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Archive for November, 2010

November 4th, 2010 - Potholes in Honduras

We left El Salvador amidst warm farewells from our new friends and with a police escort arranged by KPMG. Before we left, Edgar gave us a blue flashing police light, and I mounted it on the left front box. It’s fascinating to see how the traffic gets out of your way with a $6 light, and no one questions your identity. The rain made its customary appearance for part of the trip but abated by the border. We had made good time and were eager to do the border crossing and get to our destination. However, with all the good border crossings and encounters with police that we had so far, it was only a matter of time before we ran into one unscrupulous border agent. The mention of the word “embassy” (The RGE Team has letters from the British Embassy) didn’t seem to settle well with this guy who proceeded to detain us for 5 hours while everyone else was blithely passing on through.  Of course, as with any stop we make, the SRZero and the bike were immediately surrounded by curious little and big people wanting to know about the car and bike and take pictures with their cell phones and cameras.

While waiting at the border we met some raw-food vegan cyclists from the US who were pushing to get to Panama on single gear bikes! They had no saddlebags, no tent or sleeping bag and what they wore was what they had. They slept at gas stations whenever they couldn’t stay awake to bike anymore and ate nuts and fruits to stay alive. I don’t know how they do it as I would die if I didn’t eat meat for one day. We wish them a safe and successful journey. Cynthia got a warm welcome to Honduras by a zealous bee, and while that sucker stung, the welt it left wasn’t any bigger than that of the monster mosquito bites she had acquired.  In the end the whole delay at the border was solved by a “deal” between our overly friendly, conveniently English-speaking “fixer” and the grumpy border patrol man. Of course this deal involved paying some wads of cash.

We started not liking Honduras from the very start, and it kept getting worse. When we were “allowed” to cross the border, it was already dark and our destination was 200k away. The rain came down lashing again, and the roads turned into Swiss cheese. The potholes got bigger and bigger to the point that it was hard to go any speed higher that 25mph. I radioed back to the SRzero and the van with directions on how to avoid each pothole. We got stuck behind a long truck line, and as I tried to pass, I sped up and entered the other lane and there it was: an abyss as wide as the road. I broke hard, but it wasn’t enough, and we hit the hole with full force. The headlight went black, the front brake caliper jammed and the suspension bottomed out to the point that I heard a crack on my spine.

We limped to our destination about a mile away, and I started assessing the damage. The front rim was bent, sticking out about an inch. The right caliper was jammed, and the brake rotor was almost red from the heat. The headlight was busted, one fog light was out and a marker light lens broken. I started by dumping water on the rotor to cool it off and took the caliper apart. One of the slides was bent from the knock force, and it caused the jam. I hammered the slide back to shape and filed away the burrs, and it worked. The rim was more serious, and it took some precise banging and bending to get back to shape. When I got done with it, it was almost unnoticeable.

We ended up staying at the Lufassa power plant which provides approximately 33% of the Honduran electricity. We were hosted by Juan, the manager of the plant who took us to dinner at a seaside German restaurant. Juan was a very nice guy, and gave us a tour of his power plant which was impressive.

We left early the next morning to get to the Nicaraguan border, but as we entered the town of Choluteca, the rear tire went flat, our first flat of the trip. To my astonishment, the RGE team couldn’t be bothered to wait for us and left us there with no help and continued on to have their lunch and cross into Nicaragua! Thankfully Juan came to our aid and had one of his guys go tube hunting with me. Finding the tube was the easy part, and we proceeded to a tire shop to change the tire. I took the wheel off, and the shop changed the tire for $5 USD. Juan arranged our own motorcycle police escort to the border, and we were home free. I’m still amazed that after helping the RGE guys out so much through these potholes, night after night, in the rain and in the middle of the night, they could just leave us there. I’m not doing this for money, and I can take care of myself just fine, but their lack of consideration made me uneasy. Claudio ended up having to yell at them and stop them at the border to at least wait for us.

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November 1st, 2010 - The Love Link

Is it destiny that makes our course or is it the path that dictates our fate? Many follow their fate, but a few write their own. Sam Hawkins is such a person. Two weeks after we met this incredible man, he had a misfortune and while opening a bottle of chemicals, it exploded in his face and resulted in second degree burns from the neck up. When I received the news I was in shock as to why such a calamity could happen to such a saint-like person.

At age 71, Sam is as young at heart as any child. The twinkle in his eyes, his enthusiasm, his cowboy boots and thick Texan accent set him apart from the Salvadorians, but if that wasn’t enough, at six foot and some change, he stands out in the middle of the short Latin American crowd. Sam and his lovely wife, Julie, came on a church mission trip to El Salvador years ago during the civil war.  But it wasn’t the church mission that changed him; it was a little malnourished baby boy, abandoned in a sugar cane field that made Sam who he is today. Sam and Julie took the boy in, cared for him and after long nights of struggle, he made it. Twenty-two years later, he’s alive and well and residing in Bangor, Maine and is getting married in a few months. They named him Eric.  Since Eric, Sam and Julie made it their life work to open their door to every malnourished child they could find, and they have treated and saved over 1200 malnourished babies to this day. They made El Salvador their home and as Sam puts it, “I’ll never leave El Salvador.”

We met Sam through Claudia Aguirre who arranged the meeting at her office. We met Sam at 8 am and talked for hours before heading for the baby house. Before we left, I took him out on the bike for a ride and he loved it. His eyes were lit up like a little boy, and he hung on to me for the dear life as sped up through the tight streets of San Salvador. He really wants a motorcycle, but his wife Julie is very apprehensive. With a funny/sad face he said “She won’t let me.”

The baby house was incredibly clean and bright. Apparently Sam worked out at the gym next to the richest guy in El Salvador, neither of them knowing what the other person did. They talked about everything and anything but work. The guy finally found out about what Sam did and he donated the current baby house for the cause before he died. We met Julie at the baby house and she had no less enthusiasm than Sam. They are a perfect couple and they work together in perfect harmony. We played with the kids, got the tour and were amazed at their generosity. Over lunch, Sam told me about his other work. He started to visit prisons trying to rehabilitate the Salvadorian gang members. The government just puts more pressure on the gangs, shooting them when they can and treating them brutally when they get their hands on them (and they probably deserve it), but Sam’s way is the love way. The gang members actually listen to him, and no one bothers him. He created this program which he signs out prisoners and brings them back to society. He trains them, gives them the means and opportunity to have a job and education. They make handmade boots which they sell at the market and reinvest the profit back into the program. That’s why Sam is so proud of his boots.

We spent the night at Sam’s house, and after a delicious breakfast with Julie, we bid them farewell and got back on the road. It is heartwarming to see that there are still a few good men left who do everything and expect nothing in return. Get well soon Sam and thank you for being who you are. If you like to help out in his mission, consider making a donation of any amount, and we will forward it right to him. He has a nonprofit organization called the Love Link, but the website is not up to date and is hard to use. If you like to get a hold of him directly, contact me and I’ll provide you with the information.

Thanks to the wonderful KPMG staff, our stay in El Salvador was a memorable one. Salvadorian hospitality is hard to beat and this country will always stay in my memory. I hope I can make it back one day. Next stop: Honduras.

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