Sunday, May 29, 2011

8) Rio Dulce and Deep Thoughts.

After those wonderful two weeks on the Pacific coast of Guatemala, it was time for me to start making my way towards Belize. I had about a week to kill before meeting my Mom in Belize city. For some reason, I decided to head east through Rio Dulce. As a result, I didn't get to see and experience Semuc Champey. I have heard that Semuc Champey is one of the most beautiful places in Guatemala. In the middle of the jungle you find hundreds of waterfalls cascading into tranquil pools that have been created by beautiful limestone formations. All I can say is that the photos of Semuc are spectacular and that the reviews are great. No worries, though, I'll get there someday.

Instead, I chose to have a rather mundane experience in a somewhat mediocre part of the country. It all began in Rio Dulce. As you might have guessed, Rio Dulce is a small town on the banks of a Rio that is quite Dulce. The banks of the river are lined with thousands of sailboats and yachts as this is one of the few sheltered areas along the Caribbean coast. Most sailors store their boats here from June through October during hurricane season. There is not much to the town of Rio Dulce, but there is a 'must do' about 30-45 minutes west of town called Finca Paraiso. After paying a small entrance fee and a short walk, you will find yourself standing in front of a huge hot springs water fall. I have been to the boiling river in Yellowstone National Park numerous times, but this is so much better. The waterfall is about 10 meters high, and almost just as wide. It has a small cave sauna beneath the falls that is popular amongst some, but I only found it to be humid and stuffy. This is a great place to relax. There are not too many places where you can sit in a river in the jungle and let the therapeutic hot water beat on your back and neck. The experience gets even better when it starts rains, such a cool sensation. I must have stayed in the water for 1.5 hours before my pruned skin told me it was time to get out. After a short walk back to main road, I simply caught the next minivan back into Rio Dulce. It makes for a very worthwhile half day trip.

I stayed in a backpackers hostel called Casa Perico. Not too much to note about the place except for a young lady I met there one evening. For some reason, she looked vaguely familiar, but I could not remember where I had seen her before. As we began to chat, I mentioned that I am from Montana she said that she had met a guy a month before from Montana. I soon realized that the guy of whom she spoke was none other than our very own Captain America. No stinking way, what a small world! I suddenly realized where I had seen her before: she was the Dutch gal that the Captain was so infatuated with the night Pablo and I ran into him in Antigua. She had very distinctive curly hair, I knew I had seen it somewhere before. I was in disbelief, I couldn't stop laughing. I told her my many stories and experiences with our friend and she told me hers. Turns out they went up to Earthlodge together. Eventually, she opened up a bit said that he tried to put the moves on her in the temascal, but she kindly declined. O, my dear superhero, when will you learn that the ladies are immune to your superhero powers? I got a kick out of that one, still makes me chuckle when I think about our encounter. Just when you think you've seen the last of someone, you bump into them or their legacy at the most unexpected time later down the road. I may have gotten a little too involved in my previous stories about our friend, Captain America, but I had fun writing them. Hope nobodies feelers were hurt, it was all in good fun.

It was time to get on a boat. If you get a chance, I highly recommend taking the water taxi/shuttle to Livingston. It's a bit pricey and touristy, but it truly is a beautiful boat ride. It stops at various island preserves that are saturated with thousands of sea birds. Initially it sounds great, but when you get close you are overwhelmed by the ripe smell of fishy bird poop. There's so much guano that the leaves of the trees are white. Take some pictures, enjoy the ride, but plug your nose. do I describe Livingston? It is a mundane town with one of the ugliest and dirtiest beaches I've ever seen, but it was a good place to relax for a few days. I have been very few places that are so laid back. It is a mix of people of Mayan and Garafuni decent. The Garafuni are descendants are of African slaves, and they have some of the darkest skin I have ever seen. It's such a deep, rich shade of brown. And there hair is so course, so different than any other hair I've felt before. I am just fascinated when I close to them. Coming from the almost all white, conservative, and often closed-minded Montana, I am culturally lacking when it comes to being around people of certain color and ethnicity. I am perfectly comfortable around the Latinos, but for some reason I feel somewhat ignorant or foreign when I find myself amidst a group of black Garafuni. I am very open minded and try my best not to have any prejudices, but I'm still not completely comfortable sometimes. This discomfort is a good feeling, because I know I'm changing, I'm growing. The more people I get to know, the more I am realizing we are all the same inside. We are simply human. I have learned that much of the prejudice and ignorance heard growing up is a bunch of bullocks. Some people really need to get out more.

After a long walk down an unremarkable beach covered in garbage and dead fish, you will find yourself at the Siete Altares (the seven alters). This is a miniature version of what I imagine Semuc Champey to look like. There are seven waterfalls that cascade over limestone formations, that is, in the wet season. Of course, I was there in the dry season. No rain = no waterfall. However, there is one waterfall one can hurl themselves off and land in the deep waters below. Quite refreshing on a hot day, yes.

One thing that really stood out to me in Livingston was the poor condition of the dogs. For some reason, I didn't take many photos of the animals, but I'm sure I will have many more opportunities to come. Guatemala, as well as the rest of Central America, has a very different view of dogs and cats than the Western world. Most dogs here are skinny, hungry, homeless, sad-looking creatures that roam the streets scavenging for anything that resembles food. The few cats that aren't killed by dogs appear to be in a similar condition. Some people claim a dog as their own by feeding it scraps on a somewhat regular basis, but for the most part each is left to fend for itself. Most dogs live in fear of humans as they often have sticks and rocks thrown at them. They are basically wild animals, left to battle for survival. If they survive the contagious diseases, parasitic overloads (every dog is loaded with fleas and ticks and worms), dog fights, car accidents, and occasional poisonings, they still have to find enough food to survive every day. They have so many cards stacked against them, I would be surprised if the life expectancy is over 6 years.

This guy could barely walk because of the
huge tumor at the base of his tail. Very sad.

Livingston made the rest of the dogs in Guatemala look happy, healthy, and well kept. Almost every pup and many adults there were covered in mange. Many were emaciated and didn't even look like dogs. Numerous dogs were hopping along on three legs. I saw one in particular that had two limbs so badly mangled she could hardly walk. Not only was I uncomfortable watching her walk, but I just couldn't even understand the biomechanics of how she moved. It was the saddest thing I have seen on this trip so far.

Coming from a Western mindset, and especially being so involved with animals, it is hard not to have compassion. I have often thought, "What can I do? How can I help? I need to DO something. I, of all people, should do something!" Yet, on the other hand, I have had to turn a blind eye from many sick and suffering animals. There are many factors and circumstances that have made it not possible for me to help. There is quite a melting pot of paradoxical emotions flowing through me. I want to help these animals. I would love to provide a better quality of life somehow. However, this is the way of life here, this is how things have been done for so long. Can I even make a difference? Should I even care? Heck, I was talking with a Canadian who has been living in a small town in northern Guatemala. When I mentioned some of these thoughts to him, he said something that took me off guard: "Why bother? They're not even animals. Just leave them be. No one else cares, why should you?"

I am searching for many things on this journey, and one of them is my calling in life. I know this may not come to me, but it just might hit me square across the head one day. Am I meant to start a non-profit whose mission is to help the animals of Central and/or South America? Maybe, maybe not. Where do I even begin? One of the most difficult things is changing the mindset of the people. I could bring 1,000 vets and twice as many vet techs down to spay and neuter the dogs of Central America, but without changing the mindset of the people, it would all be for nothing. If the people don't take any responsibility, within a year or two the stray animal population would be right back where it was before. There are numerous international spay and neuter projects that spay 100's of animals in a week, but in the long run it is questionable if they even make a difference. If you ask them, they will indefinitely say they are doing good because they have that warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Trust me, I have been there, I understand. But I am a bit sceptical right now. It's like going to an African village to help plant a crop or give them farm animals for food. It helps in the short term, but if you don't teach the people how to farm or take care of the livestock, you've done nothing for them in the long run.

I don't know, these have been tough questions and I have spent much time chewing over them. There is no question that there is a niche for my training down here, but is it the right niche for me? I'm not going to lose any sleep over this because I know the right thing will happen when it's meant to happen. I have heard the sayings: "It will happen if it's meant to be" or "If it's meant to be, it will happen." Both statements have the exact same wording, but, for some reason, they both say something slightly different to me. Reagardless, they are part of a philosophy I have begun to cling to during my travels. This state of mind has brought me peace in so many situations, from finding a snack or catching a bus to something as significant as finding a long term travel partner or answering on of my deep life questions. On the surface, it may seem a bit fatalistic, but it really has brought me peace countless times. I don't want to impose that one needs to think like this, but it sure makes life much easier on the road. Right now I'm on a walkabout. I'm traveling, experiencing, observing, thinking, questioning, conversing, learning, discovering, enjoying...I'm changing. So much is unknown to me, but I know it  will fall into place in due time. No worries.

On a similar note, I have learned that each one of us is on a journey of life. It doesn't matter who you are, where you are, what situation you are in, whether you are travelling or not, we all have our own path to walk. Even if you are working a steady job and you have a family to take care of, you are living your own adventure. This did not become clear to me until I recently, for I could not see the forest through the trees when I was living the daily grind of a stressful life. But now that I have had a chance to breathe a bit, and I understand that we must make our own life decisions, we must choose what path we will walk. I know there are so many circumstances outside of our control, but what will you do with the choices set before you?

One night, I was sitting around a picnic table in the  middle of an ancient Mayan city, far from any present day civilization. I was surrounded by a group of travelers from all ends of the earth, each face was lit by candle light on this calm, starry night. One wise traveler, whom I respect and admire, would ask a question and each of us would take turns answering. He had many thought provoking questions, but the most profound was this: "Every traveler is either searching for something or running away from something. Which are you?"  This question really hit home to me, it rang with so much truth. I thought about it for a moment, but there is no question that I am searching. For what? I am not quite sure, but my heart tells me I will know if/when I find it. Maybe I won't find it. Maybe I'll look back on this journey one day and realize that I was actually living the answer. I don't know, but I'm at peace with it right now. How about you? Are you searching? What are you searching for? What are you doing to find that which you seek?... Or are you running away from something? What are you running away from? Why are you running away?... Only you have the answer, or maybe you don't, but I suspect each of us fits into one of these categories. Once you figure out the answers to that question, the bigger question in my mind is where do you go from there? What do you do with that knowledge? Must you do anything at all? Can you do anything? How does it change you? How does it affect your decision making in the future? How does it shape who you are? How does it guide you in your journey? Where do you go from here?

Such difficult questions, such profound thoughts, such exciting stuff! This soul searching is not easy, but when all is said and done, I hope and pray it creates a better person. Enjoy your journey!

1 comment:

  1. Here are a few words a friend wrote me in response to this post. I feel that her thoughts compliment mine completely:

    "I remember talking with you before you went and telling you - -GO. There is no other time in your life when you get to wander in the jungle and see what the universe has to tell you. Year ago, I wandered in the very same jungle as you -- Belize, Guatemala -- during a time of war and uncertainty. I walked away from that experience with a realization that we all have to find our jungle and our purpose.

    I appreciate your note very deeply. Life for me has been a hidden jungle as of late and I am reminded to go back to the centering that isolation and nature brought me years ago. You are so right ... we must choose our path. We often say that life is not in our control, but our reaction to life IS. No matter one's philosophical or religious beliefs - at the end of the day, we must make a choice - What WILL we do with the life we have? What matters to us? What mark will we leave? and What CHANGE will we make?

    Here at home, I am reminded to decide each day, What do I WANT to do? What matters? What mark will I leave?" -anonymous cool person

    I second that!!!