Archive for February, 2011

This week, after 4 months of planning and organizing, we finally delivered the ceramic filters and CTU tanks to La Fragosa!  By this point you’ve read all about the project so I’ll let the pictures do the talking…

Expert packing job

Community members and ADEC tecnico

Enough sitting around...get to work!

Repairing the water line to the school

Charla on cleaning and maintaining the filters (each filter comes in a bucket with a lid)

Happy customers! Community members paid around $5 for the filter and ADEC subsidized the other $15.

Time to learn about the Combined Treatment Units

Practicing with the tanks. In the top tank Aluminum Sulfate is added to the raw water, after 20 minutes of mixing the sediment unites and sinks to the bottom of the tank. The water can then be passed to the lower tank for chlorination.

Josue demonstrating how to test for chlorine

David and I with the Patronato and Junta members, and the adorable gemelitas (twins).

So there you have it!  In the end, 29 (of about 35)  families ordered filters! We padded the order to include 3 extra filters – which were immediately bought bringing the total to 32 filters – that’s about 90% community participation!  Not too shabby!

From here we will begin the education and monitoring phase.  Over the next year we will be giving charlas in the school, continuing to train the newly formed Junta, monitoring the use of the CTU, and making house calls to check on the filter usage.  There is still plenty to do but it feels really good to have the filters in the community!  Thanks to ADEC and Fred for backing us in this project!


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We’ve been really busy since the New Year and the next couple of months look to continue the trend.  Here is a bit of what we’ve been up to:

La Fragosa:

One of the unique aspects of our work here is the involvement of local government (in all things) and the rather unobstructed access we have to the mayors.  Maybe small towns in the US still have this feel but it is literally a foreign concept to us.  For example, in order to advance in the La Fragosa project, we needed to fix the water line that runs to the school.  The community also needed to build the platforms that will hold the tanks of the Combined Treatment Unit (CTU).  Early on in the planning phase we described the project to the mayor and he assured us that anything we needed he would help out with.  So we decided to put him to the test and ask him to pay for the materials for both the water line repair and the platforms.  Lo and behold he stuck to his word and wrote a check to the community to cover the costs!

Two weeks ago, Celso and the town council leader came down to get the check and we all went to buy the materials.  The stars aligned and we were able to buy everything in Trinidad and even Juan was available to drive the materials and the men back up to Fragosa.  Last week the community made the necessary repairs and built the platforms, paving the way for the next phase of the project: installation.  This week the ADEC team will be driving up from Marcala, transporting the ceramic filters which are ready for delivery and also providing technical assistance in the construction of the CTU.  Things are moving right along and should all go as planned we will have a full update with pictures at the end of the week.

Water Filters:

At the end of October we translated for a medical brigade that happened to bring a large quantity of water filters to donate to the communities we visited.  One of the doctors also left a number of filters with David and I to distribute in the Trinidad area.  We put our PCV thinking caps on and came up with a plan: invite the local Red Cross health promoters to apply for a filter, to be installed in the school of the given community, with the stipulation that they must also conduct a lesson with the students on hygiene and basic sanitation.

We have met a couple of times with the promoters to explain the filters and the project and also to distribute a simple application.  By having the promoters fill out the application we hope they will feel a higher sense of accountability, instead of just dropping the filter off with the community.  The promoters are currently gathering the necessary information and we hope to distribute the filters to them this week.  So far one promoter has delivered the filter and conducted the lesson with her community’s school and we hope to get the details (and some photos) from her soon.

H18 Training:

As we mentioned, H18 will be arriving in Honduras this week!  In March, we will be going to Teguc to speak to the training class about MARV – the Married Volunteers support group.

At the end of March we will be traveling to El Paraíso (Wat/San FBT site) to facilitate a few sessions of the Wat/San training.  We will present together on small potable water projects (i.e. La Fragosa) and David will be presenting other technical sessions as well.

News from the casita:

We are still enjoying our hot showers and don’t know how we survived nearly a year without them!  Speaking of a year – February 24, 2011 marks our 1 year “anniversary” in Honduras!

Recently the wiring in the kitchen light bulb became disconnected and we were left cooking in the dark.  We called good ol’ Tito, no less than six times, and each time he assured us he was on his way right over.  After being stood up four times over the course of two weeks, David finally worked up the nerve to try and fix the bulb himself.  Surely you can understand that he was a bit weary to put his faith in the breaker box but in the end it was a quick (and shock free) fix that cost us less than $1.

On the downside: Leona has been missing for over a month and we have lost most of our hope that she will come back.  Although her namesake, the infamous Leon, was once missing for a year so a small amount of hope still remains.  We may try to adopt another cat mainly to help us control the cockroach population.  However, the offer of US citizenship only applies to Leona, so don’t worry in-laws.

In Leona’s absence we have taken a liking to a bright green grasshopper that lives on our bedroom ceiling.  Mr. Green Legs has spent the past few weeks eating the tiny gnats that congregate around our light bulb.  Sometimes he ventures down the walls a bit but he generally prefers the ceiling.  On a whim I swirled Leona’s laser light around him on the wall and he immediately tried to pounce it! However, I was afraid that I might burn his tiny little retinas so I stopped.

Word is the unbearable heat will be returning shortly with April as the hottest month of the year and likely no more rains until at best May.  Goodbye “winter”!

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Takes a licking

I could just go to the park and buy a fake Rolex, but why?

Rubber band + electrical tape = good as old


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As I’ve written about in a previous post, we’re lending support to an NGO called Agua Para el Pueblo who will be constructing a gravity-powered water treatment plant in Atíma, Sta. Bárbara.  On a recent trip, Kristi and I completed some topographic survey work they will need to finish their final plant design.  The survey went well with Kristi as my ayudante (assistant) and Bernardo or the “Nard-Dog” as we liked to call him (when he was not present) manning the level rod and swinging the machete.  The project coordinator from APP in Tegucigalpa joined us the second day of the survey to make sure we were getting all of the pertinent data.  The constant rain made the work a bit difficult but we got through it with plenty of time to visit a nearby geological site, the Pencaligue Caves.

With Dan, the APP coordinator, as our guide, we descended from Atíma down Río San José de Atíma.  The hike, about 5 miles round-trip, was excellent and included beautiful geology, Honduran countryside, whitewater, and limestone caves.  Although very muddy from the rain, it was a blast.

Horse and cattle farm along the trail

Kristi and I had forgotten how much we missed being able to hike without worry about our personal safety.  Atíma, unlike Trinidad, is a very out-of-the-way town with little to no crime in the surrounding areas.

Dan led us to two cave sites.  The first was carved into a cliff whose height I won’t even pretend to estimate.

Within the cave, shaped like a natural amphitheater, there were many stalactites and stalagmites as well as a bit of fool’s gold (pyrite).

Cave couple

Pyrite, fools

Then we visited another cave site where the entire Río San José de Atíma disappears into the mountainside.  The river runs approximately 5 km through the mountain before exiting the other side.

Dan in front of the river's entrance to the caves

At the precipice

The pictures don’t quite capture just how much water was roaring through at this point.  The noise was deafening!

Thanks to Dan for the hike and Atíma for the free room and board.  The municipality paid for our hotelito and food was generously provided as well.  It wasn’t a traditional romantic Valentine’s Day getaway, but it was a great time nonetheless!

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Café Triniteco

Our site Trinidad is one of many coffee-towns in Honduras.  Café is the most important agricultural product in Honduras and is the dominant source of income in Trinidad and the surrounding communities.  Typically grown in mountainous terrain, as higher elevation usually equates to a higher quality bean, every mountain farm around Trinidad grows coffee.  From the end of November until some time in March is the cosecha or the harvest.  It is the busiest time of year for everyone.

The campesinos, farm workers, spend all day hand picking (“cutting”) the coffee from the tree.  When the fruit is ripe it turns red and the bean inside is ready to be picked and processed.  Usually, the grape or fruit that encapsulates the bean is washed off before the wet beans are brought down the mountain to town.  This is done by mechanically agitating the grape while running water over it until the pulp is washed away.  This unused pulp is usually discharged freely to streams where fermentation takes place causing the pH of the stream to drop detrimentally low and causing a foul odor and poor water quality.  More responsible farms store this waste material in maturation ponds until it has decomposed enough to be used as fertilizer.

Once clean, the wet beans are put in sacks of up to 140 lbs. to be hauled down the mountain by pickup truck for further processing.  Many farm owners, cafeteleros, sell their wet beans to a local distributor who dries the beans, usually outdoors in full sun, and then finds a larger buyer who will transport the beans to the north coast for exportation.  In Trinidad a group of farmers collectively started a coffee cooperative to help manage the processing, marketing, and distribution of their coffee.

Kristi and I live about 100 feet from the cooperativa de café.  Sometime around 5am, large industrial bean dryers crank up and don’t shut down until 10pm.  At first the noise was quite annoying, but as with many things, we have become accustomed to it.  Hell, by the time coffee season comes to a close, I probably won’t be able to sleep without it!

I buy my coffee at the coop, so on a recent visit, Kristi and I toted our camera to take a few pictures so that we could share a bit about the coffee industry (pre-Starbucks).

As mentioned before, coffee is grown on trees in the form of a grape.  When ripe the grape turns from green to red and is ready to be “cut” or picked from the tree.

Ripe for the pluckin'

Family affair

Next, the coffee is “washed” of grape before being transported down the mountain to the coop where the wet bean is weighed and the farmer is paid by weight at an agreed upon price per 100 lbs.  The coffee is now property of the coop.  Farmers pay a fee to be a member of the coop.  Membership includes processing, packing, marketing, and distribution.  The advantage is usually a higher price than the farmer would have gotten if he sold his bean to a small distributor directly.

Washing the fruit from the bean

Scale for weighing the incoming beans from the farms

At the coop, coffee is dried either in the sun or by large industrial dryers.  Some buyers (large distributors) prefer one method over the other.

Sun dried in the foreground, machine dried in the background

Beans ready for sorting and roasting

The dried beans are weighed and packaged into 100 lb. sacks.  The sacks are categorized by buyer and stored on-site in a warehouse.  Buyers come with semi-trucks to haul the sacks to Puerto Cortés where the dried bean is shipped all over the world by international distributors.  The bean is almost always shipped dry, not toasted; toasting is usually done in the importing country.  The beans have already changed hands several times by the time they leave Honduras only to be sold and resold on the international market.

Lots of coffee ready for export

After taking this picture, I threw this back on the pile, one-handed

A unique feature of the coop is a local business that buys the higher quality beans brought to the coop before they are shipped to the coast then around the globe.  Café Triniteco buys dried beans from the coop and sorts, toasts, grinds, and packages the coffee right there in the same facility as the coop.  This is the same coffee that our families and friends enjoyed over Christmas when we came home for the holidays.

Sorting out only the best beans for roasting

Coffee toasting

Café Triniteco

A coffee picker in Honduras makes between $3.00 and $5.00 a day.

100 lbs. of dried beans is bought from the local farmer for about $200 to $300 ($2.00 to $3.00/lb).

I buy Café Triniteco for about $3.00/lb.

A pound of Central American coffee is sold in the U.S. for between $5 and $10.

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**Sorry in advance to non-PC readers – the following post is very PC specific**

Three weeks from now a new class of volunteers will be arriving in Honduras.  Before departing for Honduras, David and I read every Peace Corps blog we could find, especially when it came down to what items to bring and what not to bring.  So here are some (very) last minute packing tips for the H18 group, hope they are helpful!


Peace Corps is serious about the dress code policy during training.  You will be sent home and asked to change clothes if you wear: shorts, flip flops, t-shirts*, skirts above the knee, or spaghetti straps.  *The t-shirt rule is a little more lenient for girls – I wore several solid colored, fitted tops during training that were essentially t-shirt style but they were not baggy and did not have large logos.  If you are Wat/San you may be allowed to wear t-shirts to certain manual labor activities but you will be notified in advance of the activity.

  • Avoid 100% cotton – it does not handle hand washing as well as blends.  You do not need to have fancy “dri-fit” clothes necessarily; all of my dri-fit clothes are polyester, cotton/rayon, or cotton/nylon.
  • For guys – you will be expected to wear collared shirts during training.  Avoid traditional cotton polo shirts unless you just have a bunch that you don’t mind getting ruined.  After several rounds of hand washing, the polo shirts that David brought more closely resembled dresses and were given away.  The dri-fit button down shirts are more comfortable in the heat and will last longer.
  • Be aware that all of your laundry and your undergarments will be hung to dry in a communal space.  In some cases your items will be visible to neighbors and even the street.  Just saying.
  • Unless you really love jeans and wear them no matter what the temperature (as Hondurans do) you should be just fine with one pair.  They are a pain to wash and take forever to dry so don’t waste space on multiple pairs.

Do Bring:

  • At least two bandannas (aka sweat rags).
  • A pair of “house shoes” – David likes Crocs and I like rubber flops which doubled as shower shoes during training.
  • Some type of lounge wear – although PC says no shorts doesn’t mean you won’t want to wear shorts on weekends or around the house.  I have two pairs of gym shorts for lounging, one pair for running, and one pair for housework/laundry – all of which are modest length.  I have a pair of lightweight cotton capris that I wear for pajamas and around the house.  (I neglected to bring any loungewear and had to have all of this sent by mail!)

Don’t Bring:

  • A ton of clothes.  Remember that everything has to be hand washed so focus on fewer, smarter choices.  Set aside a pile of clothes that you can pick up (on a trip home) or have sent midway through your service (by this time you will have fully worn out several items).  You may want to bring lots of clothes to extend the time between washings but clothes that aren’t worn/washed as often start to mildew and even mold.  Gross.


  • For guys – David changed from shave gel to shaving soap and a brush.  I found the soap and brush at Bed, Bath, and Beyond for under $10 and he is not even halfway through the soap after a year.
  • For girls – PC will provide you with tampons (Kotex supers), by request, but you should bring a stash as these are very hard to find in country.  PC will not provide panty liners or pads but these can be purchased.
  • PC will provide you with the following items, by request:

Dental floss, face sunscreen (SPF 30), body sunscreen (SPF 45), hand sanitizer, bug spray, hydro-cortisone cream and a wide variety of OTC medications such as anti-histamines, acetaminophen, ibuprofen, Pepto Bismol, etc.   However, you should bring a small personal stash to have on hand.

Upon completion of training you will also receive a well stocked first aid kit.  Don’t use too much of your packing space on these types of items.

Do Bring:

  • Several sticks of your preferred deodorant (unless you like Speed Stick which is easily found here).
  • Face cleanser and/or Stridex type face pads.
  • Daily Multivitamins (PC will not provide these)
  • A couple bars of soap, 2-in-1 shampoo (clutch in cold showers), toothpaste, floss, and any other daily items to last through training.   Palmolive bar soap and Colgate toothpaste are easily found here.  If you need a specific brand of any item then best to bring your own supply.
  • A full size towel – the best would be a thin, white towel (think of the types hotels use) because it dries fast and can be bleached (which will keep the mildew at bay).


Do Bring:

  • A good quality headlamp – this is a necessity and for some jobs a flashlight won’t do (cooking, using the bathroom, showering, reading, etc).
  • A Leatherman Multi-tool – David has a full size and a keychain mini version, both of which we use quite often for various tasks.
  • A small travel alarm clock – eventually you will buy a cell phone which can be used for an alarm but in the meantime an alarm is a must.

Don’t Bring:

  • A sleeping bag or a sleeping pad/Thermarest – these take up way too much space and are infrequently used.  Unless you plan on camping regularly then you do not need camping gear (some people do camp, for safety reasons we do not).  We wasted too much space bringing these items only to take them back to the US on our first visit home.  We did bring cotton sleeping bag liners/individual sheets which we used during training.


  • Consider bringing a real pillow.  We both have small travel pillows and I also brought a full size one.  If you ditch the sleeping bag you should have room for the pillow which is a much better investment in the long run.
  • If you plan to write home bring stationery and/or greeting cards for upcoming events.  You can purchase stamps through PC staff during training and they will post your mail.
  • If you are a tea drinker, like me, bring a stash.  PC provides coffee during training and there is access to hot water for making tea.  The training site is actually a bit chilly in the morning and evenings and you will enjoy a hot drink.
  • A couple travel games – we brought travel Connect Four, which was fun to play with host siblings, and a set of travel dominoes which have provided many hours of entertainment.  A set of playing cards is also recommended.
  • A small stash of granola bars or snack items to get you through the long training days.  Be sure to keep any food items stored in ziplock bags.

That should be enough information to overload your brain and bore our other readers, ha!  As the title suggests these are just “tips” and not an exhaustive packing list.  Take our suggestions with a grain of salt as they are based solely on our own personal experience.  That said, if any H18ers have any questions we would be happy to answer them and we look forward to meeting your group!

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