Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Central American Adventures

So it's been about 3 weeks since I left my island home of St. Lucia. Leaving proved to be one of the most difficult partings I've had. Despite living away from family and friends for 2 years and facing many challenges of volunteering in a developing country, St. Lucia had become my home. I don't think I fully realized this until just before leaving. After leaving, I flew back to Florida for a night, shipped suitcases home, and immediately set off again on a traveling adventure with 4 other Peace Corps Volunteers from St. Lucia. It's been fun traveling through Central America so far, and I am thankful for the chance to make the transition back to life away from the Peace Corps with fellow Volunteers who are experiencing a similar range of emotions. So far we've been through Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras (very quickly, I might add), and are now in Nicaragua. Some of the highlights have included:

-Climbing Pacaya Volcano in Guatemala and coming within 15 feet of flowing hot magma!
-Swimming through a cave to an underground waterfall by candlelight
-Sledding down a Volcano at speeds up to 51km per hour and subsequently crashing close to the bottom
-Swimming in natural pools forming a bridge over a river at Semuc Champey

One of my experiences was a bit less crazy as those listed above, yet perhaps even more memorable. I wrote up a little story about it and pasted it below. Hope you enjoy it...

On any trip of sizeable length that involves frequent movement from
place to place, multiple living accommodations, and above all an
unwavering devotion to the pursuit of that which is cheap, one
inevitably will encounter a destination that’s, well, more or less a
dud, just a bottom of the barrel dump. My Peace Corps Volunteer
friend Sam and I discovered such a rare gem after splitting from our
other 3 beach-bumming friends to check out Lake Coatepeque and climb
Volcan Izalco at Cerro Verde National Park in El Salvador. Sam had
heard from a Peace Corps Volunteer friend that had previously served
in El Salvador that the place to stay on the Lake is a hostel called
Amacuilco. Despite the fact that the most recent version of Lonely
Planet Guidebook to Central America deviated significantly from Sam’s
friend’s recommendation, describing the place as “wretched and
ramshackle,” “haunted,” with “complaints of theft,” we decided to go
ahead and reserve our room at paradise anyway, as it was not
surprisingly the cheapest place on the lake to stay at $10 US a night
(still steep compared to our usual standard of $4-$5).

As we explored our newfound home, we began to see why the Lonely
Planet Guidebook, otherwise known as the “Bible of travel guides,” is
such a reliable source the vast majority of the time. Apparently the
fact that we were the only two lucky occupants wasn’t indication
enough. The stairs to our room shook as we ascended and the door knob
had obviously been turned one too many times, as the El Salvadorian
owner explained in Spanish that she would provide us with a lock and
key to supplement it. The room had sort of exotic jungle motif going
for it, vines creeping in through the dusty windows, spider webs
slowly possessing certain areas, and dead insects caught in the
tetters of an old mosquito net. Surprisingly, the room contained 3
beds. Not surprisingly, however, the first bed evidenced age through
various lumps caused by springs popping up through the quasi-mattress
of sorts.

As we headed down to the dock we discovered the pool, just slightly
short of empty save for 3 inches of old, dirty rainwater that had
collected at the bottom. Though a “no diving” sign wasn’t posted, I
gathered that it wasn’t a real feasible option. The footpath to the
dock was made up of broken tile pieces in an eye-capturing design, but
it abruptly stopped, with a large heap of abandoned remaining tile
pieces evident off to the side. A distant gaze of the lake proved
beautiful, but a closer inspection of the immediate area revealed a
comprehensive layer of plastic potato chip bags and other assorted
trash covering the bottom.

While waiting for lunch to be cooked, which took a decent couple of
hours considering chickens had to be caught and killed, we quickly
glanced through a dirty old travel magazine of Honduras from 1992, and
disappointingly stumbled upon a fooseball table partially filled with
water and about as level as the state of Colorado. At this point,
Sam wisely pointed out, “I bet that this place was real nice at one
point…just about ten years ago. Finally, we noticed that the place
next door was quite filled with people, the majority most likely
wealthy El Salvadorians on holiday. “Eben bon,” I exclaimed. “We
should have stayed over there. How much are the rooms there according
to the guidebook?” “About $10 US more,” Sam replied. “Tempting.”
“Yeah,” I agreed. “But we’re paying too much here as it is.”

Later, after taking a nap, we went back to the dock to consider a
swim. Ultimately, however, the combination of tiredness from the
previous night of no sleep (3:15 wake-up for bus) and the abundance of
trash led us to decide against a quick dip. As we sat on a lakeside
bench relaxing, the owner came out and started resolutely stomping on
the boards, shaking the dock and laughing all the while. I turned to
Sam and puzzled, asked, “Is she finding the instability of the dock
humorous?” Just then, the short yet stout woman raiser her right leg
as high as an El Salvadorian woman can, paused, and thrust it
powerfully onto the dock. This proved to be the fatal death blow, as
the board went crashing from beneath her and her entire right leg
plummeted through the newly formed hole. Startled, yet still howling
with laughter, she pulled herself up and scurried away. “Is that
sufficient justification to demand our $20 back and find another
place?” I jokingly asked Sam. “Eh, whatever,” Sam replied. “Yeah, I
agree,” I responded. “This place has a real rustic feel to it.” “For
sure,” Sam concurred. “Rustic with a capital R.”

The situation didn’t improve much later. After dining alone in an
enormous, practically deserted restaurant/hostel, we struggled to get
back into the hostel after being locked out, ultimately resorting to
holding the buzzer down for a solid 30 seconds to draw sufficient
attention from the owner, who had probably been nursing a bad leg.
Later that night, as we both read in our beds, a strong wind came and
thrust open one of the not so securely latched windows. “Well that’s
comforting,” I spatted sarcastically. “If someone jumps through there
in the middle of the night I doubt that I’ll be too pleased.” “This
place is haunted,” Sam added. “Yeah,” I agreed, “with a Psycho-esque
feel to it.

Fortunately for us, we were not visited in the night by a masked
thief, robbed, nor stabbed in the head by the thick, jolly,
dock-destroying El Salvadorian firecracker. In fact, we stayed
another night and even recruited our Israeli hiker friend we met
climbing Volcan Izalco to join us. His initial attempt at asserting a
positive perception of the hostel (“I don’t mind the springs at
all…pretty comfortable bed”) was tempered by his mid-shower water
outage and subsequent less than successful attempt at completing
bathing in the trash infested lake.

While paying an extra $10 to hop next door would most likely have
granted us a much more comfortable experience, it’s the leaky faucets,
particularly those that necessitate deliberate and repeated
child-proof Tylenol bottle opening push and twist tactics to turn off,
and other life experiences of initial inconvenience and frustration,
that in some twisted way occupy the most treasured parts of our
memories and ultimately, in many ways, can come to mean so much more.

40 comments:

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