Monday, June 28, 2010

Hate Mail

Dear Tamarindo Thieves,

It's probably better that I have waited a while to write you this letter. I've had time to calm down, time to hash things over, time to reflect on the good life that I have. We've spent countless hours inventorying our losses, filing claims with insurance and repurchasing essential items, all from internet cafes instead of the comforts of my own home. Undoubtedly our time would should have been much better spent enjoying the last few weeks of the good life in this place that I have called home for a year now, and forever will.

Although my life has returned to normal for the most part, I despise you for all that you have put us through. In one foul swoop you ruined what was supposed to be a relaxing vacation, the culmination of a year worth of hard work. Not only did you take away our ability to explore and love all of Central America, but you hurt the life line of your own country - tourism.

I want to tell myself that maybe you were desperate. Maybe you have a family that is starving and no house to call home. I want to give you the benefit of the doubt - that you had no other choice, but my experiences have shown me that there is always another way. There are people worse off than you that would never dream of doing what you did. Instead, deep down inside, I know you're just another loser. A crook who wants to get richer, a druggie who needs to support his habit. Either way what you did is wrong and even if you make thousands on my passport, you will never learn. You take what you don't deserve instead of appreciating what you have. You are the lowest form of human being.

You may have stolen my things, but you didn't even scratch the surface of me. If anything, you have made me more grateful for what I have - a safe dry home, a hot meal, loving family and friends.
So go ahead and wear my clothes. Sell my cameras. Throw my keepsakes in the trash. They don't mean anything to you. You don't care that I'm not rich. You don't care that I worked hard to earn those things. You don't even care that I came with respect and appreciation for your country. But little did you know there's something that I have that you didn't get. I have my dignity. I did nothing wrong. I do not take advantage of others. I am not a thief. Thankfully, I am not like you. Rather, I am a giver. I am respectful. I do what I can to help others.

I will no longer waste my time on you, after all I'm sure you've moved on to someone new too. And in years to come when I think back on this trip, I'll focus on the good people and the beauty of your country. I won't spend more than a second on you. I won't give you that satisfaction. Instead, I'll keep faith that one day you too will find yourself in a vulnerable position and you will not be as lucky as I was in Costa Rica.

Good Luck,

Sunday, June 27, 2010


When we started up this blog it was our hope that we could share fun stuff, like travel and daily life in Guatemala, but it was also our intention to blog about issues and current events - both good and bad. Sadly we got busy and blogging became a hobby for 1 rather than 2 and this 1 didn't always feel like rehashing the "bad stuff" after a long day at work and chose to focus on the fun, light & & decorating & friends. Looking back on it, I wish we would have made more time to share frustrations too, so that it doesn't always appear like we're on a fabulous vacation, but we can't undo the past.

While we were out gallivanting around Latin America, two very major events occurred here in Guatemala and with the dramatic circumstances that surrounded the end of my travel, I unfortunately didn't pay them as much public attention as they deserve.

It all started on Friday, May 28th when Volcan Pacaya erupted. Pacaya is one of the 3 active volcanoes in Guatemala, located outside of Guatemala City. It happens to be a very major tourist attraction for many of the visitors based here in Antigua. Remember when we hiked it here & here? As a result of the eruption much of the surrounding area including the city was covered in 3 inches of ash.

*photo from the Smithsonian Institution

Then just a day later Tropical Storm Agatha hit Guatemala. More than 4 inches of rain fell in less than half a day, causing yet another form of devistation by way of another popular volcano, Agua, located magnificently right outside of Antigua.

The view from Antigua.

This time the inactive volcano wrecked havoc upon the people of surrounding villages, not by way of lava, but by mud. Tropical Storm Agatha brought such intense rainstorms that flash flooding and mudslides occurred, nearly destroying parts of San Pedro Las Huertas & San Miguel Escobar (Zone 6 of Ciudad Vieja), both which are located right at the volcano's base. Much of the rain moved downward through one single causeway, bringing down massive boulders and enormous trees with it. Eventually these dammed the causeway causing the devastating flooding. When the water finally receded, nearly 500 people were left without a home. Reports indicate that 61 homes were destroyed and 100 were severely damaged.
In addition to many homes destroyed or completely flooded with mud, but many of the locals who make their living farming on the slopes of the volcano, lost their entire season's crop.

Clean up efforts quickly got underway, with hundreds of private citizens and teams of tourists, shoveling mud and reconstructing homes. Nearly a month later, workers continue to dig out some families, albeit with limited help. Ben & I have spent a few days lending a hand in San Miguel and feel utterly amazed and inspired by the surprising good spirits and determined attitudes of the people despite the fact that it will be years before many of their lives are back to "normal".

We didn't feel it was appropriate to take along a camera ourselves, but here a few photos that illustrate the damages.

*photos from Guate Living

While progress is being made every day, there is still a great need. Many loval NGO's have and will continue to provide a copious amount of aid. If you or someone you know would like to help, please consider donating to the following organizations that are committed to provide ongoing service in these communities.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Here we go

Hello my long lost, ever so patient blog readers. Hopefully you haven't missed me too long while I was away. I know I've missed you! I'm back today with some very very good news. We're finally connected. Back in the saddle - er, more like back in the office chair! The internets are once again my playground after a long, dramatic, undesired break!

Look how we're scrolling now.

Oh yea, The MacBook Pro. As in the sleekest, finest, piece of technology my fingertips have every graced! I almost feel like I should thank those Costa Rican schmucks who stole my old faithful iBook. If not them, I should be on my knees kissing the feet of my new friends at State Farm Insurance who are so kindly replacing our lost items. (I will never again scoff at the money "wasted" on renter's insurance payments. It has literally "saved" my life.) And a huge hug and kiss to Lindsey, who carted a toteful of electronics to us from Minnesota....xoxo!

Even though she's up and running (yep, I'm pretty sure it's a she), we've still yet to get all the old files, photos and music back on, but by this coming weekend I should be back to a fairly regular blogging routine & even more regular as soon as the camera replacement finds it's way to Guatemala in yet another friend's suitcase.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

blue skies turn grey

I'm sorry if you've been waiting a while for the next installment in our Central American travels. It seems that we've hit a bit of a bump in the road and blogging has been the last thing on my mind. Let me tell you about it.

After leaving hot and humid Colombia by plane, we arrived in the very Las Vegas-style Panama City where we spent a couple of days exploring the streets that all seem to have an American-like flair and enjoying some seriously strong a/c in a nice hotel. We witnessed the passing of huge freight ships in the Panama Canal, strolled around the somewhat restored old city, watched the Kun people in awe (that was mostly me) & drove through the areas that the US invaded with our trusty taxi driver, Feliciano. It was just the kind of change in scenery we had hoped for.

From Panama City we boarded a 10 hour, uncomfortable, over night bus trip to Bocas del Toro, a group of islands in the Caribbean sea. Arriving super early in the morning, we met up with Jenny who showed us to our home for the next couple of days, a beachy chic cabana with an obviously sloped floor. It didn't take long for us to feel at home, exploring Bocas town by bike and day-tripping to other nearby islands. We had an up close encounter with the poisonous red tree frog, hung out with some monos perisosos (lazy monkies otherwise known as sloths), chased dolphins around the bay, snorkeled in colorful coral and chowed down on fresh fish, all before arriving at the deserted island beach of Zapote. Bocas was definitely a highlight of our trip!

Wishing we had time to stay much longer, we sadly left Bocas for another long bus ride to San Jose, Costa Rica. Not exactly a vacation destination, we used San Jose as our more than halfway point on the way to Santa Elena and National Park Monteverde. After a couple of icky hostel stays, we ended up at paradise in the cloud forest - Hidden Canopy Treehouses, where Jenn, her boyfriend Chris, and their lovely staff, treated us like royalty. We took a morning walk through Monteverde with the extraordinary birding guide Koky, witnessing and photographing at least 5 different quetzals, a major goal of mine. I was so psyched! We also blew way more money than it was worth on an afternoon's worth of suspension bridge walks (be warned, Costa Rica knows how to get your money!). Definitely ecologically aware and tourism friendly, Costa Rica is a beautifully green country, but just a bit too "American" for our liking. If you're looking to get away from it all on your vacation, this is not the place, but if you just want to enjoy nature and don't mind doing so while listening to excitable Americans squeal while whizzing through the trees on a zip line, Costa Rica is the place for you.

Ready for change, we again bussed to Liberia, Costa Rica and rented a car, excited to finally have the freedom of the road we are used to. Upon waking up Thursday morning we found ourselves with 2 real choices. We either check out the beach for a day or two or visit National Park Rincon de la Vieja. Since the weather was looking like it may rain later in the week, we decided to beach it and headed to the pacific coast, first stopping for some snacks to fill our cooler up with! Withing a few hours we had arrived and checked out a few beaches, but unfortunately the rain came despite the favorable news reports, so we thought it would be best to make our way over to Tamarindo, the large very touristy town nearby. We had been trying to avoid it at all costs, but a rainy day at the beach isn´t so fun and at least in Tamarindo we could grab some good food, shop, spend the night and hopefully wake to brighter skies in the morning. Upon our arrival we took a short stroll on the beach and then saught out to find a hotel. After seeing one that was out of our price range, Ben recalled seeing a sign on the main road with a room rate special, so we went to check it out. We parked the car out front on the busy main street and started in, but realized that a nicer looking hotel on the other side of the street had a similar deal. Inside at the front desk, we were directed to climb a little pathway where someone would be waiting to show us a room. All in all it took less than 5 minutes. Deciding to think about it over lunch, we returned to the car and headed down the street in search of a restaurant. I turned around to grab something out of the back seat when I saw it. All of bags were gone. Yes, gone. COMPLETELY MISSING. We had been robbed.

We raced back to the hotel and questioned the guard to see if he had seen anything. At the same time local police were passing by on motorcycle. Waving my arms and screaming at them in spanish like a crazy person, they continued past, simply staring and me. The guard, who had just come on duty (ironically the one who was there when we entered the hotel had left) said that he had seen a newish silver pickup truck with 3 men inside parked next to our rental vehicle. We shared this information with the police and encouraged them to call ahead to see if anyone had spotted a similar vehicle. In absolutely no hurry, the police acted as though they couldn´t help us since we didn´t have the license plate number. This pretty much sums up our next couple of hours with the Tamarindo police. God help anyone who has an emergency in Tamarindo that does not speak Spanish, because even with our fluent language skills, these guys didn´t do much. They were friendly, but certainly not helpful. Fortuantely the hotel manager lent us his computer and we were able to call and cancel our credit cards and alert the embassay (yes the passports were taken too). He also gave us a free room and free local and international phone calls for the night.

After speaking with a potty mouth, good for nothing, after-hours soldier at the embassay, we learned that they would be closed for the weekend, so unless we wanted to spend the weekend (with only the clothes on our backs) in Costa Rica, we´d need to get to the embassay first thing Friday morning. Waking at 2 am, we make the 5 hour drive back to San Jose. Our original plan had been to return the car in Liberia and board the Tica bus to Nicaragua, but that was no longer an option. So there we were at 8am at the American Embassay in San Jose, applying for emergency passports, something that we had done a mere 9 months prior in Guatemala. Sadly we were only 2 in a rather long line of tourists who had incurred a similar loss. With tourism comes crime - keep that in mind. By 10am we had our new passports in hand and spent the rest of the day arranging a flight back to Guatemala. Who wants to travel 60 hours in bus without a change of clothes or a book to read?

So there it is folks - our ¨bump in the road.¨ Our first real travel freedom in a town that we didn´t even really want to visit and look what we got. Thousands of dollars worth of stuff gone, including our laptop and 2 cameras. Lucky us.

Obviously blogging will be a challenge from this point on, but we´re doing our best to recover our lost items and thankfully our renter´s insurance will cover our losses (so they say). Of course, the seasoned traveler´s that we are, we´re not going to let this interfere with our plans for a trip home, but we are a bit hesitant to purchase a new computer for a drive through Mexico.....but whatever we do, certainly trip insurance will be a must!

So I apologize for this blog without any photos. Boring, I know. I swear I had some amazing shots of the Panama Canal, Bocas, and the illustrious quetzal, but now the only people enjoying them are those @$$holes who stole our stuff. Take up your complaints with the Costa Rican tourism police. I´m sure they´ll be real helpful.

PS: And just in case you were wondering all the rest of our photos (trip aside) are safely backed up......with the exception of my photo books that I had been working on all year long. Boo hoo.

PPS: Costa Rica sucks (regardless of this incident or not).