To the Ends of the Earth.

I've alluded to the difficulty I experienced in Central America. First by riding from Cincinnati, Ohio to San Jose, Costa Rica solo with only 11 days of travel. Second, by reaching San Jose only to have my motorcycle "asplode" and need to have the entire engine rebuilt in a random Costa Rican's garage who didn't speak English. I could write a book about those two experiences alone, but I won't subject you all to that...

If Cincinnati to Costa Rica was a trial, then my time in Panama has been a reward. I hadn't planned on spending any time in Panama, but have been gifted over a week of glorious roads, rain-forest covered mountains, and unspoiled beaches. Here's a brief glimpse to catch you up on all that's happened since I left San Jose with a newly rebuilt motorcycle.

Upon leaving San Jose, I spent my first night in Panama in the town of Volcan. I use the term "town" loosely, as there's not much there to speak of except for beautiful rain forest and a few stores. I litereally drove through down "town" 5 times looking for it. This isn't a complaint mind you, as the roads were beautiful... Rather than wasting a lot of words, I'll save us a few thousand and just throw in some pics to get the idea across.

The next day took me to Boquete, Panama, where I was headed primarily for the purpose of meeting with a hostel owner to try and line up a boat that could provide passage for both me and my bike to Colombia.

I ended up spending 3 nights in Boquete, which was a beautiful town. Cheap food- (you could eat well for around $4 at the local cafeteria) beautiful roads, and good company. The fellow travelers there were great people, and I made fast friends with people from all over the place. In my dorm room alone there were people from the UK, Colombia, Switzerland and the US. And there were only 4 beds in the room...

Without going into too much detail, the days were spent relaxing, riding, eating, and researching boat schedules and customs information. Somewhere in between all of the above I even managed to take a tour of a small coffee farm- the owner of which built all of his machinery by hand-with parts scalped from his old Volkswagen.

But the most important part of my trip to Boquete was what happened just as I was packing up to leave. A little back story for those of you who I haven't kept up with over the last few weeks:

About 3 weeks into the trip, my motorcycle had major, major, engine failure. After leaving San Jose, the beautiful example of European engineering started to sound like you'd jammed a metal fork in the garbage disposal... As it turns out it needed a complete engine rebuild- a job that a random Costa Rican mechanic and I completed in his parent's driveway... Long story short, by the end of the process, I was about 3 weeks behind schedule. Based on the information I had, and the people I had talked with, this put my goal of reaching the southern tip of Argentina out of reach. Instead I planned on cutting into Brazil and just avoiding Patagonia all together. The reason being is that it would be just too cold and too dangerous to try and pass Patagonia that close to the winter freeze... (Ushuaia is only 700 kilometers north of Antarctica, so when I say cold, I mean cold.)

Back to the story: As I strapped and secured my last piece of luggage I was greeted by a man who introduced himself as Henning. Henning was a German guy- who also rides motorcycles- and reminded me a little of an older, Austrian, Robert Redford. In true motorcyclist fashion, we shared stories about where we were headed and where we'd been, and he mentioned that he had made the trip to Ushuaia- (the southernmost city in the world and my ultimate goal) only two years prior. Jumping at the opportunity to have firsthand experience of the route, I asked him if I could buy him a cup of coffee and get his thoughts on my potential route down towards Brazil. He readily agreed, but insisted that first I must follow him on a motorcycle tour of some of the beautiful roads surrounding Boquete. (some pictures of our tour)

As stunning as the views were, by far the best part of the tour- and one of the best parts of the trip so far- happened while we sat down for delicious Panamanian coffee. I explained to him my situation and disappointment in having to cut my trip short for fear of the weather. As we discussed, looked over calendars, and plotted potential routes, he was of the opinion that with a little luck, it would be possible to make it to Ushuaia before things completely freeze up for the winter. These were literally the first encouraing words I'd heard about my destination since leaving Mexico. Since leaving the US I've had countless people (most recently the border crossing guard into Panama) tell me that I'm crazy for attempting a trip like this. Most people don't even have a framework for a trip of this scope- so they write it off as impossible. But what I've come to realize is that I was putting way too much stock in the opinions of people who know nothing about me, and next to nothing about what I'm hoping to do.

It's amazing what one person's encouragement can do to lift your spirits and to refocus you on your goal and purpose. As I pulled out of the little coffee shop in the foothills of Volcan Baru, I was literally yelling in my helmet because I was so excited. The lesson for me in all of this is as follows:

"Never let someone decide for you what you are, or are not able to accomplish. Wise council and nay-saying may sound similar at first, but they come from completely different kinds of people. One flows from genuine concern and firsthand experience of the risks involved, while the other flows from the exact opposite- a simple and uncontrollable fear of the unknown."

So, Longer story even shorter- End of the world, Here I come!

On the road again.

As I sit in a cafe, drinking my second cup of absurdly strong Panamanian coffee on an island in the Carribbean, the words of Willie Nelson feel out of place yet oddly appropriate:

"And I can't wait to get on the road again.
On the road again.

Goin' places that I've never been.
Seein' things that I may never see again,

And I can't wait to get on the road again."

I've been on the road for four days after nearly four weeks of delay trying to reassemble an asploded engine- ("asploded" is a technical term meaning way, way, way, awful.) The last four days have been beautiful and hard, exhausting and invigorating.

After an early start, I finally left San Jose for the border of Panama. The road moved quickly out of the city, climbing sharply into the Sierra Madre range and the clouds that formed a nearly constant veil of fog and rain. The road was full of twists and turns as the road weaved its' way through the mountains, but the roads were smooth and in good repair- a welcome and unexpected treat in Central America.

After about 3 hours of riding, I decided to stop for a late breakfast. The father of my new friend and mechanic Edgar had advised me about some cheap and good food at Los Chesperitos- a small cafeteria up in the mountains. I arrived at the place to see a gang of bikers had already descended on the tiny restaurant. They were understandably curious about my odd looking bike (and the odd looking gringo riding it, no doubt!) and I had a great time talking with them. They even invited me to take a picture with them- I've never been part of a biker gang before, but a Costa Rican one seems like a good place to start and I filed in behind them as we continued down the road.

After a healthy breakfast- consisting of beans, rice, chicken, and coffee- all for about 3 dollars, I set on my way. The road continued to deliver beautiful views at every turn, and other than the fog, the only thing that slowed me down was my own insatiable need to take pictures at every opportunity.

After a few hours of continued climbing into the mountains, the fog became increasingly thick. In some places it was so thick it was impossible to see more than 25 yards ahead.

While this slowed my pace considerably, I kept moving ahead- at least for a little while... it wasn't long before the rain started- and I'm hesitant to use the word "rain" because it falls so far short of what I really experienced. Oh, and FYI- you're third grade science teacher meant what she said about the whole "rain-forest" thing. They seriously weren't kidding about that stuff. I pulled off on the side of the road to wait out the worst of it, but was still soaked (through my supposedly waterproof gear) within minutes. (the oompa-loompa blue is a result of my black gloves being so wet the dye started to run...)

After literally wringing the water out of my gloves and a quick bite to eat, I got moving again.I veered off the main road of the Pan American Highway in favor of back roads to the border of Panama. The hope was that this smaller secondary road took that traced the ridge line would lead me to a smaller, faster, and safer border crossing... But- because of the fact that it was Sunday and that Panama is an hour ahead, the border was closed by the time I arrived. So, running out of daylight- I made the decision to break my own rule about not riding at night in Central America...

The mad dash for main border crossing involved backtracking, getting lost, an incredibly steep descent of switchbacks down a mountainside, and more than a few swear words. But just as it was dark when I finally reached the "Frontera."

Borders can be a bit threatening. Even before coming to a stop you are literally swarmed with people offering their "services" to change money, sell you forms and documents, or claiming to know how to make the process quicker or cheaper. If there's one thing i want to make clear, it's that borders are not happy places. They tend to be as filthy as they are inefficient, and the bottle neck effect they have is a magnet for those who would like your money to become their money-whether through legitimate or illegitimate means. They shouldn't be feared, but should always be approached with a certain degree of caution.

After making it clear I wasn't going to pay anybody to do anything, and dispersing most of the crowd that had gathered, I began walking through the process alone. Upon successfully clearing my exit from Costa Rica, I headed to start the process for entry into Panama. Over my shoulder I hear a loud voice yelling, "Let's get ready to ruummmmbbbllleeee!" Now, this gave me reason to pause, as this was the first English I'd heard in a while- let alone english in the form of a pop-culture reference. As I turned to see where the voice was coming from I saw a scraggly looking, skinny man with a big grin on his face- Looking right at me.

The man introduced himself first as "Bin Laden," then as "Kenneth." Yup, Bin Laden. And yup, Kenneth. His dreaded hair and tanned complexion made the less normal of the two somehow seem more fitting. We began to talk and over the scent of cheap liquor on his breath he explained that his mother was english and his father was Panamanian. We talked about the US, and about Panama-and about professional wrestling. And after a few minutes he insisted on helping me find the spot to purchase the government required insurance- for free.

Reluctantly I agreed- parked my bike and gathered my things for safe keeping. Now keep in mind, this is not how I typically like to handle borders. I much more prefer to wander around aimlessly until I figure the third world bureaucracy out on my own- At least then I know I'm not doing anything anybody else is trying to get me to do. But in this case I followed my new scraggly friend to the first spot that supposedly sold insurance- an ice cream shop/internet cafe. They were closed. He escorted me down a series of long maze-like corridors to Location B which was also closed- a stall next to a guy selling cheap t-shirts and other useless trinkets. Location C: more of the same- and closed. By the time we were on our way to location D, I was pretty completely disoriented and pretty concerned.

I was trailing behind him by about 20 paces, lost, but looking for a way out. I was concerned I was being led through the maze of passages to some out of the way spot to be robbed. As my eyes were searching for an exit my hand had found the knife I keep tucked away in my tankbag. Just as I was getting ready to cut and bail we came through a door way to this:

Coming out of the dark passageway that I thought would be my undoing to the kind, smiling, faces of some beautiful Panamanian women made me feel both relieved and a bit sheepish- but I was thankful for the legitimate looking insurance signs on the wall as well as for the kind-hearted jabs the women made at my poor Spanish.

Bin Laden and I made the necessary copies, and I paid the $15 for a months worth of insurance. There's more to the story- that involves a customs official trusting Kenneth to walk across the dark complex alone-with my passport!!! (Don't give your passport to ANYONE to keep, not even an official- this was a lesson I knew, but I got lucky on this one.)

After making it through the border, I was greeted by beautiful roads that were fast and smooth- (by far the best roads in all of Central America.) I wound my up to a small mountain town of Volcan, Panama. It's a beautiful place that sits in the shadow of the Baru Volcano. After a great conversation with a young man named Jorge, I was directed to a nice, cheap hotel where I caught up with some friends on Skype and got some much needed sleep. I'll write more later, but I'm trying my best to catch up on all that's happened in the last few days since I left San Jose with a newly rebuilt motorcycle. Thanks for your prayers, love, and emails... Someone go eat some Skyline for me!!!

Ancient Places and New Friends

Thinking back, I can't believe all that happened on the last day of February. After an early breakfast of croissants and fresh fruit (Yay for Continental Breakfasts) I checked out of my hotel. Today was going to be a full day- and even more full than I had planned. A bit frustrated by the dizzying pace I would have to take to have any hope of reaching Costa Rica in time to meet up with a friend, I decided I would take a few hours and check out some ancient ruins in the area.

I hit the road shortly after sun up- headed for the ancient Mesoamerican ruins at El Tajin. The state of Veracruz is beautiful, but the roads are not. Massive, man eating potholes turned the road into a nightmare, and in places the pavement simply stopped and gave way to the worst roads I'd seen in all my years of riding. After about an hour of not managing better than 10 kilometers an hour, I made it to the entrance to El Tajin. The entrance was essentially a market, full of street vendors and booths selling everything from dried chiles to handmade bracelets. I parked next to a stand selling t-shirts, locked up the bike and walked through the stone gate that marked the entrance to the ruins.

The slow pace and terrible roads had left me frustrated, wondering if the detour had been the extra time and energy. But as soon as I rounded the corner my doubts were put to rest. The ruins at El Tajin were one of the most incredible things I'd ever seen.

Nestled in the rolling hills towards the southern end of the Sierra Madres, El Tajin is one of the most important ancient sites in all of Central America. Bordered by rain forest and banana fields, only a small percentage of the sites 150 structures have been excavated and restored. But the structures that are there are massive and beautiful. I felt like I'd walked onto the set of an Indiana Jones movie. (But more temple of doomish, and less last crusade-esque.)
Since I clearly know next to nothing about the site, and have fallen to dated pop-culture references in place of actual information, I'll let the pictures speak for themselves. I will say it was an incredible experience to walk through a piece of history. It seems that experiencing distant places and pieces of the distant pass have the same humbling effect. It reminds me that in spite of what I think, feel, or claim- the world doesn't revolve me me...And it never has...
After my detour to El Tajin, I aimed to make up time. Speeding through Southern Mexico, my jaw dropped when the road took a sweeping turn to the East, before straightening again-right along the Gulf of Mexico. Palm trees and small beach towns blotted the landscape, but for a solid hour I had a nearly unobstructed view of the ocean. It was incredible. This was the first time the entire trip that I'd seen the ocean, and I was thrilled. After a few minutes of yelling in my helmet, I had the clarity of thought to take some pictures. Drink it in Cincinnati! But ruins and beaches were not the only thing I'd experience today. About two hours north of Veracruz, I passed two Harley Davidsons on the right side of the road... I assumed that they were having bike trouble (I would insert a Harley joke here, but my BMW is currently in pieces in a foreign country so....) Stopping to see if they needed help, I found that what I'd stumbled on was in fact a father teaching his son to ride a motorcycle. After five or so minutes of talking with Anrejo (and Anrejo jr.) they invited me to follow them to their home for dinner. Hungry and eager for some human interaction, I readily accepted.
Their home turned out to be about 30 minutes away, and the ride there was beautiful. Let's have a moment of honesty here-My Spanish is awful. I mean really atrocious. And while neither of the Anrejo's spoke English particularly well, it's amazing how much can be communicated across the language barrier.

After arriving at this family's beautiful home, they actually took me out to a restaurant a few minutes away from their home and treated me to a fantastic meal. At that point we were joined by Anrejo's wife and daughter. The wife (whose name escapes me at the moment) made up for her complete lack of English by vigilantly keeping ever micrometer of space on my plate filled with authentic Mexican food. The entire meal was served "family style" and every moment I ate a bite she was poised ready with more goodness to fill the space left by my last bite. I was spoiled in a way I haven't experienced since my own mother passed away a few years back. Even in the moment, thousands of miles away from home, with a family I had just met, this woman reminded me of my own mother in a way that was uncanny.

After dinner, I gathered my things to get back on the road heading south. I only had about an hour and a half left of sunlight, and the second detour of the day had put me well shy of Veracruz, my destination for the evening. Anrejo and the family's hospitality was incredible- and they nearly begged for me to stay the night at their home. And while I really wished that I could, felt like I needed to push on. In compromise, they would escort me the 30 minutes back to the coastal road where I had met them. I smiled, and nodded my acceptance.
This was the first time I'd had people to ride with since I left home.
And it was a beautiful ride- sweeping turns, smooth pavement (an unusual treat for Central America) and beautiful views. There was a comfort in my new found companionship. It felt familiar-almost like riding with my brother back home. (minus the military checkpoints!) As we reached the coast, we pulled off to say our final goodbyes. Hands were waved. hugs and spanglish were exchanged. But as I donned my helmet, Anrejo senior told me in broken English that I would always have a home in Mexico.
I don't know If ever I'll ever return to this small town in southern Mexico, but if I do I know what will be waiting: A beautiful family. Incredible hospitality. And an openness and acceptance that I hope to learn from. As I donned my helmet and prepared to let out the clutch, my host reached to shake my gloved hand one final time. And while I wouldn't have thought his broken English could carry the weight of what he was trying to communicate, his meaning came through loud and clear-hurdling over the supposed language barrier as easily and gracefully as a trained pole vaulter- "Mexico is your friend" he said. Knowing that he meant it with a sincerity that his words shouldn't have been able to carry, I grasped his hand tightly before clicking the bike into gear and rolling the throttle gently backwards. As I pulled away his words echoed in my mind and I knew that it was true. Mexico is my friend.

Leaving Monterrey

It's hard to believe I've been on the road for nearly a month now. Somehow it feels like it's been much longer, and much shorter at the same time. The last month has been all about developing a "new normal." Without going into too much detail, I'll give an example. As I write this, I'm stranded in Costa Rica with a very, very broken motorcycle, unsure if the bike's engine is going to be salvageable at all, and in desperate need of replacement parts that can't be found anywhere Central America. So here I sit. And wait.

But a big part of the "new normal" is learning that time, along with most things, are not under my control. I live in time's world, and must bend to it, never it to me. So even as the first few weeks demanded a speed and focus that I wasn't sure I was capable of, I now find myself with nothing but time. So here I sit, watching "Man on Fire" (probably a terrible thing to watch while traveling anywhere in Latin America) trying to capture my experiences and reflections from the first before I forget them forever. So here I go.

Leaving Monterrey was an incredibly sobering experience for me- It felt as if the full weight of what I was attempting settled in as I let out the clutch and eased on the gas. There's something that happens when honest fear and sincere excitement mix that's...indescribable. Seconds after waving goodbye to new friends, I rolled on the throttle and let out the clutch- unsure of where I was going or what the day would hold.

When you're in a situation like that- when you're so completely aware of the world around simply because it's all so new and uncomfortable, life is full of little adventures- tiny successes and failures that come your way. Even getting gas, or finding an ATM, or asking for directions (something I literally do about 20 times a day) feels foreign and challenging. It's an exhausting way to go through your day- but only because you're so aware of all of the unknowns that lay before you.

(Here's a video from my trusty helmet-cam as I pull out of my friends house.)

After filling my fuel tank at the corner PEMEX station (the only kind of gas stations in Mexico as they are all owned by the government) I hit the open road. Eager to get underway I didn't bother stopping for breakfast-or Lunch. I reached Tampico (my goal for the entire day) at around 1 in the afternoon. Little did I know this would be the ONLY time during the entire trip where I arrived anywhere early.

After a brief break to look at my maps and get a quick bite to eat at Pollo Loco (yeah the Crazy Chicken), I set out again-this time for Tuxpan, a smaller coastal city. Rather than spending time talking about the ride, which was wonderful other than being lost in Tampico, I'll focus on what I found when I reached Tuxpan.

Tuxpan sits right at an inlet on the gulf of Mexico. It's a beautiful, older little town, and I arrived just as the sun was setting- A beautiful sight as I drove along the water. Excited about my first day on the road, I splurged for a nice hotel, quickly unpacked, showered, and headed out to check out the town.

Tuxpan was really a beautiful little town, centered around an old Cathedral, with narrow bustling streets full of shops with names I won't bother trying to pronounce. Well after dark now, I wandered around aimless and content. Stumbling on a small town square a few blocks from my hotel I sat and watched as people filled the small square. Some bargained with the street vendors for small trinkets, some ate or drank coffee at the little outdoor cafe, others played with their children or just talked.

I could not have felt more like an outsider, and I couldn't have been more okay with it. There was no one to talk to, but at this point I don't think I would have had much to say even if there had been. There's a certain kind of humility that comes with traveling- the realization of how differently the rest of the world walks through their day- and of how small a piece of the puzzle my own experience is. It makes you both hungry to see and experience more- as well as thankful for what and where you come from.

Well that's it for now. I have a lot more to catch up on, but it's 1:26 am...And I have some traveling to do tomorrow... More to come!

Better Late than Never: Coatzacoalcos, MX

It's hard to believe I've been on the road for nearly two months now. Somehow it feels like it's been much longer, and much shorter at the same time. The last month has been all about developing a "new normal." Without going into too much detail, I'll give an example. As I write this, I'm stranded in Costa Rica with a very, very broken motorcycle, unsure if the bike's engine is going to be salvageable at all, and in desperate need of replacement parts that can't be found anywhere Central America. So here I sit. And wait.

But a big part of the "new normal" is learning that time, along with most things, are not under my control. I live in time's world, and must bend to it, never it to me. So even as the first few weeks demanded a speed and focus that I wasn't sure I was capable of, I now find myself with nothing but time. So here I sit, watching "Man on Fire" (probably a terrible thing to watch while traveling in Latin America) trying to capture my experiences and reflections from the first half of the trip before I forget them forever. In the interest of time (and the amount of stuff to cover, I'll go quickly- offering only snapshots (in words as well as pictures) of my experiences thus far.... Buckle up, vĂ¡monos, y'all.

When we last left our hero, he had just visited the ancient ruins of El Tajin and experienced the incredible hospitality of some Mexicans met on the side of the road...

The following day was a long, hard day's ride to Coatzacoalcos- not a particularly nice or pleasant town, but I was honestly just too hot, hungry, exhausted, and lazy to go any further. I had spent most of the day lost, and was frustrated at how little progress I had made. Coatzacoalcos is a pretty major industrial hub- not touristy in any way. A shower raised my spirits some, and I headed out into the town to look for some grub.

Unknown to me, there was actually a festival going on that day. What must have been half a mile down the beach was street vendors, dancers, and general carrying-on. I sat down at a restaurant and asked the waitress what she would recommend. I ended up with "pastor con queso," which although I'm still unsure exactly what it was (maybe pork?) it was incredible... seriously- like life changingly good.

The restricted time table on this trip has kept me from visiting a lot of places I would have liked to see. But it's also forced me to stop and see places that no tourist would ever go. (For example, at this festival of a few thousand people, I was literally the only white person there) The non-touristy destinations have given me a chance to see a better picture of daily life than I would have had otherwise, and I'm thankful for that. In the interest of moving quickly, I'll leave this entry brief.

A Brush for Broad Strokes.

Where to even start- Since leaving on the 20th, I’ve ridden over 6000 kilometers through 7 amazing countries, seen Mayan ruins and experienced Montezuma’s revenge, eaten amazing food and eaten bad food, experienced incredible hospitality and my camera stolen, been lost and been slightly less lost, experienced phenomenal generosity, and if I’m not mistaken, padded a border official’s wallet…

The miles covered over the last few weeks have offered me a lot- They’ve given me solitude. They’ve given me time to think and time to reflect. They’ve afforded me opportunities to experience incredible joy and incredible frustration. But it’s all been different- and that’s what I came here for. I’ve been given more than I know what to do with- Opportunities to see places that look less and less like home- And chances to see faces that look less and less like my own, yet share a common ground that I feel less and less capable of articulating.

There’s more to see than I’ll ever be able to write or even remember- The horse-drawn carriages laden with either dried palm leaves and fresh fruit or old engine oil and transmission parts. The aged women in the traditional Mayan dress carrying massive baskets of clothes on top their heads into their homes in the mountains. The orange groves that stretch for miles up terraced hills gradually disappearing into the mountains. Children with dirty faces begging for money on the side of the road just as they do day, after day, after day… I’ve seen wonderfully modern cities and blink-and-you’ll-miss villages that look as if they haven’t changed for generations. It all has a certain National Geographic familiarity to it, a familiarity that comes from images and pictures caught while flipping between channels over the last 25 years of my life. I have to remind myself that this is something I am actually experiencing, and not just watching on an informative cable TV special.

One of my favorite songs has a line in it that says, “Alone in Miami, and yet here I am, it’s funny how life seldom turns out how you plan.” While I’d have to change the name from Miami to some other city name I can neither spell or pronounce, the sentiment holds true. This trip has looked nothing like I had planned or expected. It’s been infinitely more stressful, difficult and exhausting than I could have imagined, and rewarding in a way I never could have hoped for. But I suppose that’s the nature of an adventure like this.

Thank you for bearing with me as I collect my thoughts. I do promise I’ll get to the details of my adventure, with stories of the people I’ve met and the places I’ve seen, but wanted to put up a framework for what was to come, like a doorway through which to experience the images, video, and stories from my trip thus far. This has been one of the most physically demanding, mentally taxing, and emotionally draining things I’ve ever done, and I wanted to make sure I captured my thoughts in broad strokes before I concerned myself (or you all) with the details.

My time in Monterrey. (1 of 2)

While It's been a few days since I left Monterrey, there's still a lot to say about my time there. As I've said previously, I stayed at Back2Back, an organization that helps resource and facilitate orphanages in Mexico (and in Nigeria too!) It's a beautiful area, nestled in a valley of the Sierra Madre mountains. The people there have amazing hearts for kids, and it was really a joy to be around people that give so much of themselves.

Pulling into the gates of Casa Hogar Douglas was a huge relief. The cold, wet, confusing, and stressful ride into Monterrey left me exhausted, but I was immediately thrust into the middle of some more chaos-except this was the kind of fantastic chaos... A pizza party for 60 orphans. It would be difficult to describe the noise, excitment and general din associated with that many kids in a small room eating Domino's. (Yes, there's Domino's in Mexico. Subways too...kind of disappointing, really...but I digress.)

The next day was spent at Rio 3, the nickname for an area on the outskirts of Monterrey. Apparently the land bordering rivers is owned by the government, and the poor have claimed it as their own, setting up shanty towns. Trash literally fills the streets, and at times the smell is overwhelming. You can see where those few that are fortunate enough to have electricity have stolen it via makeshift cables off of the main electrical poles. Homes are built of unpainted cinderblock and whatever else happens to be laying around.

But as ugly and awful a place as it was, the people were incredible. The kids were some of the most sweet, and energetic little people you could ever hope to meet. Even living in a place that to me looked like hell, they wore smiles that were bigger than the tears in their jeans or the stains on their shirts.

We spent the day handing out food, groceries, and clothes. It was really an incredible opportunity to spend time one on one with some amazing kids.

All in all, it was a pretty incredible opportunity to meet people who live in a world that is so completely different from mine in most every way. Even as I was experiencing it, I wasn't sure it was real. It felt like I was living out someone else's memory or watching someone else's home movie. So much so that I asked a friend to take this picture. So I could remember that I was there, and that this experience belonged to me, and no one else.