November 1997

It's hard to believe I've been here for five months. One fifth of service, $1,000 in the bank. The truth is the time flies.


But what really is Peace Corps work. It is completely different for every single volunteer. For me, I have a lot. In fact, last Friday my Associate Peace Corps Director Flavio Linares and I looked at each other and agreed that I've got enough work for two people. Who knows maybe I'll get a site mate. I have two counterparts, Israel Galvez who works on weekends, and Mario Flores who works during the week. Leaving me to work full time. Counterparts are usually representatives of a government agency or non-profit organization. In my case, it's both- the Committee for Trabajadores and the Municipality of Ipala.

My program, Manejo Integrada Proyectos Ambientales or simply Environmental Management is a conglomeration of waste management, environmental education and ecotourism. It's a new program, as the last one was cut. But all visitors first experience with Guatemala is the environment. Air pollution in Guatemala city is a serious problem, slash and burn techniques still are deforesting Guatemala at a geometric rate and trash lines all but the most touristy roads. Guatemala also has some of the rarest flora and fauna, and most breathtaking scenery in the world. Yet the economics of poverty and local tradition are the driving forces which keep the farmers planting corn and beans and tending cows.


After the day to day chores- slapping laundry, hauling water, vegetable shopping and eradicating insects from my house- I do several things...

A few times a week I hike up to the top of Volcan Ipala to search out what animals and plants exist in the forest that surrounds the lagoon. Usually I bring along a local for two reasons- I want to make sure I'm welcome at the fincas I enter and it usually ends up giving the locals an appreciation of how extraordinary their environment is. The Volcano is the only one of it's kind in Guatemala. It's also one of only a few in the world which has a lagoon within the crater. Rising about 900 meters above Ipala Chiquimula and about 1800 meters above sea level, it's pretty big- enough for a 45 minute hike. The lagoon is about a kilometer in diameter. The forest on the south side is a Cypress forest in neat rows that a past volunteer planted more than ten years ago. Epiphytes and Spanish moss cloak the trees in a vibrant green. The constant southward bound wind has bent the trees to face up the crater's ridge. On the north side is a virgin cloud forest where birds sing in the cool shadows of the high canopy. Rare wild orchids perch in the crooks of the tree canopy.


As of Tuesday, December 2 the Guatemalan Congress will declare the forest surrounding the crater and the lagoon a protected area. Protected here is a bit different. Here, all the land has owners and the government - specifically the municipalities need to provide other answers. It's not enough to say - you can't plant corn. The farmers need alternative sources of income. Thus the need for ecotourism.


The second kilometer lower on the Volcano for one km in circumference it to be an area of reforestation. Right now the area is entirely agriculture or cattle ranching. Farmers have two options:


I am only into my second month into country and thus I am still trying to introduce myself to my community. Before I can run, I need to walk. Confianza is everything. For the last month I have tried to eradicate beliefs that I was a Mormon, pawn of the municipality, or CIA. Everyday I explain how I want to develop with local help, an ecotourism park on the top of the volcano for the benefit of the community. For this reason I play soccer , basketball, go to community meetings and simply TALK to my neighbors every chance I get.

Starting in February I'll be teaching environmental education classes with the teachers of my community. Two classes every month with 30 teachers a pop. Whew. Puts butterflies right in the old estomago.

Right now I am working no organizing a committee of community leaders from all the villages and towns surrounding the Volcan. A real challenge. With them I hope to develop a working plan to get the basics up top. My counterparts and I have scratched up the initial ideas such as....

FIRST remove the hazards and negative impacts:

SECOND public education THIRD economics


Last friday I was playing a soccer game. The gringo had just marked an assist to the great displeasure of the man guarding him. It's very embarassing for Guatemalans when a gringo does well at their sport. Usually, the referee gives a players a wide berth for damage imposed on the gringo.

Thus no whistle was blown after I jumped up for a header and was grounded by the blow to my nose from my opponents head. As I lay there looking at the stuff flowing from my nose I realized I was in trouble. My 19 year old gun toting teammate Reis' question about I could play the second half didn't build my confidence, either.

Five hours later I arrived in Guatemala to have my nose set by a very good Guatemalan doctor. This was after tens of animated- Spanish only- discussions with the local campesinos, the Mayor of Ipala, and a taxi driver with questionable ethics. But I learned, at site, I have no one to depend on but me. A scary and invigorating idea.


Each year PCV's are invited to dine with PC Guatemala and embassy staff. My friends and I were invited to dine with Michelle and Justo Silva. This wonderful young couple went Far out of their way to make us fill comfortable and stuff us with turkey, Puerto rican rice, potatoes, pumpkin pie, flan, and much more. My stomach hurt. One belt notch was not enough. Best meal I've had in Guatemala and a giant step up from beans and tortillas.


The lesser know function is the party at Hotel Antigua the following day. One hundred and fifty volunteers from all over Guatemala, few of whom had seen another American soul in days, weeks, months is the makings for an intriguing evening. The theme was Ropa Americana.

Ropa Americana is an accumulation of clothes from the 50's 60s 70s and 80s. Disco mixed with 70's funk makes for some of the wildest costumes you may ever see. Beat every Halloween party I've ever been to.

That's all for now. Remember E-mail and real mail is very welcome.



a/c Municipalidad de Ipala
Ipala, Chiquimula
Guatemala, Central America