Friday, January 27, 2012

Honduras Flowers Fungus and Fruits Fotos

Coffee in Rio Negro

Dona Natalia's flowers

Pris's orchid

A "bush strawberry" in Rio Negro

The fruit of the bush strawberry

Ground cover in Rio Negro

Rio Negro - those are real colors

Izote - living fence in Rio Negro

Pineapple - near Lake Yojoa

Pataste - Lake Yojoa

Don Chico's Coffee - El Sute

Cloud Forest Bromeliad

That looks like a morel to me...

Found in a corn field

Indian Pipe - Saprophytic plant in the cloud forest

Orchid - Cloud Forest

Fungus - Cloud Forest

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Question of Litter and Violent Crime in Central America

by Andy

What are the ideal conditions for humans to be their best selves? Does it have anything to do with litter?

While I was preparing to go to Honduras it was announced that the Peace Corps had decided to withdraw all of its volunteers after almost 50 years. The reason given was that the security situation has deteriorated and Peace Corps thought that Honduras was too much of a risk. Later, in Honduras, we found that Peace Corps will be removing or not replacing volunteers in El Salvador and Guatemala too. Japan is also withdrawing its significant volunteer presence in Honduras. It can be quite distressing to see the country I know and love tainted by violence.

Before we left for Honduras, we were interrogated by concerned friends and family about the violence in Honduras. After having traveled to Central America for 20 years, I had felt pretty good about the plans we had made. I know that Honduras in general is pretty safe outside of certain neighborhoods of the big cities and the places we were going and staying are safe. However, with all of the concern out there, we did modify plans in order to get picked up and dropped off in San Pedro Sula, instead of taking public transport. We had no problems during the trip. But the question of increased violence in Central America followed us throughout the trip. Specifically, we asked our Honduran friends and other people we met about the violence, and their answers were all over the board.

First off, although it may be overblown in the media, the violence is real and it seems to be increasing. In January of 2011, a Honduran newspaper reported that San Pedro Sula has an annual murder rate of 125 people per 100,000 citizens, making it the 3rd most violent city in the world, behind Juarez, Mexico and Qandahar, Afganistan. Tegucigalpa comes in 6th and Guatemala City is 7th. Our friends told us personal stories about San Pedro and Tegus. There is gang violence. There are neighborhoods that the taxis will not enter. There are places where you need to roll down the windows of your car because if you drive around with polarized windows, gang members will assume you are rivals and shoot into the car. One friend has a cousin who was killed in cross-fire. Some of our Honduran friends are no longer willing to take city buses or collective taxis within the two big cities.

Although it is worst there, it is not just in the big cities. My friend Melvin told us of a small rural village where a family feud has recently left 14 people dead. Another friend told us of criminals who got on his bus in rural Guatemala and used knives to menace people into giving up all of their valuables. In Comayagua, our hotel's staff warned us not to go walking at night and even to be careful about which taxis we take. We met a Christian mission group in a Comayagua restaurant and discovered that, based on prior experience, they had hired an armed guard to be with them every time they go out and about. Our Honduran friends are seemingly always slightly on guard and under sense of caution that has seemed to grow every time I go to Honduras. Those Hondurans who have money have always built fortress-like walls around their houses, but now it seems the walls are bigger and even more protected with razor wire and such.

When I lived in Honduras in the 1990's, I did not fear for my own safety. My understanding of the situation was that while petty theft was rampant, that actual violence was not common. I hitch-hiked and rode my bicycle all over Honduras. I took public transport everywhere and often walked or taxied through San Pedro or Tegus to get to the bus station or shop. Of course, I took the usual precautions that any person would take in any big city anywhere in the world (not going alone at night, staying out of "bad" neighborhoods, and trying not to draw attention to myself - by looking as much like a local as I could). In my own site of Comayagua, I never thought twice about walking or riding my bike alone at night. I did hear of a few isolated incidents, but as a rule, I felt safe. I have checked in with my Honduran friends and they confirm that they also used to feel safe, in general. So what has happened? And what, if anything, can be done about it?

We heard many possible explanations for the increase in violence:

1. The police are ineffectual, and even worse, the police are responsible for violence. This is distressing, because most of the Honduran politicians' solutions to the violence involve increasing police power. Recently the son of a University president was assassinated in Honduras. He was involved in resistance against the current government, and his death was big news. In the ensuing investigation it turns out that elements within the police force have become criminals for hire, with the killing of this man being attributed to police. Another friend talked about how he knew of a man who had committed rape in his rural community and was arrested, but was able to somehow walk free after his father visited the police who held him. The implication is that he bought his release. The inability to trust the police is what may have been the proximate cause of the the Peace Corps withdrawal. However, I do not buy this as the cause of the general rise in violence in Honduras, because it has been a long time since anyone trusted the police in Honduras.

2. Others spoke to us about the drug trafficking and gang violence as the cause of the rise of violence. I confess, this theory resonates with me. It seems that all of Mexico and Central America is under a mafia-like web of ever increasing lawlessness. There has come a point in many places where the gangs and drug cartels are the primary authority. In my mind I am having a hard time accepting the rise of drug cartels as the reason Honduras is becoming so violent, when as far as anyone can tell, the drugs are just passing through. Why are there street crimes, kidnappings, and assassinations? And why is this coming up now? I do not know enough about organized crime, but my guess is it doesn't help the situation. Hondurans assured me that there is a growing drug problem in the cities. Maybe they are running out of markets in the U.S. Or maybe they dump the inferior quality drugs in Central America, like coffee or bananas.

3. A general reason that I have heard more than once is that poverty levels have driven the crime wave. People are desperate and they do desperate things. I cannot imagine the level of poverty experienced by the majority of Hondurans on a daily basis. There is a hunger, an uncertainty, and a lack of options that I have never experienced. I know that poverty must contribute to crime, but I also know that people have been poor in Honduras for a long time, and the violent crime is relatively new. In fact, in comparison to 20 years ago, Honduras is more prosperous in general. It can't just be poverty.

4. There are conspiracy theories, most of which have enough truth to continue to circulate. One theory is that the U.S. military has trained a whole generation of people in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. This training happened in-country and in the infamous School of the Americas in Georgia. These trainees formed the heart of the vicious paramilitary groups of the 80's and 90's, and they got rich skimming money from the lavash U.S. military aid. Then, when Central America lost geopolitical importance, the U.S. funding dried up and these men who were trained in violence and terror were set loose on the Honduran populace. Yikes. But does that account for current crime wave? The timing is a little off.

5. Another conspiracy theory is that the wealthy elite who run Honduras through corrupt politicians and controlled media have a strong interest in a population that is afraid. The theory is that if a people's primary concern is crime, then they will be willing to vote primarily based on a message of "security" and vote for politicians who offer a "strong hand" with criminals. The issue of security will eclipse other issues and people will continue to accept inequality. Although it sounds good, it is hard to believe that business interestes would actually prefer a violent lawless Honduras. In terms of the media loving violence, one Honduran friend complained that the newspapers and tv stations in Honduras sensationalize the violence in order to sell more. "If it bleeds, it leads," and in Honduras every front page of every newspaper seems to have a requisite dead body or an SUV riddled with bullet holes. But does showing violence encourage more violence?

6. My own inclination is to blame litter. Yes litter. Also I might place some blame on the breakdown of families due to the decline of the Catholic Church and emigration to the United States. In a recent re-reading of the book The Tipping Point, by Malcolm Gladwell, I rediscovered the chapter about violent crime on the New York City subway. It is worth a look. The thesis of his book is that little things can make a big difference.

Malcolm Gladwell describes something called the Broken Windows theory of crime, which was the brainchild of criminologists James Q. Wilson and George Kelling: "Wilson and Kelling argued that crime is the inevitable result of of disorder. If a window is broken  and left unrepaired, people walking by will conclude that no one cares and no one is in charge. Soon, more windows will be broken, and the sense of anarchy will spread from the building to the street on which it faces, sending a signal that anything goes. I a city, relatively minor problems like graffiti, public disorder, and aggressive panhandling, they write, are all the equivalent of broken windows, invitations to more serious crimes: "Muggers and robbers, whether opportunistic or professional, believe they reduce their chances of being caught or even identified if they operate on streets where potential victims are already intimidated by prevailing conditions."" For Gladwell, this is the epidemic theory of crime, implying that crime is contagious. He claims that context can be so much more important in influencing criminal behavior than other factors, that it can be used to control crime.

In the 1980's the New York subway was a dangerous place, and instead of only dealing directly with the criminals, the authorities also tackled the problem of violence by literally cleaning up the subway. They had a zero tolerance policy for graffiti on public property. They prosecuted minor crimes such as turn-stile jumping on the subway. They dealt with litter. There was an almost miraculous drop in violent crime about the same time. The idea was that inherent in the small visible crimes of graffiti, fare-jumping and litter was an implicit general lack of respect for authority and the public good. When little crimes are not prosecuted, there is a tipping point where bigger crimes take off, and vice-versa. The tipping point within any one individual that causes them to not carry out a violent crime might be a relatively small thing, or rather the accumulation of many small things.
Honduras is full of litter. It is everywhere and to developed-world eyes it makes the whole country look like a dump. My opinion is that until relatively recently, the now ubiquitous plastic was not around and most items that people threw away were biodegradable. Thus, the habit of tossing stuff out used to not be a problem. It has only now become a problem because of a change in packaging. The U.S.A had to come to a new consciousness about litter in the 1970's (remember the crying Indian?), and Honduras has not shifted its consciousness there yet. Thus, unintentionally, Honduras has slowly become a seemingly incontrovertible trash heap. I am not saying that litter causes violence, but rather that litter is symptomatic of what can seem to be a general disregard for the public good and law in general. Another example is the way people drive in Honduras. There is no respect for when and where to pass, the speed limit (if there is one), or traffic signals. For that matter, we might include a general lack of respect for time schedules. The roads are poorly maintained. Petty theft continues to be a daily preoccupation for most Hondurans. If we are talking about a disordered context as a factor in crime, then Honduras is a prime example of a country in disorder.

I do not believe that disorder is inherent in the people and culture of Honduras. In fact it is just the opposite. If you look at how people dress, you notice that everyone is "put together" in a way that seems superfluous to my North American sensibilities. Shoes are shined. Even if a person has two changes of clothes, somehow they are always clean. Fashion is important. Cars and buses are cared for, adorned and washed. In Honduras, there is a long history of the family and the church being the central units of authority. With large, interconnected patriarchal families, people have a long tradition of living together in the same place. The consequences of actions within a family unit living together are immediate and self-reinforcing. The church has functioned for centuries as an unquestioned moral touchstone. So it would seem that if disorder were the cause of the recent crime wave, then it must be recent factors that have undermined traditional centers of authority and caused a tipping point in society

What has changed that might have caused such a societal shift? Various factors have brought about the dispersal of Honduran families. Many people have emigrated to the U.S. Many have moved within Honduras, looking for economic opportunity. U.S. free trade policies have caused long term stagnation in the price of corn and beans, pushing peasants off the land and into cities. The same free trade policies have encouraged maquiladoras to spring up, offering work to the displaced masses. With the disintegration of the family as a center of authority, Honduras has also experienced a decrease in the authority of Catholic Church in peoples' daily lives. The rapid growth in the Honduran population can only contribute to entropy in society, when families expand beyond the carrying capacity of the land and people are forced to move to new places.

If Honduras has had litter and poor driving in the past, why now does it lead to violent crime? And what can be done about it? In Gladwell's terminology, there has been a tipping point where authority and the public good have lost respect. And there could be a tipping point in the other direction. The safest place in Comayagua is the central plaza. It is not only patrolled by armed guards, it is also immaculately clean, well-lit and beautifully landscaped. This is part of a push to make Comayagua into a tourist destination, but the local population must to benefit greatly. To end violence in Central America may require a strong hand, but I think best way to end violence will be for there to be a national push for adults and children to take pride in cleaning up their communities. A beautiful, orderly environment will help people to think and act in beautiful and orderly ways. Somehow little crimes must have consequences. It is a big job. New York did not clean up its subway overnight. They did it little by little, but eventually they took back a sense of order, with incredible results.

I know this critique can look like cultural paternalism. Here I am in clean, law-abiding, on-time Wisconsin and I blame Honduras' problems on the fact that they are not like me. If this is the case and I am wrong, then I apologize. Something real is happening here and we need all ideas.

At the Coffee Farms

We spent 2 days visiting the UPC coffee cooperative, walking in coffee fields and meeting some of the people growing our coffee. The La Democracia area is just 15 minutes from the Mexican border. Very mountainous and beautiful! Here are a few photos.

Walking in the coffee fields with Franklin and Andrew

young girl picking coffee

Marion picking coffee

Looking at the new scale Farmer to Farmer bought for the cooperative.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Martin Luther King Jr. day in Guatemala

In the past, several of our Menomonie travelers have been active in organizing celebrations for Martin Luther King Jr. day. But this year we were in Guatemala.
Fitzie, Lakayana, Marion and Warren decided to bring Martin Luther King Jr. day to Guatemala. They planned activities centered around reading a book about Martin Luther King Jr. but we weren't sure where we'd get a book. They ended up finding one at the library- La Puerta Abierta in Santiago Atitlan and the book it turns out we'd just brought down in a box of books donated by Margee Stienecker- who was on out trip in 2011! That worked out! Yeah Margee!
They did the activity with the Scholarship students in Santiago Atitlan and again in La Democracia with a gathering of children after their first day of school. Before reading Warren played Somos El Barco on his harmonica. After reading the book they got crayons out and asked the kids to draw a hero in their lives. I loved the ones that drew their Mom's. The drawings are coming back to Menomonie for some future event.

Warren playing his harmonica.

Marion reading part of the life of Martin Luther King Jr.

Ftizie reading

Lakayana reading.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

We gave out our student scholarships to the Weaver's committee students on Saturday. We piled in a small room at the weaver's workshop with parents and kids from kindergarden to college age. We each introduced ourselves and shared some info about ourselves. They families spoke about how the scholarships help them with the school costs and some families said without the scholarships they wouldn't be able to send their kids to school. Amazing the difference a small amount of money can make

Some of the scholarship students

a student signing her name after receiving her scholarship money.

a group photo of our travelers with most of the the Weaver's committee.

One of the kids hugging Fitzie goodbye.

Honduras Cloud Forest Wilderness Adventure

At 4:30 in the afternoon it is already becoming dark. By some small miracle we have found a flat spot next to a high mountain creek in a deep furrow in the middle of an immense jungle-like cloud forest. We are exhausted, sore, wet, and lost. I am usually the one who prepares the supper, but instead of jumping to it, I quietly direct Hernan from a perch on a mossy wet log. My stomach hurts a little and our situation is sitting heavily on my shoulders. I am the architect of this little excursion and I am in the middle of a crisis of faith in my own decisions up to this point.

The Cloud Forest
There are four of us here in this makeshift camp. Melvin is our guide and trail blazer. He lives in the mountain community of El Horno and he is able to open a trail using his machete and carrying a heavy backpack about as fast as the rest of us can walk. Melvin has grown up near the mountain, but he has never been to this part of the Park. Hernan hikes behind Melvin. Hernan is a longtime friend from Comayagua who has gone on every one of our adventures into the cloud forest that is the Comayagua Mountain National Park. Hernan is careful and takes his time to find secure footholds and firmly held roots for handholds. I hike third, so Melvin and Hernan can pick a trail and Hernan can lend a hand if needed. Adalid, the president of the coffee co-op, hikes last, mostly out of the belief that if there are poisonous snakes the safest spot is last, but more than once I appreciate having him behind me so if I slip, he can steady me.

Melvin with a cross section of a tree fern




We are all subdued as the water boils over Hernan’s camp stove for our spaghetti supper. We have put up the tents and changed into our driest clothes. It is cold and in the gathering darkness I shiver and wish for my wool stocking cap. At least tonight we have water. The first night we camped high on the ridge and had to conserve water. But that night we were at the beginning of a splendid camping trip and the lack of water was a minor inconvenience. Tonight is serious.
The first day, as we enter the old growth forest.

Purple Orchid found throughout the cloud forest.


Our day had started out well. Earlier today we hiked the ridge for 2 hours until we decided to descend to find water. After skirting the mountain for half an hour and not finding water we climbed back up to the ridge to try the other side and located water easily. That was our first taste of hiking off of the ridge and I had hoped it would be our last. When we are on the ridge, there is usually a steep drop on either side, but the ridge itself is relatively secure and walk-able. We can make good progress, although the occasional fallen tree or dense vegetation can slow us down. Off the ridge, the mountain sides are another thing altogether. At least half the time when skirting the mountain side I have to be very careful to secure myself by choosing a strong tree root or rock to hold onto and a solid place for my foot. The going is slow because a false step could mean a precipitous fall. The heavy backpack doesn’t help either.

Walking on the ridge can be quite pleasant.
There is a dense undergrowth of a sort of bamboo-like grass in some areas.
Every tree in the cloud forest is covered with moss, vines, and other vegetation.
After getting the water and getting back to the ridge our spirits were high. We had passed the test of the mountain sides and now had water and an easy climb on the ridge ahead of us. The sun came out. The ridge took us higher and higher. I am usually not afraid of heights in the cloud forest because there are trees all around and I feel closed-in enough to fool my natural preoccupation. But as we climbed higher and the wind started to blow, the vegetation thinned and the sun came out, and I was able to see how high we really were. We were now looking down on the rest of the mountains and in the far distance below we could barely the discern houses and coffee farms of the high valleys. I trembled a little and actually crawled for a little while, but I took some deep breaths and steadied myself. That helped, and I continued the climb.

Soon we stopped. There was a problem ahead. Melvin had taken off his backpack and was scouting ahead. He instructed us to take off our backpacks and come look. There were two things to see. First there was a massive wall of rock in front of us. There was no way we could continue on the ridge. The second was that from the base of the wall we had a fantastic view of the valley below. Adalid knew the coffee farming villages well and he pointed out the houses of farmers that he knew in the far distance. Between us and those villages a series of ridges and valleys seemed to stretch to forever, carpeted with dark green cloud forest vegetation. It was a thrill to really be in the center of an immense wilderness. After almost 20 years of coming to the Comayagua Mountain, I realized then that I had only ever been on the edge of the Park until now.

The view from the high point. Note the sheer wall of rock on the right. On top of the world.
After taking photos from the high point, we had a long discussion about what to do. We could try to skirt the rock face and look for a way to continue on the ridge. But the geology had changed and instead of the deep spongy soil of the lower reaches, this high point had slippery bedrock and fewer small trees to hold onto. Further, we didn’t know if we could even regain the ridge or if more sheer rock faces waited for us. So we decided to descend into the wilderness valley below and try our luck making a grand detour around the mountain top. I was in the minority against descending because the route I had chosen for our trip was to follow the ridges to return to civilization. But if Melvin said there was no way to climb the rock face, then who was I to disagree? Besides, I had seen this wilderness on maps and aerial photos for years and I was curious to see what it was like. This was noon.

Try walking sideways along the mountain. Not so easy.
For the next three hours we descended and skirted the mountain side as we went. Our goal was to find a far ridge that would climb back up on the other side of the mountain top. It was slow going on the steep sides. Sometimes we would come to the site of an old landslide with deep chasms in front of us and we would be forced to backtrack and either climb or dip to find a place to cross. Melvin was awesome. He was patient and careful and chose routes and guided us to footholds and handholds. He tested the ground as he went and slipped many times as holes would open up in the fragile soil. He would then pass the message back to be careful and turn around to continue hacking his way through the forest with his machete.

Hernan looks serious.
At some point we realized that we could not camp on the mountain side, and that our best chance to find a flat spot was to follow the course of a mountain creek. I wasn’t thrilled, because up until now my feet were still dry, even though the rest of me was covered in dirt and sweat. But I had to agree that we would never find a flat spot by skirting the mountain side. So at the next mountain creek, we turned and started downriver. Even though it was three o’clock, the deep creek bed was already darkening, and I wondered if the sunlight ever truly reached this far down. Going down river was a new challenge. The creek was no more than five feet across, but it seemed like an expertly constructed obstacle course. There were intermittent logs criss-crossing the creek that we had to climb over or slide under. The rocks were slippery with moss and they would sometimes give way when I put weight on them. The gravel of the creek floor was not firm, but instead would suck my foot in, like a sort of quicksand. After five minutes on the creek bed I had fallen twice and my feet were both soaked through. But I soon learned to navigate. I had to let go of my need to be dry in favor of taking concern for my safety. I would crawl over the slippery logs and step carefully on the dodgy rocks. After about an hour of this slow progress, we found a small flat spot next to the creek, big enough for two small tents, and we gave up the hike for the day. It was the only flat spot I had seen since we left the high ridge 4 hours ago.

Our campsite for Friday night. I hope never to see it again.

Now as I try to finish my spaghetti with little appetite, the reality is settling in. We have deliberately descended into this steep valley. I cannot imagine trying to hike out tomorrow by continuing in the creek bed, because there are surely waterfalls ahead and as the creek joins with others, it will become a raging river. The other option is to try to continue to skirt the mountain, and make careful progress until we find a good ridge to climb out. That option is disagreeable because of the ever present possibility of finding a steep spot where we can’t continue. Again. It is Friday. My original plan was to hike out on Saturday, and rest on Sunday because my airplane for Minnesota leaves on Monday. We had brought enough food along with us to camp Saturday night if necessary. Now, as I dump out my unfinished spaghetti, I start to wonder if we will make it out by Monday and if Delta would honor my ticket on another day if I have a good excuse, like being lost in the mountain.

After supper there is nothing for us to do except go to sleep. It is too wet to try to start a fire and we are all cold and exhausted anyway. By five o’clock we are in our tents and soon I am taking mental stock of my situation. I am currently safe and dry. I have three companions who I know I can count on. I know that if one of us were to get hurt in the middle of the wilderness, it would be very difficult to bring him to safety, but we have been through some very difficult spots today and with calm nerves we have persevered. Slow and steady wins the race. I am able to construct a shaky faith that I have not led us into a truly dangerous site. I trust my companions implicitly, especially Melvin. As we go to sleep, Adalid and Melvin trade stories of people they know who have been bitten by poisonous snakes or gotten lost or injured in the forest. I know this is their own way to cope with the situation, but wish I could turn off the sound on their conversation.

It rains all night, but I wake up refreshed and almost cheerful. My tent kept me dry and I actually slept for most of the night. At some point in the middle of the night I woke up and I realized that in the face of the reality of the situation I could not retreat in fear. I did not have that choice, because my companions needed me to keep it together. I also realized that I had been tested during the previous day and I had passed the test. I had done a gut-check found that I had it in me to face this uncertainty and that I could trust my friends and myself. Now, in the morning we are all laughing at the place we find ourselves. It really is funny, and we are joking about how this is a trip that only a crazy person would take. We are in the very center of the National Park and we are quite certain that we are the very first humans to be in this spot. It is exhilarating, and with fresh energy we don our wet clothes and put on our backpacks.
The last river before we climbed onto the ridge again.

At the camp before setting out on Saturday.

Our morning hike is similar to the mountain skirting hike of the previous afternoon, but by now we are experienced climbers and after a few sketchy places where we actually put the rope we brought to good use, we find a ridge that looks promising to climb out of the valley. By noon we are back on top of the world on the windy high ridge. We have completely circumscribed the rocky peak that had prevented our progress and now we make rapid progress along the relatively flat spine of the mountain. When we come to the end of our ridge, the sun has come out enough for us to see the Comayagua valley stretched out in front of us, our destination. It is like seeing a long-lost friend. 

Now all we have to do is climb down off the mountain into civilization. At first we scramble down the mountain side until we run into a place where the people have long ago cut down the primary forest. The re-growth is dense and virtually impenetrable. But we are all happy to see evidence of humans and we reason correctly that these humans must have some sort of access trails to these places. After about a half an hour of scouting we find the incredible gift of an existing trail. It is a small, overgrown track and we lose it a few times, but as the trail descends off the mountain it gets wider and more traveled until it brings us out onto a new ridge, covered with immense pine trees and carpeted with rusty pine needles. The wind in the pines is a beautiful sound. On either side we have incredible views of the valley below. It is a great comfort to know that we are on a real trail that leads down off the mountain. Soon we exit the pine forest into the overgrown old corn fields of a village called La Sampedrana. The fields are covered with an incredible variety of flowers, some growing 6 feet tall and enclosing the trail on either side. It is a magic spot and we stop frequently to marvel at the crystal clear views and spectacular flowers.

The pines above La Sampedrana.
Melvin, with Pino Real pine cones.

Soon we find ourselves on a road used by coffee farmers and we say hello to the coffee pickers and pull out our cell phones to call Hector to tell him where to come to pick us up. I get out the last of the Snickers bars form my backpack and we pause to reflect on our adventure. The mountain has measured us, has baptized us. Melvin, Adalid and Hernan are all able to note that God must have been watching over us and protecting us. Although I am not a religious person, I have to admit that I have hedged my bets and asked for protection from a higher power more than once during the hike. As we look out over the valley, I have a grateful certainty that we have been under protection of some sort. I do not know if I will ever go back into that deep wilderness, but I now know that I am capable of it.          

The coffee farms of La Sampedrana with the valley in the distance.