Archive for the ‘Honduras’ Category

The Rising Oceans

Friday, March 16th, 2007

   I am sitting in an internet cafe in Punta Arenas, Chile, right now, doing web searches to figure out just how big of a problem sea level rise will be. The sea level has already risen over the past century, although only about one inch. As more glacial ice melts, what will it do from here on?

Monterey Bay and Research Station
Malibu, CA
La Paz Shoreline

   The most likely result is not that bad – maybe a foot and a half this century. This could be very bad for many places I have visited – especially along the Caribbean coast—and also make storms much worse, not to mention erode some nice beaches. But I might not call it a disaster.

Mazatlan Coast
Beach at Placencia
Coast at Omoa
Panama City
The San Blas Islands

   The problem, though, is that it takes a long time for ice sheets to melt, and we don’t really know how long that is. In the ‘long run,’ which could be centuries or millennium, with a likely 3 degree C warming, the ocean could rise 80 feet. We don’t know if it is centuries or millennium, because computer models for ice sheets are very inaccurate. If it is centuries, as some argue, the oceans could rise much faster than we would like – maybe a foot a decade. And, again, we don’t know, but, well, do we want to find out?

Cartagena sits barely above sea level
Santa Fe Coastline

   As I have said before, I am in Punta Arenas right now. Punta Arenas sits on the shore of the Straight of Magellan on the southern tip of South America, and is just one of the many cities on the coast that I have visited. Throughout this entry I have interspersed photos of the coastlines I have visited on this trip – take a look at them and envision what a 1 foot, 10 foot, or 80 foot sea level rise would look like.

Puerto Natales
Puerto Natales Shore
Punta Arenas Shoreline

Travel Summary – Central America

Friday, May 26th, 2006

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Hello from South America!

   Since the last update, I have biked the length of Central America, visiting all 7 countries (see map of my route) and adding 2,400 miles to the trip. This trip continues to exceed my expectations, and I have visited schools and appeared in the national media of almost every country I have biked through. I am now in Colombia, where I arrived from Panama only a few days ago.

In La Prensa - Panama's national newspaper
Camping on the beach, near Las Lajas
Escuela El Progreso, Los Arroyos, La Union


  • 3/12 Mayan ruins and climate change
  • 3/17 Dennis Murphree joins me for Belize
  • 3/21 Learning to SCUBA and the fate of coral reefs
  • 3/26 Dennis Murphree speaks
  • 3/31 Honduran countryside
  • 4/7 A week through El Salvador
  • 4/15 Should I bike Colombia?
  • 4/15 Media coverage for rideforclimate
  • 4/16 Honduras, Nicaragua, and swimming with the locals
  • 4/18 Hurricanes and climate change
  • 4/29 Pops joins me from Nicaragua to Costa Rica
  • 4/30 Biodiversity and climate change
  • 5/8 Costa Rica to Panama City
  • 5/14 Deforestation in Central America
  • 5/15 A sailboat through the Panama Canal
  • BEST VIDEOS FROM CENTRAL AMERICA (click on the links below to watch)
    Scuba diving in Belize
    Kids dancing at pool in Nicaragua (large file – watch only if you have a high speed connection)
    My father joins me and rides a silly looking bicycle
    Dogs chasing me in Costa Rica
    Riding through the Panama Canal

       Central America is a region highly vulnerable to climate change. Rising sea levels and stronger storms could cause hardship, especially for the poor (of which there are a lot in Central America). Climate models for the region show warmer temperatures as well as perhaps less precipitation, both of which will be bad for agriculture. Many species as well may be threatened by a warmer climate. Finally, the coral reefs that line the coasts are greatly threatened by a warmer earth.

    Monte Verde Cloud Forest
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)
    Coral Reef in Belize

        Environmental Defense has a new website to help you reduce your carbon emissions: On this site you can calculate how much carbon dioxide you put into the atmosphere, and learn how to reduce these emissions.

       I have created a paypal link so that you can give money on my site to the Union of Concerned Scientists and Environmental Defense. Many people have also offered to help with my travel expenses, and there is now also a link for this. These are on my take action page.

       Did you really think I would stop biking? I have decided I need to take rideforclimate to the U.S. Here are the tentative plans.

       In Colombia, I am biking through Cartagena, Medellin, and Bogota. I’ll then head towards Venezuela, following the northern coast before turning south into Brazil. I will arrive in Manaus, which sits on the Amazon River, where I will likely send my next update. If you know of organizations, schools, or researchers to visit on this route, let me know!

       I am now in Cartagena, Colombia, on the northern coast of South America. If all goes to plan, in 10 or 11 months I will be at southern tip of the continent, in Ushuia, Argentina.


    Total Miles Biked: 6321

    Flats by country in Central America:

    four flats in one day

    Belize: 0
    Honduras: 4
    El Salvador: 1
    Nicaragua: 0
    Costa Rica: 1
    Panama: 10 (ugh)

    A Ride for the Climate is sponsored by:
    Mike’s Bikes of Palo Alto
    Clif Bar
    Hobson Seats

    Leave a Comment!

    Deforestation in Central America

    Sunday, May 14th, 2006

       Deforestation is a major problem in Central America. A quick look at the statistics shows that in the past 15 years, 20% of the countries’ forests have been destroyed. As I have biked through Central America, I have seen countless roadsides which were once covered by forests, but are now ranch land or farmland.

    Deforestation in Honduras
    One of El Salvador's many volcanos (Volcan de San Vicente)
    Lots of land cleared for cattle along the road.

       The problems associated with deforestation include loss of biodiversity, soil erosion, more landslides, greater flooding, and more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Cutting down forests releases a large amount of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere, and in these small, mostly poor countries, these emissions are comparable to the countries’ use of fossil fuels.

    Deforestation in Costa Rica
    Building a house out of adobe (mud blocks)

       While in Panama City, I talked to someone who wrote Panama’s proposal to reduce deforestation. The people cutting down the forests, in general, are very poor – subsistence farmers who need to clear land to grow food to eat. It seems that the only viable method of reducing deforestation here is to find these people other work or to pay them to not cut down the forest. Protecting forests without finding these people other income could cause great hardship.

       In Panama City, I also visited Futuro Forestal, a company that purchases pastureland and converts it to forest. The wood from the forest is harvested after 25 years, and sold. While this is not as good as a full forest, it still takes significant carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere, and is far better than ranch land. It also provides local jobs and makes a profit. You can also buy carbon credits through them as well.

    This part was hilly.
    First day of biking in Guatemala

       Stopping deforestation in poorer regions will require foreigners and locals to work together – with foreigners helping to provide financial incentives to protect the forests.

    Hurricanes, Climate Change, and Central America

    Tuesday, April 18th, 2006

       Since arriving in Central America, I have asked nearly every person I have stayed with about how hurricanes have affected their lives.

    Beach at Placencia

       In Belize, the majority of the population lives in coastal settlements that are barely above sea level. The town where I learned to SCUBA dive, Placencia, was almost completely destroyed by Hurricane Iris in 1991. People with insurance or in the tourism industry have rebuilt. Others sold their land and moved. Down the road from Placencia is Sand Bite, a small town that does not receive tourism dollars. This town has not fully rebuilt from the storm.

       Hurricanes are likely to be stronger on a warmer earth. A recent study (here is a description) showed how an increase in the power of Atlantic hurricanes over the past 20 years is correlated with warmer ocean water in the Atlantic. This makes intuitive sense – hurricanes get their energy from warm ocean water, and warmer ocean water should mean more powerful hurricanes. More powerful hurricanes are also predicted by climate models. Furthermore, much of the damage done by hurricanes is not just by their winds, but by the rain that accompanies the storms. A warmer atmosphere can hold more water, and thus will likely provide heavier rains (read more on rains here).

       In 1998, a huge category 5 hurricane, Hurricane Mitch, tore through the Caribbean and then parked itself over Central America, affecting almost every country. Ten thousand people died, and over 100,000 were left homeless.

    Flood waters of Hurricane Mitch reached the third floor of this building
    There used to be houses all along this bank in Tegucigalpa.

       The storm hit Honduras the hardest. It destroyed some coastal communities and then dropped amazing amounts of rain. A security guard at the San Pedro Sula airport described water in his house up to his armpits. A family who I stayed with in the countryside told me that they lost all of their crops. I asked what they did that year, and they replied that they were hungry that year. In Tegucigalpa, the flooding reached the third floor of some buildings (such as the building on the left). According to my city guide Carleton, many of the houses on the hill sides washed away. He showed me a large section of bare earth (shown on the right) where there used to be houses.

    I camped in front of Cristina's house.
    Omar explains that all these new houses replaced those destroyed by Hurricane Mitch

       The destruction continued in the rest of Central America. In San Miguel, El Salvador, one man described a landslide that destroyed many homes. In Nicaragua, the family that I swam with on Good Friday invited me back to their house. Their house had been destroyed by Mitch, and rebuilt a year later by help from the government (photo left). Also in Nicaragua, I spent one night at the house of Cristina, who is shown on the right. Cristina explained that although no one in her community died, they lost all of their animals. “We ate a lot of rice and beans.”

       Mitch was so strong that its name has been retired – whereas most names for storms are reused after a few years, meteorologists will never again use the name Mitch. If current research is correct, though, we will see more storms like Mitch. And, the people who will suffer the most will be the people who I have met here in Central America – people who live in poorly constructed houses, who live on vulnerable slopes, or who rely on the food they grow to live.

       Based on these stories, it seems that the human toll of Hurricane Mitch was many times worse than any storm in the U.S. Again, this is because of how people live here – they have fewer resources to survive and recover from a storm. Yet, growing up in the U.S., for a long time I thought that hurricanes damaged only Florida and nearby states because that is what I heard about in the media. Somehow we need to expand our view to other countries, especially as our actions – emissions of greenhouse gasses – will make storms worse internationally.

    Through Honduras to Nicaragua

    Sunday, April 16th, 2006

       Leaving El Salvador, I climbed into the mountains of Honduras, continuing my winding route through Central America (see the map of my route).

    I stayed here for the night

       Returning to Honduras, I spent my first night camped outside of a family’s house in the countryside. Like the last Honduran family I stayed with, they had no electricity, although they did have many candles and they ran a small store selling refreshments. They invited me into their home, let me cook my dinner on their stove, and showed me pictures of past family events.

       Earlier that day, I drank some water I should not have. That night, I emerged from my tent many times, and one time left a pile of vomit in the lawn near the outhouse. This is not the way to be a good guest. Although a dog and the rain immediately cleaned up my mess, the family had heard me, because, as they told me in the morning, they could not sleep because of mosquitoes at night. They said they could not afford a mosquito net. The mother gave me some medicine and wished me well; I felt bad that I had little to give in return, but I shared some of my food and offered to mail them a copy of a picture I took of them.

       After spending a day recovering in a hotel in the city of La Paz, I biked into Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ capital city. The city sits at about 3,000 feet above sea level in the middle of a large valley surrounded by pine forests. Here I stayed with Marta and Carleton, the mother and step-father of a friend of mine from college. Carleton runs a school, but it was the week before Easter, and all of Latin America is on vacation (I did, however, get an interview on television). Nonetheless, Carleton gave me a tour of the city and told me about how he once ran for mayor of Tegucigalpa. He ran on an anti-corruption platform, but then lost the race to a man who, as was later learned, received illegal funding from the government.

    Main Plaza, Tegucigalpa
    Houses on hillside, Tegucigalpa
    Marta and Carleton helped me out in Tegucigalpa.

       I continued into Nicaragua, which did not change dramatically from Honduras. Nicaragua is one of the poorer countries in Latin America (see comparison). Like El Salvador, Nicaragua had a long civil war during the 1980s. However, in Nicaragua, it was the government that was socialist instead of the guerillas attempting to overthrow it. As such, the U.S. massively supported the guerrillas, and also enacted a trade embargo that strangled the country (the people fighting the government were known as ‘contras,’ and you may know of this from the ‘Iran-contra’ affair).

    Dancing at the pool....they start so young here.
    Swimming with the family on Semana Santa, near la Trinidad

       Now the country is peaceful, and, like El Salvador, I felt relatively safe biking. As it was the week before Easter, everyone was on vacation, and most people were at the beach or the local swimming hole. On Good Friday, I passed a family that demanded I join them at the local pool. Despite the strange murky color of the pool water, I enjoyed playing tag and diving into the crowded pool. If you have a high-speed connection, you should look at the video on the right.

       Arriving in Managua, Nicaragua’s capital, I stopped at the airport to pick up my father, who will be biking with me through Nicaragua and Costa Rica. In an effort to embarrass his son, pops showed up at the airport with the most ridiculous looking bicycle he could possibly find – a folding bike that can fit within a suitcase. With over half a dozen security guards watching us, we quickly assembled his bike, attached the suitcase as a trailer, and biked away from the airport.

    Pops shows up at the Managua airport with his folding bike
    Security made sure it was safe to assemble the bicycle, Managua airport
    Pops brought a silly-looking bike just to embarrass me