Overall, it's good timing as the dry season is coming soon, and with the cardboard, wood, plastic bags, automotive parts, and everything in between up off the ground, the beautiful pink flowers growing in spots will have a better chance to grow further. A small, insignificant act that gave me some exercise and made a quick and noticeable change. I'll be back there tomorrow.
Primero, visité mi famillia en Alberta en mi primero dia de viaje: vente ocho de Agosto, perro tuve muchas problemas este noche en Jasper. Con muchas lluvias, y muy frio mi botas fueron no secas y frio y pense mi viaje fue un idea muy mal perro llegue en un pueblita con nombre Hinton, y yo estuve mas calor. Cuando yo llege a la casa de mi padres, fue vente gente de mi familia: primas y primos, un sabrino, tias y tios, mi hermana y por supuesto mama y papa. Yo estuve muy feliz y nos sotros tomamos y comemos y hablamos muchos. Ellos me quisieron desear buena suerte en mi viaje, un viaje muy largo, muy dificil, y muy extraño. Fue algo preguntas perro mas hablamente.
Segundo, participe en la Festival de Burning Man. Fue un reunion mas differente, con cinquenta mille personas sin dineros, y solamente generosidad entre gentes. Entonces, olvide mi passaporte entre Reno, Nevada y Thousand Oaks, California fue necessario vivir con mi prima Paula para dos semanas esperar para mi passaporte temporada. Fue tranquillo y Paula, Mike (el esposo de Paula) y yo vimos muchas peliculas Anime. Tuve miedo de la fronterra de Mexico por que en la tiempo fue muchas violencias con narcos perro fue muy facil.
Tuve esperar en Mexico para mi passaporte permanente, si yo me divertirse en la Baja California y escribi de muchas cosas, Sal de Exportadora en Guererro Negro specificamente. En Cuidad de Mexico yo maneje mi moto en el centro con muchas carras y mi confianza aumente mucho. Yo vivi con una estudiante viejo de Tamwood por nueve dias, escuila que yo enseñé en dos mille seiz.
It's someone else's problem: throw it out the window, or out the door, and someone else will take care of it. Right behind our hotel, Best Western San Jose, is a backyard full of garbage. People drive by it by the thousands every day, and yet it is still there. Missing out the 'don't litter' campaign of the '70's, people down here rate garbage somewhere between dog neutering and sidewalk repair. It's just not a priority. So, who cares? Well, first, in our area here, it has to effect the people staying in the hotel on the north side, who have to stare out at it everyday but what about the residents? What if that area could be turned into a beautiful grassy area for a couple goats to graze on? Instead of a garbage filled mess, someone could be feeding their animals...... perhaps a small dent, but someone could be benefitting.
Already one day after promised, I looked at the 2x3 card with the instructions on how to get to her place. "Hojancha to La Libertad Guanacaste 1 km de la escuelita 2 wooden gates Ray". 14 words were all I had to go on. Arriving safely in Hojancha, Guanacaste, I stop at a roadside restaurant, tempted by the ad for BBQ chicken. The waitress confirms that La Libertad does indeed exist, and is close. I confirm this with a fellow that spoke perfect English: it's about 3 miles away. He cleared up for me that La Libertad was just a store with a couple houses around it; like a village of sorts. As I suspected, I hit a dirt road going straight through the town, watching carefully for the school, or escuilita, Dee referred to, assuming the 2 wooden gates, and the entrance to the farm, would be just another 2 km away. Driving around a bend about 3 km later than desired, I flag down a couple bikers going the opposite direction; the first guy waves back and keeps going, the 2nd doesn't even acknowledge my attempt. The first guy ends up turning around and stops to help me.
I explain what I'm looking for, and he motions back the way I came. I turn around, thinking I was on my own, ignoring him turn left about a 100 m back on the road, and, thinking twice, turn back again to follow him. By this time, he had noticed I wasn't following him, and returned to fetch me. Turns out he was going to show me the way. Meanwhile another fellow was following me and almost hit me as I stop suddenly to talk to him. Now I've got two guys helping me, and I explain again the limited directions I had. The first guy is now sure he knows where I'm going, and I follow. Down the road and to the left, another km and we are stopped at some gates, which were not wooden, but he was sure it was the place. He explained to me who he was and his job, but I wasn't exactly sure but I think he was an insurance salesman, and was explaining himself to me in hopes I would put in a plug with the finca owners I was about to meet.
I hastily bid farewell and headed up the road, which degraded quickly into a washed out area quite difficult to maneuver; one false move on the bike and I'd be in the ditch, or at least the deep gullies saved only by the high spots. A house comes up on the right, and a local is sitting on the front porch. I tell them I'm friends with Dee Ray and he shakes his head in acknowledgement and lets me through another gate. I'm now faced with a steep hill at about a 45 degree pitch, the steepest I had ever tried on my cruiser. Slowly, and surely I climb, up and around a long bend, only to be met with another gate, but this time, heavy but with a single pneumatic wheel to assist. There's a large bolt I figure needs to be removed before I can attempt to move the gate. Down another road, and i come upon a large spread, with a couple houses, both magnificent in their own right, and a covered area with two Range Rovers.
The house is dark, and I stop to have a look around on the verandah to catch my breath and wonder how the hell I was going to get back down that hill. I wasn't ready to give up quite yet, so I rapped loudly on the two wooden entrance doors, and waited for an answer. Nothing. I try again. Still nothing. I take out my camera in hopes of at least getting some photos of the place I had so valiantly achieved in finding when a tall, bald fellow opens the door with a quizzical look. I explain to him I was a journalist and had met Dee at the Best Western, and he starts to soften. "What was your first name again?" I ask him sheepishly. "Ray", he replies with a why-don't-you-know-that look, and I defend, saying "Oh, geez I'm sorry I thought Ray was your last name." Note to self: ease up on the rum and coke when you're writing down crucial information about people, or at least write down more details. I decline his offer to come in for a drink, and he decides to fetch Dee, who is down with the horses. I tell him I'll wait and have a much needed cigarette.
I quickly surmise Ray is not one for idle chit chat, as he quickly jumps on his Yamaha ATV, burns out of the yard, and returns before I finish my cigarette, with Dee and her black rubber boots sitting behind him. Now recovered from the shock of seeing me, Dee tells me she left a message on my hotel phone saying "if you really intend on coming you should really get better directions." Turns out it was that same message that Eddy had tried to retrieve 3 days earlier; I thought it was an error and foolishly ignored his pleas for help with the phone technology.
"Would you like to join Ray on a tour of the fina?" Dee asked. "Would I? That would be great!" I reply enthusiastically. She looks at my black cowboy boots and says "It can be a bit treacherous walking, would you like some other shoes?" she asks. "I'll be fine," I say, wondering if my independence was ill-advised. It turned out to be the least of my worries, as holding onto the back of the trike as Ray flew up and down the rocky roads became a test of arm strength. I felt awkward grabbing onto the waist of a grown man I had only known for 5 minutes, and chose instead to tenuously hold onto the back rails. We stop on the top of the bluff, and Ray tells me a bit about his cattle, and teak operation. Here's a clip of him:
Ray caught on to the natural filtration system for the abundant water on his farm, and tapped into it. Through a series of pipes and tanks, he is able to not only store water for the farm's use, but for him and Dee and their five workers. The only maintenance required is a twice-a-year cleanout of the tanks; eschewing the modern-day addiction to chlorine and water treatment, the Davey's haven't had a problem in 5 years. Storing the water in the rainy season, they are able to have drinking water year-round without any form of outside water supply.
This doesn't take anything away from the forest of teak he has planted, which has a miraculous ability to regenerate, and grow quickly. Originally he would arrange to ship the teak himself, but after too many headaches, chose to sell them FOB his door. After only 6 months, these trees can grow over 10 feet after being cut to the ground. There are other uses for trees in the local area. You can see 'live fences' of trees, strewn with wire, that were once branches pruned from their mothers, growing tall and strong after a 48 hour 'dry-out' period, and a simple push into the soil.
Their cattlemen use horses to check on the cows 3 times a week, and move them from pasture to pasture to avoid over-grazing. Each of their workers, including a maid, are able to buy into the herd with the money they earn from their work. As Ray mentioned, their money can double or triple in just a year and a half. They've taken to buying quarters, and halves of cows separately, as a cow fully owned that is bitten by a snake could represent a 100% loss in investment should it die. It has also forced the workers to care much more about the health, and safety of the cows, due to their vested interest. With an unemployment rate around 50%, these 5 seem gracious for the opportunities given to them. As Ray and Dee don't care as much about making heaps of money, they have room in their lives to make heaps of difference for others.
We sat down for a nice pasta dinner, and talked about their experience of Zimbabwe from '93 to '00, and got out just before Mugabe went crazy. They wanted a place that was hot, and their sights led them to Costa Rica. There are many problems in this country, but the Davey's are doing their part to make it just a bit better.
Richard and Lisa generously paid the hotel $85 US just for me to come down to their room, have a few drinks, and use the pool. I had never been to a swim-up bar before, and they had rented a private cabana for the week as well. I've always known Lisa as someone who says exactly what she thinks, and whether I liked it or not, her first comment to me was that my goatee looked like there could be an animal hiding inside of it. At least you always know where you stand with her, and it is the same with her mother, whom I accompanied to Africa for 3 weeks in '06. They've become dear friends, and can usually take it as much as they give it. I do appreciate this and my skin can grow thicker, knowing there's still lots of love there.
After a few short hours, it was time to say goodbye in hopes of reaching my next spot. Nursing a nasty cold, my thoughts, for a rare change, moved towards staying the night in Santa Cruz, only an hour away from Brasilito. Even though my tenacity would normally force me to ride until I reached my destination, my body's needs, for a change, won out over my mind's. I was feeling woozy and could barely breath from the congestion in my lungs and sinuses.
Laying prostrate on that $26/nite hotel bed, I gained some comfort from watching some English TV channels and slept well.
The next morning started with some much needed exercise to clear my head and achey muscles. With ipod in ears and a determined gait I pranced up and down the dirt roads of Santa Cruz, sweating out my pain. The exertion was just too much, and rather than get on the road, I elected to lay down again, and watch some TV. Madagascar: Back 2 Africa was on in English with Spanish subtitles and I laughed - I really thought it was truly brilliant. It was a bit contrived and I wondered aloud how calculated these animated movies have become, with A-list voices, snappy, witty lines, and a seemingly deep moral plot. It seemed to me the generation of animators/directors who grew up without fathers had something to do with it. Either way, they know what makes money now, and are cashing in facetiously.
By the time 1 pm came around, I thought I had better get on the road and prepared while watching a second movie featuring Tim Robbins as a guy who can't stand noise. If he comes upon a car with an alarm going off, he would simply break the window and turn it off. Car horns, sirens, heavy machinery: he made it his personal mission to rid New York City of noise, and paid the price for his predilection by repeated appearances in front of the judge. It looked like he was ready to lose his family and career by the time I had to shut it off.
I related to this man who simply refused to accept the way things are. As of writing this, I can see the error in my ways. I was literally exhausted today from how hard I had pushed myself over the last two days just to do what I said I would do. That being said, NO REGRETS!
With every reason to be selfish, it is now socially acceptable to think only of yourself. As we move farther and farther away from each other mentally, physically and emotionally through tv, computers, and work one can do whatever wants for oneself, as long as they are able to make enough money to support themselves. It is no longer necessary to consider the good of the group inherently. Certainly most of us connect regularly with our friends, family, coworkers but I argue that if one person is going into a school and blasting 20 people dead with a semi-automatic, that one person is just as important a reflection on the overall health of society as a whole whether it happens in Burma, or Stettler.
This will be our greatest test - will we ignore our pre-programmed biology and need to connect with others, or will we collectively come together, molting our hardened, technologically advanced skins to reconnect to our humanity? Specifically social efforts on women's rights, drug trafficking, violent crimes, human rights and abuses will continue to flounder against the collective consciousness, and global economy of desire.
The same desire for casinos, cocaine, and cash were satiated by the thrill of collectively hunting a large buffalo, or protecting the tribe from a tiger in primitive times. The ability to work together to take down a large animal required complex forms of communication, not the least of which was language, thought to start about 250,000 years ago. Stories would be told for generations of how the tribe sustained an attack from a rival group, or how a child miraculously survived a swim in a croc-infested river. People relied on each other for all of their needs, whether it be physical, or emotional. This I know, because i am connected to my ancestors in a way I cannot explain. Fortunately science backs my claims, and will continue to.
My friend mused on fb today about making a mouse-flavoured cat food. Funny and cute and a good idea, except for mouse-flavoured cat food would be a mouse itself, no? We will continue to move farther and farther away from knowing where our own food comes from (I have seen a few cows killed and slaughtered, and eat that same animal later) especially as the global move away from farms continues.
So, what do we do? We must all become experts in being human - from our ancient history to our future. We must learn to deal with rich & poor, or scrap the whole system and revolutionize society. As long as there is a difference between us whether it be our bank accounts, or our possessions, or our mental state, the people who don't have it, will want it, and will do anything to get it; the people who have it will invariably want more. This desire will continue to fuel the sex trade, the drug trade, and all the violent crimes outside and in between. We will all need to display an inordinate amount of tolerance, understanding and acceptance of ourselves and others. As long as religion teaches people more about living well in today's world, and less of trying to interpret a book written thousands of years ago, it will have a place, and purpose.
Build up your armies, fall victim to the same human programs of jealousy, aggression, allow oneself to enjoy every temptation, and every desire. I'm ok with that. It's going to happen. Hell, I do it from time to time myself and my guilt is getting smaller and more redundant. But, I still have, and always will have, a desire, and love for everyone, and to make the world a different place. Do I have to be the Prime Minister of Canada to make a difference? No, I don't and I already have in my own life but it has taken a lot of pain and eye-opening to things I did not want to see, or experience. I had to believe in the power of love, of family, of friends of myself to come out the other side with a much better understanding, and acceptance of humanity. What makes my thoughts different is that my eyes are wide-open now.
Let's stop building armies, skyscrapers, mansions, dams, and churches and start building us.
Although Chinchilla is not the first female leader of state in Latin America, she is the first in Costa Rica, a country with some very unique characteristics. Without an army since 1948, 16% below the poverty line, 25% of land mass protected as national parks or preserves, and an economy that relies heavily on tourism, a great deal of socio-political juggling is necessary. It is tempting to explore gender in a leadership role, but regardless one thing is certain: Laura Chinchilla will need to be a master of negotiation, as Nicaragua contests the definition of their border with Costa Rica.
He endured a 'fatwa', or an Islamic hit on his head since the publication of his book, Satanic Verses, in 1988 without so much as an assassination attempt. Several people were murdered around the world simply for translating his book into their own language. How could these people mastermind crashing two jets into The World Trade Centre, and not be able to follow through on a 'fatwa'? Was it a case of Bin Laden being a better tactician?
Pulling myself back before I get too far, and to the point of my writing. Having an entire religion so enraged with you, and with what you indirectly referred to in a book you wrote, and being able to seduce some of the most beautiful, powerful, successful, and rich women in the world - is there a connection? One must either cultivate, or possess an extraordinary tenacity, and will, to communicate their message in the face of certain death. For an intellect, the fear of failing to communicate must far outweigh the fear of death. For me, I am just now learning to disconnect my fear of disapproval, or fear of not being liked for what I say, or do. I feel the need for perfectionism slowly melting away.
Some would rate public speaking higher than death on a scale of fear-inducing topics. I am a child in the sense of speaking my mind, and they are merely postulations on a world I may never fully understand.
As the jade-green waters curl up and over the toppled surfers, it pulls up a thin layer of tan-coloured sand with it, effectively scrubbing away the small amount of negative publicity Nicaragua has garnered in the last 25 years. Ten dollar lobster grilled to perfection is just one example of how far the tourist dollar can go, and another tempting reason to proclaim the country's coast line the best in the world. Ancient volcanoes filled with azure-blue water, Carribean seas a warm bath-tub temperature with colourful marine life, colonial towns retaining an old-world charm: Nicaragua can offer a lifetime of adventure and relaxation.
It will certainly take much more to wash the memories of the Nicaraguan people clean, as years of corrupt government, brutal warfare, and a devastating earthquake would be enough to put a permanent cloud over the future of the country. A strong, and proud Nica heritage has created an attitude of acceptance, and making the best with what one has. Perhaps the future of Nicaragua will shine brighter as the outside world continues to take note of it's natural wonders, and beautiful, resilient people.
My friend Joanne just passed away from cancer, quickly slipping away in days. I'm sure she was thinking she wished she worried more when she was alive.
That was until the security guard comes over with a large gun. He motions for me to get up and out of the garden, and I ask him where I can sleep. He points to the concrete beside my bike, and I instantly lay down. He stands there and stares at me, and I just put my head on my computer bag and act like I'm sleeping, and ignored the invasion of my personal space. Finally he walked away. It ended up being the coldest and moistest night of my life, forcing me to pull out a blanket.
I did sleep some, and dreamt of meeting my old friends Travis and Dave in Mexico. "Funny how we have to come to Mexico to see each other." Probably a result of having Chris's offer of help on Facebook earlier that day, Travis's brother. The morning came soon, with a truck of horn players blasting out a wake up call, and an awakening town. The chill took some time to take it's leave, as the sun slowly crept above the mountain. The painful night dissipated as the schoolchildren came by and smiled at the bike, and the farmers brought their oxen through with loads of firewood. A woman carried a gargantuan bundle of neatly cut, long and straight wicker on her head, and another man wobbily takes it from her and carries it up to the top of the bus. Everyone has to work.
The security guard ended up being a friendly sort after he took his black hoody off. I was vulnerable that morning and only cared for the sun to come up. He asked me for the catholic charm hung on my handle bar sparkling in the morning sun and in a off moment, I gave it to him to shut him up.
I had to get back into town to pickup cash. A nice fellow starts talking to me in english as I go into the atm, and he tells me he was a geology teacher, but had to quit after 6 surgeries on his neck. He was a paratrooper and trained in the US for the Somoza government, a regime that caused years of discontent for the people. He said he was going to Cuba where the medical system was better. They were lined up at the bank that morning, and chatting up a storm.
When I returned to the gas station I explained to the guard it was a good luck charm that I had given him, and a friend had given it to me. With an exchange of $5, I had it and my good luck back. The morning ride was luxurious, and a welcome stop at a diner for breakfast. Two wonderful experiences: one, a young man showing his skill with a top (such a simple pleasure)
and two, another young man with a broken dolly wheel. I asked him how much it would cost for a new one, and he said about $20 but he was saving up until January. I asked him to promise to send me a picture of the new one after I gave him the $400 cordoba to speed up the process. He happily pulled that thing clunk clunk clunk down the road. Business without borders: helping people and small business with an influx of cash to get them going more efficiently and with an aim to grow and build over the years. Like that new wheel, they may be more able to compete locally, and ultimately globally.
I made the mistake of panicking with the thought of spending the night at the border, unable to go forward, or go back. I put out a facebook plea for help, and sent an email to Eddy and my mom with the cryptic phrase "are you there i need help". Lisa got on the phone to both my insurance company, and ICBC, but neither of them said they were able to send the document I needed. The next step was then to get on the phones myself; the whole time the Salvadorean guy is sitting there waiting for me. He escorted me over to a store with 4 phone stalls and a digital meter on the wall. The lady there was helpful although the first call we made got picked up by a guy in Calgary, as they have the same number as ICBC in Victoria, and the phone system missed the mark.
2nd attempt, I use a 604 number and get ICBC. That was useless.
Finally, I got a hold of Paul and Ina at Cassels Insurance. Ina picks up the phone; a straight shooter and no messing around. "Ina, it's Jason. I'm at the Honduras border and I'm in a situation. I need someone to clearly explain to me about the Owner's Certificate of License and Registration." Feeling better now as I'm talking to someone who knows what they're talking about. "We're not able to insure a vehicle in Honduras." she said matter of factly. "I know that Ina, but how can I get a document that shows a date that's not expired?" I ask with frustration in my voice. "They won't let me into the country without it!" "Just a minute, here's Paul." "Paul here." I repeat the situation to Paul, and he simply suggests to rip the top off the paper, as the registration is only on the bottom. "Ok, that makes perfect sense." I replied with a renewed sense of purpose.
So, they ended up giving me a 7 hour permit for $150. There was another $28 in fees, which normal people would pay only, but i'm special. Either way, i didn't have it, so we jumped in a cab and paid another $25 for that, and by the time 9 pm came around, I had to give $20 to the guy to pay the police officer on the side, then him and each of his helpers, so it was probably $250 just to get through the country, which i did expeditiously with a foul taste in my mouth. I will never forget having to go back into the border office and see the face of the administrator, with seeming disdain at my situation, and frustration with me. He lets me use his computer as I assure him my documents are real. "No se puede", he says. I can't do that.
We go into the administration office, where two young girls are working, one on a computer, and one with a typewriter from the 50's. We get things going anyways. Something clicks for me. I've been mistrustful, stressed and worried the whole afternoon - why not just enjoy it? So, I put my arm around the guy I hated all day, and trusted it would all work out. While we were back at the bank, my helper's brother had taken care of everything
The Nicaraguan border came about 3 hours later, was considerably easier and quicker, and i was out in an hour or so, after paying a tip to the border guard guy, and then yet another 'helper' who asked for $5 which i didn't have. I promised to come back the next morning to pay him, and i did, but it turned out it had actually changed to $10 somehow. I offered to pay in Cordobas, Nicaraguan currency, and his rate now changed to 30-1 instead of 21-1. I just paid him and decided to smile. I was on my way.
One of the truckers, a short, portly fellow with long fingernails, a jet black pony tail and moustache was laughing all the time. He looked at me and said Puto. I was already in a foul mood and on edge, and said "Puto?". He replied "Mucho", and felt his chin, perhaps a reference to my white beard. Pretty sure he said 'Puto', which is not a nice word. After about 45 minutes of waiting, the security guard motioned me over to the side door, and a young lady took my papers, circumventing the whole trucker lot. The process also involved numerous back and forths to the photocopier, and carefully handling the remants of my vehicle registration, the result of a couple months of moisture and mishandling.
The most important things to have in order to make the process quick are: $20 in local currency, $20 in the next country's currency, photocopies of a driver's license, registration, importation document, and passport. The experience is long enough in the hot heat, so this helps in speeding it up.
The ride was smooth for some time, with beautiful cliffs, ocean sunset, and lots of tunnels. As I entered La Libertad, my spirits were high, and in relative comfort. That was until I came upon a construction site, with red pylons strewn across the dirt road, attached to each other with yellow caution tape. People were walking all around, and one man was standing there. "Que pasa?" I asked. "Problema?" He shook his head "non", and pulled a pylon to the side for me to get through.
The road was rough, and steep. A construction crew with bright lights were operating here working on the bridge. Some whistles and cat calls from some guys, but I ignored it and went left along the dry river. I ended up in the middle of town, and had to find a couple people to direct me back to the road to Honduras. Three kids were running with me, and I yelled "Vamenos!" to spurn them on, and find the secret road. I find myself back at that same bridge again, with a couple flights of stairs up to a pedestrian bridge. Now there's 6 or 7 people, 3 kids, and a couple construction workers coming over to me.
I ask in Spanish how to get over to the highway. They reply "right here" in English and point to the stairs. "You guys are crazy! Are you sure". "Yes. Yes!" " "¿Cuánto cuesta?" The one who seems to be the leader thinks for awhile. "Cinqo dollares" "Ok, let's do it." 6 of us hauled that bike up the stairs, as the locals patiently waited to get through. The bridge was solid and not the least bit shaky, unless I never noticed. It was uplifting and exciting, and such a relief the journey continued.
It was time to stop for the night in Usulutan, El Salvador but there was no money left for the $18 hotel room. Ran back into town and found a Scotia Bank. Very relieved, and a little taste of home.
The next morning, Mario, the hotel manager and I had a conversation about cultural differences between Canada and El Salvador. He was quite surprised I had no children or wife, saying that by at least 24 or 25, men have at least a couple kids. The average woman starts at 16, or 18.
I had the wonderful opportunity to meet a family of 5 kids and mom in Eastern Guatemala. They were all so relaxed, friendly, and laid back. I don't think any of them really cared what kind of car they drove, or how big their house was, or what XBOX game they want to play. It was a rare opportunity to see children authentically excited to get something that would give them hours of fun play time. A vendor just happened to walk by with a basketball, so for $7.50 I hoped I made a positive difference. They were so pumped, excited, happy just to have one thing.
Many of us revel in the story of Indiana Jones, arguably the most famous archaeologist of all time, real or imagined. The story of his numerous escapes from evil Nazis, overzealous Indians, and ferocious Natives, risking life and limb to save antiquities from foreign, exotic lands made him a hero for some. In Antigua, Guatemala, a hotspot for tourists game for cheap food, drinks, and sightseeing, a real life hero exists in the Archaeology world: Mary Lou Ridinger.
Perhaps without the blood pressure-raising , death defying acts of ‘Indy’, but with much more staying power, Mary Lou and her husband Jay single-handedly preserved an art form, brought home-grown industry to Guatemala, and created national pride, all in a sustainable fashion. All this from over 37 years of hard work to prove that jade, one of the most expensive gems in the world, was not only sought after in China, but Guatemala as well.
Jade does not often cross the minds of North Americans, except for maybe those of Chinese decent. It has not captured the imaginations the way diamonds, sapphires, emeralds, and rubies have, nor have the media or businesses caught on. To the ancient race of the Maya, piles of gold and silver would have easily been traded for one piece of fine jade. Although the gem has been found in a rainbow of colors from white, pink, yellow and black, green was the most prized, as it resembled the vibrant Caribbean waters that brought sustenance to their lands, and fertility in healthy crops. Harder and heavier than most other materials, jade symbolized eternity; a piece carved by the Maya was meant to not only last a lifetime, but through thousands of generations. Bringing luck to the person simply by possession, natural oils from their hands would bring out the gem’s brilliance over time. With the disappearance of the Great Mayan Civilization came hundreds of years of ignorance, and a shadow cast over Mesoamerica’s ‘lost’ jade. When Jay and Mary Lou Ridinger, two archaeologists from the U.S., set out to discover it again, they seemed to be the only ones who truly believed it existed.
A study in 1952 found evidence of jadeite jade near the Montagua River in Guatemala, but it did little to spurn anyone’s imagination, except for two people: The Ridingers. Their dream in 1973 was to find the source of the Mayan jade, and solve the mystery of how it was spread throughout Mexico, and Central America. Surprisingly, the more difficult task arose not in actually finding the jade, but in convincing the world of its value. The Guatemalan government’s official stance at the time was that there was absolutely no jade source in Guatemala. They steadfastly refused to believe the Ridinger’s case, and provided business licenses out of pity and scorn. Five centuries of outside influence from a host of other nations, dealing in everything from covert operations, to governmental manipulation, to outright pillaging, had eventually convinced the Guatemalan people that nothing of real value came from within their own borders.
After four years operating their fledgling business, Jades, S.A., Mary Lou pleaded with Jay to stop. Tired of being the object of ridicule and laughter, it was seemingly pointless to continue. Jay replied stoically “Never”. Another 9 years of countless meetings, public appearances and talking to anyone who would listen, Jay and Mary Lou’s efforts were to no avail. When the National Geographic article on jade broke out in 1987, their fortunes took an immediate and irreversible leap. Redemption came in the form of a well-respected magazine with readership around the globe, and brought much needed attention to Guatemala, and the history of the Mayan people. With renewed efforts, the Ridinger team set out to find the ‘Kings Quarry’, the storied birthplace of Mesoamerica’s jade. Pounding on countless rocks along the Montagua River for 10 months, Mary Lou and her team not only found irrefutable evidence of historical jade production, but a quarry of their own.
It is one of the most difficult and rarest gems to find. Several others resemble it closely, but it is only the friction of tectonic plates combining high pressure, and low temperatures that create this gem. Matching the quarry’s unique jade to another northern site, they proved the Maya distributed their bounty throughout the region by river. It was a huge celebration for Jades, S.A., and Guatemala had a stronger foothold in the World’s small group of jade-producing countries.
In 1999, Christie’s Auction House sold an antique Imperial Jade bangle for $2.65 million. Although Guatemalan jade might not fetch such a price today, it may not be far off in the future. An uncut stone containing Jade is a gamble; one rock may have $100,000 worth of jade, and another $1,000. Painstaking work is involved to extract it, using diamond-studded drill bits, hammers and wedges to separate rocks into manageable pieces. Additionally, Guatemalan jade has only received media attention in the last 20 years, whereas in China it has been revered continually for centuries. It was certainly valued above all else by the Maya, and several civilizations before them who, using only rudimentary tools, may have taken weeks or months to create a single beaded necklace.
What makes Jades S.A.’s operation today even more special is how they mine it. As the process involves only surface mining, no trees are cut, no holes are dug, and roads are unnecessary. The farmer’s fields, virtually untouched, continue to operate as usual, and the farmers themselves assist in the process, keeping poachers at bay. Their children are fed well, and receive an education due mostly to the profits of Jades S.A. Only 2 companies in Guatemala have valid licenses from the Government, so most jade that is bought off the street is either illegal, or fake. For many years, newly elected Guatemalan Presidents have come to Jades S.A. to buy death masks as gifts for visiting dignitaries. Bill Clinton also passed through in 1999 and bought a necklace for his daughter Chelsea.
One would think that someone who was able to bring back an ancient industry after hundreds of years, instill national pride, and give back to the people, would be content to rest on their laurels. Add to the mix that this person comes from a completely different country. Not Mary Lou Ridinger. Her husband’s vision continues, after his death a year and a half ago, with her creation of the Maya Conservancy (www.themayaconservancy.org). It is a non-profit organization with a mission to save the rich Mayan Cultural History, and continue educating people on these industrious and intelligent people. The cradle of Mayan civilization and the birthplace of the Mayan Calendar were set to be dissected by a new highway funded by a foreign company, potentially destroying thousands of years of history. Mary Lou went to work, speaking out to everyone from universities to rotary clubs, and the tide was eventually turned in her favour, and the highway was re-routed.
There is no sign of this exciting, and illustrious industry dying again soon, as three generations are now fully employed and involved in Jades S.A.’s operations. Through Mary Lou’s tenacity, her children and grandchildren are set to continue well into the future. One may have heard the Mayans say during the Conquest that “the Spanish can take all the gold and silver they want, but at least they don’t know about the jade”. With a sustainable, healthy and responsible business preserving the past, and continuing into the future, Mary Lou isn’t afraid to tell the whole world.
Ups and downs, but happy to be in Antigua Guatemala. The border crossing at Tapachula involved photocopies, aggressive mexicans trying to help for cash, stamps, pesticide wash, going back and forth, vehicle registration, pay Mexico for leaving, pay Guatemala for coming. Guatemala is different, and I am enjoying the misty green mountainous area. It's nice to hear french and english and german maybe i can speak a bit more......;-) Spanish is progressing, and i've got this far. It's been a journey, and self-acceptance as well as patience, and learning about taking care of myself have been on the agenda because i have to. It would be a shame to go home because i'm sick. i ate one chocolate confectionary yesterday and my stomach ached for most of the day and night. woke up in so much pain there and in my hips i had to do something drastic - lakota. do not use this with extra heat like i did. the black leathers in the 100 degree heat just baked me but i'm feeling better than ever! It coulda been the Taco Bell.......... ahhhhh!
The streets are alive with Celebrations of The Day of the Dead.