Becoming hondureña for a time

  

I am not Honduran and I never will be. On the plane here, though, as the news of our approach to San Pedro Sula came over the speaker in Spanish and English, I reflected on the culture that I would be joining for a small while. The simple turkey and cheese sandwich on the flight, the hot tea the flight attendant had made me…food here is energy for work, often very hard work. Life centers on that which feeds us, the families, the community, faith and always gratitude to God, at least in the villages.

  
For two weeks, I wanted to leave behind the trappings of our American life. Not that Honduras is without trappings. Those with resources dress much more formally and everyone treats each other with a more formal type of politeness. Americans are more casual about so much. We often take for granted our blessings, our confidence, our waste.

When I am here, I try to blend in with the customs, attitude and pace of the people. To wear capris instead of shorts, for example. Although yesterday I wore my bathing suit when suddenly presented with the plan of going swimming. I’m not sure what else I would have done. Later, my interpreter Karina told me that Honduran women don’t usually wear bathing suits, but she wishes that they would. 

The people here who I respect the most, the ones whose lives are as I would live mine, are quiet people, usually, though there are exceptions.
I close my eyes and return to the kitchen of José and Patty after church on Wednesday. There was hearty side-stitching giggling over some story shared about their boys who study finance together. The giggles continued as they walked me home through the dark velvet night. There is passion, too, sometimes loud, in those who lead the worship services and in the drumming of William, aged 9, the son of the pastor.

  
But in their demeanor, their ordinary conversation, Hondurans are quiet. I wonder why Americans are so often boisterous and silly? It makes me want to be someplace else, to apologize. So in the days that lie ahead, may I become as Honduran as I can be, to communicate my caring and respect with more than just my words.

NOTE: Part of our mission team was stuck in Miami last evening with a cancelled flight, giving me in unplanned day to relax at my hotel!

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An industrial mechanic one day?

There is nothing so unexpected as travel. Right now I am at a hotel in the  city of Santa Barbara, Honduras when I had originally planned to still be in my cabin at D&D. I’ve come to the restaurant for dinner, only to discover a huge medical mission team celebrating their last evening together. The restaurant is vibrating with positive energy and a full-fledged concert by a couple of the leaders. At the moment, in between Christian songs, they are offering up a challenge. Someone calls out a year and they instantly play a song from that year. They’re good, too. 

Fredy was supposed to come to D&D for our visit today. For those of you who don’t know Fredy, he is the young man that I sponsor through an organization called Unbound, that works here in Honduras.

Fredy took this selfie of us, proving that the younger generation is more tech savvy in any country.

Unbound is a name that captures the organization’s philosophy that all people deserve the chance to pursue their dreams. Fredy’s dream, as he shared today, is to be an industrial mechanic, a career for which there is a trade school in nearby Chinda. That could change, as we all know who have had an almost sixteen year old in our lives. But it is a dream to hold onto, to be inspired by for now. And he could continue to live at home.

Look, Mom, it’s your favorite shirt of the many that you washed and ironed, and it fits just fine.

So I’m here, instead of there, because logistically it was much simpler and gave us more time for visiting. Tomorrow morning I will join the rest of our mission team here in Santa Barbara and begin our week of work building homes in the mountains up above the city.

  

Not only did we swim in the hotel’s pool, but we played Jenga and I taught everyone how to play Uno, two of my students’ favorite games. Fredy came with his father Rigoberto, who joined in the fun.
 
    

As if today needed any more excitement, after we finally had to say goodbye, I was lying down in my room flipping through the photos. Suddenly, a key started rattling in the lock and my door started opening and I started yelling. Whoever it was retreated very quickly. I scrambled to the door, opened it, and saw several men, one of whom was actually carrying a gun. The door doesn’t have any kind of a deadbolt, so I did stroll down to the desk later to a very sincere and elaborate apology from the manager, who assured me that I am quite safe. I hope so, as I am headed to bed to enjoy my last night in a spacious private room. 

Just a few more photos…

Boats rest along the canal that leads to Lago de Ypjoa

The patterns of nature, like those of friendship, faith, and hope, are the same the world over.
 
 
“If ever you’re in Vancouver, you must let us know,” Isabel and Jerry kindly offered. “If we’re home!”
  
Every day there are new plants that catch my eye here at D&D Brewery and Lodge. I’m already dreaming of returning for a longer stay…more smoothies and chicken quesadillas and pineapple chicken and, of course, more adventures. Until then, que le vaya bien!
 

Please can I stay longer?

The time is flying by like you cannot believe. I need weeks, not days, here. I’m loving the sunny days and torrential rains, all the Spanish, the super group of people who happened (?) to be here this week, the hummingbirds, the flowers, my cabin hammock, I could go on…

One of my new friends, Jennie from Sweden, generously shared this amazing photo that she captured during her travels in Central America. There are 42 species of hummingbirds in Honduras and I have been hoping to see one of the species with a long curved beak. Yesterday I lay in my hammock watching one bird alight on the same perch over and over. To my amateur eye, it looked much like this one.

Today I said farewell to my Vancouver friends Jerry and Isabel and went to visit José, the pastor, and his wife Patty. We had so much fun sorting through some of the children’s clothes that I brought, delighting in the fact that they could be purchased in the U.S. for only a tiny fraction of the cost of used American clothing purchased here. 

Being welcomed into the home of friends so very far away, to sit visiting over local coffee in another language adds a dimension my time here that is as rewarding or more than the putdoor adventures.
Two local girls in their new outfits. Most of the clothing I brought was purchased 3 items for a dollar at an outgrown shop in our Maine town. Patty says clothing would cost about ten times more here.

José kindly went with me to the larger nearby town of Peña Blanca to exchange more dollars for lempiras at the hardware store. This is not done at banks, where there are always armed guards and only bank customers can even enter the building. This town housed the public library that we have been supporting and which sadly is no more.

The owners of the hardware store no longer are donating space for the public library, which used to live here. The book collection has been donated to a girls home and school in the same town.

This is my last evening in Los Naranjos and then I will be traveling to Santa Barbara tomorrow to visit my sponsored child Fredy and his family.  Farewell, D&D Brewery and Lodge, D&D Adventures, and all my friends here. Hasta la próxima vez con la ayuda de Dios.

  

Kayaking Lago de Yohoa


In past years, the only option for renting a kayak here was a double sit-on-top style, which Megan and I used two years ago. Bobby is constantly upgrading, though, and today I rented a 10-foot single kayak for $10 for the day, including delivery of boat and paddler to the water.

The photo uploading is not cooperating tonight, so you will have to use your imagination to picture the artsy shots of rustic wooden boats and distant glimpses of the vast and plentiful array of birds.

I will try to paint a picture with words instead. From the village, a canal leads to the lake, passing clusters of boats in a palette of sun-faded colors. Today all the fisherman were throwing hand lines, but three years ago a spear fisherman bubbled up with startling suddenness from the depths, emerging right next to our rowboat. That was my first time on the lake, when I took the official birding tour.

Speaking of birds, they are everywhere. Some are as familiar as home, similar or identical species. Egrets, kingfishers, phoebes, grackles, grebes, and herons. The green heron, in particular, is such an elegant bird and quite common here. I saw at least a dozen this morning alone.

Then there are the unique birds. The snail kite is a large hawk that feeds primarily on the lake’s large snails. It actually goes as far north as southern Florida, but never further. I watched one for a while, its regal bearing unruffled as I lingered nearby. It never moved, but behind the perfectly focused bird in my binoculars, an ever-changing panorama of mountains unfolded as the wind slowly turned my boat.

Northern jacanas are incredibly numerous, exotic and interesting. Their bills and foreheads are yellow, but that is nothing compared to their opened wings, which are a bright yellow in contrast to their dark glossy black and brown bodies. Altogether a weird and fascinating bird, which can even run along on top of the lake’s massive lily pads.

After my fill of birds, I stopped to swim. The bottom was a bit squishy but the water felt clean and I had swum there before. For me, the perspective of any lake seems different, more impressive, when you are in it. Always I pause and just look, absorbing the reality that I am actually there. Last summer, and again today, I swam, I reflected, and I remembered that every day is indeed a gift.

Cerro Azul Meambar National Park

  
The evening rains have begun, pouring down upon a country in true need of the life-giving water. Yesterday, as we drove past sloping fields of corn and sugarcane, Roman told me how dry the spring had been. 

The downpour has gathered us around a simple wooden table, like family united by the bonds of travel. The steady rhythm on the metal roof began gently, but is growing ever stronger, accompanied now by some serious thunder. Safe and dry, we travel with our stories, from continent to continent, and it is amazing to think that this is the life that all the others have been living for months or even years.

Later, while I was writing this, a swarm of brown, lacy-winged insects appeared, driven in perhaps by the solid wall of water. On the rafters above, a gecko is in heaven, feasting, his tongue flicking out again and again amid the bounty. This day has been a good one.

The future of Honduras lies with people like Walter, who used resources like missionaries and a well-known ornithologist living nearby, to learn both birds and English.

A rustic cemetery, alive with birds, was our first stop. The hour was still early and Walter was quick to call out the species. The golden-fronted woodpecker, crimson-colored and blue-gray tanagers, the Montezuma oropendola, white-collared seedeater, and sulphur-bellied flycatcher. The exotic names and brilliant colors were soon swirling around in my mind as I jotted notes.

  

When we walked down from the cemetery, we discovered a vehicle full of soldiers waiting for us. They were assigned to protect the national park. Walter assured me that it was the park resources that were in danger, not us. However, one of the soldiers, Luis, walked with us for a couple of hours (with his gun) as we continued upward toward the park. 

Once inside the park, we were free to roam on our own and quickly found a blue-crowned motmot. Walter was able to set up his spotting scope and I got a good look at this beautiful species, with its long and delicate double tail. PANACAM, as the national park is commonly known, is home to over 250 species of birds, many butterflies, and the waterfall pictured below.Tomorrow I go kayaking on Lago de Yojoa!

A swim under the waterfall brought me back to life after the long, hot walk.

 

Just beyond my door


Honduras is waking up around me. In the distance is the soft coo of a dove, but most of the voices from the verdant garden are louder, raucous, as full of life as the vibrant flowers that bloom just beyond my door. I was awake this morning while the world still slept, journaling. Bedtime had come early last evening after the day traveling and evening visiting and sampling the microbrews with new friends here at D&D in Los Naranjos.

Yesterday morning we set our alarms for 3 am or 1 am here. My flights were both on time, efficiently depositing me (and a plane full of mission teams in their matching colored shirts) at the San Pedro Sula airport in record time. Roman was there to meet me, holding a neatly printed “Laurie Chandler” sign, a shout of welcome in the steamy bustle.


Must say farewell for now because Walter the guide and I are going birding and hiking in Cerro Azul Meambar National Park in a little while. First, though, some local coffee, fruit, and granola!

Messing Around in Boats

Believe me, my young friend, there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing around in boats.

Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows

If there’s a special young person in your life, between the ages of 10 and 14, please consider the NFCT’s Nothern Forest Explorers Program for them this summer. Five days of wilderness paddling under the expert care of a registered guide and accompanied by an environmental educator interning with the NFCT. The cost is fair at $500 for 5 days; some scholarships are also available. No paddling experience is necessary.

Click the Northern Forest Explorers link for additional information and to apply. Down below the photo are quick descriptions of the trips.

170 - Rips
Wilderness paddling gets in your soul and brings you back to the river, creating memories like this day on the Allagash with my father and my son Taylor, who took his first wilderness trip at age 7.

Currently, there are openings on all five of the Maine trips, including the 34-mile Moose River Bow Trip near Jackman, which was my first solo wilderness paddling adventure back in 2010. Here are all five options, the third and fourth only open to Maine residents:

July 5-8 – The Moose River Bow Loop Trip led by Adventure Bound

July 18–22 – Western Maine’s Mountains, based on Flagstaff Lake and led by Adventure Bound

August 1–5 – Thoreau’s Maine, led by The Maine Winter Sports Center, paddling the waters of Thoreau’s journeys in The Maine Woods. 

August 8–12 – Maine’s Wild Allagash, led by The Maine Winter Sports Center, paddling the Allagash Wilderness Waterway from Umsaskis Lake to Twin Brook.

August 8–12 – Richardson Lake Explorers, led by ELC Outdoors and expanded to include an adventure ropes course and whitewater rafting, based on the Richardson Lakes.

If I was 10 to 14, there’s nothing I’d rather do this summer!

Tradition Meets Innovation at the Maine Canoe Symposium

For weeks I’ve been feeling the pull to return to blogging. Writing has been consuming my creative energy as I continue to work on the book about my NFCT thru-paddle, but I miss blogging. So hello!

 

Setting up camp in a circle of friends

My summer adventures began at last weekend’s Maine Canoe Symposium, reconnecting with friends, sharing NFCT news, and pushing my comfort zone.

It was equally challenging to learn paddleboarding from Moe Auger on windy Moose Pond and to build a reflector oven under Nicole Grohoski’s encouraging tutelage. After journeying so many miles last summer, Geoff Burke’s workshop on double-bladed paddling added new insights and fired my desire to switch to a longer 8′ 3″ handcrafted Geoff Burke paddle someday!

There’s a problem with the MCS workshops, though. One weekend just isn’t long enough to attend all the tantalizing choices. I missed the chat with Gil Gilpatrick and hearing about paddling Ontario. Oh well, there’s always next year and I did get to talk with Gil about book publishing, which is close to my heart right now. More on that soon.

Beth and Kathy built reflector ovens with me, as did the Flint family. Someone said we should have a bakeoff next year!

 

A new dragonfly meets the world