Guatemala #7 Izabal and into Honduras

I left the quiet rolling hills of Alta Verapaz for the steamy hot Carribean coast of Guatemala. I spent two nights in Livingston, which was an interesting experience. Livingston is an isolated population of Garifuna peoples living in a small fishing community only reachable by boat. The Garifuna are black slave descendants that have colonized locations all over the Carribean. They speak a very interesting language that is a mix of English, Swahili, and various other African languages. The town was fairly seedy and there really wasn’t much going on, but I traded Spanish tutoring for a free nights stay in the house of a Gringo who wanted to learn Spanish in order court a local damsel.

I then proceeded into Honduras to the port town of La Ceiba, from where I took a ferry to the island of Utila in order to learn how to scuba dive. There are a plethora of dive shops that swamp you when you get off the ferry, shoving posters and flyers in your face and touting their schools reputations. The standard deal is you pay for a standard PADI dive class and get all free accommodations while you are training. Of course I chose the school that had a gym for guests to use and began my course.

Scuba diving is absolutely incredible. First off, I didn’t realize how technical it actually is. You really have to be careful and know what you’re doing to plan dives appropriately. There is substantial risk involved, which I didn’t realize until signing a mountain of waiver forms. Anyway I completed the course in 3 days, which consisted of 4 training dives, 5 hours of classroom study and a final exam. When the course was over I went for a “fun dive”, where you just tour the reefs. I cannot even begin to describe how beautiful these reefs are. Neon fish flashing everywhere, hundreds of different types of corals, crabs, lobsters, interesting rocks etc. Combined with the amazing sensation of weightlessness provided by the water, the steady meditative sound of your own breathing and the totally alien aquatic environment, the experience is totally unique and very pleasurable. I am hooked for sure! One of my instructors had lived in Mozambique and dove their frequently. She regaled me with stories of manta ray and dolphin encounters and amazing reefs. I am super excited to now have the opportunity to explore this when I have my own adventure in Africa. Now being officially certified to dive, the underwater world cannot hide from me any longer now that I am no longer limited by my mere human physiology.

My overall impression of Utila was not that favorable. It was very touristy, expensive, loud and polluted by scooter and moped traffic. The locals are white skinned and speak a very interesting dialect of creole English which unfortunately for them makes them sound quite unintelligent by our standards as the language is basically a mixture of simple words mixed with slang terminology all spoken with a strange long drawn out southern drawl. As soon as the diving was completed I split for Copan which is located very close to the border of Guatemala. I am here now in Copan to explore the amazing Mayan Ruins of Copan tomorrow before continuing back into Guatemala to climb some volcanoes and visit rural communities.

Due to the lack of any sort of authentic culture to observe, I have been having many interesting conversations with other travelers and tourists, including some individuals who had been on the road for up to 3 years! One interesting theme for conversation was the theme of travel itself. One of my favorite questions to ask other travelers is “why are you traveling”? Ive gotten many different answers, but honestly the vast majority of people did not know how to answer this question and would look sort of embarrassed, like I put them on the spot. I get the impression that many people travel simply because it is trendy. Being well traveled is a status symbol in our culture and in many European cultures as well, and I encountered many people who go places not out of self interest, but simply to check it off their list.

Another interesting theme was discussing the various types of travelers. I believe that there is a continuum that consists of various degrees of three types. First you have the vacationers. These types are content to lie on the beach for a week in their all inclusive resort which they will leave only when it is time to return to the airport at the end of their gluttonous stay. They are there simply to relax, not worry about logistics and basically escape from their lives at home with usually a fairly mind numbing daily routine of feedings and relaxation sessions. Next you have the tourist. These types usually travel in groups, are sure to frequent the most popular historical, cultural and ecological sights, and may or may not engage in tourist related activity such as constant taking of photos, loud behavior, taking of tours and overpaying for everything. This group does minimal planning on their part although at times they may have to engage in some planning and logistics when there is a brief gap between their tour activities. Finally you have the seasoned travelers. These are usually individuals or pairs who have been traveling for quite some time and are used to most of the antics the traveler will face on their journey. These types usually travel light, know how to find the cheapest places to eat and sleep and usually have pretty low standards of living. Daily diaries and all but the most important habits of personal hygiene have been long abandoned and these wandering souls tend to have a gleam of dreaminess in their eyes, as they have spent far too much time waiting for busses and being haggled over $.50 cent street food. Travel is a way of life for these people, a job, a hassle at times, an addiction most definitely, but the reward is the journey.

As I said before, I believe there exists a continuum with all these properties and everyone falling on this continuum in their own way at different times in their travels. I would like to say this however, traveling is difficult at times! The constant waiting for busses and connections, the constantly changing scenery, the constant haggling for prices, the necessity to remain ever vigil over your belongings and documents and self awareness can become burdensome over time. Not to mention the occasional nostalgia for a certain location or person at home. In my opinion, much of traveling is making sacrifices and giving up control. No, you cannot make the bus driver hurry up eating his meal after he stopped for a break with the entire bus waiting. No, you cannot tell the restaurant how to cook your food exactly the way you like it (well you can, but chances are your advice will not be heeded!). No, you cannot complain about the cockroaches and flies in your room, because all the rooms have them and besides you’re only paying $2.50 per night! Anyone who thinks traveling is all fun and games has never really done it. Vacationing is easy. Touring is a bit harder. Traveling can at times be so burdensome that one simply must ask themselves “why am I doing this”?

However, I write this with the full awareness and appreciation of the fact that in any form, travel is an enormous luxury. I have met many people who would love to travel the way I am right now, but cannot due to political and economic limitations. The ability to see the way of life of other cultures on our planet is a gift beyond full comprehension and has the potential to improve the lives of the travelers and the cultures visited. Through travel, one can gain the perspective needed to critique and appreciate aspects of their own culture and improve the way they live and interact with their home world. I hope everyone has the opportunity to make their pilgrimage at some point in their lives.

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