Well, here I am again. Another border crossing. This time it is the last. The last of 5 crossings in 48 hours. I am leaving Nicaragua and heading into Costa Rica. To say this journey has been interesting would be an understatement. 6 countries in Central America. All but Panama and Belize. 7 hours by taxi and 33 hours by bus. 3 different hotels. One rad British mate to journey with us. And lots of window face time. This wasnt quite how I had envisioned it, but I guess nothing ever really is. We were supposed to hire a car for the journey, but we realized that it wasn’t possible. We were then supposed to make the journey via bus in 2 days but that wasn’t possible either. So here we are. Day 4 and 6 hours to go.
The sites have been incredible. I suppose to the American eye, after this long it all starts to look the same. But still. Green rolling hills and towering volcanos. Dried river beds. Thousands of street side vendors. millions of acres of farmland. The strangest assortment of travel time movies. And one really dirty bus window. As a photographer, when I am in another world, everything is a photograph. But with windows like this, it would be like attaching a scratched up plexiglass filter to the lens and firing away. So as much as I have seen, I have not been able to capture any of it. The journeys are so long that most of my entertaining devices die. So that leaves me to a lot of quite time to think. My stomach hasn’t fully recovered from the Mexican bug I caught, so reading and writing has been quite nauseating. And im not one to sleep upright and sandwiched between a Nicaraguan and a Guatemalan.
So I think.
The 7 hour taxi ride was quite interesting. Our driver Jose was a cool young guy. He couldn’t speak a word of English, but he managed to get us to the right spot. The original plan was to take a cab from Comitan to Tapachula by bus. But there were some local protests going on between workers and the county governor. Locals rolled rocks out into the highway and wouldn’t let anyone pass until the governor showed to negotiate. He never showed, at least when we were there. So the bus route was cancelled until the matter was resolved. So we hired the taxi. We had to detour the protests, which meant an hour in the opposite direction, spending and hour on bumpy, dirty farm roads. That took quite some time, since it was the inly detour, it was one lane, and people were detouring in both directions. We finally made it back to the main drag. When I say highway, I am typically referring to local surface streets with hundreds of speed bumps and only 2 lanes. There are no traffic cops to they govern speed with speed bumps. They are An infestation of the road. Some are the size of small mountain ranges, others just a pile of rubble. That is the road we took through the mountains that separate south Mexico and Guatemala. It was an incredible journey with all types of weather, sites, people and subcultures. At one point we climbed a windy mountain road about 4k feet of elevation and found ourselves in the clouds and rain. The next minute it was 100 degrees and flat farmlands. We made it to Tapachula just in time for some grub and sleep.
Our plan was to tour Tapachula, hit the beach, explore and hang for a day before we hit the bus route. But we were made aware that our bus trip would take 3 days instead of 2, so we got up super early and the bus adventure began. The first day we made if from Mexico, thru Guatemala and into El Salvador. Again we found ourselves frequenting remote dirt farm roads in our greyhound style bus. Thankfully the first stretch, the bus was fairly empty so we could sprawl out and relax. Every once in a while they would decide to throw a movie on. We met a cool cat from England named James. He is a full time English teacher in San Jose, Costa Rica. That was our final destination, he was fluent in Spanish, and he knew this route well. He was truly a stress saver at border crossings and hostels. After 12 long hours, we made it through the first leg. The bus station was right at a hostel stop, we we checked into our room, grabbed some burgers and sushi and headed to bed for a few hours.
We have a 345am wakeup call for day 2. It was an early one. And kinda interesting because by the time we pulled away, the sun was already up. This was another 12 hour day. Nothing to spectacular. The border crossings were always interesting. We had 2 a day and with a bus full of people from multiple countries, they were usually a long stop. We typically would get off the bus, grab our luggage and line up for luggage checks. They would glance in the bags and move onto the next one. I coulda been carrying a bazooka and they wouldn’t have noticed. Yet we still all had to get out, get our stamps and stand around for an hour or two. When planning this journey, we had heard that Nicaragua was the place to be careful. Especially in Managua, the Capitol. That proved to be true. We rolled in at night during the middle of a wicked Midwest style lightening and rain storm. The roads had 1-2 feet of standing water on all lanes throughout the entire city. Traffic was a mess. The rain was like I have never seen. Every Washingtonian should experience something like that so they don’t complain when there is a little mist. Thankfully our hostel was only a block down from the bus station. We bolted in the rain with our ear, cab drivers harassing us and the rain melting us. But we made it. It was actually a fairly decent place, save for the ants in the sheets, no AC, drug dealers outside and thunder that was rattling the tin roof.
We headed back into the craziness to eat some grub at a hostel just down the street. The rain was coming off the rooftops like a waterfall and the drains were filling up quickly. The hostel didn’t have any signs or lights, but James had eaten there before so we trusted him. A little old lady unlocked the cage that was the front door, and we took a seat in some plastic chairs. Already dining in the this little concrete room with green walls were an Israeli, an Aussie and an Irishwoman. We got served up some mean spaghetti, which, if you know me well, was like finding a gold nugget in a river of trash. Another Israeli checked in to the hostel as well as a Dutchman. Everyone in the room was between 20-28 years old. It actually was a surreal experience. People from all over the world from completely different cultures sharing a decent hostel meal around a table in Nicaragua. It was straight out of a low-budget indie film.
The finals day was only 6 hours, but felt the longest because the bus was packed, the finish line was in site and they played some of the dumbest movies ever. There aren’t really copyright rules in this part of the world, so the movies we were watching were bought from some kid on a street corner with a stack of shrink wrapped discs. Legal? Not in the US. W finally made it into San Jose, Costa Rice, rain falling, and hired a ca to take us to our mate’s place. It was so good to see some familiar faces, have a shave and shower, and eat a cooked meal. Needless to say, I sent the entire evening on a huge couch, in a Costa Rican mansion, all alone. Well, except for the guard outside, his shotgun and a German Shepard. It was glorious.
I actually only knew John from 6 years ago at an old church. He and Ryan were great buddies and we made the trek to visit. John and Becca are missionaries that teach the Bible to high school graduates that travel to a foreign country for a year after school. They get immersed into the local cultures, study Spanish and the Bible, and just live life. It is a cool experience for John and Becca to be able to be there and mentor them and really get a dose of another culture and world.
I only got a 30 hour stay and am now actually on the plane to Seattle. Interesting to see our bus route from the air. It is truly a beautiful place. Dozens of volcanos, blue pacific waters and thousands of square miles of green jungles and farmlands. We never once saw the ocean from the bus or taxi, so the only thing I have in mind for Costa Rica was a trip to the beach. And it became a reality. Yesterday we hired a car and trekked a copupe hours west from San Jose to the ocean. The temp raised about 25 degrees, the water was warm and the food rocked. We found a not so popular beach that was more of a local hang out. It was beautiful and wasn’t touristy. John and Ryan tossed the frizby and frolicked in the surf, I snapped some photos and John’s wife and her friend soaked up the rays. We caught a killer Costa Rican sunset and the grabbed some more awesome local seafood. It was at that moment I realized I was no longer in possession of my phone. I’m not one to lose or drop things, but I manag Ed to lose my phone the last night of a 22 day trip. The only thing I was worried about was that some local kid had all my contacts and information. And traveling without a phone overseas isn’t ideal. There was a log that I had sat on about 20 miles back and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was the only time I sat down all day, but I still couldn’t figure how my phone woulda fallen out. Ryan and I hopped in the car and darted down the coastal road back to a daytime beach hangout. At this time it was dark and my stress level was increasing. But I got out of the car, walked along the beach in the pitch dark, right to the log and saw my phone lying there. The chances of it still being there was zero. It was there several hours in the daylight, and was right off a boardwalk where dozens of locals were hanging out. But sure enough. I’m not one to over-spiritualized things but I know that God cares about the little things and truly was to take care of us. When I was fishing through my stuff back at the seafood shop, I felt the Spirit drilling into my head that I need to drive to that log. I honestly didn’t even have to look for it. I just had to walk where I was led and look down.
This truly is a trip to remember. Many great stories for my grandkids, and a lot of time spent lost in thought. And yet after so much time, my thoughts are still lost in translation. Neither of my trips, Haiti nor Central America, really panned out how I anticipated. But that is why I travel with aopen mind. I fibre that once I am abroad, and I begin to experience new worlds, everything will begito change. But I sit here now, a holiday weekend away from returning to little Puyallup, still wondering what the punch line is. Both of the trips I attended to film documentaries. Neither of the trips allowed ample time to accomplish said goals. So I resorted to what I do best; still frames. Bt even then, there still wasn’t the time to be sensitive to the cultures and carefully examine situations before beginning to capture. So I return home with room on my memory cards. One of my worst nightmares. Part of it was that I did not lead either of the trips, therefore I was not in control of itineraries and agendas. That isn’t a bad thing, but because I have traveled so much, I tend to know things to expect and look for and be able to quickly audible plans and make things work. As an artist, I usually know not to expect the expected, but I know what to look for. I know what I need to make things happen. And one of the most important things is time. Lots and lots of time. Time to make relationship with people before making a photo of them. The expression on an individuals face in a photo changes dramatically if they have built a trust with you. But that isn’t possible when there is a million things to see and do.
But then a thought of true reality settles in. When I am 83 years old and telling these stories to my great-grandchildren, the fact that I took a photo or not won’t matter. Sure a photo makes it a lot easier to tell a story, but honestly most people won’t care whether a photo was taken or not. The story is about experience. About sharing a few simple moments in a lifetime with someone in a different world than myself.
So now I am sitting here, wrestling with God, trying to figure out His purpose in this whole journey. I was hoping to tell hundreds of stories in hopes to spur a desire in people to reach a helping hand to those that don’t have what we have. And I will still do my best in that. But my prayer is that in the few short moments I had with people all across central America, that somehow, someway, I made a life-lasting impact on their life. I had the epiphany last year about the “post-vacation” let down. I get it after every trip, as I assume most people do. But I realized that I always expect some magical feeling to occur when I return home and I have all these vivid memories and stories. But I find myself waking up the next day and it was as if it was just a dream. Save for a few photos taken along the way. But then I realized that vacation, holidays and mission trips aren’t necessarily so that we can feel all fuzzy and rejuvenated. It’s about the connections we made with people across the globe while traveling. It’s about very short encounters. And what happens in those encounters. The 7 hours with a cab driver. The hilarious multiple-lingual conversation on a bus ride. Catching the eye of a bystander while traveling down the road. Each of those experiences impact us just as much as them. The thing I miss least about Haiti is constantly feeling like the whole country is glaring at you thinking about how much they despise the color of your skin. (Coolio’s “Ganster’s Paradise” is the ringtone of the Nicauraguan sitting next to me, in case you were wondering).
As I was saying, in those few moments while I am standing in the back of a truck, and everyone is looking, I am making an impact on their life. Either good or bad. It’s either “there goes another rich, selfish, arrogant white guy”, or “that guy seems decent enough”. I can’t imagine it being anything other than tho two thoughts. So inn that split second while I am on my way to my comfortable hotel, or hot meal, or some touristy excursion, was my impact good or bad? Will that person remember me like I remember him or her? Who cares if I feel rested when i return home from a vacation. If I left a foul taste in ANYONES mind, the trip did more harm than good. I am not saying that traveling for pleasure is wrong, as I have done it more than many. But our purpose on earth isn’t to go enjoy all the pleasures of the world for ourselves. It isn’t about being served, but being the servant. My mind was blown as we sat down for lunch in the last village we visited. Nuevas Illusionas. We were served a TON of food. Mind you this village was at the very end of the road in a very remote jungle near the Guatemalan border in Mexico. They truly have nothing. Multiple families share a house, even though it only costs about 1000 for a house they would be satisfied with. And each of us were served a hot meal first. And then the rest of the families I nthe village came and got their daily portion. I was given the same amount of food as an entire family was given as their daily meal. That was their way of treating us like royalty. We were their guests and they wanted to honor us. I would do the same for my guests, because I have. They have not, yet they give in abundance. The point in saying all this is that Christ says that as we do to the least of these, we do unto Him. We serve those in need, we are serving Him. And when serving others, enjoy the incredible change that happens in your own heart. When I return from a trip, most of the time my worldview is refined, or completely destroyed and rebuilt. My typical American ways cease and I begin to actually live for someone other than myself.