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Archive for the ‘Honduras Travels’ Category

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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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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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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This past week David and I had the opportunity to travel to Puerto Cortes (on the North coast) to translate for a medical brigade.  This brigade of doctors, nurses, a pharmacist, and other helpers is mainly from Arizona but also included members from Virginia, Maryland, Nebraska, and Alaska.  We translated for this same group in October of last year (read about that here) only difference being last year they were based out of our town, Trinidad.

Shipwreck off the shore

The Episcopal bishop of Honduras decides where the brigades are most needed and this year that happened to be Corinto which is a small town right on the Honduras/Guatemala border.  Interesting fact: according to our driver, Henry, there are over 100 Episcopal brigade groups in Honduras each year.

Because Corinto is a small town we actually stayed in a hotel in Puerto Cortes and commuted about 45 minutes every day.  Several things we enjoyed about the hotel were: cable TV, air conditioning, a pool, catered breakfast and dinner, and laundry service!  The hotel is technically ocean front which made for some nice sunset shots however the beach was not all that appealing.

Boys acting tough (complete with temporary tattoos)

Can't seem to find a place to lay out my beach towel...

Hondurans, and their Central American neighbors, are notorious for littering; however, most of this trash was washed up (after being deposited into the ocean by rivers).  It’s really sad that there was so much pollution because of all of the Honduran beaches we have been to this one was actually the most utilized by people – we saw many runners, beach volleyball players, and dog walkers.  Later in the week we did see clean-up crews preparing for weekend visitors.

Volleyball at sunset

As described in our post from last year, there are several common medical complaints that we see during the brigades including headache, body/bone pain, cough/cold, stomachache, diarrhea, foot fungus, and skin spots.  This year was unique because we held clinic in the same town for 5 days straight allowing for patient follow-up.

Crowd waiting to check-in

One particular case was an 84 year old woman with a broken hip whose family could not afford surgery.  The woman was being cared for at home by several of her daughters (she had given birth to 15 children).  I went with a couple of the doctors and nurses to translate as they explained some basic care to the family.  Although the woman was in a lot of pain (and with no pain medication!) the doctors were very impressed by the level of care her family had given her and had hope for her recovery (and we left her some Tylenol).

Cuties! I wanted to take little Andrea home with me

Overall we had a great week and really enjoyed having some new folks to socialize with.  The boys also enjoyed being able to watch the World Series and discuss whether game six was the best baseball game of all time (the jury is still out).

This man was on crutches and traveled to the clinic with the help of his 4 year old grandson

The pharmacy

Filtering water for the crowd. The doctors brought 60 water filters, 15 of which David and I will distribute.

Brothers in their new shades.

Cutest little kitty, Micho.

Adios

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…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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This month we had a chance to get to know some of the other married volunteers in Honduras at our bi-annual MARV (MARried Volunteers) meeting.  Peace Corps worldwide sponsors various “support groups” therefore we receive a small amount of funds to meet twice a year.  About this time last year I inherited the MARV coordinator position so the meeting planning was all up to me.  A last minute security incident required us to change the location of our meeting from Trujillo to Tela (both cities on the North Coast) which was a bit stressful for me but it all worked out fine in the end.

Beach serenade in Tela

David and I ended up being the only couple there from our training group (H16) with the other participants being three couples from H18.  We had a great time getting to know everyone, eating out, swimming in the pool, and of course watching cable TV.

Our hotel at left and views of the bay

Our hotel had seen better days but the pool was great and we were also in walking distance of the hotel Maya Vista which has the best views of the bay.  The whole group tackled the many stairs up to the restaurant for a sunset meeting on the first night and the views were so incredible that David and I went back every evening for a sunset cocktail!

Panorama of Tela from atop the Maya Vista

We're on the roof!

We had a very productive meeting and compiled a list of suggestions for PC Honduras training staff and administration on how to better serve married couples.  We’ll see if they take any of our advice!

The sun sets over Punto Sal

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