Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Honduras

Grüße von Honduras!
After three days in Guatemala, it was time to move on, but we'll be back. Raúl, our ridiculously kind hostel owner in Antigua, told us not to travel anywhere on any kind of transport on either New Year's Eve or New Year's Day. It's just not safe.
Apparently the locals go bananas. They all get rip-roaringly drunk, jump into their cars and trucks, and drive around in a state of elation at the prospect of ending another shitty year. The prospect of everything being much better in the coming year helps them celebrate even more. A fresh beginning to be welcomed with open mouths. Hopefully they won't use their guns too.
"But it's always the same," laughed Raúl. "They think everything will be different but every year is the same as before. Nothing changes."
Raúl is very likable fellow. Nothing is a problem, and everything is done for the benefit and well-being of his guests. He got up before 4 a.m. this morning to see us off on our collectivo to Copán, Honduras.
The journey itself was no more eventful than I expected. I was expecting the driver to be a complete lunatic; he turned out to be a relatively sane lunatic. We only came near close contact with lorries twice - once only avoiding being rear-ended by a fast-approaching truck by a distance of less than a metre, and then later when the driver had to abort an overtaking manoeuvre mid-way due to an approaching brute of a machine. That truck seemed to speed up towards us once he realised there might be the possibility of a head on collision.
But we made it, and I'm sitting beside a cobbled street with all my limbs intact to write about the tale.

As you may noticed, there are no pictures to accompany my words. I never brought the connecting camera cable to enable such a wonder of science, but I will of course upload said pictures once I get back to the sanctuary of Berlin in February.
Thankfully that's a long way away now. A lot more adventures await. We'll spend three days here in Copán Ruinas, the site of some impressive Mayan ruins, before making our way to Bay Islands in the Caribbean. The Caribbean!

Meanwhile, from the jungle-clad hills and mountains of Honduras, I wish you all feliz Navidad y un feliz año 2009!!!

Monday, December 29, 2008

The Volcano

Molten rock flowed a few feet from my eyes as I balanced precariously on a rock above, and I survived! A river of lava literally streamed out of a hole near the top of Volcán de Pacaya, gurgling and bubbling with intense menace, as it made its devastating path down the side of the volcano.
Naturally, we had climbed the other side - that itself no small feet - as it took two hours' hiking to get to the natural spectacle. First a heart-pumping hike up, following by a much slower-paced hands and legs climb up the steepest hill I've ever climbed. And I've been to Frisco!
Black gravel and volcanic rock slid downhill as we attempted to make our way uphill, as if the volcano itself was warning us not to come any closer. Daylight was failing as if to heighten the suspense. Near the top, the temperature started rising, and then suddenly we noticed - red hot cinders under the rocks on which we were balanced. "Shit, there's fucking lava under these rocks!" It's what we had climbed to see, but it was a shock none the less.
Of course, the mind being what it is, we quickly wanted to see more lava. And we weren't disappointed. Flames burst out of a rock just a few feet away, and suddenly we didn't feel very safe. It was dark at this stage. I climbed on a high rock and was greeted by the sight of the lava river flowing downhill. Despite the danger I felt drawn closer. Must get a good picture! Closer and closer. Just a meter away. Take a picture Jenny! Stand there Jenny!
Then the heat got too much. Suddenly it was fucking unbearable. I thought the soles on my feet were melting. Then the rock on which I was standing started rocking. (Now I know why they're called rocks.) I beat a hasty retreat. At least as hasty as possible without falling onto more rocks below. Or worse. Molten rocks.
Quite a few tourists have been injured up here, and safety procedures were definitely not on menu. The so-called guides were calling us to begin our descent. "Barko, Barko!! Vamos! Vamos!"
Like closing time in Ireland however, we delayed the inevitable.
"Uno moment," we called back, as we savoured the experience as long as possible.
"Vamos!" they insisted, as flashlights could be seen disappearing in the darkness below us.
The lava, heat and general danger helped us relent however. But like any good Irishman (and a German girl) we were last to leave.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Antigua

So it's 26 hours 43 minutes from Whitechurch, New Ross, Co. Wexford to Antigua, Guatemala. Not too bad considering the world of difference between the two. This place is amazing!

Antigua's an old colonial town, nestled precariously between volcanoes and their less-threatening mountain brethren. One particularly ominous volcano looms menacingly over the town. Last night it was sending plumes of smoke towards the stars.

The inhabitants take no notice beneath, bustling around day and night and doing their utmost to create as much noise as humanly possible. Old American school buses serve now as "chicken buses", so called because of the chickens in cages over passengers' heads, while the passengers themselves are forced to share a bench between at least three, sometimes more.
Between the honking of the horns, the Latino music pumping from cars/bars/shops, and the cries of "Guate, Guate, Guate!!!" announcing the destination from the buses (Guatemala City), there's an almighty din, not to mention the traffic of the cobbled streets, with tuk-tuks (motorbike taxis) nipping around at passengers' will, as well as the market women hawking their wares, and the general noise from inhabitants who want to be heard. As I type there's an oul' fella hanging out of the doorway, gesturing at me with his wizened hand held out, rasping "amigo, amigo..." I guess he's looking for money. Hopefully he'll go away.

So far, despite the madness around me, the highlight has been the arrival in Guatemala City. Jenny was supposed to meet me at the airport, but after standing around at our pre-arranged meeting place, with no Jenny to be seen, I was thinking to myself "feckin typical, she survives a month without getting murdered, shot, attacked, or worse, she finally gets held up by banditos on her way to pick me up". After spending the previous month fearing the worst, I suppose it was apt that there would be another fright.
Finally, an hour late, she showed up. The relief! We embraced and all the worries of the previous month disappeared in an instant. Her collectivo to the airport took a scenic route, with a million unscheduled stops and drop-offs en route, but it didn't matter. Nothing mattered. I barely noticed the roses she gave me. We kissed and hugged and held each other and all was right with the world again. We huddled together all the way back to Antigua. Happy, happy, happy. The perfect way to start an an adventure.

In an hour or so we're going to Volcán de Pacaya, the active volcano, to climb to the top and see what all the fuss is about. There's a bit of a hike apparently, but that's not the main concern; nor is it the streams of lava which have to be negotiated once there; it's the bandits who have made a habit down through the years of holding up vulnerable gringos, robbing them, shooting them etc... Apparently, there's an armed guard to escort us. Once he's over 14 I'll be happy enough.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

The Tree

Well, the tree is finally up. About time - it's Christmas Eve, but everything is always left to the last minute with my family...
It's actually up earlier than last year's, which was cut down under cover of darkness in the early hours of Christmas morning, with the assistance of Noddy and Ritchie, and an obliging moon. For the record, it wasn't actually taken from the national park, but from a cluster of trees conveniently nearby. Stray trees.
We still had to keep an eye out for nosy guards, park rangers etc., but speeding off with the prize in the back of Ritchie's van captured for me the spirit of Christmas at the time.
Unfortunately there's no such spirit this year. It's the first time we've ever had a tree-shaped tree, but that's only because it's a plastic one. For the first time. They mightn't have been tree-shaped trees in previous years, but at least they were real trees, or on occasion bushes if you want to be pedantic. In previous years I always vehemently opposed any idea of using a fake tree but this year I don't care anymore.
My dad wasn't happy that the stray tree we brought home last year shed its pines all over the carpet within a few days of being rescued, and there was a concerted campaign to erect the plastic thing which stayed in its box last year.
So I relented and put the damn thing up. I consoled myself with thought that it would be more eco-friendly than killing another tree, but I know the CFCs and toxins produced while making it probably stripped a forest bare in Scandinavia.

I leave Wexford for Guatemala shortly after Christmas Day draws its last breath. In a little over 24 hours. Not a moment too soon.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Berlin, San Fran und Irland

Grüße von Irland eigentlich!

This is really only a Berlin update in that I have spent the majority of my time since the last update in Berlin, but I could just as well call it a San Francisco update, or a 12,000m above Earth update.

I just got back today but I'm not as happy as I should be to be honest.

The trouble started as soon as I arrived. After waiting yonks for the damn bus to arrive at the airport, and spending twice as many yonks wandering around Connolly Station before emerging at a platform from which trains have been known to depart, I finally boarded and settled into my seat and tried not to think about how long it would take back to Bray.
At the next stop however, as soon as I let my guard down, I was confronted by a PRICK who demanded I remove my luggage, (I was loaded with Christmas booty from the Vaterland), so he could sit down.
The expensively-suited fucker, probably around 60, chose to ignore the vacant seats around me and insisted that I remove and hold my luggage.
I took the largest rucksack off the seat and put it on the table in front of me, but he wanted a clear table.
"I'll have you put off the train," he informed me. "I don't care where you put it."
He then proceeded to push the rucksack from the table on top of me.
I resisted his efforts to push the damn thing, and told him I was entitled to have luggage, and that there were plenty of other seats in the carriage where he could read in acres of space.
I then noticed I had the support of some fellow passengers, who proceeded to argue with the dick on my behalf.
A rough-looking character piped up: "Herre, meester, he waz der befoar yeh."
A dodgier-looking fellow sitting behind me lied on my behalf, suggesting I had already attempted to place my luggage overhead without success on two occasions.
(I later heard him chatting with an equally disadvantaged looking pal of his. He was explaining how difficult it is to break the train seats. He underlined his point by repeatedly kicking the seat in front of him. (Mine, unfortunately). Thankfully, he was right. They are hard to break.)
Anyway, the bespectacled-fuckbag in front of me eventually settled down with my rucksack in front of him once he had enough room to do his crossword. Four letter word comes to mind.
I thanked my seat-destroying friends with a wink on the way off the train. The return wink made the ordeal worthwhile.
Just as I was about to depart the carriage, his royal fuckness called me back and offered his hand. "Happy Christmas," he offered. I accepted of course - probably because I had already told myself he would die a very bitter man.

Anyway, that's literally the latest update from my life. A fine welcome "home" that was. There is not one word of exaggeration.

Since the Theresas Mütter's famous victory a little over a month ago, quite a lot has happened. Unfortunately, this didn't include any further victories. (We lost the next match 9-0 - back to normal - although the snow, ice and minus temperatures were certainly a novelty - pictures available here: http://picasaweb.google.com/faheyc/SchneeFuBall#).

Thankfully, there's plenty of Glühwein in Berlin to help thaw a frozen Irishman, and a week in San Francisco also helped me survive until I reached under the clouds of this sodden island some people like to call home.
Literal and metaphorical clouds now seem to switch dominance at will. The latter I guess are here for the long-haul after the death of blind optimism, and the bursting of the bullshit bubble presided over by incompetents.
I'm in danger of ranting again. Must stop. Can't. Help. It. TheCountry'sFucked-ThereI'veSaidIt.

Away from the politics. Away, away. Back to the usual staple of sex, drugs, and techno.

San Francisco seems to me to be an American version of Berlin. Both very liberal cities, where weirdness is pursued to see how far weirdness can go. Walking around Union Square with my gracious hosts, Fats (so named because he's not) and Tanya, we encountered an aging female hippie plastered in make-up with a face full of teeth, who was stroking her pet rat which was resting on a pillow. Quite a fancy pillow it was too. The unlikely couple had a sign requesting money for living expenses. Not necessarily just money either - this is America - they probably would have accepted Visa.
The weren't the only beggars on the streets. Another cheeky fucker had a sign declaring that he was collecting money for alcohol research, while another, who either stole the idea or had it stolen from him, declared his willingness for marijuana research.

As a brief aside on a related/slightly askew matter - a bit like this update - I discovered at the weekend they are selling a marijuana-based drink in the cafeteria at the Stasi Prison in Berlin. Now that's ironic! Although mind-alteration is nothing new to the Stasi (East German Secret Police). Did you know more people worked for them than ever worked for the Gestapo? 91,000 employees and 300,000 informants apparently by the time the DDR collapsed in 1989.

My aunt, uncle and Helen, my cousin, visited the former prison last Friday, (Happy Birthday Helen!), when we had to escape a German-speaking tour guide to wander around on our own. Strictly forbidden. It must have been the first time anyone ever broke into the prison. We survived undetected for half an hour or so, ducking into cells, interrogation rooms, spies' writing rooms, and Stasi officers' quarters, before we were caught and "reprimanded". Luckily, we were caught by an English-speaking tour guide who allowed us to join her merry band to learn more about the dark side of East German history. Mad shit altogether.

It was, as the San Franians would exclaim, "Off the freakin' hook, man!" Of course, they had their own version of hell behind bars in Alcatraz, although I have to say the East Germans would make "The Rock" look like Trabolgan Holiday Camp in Cork.

San Francisco's lack of people with flowers in their hair, sitting in the grass, strumming guitars and generally enjoying happiness was a bit of a disappointment for me. It seems the hippies are no more. Now there are just old washed-up bums, wasters and lazy fuckers who have no intention of working. Hmmm. I'll move swiftly on...

I did get to hold a gun for the first time. No, I didn't shoot anyone, despite the ever-lengthening list of potential targets. Apparently there's quite a lot of gun crime in SF, so to combat this, every household must have at least one gun. American logic, but I'd agree with it if they gave me a gun. I wonder if the same approach would work in the fight against prostitution or drugs. More prostitutes! More drugs!
Tanya's gun was very impressive. Heavy and black. (Like Oprah.) And I presume it shot bullets too. What more could a gun-toting fella ask for?

I've been accused by a good friend of mine of "having a gay old time. One homo bar after another". Apparently he's reading what he wants from my updates. This is Kaner, living in Sydney, the gayest city of the world. He's right about San Fran though - gaiety is definitely high on the agenda.
Hundreds of rainbow flags adorn the Castro, the city's outrageously gay district, soon to be made famous by the film Milk, which opened in the States while I was there. Sean Penn plays Harvey Milk, the first openly gay politician to be elected to public office in the US. It's actually an excellent film, and it gives a great insight into how minority groups can group together under strong leadership to fight for their rights.

I mentioned before that San Fran and Berlin are both liberal cities, although I get the feeling it's more controlled in the former. After all, the pubs actually close there. The madness seems more defined and structured there, whereas maybe Berlin hasn't reached that stage yet.

It was with horror that I read yesterday that there are proposals to ban public drinking in Mitte (where I live) due to the unruly behaviour of drunken teenagers. What next? The return of the Stasi?! There would be uproar if those proposals gained momentum, and I, for one, will march with beer in hand to protest this monstrous bastardisation of civil liberties.

Never mind Harvey Milk, equal rights and all that jazz, the powers that be will really know about civil rights if they mess with our beer!!!

Pictures from the San Francisco trip can be seen here: http://picasaweb.google.com/faheyc/SanFrancisco#

This will be my last update before I head for Central America on St. Stephen's Day. (Now officially just nine days away!) The plan is to meet Jenny in Guatemala that night (she's been there the last three weeks already), head towards the Pacific coast to surf and work on a turtle farm or something, then head up to Mexico for a gander at the sombrero-wearing feckers there, (I'll actually be a Steenking Grinngo!!), before coming back down through Mayan ruins in Guatemala, jungle lodges and stuff, and then heading for the cheapest diving on the Caribbean at Honduras.
I'll have to leave Wexford pretty much just after midnight Christmas Day to make sure I catch my flight on time from Dublin, so it'll be a dry Christmas Day for me!

I don't think I'll be writing long rambling emails like this while I'm away, (girly-length emails according to Fats), but if I find any beach or jungle-hut internet cafés, I'll jot down a few lines from Mesoamérica as I go on this blog: http://irishberliner.blogspot.com/

Yeah, yeah, I know, a Blog! Woohoo and all that. But it's what all the young people are doing now, and I sure as hell won't be joining Facebollox or anything like that

Ich wünsche euch ein besinnliches Weihnachtfest und ein gesundes neues Jahr 2009!

Der Ire