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.
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.
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.
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!