Saturday, February 28, 2009

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

More Honduras Updates

We're now in Northern Honduras, at a small jungle lodge in one of the national parks. Peter went on a great hike up into the jungle today. It was a bit too much to manage for a three year old, so Soren and I stayed behind and did our own mini jungle exploration. The funny thing is that Soren was actually not looking forward to coming to the jungle. I think he had some preconceived notions of monkeys chasing us. But we've not encountered any attacking monkeys so far, so I think he's kind of coming around.

Yesterday was the day of the trip that I was least looking forward to. In order to manage all the things I'd strung together, we had one long day of bus travel yesterday to get one from one spot to the next. We were able to have a leisurely morning and a good breakfast before we headed out, but much of the rest of the day was spent on a bus, or waiting for one. It wasn't bad, just long. As usual though, Soren was a trooper about the whole thing.

We had a few experiences worth noting though,

> On our very first night in the country, we forgot to take his teddy bear when we left the hotel. Somehow poor teddy must have been hidden under the sheets in the hotel, and we missed it when we did our final sweep. Of course, we didn't notice it until it was much too late to retrieve dear teddy. Since then, I've been improvising all sorts of "things to snuggle" for Soren when he goes to sleep. Mostly it has been towels tied in a knot. Imperfect, but somewhat effective. Yesterday in the place we transferred buses there was a big shopping center. Soren and I strolled around while we waited to catch our next bus. At one store they had several HUGE bins of stuffed animals. Score! But as we dug through the pile, it became very clear that these were all used stuffed animals. And as we dug further it also became clear that many of the items had come from US garage sales! Some still had handwritten stickers that said "50 cents! Brand new!" Some were broken. Many were filthy. But we did dig a bit and found one that looked like he hadn't ever been used, tags still on. So I bought my son a used, garage sale reject, stuffed animal to snuggle with for the rest of our trip.

> As we were having breakfast yesterday, a young girl...maybe 10 years old...came by leading her blind father, or grandfather. They were begging. We've seen this type of thing fairly often in our previous travels. Peter, being his very kind and generous self, reached to get some money for them. He wanted to give it to Soren to give to them. But I just couldn't let him do that. For me, the whole idea of begging evokes so many complex reactions. Compassion for sure. Pity. And yet, sometimes it seems that by giving beggars money, we are agreeing with them that the only option they have is to beg for others to help them. That we are agreeing that they don't have anything of value to offer. And that just isn't right. I like buying things that they might be selling, or doing something that allows me to react to them on a more equal level, rather than just living out the haves vs. have nots story again and again. In the end, we didn't give them money. I don't know if it was the right thing to do. They needed money, and we didn't give it to them. So, maybe it wasn't the right thing to do. But not even really understanding my own beliefs on the subject made it too daunting to try to explain to Soren.

> Remember my previous post where I said that I was upgrading our hotel standards for Soren. Well, scratch that. He's now become an indoctrinated member of the dodgy hotel club! It started out in our time on the farm. While that was a great experience, I wouldn't say the accomodations were exactly sparkling. But we did just fine. So when we got back to town, we didn't splash out again for the $50 hotel, but found a clean and very basic option for $15. Welcome Soren to the type of traveling your parents love!

> And also, Soren, welcome to the type of traveling your parents don't love...the kind where you arrive after dark in a dodgy town which means that when your bus arrives you have to grab a taxi and have him take you to a hotel you aren't really sure about. And when you get there, you feel like if it is even remotely reasonable you'll take it because riding a taxi through a dark and dodgy town is even less appealing. That is how we ended up at the Hotel Principe last night. After Soren's bed time. It was the kind of hotel that had lots of locals milling around the lobby, always a bad sign. But it had a good deadbolt, and a Pizza Hut around the corner. Peter ran to grab us a yummy pizza while I got Soren ready for bed. Then we "had a party in our room" to quote Soren. It was actually kind of sweet, all of us huddled around a Pizza Hut box in a dingy hotel room under a dangling light bulb. Tonight, here in our jungle lodge when it came time for dinner Soren said he wanted "to go to Pizza Hut, but not eat it there but just take it back to our hotel room." I guess he does recognize a good thing when he sees it.

So, it looks like tomorrow we'll be heading for our final destination of the trip. Roatan. A fabulous island that is famous for its great SCUBA diving. Soren has been looking forward to the beach the whole time, and Peter and I are of course looking forward to the diving. We'll be there for the last 8 days of our vacation. It will truly be a "vacation" type of stop. We're very much looking forward to it. The one down side is that the Internet services on the island are much more expensive. So, I'm not too sure how much I'll be updating the blog.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Finca El Cisne

Wow, oh wow. We have had the most perfect, spectacular, incredible, and amazing few days. Truly, words escape in an attempt to talk about how perfect our time on the farm was. We met Carlos at a local cafe at 8 a.m. on Friday morning. This finca, or plantation, has been in his family for 5 generations. He's now been running a small guest house and tour business to bring people out to his family's place. We boarded a minivan with an English couple, two English girls, an American couple and their daughter and her Honduran boyfriend. It was an hour's drive through bumpy, dusty, gravel roads out to the countryside.

Upon our arrival we dropped our bags at the bunkhouse and then headed out to the horses. I didn't really know how this was going to go with Soren. He's ridden at my dad's house before, but never on long rides. And being part of a group means that we aren't neccessarily at liberty to just stop whenever and wherever we want to. But, what a trouper he was! He absolutely loved the horse and the ride. All three hours!
We rode all throughout the plantation through some spectaular mountain scenery.

Carlos showed us the growing coffee and cardomom as well as all the other projects he had around. In many ways, he and Peter were kindred spirits in that regard. Only Carlos has about 500 times as much property as Peter! He showed us the small teak forest he planted as an experiment, as well as cattle, cashew trees and endless varieties of flowers, vegetables and fruits.
We went back to the main house of the plantation for a huge lunch of locally grown foods. It was really delicious. Soren took a huge liking to Carlos and pretty much followed him wherever he went. When Carlos went into the kitchen Soren asked if he could help too. And so he and Carlos spent some time handrolling tortillas for our lunch! Soren thought it was so much fun.
In the afternoon we went to see the processing facilities for for the coffee. Well, Peter and the rest of the group did. Soren and I snuggled up in a huge hammock for our afternoon siesta! And then we all ended the day with a dip in the local hot springs and went back to our bunkhouse for another fine meal of locally grown food.
Originally we thought we'd spend one night at the finca. But it was just too great to leave. So we signed up for another night and did it all again the next day! Soren loved that ride just as much. His grandpa will be very proud when finds out what a natural cowboy Soren is!

It really warms my heart to see how well he adapts to all this variety in terms of schedule, language, accomodations, and food. He just pretty much goes with the flow. But it even more than that really, he seems to LOVE all the adventures we've been having. Peter and I really were sent the pefect son for our family.

If you are interested in more information on the plantation we visited, you can go here http://www.fincaelcisne.com/eng2.htm

Kendell asked an interesting question in her comments on my last post. She asked how we find these places. How do we know where to go and what to do. Actually, the answer would differ if you asked me or if you asked Peter. Peter would say that we just kind of go with the flow and ask people along the way what they recommend. That is true to some degree, but there's also Amy's great love of planning that comes in handy! For all our trips, even those in the U.S., we always start with a guidebook. Since I do love to plan so much I usually check out a few of them from the libary. That way you can sort of get an overview of the country from a variety of perspectives. Different publishers have slightly different angles. Over the years, we've clearly identified the Lonely Planet guides are our favorites. So we usually buy a Lonely Planet guidebook to take along with us.

Before we left I read through the guidebooks and came up with a list of places that sounded interesting and then did some logistical planning to figure out what would make sense in the amount of time that we had, what places had reasonable transportation connections, etc. And then I got a bit more in depth once I had a general itinerary trying to figure out which hotels and which bus lines etc seemed the best. TripAdvisor.com and lonelyplanet.com's Thorntree are great for finding first hand accounts of what other people experienced. It can help you narrow the field a bit.

But still, even with all that research, we don't ususally book anything in advance. We get somewhere and then talk to some local people or other travelers and check things our ourselves. Most times even though I've laid out a general idea of what I think we'll do, we'll take some sort of major detour from the plan because we find out new information.

I absolutely love travel planning, so usually on our return trips I'm already grilling Peter about where we should go next so that I can start planning the next trip!

And, speaking of that planning...tomorrow morning we are heading out to a town on the coast. From there we can catch a ferry to the islands where we intend to spend at least a week. But it looks like we'll probably stop off for a few days at a jungle lodge in a national park for a bit of exploration there before heading to the beach. I'll let you know!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Copan Ruinas

We are now in copan ruinas. i am in a small internet cafe and so far am unable to figure out how to capitalize letters. hm. i can turn on caps lock, but i FIGURE THAT WOULD LOOK WAY WORSE than just doing all lower case. so please bear with me. i also haven{t figured out how to type a colon or an apotstrophe. this could get ugly...

our bus trip yesterday was fine. hassle free. but as i mentioned in the last post, it is quite interesting bringing soren to a place like this. for example, here is a conversation we had on the bus...

SOREN...Mama, arent those mountains beautiful. (sheesh, seems like the question mark is missing too...)
me...yes, they sure are.
soren...but you know what i hate
me....uh, what (we have been working on the hate word lately, but i guess it hasnt quite sunk in.)
soren...all the garbage!!! why do they have so much garbage everywhere

hm, i didnt really know what to say. why do they have so much garbage. is it too much to explain that these people are so poor that the last thing on their mind is whether or not the neighbor hood is tidy. is that even true. i just told him i didnt know.

later on last night he was eating a granola bar as we walked through town. he had the wrapper in his hand and i could see the wheels of his mind spinning.

soren...mama, it is ok if we make a mess of honduras.
me....no, actually it is not, we like honduras so we will put our trash in the trash can.
soren...oh, ok.

another interesting conversation from the bus was when he noticed the ramshackle houses along the road. mud brick, or cinder block, or maybe some corrugated aluminum. pretty tough conditions. soren pointed out all the OLD houses. he even made a point of saying that people dont live there anymore. when i told them that people did live there, he just flat refused to believe me. no way. those houses are too old, no one lives there.

today was a really great day. we woke up early and got a running start against the heat of the day. we had a lovely breakfast and then walked over to the mayan ruins of copan. they were really spectacular. soren was great. he loved climbing all over them and exploring everything. he really had a great time. i do suspect though that our conversation from yesterday about the old houses could continue for awhile...on the walk to the ruins he kept pointing out peoples houses and asking if those were ruins too.

we are staying in a lovely hotel. it is actually funny to watch how our travel habits change with Soren. pre soren, we were quite content to get one of the cheapest places in town. truly, perfectly content. we didnt sleep in disgusting, or filthy place (well, not too often) but we would always choose the cheapest place that was safe and clean. so while walking around town yesterday looking for a place to sleep, it was hard to break out of that habit. i found plenty of acceptable places for $25 to $30 a night. Peter and i would have jumped at them years ago. but with soren wanting to play with his cars on the floor, or climb on everything we just require a bit more. and with him we spend more time in the room too. we used to say why spend money on a hotel that you barely use...but now we are there for a few hours for his afternoon nap, and for 12 hours at night. so it adds up. anyway, it brings us to wanting to step up a bit. the funny thing is how hard that is for me! it isnt like we{re staying at the ritz or anything, but weve found ourselves a lovely, clean, safe, airconditioned $50 per night hotel. it is funny to watch us adjust to these changes.

One other interesting thing to observe is sorens reaction to the armed guards that are so common. they are outside banks, but also some restaurants, bus stations and less likely place. they all have big scary looking guns. so of course soren wants to know who they are going to shoot. oy. i told them they were there to help people, but he just wasnt going to be satisfied with that. so i said that if people were being mean that the guards would make them go away. he wanted to know if they would shoot them. so, i said yes. since then hes been asking where the bad guys are. peter told him that they all left town when he got here.

tomorrow we are heading out to a coffee and cardamom plantation. it sounds really great. it is a run as a small guest house so we will sleep and eat there and theyll take us on tours of the farm and surrounding countryside. cant wait.

p.s. i was hoping to be able to upload some pictures from my camera here tonight. but i think i may be working on the actual original first personal computer ever made. i don{t think it is quite up to the task of a usb download! perhaps in one of our future stops. for now a description will have to suffice...we are all a bit dusty and sweaty, but we are all smiling.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Arriving in Honduras

We're here! We're now waiting at the bus station. Two hours until our bus leaves for Copan Ruinas which is about a three hour journey. We've sprung for the "luxury" bus, which I'm hoping means they have an onboard pedicure person, but I'm feeling like I might be setting myself up for a wee disappointment there. Actually, while the luxury bus does have better seats etc., its main advantage is that it doesn't stop along the way. So it makes the trip in the fastest time.

The journey to Honduras was pretty long. Not bad, but the lack of sleep was tricky. We got to the airport in time for Soren to go to bed at his normal time. My plan was that he'd fall asleep and then we'd just carry him on board for our red-eye flight a few hours later. Unfortunately, he had a hard time falling asleep there. It was about 10 pm before he actually fell asleep, compared to his normal 7:30 betime. He did sleep for much of the flight but then at about 3 a.m. his eyes popped open and he thought he was done! Oy. That wasn't too long before we landed in Houston though so it wasn't too much of a problem. We wandered through Houson for a few bleary-eyed hours and then caught the last leg of the trip to Honduras.

We debated our plan of action for our arrival - should we just grab a hotel in the town where we landed, or push on to the town we wanted to visit which was three hours away? The disadvantage of stopping is that San Pedro Sula, where we landed, has a horrible reputation. Filth, squalor, crime. But we just didn't want to take on too much in one day. So, in spite of the town's reputation we pre-booked a hotel. Upon arrival at the airport we were greeted by a taxi driver with my name on a sign! Cool. He whisked us off to our hotel.
(And before any of you jump to any conclusions that Peter or I have lost our budget traveler roots and moved to the upscale world, I'll point out that even our modest $28/night hotel will send a taxi for you here!)
Wow. The taxi drive certainly confirmed everything we'd heard about this town. It is as hard-core a travel destination as any we've been to before. But it really was interesting bringing Soren to a place like that. Once we checked into the hotel, we took a little nap and then headed out to check out the town. I'm sure if I thought long and hard I could think of one nice thing to say about it, but so far I haven't come up with it. The streets were chaotic, noisy and dusty. Throngs of people everywhere. Beggers in various states of infirmity. Money changers walking around with handfuls of cash. Complete chaos.

Soren really took it all in stride. He was a bit disappointed that I wouldn't let him chase the pigeons around the town square. That has come to be one of his very favorite travel rituals. But here I just wasn't willing to let go of his hand. We passed a small boy who was begging on the street. He was severly deformed, almost to the point that he seemed to be just a head on a small pile of flesh. Soren really looked at him, but didn't comment or ask any questions. Don't you wonder what he thought? We saw a blind woman begging too. I explained to him that she couldn't see, but I'm pretty sure that he didn't understand that she was begging.

It was a lot to take in. When we travel we really try to move slowly in order to actually see things along the way, to absorb them. We've always been slow-paced travellers, but now with Soren, we've slowed down even more. Changing hotels, familiarizing yourself with new surroundings, and dealing with all the logistical details of life on the road can be taxing. So we try to slow down and not take on too much at one time. Case in point, our dinner choice last night: we ate at Pizza Hut!

We all slept well last night (Soren for 12.5 hours!) and are feeling excited about today. We're heading towards a famous Mayan ruins site which is near what we hear is a charming, quaint town. We're looking forward to it.

Oh, one last note. Soren is having fun with the Spanish here. Whenever I say "gracias" to someone he jumps in and cheers "gracias amigos!" Needless to say, he's charming every person he meets.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Yoga Boy

Soren likes yoga. His favorite move is the Down Dog:
But he's pretty creative too. When I asked what this fancy version of the Down Dog was called he replied "This is the Hot Dog."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Él Habla Español

We're going to Honduras next week. So, in preparation, I checked out a bunch of kids books in Spanish at the library. Most of them are simple picture books (the one exception is a 1,000 word kid's Spanish encyclopedia. Note to self: 1,000 word encyclopedias do NOT make for riveting reading...especially since Soren insists that I get each and every one of the 1,000 words!)

Anyway, this has meant that he's been kind of thinking about languages and how some people use different words. Yesterday he asked me "Mama, how do you say thank you in Spanish?"

I told him that you say "gracias."

"Oh," he said. "You mean like gracias amigos?"

I guess he was studying without me somehow!

He also tuned in to a few minutes of Dora the Explorer. Afterwards he came to me in the other room. "Mama, I have a few more words."

"Oh, really?" I asked. "What are they?"

"I'll tell you when we get to Honduras." he said.

Can't wait!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Sweet Mama

Last weekend, Soren did something naughty that he knew immediately he shouldn't do (I can't remember what it was exactly.) His response?

"Oh, I'm so sorry sweet mama!"

The fact that I can't even remember what he did wrong is an indication of how easily this kid can manipulate me with a well-place word.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Banished

While I was in Switzerland I picked up a cute new stuffed animal for Soren to sleep with. It was a huge score because totally loves his new dog. This unfortunate for his former bedmate, Mr. Moose, though. Last night Soren insisted that Mr. Moose was no longer welcome in his room. I told him that Mr. Moose could sleep on the window seat...but this is what I found outside Soren's room well after I put him to bed:

Sunday, February 01, 2009