Log 5
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Log 5 - Central America 3
(June 21, 2003 - October 7, 2003)

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS
PLAYA TAMARINDO, COSTA RICA
BACK IN TEGUCIGALPA
STOPOVER IN L.A.
 

TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS


June 21, 2003 - July 31, 2003 (Chris)

Well as fate would have it, our journey takes another interesting turn. Our plan was to be in Costa Rica by now waiting out the vagaries of hurricane season. Our daily tasks would have included exploring the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, beachcombing, surfing, writing and as always, boat maintenance.

Instead, we’re living in a city and I’m going to an office each day. It all started back in April when I let it be known that I would be available for consulting as we had decided to prolong our trip and spend the rest of the year in the Americas. As Dana mentioned in her last log, some of my former colleagues at PCI called my bluff, urgently asking me to fill a directorship vacancy beginning in July. They knew better than to ask me if I wanted the position permanently but asked if I could fill in temporarily while a permanent director was recruited. This was more than consulting as it would involve being based out of Honduras daily for a significant period of time. I certainly couldn’t make this decision on my own and consulted with my co-captain about this potential course change. Typical of her authoritative, uncompromising approach throughout this trip she quickly responded – “Sure! Why not.” So I informed PCI that I would do it, provided that we could stay no more than three months (to the end of September).

However, that was back in May, when we anticipated still having time to get the boat to Costa Rica in June before I began working with PCI in July. Instead, we ended up spending the month of June in the United States, meaning we no longer would have time to sail to Costa Rica before July. So we left Ker-Mor in the good hands of Barillas Yacht Club and headed for Honduras…again. Now we’re spending our days as land-based city-dwellers in Tegucigalpa – but no complaints. This allows us to build up our sailing booty a bit while giving us a chance to catch up on some non-boat related projects that have been stuck in the "to do" pile for awhile. Given that our lives will be a little less interesting now given our more domesticated status, we decided we would write monthly rather than weekly logs. I’ve got July and Dana will be filling you in on August.

First a little about our accommodations. We found a nice little apartment a few blocks from the office. It’s furnished and we even managed to get the owner to set it up with some internet service. We also have the luxury of a climate-controlled food preservation unit. That would be a refrigerator…a real luxury for us. If that weren’t enough to titillate our readers with, maids also come with the place. Almost daily they come in to make our beds, wash dishes and clean. All this, paid for by PCI, and well within their budget, makes for a pretty comfortable set-up.

My days have become pretty traditional again. I have to wear big-boy clothes including shoes with laces which has been an adjustment. I spend most of my days in an office a few blocks from where we live. The primary focus of my work has been to help Project Concern get prepared for three major programs they will be starting this year. The first is an HIV/AIDS program. Honduras’ AIDS population grew dramatically throughout the 80s and 90s due to a host of factors including an active US military presence in the country. It now has 60% of all HIV/AIDS cases in Central America yet only 20% of the region’s population. PCI will be working with support groups of People Living With HIV/AIDS and other groups trying to prevent the spread of the disease. The second initiative is a regional food security program. Along with PCI Offices in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua, PCI Honduras will be working with poor farmers to help improve their yield, reduce post-harvest loss, improve their ability to negotiate price and increase their access to clean water and sanitation. Their final project is to support a regional network for water and sanitation. This was something I had my hand in starting 12 years ago in Honduras through a national latrine survey project I proposed to UNICEF. Now the entity has grown to have a regional presence and PCI will support it efforts to improve the efforts of each country to better the access water and sanitation services to the poor. While most of my work has been administrative (setting up an office, budgeting, obtaining legal status, etc.), I did work establishing a more detailed strategy of our HIV/AIDS work here.

While I’ve been going to work two blocks down the street, Dana has been punching the clock in our living room. Well, she’s not getting paid for her work but its been work nonetheless. All of the wonderful pictures you have seen on the web site are just a fraction of what she has taken, and she's been studying digital photography by reading books and practicing new techniques. She has been very methodical in reviewing, cleaning up with her photo-editing program, labeling and filing her art work. As she is a perfectionist when it comes to her photos, each photo can take a substantive amount of time. However this is something I’ve really have come to appreciate as her pictures and these logs will be a record of where we traveled, who we met, what we did and how we felt. The only thing we leave behind when we go is our history so Dana has been doing a wonderful job at recording this small part of it.

This month we haven’t been too diligent about fulfilling our tourist obligations. We have tried to make the most of our weekends in Tegucigalpa though with visits to the embracing Christ statue (a la Rio de Janeiro) overlooking the city, attendance at the national theatre of a performance of an American interpretive dance troupe, and visits to small artisan communities just outside of the city. While all that seems very cultural, keep in mind that we’ve also junkied up on a lot of TV.  Next month, I’ll be alone in Tegucigalpa for awhile while Dana goes to Costa Rica for a pre-planned visit of her brother and a friend where I’m sure the traveler/tourist adventures will be back in full swing.
 

PLAYA TAMARINDO, COSTA RICA


August 1, 2003 - September 5, 2003 (Dana)

I spent most of July happily cooped up in our apartment in Tegucigalpa, taking advantage of some great down time to catch up on projects, including reading photography books, practicing what I learned on hundreds of photos, updating the web site, catching up on email, helping my brother Loren and my friend Ischia plan for Costa Rica, etc. It was great to feel organized again. But on August 9th, it was time to hit the road and meet up with Loren in Costa Rica.

Two flights after leaving Tegucigalpa, I arrived in San José, Costa Rica where Loren was waiting for me. We hopped in the SUV we rented to schlep Loren’s long board around, and drove three hours to Tamarindo. During our stop for lunch, I was introduced to a new language that Loren developed to communicate in Costa Rica. It was a blend of “Spanglish” and French, but amazingly, he’d speak quickly and with such confidence that many people appeared to understand what he was saying. Still, I taught Loren some key Spanish phrases just in case.

When we arrived in Tamarindo, we went to the Century 21 office handling our house rental. To Loren’s delight, the owner responded to the French portion of Loren’s language, and we learned he was French. Loren and I both studied French in school, and Loren likes to rattle off a few lines in his best French accent whenever he gets the chance. It turns out he’d have the chance numerous times in Tamarindo, which has tourists and residents from all over the world but mostly the U.S., France and Italy. Anyway, our realtor was Tom, who not only is an English-speaker from the U.S., but is the best long board surfer in Tamarindo and would be able to give us some good local surfing tips. He is also a friendly guy who was happy to give us tips on anything else, and we ended up going into his office almost daily for something or other. But first he did us the favor of taking us to our swanky new home for the next week and a half.

I didn’t have the highest expectations for the house we were renting since photos can be deceiving, but it turns out the photos we saw did not do it justice. When we walked through the door to the front yard we entered an oasis that began with our private swimming pool in a garden setting with dozens of butterflies filling the air and a two-story terracotta townhouse in the background. The house itself had a Zen-like feel with its warm colors, dark wood trim, stylish décor and atriums and fountains around every corner including one with a goldfish pond. And the house was huge – 3 bedrooms 3 ½ bathrooms – which was much more than we really needed, but at least we each got our own floor.

After a tour, we turned on some music (which was piped into all the rooms with separate volume controls) and got in the pool. To our surprise, there were at least a dozen dead crabs in there with us. After some investigation into the matter, we learned that a couple of the atriums were full of colorful little red and purple crabs that lived in holes in the mud but would come out at night for a dip in the pool. Unfortunately, they could not climb out along the slippery tile walls, and would die by morning. This brought us to our first crab-related task – carcass removal. We tried several ways of picking them off the bottom of the pool, but most didn’t work since for some reason we couldn’t see them when we’d go underwater. We also didn’t have access to the locked pool room that had the cleaning net, so I came up with a method of holding a Tupperware down with my foot while watching from above the water, then pressing on the back edge of the Tupperware so the front edge would lift up and suck the crab carcass inside. Using this method, you could collect several crabs before dragging the Tupperware along the wall of the pool to the surface. Loren quickly mastered this technique and collected the little carcasses each morning. But then I wanted to find a way to help these poor little crabs before they became carcasses. After a couple days of trying unsuccessfully to get the crabs to climb out on dangling hoses or branches, I figured out that if I left a towel hanging into the pool from the surface, crabs could find their way to it and climb out. This worked for the majority of the crabs, and though Loren may deny it, we were both excited to see the first little crab climbing out to safety.

Well by now you’re probably wondering if Tamarindo was only about a nice house and its crabs. To the contrary, Tamarindo has much to offer. But first and foremost, it is a surfing town. So with Loren’s long board in tow, we headed to Iguana Surf to rent a board for my first surfing experience. Even if I couldn’t manage any actual surfing, I would love it. The water in Costa Rica is warm and luxurious, and together with the tropical air, the view of a beautiful beach lined with palm trees and lush green hills, you can just sit in the water and be content. So I was happy just to fiddle around on the surfboard a little. But the next day, I took a lesson and a couple tips were all I needed to be able to stand up. I couldn’t tell you why, but the feeling of controlling a surfboard while riding a wave standing up is a lot of fun. For years I’ve wondered what the attraction could be, but once you catch your first wave, you get it. I was hooked. As long as I'll be in warm waters, I’ll definitely do some more surfing.

But before I had time to do any more surfing, I learned a little something more about Tamarindo – bolts aren’t enough to keep a spare tire on a car. We returned my board to Iguana Surf and walked a few steps to our car, parked right on the busy main road through Tamarindo. We both stopped while approaching the vehicle from behind and Loren said, “Didn’t there used to be a spare tire on the back?” The loose bolts I found on the ground answered the question. After the fact, we noticed most other cars had locks on their spare tires.

Over the next few days in Tamarindo we did more surfing and ate most our lunches at the El Diria hotel, which had an outdoor restaurant right on the beach -- a pleasant way to relax after a couple hours of surfing. One of our surfing days we spent at a beach called Avellana, to which a cool Costa Rican surf instructor named Cairo took us. It was about an hour-long drive over some terrible roads, but the long beach was serene and relatively quiet because the larger surf was not appropriate for beginners. I didn’t surf there, and Loren didn’t for long either, but we enjoyed the scene anyway and got to meet a truly humungous pig named Lola who lived on the beach.   Then we sat at the only restaurant on the beach, which set a cool mood with its jazzy music and laid-back Southern California in the 50s feel.
  

In addition to surfing, we also spent a day at a golf course called Hacienda Pinilla. On the way, Loren got his first real look at small rural roads in Central America. (This trip was before our drive to Avellana.) As we approached a pig standing in the middle of the road, I warned Loren “don’t hit the pig”. It was then that he realized he really wasn’t in Los Angeles anymore, and we took a photo of the pig to remember the moment. After dodging pigs, cows and potholes, we arrived at Pinilla, a surprisingly large and beautiful championship golf course in what seemed a pretty random location. Loren golfed, while I drove around in the golf cart, took pictures and explored the natural African plains-style setting. Golf is not a sport I am interested in getting into, but I love those carts – really, I could drive around in them for hours.

At night, there was no rest for the wicked. Being with my brother means going out, and if there’s any scene, he’ll find it. One of our favorite places to go for dinner turned out to be Gecko’s where we met several locals that we enjoyed spending time with. The first night, we met Jeff and Jen who recently moved to Tamarindo from the U.S. and started a business giving tours aboard their 40-foot catamaran, Blue Dolphin. Jeff offered to sit down with me and Chris at some point to tell us all about the various places we may or may not want to sail Ker-Mor. This would be useful information, as we did not find any good cruising books covering Costa Rica. A few days after meeting him, Jeff took Loren and I out on Blue Dolphin with a group of people for a relaxing sunset sail.

Another night at Gecko’s we meet Juanita and her friend Laura. Juanita works out of the Century 21 office as the editor of the Tamarindo News. We joined Juanita and Laura for ladies night (every Thursday night) at Las Olas, and got to know them a little more. After Las Olas, the three of us plus Juanita’s boyfriend (the French guy from Century 21, Nicolas) and a couple other friends of theirs went to Hotel Kalifornia Lounge ("Kandice’s"), a girly LA-style lounge down the street. We drank champagne and mingled for a couple hours, then right before leaving Loren said we’d have a party at our place the next night at 8:30 p.m. – it seemed like a good idea at the time. But by the time the next night rolled around, we didn’t know if anyone took the party plan seriously nor even to whom exactly he mentioned it. So we decide to forget about it. Meanwhile, 8:30 p.m. rolled around and our doorbell rang. I considered ignoring it but eventually I went to the door, and it was the guard saying someone was walking around looking for a party. It turns out we gave out the wrong unit number (thank goodness). A few minutes later, the phone rang. It was Juanita, and she wanted to know if we were still on for the gathering. I fumbled through an apologetic “no”, and she and Nicolas were kind enough to take us out to dinner with them instead.

On August 15, Chris surprised us by coming a day early to join Loren and me in Tamarindo for a week of vacation from work in Tegucigalpa. He came during the middle week of my three weeks there so he could overlap with both Loren’s and Ischia’s visits. We spent a few days hanging out with Loren during which we were introduced to the popular beach bonfire party at Big Bazaar every Saturday night, and, better yet, to foosball! All in all, we kept pretty busy, and I think it was a little difficult for Loren to completely wind down from the fast pace of the entertainment industry in LA to the slow pace of small surfer town in Tamarindo. 

By the time Loren assimilated into a slower lifestyle, however, it was time for him to head home. So on August 18, he flew back to LA, and Ischia (my friend since 9th grade) and Francine (a friend of Ischia’s) left LA and flew to Tamarindo. Chris and I had one night left at the rented house, so we called Ischia and Francine at their hotel and invited them over for dinner, which we could now make at home since Loren wasn’t around to make us go out. As I spoke with Ischia over the phone, I mentioned they could even stay the night at the house if they wanted. I had hardly finished the sentence when Ischia said “okay, we’ll pack our bags”. Then within a minute of walking into the house, she decided we had to find a way to keep it for another week – “I can’t go back to my hotel after seeing this place”. So by the next day, we were booked for another week at the house. Then we hit the grocery stores (which are tiny in Tamarindo) where Ischia took charge and stocked us up for some great home-cooked meals.  We didn’t only eat at home though. Ischia, whom I never realized was such a huge fan of good food, found everything that was fresh in Costa Rica to be irresistible – the fresh fish that we’d have grilled up whole at Pedro’s, the fresh fruit “liquados” (smoothies) that cooled us off every day, even the eggs with their apparently more flavorful yolks. With all this eating, we made sure to squeeze in some activities too.

A highlight for all four of us was the canopy tour. In a canopy tour you wear a harness and hook onto cables strung along the tops of trees in the jungle, across which you speed from platform to platform high above the jungle floor. Unfortunately for Ischia, she thought a canopy tour was some sort of scenic hike. You can imagine her surprise when we were suited up with harnesses and sent climbing up the first platform. When she realized what was going on, she didn’t think she’d be able to go through with it. But after I took the first ride across, she decided she’d better get it over with and went for it. Terrified, she didn’t quite make it all the way to the second platform, so one of the guides had to slide out to retrieve her. As he approached, he told her to “spread her legs”, and Ischia, recognizing that she needed her to wrap her legs around him, said “sure”. Before that day she never imagined giving such a response to such a demand, and she got a good laugh out of it at the second platform. Ischia, Francine, Chris and I then continued on along all eight cables, enjoying the views and the rides. The canopy tour was an exhilarating experience that should not be missed.

Then of course there was more surfing, and even going out some nights. One day we rented a car so I could show the others the neighboring beach towns and introduce them to Lola the giant pig at Avellana. Ischia and Chris were interested in Lola for about 10 seconds, but Francine took a liking to her and she and I had a good photo session with Lola for a while – I even got some video to capture her grunting noises. Then Ischia, Chris and I swam in the ocean and had a great time diving under tall waves, and enjoying the scenery. Chris, who is always practically giddy in the water (pool or ocean), had a great time doing some body surfing. After swimming, we checked out the hermit crabs and collected some of the unoccupied shells that were abundant on that beach. On the way home, a few of the ravines in the ragged dirt road back to town had filled quite high with water, and we had to charge through them to avoid getting stuck. One created a huge wave of mud that covered the whole car as we plowed through. Fun was had by all. After we got home, we frolicked in the pool as the sun set and a warm rain fell from the sky.

Eventually, Chris had to return to Tegucigalpa, and it was just the three girls in the house. By then, there were hundreds of caterpillars in the vines all around the yard and we’d watch them grow from eggs, to tiny caterpillars, to bigger caterpillars, to rigid caterpillars, to butterflies. Every morning there would be about fifty new butterflies flying around our pool area – it was a magical scene.

Before it was time to leave Tamarindo, we squeezed in one more big activity – a 3-hour horseback ride through the jungle. The ride took us through spectacular scenery that constantly changed. We rode to mountain tops with panoramic views of the beach and jungle, through shoulder-high grasses, by guanacaste trees and howler monkeys, and through streams of water flowing downhill. Unfortunately, however, we could not run the horses at all because Ischia was not comfortable with anything more than a trot, and her horse copied whatever pace my horse (its brother) kept. Running would have to wait for November, when Chris and I would meet up with Tanny in Tamarindo.

A couple days later, Francine went home and we were down to Ischia and me. We had some friends over for a small party our last night in the house (yes, they showed up despite the fact that Loren and I had flaked on our prior party plans), then we moved into a room at the Jardin del Eden hotel and spent a relaxing few days eating fish, drinking liquados and floating around in the ocean. On our last night, we went to a nearby town (Santa Rosa) to attend a local festival with delicious food to delight Ischia’s taste buds and a rodeo with bull-riding to entertain us. The next morning, I caught an early bus out of town that took me across the border into Nicaragua. I spent the night in Managua, then caught an even earlier bus to El Salvador where I would meet up with Chris (who was at a hotel there for a week of meetings). The two days of bus traveling were very tiring, but it was all worth it when I was reunited with my Cristóbal.  We spent a pleasant few days at the  hotel with the PCI gang before driving back to Tegucigalpa.
 

BACK IN TEGUCIGALPA, HONDURAS


September 6, 2003 - October 1, 2003 (Chris)

For most of us, we are interesting not because of whom we are but because of whom we encounter in our lives. Those of us who live long, have good memories and can recount the stories of the colorful individuals who have crossed our paths suddenly become “characters” in our own rite. Yet any notoriety gained from this must be seen as homage to those who have enriched our lives with theirs. In the month of September Dana and I would suddenly become more interesting. And so, here we pay homage to our friends of September.

Dana and I had spent almost two months in Honduras and had barely left the capital. Our urge to travel again had been brimming and we decided to take a week-end excursion to Lago de Yojoa, roughly three hours north of the capital. While the lake lies just off the main road between Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula (Honduras’ two largest cities), it is not factored in as a major tourist destination – no Mayan ruins and no beaches. Nonetheless, I had fond memories of the lake and a cottage inn called Agua Azul where I had stayed a few times during my Peace Corps service.

We were to leave the capital at 4:00pm on a Friday. This would allow us time to get in at a reasonable hour and enjoy the entire extended week-end at the lake (Monday was a holiday in honor of September 15 – akin to our 4th of July). As luck would have it, we didn’t get out of the capital until 6:00pm as I had worked longer than expected. To get to the lake from Tegucigalpa you must traverse three major mountain passes before descending into the Yojoa basin. You know you’ve arrived when you begin seeing the contiguous lines of white-washed stands selling pescado frito that border the road. That evening, it was difficult to see anything more than twenty feet in front of us. A new moon painted the landscape black and a torrential downpour opened up right after leaving the capital and didn’t relent until we arrived – some four and a half hours later. The rains and darkness slowed us down to a mere creep through the mountains.

After several attempts we finally found the entrance to the northern lake road and from there the winding one mile entrance to Agua Azul. Fatigued and hungry, we were glad to have finally arrived. However our misfortune continued when we found that the night guard had no keys and there was no manager on-call. We continued north until we arrived at Finca Las Glorias. This inn was substantially more pricey and didn’t have the view or charm that Azul had. But they did have a night manager…with keys. We promptly went to our room and fell asleep.

The next day we returned to Agua Azul only to find it was booked for the entire week-end. At this point I’m thinking “cut your losses and go back to Tegucigalpa” This was not ending up as the relaxing and enjoyable week-end either of us had envisioned. However we still had a few ounces of spunk left in us – we would not be kept down. We had heard of an inn near the lake called D&D Brewery that was touted as “the only micro-brewery in the country”. So we went to check it out. D&D is in the village of Naranjo, two miles outside of Peña Blanca, a lake shore town. We made our way up the narrow dirt road till we arrived at a small property with a truck container in front with “D&D Brewery” painted on the side. We deducted that this was the place. I have to say at first sight, it was not impressive. Most inns in Iowa that have containers parked out front are called “truck stops”. Not the quaint inn I had imagined. However, it gets better. Once you pass the container and the "bare essentials" rooms you descend to the heart of D&D brewery down a path canopied by lush vegetation. There is a small swimming pool facing the reception/kitchen/book exchange/music selection room (and music is always playing!). This building is winged by two sheltered eating areas. Once side has hammocks set up. This area of the brewery, which is no larger than a small apartment, is surrounded by vegetation of all types including coffee bushes.

The owner of D&D is a man by the name of Robert Dale. We formally met Robert and his wife as we were walking back to the hotel after a day trip to the nearby waterfall Pulhapanzak. Our car had broken down and we left it in Peña Blanca to be fixed. Bob and his wife, ironically, happened to be heading to Agua Azul for dinner and invited us to come along. Over dinner we found out that Robert is originally from Oregon but has spent a lot of time in Mexico and Central America. He became acquainted with Honduras by helping out on archeological digs at Copan directed by a friend of his. That’s where he met his wife, a native Honduran. And while her name escapes me, I know she is the other “D” in D&D Brewery.

Bob is also a lover of blues music and usually had it playing during the evenings while we shared stories over one of his local brews. Some of the musicians were friends of his (Bob himself plays blues guitar), and we really enjoyed hearing the details behind the music. One evening I asked Bob why he had located the brewery where it was. There appeared to be nothing particularly special about the location and in fact, it had no lake view. He then revealed one of his other passions – gemology. He had determined that this particular piece of land had a good probability of rendering rocks of some value. Many of his trips to Honduras in fact had been paid for by his finds. It’s probably no coincidence that 20km up the road is a copper mine. Owned by a Canadian company, it is also no coincidence that many of the expatriates frequent D&D (we even met the Canadian ambassador who stopped by to pick up a few kegs).

Speaking of brewing, Bob learned the craft from his grandfather when he was ten years old and has been brewing beer ever since. He is actually a Master Brewer. And that tribute to Truck Stops parked on his front lawn? – well, that’s the brewery. Bob gave us a tour of the operation which was quite impressive. At any one time Bob is brewing 5 different kinds of Ale ranging in color and taste. Dana, who is not a beer drinker, loved it as much as I did.  We also found Bob has a fondness for cribbage which just happened to be our game of choice for the month. We played every night with Bob and some of his friends during our stay.

So there it was, an unexpected treasure. We spent three glorious days drinking beer, playing cards and listening to stories about gems, Mayan ruins and blues music with Bob Dale, the only master micro-brewer in Honduras.

The week after our Yojoa week-end, Dana and I spent much of our time in the company of Ibrahim Juraifani, President of the Saudi Arabia Bowling Federation. O.K., O.K., I know this one needs some explaining. For my birthday Dana had bought me some gambling chips for the casino at the Honduras Maya near our apartment. I had managed not to lose them all on my birthday and so we returned to tempt Lady Luck one more time before we were to leave the country. That evening, I actually happened to be doing quite well. Sitting next to us was a friendly and amusing gentleman of Middle Eastern descent. Every time the dealer laid a card in front of him he would say “No thank you, I’ll take a higher one” or “In my country that’s a Black Jack”. Of course the dealer didn’t understand a lick of what he was saying as he was speaking in English but we found it amusing. As the dealer failed to adhere to his requests for better cards or accept his geo-centric definitions of blackjack, our friend’s fortune slowly dwindled. This however, did not curb the enthusiasm he showed for the good luck I was having. He would shake my hand, pat me on the back and shout “well done!” whenever I won a hand. 

As we engaged in this camaraderie, we inquired as to his business in Honduras. To this he replied, “Oh, I’m here for the bowling tournament.” As we discovered, the “tournament” he was talking about was the 39th annual AMF Bowling World Cup which was being held that week in none other than Tegucigalpa, Honduras. This struck us as quite odd, and in fact, it was. This was the first time that the Cup had been held in Central America and it was the first time that Honduras had hosted an international sporting event of any kind. Ibrahim, our new friend, was the coach of the Saudi player, Talal Towereb, and also happened to be the President of the Saudi Bowling Federation. In my wildest dreams I never imagined bowling as being a popular sport in Saudi Arabia. And now to find out there’s a whole federation of them! Ibrahim responded to our amazement with “Oh yes, it’s quite popular. It’s so hot in Saudi Arabia. Bowling is inside and air-conditioned…Saudi’s love it.”

Ibrahim invited us to the opening ceremonies the next day and we gladly accepted. It was a grand affair held in one of the new public buildings and attended by the Vice President of Honduras and the Mayor of Tegucigalpa. Because this was an amateur tournament, it had sort of an Olympic feel to it with all the goodwill and camaraderie that goes with it. The opening ceremony added to that feel as representatives from each country marched into the hall carrying their country’s flag. Wine and cheese was served afterwards and Ibrahim took us around as honored guests. He knew just about everyone having been a participant in the Cup for more than 20 years. He introduced us to the Irish team and the Uzbekistani team and the Canadians. Then he said, “Oh you have to meet Shannon!” He then introduced us to Shannon Pluhowsky, the US Women’s representative and America’s best hope to bring home the Cup. Shannon was the defending champ having won the Cup last year. She was very low key about her championship status and felt lucky just to be there since she had to beat out all other amateur women in the US (for the second year in a row) just to get there. She was currently attending University in Nebraska. Some of the other players included a housewife from Argentina, a librarian from the Czech Republic, a gastroenterologist from Venezuela and a carpenter from Switzerland.

The next day we picked up Ibrahim and two of his colleagues from Qatar, Mohammed and Ahamed. Mohammed was a sports writer and Ahamed was General Secretary of the Qatar Bowling Federation. We took them to a Lebanese restaurant they heard about from the Tegucigalpa manager of the bowling lane. They were yearning for some home cooking so to speak and were anxious to give us a little taste of the Middle East. They asked the restaurant manager to bring out pretty much everything on the menu and we proceeded to stuff ourselves. Afterwards our attempts to pay were flatly rejected. They wanted to treat us. Afterwards, Dana and I took our friends up to Santa Lucia, the small Honduran village where I had done my Peace Corps training. Whenever they go to these tournaments they never really get to see the countryside so we wanted to give them a taste of Honduras. They seemed to really enjoy themselves and Ibrahim even played a little soccer with some of the local children.

That week, we attended some of the Cup, each time greeted as long lost friends of Ibrahim, Mohammed and Ahamed. While we did not have the opportunity to attend the final day of play, both Shannon and the US male representative, Bill Hoffman, were leading. We were treated with great friendship and hospitality by our three new friends and they urged us to visit their countries where they could fully extend their hospitality. We warmly embraced as we said good-bye. Dana and I now anxiously look forward to reuniting sometime in the future and, who knows, maybe will actually get to bowl a game or two in Qatar or Saudi Arabia.

Our final friend of September was also encountered at the casino. In fact, we had just said good-bye to Ibrahim for the evening and started walking out the door. A gentleman at a nearby table asked how we did. A conversation ensued that would soon change the course of our evening. I was planning on taking Dana to “The Castle” for dancing. The Castle was this disco, made up like a medieval castle , that I knew from my Peace Corps days. The gentleman at the table, Kevin, informed us of a newer club that he felt was much better and, he said, he knew the owner. We politely declined as I wanted to return to the Castle for sentimental reasons. He said, “O.K. I’ll take you there. I know the owner there too. I actually lived there for six months.” I thought by this time I had him pegged. He was CIA. Honduras was CIA central during the hey day of the Central American wars in the 1980's and I ran into my share of operatives. They tended to hang out in bars or night clubs, they were alone, brash and somewhat edgy – just like Kevin.

Partly out of politeness and partly out of curiosity we accepted the lift but questioned his assertions that he was close personal friends with various club owners around Tegucigalpa. As we proceeded to drive away, Kevin decided to cut corners by heading down the wrong side of the street! He wasn’t drunk, he just thought it was more convenient and there was so little traffic that late at night. When a taxi driver pulled up to scold him, Kevin calmly barked back at him while brandishing a pistol. O.K., it’s fair to say we were a little nervous at this point, and we made it clear to Kevin that we were uncomfortable with that, but the moment passed quickly and we were on our way. Unfortunately, firearms are pretty common in Central America and people don’t mind being indiscreet about showing they have them. But now I was sure Kevin worked for the company and was leery about his truthfulness and intentions.

When we arrived at the Castle I was surprised to find that his story checked out – the doorman let us in without cover charge and he was greeted as a friend by the owner. All our drinks were on the house. Kevin told us that he was from Toronto, Canada. He made it big in real estate in Southern California in the 1980’s and lived life fast and hard – parties, cocaine, the whole thing. He didn’t go into detail but he lost it all but was happy just to make it out alive. Eventually, he moved to Honduras and sometime after started manufacturing cigars. He fell into salesman mode boasting to have one of only a few licenses to distribute Habano cigars outside Cuba. He also claimed to make cigars specifically for the US Ambassador to Belize. All of this information was received with polite nods which veiled our lack of confidence in the validity of our friend’s assertions.  Things got slightly odder yet when Dana snapped a couple photos and Kevin insisted that he doesn't allow anyone to take pictures of him. 

Certainly, at first glance, Kevin can come across as somewhat arrogant, aggressive and perhaps a little dangerous. This may in fact be a fair characterization. The more we probed however, the more we found this to be a thin disguise that belied someone more humble, vulnerable and lonely. We began talking about his son and ex-wife and it was obvious how much he loved and missed them. We returned to his apartment and talked some more. He said he had been robbed by a former business partner tied to the former Honduran president. And in between him showing us his cigars (he had one named after his son and he gave us a few with bands printed “US Ambassador to Belize”!) and vintage Kalashnikov rifles, we learned that he had been diagnosed with cancer. He wasn’t morose about it but was clearly reflective. Trust, friendship and family meant a lot to him and I guess our small gesture of friendship touched him in some way. He was impressed and appreciative of the way we chose to live our lives. His edginess melted away and his generosity took over. He offered for us to stay at his apartment while he was out of town (or any other time), gave us books and gifts and treated us with deference and respect.  He insisted on driving us home as opposed to our taking a taxi even  though it was early morning by then. As we got out of the car, he grabbed my arm, pulled me to his ear and whispered, “It was an honor to know you.”

Even if we never see them again, Dana and I are grateful for having met these individuals and the friendship they have bestowed on us. Our lives are enriched by them…and certainly, more interesting.
 

STOPOVER IN L.A.


October 1, 2003 - October 7, 2003 (Dana)

Along with the start of October came the time for Chris and I to leave our Tegucigalpa apartment and move back to the boat (which was still in El Salvador). We began packing, and John drove in from El Salvador for work reasons, offering us a convenient ride back to to the boat with all our stuff. Unfortunately, the beginning of October also brought another funeral to attend, this time for my grandfather. Unlike two of the deaths in Chris' family this past year, this one was less of a surprise.  My grandfather, whom I remember as a kind and jovial man who liked to dance around, recite poems from high school days, and lift weights to maintain his boxer muscle tone, was 98 years old and for many years had been unable to do basic things for himself or even, usually, communicate. Though we will miss him, it gives me some comfort that he is no longer suffering a lonely deterioration of his mind and body, and that he is at peace with our grandmother and mom (their daughter).

Logistically, however, this meant I would have to get to Los Angeles in a hurry to be present at the funeral. There was no way Chris could make it, as someone needed to be there to move us to El Salvador. But we were able to book a last minute flight for me out of Tegucigalpa, with a return to El Salvador to catch up with Chris on the other end of the move.  It is interesting to note that Tegucigalpa's international airport, Toncontin, is widely viewed as one of the most dangerous airports in the world, mostly because of the landings. To land there, an airplane on its final approach first must bank sharply to avoid mountains which back the landing strip. After completing the turn without hitting the mountains, it then must clear a small hill that sits right across the street from the beginning of the runway (though it's been reduced from its original size and a restaurant there moved to decrease problems). Lastly, the pilot must manage to stop the plane while heading slightly downhill along a strip that is very short by international standards, or else drop off a small cliff at the end. (The Sun-Sentinel's web site has an animated demonstration of this whole process.) Most airlines require their pilots to go through special training before landing at Toncontin. But despite the risks, the accident rate over the years has been remarkably low. Either way, it wasn't much of an issue for me since I was only taking off from there this time. The take off went smoothly, and the clear morning provided excellent views of the city including even our apartment building.

So off I was to Los Angeles, where I joined my brother and we attended our grandfather's funeral. Afterward, we decided to skip the gathering at our aunt’s house and instead do what felt more appropriate to us. We went across town to another cemetery to visit our mom’s grave site, then we went to visit our grandparents’ house for the last time, then we went to eat at the nearby Taco Bell that we liked to go to as kids (and adults!) whenever visiting our grandparents. 

In the days that followed, Loren and I went out a couple nights but kept it mellow compared to our usual nights on the town in LA.  Then he flew off to a wedding leaving me with use of his car (it felt great to have wheels again) while I did some stateside shopping. My parents then drove out to visit for a day and evening while I was still in LA, and the next night I was back off to the airport.

On the flight back to El Salvador, I learned that Continental Airlines stewards have more power over the in-flight movies than I’d thought. They were showing Legally Blond, which I’d never seen, but at one point nearing the end I had to run to the restroom. On my way back to my seat, I was stopped by two stewards who struck up a conversation with me, and chatted me up until the movie was already over. Realizing this, they offered to rewind it and replay the last 25 minutes or so, which they did, without giving any explanation to the bewildered passengers. Afterwards, they asked how I liked the movie and I said I enjoyed it, so they whipped out Legally Blond 2 and played that one as a bonus! By the time we landed that movie had not yet ended, but I appreciated it anyway.
 

 

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