Monday, August 30, 2010

Latest from Guatemala & Belize

Chapter 1: "Welcome to Paris...dise...."
Hello family and friends. We'll start with the red-eye out of SLC... we refer to it as "The Midnight Meat Plane, to Georgia" (...a superstar, but he didn't get far!). At any rate, do not fly out of SLC at midnight -- there are some strange folks up that late... the giant "Justin Bieber" look-alike, and the mean ol' lady who demanded the window seat because she had "some sleepin' to do!!!" (at the incovenience of everyone around her). Naturally, the four of us gawked for four hours from SLC to Atlanta.

We arrived to Belize City around noon and it was hot. Had we had the foresight, we would have never stepped one foot out of the airport. Ever.

First of all, there is absolutely nothing to see in Belize City, at all. Though, we still walked around looking for it in broad daylight.... that was until Mama Cleo spread her arms like a mother hen gathering her chicks, pleading with us "Don't go no furder down dat way." We were going that way because the signs said "dat way to da church" (which, according to Lonely Planet Guide was the only thing worth seeing in the city). Apparently, we would have died if we went to see the church, so we didn't. So, we headed back to the hotel, which seemed like a fine idea because we felt we had been "exploring" for several hours... only to find out when we got back to the hotel, it had been about twelve-and-a-half minutes since our plane had landed. We are finding that time moves at an "unbelizeably" slow pace down here. We thought today was Friday, of next year, but we realize it's only Tuesday and we are so happy!!!

So, still not yet clued in that Belize City is apparently the most dangerous city on the planet, we waited until sundown and went out again, because it was two degrees cooler then. When we got outside to go on our nightime stroll around the city, we were immediatly warned by the only other person we saw on the street to "Be careful!!!!" (Said in a voice you only hear in horror movies right before something really bad happens!) We just said "thanks" and moved along. Fortunately, on our lonely stroll we noticed a cute little stray dog that accompanied us, wasn't begging for food or anything, but just joined our little pack and guided us through town -- we decided she was our guardian angel and named her Meriweather (this may have been a reincarnation of Mama Cleo from earlier in the day). We were glad she was with us because, even though we only walked one block and then back, we were on the brink of death/assault/kidnap/std the entire time!!! Little kids threw rocks at us from inside a church -- the same church that another man invited us to attend earlier that day by screaming over and over at us "Get the 'freak' inside that church!!!!" (though, he did NOT say 'freak") The reason we kept leaving the safety of the hotel was because we needed to eat! But, we found there was really no restaurant we dared to eat at in the whole city... (and, for those of you who know us -- we really don't have very high standards to begin with)

After about 12 hours in Belize City (that felt like seven days), we had survived a night and high-tailed out of there on the first boat to San Pedro (Caye Ambergris -- Island made famous about 20 years ago by a Madonna song... "la isla bonita"). We arrived in San Pedro, were dropped off on a sandy beach and we looked at each other and said, "Which way should we go???" (because, of course, we had no idea where we were, no reservations, and just a general idea of what we might do for the next couple of days). We ended up at "Xanadu Beach Resort" because we liked the name and it reminded us of that 1980s movie with Olivia Newton-John. After checking in, we walked past the pool which overlooked the gorgeous ocean and palm trees and one man, holding a margerita up in his hand, in what he probably thought was a well-planned line in his head, and with one wave of his hand, yelled, "Welcome to Paris!!! ...dice...." We immediately knew this was the place for us, and we checked right in. None of us said a word about it, until we were halfway down the beach... then, compared notes, and decided he was a drunk French man who forgot where he was. Welcome to Paris! ...dice.... But, he wasn't kidding! It was Paris...dice!

Our hotel, though perhaps on the expensive side, even for the low tourist season, was worth every penny. It included snorkling gear, bikes, and kayaks... Not to mention our giant room/condo with huge deck over-looking the sea. So, within the first four hours of being there we used ALL of the free stuff provided (which, in our defense, in Belize time, it felt like fourteen days). The first thing, we checked the snorkling gear and ran to the end of the dock and jumped in... Well, Eli and Uncle Will jumped in and snorkled for an hour while Megan and Krishelle were still convincing themselves that it was safe to get in the water. (and, Megan adds, "I had to breathe -- I couldn't breathe.") So, about Megan and that snorkle.... when she had finally calmed down enough to listen, I explained that she could go under water and the contraption at the top of the snorkle would keep the water from rushing in... to which she said, "Oh! So, I can breathe when I dive down under water????" She was so excited... the other three of us gave blank stares to each other for a few minutes trying to understand how anyone could have gathered that from what was just said.... She figured it out and within no time was 100 yards off shore, but then in about two seconds was back on top of the dock because she "saw 10 really big things" (which upon later inquiry turned out to be about the size of a baseball -- according to her hand measurements when she explained her fear... of course, 24 hours later she jumped into the open ocean along with a bucket of chum and spooned several sharks and stingrays larger than her... we'll explain later...)

We turned in our snorkle stuff and checked out the kayaks. Within three minutes, Krishelle and Eli had capsized in ten inches of water (flipflops, towels, bottles of water floating around everywhere -- it was a mess). After they got upright, we paddled out into the open sea and then looked at each other and said, "Do you really want to paddle all the way to the reef, because that looks far?" Naturally, the answer was "No." So, we paddled back to shore and rented a golf cart. By the way, when we turned in the kayaks the lady told us it was 3:30 p.m. (we were a little embarrassed because we'd only been at the hotel for 90 minutes).

The only real way to get around the island is on bike, foot, or golf cart. We drove the golf cart as far north as we could on the main road, which was a dirt road that was mostly submerged, with the occassional iguana crossing. We found, in the middle of nowhere, a little restaurant made of bamboo on a little lake, full of crocodiles, and we ate on a landing over that little lake. Probably the best food we've had on this trip, served by the coolest ladies we've met, too (and, that's saying a lot, because the people of Belize are probably the nicest, friendliest people we've ever met on any of our trips around the world -- even in Belize City, which seems ironic if it's supposed to be so dangerous). Unfortunately, we didn't see any crocs, but we did see a sign telling us to follow Vanessa and Cheri on Facebook to get the latest "gossips" from the restaurant. When asked if this "gossips" included details on the latest fights between Vanessa and Cheri, Vanessa said, "If Cheri and I got in a fight, dat would be dee end of it tall." We're not sure what that means, but think maybe one of them would end up with the crocs.

We turned in the golf cart, wound down and went to bed. Then, Monday morning rolls around and we'd figured out a plan for what to do that day (Monday). We started by watching Megan get her hair done in corn rows.... This was after breakfast where she asked the waitress if the hashbrowns and refried beans would be mixed together or if they could keep them separate for her. To which the waitress responded by slamming her breakfast down in front of her and saying "Hashbrowns, and beans separate on the side!" (and then laughing hysterically and walking away.... the rest of us have continued of course to make fun of her at every meal she orders... "is all the food just mixed together in a blender???" .... we are not sure why she even thinks these things, but we're happy she does). The corn rows are a disaster.... more later on this...

We checked out the bikes from the hotel (the one last "free" hotel perk). We road into town and looked like the typical awkward American tourists -- walked into a souvenir shop, stood in front of the a/c, didn't buy anything, got on our bikes and road back to the hotel to begin the snorkling tour.

Alphonse and Snagglepus picked us up on the dock to head out on the snorkling tour. We went out to deep sea that ended up being about four-feet deep in most places. We listened to instructions for about 30 minutes and pretty much understood that the four of us were to stay on his right-hand side in the water and the rest of our group on the other side (this was if we wanted to see anything good). Before we jumped in, we could see sharks swimming under the boat.... but, we jumped in anyway because we were instructed to do so. We thought we would just be snorkling around the boat, but there was a big ol' current and you had to paddle like crazy to stay with the group... Then, the hurricane began! We felt these stinging pelts on our backs and when we looked up, we realized we saw no boats, no other snorklers -- just 100-mph winds, waves, and pouring rain. It was safer face-down in the water. This is the point at which Krishelle and Uncle Will realized we had lost Eli and Megan, who had gone off chasing and petting a sea turtle as if at Disneyland in some controlled environment. Eli and Megan stuck their heads out of the water and realized they were alone, as they clung to each other and said their goodbyes. They found a boat and tried to swim around it in every direction, but kept slamming into it and getting sucked under. Meanwhile, Krishelle and Uncle Will had a whole "who should stay with the group and who should go find them" conversation -- Krishelle was going to stay with the group and Uncle Will was going to be 'search and rescue' in the open sea (where none of us has any business being). As Krishelle and Uncle Will said their goodbyes, we spot four frantically-kicking panicked fins kicking through the waters at hyper-speed. We knew it was Eli and Megan because we could see the corn rows and purples beads at the ends of them! From that point on, we were linked at the elbows the whole time, except for when the moray eel appeared and we all split at lightning speed in four different directions (the typical "save yourself" moment!). Of course, an hour later, we were chasing 300-lb 10-foot-long sharks, and holding and petting them, with the help of the snorkling guide.

The snorkling tour was about two hours of swimming behind this guide... much like an underwater pioneer trek, but without the camp songs. We were exhausted, because we kept running into people and them into us (it was awfully crowded for being miles from land, in the middle of the ocean, in low-tourist hurricane season). Upon comparing notes later, we each, at least once during this initial two-hour snorkling expedition, had considered drowning because it just seemed like the easiest way to end this snorkle tour. It was going on FOREVER!!! (for anyone who knows us, we do not like to feel trapped or like something is going to go on forever... like the Egyptian museum). So, we eventually swim back to the boat and get in, only to be told we are now going to the second stop on our snorkling tour.... to which many of the passengers groaned as they each burped up a cup of salt water, and immediately started making excuses as to why they couldn't get back in the water (this included everything from headache to broken snorkle gear....). We eventually motored over to an area called "Shark Ray Alley" because of all the sharks and sting rays you get to see. The guide talked about how we would get to hold and touch the sharks. Then, when we got there and started putting on our gear, Megan had a 'beans and hashbrown' moment and asked why we were getting in because wasn't the guide going to just bring the sharks into the boat and pass them around so we could take pictures??? We were all too exhausted and sick to make fun at that point, so we just rolled our eyes and jumped in... and Megan followed.... yes, Megan, who 24 hours earlier had been afraid of ten tiny baseball-sized fish, had now jumped into the middle of shark-infested waters right after the guide dumped in a bucket of chum (and this is no lie!!!). Krishelle wasn't going to get in, but eventually she did, but mostly just to avoid having a one-on-one with the only other person in the boat who said she had a headache (but, we know she was actually just scared). I don't think any of us would have gotten back in the water -- there were sharks EVERYWHERE!!! LOTS OF THEM!!! Including the one Krishelle landed on when she jumped in (like she was jumping off a second story old west saloon onto her horse -- like Zorro). The funny part was -- it didn't even scare her... she just said it felt like sandpaper. We were far too exhausted by this point to care about being eaten alive by sharks. Plus, the snorkling boat had the worst gas fumes ever, so you we were completely taking our chances with the sharks just because the air was fresher. We all held the sharks and got underwater pictures with them, and stingrays, too. It was absolutely magical and we are so glad we decided to get back in the water. There are really no words to describe how beautiful it was -- a once-in-a-lifetime experience and worth every bit of hassle or sea-sickness!

We went back to the hotel, changed, went out to eat (where Megan ate lobster -- there are lots of "firsts" on this trip!), then back to the hotel. Uncle Will fell to sleep immediately on the couch. The kids went to the pool for a bit and found that there are crabs living in it, after one scurried across the top of Megan's foot (to which she flew 15 feet into the air and screamed loud enough to awake everyone on the whole island -- she's afraid of a little crab, but she'll jump into the middle of chum-saturated shark-infested water). Krishelle and Megan went back to the room and fell to sleep (it was 8 p.m. by now, you know), but Eli went out because there was no way he was going to bed at 8 p.m. (cuz he hadn't been to bed before 8 p.m. since his last sleepover at Aunt Diana's house when he was 9 years old). In the defense of the other three of us, it gets dark around 6 p.m. So, Eli wandered the beach until he ran into a reggae concert and limbo'd up to it. He was by himself for a while until a lady who he named Shaneekwa sidled up to him and said, "You looka lost and lonely, and I'ma lost and lonely, too." She had bleach-blonde hair and 15-inch heels, to which Eli responded "No thanks -- my friends are just over there..." He later saw her making out with an older man at the bar. He made friends at the concert, as they were crammed into a little space escaping hurricane-force winds and rain, with some people who told him to NEVER go to Belize City because it's so dangerous.

The next morning, we got on a boat back to Belize City. About two minutes into our boat ride, we realized we had gotten on a refugee boat and hoped we were really heading to Belize City. About two minutes further into the ride, the gas fumes got so bad that we were sure we would end up on a 60 Minutes episode about the Belizean ferry that exploded en route from San Pedro. Obviously, it didn't explode, but Megan is convinced we almost tipped over once.

Next stop, the Belize City bus station to catch a ride to San Ignacio (launching point for Tikal, cave tubing, and some other jungle-type stuff). We hopped on the first bus we saw in Belize City because the bus station was the WORST we've seen in our lives and stinkiest. We thought it would take 90 minutes to get to San Ignacio but when we asked we were told "four hours -- it is sixty-two miles ju know". Thank heavens it was not four hours because the man sitting next to Uncle Will had pink eye and was eating something that looked like it might have been chicken about six months ago, and it was getting everywhere (all down Uncle Will's legs).

When we got to San Ignacio a taxi took us to a hotel in the middle of some mountain about 3/4 of the way back to Belize City and it felt like a Central American version of the Bates Motel. So, we had him drive us back to San Ignacio and find us another hotel... We are staying at "The Plaza Hotel" .... run by grandma and grandpa! YOUR grandma and grandpa! Who live upstairs, downstairs, and pretty much everywhere in the hotel, because it's basically just one big creepy maze of a house. We checked-in in their living room and then grandpa showed us a room, but grandma was showering in that room and yelled at us, and grandpa was watching "Mr. Ed" and we have to walk through their kitchen to get to our room which looks like a genie bottle because there are three beds and they are covering every square inch of the room and grandpa kept telling us to put our bags in the bathroom because there is about one foot of floor space in the room which is taken up when the door needs to open..... We are paying one night at a time and are quite sure we will only be paying for one night... although, the grandpa did earn points with us when we were walking down the street next to a man who was screaming at us in criole and the grandpa stuck his head out the balcony and made the crazy sign (spinning finger around his ear) and pointed at the man so we would know... (as if we hadn't figured that out already)

We better go now... grandma and grandpa are waiting up. We love you!

Chapter 2: Why would they put lake on an island?
Hello, again, family and friends. Last we left you, we had just checked in to grandma and grandpa´s crazy hotel/house/hostel/someplace-we-never-want-to-stay-again... LOTS has happened since... First of all, after walking the town looking for a restaurant (which we seemed to do a lot of in Belize), we stumbled across what we thought was a restaurant, only to find out it was a little store run by an American hobbit selling ¨underwears¨... he told us he only occassionally had pastries and then looked at his watch and told us he didn´t know who could possibly be open at 4:30 p.m. for food. I think we were more confused than he was... we really felt we had stumbled into a Tolkein novel or were on a hidden camera show. Luckily we found a place to eat where we were hassled by ¨Feliz¨ -- a free-lance tour guide and quite possibly the most religious human being who has ever walked the face of the earth (details to follow)... by the end of our meal we had signed up for what seemed like was going to be a 17-day ultra-adventurous jungle excursion with promises of snakes, jaguars, white-water rafting, and no-strings attached.

Knowing now what we would do the next day, we went back to Hotel Grandma/Grandpa to cram ourselves into the four-by-four square room, where we had to sleep in spoons to fit.... BUT, before we went to sleep, we heard Megan whimpering and beads started to bounce off the tile floor. We looked over and Megan explained that she was trying to do a surprise for us -- a surprise of taking out her corn rows a short 24 hours after they had been put in, because they itched, burned, were falling out, and quite frankly looked like the head of an old naked Barbie long ago forgotten at the bottom of a 1980s toy pile. So, we all gathered around to undo the damage which had been inflicted on Megan´s head on the shores of San Pedro Island. Three hours later, a giant chunk of blonde hair lay on the bed (looked like someone shaved twelve Troll dolls).

During the undoing of the hair, there was a shark special on TV -- which we were very happy to be seeing AFTER our shark-snorkling/spooning experience of the prior day. We´re pretty sure none of us will be going back in the water (not even in our own bathtubs). During all of this we started talking about our shark excursion when Megan informed us that ¨there are a lot of things about those fish I didn´t need to know.¨ When we asked her what exactly, she said, ¨Well they pointed out all these beautiful fish and then told me all these TERRIBLE things about them!!! Like changing their sex!!! That means that all the pretty girl fish can also be men! GROSS!¨ Quite sure that Megan had a different snorkling experience than the rest of us we asked for more clarification and she explained that she has always just associated pretty fish and animals with girls and the ugly ones with boys... Her whole world has been shaken.

San Ignacio was hot! The room was well-equipped with fans and A/C, and thirty dirty sheets per person for a cover (grandma must still be doing laundry in the river...which makes sense because we think she was born in 1825, and she yelled a lot at grandpa -- probably still mad at him for turning her shower into a Broadway show when he led all of us in to meet her while she was naked). Anyway.... Feliz picked us up the next moring in his friend´s tin can on wheels to haul us into the deep dark jungle...

We found out along the way that Feliz, who was sitting in the very back on the floor because there was no where else for him to sit, has a lot to say and that he was going to say it all that day and none of it was about the tour we were on. We did learn a lot about soccer, team work, sobriety, house building, service, the Amish, the river system in Belize, and more than we ever wanted to know about Central American Evangelical Missionary Songs. So, by the time we got to the jungle we were ready to climb into a deep dark cave and die or do anything he asked so we could get the day over with fast! The first thing on the agenda was to go cave tubing (which Megan wanted to know if we only got to go once or if we would get to take our tube back to the top and go again, like it was a waterslide at Raging Waters), unfortunately Feliz was not a very good planner and after driving for three hours to get to the caves, they were closed and the only life found at this tourist spot were giant army ants which immediately started feeding on us. Felize ran around in circles for a while, then disappeared into a hut, then came out with four innertubes and explained that it ¨looked¨ like it was probably going to be safe for us to go afterall (even though the caves were closed because the water levels were too high and they weren´t sure we could get through without scuba gear... but, Feliz informed us that he prayed and with faith the waters receded enough for us to scrape through... Then, we began our one-hour walking trek through the jungle carrying our tubes, in our flipflops (because Felize failed to mention we would need shoes to hike through the jungle and rivers with sharp jagged hidden obstacles and very strong currents), and we unfortunately made the mistake of telling Feliz we´re religious as well... cue Evangelical Missionary songs. All verses. En espanol. Interrupted by Evangelical missionary sermons and the occassional side-hug and wink. Hallelujiah.

Finally we got far enough into the jungle, and four-thousand ant bites later, we were at the place to enter the river and disappear into the unexpectedly long, dark, horrific, bat-infested, hidden waterful, multiple-death-trap-corridors (but only one being the right one) caves, gushing with 90 mph waters. Though, never fear, we had four partially-inflated innertubes, and four flashlights (one which was still sort of working by the time we got to the cave entrance). Feliz had us get into the river one at a time and then cling for life to the perfectly smooth moss-covered slippery rocks in order to prevent being sucked into the cave, separated from the others, and lost forever (had this been Raging Waters, this part is the equivalent to the top where the worker holds onto you before letting you shoot through the tube). Felize got all four of us in and had us hook feet under armpits of the person in front of us (as you can imagine, none of us wanted anyone´s feet in our armpits, even though we are all related, we had been walking around barefoot in the jungles for about a week). Felize was in the front so he could paddle us out of harm´s way -- occassionally he would look very scared and would start a panicked paddling into the dark (because it was soooo dark in there) and that would freak us out so we would all start paddling, too, to try to help... except for once, when we noticed Megan was paddling the opposite direction... When we asked her about this later she told us she didn´t want to go that way because it looked scary (which nothing looked like anything because our flashlights didn´t work and it was just pitch black everywhere and the water was so high our heads were about scraping on the roof of the cliff). The cave tubing was cool if it was about one-tenth as long as it was... Naturally, after about 30 minutes, the fear innappropriately wore off and Eli started singing that song from Willy Wonka where that horrifying boat is flying down that terrifying chocolate river (¨is it raining, is it snowing, is a hurricane a-blowing....the river must be flowing because the rowers keep on rowing!!!!!¨). Then, we got out right after almost being sucked under the part where the water was definitely too high... at which point Feliz told us about a lady who had just drowned there because she didn´t get out in time.

So, we were back on dry ground, once again being eaten alive by ants and Feliz passed out two sandwiches to each of us that his wife had made, we think in her church. Megan ate all eight of them, because Krishelle, Eli and Uncle Will would not eat them because they violated the following rules: 1) They were made in someone else´s house, 2) There was an unidentified mayonaisse-ish substance on them, 3) Unidentifiable slab of mystery meat, 4) Everything was damp, 5) We didn´t want to feel like we owed Feliz anything. Megan ate them all because she was starving and she said they were delicious.... though, she is now the only one of the four of us who needs Immodium (true story). However, we´re not sure it was the sandwiches -- it could possibly be traced to the public toilet seat/ledge she sat flat on in a rainy Guatemala city around midnight... the place smelled so bad we could smell it across the parking lot but she ran in, no questions asked... and, apparently, no one has ever taught her how to squat when you use an unfamiliar bathroom. We told her we will practice with her later. In her defense, she had been holding it for all nine hours of a miserable bus ride through Guatemala and it was a dire emergency.

After the cave tubing extravaganza, we were marched over to the zip lines. Not much to report here, other than it was really cool and well worth it, but Megan is probably the reason it costs so much -- she caused a lot of manual labor to be involved by getting stuck half-way through every zip line because she was a little premature on the brake... even though the ´braking´process was the majority of our lesson and how to NOT brake too soon becaused then you back up the whole process as you hang above the jungle and wait for someone to come and fish you in. There were seven zip lines that you go on to get through the canopy and she got stuck on six of them... so, our zip line tour lasted about five times as long as it should have, but the views were nice.

By this point of our day with Felize we were ready to go back to grandma/grandpa´s for some homemade cookies and milk, or perhaps some pastries at the ´underwears´ store, but Feliz had a different plan which involved the Belize Zoo... which, we were excited to go to before we ever flew down here, but we´d seen so much wildlife and jungle by now, we just wanted to sit somewhere and ponder what we were really doing down here and why. Between Evangelical serenades we drove to the zoo... Megan hadn´t said two words for about five hours, then all of the sudden there was a shriek from the back seat that said in English, ¨DON´T HIT IT!!!!¨ We noticed a dog sitting in the middle of the road about 100 yards ahead. The driver slammed on the brakes and we all flew forward... the driver, who already looked confused just in general, now looked confused and terrified... Megan explained that she was NOT going to be part of any animal massacre.

We get to the zoo and immediately started looking for the exit sign. It was not at all what the guide books say, except for the part where monkeys are roaming freely... there were signs everywhere saying basically that if you touched a monkey it would likely be the last thing you ever did... however, Megan walked up to the first big black monkey she saw, wrapped her arms around it, named it, and put it in her purse. The monkey protected her later when she was saying ¨here kitty, kitty¨ to the jaguar and putting her hands into the cage. We saw jaguars, crocodiles, birds, etc., etc., etc.... most of the same stuff we see at Hogle Zoo, except for the giant guinea pigs (Tapirs) which we had to stop Megan from climbing in with... Though, all in the all, the zoo was cool but we´d skip it next time. Zoo´s are just sad...

That night we were on the move again. Not interested in another night with grandma and grandpa, or across the street from the Hobbit´s ´underwears´shop, we high-tailed it for the border. Basically, we walked right into Guatemala, passing a 12-year-old immigration kid who stamped our passports in an open field and told us to have fun. We took a three-hour van ride to Flores, an island on a lake in northern Guatemala. It´s a very quaint village on an island, on a lake... after a while of walking around, Megan inquisitively asked ¨Why would they put a lake on an island?¨ All of us individually tried to figure out how this could possibly make sense and each came up with the same answer -- it didn´t. So, against better judgement, we asked for clarification. Megan pointed at the lake and said, ¨Well that´s the ocean, isn´t it?¨ We explained that were a good 15-hour bus ride into the mountains from the ocean. We then wondered what the lake was that she had referred to if she thought that was the ocean. (She is still trying to explain her logic to us, as we type.... it still makes no sense.)

The next day we went to Tikal and, of course, didn´t go on a tour... and, of course, still wore our flipflops to hike through the jungle and up thousands of steep, narrow stairs to the tops of giant, cascading pyramids, where we were told two tourists recently slipped and stumbled to their deaths. The ruins are very amazing and very, very, very worth making the trek! These ruins are smack dab in the middle of virgin jungle and are still quite buried with lots yet to unearth. The jungle is thick and high and you can feel like you are lost in there or actually living a scene from the Jungle Book. Being the low tour season, there aren´t many people wandering around so the animals are thick! You see and here all sorts of monkeys, wild cats, and other things just through the bush... The howler monkeys make a horrific sound and when they started, Eli said, ¨What the Jurassic Park?!?!?!?!¨ And, then, we ran for the exit, which was about four miles away...

The next morning we were on the move again. We caught a bus to head to the beaches on the Pacific side of Guatemala, but so far have only made it to Antigua, where we have found the rainy season that we were promised... and, there is a volcano within eyesight that we can see spewing smoke and ash. More details on Antigua, volcanoes, and interesting bus rides in our next email. Though, Antigua feels more like somewhere in Spain than Central America -- it´s beautiful here!
Chapter 3: Well THAT explains all the Spanish
Hello, again, family and friends... from Quetzaltenango (a.k.a. Xela -- pronounced ´Shella´ -- where Adam served his mission). Every town in the northwestern part of Guatemala ends in ´nango´and so we feel very lucky to know where we actually are... we´ve passed thru Chulatenango, Huehuetenango, and a place we´re pretty sure was called Chimichangatenango. It´s all very confusing, so we didn´t get off a bus for two days because we were never really sure where exactly we were... but, then, we saw a sign saying 12 kilometers to Mexico to which Eli said, ´Well that explains all the Spanish.´ We are exhausted and fried and have sooooo many stories to tell about the last five days, but this internet cafe is about the worst, slowest technology we´ve ever experienced so you´ll only be getting the cliff notes in this email.

A few days ago we decided to leave Antigua for the beach -- a beach that the Lonely Planet guide assured us was another little piece of ´Paris...dice...´ So, thirteen bus rides, a few up-chucks out the window, and some very questionable cab rides later, we rolled into a town called Tilapa (a.k.a. Hell on earth) during what was certainly the biggest rain storm on record since the time of Noah. The beach town we intended to get to was only accessible by boat, we were told, so our only option for shelter was the one hotel that doubled as the town prison. It was WAY overpriced at $6 per night. The mattresses were made out of straw, the toilet had no seat and was in the middle of the room, and the shower was a bucket of water with cockroaches swimming in it. Additionally, an array of insects and animals you only see on the Discovery Channel ran across the dirty concrete floor, walls and ceiling all night long. When the power went out, we were kind of relieved, and terrified (relieved that we couldn´t see the room anymore, and terrified that chupacabra had come through the open window -- cuz there was no screen or bars or anything -- and that one of us would be missing once the lights came back on). So, we lay in bed wide awake all night, moaning for the heat, laying on top of the one sheet they gave us for a blanket, scared to death of bed bugs, and we put on every piece of clothing we had so our skin wouldn´t have to touch anything. There was a pig that kept visiting our rooms. Megan got bit by a cat. Uncle Will got up no less than 50 times during the night to investigate gunshot sounds and blood-curdling screams, while Megan was on his back like a piggyback ride because she was so freaked out. Eli took three hours to build up the courage to use the toilet and he only had to go number one and he kept
saying aloud ´I´ve done worse things...I´ve done worse things...i´ve done worse things...´ Because the rooms were so small and the toilet in the middle, Krishelle just sat there and covered her eyes. We have all grown much, much closer over the last few days.

So, the second the sun arose, we had our backpacks on and were walking down the road to nowhere in particular. We accepted a ride on an outboard motorboat through croc-infested waters to get to the one hotel on the beach that the Lonely Planet Guide promised was ´nice.´ We have several bones to pick with the Guatemala Lonely Planet Guide. So, we felt as if we had just left a prison… but, when we got to our new hotel, it was as if we had just been transferred to a Maximum Security Prison, in a third-world country… something you´d see in an episode of Locked Up Abroad on the National Geographic Channel. The people were nice, so we decided to give it a whirl… plus, it was $4 a night, and we had a beach view! We immediately put on our swimming suits and walked to the beach and tried to find a place to spread out our towels in between all the driftwood… this beach appeared to have never been visited in the last two decades, so that seemed promising… except that the foam in the waves was brown and not white. During beach time, the following wonderful things occurred:

1. Uncle Will, a fairly seasoned bodysurfer, face-planted it quite forcefully into the bottom of the ocean and now wears a beautiful scab above his left eyebrow.

2. Eli lost his bathing suit in the waves – the Lonely Planet Guide did warn against the unpredictably strong rip tides and no lifeguards within 100s of miles.

3. Megan and Eli did an interpretive dance of the entire vacation (we have this on film for those interested in seeing it later – they will charge you $5 a viewing, and it´s worth it)

4. Megan developed strong bonds with several stray dogs, one which we are positive had a severe case of pink-eye (this less than 24 hours after she was convinced she had rabies from the stray cat that bit her hard enough on the hand to draw blood)

5. Krishelle worked so well on her tan that her back looks like it´s at stage three of the beef jerky-making process

6. The currents were so strong that we were all tossed and turned against our will so many times that we are now afraid of the ocean

After our day on the beach we went back to the hotel/cinder-block prison and were served fish for dinner, with the heads, eyes, gills, fins (the whole shabbang) still intact. The site so gruesome that we almost opted for starvation; however, we were so hungry that we ate every bit of those fish… We spent the remainder of the day lathering in aloevera, calamine, Neosporin, and downing any form of pain killer we could bum from strangers, and avoiding stray dogs and pigs (except for Megan, who wanted to adopt one or two or three). Then, nighttime came and we were really happy because we thought it might cool off a bit…. Wrong. We think it got hotter. Megan kept Krishelle up the entire night flipping the light on and off convinced that there were bats flying around in their room, and lizards in her bed. Krishelle just moaned and humored Megan, because she had experienced this same thing a few years ago when Bridgette (Megan´s older sister) put her through the same thing night after night on a similar trip through southern Mexico.

We had initially planned to stay in this beach town for the remainder of our trip to work on our tans… But, we lasted 24 hours and decided to high-tail it out of there and never go back! Ever! And, to never, ever, ever recommend it to anyone. It was perhaps the biggest hole we´ve ever visited. Walking out of there was so hot that if your foot slipped a quarter inch off your sandal and touched the sand, you were immediately convinced that the burning fires of hell were one inch beneath the sand. The locals weren´t even walking around during the day it was so hot. And, by locals, we mean, all four of them who lived in this town. Enough said about that place – it was called Tilapita. Don´t go there…. Ever.

So, we decided to head back into the hills, which is why we are now in Quezaltenango. It´s a beautiful mountain town of about 140,000 people. We spent the first five hours here wandering from farmacia to farmacia to find the right concoction of pain killers and anti-anxiety drugs to permanently kill the part of the brain that contains memories… we never want to think about Tilapita again. We then had a meal that would have seemed sub-standard on any other day, but after eating in Tilapita, this meal seemed like a feast for royalty! Of course, two hours later, Megan barfed it all up, in addition to everything else she´s eaten since she was 13. If you can believe it, Megan was the one on this trip who got dehydrated first…. And, this is why… On the way to Tilapita, she almost wet her pants on the bus, so on the way back, without telling us, she opted not to drink anything at all for about a day… Eli took the opposite approach, terrified that he would dehydrate (like he did on our trip to Egypt where he passed out on the plane and nearly caused us to divert to Madrid), and he drank everything in sight. After a few hours on the bus, he leaned forward, on the verge of tears, and begged Uncle Will to plead with the bus driver to stop so he could get off and pee. The bus driver just mumbled and kept driving for about another hour, until there was a traffic jam on a mountain pass and then Eli sprang out of the bus and pee´d on the tire, along with another passenger… We are all so shameless and immodest by this point of our trip. Well, Eli pretty much has been quite an exhibitionist since he lost his swimming suit in the ocean and has been walking around in his underwear ever since. Megan still wasn´t saying a word about having to pee, which was unusual and we should have picked up on that, but we were all so focused on keeping Eli from peeing inside the bus, which he was actually considering… So, we finally arrive to Quetzaltenango and get a taxi and told the driver to take us directly to the nicest hotel in town which he immediately pulled up to the first Hostel full of stinky backpackers to which we all, in unison, screamed ´NO!´ from the backseat and he drove on, as he told us that he had been an illegal alien cutting lawns in Beverly Hills for six years and that he crossed the border near Nogales using one of those ´human traffickers´ that we hear about on the news… It was all very enlightening, but we didn´t care because he was our ticket to a nice hotel, we hoped…

So, we finally get to the Hotel Bonafiz, which, according to our Lonely Planet Guide is actually the nicest hotel in town and it´s probably true and it costs about $80 a night and is worth every penny, except for the constant noise that begins at about 3 a.m. every day as they are trying to get the swimming pool repaired…

After we checked in, we went to dinner and ate like pigs and it was so good (as mentioned above). Then, we walked back to the hotel and all sank down into our beds and then looked at Megan who suddenly looked like the living dead and said she was just really tired… Then, the uncontrollable shaking began, which Eli immediately recognized as the tell-tale signs of severe dehydration (which he has experienced in every country of the world he has traveled to). We force-fed Megan about 78 gallons of Gatorade and water until the puking began, at which point we started all over with the force-feeding of liquids. Rest assured, the next morning, Megan was back to normal and has already taken a walking tour of the city with Uncle Will, looking for gallons of aloe vera to fill baths for Krishelle and Eli who are looking more and more like beef jerky with every passing moment.

No worries, seriously. Everyone is fine. We are sooooooo tan, but fear it may all be left behind in one big pile of flakes when we leave on Saturday. We are having a BLAST! We are laughing our heads off at every turn… except for when the Evangelical preacher got on the bus yesterday, during Eli´s near pee-his-pants experience, and yelled at us about heaven and hell for two hours and then wanted some money (we didn´t contribute to this guy because he was just annoying), and then he blessed everyone on the bus, individually, by laying his hands on each person and saying ´Bless you.´ except for when he got to Krishelle he laid his hands on her and said, ´Bless the woman.´ She got a special one… Everything is just a little strange down here…

Everything is so beautiful and green, green, green. And, honestly, the people are perhaps the nicest we´ve ever met, with the exception, perhaps, of the people of Belize. There seems to be a direct correlation between poverty, humility, and niceness in the people down here… For as many warnings as the Lonely Planet Guide gives us to be careful and safe, we are experiencing the exact opposite. We love these people!!! Granted, we do not love their infrastructure (or lack of it).

We´re heading back to Antigua today for a couple of days of final souvenir shopping and stuff… Can never believe how fast these little adventures go by…

Monday, March 1, 2010

Still Alive....

Hello to all my fellow bloggers -- family, friends, and fans.... I have not literally fallen off the face of the earth, but have been overwhelmed by the availability of social media choices over the last year. Rather than using everything available, I've generally resorted to the good old-fashioned method of communicating -- making phone calls or sitting around dining room tables and living rooms, sharing stories face-to-face or ear-to-ear, as the case may be...

Never fear, I've been scolded by loved ones that I need to start blogging again, posting photos, etc., etc., because I do have some good stories that should be recorded.

My New Year's Resolution (now that it's March 1), is to be a better blogger this year.

More to come...

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The New Dog -- An Overdue Update

It's been a few weeks since "Sid" joined my home. I thought his name was "Zeke" because that's what the shelter told me, but when I went to pick him up and they handed me his vaccination records from the previous owner we noticed that right at the top it said "Sid." We called him "Zeke" a few times but he would not respond, so I called him "Sid" and he started obeying all the basic commands. Poor doggie -- I'm sure he was completely confused while he was in the shelter and everyone kept calling him Zeke. The lady who runs the shelter has so many dogs running around, so I can't really blame her for not keeping all their names straight.

My wonderful sister, Connie, drove with me to Oklahoma to pick him up. You know, on the map, Oklahoma doesn't really look too far away... but, believe me, it is VERY, VERY, VERY far away and I NEVER need to go there again. It was about 18 hours each way from my house and we drove straight there, picked up Sid, got back in the car and drove back... Well, not all the way back, because my sister lives near Denver so we only drove as far back as her house (that was about 11 hours each way) and then I stayed there for two nights.

The first thing I thought when I saw Sid was "oh my gosh -- he's so dang huge!!!" He's only a year old and he weighs 20 lbs more than Claire (who is three years old). He stank, of course, from being in the shelter, and he looked really sad and confused. He jumped into the back of the Jeep and layed down right away. I think he was happy to be getting out of the shelter and would have gone with anyone. Claire wouldn't get near him, so he laid at the very back of the Jeep and Claire laid as close to the front of the Jeep as she could and kept her eyes on him and occassionally growled. As the hours and hours passed, as we drove back to Colorado, we noticed that Sid and Claire were slowly inching closer and closer to each other and by the time we reached my sister's house they were practically spooning and making out. Since then, they've become best friends and you can't separate them.

At my sister's house they played a lot in her huge back yard and, apparently, both ate a lot of grass. The morning we were to head back to Salt Lake City, I was awakened by the unmistakeable sound of a dog in the pre-gag stages of an incredibly large vomit. I jumped out of bed and flipped on the lights and found Sid with his head under my bed in full gag reflex mode. I grabbed his collar to head for the back door really fast, but I couldn't budge him -- he's 90 lbs of dead weight -- so he just vomited a huge pile of dog food and grass right under the bed. Then, he got up, walked three feet, and vomitted another huge pile of the stuff under a weight bench. I was freaked out and was sure I had made the worst decision to adopt another giant dog. But, within about 30 minutes, I'd gotten over it and was in love with him again. So, we loaded up and headed across the Wyoming wilderness on our way home. Somewhere in the middle of Wyoming, 35 miles from the nearest rest stop or ghost town, going 95 miles an hour because I was so sick and tired of being in that car, I heard that unmistakeable sound of a dog preparing to vomit. I looked in the rearview mirror to see Claire in gag reflex mode. I knew I could do nothing, so I just had to let her barf. Sid was laying down on his giant dog bed and Claire just let it fly all over his back side. I yelled "STAY!!!!" at both of them and Sid just sat there, looking like the Sphinx, stuck in a motionless pose staring into the rearview mirror making perfect eye contact with me, as if to say "What the HELL just happened to me!!!???!!!???" But, Claire did not obey and jumped into the front passenger seat and stared out the front window as if she was carsick and knew that sitting in the front was going to cure her. We drove 35 miles to the next town where I pulled into the first gas station to clean them up. Sid, bless his heart, did not move one bit until I had wiped Claire's vomit off his butt, then he jumped out and stood right by me until I had thoroughly wiped him down with wet paper towels. I was so tired and so grossed out by the whole experience that I almost left the both of them right there in that little Wyoming town, but I knew I'd have a guilty conscience for the rest of eternity and would probably burn in hell. So, I loaded them back up, choked back my tears, and drove the rest of the way to Salt Lake City. I was so happy to get home, but as I looked at my two giant dogs laying on my living room floor, I wondered to myself what on earth I was thinking!!! My house certainly did not seem big enough for two huge dogs! I'd completely thrown out of balance mine and Claire's comfortable routine that we'd worked three years to get into perfect harmony and rythym. What would become of my well-manicured lawn!?!?!?! I was having the worst buyer's remorse imaginable, so I got in bed and pulled the covers over my head and prayed that I would wake up feeling charity for my new dog. When the next morning came, I still didn't feel much charity, but I gave him a bath and that made him not so annoying. I was ashamed of myself for being such a wimp and not wanting this new dog that I had been so excited about adopting!!! The second day at home was a little bit better, but I still kept secretly hoping that maybe he'd runaway or something... But, by the third day, I was head over heals in love with my new doggie and the bond has only grown stronger since! Now, I couldn't imagine my home without this new big, clumsy one-year-old 90-lb Ridgeback named Sid. And, I think if he weren't here, Claire would sink into a deep dark depression.

So, it's ended up being a really, really good thing for us. He's sweet and practically perfect. He hasn't had one single accident in the house. He sits and lays down and stays and comes -- all the basic commands. He gives big sloppy kisses to those he loves and giant warm hugs whenever I come home, no matter if I've been gone 30 minutes or five days. His face turned from sad and confused to extremely happy within the first day of being here in his new home, and it's been permanently happy ever since. He's huge, as I've said, but he still wants to be my little lap dog. He lays his giant head in my lap and then will slowly put one giant paw at a time up on my lap to see if I'll actually let him try to get on my lap -- I only let him sit on me if I'm on the floor. When I'm working, he lays at my feet, but sometimes stands right next to me and rests his chin on the edge of my desk and watches me work. Claire prefers to lay in her dog bed in the living room while I work, but Sid prefers to stay right by me... Claire comes in to check on him and me a few times a day and will always give me a lick on the arm and then will give Sid several licks on the mouth before going back to her favorite spot.

I'm really happy with my decision to adopt Sid. It seems it was meant to be! And, for any of you thinking about adopting a second dog (or even a first or third) -- just remember that you may regret your decision for the first few days or even weeks, but give yourself time to adjust and you'll eventually be so happy to have your new companion sharing your home and giving you all the unconditional love that animals are only capable of giving!

My Ecuador Family

I just got back from Ecuador two days ago. I went for five whole days... not long, I know, but, I was missing my little family down there, so I took a quick trip down to check on them. They're doing great and here are some photos so you can see the faces of the Ecuadorians who have my heart. From left to right: Jean Carlos (11), Dany Ruben (8), and Abrahim (12). In this next photo you see the mom, Liliam. She and I have been close friends since I was a missionary in Ecuador. We're the same age, so when I was a missionary she helped us out a lot and we've been in touch ever since and that's been about 20 years!!! When I was a missionary, her mom cooked lunch for us everyday so I got to know the family pretty well. After my mission, Liliam eventually got married and had these three wonderful boys, but then ended up divorced after a long spell of tragic abuse. Fortunately, she's been able to create a stable home for the boys and is truly one of the most amazing people I know.

While I was there we spent a couple of days at their house fixing some plumbing problems and just catching up with each other. Then, the five of us went to a beach resort town for three days and nights and had a little vacation together. It was a blast and I miss them terribly, but I'm going back to spend Christmas with them!

Friday, August 29, 2008

I'm adopting!

The other day I woke up and decided it was time to adopt another kid! Claire wants to be a big sister. She wants someone to boss around that won't embarrass me when she does -- the neighbors are getting really tired of her bossing around their dogs and cats; though, all the neighbors tell me what a good and pretty dog she is... So, I got online and started looking for abandoned Rhodesian Ridgebacks in the western U.S. and I came across "Zeke" (this picture is Zeke -- I know he looks almost identical to Claire, but if you look closely, you can tell Zeke is a boy).

He's one year old and was dropped off at a shelter by a military family who can't keep him on the base where they are assigned. Word has it that they are very distraught (and I'm sure they are -- I would freak out if I had to give up a pet -- I have a hard time forgiving myself when I have one fewer fish in my backyard pond due to a hungry raccoon or bird carrying them off). So, bad news for them is good news for me. As our cabby in Cairo would say, "It's my lucky."

The only downside of this whole adoption situation is that Zeke is in Oklahoma and the shelter doesn't deliver to Utah! There were no Ridgebacks available for adoption in Utah or anywhere closer that I could find -- well, not any quite as regal-looking as Zeke. So, I'm driving to my sister's house (Connie) in Colorado on Thursday and then on Friday she is riding with me to Oklahoma to pick him up (I love my sister -- well, I actually love all four of them). We're taking Claire, too, so they can bond in the back seat on the way home. I'm sure it will be a fun-filled slobbery road trip! Anyone want to come along??? I'm renting a big SUV for the trip because I don't think my little car would be very comfortable for two large dogs on such a long drive.

For those of you who are wondering why on earth I would get another large dog when my house is rather small, I can only say -- Hey, I pay my own bills, so mind yer business!

I'll be passing out cigars later. Congratulations to me!

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Doggies Love Cool Whip!

Last night I left for about an hour to have dinner at a great Middle Eastern restaurant up the street that I eat at about 20 times a week because it's so dang good. When I got home, Claire was running around in circles acting unusually excited to see me (she's never very excited when I get home, especially if I've only been gone for an hour). I figured it was because she was so happy that my friend, Stacee, just moved into the mother-in-law apartment and she just wanted to thank me for renting it to a girl (Claire really can't stand men) -- she kept running from the living room, through the kitchen, down the back stairs and to Stacee's door, back and forth at warp speed. I was just standing in the kitchen laughing.

Finally, I walked into the living room and saw a giant tub of cool whip torn apart on the floor. It was empty, so there was no sticky mess (thank goodness). Then, I thought to myself, "Where did she get a tub of cool whip? I haven't had cool whip in the house since last Thanksgiving!" So, I screamed at her (as I always do when I find trash on the living room floor -- which doesn't happen very often now that she's almost three years old, and that's 21 in dog years and she should know better by now). She took off down the stairs again and I chased her with the empty container. I met Stacee downstairs and she just looked at me and said, "I'm so sorry! I was cleaning out the freezer and just put a tub of frozen cool whip in the trash and was about to take it to the dumpster, but Claire must have got it!"

So, my dog downed an entire large tub of frozen cool whip -- it must have taken her the entire hour I was gone to lick it clean -- and then she was on an intense sugar high for about an hour, running around like a crazy fool. I was sure she'd vomit, but she never did (lucky for her and me) -- she just collapsed on the floor once the sugar wore off.

My friend, Liz, said that maybe instead of getting upset, I should have asked Claire if she wanted some pumpkin pie to go with it. Which may have cured her since we recently watched HURL! on G4 -- our new favorite game show where five guys eat as much food as they can and then get on spinning carnival rides and whoever doesn't throw up for the longest time wins $1,000 -- and on that episode thay had to eat pumpkin pie and cool whip until they hurled. New episodes are on Sunday nights (if you're in Utah and have Comcast it's Channel 136 or on Dish it's somewhere around Channel 360) -- don't miss it!

Monday, June 16, 2008

June 2008: Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Amsterdam

Salama (that means "hello" in every country we've been to so far, except for in Amsterdam, where in the Red Light district they say "allo" -- Nona doesn't want you to know we actually went to that part of Amsterdam, but we told her that if she doesn't pipe down she has to go back to her room right now... we intend to be very truthful throughout this entire update).
We're safe and sound in the middle of Jordan, somewhere near Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Haven't heard any gunfire... so far. Actually, we are in some town called Wasu Madi (not much of a town -- I saw forty camels and goat wearing a coat -- the goat was obviously in charge of the herd), very near Petra. Backing up a bit... we left SLC on time, the flight was uneventful, other than the mean lady sitting next to me that wouldn't let me put the armrest down (she loved me and wanted to snuggle, but she was a mean ol' drunk) and she put her blanket over her head and sat up straight the entire way across the Atlantic. We arrived in Amsterdam on time -- Lori Sawyer Jenson (my good friend) met us at the hotel and took us into the city where we went to the Red Light District, but the whole city seemed like a BIG Red Light District to Eli (we made him close his eyes the entire time). We didn't have a lot of time, so we scurried through the Anne Frank House -- Krishelle thought it was an Open House so she placed offer for $80k US, but they didn't accept because the dollar is really weak right now. Seriously though, it was really neat and we spent a whole hour there, which we now think was actually a really good/fair amount of time seeing as how we spent all of 27 minutes in the Egyptian Museum before we got bored (seven of those minutes were us just standing around so we wouldn't look so bad to the taxi driver who just drove us an hour to get there). So, after the Anne Frank House we flew to Egypt and landed at 2 a.m. local time. Egyptians, we have learned from first-hand experience, to put it nicely, get what they want when they want it, always at your expense. It first started with a pack of them on the airplane that, even though seats were assigned (like they are on most every plane across the free world) they chose to rush into the plane and sit where they wanted.... this, as you can imagine, was what instigated many fights and arguments before the plane even took off -- we sat and watched, as if it was part of the in-flight entertainment ("Battle of the Egyptians") -- the flight attendants tried to referee, but they eventually gave up and it was every man, woman, Egyptian, and child for themselves. This entertainment didn't cost us anything financially, other than arriving to Cairo an hour late and then waiting two more hours to get our bags. At that point, it wasn't very entertaining anymore as the sun was beginning to rise. After an interesting hassle at check-in, which took another two hours and I even used my strongest assertive voice (which, I think, to Egyptians is sweet-talk), we got settled into a very nice hotel with a great view of the Giza pyramids... unbelievable view. Then, we spent the whole day with Sayed our "English-speaking" guide who later confessed that he speaks English 50-50, which was extremely generous. We nodded and smiled a lot and told him we speak Arabic 0-100, so he was much better off than us. At one point, while we walked to the Sphinx, he told us he would be waiting for us at "Kentucky Down" which after looking around a while we figured it must mean the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the street. Now, for the Panic Attack of 2008. At the pyramids, which are VERY huge and beautiful, we had the opportunity to go inside through a little shaft (Bridgette -- this is the equivalent of a slanted "shute"). In the biggest pyramid the shute goes upwards for a long, long, long, long way, so Sayed told us to pay the lesser amount and go in the smaller pyramid shute so we don't have to climb so far. Plus, the shute is really small and you're totally hunched over the entire way, one at a time, single file and it's dark, damp, hot, and really steep. That sounded like a great idea. Nona, of course, was already climbing in the shute before the rest of us even got instructions. Then, Eli, being the gentleman that he is, noticed how steep and dark and cramped and deep it was, so he told Nona to stop so he good be chivalrous and go first -- planning to act as a safety net for Nona should things go sour. You go down backwards like a ladder, because it's just that steep. So, Nona gets out of the way, and Eli enters, then Nona, then me, then Krishelle, and we start the descent. About 8 meters down (mind you, we are the only ones in the shute -- it wasn't at all crowded at the pyramids for some reason), one of us made a joke about "what if those guys up there close the metal door at the top of the shaft and leave us in here to cook for eternity”), then Eli said "I gotta get outta here." We all laughed and kept climbing down, but realized that we were stacking up on Eli who had stopped in his tracks and said, "No! Seriously! I gotta get outta here!" He then, pushed Nona out of the way, and climbed over me and Krishelle and shot out the top of the shaft faster than light! We all stood stunned not knowing what to do or say -- maybe make fun of him or climb out ourselves.... like, maybe he saw a ghost or something. But, for those of you who know Nona well, we were not about to leave until she had completed the entire journey. So, the remaining three of us went to the very bottom and then climbed back out and are glad we did, even though there's NOTHING to see in there. When we got back out, Eli was still shaking and breathing hard and has spent the last two days trying to convince us that he really is clinically claustrophobic and not just chicken. We love Eli. For a little distraction for Eli, Nona climbed on a live camel and took a ride and that calmed down Eli because we were all in amazement wondering how we would ever explain that the last time we saw Nona she was headed into the desert on the back of a running camel. (For those of you who don't know Nona, she is my 77 year-old adventure-loving mother). Other than managing through a near-fatal panic attack, we did all climb up part of the pyramids on the outside and that was kind of scary, too, but with a fabulous view of Cairo. And, after Nona proved that giant, slobbering, stinky camels are nothing to be afraid of, we all climbed on one and took a ride. It was a blast.... and a rip-off (again, Egyptians always get what they want, when they want it, at your expense).

The Sphinx. While the pyramids were just as big as expected, the Sphinx seemed rather small; however, we didn't let that stop us from asking it all the questions we dreamed up on the long plane ride over... like "what's your favorite color" to which the Sphinx answered, "dirty brown." Eli told it that was rather convenient, as everything was dirty brown. Then, Eli asked it, "What's your favorite bird?" To which the Sphinx answered, "Pigeons." Which was also rather convenient because there were pigeons roosting all over its face. We're trying to convince Krishelle to cut off her nose and tattoo tiny black pigeons all over her face so she can come back to the US and tell everyone "it's the latest style from Egypt, it's called 'The Sphinx'." After the Sphinx we went to the Egyptian museum, but we already talked about that... it was HUGE and really neat, but we're really not museum people and everything that is really cool from the museum is already on tour somewhere in the US. So, we went back to the hotel and went swimming under the shadows of the pyramids. This morning, we left Cairo and headed for the airport in a hair-raising white-knuckle taxi ride through rush-hour traffic to the airport. Apparently, 22 million people live in Cairo and they were all on the road this morning driving 90 miles an hour directly at each other. The only reason they don't crash is because they are all honking at each other constantly. We think Cairo is the noisiest city on the planet... probably in the universe. The Cairo airport was a little disorganized and a lot scary, but we made our flight and we'll leave at that for now. We landed in Amman, Jordan earlier today, rented a car, and drove a few hours to Petra (where we are now). We LOVE Jordan... it's calm and beautiful (if you're a desert-lover like we are right now). To be completely honest, we LOVE Egypt, too, and are really excited to finish the bulk of our trip there after Jordan and Israel. We're having a blast and we promise to not put Eli in any confined spaces for the rest of the trip, at least not until we can get him some good medication (which shouldn't be hard because there are pharmacies everywhere open all night).For family -- we are all healthy, happy, and very safe. The food is great. No worries! We're having a blast, as usual, and laughing most of the day every day (when it's not too hot).
Love you all! Will Whittle and Nona and Eli and Krishelle

Hello from Israel (barely alive). Not that we're sick or anything, unless sick and tired of the harassment we got trying to get across the border from Jordan to Israel counts, where the four of us are solely responsible for detaining an entire busload of Israelis. There were machine guns involved, but none of them, thankfully, ever fired at us. We'll get to that in a minute... So, last time we wrote, we were somewhere in southern Jordan. Now, we're in Jerusalem and it is a small miracle -- but, hey, this IS THE PLACE where miracles happen, right??? Our last day in Jordan we went to Petra -- that place from Indiana Jones' last crusade. It was amazing! It was a really LONG hot walk through something that looked a lot like the Narrows at Zions, but it was worth it. Nona wouldn't even consider getting on a horse to get to the main attraction, even when the horse "was free and you only have to tip the horse." So, we got to the main attraction after walking through the barren desert gorges for an hour, sat there, looked at a slobbering camel drinking a bottle of water with a bunch of German tourists oo-ing and awing at it, then we immediately decided it was time to leave, even though we think there was a lot more to see further down the canyon -- we'll buy a picture book later, we decided unanimously, and started the long hot trek back out of the gorge. Nona made it out without ever having to mount a horse, but when we got to the tourist shops she found the first bit of shade and sat there until we left. She's fine and so are we. We drove ourselves back to Amman and turned in our rental car and got screamed at by the police for reasons we're still unsure of... At this point, it was time to head to Jerusalem. As the crow flies, it's really just a hop-skip-and-a-jump away -- looked that way on the map, too... but, as the taxi drives, you need a day, at least. We agreed on a price ahead of time (thank goodness, because if we hadn't, we'd be coming home now flat broke). To make a long story short, the border crossing we needed to go through was closed, so we ended up somewhere near Syria at a much scarier border where no one spoke English and no signs were in English. The taxi got us to the border and dropped us off. Another guy in a taxi yelled something at us in Arabic and threw our bags in his trunk and started on the long journey through a VERY frightening security process, that we don't have time to detail right now.... but, if I were to create a process flowchart in Visio or some other software, it would fill pages and pages. In the middle of the security process, we had to get on a packed bus to drive 20 feet to the next armed security stop where our passports were checked for a fifth time, at which point our four passports were confiscated by a very frustrated military guy who stormed off the bus yelling something in Arabic. We had no idea what was going on until he returned with a "contact police" stamp in our passports and the bus backed up and turned around and called us to the front. We were horrified and pushed Nona first through a crowd of angry people (no other tourists in sight) because she's the sweetest -- that didn't help and she tripped over someone's duffle bag. About 10 minutes later, having been rushed through a bunch of machine gun-toting operated documentation processes which we still don't fully understand (but we think we got a discount because of the rush), we were shuffling back down the aisle of the angry bus... Anyway, we finally got through customs and immigration (several gray hairs later) and took a two-hour taxi ride through the middle of the night to Jerusalem to our hotel where we haven't dared to leave since (just kidding). Now, for the reason of our trip... We've been in Jerusalem and it's absolutely AMAZING! Quickly, we've been to the Garden Tomb, Gethsemane, Temple Mount, Wailing Wall, Via Dolorosa, multiple churches, synagogues and mosques, and BYU Jerusalem (which was air-conditioned). We'll tell you in detail about all the places when we get back, but we loved all of them. There's a different kind of peaceful feeling here -- like great things really did take place here or something. In the midst of all the religious sites, you have to navigate through a herd of persistent shopkeepers who seem to have every intention of ripping off the tourists and will follow you for streets to do it. For example, a nativity carving at one shop started at $170 US, but we eventually found that you can buy the same exact thing for $10 at the same shop, if you go a day later and tell them you found it for $20 down the street. Don't worry -- we haven't been super gullible... But, as the shopkeepers will tell you as they're trying to convince you that $170 is reasonable, "money she comes, money she goes... free to look." We're trying to convince them that money often goes faster than she comes. Okay -- since Uncle Will is on this trip, we haven't passed too many pharmacies without stopping in just to see what might be available (nothing too good, unfortunately). Though, Krishelle is working on an invention for a pill that will actually give you the cold shakes (it's so hot here!!!). In addition to this new pharmaceutical idea which we know would make us billionaires, Eli has come up with a few more practical ideas... Idea 1: "The Last Supper Character Restaurant" -- where all the staff dress like a character from the Bible. Idea 2: At night, the Old City turns into a water park for all the tourists because all the shops are closed and you realize how steep and winding most of the streets really are... plus, that would clean up the city nicely for each new day. Idea 3: A foot-washing stand -- just like they did in Bible days, but our gimmick is that ever third customer gets a lollipop. We have more investor ideas for you, if anyone's interested in "money changers" and "oil lamps" where three out of ten are actually filled with oil (luck o' the draw).We're off to Haifa and Galilee in the morning. Really, this place is amazing. We love it. We're totally safe... it would be helpful to speak Arabic or Hebrew here (note for next time). We saw a Jewish orchestra and choir perform last night and are going to an Israeli Jazz ensemble tonight. It's all incredible!!! We love you very much and wish you were all here with us!!! Drop us a line when you can.
Krishelle, Eli, Nona, Will

Hello everybody! So, we're back in Egypt and we want to tell you how we got here.... but first... Last time we sent an update, we were finishing off our last hours in the Holy City. If you recall, we probably freaked you all out with the horror of the border crossing from Jordan to Israel -- and, rightfully so, because we were scared to ever cross a border again ourselves -- thinking we were probably going to spend the rest of our lives in Israel just to avoid it. About an hour after we sent our last update we went to a Jazz concert at BYU Jerusalem (artists from an Israeli music school performed and they were amazing). We met a bunch of the volunteers and Nona started talking to one of them, and someone got on the subject of her maiden name, which then led to a domino effect of strange coincidences that ultimately connected Nona with one of the volunteers at the center who happened to be her long-lost first cousin from Idaho who she hadn't seen in 40 years, but they instantly recognized each other and broke into tears. It was serendipitous. We also spent some time with a couple of the visiting students (Mike Hansen from SLC and Allison Smith from Brawley) who happened to be there this semester. In the middle of our middle-eastern adventure, it was very nice to see some familiar faces! Next morning, we rented a car and drove to the Dead Sea. It was hot, dead, and amazing. Lots of tourists from around the world rubbing mud all over their bodies -- some not so covered as others, and no one covered as thoroughly as Eli who covered himself from head to toe, except for his white swim trunks which glistened in the sun. Nona even got into the action and floated around on her back with her straw hat shielding her face from the scorching sun -- we have great pictures. You've probably heard all about how well you float in the Dead Sea because of all the salt, but that is an understatement -- you are like a buoy on top of the water and it’s really hard to get your legs back under you once you have started floating, so often as you are trying to stand up you just go into a barrel roll and you can't stop... so you paddle around until one of your friends or family members helps you work it out and you get up and out. It was awesome. Next, we drove to the Sea of Galilee, where Eli immediately walked into the water (though, not ON the water) and took a big gulp and said, "it doesn't taste quite as salty as the Dead Sea." We looked at him a little stumped and he said, "I decided to take a gulp of every body of water we visit over here." This was despite the signs at the Dead Sea that said to consult a lifeguard immediately if you ingested the water. I have CIPRO in my bag in case anyone gets sick, but so far we're all fine (even Eli who has been drinking from rivers and lakes). The area was really beautiful and it was great to see it. Then, we drove to Haifa where we spent the night. It was much more beautiful than expected and actually felt like a bit of a vacation from our "vacation." It was clean, green, cool, right on the Mediterranean and had the most amazing landscape and views imaginable. The Bahia faith has one of their main temples there and the grounds were spectacular -- our hotel was very close to it and the beds in the hotel were very close to each other, as well as to the walls -- it was almost like being in a genie's bottle with wall-to-wall low beds and three other genie's besides yourself in the little bottle. This was not good for us because we stayed up almost all night telling 1st) ghost stories, and then 2nd) stories that ended up being mainly about poop. No surprise in this family! We finally got to sleep with our guts hurting from the laughter. We woke up 12 minutes later and got ready for the day. We tried to put gas in the car but couldn't figure it out because all the pumps and instructions were in Hebrew, which we hadn't learned to read by that point -- we could only speak it. At the point of getting back in the car and taking our chances on fumes, someone helped us fill up, suspiciously requiring our passports to do so. We only needed a half tank and it was a small/compact car, and it cost $70 US (God Bless America). After that, we drove to a Mediterranean beach where Eli took another gulp, five seconds before we pointed out the giant dead fish, rotting dead turtle, and piles of human waste all sitting peacefully at the tide line -- this was all very near a porcelain toilet that was also sitting at the high-tide line. Strangely, his foot disease, which most everyone on this email distribution has tried to help him cure for the better part of 12 months, seems to be healing quite nicely in the last two days. If we have to narrow it down to one of the Seas he drank from, we'd have to say it's from Galilee, a bottle of which Nona has been carrying around in her suitcase as if it's the elixir of life (she's also got an olive branch she pilfered from the Garden of Gethsemane and a ziplock bag of mud from the bottom of the Dead Sea to go with the frankensense and myrh she bought in the Holy Land). We love Nona and are glad she's picking up these rare commodities along the way, because we secretly want it but are too proud to carry it around... plus we're not sure any of it can legally make it through customs. After Haifa, we drove to Tel Aviv. This was the point at which we decided -- go west to Tel Aviv or go east to the Jordanian border. It was unanimous -- we decided to each pay a small fortune and fly from Tel Aviv to Amman (20 minutes on HUGE empty aircraft) rather than repeat the experience detailed in our last email (no more border crossings for us!). Also, we learned that you can pay a fee to the Hilton Hotel and they will do some shady biz and get you through customs and immigration and security at record speed, no questions asked. That was the best money we've ever spent and it was Nona's decision entirely to do it -- the Hilton people hadn't even finished their sales pitch when Nona said, "We'll take it all" with a hand wave, and threw her credit card at them. Apparently, the border crossing was scarier for her than she let on. Thank you, Nona (we'll pay you back later). Tel Aviv was BEAUTIFUL and relaxing. The beaches are AMAZING! The people are wonderful. Our hotel overlooked the Mediterranean and had it's own private beach. We ate an amazing restaurant overlooking the Sea -- Middle-Eastern seafood (lots of olives, hummus, fish eggs, pita bread, labna, taboulleh, white fish, calamari -- and, Eli's steak, medium well). It was delicious. We left the Hilton in Tel Aviv at 5:30 a.m., got to Amman, Jordan a couple of hours later, had a long layover and flew back to Cairo. Now we're here in Cairo and having a fantastic time. We've decided we LOVE Cairo and have decided to spend the last few days of our trip here. There is so much to do and see and the people are great!!! Even though they tend to lie a little bit from time to time, like today when a man told us he was a rich doctor and then led us three blocks out of our way and directly into his souvenir shop where his helpers slammed the door behind us, forced us to sit down, tried to make us drink forty varieties of herbal tea (we didn't drink any), and sell us a bunch of junk. Eli and I got up to leave, but the door was closed and had no handle, so Eli panicked (flashback to the pyramid episode) and said, "How do I get outta here???!!!!" All the while Nona sat peacefully looking at the piles of paintings they were showing, saying, "They're all beautiful, but I'm not buying anything." We eventually escaped and ran for our lives, even though we don't dare cross the streets by ourselves and there's no way we can possibly explain it, other than referring you to a hyped-up top-level version of Frogger where there are no lanes and no system and people everywhere. We eventually made it to the Egyptian museum, which, yes, we had already been there once (for those of you who read our first email), but we had to go again because Mike Hansen from BYU Jerusalem told us that all the really cool stuff was on the 2nd floor, which we were too lazy to see our first time because there were stairs involved. This time we made it to the 2nd floor and spent five times as long as we did on our first visit, despite how hot it was, because the mummies were actually pretty cool and some of those rooms had A/C, so we lingered longer and we also got to see a bunch of King Tut stuff. It was really neat -- actually better than what we've seen on tour in the US. So, we're happy we went back for an encore. After the museum, we went to the souq (big outdoor crazy crowded hot smelly market). We spent all our money there buying about 50 of the same thing that we'll have to show you when we get back, if we get them back because they'll never fit in our luggage. Every guy hit on Krishelle, including the one who when he saw Krishelle pass by his shop a second time said, "WELCOME BACK EGYPTIAN CAT!" Because, the first time he saw her he said, "Your eyes so pretty, the boys so lucky!" Nona stole a papyrus calendar. Or so we thought. Eli put her up to it. We were positive she didn't buy it, but when we got back to the hotel and were looking at our purchases, she pulled out the calendar and I asked where she got it and she said, "I swiped it -- diabetics do crazy things." She said it completely straight-faced and about put ME into diabetic coma (and I'm not even diabetic!). Come to find out, the shopkeeper's mother loved Nona so much that she had her son chase Nona down and give her the calendar for free, at which point Eli convinced her to play a trick on me... it freaked me out -- I thought Nona had lost her mind! She had me going -- they all did -- and, they're going to get it!!! We're having a blast! Cairo is awesome! Just a few days left and we'll be back... See you soon. Love you!!! Krishelle, Eli, Nona, Uncle Will