The Adventures of April

We shall not cease from exploration - And the end of all our exploring - Will be to arrive where we started - And know the place for the first time. -- T.S. Eliot

Monday, October 30, 2006

So Long, Central America

Today I return to the U. S. of A. after two and a half months of traveling and learning. I´m very grateful that I have not had one serious incident with theft, safety or illness. The trip has gone well beyond my expectations.

When I get home I will be busy with getting my life in order but I hope to post some pictures and videos by the end of this week. Check back for the highlights.

And Toronto friends - I hope to make a trip out there soon to visit! It´s been strange going this long without sushi or small group.

Dios bendiga!

Manuel Antonio

This past weekend was my last weekend abroad,as I am leaving Costa Rica today and getting into Michigan tomorrow.

On Friday I went and visited a friend from Alma who is Costa Rican. It was nice to see her town and meet her friends and family. And of course have the obligatory "why in the world did we go to Alma" conversation.

On Saturday I went to Manuel Antonio which is a national park on the Pacific coast. At first I was kind of bummed to arrive in a down pour and check into possibly one of the nastiest places I´ve stayed so far. I think that hostel would make an abosolutely lovely brothel/crack den.

I got up early Sunday morning to high tail it out of there and get to the park. Luckily, my endurance at the hostel paid off because the park was absolutely wonderful. A LOT of wildlife, monkeys, crabs, iguanas, some big furry thing that scared the daylights out of me when it casually walked up to me on the beach.

In the park the paths lead to several different beaches. It was very beautiful with the jungle to your back, Jurrasic-park-esque rocks and cliffs and the beach at your feet. I spent the entire day there before returning to San Jose. Very enjoyable! I´m excited to post some pictures.

Friday, October 27, 2006


I spent the last two days in Monteverde, which is renowned for its cloud forest. On the bus on the way there I met a Japanese woman, Yuki, who was traveling by herself through Central and South America. She was really nice and funny so we ended up sharing a room at the hostel in Santa Elena. On the first day I went to a frog zoo type place, and saw a lot of frogs believe it or not. Let me tell you, there are some huge nasty looking frogs in the world! But there were also cool red and florescent green frogs as well. Good times!

On Thursday morning we did a zip line tour through the cloud forest. It was so cool! They strap this harness on you, and then you go whizzing waaaayyy above the rain forest at speeds of up to 50 mph! Some of the lines went right through the trees, so you were so close that you felt like you were about to run into everything. But obviously I never did, so it was really cool! I tried to take some pictures and videos, so we´ll have to see how those turn out. And since it is a cloud forest, sometimes you could disappear into the fog and then see the trees and platform rapidly approaching. It was really great and I wanted to do it again!

After that we walked around on these suspension bridges, way way above the ground. There were some howler monkeys and pretty birds as well. Yuki and I then went hiking in another part of the cloud forest. I´ve been in a lot of different types of rain forests, but this was definitely one of the coolest. Quite literally, as well. The temperature was nice for walking around, and the entire forest had an ethereal look with the fog, vines, trees, birds, and whatnot. Very cool!

Now I am chilling in Santa Anna. Today I am going to visit a friend from Alma College who is from here, and tomorrow I am going to beach for a few days before I fly home on Monday.

Hasta pronto!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

More Photos

Random moments from my trip: Lago Atitlan, Mountain School Potluck, hiking Volcan Tajulmuco, Antigua streetscape, etc.

The Rich Coast

So the past few days I've been hanging out in Costa Rica, in Santa Anna to be exact. Santa Anna is a town outside of San Jose (the capital) where my cousin Andrea lived during her semester abroad. I'm actually staying with her old host family! It is very nice and comfortable, and they are very hospitable. I've been able to hang out with Joaquin, a friend of Andrea's, his wife (American) and their super cute puppy. Haven't been doing much that's interesting, the other day I went and sat by a huge pool in a country club. Nice!

San Jose is kind of a big dirty dangerous city. I was planning on walking around there a bit just to see what's to see, but I inadverdantly ended up in the red light district when a drag queen blotted up to me in broad daylight, sceamed bloody murder in my face and then ran away laughing. So then I hopped in a taxi and proceeded along my way.

Right now I am in Monteverde, which is about five hours away from San Jose. Tomorrow I am going to do something really cool that I have been really looking forward to, so check back for that blog post!

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Good news about Val

Good news about my friend Val, who was diagnosed with cancer a month and a half ago. She is in remission! After 40 very intense days in the hospital full of all kinds of treatment, she was discharged yesterday and could be heading back to Michigan this week! So wonderful! She also has her wedding date set for this August.

For more news on Val go to Thanks to everybody who kept her and her family in her prayers during this time! In these next few months she needs to rest, moniter her progress and recooperate.


After San Salvador, I came to Managua, the capitol of Nicaragua. Not too impressed, the city is sprawled out and there isn´t that much to see. I stayed for only one night. In the morning, I had breakfast and a tour with a Jesuit priest from Detroit. He has been living in Nicaragua for twenty years. The city is strange because it is so desolate, even the downtown center with the Presidential Palace and everything is empty. An earthquake a while back rendered many buildings useless for a while, and the people haven´t returned. It was quite depressing.

We also saw an army tank that Italian dictator Mussolini had given Nicaraguan dictator General Somoza. I guess your friend really do reflect who you are!

After that meeting, I got ready to come to Granada, and much to my surprise, ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT was on TV! It was the season finally of the second season, where George puts Oscar in prison instead of himself, GOB accidentally washes black puppet Franklin, white ("Now he can have lunch at the country club!") and Tobias runs off with Kittie to Las Vegas to pursue his dream of being the Blue Man Group. Ahh, what an enjoyable 22 minutes! Who´s game for a marathon when I get home?

Granada is nice, one of the old colonial towns with the central park, old churches, and crap like that. As you can tell, I´ve done a lot of sight seeing! The hostel I am at is pretty cool though, it is an old colonial house with huge ceilings, old tiling and a garden in the middle. There are tons of backpackers here, but I swear they all just lie around, drink beer, smoke, and check their email (I´m two for four). Just been walking around the town a bit, and tomorrow I head to Costa Rica. Yippee! I´m staying with my cousin Andrea´s host family and looking forward to seeing a friend from college as well. Good stuff.

I changed my plane ticket so I am now coming home October 31 just in time for Halloween. I figured I could fit everything I wanted to do into this last week, and I´m kind of sick of traveling alone.

That´s all that´s new with me. Tienen un buen dia!

My Nephew, the Bat

My nephew, Marek, is going to be a bat this halloween. As you can see, he is very very menacing. Beware!

Thursday, October 19, 2006


On Tuesday I spent the day going to museums. This was one of the main things I wanted to do on this trip, and one of the main reasons that I came to San Salvador. Ever since learning about Monsenor Oscar Romero, I have been captivated by his story and teachings. Romero was a Catholic Archbishop. He was originally a member of the conservative oligarchy that supported the civil war in El Salvador in the 1970s, but after several of his fellow priests were assassinated, his eyes were opened to the plight of the poor and oppressed. He became an outspoken critic of the government and the oligarchy, even calling for soldiers to lay their guns down forever and join the mass. While he was proclaiming this during a homily, US-backed assassins broke into the church and murdered him.

This type of occurrence was commonplace during most of Central America in the 1970s and 1980s. In the late 1980s, six Jesuit priests along with their maid and her daughter were murdered at the University of Central America in San Salvador. At the museum there, I was able to learn about their lives, see their bloodstained clothing, as well as tour their quarters.

I also had the opportunity to go to the church where Romero was murdered. It was very powerful. I think too what was amazing was that after he was killed, they made a little museum for him (the one I went to). But the government tried to annihilate this as well! Many of the pictures on display were meant to show not only who was in the photo but the melted glass of the frame from the heat of the bombs. It just amazes me that the powers of evil so grossly underestimate the power of love and the spirit of the people who will be testament to Romero and the other Jesuits even if they blew up the whole country.

Romero´s story inspires me because he was not the "activist type" and indeed came from a priviliged background. But his story demonstrates the power of conversion and of transformation to realizing that the point of this life is to be instruments to God´s grace in the here and now by doing the basic things that Jesus commanded like feeding and clothing the poor and standing up for injustice.

Monday, October 16, 2006

San Salvador

So a lot has happened over the weekend! After putting up the last post, Andrea (my cousin) called her friend, Rony, in San Salvador and he came to pick me up at the hostel. Which means I lost my $8 to stay at somebody's nice house... shucks. ;)

Rony's dad is the director of transportation for Central America, the Caribbean, and northern South America for Exxon Mobil. I know, I know, I don't even need to say it. Obviously their house was very nice, not like Princeton Estates nice, but like two live-in maids nice. Every morning I just "ordered" my breakfast from a window into the kitchen. It was a little strange for me to go from a hostel (Rony asked if we really all sleep in the same room when he came in) to staying at this nice house! But after traveling around for a while the hospitality was appreciated.

Now for something completely different. On Friday I met with this woman, Karla, whom I had been in contact with (it's a long story). She is a labor organizer here. We talked and visited CRISPAZ, this Christian Peace and Justice organization. There I met this nun from Boston who will give me some contacts for my time in Peru! I got to met Karla's boyfriend, Mateo, who is from Cincinnati, and another guy visiting here from Detroit working on a fair trade clothing company. Very cool stuff!

On Friday night Rony and I went out with a few of his friends to the clubs in San Salvador. I think I stuck out like a sore thumb one because I always seem awkward in clubs and two my backpacking clothes were far from appropriate. They were "members" of the club (I don't know what that means) so that got all these free drinks and whatnot. The clubs were very fancy and definitely a contrast to what I have been experiencing elsewhere in my travels.

On Saturday we went to a friend of Rony's, Camilla's house on a lake very close to San Salvador. It was very nice and ..errr... a little different than our digs at Pretty Lake! Her mother designed the furniture for the U.S. Embassy here which is about the size of Rivertown Shopping mall. I got to try ceviche with baby shark (!!) which was really good. The pool was very pretty as well and I managed to not get burnt!

So this is where it gets funny. Rony and his friends, especially Camilla, were very excited to go on something called the Bonga Bus Saturday night. This is the concept: retrofitted two story old American school bus, first floor with club, second floor with seating, lots of music and booze. It is something that could easily be satirized by Arrested Development or possibly made into a video store backroom movie (okay it wasn't that bad...). It was indeed entertaining, but it turned out to be more comical. In many North American cities wires and cables and whatnot are buried underground. Not so here. For two and a half hours we were dodging cables and trees and trying not to get decapitated on the top. Lots o' fun with about 50 drunk Salvadorians. But probably not something I will every do again, because as many of you know I have a hard enough time not spewing on normal bus much less a BONGA Bus. I didn't have anything to drink too!

Yesterday we just hung out, and last night I moved to stay with Karla and Mateo. They are closer to downtown so I can go to some museums and whatnot. And plus they have 5 baby kittens! Last night Karla and I got pupusas... yum.... traditional Salvadorian food that you eat from somebody's garage. That's the best way to get food. It is a hot tortilla/empanada filled with beans and cheese that you eat with a coleslaw salad type thing. Very good, I will try to make it when I get home.

So my time in San Salvador has been interesting because of the contrasts. Despite the people I was staying with, poverty is just an issue here as it is throughout Central America. People live in shacks in deplorable conditions next to huge shopping malls and fancy restaurants. But as my trip to the border of Mexico and the US taught me, just because we are living further away from poverty (as I am in Michigan) doesn't mean we are any less responsible than the people in poor countries who can afford to live well.

Not sure what my next step will be, I haven't decided whether I am going to go to Honduras and go straight to Nicaragua.

Hasta luego!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Sometimes things Suck

I´ve run into a rash of bad luck lately. Fortunately, not the kind of dark alley back luck or all day in the bathroom bad luck, but bad luck nonetheless.

First, I accidently deleted all of the music off of my shuffle (music player, Mom and Dad). Anybody in my generation knows that this a death blow. Four more weeks and no more music. On the spot I downloaded ten songs that I´ve never heard of, and dozens of free NPR podcasts. Gotta love hours upon hours of old news, "This I Believe" and "Driveway Moments."

Second, my beloved digital camera broke. Fortunately, it´s only the screen, so I think I can still take pictures, I just can´t see them or adjust the settings of the camera. Or watch that video of Gloria I took when we first got here.

But I can´t complain, because on the whole I´ve had pretty good luck so far.

Just arrived to San Salvador today. Two Canadians (Calgary!) in my hostel as well as an English bloke. Tonight I´m planning on calling some of my cousin Andrea´s friends as well as some people from CRISPAZ (Christians for Peace and Justice). Tomorrow I´m going to the Oscar Romero Museum which has been one of the things I have been most excited for!!!

More soon!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006


The rest of my time in Mexico was pleasant but frankly I am glad to be in San Cristobal. Tulum was wonderful - the beach was perfect, few tourists and touristy things, etc. What screen savers are made of. Playa del Carmen, on the other hand, I did not like so much. WAY too many inebriated tourists and huge bins of cheap maracas and tequila. Not exactly my thing. At least I know now not to take a vacation there!

While in Playa I visited Chichen Itza, which is another Mayan ruin. It will be my last ruin because I am getting a bit "ruined-out" if you can believe it or not. While on the tour there the bus stopped at a buffet to have lunch. During the lunch, some kids did a traditional dance for some tips. To be honest with you, I was pretty disgusted. Here are families being forced to commoditize (make into a payable service) a special aspect of their cultural while rich gringos drank beers and ate from a buffet. You could see the humiliation/boredom on the faces. This kind of "cultural minsteralcy" is not glorifying to the culture but demeaning. Some people say that this is the only way for many cultures to survive, but I just don´t buy it. Yes, it is perhaps the only for it to survive within our economic system, but it was doing quite fine until we challenged it.

They do this because they have no other options, there is no way to "work up" and raise themselves up by there bootstraps. I think Mexicans and Latin Americans alike are some of the hardest working people I´ve ever met, people who will go to great lengths (quite literally) in time and toil to provide for their families.

Another ironic thing about the dance is that it was mestizo - derived from dances from Spain. The Spainish culture, who once "conquered" the area is now the subject, the lower class in relation to the gringos. If this is how the "conquerers" are living, then it´s tough to even think about the indigenous people. Irony irony irony.

Yesterday I made it to San Cristobal de las Casas. I really like it here, most likely because it is very similiar to Guatemala! It is a lovely colonial town with lots of great museums and the typical old stuff - churches, buildings, etc.

Yesterday I went to a Mayan Medicine Museum and it was very interesting. They use concepts of hot & cold, the cardinal directions (N, S, E, W), times of days, plants, and animals to diagnose and treat sickness. As strange as it all sounded to me, it must have had some legitimacy due to the fact that the civilization has survived for thousands of years! Also, at the end we got to see a fairly graphic video of the traditional method used in child birth. Nice!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

On the Road

On Monday I left Xela and took a bus to Guatemala City and then an overnight bus to Flores. It was a long long way. I got off the bus at 5 AM in Flores, and it was still dark and I needed to find my hotel. There was another gringa wandering around as well, a woman from Australia, so we ended up teaming up, seeing some sights together and sharing a room. An hour later at 6 AM we left to see Tikal. Tikal is one of the most magnificent places, it is the ruins of a huge Mayan city that dominated the region 1500 years ago. I had been there before because it is accessible from Belize, but it was nice to see it again.

Being a Tuesday morning in the hurricane season, there weren´t that many tourists there as well which was nice. The wildlife was amazing: howling monkeys, groups of monkeys moving in the trees above us, huge butterflies, and a creature that looked like a 25 pound gerbil. It was a nice visit, but naturally we were very tired from the overnight bus ride and early morning.

Yesterday I finished the rest of the trip to Tulum, Mexico. We had to go through Belize, which I was really interested in doing since I worked there three years ago. It was a little bit surreal; when we went past the turnoff for where I used to stay it just seemed so strange that it was so close. Belize is still exactly the same; bizarre, hot, and humid.

Many hours later, Tulum. Today was my first day at the beach at the ruins. It is so beautiful and has been very worth it! The sand is white, the water is blue, and there is this huge Mayan fortress right on the water. It was quite amazing.

While in Tulum, I am staying in the quint-essential hostel which means it has been easy to make friends. Today I hung out with a friendly German chap named Hardy (yes, as in the Hardy boys) who I guess probably suffers from many Americans comparing him to Ah-nold due to his accent and stature. Not too many Americans here.

Things are going well, tomorrow I´m going to Playa del Carmen!

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Monday, October 02, 2006

Into the Belly of the Beast

As some of you may know, I have accepted a job working for the Foreign Agricultural Service in Lima, Peru. I applied for this job literally hours before I left for Guatemala and had little idea what it would entail or that I actually had a chance in getting it. I will be working there for four months starting in February.

It isn´t for certain quite yet, because I still need to go through all of the security clearances to be able to work in the US Embassy.

Sounds great, huh? There is another side of it. To be honest, I don´t really agree with the work of the office, but I am viewing this as an excellent learning opportunity even though it is definitely not a career path for me. I really struggled over whether to take this position, and I think that I have made the right decision. I´m not foregoing some other opportunity to do this, and besides, the position will need to be filled by somebody, so why not me who will try to be a (tiny) force for good in the office?

So that´s my big news. At least now I know what I´m doing with the next 8 months of my life!

New Return Date

I have officially changed my return date. I am coming home Sunday, November 5, at around 5 PM. I´m flying in from Costa Rica instead of Panama because I didn´t want to be rushed to get all the way down there - what´s the point of going if you´re spending all of your time on buses?

Anyways, now you can all change your welcome home party plans, right?! Just kidding.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

April vs. the Volcano

I just got back from my volcano trip this weekend and boy, am I exhausted. Most definitely the most physically grueling thing I have ever done. (Which I know isn´t saying much, but still...)

To begin, the volcano we were climbing is called Volcan Tajulmuco, which is not only the tallest volcano but the tallest point in all of Central America. It is near the western border of Guatemala with Chiapas, Mexico (Zapatistas!).

Our group was large - about 20 students from my Spanish school and two guides. The main guide (whose name I could unfortunately never pronounce) fought as a guerrilla in Guatemala´s horrid 30-year war and lived up in the mountains for years. His father, Pedro, was our second guide. He also fought as a guerrilla for many years and was captured and tortured relentlessly by the Guatemalan army for 5 days. So I guess it would suffice it to say that our guides knew these mountains! It was so interesting to hear all of their stories and about their way of the life during la Guerra (the war).

The hike was difficult for many reasons. One, we were carrying huge packs with tents, sleeping bags, water, food and any other necessities. Two, the altitude. No matter how hard you breathed, you could not get enough air in your lungs. I think that Mexico could hear us breathing! Plus it gave you a headache and made you want to throw up. Nice! Third, the ascent. In five hours we hiked up two miles in altitude - the path was much longer than this! Fourth, the accommodations. When we got to the camping spot, it was only 1 PM (we left Xela at 5 AM). I wanted to go to bed right then, but we had to stay awake so we would be able to sleep through the night. It was bitterly cold and wet and definitely a tough night´s sleep!

We got up at 4 AM to complete the hike to the top of the volcano and the rim of the crater. This was probably the hardest part because it was pitch black and you were on your hands and knees climbing up rocks, trying not to fall and puke at the same time!

When we got to the top we could just see the first glimmers of the morning. We could also see Mexico (which uses orange street lights) and huge expanses of Guatemala (which uses white street lights - did they plan that?!). Then we walked around to the highest part of the rim of the crater. This part I almost didn´t do because of the shocking heights on either side, the narrowness of the path and the darkness. But seeing as I had no choice, I made it to the highest part of the rim.

And it was worth it! It was so beautiful! I felt like I could see the entire country! Mountains, villages, a volcano erupting in the distance, the sunrise, it was stunning!

The walk down the volcano was much more pleasant, although still pretty rough on your legs and knees. The views were AMAZING since when we had climbed up the day before it was foggy and we were constantly looking up. Coming down you could see all of the mountains and trees around you. The environment was very interesting up there as well because it is so high up (and cold!)... coniferous trees, little flowers, brush and moss.

I guess before the hike I had forgetten that my favorite part of camping is eating yummy campfood and sitting around a fire. You live and you learn!
Would I have done it if I would have known what it entailed? Probably not.
Do I regret doing it? No!
Would I ever do it again? Absolutely not!

I´m excited to show you all my pictures!

I´m proud of myself for accomplishing something so grueling, but relieved that the week ahead is mainly intended for relaxation. Tomorrow I leave for Tikal and then on to the coast of Mexico.