Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Surfer's Paradise

Life on the road can be hard. We spend every minute of every day together. Luckily we continue to enjoy each others’ company, but we do begin to talk of subjects we would not normally discuss. For example, who is more fun? Clearly, I am… Or, logically following from the first debate, who is more spontaneous? It’s obvious again, I am... Some areas where we do run into some difficultly: constantly making uninformed decisions (Should we pay this much for (fill in the blank)? What bus do we need to take? Where should we go in this country?); Juleen not being as social as Joe (and wanting to go to bed at 8:15); and, lastly, measuring our sense of accomplishment by pooping. Yes, we said pooping. Today was a successful day though, so we are not full of shit.

While we have these difficulties, they are currently masked by the beauty of surfers’ paradise. We are hanging loose (no pun intended) on the Pacific shores of El Tunco, El Salvador. It is a town where shirts and shoes are not required for service. What is required? A surfboard under one arm, a perfect tan, and a burning desire to hit the waves. Believe it or not, but we may not quite fit the El Tunco stereotype. Instead of catching the waves early this morning we were dodging the waves on a run. How else have we been hanging with the hip crowd? Eating the best ceviche and fish tacos ever. Reading depressing stories about the El Salvadoran Civil War. Playing with hermit crabs. And eating veggie sandwiches for lunch.

Speaking of food, you must want to ask, “Is the food different in El Salvador than in neighboring Guatemala?” I’m so glad you asked. We didn’t think there would be a big difference, and there really isn’t, except for one notable, cheap vendor food. While we steered clear of Guatemalan street vendors, we’re intoxicated by the smells emanating from their El Salvadoran counterparts. You see, El Salvador has the rights to brag about the delectable pupusa.

Pupusas are humble. Though they look simply like thick tortillas, they are so much more. They are corn tortillas filled with goodness. The most common pupusas contain cheese, beans, or pork. Juleen salivates over the cheese pupusas, and Joe salivates over any he can get his hands on, including pupusas left-over from another guy. While he might have risked contracting H1N1, at least he saved himself the hefty price tag of buying yet another $0.30 pupusa.

Tomorrow we leave our good surfing buddies to hang in Suchitoto, El Salvador. An area rich with El Salvador Civil War history. Keep your fingers crossed that we can get a tour with an ex-guerilla.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Intro to El Salvador and CouchSurfing

Finding a public "chicken bus" from Guatemala City to our border-town destination--DIFFICULT!

Crossing the Guatemalan-El Salvadoran border--EASY! Happy that there were no fees, but sad that we couldn't get a stamp in our passports : (.

First night of CouchSurfing with Heather, the PeaceCorps volunteer in Candelaria, El Salvador--GREAT! Great food--including oatmeal w/ flax for breakfast--and a great morning run.

Second night of CouchSurfing, this time with Atillio and Rosaria in Ataco, El Salvador on the touristy Ruta de las Flores--AMAZING! Great veggie soup and tortillas awaited us. The signature El Salvadoran food, pupusas--tortillas with a cheese, bean, herb, etc filling--, came shortly thereafter. Stories from Atillo, a former Greyhound bus driver in the States, entertained us throughout the night and morning. Early morning sunrise over the seven volcanoes was spectacular. Breakfast was fabulous and even included limitless cups of REAL coffee!

Gotta go, though. We're off to the El Salvadoran playa (beach) with our CouchSurfing hosts!

Pictures of Atillo and Rosaria and Juleen and Joe in front of the Seven Volcano Sunrise vista.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Loves and Hates a Month In

A month into our travels we’d like to reflect a bit and simply record some things we’ve thoroughly enjoyed and some things we haven’t.


Loves a full email inbox, but she’s always perplexed what else her parents could have been doing when they haven’t sent her a note.

Loves planning.

Loves going to bed by 9pm not by choice, but because we grow tired of trying to read with the 25W light bulb in our room.

Hates throwing up over balconies in the middle of the night amid pouring rain, because she’s contracted some stomach ailment from the food or water.

Hates cold showers. :(

Hates seeing the Guatemalan women cook and clean all day for their male counterparts.

Loves having gone a month without TV, though she misses her dear friend Stephen Colbert.


Hates going without coffee. He has less to look forward to when starting his day.

Loves the international news section of Guatemala’s Prensa Libre newspaper.

Loves pursuing opportunities and good deals at the next stop.

Hates the broken strap on his XXL REI duffel bag. Maybe he just needs to take a look to see if he can fix it first.

Hates when Minnesota beats Purdue.

Hates having to pay for water. It gives him an excuse not to work out.

Hates paying ten times as much as Guatemalans to visit tourist sites, but he can kind of understand why he does.

Loves the freedom of carrying the few possessions he has (not including everything that’s at the Rodakowskis or in Beech Grove).

Both of Us

Hate dogs barking and roosters crowing in the middle of the night. They create an awful chorus.
Love El Remate’s village kids.

Love meeting new people in random hostels. Now if we could only meet new people that didn’t speak perfect English with us.

Love learning about the Mayas through our trips to Tikal, Iximche and Ixlu.

Aman aprender espanol.

Love fantasizing about potential wedding extravaganzas everywhere we go.

Hate constantly, daily, always, siempre haggling over prices.

Hate washing dishes already used dishes in other peoples’ homes.

Hate missing the healthcare debate.

Hate the weight of our packs on our backs.

Love the idea of CouchSurfing. Hopefully we still love it in a week, as we´ve made plans to CouchSurf, for the first time, in El Salvador.

What would you love and/or hate?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Changing El Remate´s Diet

Today´s afternoon class for El Remate´s youth was focused on nutrition. From talking with other people and making detailed first-hand observations, we have come to recognize that nutrition is something lacking. So we decided to change the dietary patterns of El Remate´s youth during one of our two-hour afternoon classes. That change was destined to take place today.

All was going well. We opened the class with our usual English lesson. The kids ate it up, as they always do. Next up, we conducted a highly controlled, qualitative, single-variable experiment. Kids ran around for ten, enough to get them worked up. After about ten minutes of various races, each pair of two kids shared a package of cheetos. It was great. The kids enjoyed the snack, but recognized that their thirsty bodies were yearning for something more. The kids re-did the exercises, but this time sampled some juicy watermelon afterwards. They made great observations about the difference they felt. They claimed that the watermelon was more satisfying. Things were still going smoothly as we approached the end of the lesson, compiling a list of the foods--healthy and unhealthy--that they eat on a daily basis.

That´s when the dog decided to steal Magali´s sandal! Darn dog. All attention was lost. Joe tried to cooly retrieve the sandal to calm the storm. Joe ¨no could do¨. It took an army of six village kids to ultimately get the sandal back, but no army could have regained the momentum we had lost. We limped through the end.

Tomorrow we solve Latin American environmental problems!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Back on the road again

First off, a belated thanks to the following people for their help in finding other, non-Honduran options: Paula and Brian Cook, Steph Jarem, Grandma Heinhuis (including Denise Moore), Julie Rodakowski, and Lauren Asay. Looks like we´ll be headed to Leon, Nicaragua to work with street kids. But, back to the blog…

We are nomads. We have been bouncing from town to town, hotel to hotel, and restaurant to restaurant, searching for good deals and authentic Guatemalan experiences. We have come in contact with both, but, fear not, we plan to forge on and have no illusions of taking up permanent Latin American residence…yet.

Our first major landing spot since leaving Guatemala City early Saturday was Rio Dulce; a town filled with extremes. As the name implies (sweet river), it’s a beautiful town on a river that meet the Caribbean sea but it has a community struggling to keep their heads afloat. The most unique aspect of the town is the use of boats (ranging from yachts to dug-out canoes) for transportation. We stayed in the jungle in a bungalow, reached only by boat (see picture of Joe lounging). We had an interesting couple of days admiring a castle, mansions and yachts and, on the opposite end of the spectrum, haggling for non-gringo prices in the town’s market.

Heading northward in Guatemala, we reached towns just south of the Mayan ruin city of Tikal (our main destination). After another couple days searching for the true Guatemala and a good deal, we decided to splurge on a tour guide and visit the ruins. The ruins were breath-taking; towering above and below the jungle. Apparently, due to a lack of funds, a huge percentage of Tikal remains unexcavated. We spent several hours walking approximately five miles to see the old Mayan ceremonial center. Tikal is a huge site where only royals and priests lived, so it’s filled with monuments, stories, and celebratory structures. While our tour guide didn’t pan out to have the wealth of information desired—he rambled aimlessly without providing the depth of information we were after (see Juleen soaking it all in from the tour guide next to an stela in photo)—our video (of the many buildings surrounding the Grand Plaza, but also featuring impressive jungle sounds, found below) attests to the beauty and majesty of the place.

Well, now that we’ve seen the Mother of Mayan ruins (anyone want to dispute this claim?), where are we now? We are still 30km south of Tikal. We have taken a slight detour (figuratively, as we haven’t moved, just changed our plans) to volunteer at a clinic/community center. We are running a two-hour class for town kids in the afternoon, hoping to instill a little knowledge about reading, and eating and living well. Yesterday, our first teaching day, was a success. We had approximately ten kids show, and everyone (including us) was still smiling and laughing at the end of the day (see photo for the dream job mobiles we made with the kids). We even heard some kids practicing their English introductions after class at home!

As a cultural aside (and a feeble attempt to get you involved in this Blog): Does anyone know what’s up with all the guns here in Guatemala? Juleen informs me that there are a lot of guns in Peru also. Here in Guate, any private, random security guard is able to leisurely tote an AK-47 or sawed-off shotgun, and these security guards are everywhere--in front banks, hotels and even fast-food chains. The owners of the hostel in Rio Dulce confessed that acquiring their own sawed-off shotgun was painfully easy. Pictures of the arsenal to come in a later post.