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Archive for October, 2011

…is wet.  Even so, Kristi and I decided to meet our friends Mark, Eyal, and TJ in Antigua for a long weekend.

Ex-pats are weird... so are their dogs

The road conditions in Central America are notoriously bad due to rock and mudslides and poor construction and maintenance.  This can be exacerbated during the rainy season which runs from October to about February.  Because of this, Kristi found the only private shuttle company that runs from Copán Ruinas (our last stop on the way out of Honduras) to Antigua.  The private shuttle costs $5 or $10 more, but saves three hours and eliminates four bus transfers.  They advertised a shuttle at 6:00am and 12:00pm but due to the roads and the low season with respect to tourism they cancel the 6:00am in the months of October (the shuttle we’d planned to take).  From the beginning, this long weekend wasn’t going to be smooth sailing.

Well, since we didn’t need to get up early for the 6:00am we went out for some authentic German microbrews with Fred from International Rural Water Association (who just got into Honduras the previous day), our fellow PCV Kyla, and a Rotary Club representative who supports several water and sanitation projects in the Copán region.  This meeting was a precursor to a more official meeting in November about the design and implementation of a drinking water treatment plant in San Nicolas, Copán.  We’ll post another blog in a few weeks to update you all about this project.

Apparently our German beers were a bit stronger than we’ve gotten accustom to so it was a good thing that there was no 6:00am shuttle after all.  The shuttle ride went smoothly.  It ended up being the driver, Kristi, me, and a Canadian backpacker; a huge departure from our usual transportation experience of being sat on and/or squeezed between piles of other people.  The trip to Antigua was only six hours.  Upon arrival we met our friends at the agreed upon hostel and hit the rooftop for beers, food and catching up.

Volcán Agua from the roof of our hostel. Mucho clouds!

Buddy Mark on the rooftop melting faces (get this guy in a studio!)

Antigua, Guatemala was founded as the colonial capital in 1543.  After a major earthquake in the 18th century, the capital was moved to Guatemala City.  The city has been beautifully rebuilt and is filled with Spanish colonial architecture.  Many church ruins (constructed before the quake) are scattered throughout the city.  Antigua is most famous for the three volcanoes that rim the city: Agua, Acatenango, and Fuego.  The biggest bummer of our trip was that the volcanoes weren’t visible except for a few minutes during our stay.  The only time I caught a glimpse was around 6:00am the first morning.  My dumbass did not take a photo, assuming that they’d continue to be visible later in the day… wrong.  So if you want to know what Antigua looks like when it isn’t veiled in clouds you’ll have to Google it.  Treks are offered to the volcanoes but probably wouldn’t have been prudent given the weather conditions.  Fuego is active and on a clear night can be identified by its red glow.

16th century Spanish church ruins with textile market in the foreground

Family band groovin' in the street

View from a hill overlooking Antigua. This is where the volcano would be...

We spent the majority of our time tooling around the city, visiting the churches, ruins, and parks, and eating the abundant international fare.  Our buddy Eyal insisted we eat falafel at a local joint owned by a Dutch man who told us that he was the best checkers player in Guatemala (and the second best in the Netherlands).  Nobody challenged him so we’ll have to assume he was legit.  Kristi and I were falafel virgins so it was a little odd to have our first in Guatemala but nonetheless we were very impressed.  Thanks to Eyal for his falafel mandate.

Arch in foreground with dome of church in background

One of many Catholic churches (with giant roseary)

Historic building on the central park being restored

Church on the central park.

Provocative fountain in central park.

We also had the opportunity to do some shopping.  The local artisans are most famous for their colorful cloths from which they make clothing, table cloths, runners, blankets and other goods.  I think the highlight for Kristi was hunting for the perfect gifts and bargaining fair prices with the locals.  At one point, the lady pictured below followed us around town for a good 15 minutes until she’d finally adjusted her price to something reasonable.  Funny enough, the bargaining was pretty much one sided as the lady frantically lowered her price without any encouragement from Kristi.  Even though Kristi is fluent in Spanish this lady insisted on English (which she spoke surprisingly well) and in the end her hard work paid off and everyone left happy.

Sold!

The original plan had Kris and me continuing on with the boys to Lago Atitlán.  They had taken many more days of vacation than us so we were going to turn back after a couple days at the lake while they continued on to Belize.  Due to the weather and bad roads we bid them farewell and decided to stay an extra night in Antigua before heading back to Honduras.  We really wanted to hit the lake but while I think we’d have made it there, I’m afraid we wouldn’t have made it back to Trinidad in time for some important work we had scheduled for later that week.

Hanging out above Antigua

On our last night in Antigua, Kristi and I upgraded our lodging from hostel to hotel (shared bathroom to private bathroom AND television).  We spent our last day picking up a few more gifts and sampling some handmade Guatemalan chocolate which went great with happy hour red wine at a local deli.  After a light dinner we hit a fancy coffee shop on the central park for coffee and cheesecake (Kris had chocolate cake, but the cheesecake is what was up).

The next day we headed back to Honduras.  The shuttle company’s only time was 4:00am so we took local buses; more specifically, we took SEVEN local buses (and a taxi through Guatemala City) in order to get back to Trinidad.  The Antigua trip was a good warm up for our six country tour that we’ve dubbed the “Big Trip” that we’ll embark upon at the conclusion of our Peace Corps Service.

Lessons learned – spending a couple more bucks on a nicer bus to save a couple hours is totally worth it; sharing bathrooms with backpackers is not awesome; advise your bank what countries you’ll be in so they don’t freeze your account (oops); and don’t go to Guatemala in October.

We have a couple more pictures that were taken on our friends’ cameras so we’ll post them in the next week or so.

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We’ve been busy lately with various projects but nothing has really deserved a blog.  I’ve been coordinating with the municipality of Trinidad to do a couple of water system studies for two small communities, but so far they haven’t been able to get the rights to use the water sources.  We went out to do the studies only to be turned away by the property owner, so some meetings have been scheduled and hopefully we’ll have the necessary permission to do the studies in the coming weeks.

Also in the coming weeks we’ll be installing a drinking water treatment system in Tascalapa, traveling to Guatemala for a mini-vacation, translating for a US medical brigade in Puerto Cortez on Honduras’ north coast, and visiting Fred in Marcala to work on a water treatment plant design.  Sooo, we’ll have plenty of pictures and stories to post about following each of these adventures.

In lieu of no blog at all this week, we decided to post some random pictures that haven’t really fit in to any previous blogs.  Enjoy!

Rainbow over the Catholic church in Trinidad

Getting ready for a homemade haircut

Broken filter from our latest ceramic filter project 😦

This is the only car that we have access to most of the time. Logistics is always a major issue with any project we do.

This is Kristi's best friend's daughter about to cut her birthday cake. She hates me so when they gave her the knife, I hid.

Piñata time. I don't think this kid was the one to break it.

Some of Kristi's handywork

An engineer from the mancomunidad and I doing a GPS study for a road improvement project.

Tegucigalpa before sunset

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Our biggest accomplishment of September involved a second ceramic drinking water filter project in an isolated community in the mountains near Trinidad.  This project followed the same model as a similar project in La Fragosa only the new community, Tascalapa, is a shade more populous.

Kristi and I and our chauffer/friend, Juan, delivered 41 ceramic filters to Tascalapa.

Juan showed up just in time to watch me finish loading the truck! Notice my sweet tie-down job and my sweaty shirt.

Kristi crammed in the back with all the buckets

Kristi gave a great presentation to the community members present about the proper use and maintenance of the filters.

Kristi helping with the distribution of the filter systems. Check out her pretty charla papers posted on the chalkboard.

Before our arrival the community had already collected L.100 from each interested family.  The current retail price for the filter system is L.400; however, the NGOs Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario and International Rural Water Association subsidized L.300 of the cost of each filter so that the filters were more affordable to the members of this small community.

Selling like hot cakes!

The filter system comes complete with a plastic bucket, top, spigot, and ceramic filter.  The ceramic filters are manufactured in Honduras and treat water by two processes: filtration and disinfection.  Disinfection is achieved by colloidal silver which is baked into the ceramic.

Soon we will also deliver a small water treatment system for use in the community school.  This system is capable of treating 450 liters of water per day.  It will be used by the school children during the school year and by the coffee workers that come to the area to work during coffee season (November to March).

In addition to the 41 filters delivered to Tascalapa, we delivered an additional 13 filters to La Fragosa to the families that did not order a filter when we did a similar project there several months ago.

As in La Fragosa, we will return several times to Tascalapa over the next few months to monitor the use of the filters and the school water treatment system.  We’ll also go back to give presentations to the school kids about potable water, hygiene, hand washing, and brushing their teeth.

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