Thursday, April 5, 2012

For What It's Worth...

Time for another blog entry.  Time to record my memories and experiences so that I can live vicariously through myself in the future, when time is measured by bingo nights.  Ever the sucker for epicness and to give myself motivation to write this, I've convinced myself that every word written is a victory against death.

This blog will be formatted mostly in the 'report and tell' style, so there is a good chance it'll be dull, poorly written, and will contain inside jokes... with myself (just finished writing it... way too long... oh well).  Plus, despite possessing a perturbed stomach, some skin shedding shoulder blades, and some aching and shaking legs, I currently feel euphoric about my adventures.  Thus, this blog will most likely be overdramatic and overly sentimental.  I apologize in advance to the few who decide to brave this write up.

I've been There and Back Again.  For the past eleven days (March 15th-25th), I have been backpacking throughout Central America with two of the most intelligent, sincere, and legit people that I know, Brandon Lee and Christopher Gong. 

A quick background on my travel companions...

Brandon Lee:  Triple majored at ASU in Psychology, History, and Religious Studies and graduated with a 4.0.  Perfect G.R.E. score, created his own A.C.T. Tutoring business, and is also fluent in Spanish and acted as our translator this trip.  Baller.

Christopher Gong:  Jiu-Jitsu master, business consultant for Deloitte, makes bank, travels the globe (currently resides in San Fran), speaks Mandarin, the most articulate person I've ever met, and the definition of a renaissance man.  Baller.
From left to right:  Brandon, Christopher, Me

I was privileged to be in the select company of these two good men.

"He who would travel happily must travel light".  We decided to take Exupery's advice.  We each brought a school size backpack stuffed with our possessions to last us for those ten days.  Forgive our grubbiness in the photos.

Day 1:  Lonely Night Beach, Wrestling, SPRING BREAK 2012 CANCUN YEAH BROPARTYY!!

On Thursday we flew into Cancun, Mexico.  We met up with Chris and headed towards the coast.  After putting our stuff in a hostel, we took a bus out to the beach.

Arriving after dark, the beach was beautiful and lonely.  It stretched out for a mile in either direction without any buildings or people to be seen.

The oceans waves rhythmically crashed against the soft sand. The Caribbean breeze gently caressed my cheek and softly sifted through my unkempt hair.  The stars were the most memorable.  They were magnificent and shone with a brightness and clarity not possible in an urban area.  Sitting alone with my companions in a foreign land, gazing notstagically into the dark horizon, framed with celestial spheres in the skies and their dreamy reflections upon the otherwise black and empty surface of the ocean, it felt unreal. The twinkling stars served as a wistful anchor to reality.  

The setting reminded me of a quote from a role model of mine, the late great astronomer Carl Sagan:

"Before we invented civilization our ancestors lived mainly in the open out under the sky. Before we devised artificial lights and atmospheric pollution and modern forms of nocturnal entertainment we watched the stars. There were practical calendar reasons of course, but there was more to it than that. Even today the most jaded city dweller can be unexpectedly moved upon encountering a clear night sky studded with thousands of twinkling stars.  When it happens to me after all these years, it still takes my breath away".

Part of me felt like I was on an alien world.  I wondered, as I gazed up at an unusually bright Jupiter and the consistently luminous Venus, what Earth must look like from another planet.  My thoughts again went to a video I watched called a Pale Blue Dot.  I strongly recommend watching this.  The way I felt sitting there on the beach was aptly summed up by the expression on the two cowboys faces at the end of the video as they gaze out at the beautiful sunset.

  “Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there-on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam. 

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. 

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.” 

/end musings for the blog

After walking down the beach a bit, observing some inappropriate behavior, getting destroyed by Chris in wrestling, and checking out Spring Break 2012 in Cancun, we ended Day 1 and went back to the hostel.

Day 2:  Beach

Most beautiful beach I've ever been too.  It was shocking to see what it looked like in the day.

Grabbed some Pina Coladas and watched the sun slowly descend.

Spent the day at the beach and walking around the local market.  Also, the game of Chess made it's first appearance.  Although I had never really played much Chess, Chris and Brandon were two experts and played the first of many epic matches.

We boarded our first night bus and headed south down the Yucatan towards Belize.  A little note: the bus was almost canceled because it's A/C broke.  They fixed it.  This was bitter sweet however, because they in turn as if to make good use of it, blasted it on maximum the whole night. :/   I only brought a backpack of clothes... and even with almost every article of clothing layered on me that night on the bus, I, along with everyone else, froze and barely got any sleep.

Day 3:  Cave Tubing, Sunsets, and Philosophizing

We arrived in Belize City early in the morning.  Successfully avoided scamming attempts.  Met some Norwegian travelers.  Befriended a local named Leo who showed us around.  Our main event of the day was traveling to the tropical rainforest in Central Belize.

We went hiking through the jungle with a tube, and then proceeded to tube through a small river that ran through caves and the tropical forest.  The caves we tubed through used to be very important in Mayan culture.  Journeying through the caves was thought of as venturing down into the underworld for the Mayans.
The beginning of our tubing adventure

Brandon and Chris with our legit guide

In the Mayan Underworld

Exiting the Cave

Looking back from whence we came

Afterwards, we headed back to Belize City, stopping by the Belize Zoo on the way.  We boarded a small ferry in the harbor and then began a 45 minute boat ride to the island of Cay Caulker.  Speeding along over the Caribbean waters, we observed a sunset that was so majestic, so aesthetically pleasing, that it actually startled me from my peaceful reverie caused by the boat ride and made the heart strings begin to vibrate.
Boat ride to Cay Caulker

Upon arriving on the serene island of Cay Caulker, we treated ourselves to our first real meal of our adventure at a local small restaurant called Habeneros.  We then put our stuff in a hostel had its own small harbor that connected it with the Pacific waters.  Although it was relatively late, we went out and walked along the quiet dirt streets of Cay Caulker and wandered our way out onto a bench on a dock.


Again we looked up at the night sky.  We may have been in a different country than the previous night, but the same familiar stars greeted our gazes.
As silly as it may be, I came to look at them as fellow travel companions.  I looked at them with appreciative and friendly eyes.  As if to say, "it's good to see you guys again.  I see you guys are still both glorious and luminescent".

Chris, Brandon, and I had an amazing conversation out there alone on the dock, as the small island slept.  I was once again reminded at how lucky I am to have such noble, intelligent, and passionate people as friends.

One topic we broached is discussed in this video... highly recommend watching this too! :)

Day 4:  Snorkeling and Scouting

We woke up early, found a local with a sailboat, and then embarked with a few others towards the Belizean Reef.  Brandon unfortunately had to go back to Belize City to get his flight situation out of Guatemala figured out (long story).

Cay Caulker in the day

Another awesome experience.  As we were out in the ocean, a storm blew in and it began to pelt us with huge, cold, rain drops.
We had three stops where we jumped off and snorkeled.  The best by far was the second.  There were a ton of sting rays and nurse sharks.  I managed to grab a six foot long nurse shark by the tail and hold onto it for a few seconds.  A guy with an underwater camera got it on video... hopefully he sends it soon and I can update the blog when I get it.  I swearrrr it happened.


Shark infested waters

Me shaking Stingray's hand

Me and Chris corralling the behemoth of all sting rays.

When we got home, we ate, met up with Brandon, and then grabbed the hostel canoe and paddled out into the ocean.  Once again, we were under the night sky.  We weren't too smart about how far we went out... we didn't factor in a strong current that was pulling us out to sea.  We made it back though, and began to catch stuff.  We used our light to draw fish to the surface and catch them.  We also speared some crabs with our paddles and pulled in some jelly fish while we were at it.  Brought us three boy scouts back to the glory days.
Getting ready to set out to sea at night

One of crabs we speared with our paddle...awhyeah

SO sunburned.  Couldn't put shirt back on.  Had dinner with Australian friend and German friend who went snorkeling with us.  They'd been traveling for 9 months on one backpack...  We felt like sissies.

After getting off the canoe, Chris and I went to small local reggae club with some of the people from our hostels and befriended some Swedish friends.  It didn't smell too great in their, as you can imagine, so we left fairly early and went back to our hostel and slept.

Day 5:  Travel Day

Woke up, made our way to Belize City, got on a bus to take us to the island of Flores, Guatemala.  Walked around the island, hit the sack at our hostel early because we had to wake up at 4:00 am to go to Tikal and check out the Mayan ruins.

Hostels are awesome.  If you ever want to travel cheap and light, you need to stay in a hostel.  Like-minded people from around the world stay here, and the most entertaining and thought provoking discussions take place.  Want to know what it's like living as a high school student in Australia?  Go ask the pair of Aussie's in the corner.  Want to learn about immunology?  Go ask the pair of John Hopkins graduate students at the table.  How beautiful are the Alps?  Go ask the Swiss female on the other bunk.

Pictures of Hostel in Cay Caulker:

Outside of Hostel (it was called Belize Backpackers)

Backyard in Cay Caulker

My bed is bottom bunk

In my experience, everyone is friendly and interesting and interested in your conversations.  I met some awesome people on this trip.  This likely would not have happened had I been living the life of luxury and staying in hotels.

Day 6:  Tikal, Howler Monkeys, Bball

After waking up early, we took a bus over to Tikal, the largest of the Mayan ruins.  Our bus ride, began in the dark, took us deep into the dense Guatemalan jungle.  Howler monkeys and a heavy fog greeted us upon our arrival as the sun emerged on the horizon.

Tikal was sick.
Look familiar?  StarWars:  A New Hope.  Epic Nerd Chills

Around 2:00 we headed back to our hostel in Flores.  We spent the afternoon talking to people in the hostel and swimming in the lake surrounding the island.

At the top of the island, which is geographically shaped like a hill, there was a basketball court.  Brandon and I were able to play a pick up game against some Germans and some of the local Guatemalans.  We even had a small crowd of people from the island begin to congregate and watch us.  I, as well as the crowd from the sound of it, enjoyed every minute of it.  Brandon, jokingly, started to chant "USA! USA!" and got some looks from people.  Besides that, everyone had a blast.

Speaking of Brandon, he served his Mormon mission in Guatemala and the second he entered the country he said it felt like coming home.  He was an amazing translator and I'm sure saved us tons of money in thwarted scam attempts.

After basketball, we each grabbed our backpacks and departed Flores at 9:00 p.m. and boarded our night bus that took us on our 10 hour bus ride to Guatemala city.

Day 7:  Antigua and Lake Atitlan

From Guatemala City, we quickly departed to Antigua (Guatemala City is one of the most dangerous cities in the western hemisphere).  On this bus ride we befriended a couple of graduate students from John Hopkins University named Nick and Olivia.  We spent the afternoon walking around Antigua, discussing and philosophizing.

In the afternoon we got onto a van that took us to Lake Atitlan, where we met a couple more friends who used to work for the United Nations and now work for the World Bank.  Once we got to Atitlan, we had dinner with everyone.

First, let me describe Lake Atitlan and the surrounding area.  It is part of the Guatemalan highlands, formed from a massive volcanic eruption.  It took us a few hours of windy and highly inclined roads to get there.  It is centered around a huge, pristine, mountain lake that has taken residence in the volcanic basin on the ancient explosion.  On all sides, the lake is surrounded by mountains and volcanoes (one of which we hike the next morning) as well as minor Mayan villages.  As we rounded our last corner and the pristine mountain lake made it's first appearance, the view was enough to take our breaths away.

Volcano we hiked the next day in the background

View from our lakeside hostel

We had dinner in a cheap place near the lake and then, for 3$ a night, stayed in a hostel that was water front.  We hit the sack early knowing we had to again wake up at 4:30 a.m. to begin our ascent of the 10,000 foot San Pedro Volcano that overlooked the lake and surrounding area.

Day 8:  Hiking, Clouds and Market

Waking up at 4:30, we began our ascent of the volcano.  It took us about 3 hours and 30 minutes to get to the top... it was a pretty steep incline.  We managed to have some fun along the way, mixed with beautiful scenery.  Ascending through a dense jungle canopy and breaking through the cloud line is an experience I won't forget.

Hiking photos:
Halfway Mark


We made it back around early afternoon and then laid out in the hammocks by the lake, basking in the glimmering sunlight and breathing in the cool pristine mountain air.  On and off we played some chess on Brandon's iPad.  Mostly, we just sat gazing up towards the sky, watching the clouds pass on by.  Something about our adventure always had us looking up.

It was fitting to have an afternoon off after such a fast paced and physically/mentally demanding trip, especially after finishing our strenuous hike.

Later in the evening we took a tuk-tuk to the village market.  Besides having delicious chocolate dipped banana for 1 quetzal (15 cents), they also had a basketball court.  Brandon bet one of the kids 1 quetzal that he couldn't steal the ball from me.  We had our fun.  I won't say he's the next Steve Nash... but he was one of the most tenacious kids I've ever met.  It reminded me a lot of India.

What's the deal with the chicken statue?

He walked away one quetzal richer.

We ended up going to a local bar/hang out and watching a live performance and socializing with fellow travelers.  It was a good way to go out before we began our journey back to Guatemala City.

Einstein passing the torch to Chris

Day 9:  Wanderers, Traveling

Woke up as the morning sun inched its way above the mountain peaks.  Walked out in the Lake and washed off.  I'm not sure I've ever felt more in harmony with the natural order of things.  To go back to the Sagan theme, "We began as wanderers, and we are wanderers still".  I feel connected to the world when I am traveling.  I learned what I can live without.  I learned what I needed to live with.

We made our way across Atitlan to another village and then boarded another shuttle/van and headed back towards Guatemala City.  After a brief stop in Antigua, we arrived at our hostel in G.C.

You could say we enjoyed our last night away from our homes.

Day 10:  Flew home.

This trip was a well needed respite from the gray and repetitive life all of us had been living.  All three of us are currently at some diverging cross road in our lives.  Robert Frost's poem, "The Road Not Taken", seems to aptly discuss the issue.

TWO roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;        5
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,        10
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.        15
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

We understood that Frost wasn't promoting one road over another... just that it had made all the ambiguous difference.  This trip allowed all of us to dip our toes into the pool of uncertainty.  The water was warm and inviting.

Above all, this trip reconfirmed the belief of mine that their really are no rules to this life.

"For what it's worth: it's never too late or, in my case, too early to be whoever you want to be. 
There's no time limit, start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same, there are no rules to this thing.
We can make the best or the worst of it. I hope you make the best of it.
I hope you see things that startle you. I hope you feel things you never felt before. I hope you meet people who have a different point of view. I hope you live a life you're proud of...
and if you find that you're not, 
I hope you have the strength to start all over again."

1 comment:

  1. David! This is your old pal, Eli (the ninja of course)! At the moment, I'm basically bedridden with a terrible headache and some kind of sickness - not sure precisely what it is, but because of it I found myself wandering through Facebook and came across your blog! I read the entire thing and enjoyed reliving your adventure with you.

    The interesting thing is, lately I've been doing my fair share of philosophizing and have found myself immersed in the brilliance of the connectivity of all things. I no longer believe in coincidences and believe that when you live in the right way, all experiences serve as teachers of sorts to lead you to the next experience. Strangely, about 4 or 5 days ago, I awoke with a thought that was more of an internal feeling resonating within me than an actual thought. It was as if I was sensing the light of your spirit and asking myself "I wonder what David Shockey has been up to..." It was almost as if my spirit sensed we were at similar paths on our journey, and just a few days later you "liked" my status, which brought me to click on your page and find this.

    Reading this has inspired me and strengthened my desire to travel the globe and see as much as I can while I still live. I am also a huge Carl Sagan and Neil Tyson fan, and you included two of my favorite quotes of all time from them. I have also been to Mexico & Belize but at a time when I was too young to appreciate the experience. I hope to one day make another journey, but this time led by my own intuition and with some fun travel companions.

    It appears that you've learned the most important lesson in life already - to never stop learning more lessons! I sense that our generation of like-minded people are going to change the world in magnificent ways for an awe-inspiring future.

    Never stop making a difference, and always tread the path your intuition takes you. I'm sure at some point down the road we'll again cross paths and do some of our own philosophizing ;)

    To this day, you're still THE timeliest of all brutes. Haha, take care my friend!