The Jungle Trail (Photo)

During Semana Santa the whole country of Guatemala shuts down so many of us took advantage of the lack of work to check out "the sites" My friends and I went to Utila, Honduras where I learned how to scuba dive. We went "mojado" (or wetback) by following the jungle trail through the banana fincas of bananera to a boat which took us down river to the Honduran border where we were not met by an immigration officer, rather by a lady with a tienda who did not have one cold thing in her refrigerator. We then hopped onto another boat (lancha) and proceeded further down stream where we were met by wild cattle. For whatever reason cattle appear in the damnedest places, from the sides of volcanoes to wetland marshes. The river bordering Honduras and Guatemala was no exception.

We did see a number of other birds heron and egrets. Locals tend to have two names for birds: birds (of course) and wild chickens. I guess they define it based on what is good 'eating. We then hopped into a rather expensive truck with wooden planks nailed across the back. When it's the only one, there is really little to bargain. Then one bus to Puerto Cortes, another to San Pedro Sula where we holed up for the night. The next day a cab to the airport (visa stamps and the realization that the airplanes are pricey on a PC budget). Then a bus to la Ceiba. From Ceiba we broke down and paid $25 for a flight. We estimated in the course of two days each of us had taken roughly 15 forms of transportation between our sites and Utila.

Travels with Andy (Photo)

This was a trip to remember, largely because my friend Andrew was in an interesting mood. At 6"5" in a country with an average height of 5'4" he cuts a giraffe like figure. He also tends towards the dramatic. One example, on our way to Bananera (yes there is a town named this) we stopped in a small town where a small horde of vendor women began their monotonous selling chants of "Coco Fresco."

"Coco Fresco, Coco Fresco, Hay (there is) Coco Fresco, One Quetzal Coco Fresco" and repeat and repeat and repeat as they hip shove their way up the aisle. The last vendor had made her way to the very back, selling nothing, she began her push to the front. Upon reaching the halfway point Andrew's loud voice boomed in unaccented Spanish:
"Hay Coco Fresco (Is there Coconut Drink?)"
The woman wheeled around as if struck by lightening, ready to make the sell.
"Si, Tengo Coco Fresco" (Yes I've got Coconut Drink) she answers
"Hay Coco Fresco (Is there Coco Drink?)" he asks again
"Si, Tengo Coco Fresco" (Yes I've got Coco Drink) she says with emphasis although now perplexed.
"Y el fresco tiene coco? " The Guatemalans begin taking an interest at this peculiar gringo who wants to make sure his coconut drink has coconut. She is aghast. She weakly says "Si, tiene coco?" (Yeah, it has coconut)?
"Y el coco es fresco?" (and the coconut is fresh and a slight play of words on the abbreviation of refresco to fresco)
The whole bus begins to laugh. Totally bewildered and not entirely aware that she's the butt of a joke she answers "Si?"
"Y cuanto vale un coco fresco"(and how much does one cost?)
People having heard the monotonous chant to no end are on the floor, deep in mirth.
"Un quetzalito" she mumbles, suddenly aware something is amiss. He pays up and says his best uninflected "GRASSEAS.:

Central Americans never open their bus windows. The few exceptions are: when the bus is traveling at high speeds its raining and physics predicts that they can't get wet but the gringo behind them can, when their tons of dirt and dust on the road or when they are throwing up. In transit with warm buses, usually on tremendously long trips people get sick. A bus manager once tried to charge me for being puked on. They even had a standardized rate. But I regress. On our way to la Ceiba with 100% humidity and the Central American proclivity for heat ("very rich") someone had to do it. Unfortunately for this little girl she was next to Andrew. Andrew is a well-traveled, a superfluent Spanish speaker loves to play the dumb gringo. So when this poor little girl began leaning out the window - he began yelling in clear enunciated English:

"OH MY GOD! Is she throwing up? I think she's going to throw up. Yes, yes she's definitely throwing up. OH MY GOD! That's disgusting."

We couldn't disguise our mirth, the Hondurans were a bit flustered by this loud skyscraper. Buses being the great equalizer in Central American life, they later got their chance.

As we came towards la Ceiba stuck standing in the aisle Andrew was deeply involved in his newspaper, or perhaps the music on his walkman, or his conversation with Joe - but as he leaned forward to grab a new cassette, the bus driver slammed on his brakes. With a delicate: "OH SHITTTTT!" the leaning tower crashed on top of helpless Honduran lady in front of him. The Hondurans familiar with the term began to laugh hysterically. Of course, they were ALL familiar with the term.

Quemaron (photo)

Having just returned from Semana Santa, I stopped by my neighbors to inquire on the local news.
"Everyone was asking for you. Some children from Chapparoncito burned 64 manzanas of forest in the reforestation area."
I'm stunned. I know he's kidding that anyone was looking for me. But the burning isn't a joke. I work with teachers from this aldea. I had spent an hour explained the whole protected area system to one of their teachers. I had also explained the protected area to all the teachers of Ipala in a workshop. My feelings wash between anger and helplessness.

My job is not to guard the protected area. That simply is too dangerous. Too many people disagree with the law. For that same reason the politically minded Municipality is making sure this is a law only on paper. Like most protected areas, it is only protected by name. There are no guards, or fences. No enforcement. They will all complain, call it a shame, and do nothing. This is the roughly the same area two months ago a fellow PCV and I had spotted about 10 different bird species.

Chiquimula Heat

One day in the afternoon heat I was busily working laying in my hammock when I hear the tapping akin to pebble being thrown on my roof. A moment later a small yellow object came flying through the batting cage fence that surrounds my porch --pegging me in the head. Hurt pretty good too. I look to the street expecting a snickering 8 year old to pop his head up and run from the crazy gringo. Instead, there is nothing. During the afternoon heat everyone disappears to the dark cool confines of their mud houses. Even prepubescent vigilantism isn't enough to draw my little neighbors out into 100 degree heat. So I look around searching for another cause for the little bump on my forehead. In the folds of the hammock lies a small yellow seed which I am told later is of the Madrecacao tree. Think of it a seed that is designed to explode in the heat, that's adaptation. That's also hot.

I had been warned. Each volunteer that gets to site receives a description of site including, maps, altitude, solutions, past history, volunteers in the area, and problems. My number one problem--heat. The dry season here goes from March to May. The solution proposed by Peace Corps - get up earlier. To my great surprise I do. These days I'm up at 5 or 5:30 hauling water in the cool shadows of morning, it usually requires three 1 kilometer trips, then right into whatever is the homework for the day. The siesta is not necessarily an issue of laziness. With heat where you break into sweat by walking, there is little you can do besides eat lunch and plant yourself in front of a fan.

Hauling water

I had a visitor the other day who was a PCV in the Central African Republic. At 5:30 she greeted me at the door hands on her hips after my first trip to the well--angry. She had wanted to haul water, a reminder of her days in CAR. Who am I to deny one of life simpler pleasures? So to the well we went. It is also the lions den of gossip in the village. I surmise this because every time I arrive there is a rise in pitch of the voices in the women and children surrounding the well and the lazy young men who lean up against the ceiba watching the women work. In the past, when my Spanish was worse they would continue gossiping about me in my presence. But now with better Spanish and a few local colloquialisms, I am greeted with pleasant hellos and the gossip of others. Of course when I leave they return to their frenzied gossip pitch. This is not to say that I am a central source of gossip, but I am. And with an American woman in tow---we definitely are.

As a single male I am often greeted by the question.. "So why are you living SO ALONE?" "Why don't you get yourself a young woman?" This continued until about two months ago I received a female PCV at my house. Just friends mind you, but not according to Guatemalan custom. Essentially if a single woman breaks the threshold into the house, she is, at least, sleeping with that man. It is difficult to explain to locals that if I have a female colleague over to stay she is not my girlfriend. Thus as I've received a number of PCVs to visit the volcano and since over 50% of all Guatemala's PCVs are women, my own reputation has rather expanded. Both a negative and a positive. On the negative, I am now asked about my girlfriend, leaving me to ask who they mean. On the positive, the visits have killed the solitude question and has propelled me up the ranks of machismo.

With her visit, we compared notes on CAR v. Guatemala. Interestingly in her village the water well was a pump, which charged a nominal fee for usage, a few cents to keep families conserving their water. El Sauce on the other hand is an open well where local women dunk their half cut open plastic radiator fluid bottles, or metal milk cans weighted slightly with padlocks and a rope. With no check on usage, the water level is down such that most have added rope to their water scoops (latas). This will also be a problem when the agua potable project has been initiated, a water usage meter is installed in each house. Water has yet to be pumped to the water storage tank and some of my neighbors have already ripped off the meter.


Bits and Pieces

Bit Quotes under the Chiquimula sun:
Lost in the Ipala forest "There's some cowshit here, we must be on the trail"-me

Bit Thoughts An idealistic streak is visine for a red-eyed world
Peace Corps is about finding the work
I don't accept "that's the way it is"
Peace Corps: A game of inches.

Bit Poetry (Photo) Tire track sandal footprints
imprints on dust
once volcanic ash
is now
just a man

Real Quotes

Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, it presence refreshes him. One who is pressed forward incessantly and never rested from his labors who grew fast and made infinite demands on life would always find himself in a new country or wilderness, and surrounded by the raw materials of life. He would be climbing over the prostrate stems of primitive forest trees.

Sir John Hume-quoting our own dime
E Pluribus Unum - From Many We are One


Soon Reads
The Labyrinth of Solitude, Octavio Paz
Of Love and Shadows, Isabel Allende In Spanish
Como Agua Para Chocolate Laura Esquivel

In progress
The Captains Verses: The love poem's Pablo Neruda
Give War a Chance P.J. O'Rourke

Just finished
Of Tigers and Man: Entering the age of extinction Richard Ives
How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents Julia Alvarez
Things Fall Apart Chinua Achebe
Walking: A little book of Wisdom Henry David Thoreau

A little junk food for thought,
Que le vaya bien.

Allan Oliver