Jun 30, 2008
This Morning This Morning
A joke about jazz musicians is that they don't realize that 10 o'clock actually comes twice in one day. As for me, today I had two mornings.
From my first morning at Omega Tours Lodge in Honduras, Alexandra and her elegant work of flowers and grasses:
She proudly pointed out that she found all the blossoms loose on the ground, and plucked nothing except for the grass at center.
I hope you can see how pretty her work is (click to make larger), with different plants at the center of each "petal". She really has a fine eye. On the previous night, her sister made a big heart that everyone carefully stepped around. I think one of the dogs messed it up, but that was a fine excuse for Alexandra to start a new piece. (Makes you think of the monks and their mandalas, doesn't it?)
After breakfast, I scooted downhill to La Ceiba from which I hoped to catch the 10 a.m. bus to San Pedro Sula. But there weren't any seats left so my new travelpals Ben and Mariam joined me for a fun few hours at the mall where I got some work done, too. Yay for the few hours of delay!
And after the redeye flight from San Pedro Sula, here I am blogging from JFK airport for morning number two. Here's the sunrise:
Those odd lights in the sky? Not proof that the MIB movies were speaking truth. Just reflections of lights in the terminal hallway. Sorry.
After a month of ample and often-yummy meals for ~$4 to $8, it's a surprise to see airport sandwiches in plastic wrap for $7.95. The music on the JFK public address system also surprises. They just went from Kool and the Gang's "Cherish the Love" to Feist's "One Two Three Four" (see here for Feist pitching iPods.) And a few songs later, Karla Bonoff's "Personally" followed by someone's cover of Joni Mitchell's "River"
A great travel writer (whose name escapes me at the moment) says that travel ought be done as much as possible by land (or water) and by daytime so you can feel yourself moving across the world. Airline travel at night may as well be a teleporter for the disconnect from geography. Next up for me: a cross-country US road trip, most of which will happen with daylight driving, I suspect. We'll see how I feel about airplanes after a few thousand miles of that.
Unrelated note: the first message you get upon arriving in the United States via JFK is the public address system telling you not to accept rides from unsanctioned cab or limo drivers, who might overcharge you and might not be insured. "Welcome to America. Don't trust people." Though to be honest, this is not far from the experience you'd get in, say, Cuba or Honduras.
Jun 29, 2008
Note the green roof :-) This unoccupied (?) cabin is on the eastern bank of the Rio Cangrejal. Across the river (not visible here) is the Pico Bonito reserve. A large fraction of Honduras (~40% by some counts I've read) is protected from development. Illegal logging, etc., has been rampant in the past but some folks at the Omega Jungle Lodge where I've been staying say that in the last few years, deforestation has decelerated dramatically.
Government commitment (i.e., military guarding against illegal removal of timber) that has come in part from encouragement/pressure by Honduran and international environmental groups has been the key element.
"I hate to say it but money and guns are the only two things that people understand here," says one European expat who has been doing ecological work in Honduras for some years.
Honduras has incredible natural resources: gorgeous mountains and coast, good weather, ease-of-access from developed economies... All the physical resources you'd need to succeed at, say, sustainable tourism. What's missing?
In any case, I surely encourage you to visit Honduras. More posts on the place shortly, probably after I get back to the US on Monday.
Jun 25, 2008
"The World Is A Big Place..
I think that Brian said something like this in an old comment, but I can't find where. Hey, Brian -- care to remind?
I've lived in or around Durham since 1983, so it's no surprise when I run into friends or acquaintances when I'm wandering around town. In the early 90s when I was making a lot of short trips around the US, I noticed that one of the weird sensations of travel was the absence of seeing familiar faces while walking the streets of, say, Atlanta or Chicago. Thus the special fun of unexpectedly running into someone I knew, whether a Chapel Hill acquaintance at the New York Public Library, or a college schoolmate at a Washington DC bar.
Now when I travel for pleasure instead of work, I usually stay in places long enough to get to know a few people and then run into them around town. It's happening regularly here in La Ceiba (population ~150k) even though I've only been here a few days, and it helps me at least feel like I'm actually in the community, not just visiting.
But here are better stories from my friends, paraphrased best as I remember:
In the summer of 1990, my friends John and Julie were traveling separately through Europe. They made tentative plans to meet at the Duomo on a particular date and time, and John made it there. But Julie and her travelmate were put off by the World Cup crowd, and decided not to push into Florence (figuring that John had done the same). A week or two later, John was walking through the Zagreb train station when someone grabbed him from behind, pinning his arms to his side. His life flashed before his eyes as he realized he was going do die behind the Iron Curtain and that his parents would never know what happened. But of course it was just Julie.
Around the same time, my friend Geoff was traveling in India. Outside the Taj Majal, an Indian man walked up and asked, "excuse me, sir, I noticed your Duke t-shirt and wonder if you went to school there?" Geoff noticed that the Indian man was wearing a Carolina t-shirt, and then he noticed the man's face. "Whoa, Dipak!" "Whoa, Geoff!!" They'd been hallmates a few years earlier at NCSSM.
Back in the 70s, my friend Sheila was traveling in Greece when she met some friendly guys on a ferry boat. The odd thing was that they claimed to have met her before, a few weeks earlier in Czechoslovakia. Sheila said there was no way that could have happened, as she'd never been to Czechoslovakia, but they insisted -- repeating various parts of their conversations, etc., and things she'd told them about herself which sounded strangely familiar. That's when Sheila finally figured it out... they had met her twin sister who (Sheila finally remembered) was traveling concurrently through Eastern Europe.
Europeans sometimes mock Americans as being overly fixated on their college alumnihood, what with all the car stickers, t-shirts, and hats, etc. But these things are useful. Three weeks ago I ran into a team of anthropology students from UNC-A whom I recognized because one of them (a guy who'd gone to E. Chapel Hill High School) was wearing a school hat. This week I spotted some kids from Winston Salem ("Forsyth County Day School" on their t-shirts), and last week I also ran into some NC medical students while walking around the restaurant/bar part of town on the beach (pegged not because of their clothes, but because one of them called out "hey, y'all -- let's take another taxi, this one's full.").
But anyway, I'll leave you with my favorite small world story, which I've probably told you before:
Back in '84, my Dad met a UNC anthropologist during an Indonesian gamelan performance at Duke. They got to talking, and figured out that the anthropologist and his new wife had lived with my grandparents for a year in Indonesia back in the 60s while he was working on his doctoral dissertation. They adored my grandparents in Indonesia, and we've been extended family in North Carolina ever since.
The world is a big place, but it often folds back on itself.
Addendum and case in point: ten minutes after I originally posted this blog, I left the 'net cafe to get something to drink, and while I was walking through the food court I saw a woman with a Durham Regional Hospital bag. So of course I asked her if she was from Durham and she said, "Didn't we meet outside of El Guapo's last week?" Oh, duh. It was one of the medical students. (Hi Katie!)
2nd addendum: reader Glenn is surely considering a comment along the lines of "while La Ceiba may have 150,000 people, it's likely that certain classes/types of people are likely to concentrate in similar areas. For example, the mall has the town's most expensive shops, and people who go there are likely to visit the town's five or six most expensive restaurants, and none of the town's cheapest barrios. The self-selection effectively creates a much smaller "town" in which to run into each other." If he's thinking this, of course he's right. (See also blogpost Durham: Bimbé Festival) But still...
A related story about self-selected groups on similar life-paths: my friend Kristina (a fellow Brown alum) spent the mid-90s traveling around the world, working with various NGOs. First she went to India for several months, and then she went to Tanzania. While she was in Tanzania, she heard from her Indian friends that another Brown alum had recently started working at the Indian NGO. A year later, after Kristina had returned to the US, the folks from Tanzania told her about a new cool woman who was working there and of course it was the same one. A year after that, Kristina enrolled at the UNC School of Public Health, and when she went to her first faculty advisor meeting, guess who was also there? Contextual note: all this information moved around the globe before email was in common use in any of three countries mentioned.
Jun 24, 2008
I Said 'Hop In'!
Best pal Dave next to our very small plane*, 6 a.m. on Utila just before scooting to La Ceiba by way of Roatan.
On the previous day, someone expressed surprise that we had been best friends for so long, and wondered if this meant we weren't good at making new friends. Interesting.
She had another theory that held maybe a little more water : if you're very smart, it's harder to make new friends because most other people aren't smart enough to be interesting. I could see where she was coming from, but I think she was arguing from an exaggerated sense of scarcity, and a constricted sense of what makes people interesting and/or appealing.
*Despite how it looks, the plane is not actually smaller than Dave's head. It's "perspective". But doesn't it remind you of Mr. Burns' Spruce Moose? "Smithers, I've designed a new plane. i call it the spruce moose, and it will carry 200 passengers from New York's Idlewild airport to the Belgian Congo in seventeen minutes!" Yoinked from here.
Burns: Now, to the plant! We'll take the Spruce Moose. [picks up the model] Hop in!
Smithers: But, sir --
Burns: [pointing a gun] I said, hop in.
"A Three... Hour... Tour"
You start out on a nice catamaran sail around Utila with Dave and Captain Lisa:
And stop for nice snorkeling atop the coral reefs by Water Cay:
And then, 8 hours later, having made it 7/8 around the island (about 300 yards off the bottom-left point with the big breakers that would pretty much smash you to bits):
...the wind dies (as it never ever does just before sundown).
So you (eventually) flag down a fishing boat and get your butts towed in:
Re-live the relief, in video: Utila Sail Tow In (6 MB) Mpeg
Dave's version of the story is here at Borogoves' "Third Way Round Utila". He remembers us as being further out of danger than I recall. But either way, we didn't feel like getting stranded on the water after sundown, not sure which way the currents would take us. Yay for the fishing boat.
Aerial photo of Utila (looking west-southwest) from somewhere on the web. Our trip started at the center of the populated bay, and our mid-day stop was at the tiny cays sort of visible at center top of photo.
Jun 23, 2008
Dance of the Street People
American Dance Festival. I just remembered that it's going on right now up in Durham, and I remember the quote of some Ninth Street business owner who said upon the dancer's arrival each year, "It's the return of the posture people!".
Back in 2000, I saw Mark Dendy's "I'm Going to my Room to be Cool Now and I Don't Want to be Disturbed," and my God it was loud. I think of that performance almost every time I hear "Ain't No Sunshine When She's Gone", and I thought of it again when I saw this friendly guy on W. Main Street in a year or two ago. I thought I might send a copy of the photo to the Dendy folks, but then I discovered that the dance company had shut down some years ago. Dendy is still around but not his dance company.
In any case, I wanted to mention that there's street people, and there's street people. The guy pictured here seemed to be high-functioning alcoholic when I met him. I don't remember ever seeing him at Urban Ministries of Durham, but on this occasion, he was a perfectly amicable guy to chat with for a while. Yesterday I met someone like him on the streets of La Ceiba Honduras. "Stone" (his nickname, not a pseudonym) is a recovering crack addict Honduran who teaches English (he grew up on one of the Bay Islands where they speak both English and Spanish) and writes poetry about staying away from drugs. He was sitting outside my hotel when I was looking for folks to share some excess candy with and we hung out for a bit. He's pretty funny.
There are sadder sights in La Ceiba. Though it's nothing like, say, India, there are still more than a few kids on the streets at night looking for a few Lempiras or some food. I don't know what the "responsible system" is down here, but I've avoided giving money to any kids so far. I've also avoided eye contact, and I can't help but feel some shame about that. But shame is nothing compared to hunger, right? Fortunately for the kid on this evening, another kid from the hotel ran into the restaurant and brought him a small meal. When the kid approached me a second time, I gave him a fresh pack of gum.
Jun 01, 2008
Cenotes Near Mérida
This is why people should buy underwater cameras. Above, Tom shot by his friend Jeff or maybe the other way around. We were swimming at one of the cenotes near Mérida*. Note the stalactites below the water.**
The Yucatan peninsula has several thousand cenotes -- freshwater sinkholes that are just awesome for swimming. So perfect, it's almost a moral obligation to do it skinny style.
The one pictured here is ~80 ft. across and ~30 ft. deep, with the water surface ~30 ft. below ground level. Here's a shot of Tom (or maybe Jeff) leaping in:
*We were on a tour run by Sr. Raul Espejo, an excellent tour guide and even more excellent gentleman. Raul's tour company works closely with the folks at Hostel Nómadas (which is run by a different Raul, just so you don't get confused.)
**Tom (or maybe Jeff) has a nice mnemonic for remembering the orientation of stalactites and stalagmites. The stalacTites hang down from the ceiling, like a capital "T". The stalagMites grow up from the ground, the like the humps of an "M". This is much better than the mnemonic I'd been using since I was little: stalaCtites have a "C" as in "Ceiling".