roof (photo).

Here´s the two main reasons why I am here: 1. The lake is stunningly blue and clear and completely beautiful. I make a point of swimming and spending time there everyday. The weather is good almost everyday-- too hot actually. 2. There is alot of use of plants here. They make soap and shampoo, weave and dye cloth, make plant based jewelry, collect and eat local plants, and use medicinal plants. I am also one of only 4 foreigners in this whole town-- I have only talked the Japanese volunteer who can only speak Spanish. I am Spanish speaking all day and it gets pretty tiring (no hablo Ingles nunca). BUT, I´ve learned tons already in 2 days. I´ll spend about a week here and then move on to Belize.

My room.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

cuevas de Semuc Champey

First of all, Semuc Champey has these amazing freshwater pools that are captured within limestone formations-- formed from sediment in the water rushing out of the mountain caves that are further up river. Think crystal blue, clear, fresh, waterfalls, lots of green vegetation, and big! Big enough to swim about in about 6 different pools.

Now, the cuevas. Ordinarily, I am not crazy about tours but this one was not to be missed and not possible without a guide. It started off with a giant leap from a swing into the brown rushing river. Next, I borrowed some shoes for the cave (no havaianas unfortunately) and was given a lit candle-- every other person-- and there were about 15 of us. And we entered the cave in water chest deep among the stalactites/mites. Then, swimming with one hand, scrambling up rocks, more swimming in the dark, climbing up a rope into the face of a rushing waterfall from the depths of the cavern, yet more swimming (the longest was about 30 meters in distance- with shoes on and one hand, this is not easy), 3 meter drop into a pool of water, more scrambling and climbing and swimming. When we got to the end, the guide told us to blow out our candles. I made a comment about what a nightmare it would be if there wasn´t a way to light them up again. One guy refused to blow out his candle and swam around the corner to give us some darkness. Good thing! bc later we learned that the guide´s lighter didn´t work! Can you imagine?? Trying to get back thru that cave (about an hour ´walk´) in the pitch black dark?! One the way back, he had us squeeze thru a tiny little hole of rushing water. When we finally emerged into the light-- with tiny wet candle stubs-- we climbed up to the top of the mountain to look down on the waterfalls and pools of the Semuc Champey. Then tubed down the river back to our guesthouse. All I can say is: Intense. You could never do this in the U.S.

Jason (Portland, OR) and Quechi Mayans

Our first day at Semuc Champey-- I voted that we hang out by the river and wash off the dusty feeling of traveling on dirt roads all day. I began making a painting of the river and the yellow bridge and slowly we started to gather a crowd of Mayan children and young men-- all men (where are the women??). More and more people all around me, until I couldn't see the sun. After that, we knew all the kids in the area. We saw them everywhere. They would shout at us from inside building and various places-- always remembering us.

Thursday, July 26, 2007


So, I had a great day today. Mostly because I have crossed the intimidating boundary of comprehension!! We did a coffee tour (in Spanish) and a little tour of an orchid farm (in Spanish) and cruised around freely visiting a couple of pueblos (towns) and chatting with various people (in Spanish). Woo-hoo! I can finally communicate!

I recorded some info about growing coffee in Guatemala. Guatemala is one highest producers of coffee in the world. Brazil is first. Here´s the synopsis of growing coffee at a little farm called Finca Santa Margantan (photos later) (PS- this account is subject to future revision):

The farm was founded in 1888 by a German man.

Young plants are grown under cover for warmth and protection in organic material from seed. After a year, they are transferred into plastic bags and into the ground. The second and third year there are fruit but it is a low grade (used for low grade coffee). The fourth year is high quality. Fruit is picked with it is a red or yellow color (depending on the variety of coffee). Workers are paid 50 cincuentas per pound (about 5 cents US) of coffee that they pick. Coffee is picked 5 times a year. Each plant produces about 5 pounds of coffee per year. After the fruit is picked it is soaked in hot water and then run thru a machine to remove the pulp (skin) from the seed. The pulp is later used for organic material that is used on the farm. The seeds are washed in water and then sucked thru a pipe and deposited in a long trough to separate seeds that float and sink. The water is running and the seeds that float are pushed out the end of the trough and collected-- these are the lower grade called ´nata´. The sinkers are called ´pergamino´ and are the high quality. Both varieties are laid out in the sun for about 2 days (?) on the concrete and turned over to dry properly. Then the seeds are stored in a dry shed in canvas sacks that allow ventilation for about 6 months. The skin is removed from the pergamino and the ´oro´seeds that separated by hand so that the best quality seeds are separated from bad seeds (seeds with more or less than 2 parts in one fruit, malformed seeds, etc). There are at least three types of quality: 1 gourmet, and 2 types of Americanos). Then the seeds are roasted in a machine at 200 celsius for 25 pounds for 20 min. Roasted coffee is called ´tostado´. More time is needed for darked roasts, ex. expresso. Then, it is ground depending on the type of coffee needed, ex. expresso is more fine. Ground coffee is called ´molido´). Here at the farm, mostly processed coffee is sold-- in Guatemala. Some coffee is exported and some of that is in the raw (unroasted) form.

There are about 6 main places in Guatemala for growing coffee. They each grow different varieties which are selected based on their body, acidity and flavor and these vary depending on the altitude, temperature, and soil of the location.

We saw a few varieties of coffee at the farm. Robusta is a lower quality and Arabica is higher. Arabica requires more shade. All of the coffee at the farm need a medium amount of both sun and shade. So, there are tall trees growing in the plantation with their branches cut off. There is also some sugarcane, guava, chili, all spice, avocado, cardamon, some kind of edible palm (papa...?), beans and banana.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

micro buses

I''m up in North Guatemala-- on my way to the tropical forests of Central America. We ve been taking the micro buses. Really enjoy them. The front is the best. Where you can get the best view of the drivers making daring passes around semis on the curvy mountain roads. Little bit of squishing in the seats, but no where near the shady ´chicken buses´ which aren´t called chicken buses for nothing. Did I tell you that I got puked on by a poor car sick boy who was standing in the aisle? Kum (in Thai)-- what goes around comes around-- I once puked on a mountain bus in Laos. And made a terrible mess. But not on anyone.

I've been on this embroidery kick...It all started when I wanted to buy something with a quetzal embroidered on it-- but they were all ugly and expensive. I told Kari: I can do better than this. So, I bought some thread and I've been making little animals for my friends. Here's one-- my favorite-- a marmaset.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Ultimo dia in Xela

Moving on out! My last day in Xela. Just going to add some photos here and then words later (or maybe the photos can speak for themselves....

At school.

The street in front of my homestay.

Fuentes Georginas-- about an hour away from Xela. Hot springs outside of xela....People in the photo are friends from my language school and one of the teachers. A weekend trip.

Herbs (thyme?) being cultivated in the fields on our way up the mountain. Santa Maria. A huge volcano that required us to climb 3000 m. We could have made it-- if we hadn´t gotten lost 3 times. It was still a trip. Lots of fun.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

El Artiste

I always meet interesting people on ´pick-ups´. I realized that today when I was trying to tell my Spanish teacher some of my travel stories and they inevitably begin with ´when I was in a pick-up I met this guy...´ And yet again in Guatemala: I met this guy in the back of a pick-up on the way to San Marcos. This experience stands out specifically because it was also an amazing trip down this green lush mountain overlooking the amazing blue waters of Lago de Atitlan. I was the only gringo/a during the entire 2 hour trip (consisting of about 5 different vehicles). The 2 last vehicles (pick-ups) wer the best. I have always loved travelling the back of a pick-up (reminising back to my hitch-hiking experiences in the back of trucks across western America...)-- the great view, fresh air and feeling of freedom. So this guy... very funny, friendly, making fun of me (easy to do with my lousy Spanish) , and making friends with everyone on the truck, saying : ´Que bonita! Que bonita!´ to no one in particular but the beautiful landscape.
El artisto-- loco un poco. I ran into this guy again in the Parque de Central America in Xela while I was doing a drawing there. He laughed at me lots (always) thought that it funny the way that I was drawing. Later, we ended up checking out his studio and another day we had lunch at his place. His house was quite strange. It was full-- really full-- of doilies and kitsch. One room was dedicated to his 'son' -- which I think, was him-- now. It was decorated like the room of an 8 year old boy, complete with child-like drawings on the walls. What gave it away, was the thick layer of dust on everything. There was also a school desk where you could see that El Artiste did drawings some times. Another time, I saw him at the chocolate cafe that I frequented close to my house. And he sang along with the beautiful Spanish music with tears running down is face. Recuerdos, recuerdos! He said to me.

Our painting. I gathered us all up-- 5 of us including the artist. We did a group drawing. Start on one side and then rotate it. This was the result. We gave it to the school. Its about 1 meter by 0.5 meter.

Thursday, June 21, 2007


I´ve been here for something like a week. Everything has gone pretty smoothly, considering my extremely basic Spanish skills.

Every flight from Brazil to Guatemala was late. I got stuck in Miami for a night and in Guatemala City. I´d been a bit nervous about landing in Guatemala City-- with its bad reputation and all. Funny, when it came to actually getting there, I wasn´t too concerned. Big groups of missionaries with different colored shirts. I caught a ride with them in a school bus to a fancy hotel to avoid taking a taxi at night by myself. Planned on crashing with a couple of girls in one of their rooms, but things didn´t work out like that. Nice guatemalan missionary took me to a less fancy hotel and I spent a comfortable and easy night.

I met a Costa Rican guy in the ´lobby´ (more like a living room) the next morning. We hit it off great. He had a lovely hand made journal that I plan to re-create when I get back to Florida. He´s got a great system for drawing and painting on the road, and I´ll experiment with this for my next trip. He gave me a knife-- and I gave him a quarter for it. Seems that the Central Americans also believe that you should never receive a knife as a gift either.

I took a taxi to Antigua-- the cross roads town that was my original destination upon arriving in Guatemala. Hit it off with the taxi driver. My first time speaking Spanish ever. I actually did OK. We communicated and he taught me lots of new words. He told me that he was going on to Lago de Atitlan, so I decided to continue on. I broke a major travel ´rule´ and left my bag in the car with him for a couple of hours while I wandered Antigua. But he was nice and I had a good feeling about him. He met me at the designated spot and I sat in the front with him again and we continued our conversation to Lago de Atitlan.

Got out of the minibus with a couple of Spanish girls and a German guy. The German guy- Stephan-- and me got swept along with the river created by the Spanish girls and we went with them to San Marcos. Sketchy posada. Way in the back up the hill. Quiet place. Shady guys wandering the street. One of them came up to the posada and sat with us. Repeating the same things over and over again. Weird. I voted to get rid of him-- straight up. Eventually we just all went to sleep to lose him. The next day, we decided to move to San Pedro-- apparently the party central-- not of interest to me, but what the hell. When we came down to the water to take the boat out, I was stunned. It was beautiful. Deep blue lake, like a mountain lake. Surrounded by mountains and a volcano. It was hard to separate the water from the sky. I saw a young western woman drop her daughter off at school. And everything changed. I wanted to know what it was like to live there. I talked with her and decided that we should stay. I proposed it to Stephan and we decided to stay. Said goodbye to the Spanish--good I think, like I said, they were like a river. We stayed in a lovely place--La Paz-- and spent the next couple of days swimming, sun bathing, climbing on the rocks and hiking a bit back into the hills. It really was a lovely spot. But, my mind (and guilt) has been itching and I needed to go. Spent a night in San Pedro for kicks (just to give you an idea of how weird this place was: the gringo ´manager´told me, I quote: ´I haven´t been anywhere here. I just buy and consume drugs.´)

Lago de Atitlan

Stephan with a Mayan family who we met working in the mountain fields.

I left the next day for Quetzaltanago or Xela. Took the ´chicken bus´, which was uneventful, given its bad reputation. Today is my second day here and it was ultra successful. I think that I have found the perfect language school and homestay. Tomorrow I am starting my first 5 hours. Then, I´ll meet Kari in Chichi a couple of hours away and return here for my homestay. Xela seems good. I think that I will like it. 1 month? Will see.

Street scene in Xela on the way to my homestay.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Quando eu volvo eu voy o falar Portugues com voce...

Yesterday we did a trip into the interior of the region. It is possible to get too used to the beautiful coastline of Pipa.

We went to a waterfall-- that was absolutely full of water. It was a roaring brown river and I would´ve never thought of going swimming in it. Mario weren´t deterred and Rodriguez (Mario´s brother-in-law) and I followed him across the rocks into the falling water. It was refreshing-- water from the whole forest pounding on us.

Next was the Mouth Rock (Pedra da Boca). Lovely green landscape dotted with huge granite stones. We hired a local guide-- a good example of how traditional ethnobotany knowledge can be used in sync with the formation of a conservation area-- who was an expert of medicinal and other useful plants in the area. We climbed almost straight up the side of the rock and were just in time for the sunset. It was a perfect day. The rain only rained when we weren´t outside. And the group vibe was muito bom.

Pedra da boca (mouth rock). We climbed to the top of an adjacent rocks to check out the view.

Mario and Roberto left me today to go on a 3-day surf trip. I´m leaving in a few hours for the airport. This was my first day in Brazil alone-- can you believe this? I had a really good time, exploring the rocks, huge sand dunes, changing light, and waves-- climbing up and down the shore that ranges from beach to sharp rocks to vertical cliffs.

Just a comment about change (from Mario):
Change is neccessary to feel life. For example, if I put my hand on your arm, you feel the difference. If I leave it there for a while, you get used to the feeling. When I take my hand away, you feel different. Those different feelings are to remind you that you are living life.

I said good bye to everyone and I will spend my last few hours in Pipa in the hammock at the lovely pousada [].

Ciao ciao e beijos Brazil!

Monday, June 11, 2007

Tudo bom, tudo bem

At this moment I am holding down the fort of the recepçao of my pousada while Mario and Roberto go surfing (in the rain). I am armed with my few phrases in Portugues. In exchange I get to use the internet. Just this morning I was cruising on the back of an off road motorcycle along the amazing coastline into town about 15 kms away. Life is funny, isn´t it?

Pipa coastline e os surfistas.

I´m on my own again-- all of my ´Floridians´ have finally left me. But I´m with new friends, of course. Its my transition period while I prepare myself to jump countries again. More in Guatemala....

Sunday, June 10, 2007


Vivi and Ane taught me about Joaninha. When it is raining, you make a figure out of paper while thinking about Joaninha and invite her to hang out with you. Ask her to bring the sun (trais o sol), because wouldn´t this beautiful day be more fun with sunshine? Feed her and include her in your activities (like eating crabs and drinking beer by the water). As we walked down the beach in the rain, I picked up a handful of white wet clay. It shaped itself easily into the figure of a mermaid and dried with the sun. Joaninha from Pipa.

Ane and Joaninha

Its the end of environmental/multicultural week here in Pipa. We participated in a jungle walk in the Atlantic forest (behind Pipa) -- which barely remains in Brazil anymore. There were also educational activities for kids, trash pick up, bicycle races etc. Last night lots of music in the streets. An accordian orchestra, a man in a rainbow ´traditional´outfit with a beautiful baratone voice and acoustic guitar, a painter-- also in a rainbow outfit, plenty of salsa-like dancers in the crowd, capoiera (of course), brass bands, string quartet etc. Brazilians love their music.

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Pipa, Brazil

Third week in Brazil. Where has the time gone?

I´m in Pipa. A lovely little beach town south of Natal. Mario-- the once-Paulista who owns the place-- has a wonderful paradise life. Over many years, little bit by little bit. He gathered some land and drew in his family. His mother planted all of the trees in the garden and has made it a refuge for huge toads, black geckoes, hummingbirds, and darling little marmasets (with children!) who ask for bananas and other tree fruits. Mario said to me the other day: "We just grew here with the trees. Can you believe that there are some people in this world who haven´t ever planted a tree?"

Garden of Pomar da Pipa. Our rooms are in the back.

Motorcycle ride with Mario along the cliffside coastline and around a sandy island, thru the cornfields. Lovely!

The first two weeks in Brazil I was in a Tropical Forestry course. There are too many stories to share from this time. So maybe as I think of them I will write them.

Drilling a hole in a tree for oil collection-- traditional method.

The jackamee (black bird in the center). Thought he was a person, mistaken for a soccer ball-- he followed us into the forest and around camp. Our little mascot for the first week.

The Amazon river-- It blew my mind. Imagine the biggest river that you can imagine and double this. No, triple this. No end in sight. Add some waves, a tide, sandy beach and a storm in the distance moving across the wide blue sky like a grey sheet.

The second week we were at a riverine community in Mazagao. Swinging in hammocks on the second floor porch with a great view. My favorite place to sleep-- where you can watch the rain fall and the sun rise with no problems. I loved the mornings best. Just as the sun rises and reflects on the wet sand and river. Parrots flying from their roosting sites. Dolphins passing by slowly sometimes.
Our daily boat ride to visit houses in Mazagao. The roof was the best-- we could see 360 degrees all around with the luxury of clean, fresh air.

Group photo in the forest of Mazagao. Notice the Brazilian woman standing to my right-- she was the most fit and strongest woman I have ever met. She ran her entire forest-garden on her own.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Latin America adventure

I'm off in two days for Brazil. Of course, I feel hesitant and unsure of my plans. If it wasn't for the dogs, I probably wouldn't feel so stressed out about leaving. But, I know that once I get on the road, all will be well and my travelling bug will kick back into high gear. So, I'm slated for Brazil for 1 month, Guatemala for 6 weeks and Belize for 3 weeks. I'm attempting to increase the time that I have in Brazil and will see how it goes. My main goals for this trip are to 1) Speak Spanish functionally and 2) Come up with an idea for my PhD research.
Stay in touch!
Florian, Stephane and me (Jesus is taking the photo) at Miami beach in March 2007. My friends from the Asia travelling extravaganza of 2006.