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Guatemala

I had my first visitor in Honduras! My lovely sister came to visit me, and it was nice to be a tourist again for a week. I ended up visiting places I didn’t even know existed and learning a lot both about myself and this little town I now call my home. It is hard to believe that it has now been a year since I quit my job, and I have been away from Portland, OR traveling and living abroad for that long. I hope others will come to visit me too!

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The drive from San Pedro Sula to Copán Ruinas.

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The Mayan Ruins.

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Waiting for our bus to the Hot Springs.

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The Spiritual Baths at the hot springs.

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Met a new friend at the hot springs!

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Our good luck charm to start the day off right before we hiked around Copán to all the Mayan sites.

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The first stop on an all day trek circling Copán and visiting the sacred check points of the ancient Mayan city.

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Notorious for my problems with customs, this is before I almost got sent to Mexico and after a delicious breakfast in Guatemala. Turns out at the airport they stamped my passport but didn’t say how many days I could stay, and I almost got deported even though it was an error on their part and not my fault. Just my luck. Good thing our guide was able to work his magic, or I might have been coming back to the United States sooner than I expected.

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Yoga and meditation spot at San Lucas.

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Walking up switchbacks to get an amazing view of the city.

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Our guide’s little helper hanging out in the tree.

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From the top of the mountain.

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Walking through cornfields to return to the city.

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At Rastrojón, a newly excavated Mayan site. Incredible this sculpture is still intact.

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Horseback ride in the night.

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My sister and I having a relaxing late breakfast at Café San Rafael.

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My sister was rather popular with the kids at Casita Copán! It was so special to introduce her to all the important people in my life here, and we spent a whole day just hanging out with my Copán friends and family. It made me realize how far my Spanish has come as I was actually able to translate between English and Spanish for a whole day.

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Two years ago, I would not have thought that my life would take me where I am now. I am nursing, not as a career, but as a volunteer, writing professionally and creatively, living in Honduras, speaking in Spanish more than English, and all together, living a more fulfilling and enjoyable life. Want to learn how to quit your own job and travel the world for a year while pursuing your dreams? Check out the first of a series of my articles on traveling the world for a year without a job at Endless Trek Magazine.

http://endlesstrek.com/how-to-travel-the-world-for-a-year-without-a-job-expectations/

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I recently was discussing with a friend in Copan the word culture and how we both thought it was often misused to make excuses for unacceptable treatment of women and children. Until she had brought it up, I didn’t realize that I myself had used it as an excuse in my writing and conversation. The word “machismo” could very easily be exchanged for the American idiom “boys will be boys,” both placing the unacceptable acts of men in the category of “culture.” When these words are used, somehow rape, domestic violence, and cheating become more acceptable because they are part of the “culture.”

I am frequently asked by friends and family, how can you live in Honduras where men treat women like they do? This question makes me upset when people ask it, and for some time, I did not understand why. I now see that the root of my irritation is that not so long ago America’s “culture” was one of female oppression, and the phrase “children should be seen and not heard” was used frequently to ignore the voices of the innocent.

It was strong people, that’s right, PEOPLE, not just women, who helped make the freedoms of women and children possible in the U.S. Americans seem to forget that this change only really happened in the last 100 years, and we lived in a similar world as women and children do here. While the unacceptable behaviours of men in Honduras are ignored on a regular basis, and that is termed machismo, I believe that way of thinking is changing, not just here, but in the world.

I see strong children and females all around me. I am reminded, that while many battles have been won, it is an on-going war to change the mindset of a world that has been primarily patriarchal, with women and children seen as possessions, not human beings of equal standing, for most of its history.

I look at the male children around me, and I ask myself where and how can they learn to be different than their fathers? How will they learn to be champions of women and children and call themselves feminists too? So often, I see men pushed to the side in the feminist movement, but they can be just as much a part of it and are necessary to it’s progress. They can show what true culture is.

By definition, culture is “the arts and other manifestations of human intellectual achievement regarded collectively.” True culture is when people come together with all their knowledge, wisdom, experience, and history to create a statement of who they are as a people and what they have achieved together. As a cultural statement of the world, I hope someday at the base of all our achievements will be equality and respect.

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This past week I visited a clinic under construction in San Jose, an isolated, impoverished community in Guatemala 30 minutes from Copan Ruinas via unpaved roads. A few years ago, the people there didn’t have running water, kids were crammed into a dirty, dark building to attend school, and to go to a doctor could be an hour or more drive. Project School Supplies of Copan Ruinas is working with the Guatemalan government to build this clinic and staff it with permanent doctors and nurses. Project School Supplies also assisted in the construction of a water system, new school, and a bakery that will help create a more sustainable area for these people to thrive in who rely on farming for sustenance. The most beautiful thing about this project is that it is building a sense of community amongst those in San Jose. Although these people are being provided the resources to complete these projects, they are responsible for the actual development of the new village. Men from San Jose work on the construction every day in addition to their normal work. One can see a sense of pride in their faces as their own hands make their dreams realities. These people do not need hand-outs, but the tools to do what they are capable of. Everyone in the world has the power to create something beautiful, but sometimes it seems impossible to do so without the proper resources. To create something from nothing is overwhelming to even contemplate. What amazes me every day about life in Honduras is just how little people really need here to create something beautiful. In America, people have so much. They take for granted their ability to make their every dream a reality, but for those here, just a little can motivate people to build a whole new village.

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I relished the last moments with my dear friend before she left to return to the states. I had the best night of salsa dancing in Antigua, moving my body to the rhythm until parched of all fluids, collapsing exhausted on the floor after endless spinning, being flung from one side of the dance floor to another. The music down here speaks to my soul, and I want to die dancing…what ecstasy it would be.

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I did yoga under the night sky, candle lights flickering in the breeze, ancient ruins and mountains before me. It felt good to return to my heart center and listen.

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I spent a day with a friend doing nothing in particular, enjoying simply being part of this world as butterflies floated through the sky and birds came and went, restless as I so often have been. I watched and savored my life, music playing in the background, songs of our hearts. I sat on the grassy overgrowth of a broke-down church that is home to a saint and was content.

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Playing Con Quién with two wanderers, I felt a tinge of doubt about deciding to stay in Copan. Why did I choose this place of all those in the world to live? Would it be the same when my alma gemela left, when I returned to an empty apartment? Would the people I let into my heart in this little town love me or disappoint me, protect me or hurt me? It is too early to tell. I jumped into this world without thinking. In a day, I made my decision to stay final. No time was spent thinking of the pros or cons. I suppose this is what living in the now means, moving day to day, letting the world catch you as you fall backwards. As I think about Katie leaving, the shear terror of it all hits me.

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Back home in Copan for a few days, I moved everything I owned into a little apartment overlooking a butterfly farm surrounded by trees and tropical plants. It felt cozy in this small space I could now call my own. Never has a move been so easy, no paperwork or boxes involved. I was not there long enough to absorb everything, only long enough to make it my own and leave for Catacamus, the reason why I came to Honduras.

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Seeing the members of Healing the Children, doing the work we did in the hospital, made me more certain of my decision to stay in this country. I realized that the core of me staying here is something deep in my soul that I have never tapped into before now. It’s an inner peace that no matter what goes wrong in my personal life, the work I am doing here is something special that feeds and nourishes my heart as nothing else ever has. Giving these children the opportunity to walk, to work, and to play is right. Forming relationships with these families, showing them that someone cares and seeing them glow just by being acknowledged, I see that the human spirit is burning bright here. They are helping me see what is important, they are reminding me why I am alive, to love with a heart wide open and receive love as well. People never are evil; they simply do the best with what they have; they make the best decisions they can based on the information they have been given. A wise person taught me that on this trip. The team was a breath of fresh air for me. For so long, I have been out of the USA. I forgot the beauty in freedom. I change in each country, adapting to be culturally sensitive, sometimes forgetting who I am. It felt good this past week to come out of my shell, to joke freely, to feel like a human being instead of a sex object, as I am so often seen in this country. To dance and drink, work and explore, to feel equal and respected, to laugh and to talk without inhibition, to feel like I don’t have to hide aspects of myself and that I will be accepted and valued for all the talents I have to offer. Saying good-bye was harder than these beautiful and inspirational people will ever know. But when I feel lonely or begin to forget who I am here, I will remember dancing the conga with friends in a restaurant in Tegucigalpa and I will know who I am in my heart.

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Today, I panicked on the bus ride back to Copan. Nervousness turned to nausea. Returning a week early from my work in the hospital and saying good-bye to my last American friends in Honduras, I found myself shaking as it soaked in that I was returning to a city that all of my English speaking friends have left, and in which, I have chosen to live alone with minimal Spanish. I wanted to cry, but realized I had no one to cry with as I stepped off the bus. My only thought was to get to my apartment as soon as possible and let it all out there. I looked for a moto-taxi driver and in my desperation to escape claustrophobia, I almost didn’t recognize the man, who was the first I met when I came here. When we first met, he greeted me with a smile, and helped reassure me when I had similar feelings to today…complete terror. He knew English and wanted to practice but let me painfully try to use my Spanish that first day and promised that when next we saw each other in Copan, we would talk in Spanish only. So today, we met again, and in Spanish, I told him I was sad and scared, alone and crazy, and I cried. And I remembered that when you let yourself be vulnerable, life has a way of holding you up and showing it cares. Yes, I have made a crazy decision to stay here, but no, I am not alone. There will be other friends, other people to help me grow. There is always someone who will help me smile when I am sad, even if it is a stranger.

My Heart Will Be Full Again

My heart is open
And it bleeds
A smile on my face
I grow pale
A body so dry
Tears are needed
To maintain pressure.

You cannot see them.

I smile to show I trust
Even when that trust is broken
I trust because it is only in trusting strangers
That they have an opportunity to be trustworthy
I trust and wait for the silver lining amongst all the pain
I never stop believing people can be more than this
But learn to accept us as we are
I smile because I know the pain is part of the joy
Every day is an opportunity for the world to change
I smile because my heart will keep beating
If I trust others to give me enough in return to survive
Some days my heart is more empty than others
But it still beats
I still can love
The hardest part is letting others love me
Because that involves trust
And it can be broken
But if I smile despite the pain
I will find love seeping back in
And my heart will be full again.

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I love the flowers here…I try to mirror my accesssories after them…the brighter and more colorful the better.

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The Parque de Aves is home to various plants and the endangered Scarlet Macaws amongst other birds.

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These birds move fast when they know what they want…ate the buttons off my shirt in only a couple of minutes.

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Yes, Mayans liked to dance too…

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Mayans used to play a ball game in this arena…the winner’s award was to be offered as a sacrifice to the gods…losing is looking pretty good right now.

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Watching the sunset in Copán Ruinas.

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My travel buddy, alma gemela, personal trainer, dance partner, and fellow dreamer…not quite sure how we lived in the same city in Oregon for four years and never met, but it was only a matter of time…glad it was in Copán.

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Mano de la tierra.

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Hitching a ride.

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Saying good-bye is the hardest part; I keep meeting amazing people here.

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Chilling out at the hot springs.

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The bridge to get to them…

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One of the many colorful streets of Antigua, Guatemala.

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Making smores with some volcano steam…

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Sunset on a volcano.

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A long, dirty hike…

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