Guat´s Up?

Like usual I´m one country behind on blog posts. I´m currently in Lima, tomorrowI fly to Brazil for what will most likely be the last country of my entire 2012 trip (except for the USA of course).  Machu Picchu was amazing and I´ll get to it soon but for now here´s Guatemala going back to the list format.

1. Antigua is the nicest city in Central America. By nicest I don’t necessarily mean most fun or coolest, but the cleanliness, security, amount of great restaurants, and number of things to see and do make it extremely “nice”.

2. The natural pools at Semuc Champay around the middle of the country, were very fun and definitely a highlight. They also had this cool cave in which you went in using only candles and at one point had to swim in water over your head keeping the candle above water.

3. Tikal was very impressive. Huge pyramids. Wild Coatamundis and Woodpeckers.

4. Guys just walk around everywhere with shotguns here. Sometimes they were security outfits, most of the time they don´t

5. Mom has been wanting to come join me for a stop on my travels and I liked Antigua so much I told her to meet me there and I would go back from the far north of Guat, rather then enter into and fly out of Belize.

 (this is my Mom)

6. It was moms first time in a 3rd world country outside if an all-inclusive resort and she flew down all by herself. We vistited a lot of churches and museums, drank a lot of coffee and even hiked a nearby volcano (and roasted marshmellows on a thermal vent). Go Mom.

7. I liked Gaut, good food, very cheap, and friendly people who seem to love parades.

To see more pics from Guatemala check out my FB album 

 

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Honduras

It’s been my habit on this trip to check the State Dept travel site for each country before I visit it, so that I have a better idea of what to expect safety-wise. I checked Honduras’ listing the night before I was to head there and this is what I read.

“CRIME: Crime is widespread in Honduras and requires a high degree of caution by U.S. visitors and residents alike. U.S. citizens have been the victims of a wide range of crimes, including murder, kidnapping, rape, assault, and property crimes. Widespread poverty and unemployment, along with significant street gang and drug trafficking activity, have contributed to the extremely high crime rate. In January 2012, the Peace Corps suspended its program in order to review the safety and security of its volunteers.

According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 86 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants.  Although crime and violent crime occurs in all parts of Honduras, the north coast and central portions of the country have historically had the country’s highest crime rates.  Copan, Roatan/Bay Islands, and other tourist destinations have a lower crime rate than other parts of the country.

  Since 1995, 108 U.S. citizens have been reported murdered in Honduras; of these, just 29 cases have been resolved.  Six U.S. citizens were reported murdered in Honduras in the first six months of 2012″http://travel.state.gov/travel/cis_pa_tw/cis/cis_1135.html

Needless to say I was having second thoughts, but I’d already spent $45 on a bus ticket from Manauga to San Pedro Sula, and that was a commitment I couldn’t walk away from.  In reality though, I’d talked to a lot of tourists coming down from the north and they told me that if you avoid the big cities and hit the common backpacker spots you’ll be fine.  As it turns out, I’m glad I listened to them and not the State Dept as I had a great time in Honduras.  The Bay Islands were very fun and felt completely safe.  There are three of them and like almost all people doing it on the cheap I stayed on Utila. It’s mainly an Island dive hotspot that offers cheap fun dives and even cheaper certifications, much like Koh Tao in Thailand, where I was certified. With an Australian couple I met in Nicaragua and a couple others we met on the ferry, I haggled a little bit with a dive shop and purchased 6 fun dives for $24 a dive. They also offered free accommodations on dive days. This is where I stayed, you can see people doing skills off the dock.

The diving was great, lots of coral and lots of fish. I had a 3ft long Great Barracuda swim very close, saw lots of parrotfish, angelfish, some Morays, lots of eagle and spotted rays and a couple spotted drum fish, which only live in that area of the Caribbean. There where come cool bars and restaurants on the island, including a treehouse one called Treetanic that was obviously inspired by Park Guell in Barcelona, had a view of the ocean and sold chocolate cake. Very cool. There was also sunset Yoga for $5 on a 15ft high pier out in the ocean, I went three times in one week, which is a yoga PR for me.  One other interesting thing about Utila is that it was a huge Pirate hangout back in Pirate days and apparently some of them actually settled on the Island and apparently I actually met one.  This guy was a white guy born on the Island, now in his 60’s who growled when he talked, was ridiculously muscular for an old guy, was constantly drunk and getting in fights, super tan and leathery. In short, he looked exactly like you’d expect a pirate too. I didn’t get a picture of him though I wish I did.

After Utila it was time to head towards Guatemala. Everyone I’d met who came throught there, had been talking up about how great it was so I was looking forward to getting there, but first I decided to hit the Copan Ruins which were basically on the way.  At the time of writing this, I’ve now been to Tikal, which is arguable the most impressive Mayan ruins but supposedly some like Copan better because of the detail in the work.  The detail was very impressive but I guess I’m one of those that prefers magnitude over detail as I enjoyed Tikal in Guatemala quite a bit more. If you’re passing through though it’s definitely worth visiting.

The town of Copan Ruinas itself was fun as well. They have a bird Sanctuary called Macaw Mountain with hundreds of tropical birds in large cages, some of which you can walk into and hang out with. It did have a little bit of a Hitchcock “Birds” vibe but in a colorful, skwaky way, which is less frightening I think.

After Copan Ruinas it was off to Guatemala city and then Antigua. More on that soon.

Adios, Sean

PS. Did you know Adios literally means “To God” and in Central America they sometimes say it as hello as well as goodbye. Kind of like Aloha I guess.

PPS. This is what I think of when I read that first travel advisory sentence.

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Adios Nicaragua

I take off for Honduras tomorrow. Heading up to the Bay Islands, which are supposed to be a great diving spot. Before I leave I thought I’d do a quick recap with photos on the three weeks I’ve been in this vibrant country. I didn’t bring my camera many places this time around so all shots are with my phone.

San Juan del Sur

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As the pic shows, SJDS is right on the beach and has great sunsets. It’s also a total surf town, I would say half the people there (including locals) are surfing. It was the first place I’ve ever dropped down the face of waves rather then just standing up in the whitewater as they crash. Certain days also had by far the biggest waves I’ve seen surfing, about 10ft or so.
I also took a Spanish language class that met 3hrs a day for a week. Ayudo un poco. I was pretty much starting from scratch so you can’t expect too much. Some friends and I hired a boat one of the days and luckily saw a humpback whale breaching and a sea turtle swimming. The food there was tasty, but unless you want to eat at the more upscale places it’s hard to find healthy food. I’ve eaten a lot of dinners that look like this.

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One of the last things I did in SJDS is head to Playa La Flor, which is one of the few beaches in the world Olive Ridely sea turtles lay their eggs. You go at night and have to wait for a new moon since they won’t come into the beach if there’s any light. We were lucky as it was extremely dark the night we went and right off the bat we saw two walk right by us and start digging their holes. It’s a crazy process, they drop like 30 eggs in that hole and the guides there (some of which have machine guns to stop people from eating the eggs) shine a light right on the whole thing, it felt a little invasive. Apparently numbers are way up though since they started conservation efforts. I have a couple good pics but that was the one place I brought my camera so I can’t post them yet. I also saw the largest toad I’ve ever seen in my life. About the size of both my fists together.
When I finally took off I headed to Ometepe which many people had built up as being very fun and extremely beautiful.

Ometepe

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The entire island is made up of two volcanos, I had planned to hike at least one but ended up taking off before I did. I liked It there ok, I just wasn’t feeling like staying. It was hard to get around and not that many people where there. I also thought the lake itself was not that pretty with its brown water. I did finally get to stay in a treehouse, which was pretty sweet.

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There were some nice pools which fed from the volcanos. They were unfortunately not hot but they were quite pretty.

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Grenada

My last couple days in Nicaragua were spent in Grenada, supposedly the oldest colonial city in Central America. The architecture is interesting, though that periods doesn’t do that much for me. Sept 15th they celebrate their Independence Day with lots of drums and parades.

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The highlight of Grenada for me was splurging a little and getting a massage and just sitting by the spas infinity pool for the rest of the day.

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Overall I liked Nicaragua quite a bit, hopefully Honduras is fun as well. After reading the Dept of State travel advisory for it I’m starting to think about my last post again. I’ll stay on the tourist road and get right up to the Bay Islands, then it’s on to Guatemala.

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9/11, my own mortality, and other fun topics

I remember sitting in my University’s cafeteria eating breakfast when the radio station playing broke the news that a plane had crashed into one of the Towers. Then watching live as the second plane crashed and they reported that one had hit the Pentagon. One thing a lot of people don’t realize is that the local news in Washington DC, at this point, just started reporting everything that came in, whether it was true or not. I remember them reporting that a jet crashed on the mall, a bomb went off at the treasury building and a couple random other things. I remember going up to the roof of my dorm and seeing the smoke slowly rising over DC while I could hear but not see, fighter jets scrambling overhead. I remember how confused and helpless my friends and I felt. With the news reports it seemed like all of DC was under attack. We knew our family would be worried but cell lines were jammed. We wondered if it was over or just getting started.

I could go on for awhile but everyone knows the story. One of the worst days in history. Today is the anniversary of 9/11 and it’s got me thinking. About a lot of things, but mainly about death. In the past two months I’ve been in a 6.8 earthquake only miles from the epicenter on the Pacific coast of southern Nicaragua with an evacuation due to tsunami threat. I’ve stepped on a stingray in Costa Rica, been bitten by some sort of spider in Morocco which formed a small necrosis that took two months to heal, and walked within one foot of a rattling rattlesnake in the climbing area of Lovers Leap near Lake Tahoe California. In two back to back days in Colorado about a month ago I was, 1: taken off belay at the top of a 70ft cliff i had just climbed and started falling down the route. The only thing that saved me was that the ridge and slab blocking my belayer from seeing me and realizing I wasn’t tied in to the anchor, also caused enough rope drag that I didn’t fall very fast and was able to grab the other side of the rope as it came up at me. If it hadn’t been for this I would have fallen to my death. I looked over the ridge, saw what had happened, screamed that I was still on belay and watched my frightened belayer hustle to put me back on and then lower me. 2: The very next morning at breakfast I told my Mom that the new Batman movie was opening that evening, she asked if I wanted to go, I thought about it and decided that no, I didn’t want to fight the crowds. I was visiting my Mom who lives in Aurora Colorado and that night a mentally ill young man went on a shooting rampage at the Aurora theater. 12 died and 58 more were wounded. I woke up the next morning to texts asking if I was ok, pulled up the news on my laptop and was horrified.

In all these circumstances I was only in very real mortal danger once, the climbing incident, but all could have theoretically ended my life (of course, so could crossing the street every day). I’ve also flown on planes, surfed my first overhead waves, climbed a 600ft multipitch using almost exclusively nuts for protection and ridden in all manner of crazy Central American vehicles with no seatbelts. What’s my point of all this? Am I bragging about my brushes with mortality?
I’m not intending to, though I do feel a small amount of pride in still being alive. After all, these circumstances all happened in the last two months but before I turned 18 I’d already had two doctors tell me I was extremely lucky to be alive from two different accidents. One wrestling and one bicycling. Both doctors told me that had the circumstances been just a tiny bit different I’d be dead.

As I stated earlier. Thinking a lot about death today. I’m scared of dying but not like I used to be. I’m not sure why other than after what I’ve experienced in my life so far it would be less tragic then if I had kicked the bucket when I was young. I’m hoping that I will feel that way even more so later in life. I’m also hoping to be around later in life. I believe in God and the afterlife and that makes a big difference for me, I think if I didn’t I’d be petrified.

I read a good quote a couple weeks ago by Ben Franklin, who was an amazing man. “Many people die at 25 but are not buried until 75”. That’s popped into my head a lot since reading it.

I’ve also recently been listening to a Decemberists song called June Hymn and I really like the lyricism of this one line.
“Years from now, when this old light, isn’t ambling anymore.
Will I bring myself to write, I give my best to Springville Hill.”
Obviously this means something to the writer, Colin Meloy, and I have no connection to any place called Springville Hill but sitting on a beach, watching the sun go down over the ocean in San Juan del Sur while listening to it and thinking about these subjects it had it’s own significance to me. Years from now, when my light isn’t ambling anymore, will I be satisfied? If you live your life like you’re afraid of dying you might as well be dead already. I know that’s trite and it’s been said a hundred times before but there are some days when you believe it and other days when you BELIVE IT. Today as I ride a ferry to an island volcano on the anniversary of that terrible day, I fall into the capitalized category.

Proud to to be from the USA on this day as well. Much love, all the best.

Sean

ps. Are you surprised I didn’t use this Dylan lyric instead?

“He not busy being born is busy dying”

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Panama V. Costa Rica V. Nicaragua

It’s been a couple weeks since I updated this blog. In my defense… I just didn’t feel like writing anything.  I’ve been traveling in Central America since August 22nd and I’ve spent a week in Panama, a week in Costa Rica and a couple days so far in Nicaragua, where I’m writing this.  The three countries have been very different experiences. Panama I was only in two locations, Panama City and Bocas del Toro. In Costa Rica I met up with John and Brian, two friends from DC and rented a car, in only a week we visited four cities. Since leaving those malcontents I took a bus up to Nicaragua, crossed the border and have been hanging out in San Juan del Sur since then.  Rather then sum up each country, which would take a long time and probably be boring, I thought I would pit the three countries together in a battle royal of my opinions on visiting each.

Highlights

Panama: Visiting the canal was more interesting then I thought, I kind of went out of obligation for one of the greatest engineering feats in history but I did enjoy seeing those ships go up and down.  Bocas del Toro was great, reminded me of Thailand, how everythings built over the water and you travel everywhere on longboats. I traveled the whole time with a Canadian trio, we stayed in a hostel called aqualounge, which bills itself as an “adult playground”. There were big areas in the patio deck you could just jump into the sea from. Swings, things to jump off, ping pong tables, Indio boards, I broke out my poi and people liked that. I was definitely in my element.

Tried SUP for the first time and really enjoyed it, easier then I thought it would be. Great snorkeling.

Costa Rica: Hanging out with John and Brian. Met Laura, a German backpacker who travelled with us for a while and was cool. Playa Hermosa near Santa Theresa, which was the easiest swell to surf that I’ve seen so far in Central America.  Zip Lining in Monteverde (see video)

Our hotel manager taking us out to this crazy giant Ficus that was like a natural ladder you could climb up the middle of.

The Baldi hotsprings, with pools up to 120 fahrenheit, super fast waterslides, unlimited delicious buffet and views of Arenal Volcano with smoke emitting from the cone was amazing.

Nica: I’ve only been here a couple days but the surfing has been fun.

Winner: Costa Rica!

Cost

Panama: Medium.

Costa Rica: The most expensive place I’ve been outside of the States and Europe.

Nicaragua: By far the cheapest of the three, very nice

Winner: Nica!

Animal Life

Panama: Wild sloth, rescue preserve Jaguar, a giant ray gliding under my pier late at night in illuminated light, lots of amazing fish snorkeling.

Costa Rica: Howler Monkeys, Capuchians, Coatamundi,

Nicaragua: Humpback whale jumping only 30ft from our boat while launching for surfing. Sea turtles

Winner: To close to call between all three

Strange interactions

Panama: Me: “Do you guys hear the Van Halen song Panama every time you see the word in print, and then imagine David Lee Roth doing high kicks to it?” One of the Canadian trio: “ummm… I do now”.

Costa Rica: Me: “oh,  I’m from Washington DC, how about you?” Guy showing us rooms at the Malpais Surf School: “I’m from San Jose”. Me: “Really?  I lived in Redwood City for a couple years!” Guy (looking confused):  “California? I’m from San Jose Costa Rica”  Me: “Ohhhh, that makes sense”.

Nica: Met an overweight middle aged Austrian women who spoke four languages fluently, carried mace and a butterfly knife in her giant bra, and warned me to watch out for local women who would “get pregnant just by looking at them” because then “I’d be bringing home a living souvineer.”

Winner: Nicaragua!

Song I listened to the most in each

Panama:”Can I get a…” Jay Z

Costa Rica: “From the mouth of Gabriel” Sufjan Stevens

Nicaragua: “Carry the zero” Built to Spill

Winner: CR! (I know this has nothing to do with the counties but I never said this was a valid, accurate or justifiable competition).

Food

Pretty similar in all three. Can’t go wrong with Rice, beans, chicken, or if you’re on the coast fish. Nothing mindblowing but lots of tasty, cheap (except for CR) food.  The coffee, despite the area supposedly sending off their best beans to developed countries, is pretty good and extremely plentiful.

Winner: Me

Overall

Despite the high costs and mixed company (just kidding, it was great having John and Brian (and Laura!) along) I have to give it to Costa Rica so far.  Caveat, it’s not really fair to Nica since I’m just starting off here. I can see why so many people vacation in CR, it seems safe, people are friendly and there really is something for everybody.

Lots more pics coming soon.

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Thoughts on the Olympics

  • I have three friends and a lot of acquaintances competing in the Games this year. The three pals are Matthew Centrowitz (whom I’ve known since he was about 10 years old), Nick Symmonds (my former teammate and cliff-jumping/rock climbing buddy (just don’t tell Nike that)), and Julie Cully (We were both Coached by Matt Centro Sr and in 2009 I wrote up and took her through a strength routine that she followed).              Send these three lots of positive thoughts and cheers.
  • There have been some hilarious names so far. Leading the way is Dong Dong with a flawless trampoline routine but some other funny ones would be Destinee Hooker, Aichen Wang, Karen Cockburn, Yoo Suk Kim, and Gavin Smellie. Yes, I still have the maturity of a 14 year old boy.
  • Despite what every single announcer says every single event in every single broadcast, fourth place is not the worst place. You know what’s worse? Fifth place. You know what’s also worse? Sixth place.  What else? How about DFL? How about not making the finals? Or the meet at all?  I finished 4th place in the 1500m at the 2003 NCAA championships, I finished 3rd place in the Mile at the 2006 Indoor National Championships when the top two made in to World Champs.  Was I upset I didn’t finish higher? Yes damn it, but I was still pretty happy with my performance and much, much, much happier then the National Championships when I made the final but finished 10th or 11th (I did that a total of four times I think) and I was infinitely happier then in 2008 when I didn’t even make the Olympic Trials, ending a streak of qualifying for like 12 National championships (counting indoors) or 6 outdoor champs. If you’re making a case for 4th being a matter of pride and that it’s worthless then why is 2nd or 3rd really that much different?  You didn’t win did you?  That’s what really matters.
  • I love the Olympics. It was the biggest dream of my whole life to make it to them and I never did but I still love watching them.  The excitement is unmatched. I get caught up in the sports I normally couldn’t care less about.
  • Like most serious track fans I’m extremely impressed by Oscar Pistorius and find him to be very inspirational, but I don’t think he should have been allowed to compete.  I’d hate to be the one to tell him no, but in my mind the science definitely says that he has a competitive edge due to his blades. If you want to read about the science of it, I almost always agree with these two South Africa physiologists.
  • Phelps is the real deal, even as a track fan I think I agree to calling him the greatest Olympian ever.
  • Bolt actually looks human so far, but I wouldn’t rule out another super human performance in the finals.
  • Did you ever think you’d see Britan and USA occupying the top two podium spots in the Olympic 10k? Especially when a guy named Bekele was sharing it with them? (ok it turned out to be his little bro but the big guy was right behind in 4th).  Not trying to take anything away from GB but the fact that the American, Galen Rupp is USA born is even more shocking to me.  I honestly wasn’t sure I’d ever see it in my lifetime.
  • Overall it’s been a super exciting games. USA is leading the Medal count and poised to bring home a bunch more. Good stuff.

Matt, Dan, Andre and I at a BBQ after Matt got Bronze at the 2011 World Champs. The first American to medal over 800m since 1987.

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Eight random thoughts about Cali

#1. The Bay area has consistently the best burritos I’ve had anywhere.

#2. Already have gotten to see five of my friends that I hadn’t seen in at least two years. Everybody moves to Cali.

#3. Surfing is way harder then I remember it being. I’m hoping it was the conditions.

#4. Even after all the places I’ve seen this year Yosemite still leaves me in awe.

#5. If you want to get compliments from homeless people and hipster baristas in SF wear this shirt. Thanks Andy.

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#6. I just had a close call with a rattlesnake. Walked within a foot of him before I saw/heard the rattle. I scooped up Peeta (my adopted dog this trip) and ran away. This is second scary rattler encounter, the first being in Santa Barbara in 2009.

#7. This was my first time spending time in the Tahoe area. It’s very nice, especially Lovers Leap, Emerald Bay, Eagle Lake and the Harrahs casino where I won $100 in 25min playing craps and then immediately left.

#8. I’ve climbed three easy but classic and really tall multipitches so far this trip and “worked” on Midnight Lightening, a hard V8 that’s one of the worlds most famous bouldering problems.

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