Todos Santos, Mexico: I am protected by a number of elderly people.
In Mexico, Phillip decided to do the zip line. I declined, because the Medical Condition Which Shall Not Be Discussed prevents me from hiking uphill for 3 hours under the Mexican sun. Instead I opted to take a tour of Todos Santos, Mexico, which is a little artsy town, and the home of the ACTUAL Hotel California. (It truly is a lovely place.)
From minute one of the tour, a flock of elderly people decided that I needed protection and care. First, an elderly gentleman was concerned about my lack of sunblock (I forgot to bring some). I shrugged it off, since I planned mostly to see art galleries, which would be shaded. But then another elderly couple got wind of the fact that I didn't have sunblock with me and forced the bus driver to stop at a "pharmacia" so I could purchase sunblock. I dutifully got off the bus and purchased my sunblock, and returned to the shining happy faces of the old people who now nodded at me with approval.
At lunch, a different old lady sitting next to me asked what I planned to do in town during our free time. I said I was just going to walk around and explore. She told me that it was not safe for me to walk around alone, and that I would be going shopping with her and her husband. I obeyed.
When I mentioned at lunch that I was allergic to gluten, everyone at the table became immediately concerned, asking the waiter all kinds of questions about the food in Spanish. (In retrospect, I probably should have learned how to say "allergic to gluten" in Spanish, but hindsight, you know....)
The town itself was cute, with good food and lots of artsy shops. But what I remember most is how strange it was to have so many people concern themselves with my welfare.
El Baul, Guatemala: The Museum Trip That Almost Wasn't
I was super excited to see the El Baul Archaeological Site in Guatemala. Ancient Mayan Ruins! Yes please! I was basically Indiana Jones. So we signed up with a tour company and off we went.
We were escorted in a van. Not like, a nice tourist group van, but just a regular van. Which was odd for me. But then once we started to see Guatemala, I understood. It is literally the poorest place I have ever been. It makes
Tijuana look like a decadent shrine to luxury and excess. Everywhere there are shacks made out of...whatever...and cows with their bones jutting out from starvation and fruit stands that sit in front of rotting piles of garbage, manned by small children who should be in school, but aren't. That being said, the landscape was beautiful; all tropical and green. There weren't a lot of cars; people mostly walked or rode scooters or bikes.
I was pretty freaking excited to get to the Mayan Ruins museum. It's located on a plantation. The plantation was interesting, and kind of cute, with rows of huts leading up to a large, liveable looking house. There are maybe 15 families who live there. They have their own little church, their own soccer teams, and it seems to be a nice little community. The tourguide explained that the families were allowed to live there for free, in exchange for working on the farm.
Oh....so like sharecropping......k.....
Anyway, the museum is located in this plantation, since the ruins were found in the ground there on the farm. It was about a two hour drive to get there from where we started. And when we arrived we were told that we couldn't go to the museum because the owner was gone, and no one knew where the key was. K.... So we drove back into town and ate at a heavily locked restaurant - we had to get out and knock so they would open the gate- and waited an hour or so. THEN we were able to see the museum because the owner had returned. It was extremely hot inside - no air conditioning - but the artifacts were remarkable.
They even had a fully intact Mayan King Throne.
I wanted to sit on that throne. I bided my time until everyone was looking at knives or something. Then I bolted. I jumped up on the platform, skirted around glass cases and plunked myself down on the throne. I am a Mayan Queen Indiana Jones.
Leon, Nicaragua: We Befriend A Sandanista
Leon is a very cool town; very colorful and gritty. Super hot, but worth it. We were on a guided tour of the Cathedral there, which is AMAZING - it's a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and it's stunning in every way. But after a while, Phil and I got bored and decided to leave the tour and explore on our own a bit. While wondering around, we found a little place called "Museum of the Revolution". The name was in Spanish, but I got the jist. Phil and I decided to go in; after all it was only 2 dollars.
We were greeted by a man about two inches taller than me, who was to be our tourguide. He didn't speak a word of English. The entire tour was conducted in Spanish. Fortunately, I'm pretty good with languages, so by this time (day 4) I had picked up enough to kind of understand him, a little, and Phil took 3 years of Spanish in high school, and he suddenly remembered a lot of it, which was very useful. The tourguided had himself been aligned with the Sandanistas, and still has shrapnel in his head from a bombing. He made me touch his head. Yep. That's shrapnel. He was in some of the newspaper articles we were shown. He gave us a number of weapons and let us play with them. After the tour of the museum, which was small, our tourguide took us up on the roof. I didn't know that's where we were going, I was just following him up the stairs. The roof was made of tin, and was very rusted, and had holes in it. Super safe. But our guide just pulled me up onto the roof, PHil following behind. The guide helpfully navigated me over the holes.
The view was amazing.
Panama City, Panama: Childcare Is Different In Different Places
Phil and I were exploring Panama City on our own one night at around 9pm. We rounded a corner and heard LOUD techno music. Obviously there was a rave going on or something. We kept walking toward the music to see what was going on, and it let us to....a playground. It looked like a regular elementary school, with a fenced in play area, and it was filled with kids around ages 6-10. They were running and dancing and leaping all over the place! It was pandemonium, but they looked like they were having a blast. Phil and I stood watching, amazed. In the States, little kids don't have nighttime raves at their elementary schools. If someone tried it in the States, someone would lose her job. We started to take pictures, but then realized we looked creepy taking pictures of dancing children, so we just left.
Also, Panama is beautiful. I could live in Panama. No question.
Isla de Corazon, Ecuador: I Make A Scene and Ruin Everyone's Fun
First of all, we spent three days in Ecuador and I just want to say that overall, it is a wonderful place filled with wonderful people and perfectly filling breakfasts. I don't want to negatively affect your perception of Ecuador, based on the story I am about to share. It was just one place.
We took a boat to Isla de Corazon, which is a little fishing community. They have recently started doing tourism to supplement their fishing incomes. With good reason! Their island is lovely, and there were so many birds flying around that the sky looked dirty with them. So many that they provided shade from the sun. So many birds that I actually started to get a little frightened because that many animals swarming around is always a little unsettling. But it was a really cool experience. When we got to the island, there were grass huts and hammocks and little kids swimming and it was very idyllic and awesome.
And then I saw it.
There was a dog with the most mangled leg I had ever seen. It jutted out from his body at an odd angle, and then at a couple other odd angles, all jagged. Part of it looked like raw meat, inflamed and angry and festering.
I ran to the tourguide and said "Someone needs to help that dog! It's been injured!" She looked around, and saw the dog. She found the owner and talked to him in Spanish. The owner told us that the dog had been hit by a car. TWO YEARS AGO. He laughed as he told this story, as if it were an amusing anecdote. "Two years ago?!!!"I shouted. "That is COMPLETELY UNACCEPTABLE". I could hear my voice getting shrill, and I could see people staring at me, but I didn't care. I was enraged. I ran over to the dog. "Come here injured dog" I cooed. "You're coming home with me". I beckoned with my hands, calling in a soft, friendly voice. Phil came up behind me, put his hand on my shoulder and led me away, saying "We can't take the dog, honey".
"Well I can't just leave him here!" I said, now in full on shrieking mode. Phil tried to soothe me saying that I can't steal the dog, because I'll get locked up in Ecuadorian prison. "Why? They obviously don't give a shit about it. They'd probably be glad to see it go!" Phil murmered something about different cultures and different priorities, and I stalked off, angry. The tourguide and the rest of the group were clustered around a table, drinking mimosas and beer. She came up to me and offered me a mimosa.
"No!" I snapped, and went to the boat, where I sulked for the remainder of the tour. The tourguide and others came up to me later and said things like "Not to excuse it, but these people are very poor" and "NOt to excuse it, but blah blah, excuses excuses".
Here's my take on it. If you don't have the money for the vet, don't have a dog. Or if you don't have the molney for a vet, and for some reason you have to have a dog, and it becomes severely injured and can barely walk because it's in so much pain, you are NOT too poor to do this Mice and Men style. Put it out of it's misery. Man up.
If you're ever in Ecuador, have their breakfast! It's these wonderful huge balls made of plantains, stuffed with cheese. I had that with eggs and orange juice and it was great! I wish I had some now.
This was a fantastic trip! I recommend that you go to all of these countries, especially Panama! And don't be afraid to explore on your own there! If I could do it all over, I would try to learn Spanish before I went, but I managed OK with the little Spanish I learned. There was a lot of fascinating wildlife like monkeys and toucans and crocodiles - just out in nature - which was really cool to see. Wonderful trip!