Home Safe and Sound

After a 7 hour bus ride from Guatemala to El Salvador.  A 3 hour delay flying into Miami due to storms.  A mechanical issue with our plan leaving Miami to Chicago.  To two missed connections in Chicago.  I’m finally home and it only two three days of traveling.  It is needless to say that this trip will go down as one of kind.

Nothing made me more happy then to see my wife and son at the airport when arrived.  I love traveling and coaching the sport of Weightlifting but nothing means more to me then spending time with my family.  I love you Babe.

To all the Women’s Team Members I want to congratulate you on a job well done.  We had many great performances.  As a Team we moved up two positions from last year from 9th to 7th along with several Personal Record Performances.  Sarah Robles highlighted the trip wining the Silver Medal in the 75+ kilo class.  Sarah was our highest female placer.  Other athletes such as Erin Wallace of Shreveport, LA went six for six and three new Personal Records.  As the Head Women’s Coach I want to say it was an honor and a priveledge to coach all of the girls.  I would also like to thank Kyle Pierce (Head Men’s Coach), Bob Morris (Assistant Coach), and Glen Pendlay (Team Leader) for all their hard work during this unique competition.  I would like to especially thank Kyle Pierce for taking over the travel plans for Team US when were going to be stranded in Guatemala.  Kyle’s contacts, experience, and the fact that he had the only working phone in the country helped us get everyone out safe and sound.  Thanks Kyle.

To all the athletes and coaches that I met on this trip new and old I want to thank you for your time, conversations, and hospitality I will never forget it.

Well that will wrap up this trip and now on to preparing for the next one.

Take Care from Coach Joe

Driving across Guatemala to El Salvador

The decision was made by the entire coaching staff to drive to El Salvador and try to fly out of the San Salvador Airport.  Not knowing when the Guatemalan Airport would re open left us with little options.  We could stay and ride it in Guatemala or we could attempt to drive to El Salvador.  We decided to go.

Most of the other teams had already driven to San Salvador.  We were the last to go.  For Americans it is a different situation, we don’t speak the language like the other South American Countries and we have a big dollar sign on our heads when we travel.  Many countries don’t like us and many know we have money.  Before we left there was much debate whether or not it was safe for us to travel across Guatemala and into El Salvador.  Rumors of Banditos and croaked cops filled the hotel.  Stories of border cops informing local outlaws of our travel plans alarmed many athletes.   Thoughts of criminals bordering the bus robbing everyone and kidnapping the girls was brought up to the coaching staff.  Before we decided to go Dr. Kyle Pierce, the Men’s Head Coach, contacted USA Weightlifting, the United States Olympic Committee, the State Department, the US Embassy in Guatemala, and the local organizers.  We insisted on having an armed guard escort to the border and another escort to the hotel in San Salvador.  The US Embassy was useless.  They would not help us in anyway.  The merely told us it wasn’t safe and to stay put.  I thought this is the one of the main reasons for having a US Embassy in a foreign country their there to help out stranded Americans especially a team of US Athletes.  They could have easily provided security for our bus.  After that didn’t get us anywhere the local organizers of the competition guaranteed us a large tour bus with armed security to the border once at the border El Salvadorian police would escort us to our hotel which was by the airport.  With this guarantee we decided to go.

To say there was a bit of high tension in the air on the morning of our departure would have been a major understatement.  To add insult to injury by now almost every member of the US Team was suffering from some degree of Traveler’s Diarrhea.  The thought of getting on a bus for 4-5 hours didn’t sit well with many.  Once again we were assured that the bus would have a bathroom and the Team Doc provide everyone with either Immodium, Tubs, or Pepto.  When the bus arrived we were shocked to find that it was not a nice tour bus with a bathroom but a regular city bus with no air conditioning.  After only arguing with the organizer’s for about 10 minutes over the issue we realized that we were killing dale light and that we should get on the road before traffic got to bad.  If you never been to Guatemala in June it can be very hot and muggy.  This bus ride was not going to be fun.

As we left the hotel we were happy to see our police escort following the bus.  This put everyone at ease dispute the rough traveling conditions.  As long as we had security everyone was willing to put up with a little discomfort.  Traveling by bus truly gives you a look at the local city and country that you wouldn’t see from an airplane.  Seeing the daily interactions, sounds, and smells of the local culture gives you a greater appreciation.  Like most cities the traffic around 8-10 am is pretty bad Guatemala City is no different.  it took us almost one and half to two hours just to get out of the city.  Once outside we were slowed by road construction before the floods and now new construction to remove the mud and rubble from the recent storms.

The country side of Guatemala is very pretty with it’s rolling hills, thick rich forest, and small farms.  On our journey we passed threw many towns that we thought were damaged by the storms but came to realize that is how these people live.  The opportunity to witness such poverty and horrendous living conditions was part humbling and extremely sad to see.

For the most part, our travel across Guatemala was uneventful until we got to the border.  At the border everyone had to get off the bus and check our passports with the Guatemalan Agents.  Once getting stamped we were surprised to find out that our El Salvadorian Security Guards were no where to be seen.  Our Guatemalan Security Guards had no idea what we were talking about.  They informed us their responsibility was to get us to the border that’s it and they left.  There is about a one mile strip from the Guatemalan Border to the El Salvadorian Border that is separated by a small bridge crossing a river.  After a couple un successful phone calls by Kyle Pierce to get someone on the phone to make sure that on the other side of that bridge there would be an El Salvadorian Police Escort waiting for us.  To now avail we were left on our own the rest of the way.  Once again tensions ran extremely high.  As we left the border of Guatemala we were delayed almost an hour due to the small road and large semis that needed to travel through it.  It was literally one truck at a time.  Once threw that mess our bus was boarded by El Salvadorian Border Agents.   They checked everyone’s passports to make sure they received their stamp from Guatemala.  The entire procedure was very informal and makes you understand why so much criminal element happens down here because their security is so lax.

Once threw the border crossing we were back on the road and enjoying the sites of the countryside.   At first there is little geographical difference in appearance between Guatemala and El Salvador.  We still passed by poverty stricken towns and lush jungles.  But slowly we found ourselves on  better highway and started to see signs of slightly better conditions.  Still not having any security escort alarmed the coaching staff but at this point we weren’t going to go back.

After about a 7 hour drive we finally made it to the Hotel.  It was on a private compound minutes from the hotel.  This hotel would be considered high end even for US Standards.  The entire team was relieved.  Once settled in the entire team ate one of the better meals of the entire trip.  We came to realize that this hotel was filled with many Americans whom had left Guatemala under the same conditions.  All of which were preparing to had back to the US from the San Salvador Airport.  We felt at ease.

I am preparing to leave for the airport.  I will finish this blog on my journey to Guatemala when I return to the US.  Bye for now.