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Footprints in the Sand

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BC: Direct your eye sight inward and you'll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be an expert in home cosmography. -Thoreau

FC: "Direct your eye sight inward and you'll find a thousand regions in your mind yet undiscovered. Travel them, and be an expert in home cosmography." -Thoreau | FOOTPRINTS IN THE SAND A JOURNEY THROUGH LATIN AMERICA | SIMON DUNNE

1: Well, that's it. Eight months, nine countries, and three passports. It’s now back to reality. But perhaps I experienced more of real-life during my travels than I'd ever seen at home. There's nothing more real than the ancient jungle-enveloped pyramids of the Mayans, a machete at your throat, or an Ecuadorian family of eight who subsist on a backyard plot of corn and a cage of guinea pigs. Despite what people tell me about coming back to reality, I feel just the opposite: Reality is what happened to me when I was trying to avoid it.

2: When I got off the train in Creel, Mexico, the skies shone blue. I was standing at the top of Barranca del Cobre, a six-canyon system both larger and deeper than the Grand Canyon. It spread endlessly toward the horizon, its craggy peaks, grassy mesas, and impossible depths dominating my view. I replayed the spectacular train ride in my head, and followed the tracks with my eyes as they disappeared down the canyon. After a chilly night’s sleep, light flurries dusting the pine trees outside, I woke up ready to explore. The sun was painfully brilliant, so Olivier, my French traveling companion, and I, hit the road, with the intention of hitchhiking to the lonely town of Batopilas, buried some 2000 metres below, at the bottom of the canyon. Hitchhiking in this region of the country is relatively easy, we’d been told. True enough, after five minutes, we were picked up by two friendly Australian backpackers who took us an hour down the smooth, asphalted road, along the top of the canyon. Our next ride came swiftly as well, but it was slightly more testing. Jammed into a rickety jeep with a couple of local vacationers, we bounced along a road that deteriorated with each passing mile. By the time we reached our diverging forks, the bumps in the road were trumped only by the bumps on my head, courtesy of the jeep’s low roof. We flopped out, sighing relief as the jeep pulled away. But our relief was short lived. As we took in our surroundings, the isolation struck us. We were still many miles from Batopilas, still at the top of the canyon, and suddenly uncertain that another car would ever come down this road. Just then, the skies darkened. Without even the slightest tease, they opened. Thunder rumbled, distant, but the rain had arrived. It cascaded down, leaving the two of us shivering wet cats. The shelter of the evergreens was our only salvation. We sat there on our bags, in silence, feeling every cold pelt of water. Not a single car passed; only hours. The light of the day started to fade and we cycled through our options for the evening. We were miles from anywhere, unprepared, and fucking wet. The thunder’s low rumblings had become ear-splitting explosions, bringing sheets of white lightening with it.

3: Then, suddenly, a truck. He stopped, obviously surprised to see us. A tall, spindly man with a thin mustache, fatigue pants and combat boots stepped down into the mud. He smiled mockingly, as if to say “stupid tourists”, revealing a mouth of gold teeth. He motioned for us to get in the truck. Both in the early days of our trips, neither Olivier nor I spoke Spanish, but we had one question: “Batopilas?” we chorused, as if we would dare refuse this ride, wherever he was going. His posse filled the seats, so we hopped into the bed, worming our way between oil drums and garbage bags. We watched, as the driver turned back to his door, revealing a shiny black handgun jammed into the back of his pants. Crossing ourselves, we settled in for the 65 kilometer, 3 hour ride down muddy roads and 2000 metres of canyon. The storm raged. The road hugged the side of the canyon walls, switching its way back and forth, down and down. Our grizzly savior drove faster than any life-valuing human should. We skidded around blind corners, screeching past the fallen rocks and cows that greeted us. Halfway down the canyon, without warning, our driver slammed the brakes, stopped the car and ran to the canyon wall, peering down over the edge with his gun drawn. I’m sure there was a perfectly rational reason for all this, but thanks to the language barrier, our theories were running wild. Further down, we stopped suddenly again. The driver and his posse called us to the edge this time and pointed at a wrecked truck far below. Through broken Spanglish, we learned that the truck had fallen over the edge three days prior; the driver had been flung from his seat and tumbled some ten stories to where the road looped back below. And survived. We took comfort knowing that survival was still a possibility. Back on the road, between fits of panic and shaky nerves, I noticed the sky had turned a brilliant pink color. The sun was setting behind the thinning clouds, casting its rays across the entire expanse of canyon. A more vibrant light I have never seen. While I was distracted by the sky, we arrived in Batopilas, alive, and to a warm, tropical evening –at such a lower elevation, the climate here is quite different than Creel. We were soaked to the bone, exhausted, and absolutely thrilled. Picking a couple of oranges off a nearby tree, we searched out a hotel and laid the contents of our bags on its cement floor, drying passports and other critical documents. After a sound sleep, I awoke to a shining blue sky.

5: My first game of bilingual Scrabble | On top of the ancient world at Teotihuacan | Incredible what you can do with a lighter and an aerosol can | How to make mezcal in the 15th century

6: What started as a simple teachers' strike here in Oaxaca has become a galvanized movement against the corrupt, and frankly brutal, governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz. With the Federal Policia behind him, URO has arrested, beaten and killed protesters, and shows no signs of relenting. The vibe here is definitely tense. Riot police have pushed the protesters from the main plaza and have set up a 24-hour barricade. They allow pedestrians to pass, but as I discovered, not unchecked. But oddly, many citizens seem relaxed, continuing about their daily routine. This makes the main plaza an odd mix of street vendors, flirting couples, business men, and hundreds of fully armed guards with assault rifles. Today I was witness to an extremely charged protest. The energy made me nervous – with every impassioned yell from the crowd, and tense shuffle from the police, I felt like we were on the brink of a riot. It was unlike anything I have, or ever could, see in Canada. Within our comfortable existence, protests become an expression of preference. We get angry and disagree, but if things don't go our way we simply go back to our warm homes and go to bed. In Mexico, where up to 70% of the people are living poor, protests carry so much more weight. They are the only option, an expression of desperation. A coalition of protesters – the Asamblea Popular de los Pueblos de Oaxaca – has called for UROs resignation by November 25th, promising “decisive” action otherwise. URO in response has said that no one can make him step down except for God himself. Weighing both these statements, Ive decided to leave Oaxaca prior to the 25th. Sitting in the plaza today I felt like I was in the eye of a hurricane. The violence that proceeded my visit has calmed, but I feel like what's about to come will be even more fierce.

8: I was sick of warnings. I’d dealt with warnings since way back in Northern Mexico, since the first days of my yearlong trip through Latin America. It always sounded like paranoia, coming from people that didn’t understand this place. The phrase, “It’s dangerous, you can’t do it alone” was red-flagged in my eardrums. And man was I ever having a good time. I was seeing great places and meeting great people, exploring further and deeper than all those timid tourists, those who were afraid of what they didn’t know. I felt like an accomplished traveller. After months of traipsing and scouring, I arrived in Antigua, Guatemala. Relatively rich, secure and familiar, Antigua is a city where tourism reigns. The only place in the country where you’re more likely to see a blond head than a stray dog, where you can sip cappuccinos in funky coffee houses while you watch police patrolling the streets like the Pentagon. This place is secure. Secure, not adventurous. Tourists stroll the flowered lanes, snapping pictures of colonial doorways and balconies before beetling back to their deluxe coach buses. I couldn’t stand it – I needed to escape. So I did - on a mountain bike headed towards Volcan Agua, the imposing volcano that looms over the city. And of course, I ignored the warnings. A long, weakening climb under the scorching midday sun left me exhausted, my lungs parched from the swirling dirt of the path beneath. I got the feeling I was off-course when the path narrowed suddenly, but I pushed on. Adventure, I thought. When the trail all but ended, high up the volcano, giving way to coarse shrubs and modest farms, I turned and pointed the bike down. The descent instantly transformed me – my energy was soaring. I was absorbed by the speed and fixed on the erratic trail ahead. I was so engrossed in the thrill of it all that I never saw him coming.

9: A blue bandana. That’s all I remember of his features, that blue bandana wrapped around his nose and mouth like a bandit from a Wild West movie. He caught my periphery as he jumped from the thicket on the left. My eyes darted in his direction but the stick in his hand had already jammed my spokes. The bike stopped dead, sending me flying to the hard, dry ground. I scrambled halfway up, to my knees, and was greeted by the tip of a two-foot blade at my neck. A rusty machete. I reacted with a moment of motionless curiosity, total blissful ignorance to what was happening. There must be a happy explanation for all of this... But foreign screams quickly cleared up my confusion. He started to swing the machete, beating me on the arms and legs with the broad side of the knife, attempting to coax me into handing over the bag on my back. It worked. The screaming, the weapon, and the surprise attack had left me stunned. In my trance I silently handed over the coveted prize. He snatched it from me and scurried into the bushes, clutching my bag to his chest. I stood, attempting to grasp what had just happened, as the sun’s rays pelted my dirty face. Sudden awareness; I’ve just been mugged. I’ve lost my money, my camera, my passport, everything. I’m screwed. I stood alone on the dusty trail and screamed myself hoarse. Despite my initial panic, my material loss didn’t weigh on me for long, but the memory was much heavier. I played the mugging over in my head a thousand times, and my dazed reaction started to chew away at me. I’m 6’5”, 225 pounds. I’m sure I had almost a foot on this guy. Guatemalans would laugh at me, asking why I didn’t just take the knife from him, why I didn’t just hit him, or run, or refuse. I never had a good answer for them. I have come to accept that my reaction, if not the demonstration of bravery I might have preferred, was at least the safest option. Fellow travellers were thankfully quick to agree. But the unfortunate residue is the pre-emptive suspicion that I now travel with at all times. I still consider Latin America one of the most magical places I’ve ever seen, with people as warm as the climate, but I am now sharply aware of the harsh desperation that plagues so many people there. As adventurous as I may think I am, in their eyes, I will always be a tourist. Some time after, in Bogota, Colombia, I was asked about a hike. Before I realized what I was saying the words were out of my mouth: “It’s dangerous, you can’t do it alone.”

10: I was not looking forward to my Caribbean Christmas. But stuck in Guatemala City in the wake of my minor passport disaster, it was either go home, or push on. Home was tempting, as I thought about my friends and family, and I almost went. But on December 22nd, I arrived, alone, on the Honduran island of Roatan. I envisioned a lonely Christmas Day - me, a white sand beach and a piña colada. Beautiful, granted, but lonely. After wandering the streets in search of an open hostel room that didn’t exist, I was pointed to a shared apartment at one end of town. There I met Ivan and Emilie, and consequently David and Pernille. We hit it off, and in true traveler fashion, were best friends by the end of the next day. | Christmas and New Years were spent laughing and smiling with a great group of new friends. People with whom I thought I would be close forever, but, again in true traveler fashion, we’ve all lost touch. Still, at the low point of my trip I was pulled up by this group, and will always remember them fondly for that.

12: Our journey to the wildlife refuge outside of La Ceiba, Honduras - a wetland region home to endangered manatees and jaguars – was, well, wild. The bumpy bus ride and teetering boat provided their share of adventure, but it was the train that made me shriek, high-pitched, just like its rusty brakes. It may have had something to do with the company, all crammed into a space the size of a bus shelter – four gringos, and a half dozen local kids and adults. Oh, and one pissed off crocodile. In what was really more of an ox cart than a train, we inched our way along rotting wooden tracks, invisible for the jungle growth coating them. With a baseball cap tossed over its eyes, the croc, shockingly, remained calm on the floor. For a while. But a sudden lurch of the train set him off, and he began to thrash violently, sending the cap flying into the jungle. I wasn’t alone in my shriek; the whole train car, tourists and locals alike, chorused in and instinctively lifted its feet, like you might when someone is mopping the floor underneath you. We clutched our knees as if that would somehow fend off a croc attack. The rope secured around his snout seemed, like us, ready to flee, but to our absolute relief, it hung on. Suddenly, with a confident stomp, the croc’s captor slammed his heavy work boot onto the croc’s neck, subduing his flailing. Ropes were tightened, another baseball cap was found, and on we went, our eyes fixed on the scaly animal at our feet.

14: I can see it in the distance, bumping down the crumbling road, kicking up dust. It’s no surprise of course, the squeal of accordions from the speaker system warned me it was coming. I can’t believe I’m about to do this again. I think I’m going to be sick. I hate the chicken bus. Sure the locals ride this bus; sure it’s a cultural experience; sure we’re lucky to have more comfortable options in Canada, blah blah blah. I don’t really care anymore. My body hurts too much to care. I''m so stiff I’ve acquired the unflattering Spanish nickname of ‘Frankensteino’. I’ve yet to figure out what it means, but the laughs of the children as they point and mockingly walk with rigid legs makes me think it’s not so complementary. I just ignore them and walk on, my 26 year old knees feeling like they’re days away from a gold watch. Here he comes; the driver’s attendant is off the bus before it has stopped, making me jump with paranoia as he snatches my bag. He’s on the roof with one quick move, tying the bag down with a rope that doesn’t look like it’s attached to anything other than my bag. The hurried yell of the driver, the lurch of the bus, and the attendant and I rush for the door before we’re left in a cloud of dust. I look around. Even their flashy custom paint jobs, red hanging tassels, and paintings of the Virgin Mary cannot hide the fact that these are resurrected school buses intended for children. The dead give away? The seats have been perfectly spaced for the stumpy legs of pre-pubescent, height-deprived 11 year olds. The stares I’m getting from the packed bus aren’t exactly screaming “sit next to me!” more like, “what a gringo freak!” but I ignore their eyes and make my choice. There’s about enough green pleather for my pinky finger, but I somehow manage to balance myself in place. The metal bar sticking into my backside through the spot in the pleather that some fidgety 11 year old decided to free of its cushioning ten years prior is a nice touch. I curse his name, whomever he may be. | My legs don’t fit straight so I attempt to turn them sideways into the aisle. That doesn’t work because people are constantly banging them with every halting stop, so I tuck them up against my chin, my knees pressed deeply into the back of the person in front of me. I feel no remorse. With one morsel of one ass cheek gripping to green for dear life, I’m ready to go. Sitting in the back row with accordion classics blaring in my ear and diesel fumes killing every bodily cell they touch, I suddenly realize why locals all sit in the front, even when the back seats are open. I cough as diesel strangles yet another brain cell. Three hours in my stomach starts to grumble. There’s nothing like the sweet smell of diesel to get the appetite going. More likely it was the calorie-burning thigh and butt workout I’ve been getting. Lucky for me, at every stop hordes of youngsters swarm the bus selling fried everything – potatoes, meat, cheese, you name it. I’ve become surprisingly fond of fried chicken with a side of fried bananas on my longer bus rides. I stock up, as does everyone else on the bus. I am a focused, frenetic feeding machine, when I am interrupted by the horror. As if by some sort of momentary possession, every arm holding any sort of refuse - Styrofoam, bottles, plastics, even all those healthy recyclables - reaches for the open window. I try to scream but nothing comes out but a half-chewed hunk of fried chicken. It’s too late anyway. The deed is done. The air is suddenly filled with wind swept garbage, swirling its way over the road banks and into the pristine wilderness below. The remains of pollo frito, gallo pinto, coca cola, all disappear into the bush. Well, disappear is a stretch; join the piles of garbage created from years of this practice is slightly more accurate. The locals don’t even flinch. I hate the chicken bus. .

16: It feels as though little has changed in the 500 years that the Kuna people have called the San Blas islands home. Local men spend their days fishing with nets or string in hand and collecting coconuts that dropped to the earth the night before. Occasionally we would hear a yelp of glee from a dugout canoe, a sure sign that dinner would be ample. Our host Eulolo was warm and inviting, and seeking reprise from the Gringo trail, we appreciated that it seemed as though we had surprised him with our visit, and that he’d only had minutes to throw together our accommodation. Our beds were the same hammocks strung up over dirt floors that the rest of the family used. Our meals the same egg and cracker breakfast and rice and fish dinner to which the rest of the family had grown accustomed. Our bathroom, the same hole in the dock. We spent our evenings meandering through the dirt paths, ducking under the awnings of roof palms, and returning the constant greetings of the local children in whatever language they decided upon, be it Kuna, English, Spanish or even French (of course, any further conversation in anything but Kuna left them with a blank stare). It was an honor to explore the homes and lifestyle of the Kuna people.

18: Ipiales has nothing to offer the traveler except a church. Every Latin American city has a church, and it’s always the main attraction. So I’d seen churches. I would take the obligatory picture, remove my cap and act pious for a moment, and then be on my way. I guess I still went because of a nostalgic feeling that brought me back to my high school rugby tour days. In my head I could hear Cec Moody, our boisterous coach, letting out a forceful “bloody brilliant!” in his Irish lilt, as he examined the massive stone columns and intricate carvings. Church goers would muffle their rapprochement, and after a few such exclamations, some bold elderly woman would give him a full on “shhhhh!” This of course Cec refuted with phrases not suitable for a blog on churches, and certainly not a real live church. That said, after 60 Latin American cities I was pretty churched-out. But the one in Ipiales, Las Lajas, was different. It is among three that I hold in truly celestial esteem. The Las Lajas cathedral is built across a gorge. The church is balanced precariously on one side of a cliff, and a bridge spanning the gorge, its foundations reaching 150 ft down to the base of the cliff, connects it to the other side. Waterfalls, a raging river, and dense Andean forest complete the unique scene. So, the other two? The first is the church in San Andreas, Guatemala. This thing looks like it was dropped directly out of a cartoon. The facade is a bright yellow, decorated with warped images of religious figures, unidentified figures, and of course, two tigers. Streamers swing from its spires like kite tails and the whole thing shows off more colors than the clothing on the Mayan women coming and going. | The second church is the Salt Cathedral in Zipaquira, near Bogota, Colombia. The entire structure is built underground, in a salt mine, entirely out of salt. Being that it is underground I was not prepared for the immensity of the structure. The main chamber has ceilings 70 ft high and a capacity of 8000 people. Due to the darkness of the mine, the cathedral has been illuminated with extensive colored lighting, meant to give it an angelic quality; but I found it to be utterly eerie, complimenting the dark, damp underground setting. The cathedral was a creepy, demonic sort of place where you never knew what was hiding in the shadows.

19: Fred Flinstone's vacation home | The Death Shower | "Nothing justifies cruelty like fun" | A field of stone penises

20: I met a French man named Martin in southern Colombia. We were headed the same direction so we shared a couple of buses and some conversation. Martin had worked for a French NGO in the small Quechua community of Chilcopamba, high in the northern mountains of Ecuador, and he was on his way back there for a visit. He offered for me to come along with him for a few days, and since as a solo traveler I have perfected the art of the tag along, I was quick to change my floppy plans and accept his offer. We arrived at the family home just as Virgina, the mother of six, was preparing our lunch of cuy (guinea pig). She pulled them out of the cage, chirping away, and handed them to Martin. It was his job to break their necks. I tried not to think of my childhood pet Miss Piggy, the irritating yet loveable guinea pig that chewed through everything in our house from shoelaces to wires, as Martin pressed down on their necks with all his body weight. On my last day in the village, the 95-year-old elder passed away. This caused turmoil in the village and they seemed to forget that a tourist was in their midst. I found myself at a Quechua wake that evening, as pure a cultural experience as I have had. We sat on straw mats on the floor and ate a variety of soups, the open casket of the deceased dividing the room in two. The somber meal was accompanied by Bible readings in Quechua from other town elders.

21: After the meal, a group of men began to huddle at one end of the room, their excitement and frivolity spreading. It was game time. Twelve corn kernels sat in the middle of a circle of spectators, one side painted black. The dice. Two teams across from each other sat behind plies of fifty kernels each. One team would start by throwing the dice, and eliminating the number of kernels from their opponents pile equal to the number of black kernels rolled. The goal, simply, was to eliminate the opponent’s kernels. The kicker – to knock out your opponent you had to throw the exact number of remaining kernels. This meant that when your opponent had two kernels remaining, you had to roll only two black dice; out of 12. Small odds. Both teams managed to end up with two kernels at the end, so the battle went back and forth. One team would roll a six. Nothing doing. The other team would roll an eight. Nothing doing. On and on we went. As you might suspect, I lost interest quickly. But I was the only one. Everyone else was absolutely enthralled, leaning in close and getting ever more frenzied and excited with each roll. As open as I am to new cultural events, this one bored the life out me. I looked across the room to Martin and saw his eyelids closing. I guess a couple of gringos just didn’t get it. But I had a wonderful time in the small rural village, playing music and sport with the local kids, hiking with Martin in the mountains, and being welcomed like one of their own.

24: Addicted, I slink through the shadows. Cloaked by the darkness of every South American alley, my skin itches in anticipation. Only the whites of my eyes betray me as they scan the dark, their cunning dedicated to satisfying that most crippling of primal urges. I am on the hunt. Whispers in the night have led me here, to northern Ecuador and a town called Ibarra, promising to deliver what my body so desperately craves; promising to relieve the burdening ache I suffer in its absence. Ice cream. That perfect combination of cream and sugar has strangled control out of my life. For eight months I traveled Latin America, fully aware of Ibarra’s shining reputation for ice cream. I wish I had never known. Each day was a pain, a yearning I couldn’t ignore and could barely endure. My mind was so entangled and consumed by the lore of Ibarra that basic thoughts became chaotic and distorted, like the mélange of colours in a rainbow sherbet. It took me seven months to reach my Mecca, a penance as much as a journey. As the bus crossed the southern Colombian border into Ecuador, the fiery pain of my anguish suddenly soothed and cooled as if coated with the tenderness of a soft-serve cone. The relief of approaching gratification flowed into my consciousness. I salivated at the thought of perfection churned in a glimmering copper bowl (a process unique to Ibarra) by the sturdy hands of a passionate Ecuadorian woman. I had arrived. My legs, suddenly lighter than the delicate flavor of coconut sorbet, floated to a parlor of glowing radiance. | The cone began with a laid back, understated, yet uniquely suave vanilla with just a touch of autumn spice that hinted at a suppressed carnality. The subtle tones of the vanilla were perfectly complemented by the audacious second scoop, the powerful tang of blackberry fruit ice. Destiny had brought them together, this marriage of perfect balance. The flavors swirled together on my taste buds, and my taste buds responded, at once jumping to the thrill of passionate blackberry and unwinding to soothing vanilla, leaving me both exhausted and refreshed like a vigorous forest run in a spring downpour. The final act? Humble minimalism of a classic cone. A spiritual awakening, a Eucharist on my tongue, allowing me to reflect, to appreciate that which had just transpired - the dizzying emotion of a love fulfilled. Cupid had worked his inescapable brand of puppetry on me, manipulating my limbs and mind, dragging my heart strings, until I requited this, his crowning love triangle - vanilla, blackberry and me. My memories from inside the sanctuary are now but faded dreams, but my taste buds will forever recite the flavors.

26: Everything in the Amazon will kill you. Sure, piranhas and pythons, no biggie. And I’ve never had a problem with spiders. In fact, I’m quite fond of my hex-pedal friends, thanks to the number they do on mozzies. Still, while staying in the Amazon, I wasn't jumping for joy when a saucer-sized wolf spider parked itself on the ledge beside my bed as I was about to tuck in. His missing leg just made him look more bad-ass. Maintaining my cool, I used a lit candle to chase him through a crack in the wall. Done. Handled with composure. I went to bed, nervously tucking the mosquito net under the mattress, but triumphant.Little did I know that the damage was done. Visions of spider webs danced in my head, accompanied by their tenants, who in my dreams had mutated into vicious man-swallowing, city-crushing behemoths. Around three in the morning my mind cracked. I could feel them crawling all over my skin. I jolted up in a cold sweat and slapped every square inch of my body. Not a spider in sight. | The next morning, bleary-eyed and craving a refreshing swim, I heard the story of the pee-fish – its technical name I’m sure. The fish has the nasty little habit of following the scent of ammonia in human urine right to the source. And then some. Working its way through your skin-tunnel, this shockingly large fish extends claws on the side of its body to wiggle its way up into the intestinal tract where it lays its eggs. While death is rare, praying for death is not. As a regular aqua urinator, I was rightfully concerned. On hearing this story, I ran to the nearest bush, emptied my hose, and, making sure every drop plunged, shook longer and harder than the Church would condone.

28: I am afraid of dogs. There it is. It all started as a small child, thanks to a yappy Scottish Terrier next door. After his welcome death, I started to relax a little. The years went by and I started to feel comfortable around dogs, even developing some affection for them. It felt good to have conquered my crippling fear. But I was wrong, and the South American dogs have enlightened me. Now the mere mention of Yorkshire Terrier or Bishon Frise sends me into a terrifying spiral back to the depths of fear. It is impossible to go anywhere in the Ecuadorian countryside without encountering some beefed up guard dog with something to prove. I’m all for a dog protecting its home-front by barking as it sees someone approaching, but this little trick they’ve learned here, the hiding quietly in the bushes (snickering I’m sure) until the moment I pass, not cool. I let out so many shocked yelps that the dogs must have thought me one of their own. Too bad they’re no more forgiving with their own kind. Of course, I know how to handle an attacking dog. Everyone traveling down here does, it’s a lesson learned early. To overpower an aggressive dog you simply stand tall, make a fist, and yell. A great plan, but unfortunately flawed in two respects. First, when a rabid dog is nipping at your heels it takes buckets of self-control to stop, turn and confront the dog with some textbook hearsay theory of victory. Second, after having been lulled into a false sense of security by a number of successes using this theory, one is completely unprepared for the reality that it does not work on two, rabid, angry, aggressive dogs.

33: Before this trip I saw comfort as a dangerous trap; a feeling that keeps people from acting on their dreams. But there's more to comfort than that, and I’ve come to appreciate it. Comfort is having people in your life that care about what happens to you; it's being able to talk at higher than a first grade level with anyone, about anything; it's being safe and secure when you go to bed at night. It seems simple, but comfort is a luxury the independent traveler rarely possesses. And now that I'm home, I'm thankful for it every day.

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  • By: Simon D.
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  • Title: Footprints in the Sand
  • A Journey through Latin America
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  • Published: about 7 years ago