Sunday, July 25, 2010

An Addo Adventure: Spotting the Wildlife of South Africa

On their final day with CouchSurfer host, Elaine, the Harrington’s made their way out to Addo National Park to see what they could see. Second only to their day in The Crags, Addo provided the Harrington’s their best opportunity to see the wildlife and plant life of South Africa. The first animal they spotted, and consistently thereafter, was the Kudu, a deer like mammal with horns which twist and curve into the dry African air. Seeing this animal and hearing its name from Elaine, the Harrington’s finally knew what exactly a Kudu Burger was.

The trio continued driving through the park hoping to spot elephants or zebras or water buffalo. However, before any of these animals would consider making a showing Elaine spotted the endangered Dung Beetle on the road. The park is committed to protecting these insects and has posted numerous signs warning drivers not to crush these rare gems. Unfortunately, the beetle we spotted was not rolling a ball of dung, but we enjoyed watching his soldier-like strut as he made his way across the road.

Continuing on the trio was able to spot Timon and Pumba, a Jackyl, more Kudu, another Dung Beetle, various birds and finally a few elephants. The car full of viewers enjoyed watching the baby elephants trunk wrestle one another while admiring the majesty and beauty of these giant grey mammals. Mike took a good number of photos until it was time to head out of the gates while watching the sky turn shades of orange and pink. The perfect ending to a perfect African day.

Stories from the Couch: July 13 -17

CouchSurfing during the World Cup took on a different face in South Africa as she hosted the world. Many CouchSurfers in the Stadium Cities were unavailable to host either to having family and friends in town, wanting to earn an extra buck, or simply being overwhelmed by the amount of requests from experienced and inexperienced CouchSurfers from all over the world. However, the Harrington’s were fortunate to find one more than gracious host awaiting them in Port Elizabeth (PE), South Africa. The couple first met Elaine when she came to pick them up from their BazBus drop off, entirely too late in the evening. Their host however was all Welcome and Hospitality: ” there’s tea on the counter, here are your beds, would you like a muffin? Let me introduce you to the other surfers.” These moments left the Harrington’s confident again in the power and beauty of CouchSurfing.

Over a period of four days, Mike and Melissa experienced not only the hospitality of their host, Elaine, but also of the other CouchSurfing guests. Randy and Nathalie from France were quick to give Mike and Melissa a ride their first morning to retrieve their tickets. Tracy from Australia shared valuable information and great conversation upon arrival and the following day during a driving tour of the city conducted of course, by our host. And a few days later, JB from Alabama continued the sharing of information and enthusiasm. It did not take long for Mike and Melissa to feel at home and comfortable with this group of CouchSurfers – happy to experience the peace and comfort that is found in CouchSurfing’s brand of hospitality.

The couple’s time with Elaine was well spent, learning some of the history and sites of Port Elizabeth. A driving tour even led the couple, their host and Tracy to the beach where some of Germany’s team was taking a pre-game walk! On top of Elaine’s initial generosity the couple was also thrilled to discover Elaine lived across the street from the FIFA Fan Park where they would be able to catch a shuttle to the stadium and watch the final match on Sunday free of charge, on a big screen with hundreds of South Africans and visitors from around the world.

Following the excitement of the World Cup and the moving on of all Elaine’s other guests, the Harrington’s host once again outdid herself by driving the couple to and around Addo National Park near Port Elizabeth. The day was spent looking for Elephants, spotting Kudu, Warthogs, a Water Buffalo, Jackyl, Dung Bettle and finally numerous elephants. Their final day was brought to a close with a fat juicy steak at one of Elaine’s favorite PE restaurants. With their bellies full and their hearts content, the Harrington’s laid down for their fourth night in a row of deliously wonderful slumber.

An Experience in Photos: Hiking Nature’s Valley

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Trunk in Hand: Walking with Elephants

Making a full day of adventure and animals on July 8th, the Harrington's ended their day at the Elephant Sanctuary. They were welcomed to the sanctuary with a hot mug of rooibos before being lead out to meet the elephants. Three elephants hailed from Botswana while the others came by way of Kruger National Park. Those from Botswana were to be under the care of the Harrington's and crew for the next hour. The group learned that these three elephants each a story to tell, a story of abuse and abandonment. Two had had their trunks caught in traps causing them to lose about 6 inches off the tip of their trunk while the other was kept as a pet until he became to large for the space. So here, at the sanctuary, they were learning to be wild, to feed themselves and to become family with eachother and the other three elephants.

Three at a time guests took turns holding their hands out to an elephant who would gently rest his trunk in their hand and be lead down a short trail. At the end of the short walk each guest had the opportunity to watch some "tricks", see the mouths, ears, tails, and feet of an elephant and of course take a few photos. It was then time for other guests to lead the elephants back to our starting point where they would be fed and groomed.

Each guest had the opportunity to feed the three elephants a variety of pumpkin and carrots. As soon as the bowls were empty, the elephants were walking away from the dinner table and preparing to be groomed. Guests then took turns brushing the elephants and having a few last words and photos with the gentle grey giants. After a short class on the anatomy and lifespan on elephants it was time for guests to return to their hostels or hotels, but not until taking a moment to gaze out into the stunning landscape of South Africa.

One Stop, Two Great Escapes

Following their walk with the cheetahs and viewing of African wild cats, caracals, servals and a leopard, the Harrington's and crew made their way down the street Monkeyland and Birds of Eden. Monkeyland provided a wide variety of monkeys to view, to hear and to catch on film. The squirrel monkey's were particularly active and offered some great entertainment as they ran, jumped and dived from tree to tree, from ground to feeding station. The crew was also fortunate enough to see one of the parks three gibbons up close and personal as he swung from the branches and came down to offer some beter photographic oppotunities. Before leaving Monkeyland the group of six also had the good fortune of acting out their own monkey like behavior as they crossed one of the world's longest swinging bridges (longest according to the guide).

Having seen the monkey's and made it across the swinging bridge the group walked a few meters across a parking lot and began their exploration of Birds of Eden. The aviary provided a great variety of brightly colored macaws, pheasants and even one large, brown bat hanging from the top of the netting. Chirps, caws, songs and sounds surrounded the Harrington's as they walked the boardwalk and tried to spot the birds who made the music which filled the air.

With their fill of birds and monkeys and having a lunch date to make, the Harrington's and friends made their way to a local winery for tapas and wine before heading to their final destination of their wild day.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Walking with the Wild Cats

On July 8th, Mike and Melissa Harrington along with their comrades Abram, Mallory, Andrew and Ryan enjoyed a walk on the wild side. As part of a package deal, the group began their day on a sunrise walk with cheetahs. The cheetahs are residents of Tenikwa Rehabilitation Center in The Crags, South Africa. The center provides a safe place for a variety of wild cats that would otherwise suffer at the hands of reasonably upset farmers (imagine the conflict of wolves and farmers near Yellowstone). Part of the center includes opportunities to walk these powerful and beautiful cats when the sun rises and again when it sets. The concept is interesting and intriguing as guests ponder the necessity of walking one of the world's fastest animals. Regardless, it is an experience that can hardly be beat.

With the sun casting it's brilliance over the golden grasses and through the green trees and bushes each participant finds themselves being introduced to two Cheetahs. The Harrington's and crew are introduced to two brothers, Duma and Zulu, the next hour or so will be spent taking turns holding on to the leads, trying to capture a good shot and petting this large, muscular purring kittens. The experience is exhilarating! Each cat possesses such great strength and beauty and to spend such a significant amount of time in their presence is astounding. They lead you through the brush with occasional sprints and moments when you are forced to drop the lead. Every moment feels like the most significant, most extraordinary of ones' lifetime. As the imagery of the lion and the lamb is brought to the forefront of one's thoughts, they must give thanks for this creature and all of creation.

With hardly a moment to truly process what they had just experienced, the Harrington's and crew were sitting down to a cup of hot tea, muffins and scones, preparing to meet the other cats housed at the center and for their next wildlife adventure at MonkeyLand.

Travelling Moments: Time Spent in the Air and in Transit

One drawback of travelling the world are the occassional days of transitioning from one location to the next. From Antigua, Guatemala to Cape Town, South Africa the Harrington's had more than their fair share of time in various airports and on a couple of airlines. Fortunately, their longest stretches of airtime were on the five-star airline, Qatar Airways and even lead them to a one night layover in a fine hotel with delicious Persian foods, hot showers and a most comfortable bed.

The Harrington's began their three day trek to South Africa on American Airlines from Antigua, Guatemala to Miami, Florida. The flight was short and pleasant enough, however the airport was overwhelming and disorganized. The couple was required to retrieve their luggage, go through customs and passport control before making their way to the departing gate. All of this was done in a crowded space with few signs or staff to point the way and reassure the passenger that indeed their luggage would arrive at it's final destination. So it was with great trust they made their way to their gate and eventually their plane where they waited another couple of hours until take-off due to an undisclosed medical emergency.

Arrival in New York also included a bit of locating and resubmitting luggage before grabbing a slice of pizza and waiting for their next flight. The Harrington's waited in anticipation of their flight on Qatar Airways as they had great expectations for high-class service. Their expectations were met and exceeded when they boarded their airbus to find a pillow, blanket, and small satchel holding socks, eyemask, ear plugs, and a toothbrush with toothpaste. The seats were comfortable, there were many movies to choose from, complimentary meals and wine all provided for a most enjoyable flight before landing in Doha, Qatar.

Upon landing, the couple were shuttled to a hotel where they enjoyed dinner and the most lavish accomodations. Having sat in gum at some point during the travels, Melissa made use of the en suite washer and eventually worked out the gum issue before lying down to a good-nights sleep alongside her husband. Morning came quickly but allowed for a quick shower and breakfast buffet before being shuttled to the airport.
At the airport, the Harrington's met up with their friends Abram and Mallory and together the foursome boarded the plane alongside Uruguayans and Dutch, making their way South for big games and big game.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

A Home in Antigua

On Monday, June 29th, Mike and Melissa Harrington arrived in Antigua Guatemala. With address in hand and Quetzales in wallet, the couple loaded themselves and their belongings into a Tuk-Tuk and arrived at Dona Chiqui’s home. Dona Chiqui has been host to many students and travelers; she currently hosts a friend of a friend to the Harrington’s, Sarah. It is Sarah who made the Harrington’s and their friend Mark’s arrangements for Guatemala. It is Sarah who served as a faithful and intelligent guide to the Harrington’s while they explored and enjoyed Antigua.

When staying with Dona Chiqui guests are treated to three homemade meals each day, a private room, showers and even access to a washer and clothesline. The meals alone would satisfy any weary traveler, ranging from cereal and fresh fruits in the morning to refried beans and eggs for dinner; however, it’s the lunches that are meant to fill ones stomach. Lunch has daily included homemade corn tortillas from a neighbor, fresh vegetables with a lemon-salt-onion dressing, slow-cooked meats in tasty sauces and a cold refreshing beverage. Lunch is particularly enjoyable when one has the promise of either napping or playing with neighborhood children in the coming hour.

It took only a matter of days for the Harrington’s to feel at home with Dona Chiqui, her son Christian and Sarah. For five days they have had a home in Antigua, Guatemala and will always remember fondly their time in the home of tile floors and concrete walls set in the city of cobblestone streets and brightly colored shops.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Ode to Antigua

Rest. Relax. Rejuvenate.
Cobblestone streets
remind me of
Volcanoes rise
their majestic
Awake. Aware. Amazed.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Eating in Antigua, a Tantalizing Experience

One of the greatest things surrounding the life of a traveler is the great foods which are presented to the traveler’s palate. Antigua is far from lacking in the culinary department. From traditional (or as they say in Guatemala ‘typical’) dishes to international flavors, Antigua has something for everyone. With only five days to explore the street vendors, restaurants and Dona Chiqui’s, the Harrington’s focused on the local flavors.

The dish most often enjoyed by the Harrington’s was the tostadas. Similar yet completely separate from those of typical American fashion, the tostadas of Antigua start with a fried corn tortilla followed by a generous spread of fresh avocado topped with either cilantro and cheese or cabbage, carrots and cheese and always topped with each vendors special-blend of picante/salsa. Each bite then is crispy and creamy, spicy and scrumptious. What makes the tostadas particularly fabulous is their incredibly low price of 2.5 – 3.5 Quetzales (less than 50 cents each).

Other typical dishes that the Harrington’s were able to purchase and enjoy from the street vendors include: Chilies Rellenos, much unlike those of Mexican Restaurants, these chilies are stuffed with meat and vegetables then served on bread with lettuce and enjoyed as a sandwich. Reinitas are one of the sweet treats of Guatemala showcasing a sweet black bean sauce encased by a plantain. Dulces Tipicos include a wide variety of fruits that undergo a mysterious process until they are a rich reddish brown color dripping with sugary sweetness, the Harrington’s tried a fig of this type which was stuffed with coconut, sweet enough to rot ones teeth out! Within the same family, the Harrington’s also tried a milk candy which they describe as having the flavor of sweetened condensed milk and texture of cheese.

The number on meal of Antigua however isn’t on the streets and definitely not in the guidebooks, it is, in the truest sense of the word, a ‘hole in the wall.’ Unbeknownst to the average passersby, this hole in the wall produces a taco to surpass all other tacos, the potato taco. With the outside walls crumbling and peeling and the restaurant capable of seating a maximum of about 20 patrons, this unsuspecting shop offers the best cheap meal to be found. Sitting on plastic stools one is wise to order 2 potato tacos (the only item on the menu) and 1 horchata; total cost = 10.5 Quetzales (Just over US $1). Two corn tortillas surrounding perfectly baked potato squares are fried and served under a pile of vinegar (or other acidic sauce) soaked cabbage with a perfectly spiced red picante. Avoiding the cockroach in the table drawer, one begins to use their fingers to pile cabbage on each hot and sour, crunchy and flavorful bite of potato taco. And this, dear readers, is the dining experience that will push the Harrington’s forward, as they continue a search for the next great ‘hole in the wall’.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Timeline: the Chronological Order of Events in Guatemala

For family and friends who would like a concise format of how the Harrington's spent their time in Guatemala, the following has been composed:

Sunday, June 28th: Arrive in Guatemala City ~9:30
Stay at Dos Lunas, Mike’s first hostel experience.
Tuesday, June 29th: Breakfast at Dos Lunas while watching Paraguay v. Japan
Drive to San Raymundo – visit Doris and her Family
Arrive in Antigua to stay with Mark, Sarah and her host family, Dona Chiqui
Wednesday, June 30th: Breakfast followed by tostadas, chili relleno and reinita
Visit and explore Market – flowers, pottery, fruits, veggies, meats, artisan
Thursday, July 1st: Explore the Market, purchase various souvenirs
Grab a Tostada
Mike and Mark play football (soccer) with neighborhood children
Walk to restaurant for Potato Tacos
Grab a beer, Gallo, at Monoloco
Friday, July 2nd: Watch Brazil v. Netherlands
Visit the Textiles Museum
Watch Uruguay v. Ghana
Visit an Indoor Market, eat ice cream and of course one more tostada
Last Supper in Guatemala with our host family and dear friend Mark
Saturday, July 3rd: Depart Guatemala at 7:00 am

The Harrington’s get a Close Look at the Work of World Vision

On the 29th of June, 2010 Mike and Melissa Harrington woke up in hostel Dos Lunas in Guatemala City, Guatemala. After a few phone calls and a breakfast of scrambled eggs and fried plantains, the couple found themselves in an SUV with Francisco, the Sponsor Visit Coordinator of Vision Mundial of Guatemala. This was it, the moment they had been waiting for, their anticipation and excitement was nearly tangible, today they would be meeting their sponsor child, Doris and her family.

Here at the Harrington Times we want to convey the true beauty and emotion of this day in the Harrington’s life. In order to do so, we have received the good fortune of having access to Melissa Harrington’s journal entry reflecting the events and emotions of this day in their lives. It is therefore with pleasure and honor we present the story of Meeting Doris:

“Packs loaded, anticipation rising, Mike and I boarded the SUV for our 60 km in 2 hours drive to meet Doris and her family. The drive took us through the bustling third world city of Guatemala City. Shop next to shop; next to shop. Walkways filled with women and girls in brightly patterned skirts and tops. Men and teenagers donned more modern attire of denim jeans and cotton tops. Scents of fried foods reach us in our steel and glass container. School buses fight for room on the road. There seems to be no right of way, no normalcy to driving; yet all drivers are more or less polite and always accommodating.

“At one standstill in traffic we are suddenly surrounded by Guatemalans in traditional dress, men carrying torch-like objects, without flames but rather bearing the images of Saints draped by crepe paper; all of whom are spilling forth from the Cathedral to our right. Perhaps, suggests our driver, they are having a procession of the city Saint. This statement however cannot be made until he has warned us that fireworks will soon be set off on the sidewalk next to us.

“After numerous twists and turns on the windy Guatemalan roads we arrive at the World Vision ADP, essentially the regional office, which serves Doris’ community. With Francisco leading the way we enter the building for a tour and to pick up additional World Vision staff. Upon entering, we are introduced to the Board of Directors for this ADP as well as a group of about a dozen women who will be receiving water filters and water filter training today.
“I lock eyes with a gorgeous little girl in pink and white. Her long dark hair is pulled back into a pony tail, but this is not what has me entranced, it is her deep, dark eyes – what beauty, what innocence.

“But it is time to move on. Up a flight of stairs we find a large group of children and adults. As our eyes fill with tears, do the eyes of many of the adults in the room. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, and seeing each other here helps us recognize that and our gratitude for such truth. Together the children stand, each of these children will be receiving a scholarship to help them attend middle school or high school (only elementary school is free in Guatemala). In return, these 20 or so children will become voices and ambassadors in their communities, serving as catalysts of positive change.

“Three students, a few parents and the director of the scholarship program speak words of gratitude to Mike and me but directed to all child sponsors. Who are we to receive such an honor? Don’t they know we are only flawed servants and stewards of our Lord? We don’t deserve these accolades. We in turn let them know it is our pleasure and honor to be here, with them – for them, we are grateful.

“Humbled by their action and increasingly anxious to meet Doris we continued on our way with two more staff members of World Vision. Twenty minutes more on the road was all it took before Francisco was being asked to park. Our eyes darted between homes and children, anticipating their first sight of our dear Doris. There! Just behind the large truck we spot the girl we’ve only known in photographs, annual reports, letters and drawings – Doris.
“Cautiously, we make our way up the muddy drive-way and the large truck. We are welcomed by two loving embraces, Doris and her mother. We receive also the warm and welcoming smiles of sisters, cousins, grandma and neighbors.

“We are speechless.

“So are they.

“They offer us plastic chairs and we take our seats next to Doris. This is the moment we’ve been waiting for. This is our sole purpose in coming to Guatemala – this beautiful child, her beautiful family. How do we express how grateful we are to be here? We sit. We stay. We begin to converse.

“Where are you from, begins Doris’ mother. What is it like there?

“We are from Wyoming, we reply. There are mountains. We lie at a high elevation. There are only few people. Lots of cold days.

“We learn. Doris’ mother is a volunteer for World Vision, teaching women in the community how to create nourishing meals for children. Here, in Guatemala many children between the ages of 0 and 5 are malnourished. World Vision provides not only training but also vitamin packets to these families so they can reclaim the nutrition of their precious children.

“We learn. Doris is in 3rd grade. Art is her favorite subject, math is not a favorite. She brings out her school notebooks, her art notebook and her natural sciences notebook. She’s drawn a picture of Minnie Mouse and made a boat with newspaper clippings. She knows the Departments (States) of Guatemala and the bones of the human body.

“Francisco explains that in Guatemala they don’t call the children “sponsor children” but rather ambassadors. They are ambassadors in their communities, agents of change. They are ambassadors helping to usher in new attitudes regarding health and education. Doris and her two sisters are ambassadors, serving alongside their mother who has also become a voice as well as the hands and feet of World Vision in Guatemala. How fortunate we are in this moment to meet such an impressive and beautiful family.

“We have already learned, on the drive to San Raymundo, that there are 81,000 sponsor children or ambassadors in Guatemala (however, we do not remember if these are all the sponsored children or a mix of children with sponsors and some without). Either way, that’s potential for a lot of positive change in the communities of Guatemala. With 58% of the population living in poverty (less than US $2 a day per family) and 11% living in extreme poverty (less than US $1 a day per family) the right kind of change could be nothing short of a blessing.

“We have an opportunity to tell Doris that we are teachers and that we will be teaching English in South Korea.

“Now we present an offering of gifts to Doris and her family. Each member of the family receives a University of Wyoming t-shirt, hopeful they like brown and gold. And for Doris, a special set of gifts, the gifts donated by a small Sunday school class as well as a handmade gift from the same group. Perhaps it is too much to give, but it is not our generosity, it is the generosity of other children, children who know privilege but have been taught generosity.

“Having received a notebook, coloring book, crayons, markers, a book of numbers and bubbles it was time for a few photos followed by a lesson in blowing bubbles. I blew a few bubbles in Doris’ face, causing her to smile. Then it was her turn to return the favor and the joy of bubbles.

“Time was now winding down. Good-bye was inevitable, unavoidable. Doris’ mother shared many kind words with us, words of appreciation and gratitude; words of love and kindness. Together we prayed, we for them and they for us. With words, hugs, and prayers exchanged we began our way back to the SUV. Before we could load the vehicle we were asked to wait one moment, in that moment, Doris’ mother came to us with a special Guatemalan gift: a cloth used to carry bread or tortillas from the market. A gift we were honored to receive and will cherish always.

“Back in the vehicle, we slowly begin the process of understanding all that we have experienced. Giving thanks for this honor. Praying that we would be responsible with our privileges. Hoping the best for Doris, her family and her community. Considering the brokenness of the world, and the goodness that can come from individuals and groups of individuals in response to such brokenness. These thoughts take us from gazing out the window to dozing in our seats until we find ourselves in Antigua, the next chapter of our days in Guatemala.”


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