Tuesday, April 29, 2008


This is tourism central. Fortuna is designed to get people touristed. There are signs everywhere for every type of tourist level adventure.

We are filming canyoneering today. That’s a merger of the word canyon and mountaineering, which means exploring a canyon with mountaineering gear. One repels down water falls, climbs through narrow canyon walls, gets real wet, and generally gets to poke around in a unique and beautiful setting. The gripping thing is how the hell do we get the sixty five thousand dollar camera down through water falls, streams and over slippery rocks. Remember, this is a rain forest and we’ve already toasted one camera getting it wet. We were shown a video the day before, it’s real wet in that canyon. When the big Sony Seven Hundred A, dies, the gig is up.

First we meet the tour operators. They’ve got a great place. When we explain that we need to film the car on the way to the canyon. They ask if we want the car washed. “Yes” is the answer to that question. Five guys are all over our car, soon it is sparkling. I ride up in the tour operator’s truck with Don. Keith is driving the Earth Roamer, getting filmed.

The tour company is owned by a Husband and Wife team. The gal turns out to be my former Alderwomen from when I lived in downtown Madison. We chatted about the Paul Soglan years, Madison’s once hippy Mayor turned grumpy old man.

We drive up, yet another contestant for the worlds bumpiest road. Occasionally, opening gates, and herding cows off the road we gain altitude. At the top we pull out the trusty cooler, which worked so well in the caves, for the camera, get geared up for repelling and head off.

Entering dense forest we haul the gear in. There are five guides with us to help and I don’t have to carry the tripod, so it’s more or less a day off. This is a different than the jungle in Belize, this is dripping rain forest. There are the palms and banana trees, hanging vines everywhere and, what is to a Wisconsin boy, huge house plants that have escaped their pots, everywhere.

I know how to repel, I rock climb but I listened the briefing to be a good sport while checking the anchors to see if they’re set up properly. After a short hike came the first repel that would drop us into the canyon. Now comes the first logistics discussion. There is a second repel point, near by, that is a free repel. That is the rope drops straight down. The main repel goes down a near cliff but the rope lays against the wall so the person going down will walk their feet down the wall as they go. Don will shot keith going down from the top and then the camera will go back in the cooler and be lowered down the free repel. That way the camera will not be banged against the rock wall, even if it’s in the cooler.

I get to go first. The repell is about a hundred and fifty feet. The guides are attaching safety lines to everyone with a braking devise. That way they can control my descent even if I screw up.

For those who haven’t repelled before the first thing you do is stick your ass out over the edge. the further your ass sticks out the better. This is not a comfortable thing to do. And though I’ve done lots of repels, that first moment, before I get my feet on the wall and start descending is always disconcerting.

I dangle off the platform. The first little bit I’m hanging free of the wall. The rope twists me around in the circle so I get a full view of the canyon walls, the waterfall and the deep “V” the canyon makes in the thick foliage. My feet soon touch down on the wall and bounce down to the pool below. I speed up the repel to see how tight of a leash the guide overhead is keeping on me with the safety line. I find out He’s letting do my thing so I speed up some more. Too much He puts the brake on me. Oh well.

Next comes Keith. Don is filming with the big camera. I’ve got the little camera and am filming from below. I’ve got to scramble up the side of the canyon a bit to stay out of the shot yet still film.

After we are all down, the guides come descend. Showing off they come down head first. Last is the big camera being lowered on the rope.

Next we climb further down into the canyon, going through and along the river. Keith is getting soaking wet for the camera while Don and I are doing everything we can to keep that camera and the other gear dry. At times I’ve got my heavy pack on with one foot on each side of the canyon, my hands pressing outward on the walls and the river running underneath and between my legs.

The last repel is a free repel that goes through the waterfall. It’s over two hundred feet. Keith will repel this one, get to the bottom, run the long way around on the trail so that He can be filmed again. This way Don can get a shot from above and well as below. Keith goes down right through the waterfall whooping it up. I’m next. I try to stay out of the water, keeping the gear dry. (That sort of works.) I stop for a moment to just look around. I’m on a rope, a waterfall, that I can touch with and outstretched hand, next to me and lush jungle all about. I look straight down at the pool below me. I let myself zip around for a while till my guide overhead puts the brakes on me.

Keith does his second repel and then heads down stream to do some interviews with the guides and the tour’s owners. I stay behind to collect the gear. The cooler will be sent down clipped to a guide rope that is tied out at an angle to keep the gear out of the water. A second rope does the actual lowering. I can’t help but think what the camera rental place would think of it all as I watch the small dot of the cooler with the camera in it become larger and larger as it descends.

At the end of the day, driving back it’s clear. Finally we can see the volcano is all it’s glory. We set up the Earth Roamer and Don getting great end of the day shots of the volcano with a sky full of orange modeled clouds.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Driving in Costa Rica

Backing up a little now that I've got internet again.

Completed the trek through Nicaragua yesterday. There must be nice places in Nicaragua but I didn’t see any of it. Everywhere were huge posters of politicians. They were scruffy looking dudes with their fist raised in the air. I remember this type from the sixties. If the most compelling image a politician can come up with is of themselves is a raised fist, then they’re trying to aggravate the populaces petty angers and frustration. I trust these guys about as much as people who win elections by aggravating the populaces fear.

Had a classic border experience. The Costa Ricans wanted original titles for the vehicles, we brought copies. Five hours later, two hundred dollars of bribes got across. It was funny, being a tighter run country, the rules were stricter, but not so strict as to be bribe proof. I was looking forward to a better run country to hang in and yet we need the loseness, the sloppiness to get us across the border.

Here the border magic was strong. Some how an imaginary line, no more physical than a thought in the head, cleaned up all the trash. The people went from being destitute to merely not having a lot of money. The land became more fertile, the animals had more meat on their bones. I could even convince myself that the people were happier, but I’m starting to push my luck with observations made from the window of a car.

There was a big red sun setting in the haze as the Costa Rica leg of the journey started. I was navigator. The main challenge here was not getting taken by the creative aspects of the map. The map, one red line going across a wide open country. Reality, a bunch of roads going everywhere and a bunch of towns. The question of dread was, “Which way now?”, when the map showed one, single, straight line. It got dark. I would pop out of the car to show my map to a guy in a bar, a guy on a horse, a guy walking along the street. “Me go here!” point, nod, point at myself, point down the road, point, nod smile. Get back in the car. “So, are we going the right way?” “ Uh, Sure.”

Even though we went through a town miles from the road we were on, we got to town and found the Hotel.

Costa Rica

I'm sitting in cafe waiting for donuts. It's a germany bakery and they are torturing us with an opening time that is always ten minutes from the present time. The second part of the torture the smell.

We've been in La Fortuna. This is Costa Rica's adventure tourism capitol. Everywhere you look there is another tour operator. Our first day was ATV and Horse riding. OK, if you are into that kind of thing. That night we went looking for the lava flows off the Arenal volcano but it was too cloudy. Looks like we are out here, the donuts are here.


Saturday, April 26, 2008

Driving through Nicaragua.

Nicaragua is a country we are pretty much blasting through.
No knock on the place but you can’t do everything. The approached to the border of Nicaragua was well marked by a line of parked trucks on both sides that stretched for miles. These beached whales of commerce were a grim reminder of how bad crossing the borders down here can be. This time we had a posse of tourism employees to get the experience down to only two boring hours.

Once on the way the first Nicaragua experience was a forty minute wait at a bridge blocked by protesters. One of the locals told us what is was about. The local farmers had taken out loans and now were expected to pay them back. They didn’t like this idea and were now protesting. I have a feeling that the protesters would spin the story differently.

Nicaragua is in it’s dry season. Everything is dead and brown. I’ve got the sniffles and am beat. Everyone’s a little grumpy. That the country is haggard, littered with trash, adds to the gloom. We no longer have a guide. The weight of getting lost is nothing to the fact that the Earth Roamer keeps getting pulled over at the police check points. We then have a moment of panic as we don’t understand the Spanish of the heavily armed young men before they wave us on.

Tonight we are on the shores of Lake Nicaragua. I’m getting feed wonderful spaghetti and starting to revive. It’s a beautiful night with a breeze coming off the unseen lake in the distance.

Refugio De Vida Silvetre

I had little expectations for today's agenda. It was to take train ride to a boat to see a wild life refuge. It sounded pretty touristy to me. That things weren’t going to be what I expected started when we turned off on a small dirt road and bounced down to a tiny collection of houses.

The train was two platforms and a roof over some wheels. It was the color you get when you paint something bright yellow and then have a a thousand people over a few years touch every inch of it. It had a small diesel engine, a Texas licensee plate and tracks that were a few feet apart. I got in the with Keith and Don. Don figured where he would shoot from, I picked a bench so that I would be out of the frame. Then we were off.

The diesel had that classic, marbles in a blender, diesel sound. It rattled along at a jogging speed. This was not touristy at all. I liked the little train and the slow speed was perfect to enjoy the scenery rolling passed. First we had to clear the palm frond roofed houses of the town. We had plenty of time to get the cows, horses and dogs off the tracks. I’d hang off the side to take pictures. I didn’t worry too much about falling off cause I could just get up and run after the train. I expected to enter the refuge but we were going passed fields and over streams. Cows munched grass, herons stood poised looking for a heron’s meal. It was a rare clear day and I could plainly see the ten thousand foot mountains way back behind our hotel.

Miles later the train shuddered to a stop. The visitor’s center was ahead as a was a river, the Rio Salado. There were guards there with machine guns in case someone needs shooting. Was this the refuge? The next step was to get in a boat and go up the river. I was a a little bummed that there wasn’t enough room for me in it. But, the point of this whole trip is to shoot TV. If there is room for two it will be the Host and the camera man. I get to hang out.
There were a couple of canoes along the river. No one had any problems with me taking one out. So, I headed up river to go poking around. There were dug out canoes along the banks behind bamboo huts. I found a small side passage and went exploring. It was quite tight and shallow. I paddled up for a bit before I had to turn back to met the other guys. There were trees that looked less like they were rooted to the ground than they were standing on their roots. There were roots that branched into smaller roots and then to smaller roots so that the trunks were five to six feet off the ground. One could easily imagine that they had be walking about and only had stopped when they heard me coming. As I head back to the main river I startled something along the banks that went crunching through to branches. Then it happen again. Ah, the imagination!

In the main river, the fisherman were returning from the sea. They were in dug out canoes with sails made of garbage bags. They made quite a sight as the flotilla came in. Keith and Don were back raving about the jungle they had been in. Monkeys, crocodiles, birds. I hadn’t seen anything. But they were going back in and I got to come as Keith would canoe along side the boat to be filmed. While we're getting our act together, there came news that a captured crocodile was being brought in to be released in the refuge. We had to film that. The crocodile was hanging around town eating garbage and getting into the sewers. So, it was captured and brought here.

The train arrived. It had woman with their kids and groceries, a few old men and a crocodile tied up with string under the front seat. Keith volunteered to carry it to the boat. So there goes Keith holding the croc as Superman might carry a passed out Lois Lane.
Later when Keith found out it had been in the sewers he was less keen on the idea, but right then it was making great TV. The croc got a ride out into the refuge where it was released. The report was that it seemed a little confused. Probably wasn’t used to riding trains.

After the release of the croc, the boat was free to take us back into the refuge. We went the other way than I had gone. Here the jungle was deeper and denser. The boat pilot pointed out a White faced monkey in a palm tree and then some Howler monkeys. There were huge blue butterflies and wading birds with brilliant yellow heads. Keith got into the canoe and headed further in as Don rolled some tape. He returned and passed us heading back when the pilot pointed out a crocodile in the water. It was up front of Keith, just eyes and nostrils cruising from one bank to the other. This was good TV what ever happen, but the croc just slipped under the water and disappeared.

Back at the visitors center we got on the train and rattled back to the cars. We had one more stop, a bridge over a river with cable car. When we got there we found that the cable car was a small wire box on a cable that was pulled along with rope. There was bar that grabbed the cable so that the occupants could pull themselves along. With much yelling we managed to get Don into the middle of the river. I was with him to help balance the box as he leaned out to film. At the far end I had to move the bar to the other side of the box or we might get clopped by it. But the box was pulled the other way before warning us. Don was not clobbered by the bar though, the bar hit the camera that hit his head. We stopped as the bar could not push Don’s head and the camera through the far side of the box. I was yelling “Stop and Watch out! “ and tried to move the bar out of the way but a lot of metal was arguing with me. Luckily Don’s brains weren’t bashed out, I mean, he seems normal to me at least.

Tomorrow we lose one of our guides from the tourism office. The tourism car has a sticker on the windshield that says it can’t be driven on Wednesdays and tomorrow is Wednesday. So we say goodbye to Henry and Aberto gets in our cars and we head towards Nicaragua.


I’m at a Jungle lodge, Picco Bonito, twenty minutes out of La Ceiba Honduras. We had this morning to wrap up our bit about the Whale Sharks. Most of it was interviews. There a couple of guys down from the Mexico Whale Shark research station, the local gal that tags the sharks and Steve the owner of our hotel who, with his wife Jasmine, does the up keep for the whale shark data base for Utila island.

I got to ride around in boats and got another good snorkel session in. We were out in the boat out in front of the hotel. The boat had to go a mile up the coast to the lagoon and then back down to dock behind the hotel in calm water. I had mask and fins with me and did the short cut swim back to my room.

Utila island is a great place for snorkeling. There were passages with sandy bottoms between the coral. I watched the fishes as I swam for my room. The surf was breaking over coral so I had to stay within the passages. There were a few dead ends where I would have to back track before finding a way to shore. It was over way too soon.

All the houses and hotels are on stills. I saw a lot of this in Belize also. On Utila it made sense, this is hurricane country. In Belize, the houses way up on the hills were also on stills. No hurricane on the west part of the country. As it turns out this is just to keep the houses cool.

We had big meals made for us in a common dinner room with the other guests. Evenings where talking or catching up on the FREE internet.

There were humming bird feeders on the porch. All day long the humming birds would swarm around them. In the evening the humming birds punch out for the day and the night shift would take over. That would be the fruit bats. I stood around getting pictures of them both.

Took the boat back in the afternoon. Picked up the Earth Roamer that had some maintenance done it. Our new guide Alberto was there to take us here to the lodge. Got to see this place in the light. It took over an hour to reorganize the gear. Time to crash now.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Whale Sharks

Still on Utila island. We're here to film Whale Sharks. They aren't cooperating. Must have not gotten the memo, "Filming with Breakwater Entertainment, Monday". Whale Sharks are the largest fish in the sea, as much as sixty feet long. They're a deep blue with white dots and stripes. They were thought rare, even Cousteau saw only two in his entire career. It turns out to be more of a case of looking in the wrong place. Utila is the right place.
There is a cool grassroots protection movement of the Whale Sharks here. They are taged and tracked here and in Mexico. To indentify them a picture is taken of the side behind the gills. Here there is a distinctive pattern of dots. A computer program that NASA design to recognize patterns of stars, draws triangles between the dots that can then be rotated to be compared with other pictures. Anyone can submit a photo. If you've taken a picture of Whale Shark and submit and it's a new Whale Shark you will get updates about your Shark when it is spotted again. If not you get a history where it's been spotted before.

We had a good boat ride looking for them. Oh well.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Utila Island

Keith and Don made it over the border this morning. They spent the night between the two borders with a bunch of idling semi trucks and a guard in the front seat. The Earth Roamer has a Nav. system that will play DVDs. So the guard sat there watching Will Farrel movies with the Spanish subtitles turned and his pistol in his lap. People came around the car all night to check in out. In this relaxing atmosphere, Don and Keith got no sleep.

We went to the Maya ruins of |Copan. It's said if Tikal is teh New York of teh MAya than Copan is it's Paris. The cravings are much more detailed. There the trees were left growing on the ruins. The thought is if the trees were removed it would damage the temples too much. So you get the temples with hoger trees growing out of them, their roots twisted in amoungs the stones.

The next day, Keith and Don headed off for Utila island. I stayed behind to get the cars serviced and then joined them in the afternoon. Utila is a small island of the coast of Honduras. The people here are betting against global warming as the island has a total attitude of three feet. The plan is to film |Whale shark, teh biggest fish in the sea.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Drive to Honduras

Waiting at the boarder. Even with the help of the tourism board we are sitting at the boarder. We have a new guide. Keith and Don are pouring over a map with him.

I was taunted but a my airport card, which asked me if I wanted to get on line. It was lying.

If we ever get through the boarder we’ll go to Copan another Maya ruin.

We just met a couple on bikers. They are riding from Alaska to the tip of South America. Keith asked them how much longer they had. They said a year or two. That’s time on a different scale.

It’s now been over five hours of waiting. We are bored. real bored. Like parawaiting bored. We spent the last ten minutes cheering a on an ant that a big load to carry back to the ant hill.

One of the two vehicles has cleared. The important one, the Earth Roamer, with all the gear, is stuck in limbo between Guatemala and Honduras. At five thirty the troll and the border leaves if the car isn’t over by then it won’t move till morning, maybe. I have crossed the border and am now sitting at the hotel with a pile of gear. Neither car is here, just me and some of the gear. Sure hope someone comes back.


Well who knows when I’ll get internet again. As I write, Keith and Don are still stuck in the Earth Roamer between the borders, camping for the night.

Return to Actun Tunichil Maknal

As is often the case, we need to return to a location to get some additional footage. My shoes, nice and dry after an evening with the hair dryer blowing them, go back into the river as we hike back to the cave entrance.

This time I feel more relaxed to take in the scene. The water in the shallow river is absolutely clear, so it takes on the orange brown of the rocks, the green of the jungle, the blue of the sky. It’s a cloudy day today, so everything is subdued and maybe more fitting for a place so lush.

There is another stop for poisonous snake removal, yet the trip the second time seems much shorter. We aren’t going in the cave today. At the entrance will be shot for the all important, show opener. This is the very opening of the show where there is a just a few seconds to grab the viewers attention. You need to keep them from changing the station. So, how to spin, swimming into a dark cave, wading through chest deep water, entering chambers of huge stalagmite and stalactites to find pots and the crystalized skeletons of humans sacrificed thirteen hundred years ago... sound interesting? Pretty much tell it straight, right?

Keith and Don stand in the Waist deep water before the entrance of the cave, going over and over the “Opener”. I don’t mind hanging out. It’s a beautiful place and lord knows I know how many takes it takes to get something right, when I’m recording music. So I go for a swim, skip some stones, when not getting Don tapes or batteries.

After the hike out, it’s back to the hotel to pack up all the gear.
Then it’s off to Honduras.

Actun Tunichil Muknal

Yesterday we drove to Belize city. The production lights, (remember those?) that we needed were confirmed to be there. An hour and a half of driving gets one across the country to the east coast. Weaving around the streets of the beat up capitol city we arrived at DHL got our package and weaved back out.

We made a spot at the Belize zoo to shoot the Earth Roamer driving into and out of the park before completing the drive.

We had made arrangements to meet both Dr. Awe and our guides/ porters at our hotel. For once we, (I) would not be crushed by gear. I volunteered to ride in the back of the Earth Roamer. Not my best decision. After getting savaged by the dirt road I fell out of the back to start the hike.

We shook hands with Dr Awe. He is the archeologist that did the initial scientific survey of the cave. It was a six year long study where he lived, with his crew, at the site, in the jungle.

We had bought a gigantic cooler to put the camera in. We had gone to another guiding service to get some help. They had been very negative about bringing the cooler, it wouldn’t fit, it would be too heavy. we didn’t use them.

Our new guides found a long pole and tied the cooler to it like a cannibal sacrifice going to the fire pit. Two of them put either end of the pole on their shoulders and off we went. There was a forty five minute hike through the jungle to get to the cave. The path went along a river and delighted in veering across it. The first crossing came just a few minutes into the hike, that was the last of dry shoes.

Our guides had gone way ahead. Dr. Awe and Keith where discussing the shoot, Don was hiking a shooting the river crossings, I was bringing up the rear. we found our guides stopped a ways up. They had stopped to warn us of the poisonous snake sitting in the middle of the trail. One bite and you’ve got three hours to get a shot or you’re toast. It was a small thing well camouflaged. With the help of a stick our main guide Edward convinced it to move on.

At the end of the trail we came to the remains of Dr. Awe’s camp. Beyond that was the entrance to the cave. we first shot the an interview with Dr. Awe. It would be hard enough shooting in the cave. let alone getting good audio. The light was perfect, beams of light strained through the canopy where playing across the turquoise blue waters of the stream, the pool of water and moss covered rocks. But my eye was drawn to the yawning mouth of the cave, I was going in there.

In the interview, Dr. Awe explained that the Maya had always used caves. Their gods were believed to dwell there with their ancestors. They used the caves to get closer. Inside exactly how the Maya had left them thirteen thousand years ago were, pots, knives and the remains of the people they had sacrificed there.

The entrance revealed a pool that we would need to swim across with our sixty five thousand dollar camera... But, with our much scoffed at cooler the the camera was simply floated across. Then by staying close to the edges we brought across everything else in on our heads or shoulders. we weren’t done yet. There was another three thousand feet of going in and out of chest deep water and scrambling over rocks, squeezing through passages.

I hadn’t been caving in a few years and was enjoying the experience. And this was a good cave. Great speliothems of all sorts, came out of the darkness as I swung my headlamp around. I saw waving flags of frozen stone, reaching stalagmites, dangling stalactites. Caverns came and went, the river deepened and receded. I was warned about being cold, but my winter blood came through for me. The water was quite pleasant.

Finally, we got at the of the back of the cave. We would do the cave backward. Dr Awe had limited time ot spend with us, so we would cover the most important things first, with him. I clambered up a rock wall, following the group, leaving the river behind. At the top the cooler was left behind as were our shoes that were not allowed further into the cave. I was in my socks for the rest of the time.

Watching not to stub my toes, I hurried on. we were rushing now to get the in cave interview of Dr. Awe done before a second guided group got into the cave. We were in a huge cavern with flow stone everywhere. The floor was absolutely littered with thirteen hundred year old pots. You had to pay attention to not veer off the path and step on them. Some where shards , some were near whole but none were complete. All were, “killed” as part of their use in the ceremony. We reached a ladder at the end of the cavern.

Up the ladder, went the gear and ourselves. At the top was a complete human skeleton of girl lying on her back. The skeleton was it a small alcove very far back in the cave. At times in the year, water covers it. Over the years, crystalize stone has been laid over it, till now, in sparkles.

The camera got me beyond the barrier where everyone else stop. Dr. Awe then told us about the sacrifices. I was sitting holding a light in just the right place so that Keith asked Dr. Awe to speak to me. I would look right on camera then. So I was like I was getting private lecture by the Dr.

Here’s how it went; The Mayan rulers had set themselves up conduits to the gods. This means when things are going well, you could get people to do anything. “The gods tell me that you need to do so and so...” But when things are going badly, the people start thinking, “Dude you are screwing up, cause the gods are pissed.” and the rulers are in trouble. What happened is that the area was suffering from a drought, the Maya had over reached what the land could provide and the system that the mayas had lived by started to come apart. This is where the sacrifices came in.

Desperate times calling for desperate measures brought sacrifice to this cave. What better way to stop a drought than kill a few children and put their blood in pots in the back of a cave? We spent the rest of the time till the camera Lights fail, shooting, pots with monkeys on them, children's skeletons left in some obscure hole, amazing flow stone formations.

As the last camera light faded out, we wrapped it up. We went back down through tight spots, into the river. Then after handing out last piece of gear, I belly flopped into the last pool and swam into the light.

Jungle Day Two

The Earth Roamer has it’s day. We driven that car for over four thousand miles. But it’s all been roads. Bad roads maybe but roads. Today it was going way into the jungle. So it was another stupid early start. The Earth Roamer was designed for two people. Now we have Me, Keith, Don and Graham in it. I got lucky and got to drive.

At the spot we parked yesterday the Earth Roamer kept going. The cameras came out, it was time to give back to the sponsor. We set up shots of the Roamer going through the jungle, foliage brushing both sides. Our Bush Master friends arrived in the Land Rover. We then headed further in.

The Land rover got stuck three times. We used the winch on the Roamer to get it out. Finally we got to the point you would have to cut down trees, so we stopped. We shot more scenes we would need to set up the show, meeting people, getting advice, stand ups and so on.

We repeat yesterdays hike. Everyone gets across the river dry this time. Today, Celistro makes a fish trap. We shoot more set ups. Then Celistro sits down to tell his story.

I get to run the second camera for this. I begin to further appreciate the job Don does. Holding the camera, watching the frame, dealing with the movement of the subjects, having your arms go numb as you try to keep everything steady.

The last thing we do today is to go tracking. Wild pig is what we are tracking. Now I saw some wild pigs at the Belize Zoo and being where they are seems like a bad idea. They smell and are aggressive. I was thinking, “If these pigs are not we where we are isn’t this a good thing?”

We are no longer even on animal trails but bush whacking through raw jungle. I’m liking this, though it’s the last thing of the day and I’m wrecked tired. Sure enough we get to a pig mud hole. It’s full of mud and pig tracks.

Time to get the cars out of the jungle. The Land Rover is having troubles getting up the road. It’s in the way of the Earth Roamer. We all to get on the back of the Rover to give it weight and traction. I’m going to get on when I notice I’m getting bitten. I look down to see a few hundred ants on my shoes. Pulling up my pant leg there are a few hundred more. The guys are yelling at my to get on the truck, I’m brushing and smashing ants off me and dancing around. Every time I put a foot back on the ground there are a few hundred more ants on me. Finally I get them smashed. The land Rover is free and heads off with the Bush Master and his grandson.

There’s another nice bumpy ride in the truck I’m in the back this time, which was ok till, we see the Land Rover broken down by the side for the road. I joke with Graham about the Earth Roamer saving the Land Rover. He doesn’t find this humorous, though. The Earth Roamer is made for two people, we have four in it. Now there are six, us and the Bush dudes. When we finally get back to the hotel, we spring out of there back of the Earth Roamer like a jack in the box, panting for air.

The Jungle

Damn if I’m not awake again at five A.M. Today’s mission is the jungle. Back from Ambergris caye and on the main land of Belize. We will met Celisto, the Bush Master, to learn jungle survival skills.

Graham, the tour operator, meets us at the hotel. he drives up in an ancient yellow land rover. Graham is a Brit by way of South Africa.

It’s a short drive to a dirt road that I will be on for the next hour and a half. We pass a few buses and military Land Rovers. The British forces practice jungle warfare skills here. We pass their encampment and head further out into the boonies. We’ve climbed up to about twelve hundred feet. Here the forest is far from jungle but pine. A decrepit pine forest. The pine beetle has hit this area hard. I get a good look at where Colorado is heading as the beetle infestation is pretty serious there also. Finally we leave the dirt road for a road no more than a beaten track. Now the jungle takes over.

Keith parks the car here as his Land Cruiser is going no further. Tomorrow, after scoping it out, the Earth Roamer will get to really strut it’s stuff. It will be driven way into the jungle. Now, we wait. The Bush Master and his grandson, walk out of the jungle to met us a half an hour later.

I get on my way heavy pack and hurry off after them. At first, our path is an over grown track of some sort. Maybe an old road from the logging days. The jungle then thickens and then thickens more. We hike for forty five minutes. Celistro nicks the trees with his machete, making a trail so that we can find our way back to the cars.

It’s hot. I’m in long sleeves, long pants, big sun hat, smeared with bug dope, stupid from the early morning call with the heavy pack stuffing me into the ground and excited to be going deep into the jungle.

The shadows zebra stripe everything. I’m taking pictures but they’re too often bright streaks and blackness. There are hanging vines coming down from the canopy, creeping vines that grab your feet. Huge broad leaf plants tower over me. The sky is no more than shards of blue seen amongst the leafs over head. The sounds are of birds and bugs that are unfamiliar to me. Some gigantic fly makes a noise like playing a wood saw with a bow.

We come to a river after a few miles. It’s a green river tumbling through rocks. the river is wide enough to break to foliage and let the sun in. We form a bucket brigade to pass the big camera from rock to rock. I got a all my gear in a my paraglider pack and easily hop over. Going from dry rock to dry rock.

Graham, hits a shit slick patch of moss and goes in the drink. As we are all burden when our gear and scattered across the river our our individual rocks, where’s nothing to do but watch and see if he’ll get out before going down one of the numerous falls. But Graham is out and telling us it’s all part of the fun when we ask if he’s ok.

After a short climb, we come a lean-to made of sticks and huge palm fronds. This is where Celistro and His grandson spent the night. This where we will set up our camp. The idea is for Keith to be shown everything he’d need to know to survive in the jungle, say, after a plane crash.

Step one, make sure the plane you are going to crash in has a stash of machetes in it. Celistro is a master of the machete. With it, and a short search around for materials, He would build all sorts of things. We got to joking around after a while ask him to build us a jungle microwave or find the pizza tree.

Celistro is a Maya. He is quite small. Next to Keith he is child size, his head barely to chest level. He is thin and strong and all leg. He has worked in the jungle all his life as a Chicalaro. That is, one who harvests the sap of the trees for chewing gum. He demonstrates his skill with machete by showing us how the trees were, “bled”. As with everything he did, He used a minimum of effort to make a series of herring bone slashes along the trunk of the tree in which the sap would run from one slash to another till reaching a bag at it’s base.

Next, He showed Keith how to build a shelter. Shelter is the first step, they told us to survival. The shelter was a simple lean to. The roof was the long palm fronds.

Next they built a jungle bed. At first this seemed a little silly. What do you need a bed for? But Celistro pointed out that being off the ground is very important. It keeps you away from the ants, snakes and the wild pigs will have to, at least, stand on their back legs to bite you.

The bed was made of four “Y” shaped branches. The bottoms were driven into the ground in a rectangle. Then two cross branches were set into the “Y’s”. A series of stalks from the palm fronds were placed ninety degrees to branches in the “Y’s” to make the platform of the bed. More palm fronds were split long wise and then placed on the bed to make the mattress. The whole thing was unexpectedly comfortable. Finally a pillow was made of a different kind of palm leaf.

Once you have protection from the elements, you look for food. The palm that Keith used to thatch his shelter and to make the bed held, deep within it, a heart of moist, white, cabbage like food. (I wonder what it would be like in a stir fry?) It took a lot of work to cut it out. Celistro and Keith took turns swinging the machete. Celistro’s skill more than made up for what Keith had in size and power. We all took a break to munch this crunchy veggie meal.

For the non vegetarians, our Bush Master set couple of traps. One was a spring driven bird lynching machine. The other was a classic box trap.

Next was a few plants of medicinal value. One, the “Give and Take” plant was covered with spines to poke you, but had in it’s a bark to help heal the poke wounds. The other was to counter a poison found in one of it’s neighbor trees.

The sound of thunder canceled the rest of the day. Part of me thought of what if would be like to over night it in the shelter in the jungle. It was a safe thought as I knew the camera gear had to get to the protection of the cars. We headed back over the river and through the jungle.

The Blue Hole

Going out of order now. I didn't have my computer on Ambergris Caye. It's been hell catching up. As I have internet tonight I'm posting like mad. Here's a bit about the Blue Hole.

The Blue Hole was first explored by none other than Jacques Cousteau. It's an old collapsed cave that is now under water. The cave is a vertical hole in the ocean. Two days ealier we flew over it in a helicopter to get arial footage. It's a perfect blue circle in a green sea.

What I'm blowing off to catch up is, the ship wreck dive, The white faced, red footed booby bird colony, the hol chan marine reserve. Seeing a manatti (F*** spelling!)

It’s another five a.m. start. Time to stumble out with the gear to meet the boat at the dock. We are going to the blue hole. Two days ago we had flown over it in the helicopter. Now we would go to it, Keith will drive into it.

The boat heads out. As we pass through the reef, the water is violent. I’m slammed around, my arms pulled out at the sockets as I try to hold on. Up one wave the boat would go, then to go falling into a hole between the waves. The water becomes merely rough after getting through the reef.

Two hours later we’re at the blue hole. It’s in the atoll so the water is calm. Surrounded by a circular reef the water is quite calm here. Keith want’s shot the breifing of the drive by the dive master, but as soon as tape is rolling, a big boat with anoyingly loud engine starts motoring away. On the water the sound carries forever, so that’s the end of that idea. As Keith hits the water, I have fifteen minutes to go snorkling before my duties resume. The underwater camera man takes over now. I get my fins and mask on and pitch myself over the side.

The blue hole has a sandy funnel going down till it becomes a straight sided cylinder. I swim around looking at fish for awhile but that deep blue circle below me is beckoning. I can’t drive down to a hundred and thirty feet to follow Keith holding my breath. I long to see the stalactites on the over hang far below. i thought I had heard the drive master say that the rim of the Blue Hole was thirty feet down. I figured I could make that. I took huge breath and started kicking down. Half way I felt out of breath. I kept going. I was repressurizing my ears over and over again. My mask is smashing my face, I let a little air out of nose and the pressure releases. My lungs are screaming for air but I’m still not quite there. Finally, I’ve an instant at the lip to stare into the abyss. It’s a deep dark blue down there. Then I’m heading up and up. Seems a long way. My lungs don’t know that I’m surrounded by water. They want air and they’re pissed. They try to over power my command not to breath. It’s getting brighter, there’s the surface, air.

My watch says ity’stime to get out to be ready to shoot Keith getting out. He’s pumped, it was very cool down there. We then reshoot the briefing as the loud boat is gone. This time I hear the drive Master say the rim of the Blue Hole is fifty five feet down. Where did I get thirty?

San Pedro, Ambergris Caye

It’s funny how low and slow in feels, to be in a plane, flying at a hundred and twenty knots at nine hundred feet. Funny for me, as I’ve flown my paramotor, which goes twenty miles per hour, a few feet from the ground.

I’m on a little ten seater flying over an ocean which is a collection of the most amazing blues. Small islands barely taller than the waves, add a stretch of green to the palate of the sea. I can see straight down to the sandy bottom which is often just feet under the surface. As Ambergris gets closer and the plane flies yet lower, I can see rays swimming, rippled by the waves they glide underneath.

I like the little plane. I like that it moves with the air. I like that there is a pilot flying the craft and the sky, not operating a computer that flies the plane.

The plane coasts to a stop. I look out the window and there is our mountain of crap waiting for us by the side of the runway. How the hell did our luggage beat us here? We got to the airport late, handed the dudes are stuff, sat around for maybe fifteen minutes and got on the plane. But, there was our gear calmly waiting.

After passing through the rigorous home land security, (A big dude that unclips the rope, that is if you don’t walk out through the big hole in the fence. (Man it’s nice to be in a place that isn’t paranoid in the most stupid, “close the gate now that the goats are out.” way.), we load up into a golf cart to go to the hotel.

There are cars on Ambergris caye, but for every car there are ten golf carts. They appear to be the preferred means of transportation. Hey, it’s a tiny place with narrow streets. A lot of the carts are electric, quite and don’t stink. It’s where the world is going. Ambergris Caye is already there.

I’m hitting my third week of the trip but I’ve yet to get used to the heat. Eighty five, ninety degrees, eighty five percent humidity. Don and I have been rooming together. At the hotel, I can’t get to the AC fast enough before Don has it set at sixty five. The locals don’t even sweat. We’re drenched.

I got a third floor balcony, from there, the beach is right below. Got palms trees, a trade wind breeze. The reef is a little less than a mile out, at that point the water goes from turquoise to deep blue. The water is shallow, I think I could walk to the reef.

Don and I have a lot less to do the next few days than usual. Keith is lining up the diving part of the trip. We weren’t suppose to be here till next week, so everything is getting rearranged. Keith has to get boats, dive gear/ masters, locations sorted. And then work out the fine details with the tourist board. Don and I shoot some tape, walk around town, get some ice cream.

I’m out of the loop on the “getting the lights shipped” process, that appears to take two hours at the internet cafe per day to sort out. I, for once, have some spare time. I left my computer, guitar, movies back in San Igncaio, so laying on a deck chair at the end of the pier was a good back up.

San Ignacio, Belize,

San Ignacio, Belize,

Internet connections have been way more hard to come by than I thought. If you haven’t checked in a while, I just up loaded nine posts. I’ll have a link to Don’s web site soon that will have tons of pictures

The pace has slowed way down. This is regroup time, walking around town , laundry...

Soon we will go see skeletons in caves. Right now we are looking for lights to light the inside of the cave. The cave, Actun Tunichil Muknal, is an ancient Mayan site. The word is that people were sacrificed in there. The remains of fourteen people are there, six under the age of three all showing cranial trauma.

We were told a local production company had the lights we needed. Relieved not to have to drag around lights for eight weeks, (which we would need only on one day), no lights were taken. BUT, upon our arrival we were told by said production company that they had no lights. This has thrown a huge wench into our plans. Don is trying to get lights from anywhere.

Now we are just spinning our wheels. We were to meet Dr. Jaime Awe of the Western Belize Regional Cave Project on Friday the fourth, to tour the cave. Without the lights this is pointless.

After a bunch of wrangling, Don arranges lights to be sent all the way from Denver, Dr. Awe agrees to meet us on Monday the fourteenth. The next mad scramble is by Keith. He needs to get us filming something in the meanwhile, or it’s a horrible waste to our limited time.

Two days later we’re on a plane flying to San Pedro on Ambergris caye.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

One of my jobs is to keep a photographic recorded of the trip.
Don has posted these pictures on his web space.

Here they are,







After a complete eight hours of sleep. It was back to Isle de Flores to interview Mr.Ortiz. We learned that Temples at Tikal were in the shape of the star constellation Pleaties. It was Mr. Ortiz’s discovery of the Sixth Temple that revealed that this was the case.

It was time to leave Guatemala after eleven days. The trip was now two weeks old. Our next stop was Belize. We said goodbye to Walter our guide, and thought, “Oh crap we’re own our own again!” That hadn’t worked out to well through Mexico. Walter had arranged a police escort to the border. The police followed us for a measly twenty miles before leaving us an hour before before the border. (Right before the road turned to dirt.) We gave them their twenty dollar “tip”.

At the border we officially left Guatemala, parked the cars walked to Belize side where we ran into all sorts of problems. The Belize tourism office said everything would be set for us. So, Keith, when asked what we were doing, told the truth; We were shooting a TV show with the tourism board. Now they wanted a visa we didn’t have. Now what? We had left Guatemala, but weren’t being let into Belize. I had visions of living out my life in a gravel parking lot between the two borders.

On a whim, as Keith and the border guard were going back a forward, I said “But we aren’t filming now. We are scouting on this trip and won’t be filming till we return from Panama on our way back.” Keith, pauses for a moment at this blatant lie, before picking up the thread. I don’t think they believed us, but thrown a solution to what would otherwise be a big pain in the ass, they played along.

Now, I’m in a Belize hotel writing this. The Denver news channel is on the TV. Not sure why.


Another woozy start of the day. At four thirty A.M. someone was pounding on the door. The plan was to climb to the top of temple four of the Mayan ruins at Tikal Guatemala and shoot the sunrise. If you are wondering what the view was like, it’s the view you got in the first Star Wars movie of princess “What’s her name’s” home planet. Stumbling around in the dark, I got together my pack of “production” gear. That’s, one twenty pound tripod, one to three ten pound batteries for the big camera, some cable, video tape, double “A’s”, nine volts and a mic boom.

We had a special permit to drive inside the park where the ruins are. So, bouncing around in the back of the Earth Roamer, we headed for the temple. We climb up the wooden stairs in the dark. At the top of the temple the pale predawn light showed the jungle endlessly stretching to the horizon with three other of the temples poking out from the forest canopy.

The birds had just begun to sing. Or squawk, or make any number of unfamiliar types of racket. Some birds were periodically taking off and you could hear the powerful pounding of their wings on the air. But then the howler monkeys started. As it was a gray morning full of fog with a low cloud base, we never saw the sun rise, but the sounds carried so clearly. And, as Spielberg had used the call of the howler monkey as the sound the bad boy dinosaurs had made in the Jurassic Park movies, those sounds were ominous and a little disconcerting.

The next spot was the Mayan observatory. It was closed after a guy tripped going down the steep stone stairs and managed to kill himself and three other people. We got to climb it because we were special film guys. I, having along history of stair ascending, made it both up and down and was rewarded with an incredible view of the ruins from the top.

Only twenty percent of the ruins have been uncovered. Tikal was once a major city with somewhere around hundred thousand people in it. I got way turned around as we toured around the ruins as even twenty percent is quite large.

In the main plaza the modern day Mayans were holding a ceremony to bless crops, protect from accidents and that kind of thing. This was pure luck on our part as this happens only once a year. The Mayans like the Incas are both a once conquered peoples that have survived and are now growing. The main plaza was considered the center of the universe and so holds a certain special significance.

At the ceremony each person held four candles and red, black, yellow and white one. Each candle represented one of the four colors of corn, which is turn represented each of the four cardinal directions. First, wax covered tamales were burned, then the group would face one of the directions, say a prayer and then throw that colored candle into the fire. SO, first red, then black and yellow and lastly white. But one more candle came out, which was green. Green represented the work to be done. At this point everyone got on their knees to pray before throwing the last candle in.

As far as filming went, freaking out was going on. We needed an expert to tell us what was going on. We had one but he spoke Spanish. Spanish is good language for someone from Guatemala but our show needed English for our gringo audience. We went on filming with Keith filling in as well as he could.

I was following Keith and Don around from one incredible ruin to another. We would speculate about what each place was, which was a pretty cool game. Wander around the jungle, looking at temples in all degrees of restoration. From brand new rock and mortar, sharp edged, to rounded and worn, moss covered, to completely buried, hidden under huge trees and their twisted roots.

It was the buried temples that got me thinking. What was it like to come here, innocent and think, “What formed these strange hills?”. What was it like to be the first ones to dig here and find this city in the jungle. Soon enough I would met the man that had had that experience.

Don shot everything, so by noon all four of the camera batteries were dead. This forced a lunch break. Over launch, Walter was told He had to come through and find us an expert, who spoken English and that, that needed to happen right about now or sooner. I could tell Walter was feeling the pressure of our relentless schedule. Our permit allowed us to film one day. It was today or never. Surprisingly enough, Walter returned to our table in a few moments. The jungle lodge that we were staying at was owned by two brothers. One of them was here and not only knew the ruins inside out but was trained as an archeologist. And, their Father was one of the early explorers of the area and had discovered temple six an very important find that completed the design of the cities center.

Enter Carlos Ortiz, our new guide. We drove back into the ruins and started shooting. Carlos was a golden mine of information. Don turned on the camera and let it flow. It this point the ninety degree heat, the thirty pounds of gear, the four thirty A.M. start were getting to me. I was wasted tired. I found every tree stump, rock, bench I could sit on. I was trying to stay awake enough to hand Don tapes, batteries, hold the white card before the lens, set up the tripod. Otherwise, I would sit there and space out at this amazing place I was in.

At the end of the day we hiked back up the observatory. We were waiting to shoot the sunset. For some reason our “special” status has expired. Walter and Carlos was shouting for us to come down. We were going to blow them off but, A park ranger with a shot gun had arrived, so down we went a disappointing five minutes before sunset.

We set up the Earth Roamer at the bottom of the observatory and shot some very misleading footage that one could camp in the ruins. Looks cool though.

Yea! It’s dark, the day is over! No, not quite yet. Carlos invites us into town to have dinner and meet his father, Antonio Ortiz who was there when the ruins were discovered. So we drive to Isle de Flores a town that has been constantly inhabited since Mayan times. The town is a small island in the middle of a lake. I remember talking with Keith, earlier that day, about what it must have been like to discover the ruins, to be there has they were uncovered. Mr. Antonio was that man. I felt a little intrusive entering his house, but we were all made immediately welcome. Mr. Ortiz, now in his eighties talked the early discoveries of the ruins. It was too late to visit long and we were starving hungry. We said goodbye but not before Mr. Ortiz invited us to visit the next day and agreed to be interviewed on camera.

The drive back to the jungle lodge was pretty vague. I was in the back of the car falling in and out of sleep.

On the Road Again

Travel day

From Guatemala City we drove to the ruins of the Mayan city of Tikal. Drive drive drive. Every once and a while Don would stop to film something.

The longest stop was at the banana plantation. As the bananas were in all different stages of development, it was cool to see how they rolled out a pod like thingy. (That’s technical talk.)

Walter was complaining that we wouldn’t get to Tikal till midnight. That wasn’t the case, we were just hours late. I bedded down in the Jungle lodge in the park at Tikal. It was my first night under a bug net. I was in a hurry to get my six hours of sleep started. It would be a predawn start to shoot the sunrise from the top of Temple four.

Back to Pacaya

Back to the volcano

We returned to the Pacaya volcano with an expert from Guatemala’s Instituto Nacional de Sismologia Vulcanologia Meteorgia e Hidrologia. They are in charge of studying the volcanos, (among other things) including issuing warnings to evacuate areas. Guatemala has thirty two volcanos, four of which are currently active.

It was back on those poor mangy horses. I had asked what happened to the horses when they no longer could make it up the mountain. I was hoping for an answer like, “ We reward our noble companion for it’s long service by putting him out to pasture to enjoy it’s final years.” The answer I got was, “We make him into sausage!”. On the steep parts of the path I would pat my horse on the neck and say, “Come on buddy, it’s this or you’re sausage.”

With a guide, who was a scientist, we went a lot further into the lava field. He was obviously having a fun day out of the office. He was pointing things out and beckoning us to follow. Which we did, as long as he wasn’t incinerated, it had to be safe right?

It was hot. There I was with lava glooping about, oozing here and there. Even among the more sedate areas, I’d look across the mountain and see the red hot glow of the lava like the eyes of a beast lurking under the rock. The idea that rock is a frozen liquid isn’t commonly thought, but here, it was the best description. The black rock seemed to be caught in the act of frolicking about, rock frozen in motion.

Our guide pointed out layers and formations and precipitated rock. We burned a few more sticks and jumped across some ridiculously hot cracks.

Sweating hot we retreated to cool of the trees off of the lava field. The horses were waiting for us.


Deep fishing is big business in Guatemala. It would be great for the show. I’ve always been one to leave fish alone, but I was looking forward to being out on the ocean. It was a nasty predawn departure. The sun came up a few miles later along the road.

Sailfish is what we were after. There are tons of them along the shores of Guatemala and the world record catch was caught here. It is illegal to kill a sailfish, so it’s catch and lease. We met the world record crew at the dock, loaded the gear and headed out in the ocean. The captain was looking for blue water, which lies an hour and half from the shore.

Much later the line were baited and the fishing began. The first fish caught was Dolphin fish or your mahi mahi. These dudes didn’t fair too well as they were for eating. This made for one seriously fresh sushi.

As this was going on we were over taken by hundreds of dolphins. On both sides of the boat they were porpoising, jumping, twisting in the air. Absolutely unbelievable! For five minute we were surrounded, these dark, smooth, powerful bodies frolicking around us. In the process filming the smaller of the two cameras got slashed and blinked out. That’s six thousand dollars down the tubes!

It was time to fish for sailfish. Don was doing the hero’s job, filming with the forty pound camera on his shoulder. The boat would go around in circles, driving back through it’s own wake making it rock violently and unpredictably. I am pretty sea sick proof, but my ten minutes below decks seeing to the damaged camera had given me the queeze. Don was looking pale and Walter was bent over the side “feeding the fishes”.

Keith on the other hand was reeling in an eighty pound sailfish. The massive thing was pulled aboard and sat on Keith’s lap for pictures. Kind of like a fish Santa Claus. (I’m guessing that the fishes wishes was, “Put me back in the water!”.) The fish got it’s wish as we got our fish and all was filmed.

It was an hour and a half back to the dock. The boat, now in a straight line, had a pleasant rock to it. Even the worst of us started to revive. On the way I started to notice the big sea turtles on the surface. I saw ten or twenty.

The plan was to return to the volcano Pacaya. An expert was to meet us there. We were late, which with our schedule was normal. When we arrived the volcano was in cloud. A little pointless to shoot. So it was, turn right around and come back tomorrow after another long, long day.


Let’s see what day is it? The twenty-sixth I think. We were leaving our eagle’s nest hotel today. Two things had to happen, one is to film the hotel we were in. That’s our pay back for getting the rooms. The second thing was to get all our gear to Panajachel, where the cars were waiting for us. There was no way the gear was going down 420 steps to the lake. So, my job was to accompany the hotel’s car, with all our junk, down a skinny twisted road, (Did I mention, real steep?) to the next boat stop. For some reason I was to go an hour before the boat came. So I sat at the dock for a while. A great chance to sit on my ass for a moment. The one thing I notice while sitting on my ass was that it wasn’t blowing hard today. Maybe today was the day to fly.

The boat arrived, the gear was loaded. By the time we got to Panajachel the weather was looking good. I called my local contact, Roger, who confirmed opinion on the weather. We planned to meet in a couple of hours to go to launch. Keith wanted to get some coverage of the zip line place. (Coverage being, shooting odds and ends that can be used to fill in between scenes.) On the way there Walter spotted Roger out in the field doing ground handling practice with a student. So I got out to introduce myself. Roger has been teaching in the area for eight years. I got the skinny on the site.

Keith and Don soon returned and we headed up to launch. With a twelve thousand foot volcano a, seemingly touchable distance across the lake and the steep, “end of the world” edge, the launch seemed much higher than it’s fifteen hundred feet. I got my paraglider out and started setting up while Don got the big camera out.

What a difference from being support to being the in the spot light. Not better, but different. Paragliding is my element. When we are filming, I’m paying a lot of attention. What should I be doing? How can I be helpful? Just staying out of the shot can be hard as Don moves around a lot with the camera. But now, I’m the dude.

I get ready. I pull the glider up a few times for Don to film. With the sharp edge the launch, the wind is a little rotor-y. I drop the glider on Don’s head once. Then I ask if he’s got what he needs and if he’s ready to film my launch. Thumbs up! I bring the glider, turn and give it my best superman launch. And it does seem like the edge of the earth. The edge falls away so steeply, there is a town climbing up the side of the mountain far below, the lake is BLUE. And I am going up! Don, the camera and launch are falling away below me. Usually this is the best thing but for filming, looking straight up at a tiny glider surrounded by blue is kind of dull. And I’ve got world class scenery around me. I head away from the mountain to lose the lift. No luck there’s lift everywhere. I pull big ears to get back down around launch level. I make a bunch of passes. BUT I’ve got to cut this flight short. I’ve got to head to the LZ to get back up to take Don tandem. We needed in flight footage to tell the story. So I’m off over the lake, a thousand feet below to head to the river mouth where I am to land.

Back up at launch it is obvious that Don is not real comfortable about going flying. We couldn't be farther apart in emotional state. I’ve been out there already and I’m excited to get back in the air, it’s perfect. Don doing the, “is this the last moment of my life”. thing. I get him suited up, go through the briefing. For all the apprehension, Don was the perfect passenger. Alas, for me, it had lighten up. There was very little lift. We made a few passes in from of the launch and then left for the landing zone. I got in a perfect flare so the landing was gentle.

So day three paid off for flying. I could have flown for hours, but filming put restriction on what I could do. Panajachel is a place worth further exploring. I must come back here to fly some more.

This was our last day in Lake Atitlan. The drive out showed me the views that were hidden in the fog on the way in, days before. We drove around the lake, passing two of the volcanos that were the back drop of the area. The cloudscape was amazing and as it built, it drove over the backs of the volcanos. Long tendrils of cloud twisted and curled over the town of Santiago below. In the dark we arrived, back at sea level, to the next hotel. Tomorrow, fishing.


On the ferry boat ride to Panajachel it was, once again very obvious that I wasn’t going flying. I was starting to get that sinking feeling that I would carry those gliders all over central America without flying. The whole time I’ve been on this trip, from Colorado to Guatemala, it’s been blowing hard. Now I had only three days to fly here. I would tell anyone going anywhere for three day not to expected to fly more than one day. Well, it’s day two, so one more to go.

Walter had a plan “B” ready to go. We would go to a zip line canopy tour. For those not in the know, a zip line canopy tour is a cable strung through the jungle canopy on which one, in climbing harness zips along a cable hanging from a pulley.

I was excepting to have fun and I did. It was cool to zip along the line through the trees. As far as “touring the canopy”, forget it. You zip by and don’t see much. Plus, you do have to slow yourself down at the other end. Which tends to take your focus away from sight seeing.

In my harness, with a helmet, (which curiously enough was design to protect one from falling rocks), I stepped off the starting point and started zipping through the trees. The forest zoomed passed around me. Seconds later the guy at the other end starts waving a flag at me which is the signal to slow down. The braking is done by your right hand. You have a glove with a thick piece of leather glued across the palm and fingers. With this glove you grab the cable and squeeze. Being a jackass, On one of the eight cables I had my gloves off. I quickly got them on as the other side was coming soon and I wasn’t going to try to grab it with my bare hand.

To back up a bit, in a lot of ways the hike up to the start on the series of zip line cables was the more rewarding. The first stop on the way up was the spider monkeys. These are not wild monkeys, but rescued monkeys living in the jungle. Some locals had bought them as pets but when they became mature them found out they were more than they could handle. One had bit a person and was thrown in jail. Alberto, who built and runs the zip lines, bailed the monkey out of jail and now it lives in trees on the grounds. I threw them some bananas and watched them swinging around.

Alberto walked with us up to the top. On the way he pointed out a few things. There was a flower from a plant that blooms for a day once every two years. There was a tree that,, when in the sun turns red and the bark peels. It’s called the tourist tree. The path wound around, crossing streams with cable bridges.

At the end of the day it was time to film the Earth Roamer. We needed some more shots of camping. The area was beautiful so we took multiple shots of the Earth Roamer driving in, setting up. Keith would get in and write in his journal. We need one ending shot for each show so this way we got some extra shots so if we can’t find a good spot in each place we go, we were covered. As the shots had to come from different angles with different background, we had to keep moving things around. I moved one of the cars. When I got back, Keith had a paragliding helmet on, Don shooting. I was wondering what the hell is going on, when they both crack up laughing.

Lake Atitlan

I woke up this morning to stand on my balcony, three hundred feet up a cliff over lake Atitlan. Three volcanos reaching to twelve thousand feet stand before me on the opposite shore. The night before I drove over an eight thousand foot pass in the mountains. The fog raced the sunset to see what would limit our visibility first. In the dark we descended to the lake at five thousand feet. There was a late night rummaging of gear in a parking lot. We would leave the cars here to find a boat to carry us along the lake to our hotel.

We were too late for the scheduled boat so Walter tracked down a private ride for us. I love arriving at night to a new place and the feeling of anticipation it brings. “What will this place be like in the morning light?” The moon, blocked by clouds, wasn’t giving much away except a hint of outlines of vast mountains. It was a warm night and the dark ride over fresh water was a dreamy kind of pleasant.

We arrived at a dock, stumbled off the boat to schlep our massive pile of crap up the stairs. The stairs wound around climbing steeply. I had my head lamp on, wondering, “Where are we going?”
At the top I found a beautiful hotel. Crashing out was imperative.

In the morning the place was revealed. The lake, a deep turquoise blue, the volcanos, small towns reaching up the slopes. I didn’t think we were too far up till I saw the tiny boats of the local fishermen below. I had breakfast with the gang on the deck in bright sun light. Pancakes and eggs. The view is in a club with few members.

The days plan WAS paragliding. But on the boat ride to town we started to encounter white caps on the lake. The spray sent Don into a tight embrace of the expensive camera. I told Keith we could forget flying as the wind was way too strong and exactly the wrong direction.
In a way this was good. The weather was decisively bad. We wouldn’t waste any time on parawaiting. We went back to our parked cars, rummaged through the gear, packed up for plan “B”, tour, by boat, the towns around the lake.

Keith wanted to interview Walter about the lake and it’s communities, but we needed to find a spot where the wind wouldn’t blow away the audio. We sheltered in a little bay that was slightly less windy. I got on the roof of the boat to hold the microphone over Keith and Walter’s heads.

Walter talked about the lake, that it was a crater from a massive volcano that erupted eighty five thousand years ago. The explosion was so powerful that all life in Guatemala was extinguished. The ash landed as far away as Asia.

As Walter started on about the local cultures, I, upon the roof noticed, a dark line on the lake followed by large closely packed white caps. The shit was heading for the fan. Moments later I was rocked about on the slick fiberglass roof, looking for the nonexistent hand holds. We had gotten what we wanted so it was time to get the gear under cover and head on.

The first town we went to Santiago, the Mayan people all dress in their traditional clothes. Each place ha s it’s own designs a patterns. The clothes themselves are hand woven on looms. The colors are bright, the designs intricate. I soon noticed that all the women would scatter at the sight of the camera. Don , the with monster camera on his shoulder, was playing the part of Moses, parting the sea of women. Walter explained that the local women had seen picture of themselves in galleries in town for, what is to them, very high prices. As they didn’t get a dime of it, them decided to dodge the cameras from there on out. This torture for the photographer. The bright colors of their cloths, the babies nestled in one arm, the wrapped parcel of goods balanced on their heads, make great pictures.

Walter knows the locals as a tourist guide and has friends that agree to have their pictures taken. At one stall a long the road a women insisted on dressing Keith in Local garb. SO on went a pink and white striped shirt, a brown, mini skirt (Which I’m sure has a more elegant Mayan name.) and a head scarf. Keith, at six five, two hundred and thirty pounds, blue eyed looked.... Well, no one would mistake him for a Mayan. When he was all dressed up, the women said something to Keith that got Walter laughing. When pressed for details He translated for us. “She says you have a face like a baby.” We wanted to shoot the loom and someone making the cloth the shirt were made of, but the place was too dark for the camera.

I broke down and finally spent some money. I got blue and black striped shirt with a few yellow stripes here and there. I was then elevated to coolest dressed person on the team. Eight bucks by the way.

Back on the boat we were off to the next town. (San Antonio, but not Texas!) The lake was still windy and we got splashed and sprayed as the boat bucked around. The monster camera got tucked away as the little camera was pulled out.

It’s hard to think of the little camera as a mere back up. In any other situation it would be the deluxe super camera. It was only in the light of the monster camera that it was over shadowed.

As we came close to shore I could see the women in the lake washing their cloths. Out on the lake the men were cutting reeds and fishing. The boat are carved from one huge tree trunk. Boards are set, to on the sides making the boat deeper.

We headed into town in two tuc tucs, a motorize three wheeled taxi with a rag top, no doors. In town there were basket ball courts. Keith got in a pick up game with the Mayan kids. A little tree on three game. None of the kids were even up to Keith’s shoulders. We then did the church/market thing before getting back in the boat to head back to the hotel.

Back to Antigua

FIlm Day Three,


Locking cars, police escorts, soldiers? How safe is this place? I’m a little freaked about a place with so many machine guns. Every since we crossed into Mexico the level of machine gun sightings went from, well, none, to every day. At the gas station last night there was a uniformed guard with a shot gun. (also dancing girls, but that was some promotion thing, I think. Maybe there are dancing girls at that station every day.) At the borders , of course there more machine guns and the police have them too. The soldiers I talked with at the Guatemala border were friendly enough. How safe once again? That’s hard to figure. We’ve driven around with a car that wasn’t lock and had no problems. Then again we met a van load of kayakers that got ripped off. At times the worry of getting our stuff getting stolen has gotten out of hand. After all most people in the world, work, raise their families and so on. I’ve been to enough places where you get the, “We’re great, but watch out for the people over there.” And then where you get to “over there” they say “ We’re great but...

On the other hand to a thief, the amount of wealth we are traveling with wold make a retirement level score for a thief. In the end, being smart and not projecting a paranoid, thief attracting, image is all we can do anyway.

Antigua Take Two

To tell the story of our trip we often can’t keep to the real time line. When you actually see the show, the order of the scenes won’t always be the actual order in which they happen. Our late arrival to Antigua on Good Friday meant we missed shooting things we needed to tell the story. Today we went back to Antigua to show what we had missed.

As we got into town, we pulled over to shoot the volcano from a distance. Just as Don started rolling tape there was an eruption. It’s started with a tiny plume of smoke, a tuft on a huge mountain. But it continued to grow. Blown over by high winds, it soon spread roiling across the sky. The dumb luck!

Back in town a few processions were scheduled for Easter Sunday. Keith helped make one of the carpets. This one was made with a background of colored saw dust that was shook through a screen onto the cobble stones of the street. Broad bands of bright colors were laid down then onions were placed upon the border. With in the design were potted plants, squash and red peppers. Now, we had more of the story. I was pulled away to drive the cars away as the police were threatening to tow them. When I got back Keith and Don there filming the procession emerging from the Church. Rows of people in wheel chair lined either side of the churches plaza as it passed. I caught up with them to point out that this procession would walk right through the carpet that Keith had just helped build. We rushed across a short cut to film the carpets final purpose, it’s destruction. As the procession passed the crowd moved in to pick up the vegetables. Now we had the complete story. We could add the new footage to what we got friday night. Now we would relent to our guide Walter’s request to get our butts in the cars and get over to the coffee plantation.

The coffee plantation was what was on our schedule for the day. We could the tour, once again out of order. First the washing process, then the drying court yards, then the plants and picking them. Then it was into the plantation to see the coffee plants. This is shade coffee. There are two sets of trees, the shade trees, which are heavily pruned to keep them wide and then the coffee below. Afterwards we had some coffee. I must say as a coffee hater, this was good coffee.