Looks a lot like adventure.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Ridicastache Results!

Most Likely to Get the Ladies: Michael

Best Use of Follicle Canvas: Brad

Most "shock" value: Brad

Overall Ridicastache Champion: Brad

Ridistache

The following depicts the creations and thoughts of the combatants:

Red Beard:

My design, both ambitious and highly symbolic, may not have reached it's full potential due to the use of an inferior electric clippers in the early stages of creation. I soon switched to a newer razor, however much of my strength (the thick carpet of neck hair) was already lost. Nevertheless, I kept my chin up and moved forward.



Minimalism is the message I wanted to send in this first, frontal view. I sought to capture both the dirtiness of our journey, our dwellings and our clothing through a use of, admittingly, the stereotypical "pencil thin mustache." This is also a tribute to Jimmy Buffet, who loved the carribean so... The "up arrow" symbolizes our unusual choice to travel "South to North" on the Central American isthmus, thus going against the backpacking grain.




The left side of my face depicts a whimsical, if not lyrical, rollercoaster of hair. The design impresses upon the viewer a sense of nature in a very unorthodox manner. Given our glorious surroundings and emotional trek, this felt like an appropriate expression for the left side of the canvas.



The right side depicts both a lightning bolt, symbolizing the breakneck speed at which we traveled many third world miles as well as the rough "isthmus" shape over which we traversed.



Finally, the underside. My greatest strength became my most glaring weakness. Originally designed to depict "TB II," for "Track Brad II," it's glory suffered at the dull end of an old set of clippers. I still managed to trace out the letters, but not to my personal satisfaction. In a sense, we have all lost for not having seen its full glory. Vote with your heart.



Hobo:

Well, to start off expressing the reasons for my actions in regards to my facial designs you have to know that my plan of action (contrary to Redbeards) was to "wing it". Some things worked out, some did not... ill let you be the judge, but keep in mind I am a special sponge that only soaks in compliments.




The first picture is my frontal view. I wanted to give the spectator an option of two different worlds of controversy and aversion. These worlds will be better described in the following sections.



First... my right side of my face was expressing the natural parallels that people live by without truly realizing it and like similarly charged magnets their instinctive urges to repel each other while coming from the same beginnings and consequentially ending in the same place (my chin).



Second, my left side... well, the left side symbolizes how men try to avoid hardships and responsibility when they feel too challenged and the fear of failure takes over the reigns. the top line that juts out away from the bottom splotch is this avoiding individual or feeling. Where as the bottom line that surrounds (seemingly to protect) the splotch is the challenge awaiting a worthy contender. Lastly the splotch, the most difficult area for me to announced completed due to its delicate detail and powerful passionate meaning that I felt should not be left up to a possible misinterpretation by the spectator(judge), is the reward(s) that follow the completion of the challenge or task if one is so daring to achieve.



The under view photograph accurately expresses what I have struggled with spiritually while on this trip and the burdens that most men carry (men, not women…women have no identifiable burdens). Sure, the different sides of the thick chinstrap of hair seem to be mirror images. But alas, they are so much more... they are the beginning and the end. Like Ying and Yang, these two sides represent my thirst to be a reflection outwardly as I live and breathe inwardly. It is truly a masterpiece of simplicity and insane rebellion.





Caye Caulkner, mon.


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Caye (pronounced "key") Caulkner is an island not yet overrun by tourism, with the cheapest and best hostels, food and tours in the islands off Belize. We checked into our hostel, which is run by a local man and woman out of their home... who invited us to a shrimp curry dinner followed by entertainment which included bongo drums and other rastafarian festivities (of which we did not partake). There are signs around Belize assuring us that drugs are, in fact, illegal.

Our main purpose in coming out to the Cayes were to dive the Blue Hole (a sunken cave about 50km into the ocean), however we were dissapointed to find out that it would cost almost as much as our return tickets home... despite what the guidebook said. So, we decided to take an all-day snorkeling trip on a 50-ft sailboat for about $40. The trip included three "dives," one being with a swarm of nurse sharks and giant stingrays.

We then spent the rest of the evening with two "doodes" from Boston/Seattle who were traveling south -- "doze geis" kept us entertained with Boston impersonations and random college stories. Then they told us if we are ever in Boston, they know a guy, who knows a guy, who knows a guy who can get us a free ticket to Wicked (look at these guys, real jokesters, they are...)

Today is all about Ridicastache, relaxing and then heading back to Belize City to check into our nice Hotel. Thanks to some generous donations, which requested that we get a hot shower and comfortable bed with the money, we are staying at the Raddison and getting our clothes laundered before we get on the plane. Thanks!

Blue Hole


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
We crossed into Punta Gorda, Belize on Jan 14th and headed straight to the bus station for our last bus ride over 5 hours.

Our guidebook showed a nice place with $10 bunks in the middle-of-nowhere but close to the Blue Hole National park. We got off and hiked the mile or so through the jungle (in the rain) to get to our beds. We show up at the doorstep of what turned out to be an exclusive adventure resort as two unshaven, unshowered and completely soaked backpackers... drawing stares and interrupting the day's stories of the corporate execs and their wives, who had paid good money for their adventures. We knew we were probably in the wrong place when check-in involved signing four different waivers stating things like "you are in the jungle" and that if anything "eats us," its our own fault.

We were also over 50km from any food and the dinner was a four-course $17 meal. We decide we're hungry and have no other choice... so we sit down, at a respectful distance from the J. Peterman adventurers. Fortunately, a backpacking couple (Katie and John) from upstate NY sat down next to us, so we talked for a few hours about budget traveling, sustainable farming and the must-do's for Guatemala. And dinner was incredible.

We slept in a thatch-roof hut and woke up the next morning to hike about two miles through the jungle before swimming in the freshwater blue hole, which is an old sunken cave. Finally, we caught a bus and rode to Belize City.

We can't tell you how great it feels to be in an english speaking country -- it almost felt rude speaking english for the first day or so, but we got over that one.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Belize & Thank You


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Belize it or not, we're here.

Hearing those first words of creole-english was like a cool drink of water. Seriously, we couldn't handle another week of Spanish... We're finally in Belize and the internet is unbelizabley expensive, so we can't update now... but we'll have a few stories and the ridicastache pictures up by tomorrow night. We're flying out on Thursday -- and I think we're both ready to get back to normal life.

Belize Navidad.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Popcorn and Cornbread


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
After Lago de Atitlan, we hopped on a shuttle and then an un-airconditioned bus (I wouldn´t mention that fact, other than it plays a role in what follows) headed to Rio Dulce. As usual, the random street vendors came on the bus selling baked goods, herbal supplements and fresh fruits... and since neither one of us had eaten most of the day, I asked the girl in front of me what she had just bought. ¨Quesadillas,¨ she said. Sounds good. I bought one... but it turned out to be cornbread. Earlier, I had also eaten some candy popcorn balls from a street vendor. Hrmmm...

Most of you probably know where this story is going... at about 8pm, our bus gets stopped in a line of traffic. Most of the men get off to go to the bathroom, so Hobo and I join them. I got off because the heat in the bus (I thought) was making me feel sick to my stomach.

After about ten minutes, I walked over to the ditch... and that was the first time I threw up. An hour or so later, I pushed my way off the bus... and again, I threw up.

We then arrived in Rio Dulce at about 10pm, checked into our hostel... and I started throwing up every 30 minutes until about 10am. I would break out into terrible sweats and dry heave the sip of water from the last trip to the sink/toilet.

I knew it wasn´t anything more than food poisoning, since I was throwing up and ¨nothing else.¨ At 11am I tried to eat some yogurt... and at 6pm I ate some salad. I slept the rest of the time and woke up this morning (36 hours later) feeling about 80%.

Hobo and I then hitched a ride for 10 quetzals ($1.25) with two friends from Israel and the UK and passed villages filled with houses made of thatch roof...

We stopped by the hot springs waterfall (see top), where a hotsprings river and a cold water river meet. It was a unique experience swimming in a pool that was constantly changing from warm to cool... first a patch of warm, then freezing cold.

After all that excitement, we headed to Puerto Barrios, the old stomping grounds of the United Fruit Company, which lies amidst endless fields of banana and pineapple plantations. Tomorrow, we plan on crossing the bay to Belize.

C. Castro: A Tribute


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Although not to be confused with the communist dictator, Christian Castro´s moves can bring entire nations to submission.

It´s only a matter of time before he pulls the proverbial Mexican rug from under America´s feet, tipping us headlong into the Gulf of Latin Infatuation. ¨Sure,¨ you say, ¨but how will all those people breathe under water?¨ Our answer: Azul Love.

Whether strolling on the beach with his musclebound hombres, picking up chicas, dancing at hot clubs or just being awesome, Christian Castro has stolen the hearts of anyone who can count to tres.

America: Look Out! There´s a new Castro in town -- and you can´t put an embargo on his love! To see more on our recent discovery visit http://www.christiancastro.net/ or view the video below:



We have realized how much we miss normal, American music. Even the bad stuff. Seriously.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

¿Lake Como Que?


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
"Lake Como, it seems to me, touches the limit of the permissibly picturesque; but Atitlan is Como with additional embellishments of several immense volcanoes. It is really too much of a good thing." Aldous Huxley, Beyond the Mexique Bay (1934)

We recovered from the Chicken Bus and checked into a pretty decent hotel for $5 each/night, thankful to be alive. As we walked through the streets, a local in a hooded sweatshirt whispered "Smoke... Ganja." Which was the fifth of about ten times weve been offered drugs on this trip. San Pedro de Laguna is one of the many bohemian villages dotted around Lago de Atitlan, all of which have a strong Mayan heritage. We went to bed after dinner and woke up the next morning to visit a town where men and women still wear traditional Mayan dress and speak one of 25 Mayan dialects.

In one an alley we saw a Mayan woman weaving small blankets. As we passed, she whispered softly "Only One Dollar..." which stopped us both in our tracks. Out of pure curiousity, we turned to see if she was for real. We soon found ourselves in a deep Mayan trance, luring us to open our wallets and pay too much for a blanket. She was good... very good. So good that RedBeard wanted to give her money for nothing. Hobo went ahead and bought a $5 blanket (which he claims started at twenty dollars, but RedBeard cant remember much from that encounter and can not verify the claim)... Hobo later regretted the purchase after he had pulled out of the trance.

We then rode a lancha (fast boat) back across the lake. About halfway through the ride, the high winds started blowing water all over everyone... so the operator handed us a tarp to pull over our heads. You can ride with us in the video below... as you can tell, the lake was rather choppy today.



There wasnt much else to do other than shop -- so we bought a few gifts and explored the town. The view was absolutely incredible and today was mostly a day to slow down and relax before we get back on a bus. Tomorrow we have to travel for about 10 hours to get to Rio Dulce. Enjoy the pics and videos:













Ridicastatus

I know many of you are curious as to how our beards are coming, especially with only a week to go in the competition. Enjoy:





Chicken Bus


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
(Spanish has very few contractions, so please forgive the absence of apostrophes, as these keyboards do not have an apostrophe key.)

I know that some of you did not want us to ride the 2nd Class buses (Mom) -- but not doing so would be like going to DisneyLand and not riding Space Mountain. Plus, there are some routes in which they are simply unavoidable.

From Antigua, we were trying to get to Lago de Atitlan, an out of the way lake which has not yet been overrun by tourists. We asked the local information office for the best way to get there, as our guidebook was lacking, and he drew us out a route from the local bus station. We show up to see only multi-colored buses and a few Guat men yelling for the first stop on our three bus route. We got on. The first leg was no big deal, about forty-five minutes on a 1950s bluebird schoolbus.

We then met up with some hippie Brits who were headed to San Pedro de Laguna, one of which knew the 2nd class bus system, so we followed them. We got on our second bus and... well, imagine paying money to ride a 60-year-old rusted rollercoaster at twice its operating velocity. Now put five cars on a track meant for one. And then push it up to the edge of a cliff and try to pass the cars in front of you. To top it off, no one is screaming.

After about the fifteenth time our driver tried to pass eight other cars at twice the speed limit around a blind corner of a two-lane mountainous road, I turned to Hobo and whispered, "Yea, this is the most dangerous thing I have ever done." We both laughed nervously and held on tight as we thought about that statement in context of all the other stupid-crazy things we have both done. I spent the rest of the trip praying, "God, if you want to take me today, Im ready... but dont take Michael, it would kill mom."

The portly bus manager suddenly started screaming for us to get ready to get off, so we shuffled forward through the crowd, only to look back and see the manager STEPPING OUT THE BACK OF THE BUS AT FULL SPEED AND CLIMBING ON THE ROOF! At this point, we are still going around hairpin turns at breakneck speed. The next 30 seconds are more or less a blur.. and Im not even sure the bus ever came to a complete stop. All I remember is catching backpacks as the manager carelessly threw them from the roof... the last one hitting the ground as the bus sped off.

We all kinda looked at each other for a second and wondered, "did that just happen?"

As our Brit friends put it, "Ive rode a lot of Chicken buses in my life, but that one was a bit dodgy." I recommend everyone try a Chicken bus while youre here, if you have a strong stomach and have made peace with God. But I think weve had our fill... You can join us for a few seconds on the bus, but know that the clip does not do this experience justice.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Clown & COPANy


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
We spent our evening enjoying the perfect weather, clean streets and cloudless sky of Copan, Honduras. We mostly lazed around in the serene calm of the town square, listened in on a Catholic mass and RedBeard took advantage of a working international phone and called Katie. It was the perfect night and ending to a long travel day. Our hostel cost $4.50, called the Manzana Verde – clean, but basic.

In the morning, first on the agenda was to convert some travelers checks to cash – but since RedBeard did not have his passport (we had to pay our restaurant bill to get them back), Hobo had to convert for the both of them. We waited in line and then stepped up to the teller, who then directed us to the business desk, claiming he could not cash travelers checks. So, after waiting our turn at the desk, the lady insisted she could not convert either, so we were forced to get back in line and wait for another teller. Whatever – we are a guest and that means we take things as they come and appreciate what we have…

As we were in line, the Scorpion Clown (an older Honduran man who spoke broken English and performs magic tricks with coins and performs as a clown at parties) started teasing Hobo about not being married… and then began acting as mediator/matchmaker for a young, attractive Honduran girl in front of us in line. As you can imagine, the fact that the girl (named “Flor”) seemed open to the proposition only brought the situations awkwardness to full maturity, in a way only the dynamic teamwork of Hobo and a circus clown could accomplish. When we found out Flor was 16, it brought down the casa.

Then, things got interesting.

Hobo got to the teller and signed his checks, with passport in hand and slid them across the counter. The teller compared the signature on his passport (from when he was 16) and the random scribble (which did not perfectly match) signatures on his checks and rejected the transaction. The problem is that those travelers checks would now be invalid and would have to be replaced… so we took it to the manager, who rejected them. We then took it to the overall bank manager, who was much more accommodating, who made photo copies of all the checks, the passports and got our contact information before reluctantly shelling out the cash. Close call – but it allowed us to purchase the shuttle to Antigua, get RedBeards passport back and then visit the amazingly preserved Copan Mayan ruins. The picture below shows the field in which Mayans played a game similar to soccer with a 10lb rubber ball. The losing captaion was decapitated and the head was placed on the round stone to allow the blood to be drained for use in religious ceremonies.








Our tour guide, Tony, claims to be in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the “best Copan guide, serving the longest in the most languages.” He speaks five languages fluently and can greet others in over 100 languages, which has come in handy over his 31 years as a guide. He was a wealth of random information and cheesy jokes, and when he smiled, he revealed he as missing his four front teeth. He also claims the sculpture below is of his brother.



After Copan, we loaded into a shuttle bus which promised to take us to Antigua in 6 hours… the trip started well, until we noticed that the driver would not get out of first gear when going up hill… and we literally never exceeded 10 mph on the incline. However, the driver took full advantage of the force of gravity on the downhill and road that baby for all she was worth. We were literally getting passed by ever car. Which was funny at first, but then a Californian couple started asking angrily what the problem was… and the driver, much to the couples aggravation, ignored their questions. It started to get really old, as we realized we were over 2 hours behind schedule and we were trying to make it to Antigua in enough time to find a place to watch the BCS championship game… (see video)





Eventually, the Californian couple got off, and everyone made fun of them and we made it to Antigua. We found an American-owned sports bar and caught the last three quarters of the upset. We then went to bed in a $4.50 hostel bed. Today we are going to explore the absolutely incredible town of Antigua... stay tuned.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Menu

We have eaten at some interesting restaurants...




Umm... credito?


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
So... after waking up at 3am to make our bus to Copan, we had only eaten fried platanos and coffee all day. It was about 2pm and we were starving. So we checked into our $4/night hostel and walked over to a local restaurant called ViaVia. The food was awesome and only cost about $14 for two beers, four coffees and two huge plates of food. This was one of the better meals we have had on our trip.

As we were finishing our food and ordering our second cups of coffee, we had struck up a conversation with a nearby American couple, who were now living in Mexico. We talked about a few things to see off the beaten path and shared traveling stories... they began paying for their meal and we called for our check.

Before the meal, Hobo had realized he was out of cash and had nowhere to exchange his travelers checks (as it was Sunday). "No problem," RedBeard said, "I can cover you," since his wallet was fat with cash.

As the check arrived, Redbeard soon realized that the fat bulge in his pocket was mostly one lempira bills (about six US cents) and a few larger bills. All together, we had about ten dollars and the meal was about fourteen. Embarrassed, RedBeard tried to stall the paying of the bill and end the conversation with the Americans so he could try and use his credit card with the waitress.

The waitress came over and informed us that credit cards were not accepted. In exchange, she took RedBeards passport until our bill is paid in full

We then spent the next hour and a half getting leads from stores and hotels on where to cash travelers checks on a Sunday. The above map shows the rough path of our route. No dice. We now have to wait until 9am when the banks open.

In short, my passport is still with some waitress in Copan. Good story, I know.

Hondurance


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Today marked our 7th bus ride longer than 7 hours, putting us over half-way through our journey.

Without question, we are in a third world country. Most of our day is spent arguing with cab drivers over fares and the correct amount of change, discovering unmarked bus routes, street names and prices before bathing in rivers and eating meals that costs less than $6 for two people. The neighborhoods consist of dilapidated concrete structures smaller than most American garages, yet house families of up to ten. We negotiate garbage-lined streets, packed tight with whistling vendors selling raw meats and try to avoid pickpockets and men urinating openly in broad daylight (not in a corner or an alley, but on the sidewalk facing the traffic). Less than a quarter of the streets are paved. Homelessness and child beggars are everywhere; the little we can do will never be enough.




This is Tegulcigalpa, Honduras – a city of over 1.2 million people. Devastated by Hurricane Mitch, “Tegus” has very little in way of “sights” beyond a crowded city park filled with charismatic street preachers and Policia. It is easy to take pictures of the beautiful sites as we have been doing, but the dangerous and forlorn areas are more difficult – for one, we may come out of the barrio cameraless and two, it feels rude. We have tried to take a few shots from a distance for this entry, but the sights we describe above are far more common that we have let on… Everywhere we go, the two bearded gringos draw constant stares and seem easy targets for overpriced cab fares (although we are becoming much more shrewd).

Anti-Americanism is common, which should not come as a surprise given our extensive involvement in the region over the years. As one of our fellow travelers in Costa Rica advised us on Nicaraguan and Honduran sentiment, “Don’t be wary, but be aware.”


Both of us are tired from little sleep in the heat and humidity (we both sweat through most of the night), riding long buses over narrow, windy mountain-sides and pushing very hard to keep our aggressive schedule. Although we have seen an incredible amount in our short time and our travel time has been extremely efficient, we are very much looking forward to slowing down in Guatemala and Belize before coming back to the States. So far, this has been an incredibly eye-opening journey, which can not be explained but only experienced.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Nicarandom

Sorry that last post is kinda boring. We´re tired and I was in a hurry. We´ll try to be more creative next time -- until then our plan is to dazzle you with more cheap videos.
 
In Managua, Nicaragua right now -- complete dump. I´d rather live in Houston. It was leveled by Hurricane Mitch in the early 80´s and has never recovered. To quote our guidebook, ¨Few cities in the world have less to offer travelers that Managua.¨ It´s dirty, people are ¨ïn your face,¨ and there truly is nothing worth seeing. We´re about to go to bed to make our 4am bus to Tegulcigalpa, Honduras (9 hour bus ride), where we will stay for one night and leave for Copan Ruins (old Mayan Ruins on the western border of Honduras) the next morning. We may stay there for a day or two, because we have decided to skip over El Salvador all together. Even though we fully intended to (and very well could) pass through ¨just to say we did,¨ everyone we talk to has urged us to skip ES and pass straight through to Guatemala. The more time we can get there the better... We agree.
 
In regards to flora, there hasn´t been much since Costa Rica, which had just about everything you can grow in Houston... only much larger. There is apparently a grass variety that can grow to as high as 150ft out there... and after seeing the area for myself, I believe it.
 
We are just about halfway as far as days and distance traveled... hopefully more adventures in store soon.
Having trouble pronouncing the title of this post? Now you know how I feel when I try to pronounce any street name out here... but my Spanish has really clicked over the past two days, many words have come back to me and I am managing much better than the first week.

Que paso...


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Nicaragua is to Costa Rica what Mexico is the United States. It is, according to what we´ve heard, the second poorest country in the western hemisphere after Haiti. Historic colonial areas have been well maintained in Granada and much of the wealth of the country is concentrated in Managua, however the rest of the country is in extreme poverty. Many migrant workers cross the border to Costa Rica to support the tourist industry and work on the pìneapple, coffee and fruit plantations. In Costa Rica, they are treated as a lower class -- and in turn, most Nico´s call Tiko´s (Costa Ricans) ¨dogs.¨ Despite what we hear in the United States, Nicaragua is largely a friendly and safe country, as long as you are smart about it -- not going out after dark and looking after your belongings.

The picture to the right is with our Nico friend Jonathan, who helped us quickly cross the border and get through the multiple layers of bribes, checkpoints and stamps. At every turn, someone took a few Cordobas for their trouble.

Before arriving in Nicaragua, we had toured Volcan Arenal, which is the second most active volcano in the world -- but, as our guide explained, ¨6 nights a month¨ are too cloudy to see lava... three of which were during our stay... but we still had a good time in the touristy town and at the ¨dancing waterfall¨ with Kathleen and Elizabeth, who we spent our last morning in CR with...

We also hiked through the CR rainforest... about ten minutes into the hike, we heard a dull roar approaching, like a semi truck down a highway, getting louder and louder. It wasn´t until it was almost directly overhead and we noticed slight drippings through the thick jungle canopy that we realized it was rain. We walked through the rest of the path and got completely soaked -- which was a really good thing -- since it washed most of the stink out of our clothes. (We´ve decided to go swimming in fresh water every few days to keep our clothes somewhat clean...)

After the rain, they took us to the Volcanic Hot Springs -- and all the backpackers on the tour (about ten of us, some who were planning on traveling around the world for over a year) had to laugh as the whole lot of us, dirty, smelly, hairy -- most covered in tattoos and piercings -- walked into an exclusive resort. We all had a great time swimming in the volcano heated pools... one which was over 150 degrees... it literally scalded your little toe as your stepped in... and we definately didn´t see anyone ¨hanging out¨ in that pool.

As we were sitting in one of the ¨less than boiling¨ pools, a group of men moved by us as we watched the USC game on TV. One of them was from USC and started talking with us -- and a guy from A&M came over as well. The men seemed very interested in both of us, so Red Beard quickly made a comment to the A&M grad about how he watched the t.u./A&M game with his Texas girlfriend... to which he responded, ¨Oh geez, well you need to get rid of her...¨ We then politely excused ourselves and moved to another pool.

We stayed at the Hotel Dorothy in La Fortuna, which was only $10 for a private room for two, cold showers and served hot breakfast for a few dollars. They also were very active in helping us find the best things to do and in getting us out to Nicaragua.

Once across the border, we stopped at Casa Oro in San Juan del Sur and hung out at the beach for the morning. After a few hours of relaxation and hiking, we caught a cab to Rivas and a bus to Granada (which cost about $1.10). We watched as locals occasionally threw trash out the windows of the bus and a 10 year old boy performed songs for tips, keeping a beat with a coke bottle filled with sand. There have been so many great photos along the way that we have not taken... for some reason, taking pictures of the poor doing daily tasks feels like we are violating their privacy... like they´re zoo animals. We´re trying not to be ugly Americans.

Yesterday, we took an incredible zip line tour of the rainforest, which was over a coffee plantation. We met our friend Lee Anne, who decided last minute to hop on the tour with our group.

Today we plan on hiring a boat to take us around the lake Apoyo and then heading to Managua, as our bus for Tegulcigalpa, Honduras leaves at 5am.

We showered today at the hostel, which doesn´t rent towels, so our solution was to use some knee-high security socks our Mom gave us to dry off... which worked really well. Thanks mom!

We´ll try to be more regular with our posts, but its hard to find working internet, time and energy to make worthwhile posts... but we´re having a great time and it is very safe here!

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Zipline in Rainforest

Here´s Brad ziplining over a coffee plantation in the Nicaraguan rainforest. Enjoy.

Catch Up


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
We have about three days to catch up on -- but we want to be careful not to spend the majority of our time traveling on buses and typing on computers... so, we may just give a quick summary of the past couple of days pretty soon...

We´re in Granada, Nicaragua, which I think is our favorite country/city so far -- and the hostel we´re staying at is -- well, we hesitate to use the word ¨perfect¨ -- but its pretty close. It´s called the Bearded Monkey, you can look it up here: Http://www.thebeardedmonkey.com. Also, its for sale -- and I seriously want to buy it.

Today we´re going through a zip line canopy tour of the jungle... look forward to some new videos/recap on the past few days... because we couldn´t get a bus out of here for Tegulcigalpa, Honduras until Saturday morning, we´re ¨stuck here¨ for a few day or two longer than scheduled... we´re going to try and get ourselves back on schedule by just breezing through San Salvador... there´s not much worth seeing, so we hear.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Dancing Waterfall

Well worth the view...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Rabbi Andres the Hippy


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Andres was not your average dude. There was something unusual and refreshing about him -- an overwhelming joy and gentleness that seemed to ooze from his innards. He never wore a watch, didn't even know what day it was and, for his three day trip in Panama (in order to renew his Costa Rican visa), he brought only a bag with a roll of posters and a bottle of water.

As we were walking through the border, we asked Andres why he was in Costa Rica. "I live here," he said. "What do you do?" I asked. He then said something about farming and art and building a youth ranch... and coming because of "the call," which sounded a bit spiritual, so I asked him if he was a Christian. "Probably not the way most people think of it in America -- I don't even call myself that anymore... I follow Jesus... God is all I have... it's total surrender."

We talked some more about what we planned on doing in San Jose and tried to push through the crowd to get our bags out of the bus -- and he got a bit distracted with the rush and said, "Look guys, the only thing you need to worry about right now is getting one of those coconut drinks over there..." So, we took his advice and bought a freshly picked coconut, which we drank through a straw. Simply amazing.

When our conversation moved back to our travel plans -- Andres stopped and said, "Guys, the most beautiful waterfalls in Costa Rica are in my backyard..." He then showed us a poster of the guide company he works with... He explained that a man named John started buying up a bunch of "worthless" property in a small country called Costa Rica many years ago -- has held on to it -- and is focused on using that property in whatever way God leads him. Andres was given stewardship over about 25 acres to build a farm and a youth ranch.

Now, I know what some of you may be thinking at this point (Mom): "A stranger, you went with a stranger?!?!" We're traveling through this area and have to make gut decisions many times each day -- and we gather all the information and act... this guy was from Oklahoma, went to a high school we recognized, had a poster, credible story, American passport and we spent over two hours talking with him. My gut said it was safe, so we went...

Our biggest concern was how we were going to get back -- since the place we were going is pretty remote, and we had a schedule to keep. It was at that moment that we realized we were slipping into overdrive mode, where the schedule was more important than the adventure. Still, we were concerned that we could be set back a few days if we couldn't get out... Andres then called his fellow guides and found out that a few people were in the cave above a 600ft waterfall (where we were planning on sleeping the second night after a hike) doing a Native American "Sweat." His fellow guide said we could come see the cave, but there would probably be a lot of "naked guys throwing up." At that point, we all laughed and we agreed it would be best to not make the long hike and to instead to leave the next morning and head to San Jose to meet with our bulb farmer friends... which would keep us on schedule.

As we got off the bus at San Isidrio (just short of San Jose), we walked with Andres to the mechanics shop where his truck was being fixed. The door was locked and the mechanic was not coming back until January 2nd. Welcome to Costa Rica.

So, since we were fighting daylight, we insisted on getting a cab (which we think went against Andres natural inclination to take his time and hitch a ride) and took it all the way to the farm and met all the people living in the "community." Or, put another way, a modern day hippy commune designed to become a series of self-sustaining farms, sharing in all material items and whose intentional purpose is to completely surrender to God. For many in the community, that includes Jesus, although they do not insist that those living there follow Christ, only that they share in the work, don't use illegal drugs and love one another. In many ways, it is reminiscent of the first churches just after Jesus was killed.

Andres then had to run into town, so we went down for a swim in a freshwater pool just above a 150ft waterfall, where we met our friend, who we will call the Camarone Hunter -- or, CHunter for short. He was straight out of an ancient Mayan movie, except for the modern bathing suit, and he motioned to us, showing us paths through the jungle, how people rappel down the sides of waterfalls and his methods for catching fresh-water shrimp. Basically, he walks over to a still pool, grabs a handful of leaves and throws it on a dry, flat boulder. Amazingly, shrimp started flipping around in the pile of leaves. We had limited communication, but when we pointed up the river to some children and women, he raised his chin proudly and pointed to his chest and said, "Mi familia."


Finally, Andres got back, went for a swim also and then we went up to one of the houses at the top of the hill to eat dinner. For the next 12 hours, we discussed Jesus, American religion, music, art and what it means to follow and to surrender to the Great Rabbi, Jesus. In a very real way, we feel we were in the presence of our very own rabbi: Rabbi Andres the Hippy. Rabbi Andres spoke with deep understanding of the scriptures and the character of God, from a faith that had been walked, refined and burned to a reflective polish of the King. My heart often burned as he spoke. We ate some eggs (one of which was spoiled, cracked into the pan - so we dumped the first pan and started over (more or less)) and then headed down to an unfinished, open-sided cabin close to the waterfall. We fell asleep under the stars while Andres played the guitar and sang songs about faith, love and God. We were amazed at the sing-song chirping of rainforest animals that made the mountains truly seem alive that night.




The next morning, we awoke to the morning sun and sounds of the nature, ate fresh pineapple for breakfast and hiked down to the base of the water fall called Beru Falls (or also Sancto Christo Falls). We took pictures, saw a fairly rare "Blue Morpho" butterfly and then sat to dry off in silence, as we watched the amazing waterfall before us. After about 20 minutes of silence, Andres leaned over to Red Beard and said, "Brad, there's a revolution going on... the battleground is the heart... and the victory is love and surrender."

As we began packing, Andres turned to Hobo and said, "Michael, I have something I want you to do for me. I want you to figure out how much this tour was worth to you -- the meals, the hiking, accomodations, the waterfalls -- and divide that by what you can afford." He then paused and said, "And I want you to take that money, whatever it is, find a beggar, look her in the eyes and give her the money."

We then hiked back up the hill, looking at the rare flora and trees along the path. As we were walking, Andres said "The whole goal of this place and the Youth Ranch is to inspire people into true religion. And my Master says true religion is watching over and loving the widows and the orphans." (Isaiah 10:1-4)

On the drive back to the main road, we stopped several times to eat wild fruit, leaves and coffee berries, including a very strange fruit, whose outter skin looked like a yellow artichoke, but the inside was a sweet white and mushy pudding-like substance. The fruit is not available anywhere but straight from the tree, as it rots almost immediately upon picking, so this may have been our only chance to eat that fruit. All the stuff we ate, excluding bananas and pineapple, had exotic spanish names that we can't remember... but they were all delicious!

Andres then dropped us off at the road to catch a cab, but quickly flagged down an American who attended LSU and was in the music and art industry. He told us about his friendships with Avril Levigne (he took photos of Hobo and promises to give Hobo's email to Avril soon) and many others and his love for the women in San Isidrio, which he claims has the most beautful anywhere...

We then headed to San Jose, but we got caught up on the bus and because of very unfavorable schedules, we had to head to Arenal that day and miss our bulb farmer friends. We deeply regret this, but we had no choice in a country where travel is very difficult.

You can see Andres' art at Http://www.andresalle.com. It's very impressive -- check it out.

The man who drove us to town, Gregory Young, can be found at Memory of the Future

On The Road Again


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
We arrived in David at 2am (after a 8 hour bus ride -- which was broken up by two stops for meals) and showed up at the Purple House Hostel, who has an amazingly gracious owner who welcomed us, helped us plan our next day and showed us to our beds.

We then woke up at 6:30am to make the 8:00am bus to San Jose, a four and half hour journey across borders... Red Beard walked into the living room area and saw a bearded American traveler sitting on the coach and waved to him. We then caught a cab to the bus station and got on...

At the border crossing, which was latino insanity, Red Beard took comfort in the only english speaking person around -- a familiar looking bearded American -- who turned out to be from Oklahoma and attended a high school in Tulsa (and, we later discovered, was the same man on the couch at the hostel). Through Andres, our first true adventure began.

Estan loco!


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Whenever we tell a local how far and fast we plan on traveling, with limited Spanish, they usually stare at us for a while... then laugh... then they say something like, "Aye de mi! Estan loco!" We couldn't find that in our phrase book, but we both agree that Spanish is a beautiful language.

Aqui... No, Aqui!


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Don't worry -- we're safe! We are in a slightly less technologically advanced area of the world, plus travel takes four times as long as in the states for the same distance... and, we are planning on staying in some pretty remote areas (not busy cities), so don't freak out if we don't post every day on our site -- probably more like every 2-5 days... even when internet is "available" it is often not working or is being used by another traveler... also, when we use the word "hotel" -- please keep in mind that we're paying around $5/night. These are not the Ritz-Carlton. It's the third world, people. (or at least most of the places we're going).

On Friday (29th), we set out to explore Panama City and the more historic area, San Felipe. Wandering through a maze of fruit stands, horoscope and lottery vendors, delapidated buildings and tourist shops, we finally reached the older area in the Southern part of the country, from where we could see the Pacific ocean. As we stepped into San Felipe, a heavy-set local asked us if we needed some help, directed us and warned us there were a lot of pickpockets in a certain part of town, which he pointed to...


We then wandered around and decided we had seen enough of Panama City -- very commercial, dirty and nondescript -- and decided to hail a cab to the Canal (cabs are extremely cheap and a very common form of transport). We started walking back along the shore to the market area when two Policia kindly beckoned the two gringoes over to warn us of "Peligroso" ahead -- which was one word we picked up (RedBeards spanish is being stretched to its absolute limits) -- so we backtracked to the main road.

The cab driver who picked us up was one of the few locals that actually liked Americans, since he had worked on the Marine base when U.S. forces occupied the area. He told us stories of Ford, Carter, Bush and Clinton all visiting and of the Marines who drank too much and stole all the local women.

The Canal was one site well worth the visit in PanCity -- an amazing engineering feat, and we were fortunate to catch the last tanker ship pass through that day. The French started the canal over 150 years ago, but diseases such as Yellow Fever, Typhoid Fever and Malaria wiped out thousands and the French had to turn back... fortunately, America stepped in and finished the job at a cost of 500 million dollars and 10 years. Just as we were about to leave, we saw some 30 foot sailboats passing through the Canal (TrackBrad III?) and we caught a cab to the bus station.

Waiting in line in Central America is a cultural past-time, and we spent almost two hours in line for the bus to David, Panama before realizing that the first available bus did not leave until 6pm (it was just after 1pm) -- but we bought a ticket anyway.

While in line, Hobo met a woman who confronted him with the fury of a thousand house-wives while RedBeard was in the bano. Not understanding, he just smiled and relished the awkwardness of the moment. We now understand how minorities feel when they come to America -- the locals generally do not like to help, do not speak any english and have little patience for broken spanish. We actually learned the history of this when sitting across from a local teacher, who explained that many of the leadership in the region promoted a propaganda campaign that said "English is for traitors," therefore many never attempted to learn -- meanwhile the children of the leadership were attending U.S. schools.

Mama Rosa (the name of the lady who chewed Hobo out) eventually warmed up to us and ending up helping us figure out the bus system. We felt like American yo-yo's as Mama Rosa told us to stand on one side of the terminal, while the officials insist we stand on another side -- Mama would come over, pull us to the other side, then officials would whistle us back to the other, "Aqui!" they would yell... "No, Aqui!" said the other... everyone in the terminal stared and laughed at the only gringos in the station -- and all we could do is smile and laugh. It was about this time that we found out the 200 mile journey would take almost 10 hours. We thought they were joking. They were not.


Finally, we got on the bus and almost immediately a man in uniform stormed onboard, thrust a two day old puppy over his head in a braveheart-like manner and screamed something in Spanish. Odd.


Travel, overall, is long and tiresome and very difficult to negotiate. There are very few set schedules, no signs or directions and hardly anyone speaks English. However, RedBeards spanish has held up when it had to -- and when it wouldn't, we have been very fortunate to have a helping hand step in...

Friday, December 29, 2006

Sweaty Bedsheets

We arrived with only minor inconvienences compared to most travels...but still kept the excitement high despite being very tired. We didn´t expect our taxi from the hotel to still be waiting for us at the airport, but very relieved when he was.
To begin, Panama is BEAUTIFUL! While we were driving in we drove down amazing streets decorated by intense Christmas decor and fireworks going off over the water and around us. The downtown was kind of like a beautiful Dallas, which may be an oxymoron... anyway, it looked like a modern city, but with water all around and spaced out buildings.
It is very hot here (suckers - ya´ll are stuck in the cold). And it was awesome when the broken air conditioner sparked to life in the middle of the night. Just before it decided to grace us with its presence, i was thinking about how there were not many places on my itchy bed that were not drenched in Gaultney sweat (a.k.a. Man Fuel).
Well, I am of the hunger (need food) and this keyboard is difficult to type on so i will leave you with these accounts and start my day trying to make it to the next beautiful city.

We´re here!


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Our morning began at 4am to the ringing of 14 alarm clocks and a wake-up call. Hobo (as he will henceforth be referred to) claims he had been up since 3am, read the newspaper, ran a few miles, solved a jigsaw puzzle and caught the morning news, all before I rolled out of bed.

We drove to Dallas and met Katie around 8am for breakfast at IHOP before she drove us to the airport (IHOP we don´t miss our flight!). (Thanks Katie, you saved us over $150 each in parking!)

Even though we arrived an ambitious three hours before our flight to Atlanta, we had our share of tight moments. For starters, we walked up to our ticketing agent, who stared at us blankly and said, ¨What do you want?¨ I tried to fashion a response before he smiled and made the first of a string of sarcastic jokes -- he was funny, especially when we realized, as we were about to sit down on the plane, that he had assigned both of us the same seat.

To everyone´s surprise, we were late getting into Atlanta (shocker) and our hour layover for our international flight had been squeezed to just under 30 minutes. Thankfully, we arrived in terminal A and our flight was leaving from T (which are side by side, rather than the international terminal E, which is a distance away.)

It´s a good thing too, since we had purchased non-refundable, non-transferable, ¨getchu there and that´s all¨ bargain basement tickets.

And then, another surprise -- our flight out of Atlanta was delayed on the ground for over an hour and a half. I´ve heard whether you´re going to Panama or Hell, you still have to connect through Atlanta -- and you can always expect delays.

Our landing felt like a hitting a speedbump expectedly at over 30 mph -- and the passengers cheered. We made it through customs without difficulty and saw and man holding a sign that read, ¨Michael Gaultney¨ -- who then took us to our hotel.

It´s really hot here (over 80 degrees), so we were grateful at 1am when the AC kicked on in our room.

Today, we are headed to the Panama Canal and are going to try and make the bus to David, Panama. Thanks for your support and emails!

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Dark Water

It was about two years ago, before my last college semester, that I had just finished packing my truck with everything I needed for Track Brad I. My homemade camper shell was locked in place and my clothes, GPS computer, money from supporters and laptop were all packed. I had meticulously planned and prepared for the trip over the previous six months and had run through nearly every possible scenario. My website was built and my friends and family, though they didn’t always understand, were looking forward to following my random wanderings. I was, in every way, intensely focused on the mission and the tasks ahead as I loaded the last gear into the passenger side and closed the truck door.

And then it suddenly hit me: What am I DOING?

A slight panicky twinge crept in my gut as the unknowns before me took a dark shape. It was the same suffocating feeling a child suffers when he believes a monster lives under his bed. What was once a safe haven is now deep, dark water. The thought of being alone, wrecking my truck, getting mugged… or worse, making a fool of myself… all screamed to cancel the trip. I actually considered it for about 30 seconds.

Maybe it was pride that made me get in the truck and start driving, or courage, or both – but I learned something crucial in that moment. I learned why many never truly feel alive… why they hold so dearly to their safety and whatever security blankets they know and never step down any dark alleys. It’s not only Goliaths we fear but also the valley of the deepest shadows. I understand that differently now – since I know it’s not only courage or pride that gives me freedom to dive into dark waters – but my Shepherd, who’s rod and staff comfort me. He guides me down paths of righteousness for his namesake… and I know I will live in the house of the Lord forever. (Psalm 23)

Tomorrow night, as we step off the plane into Panama City, my brother and I will be stepping into dark, unknown territory. Even though we have planned and prepared, there will be no turning back. Stay tuned…

Proof of Knife


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Originally uploaded by trackbrad.
Less than two weeks before our bone-crushing adventure, Michael and I went "under the knife" and shaved our faces (or should we say “canvases?”) clean on December 16th, 2006. This marks the beginning of the highly anticipated facial hair design and grooming competition, Ridicistache, and a level playing field for its combatants. In an effort to maintain the integrity of this follicle duel, we both attempted to provide “Proof of Knife” with a newspaper from Dec 16th – however, I (Brad) lost my camera shortly after taking the picture. Nevertheless, the competition will continue – as several witnesses have testified as to my clean shaven face on that day and Michael has accepted this testimony as valid. Don’t worry, I am going to buy a new camera before leaving the states in order to record the sights and beauties of the "isthmus of deep mystery." Also, we have configured a site that will enable our viewers to vote on the most ridiculous stache, which we will be releasing with the photos of our creations.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Hunt For Rare Flora

Why are so many of our daily lives so, well... boring? Why do we feel like our job is "just a job?"

I never thought, going through school, that I would one day become a "flower bulb farmer." But in the pursuit of rare flora across the country (and soon Central America) I have found myself engulfed in a worthy mission. A mission that has captured my heart -- that I pour myself into every waking hour. I know it seems strange but, in many ways, I believe this is what we lack in our daily lives -- a mission. Whether it's rescuing bulbs, seeking and saving the lost, building a new business, finishing med school or completing a marathon, many have lost the sense of mission that makes us all feel "alive." Whether risking little or daring greatly, pursuing what your heart deeply burns after is crucial, in my opinion, to truly experiencing the full measure of your life. Of course, I am speaking in incomplete (temporal) terms.

This is our mission. To find adventure, rare flora and a taste of the full life we have in the pursuit of a mission. We can't wait to see what is in store for us in Central America. I hope you enjoy our strange, tongue-in-cheek humor on the above links and will continue to follow us into the "deep mystery."

respectfully,
Brad and Michael