Friday, December 11, 2009

More Day 15 pics...

















video video video

Day 15 - Old Red has a New Home!














Note: videos may be added in the morning; internet again not treating us well...

It's a done deal, and boy oh boy are we glad we did it. I know we haven't posted in a while at length - too much going on, no internet access on my laptop and blogging on a Blackberry is no fun. Time to catch up...

We got out of the no man's land between Mexico and Guatemala around noon Wednesday, after a long and frustrating morning. Kind of like sitting on a plane not going anywhere and the pilot is silent. We had one brief moment of anticipation when they asked us to go open the truck so they could check the motor number against the papers. So there we are with the hood up and finally along comes the lady from the customs office and she walks right by our truck - says nothing! We were quite frustated and just a bit annoyed... And worried since we were running out of cash and didn't have enough for a hotel for yet another night. So back to the importer's office where they had nothing to share. Sit, sit, sit and then all of a sudden the importer guy comes up to us and says 'You are free to go now.' Just like that! What a relief, but we didn't really believe until after waiting in line for about an hour to get through that checkpoint. A friend and coworker of mine named Tom actually called us to see if we were out about ten seconds after we left the final checkpoint. So off we were to Guatemala City, knowing that we were going to meet up for dinner with a big group of Americans from our industry who were down here for a tour. So we were on the road and saw a road sign that says we are going to the capital via the city of Escuintla - this was the coastal route and we were doggone tired of being in the heat and sweat, so we backtracked some distance and headed up the mountains to go another way. When you don't really know the local geography mistakes will happen. Started out ok, but after about 45 minutes we wound up going up this mountain (darn near straight up) for over an hour, always in first or second gear. We were dead tired at this time (and still are) and although the scenery was impressive when we weren't shrouded in fog, it was hard to enjoy such a frustrating drive. Took us over eight hours to go about 300 kilometers this route (about 190 miles). We finally caught up with the group right after they were done eating but they stuck around for a while to catch up on our adventure. A really great group of folks (many of them donors already!) who gave us some awesome support. Stayed up too late with some of them and then the next morning off to Jalapa.

On the way to Jalapa we stopped at one of our seed farms for a quick visit. It was great seeing some Guatemalan friends - Christian, Beatriz, Danny and Alvaro. Then back on the highway expecting to get to town about 3, but alas lots of new road construction delayed us so we got there about 5 last night. Stopped at the Esquejes farm where I used to work and all was quiet. But, my good friend Francisco was their waiting for us. Then off to the hotel in Jalapa - a brand new one called Hotel Puente Viejo (old bridge - you could see it from our window) where they put us up in the Presidential Suite. Now Jalapa really hasn't had any hotels in the past that had a room that could rate that title, but this was actually getting close. We were really quite impressed. What got me even more was that the band I mentioned in the last post didn't get this room! Our friends in Jalapa were really taking care of us.

After getting settled in the hotel it was off to get Old Red washed. Francisco took us to the best place in town where we got the one-hour detail, and the darn truck looked pretty spiffy! After that off to my favorite restaurant in town, El Sheick, the only place where you can get draft beer in a hundred mile radius, I swear. I've been there so many times over the years that my picture, along with another friend and coworker Jane, is on their wall. Well of course some of the other guys from the farm showed up and good eats and some rounds of 'cerveza de barril' later it was off the the hotel to catch at least a few hours sleep.

This morning: tired, stressed, nervous, anxious, a little sad, a little happy. Breakfast at 7:30 with Francisco and then off to the hospital for the transfer. During breakfast Francisco showed us article in one of the Guatemalan newspapers about poor sanitary conditions at the hospital in Jalapa. We had an appointment to meet with a gringo named David Sutton who is a missionary and lives in Jalapa. He helps the group we are raising funds for (LAMP - http://www.lampcharity.org/) set up visits to the small towns around Jalapa. So we go the hospital and David is there with a nun from the orphanage named Claudia. She is like second in charge; her superior was 'out of town.' Claudia was a real sweetheart who was very excited about this and turned into quite the chatterbox. We had to park the truck in a secured area of the hospital for the transfer of papers and keys and the lighting wasn't so good, but we have posted a video of it. After the transfer we went into the hospital and met with a Dr. Campos, who is the head guy at the hospital and works very closely with LAMP. Very nice gentleman with a great sense of humor. Walking through the hospital we saw at least forty people waiting to see doctors, waiting for a long time no doubt. This hospital is the only option these people have - we are so blessed in the United States with the medical care we get.

Meeting finished, Mr. Sutton had to depart for another meeting but Claudia and Dr. Campos invited us to visit the orphanage. Claudia doesn't have a drivers license so I drove with her next to me in Old Red. My last time to shift gears in the old beast. We followed Dr. Campos the few miles out of town on some crappy dirt road and finally pulled into the compound. Waiting for us were several nuns strumming their guitars and a choir of uniformed girls ranging in age from about 6 to 16 singing to us as we pulled up. Must have been at least thirty of them. We parked the truck and got out and they sang a couple more songs for us. So Cute! These girls were just adorable and were really pulling at our hearstrings at this point. Dr. Campos tooks some photos of us with the group of girls and then wanted another of them in the bed of the truck with us. So Claudia tells them to get in and that was the sight we will NEVER forget - so many smiling faces laughing and scrambling to get in there. They were obviously so happy to have Old Red; we couldn't have been happier for them. Got to climb in the truck with them for a photo shoot, and then out of truck for a thank you hug from each of the girls. Some would say gracias, some thank you, all were saying it from their hearts. Life is really good some times. And once in a very rare while it absolutely takes your breath away.

We then got a tour of the orphanage. They house about 120 girls at capacity. It was really amazing what they are doing there. Very clean and well organized. They actually have vocational training programs for these kids such as cooking, sewing, cosmetology and computer skills. This means that when they leave the orphanage they have a marketable skill so they have a great chance at improving their lives and helping their communities. We got to see the new second story addition on the main building that was sposored by the LAMP doctors - very impressive.

So Old Red is now in their hands. We spoke with some fine folks from the Jalapa community and were reassured that they would help out if the truck needs service or whatever. One of the best things Claudia told us was that they pay a lot to have their cooking firewood delivered and now they can get it themselves, so Old Red will still be hauling firewood. She also told us that they now have a way to get sick girls in the middle of the night off to see a doctor without having to walk several miles. I think they will make great use of Old Red.

Now we are in a hotel in Guatemala City, tired, exhausted, worn out and ready to go home. We do miss our home, our family and friends, and need to do some laundry. Of course we will be asked if we would do this again, and our answer now is undoubtedly yes; we think it will remain so.

So PLEASE, if you are reading this and haven't yet donated to Latin American Medical Providers, do so now at www.lampcharity.org/donate and let's all try to help those that in some way help us.

p.s. Francisco told us last night that we have a place in heaven and on our way there if we see him hitchhiking could we please pick him up...
Que le vaya bien.

video video

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Day 14 - We made it to Jalapa!

WE MADE IT! Old Red done us good! Right now we are experiencing even more technical difficulties but are also experiencing life! Will update tomorrow when back in the capital with real Internet access and time. All I really need to add right now is Old Red is doing great, we are fine, Jalapa has great people, and we are sharing our hotel with a VERY popular Mexican band named El Tigres del Norte and we want to get some sleep before the concert is over. More explanation and recap tomorrow. And pics if we can get my computer to work...
Oh, more than 4200 miles in total so far. Tomorrow morning we hand over the keys, so will have commentary on that of course.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Day 12 and counting...

Yesterday, after another great breakfast (thank goodness) we headed off to Tapachula Mexico which is about half an hour from the Guatemalan border. Had a perfectly good drive with Old Red still running without a hitch (still haven´t had to add any oil). We went on a side trip to visit the waterfalls at El Chiflon, which were absolutely fantastic. I´m sorry but more technical difficulties are preventing us from posting pics or video, but hopefully we can do this tomorrow from Guatemala City, which is that day´s destination.

So yesterday all was going well until... We had to drive a steep and winding road over the continental divide and were talking about how we should just make it in the daylight when we rounded a corner and all traffic was at a dead stop. Rats - probably a wreck or construction to slow us down a bit. After sitting their for a while we found out there actually was a Zapatista protest blocking the road about a kilometer up from us. No way anybody could pass. First it was talk of a 30-60 minute delay, then 3 hours, then noon the next day! We knew there was a town close by so went looking for a hotel. I don´t know how this town rates to get on the map, but it was definitely a one horse town that was also missing both ears and its tail. Found the only hotel and we were NOT going to stay there. So off we went to the local gas station mulling over our options, such as driving about 7 hours around the mountains to get to Tapachula. While topping off the gas, we were chatting with the attendant about our situation. He says there is a road (dirt with no signs) around the protest and since by now it was quite dark we said thanks but no. Well, he had a buddy hanging around who said he would be our guide for 100 pesos. I gladly accepted, knowing that I would have to be on my guard to spot a potentially dangerous situation. Off we went up a narrow windy paved road, and much to our comfort soon found ourselves in a convoy of others who knew this back way. Then a hard right to a nasty narrow dirt road for many miles. Dust so bad I mostly couldn´t see the road ahead and actually had to use my wipers to clear the windshield! Still, we were in the convoy and felt reasonably safe. It was a really slow drive, but all of a sudden it got even slower; traffic came to a halt. One by one the cars in the convoy crept over this bridge with all these guys hanging around- Zapatistas! So our turn came. Turns out all they wanted was extortion to the tune of 50 pesos for us and another 50 for our guide. I think they use this money for the matching T-shirts they were wearing. We paid, they lifted the cable blocking the bridge, they were friendly and we were relieved to see no weapons. Still a bit unnerving (especially to my mom when she reads this) but a hell of a story...

Went over this really BIG mountain very slowly in the dark and made it into Tapachula about 4 hours later than we expected, which was kind of ok because it was not a town you want to spend much time in...

So this morning another snafu. Got up early after not much sleep to get to the border to transfer title to the truck. Drove the half hour to the border and all these locals came running after us. Turns out you have to cancel the papers we got upon entry to Mexico and guess what - can't do that at the border! So this one guy climbs in the back of Old Red and off we go to Tapachula again and then some - had to cross town and get out of the city on the far side to find a checkpoint where they did the paperwork. Then back to the border where we passed through the Mexican checkpoint no problem and wound up kind of in a no man's land between border checkpoints. And here we still sit, after being here all day. Apparently this sort of title transfer takes some time - LOTS of time. We managed to show up at the busiest time for this sort of thing so now we are paying the price. Instead of staying on beautiful Lake Atitlan tonight in Panajachel, we are now staying at the border. Hopefully we can get on the road early tomorrow but right now who knows...

If you are following this blog or are a first time visitor - don't forget that it's not too late to donate to the wonderful group of doctors that we are travelling to Guatemala in support of and get a tax deduction for 2009! Just click on this link: www.lampcharity.org/donate - it's realy easy. And thanks for everyone's support.

Hopefully pics and video tomorrow...

Monday, December 7, 2009

Day (and night) #11

Due to circumstances WAY out of our control we will not be posting tonight. Will explain tomorrow. All is well but we need some sleep and we gotta get up early to cross the border and transfer title of Old Red.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Days 10 plus what we didn`t do on day 9
















OK, so here we are in an Internet cafe in San Cristobal de las Casas, and every 5 to 10 seconds this damn antivirus window is popping up so I have Ruth on my right with the mouse closing this stupid window that keeps popping up! Talk about frustrating! I guess better than a Blackberry...





So yesterday we drove from Veracruz to San Cristobal in yet again another grey, drizzly day. So not much of a good photo day, but we did get a couple. There must have been some religious holiday or cause that we are unaware of since there were a lot of people jogging along the side of the road carrying torches, all of whom were either preceded by or followed by some vehicle with a bunch of signs on it that we figure explained what they were up to but in Spanish at 60 MPH forget about reading them. The most curious aspect of this endeavor were the groups of 3 to 5 bicycle riders with with plastic statues of the Virgin Mary strapped to their backs; see the photo. If anyone out there can explain this please do!










Nothing more to say about yesterday since it was basically just another long day behind the wheel on sometimes often times poor but almost always TOLL roads. We coughed up over $50 US in tolls to go just over 300 miles. Do the math... We did get some rather tantalizing glimpses of what appeared to be some awesome mountains and would have taken a photo but the fog or a 175 foot long truck or something would get in our way. And then we would have to pass the truck on a blind turn in the fog... Going 80...










Just kidding. Old Red can`t go 80.










So we wound up in San Cristobal de las Casas in the Mexican state of Chiapas, land of the Zapatista uprising. Luckily most is quiet here except for one small protest we saw. Something about those that have not yet supported LAMP or some such thing. Go figure...










On to real happenings... We pushed like heck to get to San Cristobal so we could actually have a day off to stretch our legs and perhaps do some sightseeing. Well, we certainly picked the right day since we finally had some mostly clear skies and warm temps! Started the morning with a hike up an extinct volcano named Huitepec, which is indigenous speak for extinct volcano of steep inclines for Gringo hikers. We did make it to the end of the trail and actually it was quite beautiful and peaceful and felt really good after the fact. Not much wildlife but there was a quail lying in wait for us that thumpered off just when were right next to it! Made me jump for sure - Ruth was like ehhh...










Then a short drive through an indigenous Mayan community named Chamula. No photos allowed here and we certainly respect that. We reached the summit of the hills and caught some great mountain views and pics. The indigenous people had these small shrines that looked like mini churches here and there and all were in pristine shape and all had big displays of lit candles inside that you could only catch a glimpse of from the road. Our understanding is `from the road' is as close as you should get...










Finally, after the grueling mountain hike (especially after sitting on our arses in a truck for a week) it was time for a trek through town to procure some refreshments. I was lucky or smart - I just had beer on my mind. Poor Ruth was in search of a Margarita only to be found in Mexico. Well, she tried a couple and in our opinion you would`nt find one like these back home. She switched to beer...










Almost last thing to mention is that if you ever are in San Cristobal Chiapas eat dinner at Hotel Tierra y Cielo and order the Mole Coleto. It was absolute heaven on my tongue...










We are getting kind of wound up because tomorrow is our last entire day in Mexico and the following morning it is off to the border to transfer title of Old Red. Time is running out... Not only for me and my 19 years of driving this motorized amigo, but also for you to help our cause in bringing the medical treatments to the much less fortunate than us, the kind folks of Jalapa Guatemala. I will keep saying thanks again and again to those who have already given and I look forward to saying THANKS to those that are going to give. I will make it easy: www.lampcharity.org/donate and you can make your tax-deductible donation online.










Tomorrow off to Tapachula Chiapas, right next door to our beloved Guatemala...










ps, typed on a Spanish keyboard so please to forgive mistakes










Saludos!