Group: Peyton Erb, Cassie Leatherman, Rebecca Copeland, Yvonne Stauffer
I think we are all equally exhausted tonight. We went on a white water rafting trip today in the Pico Bonito forest just outside of La Ceiba, Honduras. First our guide had all of us stand together and say a prayer before our trip. Then they gave us tips on how to stay afloat if we were to fall off the raft. For three of us, it was the first time rafting. The guide told us all to jump off this 10-foot high rock into these swirling rapids. This was supposed to get rid of our fear of water and learn how to float. We just decided that the guide knew what he was doing and to trust him. We all jumped off one at a time. After many different feats like this one we got on the raft and started down the river. All of this lasted about 3 hours. We then rode back to La Ceiba in a big, green, army looking truck.
It’s called Free Travel, and travel free we did. In eight days, Jenny, Monika, Charity and I passed through three countries, wheeled and dealed in four different currencies, pushed, shoved and bartered our way into ten buses, seven taxies, four boats, two kayaks and rested our weary bodies in five different hotel beds.
From La Ceiba, Honduras, to the Rio Dulce in Guatemala and finally down to Managua, Nicaragua to reunite with out Cross Cultural “family,” whirlwind adventure may sound like a more accurate description. But, in the midst of sun baked bus rides, shady characters, a few seedy hotels, various creepy crawlies, miscommunication, misdirection and misunderstanding, each night as we gathered for our “debriefing,” although physically exhausted, we felt spiritually energized by the adventures of our day.
Whether it was white water rafting, zip lining, a spontaneous conversation with a stranger or fellow traveler, a peaceful kayak trip, a chance encounter with a previous acquaintance, simple yet delicious food, fishing without a rod or late night talks, we molded our week, moment by moment into a priceless life lesson. Starting with flexibility, good humor and a few grin-and-bear-it moments, the result is a week abundant in laughter, beauty of all varieties and a good dose of high quality adventure.
Our group name comes from our stench after hours of hiking and riding over dusty bumpy roads in the back of a pickup truck. We ended our first day of free travel with a starlight hitch-hike ride on the way to a little town called Gracias, in the mountains of western Honduras. We spent three days and two long nights hiking and camping in Celaque National Park, home to a very lovely cloud forest. We actually hiked for a total of about 13 hours, five of which resulted from a wrong turn on the infamous Sendero El Gallo. Looking back, we are glad for our mistake, as it allowed us to see a wider variety of flora and fauna.
After a good night’s rest in Gracias after we got back from our hiking adventure, we continued in the back of a truck to a little town called La Esperanza where we caught a bus to Tegucigalpa. We spent one night there in a pretty shady part of town after discovering that the two hostels that we had considered were either full or closed. The next day, we continued to the Honduran-Nicaraguan border, where we lost about $40 each to bad exchange rates and crooked taxi drivers. We spent that night at a hostel in Leon, and explored the city the following day, contributing to the local economy through our licuado (milkshake/smoothie drink) consumption. We stayed there for one more night, and the next morning took a bus to Managua, the capital of Nicaragua where we met up with the rest of the group in the lovely Quinta Shalom Guesthouse.
We had a lot of fun and met many interesting and very helpful people along the way. According to Ann, after this experience, we can now travel anywhere in the world!
While traveling, sometimes the most random encounters, the ones that you don’t and can’t plan, end up being the most interesting bits of the journey. Our group crossed paths with a colorful host of characters throughout our travels from the Honduran island of Utila to La Ceiba, to Tegucigalpa, and finally to Managua, Nicaragua. If having uncannily good timing with buses is a sign of sharp traveling instincts, I also believe that being available and open to the people along the road, among the pigeons in the park, and in the bus seat next to you, is a mark of traveling well.
We had one such encounter during an afternoon exploration of Utila. We followed some sign for bike rentals off the street and into someone’s yard, because on Utila you’re always walking into someone’s yard to inquire about food or a place to stay or laundry service, and rented mountain bikes that had seen better days. I had to go back to the shed twice for new bikes, as the first two did not successfully make it more than a hundred meters down the road. Third time was indeed the charm, and I managed to coax the geezer of a bike down the rather uncomfortable road to Pumpkin Hill, the formerly active volcano of Utila.
While the five of us rested at the side of the road, an elderly couple crossed our path. In his thick island lilt, the gentleman told us that it was no good, that we were too young to be tired. We proceeded to talk with him about his thirty-five years on the seas as a boat hand, which included docking in Norfolk, VA many times. And then we continued on our way and they on theirs, hauling sacks of wood shavings to their farm. It felt exactly like the sort of encounter one should have on a little island. We went on our way; the bikes survived the trip back to their shed; nothing earth shattering had happened. But the chance encounters we had during the week enriched our experience and added dimension to our journey.
Shadowed by the mountain,
Cutting through the trees.
The river roars its victory chant,
Beneath the water, life is gone.
The rain feeds its constant thirst,
The sand plows a deeper tract.
Rocks worn smooth by the river’s wrath,
Cast into shadow by the setting sun.
Whirlpools dance, spinning away,
Ripples pass, a fleeting glance.
Solid yet moving stone,
Liquid in a set path.
The river never rests,
The river always wins.
As we reflected on our week, our overall trip reminded us of white water rafting the first day on Rio Cangrejal. Even though we knew our final destination and the approximate path we would take, there were always times where plans changed. There were decisions and obstacles that we encountered along the way that were unexpected, but by working together as a group we accomplished what we set out to do and had a fun, interesting experience along the way.