An audio and video podcast of my trip hitchhiking around the world by sea.
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Posts from — July 2009

One Basic Need

These kids are different. They don’t look different. They don’t act different. They don’t even feel different…but they are. They know they are, which might be the greatest challenge these children ever face. They’re all HIV positive.

Amor Y Vida is an orphanage for children with HIV, just outside of San Pedro Sula. In many cases, the kids are orphaned by circumstance, wherein their family simply can’t afford to take care of them. In other cases, the parents are no longer alive to care for them, having been taken by the curse that now shadows their children. 39 HIV positive children, ranging from toddler to teenager, live on the property. And they are some of the most enjoyable kids you’ll ever meet.

When I first arrived it was late in the afternoon to meet one of the women that helped run Amor Y Vida. Monica, my friend was with me to translate. We pulled up to the red metal gate and as I got out of Monica’s truck one little boy pressed his face to the iron bars. He stared and within moments several other’s joined in. After the guard let Monica and I in, we were headed straight for the office, giving me just enough time to kick a soccer ball back and forth approximately 3 times before entering the office.

Our meeting was short. I asked a few questions about the property, and the children. Then we made plans for me to return the next day to help out with the kids. When we stepped out of the office, several of the same kids were there. One took my hand and walked me back to the truck. We were friends.

The next morning I returned. I jumped out of the truck, and in broken (very broken) Spanish tried to explain to the guard why I was there. Eventually, something worked and I walked to the office. The same lady welcomed me, then escorted me to a classroom where the children were studying. We walked in. The children all stood and applauded, then sat, or most of them anyway. A couple of my friends from yesterday walked over to me from their desks. They looked up and without a moment’s pause gave me a large hug before returning to their seats.

That afternoon, I did some yard work around the property, but mostly-I played soccer. By the end of the day, there is one thing that stands out. It’s not their sickness, or how different they act. What stands out is that they are children. They laugh when they’re having fun. They cry when they fall down. They get excited about cake and ice cream. They even argue-like normal kids- and sometimes have to be coaxed to share their soccer ball with the other children. They are no different than any child, except for that one invisible secret.

The older ones are especially aware of their demon and the stigma it bears. They’re still very friendly and engaging, as long as I don’t have my camera. They don’t want people to know. Because when people know, they’re treated differently. Sometimes ignorance is bliss, but in this case it’s hell. It’s sad at this stage in life, when things are already awkward, that you can’t have something as simple as a high school crush without a storm of dark questions.

The younger ones are a little different. Their biggest concerns are winning a game of marbles, or scoring the next goal. Instead of shying from the camera, they want a picture on every swing, or standing in front of the flowers. They don’t understand what’s going on. Some of them don’t even think it’s real, according to the nurse who overhears them talking. I suppose the older ones felt that once too.

When I met with the soft-spoken director, I asked about their greatest needs. This time it wasn’t school supplies, or socks and shoes. This time it was a need that went much deeper. The kids need a psychiatrist. They need a counselor, someone to be there on a regular basis… someone to listen. They need the same thing we all need, to feel human.

July 30, 2009   3 Comments

Life in Ruin

The roads are made of stone. Honduran men stroll casually through the streets. Shielded from the searing sun, their machetes swing step by step, in and out of the circle of shade offered by their cowboy hats. In the center of this charming city there is a gathering point. A small water fountain sits like one of the nearby Mayan ruins- dry but not abandoned. It is surrounded with life: a mother resting while her children race through the square, a young man leaning on his tuk-tuk taxi while potential customers wander by, an occasional passing bell jingling from carts that carry cold ice cream treats for anyone interested.

The air is warm and humid. The sky hints of rain. In this section of town, my eyes are constantly drawn to the strong white Catholic church that watches over the square, while the streets on either side offer their own intrigue. One is lined with restaurants, from street carts to sit down. The other, where the tuk-tuks linger, is less noticeable, but with a bit of waiting a small entrance takes attention. A crowd swells and shrinks, one by one they enter empty handed and exit with small black bags. There are no tickets to go in, no secret code. The only secret is pausing long enough to notice it.  I approach, step around and over young girls selling corn tortillas. Then like passing though a C.S. Lewis wardrobe, I enter a world much more vibrant than its door. Bright bananas, ripe red tomatoes, prickly pineapples-everything local and priced to sell.

Copan is enchanting. However, it’s not the reason most people visit. The main reason most people come to this area is tucked twelve walking minutes from town. The reason is the ruins.

Guarded by an army of tall trees and thick brush, you wouldn’t know you were on the grounds of an ancient Mayan town, were it not for the cropping of roadside souvenirs at the entrance. The enchantment continues. Shrieking fills the air, as though the spirit of the temple is either welcoming or warning its visitors. Moments later the source is revealed as bright feathered macaws perch atop ruined rock.

Much of the grounds are well kept, making it easy to imagine life in this system of ancient architecture. There is the temple, a large pyramid, an ancient Mayan stadium complete with changing rooms (or sections) and designated seating for the elite and less than elite. There are intricate carvings, housing, an open steam bath. Then there is the more primitive side, such as the rock used to sacrifice life with an obvious place for the honored victim to lay his head, carved with small canals so the blood can flow freely.

I spent almost 5 hours wandering the grounds, climbing old stone steps, resting in crumbled courtyards, crouching through a system of tunnels. In the end I was satisfied. The ruins are fascinating, intriguing, fun to visit and imagine people of the past. But I am moved most by the present, the simple souls and existence just outside these ancient walls. It is the living that inspire life.

July 27, 2009   No Comments

False Alarm

I lased up my tenni’s and brushed my teeth. I had no idea what was in store for the day. The rumors were that the ex-president was planning an entry into Honduras, which according to my friend meant protests and manifestations from “Mel” supporters. I should interject here, I don’t really know what is going on-I’m not sure anyone does. But to her credit, my friend has done an impressive amount of research, not to mention her boyfriend who works for one of the major newspapers here. They understand there is corruption in the government. They even give credit to their president’s early years, but they say something changed along the way. And with the recent attempts to apparently change the constitution (allowing him to remain as President) their main fear, and not without cause, is the Chavez influence from Venezuela.

Being inconspicuous is not easy when you are the only gringo in sight, armed solely with a camera, which swung across my back like a monkey with every step I took.  I walked with my friend from her business to the “hot” area (where the manifestations generally began or ended). The ousted president was threatening a return. The current government was threatening armed action-if necessary to prevent it. And in the city, it all seemed so normal. Granted I had nothing to compare this day in downtown San Pedro Sula to, but as far as I could tell, there was no tension was mounting. People sat, strolled, sold goods in the square. Men asked me if I needed to change money, most paid no attention. Nothing like the nation in turmoil I had imagined.

Eventually we learned the rumored return was a false alarm, and with that conversation turned from politics to people. I probed for needs known anywhere in the city or country. “Ah, let me make a call…” my college friend’s boyfriend picked up his phone and spoke quickly in Spanish. “Would you like to work with HIV children in a couple days?” “Of course!” And just like that I had my next project: an orphanage with almost 30 children, all HIV positive.

My excitement swelled with every detail I learned. However, the orphanage was not expecting me for at least another day, and with no real political action to report on, I was left with no other choice than to go find myself some ancient Mayan ruins.

Next stop: Copan, Honduras.

July 24, 2009   No Comments

Honduras: A Dialogue Between Realist Derek and Idealist Derek

There are times when you’d think Realist Derek might speak up. For example, when Idealist Derek was getting ramped up to “make a difference,” chatting with his friend from Honduras. They talked about the people needing support, about the truth being exposed, about protests and manifestations. See now, that might have been a decent time to remind Idealist Derek that he didn’t actually speak Spanish. Or to ask him just what he thought he would do to support the people, or for that matter, which people he would support—all decent questions. But instead he just sat there, quietly observing as he loves to do as Idealist Derek rambled on and on about fluffy sunshine and rainbows, and made plans to change the world.

Then there are times when Realist Derek just won’t shut up… like when he’s sitting on the plane headed for San Pedro Sula, Honduras. Just when all the other Dereks are putting their seats back trying to relax, Realist Derek perks up and starts asking questions.

“Wait… so when did you last see your friend from Honduras? Over 10 years ago?!”
“And how well did you know her, I mean like are you even going to be able to recognize her? What happens when you get there, can’t speak Spanish, and can’t get a hold of your friend?”
“Oh yeah and remember that curfew you read about that you just brushed off-how does that work when your plane doesn’t even arrive until after 9 pm? By the way, why did the President get taken out of the country by the military anyway? And just curious, why is this plane so empty…”

You get the picture. Needless to say, none of the Dereks were able to rest much on the flight. We arrived as scheduled shortly after 9pm. I pulled my packs from the strangely vacant overhead compartments and followed the signs of Salida (exit). The air was thick, humid, with the smell of distant burning. I walked casually, and confidently past the airport security all heavily armed, like I knew what I was doing. Outside there was a large gathering of people, some were holding signs, all watched as I walked by.

But the people weren’t holding torches, or guns. They weren’t yelling or chanting. They were smiling and waiting. Much like any airport, they were there to greet their loved ones. I found a taxi driver who spoke English, and asked where I could find a phone. He pulled out his cell phone, asked the number and called… No answer. Just as he was explaining that if my friend didn’t show up he could drive me to a safe hotel for the night, my friend did show up. And yes, I recognized her right away.

The ride to her home was filled with political updates. As her boyfriend drove the relatively quiet streets, she shared background on the political parties, protests, and a slightly misrepresented situation. It seems things weren’t quite as bad as we had heard. Yes, there were protests, but the many of them were peaceful. The major ones were in the capital. Still San Pedro Sula had seen unrest.

We drove through downtown so I could see one of the “hot” areas. Bank windows were busted and boarded. There was graffiti scattered across the walls of downtown. Then she pointed out her family owned business, totally unmarked, and explained why only certain businesses were targeted based on their connection to certain parties.

The discussion continued into the living room and into the night. Both my friend and her boyfriend were passionate (though not overly), explaining how the ousting of the President was not really a “coup”, but actually legal and even beneficial based on the President’s desire to change the constitution against the will of the government (and for the most part-the people). They also shared their disappointment with CNN in displaying a situation that seemed much more out of control than it really was.

Eventually the night wound down. Tomorrow, I would go with my friend downtown to her work, where was rumored to be a manifestation.

“Just make sure you wear your tennis shoes, in case you need to run…” We said good night and went to bed. Except of course for Realist Derek… he still had a few questions.

(For one of the more clear explanations of what’s happening down see the following link.)

July 18, 2009   1 Comment

A Central American Confession…

First things first. You know that moment you found out Santa wasn’t real, when your heart sank as your mind panned over every Christmas past in this new dark light? Remember the feeling when your classmates said mean hateful things like, “How can a senior in high school still believe in Santa?”-how dirty and taken advantage of you felt? Ok, I’m not trying to stir up old emotions, I just want to put this next confession in perspective:

I’m not actually in Australia. I know… slow down. I didn’t actually lie to you (like your parents did with Santa). I was in Australia and did have some sweet adventures. I even did some volunteer work (which I still intend to tell you about). But I wanted to catch you up to real time so as not to loose the power and potential time sensitive stories of my newest adventure: Honduras.

It’s hard to explain why Honduras-a country in political transition-whose congress and military recently exported their own president under armed escort to Costa Rica. I guess it started a week or two ago when I bumped into an old friend on Facebook chat. She’s Honduran and had invited me to visit previously, but that was before the sort of recent coup. When I talked to her she was in Chile but she was anxious to get back to support her country, her people.

Her passion was challenging. Her fire, inspiring. The more we talked, the more I was challenged, the more I wanted to be stretched. I asked her if could still visit to see first hand what was going on. She agreed and days later I was planning my trip to Honduras.

July 15, 2009   No Comments

Choose the Change-The Interactive Humanitarian Adventure


We interrupt this Aussie adventure to introduce the newest World By Sea initiative. As you know, many of my voyages are spur of the moment, based on the opportunity that knocks the hardest. However, this is an idea that has been haunting me for months now and I can no longer avoid it. Introducing:

Choose the Change

I’ve realized that most of my adventures have been sort of one-sided. I travel to some distant land. I write about the people I see. I volunteer and take photos. Granted, many of you have donated to the needs of the people, but even those needs have been something I determine and decide. Until now! I want your help. I want to hear what inspires or moves you. I want to share your passion with the world. Here’s how it works:
1.    You Share.  Tell me a place, a project, a people. I want to know of a need or cause that YOU are passionate about. It can be anywhere in the world, abstract is good. However, the more detailed information you provide, the better. If you know of a need-that’s good. If you know of a person or organization already plugged into the need-that’s GREAT!

You may submit your suggestions privately (by emailing or share them with the world by posting them on the Choose the Change idea box on the left hand navigation menu. Over the next several weeks I will collect and review every idea submitted. Then I’ll pick 3-5 of the top submissions.

2.    You Decide.  Once the suggestions have been narrowed down to the top 3-5, I will post each suggestion and a descriptor under the Choose the Change tab. Then, let the voting begin. Maybe you’ll connect with the vision of one of the suggestions. Maybe you just want to learn more about a certain area, people, or need. Maybe you just want to see me travel to the most uncomfortable location possible. Whatever your motivation… the vote is yours!

3.    I go!  Simple as that. I’ll contact the organization, project or person that was most voted for and let them know we’re coming. In the meantime, I’ll be raising money. As usual, 100% of the money raised will go towards the needs. Once again, I will video, photo, and blog about the volunteer work. Once again you get to watch your dollars at work, except this time it is for something YOU are passionate about.

So there it is. I’m putting the reigns back in your hands. I want you to be involved. To share. To decide. To be a part of making a difference. You choose the change we make in the world. Now… Let’s get to work!

July 11, 2009   1 Comment

Henning to Habibi

Once again the rain greeted the rising sun. The Henning cab wasn’t leaving until 11:00 and I refused to let the rain dampen my spirit. Laced up my runners, put my-pod in a plastic baggie and took to the streets. It’s a good feeling-rain running. The world is your own. Parks are empty. Streets are quiet. From the back roads of Cairns to boat docks, and along the water’s edge, I ran until rain turned to sweat. That’s when I met my first Aborigines.

A small group was huddled beneath a park awning laughing, carelessly exchanging jokes. My kind of people. I veered my course as close to the party as possible without being obvious. As I approached, the conversation became staring. “Hey, come here!” I heard over the background music of my ipod. Perfect. I pulled the D-train into the party station, yanked out the ear buds and introduced myself. “Where you from?” “United States,” I said. Of the three men and one woman, all had weathered but gentle faces. One was more interested than the others. He asked me where I was running to (in the middle of a downpour), observed how white I was, then shared some of his favorite Jackie Chan movie quotes. We shared a few laughs then I shook hands and found my way back to the hostel, where I spent my final moments in Cairns.

I wish I could explain the feeling that pulses through your veins when hour after hour you watch kangaroos emerge and vanish mystically in an ocean of grass, or the way time slows when your gaze turns to eucalyptus tree tops only to realize they are filled with cuddly koala bears. I wish I could… but I’ve never felt anything like that. Unfortunately, the only “animal” spotting in 9 hours of driving was one lifeless ‘roo on the side of the road… which I still feel a bit guilty for getting excited about.

When we finally stopped it was in Airlie Beach, gateway to the Whitsunday Islands, which pains me to remind you is where the Island Reef Job was based. It is also appeared to be the Mecca of backpackers. The streets were crawling with young adventurers from all over the world. Every window was filled with a picture of a sailboat, a beach, a couple of models lost on some sandy paradise. What started a simple stroll to stretch our legs, ended in feelings of want. I guess after a full day of driving, and a couple days of rain, Mandi and I both started to feel like there might be more to Australia than the backseat window. Then this:

3 days-2 nights on S/V Habibi (meals included)/Snorkeling on Great Barrier Reef/Whitehaven Beach/2 nights at Airlie Beach hostel/2 nights at Hervey Bay (Gateway to Fraser Island)/3 days-2 nights self-drive and camp on Fraser Island—Cost: $299 (Aus Dlr) per person.

Mandi and I stared at the pull-up display like orphans at a candy shop window. “What do you think?” Mandi asked. I licked my lips, swallowed and we bought our tickets on the spot. I was a little sad to break the news to our German friends  (Henning-the driver, the guy who stared out the window and never spoke, and the other guy who sat in the front seat asking for advice on his love life) but it was a sadness easily cured with a drink and trip on a sailboat.

Tomorrow, I board the great Habibi and sail the Great Barrier Reef!

July 1, 2009   No Comments