I am a grandmother paddling alone over 2,500 miles from Maine to Guatemala. Along the way I will be:
- telling the story of the children who live in the Guatemala City garbage dump community
- honoring their entrepreneurial mothers
- talking about the success of the Safe Passage model school and
- raising funds for additional grades for the school.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What's the route?

Google Maps view of the Kayak Expedition to Guatemala
How will I get from Maine to Guatemala on the Kayak Safe Passage Expedition?

Ever since I first became involved with Safe Passage, I have been dreaming about kayaking from my home in Maine to Guatemala.  It seemed like a crazy idea. Maybe it would be crazy enough that I could use it to attract attention to the children living in Guatemala City garbage dump community. Along the way I could share the story about how Safe Passage is helping them to break the cycle of poverty through education.

At first I thought about paddling all along the Atlantic coast, round the Gulf of Mexico, and then along the Caribbean coast.  I poured over nautical charts and it all looked doable - until I came to a section of the coast of Mexico.  The charts showed long stretches of dumping surf with no ports or inlets to land in.  While landing and launching through dumping surf is not easy or very safe, it is not completely impossible.  But then I remembered something else about that section of the coast .  I recalled stories of small craft being attacked by gunmen.  (You can read one account in Dave Starkell's Paddle to the Amazon.)  The possibility of being attacked by gunmen was a deal breaker.  The dream was crushed.

Years latter, sitting under the tropical vegetation in a cafe in Guatemala, after a couple of glasses of wine, the solution appeared.  I was talking with Rich Howe, who was following me as president of the board of Safe Passage.  He talked about his dream of sailing with a friend to Guatemala.  We got very excited as we realized that combining our dreams would make my dream possible.  If I got a ride on a sail boat from Florida to Belize, I could avoid the problems along the Mexican coast.  Rich Howe's friend, Bernie Horn, President of Polaris Capital Management, generously agreed to provide that transportation. The dream was back on!

In November, I was talking with a Guatemalan who spends lots of time on the water and knows the area well.  He told me more about those problem areas along the Mexican coast.  Turns out that different drug families "own" certain stretches of the coast, and small craft just don't go there.  I was so glad I had made the decision not to paddle there!

The kayaking part of expedition route is over 2,500 miles long.  You can see the route in some detail on Google Maps.  You may think the route doesn't look 2,500 miles long.  The answer is... fractals!  On Google Maps, the route is only shown very approximately in big steps.  The smaller you make the steps, the longer the coastline becomes!  This is the famous coastline paradox.

I'll be paddling along the Atlantic coast from Maine, tucking in behind both Cape Ann and Cape Cod in Massachusetts.  Then I'll follow the north shore of Long Island Sound, come down alongside Manhattan, behind Staten Island and circle round to reach the Jersey shore.  Midway down New Jersey I'll enter the Intracoastal Waterway.  I'll cut behind Cape May and head up the Delaware Bay and then down the Chesapeake, and along the Intracoastal to Florida.  I'll hop onto Bernie's sailboat to get to Belize.  There I will paddle behind the reef, and then along a short stretch of exposed seas before paddling up the Rio Dulce, to end at Lake Izabal in Guatemala.  When the kayaking is over I will take the bus to Guatemala City and visit with the Safe Passage children and the mothers in the garbage dump community.

When I fly to Guatemala to volunteer, there is such a disconnect.  I walk onto a plane, stow my carry-on,  and sit down.  Hours later I walk off the plane, and I could be anywhere.  By traveling at jet speed rather than human speed, I have no real feeling of where I am geographically.  I could be anywhere.  I'm looking forward to kayaking to Guatemala: traveling at human speed, seeing the changes in land and sea, and talking with folks along the way about the children at Safe Passage.  By sharing the children's stories about how integrated social, health and educational programs at Safe Passage are changing their lives and breaking the cycle of poverty in the dump community, I hope that folks along the way will be inspired to help the children.

You can learn more at www.safepassage.org/expedition 
Follow me on Twitter: @kayakSP 
Like us on Facebook: Kayak Safe Passage Expedition 

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