Some final thoughts

–Just as a side note, this is my final blog. I may write some follow up stuff when and if I ever finish my DVD and/or book, but if you are new to 2horsessouthbound, I highly recommend reading ‘The Story’ section of above. It will explain why I did my trip which, perhaps, is more important than the trip itself. Thank you.

For the past year, the ‘signature’ in my emails has been a quote from Helen Keller saying, “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” After some research, I’ve found that the quote needs some context. What she actually said was, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.” While the original quote is easy to plaster on inspirational Hallmark cards, what Helen Keller is actually saying is far more interesting and provocative. Shall our perception of fear and risk overpower our will, or desires, or our dreams. No matter what we decide to do, there is inherent risk involved. In my adventures around the world, I have very consciously avoided death and deadly situations. But what I’ve found is that these occasions are very few and far between and can be highly diminished by taking some pretty obvious precautions. So, besides taking a stroll down Kandahar’s main street with a burning Koran in your hand, most situations that occur do not have much danger in them. They have perceived risk, they have what your friends, your family, society or the media tell you will be dangerous, but it is imagined. It is superstition.

So, where does this superstition come from? How does it manifest itself? I’ve already mentioned the media, but we could add government campaigns to scare instead of educate. With family and friends, much of it comes from a place of love and caring for your well being. Sometimes, it’s self sabotage or sometimes it derives from jealousy, but sometimes it’s…well, let me just show you.

Before I left on my trip, I posted something on Lonely Planet’s Thorn tree asking for help locating horses in Mexico. These are some of the responses I received.

“You’re going to ride through 100 degree heat on average on a busy highways with no shoulders. Gee, sounds like fun. Can’t wait until you get to the capitals. Have you ever been to this region?”

“Anyone that even believes this OP is an even bigger fool than me, and that’s saying alot.”

“Thanks for the best laugh I’ve had in months.”

“More human residue in the barnyard of broken dreams.”

I think this guy took the cake though. He actually found my blog, read the story, and took time out of his obviously busy day to write, “Wow, you really are a complete douchebag….A jewish rich kid who thinks he knows something about the world. You can’t escape being a shithead and all your bad karma by traveling the world…… it will all catch up to you. You are a total faker…. but go ahead and satiate yourself with your bullshit!!!! Oh how the ignorant pawns love it!!! You are the number one pawn among pawns…..” End quote.

But the last example came from a friend who is very dear to me. In a congratulatory letter upon beginning my trip, she wrote, “I really admire your guts for actually doing this right now.” This could be read as admiration, which would be correct, but the way I read it was that there was a moment when she really didn’t think I would. And leading up to actually leaving, I fueled myself off the perception that everybody thought I couldn’t. I put an imaginary stick on my shoulder and challenged the world to think what they wanted even though many of those closest to me really did believe I could. This doubt, perceived or not, helped inspire me and instead of hindering me, it doubled my patience and emboldened my courage.

As I was writing these words, my father serendipitously sent me a message with some ideas by Socrates and Plato. “Human existence is that men and women can become what they all really long to be, but most fall short because they fear that what they truly long for is illusory.” For years, I have said that fear is the most poisonous of emotions. Fear of others, fear of self, fear is what stops us from achieving what we have always wanted. What we were meant to achieve. Our fate. This fear blinds us, it weakens us, and it makes us fool ourselves into thinking that what we truly want is impossible or better off forgotten. Anyone that has dealt with anxiety knows that this fear can be physically debilitating. Crippling. Yet, it can be overcome.

How do I know this? I am this! This is why I am riding. This is why this whole trip came about! Read ‘The Story’ section of the blog if you forgot. I set off to prove to myself that I was capable of anything. That our wills form our reality. That the difference between myself and the greatest of men were nothing. And here I am…3000 kilometers south from where I started and a changed man because of it. I have two horses, I have a dog, I have a new love and knowledge of horses, I know more about life, people, politics. I have friends scattered throughout Latin America and the world because of this journey. But what if I had failed?

The idea that anything is impossible is a hard pill to swallow. Amongst my friends, I have debated the point many times. They point out disadvantaged groups, they point to my self-confidence or good family. But what if I had no legs? What if I were abused? What if I were poor or lived in Sudan? I studied Sociology in college and I am all too aware of the statistics involved in who ‘makes it’ and who doesn’t. The world is filled with explanations and excuses for why we are the way that we are. But depending on where you look, the world is also filled with success stories and the 5% who prove the rest of the 95% wrong.

But the fear of failure, the fear of success, the fear to step outside your comfort zone, the fear to be different, the fear of letting the assholes from the Thorn Tree have the last laugh, and too many other fears to mention is what keeps us from even starting down our path. But let me tell you something. If you take the leap to follow your dreams, there is NO failure. Even if you don’t reach the objective, the journey will ALWAYS be worth it. The lessons you learn, the people you meet, the adventures you have, THESE are the successes! Life is either a daring adventure…or nothing.

That said, I’ll try and explain the last couple weeks of my trip through the pictures themselves. Enjoy…

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After leaving Liberia, I spent my first night at the police station. It surprises me that I hadn’t hit up the police before this point as I was treated royally (meaning beans and rice for dinner and breakfast). The guys down at the station made sure to call me every couple of days to make sure that everything was okay.

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Sharing the love of horses.

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Gwladys had a pretty negative experience in Costa Rica. She found that the Ticos (Costa Ricans) had eaten the fruit of knowledge and had become more corrupted, more money oriented, and less gentile than their Central American peers. Thankfully, I did not have a similar experience at all. Though Ticos are definitely more educated (less corruption, more tax revenue, and much more factors aid them), I still found them friendly, courteous, curious, and ready to lend a helpful hand. Sure, they are laid back. I mean, really laid back. But I can’t really hold that against them. It is also one of their greatest qualities. This family was the perfect example. I was looking for a place to stay, they saw me looking around, they invited my horse into the shed to spend a dry night, and me into their house to pass an evening with them. Warm food, warm drink, and promises of friendship were offered and accepted. Typical Tico.

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My next resting place was a small town near Samara called Santa Domingo. My aunt and uncle bought land here many years ago with the dream of building their tropical home and setting up shop in paradise. They built a cute little cabina and started to develop the surrounding property to sell into lots. It would take too long to explain, but their dream took them down some difficult turns. Dreams change, they morph, and sometimes they conflict with other people’s, yet, I don’t think either of them would ever say they wish they had never started.

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The tourist beaches of the Guanacaste region are filled with westerners’ million dollar homes, resort hotels, plenty of tourists with money, and plenty of people trying to take advantage of the money influx. Everyone is trying to sell land, drugs are everywhere, theft is ubiquitous, and though it’s not as bad as all that, one could easily make the case that it is corrupted. But my Aunt Ellen and Uncle Kevin’s house is minutes away from the beautiful beaches and the tourist hub of Samara (interested in land?) but their little town of Santa Domingo is really special in the sense that it doesn’t really seem sullied at all. There is very little theft, there is a strong sense of community, morals and values count for something. That innocence that I so love in developing countries still exists but not because of ignorance and lack of education. When I arrived, the crew (Kevin and Ellen’s friends) were gathered around the town store shooting pool waiting for me. Typical Ticos.

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As you all know, soccer is the social glue that holds most of the world’s society together. I was invited to see Davidesque Santa Domingo take on the mini-Goliath of Samara. A double overtime shoot out thriller resulted in a Santa Domingo victory and my Uncle Kevin and Aunt Ellen’s best friend Paco (the coach) and his baller son being carried off the field on the shoulders of their teammates.

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On my off day, I went down to Samara to get some things done. Instead, I sat here for a few hours, swatted some mosquitos, had a few beers, ate some nachos and listened to the waves lap the beach. Rough.

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Oh, and I watched the sunset too. Many years ago, I said that Costa Rica had the most beautiful sunsets in the world. I have seen a lot of sunsets in a lot of places since that time and I stick by my words.

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Azueta saying goodby to my aunt and uncle’s land. Not a bad view, eh?

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And the gratuitous photo with my new friends and Azueta. Ellen and Kevin have been telling me about their dream land with their dream friends and their dream everything for years. I get it.

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Playa Carillo: near Samara but without all the tourist development. Just a white sand beach, palm trees, and warm water. Really, what more do you need?

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Howler monkeys are everywhere here. For a small body, the males sure do make a lot of noise.

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I don’t believe in coincidence. But I also believe in coincidence. Whatever. I’m not going to go into it. But I decided to drop the weight that Azueta was carrying down to a bare minimum and I left his easy boot (think spare tire for horse shoes) and the rest of my shoeing equipment in Liberia. I had four weeks to reach my destination on a set of brand new horseshoes from the US. I figured I wouldn’t have any problem. After three weeks, the shoes on the front left and back left were worn down paper thin but I only had a week left so I thought I could make it. Nope. One of the shoes popped off and I was stuck looking around mostly jungle land and large hotels for some horses in the off chance that someone might be able to have some spares in the size of my horse (very very improbable). I saw a corral with no horses or cows and decided to ask in case they knew anyone. Well, it turns out that they had four extra shoes in Aztlan’s size and all the right equipment to shoe. An hour later, I was on the road again. I offered them money for the shoes, the nails and their generosity but they scoffed at me. I responded with my favorite expression in Spanish ‘arrieros somos y por el camino andamos’ which is literally ‘we are pack drivers and on the trail we go’ or figuratively ‘what goes around comes around’. In the olden days, there was an unspoken code among merchants who peddled their wares by horse, donkey and mule. If someone was lacking in something, they could count on another driver to help them out because they would see each other somewhere on the road again. I have used it countless times on the road and I hope one day, I can repay all the kindness and favors of my fellow drivers.

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Some lonely beaches along the coast.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Some of those multi-million dollar houses and hotels I was talking about.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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I found this guy trying to bring some cows to pasture. It’s really hard to do this with just one horse and the cows kept escaping into the jungle. I helped him out and he phoned ahead to his boss (a couple from Pennsyvlania) to tell them that I was coming.

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A couple of miles on, I heard a voice yelling at me through the shrubs in English. I ignored it thinking it was some Ticos wanting to practice their English. Then the voice said that it had heard about me–the guy on the horse. My ego got the best of me and I turned around. As it turns out, it was a wise move. This lady and her husband had retired, sold many of their properties in Pennsylvania and bought a home in Costa Rica. They put a lot of work into developing the land and the houses, but looking at their beaming smiles as they showed me around their place made me so very happy. Wherever or whatever it is, I always love witnessing people who are living their dreams.

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When thinking about building a kitchen, they decided that since they spend most of the day outdoors, it would be fitting to construct it outside. If you look in the background, you can see why.

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The view from their house and kitchen.

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A pizza restaurant in a treehouse. Genius!

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It was a long long day of walking and both me and Azueta were tired. I wanted to go to sleep to the sound of the ocean so I went to what I thought was a beach town. All I found was this open land. Rain was threatening and dusk wasn’t far off. As I walked down the road less traveled, I happened upon this…

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…a turtle rescue sanctuary in the middle of nowhere! If you are bored, have some spare money, and want to do some volunteering, head on down to Costa Rica to help rescue and breed turtles. It has its ups and downs, but it is a pretty cool project.

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In the night, they patrol the beach and try to scare off poachers (though it’s difficult as they have no authority or police backing) and gather the eggs of the momma tortoises to bring back to the hatchery. This is the hatchery.

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Some of the dirty work includes separating the eggs that didn’t hatch, finding out why, and recording everything.

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But then again, there are the perks…

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All together now…awwwwwwwwww.

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Collect the babies before they get eaten by the vultures.

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Set them on the beach, and let them find their way to the ocean. One day, a few of these tortoises might survive and they will make it back to this same beach to lay more eggs.

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Vultures are always around waiting for their chance to snatch a quick snack.

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I did indeed get my wish and got to sleep to the sound of the ocean, and I woke up bright and early to start my day again.

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By 7:00 AM, I had arrived at the estuary of the Rio Bongo. The people at the tortoise sanctuary told me that at low tide, I could cross easily. It was low tide, and I decided to try. It didn’t look too deep. First, I looked around for crocodiles which are for real down here (you know you’re not in Kansas when you have to check for crocodiles before crossing a river). Then, I took a few steps. Not too bad. Then a few more and my feet got wet. No problem, I can deal with wet feet. A step more, and Azueta front feet had left the ground. I wheeled him around and got the hell out. Pouring water out of my saddle bags, I reevaluated the situation. I had plenty of electronics, and all my clothes were tucked in a saddle bag around my neck. I was already soaked from the waste down, so I might as well try from a different spot. Same effort, same result. I reevaluated my situation. It was a long way to retrace my steps. I would lose hours. I wanted to cross this damn river, swim it if I had to. So, I tried once more from a different place and I didn’t even make it a third of the way across. The recent rains had made the current strong and the ocean was only a few yards away. I decided to err on the side of caution and I turned my soaking horse and went back.

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Later in the day, I met these cowboys and told them about my river crossing attempt. Besides telling me that there are crocodiles there, they told me that there was no way to cross that river at this time of year. High tide or low. Lesson learned.

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Curious Brahmin cows. I have become an expert on cows on this trip. I have also become quite knowledgable about corn cultivation and different kinds of grasses. Specialized knowledge that has absolutely zero relevance bake home, but any knowledge is good knowledge, right?

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I met Luis in another tourist town called Santa Teresa. Supposedly, it’s one of the best surf spots in Costa Rica. I rested Azueta for a day. But that night it was a full moon, and I was close to the end, and…well, I took Luis and his girlfriend down to the beach and by the light of the moon we galloped Azueta along the hard packed sand. It was the first time I had ever really galloped with Azueta and I think he liked it as much as I did. The people of the town called Luis ‘the leader of the pack’ because wherever he goes, at least five or six of his dogs are right behind him.

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Luis rents out some rooms in his house to tourists and makes enough money to live a surfer’s fantasy. He spends his days relaxing, smoking, hanging out with his pack of dogs, and of course, surfing. He really took a liking to Azueta, though I’d be lying if I said that Azueta cared a smidgen about him.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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The night before crossing the ferry.

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Waking up early to catch the 6:00 AM ferry.

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An hour and a half ferry ride to Puntarenas. Azueta was the star on board. First horse ever to cross on foot.

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Hundreds of pelicans skimmed the water along the way.

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Azueta walking down the red carpet.

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And arriving in Puntarenas.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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I found this solitary early (or late) riser along a lonely stretch of beach.

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A friend of a friend put me in contact with a national news program and they came out to where I was to film me for a few hours and make a report.

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It was pretty fun as a whole. And I really liked the job they did. Not only is it pretty cool seeing yourself on the national news, but it is pretty cool having people recognize you as you go about your business. I’m famous!

Oh, and I know it’s in Spanish, but if you want to see the news program, check out
http://www.repretel.com/una-proeza-caballo

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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I don’t know, I just really like this chair.

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Some large lizards I saw along the way. This was taken from far away. The large ones are over 8-9 feet.

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I left around 7 AM and had about 50 kilometers to go when I saw the sign for Jacó. I figured I’d get there in about two days as I do about 25-30 kilometers a day.

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But I had already done half the distance and it was only noon.

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So, I kept on trekking.

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And trekking.

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And trekking.

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And trekking.

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And trekking.

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And trekking.

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I was about 13 kilometers away when we started to lose steam. Azueta had to be spurred on every other second. I was tired, but I kept on seeing the signs for Jacó and wanted to get there so bad. I passed by this town, and saw a ranch with a barn full of hay and welcoming people. I tried to read the signs, but sometimes, there are a thousand signs that could be interpreted in any way. I had already gone more than 35 kilometers, why push Azueta when I’m so close? Why make him suffer when he took me so far? Yet, we were so close. One long day, and he could rest forever. I had never pushed like this before, but I knew how tough he was. I didn’t want to sleep knowing that I was only a few kilometers away. It would be excruciating. I decided to push on.

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The sky had clouded up and I could hear the booming thunder getting closer.

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I pulled out my poncho (really just a large sheet of plastic with a hole in the middle), but the high winds blew it everywhere. Much of the highway had no shoulder and large semi trucks careened down the Pan-American Highway on dangerous curves.

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I was seriously doubting whether I had made the right decision. Had I read the signs wrong or was this the last test of our endurance before the end? I gritted my teeth, pulled my dripping hat lower on my brow, and spurred Azueta to the top of the mountain.

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As I reached the top, the rain lessened. I got off and started walking to rest Azueta and my sore arse. I was greeted by this sight.

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We were so close. A smile broke out over my face. So close. I let my mind wander and my heart open. So very close.

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And before I knew it, we were there.

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We had arrived just in time for sunset. After 10 hours of trekking with barely a rest, I met up with my friends, stored Azueta’s saddle, and brought Azueta down to the beach to marvel at our accomplishment. We had arrived.

Many years ago, while I was walking in the Himalaya mountains in Nepal, I had a vision of me riding off into the sunset. I laughed at the idea. Me? I had never even ridden a horse! Yet, 9 years later, here I am. A living testament to the idea that sometimes, dreams really do come true. Enjoy the video and the remaining pictures. And thank you for coming along on the ride.

To see the video, just copy and paste this into your browser: http://youtu.be/RZo0WRYz5HI
And the pictures…

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A rekindled spirit

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. ”

Coming home wasn’t nice, coming home was exactly what I needed. It was chicken soup for the soul if I ever knew what being sick and having chicken soup was like. More aptly, it was being completely lost in the middle of nowhere and having a stranger appear and show you the trail. It was perfect.

I always felt sorry for people who came back from a mind-expanding culturally-enriching travel experience and had to go back to living in Wichita. It must be hard. Me? I get to go back to the Bay Area and some of the greatest people in the world. And though there is a small side of me that thinks ‘If it’s so good, why don’t you just stay?’ my path does not end there just yet. Sonoma County, San Francisco, and the people in them will still be beautiful while my friends and family will still be loving me whenever I finally plant my feet there. The road less travels continues and I intrepidly follow it.

My love of surprises is shared by most of my family. We are constantly showing up on each other’s doorsteps and making surprise cameos. As my decision to come back occurred just days before flying, my dad asked me unceremoniously if he wanted me to tell anyone. I answered snarkily, ‘What do you think?’ He knew the answer.

He picked me up from the airport and our first stop was Ethiopian food with Johnathan. Ethiopian food isn’t just one of my favorite foods in the world, it provides the starkest contrast to the fare I have grown accustomed to. Guests on my tour often ask me what American food is and though we have our dishes, it is our variety that sets many of us apart. Italian, Japanese, or French food may be the best in the world, but variety is the spice of life and I’ll take my international California diet over a delicious monotonous one any day.

My dad and I traveled home surprising friends of mine along the way, but the big finale was the next day. My sister and her boyfriend were back my Italy, my cousin was down from Oregon, my sister and her family were up from the south bay and all the other family and family friends we could muster had been gathered at my brother’s gorgeous new house for a little reunion. One of the things I love about surprising people is that (hopefully) there is a physical manifestation of the love that we felt. So often, we love someone, we miss someone, and we care about someone so much but we just assume that they know it. And they probably do. But when you just randomly show up, and they are actually happy to see you, you feel an extra sense of affection that is sometimes missing from planned and expected meetings.

That Sunday was perfect on so many levels. Quality food cooked with love, great wine, my nephews and nieces playing with each other, the telling of stories, laughing, and when almost everyone had left, we got together for one of those family shots that makes me feel like the most blessed man on earth. They say you chose your friends but not your family. So, I guess I have to thank my lucky stars that I got to be part of this group.

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This picture makes me really happy. I dearly love every person in it.

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The newest edition to the Kraus clan: Arren.

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My sister’s clan.

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My brother’s clan.

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Khloe Kraus

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My surrogate family. These guys entered my life when I first started to learn about horses. I moved into their house and into their hearts. It has been an absolute blessing seeing them all grow over the past five years.

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Eating crab down at Fisherman’s Wharf.

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The bounty of Sonoma County: beautiful and tasty heirloom tomatoes.

Throughout the week, I got to connect with so many important people in my life. One of the greatest things was how the conversations began by questions about my trip and updates about life; it was pleasant because the questions were interesting and different than the standard ones I was used to. But after a half hour of this topic, we would invariably slip into the present moment. I wasn’t just back from a long ride, we hadn’t been apart for a year, we were friends hanging out and being as we had always been. And that is why I came back! That is what I was missing so much! The normality of being around people who knew me. I needed my inner fire lit by the presence of the great people in my life. And though it was quick, and though I could have spent so much more time with them, Burning Man was calling.

How does one explain the birth of your first baby? How does one explain the beauty of art to a blind man? I could write about Burning Man for a very long time. I once spent two hours telling my dad about only half the details of what went on there, and I think he got an idea of what it was like, but really, it’s impossible. To get past the stories of the sex and the drugs, and the art, and the music, and all the stimulating physical things that are there, there is a feeling that is impossible to relate to the uninitiated. What I could say is that there is almost no place in the world where I feel more whole. Where I feel like I am part of a community of vastly different people who share an intense commonality. Where I feel like I’m home. For what it’s worth, please read this article. I think it does a pretty good job at describing the indescribable.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jay-michaelson/the-truth-about-burning-m_b_279464.html

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If it’s just a big party, why is there a temple in the middle of it?

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So true.

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This dragon roams around with a DJ in tow making a mobile disco.

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The world made out of plastic bottles.

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A camp from Santa Barbara recreated their hometown, playa and all.

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This BART is always on time.

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Magical play land.

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This car is from the same people who made the temple.

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Bow to the Baal.

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This machine pounded across the playa like a destructive Transformer.

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This thing spun on the little ball underneath. Almost all the art is interactive. Touching and climbing is encouraged.

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This was a full sized pirate ship half sunk in the playa. Notice the dock leading up to it.

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Like most of the art, climbing is encouraged.

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Inside the boat, there is a captain’s cabin and a galley filled with the most interesting artifacts.

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A SF Victorian on wheels.

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heArt

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heArt

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heArt

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heArt

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Priceless.

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heArt

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This was a big art project that was eventually burnt down.

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It is made up of plaster religious icons. Interesting.

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This is posted outside the port-o-potties.

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heArt

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More dragons!!!

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Best art car ever!

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This is the Man, like, the Burning Man man.

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And this is him getting torched.

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The heat from the fire and the cool high desert air mixed to manufacture a factory line of dust devils escaping the flames.

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Incredible.

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Some other people built a Wall Street.

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Complete with bulls.

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And plenty of people respecting the sanctity of its grounds.

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And then they torched it.

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Fast and furiously.

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This was a car built by the people in my camp. Pretty amazing really and visible from just about anywhere.

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Eliah posing at the bowling alley. The machine that normally shows the score played The Big Lebowski all night long.

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Madame Jess holding the setting sun.

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Love.

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A dirty dusty night.

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Mortal Combat!

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Blake and Rachel and the Hungry Eye. I actually got to drive this car around all Friday night. Unfortunately, there was a dust storm that was so intense I couldn’t see anything. That didn’t stop me from driving, but it did make things difficult. Safety third!

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The French Maids making sure things don’t get too dusty.

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Random cool guy.

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Where’s Waldo?

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Random cool guys.

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I spared you the frontal shot, but really, those are some pretty amazing tattoos.

After Burning Man, there was only enough time to pack my bags and head on down to the airport. For a bunch of reasons combined, I missed my flight but all’s well that ends well. I got to spend some more time with my family and Costa Rica had a 7.6 earthquake the day I was supposed to arrive, elongating my fortuitous streak of barely missing calamitous disasters.

All in all, I would have to say my trip back to the states was a big Mission Accomplished. It didn’t just rekindle my inner spirit, it nourished my soul. I came somewhat drained and needing to reconnect with the people who meant most to me, and between my friends, my family, and my surrogate community at Burning Man, I was ready to hit the road again.

Back to San Jose, Costa Rica, then down to Jacó to talk to the people who will be caring for Azueta (good people), then back to Nicaragua to see Azueta again. Was he happy to see me? Who knows. Like I said before, he’s not the most expressive horse, but he was amiable as I stuck some new shoes on him, and he had a little hop to his step as we set off towards Costa Rica.

In two days, we had crossed the border (I hate borders) and were on our way to the finish line. Northern Costa Rica is sometimes referred to as Nica-Tico (Tico is a Costa Rican) for its intermixing of the two countries and cultures. I was well received everywhere and even got a glimpse of the President of Costa Rica as his brigade zoomed by on the way to a torch lighting ceremony a la olympics for the Costa Rican independence day torch relay.

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Back in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.

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Back on the road less traveled.

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With ridiculously cute kids.

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It’s pretty cool seeing windmills that still bring up water.

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I had a conversation with a Costa Rican guy about how he thought Costa Rica was poor and that Nicaragua had alot more activity in its markets. He had a point, but these kinds of houses are pretty rare in Costa Rica. There’s no comparison really.

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Leaving Nicaragua…

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…and entering Costa Rica!

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More cute kids.

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Back on the Pan-American Highway.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Friends along the way.

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A pretty damn big Brahim bull.

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These were the kind of horses the ranch workers were using. What a difference from the small, skinny criollos in the rest of Central America.

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The freedom torch.

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The independence day parade.

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They finished in front of the cathedral for the finale.

Upon arriving in Liberia, I was greeted by a friend of a friend of a friend and was offered an apartment with a living room, bedroom, and air conditioning. Azueta had 10 acres of good grass to himself, and breakfast, lunch, and dinner was generously offered to yours truly. Sometimes, the road is tough, but sometimes the road is pretty damn nice. This time, it was the latter.

My host, Daniel, brought me into town for the Independence Day parade and showed me a really nice couple days. I got to watch the 49ers game on a big plasma TV with popcorn and Pizza Hut, and sitting around the dinner table eating delicious steak, sipping on good rum, and having a great conversation with Daniel’s in-laws (one Columbian, one American, and both in Costa Rica for over 40 years) about the Contra-Sandinista spill-over, ex President pals, and Costa Rica in the early days made me feel, well, a little like home. I even stayed an extra day there to celebrate my birthday. Better there than in the middle of nowhere.

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The house in Liberia.

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Azueta’s feed.

Me

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My birthday cake.

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Leaving Liberia

The only downside was that I called my Capitan friend in Honduras to check up on Aztlan and he had some bad news. She had already given birth and the baby was born weak and Aztlan didn’t accept it. They tried to wet-nurse it but after three days, she died. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little sad, but honestly, c’est la vie. It’s like finding out someone you knew a long time ago passed away, and there is a part of you that is sad and a part of you that shrugs and moves on. But yeah, it does kinda suck.

So, plans change and I will bring Aztlan and her injured foot down to Costa Rica. It seems as if I already have a horse picked out for me in Europe, and I am less than two weeks away from my final destination. It feels kinda anti-climactic. Like it’s just ending. I’m proud, I feel a sense of accomplishment, but I also feel a kind of ‘that’s it?’ Well, I’ll have plenty of time to digest this trip as I wrap up and fly on over to Europe to begin a new adventure. To all those I saw when I was back, thank you for being you and helping me be me. For all those I didn’t see, I’ll be back soon enough.

Much love,

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Some twists and turns

I think I’ve mentioned at some point about the feeling one gets when entering a particular town. I know almost immediately when a town has had ‘troubles’ or is safe. In a troubled area, women peer out their windows cautiously. Kids look at you instead of smiling and laughing. People don’t say hello and courtesy and hospitality are in short supply. In safe places, however, the opposite is the case. You can close your eyes and pick any house, and almost be rest assured that they will give you a hand or direct you to someone who can. Nicaragua has been the latter through and through.

To so many, Nicaragua conjures up images of Sandinistas, Contras, CIA, communism and civil war. But after Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras, one can almost feel the unchained freedom that peace and non-violence produce. There is crime here, to be sure, just not the kind of gun violence that the rest of Central America is famous for. The result is that the people are more loose, more interactive, more open.

I left Choluteca, Honduras and my injured and pregnant Aztlan at the end of July. Though I couldn’t really say why, it is much easier traveling with just one horse. Setting up and taking down is quicker, finding sufficient food is easier, but I think it’s mental more than anything. Any parent will tell you,taking care of one is less difficult than taking care of two. Azueta’s back had healed up well and as he has always been a tougher horse, I pushed more kilometers with less rest out of him. He responded just fine. Through the volcano ranges of northern Nicaragua to the colonial city of Leon. Down the forgotten highway and through green pastures to the Pacific Ocean.

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Azueta and Aztlan sharing a little salt before separating.

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A tank of muscle in front of tanks of metal.

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Saying goodby to Honduras and hello to Nicaragua. Country #47.

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I knew that my time in Nicaragua would be good by my indicative first day. I had just begun looking for a place to stay the night when a truck pulled over, asked what I was doing, and offered me a place to stay (just like the night before). It turns out, they had hosted Gwladys and her dad when they rode by (I was on Gwladys’ trail for a few days and people were constantly telling me that they met a French girl and her dad riding through). The man in this picture and my host the fist night was a revolutionary soldier in the Sandinista Army and signed up as soon as Somoza fell. Now, he lives in a small falling apart hut with five kids, his wife, and a dirt floor. He has a few acres of land, a few cows for milking, and is one of the most eloquent and educated people I have ever met in that social class. He had some education in Cuba and Russians often came in the 1980’s to teach soldiers. He had been to North Korea and his knowledge of politics and social orders, though founded in communist ideology, were surprisingly well rounded. We talked for hours and we learned much about Nicaragua and it’s modern history. What i found most interesting was his reflections looking back at it all. He was somewhat disappointed that it didn’t turn out the way he imagined. He expected o significantly transform society. He was enticed by the utopian visions of communism, equality, and better living condition that were promised by his leaders. And maybe this would have been possible had not the government’s resources been diverted to fighting a CIA backed Contra guerilla war, but the point is that it did not. He saw that certain things have improved in general and now that the Sandinistas are in power again, the focus is back to raising up the poorer class. But all in all, life continued the way it always had and his focus is less on changing the world and mire on providing the best life for his family.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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The older man non the right is an interesting story as well. He was born in extreme poverty. By ten, he had to walk on 15 miles to the market and back with no shoes. At 7 years old, he asked his father for a small area so he could grow some corn. He was instructed in how much to put how far apart and he harvested his first crop. His parent thought it was just a cute 7 year old thing, but to him, he wanted to help contribute to the family. Every year, he expanded his area of cultivation. At fifteen, he went to the capital to find work. He found he had a knack for selling cloth and after a few years in Managua, he came back with some money and a knowledge of the world that impressed everyone, most of which had never been to the town down the way. He ended up buying some land and some stock, and he was fruitful. He ended up building the first evangelical church in town, he traveled to the US several times on missionary work (one taking a greyhound bus from Pittsburg to Washington State instead of Washington DC), he has a son who is a lawyer and a daughter who is a doctor. His dream growing up was to make a life where his kids wouldn’t suffer like he did and he smiles and laughs and shines like a man who has lived and is living his dream. As I looked at his kids who were so different than him, I realized that that exuberance from living your dream can not be inherited. Each person has to create their individual one, search it out, live it and grow up to be a happy old man…like my host here.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Before I left Honduras, I wondered how my relationship with Azueta would change. We always got along okay, except of course, when we didn’t. I thought maybe we would become a little closer and I was pleasantly surprised to note that we have. He is still not a particularly affection horse, but I have picked up a subtle change of dependence and togetherness towards me. And sometimes at night, under the stars, I hug his neck and he rests his chin on my shoulder stilly. And maybe he’s just waiting for me to leave so he can go back to eating, or then again, maybe he is feeling the love and appreciation I am sending towards him. I hope so.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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I saw this bridge and wondered if he’d cross it. I think I am probably a bad horseman for trying to bring my horse across this for no reason at all except to see if he would. He could have slipped, he could have spooked, it could have been very dangerous, and I could have been without a horse.

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But he did cross it just fine and I got this lovely picture to prove it.

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Check out the saddle pad. A plastic bag and a jean jacket.

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These are the hobbles often used here. The rope is a horrible quality and tears into the skin. If you look below the ropes, you can see the white spots where previous ropes have been tied.

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The volcanos of Nicaragua. I especially like the one with the poof of smoke coming out of it.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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One often sees pretty murals on the sides of rural health center or a town’s woman’s center. Signs of Nicaragua’s socialist past.

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Cute little piglets.

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Those were some tasty Orions.

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I was waiting for a friend to show up and these kids came over and wanted to take their pictures on Azueta. Each one got up, took their picture, and moved on. This was the group shot.

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In Leon, I stayed with a really interesting woman. She took me to see her family on the first night where we sat around laughing and drinking Flor de Caña Nicaraguan rum. And I enjoyed a couple of off days at her gorgeous hacienda. But she had just opened up the land and the house as an ecological place where people come to eat, relax, do horse rides, zip lines, and also interact with the local community by milking cows and making tortillas. I really like the idea of what she set up and am interested in doing something similar one day.

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This is the virgin forest that is part of the interpretive tour that guests go on.

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The tour guides. One professor of biology and an old local man who describes all the medicinal properties of the plants.

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Cool cactus markings.

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Me and Azueta.

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Saying goodby to Leon.

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At the Leon theater…

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…where we performed a spaghetti western.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Some ridiculously cute girls I met along the way.

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And their family.

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Check out the bird flying off on top.

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Sunset and geese.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Giving rides along the way.

We left Veracruz, which is an hour from the sea, eight months ago and snaked through the mid-section of a central America slowly heading closer and closer to the Pacific. The night before seeing the big blue thing, I could hear the waves crashing. I slept well on my smelly saddle pad know that the next day we would arrive. I smiled broadly when I saw it. Azueta was apprehensive at first, but I spurred him into to the shallow water and made him stand still as the light waves lapped up his legs. I trotted him in and out a few times, and though he stayed cautious of the surf the rest of the day, he was unfazed after two days walking along the beach.

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Arriving at the beach with Azueta.

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The Pacific Ocean.

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Some cool driftwood.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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These colorful crabs are everywhere on and near the beach. There are hundreds of holes near the sand and they all poke their heads out to look at you before dipping down when you get close.

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Azueta looking noble. I bought him a new crupper (the thing between the saddle and the tail) and I like it alot.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

One day, I had stopped to rest for a bit from the heat of the afternoon on an extremely remote stretch of beach. There were hundreds of holes in the sand made by red and purple crabs who peeked there heads up only to scurry below when we approached. I saw a bright yellow shape in the trees nearby and some voices that sounded like English. I came a bit closer to investigate, and met a couple of surfers that had followed the advice of some local ten year olds and tried to pass their 4×4 through a muddy arroyo and got stuck. They had been there for two hours and had tried digging themselves out to no avail. They asked if Azueta was strong and I told them that the previous owner used to use him to jumpstart his truck. They dug some more and I tied the truck up to Azueta. I tried impulsing him from behind and the tires just spun and spun. Demoralized, the guys started to discuss trekking back to civilization to get a truck to pull them out. I told them we’d try one more time. It wouldn’t hurt anything, right? So, some more digging, kids on the back to add weight, men pushing in the front, and me on top of Azueta to direct and push him. I couldn’t see exactly how it happened, but the truck lurched out and a yell of triumph sounded from everyone present. I don’t know if I could say that Azueta pulled it out by himself, but he did lend his admirable strength. Here’s a picture of it…

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I like how the donkey is leading the pack.

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Through some contacts, I made a friend in a luxurious community near the Costa Rica border. They invited me to their home and I enjoyed a very relaxing couple days in the house. This is the view from their deck.

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Playing with pulpo.

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Everyone was laughing at me as I bit off the octopus’ leg but really, it was delicious. When it comes to seafood like calamari, the taste is in the freshness. And you can’t get more fresh than a still wiggling octopus.

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Sunset over Playa Gigante.

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Silhouetted.

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More sunsets.

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Saying goodby to paradise.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Cool lizard.

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I did officially leave paradise…for a day. This is where I ended up that evening and where Azueta will be resting when I’m gone. That’s the ocean in the background.

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They have some cute little pet monkies…

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…who like to jump on guests’ heads and rest on the hammocks.

For many months, I have been on the fence about coming home for a little bit. My sister Tiffany was coming back to California from Italy, there was my annual words of birthday advice to my ‘little sister’ Lainey, there was Burning Man, and there was the enticing proposition of making a little extra money by working. Slowly, I swayed towards not coming. Stay on and push through to the end. 2012 is about riding. Everything can wait a year. I was about 95% sure of this by the time I got to Nicaragua. But while in Leon, I had a few realizations. One was that things had become dull, repetitive, and I had lost my enthusiasm. I still enjoyed the riding, but I had lost my desire to explain myself for the 100th time. To introduce myself and tell the same story. To talk about cows and corn. To waste away the hours until bed time. I was craving the company of people who knew me. As the newness of constant change became old, I began craving the heartwarming familiarity of home.

And so at the last minute (5 days before), I embraced the spontaneous spirit and bought a plane ticket home. Scheduling just enough time for family, some get togethers with friends and Burning Man (which is impossible to properly illustrate the importance of). I come back to Nicaragua on the 5th of September to continue my journey to Costa Rica. Yes, to Costa Rica. You see, the original plan was to Panama. Where in Panama, I didn’t know, but I assumed maybe the canal. After, I had planned on taking the horses back to Costa Rica to retire. But as the French say ‘Il n’y a que les cons que changent pas l’avis.’ (Only fools don’t change their mind)

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This is flying over Lake Powell coming home. With views like this, I could never understand how people actually request aisle seats.

One of my influences of not continuing to Panama was Aztlan being injured and pregnant, another one was the fact that October here is Hurricane season and it supposedly rains EVERY day and that’s not too enjoyable. But the third reason was perhaps the clincher. You see, if I just stopped in Costa Rica and came home, it wouldn’t have felt right. I’m a romantic and that ending was just too anticlimactic. However, Gwladys (who is suffering through 48* C. or 118* F. heat with her two Arab mares in Morocco) had expressed a desire for me to ride some with her. And, what better way to make our personal legends coincide than having our two parallel paths intersect on the road? What better way to jump into the adventure of our future than riding through Europe together? So, the plan is to come back to Nicaragua, figure out where to retire the horses, ride Azueta there, wait for Aztlan to give birth, transport the two to Costa Rica, say goodby or hasta luego to my noble steeds, hop on a plane to Portugal or Spain, find another horse, and ride to France with Gwladys. Sounds romantic enough to me.

So if you want to say hello while I’m in the US, this will be my temporary number 707 758 1696 and if you want to see me, call said number and we’ll try to work it out.

Lastly, I read this article a while back. Please do take the time to read it. It expresses so lucidly what I have felt for so long. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/07/07/reclaiming-travel/?emc=eta1
You see, I don’t see anything wrong with tourism. Though it has some drawbacks, I think it has been an incredibly positive force in the world. But while being a tourist, I also sought this ethereal other type of experience. Through the backdrop of traveling from one place to another, I was looking for more and more authentic experiences. I know I’ve mentioned it, but that day in Angkor Wat, Cambodia still starkly stands out in my memory. I spent the entire day roaming around the spectacular temples watching the sunset over the spiked spires of the ancient city. But upon returning to town, I had a great conversation with a couple who owned a small grocery store. We chatted about politics, history, family, and tourists. We laughed alot that evening and I played with their adorable small kids. I realized then that I had enjoyed spending that time with them MORE than I had enjoyed seeing what is probably one of the seven wonders of the world. There are countless more examples of this and my current trip is the epitome of that change in taste. While on a tourist trip from one site to another, I’ve often wondered about the life of the people who live in that in-between. Who are the kids running around on the side of the highway? Who are the men building that house? Who is the family gathered on the front porch? Who is that guy riding by on a horse? And that is my trip. My day to day existence is joined with these previously faceless people. And though it is impossible to grok another person or people, though it is impossible to fully comprehend the unique soul of another person without actually being that person–I have learned a thing or two.

So, that’s it for now.
Much love to all.
Me

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Maktub

I don’t believe in fate. I don’t believe in predestination either. It rings of religious oversight by a supreme deity manipulating the puppet strings of our lives for its amusement. Unresearched definitions of Karma ultimately fall short as well. Bad things happen to good people and sometimes, bad people live out the rest of their lives unpunished. Yet, even though I put my faith in the randomness of the universe and the Buddhist karmic belief of cause and effect, there is something to be said for accepting the way things are. Maktub means ‘it is written’ or ‘fate’, yet when I read it in The Alchemist, it wasn’t so simple. I recently read ‘On the palm of fate we walk and do not know what is written’ which I take to mean that if we do not know what our fate is, we are forced to create our own.

I don’t want this to be theological or to be weighted down with religious or logic based reasoning. Both, ultimately, miss something. But it seems like there is a right way to go forward in life. Not a universal right way, but a personal one. One based around our morals, our dreams, our hopes, our fears, our upbringing, our culture, and everything that created us. But also, a spark of individual creativity that geneticists called variance. This lays the ground for our fate.

When we stray from it, we know it. Our busy lives don’t lend themselves to that kind of serious introspection. Many people never get around to it. Some people get around to it at mid-life. Others do it every day, constantly challenging or doubting whether they are aligned. But I think most of you have been through that moment and your mind, or your consciousness, or your soul (whatever you want to call it) has made it quite clear whether what you’re doing is right.

Often, we feel we are too invested in the path that we’re following to deviate. Or maybe it’s piecemeal and we like certain aspects and dislike others. Whatever it is, it’s hard to change. It’s hard to walk follow the path laid by what Coelho calls our personal legend. Yet, it is written. We know when we’re on it and we know when we’re not, even if we don’t exactly know what it is.

I’ve had plenty of time to reflect and analyze my path, and I know I am on the right one. The signs around me are in agreement. Yet, things are complicated and difficult. I am faced with decisions that are in my control and some that are out of my control. In this time of frustrating difficulty, I am reminded of the expression Maktub. And I am comforted.

My friend Johnathan had recently purchased about 100 hectares or 200 acres of land in Costa Rica and he offered to pay my passage down there to check it out. Azueta, Aztlan, and I had moved through Honduras quickly and I felt like we all deserved a nice break before charging through the last stage of the journey. Coordinating times while on horseback is next to impossible so it turned out that I had to wait in Choluteca a week before taking the bus down there. As I couldn’t sleep on the army base, I decided to go for luxury accommodations, and for $11 a night I stayed in a decent room with a bathroom, a TV, and AC. Time passed quickly, and after making sure my horses were provided for and the caretakers were properly instructed, I headed to San Jose, Costa Rica.

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Living the life of luxury.

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Believe it or not, I had gotten tired of beans and tortillas. Through western Honduras, I had eaten beans, tortillas, and a kind of salty farmers cheese every day for breakfast and dinner (cookies still being my lunch staple). Even though the “Chinese” food was terrible, it was a welcome change. On a strange side note, it seems as if white bread is a standard “Chinese” side dish.

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Riding one of the Dutch warmbloods that are used in the equestrian school where my horses are staying.

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Captain Robles is the man in the hat to the right. He is the instructor and the man who is taking care of my horses.

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Cleaning Azueta up. He was getting a bunch of ticks in his mane so I trimmed it. He doesn’t look half bad actually.

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They do this to mares when they mate so the stallion’s penis doesn’t get cut on entry. Insert joke here.

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This is sub-commander Padilla and his beautiful daughter Valerian. She is like a butterfly in a hornets nest.

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I took Valerian riding for the first time on Azueta. She did great! I had her steering, turning, and stopping within minutes. He is a great school horse and she is now hooked. She wants to ride every day!

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This is the officers’ mess hall. Contrary to what you may think, it is actually quite clean.

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Bullets make great earplugs!
So, I was raised without guns. Parents didn’t believe in them and I admit, I am more for gun control than against. But this is the world we live in, and I like experiential living. So, in the last couple of years, I’ve shot a pistol, a rifle, a shotgun. But never a…

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.. M-16!

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Guns are NOT cool. Kinda. This is the army version of one of the guns used in the latest Colorado shooting.

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Which one doesn’t belong?

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That’s better.

I had been to Costa Rica almost exactly ten year before. Me and some friends had just finished high school and we went to a little surf town and lived for a couple months in some cheap bungalows. We surfed, we played, we read, we traveled a little. We ate little and drank often. We were 18 and acted like it. It was glorious. At that point, I didn’t speak any Spanish and it was my first time being out of the 1st world.The biggest store in town had the size and selection of an American convenience store. Most ‘luxuries’ were meant for and consumed by western tourists. Maybe it was just youthful naiveté that blinded me to the relative wealth that was all around me. Or maybe it was because I didn’t spend much time in the capital or other wealthier areas. But I was really struck by how poor it was.

Since then, I see poverty different. I have traveled to some of the poorest countries in the world and that changes one’s perspective of poverty. But ten years has also passed in an economically dynamic country with no standing army, loads of international investment, and the largest American ex-pat community per capita outside the US (unsubstantiated). The affects are new paved highways linking the country where there were only potholed dirt roads before, shopping malls, bakeries, one-stop shopping stores, new cars, stylish people, plastic surgeons (a lot of those are for westerners in a booming business called medical tourism), cafes, luxury buses…I could go on. But what is truly fantastic is that ten years ago, these kinds of things existed but were primarily for westerners. Now, so many Costa Ricans can afford a relatively and non-relatively middle class lifestyle. Sure, I know all about the double edged sword, and many Costa Ricans have been left behind while so many have surged upward. But regardless, it was impressive to see so much change in such a small amount of time.

I met up with Johnathan at the airport and we headed down to see his new land. Partly inspired by his spending time in a thriving conscious community in Uruguay, partly inspired by me following my dream, and partly invoked by his own active imagination, Johnathan bought this land in the hopes of building a community filled with imaginative people wishing to donate their skills and create their dreams among the stunning backdrop of Central Costa Rica’s cloud forest. He called it Project Sueños. When he checked out the land, there were horses roaming around, there was hydroelectric power, there was a furnished cabin, and it incubated this fervent dream of his. However, about a week before we arrived, he was notified that the previous owners had taken almost everything.

Upon arriving, John’s heart became very heavy. With the horse’s gone, the grass had grown very high. There was no electricity, they had taken everything inside the house, they had taken the fences, and even the stairs. Everything that they had done to improve the house in the past four years had been stripped. Over our first night of cribbage (a ritual with us) in the dark, I consoled him. It was a disappointing shock. But as the sun rose over the mountains, and we walked around the property, his inspiration slowly came back to him. It’s hard not to be inspired there. All two hundred acres of the land is fertile and beautiful. There is virgin rain forests bordering the property and the views are breathtaking. Though his dream received a serious jolt, I reminded him that if this is truly what his dream is, he will have to endure many more jolts like this one. Whoever said that dreams come easy?

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The view from Project Sueños.

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The view from Project Sueños.

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The driveway from Project Sueños.

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Some of the virgin jungle around the property.

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Supposedly, on a clear day one can see the ocean here. But as it’s a cloud forest, those days are few and far between.

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Me and the groundskeeper Martin.

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Proud owner of all this.

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Sunrise at Project Sueños.

I went to Costa Rica for the break and also just to hang out with Johnathan. He is my oldest friend and our connection is like an old married couple. For better or for worse. We bicker, we tease, and we deride, but we also love each other like brothers. John was with me when I thought up my horse dream and he has been my “dream councilor” throughout the process giving me help when I hit a wall.

During the many hours of my horse ride, I had plenty of time to think about my future plans. I had played out every scenario and pondered every combination of options…over and over again. But I still ended up more confused than anything. While sitting down at Three Trees, a flat area with three different sized trees in the shape of the Orion constellation growing out of dead stumps, I laid all my thoughts upon him. Everything I had been thinking about for the past seven months. He listened calmly and repeated back to me what I had just told him in a less convoluted and more concise way. And then, like the fog that was beginning to disperse around the mountains, it became clear.

I have known for a while that I wanted to calm down, build some roots, buy some land and build a house. But I didn’t really have the finances to jump into that project. And now that there was a serious love interest in the picture, how would that play into it? What about her wants? How do I move forward with settling down and building a long term future when I still need to get to know the girl that might accompany me on that journey? What became clear was this…

My land, my house, kids, and all the roots that these kinds of things grow can be done in a couple of years. It’s really the only way. So that, in a sense, is my next dream. But in the meanwhile, I need to build the blocks so that when that transition comes, I will already have the foundation laid. So, my near future holds two things: love and money. I know for certain that I want to pursue a relationship with Gwladys. By January, we will be together and we will dive into developing our love and seeing where it goes. The other aspect is money. In the past, I have made money, then went and spent it all on a wild orgiastic travel adventure. That will stop. Though the details aren’t strictly defined, I look forward to working all year around and building enough capital that money won’t be an issue when I am ready to take the next step. So, if any of you guys have any suggestions for how to make a lot of money in a short amount of time, I’m open to suggestions. Just kidding…kinda.

Of course, I still want to appreciate the trees as well as the forest. Knowing me, there will still be some mini-adventures and some travel dispersed in there. But this clarity, though broad, has given me a sense of relief. Like a weight has been taken off. Because my future has some sense of order, I feel more able to appreciate what I’m doing now.

After a couple of days, John’s girlfriend, Auberon, came down to join us. As she was less inclined to stay in an empty cabin with two smelly boys, we headed out on the road. We stopped by a gorgeous organic cacao farm with expansive vistas, lots of fruit trees, and an inspiring story. You see, alot of foreigners (especially Americans) see Costa Rica as a place where they can fulfill their dreams. The land is fertile, the climate is tropical, people are friendly, and labor is cheap. So many people come down here with a vision of what they want to create and many of the people succeed. This cacao plantation is one of the many examples.

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Johnathan and Auberon.

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This little caterpillar was looking for his hooka.

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Some views of Costa Rica.

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John in his little 4×4. Boys and their toys.

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This was one of the houses at the cacao farm.

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The view from the house.

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I have seen a fair share of cacao in my days, but I have never seen purple pods.

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John walking through the jungle.

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Cool bug.

We ended up in a beautiful hotel near the beach in Dominical on the Pacific Ocean. Our first day, we visited the previous owners of John’s land. The dispute between them and the man who sold John the land was kinda ugly, but it was between them. Our meeting with them was really nice. He wanted to talk to them about the land and I wanted to check out the horses to see about maybe buying them back. I got to impress John and Auberon by cornering a horse, wrapping a rope around her neck while making reins, then hopping on her bareback. When I got off of her, she went to lay down. This is rather strange for a horse. They don’t just sit down when they’re tired. I chased her up and she moved some and then sat down again and rolled around like a horse does when they’re sweaty. My suspicions were increasing. Colic is a generic term for stomach problems, but as a horse can’t vomit, untreated colic can and often does kill them. I tied the horse up to a tree so it couldn’t sit any more, and it started to bite at its stomach. That was all I needed to see that the pain had increased and we had to act quickly. Phoning everyone she could, the owner located someone that had some medicine. I took one look at it and told her it wouldn’t do anything. Racking my mind, I remembered the name of the medicine we needed and after some more phone calls, it was found. I injected the horse and within a half hour, it was doing okay. I’m not going to toot my horn and say that I saved the horse’s life. Maybe it would have got better by its self. But I will say that she was lucky we showed up that day. That said, I’m not going to lie. It felt pretty good. Not just to help out a sick horse but to automatically know what had to be done in the situation. Here’s to you Dr. Kerr.

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Auberon and a little philly paint.

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John and the sick horse.

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The horsie after feeling much better.

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This is the previous owners’ beach house. Super pretty design…

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…and a ridiculous ocean view!

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Beautiful beautiful Aubi won kanobi.

Our last day together was Auberon’s birthday and we went to a small private conservation reserve near the hotel. Though it was fun and all, I most enjoyed the company of two people I love and appreciate. I met great people on the road and I’ve made great friends along the way, but being with people that know you on a deeper level, who I don’t have to explain myself to is really nice. It feels a little like home.

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The fam.

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I love John’s face in this.

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Some baby birds we saw. The mother makes a nest against a big leaf instead of a branch.

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Saying goodby at the ocean.

Upon coming back to Choluteca, I was anxious to see my horses. I wanted to see what two weeks off did to them. Would they be all healed up? Would they be happy to see me? Upon arriving at the stables, I saw Aztlan limping…badly. Her left hind foot (the same one I have had problems with since day one) was extremely inflamed and there were two horizontal cuts along her back pastern.

Her foot was infected and she was in alot of pain. A vet came by and wanted to give her a strong antibiotic for fast healing but he wanted to make sure she wasn’t pregnant as the medicine could abort a fetus. After sticking his arm up to his shoulder in her anus, he came back with the news that she was, indeed, pregnant. My head was swimming. I couldn’t believe it. There was no stallions near her for the whole trip and I hadn’t allowed a single stallion near her before I left! And then I remembered. Around Halloween last year, my friend Pedro’s stallion Pancho had crashed through the fence where my mares and a small colt were sleeping. In the morning, Pedro woke up and found Pancho in the corral and the poor colt had been torn to shreds. I didn’t think my mare was in heat as she didn’t really show any signs. But supposedly, mares are most fertile right before they finish their menstruation and ol’ Pancho must have slipped it in at the most opportune moment.

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This is the part of the poor colt that got beat up by Pancho. His balls hadn’t even dropped yet, and he wasn’t a threat, but stallions are stallions.

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This is Pedro and Pancho.

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And this is Papa and Momma. I wonder what color the foal will be?

So, I concentrated on getting Aztlan better quickly so I could ride her to Costa Rica as fast as possible. In a sense, I felt okay about the whole thing. I had been going back and forth about whether to stop in Costa Rica or continue and this event kinda of sealed the deal. But, her foot never got better. It got much worse.

Without going into too much medical jargon, her foot has a case of laminitis and the hoof is separating from the lamina inside. Horses’ hooves are like our nails. Well, they’re not like, they are the same except horses walk on them. Aztlan’s nail is slowly becoming separated with her hand and it needs to grow back. Though there is still a chance that it will reattach, I will most likely not be able to ride her again for 6-12 months.

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This is how it started.

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Then it spread.

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This is it when it was cleaned up.

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This is the hoof separating from the lamina.

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And this is where its at now.

Frustrating, difficult, and saddening, this brings us full circle to what I was talking about in the beginning. Not fate, not predestination, but Maktub. It is written. What has happened has happened. Now, it is time to put her in the best hands possible and continue my journey. Today, I got the green light from the commander at the base to leave her there for a few months as I finish my trip to Costa Rica. She will be looked after by horse people and will have a vet nearby if need be. She will be fed well and will have all of her needs met while she recovers and finishes her gestation. Azueta and I will continue alone.

It is a new adventure and a new chapter. Azueta is more durable and strong, but is more scared of trucks and bridges. I will miss the affection of Aztlan, as it is the only affection I receive, but perhaps the bond between Azueta and myself will strengthen. In a few months time, I will return for Aztlan and perhaps her baby (names anyone?), but the path leads forward before it ever leads back. My body feels reenergized when I think of continuing southbound. Like a hunting dog released after a cold winter, the open road fills me with a sense of freedom that is worth more than gold. Worth more than anything. As I battle with the obstacles that are put in my way, I remember that I must accept the things I can not change, have the courage to change the things I can, and have the wisdom to know the difference. Maktub.

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From heights to heat in Honduras

The rainy season has begun. At first, I didn’t think it would be too bad. Maybe some rain in the evening so I would need to find some cover for my tent. But recently, it has started to rain in the afternoon. And so, I battle with keeping mold off the leather and trying to keep my socks dry. Man, was Lieutenant Dan ever right about socks.

Speaking of journeys, it looks like I am past half way through mine. Depending on how one judges distance and what my ending point is, I am closer to finishing than beginning. Considering I just celebrated six months on the road, that means that barring a disaster, I should be home before Christmas. A year on the road, and over a year and a half abroad leaves me ready for the rolling, vine covered hills of Sonoma County.

There has been a dialogue between Gwladys and myself about riding horses in the mountains. She loves it. She loves the challenges, she loves the difficulties, she loves finishing her day and feeling like she accomplished something, she loves the remoteness and the people that live in that type of rough terrain. And I must say, I agree with her. Except that with horses, I don’t. Mountains have less green grass, the people can be less welcoming, it is very strenuous for horses and there is more of a chance of the baggage sliding around on the steep up and downs. I love the views, and I love the fresh air, but I have started to appreciate the luxuries of asphalt and frequented roads. But there is more to it than just that.

In the story part of my blog, I mentioned the book The Alchemist by Paolo Coelho. Perhaps more than any other book, The Alchemist served to inspire and guide me these last few years. But another book laid claim to my consciousness many years ago when I was just beginning to physically and mentally mature. It is called Siddartha by Hermann Hesse. If you haven’t read it, you are missing out on one of the greatest books of world literature. If you have read it, perhaps you will understand this more.

Siddartha mirrors the life of Buddha. It follows his life cycle from an adolescent to an old man and splits his life into four universal stages. The first is the student stage: learning and accumulating academic knowledge through teachers and wise men. The second stage is asceticism: learning through suffering. By putting ourself in difficult situations, we gain knowledge of ourselves, others, and much more. Many people never leave the first stage and many people get stuck in the second. But the biggest and most difficult stage to leave is that of Samsara. In this, there are children. There are jobs. We get soft, we get lazy, we get complacent. We lose our idealism, we lose our direction, and we get lost in what I call the human comedy.

I have been a student. For many years, I winded through the corridors of the ivory tower. And I have been an ascetic. Hardening my body, hardening my soul. Suffering both physically and emotionally to better understand myself and the world around me. For many years, I have envisioned this voyage of mine being the transition into the third stage. I want roots, I want family, I want to travel less and work on some other long term projects. Projects that require stability. There is not a disconnect between the stages. One doesn’t stop learning or suffering, these are all retained to a certain extent. But they are not what one’s life is about.

To bring it back to my ride, and mountains, I kinda prefer flat areas to ride. I prefer a bed to my tent. I prefer a well cooked meal at a restaurant to another plate of beans and tortillas. I have been coming to terms with this for a while and though I don’t think I’ll lose my attraction to adventure or my passion for traveling, I look forward to the more subtle and comfortable joys of the next stage. One day, perhaps, I will reach the fourth stage and give it all up, but you’ll have to pick up a copy of Siddartha to know what I mean.

On leaving Guatemala, I decided on the road less traveled which took me through a steep and winding road into the mountains. Grass became scarce, and people began to be decidingly less friendly. Kids would just look at me instead of smiling. Salutes were not returned. When it became time to look for a place to stay, or even getting a person to answer me, it was difficult. I happened upon a Catholic church that had nice green grass around it and an abandoned church in front that also had grass. The caretaker was in, and I asked for lodging for the night. Nothing easier, right? Christian hospitality, right? Wrong. Though the conversation was drawn out, the ultimate answer was no. The night before I was also refused help by an actual Catholic priest. The first night I stayed with an evangelical family who insisted on giving me an oration before leaving. The second night, I pushed forward and was giving lodging, grass, and a simple meal by another evangelical family. I am not picking favorites here because the evangelicals do stay up late with their horrible singing (no really, they sing horribly), but in the ecclesiastical battle between the two major branches of Christianity in Central America, I must say that the evangelicals are winning…by far.

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This little cutie patooty was the cleaning lady’s daughter. She’d run and hide when I first got there. This was the last day.

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My last meal with the family. Cooked by yours truly.

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Some of the family before leaving to Honduras.

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Super cool tree with gourd-like fruits.

Leaving the town where I stayed the night, it was like a switch had been turned. People smiled at me, kids yelled ‘caballo!!!’ when I passed, waves, buenas dias, etc. And it just got more and more beautiful. Finally, after an excruciating climb to the top of a summit, I was alone in a tropical jungle with parrots and howler monkeys accompanying the sounds of my horses rhythmic walking and heavy breathing.

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Just another nice family.

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This is still the mountains in Guatemala. In this update, there will be ALOT of nature pictures. Just a warning.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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La Union. About to start the steep climb to…

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…jungle land!

A long, steep, and rain soaked ride down brought me to the Honduran border where I passed the night in an empty lot of a friend. In the morning, greeted by sunshine and some beans, tortillas, and cheese, I made my way to the border. Just the night before, I finally got a hold of my friend in Customs at the Mexico-Guatemala border and he assured me that there would be no barriers on leaving Guatemala. Sure enough, the supervisor ordered the barrier raised and I triumphantly entered Honduras. Legally.

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My friend at the Guatemala-Honduras border.

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This was a really good day. I remember smiling a lot. It was sunny. Some kid took my picture. Everyone waved goodby. Pretty cool.

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Even the Honduran health people were friendly.

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So close.

It was only a short 10km ride to Copan Ruinas and somehow, crossing that imaginary line also changed the scenery. Green, lush grass was everywhere! Excuse me if I keep focusing on this, but you can understand how important this detail is. I took my horses through the middle of town (I really love that part) and pulled up to a friend’s (well, he is now) ranch. I meant to spend about three or fours days resting the horses, but I liked it there. I stayed at a hotel for a couple of days (hotel being a relative term. For $7.50, I got a small bed, a TV with no channels, and a lukewarm shower. But it was the first time I had any of these luxuries since I left. I ended up going back to the ranch where my horses were though. I thought I was going to leave, but my friend convinced me to stay. There were some ruins, some bird sanctuaries, some hot springs, some nice people, and my horses were resting and recovering. No complaints.

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The day I wanted to go to the ruins, the workers were on strike. So I went to a bird reserve where they breed and release scarlet macaws into the wild. It was a nice day.

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Toucans are pretty cool. I learned that their large beaks make it so it doesn’t hurt that much when they bite. It’s more for eating fruit.

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Demonic owls.

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This was one of the girls at the house where I was staying in Copan. She had the most intense facial expressions.

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This is the mother. She is dying. They’re really too poor much to do much about it. So, they enjoy their lives together while they’re together.

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Convertible.

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The only picture I have of my friend Lissandro. He’s not a cow.

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His little brother.

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Mother and daughter.

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Me and Jemina the Goose.

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Saying goodby to the fam in Copan.

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A field of four leaf clovers?

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This is the hot springs jungle palace. A swing bridge leads you…

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…over a river…

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…through the gate…

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…over some stones…

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…and into paradise.

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Absolute, pure, awesomeness.

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Water.

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The pools.

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Beautiful flower, no?

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The entrance to the ruins.

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There are large scarlet macaws flying free.

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It makes quite an impression.

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There are a lot of these stelae here in Copan representing the Mayan rulers.

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Scary.

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The ball court.

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This stairwell originally had Mayan hieroglyphs covering every square inch.

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There was this picture showing what life might have been like at that time. Royalty in regal regalia. Servants in diaper loin clothes. Food being eaten. Cacao being drunk. Spectators everywhere. It must have been a lot like…I don’t know, modern sporting events? But we don’t kill our best athletes at the end. Though with Lebron…

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I don’t know. I just really liked it. It looks Nigerian.

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Living quarters. You’d think they’d build roofs.

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Skulls.

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Big pyramid built on top of another smaller one, built on top of another, built on top of…you get it.

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Scarlet macaw.

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They are wild, but the park feeds them. Probably so they’ll stay.

When I left, I took a short cut through the mountains. Like I mentioned earlier, I love mountains. They’re beautiful. But climbing steep inclines that are slippery with rain was a harrowing adventure with horses. They were sliding all over the place. I ended up sleeping at a small rural school where I had a fascinating conversation with a teacher.

Corruption in Central America is big. Real big. And there are many ways that it manifests itself. But when the teacher started to tell me that many teachers’ positions are decided by politicians and job security depends on who is elected, I was shocked. He also told me about ghost teachers which are teaching positions that don’t exist or teachers that bring in more than one salary. Corrupt administrators are often to blame for that one, but not always. Oh, and there are also the perks of yearly bonuses that come in the form of government money meant for school supplies. If the administrator doesn’t pocket it, the teacher most likely will. And school is mandatory until 6th grade. And…I could go on. The many faces of corruption, graft, politics, business, crime, and organized crime are multi-faceted and rarely simple. It is one of the reasons it is so hard to root out.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Willy Wonka’s river.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Some tough mountain men.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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In a town where the women literally hid in their houses from me (I guess my beard got a little long), I found this wonderful woman who gave me lodging. Well, officially her father did. He’s the old guy.

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Pretty gardens are pretty rare in this area of the world. They had lovely one however.

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So the old grandfather guy? Yeah, well he’s 96. And still works…every day!

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Heading out of town.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

And so, my path took me down through Santa Rosa, Gracias (Thanks) and Esperanza (Hope). I made good time, I stayed relatively dry, and I was treated to some of the most gorgeous views of my whole trip. I decided to bypass El Salvador on the advice of Gwladys and another long rider, and though it doesn’t sound as grandiose to say that I traveled Central America by horse…except El Salvador, I don’t regret my decision at all. Western Honduras is safe, mountainous and breath takingly magnificent. Nothing but mountains, but all different kinds. Jungly mountains with bananas and coffee, rolling mountains with pine trees, granite mountains, red rock mountains, and to be perfectly honest, the ascents and descents were rarely to strenuous. I don’t know who designed the roads here, but they did a fine job. But…there was one exception…

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While going through Santa Rosa, there was a traffic back up at the stop light. So, I waited patiently with my blinker on.

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She wasn’t too happy by herself.

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But she got much happier in my arms.

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These sisters were my hosts in Santa Rosa.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Thanks and Hope. Straight ahead.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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The castle of Gracias.

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A cool sculpture outside.

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The view from the castle.

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I know I’ve said it before, but I just love getting kids on my horses. They are so happy.

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They wanted one last ride before I left.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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I really liked this town. It reminded me of an old west town.

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Or maybe an old mining town in the Sierras.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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This is a Garifuno family that I met coming into La Esperanza. They come from the Carribean and speak English Creole.

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When I walked by, the kids all called dibs on which horse was theirs. So I stopped and gave them a ride.

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A future Vaquero.

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I stayed with this family in La Esperanza. I didn’t know where I would stay, but I really wanted and needed to rest for a few days. The horses shoes were almost worn down to paper. About 10 miles out of town, I met one of these guys, started talking, and voila. Here I am with their family.

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Their kids were so happy to have my horses there. To wake up and see them eating in their yard made their month. They had never ridden a horse in their lives but after a couple of days, they were riding solo! They’re dad told me a couple of days after I left that when they had a family reunion, they proudly showed all the pictures to their relatives.

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It may not be standard practice for farriering but it sure makes it easier…and slightly more dangerous.

…You remember a long time ago, when I decided to try passing between Veracruz and Chiapas through the jungle where no map indicated a trail. Well, I did the same thing, and I was condemned to the same result. A extremely difficult, yet deeply rewarding day.

I left La Florida and walked about an hour and a half. The road started to disappear and my turn off was so rustic, I thought it was just a washed out gulley. I actually passed by it and had to turn back (a quick aside, google maps is fucking amazing. Anyone doing a long ride should bring it with them. Much better than a regular GPS, and even with no signal, it shows where you are as well as many very small trails). While scrambling down the rocky, muddy trail, a heavy rain had begun. I could see mule prints and occasional fresh dung, so I knew I was on the right path. After a couple of hours like this, I got to a clearing. There was a house there, and I went up to ask directions as the path seemed to have vanished and Master Google Maps stated that the trail had ended. Two people in the house were actually just leaving in the same direction that I was. An auspicious coincidence, but by the end of the day, I tend to lean towards miraculous. The next two hours were not just difficult, they were downright treacherous. My two guides led me through a path that barely existed, between tight spaces where the packs banged against granite walls, down drops that I thought the horses would fall over, down down down to a river, a waterfall, and up up up, the horses scrambling. Steep, slippery inclines had me scrambling ahead in fear of being trampled. And then, we made it.

El Sitio could hardly be called a town. A couple of houses tucked away in the jungles of the mountaintop. Meandering trails connecting the few houses and a primary school with 11 students, while the road to the nearest town could only be traversed on two legs or four. No electricity, no running water, but some grass for the horses and a simple meal of beans, tortilla, and egg were all that we needed.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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This is where things began to get a little hairy.

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And wet.

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But this is after I found help.

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This is the trail.

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Not too bad.

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Just before things got rough.

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The river.

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My guide.

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The fall.

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The road up.

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The teacher of the 11 students in 6 grades.

The next day, the weather cleared up. We were treated to blue skies and expansive vistas. We climbed at a steady rate, and then we hit the top. Four hours of downhill brought us into the flatlands and I remember seeing them for the first time and being excited. My heart fluttered. Yet, it was also nostalgic. The mountains of Honduras had been very good to us. The people were kind, food was plenty, we were safe, the ascents and descents were mostly easy, and the views were out of this world. I honestly didn’t think I would say this, but I think I’ll miss the mountains.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Pretty cool little snake.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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This is what Aztlan thinks of you.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Some kids who wanted their picture taken. I indulged them.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Another pretty rough day.

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Through a pretty rough ‘trail’.

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But my horses are champs.

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However, near the end, I got a little lost. This guy found me, brought me back to his house to feed me, and brought me into town.

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His kids were a bit shy at first.

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But then they opened up some. Seeing the pictures on the screen helps.

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Cookies.

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I will have one of these ovens one day.

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I really like this picture.

Upon reaching the flatlands, two things jumped out. The security situation had definitely changed. Stories abounded of theft and actually the day I arrived from the mountains, a truck driver was abducted in a nearby town and the thieves had stuck him in the back of his truck, drove through the small town where I was staying, and deposited him somewhere on the side of the road. In the very small town where I was, my host warned me that people steal horses or cows about once a month. When I asked if it happened during the day, he replied that it mostly happened during the day. Needless to say, that my horses slept near to me. The other thing about the flatlands is the heat. Hotter, more humid, and the past couple days, I’ve riding on the Pan-American highway and the asphalt made the mid afternoon almost unbearable. But, there’s no crying in baseball or long rides, so I just drank a lot of water, sweated, and smelled bad.

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Back on the Pan-American highway.

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This is a man who plays guitar and violin as well as constructs them. He finally put on a shirt for the picture.

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I love singing. I love songs. These guys were family of the above man.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Seahorse sunset.

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I’ve been stopped many times by the police here. I don’t regret for a second having my horses’ papers in order. That said, they’ve been pretty nice in general.

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Back on the Pan-American.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

The last couple weeks, I pushed my horses pretty hard. I wanted to get to Choluteca near the Nicaraguan border so they could rest. Through some networking, I was connected to a retired Captain in the Armed Forces who had a riding school on a military base. While talking to him before arriving, I mentioned that I really needed to be sure that the horses were well taken care of because they’re not just any horses. They are like my children. He said that he understood perfectly and that for him, horses aren’t just animals. Right then and there, I knew that my horses would be in good hands while I was away in Costa Rica.

I know. Costa Rica. I’ll tell you about it next time.

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This is where my horses are staying.

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True love is picking ticks out of a horse’s ears.

To finish up, I wanted to mention a little something about my horses. When I first thought of this ride, not only had I only ridden a horse once, but I wasn’t particularly infatuated with horses. I am an animal person and really love just about any animal, but horses didn’t particularly hold a special place in my heart. In the time between thinking up this trip and beginning the preparation, I had thought about the whole ‘horse whisperer’ thing and that man-horse connection that people always talk about and I thought it would be really cool if I could have that kind of connection with my horses.

As time went on, and I got into the horse world, I quickly developed a respect and admiration for the equine species. Some day, I’ll explain more, but as any animal lover will tell you, if you spend enough time with a particular animal, you will discover all kinds of idiosyncrasies and personality traits. So, in case your curious…

Azueta is a guy. He is strong, he is durable, a little stupid, and unemotional. He is like a machine in the mountains, has great endurance, and has a pretty quick gait considering his short legs. But he’s also incredibly annoying. He kicks over the water and food bucket every time, spoiling the food that he wants to eat. He pees and poops in his food making it so he can’t eat it. We also fight sometimes. He doesn’t really care one way or the other if you pet him, but he hates his ears touched. Or any quick movements around his head. And he can get tough. Which, of course, makes me get tough. And sometimes, pride gets the best of me and we battle it out. Almost always, the solution is patience, starting over again, going slowly, and building confidence but I’m not perfect and we learn together.

Aztlán, on the other hand, is a perfect young lady. She eats her food daintily. She is affectionate and enjoys receiving it as well. She is more delicate, which isn’t so good all that time. She comes from more pure blooded stock and is more fragile. Her body is covered with small nicks and cuts from all kinds of things (including Azueta’s teeth). She is elegant. She walks very smoothly and with her long legs, she covers great distance. She is also very obedient. While Azueta is uncomfortable and nervous trying or being around new things, Aztlan is not. She is a born leader and though she is young, when there are other mares around, she is usually the most dominant.

I could go on for a while. I mean, how long could you talk about your kids? Or give anecdotes? But, hopefully, one day you will come down to Costa Rica where they’ll retire and you can meet them yourselves.
So, until then, enjoy these pictures.

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One day, I came home a little tipsy. Aztlan was nearby and with no halter or rope, she allowed me to jump on her back. She is pretty wonderful.

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My horses crossing the Bridge of the Rising Sun.

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Guatemala a go-go

You know, it’s days like this when I count my blessings and am left without the right words to describe the fortunate life that I have. I’m on the shores of Lake Izabal with my feet in the sand, the sound of small waves lapping at the beach accompany the sublime view of water, distant mountains, and a dock with a palapa roof at the end. What did I do to deserve such a lovely morning? Humph, stupid question. I know the answer.

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Lake Izabal

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My view in the morning.

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My thrones.

So, the steep mountains of northern Guatemala gave way to the green jungles of Coban which in turn morphed into the dense cloud forests of Salamá which in turn was replaced by the arid scrub desert of El Rancho and finally ended back in the cow country of Teculutan. Some rest and green grass for the mounts and some R&R for their rider were both needed and appreciated. With the border of Honduras a three days ride from camp, this determined wanderer kicked off his boots, rubbed his sore feet, and jumped in the refreshing waters of his recent success.

And truly, it feels as if Guatemala was a success. Although injury, disaster, and a myriad of problems are always only a day away, I have managed to get through this country with minimal damage and at a record rate. Though I risk displeasing the finicky Gods of superstition, dare I say that after all the difficulties of Mexico, I have hit my stride? I remember my vet friend Jaime telling me that the two hours it took me to get ready in the morning would eventually be wittled away with time and I scoffed at his predication. I was already going quickly how could I possibly go any quicker? Well, he was right. If I wake up quickly, I can brush and floss my teeth, clean my horses, saddle them, pack my stuff, pack my horse (in that order) in about an hour and fifteen to an hour and a half. I really can’t explain how it happened…it just did.

And through it all, they look pretty good. You see, two things that give me great satisfaction is listening to my horses eat at night knowing they have a good meal of good grass (especially in an area that doesn’t have alot and I’ve worked extra hard to get it for them). The other thing is seeing them with round bellies. Before I got to the Guatemalan border, I was battling with Aztlan’s weight (Azueta is always fat and rarely a concern) and losing. She wasn’t scrawny, but I couldn’t put much weight on her as there wasn’t much grass available. But while I galavanted around Guatemala with Gerard, my horses were busy eating up the last green patch of Chiapas as a friend miraculously allowed my horses free rein over the field of grass he was saving for his cows. I came back and they both had round bellies. They have remained rotund till today.

And so Guatemala…

Let me begin recounting how I got in. The border of La Mesilla is bar none, the most relaxed border I have ever crossed. In all border crossings, there is a place where you must pass to get your passport stamped. There is such a place in La Mesilla but you have to voluntarily check in. Because Central Americans and Mexicans (they’re different…I promise) don’t need passports to enter into their countries (kinda, it’s a little complicated), the border is fluid. The result is that I passed back and forth into Guatemala several times mojado (wet or illegal). When it came time to bring my horses over, I found it expedient to follow the same method. A friend of mine who works at the Guatemalan customs tried all the recourses possible to bring the horses in legally and though it was feasible, it was a logistical nightmare. Everyone from the health inspectors to the customs agents suggested that I take them through the side route. Grudgingly, I took their advice.

So, in the morning I left my smuggler friend’s house and walked up the hill to the border. I checked my horses out of Mexico and then my friend who works for Guatemalan customs led me on his scooter down the side road to the Guatemalan side where it emptied out (get this) about 15 feet down the road from their Customs Office. I stayed for a day at his friends gorgeous house along with his many Andalusian horses. La Mesilla is a very small town. Yet, it has a soccer team in Guatemala’s 1st division and a great many gorgeous houses. It’s a running joke that everyone in town owns businesses and all the workers are from somewhere else. Why in the hell is the town so rich? Let me tell you an anecdote that will explain.

The other day, I was sleeping at a place that makes cement blocks. It was a pretty small town, maybe a couple thousand residents. One of the workers pointed out the house across the street and told me it was the mayor’s. I was surprised as it didn’t seem very big. He said behind the high, razor blade lined walls there was lots of space. What’s more, he said, there were 10 bodyguards. ’10!’ I asked. The only people that have 10 bodyguards are presidents and narcos. He just smiled at me and remained silent.

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My friend from customs taking me down the side route.

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The unofficial customs gate. The chain keeper exacts a toll to cross illegally.

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Goodby Mexico 😦

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Hello Guatemala!!! 🙂

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My friends I stayed with when I got to Guatemala.

So, on we went from La Mesilla through the soaring mountains of Huehuetenango. I had passed this portion of the Pan-American highway by bus and was dreading it. Though it was stunningly beautiful with its clear river cutting through the ravines laced with sporadic corn field (a saying in this area goes “plant with a shotgun and harvest with a fishing pole), I didn’t see a blade of grass or a shoulder on the highway. I considered ordering a horse trailer to bring my horses to the next stop, but if Gwladys could do it, so could I. The grass was not so difficult. There wasn’t much, but once you have a place to stay and are established, people always help find what little there is. However, riding on the side of the road with no shoulder as ginormous trailers and crazy bus drivers came careening past was, there’s no other way of saying this, dangerous. But then again, there’s alot of dangerous things we do. I plodded as safe as I could and kept on riding. Nothing bad happened and now, Aztlan is pretty well desensitized to trucks. So, all’s well that ends well.

With only a day left before arriving in the city of Huehuetenango, Aztlan got caught up in her rope again and cut herself in the same area that she did months before. As I was planning to rest in Huehue for some days, and I found it pointless to wait for her to heal in the small village with no grass. I called up my friend and asked him to bring his trailer. Though the point is not to take the horses in a trailer to Panama, sometimes, you got to do what you got to do. And anyone that wants to point out the 30 km ride as a point against what I’m doing can stick it. Not that anyone would, of course.

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The road to Huehue.

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The road to Huehue was just about the most hair raising stretch of road I have been on yet. It is officially part of the Pan-American highway and though a big rock slide has dimished the traffic somewhat, there are still large semis careening by at high speeds and only sometimes is there a shoulder. By this point in the trip, there is just about nothing that spooks my horses…except mud for Aztlan and touching Azueta’s ears.

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The road to Huehue.

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I met this guy on the road and he offered to organize a press conference at his coffeeshop for me. Sure, it had the name of his cafe plastered behind me, but it was a nice gesture.

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The journalists who interviewed me for the TV and newspaper. The TV segment they did was pretty awesome. It took seven of the 20 minutes of nightly news. It’s in Spanish, but still.
This is the embed code:
http://www.facebook.com/v/10151577463515526
Or
http://www.facebook.com/v/10151577463515526
Also
this is the link for the article on page 4
http://issuu.com/elquetzalteco/docs/miregion-huehue4291

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I met my first trans-American bike rider on the road to Huehue. A really nice Dutch guy. He does between 100-150 km per day. I do 25-30. Definitely a different way to travel.

Huehue was another one of those waypoints on the map where I was planning on staying for a bit. When Gwladys finished her ride through Central America, she returned her horses to here and left them with a friend of hers. She also formed a deep friendship with a woman named Claudia who ended up riding with her for a few weeks through Guatemala. I arrived at Claudia’s and her husband Chio’s house and settled into wonderful relaxedness. The theme of Guatemala seems to be ride for a week, stay at random people’s houses, sleep outside, eat what comes, go to sleep tired, and wake up with a sore back. But then, just as my (and maybe my horses’) body is needing a rest day, I arrive at a splendid hacienda with cooks, and people to clean my horses and clothes, and a comfortable bed to lie in. The low life to the high life back to the low and right back again.

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This friend was a champion bull rider in Guatemala and worked in his younger days in the US riding bulls. He has trophies everywhere and is quite famous. It was his house I stayed at on the banks of Lake Izabal. Yet, he is one of the most humble guys I’ve met. Plus, in the right light, he looks kinda like G.W. Bush.

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His humble house. He could afford to build some extravagant place, but why?

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Some of his Spanish saddles.

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And some of his Spanish Andalusians.

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Another one of his.

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I went to a horse training school that had about 20 Andalusians and a few Peruvians that were being trained. There must have been well over a million dollars worth of horses there.

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And some absolute beauties.

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Being taught ‘dance’. There is some french word we use in English but I forgot what it was.

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I rode this Peruvian Paso in Huehuetenango.

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What the hell is a burro doing with all these Andalusions? It’s a paint!

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And to give you an impression of the size of this thing…

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Bareback: I now know what it’s like to sit on top of a mountain. Andalusian horses were used as war horses. I completely understand why.

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Lying down.

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And staying down.

Chio and Claudia and their two wonderful sons treated me like family and upon leaving, they organized all their horse-loving friends and we set out together on the trail for a couple of hours. Lunch awaited us at a ranch and though a couple more friends accompanied me for a bit longer, I was finally alone again on the wind swept mountains of Guatemala.

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Chio and Claudia.

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We had a soiree of hors d’oevres and singing…

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…and dancing…

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and me singing Frank Sinatra…badly. Very badly.

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A good time had by all…

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…until the early morning. It’s kind of sad when the old folks outlast the kiddies.

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Chio and Claudia’s dogs. I am slowly overcoming my ancestral fear of German shepards.

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The local shoe shiner.

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I met up with Gwladys horses that she took through Mexico and Central America. In the time that she left, her promiscuous mare produced this lovely philly named Karak.

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I took them all on a little test drive.

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Not better or worse, but I’m pretty happy with mine. All the horses got along well.

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Rounding up the crew to leave Huehue.

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The family.

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Goodby Huehue.

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Lunchtime.

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Digestion time.

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Group photo time.

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Alone time.

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Back on the road.

As I left Huehue, I was excited to continue but was a bit nervous. Gwladys had warned me that this area was particularly troublesome and I had been worried about it since before I left. The problem wasn’t drugs or violence, the concern was indigenous people. After my blog of ‘trying to spot the indigenous’, in Guatemala the game is much easier. Here, the skin tones are marked and traditional clothes, especially for women, are still the norm. But there are degrees of integration. In towns, indigenous people speak both their language and Spanish. But more so, they have a hybrid culture mixing the traditional and the modern. However, in the small villages, their customs and beliefs have little relation to society at large. Foreigners (which include non-indigenous Guatemalans) are distrusted, smiles can be rare, and hospitality is not forthcoming. Like all people in the world, once they warm up to you, it is a different story but that process can be impossible if no one gives you a chance.

Reasons for the cold shoulder can stem from superstition like my teacher friend in a small village who brought some Irish aid workers into the school and had to convince the parents not to pull their kids out. They feared that the white people would steal their children. Another reason is the mines. Guatemala has lots and lots of mineral wealth. But most of the mines are high in the mountains where the indigenous people live. The not-in-my-back-door policy is extremely strong in indigenous communities everywhere in the world (experience has not been kind), but in Guatemala in can be violent. Gwladys, Claudia, and Gwladys’ 70 year old father got threatened with their life when they traveled through an area similar to the one I did. And the third reason is historical. The civil wars that ripped through Central America in the 70s and 80s were especially destructive for indigenous communities. They made up the majority of the guerilla fighters and they were the subject to mass murders, rapes, burning villages, etc. That kind of stuff can breed mistrust…

But to be perfectly honest, I don’t want to validate the coldness that strangers receive. I have traveled to similar places with similar histories if not worse and have been treated with respect and hospitality. Threatening women travelers without even asking details is unacceptable wherever you are, whatever your culture. So, I admit I was a bit nervous. I took a route that went through less rural villages and because most of the route was pavemented, the people along the way were used to all kinds of travelers. And, if I may say so myself, it was a great idea because everything worked out just fine.

Though the route was mountainous, twisty and curvy, covered with landslides, and hot, it was also beautiful and filled with mostly friendly people. I did get some unresponsive indigenous people, but I also got alot of friendly ones. Through a mix of guile, kinniving, miracles, and fate my horses had decent places to sleep and decent grass to eat. Six days later, I had arrived near Coban…my next stop.

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I stayed with this guy the first night out of Huehue. He welded this awesome monstrosity himself.

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With three heart attacks, he still smokes cigarettes. We took it very slow going up the hills.

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His wife is a school teacher and invited me to stop by her school the next day as it was on the way. I accepted.

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And gave some lucky kids a ride.

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And a couple of teachers.

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One of the things that has been happening alot these past couple of weeks is that the horses have been in contact with lots of kids. I have complete confidence in these horses and their tameness. Though they are animals and anything can happen, I feel secure putting any age kid on their backs and giving them the reins. I sometimes give mini lessons, or sometimes just give the kids a little ride. Sometimes, I stop riding and offer wide eyes kids a chance to climb aboard and the horses have never disappointed. I love giving people a positive experience in their first contact with equines. Hopefully, the kids in the next couple of pictures will grow up to be horse lovers. At thievery least, I’ve set them on the path.

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This was not staged! They really liked hugging my horses.

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I gave both of these kids lessons and within a few minutes they had the reins in their hands and were riding by themselves.

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Some happy girls.

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This boy tagged along all afternoon when I was setting up camp. He just loved to be near the horses. He wanted to ride, to lead, to tie, to do anything that allowed him more horsie time.

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Babies seem to like horses too.

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As do big kids.

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Pretty much every family I stayed with pulled out their camera or phones for a photo shoot.

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But the kids…

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This boy gave everyone rides behind him.

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His girlfriend and his pals.

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These next three pictures are truly wonderful. Pay attention to their eyes.

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Crazy road, crazy view.

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Crazy road, crazy view.

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My own personal marimba concert.

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Even the cat gets some love. Cats seems to be pretty rare in this part of the world. Dogs, on the other hand, are a dime a dozen.

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The family I was staying with here invited me to stay an extra day. At first I hesitated, but then I remembered that I didn’t have anywhere to rush to. So I stayed. I did have to go and cut some grass though.

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I mentioned before how kids really dig my tent. Well, they REALLY dig my tent.

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Lunch is served.

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We went down to the river after lunch where the white river and the black river meet. I guess it makes a mestizo river.

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The bridge became slightly off balance in the hurricane last year.

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So an entrepreneuring man decided to make his own. He makes a pretty good living until the rains come and destroys his new bridge.

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This is his semi-permanent bridge.

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And my semi-permanent family.

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The Mestizo river (chortle chortle).

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Sunset

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A town from above…

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…And farther above…

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…And still farther above.

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I spent the night here on the last full moon. It was the first time I slept outside without my tent in a long time because of mosquitos. I remember looking up at the sky and the stars and hearing my horses eating, and having one of those feelings like ‘Wow! I’m really doing it. I’m living my dream.’ It was a good moment.

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I put them in customer parking while I ate breakfast.

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Azueta got loose and this is how I found him. Happily muching away while the confused bull sat there wondering why he couldn’t move.

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Standard sight in Guatemala.

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Parts of the highway collapse.

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And because they just tear apart the mountain to make the highway and mine the rocks…

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There are rockslides ranging from small…

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…to big…

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…to enormous.

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Crazy road, crazy view.

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Coming up to this bridge, everyone told me I would have to go around. When I got to the bridge, I took one look at it and knew my horses could handle it. The gawking onlookers were impressed as Aztlan didn’t even pause.

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And then, of course, there were more cute kids.

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And then there were some more.

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And then there were some pretty views.

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And some pretty sunsets.

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And then I arrived at Chio 2’s house.

Another friend of Gwladys, a different Chio, greeted me at his ginormous ranch tucked in a valley surrounded by jungly mountains. Coban is known for its constant rain, but really, it wasn’t that bad. The evenings were cool, the days were sunny, and the misty mornings provided the moisture for the thousand shades of green everywhere. Though Chio was born into the upper echelon of Guatemalan society, I never really saw signs of it in his character. And really, the same could be said for the majority of high class people I’ve met here. Most ranch people are not quick to point out their wealth. It’s nice.

My time with Chio was spent relaxing and recouping as well as exploring his vast land in one of his 4x4s. One day, he also took me to Samuk Champay. Words or pictures could not describe the absolute beauty of this place, but this jaded traveler was caught of guard and fell under the spell of a completely new gorgeous thing.

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Chio Calderon

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A couple of his 14 Peruvian horses…that he has at THIS ranch.

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The driveway.

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Some original Maya artifacts. His ranch has some buried Maya ruins hidden in the hills which he has no intention of digging up and giving to the state. Makes sense-ish.

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His truck and his house.

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Another of his trucks…

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…and me driving it. Whew, that was a good time. Some crazy nasty roads that only a truck like this, a bulldozer, or a tank could have made it through.

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We crossed some beautiful creeks…

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to check out a beautiful view of his land.

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Near the entrance of Semuk Champay.

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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Semuk Champay

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I guess fish like hobbit feet.

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We enjoyed an enjoyable lunch with an enjoyable view. What an enjoyable day.

Through mountains, jungles, and deserts, my path cut down through the center of Guatemala to near the Honduras border where I put up my horses at a friend of Chio’s friend’s ranch and prepared for the upcoming stages. Borders are always a nightmare, and in a few days when (if) I cross over, I will be in country number three of my trip and at about the half way point as far as distance. Pretty cool.

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If you don’t understand what a great picture this is, you should ride horses out of an arena more often.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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This poor guy was probably abandoned for the dry season. If he’s still alive when the rains start, he will most likely be caught and used again. Those brown spots on his body are sores, not dirt.

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A new kind of pack saddle.

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The national bike race passed me by one day. A photographer stopped me and snapped a shot as the bikes whisked past me. The next day, I appeared in the national newspaper as a local rider. I’m famous!!!

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Some of the bikers from the Tour.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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Scenes from the road less travelled.

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The police officers were quite friendly in Guatemala. I have heard that’s not the case in Honduras. We will see.

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Ginormous tree. I like ginormous trees.

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Almost to rest area.

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Just need the light to turn green.

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Ahhh, there we go.

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Schools sponsored by beer. Now, that is a great idea!

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The family that would host me until now.

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Going past their chicken coop.

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Chickens lay some crazy eggs sometime.

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Their ranch.

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It’s hard to tell from the outside of these ranches but they are quite tasteful.

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In a rustic ranch kind of way.

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This is a friend, Casasola, and some of his friends. In the area where I am, the TVs are on at night, but so many families sit outside on the stoop and chat and laugh until late. Friends come, friends go. It is pretty cool.

In closing, Guatemala was much better than expected. Not only did I not have the kind of problems I was expected, I got to have a pretty complete experience of the country. I saw its tourist sites (for a music video highlighting some of the sights of Guatemala by actual Guatemalan singers, check out : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MDb1UW5LCs&feature=youtube_gdata_player ), I made good friends, I made good time without rushing, and most importantly, my horses are in good health. Besides Guatemala’s natural beauty which is so varied from one place to another, the people of Guatemala are wonderful. They are less likely than Mexico to offer a meal (probably from embarrassment of its simplicity) but more likely to get your number and call you every day to make sure you’re okay. The culture is rich when talking about indigenous people. If you go to the main square or market of almost any town, the amount of colors and designs on womens’ clothes is breathtaking. However, it is also very Americanized. They use feet for altitude but kilometers for distance. They use gallons for gas but liters for milk. They eat lots fried chicken, hamburgers, and french bread and do not have very many original Guatemalan dishes. Their soccer team is abysmal, their highways are good, their police friendly, and their government corrupt. Guatemala…like.

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Pyramids, Pizza, and Plenty of Pictures

The cold mornings, the warm (not hot) afternoons, the richly patterned clothes, the hats, the brightly painted buses, the teethless smiles, the teenage girls with babies strapped to their backs, the suffocating exhaust, the ubiquitous fried chicken. A couple of days ago, I crossed an invisible line from Mexico into Guatemala, and though there is so much that is the same, there is so much that is different.

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Bus station are filled with decked out school buses.

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Markets are loud, colorful, and fragrant.

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Kids are cute.

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But I guess there’s nothing different about that.

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Some ethnic Mums cooking me breakfast.

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A church procession. The alter is carried on his head.

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It’s not always comfortable taking pictures of people that don’t really like their pictures taken. Some people get up all close and snap away without asking. I sometimes utilize the taken from the hip discreet shot. But sharing fruit is a classic move to lower the walls and provide confidence enough to take some pictures. Plus, fruit is yummy.

I last wrote 100 kilometers from the border. Now, I’m about 100 kilometers into Guatemala. That makes 200 kilometers (125 miles) in a month. That’s about 6 kilometers or 4 miles a day. When you think about it like that, I really haven’t made very much progress at all. A couple months ago, I’d be down on myself. I’d put on my determined face and push on no matter what. Even though I said that I didn’t care whether or not I got to Panama, I was definitely feeling like the sooner the better. This last month, through a combination of circumstance and volition, I have seen some of the road frequently traveled and have had the opportunity to spend quality time with some really great people. And truth be told, I feel pretty good about it.

I haven’t looked at the maps and calculated my exact distance, but I figure I’ve traversed at least 1000 kilometers or 600 miles. I don’t feel like I’m close to done, and I’m not resting on any laurels, but when I think about how far I’ve gone, I feel pretty good about the whole thing. And so even though I haven’t been making alot of progress, I’m embodying more and more the path and not the destination.

100 kilometers from the Guatemalan border lies a ranch called ‘El Mexiquito’. Gwladys connected me with the family there, and after a grueling day of walking and ferrying my horses over a huge lake, I arrived at dusk. The long shadows distracted my impatient mind and the sunset made me stop for a second in admiration. Illuminated by a bright florescent light, the Ruiz family was gathered around a fenced off patch of green grass with a white tomb in the corner. The tomb belonged to the patriarch of the family–the foundation, the rock–who had died months earlier. Every one of the four brothers talked of him as if the wound was still fresh. “If he were here, he’d…”. “You should have seen him when he…”. One night, I came home late, and the mother had been drinking. This is not the kind of woman one could easily picture drunk. She has a proud face, a kind smile, and she is as much of a matriarch as he must have been a patriarch. As I baked chocolate chip cookies, I joined her and her daughters in the grave area and heard the most heart breaking lamenting. In between tears and sobs, she told me she didn’t want to live. That it hurt so bad and that she couldn’t go on. She also told me how he wasn’t perfect. How he wasn’t always faithful. In my limited experience here, most women deal with unfaithfulness with determination and gall while most men don’t let their permiscuity affect their responsibilities to the family. Seeing her so torn apart by the death of her life partner, imperfect though he was, left me…well, fascinated. As much as I try to understand life, and people, and their interactions, sometimes it is all just a mystery that defies explanation.

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On the way to Mexiquito.

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A beautiful lake that I had to ferry my horses across a couple of times.

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Some of the company on the boat.

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More company on the boat.

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Long shadows at the end of the day.

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The beginning of sunset.

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A little later.

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A little later.

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A little later.

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Arriving late. Grandma is on the left.

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The Ruiz family around the tomb.

My time with the Ruiz’s was spent relaxing, swimming in the watering hole, eating (and cooking) wholesome food, as well as making a short trip up to Tuxtla Guttierez to attend a press conference for me. A friend of Gwladys organized a press conference with the Minister of Tourism of Chiapas and I was picked up six hours away by a chauffeur (no limo) to bring me to the sixth floor of the tallest building in Chiapas. Unfortunately, the road to Chiapas was blocked by protesters at the exact point where no cars could pass. I had to run to the other side, catch a bus to the nearest city, change buses, change buses again, grab a taxi and bully my way to get a pass to my own press conference. I arrived an hour late (translation: right on time).

The conference itself was interesting. Not good, just interesting. Gwladys’ friend who organized it had his own self promoting reasons for organizing it and the office of tourism had their own objectives as well. I was just some shmuck who got to tell his story. None of the journalists seemed to care very much, and I was pressured to focus on Chiapas as opposed to my trip as a whole, which I didn’t really like. But to cap it off, I saw the TV segment as well as the newspaper article after and I was not impressed. After talking for more than a half hour about my reasons for doing what I’m doing, my inspirations, my message, and my lessons, the TV segment focused on the least important part and the article invented its own reasons for me doing my ride. I even arrived at the conference with a placard with a misspelled name and “cabalgata por la paz” written underneath (horse ride for peace). For peace? It would be much nobler if I were indeed riding for peace. But, unfortunately, it’s not really true. On the other hand, in the news pieces, they did spell my name right.

If you want to check out the video or the newspaper article (in Spanish), check out:
http://meganoticias.tv/video/Cabalgata-por-la-paz/8bc6a38e4d519f9113fde4eca713d566
or
http://www.elsoldechiapas.com.mx/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=19084&Itemid=27

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Making chiliquiles and home fries.

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The family sitting down to enjoy it. I also made pumpkin pie.

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One of the brothers.

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Some of the workers grinding the dried corn stalks for the cows.

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Siestas are nice.

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Really nice!

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Some mariachi at the soccer tournament that I went to.

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Some of the crew at the town carnival after the game.

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Wheeeeeeeee!

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In the swimming hole.

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We were supposed to go hunting.

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But instead we stopped by the palm trees to try some fresh taberna. Taberna is made from a certain kind of palm tree that one carves a hole in. The trees excrete an alcoholic substance and is collected each day. The next day, it gifts a fresh batch.

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Some trees give sweet taberna. Some pineappley. Some is strong. And even though it is smooth and tasty, it does give a nice buzz.

Upon leaving ‘El Mexiquito’, I had company for the first time on my ride. The Ruiz family all joined along (the men on horse, the women in the car behind…with cold beers) along with the Velasco family. The Velasco family has over 2000 acres of land in the area. They are wealthy by comparison, but like so many wealthy Chiapanecos, their lives are humble. Their house is not extravagant, their meals are simple, and their hospitality is not pretentious. After only one night at their house, they offered their lifelong friendship as well as contacts along the route until the border.

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Velasco and Ruiz.

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Alejandro, son of Jesus.

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This is Jesus and his two sons. He looks like a gruff bad ass guy, but he’s kind of a gentle giant. A really great guy!

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Taking some photos before the ride.

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Setting off on the ride.

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I gave some of the kids a ride on Azueta as he wasn’t carrying anything.

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Post ride group shot.

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Man, you see alot of this down here! At least this guy made it to the shade.

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Cute picture.

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The Velascos promised Gwladys to name their first philly after her. This is Gwladys. They’re waiting for a colt to name after her father…Rene.

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Azueta and Aztlan munching away at sunset.

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Horse shoeing in Mexico. If you don’t see what’s crazy about this picture, you’ve probably never shoed a horse. Well…chances are, you’ve never shoed are horse so try and see what is crazy about the picture.

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Sipping more taberna.

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Double dipping with Papa Velasco.

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Saying goodby to the Velascos.

Having company on the road was, I have to admit, a pleasant change. When I first concocted the idea for my ride, I was in an ascetic period of my life. I found that deep personal growth could be attained through suffering, or at least putting myself in uncomfortable situations. My original idea was to ride alone to learn to deal with my aversion to solitude. Well, I’m older and lazier now, and to be perfectly honest, it would be great to have company. But it’s not like I can just snap my fingers and materialize the ideal riding partner.

When I’m actually moving with my horses, I make pretty good time. In a few days, I was at the Mexican-Guatemala border, and was confronted with my next obstacle: border crossings. All long riders have horror stories to tell about border crossing. Gwladys had her own at the same border I was at. Her horses and her had to stay for two and a half days at customs waiting for the slow clogs of bureaucracy to turn. They never did, and she ended up having to take the horses through a side route.

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The boys before arriving in Chicomuselo. Notice the saddle of the kid. It has a wooden bar. It’s for bucking horses so your legs don’t fall out if it rears up. Smart idea.

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Looks like a spaghetti western scene. I guess we could call it a tortilla western.

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I love riding through towns. Heads pop out of windows and screams of “caballo!!!” come out of nowhere.

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Just another wonderful family I stayed with along the way.

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This is an auto-hotel. You pull in, cover your car so no one (your wife) can see the license plate, and do your business. I always thought you just did it in the car, and therefore, found it the most classy of establishments. But I recently found out that there are rooms. By the looks of things, a room means a bed and not much more, but I’ve never checked one out so I can’t be sure.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Just another wonderful family I stayed with along the way.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Scenes from the road less traveled.

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Almost to Guatemala.

My health papers from Mexico were still not completed when I got to the border, and so I spent a few days trying to work out the details with a friend that I made in Guatemala’s Customs. It wasn’t looking hopeful, but I couldn’t do much without the documents from Mexico. So, to take advantage of the time, I took a bus and checked out the Mayan ruins of Palenque and the colonial town of San Cristobal de las Casas.

An 11 hour ride in a cramped van got me to Palenque at dusk via the road just about never travelled. I hadn’t had a slice of pizza in probably over a year, and I indulged my craving with a mediocre pizza in an overpriced tourist restaurant. One of my favorite lines in a movie you probably never watched is “Pizza is like sex. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.” I’ve had some hands-down shitty pizza in my life, and the pizza was far from good, but…I digress.

Palenque was, as you can imagine, impressive. I could go into detail of what I saw, but this isn’t a tourist blog. Go to Lonely Planet if you want descriptions. I got there when it opened, and was rewarded with the majority of the large structures to myself before the loads of tour buses invaded (the irony is not lost on me that I’m a group tour guide). On the largest temple that looked over the rest of the city, I sat in the cool morning shade and listened to some relaxing Sufi music on my iPod (I know) while soaking it all in. When my space finally became discovered, I delicately rumbled down the steep steps and found another empty corner of the park to roam around. The sad reality of my life is that I’m kinda burnt out on travel. Well, not on travel, but on seeing stuff. Churches, temples, ruins, colonial streets, and white sand beaches are all enjoyable, but they’ve pretty much lost their brilliant veneer. One of the reasons for my trip is that I much prefer a interpersonal interaction with locals and a good authentic meal to another ‘thing to see’.

So, that’s what I did. I left Palenque at noon, hopped on a bus, and went over to San Cristobal de la Casa where I walked around the streets and ate some delicious posole while discussing Mexican cuisine with some local people.

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This is my friend Kenedy from the Guatemala customs office. He is teaching his kid how to make a ‘strong face’.

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Him and his wife hosted me for a night when I went over the border. They also met up with me along the way to make sure I was okay. Par for the course.

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Guatemalan coffee: it really is that good.

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Road to Palenque.

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Road to Palenque.

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Road to Palenque.

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Palenque before the hoards.

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Palenque.

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Palenque.

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This is where I sat for a while taking it all in.

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This is where I moved to when I was bullied out of my not-so-secret place. It was pretty cool imagining what life was like here 500 years ago. How the landscape was different. Houses. Fires. Noises.

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Nature always wins.

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Coolest part of Palenque?

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A pretty waterfall streaming down towards the exit.

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This is the only pre-Columbian writing in the Americas. Awesome!

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Creepy statue.

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Jade mask.

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I went to a tourist restaurant for lunch and was surprised how much I liked the chotsky crap everywhere. One of the walls was covered with hats with sayings on them.

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This one said, “The unhappy man never finds a comfortable chair.”

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San Cristobal de las Casas in the morning..remember this picture for later.

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La plaza at dusk.

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Some cool tower.

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It was Semana Santa when I was there so there was a show going on. Cool dancing.

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There are few things that I like more than markets.

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One of those few things is cheese.

More bus rides got me to Tuxtla Guttierez where I collected all the health documents for my horses. More bus rides got me back to the border where I rejoined my horses. And because my French friend, Gerard, was arriving shortly, more bus rides took me to Guatemala City.

Gerard and I have been friend’ since I was 16 and lived at his house in France as an exchange student. He is part American and because I am often in France and he is often in the US, we have maintained a strong friendship. He arrived with a traveler’s backpack, white slacks, an Indian coconut fiber hat and an air of unpretentious Frenchiness that reminded me why I love him so much. He also arrived without a Lonely Planet and without any real idea of what he wanted to do. I had talked to a tour agent friend the day before to get an idea of what to do in the five days that he had in Guatemala, and so I scratched out a rough itinerary for us.

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This is the one and only Gerard. He lived for a couple of years in India where random people walk up to you to take pictures with them. When a kid tried to slyly take a picture of him, he caught him, dragged him over and had me take pictures of them all. There ain’t many like him.

Day 1. Woke up and watched the Daily Show on my iPad with Gerard. Went to Antigua Guatemala. Checked into a hotel that was about $5 more expensive that the rock bottom hostels but much more comfortable and pretty. In the past, we both would have searched for another hour to save that $5. After, we walked around and ate breakfast. We walked around some more and drank some coffee. We walked around the market and chit chatted with the merchants. We roamed around the soccer field, we roamed around the square. We even paid a couple dollars to enter in some ruins. Then, we ate dinner at an expensive (not really, but I never would have eaten there a couple of years ago) restaurant . After dinner, we bought some rum and coke, and chatted until the wee hours of the morning.

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Medical marijuana in Guatemala? Don’t be too surprised. They tried to legalize all drugs last year but it pissed off Uncle Sam and others and it never passed.

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This is Antigua Guatemala. Looks pretty much like that other picture of San Cristobal, no?

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This is my ‘more ruins?!?’ face.

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Have you ever looked at a patch of terribly luscious grass and been scared to sit down for fear of blood sucking insects? Well I have, and this grass needed to be taken advantage of!

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In Antigua, beautiful courtyards and balconies and ruins are everywhere.

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Another example.

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Tourist market.

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In many towns here, there are public washing houses. I took advantage of the pretty locale to scrub my revolting smelling hat. It actually made a difference…for a couple of days.

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More ruins.

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Gigi.

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I also really love bus stations. They are stressful and noxious, but they are exciting and lively and they mean I’m going somewhere.

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Like California. (look closely for the driver)

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More markets.

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Chatting up the atole merchant.

Day 2. Woke up and watched The Daily Show on my iPad with Gerard. Took four chicken buses (I guess that’s what local buses are called here. Justly so, as one of my seat mates had a chicken) to Lake Atitlan. Got on a boat and looked around open jawed at the beauty of the volcanos dipping into the lake. Got to the hippy village of San Marcos where signs for courses in Mayan Lunar and Solar energy littered the walls and tofu and tempe sandwiches adorned the menus. We ate, we roamed around, we ate again. We watched a local youth basketball game and went to bed.

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I have a penchant for climbing trees. This one was a bit precarious.

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Lake Atitlan.

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These are some of the houses that line the shore.

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They are mostly owned by wealthy Americans.

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These are the people that live farther up the mountain.

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One can see the disparity. I talked with a local guy for a while about how the two sides coexist and the answer wasn’t very good. Gringos build big walls and have mean dogs to guard their expensive homes. They cut off access to the lake and trails that line it. They also start businesses that compete with local ones. Though I didn’t talk to any ex-pats, I can imagine that they feel unwelcome and unwanted. They are afraid to walk around much because robbery is rampant and if they don’t build high walls and have mean dogs, their house would very likely be robbed. They just want to live their life in this beautiful part of the world and they don’t understand why locals are so difficult. So two worlds exist and never the two shall meet.

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Gerard with a ridiculously cute girl.

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No matter where you go, kids fork over their lunch money for video games.

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Tempe?!? In Guatemala?!?

Day 3. Woke up and watched the Daily Show on my iPad with Gerard. Hiked along the coast line. Kinda like cinqua terra in Italy…kinda. Took a boat, took a bus, then took an all night bus 9 hours to Peten.

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Lake Atitlan

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Lake Atitlan.

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Lake Atitlan.

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Lake Atitlan.

Day 4. Found a place to stay. Watched the Daily Show on my iPad. Ate some food. Walked around. Went to the beach and swam around. Read the Economist and chatted with some English travelers. Went to some cool Mayan ruins at sunset to drink a bottle of wine and enjoy the view. Ate dinner. More rum and coke on a dock while watching a breathtaking display of lightening until the storm caught up to us and we had to run inside.

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This isn’t Lake Atitlan. It’s another lake in Peten near Tikal. It looks straight out of the Carribean.

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Gallo beer, fresh fish, beautiful day, and a gorgeous view. Who needs ruins?

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Right before jumping in.

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Well, I guess a little ruins never hurt.

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Ruins.

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Gerard doing his Shiva dance.

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To see who gets sacrificed.

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We made up in the end.

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Sunset on top of ancient Mayan ruins with a bottle of wine and a best friend? Priceless.

Day 5. Woke up late and got to Tikal late. Tikal is the largest Mayan ruin in Guatemala. Like Palenque, it is spectacular. But it’s much more spread out and jungly. Besides a group of loud Italians, I think we saw 10 people all day. Back on the all night bus to Guatemala City.

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We’re in Tikal now and there or pheasants walking around, but they call them turkeys.

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And there was this crazy big tree.

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And there were monkies.

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And there were cool caterpillars to eat.

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And there were vines to climb on.

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And, oh yeah, there were also some cool pyramids.

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The view of the stairs from the top. Can you imagine getting thrown down these steps after having your heart torn out? I don’t really know if the Mayans did that but they did in Indiana Jones and that’s pretty much real.

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There were a lot of steps.

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Tikal from above.

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Tikal with some ugly guy getting in the way of a pretty pyramid.

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One of the things I liked about Tikal is how the jungle was an integral part of the pyramids. Even though the jungle was probably clear cut when the Mayans flourished there, the current overgrowth added to the experience.

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Another example.

I know the majority of you have never traveled with me (which is a bummer because it’s usually filled with some profound adventures), but the previous itinerary is not really typical. It kinda embodies how my travel style has changed. It’s not like I don’t do tourist stuff, it’s just that the tourist stuff is less important than the company, the place, the people and familiar things that reconnect you to the things you love…like the Daily Show.

It was also really different because I hadn’t seen very many foreigners on my travels and everywhere I went, there were lots and lots of backpackers. I’ve spent much of my life backpacking around the world, and it felt oddly familiar to be back on the backpacking route again. However, there was one thing that was rather odd. In the short five days of backpacking around Guatemala, I didn’t really feel like a backpacker.

While interacting with other backpackers, there is a protocol of questions. “Where are you from?” “Where have you been?” “Where are you going?” Those three questions are enough to spark a conversation that can lead to a temporary friend or, if your lucky, a Facebook friend. Just joking. Kinda. But with me, I didn’t really like telling everybody what I was doing. The reasoning is a little strange, so bear with me.

I am not always a humble person. I’ll admit that. But it is a characteristic that I strive to be. While I’m riding, I honestly don’t think of the grandeur of what I’m doing. I’m just riding…or walking…or resting. But when I’m in one place for a while or, especially, if I’m with other travelers, I realize the epic scope of what I’m doing. I don’t like being the show off who tells everybody how cool they are. I prefer to be humble and reserve telling about my trips to people that seem to really care about what I’m doing. Because, at the end of the day, this trip is about me and completing my goals and not about impressing anyone, except maybe myself. Yet, at the same time, I feel like I’m covering up something if I don’t explain what I’m doing. Who cares? Why hide it? It’s conflicting! I think that one day, there will come a time when I come to terms with what I’ve accomplished and am more prepared to use it as a way to help or inspire others.

A while back, I came across this quote by Marianne Williamson that I kept for an appropriate occasion. I think that it pertains to what perhaps will one day come to pass.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

There is truth in them there words.

So, I’m learning about myself, accepting the change that comes with age, and continuing my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual journey with patience and courage. I finally crossed the horses into Guatemala, but I had to sneak them across the border and falsify a bill of sale to make them Guatemalan. But…that’s a story that will have to wait until next time.

Until then, keep shining.

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