Archive for November, 2010

This Thanksgiving was much different from any other T-day that I have ever had. No turkey, no dressing, no creamed potatoes, green beans, none of that. Instead Kristi and I ate seafood and a lot of it, at least twice a day, oceanfront in Tela, Honduras. To celebrate my 27th birthday in conjunction with my favorite holiday, we took a short vacation from the day-to-day and went to the beach.

The ocean was warm, the pool was chilly, and the beer was cold. Besides a quick trip to the 2nd largest botanical garden in the world (to be detailed in a later blog), we spent our time throwing the Frisbee and taking walks on the beach, swimming in the Caribbean, relaxing poolside, and watching cable TV (with US channels) in our air conditioned room. Though not the most beautiful or amazing hotel in Tela, we found something affordable and had the beach all to ourselves.   We found piles of great shells and rocks.

The real reason nobody was on the beach (creepy bearded guy)

Like BayWatch, except classier

With the US cable television in the room, it was a small challenge to pull Kristi away from Rachael Ray and Oprah (the first she’d seen of her old friends in 9 months). The challenge was made easier with warm Caribbean waters and/or fried shrimp as the incentive. We watched the sun rise over the ocean and set behind the mountains of Honduras on Thanksgiving 2010 knowing we have so much to be thankful for (even without turkey and gravy).

Sunrise over Tela

Here are a few more shots from our trip…

View from our Thanksgiving lunch spot

Found this shell on the beach but it wouldn't fit in my backpack to bring home

Big Head - Roof Top

Sunset view from the roof of our hotel

Roof top bar


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New Posts Coming Soon

We’re taking a little time off this week…

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A few weeks back the community of La Fragoza formed their Junta Administrativa de Agua y Saneamiento, or JAAS.  We had mentioned to Celso that forming a Junta was the next step and to our surprise the community got together on their own and elected the board members.

Recently, Kristi and I had our first meeting with the JAAS to go over the current project (ceramic filters, CTUs, and community health education), review the general structure of a JAAS and the roles and responsibilities of its members, and talk about future water and sanitation projects.

I led the technical portion of the meeting, explaining in more detail the current project.  The JAAS has met and discussed the project a couple times before, but it never hurts to go over things again.  It is very important that they focus on the current potable water/health education project for now even though the ultimate goal is a permanent potable water system and latrines project.  Kristi and I answered a few questions that they still had and stressed the importance of this project as an indicator to potential funding agencies of community commitment and motivation.

Next, Kristi led an activity to help the JAAS learn more about what their roles would be as members of this organization.  We handed out several slips of paper with descriptions of specific responsibilities that corresponded to the different posts (president, vice president, secretary, treasurer, financial assistant, and two support members called vocals).  As a group the members decided which responsibilities went with which posts.  They weren’t always correct with their answers, but I think everyone learned a little more about what their expectations will be as members of the JAAS.  As a result of this activity, there will probably be a change in treasurer because the person elected thinks he may not be able to fully carry out his responsibilities.

It was nice to meet the JAAS as a whole and we look forward to working with them for the rest of our service.  The idea is to meet at least once a month with the JAAS to give trainings on topics such as calculating and setting the water tariff, system maintenance, chlorination, accounting, etc.  We will also be giving health trainings to several members that they can then give to their communities.

Hopefully, Agua Sarca will not be too far behind in electing their Junta so that we can begin the same process in that community.

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New shoes

Not an FJ but sweet anyway

Red Cross Cruiser

Peace Corps Cruiser

In the shop

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To really begin the pursuit of a permanent drinking water system for a rural Honduran community, there are few key pieces that must be present.  Last week in La Fragoza a couple of these pieces fell into place.

Our most recent trip to Fragoza was made with the intent of measuring the quantity of water that the community’s future water source is capable of providing and seeing if that quantity is sufficient to serve the current and future population of the community.  The most viable source in the area is the headwaters of a mountain stream above the communities of La Fragoza and Agua Sarca.  The water here is naturally very clean due to a virtually untouched watershed above the point where a future intake would be located.  This situation is somewhat rare in Honduras as many mountain forests are cut or burned for agricultural use polluting water sources with pesticides and/or livestock related pollution.  Moving forward, it will be very important to monitor the development of this watershed to protect this pristine water source.

The process for determining the flowrate of a potential water source is highly scientific: time how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket.  OK, actually it is super simple, but there are a couple of key steps.

First, the study should be done in the dry season (which is not now).  I decided to go ahead and do the study now, after a period of more than a week without a rain event in the area that would recharge the source and give an artificially high flowrate.  I have been assured by the locals that this source never runs dry even after months of dry weather; this is likely due to the densely forested watershed that acts like a sponge, storing water in the soil for extended periods of time.

Next, to get a good measurement it is important to capture as much of the stream’s flow as possible in the 5 gallon bucket.  This requires the construction of a mini-dam of mud, stones, and leaves to direct all the flow to a point of collection, aided by a PVC pipe (or in some cases the outer layer of a banana tree).  Celso whipped up a dam in about 5 minutes while I attempted to help, but mostly just got in the way.


Finally, with me on the timer, Celso manning the bucket, and Kristi snapping photos, we took several measurements and averaged the times.  After a quick calculation it was determined that flowrate on this day was about 20 gallons per minute (gpm); quite a bit higher than I had anticipated.  Because of the more than adequate flow and good water quality, I believe this source should be used to provide water to La Fragoza as well as Agua Sarca instead of finding a second source for Agua Sarca which is farther down the watershed.

20 gallons per minute

Using the current population of the communities (about 280 people), a conservative growth rate, and a design period of 20 years, the future population can be calculated.  This future population is used to calculate the necessary daily maximum flowrate as well as the hourly maximum flowrate.  For a future population of about 460 people, the daily max is about 12 gpm and the hourly max about 18 gpm.  With our measurement of 20 gpm, I feel very comfortable in using this stream as the sole water source for both La Fragoza and Agua Sarca.  Verifying the adequacy of the source is a major step in the journey towards a water system.

This success was not the only step taken that day in La Fragoza.  That afternoon the entire community met at the schoolhouse and elected a governing body that will eventually manage and maintain all water and sanitation related issues in the community.  The body is called a Junta de Administración de Agua y Saneamiento or “JAAS”. Their responsibilities include all future water/sanitation related endeavors as well as the current water treatment project (Combined Treatment Units and Ceramic Filters) that ADEC, IRWA, Kristi and I are currently working on.  Important JAAS functions include system maintenance, collection of tariffs, and community education.  This election is highly encouraging as it was entirely organized by the community with hardly any outside support; a great sign of community motivation.  Unfortunately due to the ever present transportation issue we were not able to stay the afternoon to observe the meeting, however, Celso called us bright and early the next day to fill us in on the results.  A JAAS still must be formed in Agua Sarca, and this will be a point of emphasis for Kristi and I in the coming weeks as well as planning a few informational sessions to train the new JAAS members of both communities.

JAAS formation is at least as critical as a good water source.  A couple of very important steps forward have us feeling energized and hopeful in our work in the mountains above Trinidad.

Enjoy some other pics we took that day:

Kids from the school getting water from the stream to carry back to the school

Celso y David

Cute all the way around

Kristi posing at nearby garden of a wealthy landowner from San Pedro Sula

Coffee ripe for the pickin'

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To be honest we know little about the ruins at Copán besides the fact that they are Mayan.  We would love to read more about the Maya and specifically the ruins in Copán but we didn’t get a chance to do much of that before this trip (other than Wikipedia).

Before visiting the ruins we made our way to the Copán municipal building to see an exhibition with photographs taken by the first archaeological expedition to visit the ruins in the 1890s.  The photos were fascinating and made us even more excited to actually visit the site.

A couple of folks recommended we hire a guide while visiting the ruins but we decided to go it alone and just explore the grounds.  For about two hours we climbed, photographed, wondered at, and simply enjoyed our surroundings.

Guacamaya (Scarlet Macaw) and the first view of the ruins

Ball court in foreground, in the background is the impressive hieroglypic staircase, protected from the elements

Overlooking the Great Plaza

Also touring the ruins was a large group of military guys...field trip?


Glyphs at the base of the temple from previous photo

Base of the temple looking out over the East Court

During our trip to Omoa we met some German travelers on their way down from Guatemala who said that basically Copán wasn’t all that.  Silly Europeans!  We were blown away by the site which was incredibly serene and seemed to go on forever.  Every time we climbed a wall thinking we were at the edge there was another plaza awaiting exploration.


Stela and altar

Beautiful macaws...there were at least 10

We had an incredible time exploring Copán and can’t wait to visit again!

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As we told you in the last post, our recent week spent with a US medical brigade ended with a weekend in the town of Copán Ruinas, home to the Mayan ruins of Copán.  You may have noticed I said the town is called Copán Ruinas and the ruins are called simply Copán…a little backward to me but most people just refer to both the town and the ruins as simply Copán.

Located in Western Honduras only 12km from the Guatemalan border, Copán is a very quaint tourist town nestled in beautiful rolling green mountains.  I found Copán to be kinda like the Disney World version of a Honduras town, in the best way possible – the cobble stone streets are lined with restaurants, classy hotel fronts, real jewelry stores, tour company offices, and almost zero trash in the streets.

After nearly 4 hours driving (in extremely comfortable and climate controlled rented vans) we pulled up to a beautiful hotel.  Zach, Mark, David and I got out and hesitantly walked into the lobby…the general thought seemed to be “are we really staying here?!”  The hotel grounds were absolutely stunning; we first walked out to a large stone courtyard with a hot tub and a large swimming pool that shared an open pass through in the hotel bar.  Around every corner was another courtyard with tropical plants and bubbling water features.

Panorama of the main courtyard

Our room featured an overhead fan (what a luxury!), air conditioning (which we don’t seem to require anymore), a cable TV, a huge bathroom with hot water and a shower the size of a gym locker room, and an extremely comfortable bed with those huge fluffy down comforters and down pillows.  Wow.  It was heaven.  And there was free breakfast to boot  – pancakes, bacon (which we have eaten only one other time in the past 8 months), scrambled eggs, and fresh fruit.  Two thumbs way up for the Hotel Marina Copán!!

Crispy bacon and an adorable mini pitcher of syrup!

We arrived around lunchtime on Thursday and spent the rest of the afternoon checking out town and making sure the hot tub was hot (it was).  Trust me – if you ever want to see the biggest, dopiest smiles of your life just take 4 dirty Peace Corps volunteers to a nice hotel with a pool!  While soaking ourselves to wrinkled oblivion we made our plan of attack for Friday.  The final decision was ruins in the morning, quick lunch, then horseback riding to a canopy/zip line tour.


More on the ruins to come in a second post but for now just know that they were breathtaking.  Horseback riding was a ripoff but the young cowboy who accompanied us was sweet and fun to chat with.  Mark (wisely) skipped the horses and met up with us at the canopy tour.

David's riding a 3 year old mare that was won in a game of poker

After we were all decked out in our harnesses and helmets we loaded into the back of the truck for our ascent into the canopy.  It was at this point that I started to wonder if I really wanted to be zipping hundreds of feet in the air on a thin metal cable.  By the time we reached the first platform my knees were shaking and my stomach was full of butterflies!

Zip line crew

After riding the first two cables solo I still hadn’t gotten over the shaky knees and wasn’t quite sure I was enjoying myself.  I brought up to the guide that I was having trouble braking – which is accomplished by pulling down (not squeezing) on the cable with a gloved hand, trouble is my nervous hands couldn’t help but tightly squeeze the cable which made it difficult and straining on my arm to brake.  So he said we could ride the cable at the same time and he would do all the braking, phew!  Our first cable riding together was 1km long, several hundred feet in the air, and connected two mountaintops.  I think I made the right choice going with the guide!  The rest of my cables were spent gazing out at incredible views of the town, Rio Copán, the ruins, and even a flock of tropical birds.

How can you tell it's David? (Yep, he's still wearing that shirt)

Celso, my zip line partner (aka "The Brake")

This was both David and I’s first time doing a canopy tour and we had a great time!  Mark had done one before that was actually more in the canopy whereas this course offered mostly open air, mountain-to-mountain cables.  It was a little expensive for our PC budget ($17 real US dollars which was a half price special) and the guides kinda pushed us through the course really fast which resulted in David and Mark missing any opportunity to take a picture of me zipping (they did manage to take pics of each other…machistas!) but a fun time was definitely had by all!

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