Sunday, March 23, 2008

So Far

Driving through Mexico

All we are trying to do is get to Guatemala by Friday. What’s against us is our original delay, plus, Visa hassles, creative rather than accurate maps, sleet, hail, rain, high winds, being clueless at times... And most of all, just simply not enough time.

All trips have their travel hassles and in general, they are not the heart of the matter but one it’s by products. Alas, all we are doing is driving, everyday, all night, so travel hassles are most of the trip. So you can insert your own memories of your last endless driving experience here and it will be more or less what we have been doing. The things that were new to me were how more than one road is called the same thing. For example, you’ll get to a fork in the road and you’ll see, that BOTH ways are called 180. 180 left to one town, 180 right to another town. Which way do we go? The roads are small, traffic rules are guide lines and speed limits... And then there are speed bumps, every where. Because jerks like us drive and crazy speeds, ignoring the speed limits, they put up speed bump after speed bump. What will wake you up in a hurry is hitting one of those babies when you’re speeding!

To give our blast through Mexico a fair shake, there was some great scenery. But the endless driving, the lack of sleep and junk food eating made this part more of a trail than a life forfilling experience.

Got There

Finally we reached the Guatemala boarder. Boys on motorcycles drive up besides you, tap on the window and yell, “Guatemala, Guatemala?”. If you respond, they then lead you through the town of HIilago to the check point. I sat around chatting with the soldiers at the border while the paperwork got processed. I spoke english, they spoke Spanish, but I figured out they were paratroopers and they really liked the Earth Roamer. The paper work took forever because the good old DMV back in Colorado put the wrong license plate number on the title. If it hadn’t been for our guide from the Guatemalan board of tourism we would not have made it into the country. The big question is whether we can get the Earth Roamer OUT of Guatemala. Without a corrected title, the car will be presumed stolen and It will have to stay here. Our guide, Walter, says he is willing to take it.

We headed down the road only to get stopped by the police in just a few blocks. The Earth Roamer gets pulled over a lot. The problem is that it is army green and looks very aggressive. Everywhere we go heads turn. I think the police and the soldiers just want to check it out.

As it turns out Walter had requested a Police escort into the town of Antigua. So off we went with the police behind us. As we went from one county to another, a new police car would drop in behind us as the old one peeled off. Strange to have the Guatemalan police, with their lights on and not be going, “shit, shit , shit.

In Antigua we parked at the police station, loaded up a crap load of gear and went off to film the Good Friday Processions.

Bear with me, as I am not a Christian, but here’s what went on. The procession, has hundreds of people in black robs, swinging incense burners, hand carried statues of life of Christ and then, comes the actual procession.

How to describe it? It’s a thirty feet long and ten wide, box. And I say box, in desperate need for a better word. Four rows of, maybe, thirty people carry it on their shoulders. It’s built of wood with very ornate cravings. On top in a glass case is Christ. In the gloom of dusk and the haze of the incense, it comes slowly swaying back and forth down the street. Laid on in the streets are the “carpets”. The carpets are made of colored plants and leafs making pictures and designs. The procession walks right over them and so they are destroyed. Drummers march behind it making a slow, deep, booming note.

The camera is a powerful thing. Well maybe, an influential thing. The camera got me and Don right into the middle of the street, right before the precession. MInd you the streets were packed, mobbed. People made way for us. (Then again we still had the police escort, on foot now.) My job was carrying the tripod, making sure Don didn’t fall off a curb or run into anyone when filming and, in general, being useful.

The light soon faded, and although the event was still in full swing, the filming was over. We headed back to the police station. I tried not to club anyone with the big tripod I was carrying over my shoulder. There was a full moon rising over the Volcano, Agua, which dominates the skyline. I was lusting after the idea of flying off of it.
Back at the police station, gear was repacked. The car was unlocked and I was getting a bit of grief as the last person out of the car. The police had just brought in a thief. From the anguish in his cries, I was guessing that his life was about to really really, start sucking.

We left with our police escort to Walter's sisters house to spend the night. It was a hot evening, in the eighties. There we found out the power lock cable was not attached to the rear door lock of the Earth Roamer. I was exonerated on the not locking the door charger. As it turns out it hasn’t been locked all trip. A big deal? Well, there’s is $13000’s of video tape and a $65000 camera.


On the second day of filming we went to volcano Pacya. Seeing a real live volcano has been high on my list of thing to do, so I was excited for the day.
Start with a drive on the hiway, wind up the road on the volcano that goes from good to bad to real bad. We continued with the maniac passing of slow moving pick up trucks with a lot of people, that we have become so good at. We took horses from the parking lot. I felt a little wimpy about this. I should carry my own gear not have some beast carry me and it. The gear to shoot the show it too much to get up and down in any reasonable amount of time, so it was horses.

I hadn’t been on a horse in decades, but all I had to do was not fall off. The trail was very eroded much like I’ve seen in Yelapa Mexico. That means in the steep parts you were riding through a deep slot. We where warned to bring warm cloths. However, those of us that started this trip in a snow storm, didn’t fine the sixty degree temperatures, “cold”.

We came to a shoulder of the volcano where we got off the horses. Before us was a huge sloping laval field, the cone of the volcano rose thousands of feet yet higher. At first I saw a slanting slope of dark gray rock, cool but not amazing. Then I started to see the hot glowing red of the lava here and there. Parts would damp up and cool then bust loose and expose oozing, brilliant lava dripping in great globs.

Here’s the part I didn’t expect, the sound. The lava is constantly moving, tumbling the light lava rock. The sound of the rock falling and clonking, stirring and scrapping along ebbs and flows.

Keith, Don and I hiked down on to the lava flow in’s self. Hey! molten rock is really hot! Duh, right? But when you are there it’s amazing. You try to get close, wondering if you shoes are melting off, but the heat, (and what’s left of your common sense that hasn’t been suppressed by your excitement.) keeps you back. Don started rolling tape as Keith did his thing. The camera worked it’s magic again. People would hush as we rolled tape, move aside to make space for us. (As it was one day after the processions, everywhere was very crowded. ) We couldn’t get the sound of the lava with all the people so I went out on the flow and rolled rocks around for the microphone instead.

Anyway the pace is brutal and I need to sleep.

Think we are off to the coffee plantation tomorrow.


Tuesday, March 18, 2008


A thousand miles of driving, two hours of sleep.
The Earthroamer is a big truck, tall. We spend hours in high winds and pouring rains being pushed around. At time splashing into big puddles on the road.

More later, it's my shot at the shower.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Picture test


I got this a used lap top to keep the blog going. My next mission is to try and get a picture on the blog. So, if you’re reading this and there’s picture, it worked!

Here’s my gear waiting to go. (Ya, boring, I know. I just wanted to see if this would work.)


We’ve been delayed two days now. There was a problem with the vehicles title. This works out well for me. I thought I’d have to leave Saturday so I spent all day today getting ready. So, I’m pretty much ready to go and still have two days.

If I’d known I had two more days I would have blown off everything till looming crisis propelled me foreword. I’ve started so many trips sick, by using this strategy. Run up the stress level by procrastination.

The big down side is that we’ll have to drive in shifts twenty four hours a day to make the Easter celebration in Guatemala. A driver a navigator and a snoozer in the back on our piles of crap.

I got a used lap top to keep the blog going on the trip. The Earthroamer has satellite internet in it. We have budget of a thousand hours, ( or maybe it’s a thousand dollars.) after that we are charged six dollars a minute!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008


At some point this afternoon, quite suddenly, it sunk in that I am actually going to jump into a truck and drive to Central America to shoot a TV program for the next eight weeks. It was an exquisite feeling of exhilaration spiced with panic. Up to that moment it wasn’t real . But as I sat in the Mexican Consulate with the shows host Keith Neubert, trying to figure out if; A, We didn’t know what we were talking about, B, They didn’t know what they were talking about, C. They didn’t know what we were talking about, D. We did know what they were talking about or all of the above, it struck me, “I’m going on this trip.”.

The show, “American Xplorer” is Keith’s new show. I had done a paragliding episode with him a few years ago when it was “Colorado Explorer”. (See, Since then He has joined the HD Satellite Network and gone national. It’s an Adventure based show. The part I’m doing is “EarthRoamer Chronicles”.

The Earthroamer is... well here’s the link. They say it better than I can. (Oh, it’s the XV.JP by the way.)

Keith, camera Man, Don and myself are getting in this very cool vehicle and then traveling around Central America. We’ll shoot 13 episodes. The show works like this Keith gets various sponsors involved with the show and they become it’s subject matter. For instance, instead of an Earthroamer commercial, the show features us driving around in one. You get to see for yourself how cool it would be to have one. Besides Earthroamer there will be Resorts, attractions, even the Mexican Tourism board sponsoring us.

Here’s the schedule,

Leave CO: March14pm

Arrive: Brownsville TX March 15 pm. Hotel / sleep. Be first in line @ Mexican border (with letters from Mexico Tourism/Consulate Gen) March 16th am. Film our border crossing.

Travel through Mexico to Guatemalan Border (I-80 Toll road) 3 days drive

Arrive: Guatemalan Border March 19.
Cross Border into Guatemala

Arrive Hotel Lake Atitlan and prep Antigua (rest day): Lake Atitlan: March 19/20.

Shoot / Coverage Antigua’s Processions Ceremony. March 21-22

Lake Atitlan: March 23-25

Volcano Trek March 26

Drive to Tikal: Coffee Plantation – March 27/28
Stop in Guatemala City: Film Permit for Tikal / Review B-Roll Aerial

Tikal: March 29/30

Drive to Belize: March 30 pm. Arrive Hotel in (San.Ingnacio)
Medicinal Plants, Rafting, Show close x 7, Wildlife / B-roll of area: March 31
Dr. Awe archaeology research / caves: April 2,3,4

Belize Zoo (discuss Belize wildlife conservation programs) and B-Roll wildlife: April 5

Leave Vehicle someplace safe (Tamara’s contact) while we’re in AC.

Fly to Ambergris Cay pm on Tropic Air (need to book this DINO): April 5

Cover Ambergris Cay/ Aerial footage of Blue Hole and Coast/ Set up Dives/ meet with Marty (check his b-roll library): April 6-7

Blue Hole Dive: April 8
Ship Wreck Dive: April 9

Fly back to Belize early am, pick up ER and Drive to Honduras La Ceiba: April10
Ferry to Utila Island pm (Leave vehicle safe on Honduras): April 10 pm

Whale Shark Research Program (interviews and dives): April 11-13 (Marty continue to film whale shark b-roll through April 16)

Ferry back to Honduras and drive to Nicaragua’s Ometepe Island (get Marty back to Ambergris Cay): April 14

Ometepe Island and explore Lake / Granada or Leon Nicaragua: April15/16.

Drive to Costa Rica: April 16.

Costa Rica: April 17- 24 (8 days)

Hot Air Balloon in Costa Rica (early am) then Drive to Panama: April 24

Panama: April 25 – May 2 (8 days)

Drive back through CA to Mexico via TA Highway: May 3/4

Mexico: May 5-14. (10 days)

Home: May 16.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Expert advice and beginners, do they mix?

I was flying in Yelapa Mexico in the end of February. A typical day would start with a morning flight off the high site and a afternoon flight from a smaller site. The morning flight would be pretty calm with light thermals. The afternoon flight was after the sea breeze came on and be ridge soaring with embedded thermals. At some point in between, the transition from the morning calm to the afternoon wind would happen. At times this transition would be quite abrupt and gusty before settling down into the afternoon session.

I was guiding pilots on this trip and therefore,in the mornings, was always the last one in our group to launch. As I flew around I noticed that the sea breeze was starting build in. Soon, there were white caps on the ocean and the palm trees were waving around. “Great” I thought. At some point I would have to fly through the shear between the calm upper air and the strong surface winds to reach the LZ on the beach. So, the question was, How turbulent will the shear be and at what altitude will I meet it? If it’s not very turbulent, no big deal. If I hit it when still high in the air, I’ll have lots of time to sort it out if it is a bad shear. If the shear is bad and low, I could take a big whack close to the ground, which is the worst case scenario.

I decided to meet the shear over the ocean, well clear of the surf. The shore was lined with boats and I figured if I wrecked into the ocean, one of my buddies would get up from their lemonade and get someone to fetch me from the drink. I , also, decided not to pull big ears but to go through the shear with my glider “Open”. As an eighteen year pilot, I was assuming that my surge control would be up to the task. I was also flying DHV 1-2.

As it turns out, my assumptions were correct. I took a hell of a beating, but I kept the glider overhead and open. Mind you, I was pretty gripped because, even as I handled each situation, the question was, “Yea, but what’s coming next?”. At six hundred feet I dropped out of the shear into the strong but smooth seas breeze. At that point I did pull big ears as I had had it and wanted to be on the ground. I released them to set a figure eight approach. As it was still strong I slightly extended the down wind sides of the figure eight so I could slowly back into the LZ from up wind. On the ground I turned, pulled in my “d”s and it was over.

The next pilot in didn’t fair as well. They hit the shear at about four hundred feet. The glider pitched forward and collapsed. The center went away and both wing tips came forward and touched. As this glider was a DHV 1, it sorted it’s self out right away. The pilot landed, got drug and was none the worse for wear except getting the crap scared out of them.

I spend a little time talking with the pilot afterward as it is important for a new pilot to be able to place these events in some context so they don’t become spooked. The big question is always, “what should I have done?”.

The advice I gave was NOT what I did.
The standard expert reply would be, keep or glider open, don’t pull big ears as that will eliminate the use of the brakes AND well timed surge control is more effective than the non responsive big ears. The big BUT here is that that advice assumes the pilot has good surge control. If, as in this case, the pilot does not have that skill set, then the expert advice does not apply to the beginner pilot. The advice I gave was first, learn, from this experience, how to recognize the situation and pull big ears before you enter the shear. In big ears she would have then descended through the shear quickly with a small, highly pressurized glider.

The last bit of advice was to practice surge control in mild, non critical, situations. Make it your goal to always have your glider directly overhead. If there is anything dangerous about the new entry level gliders, it is that they are too safe. Uh....? In the bad old days we had surgy gliders and if you didn’t get your surge control sorted out you either got lucky or crashed. Things are way better now, but I see a lot of pilots who don’t develop their surge control because experience has shown them that they can get away with it. Well, you can get away with it till you don’t. If you don’t practice your surge control when it’s not completely necessary it won’t be there when it is.

Lastly, advice giving is instruction. Instruction is a skill set of it’s own. If you don’t practice instructing you won’t be good at. Even if you flying skill set is at expert level.