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My Travels in Central America

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On June 9th, 2013, with about $600 US dollars in my pocket, I was en-route to San Diego, California. By noon I was walking across the border to Tijuana, Mexico, with no known destination, and no clue what was in store for me.

This is a recounting of the journey, and (especially) the random acts of kindness of people and families I met on my journey through Central America and the trip back to the states.

And yes, after this journey, I am still homeless. for now. Any and all good vibes will greatly be appreciated to see me obtain grounding!

The Start Beginning June 2013 – Tijuana to Mazatlan:

tjtoma

So from Tijuana, I caught a bus that took me to Mazatlan, Mexico. By bus, the money evaporates fast, and it didn’t help I stayed in a (cheap) hotel 3 nights in Mazatlan, so cheap the fleas had fleas.

But I did get to enjoy the beach, and really just had a chance to relax there. The last time I was in Mazatlan was way back in 1993, on spring break, when I was in a fraternity (PIKE/ Pi Kappa Alpha) at Arizona State University for Computer Science Engineering.

Mid to late June of 2013 – Mazatlan, Mexico to Puebla, Mexico

maztopuebla

With a brief stopover in Mexico City (one night), I went direct to Puebla, as far as I was willing to go given my limited capital. I am not sure what I was down to at this point, but I’d burned through the money pretty fast to get to Puebla.

Nothing significant on this part of the trip, until I reached Puebla…

Random Act – Late June of 2013 – Unnamed People – Puebla, Mexico

The first truly cool random act happened just outside of Pueblo, Mexico. I had taken bus rides from Tijuana to Mazatlan to Mexico City, where I started hitching rides heading south.

I wasn’t having much success, and not long after passing through Puebla, Mexico, I had been desperately thirsty and had gotten bad water from a standing pool that I knew I shouldn’t have drank from.

A few days later, I was violently ill, and should have gone to ee a doctor. But with limited funds and ambition to travel as far as I could, I found a grassy spot in between two houses and asked the neighbors if they didn’t mind me setting up my tent there, “Soy muy enfermo, necesito dormido para un o dos dias” (which means I am very sick, I need to sleep for a couple days).

By this time, I hadn’t started taking names down yet, but I wish I had. As both neighbors had supplied me with medicine, food and water which had me feeling marginally better within two days.

Thinking I was well enough to travel, I packed up, and set out down the highway. I was premature. About two days into the trip on the unpopulated highway, my fever came back with a vengeance and I couldn’t keep anything down. So I set up my tent on the banks of a dry river bed.

At about 2 in the morning, I am woken up with two sets of headlights shining on my tent. I open up the door, and there are four men dressed completely in black, all masked, all toting shotguns. If I hadn’t had the fever I might have been scared. But I couldn’t care less.

As it turns out, these guys are security for the ranch I’m camped on, and they are more concerned about my safety with the bulls that go for morning walks seeing the red on my tent and ‘charging’, but they see I am in bad shape and have no food or water.

One of the men reaches inside his car, and hands me his bottle of water. They leave, then 30 minutes later return with some food from the local mini market. Over the next two days, they return a couple of times to check on me.

Not what I was expecting from some gun toting masked men, that’s for sure.

Thank you, Puebla, for taking care of me!

Late June of 2013 – Puebla, Mexico to Tlacolula, Mexico

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After the multiple rounds of sickness I encountered outside of Puebla, I’d determined I’d had enough of the ‘desert like’ lands and wanted to get down to the jungle and/or rainforests and cooler climate as soon as possible…

Yes. I relented. And found a chicken bus which cheaply took me from my perch not far from Puebla to Oaxaca, Mexico. From there, I was definitely low on cash and I started hoofing it and trying to hitchhike south. Not far from Oaxaca I ran into a small town named Tlacolula…

Early July of 2013 – Lucya Garcia and family – Tlacolula, Mexico

What is arguably one of the most profound experiences I’ve had – was meeting Lucya and her family.

Lucya is 13 years old – or somewhere around there. I am walking through this town – Tlacolula, Mexico, and I am absolutely beat tired. So I found a brief respite just after the city center under an overpass walkway.

About 30 minutes later, Lucya – accompanied by her mom and dad and two brothers – stroll by and her mom proceeds to chat with me in Spanish and asks nudges her daughter, Lucya, to speak to me in English.

We chat for about 15 minutes, I explain that I’m more or less a penniless traveler going on a trip potentially around the world. They are a family who doesn’t have a whole lot to offer but are delighted that their daughter can practice English with me. So they invite me to stay with their family that evening if I want to go to a family’s birthday party for a cousin.

The party is not small – about 25 family members – and this is a traditional party held on the outskirts of town, there’s homemade pizza, great salsa, and plenty of soft drinks. I am treated like a guest and meet some great people that night, and am surprised how I am just so quickly accepted.

Later that night, the I go back with Lucya and her family to their place in the city, they have a computer and I briefly use it to mail off a few emails to the family. I set up my sleeping bag in their living room and am treated to an authentic breakfast the next day before departing.

The hospitality was amazing. A big thank you to Lucya and her family!

Early July of 2013 – Jesus – Tehuatepec, Mexico to Tapachula, Mexico

From Tlacolula I walked all the way to Tehuantepec, in a journey where I came across Mezcal plantation after plantation, and saw the process of creating the (vile) alcohol, to which I said no, but it was interesting seeing how it was done.

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Shortly after Tehuantepec I met Jesus, pronounced “Hey, Zeus!” if you’re not familiar with the pronunciation. He’s the owner of a family owned textile production company based out of Tapachula, and commutes to North Mexico twice a month.

The man is a proud Christian, and this particular journey was interesting because the man nearly drove off the road at one point of this eight hour journey, tired from the travel and unable to stay fully alert despite Hispanic Christian music blaring for nearly the entire trip..

I grabbed the steering wheel right as the truck caught the edge of the dirt overlooking a cliff. I can say without a doubt, had I not been there, he’d be over the side of the cliff.

Thank you, for the ride, Jesus. I still chuckle at the thought that “I was Jesus’s copilot and saved his life”.

In any case, Google’s smoking crack, because the ride is more like eight hours from Tehuantepec to Tapachula.

Early of July 2013 – Exiting Mexico, entering Guatemala

I walked across the border of Mexico to Guatemala without showing any ID. I thought that was interesting. And cool.

Literally, too, I was in the jungle area but the stomach bug was biting me again. Something was annihilating me.

And… Herein lies a problem. with nowhere to ‘get off the road’ because of the jungle’s thickness, and me having a monster case of the stomach cramps. I’d been having diarrhea for days now. And it was getting… explosive…..

And .. while I am not proud (at all) to say.. I .. shit myself. There I said it.

This is what traveling is all about, folks. Sometimes it is beautiful and you see some amazing scenery. Sometimes not. And sometimes, particularly when you’re roughing it, it’s a little bit of both as shit happens. Literally.

Fortunately, with Guatemala’s semi-frequent rivers, I made it to a river that night and cleaned up. But you should have seen the faces on some of the people I passed by.

I know I didn’t smell dainty at all!

Early July of 2013 – Karen Ramos – Malacatan, Guatemala

guatemalatomalacatan

Cleaned up, and not long after having entered Guatemala, I’d been walking down the street when an attractive young woman by the name of Karen Ramos sees me and urges me to come to her place for lunch.

For me, I love it when an attractive women who knows what she want approaches me for a change. It’s a pity it doesn’t happen in the states. Vanity and money are about the only things that will inspire a woman to do this in the states, so unfortunately, that’s the only way a female will exhibit this behavior in the United States.

In any case, for whatever motivated Karen to do what she did, that afternoon I had a great conversation with her and her mom at her place, and a nice ‘afternoon off’ from lugging my 50 pound backpack any further down the road. a nice homemade meal, and something to quench my thirst, and a new facebook friend.

Thank you, Karen!

Mid July of 2013 – Catepeque to Guatemala City

From Malacatan, I walked a few days to Coatepeque and from there found two back to back rides hitchhiking to Guatemala City.

cttoga

One was a Government worker a pickup truck with the cab full and tanks of propane filling the back. I sat on top of them for about 2 hours. they bought me Burger King where they dropped me off (I can’t recall what city it was) and gave me a couple bucks to help the journey.

The next ride was a couple of businessmen who had a wide open pickup truck who took me the rest of the way direct into Guatemala City – to the freakin airport, who again provided some financial assistance…

Thank you both!

Late July of 2013 – Random elderly couple – La Libertad, El Salvador

I was admiring the beautiful city of la Libertad looking for water and a place to put my tent, when I inquired to an elderly couple if I could use a vacant lot next to their home for my tent.

The couple looked at me and after a brief conversation inquiring about what I was doing, the elderly gentleman said ‘follow me’.

We walked for about 200 meters, when there’s a huge gate and behind it is a very nice 4 bedroom open air home with a fresh water pool literally on the beach next to the Pacific.

So here I am, for two days, hanging out at this vacation home, for free, cleaned up and being fed traditional El Salvador food (which aint as good as Mexican by the way), at this vacation home next to the beach in El Salvador.

Thank you, Nice elderly couple from El Salvador, I wish I had gotten your name!

Late July of 2013 – Jose Jorge Matute – Tegucigalpa, Honduras

In what could be one of the biggest examples of how bad consumerism has corrupted the values of America yet, my experience in Honduras tops the list.

I’d been mugged not far from the border and alleviated of a few personal belongings, not the least of which was the rest of my money, a cell phone, and a couple other things not far from the border.

A few of the locals put together some money and got me on a bus to Tegucigalpa, where I figured I could talk to the embassy, and get a little assistance – whether it was a new passport or financial assistance.

Well as I found out, everything is not so hunky dory with America, as I explained my situation, and learned – that an American embassy or consulate’s function is not to realty help you the traveler.

The options the embassy offered me were this: A temporary 3 passport and a flight back to the states which would run $2,000 US Dollars, of which I would be unable to get a passport until it was paid off, a debt I would owe the US Government (I didn’t realize the US was in the banking business). Or I could pay $135 for a new passport which would take up to 2 weeks to get.

Presented two unpalatable options, the State Department representative at the embassy had the audacity to tell me “You need to suck up your pride and call your family and friends and ask them for money to help you”.

I couldn’t believe what I had heard. Here was a representative of the United States treating me like a collection agency would a debtor. Their idea of helping was giving them a list of people to call, and handing me a phone to call them to ask for money.

In any case. A kudos goes out to the CIA spooks who’d found out a little about my background and dug into their own personal funds to get me a bag of food and drinks from the market across the street. I thought they were cool to do that. But unfortunately, the idiocy of the state department reined. All those years of paying taxes, and this is what I am offered for assistance?

Sorry, US, I am NEVER paying taxes again. Period.

Long story short, I met Jose shortly after. I happened to be walking by his place of employment, the local newspaper, El Heraldo, when he took the story, took me to the local radio and tv station, Globo TV and radio, of which I was actually broadcasted ‘on air’ with the story about the Embassy’s idea of help.

Needless to say, they loved hearing an English speaker talk shit about their own country.

Afterwards, Jose and I had a great conversation as he took me around trying to find local jobs to make an income.

Unfortunately, we quickly found out the money would be better in Nicaragua and they couldn’t even hire me without papers because of the restrictive policies.

In any case, Thank you, Jose, for being there as a new friend. Your help was greatly appreciated!

Late July of 2013 – Melizsa Huang – Tegucigalpa, Honduras

On the way out of departing Tegucigalpa the next day after Jose’s help, I’m sweating bullets as I climb a hill and up runs the gorgeous 17 year old Melizsa right next to me.

She has a soda in hand, and invites me back to her business to rest.

She’s a bike mechanic as it turns out, and saw me walking, an unusual sight it turns out, as is her profession.

I just had to say thank you, Melizsa.

Early August of 2013 – Thomas Griffin and Pablo – Granada, Nicaragua

Without a passport, the Honduran police and Army helped me the rest of the way through Honduras and across the border into Nicaragua.

From there, I found respite in a few Churches, and Bomberos (fire stations), who usually had no problem putting me up for a day or two.

Thinking that Gregory Pearman was just a dick of a representative for the United States in Honduras, and was a programmed slave who had no concept of what the United States represented for help, I tried the same approach in the embassy in Managua, Nicaragua – to the same end. $135. At least they didn’t have the audacity to tell me I need to suck up my pride and leech from my family or friends.

A few of the locals suggested I get work in Granada.

That’s when I met Pablo, a janitor with a local English training school I found some side work with in Granada, who offered to put me up in his place which ended up being a ‘shack’ (But I couldn’t complain), and soon after I met Thomas who needed web page work done for his Pub (O’shea’s Irish Pub), which would work out some kind of deal helping me with my passport.

For a month and a half I stayed there, ultimately the English speaking school was a scam and made it a habit of underpaying all their workers thanks to a drunk director who cared more about her habit than she did her workers.

But I did end up leaving with some wonderful memories of ‘the shack’ I will post photos on this entry of later and of Thomas’s contribution of truly wonderful meals, new shoes, and a passport which helped me continue my journey.

Thank you, Pablo, and Thomas, your graciousness won’t soon be forgotten!

Late October of 2013 – Guru Sarkissian – Border of Costa Rica and Panama

I flew through Costa Rica, having been assisted by a random trucker whotook me from Nicaragua to San Jose, Costa Rica, and a lawyer lady who took me from just outside of San Jose, Costa Rica to the border of Panama.

I had initiated my third divorce in San Jose, and was simply wanting to be in and out of the country fast by then…

In any case, Panama has an asinine policy of refusing to let anyone in who cannot prove they do not have $500 US Dollars in capital behind them.

Ludicrous. And I have just run out of money. Again.

And to make things more fun, I am unable to get back into Costa Rica because I have been exit stamped.

So I am literally in between Costa Rica and Panama for 4 days trying to get into Panama to continue my journey south. I had the intention of heading to South America. But this was putting a dampener on things.

About day two I met Guro Sarkissian.

Guro is a martial arts trainer in Panama City, Panama, and does the ‘border hop’ once every 3 months to stamp his passport. This is clearly a way for these countries to reinforce a predictable revenue stream, as the border cities have hotels to put someone from the neighboring country up for a night or two as they get their stamp and pay for re-entrance to the country they may be residing and/or working in.

In any case, Guro and I chatted most of the day, and he helped me with a hotel room and dinner.

Just a good general all around guy who deserves more than what he was getting with his hard working efforts in Panama City.

Thank you, Guro!

Late October of 2013 – Yorleny Godinez – San Jose, Costa Rica

Unable to go south, I start returning to San Jose, and that night, not far from the border of Panama, camping out, I have someone reach into my tent and take a few valuables. My passport, I thought, was included in that.

Returning to San Jose, I arrive on a Saturday, when I dread having to go to the embassy again. But they are closed.

The embassy demonstrates it’s true colors. They won’t even provide me safe grounds to sleep on. So I am scratching my head. what’s next.

So here I am waiting in the shade across the street from the embassy. When up walks Yorleny Godinez. She has a salon within spitting distance of the embassy, and buys me lunch, gives me a haircut, and then…

Contacts John Manners. An amazing man with an amazing story.

Late October of 2013 to March of 2014 – John Manners – San Jose, Costa Rica

John, I could never make up for the graciousness he provided.

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John and I in his casa in San Jose, Costa Rica

He took a beaten down man off the streets of San Jose, Costa Rica, and gave me a place to stay for 3 months, told me stories of his World War 2 days as a child, provided me food and shelter, tried helping me find work.

In general, he put up with my ass for 3 months.

And made a friend for life.

Inspiring me to truly pay it forward if and when someone who’s down on their luck knocks on my door.

John, I will revisit this entry with pictures.

But words cannot do what you did justice.

Thank you.

November to March 2014 – Bruno and Marilene Berthelon – San Jose, Costa Rica

Bruno Berthelon is John’s neighbor, and while he did help me out financially for helping with his web page (here), between  him and his wife and son, they showed me that hospitality and friendships can be acquired with lasting impressions.

Thank you, to the Berthelon family!

November to March 2014 – Doug Kelly – San Jose, Costa Rica

Doug Kelly, one of John’s friends, wanted help with marketing his spiritual business, of which I will detail more on this entry later. Check back here later for the material  I helped provide him, but in return, he provided a lasting friendship, and several chances to meet his friends and get out of the house.

Thank you, DOUG!

January 2014 to March of 2014 – David Blankenship – San Jose, Costa Rica

David answered an ad I had on a local web site seeking business partnership for IT project I needed a business partner.

David introduced me to his home, and family, and provided a place for me to stay as we started a business together, and Tony, I have to write about you and Michelle here too.

But David, thank you. I will write more later. I am limited to 2 hours a day on this thing.

Late March of 2014 – Alejandro Beltran Santamaria – Mazatlan to Las Mochis, Mexico

On the outskirts of Mazatlan, Mexico, I wandered to a temporary roadside restaurant to refill my water. I asked the lady tending the restaurant if I could rest a few minutes while I relax and escape the heat.

As I sit there, two men at the other end of the long table I am at ask me where I am going with that huge backpack I am tugging around. I explain to them I am walking and hitchhiking to Los Angeles.

I come to find out they are both truckers, and one promptly offers to buy me lunch. I can’t resist. I’m hungry. And roadside restaurants are the best.

They invite me to join them at their end of the table. That’s when the other man, Alejandro, offers me a beer. I don’t drink, so I politely decline, but we all engage in a conversation of travels and such.

As it turns out, Alejandro is bound for Los Mochis, 800 km north of where I am at and offers for me to join. I am beyond excited.

On the ride, I learn this man’s history – most interestingly is – he has 5 houses, 4 girlfriends separately occupying each house, and a final one for his wife and kids, all know about eachother and are perfectly fine with the arrangement. Additionally, he works for PEMEX, has for 20+ years, and buys me dinner that night, lets me sleep in the cab of his truck, and then provides breakfast the next day at the restaurant he owns outside his house in Las Mochis – and a ride to the outskirts of town with a couple extra pesos in my pocket.

Lesson learned: With three divorces, I couldn’t help but think maybe this man is ‘onto’ something in the way I should consider treating future relationships – that is – perhaps a little honesty combined with a flexible mind and partnerships with unordinary women might be in my future. This ‘one size fits all equation of one man one woman union might not fit for all people, and he exemplified how it can be a mutually beneficial relationship.

Early April of 2014 – Thelma Rodriguez – Nogales to Tucson

Arizona, even in April, can be relentless with its desert heat. I had been walking for about two days at this point, about 10 km on this particular day, when I am perched under an overpass getting a little shade.

I don’t have my thumb out, I am just sitting there, and that’s when Thelma Rodriguez pulls over.

We had a nice general conversation, I learn she drives back and forth between Hermosillo, Mexico where her family lives and her job in Tucson, Arizona on a weekly basis. She takes me to Tucson and drops me off in front of the Greyhound station, and hands me a little money for lunch.

Thank you, Thelma!

Early April of 2014 – Exiting Phoenix

At about this point, I was exiting Phoenix and entering Goodyear, walking on the side of the freeway, not even hitchhiking, when I see a car stop in the emergency lane way ahead of me.

This happens all too often, typically a driver having a heated conversation on a cell phone, so I have learned not to ‘run up’ like Pavlov’s dog to a stopped car.

This time, it was fortunately not the case.

I have to revisit this entry to add in ‘who helped’ me, but a random man and his wife provided pizza, a fresh shower, and my clothes being washed….

Thank you!

Early April of 2014 – Slobodan – Phoenix to Los Angeles

I was waiting outside of a truck stop not far from Phoenix, Arizona and my last ‘stop’. It was hot, and I had been on the freeway 9 miles down the road hitchhiking when a patrolman ‘warned’ me that it was illegal for me to be on the highway, not like a hitchhiker has a choice. The patrolman had driven me to this exit where I had sat, cooled down, and had lunch.

I had spent two hours and was just about to start walking on the freeway again, when a decent Cadillac with dark tinted windows pulls up, and I meet a 25 year old Bosnian immigrant by the name of Slobodan aka Bobby.

He’s fresh in from Florida, a cool kid who’s a little rough around the edges, and he’s bound for a round trip to and from North California. He’s tired from the drive, and simply wants company to keep him awake – which to me is a huge win, as I learn his route is going literally right next door to Universal Studios.

Not long after we go through the border of California, a border patrol car ‘randomly’ pulls up behind us.

Slobodan taught me a lesson that day, in standing up for your rights.

We’d been targeted for a random ‘search’ based on profiling, criteria that is not published. So when asked for his ID, Slobodan, knowing his rights, refused, by saying:

“What have I done to provoke this?,” it was a simple question, to which the patrolman responded with a rehearsed: “It is random, sir,” the sir added as a clearly disingenuine sense of respect.

Random my ass.

Slobodan soon found himself handcuffed, I as the hitchhiker was treated as a innocent bystander as our trip was delayed by two hours as his refusal to submit to this random stop resulted in a complete teardown of his car to ‘search for contraband.’

It was absolute crap. And I kept Slobodan calm, and said “You’ve inspired me, Slobodan, and I am proud of you for standing up for your rights.”

Me, I could care less my stuff was being searched. But I am not a private man.

And it’s absolute bullshit the argument they gave “If you have nothing to hide”. That’s an excuse. A slippery slope of logical fallacy that ends up ultimately having us stripped of all personal liberties, as well as treating our time as a commodity that can be wasted on a whim by someone or something (such as an automated system) which has no regard for us and our personal choices.

In any case, as expected, the police found nothing, and two hours later, we were on our way. Several hours later, I’d made a good friend and someone I respect greatly by his decision to stand up for what’s right, even if you don’t have anything to hide.

Thank you, Slobodan, for the lesson and ride!

 


I will be updating this page with photos and more information as I remember it, this is my living ‘travelogue’ and I will keep updating it as I have time.


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