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DiaryThis is Jan's diary. If you want to receive this diary by mail, write your mail on the contact form.
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Lago de Atitlán (see on map)
Lake Atitlan is one of the main attractions of Guatemala but we were told, that lately it was not as visited because its waters were contaminated with bacteria and not recommended to swim in it. We stayed in Panajachel, the main town on the shore of the lake, a town without any interest if not for the dozens of stores selling souvenirs on the main street, adding a little colour to the foggy days we had. It was a shame, because the lake is famous for its views of the three volcanoes on the other side of the water and we could not see the silhouettes until the last day. It was much more interesting my visit on Sunday when I went to Chichicastenango changing bus 3 times. Chichicastenango is famous for its Sunday market and really was very flamboyant, like Cuetzalan market in Mexico, with many indigenous selling crafts plus coloured vegetables and many other products for the home.
Apart from Sunday, we stayed 4 days more in Panajachel without any extraordinary activity and basically I stayed at the hotel working on my third book, a far more ambitious one than the other two and that, instead of talking about the travel , will explaining how you can be happy without free will. In fact, I had no plans to begin writing this new book until I got home after one year, after visiting the rest of America. But after pondering well I thought this was the best option. On one hand I find it more economical to start writing while travelling, because in Catalonia I spend a lot more money paying the mortgage on the flat (now I have it rented) and the food, which is much more expensive. Moreover, recently both Alexandra and I feel more comfortable travelling less intensely and spend more days in each place, so I can take much longer to write. On the other hand, before I could hardly concentrate in different situations, hotel and activities changing every few days, but now I find it easy to sit anywhere, even a bus, and concentrate on writing.
Well, in Guatemala I have infrequently opened the computer in buses, not only because they are often too crowded and we have been warned of security problems, but mainly because it is still virtually impossible to keep the laptop on your lap, because the roads are too wavy and the drivers drive too fast and sudden. In fact, Alexandra wanted to stay an extra day in Panajachel because she had panic of the buses, and when we take a bus she holds my hand very strong all the time, and if at some point she could relaxed then it was just to say that the buses were like a roller coaster, but instead of having a closed circuit it was passing through an open circuit, with higher speeds, tight corners and most vertiginous cliffs.
We spent four days more in Antigua, relaxing before heading to the following countries. We ate frozen fruit with chocolate(pineapple, strawberries, mango ,banana...) a very inexpensive treat. I walked a little more through the wonderful town. We are excited by watching the first match Barça - Madrid, and were surprised by the passions aroused in Guatemala by the Spanish league with Barcelona fans balanced with the number of Real Madrid, unlike Mexico, where Barcelona fans were clearly more numerous. And we returned to enjoy another procession before Easter, which will be the next week. On the streets there were many more people than the previous two Sundays, and seeing that in the following processions there will be too many people, we are happy to have made the decision to march on Monday.
In the hotel there were more people and we had the opportunity to talk with some of them about our journeys. Responding to questions, I had to admit that, while wanting to continue finishing the tour, I had 50% of my mind anchored at home. This allowed me to concentrate on other projects not related to travel, like how to write the book of philosophy. But as a negative point, I realized that we were taking the trip much more quietly and inevitably the diary I write is affected, resulting in being less exciting, less adventures to tell. It was the need to risk less, which made us decide not to visit Salvador and Honduras, two countries which, as we had been warned, ´do not receive too many tourists for being still quite insecure´. So we bought a bus ticket directly to Nicaragua, hoping that nothing would happen to us across the two countries.
Leon (see on map)
We left Antigua in the morning with a minibus, heading towards the city of Guatemala, where he boarded an old bus towards Nicaragua. There were more passengers on the account and a few had to sit on plastic chairs placed between the other seats. Luckily we sat on regular seats, but have done a good scandal, because we were those who had paid the most for the ticket, $ 50 in Antigua agency, unlike the $ 25 that the rest paid. In any case, the bus stop in Guatemala City, that was so small and isolated than we would have never found it and we would have risked being attacked in the same time. At dusk we reached the border with El Salvador, where we had to pull out all the luggage on the bus on both sides of the border, to be inspected slightly by the police, and the same procedure we had to do four more times, to reach Honduras border at two in the morning and that of Nicaragua at 5. We were surprised that El Salvador seemed well and clean, where everything is bought with dollars. Perhaps it would have been nice if we had visited it. Honduras Instead it seemed much dirtier and remembering the stories of violence that we have heard, we reaffirm our conviction that we did well not to visit.
During the trip I spoke with a guy from Guatemala, who since age 12 had been part of the Mara 18, explaining that to qualify on had to kill someone in order to get tattooed the number 18 on any body part. Eventually, his gang partners said there was a boy from another gang in a nightclub, and he had to attack without exchanging a word. First he broke a bottle on the head and then buried it in the stomach three or four times. Luckily, ¨said the boy did not die, but still earned the right to be tattooed with the number 18. But after a month, when it came time to tattoo, he met a group of guys who went to church and decided to change his habits, leaving the Mara and become a preacher. He said the Mara did not cause too much trouble to leave, they saw that he had no intention of joining a rival gang. But he did had problems with rival gang at a later time when 7 thugs, friends and family of the boy who was attacked with a bottle and nearly killed a beat him badly and left several scars on his face. Another man from Nicaragua present in the conversation, told me he used to drink quite a lot and took drugs. As he recounted his story reminded me that 20 years ago when I had been in Nicaragua, I had met many men who got drunk with alcohol they drank from clear plastic bags to fall unconscious to the ground. Then the man explained that he had stopped drinking because of his faith in God that helped him change his life. There were two interesting conversations that made me conclude, despite my atheism and rejection of religion, faith in God and belonging to a religious group can greatly help people to lose some bad habits. Finally, I wondered how could these people escape their vicious cycle if in the future disappear all religions and people stopped believing in God.
It was twenty years ago since I had been in Leon, the city where we spent the first few days. The city had a most interesting colonial architecture like other cities and towns visited Nicaragua , however, no comparison with Antigua. Maybe that´s why we do not enjoy too much the city, also because it was very hot, but mostly because we still do not know or talk to local people (except for bus talks). Twenty years ago I worked in some agricultural cooperatives and NGOs, but now, few people respond to us through Couchsurfing, so we were obliged to stay in hostels full of tourists who were only interested in fun, but also kept some interesting conversations with some foreigners.
Surely, the most interesting of Leon was Easter, but by no means was as spectacular as the Sunday prior in Antigua. On Good Friday there was a small procession through all the streets of the city, with people sheltering from the vertical sun with umbrellas. But the appealing part was in the evening, when residents of a neighborhood in León adorned the streets with some of the biggest religious carpets made from sawdust, flour and other natural dyes. One of them was created by a local artist who for the first time decided to put a real person in the middle of the carpet depicting Jesus crucified and became the major attraction, especially when the procession had to walking on the works of art.
In Granada was much warmer than in Leon, however, but Granada was a much more beautiful city, perhaps because it is one of the oldest colonial cities in America, founded in 1524. Despite its appeal, Granada could not compare to the city of Antigua in Guatemala. The buildings were not as well maintained and well-as Alexandra noted, there was no indigenous in Nicaragua, lacking the cultural appeal that Guatemala had. Nevertheless, we spent a good morning in Granada, walking through its streets and squares with the cameras in our hands, without taking the same precautions as in Guatemala, because almost everyone had confirmed that there were very few cases of violence in Nicaragua. Whenever we went we had to leave the hostel at four in the afternoon when the sun stopped being vertical and heating the brain. People told us that the heat was normal, because we were at the end of the dry season or summer, as they called it, but this season coincides with winter in Europe. Luckily the last days clouded over and rained one night, cooling the air slightly, at least compared to the previous days.
In Granada we fond again the French couple Fabianne and Arno, with whom we had met in San Cristobal de las Casas in Mexico. We shared a couple of evenings with them and they convinced me the second day to do a tour with them, to a viewpoint of the volcanic on Lake Apoyo. They decided to walk down and swim, going down on a dusty road that cost us much more to do than we thought. Prevented by the guards of the viewpoint, we also took some stick if we were attacked by thieves who wanted to steal the cameras, but nothing happened and finally got to the lake where we swam a bit. It was a good trip, it was worth, but I was so exhausted that it convinced me never to make another trip until the temperature goes down a little bit more.
In Grenada we also did not meet any locals, although the people we met on the street were always nice. Surely, Nicaragua was getting too much tourism, compared to 20 years ago, and people were less interested in interacting with foreigners. In any case, we had some nice conversations with a few expatriates who were in the hostel, some of whom were planning to stay and live in Nicaragua, because life was very cheap. One was a guy from Taiwan who worked as a translator from Chinese and Japanese, in spite of everything he wanted to study Spanish, because the Japanese language was too closed because, for example, Japanese do not use the verb ¨I love you¨ and instead they use phrases like ¨I like you to cook for my entire life.¨ I asked him which the most difficult language to learn was and he replied the Spanish, because he did not understand the gender of the words, nor the future, present and past tense ... linguistic rules very different from Chinese. It was also interesting talking to an American, who was wanted by the American courts to testify in a case of arms trafficking, but he would not testify and was planning to live forever in Nicaragua, despite the U.S. government was freezing all his bank accounts.
On the way to Rivas, the landscape of cultivated plains stretching between wild hills reminded me of my stay over 20 years ago in Nicaragua, where I had been housed in several agricultural cooperatives. Even, I remembered that one of the agricultural cooperatives was in Potosi, where we passed with the bus, where i enjoyed the same wonderful view of the volcano on the island of Ometepe, rising above banana plantations, a few of which I planted 20 years ago. As the bus moved forward, my mind surfaced the wonderful experiences I had, which were deep into my memory, provoking the desire to discover the world and finally becaming a traveler when I had the chance.
From Rivas, we took a boat to the island of Ometepe, across Lake Nicaragua. I told the captain that the lake was very agitated but he told me no, that was sometimes much worse than even a boat had capsized, but the main reason had been the poor distribution of its load. I asked if the sharks of the lake were in danger of extinction, because I remembered that 20 years ago there were sharks, but the captain said no, but had also banned fishing. Then he explained that the lake sharks rarely attack people, but his uncle was bitten on the thigh years ago by a shark while fishing. Then I read that the sharks of Lake Nicaragua are the sharks in the Caribbean who are actually going up against the current of San Juan River, and that sharks who have been reported seen in the lake, 7 or 11 days later are seen in the sea, and vice versa.
In Ometepe we were hosted by a guy from Couchsurfing who ran a hostel. He let us sleep for free the first two days and changed the last 4 days. As the days passed on the island, I turned to realize that Nicaragua had become very Christian. During the weekend they did a couple of religious rock concert in the town square of Moyogalpa, and Monday at 7 am a car ran through the town asking people to repent of their sins. Even I was surprised that in the pre-election posters of the Sandinistas were defined as Christians before the socialists. Why Nicaragua had become so religious? ¨The passion for socialism and not dragging masses? ¨People had lost faith in social justice promoted by the man and only trust in divine justice? Surely the Catholic Church and the preachers who came from the United States had done a good job, as has happened all over Latin America.
Alexandra enjoyed Ometepe, an island of two volcanoes, that was quiet, green, but also too hot. From there we bought the ticket from Panama to Colombia (no road between the two countries) and contact the people of Costa Rica and Panama that could accommodate us before our departure to South America. We also did a couple of short trips to Punta Jesús María and the viewpoint of the devil, but at no time did we go to one of the two volcanoes on the island, considering how hot it was. In contrast, a Valencian, who was staying at the hostel made all possible excursions, although he got very tired. The Valencian was traveling on a motorcycle, without maps, and was forced to ask people and just making lots of friends. The Valencian had a passion similar to my trip a passion that I had at the beginning of my journey and of course I wondered what was going on, ¨I am no longer passionate about the travel? As I spoke with Alexandra and the two of us were convinced that South America would be a new region that we will be attracted to it than Central America and that our passion for travel will increase again.
San José (see on map)
On Saturday night I stretched out on the bed next to Alexandra, and I began to stir, unable to sleep. It was the second day we´d arrived to Costa Rica and had been hosted by two guys and a girl very hospitable and friendly. Nevertheless, doubts have resurfaced in my mind. I could not help wondering if it was time to abandon the trip and return home. It was not the first time I had these thoughts, but before long I was convinced that there was only another year of adventures. All we need more is to cross the South American continent before the end of the initial project and learn about the diverse cultures of the world for six years. We had already traveled much of Europe, Africa, Middle East, Asia and North and Central America, lived intense moments, we made unforgettable friends, discovering fascinating traditions, visited captivating places ... And only we were missing another year. In fact, both (Alexandra and me)had the illusion to visit South America, knew that the continent will marvel us, but at the same time we felt very tired. During the first years of the travel I had not had this problem, but for weeks or months we were feeling so tired every time we had to change the of city every few days, sleeping in different beds, sometimes in uncomfortable rooms and with no privacy. We were still discovering nice places, but I let myself cost more seduced by its magic. We were still getting to know interesting people, but I was less anxious to absorb their knowledge.
We only had a year and this was precisely the problem. Almost from the beginning of the journey through America, Alexandra and I had remained with a part of our minds anchored at home, making plans for our return. Relatively there was little until our return and we could not leave the future plans for the last minute. Alexandra wanted to sell products purchased in India and I wanted to write books, a project that started before the trip. We were too excited about the return and often I had to restrain Alexandra, for example, she began to imagine ways on how we could decorate the apartment we currently have rented.
There was another problem. After publishing the book of adventures in Africa I had begun to write a book that initially I intended to start writing once we arrived to Catalonia. From so much imagining the future I had advanced the plans. It will be a book of philosophy about a theme that I am very interested in, entitled ´How to live happily without free will,´ the first book in a series that I plan to write. The book kept me locked up many hours in various hotel rooms, consulting the Internet, reading and writing. However, I forced myself out to explore the different cities and places where we were. But the book continued to occupy much of my mind, making me lose interest in talks with other travelers or local friends and the places visited, which were attractive, only to photograph. Inevitably I wondered if my dream was to become a writer, what was the meaning of continuing the trip?. During the early years, the trip had helped me gather very valuable knowledge for my desired career, but now I was failing in absorbing new information. I felt ready to start writing some of my conclusions.
We only had a year of travel, but I had long since decided not considered it a failure a possible early ending of this long project. The one thing I had clear was that I wanted to follow the path that would make me happier, but which was it? I went round and round in bed thinking about the appropriate response, waking often Alexandra scream to stop moving. I concluded that I would be happier back home. But I thought I could postpone my decision until after arriving in Colombia, where we had ticket in two weeks from Panama. However, if in Colombia I had to make the same decision, it may not be necessary to wait that long.
I wanted to discuss my concerns with Alexandra, but I could not do it. I knew that if I offered the possibility to go home early, Alexandra would not let me close this door so easily. I took another turn in bed and Alexandra complained again that she cannot sleep. I raised my voice and said: ´Alex, I have to say something.´ ´Shut up and let me sleep.´ I thought, ´she will lose this´ and I kept thinking a what I had to do. Imagine what our return would be like and the image was quite positive. I woke up and said ´I have to tell you something.´ ´Shut up!´ ´I´m thinking of returning home soon.´ This woke her up immediately: ´When?´ I asked. ´Soon, as soon as possible, what do you think?´ There was no need to ask her, Alexandra was very pleased: ´Yes, we go home. Later we can return to America and end this part of the journey.´ Alexandra was right. It was not necessary to end the trip, later, maybe in a few years, we could return to South America and visit all the countries that surely are so captivating. Now we needed to rest and begin other projects that will bring us more happiness.
Thank you for following our journey. In the future we shall return. A hug for everyone!
When I met Jan I never thought that this project could take place for so long but I joined and had the best time of my life. We lived amazing experiences that count for a life time. I learned so much about the world and myself. But the travel is not all that we are and we felt we need to begin other things in our lives and have more perspectives. The last few months have been quite enjoyable, the travel turned much easier but in the same time the heaviness of all the years of travel, 5 more exactly, were hanging deeply on our backs making us quite tired whenever we had to change from one place to the other, whenever we had to say goodbye to good friends from the road, whenever we had to cross a new border. We felt it is time to go back for many months but we kept it quiet admiring the new cultures and places that were unfolding through our eyes. More and more there was a big silence between us about the subject of going back home because Jan knew I wanted it and I needed it but slowly he began to feel the same. The project Globetour is not at it´s end, we will continue in one way or other, following new paths, contributing to new projects and surely travelling again at some point. Our lived changed thanks to this travel, we have so many good friends thanks to this journey and in a way this travel pictured our future.
Thank you all and hopefully see you again in Catalunya, our home or somewhere in Europe.