Sunday, January 25, 2015

All who wander are not lost

While you may think the title of this blog refers to our amazing journey, it does not.  Rather, it is the tale of two pairs of Chacos sandals which have traveled Central America without Sally.  Chacos are not just any sandals.  The strong hiking versions of the brand are almost indestructible stalwarts that are equally effective in the water or on the land.  We love ours so much that we get them resoled and restrapped, sending chocolate in our appreciation to the Chacos' repair team.  But we get ahead of ourselves in this tale as it really should start with Mary Poppins' bag.  Perhaps you remember it?  As the children watch, Mary pulls out a hatrack, shoes, plant, table lamp, and measuring tape among other items.  When we arrived in Mexico this trip, as our friends Stuart and Karen watched, an amazing assortment of things appeared from our packs.  Karen jokingly said she would not be surprised to see a table lamp.  With great glee, we showed her our newest gear, an inflatable Luci solar table lamp!

People have asked us what we bring along for our multi month international trips in our ultra light pack.  We each carry two packs, a larger REI ultralight and a daypack and they creep up to 25 pounds.  For clothing, we generally have three pairs of socks and underwear, a bandana and handkerchief, three light quick dry shirts, two pairs of zip-off river pants, long sleeve nylon shirt, light pair of shorts for sleeping, belt and money belt, R1 Patagonia jacket, a rain jacket, bathing suit, sunhat, and pair of capilene lightweight long underwear for warmth, snorkeling, or use as pajamas.  Our gear includes terrific Black Diamond carbon Z trekking poles, snorkel, mask, and watershoes (and a tiny container of dish soap for defogging), waterproof bag and pouch, headlamp, powerful lightweight flashlight for night safaris, tiny UV light for exploration and finding bed bug residue, Indonesian batik silk bedliners, our Luci tablelamp (you must see them to believe them), mosquito head netting, leatherman, small Swiss Army knives, tiny amount of duct tape, binoculars, assorted stuff sacks, sea bands, exercise bands, small lock and key for hostel lockers, headphones, short hiking gaiters, backpack raincover, ultralight travel umbrellas, neck pillow, key ring lights, maps, thank you cards, and pencil and small pad.  For electronics, we have an iPad, two iPhones, and two cameras and the necessary assorted cords.  As John Hausdoerffer would put it, we are a walking pharmacy, prepared with an assortment of over the counter and prescription medications and sunscreen (100SPF) and insect repellent.  We also have a small first aid kit with blood clotting powder, steri strips for sutures, skin glue, Benadryl, Epipen, and silver bandages.  Water and snacks, especially Sally's famous gorp with mint M&Ms are part of our load as well. Nail clippers, toiletries, glasses and contacts are included.  Ziplocks and plastic bags are invaluable.  When we travel in cold places, we have more winter gear.  And then, there are our irreplaceable orthotics, hiking shoes, and beloved Chaco sandals.

So back to the Chacos!  How did not one, but two pairs of Sally's Chacos come to wander Central America, traveling from place to place without her?  It started with her selflessly agreeing to carry our laundry during our border crossing from Palenque, Mexico to Flores, Guatemala.   We arranged the transport with a company which has different drivers on both sides of the border.  It was smooth, until we arrived at Flores and realized to make room for the laundry, Sally had accidentally left out her Chacos.  Over the next few days, including three extra ones, we stayed in great hope and yearning, while our hostel owner, two hotel clerks, the sons of two angry Latino ladies, a local guide and countless shuttle drivers blamed each other, called each other names, and all claimed the Chacos were delivered to the next person.  Sadly, after a week of perseverance and pleading, we gave up on seeing Sally's trusted companions, knowing they likely had new souls with different soles treading in her old friends.  There was a moment of renewed Chaco hope in Guatemala when Jess discovered that a small store improbably in the middle of nearby Santa Elena, sold Chacos.  In two years of travel, the only other place  we have seen them was in Darwin, Australia at an army surplus store.  We were amazed at our good fortune until we realized they had only men's size 11s and larger.  Even duct tape could not help Sally reconcile 5 sizes.

With resignation and a real sense of loss, we ordered new ones sent to Sally's sister.  We asked friends of friends in Belize City to receive two packages for us, a new bank card and our FedEx international express pair of Chacos.  The $176 shipping charge was a lot, but these are Chacos, after all.  There were a few delays, unexpected complications, and bank card issues, but finally, we heard that two packages arrived at Belize City..., a few hours after we left the city to sail down the Belizean coast.  Sally wandered the seas in bare feet and hiking shoes coveting Jess's Chacos as we strolled on coral sand beaches.  We arrived well south of Belize City to learn to our joy that for a few dollars, a local air service would courier our two packages to a local airstrip.  More logistics, the kindness of new friends and strangers and the package arrived.  Sally was dumbstuck when what was handed to her was a single, flat envelope, which we were to find out, held two bank cards (the bank sent 4 in the end, another long story and clusterama).  Jess found her sitting on the bed in quiet despair staring at the flat Chacoless envelope certain her sandals were cursed.  Her sister Sandy offered another explanation, suggesting that the sandals were not cursed, rather just being rebellious and wayward or possibly contrary and recalcitrant.

Puzzled, we checked online, following the journey of Sally's Chacos across both North and Central America to find they were being held hostage at customs in Belize City.  Despite her sister paying maximum expedited international shipping charges, strange messages appeared on FedEx tracking such as "Customer has not paid for expedited customs clearance" and "Contact third party courier" with none listed.  Neither talking to nor visiting FedEx online elucidated the issue.  But our local friend in Belize City helpfully explained that when she receives packages from DHL or FedEx, they call her for more money to release them.

So the tale of two Chacos pairs ends with a reunion for one and a peregrination for the other.  We received another text, news that there was a package on a plane, and to our delight a new pair of Chacos will walk the Jaguar Reserve at Cockscomb Basin and enter Guatemala and Honduras with us, securely on Sally's feet.

Posted in Placencia, Belize.  Images are of one of our sets of travel gear, our Luci lamp, Sally's surprise at her package delivery, and one of the last pictures of Sally's lost soles.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

What goes around, comes around.

Ruins?  Is this an appropriate label for the broken and dilapidated structures dotting the landscape in almost every part of the world?   These "reminders" of past civilizations can be mysterious, majestic, unreal, and captivating.  In our travels, we have visited some of the most well known of these ancient civilizations: Machu Picchu, Chichen Itza, Angkor Wat, Mesa Verde, Chaco Canyon, Tikal, Bagan; and we have hiked, biked, and wandered the lonely trails of many other lesser known but fascinating sites.

Visiting these ancient cities has given us enormous joy, immense pleasure, and hours of worthwhile and provocative conversation during our
travels.  While we have occasionally been accompanied by those with a rich and local knowledge of sites, we have found we generally prefer to experience and peruse sites by ourselves without a guide.  We thrive on the thrill of discovery as we wander into and through the site, finding carvings, stelae, bas-reliefs, faces, murals, or any number of other things ----- characteristics of each individual site that we have usually researched ahead of time.  Yet it is not the intellectual research that sends us forward to explore new sites, it is the quiet reflective moments that we share in silent wonder of what came before us and what shall follow.  We have stared out over ancient geometric patterns on valley floors, temples rising by the thousands on desert plateaus, secret structures camouflaged in deep canyons, fortresses on mountain tops, and pyramids in raucous jungles. Often, only our imaginations are left uncovered and unexplored as we gaze at the carefully placed rocks and crumbling mortar.

After considering each site, we have determined that all or most possess some common attributes.  All connect us to ancient civilizations but it is the ways those connections are manifested in each of us that make our experiences in visiting them so individualistic.  All have been constructed using laborious methods that befuddle our imaginations and precise, exact sciences that we are certain should never have been known during those ancient times.  Worship, if our archaeological interpretations are correct, was of the highest importance to each civilization.  A class system of some sort was usually how society was structured.  War and armed conflict, both among neighboring settlements and other locales many miles removed, were common.  Empire building seemed to be a priority as the conflicts resulted in more and more land/villages being consolidated under the rule of one leader or tribe.

Probably the most perplexing common attribute is that many of these civilizations simply disappeared......or did they?  Our knowledge of ancient peoples grows with our knowledge of science.  Studies of ancient soils, plants, animals, and weather tell us that severe drought for years or even decades devastated more than one civilization.  Other studies surmise that some peoples were simply
engulfed by a "superior" civilization and their identity ceased.  Still other evidence points to the complete destruction/devastation of the local environment and over use of resources leading to subsequent collapse.  In these times, the educated and the elite may have been the first to perish and recorded history may have halted although some life went on with locals forgetting their history or heritage.

When one looks at these ancient societies, it is difficult to avoid looking at ourselves as we exist today.  "History repeats itself" is a common saying that should make us all a little reflective about  our future.  Are "ruins" on our horizon?  Are we, too, destined to become another civilization that just disappears?  Who will gaze at our relics a thousand years from now?  What will be whole and what will be "ruined"?

Posted in San Ignacio, Belize.  Images are of Machu Pichu, Peru; Palenque, Mexico; Angor Thom, Cambodia; and Tikal, Guatemala.