Wednesday, August 12, 2009

The Grand Finale

Just in case you feared we were in captivity somewhere in Mexico, unable to blog or possibly being held by the US Border Patrol for smuggling swine flu in Adam's beard, we thought we were due to post our final bit of travels.

We last wrote from Chihuahua, Mexico. A surprisingly pleasant town that is former home to revolutuionary Pancho Villa and home to an unsurprising amount of Chihuahuas. From Chihuahua we rode a train through MExico's Copper Canyon. A beautiful canyon that is 4 times the size of the Grand Canyon, the train ride was not a let down with stellar views and the fun of a 15 hour train ride.

After a night in Los Mochis, we headed to Topolobampo to catch a ferry across the Sea of Cortez to Baja California (still in Mexico). The ferry was fresh out of seats and was an overnight ferry. After getting kicked out of the restaurant for sleeping on the floor, we headed to the top deck and laid out on the metal floor, catching some sleep while seeing periodic meteors fly across the sky and enjoying the breeze off of the sea.

We spent a few days in Baja, though with such little time, it was hard to soak in much of the beauty that Baja has to offer. Instead we ate lots of fish tacos and tried to catch a bit of beach between 12 hour bus rides. We finally arrived to Tijuana and headed to the border. After a quick conversation with a relatively friendly border guy, we were rushed through the border crossing and into the US.

We took a trolley into San Diego and wandered about town for a bit. We finally found the Greyhound Station and continued into LA. We spent three days in LA exploring the sites, seeing some beaches, riding public busses about town, seeing Hollywood (unimpressive), and finally met up with our good friend, Drew to continue heading toward home.

With Drew, we rented a car and drove Historic Route 66 to St. Louis. We were previously unaware, but Route 66 is only a historic road and does not actually exist in its entirety any longer. However, with a handy guide book and step by step instruction, we weaved through back roads across the country on thew hisotic route. Of course, this involved frequent stops at burger joints, ice cream shops, places of general weirdness (Crazy Fred's Whorehouse and Truck Stop) and the occassional cheese factory or museum. We also saw the Grand Canyon and managed to camp each night, mostly without having to pay. We also learned that lots of Europeans drive or bike Route 66 while vacationing in the states and got an interesting new perspective on travel in the USA. The west was particularly impressive and we generally felt like real cowboys, especially after our stop for lunch in Oatman, AZ.

We then spent a few days with Drew in St. Louis, visiting the wonderful Christian Activitiy Center in East St. Louis and seeing old friends there. We then took a Greyhoud to Chicago, stopping off to see an old friend, Kerri (and having the unfrotunate experience of being on a train when it hit a person). After a well cooked dinner and a good night sleep, we jumped on another Greyhound, for 20 hours, to Washington D.C. There we toured the Capitol Building, walked around a bit and then spent time with our college friend and his wife, Matt and Lori. (We also went to see the movie Food, Inc. which we highly recommend!)

We learned that Amtrak was Sold Out and Greyhound was hard to get along with for the last leg, so we lured Matt to Richmond with the hope of Bojangles (how did we eat Bojangles after watching Food, Inc.?) and lured Adam's parents to Richmond with the hope of bringing us the rest of the way home. Finally we made it back to North Carolina, and at that our journey ends.

While travelling across LAtin America was challenging and figuring our way to nooks and crannies and especially between Colombia and Panama is challenging, the real challenge of our journey begins now. As we enter back into our own part of the world, how do we live differently? What do we do with the things we have seen and how do they really change us? We hope that we can find ways to not just answer those questions with words, though we think that will be important as we continue to reflect, but with real actions that are tangible in our lives.

Thanks for reading our blog and following along with us.


Tracy and Adam

Friday, July 17, 2009

10 Top 3´s

A busy few days catching busses (including running through the streets of a city at 345am trying to find a taxi to the bus terminal) and hurriedly exploring the places we get to finally caught up with us and we have a little break to throw up a blog post. We tend to spend evenings relaxing on roof top terraces and on balconies and occassionally we make lists and such to pass the time with the intention of possibly making them a blog post. So, more of these might be coming. This one is our top 3 (with some honorable mentions) for various categories for our trip:

1.Colombia-the perfect mix of landscapes, friendly people, great cities, good beaches, awesome fruits and a road slightly less travelled.
2. Bolivia-The altiplano including the salar, great and interesting cities, intriguing politics, fascinating indigenous cultures, beautiful art, and full of the world´s highest __________ (fill in the blank, almost everything is the worlds highest here)
3. Guatemala-It got our LAtin American addiction started and we still love it. Great colonial cities, beautiful landscapes, some of the worlds best archaeological sites, fascinating cultures, and good friends make this place stay at the top of our list.
HM- Nicaragua and El Salvador didnt quite make top 3, but both are places would love to go back to.

1. Quito- We wanted more time here. Lots to see, good museums, great weather, near the center of the world and a lively place.
2. Buenos Aires- Ultra hip, ultra modern but still with a latin american flavor of its own. Its almost too big, but with so much to see and experience, a year here wouldnt be enough.
3. Bogotá- Great weather, good views, nice neighborhoods, huge student populations, nice public transport, good museums, hot chocolate with cheese in it, Botero.
HM-La Paz- Worlds highest capital city, feels a little rough around the edges, but with lots to see and an intriguing clash of cultures.

1. Oaxaca, Mexico- See our latest post.
2. Coastal Belize- Main ingredients are lobster, shrimp, coconut milk, garlic and plantains along with caribbean flare. Cant go wrong with food anywhere here.
3. Buenos Aires- It is true that there is lots of great meat here, and we mean LOTS. But, with empanadas of all varieties and homemade stuffed pasta on every corner, plus the amazing gelatto along the streets it deserves credit for more than the meat.

1. Campground in Ancud, Chile- Check back at our blog post from Chiloe for a photo of this spot. Unbeatable.
2. Wasi Masi, Sucre, Bolivia- Nice locally run hostal. Sleeping can be a tough call on a tight budget, so the good hostels that are cheap and nice are memorable.
3. D&D at Lago Yojoa, Honduras. Decent lodging, but good food and a local brewery onsite as well as a British birding nerd with a huge beard onsite, makes for a pleasant stay.

1. Salar de Uyuni from Fisherman´s Island- A rock formation covered in nearly thousand year old cacti surrounded by pure white salt as far as you can see in every direction. Feels like you are not on earth. This was number one by a long shot.
2. Machu Picchu from Wayna Picchu- A tough hike from Aguas Calientes to MP made us question whether we wanted to scramble up Wayna Picchu, but the view justified the fame that Machu Picchu has.
3. Mountain peak in Parque National Llao llao, Bariloche, Argentina- Snow capped mountains over a giant river feeding multiple lakes.

1. Machu Picchu- We almost didnt go. Worried about our budget and worried about the huge crowds that pour into the place, we debated opting for another site. Glad we didnt. This one is impressive and has a deserved reputation for being breathtaking.
2. Yaxha, Flores, Guatemala- Almost as big as Tikal, large excavated sites and you only have to share it with the howler monkeys. There is something about being nearly alone in an ancient site that makes it remarkable.
3. Tikal, Flores Guatemala/Monte Albán, Oaxaca, Mexico- Two great sites we could not decide between. Both are great sites with lots to offer. Our list, so we dont have to choose.

1. Tulum, Mexico- We actually just thought people flocked to resorts in the Yucatan because of the moderate prices. Now we realize that the powdery white sand on the bright turqoise water probably has a lot more to do with it. Add in the coral reef and sea turtles swimming right off shore and it makes sense.
2. Parque Nacional Tayrona, Santa Marta, Colombia- Gorgeous and a bit challenging to get to. Dont like this beautiful beach with crystal clear water, hike 10 minutes through the woods and you can have another one all to yourself.
3. Mahahual, Mexico- Again with the beautiful Yucatan. We timed it right and were almost the only gringos in the town. Eating every meal right on the ocean makes a beach even more memorable.

1. Milking sheep- Seriously, we really liked this job a lot. Hopefully we can introduce sheep cheese into the high country of NC within the next 5 or so years.
2. Plowing with a mule- We didnt get to do much of this, but it was a great experience. Inefficient, sure, but tractors lack personality.
3. Herding sheep- The jumpy, crazy, intelectually lacking animals can be frustrating, but we admit we loved trying to solve the puzzle of getting them to herd into whatever area we wanted them for the day.

1. Hitchhiking in various countries. Sounds more dangerous than it is, but in a lot of places this is a perfectly acceptable mode of transport.
2. Waterfall jumping- 10 meters high, and make sure you jump far enough because that rock juts out some at the bottom. weeeeee.
3. Hiking a very active volcano to the point where you can touch the lava with a stick- The irony is, we took our mothers here. However, we failed to mention the part about the lava flows before they were already there and feeling the rubber melting on the bottoms of their shoes.
HM-taking a small boat between Colombia and Panama in 15 foot seas. Scary and painful.

1. Guatemala- Just go there, you cant miss them. When art is entrenched in culture and clothing, it gives it an additional beauty that we love.
2. Bolivia- Again with the art that cannot be separated from daily life. Traditions passed on for thousands of years thrive here and are breathtaking.
3. El Salvador- Beautiful Naive art in El Salvador. The way that such beauty oozes out from such painful tragedy in this country gives the work an extra meaning.

Alright, that is all we got for now. Let us know if you want us to list any other top threes.

Here is a little something for your computer wallpaper: Adam Zapata and Tracy Pancho Villa.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Viva Mexico

Another week down, but not wasted. We soaked in big city life with a mix of political tensions and normal city life, saw more ruins dating back to 1000 b.c., and enjoyed the wonderful food- from cheese to homemade ice cream- that Oaxaca has to offer.

We then headed for a short stroll through Puebla, the site of the historically insignificant, but drunk American college student very significant Cinco de Mayo battle. (The battle was between Mexican and French soldiers. The French outnumbered the Mexican soldiers 600 to 200, but the Mexican soldiers won. However, the French would go on to occupy the city for the next 4 years. We have been told that Cinco de Mayo is celebrated as a day off of work in Mexico, but is rather insignificant on the whole, it was compared to Flag Day).

Finally we landed to Cuernavaca where we had the privelege of two local tour guides. Susie, who we know from Pullen and her husband Carlos, a native of Cuernavaca, showed us the sites, but most importantly they showed us the best places in town to eat local Mexican fare.

The Oaxacan sampler platter- 2 types of cheeses, golden taquitos, cecina (pork with a spice rub), beef strips, chile relleno, guacamole, tiny stuffed tortillas, fried pork rinds (chicharron), and fried grasshoppers (which were out of season and not on the plate, a major disappointment).

Tracy digs in to a Gordita in the Cuernavaca market.

If you go to Cuernavaca in search of the delicious gorditas, look around the corner from the pig head...

Taco con Cecina for breakfast. Large blue tortilla, covered in a thin slice of spicy pork with beans, cheese and cream. Absolutely delicious (oh, a note the giant cup of horchata).

Stewed lamb and goat being prepared in this wonderful kitchen in Guadalajara (since we are on a food kick).

Affter a filling breakfast of pork tacos, mushroom stuffed quesadillas and a stuffed tortilla full of beans and cheese, we took a strenuous hike to a pyramid in Tepoztlan. A stunning view, well worth the climb.
-A huge thanks to Susie and Carlos for their wonderful hospitality and for giving us their insider knowledge of Mexican cuisine and culture (Carlos recommends the pig eye tacos, though we did not get a chance to try them). THANKS!!!!

Monday, July 6, 2009

We are now in the United States...


It is interesting that there is no good name for us. Americans doesnt do the trick as there are lots of Americans: North Americans, South Americans, Central Americans. So we tend to call ourselves whatever the locals call us, sometimes that is gringos (in South America that is all white people, but in Central America and Mexico it is specifically for people from USA). Sometimes it is estdounidenses, which seems to be the most common thing to call us, however, beings that we are now in the Estados Unidos de Mexico, or United States of Mexico, that also does not seem to specify very well. Oh, well, gringo it is!

We have gone from sheer relaxation to a sudden realization that our time is getting short and we have a lot of ground to cover, so here is what we have been up to.

We last posted from Hopkins, Belize. From there we went to Corozal, Belize. We intended only to stop over to break up our travels, but the threat of a tropical storm held us there for an extra night. The extra night gave us a chance to soak up a local party involving a Caribbean band. They were sponsored by Happy Cow Processed Cheese, the number 1 cheese in Belize. An enjoyable night and a nice way to say farewell to Belize, a country we expected to pass through casually, but ended up enjoying every minute of.

We then headed into Mahahual, Mexico. A beautiful Caribbean beach town that was completely destroyed in 2007 due to a hurricane. Tourism is their money maker, but since it was down season, we got to just relax with the locals who were taking it easy and our friend Danny and Adam got absolutely destroyed by two local females in a volleyball tournament. (Destroyed, as in did not score a single point)

From Mahahual we went to Tulum. Tulum is well known for its Mayan ruins. The most impressive part of the ruins is that it sits atop a cliff overlooking a beautiful white sand beach with bright blue water. The least impressive part of the ruins is that huge busses of people from big money resorts and cruise ships pile in, taking away from much of the mystique of being in such an interesting location (I expect that someone from the resort is blogging about having to see the ruins amongst bearded, smelly, ragged looking backpackers). While in Tulum, we snorkeled a bit more with no less than 20 sea turtles (it is great fun following them around since they are never in a hurry and could not care less that you are swimming with them) and snorkeled a cenote, which is an underground river system, essentially snorkeling a cave full of beautiful rock formations.

We then hopped a 17 hour bus to San Cristobal de las Casas. A beautiful colonial city with lots of character. It is located in Chiapas and in 1994 was held by the EZLN, better known as the Zapatistas. Political tensions still exist because the demands for more justice, equality and self-determination for local indigenous groups have not been met (nor does it appear that there are any intentions of meeting those demands).

We were also able to visit local indigenous communities that have been able to beautifully retain their traditions and who welcome those who would like to observe and learn about those traditions. We saw everything from the beautiful clothing that we have talked a lot about with almost all of the indigenous groups we have encountered to religious rituals mixing pieces of Catholicism with traditional Mayan beliefs (the church floor was covered in fresh pine needles and several families had brought chickens to be sacrificed in order to address a physical or spiritual ailment). We were able to get very informative explanations of these traditions and beliefs and we were fascinated by the way the local governing bodies, police forces and spiritual leaders operate in the villages.

On a landscape note, we traveled by boat through a large Canyon in which a river cuts through cliffs up to 1000 meters tall (that is 1 kilometer for those that are metrically challenged). Really amazing scenery, especially once you add the monkeys in the trees on the banks, the hundreds of crocodiles that live along the river and the many birds that fly around the steep cliffs.

On another note, Mexican food is awesome.

We mentioned our time is getting short. We will likely be back in NC in a little over a month. So start hoeing your gardens, get your cookingware ready, clear off your couch or extra bed and buy some extra NCSU football tickets. We cant wait to spend some quality time with our friends and family back in NC.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Moving through Guatemala and into Belize

We havent been able to do as well blogging as hoped for, but internet has not been great lately and has been a bit more pricey making it difficult to do more than an email check (OK, and see whats going on in NCSU athletics because we have a very unhealthy masochistic addiction).

We last posted from Antigua after an exciting visit from our parents and Adam's sister. Since then we joined back up with a couple of travelers from the states who are on a similar timeline as us, Danny and Jody. We headed out of Antigua with them and met up in Coban to do a bit of traveling together.

We first stopped off at Semuc Champey, a beautiful site in the junglelike highlinds of Guatemala. Tracy and I visited an orchid nursery containing over 400 types of orchids (only about a third were in bloom). We (minus Tracy who doesnt do things that require her head to go under water, except with snorkel gear) took a tour of a cave that was about 2 hours long, half swimming and half walking. The only light was that oif candles which we had to hold over our heads while swimming. Caves are remarkable places and this one was no let down. Bats do, however, give Adam nightmares, resulting in more than one girlish squeal.

From there we hit the highlight, a series of pools on a natural limestone bridge than runs across a river that is deep and an amazing valley. The water is crystal clear with white and turquoise tints and is amazingly beautiful. Unfortunately, we were swinging from a rope swing into the river when Adam went in sideways and burst his eardrum.

We hit the northermost state of Guatemala where we found Mayan ruins dating back to 1000 b.c. We first hit Tikal, the most famous of the Mayan ruins and then the following day we hit Yaxha, a lesser known but equally impressive set of ruins that are much more difficult to get to. Being do-it-yourselfers, we passed on the tours and took local transportation and tried to hitchhike the remaining 11kms. However, hitchhiking is much easier when vehicles actually pass you, so instead we got a good workout. Luckily, we were able to talk our way into an employee of the national park's truck to get a ride out.

From Flores we passed into Belize where we still remain and are exploring the offerings of the country. We knew it would be odd to be in an English speaking country, but we grossly underestimated just how interesting and beautiful Belize would be. The majority of the country are descendants of Africans, brought to what is now Belize to be slaves. However, one group, the Garifunas, successfully resisted the enslavement and still thrive as a wonderfully interesting culture with its own language, foods and traditions to this day. Pockets of Mayan groups, hispanic groups, Asians and Mennonites exist throughout the country in a very visible way.

We first spent time in Caye Caulker (pronounced, key corker), a small island overflowing with local life (and snorkeling/diving trips). We were fortunate enough to arrive about a week after lobster season opened up. Neither of us had previously tasted lobster, but after a few days on the island we had eaten at least 3 or 4 of them, lobster burritos and other lobster dishes served with a Caribbean flare of lots of spices and often coconut rice (as a side note, Adam and coconut have had a long held disdain for one another, however, during this trip they have had several long talks and sorted out their differences and now look longingly at one another, especially when coconut decides to flavor lobsters or rice or any other seafood dish. Adam remains suspicious of coconut's cousin, dried coconut in a plastic bag). We also were able to enjoy the wonders of the barrier reef by snorkeling with sting rays, eagle rays, at least 100 species of tropical fish, nurse sharks, manatees, turtles, moray eels (got to see the eel fight a fish, the eel won because he has really sharp, scary teeth), barracuda (scary in the water, delicious on a plate as we were served this guy as part of one of our Garifuna dishes), conchs, lobster, lots of reef, and more.
A nurse shark swims by right before we jump into the water.

Island life.

We headed to Hopkins from the island. On the way we stopped off for a locally famous treat, a tour of the Marie Sharp hot sauce factory. After setting our mouths on fire, we settled into our room on the beach and basically sat in a hammock on the edge of the warm Caribbean water for a couple of days. Hopkins is a small town with much beauty. The Caribbean gets top billing, but the people make the place. Warm people, most of Garifuna descent, greet you as you walk the streets and excitedly serve their local dishes. No one moves too fast and others are encouraged to move at a similar speed. (at this point in our trip, we don't really do fast, so we think we fit in).

We can't seem to get enough of this new local culture and the amazing food, so who knows when we will move on, but we will try to throw more updates up as we move along. Our time is getting short, so we will try to share as much as possible along the way.

Go slow.

Friday, June 12, 2009

OK, OK, heres what weve been doing...

Alright, I guess time for laziness is over. Here comes an update complete with some photos (many more can be seen on Facebook) from our past few weeks in Antigua.

We started off staying with a local family. Iris and her two children provided us with the usual overwhelming amount of hospitality and delicious food. We got to host Adam´s sister, Maria for a week, had 5 days to gather our thoughts and then both sets of parents came down for 10 days. We have since transitioned to another house (not because we didnt love Iris, but because we had other old friends in Danny and Ana and their children that we wanted to spend time with). During our parent´s stay Tracy and her parents lived with Iris while Adam and his parents lived with Danny and Ana, making for a true Guatemalan experience. Because we are not in the mood for a narrative, here is a list of things we have done since arriving in Antigua with our parents and Maria:
-Walked cobblestone streets surrounded by 16th century architecture

-visited villages of indigenous communities (Guatemala´s majoirty population remains indigenous Mayan, speaking a total of 22 languages and keeping beautiful traditions alive for thousands of years)*Photos are best not taken due to sensitivity in indigenous villages
-shared meals and conversation with local families

-Tracy and both mothers took a class on traditional Mayan backstrap weaving (moms-send us some pictures of this)
-visited traditional street markets in Chichicastenango and Sololá
-rode "chicken busses" (old USA school busses with souped up paint jobs, new transmissions and a load of courage and adrenaline coupled with no fear of death behind the wheel) here and there and everywhere

-caught rides in the backs of pick up trucks with out parents to visit and make an offering of a wild necktie to a Mayan saint (Maximon, look it up, it is fascinating)

-Tracy, Papa Juan and Adam had their feet traced by master shoemakers for a pair of custom fit boots in Pastores

-hiked an active volcano to the lava flow and roasted marshmallows on the lava flow with sister Maria, fathers and the Mami Pumas

-visited and learned about a sustainable macadamia nut farm from a wacky, foul mouthed ex-pat and his loveable Guatemalan wife

-rode boats between small villages in Lake Atitlán
-watched hummingbirds feed off of a wild array of flowers
-did a crafts project with children at El Buen Samaritano in Jocotenango where Adam and Tracy have been spending afternoons helping 3rd, 4th and 5th graders with homework
-delivered lots and lots of supplies to El Buen Samaritano to aid in their work to help with nutrition, education and development of children in Jocotenango
-took salsa lessons (with what we considered to be impressive results)
-celebrated Tracy´s birthday with our Guatemalan friends and our parents, eating a traditional dish called Pilojada, a dessert called molé (made with platanos, not chicken for you Mexican food buffs), a piñata and horchata

-more? maybe our parents or Maria will want to be more specific or will add something we forgot about in the comments section.

We will try to get back on our blogging A game as we enter the last leg of our journey. Orale pues!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Home Sweet Guatemala

We have now been in Guatemala for a couple of weeks and we are enjoying our time. Having both spent two other occassions of about 8 weeks here in Antigua, we have lots of friends and know our way aroun Guatemala well. After 8 months of travelling and making only occassional friends who we would only have the occassion to spend a few days with, it was a breath of fresh air to see people we know and walk streets that feel familiar to us.

On top of our familiarity with our Guatemalan friends, we had a week long visit from Maria (Adam´s sister) and have been planning for 10 days with our parents, who arrive on Friday.

Keep checking back, we will post another update and some photos in a couple weeks before we head to Belize and finally to Mexico (despite reports from Fox News, crossing into Mexico is not instant death), before we enter California for one last hurrah seeing a bit of our own country.

Hope all is well for all of you. Since we are on a bit of a blogging vacation, send us an email and let us know how you are and what is new with you.