Thursday, December 4, 2008
Due to the infrequency of these posts, combined with many amazing personal experiences, it is difficult for me to discuss everything that has occurred since I last wrote.
Leaving Xela took longer than planned for a number of reasons. When you stay in one place for at least a month you develop relationships with people that you don't want to end. I suppose that is one of the great paradoxes for the traveller - when travelling you meet some of the most interesting and like-minded people whom you connect with instantly, but the connection is always fleeting, as there will inevitably be a parting of ways, and likely you will never see those people again. The other big factor that kept both Liam and I in Xela is that we finally got what was coming to us, we got sick to the stomach. This is a topic that might as well be breached, because it is an inevitable occurence to anyone travelling long term. There must have been something bad going around Xela because it seemed that 75% of the foreigners I spoke with were ill all at the same time. Getting sick when travelling can be one of the most dangerous things that can happen to you, both physically and mentally. It is difficult to think positively or clearly when you are really sick. Being confined to a dingy hostel bed and spending hours in a stench filled baño is when you begin to doubt yourself most, when you begin to long for the comforts of home. I heard of a few people who even decided to pack up and head home after failing to get better quickly.
I decided that we were only going to get better with a change of scenery, and so although we were still ill we braved a bumpy chicken bus ride out of Xela to the famous place of Lago Atitlan. The bus ride there was not so bad, and as we neared the lake, and drove along fog filled mountain passes, I started to feel much better about being out of Xela. The last hour of driving was incredibly surreal, the road was narrow and lined with flowering trees on either side, and beyond the trees was nothing but dense fog. It was as if we were driving along a tree lined bridge high in the sky. When the emerald expanse of Lago Atitlan, surrounded by mountains and mist emerged into view, it was at that point that I understood why Aldous Huxley called it the most beautiful lake in the world.
We stayed in a Pueblo called San Pedro, a place were travellers and hippies from the world around come to live for a while. There it is easy to find whatever it is you desire, from space cookies and reiki, to painting classes and horseback riding. It was beautiful but it wasn't a place that I wanted to stay for long, as it was still not the warm weather and the ocean that I had been waiting for. Moreover, the magnificent surrounding was once again spoiled by an abundance of garbage and pollution, something I'm beginning to get used to here in Central America. I told myself that I had to go swimming in this lake, and when I finally jumped in on a windy and wavy day, I found myself wading in waste, with pieces of garbage sticking to my body from the pushing current. I was disgusted and angered. I've put a lot of thought into this issue of pollution that is so prevalent here, and although it is hard for me to admit, it is really not something that we can blame the people here for. After spending some time here it is easy to see how the environment is less of a concern for many. How can people care about the natural environment, or the rights of animals, when many struggle to survive themselves? That is not to say that many people here aren't conscious and caring about their environment, but to act on those concerns seems to be difficult here. Besides, what happens here is really not much different than in North America. It is not as if there is more garbage here, it is just that they have developed the same methods of mass production, excess packaging, and consumption that they were pressured into adapting from us, except without the means or infrastructure to deal with it, or "hide" it like we do.
This discussion brings to mind an interesting conversation that I had a few days ago that really challenged my beliefs. This fellow, who happened to be from the United States, felt that tourism was terrorism. He felt that is was harmful for people from North America, or Europe, or the "first world" to travel to countries that were not as "developed". By us being here, he reasoned, the locals begin to mimick and adapt the harmful lifestyle that we show them. I think that there is some truth to this, especially when people travel without an effort to learn or become a part of the culture. Naturally, if it will bring more tourists and more money, then locations will create an infrastructure that attracts tourists. They will build big hotels, and set up McDonalds. I guess this is why I support a kind of travelling that is not necessarily exclusive of tourism, but is conducive to the maintenance of traditional lifestyles. I suppose this is being idealistic, but nevertheless, I still maintain that the crossing of cultures and the exploration of the unknown certainly has more benefits then it does disadvantages to the human condition...Just a thought.
Various circumstances have unfortunately led Liam to cut his trip short, and he has decided to head home to Canada. Liam and I were not always travelling together, and over the last month we didn't even see each other very often. I have always maintained that travelling alone is the best way to travel, and I am anxious about what the future will hold for me, but admittedly I am going to miss that feeling of comfort that I had knowing that a good friend was always close by, especially heading into El Salvador. Pero, que es la vida...
Currently I am in the colonial city of Antigua, and am creeping ever closer to the ocean that I've been longing for. Tommorow morning I will hop on a shuttle which will take me over the border into El Salvador to a quiet beach where I plan on surfing for a long while.