Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Central American Road Warriors

Day one
Of course there's always the last minute scramble to get the last minute things packed into the vehicle and head out on the road. This trip was even more so as time grew short the white flag was raised and it was declared we were ready to leave. John picked me up at my house and we headed out I-80 to begin the "Great Central American Adventure." We stopped for fuel in Wichita, Kansas and kept on trucking South to the border. We stopped in Dallas , Tx about 1:30am at the not so nice budget motel, but for two wild and crazy guys all we needed was a bed.

Day two
We were up and on the road again at 9am. Power bar for breakfast, peanut butter sandwich for lunch, and hamburger Pizza Hut pizza for supper. We made it to Laredo, Tx this day and stayed in a some what better motel than the last night. As we fell asleep, visions danced through our heads about crossing the border in the morning and leaving our country behind. The real adventure would begin.

Day Three
Today we met up with Victor (on the left in the above picture) and Julio (third from the left). Victor is the pastor in Nicaragua that will be receiving the van. Julio is a business man in Nicaragua and raises chickens to sell eggs. He has 78,000 chickens and harvests 58,000 eggs a day. More about that later. The person taking the picture was Greg an Amercian missionary that lives with his family in El Carmen, Mexico.

We crossed the border after eating a Mc Donald's breakfast and acquired the necessary paper work to travel through Mexico with the van and contents. Pastor Victor had a thought that maybe we should try to transfer ownership of the van to him at this point in the trip. It had never been possible before but Victor just had a thought to try again. All were surprised when not only did they say yes, but was completed relatively quick. This turned out to be a very good thing later in the trip. So with everything in order we started down the road toward El Carmen our first stop on the trip.

We arrived in El Carmen in time for the evening conference meeting of the 55 year anniversary celebration of the school there. We ate some kind of soup with big red chips. Central America, as I have learned, it big on soup. They even have soup for breakfast. The weather there was a bit chilly. Houses do not have heat so when the temperature drops to the 40s, it's cold. The church service found everyone bundled up with stocking hats, gloves, and scarves around their face because only tarps covered most of the doors and windows. I could see my breath during the service.

John, I, and another guy that was there for the 55th year celebration bunked down in an old motor home for the night. Of course, it didn't have heat so many blankets were used to stay warm. At the last minute an electric heater was given to us to take the edge off the inside temperature. The great adventure had definitely began.

Day Four
We left El Carmen about 11pm and arrived at Hildago in the morning. Victor, the pastor from Nicaragua, wanted us to experience his favorite breakfast. He had grown up in this part of Mexico and this was his favorite breakfast. It started with a bowl of soup. It was broth with what looked like chic peas in it. Then we progressed to a chicken that had been wrapped in a cactus leaf and buried in the ground with hot coals overnight. A tortilla was used to pinch off a wad of chicken and then flavoring (hot sauce) was sloshed on the tortilla. It all went down good as did many more cultural meals eaten on the journey.

In the afternoon we visited Pastor Victor's Mom and went to the town's market. We tried on many hats and wandered around looking at all the interesting things that were being sold there. Just about anything imaginable and some not imaginable could be bought there.

Upon arriving a Pastor Luis's house, a pastor that John has known for 20 years, we were invited to partake of chicken with some kind of red sauce on it. After that we were taken to a Mayan Pyrimad.

Two hundred fifty three steps later our huffing and puffing group made it to the top. We saw another pyramid and many foundations for other buildings as well as a terrific view of the land for miles around the structure. As you can see in the picture there were many peddlers with many of Mayan trinkets for sale.

Day Five
We stayed over night in a hotel. In the morning we attended Luis's church and of course all four of us had to give a testimony about how we came to bring a van to Nicaragua. John preached the Sunday morning sermon. One of Luis's sons decided to spend time in Nicaragua with Victor and Julio. Now we are a merry band of five headed into the wild territory of Central America. After church service and lunch at Luis's house, we bid John's friend goodbye and continued on with our journey. We traveled through the afternoon and all night to reach the Southern border of Mexico.
Day Six
Upon nearing the border of Mexico, we stopped at a beach front cafe to allow those that had driven all night to rest. We had a breakfast of seafood soup. While the others slumbered in hammocks with the warm ocean breeze wafting across them, I took advantage the time and went wave jumping in the ocean.

The technique of wave jumping is to position yourself at just the right distance from the rising wave to be able to dive into the curling wave. Every so often a good four foot wave will come along and a great thrill comes as it crashes over the top of you. It's a great way to spend the morning. I have been able to do wave jumping a couple other times but never thought I would get to again. This was one of the many highlights of the trip.

We tried to see some big ocean ships but the public was not allowed in to see them. We ate at a Burger King for lunch. In Mexico the double cheese burger comes with two patties of meat, a slice of cheese, a slice of ham, and two strips of bacon. Along with that one could order up fries with melted cheese and hot peppers on them. Since this was a once in a life time trip, I was going to immerse myself in all the culture I could. So one order of cheese burger and cheese fries coming up.

We got as close as we could to the Mexican border and bedded down in a hotel for the night. Since we were headed toward Nicaragua, Pastor Victor's sister-in-law met us at the Mexican border to get a ride to where we were delivering the van. This was a real asset as she knew English and Spanish really well and could interpret for us when needed. Now we are a merry band of six traveling through the countries of Central America.

Day Seven
We were up and eating a breakfast of pastry things with some kind of milk to wash it down. This would be the day we enter Guatemala. Upon reaching the border many people were scouting out the American van and trying to see through the tinted windows and look at what was inside. We were flagged over into what looked like a compound lot until our paper work could be completed.

Crossing a border in Central America is not like crossing a state line in America. In Central America, one must cross a border to leave on country, travel about a half mile, and cross the border into the next country. So it's double the trouble to go from one country to the next. All paper work, passports, and things in the van must be checked leaving one country and then again when entering the next country. Of course each country has a tax for you to be in their country so it has to be paid upon entering or leaving as well. Leaving Mexico was not a problem and we expected to be in El Salvador by night fall.

Because of a new computer system crashing and the needed paper work for the American van seven hours were spend in the 95 degree sun waiting to get across the border into Guatemala. We took a short tour through the black market shops in the little border town and in less than a half hour everyone in the town knew that there was an American van with two white guys in it sitting in the border compound.

Finally we made it across the border but the race was on to get to El Salvador before the border closed. We did not want to stay in Guatemala. About 30 minutes down the road we came upon a tree across the road. Julio the Nicaraguan business man was driving. Without hesitation he swerved across the road, out onto the left lane shoulder, sped around the tree, and booked on down the road. No one mentioned the incident until the next day when Pastor Victor said that it most likely was a trap for us to get robbed. Because of the quick response of Julio, nothing happened. We did make across Guatemala, but didn't make it before the border closed.

We staid in what they call an auto motel. An auto motel is a motel with a walled in locked at night compound area for your car. The motel rooms are inside the compound area as well. All this led me to believe it was not a nice place to be. We got the last two rooms. One for the sister-in-law and one for the five guys.

There was no concern about running out of hot water in the shower because there is no hot water. A shower in Cental America consists of a pipe from the wall with a shut off valve. The water is either on or off. It keeps people from taking a long shower that's for sure.
Day Eight
We had expectations of getting to our destination today as we packed up and got in line to cross the border into El Salvador. We stopped in El Salvador to eat at Wendy's. El Salvador uses US dollars as their country's currency which made it easy to buy the lunch.

After lunch we headed toward the Honduran border with hopes to make it through Honduras before the border closed. We did have to wait a couple hours to get into Honduras.

The border didn't smell the best and this was a common sight as we waited to cross into Honduras. Even a pig wandered through rooting in the trash pile by our van. The road sides look like what we would call a dump. When the trash piles up too high some one just sort of piles it together and lights in on fire. I guess that's one way to get rid of trash and plastic bottles. I'm not too sure about what it does for air quality.

We had to take a courier with us through Honduras. His job was to see that we didn't unload anything along the way. They wanted to be sure that what we entered the country with would not be unloaded in the country and go out the other side. Of course we had to pay for the couriers wages and for a hotel room on the border because it was to late to come back. Even with the courier with us we were stopped four or five times in the two hour crossing by the police checking to see who we were and where we were going. Every country we went through there was a tax to enter the country and sometimes to leave. This tax was any where from $20.00 to $40.00 for the six of us. We did make in time to cross out of Honduras but when we tried to enter Nicaragua we ran into a snag.

Because we were carrying many things with us the guard at the border didn't have the authority to allow us to enter with all the things we had. We camped in the parking lot. We ate junk food for supper and had a great time. We had to sleep in the van. One in the rear seat, one in the middle seat, one in the driver seat, and me in the passenger seat. Pastor Victor and Julio slept on the floor of a storage room with only a blanket and a pillow.

Day Nine
Upon the arrival of the official that could allow us to enter Nicaragua, we had to pull everything out of the van for inspection. By this time we had plenty of stinky clothes in our suitcases so they didn't poke around too much in those. In the end a tax of $40.00 was levied on the used computers and we were on our way.

A few miles down the road we stopped for breakfast in a unique cafe.

This was an open air restaurant with the food prepared over an open fire in the kitchen. I had some kind of black beans, rice, and scrambled egg mixture. While eating you could see the men chopping up the fire wood used to cook with. This was in a big open area to the left in this picture. Chickens were roaming through out the entire area and occasionally one would wander through the restaurant.

Back on the road again we knew the long road trip would soon be over. One last stop before we reached our destination would be at Julio's house. He showed us around the chicken egg farm.

This chicken egg farm has 78,000 chickens and harvests 58,000 eggs a day. This is a picture of just one row of chicken cages. There are four more and other open pens as well. It's one of four largest chicken egg farms in Nicaragua.

After the tour of the chicken farm we were honored guests of Julio and ate a special meal prepared just for us. I'm not sure about what it was as I didn't recognize anything in the soup. I think it was fruit and mystery meat of some kind.

Upon arrival at our destination, we all were glad the trip was completed and looked forward to a nice shower. That was short lived as the water goes off at the most odd times in Nicaragua. This happened to be one of those times. Each household stores up water for just such occasions. With a five gallon bucket of water setting in the shower, a splashing of water all over the body could be accomplished. Then soaping up and rinsing in the same splashing method competed the shower. Nice.

Old friends came to visit while we rested during the evening. I got to visit with Oscar and his wife. Then a good friend Norwing took me to his house to meet his wife, baby, and family. It was a good reunion.
Day Ten
This was a day to rest before leaving for Costa Rica to come home. We visited the Finca (farm) that where John's coffee grows.

The plants are recovering from a severe trimming. Usually they are much taller than what you see here, but every three or four years all growth is trimmed back for the fresh growth to improve the production of the plants. This also is known as shade grown coffee as bigger trees shade the coffee plants. Of course I brought home coffee from the Finca to enjoy.

This was our only day in Nicaragua and we packed our stuff and we left for Costa Rica this evening. We found a place by the ocean to stay which had a nice pool area to with big screen TV to wind down the day.

Day eleven
We awoke in time for a walk along the shore of the ocean to watch the birds dive into the water for fish I guess. Then we packed up once again and made our way to the airport in Costa Rica where we climbed aboard the plane and sped away to Chicago. We arrived with plenty of time to make to the next fight to Omaha and the trip came to an end as I strolled up the drive some where around midnight.

There's no place like home. There's no place like home. (Clicking heels)