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Archive for December, 2011

Skipping Christmas

There is a wide range of people who read our blog – information-hungry Peace Corps hopefuls awaiting invitations and departure dates, former co-workers and acquaintances, random folks with an interest in Honduras, and of course our families and friends.  Those in the last category most likely already know the latest news but for those who don’t, here is a short summary.

Recently, there have been some major shake ups in Peace Corps Honduras that will affect not only David and I (and the other 156 volunteers in country) but also all of the projects we’ve been working on for the past 20 months.  In short, due to the rising incidents of violent crime in Central America, specifically Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, Peace Corps has decided to cancel incoming training classes to these three countries.  In addition, PC operations in Honduras are being suspended for the time being until the program can be reviewed and additional safety measures can be put into place.

While this program review is taking place, all 158 PC Honduras volunteers will be sent home to the States and placed under an Administrative Hold.  Currently, we are on Standfast (in Honduras) and must remain in our sites.   In about two weeks we will pack up all of our belongings, say goodbye to Trinidad, and head to a PC conference where staff from PC Washington will be present.  After the conference we will board a plane and head home to NC.

There is still hope that the newer volunteer classes may be allowed to return to Honduras to complete their service but nothing is for certain.  As for our training group (H16) who were scheduled to finish in April/May, this appears to be the end of the road.

This information began slowly trickling in while we were still on our work trip in Copán.  David and I did a lot of talking about the “what if’s” especially regarding our upcoming (at the time) trip home for Christmas.  After we found out that all volunteers were to be removed in mid-January, we made the difficult decision to cancel our trip home for Christmas.  Of course we wanted to be with our family and friends and had been looking forward to the trip for months but we felt it was important to spend our last few weeks in country settling our affairs and saying goodbye to our friends.

It never quite felt like Christmas to me, maybe it was the fact that we were still wearing shorts and t-shirts or that the mosquitoes were out like never before.  But we did get to enjoy the holiday lights and various decorated trees set up in town as well as a Christmas Eve tamale dinner with our closest friends.

Christmas "tree". Actually a metal teepee with Spanish moss all over it

There were no stockings this year but we did find some little stuffers around town – chocolate coins, sparklers, and some snap ‘n’ pops that were more like miniature explosives (which we found out after David “popped” one in the house).

Stocking stuffers

We will continue blogging including some more thoughts on our service as we draw near to its premature end.  Until then, we hope you all are thoroughly enjoying the Holiday season!

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A couple weeks before Kristi and I head home for Christmas we traveled once again to the department of Copán.  Generally, our trips to Copán combine a few work meetings with a bit of relaxation.  This trip would prove to be much more than we usually get ourselves into.

Through one of our work counterparts, Agua y Desarrollo Comunitario (ADEC), we were summoned to be a part of a large topographic survey effort in various small communities in the mountains surrounding the town of Copán Ruinas.  ADEC has partnered with the Florida Water Alliance which includes the Florida Rural Water Association and several Rotary Clubs to complete an ambitious potable water project that includes seven different communities.  Our Peace Corps friend, Kyla, who lives and works in Copán, invited us as well as three other PC volunteers to help collect the necessary survey data to complete a study, design, and budget.

Although the effort was well coordinated, the weather did not cooperate.  The most difficult section of the survey included a roughly seven kilometer proposed conduction line.  My team (Kristi, PC buddy – Zach, and Mario from ADEC) tackled this section of the survey as the more experienced group.  Due to the rainy weather the week prior the roads leading out to the remote site were horrid.  We were forced to abandon the truck and haul our equipment (with help from community members, of course) 2 ½ hours to the water source.  The hike in was one of the worst we’ve endured here; it was very steep and included ankle deep mud.

Helpers resting among coffee plants

Trying to look amused

Still headed to our starting point

The water source... FINALLY!

Steep terrain

After completing only four hours of work and roughly 0.7 kilometers, we headed back to meet our truck (another 2 ½ hours of very steep hiking).  Fortunately that 0.7 km is the worst section of the proposed line mainly because of dense forest and extremely steep and slick terrain.

Taking a break on the hike out - we still have to hike down to that town and then up the other mountain

With that section behind us, we set out on Day 2 of the study only to find worse road conditions and more rain.  Another five hours of hiking yielded only about an hour of work before we were entirely rained out.

Cold, tired, and wet but still smiling

With the weather being so uncooperative, Kyla decided we should refocus our efforts to more accessible portions of the project.  On Day 3 of the study our two teams collected data for over five kilometers of proposed water line.

Showing the ADEC staff how to level the instrument

Bad weather, gorgeous views

Extremely exhausted and with more bad weather forecasted, Day 4 was utilized to process the data we collected and create a game plan moving forward.  The rest of the 7 km water line will have to wait until the dry season when the access roads are actually accessible.  With help from my PC volunteer coworkers I will attempt to mesh our survey data with existing GPS and GIS data to do a preliminary design and budget so that funding activities may proceed.

To reward ourselves after several days of intense hiking and work, Zach, Kristi, and I caught a ride to the Luna Jaguar thermal hot springs about an hour outside of Copán Ruinas.  Our bodies and our feet especially were very happy to get some therapy in the form of volcanic mud baths and steaming hot natural spring water.

Jaguar Luna hot springs (channeling the Jaguar)

There were many pools of varying temperatures

Not an original Mayan stella but definitely adds to the atmosphere

A sulfur-scented steam bath

All in all, the trip was a success even though we will likely be returning in February or March to finish up the remaining surveying.  It was great to see our PC friends and be a part of such a great project effort.

Copan's park decorated for Christmas

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Chimeneas Gigantes!!!

Bugs!

It’s that time of year again… Chimeneas Gigantes brings artists and tourists from all over the country and beyond to Trinidad for a crazy festival that includes street music and performers, local food, crafts, and the wild customary torching of the chimeneas.

Pitufos! (Smurfs!)

Wyle E. Coyote

This year the theme seemed to be something about violence, exploitation of natural resources, and capitalism.  One can never be too sure.

Bad kitty

Lyin' son of a gun

Dracula Mickey

It’s about to get hot…

Un-lucky ducky

eesh

Gargamelt

It was a fun night and we were happy to spend it with a couple of other PC friends.  Unfortunately we had to get up at the crack of dawn the next day and catch a bus to Copán – stay tuned for a work post on Thursday!

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When we were lucky enough to have our friends Paul and Clare visit us (read about that here and here) we did a lot of chatting about our life in Honduras compared to life in the US.  We tried to explain cultural nuances (when we actually noticed them) but we weren’t exactly sure what our friends were thinking about our adopted home for the past 22 months.  I figured they could say it better than we could so here is a guest post straight from the source!

We knew we were going to see many things we’ve never experienced before in Honduras, but you really can never prepare yourself for complete immersion in a very different culture. Paul and I wanted to visit Dave and Kristi before they even left for their journey. We decided that there is never a perfect time to take off work and leave the country, so we just bought tickets and went anyway.

Upon our arrival, we experienced the luxe bus system for the only time we paid the high dollar for plush seats and snacks on the way to Copan. We chatted away the entire ride, catching up on life with one another, and arrived to Copan at dusk. Copan was such a fun place… Drinks at night, lots of fun food to choose from, quaint cafes, cobblestone streets… Not to mention Maccaw Mountain and the Mayan Ruins! I loved seeing Paul get adventurous with his food palette! He typically is the “meat and potatoes” kinda guy, but quickly acclimated to baleadas and pupusas! So delicious.

Digging in to pupusas

We loved the tourist parts of the trip, but it was especially enlightening to visit the town where David and Kristi live. Trinidad is a beautiful town tucked away in the rolling hills of Honduras. We would take walks through town, and it was so fun to see D + K interact with their neighbors and friends. A little boy yelled to David “AMIGO!” from a few blocks away; the guys outside of the Red Cross were eager to show them their new gym equipment (the most antique treadmill we’ve ever seen, see picture of Kristi demonstrating how it’s done); stopping by their former host family’s store and meeting the young boy that lived there who was drying coffee beans nearby; one of Kristi’s friends’ daughter came by the morning after we arrived and brought us homemade tamales… We were humbled to see how the people of Trinidad have adopted our friends into their community as much as Dave and Kristi have made Trinidad their home.

Taking the treadmill for a roll (bonus: the metal tubes under the belt kind of felt like a foot massage)

The simple but functional home D + K have made for themselves there was our little hangout for a few days. I was really excited for Kristi to teach me how to do laundry, Honduran style! It gave me a whole new sense for the word “laundry.” What we really loved about being at their house was seeing what life is really like for them there. We also appreciated the simplicity of enjoying one another’s company to pass time, as opposed to watching TV and having all of the modern distractions constantly surrounding us. Not to say that we didn’t enjoy a little bit of Dick Wolf’s Law and Order when we stayed in our hotels with the finer amenities. Because believe me, we did.

Laundry lesson

Scrub-a-dub

Another cool highlight of our trip was joining D + K on a “work day,” when we got to meet the mayor of Trinidad and be escorted by “his people” to the communities where Dave is teaching the municipalities there about chlorinating their water sources.  That is, we were escorted after the mayor showed up to the Town Hall after us waiting around for an hour or so, because no one wanted to drive us out there until the Big Man showed up. Then a little more hustling happened, and we were on our way. That’s actually something we had to get acclimated to: waiting. You realize how much of a hurry we are typically in, and our patience for waiting wears thin pretty quickly. It was nice to adjust to being content with getting somewhere whenever we would get there.

Off to work

During the course of the workday, we found out that quite a bit of the leg work for D + K’s projects is done through followup. Many of the times, it takes a bit of time and patience (again, key components in Honduras) to see the project to fruition, or even just to witness a bit of progress. This culture is so very different than ours in so many ways, and what I really liked about that was how it made us examine ourselves a bit deeper.

At the end of the workday, the Town workers dropped us off at our peaceful mountain getaway, where Dave and Kristi invited them up for a cold coke as a “thank you.”  The guys seemed to be grateful and genuinely enjoy their company. It’s nice to know our friends are in good hands there.

We wrapped up our visit with our friends in Tela, where we enjoyed music videos (lots of JLo, PitBull, and Enrique) over grilled chicken (!!) and Imperials, had our share of stunning sunsets from what felt like the highest point of the world, and went to Punta Sal to snorkel, see monkeys, and avoid the eyeball of the fish that was our lunch. Saying goodbye wasn’t sad, only because we will be seeing them in one short week!

Thank you, David and Kristi, for hospitably giving us the grand tour of Honduras, taking care of our every need along the way, and flooring us with your fluent Spanish! See you soon, friends.

Love, Clare and Paul

Honduras has public art!

 

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One of the more recent projects that I have been working on is a chlorination program in the municipality of Trinidad.  While our friends from the States, Paul and Clare, were here we visited the community of San Francisco about 20 minutes outside of the town of Trinidad.  Our intention was to go over the steps of the chlorination process with the community leaders.

On the day of that visit we found that their chlorination box (located on the top of the storage tank) did not have the necessary connections in order to drip-feed a chlorine solution to the water.  I went over the chlorination process with the environmental coordinator from the municipality (Irvin) and instructed the community leaders on how to prepare the chlorine box for future use.

2+2=?

The focus of the project is to prepare Irvin to take over this program when I am gone while at the same time training individual community water system operators how to properly disinfect their community’s water supply.

Irvin and I returned a week later to redo the chlorination lesson with the community leaders.  I was very happy with their retrofit chlorine dosing valve.  The original chlorine box didn’t include a way to pass the chlorine to the water supply so we tied a 1/2″ PVC into the clean-out pipe leaving the chloro box.

Drip-feed chlorine into the water piped in from the mountain source

First they measured the volume of the chlorine box.  With that volume we calculated the drip-rate required to drain the box in 4 days (the effective life of chlorine in solution).  Then we used the newly installed chlorine dosing valve to achieve the calculated drip-rate.

Using a baby bottle to calculate the drip rate in milliliters per minute

Next, the flow rate into the tank from the water source was measured using a 5 gallon bucket.  The bucket filled in approximately 11 seconds corresponding to a flow rate of about 27 gallons per minute.  The measured flow is then used to calculate the amount of chlorine powder required to achieve a chlorine concentration of around 1 ppm in the community distribution system.  In this case, 4 lbs of chlorine powder need to be used.

Measuring out 4 lbs of chlorine powder

The 4 lbs of chlorine powder is mixed into a highly concentrated solution.  Chlorine, which is actually a gas, is dissolved out of the chlorine powder into the liquid solution for application.

he refused to wear a mask... ha

Once the solution is ready it is dumped through an old t-shirt into the chlorination box.  The shirt filters out the powder which has already been stripped of its chlorine gas.

Over the following 4 days, the chlorine box will drip chlorine solution into the tank where it will mix with the raw water supply, killing bacteria and other forms of disease causing microbes.  After 4 days the community leaders will have to return to the tank and reapply 4 pounds of chlorine powder.

Irvin and I will continue to visit individual communities to support local water operators to disinfect their drinking water.  We’ll also be revisiting communities to test the water from the tap to see if there is residual chlorine in the water.  We are currently working with other municipal partners to create a monitoring and chlorine distribution program (or chlorine bank).  A chlorination program is completely dependent on an effective monitoring and supply program.

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The last leg of our adventure with our friends Paul and Clare put us in Tela on the north coast of Honduras for a couple days. Kristi and I had been to Tela a couple times previously, but we had never been to the eco-park situated on the peninsula just to the west of town.

Jeanette Kawas National Park located on Punta Sal is a protected peninsula of ideal Caribbean beaches and tropical forests. Guided trips take visitors by boat to Punta Sal where hiking, swimming, and snorkeling may be enjoyed. The park is named for a North American expat who, for years, battled private development of the peninsula. She was murdered for her efforts in the mid-90s but her cause was not lost. Shortly after, the national government named Punta Sal a national park and dedicated it to the memory of Jeanette Kawas.

Kristi, Paul, Clare, and I, along with several other tourists (including another PCV, randomly!) made the 45 minute boat trip with our bilingual guide, Mauro. The views from the boat included a huge gas tanker that was moored in the bay, pumping fuel via underwater pipeline to the town for distribution throughout Honduras.

Boat

Gilligan and Ginger

Upon arrival at Punta Sal, we waded ashore and began a hike through the tropical forest. The group zigzagged through the forest to two hidden bays where pirates such as Henry Morgan once hid out. One of the hidden bays hosts manatees once every 5 years during mating season. This happened to be the year! but in August. I’m sure the manatees prefer a little privacy anyway.

In one of the hidden bays

Highlights of the hike included eating termites and spotting HOWLER MONKEYS! We saw two groups of monkeys; one deep in the forest, the other on a beach. Our guide got the first group riled up by clapping and mimicking their howl/grunt. This resulted in… yes, feces and urine being directed towards our group. Nobody took any shrapnel but things did get pretty intense for a moment.

After we ate termites

Los monos

At the conclusion of the hike we re-boarded our boat which we found waiting on the other side of the peninsula. The boat took us to a tunnel through a rock formation in one of the hidden bays. Paul and I agreed immediately to swimming through and once we were headed in, almost the entire rest of the group followed. A couple of scared parents even agreed to let their under 10 y/o girls go! I went first and have to admit got a little sketched out once I arrived to the tunnel, but we all made our way safely through. I waited inside the tunnel for Kristi who bravely brought up the rear.

Caveman

Next, we hopped out of the boat once more, this time with our snorkels on. We all toured the reef and were treated to dozens of types of tropical fish, jelly fish (which kind of gave us a scare), and a big ol’ barracuda!

The trip to Punta Sal ended with a lunch of freshly caught red snapper and fried plantains. For budget travelers to Central America, Punta Sal is totally worth a stop.

Our boat parked at our lunch/swimming spot

We concluded the Paul and Clare adventure with a lazy Sunday at our hotel pool and sunset cocktails on top of the tallest building in Tela. We are very grateful to our friends for their visit; it means a lot to see old friends when you’re so far from home.

Tela at sunset looking towards the mountains

From our cocktail spot

Thanks, friends!

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This year for Thanksgiving we had two great friends as guests, Paul and Clare!  David and Paul have been friends since high school and we became couple friends around the time of Paul and Clare’s wedding in 2007.   Unlike our first visitors (read about David’s parents visit here, here, here, and here) we had a more “authentic” trip planned for P & C, meaning budget hotels, “chicken buses”, and more time spent in our site, Trinidad.

Chicken buses are the old yellow school buses that are no longer fit for US school children and eventually find their way down here.  They are called chicken buses because it is very likely you will see a local transporting a chicken (or duck, dog, goat, etc) in hand.  Very authentic indeed!

Our old dog friend from a previous trip, Bombero, somehow found us while we were breakfasting in the local market.

No trip to Honduras would be complete without a visit to Copan, home of the Mayan ruins, so that’s where we started.  Although we’ve been to Copan several times we still found new places to eat and enjoy an afternoon latte.  Other Copan must sees include Macaw Mountain bird sanctuary and of course the ruins.

No birds on the head this time

After a few days of “Honduran Disney Land” we headed back to reality – our house in Trinidad.  Our house is rather small (less than 400 sq. ft.) so it was a sharing experience for all of us!  David had a work day planned to head up to a small community and check on their progress with the new chlorination project.  It was fun to show P & C what a workday looks like here and I think it gave them a new understanding of the challenges we face.

Hiking up to the tank in the town of San Francisco

To give our guests a further taste of mountain life here we took them up to a nearby lodge called Estancia El Pedregal.  It is both a lodge with cabins, rooms, and a restaurant, and also a working farm with coffee, beans, and cattle.  The accommodations have a certain attention to detail that is often overlooked in Honduras and it is a totally relaxing country escape.

Exploring the property

Visiting the cows and this funny guy

This little cutie and his brother had fun splashing in the creek with the Gringos

It was rather fitting waking up at the lodge on Thanksgiving morning and seeing these two fellows hanging around our rooms.

Gobble, gobble

After a relaxing night up on the mountain we headed back to Trinidad to make a mini Thanksgiving feast.  Since we’d be leaving the next day for the coast I decided to skip the bird (it would’ve been chicken anyway) and just go for the side items.  I used every measly inch of counter space in our tiny kitchen to produce deviled eggs, cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes, steamed vegetables, and of course, gravy!  Everything turned out delicious, thank goodness!

David and I spent one last night sharing a thin mattress on the floor and the next morning it was off to Tela.  More pictures coming soon!

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