Monday, December 18, 2006

Letterboxers of the Round Table

It was a cold, but beautiful day here in the Pacific Northwest. Many are still left without power from the windstorm earlier this week. But it was a day to gather, tell stories, and perhaps 30 or 40 letterboxers showed up at a Round Table pizza in Tacoma to whittle the afternoon away.

Amanda and I weren't sure we'd attend since neither of us were feeling in top shape. Amanda suffered from a fever that didn't break until the night before the event, and I have a cold/cough that makes talking difficult, but it was a letterboxing gathering! We wanted to be there or die trying. I'm happy to report, we did not have to die trying.

White elephant gifts were exchanged, and more than one contained cooties. Remember this the next time you exchange white elephant gifts with a letterboxer--you may get more than you bargained for! But really, that box with 32 cooties was over the top.

Just kidding--there wasn't really a box with 32 cooties, but now that I've thrown the idea out there, it'll probably happen! Never trust a letterboxer. Never. ;o)

I'd met most of the people at the gathering before, and it was fun to catch up with them, but I'd like to mention one fairly new letterboxer I was thrilled to meet for the first time. Her name is JWalk, but it wasn't until I started looking through her logbook and the bells started ringing in my head. I recognized one of the stamps in it as being my own--not unusual, really--except this particular stamp is extremely rare. I planted it in 2002 while wandering through the mountains of Guatemala.

Now anyone who knows me knows I absolutely love Guatemala, so seeing that stamp certainly got my attention. JWalk! The name didn't register with me, but I had exchanged e-mails with her before. She contacted me earlier this year within days after learning about letterboxing, but was headed to Guatemala for a couple of months the next day and was a bit bummed about not being able to find more letterboxes before leaving for a country that has a total of SIX letterboxes in the entire country. None of which were planted in her destination at Quetzaltenango.

There are places in the United States with few letterboxes, but imagine cutting your teeth and finding some of your first letterboxes in a third-world country where the locals don't speak English and most people can't even find the country on a map! JWalk went to Guatemala with one find under her belt, if I recall correctly, and for the next couple of months, the only letterboxes she'd be able to find were a handful that Amanda and I planted four years before that, so far as we knew, nobody had ever tried to look for.

Weeks went by before I got my first report from her--Volcan Pacaya, which I planted in the tourist town of Antigua. After four years, the box was still there. (The first letterbox planted in Guatemala, I might add, which gives it a special status, I should think.) It was very exciting to learn she had found this box.

She later looked for almost all of the boxes Amanda and I planted in Central America. Lago del Atitlan was a tricky box to find to begin with, so it's hard to tell if the box really was missing or if she just wasn't able to find it. The boxes we planted at Tikal she didn't have a chance to look for because she got kicked out of the park before she had a chance to. (Perhaps the best excuse I've ever heard for someone not looking for one of my boxes!) She found one of the three boxes I planted in Copan, Honduras, but she thinks some of the landmarks I used may have changed since the clues were written. One of the three is confirmed gone, however, since she did find pieces of it. The third one--might still be there. Might not. The Turtle of Utila, one of my more magnificent carvings, is almost certainly missing. I remember an empty field where I planted it, and JWalk described a bustling commercial area where the clues lead. The Bay Islands of Honduras are particularly vulnerable to hurricanes, and I expected that box to last only as long as a hurricane didn't pass through the area. They build houses on stilts in Utila for a reason, but I couldn't put my letterbox on stilts.

The final tally was four boxes we planted weren't found, three were found, and four were not attempted nor found.

After her return to the states, I kind of lost track of her. She wasn't finding my boxes anymore and now had a LOT more boxes to choose from than just the ones planted by Amanda and myself. She did plant one box in Quetzaltenango--a box I'm itching to look for but is a bit far off the beaten path (even by my standards!).

So it was with some surprise when I looked through her logbook and show that Volcan Pacaya stamp. Oh, THAT JWalk! What a pleasant surprise to meet the one person who's ever looked for those boxes--rather extreme conditions given how new she was to letterboxing. Just remember, if you have a rough time of it, there's always someone out there who's has to letterbox under even more challenging conditions. =) I'm glad the nearly 50% failure rate to find our boxes in Central America didn't turn her off of letterboxing, though.

So that was my big and unexpected thrill from the evening. =) She had no idea I was planning to attend the gathering either, so when I exclaimed about her finding my Volcan Pacaya box, I think she was equally surprised replying, "You're Ryan?"

But the whole gathering was a blast. We laughed, we exchanged cooties (hopefully none of the nasty kinds that took down Amanda and myself, however), and enormous thanks to Happy Papaya to organized the event. (And speaking of which, doesn't the trail name Happy Papaya sound like something from Guatemala? I'd never eaten, drank, and ingested as much papayas as I did those four months I spent in Central America.)

Alas, we seem to be a bit short of pictures from the event. Anyone have some they care to upload?

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