Sunday, April 20, 2014

Copan Ruinas, Honduras

 Well, my dad is in Central America to visit us this week - and we have a jam packed week with him. Today, we are in Copan Ruinas, Honduras. My dad really wanted to see some Mayan ruins, so we thought this would be a great place to start our sightseeing.

He flew into Guatemala City around 9:00 on Friday night, and we left Saturday morning at 5:00 to come to Honduras. Copan is on the border (about 6 kilometers from Guatemala) so it actually isn't as far as it seems - although it was about 5 hours on the bus. Once we got to Copan we walked around the town, got lunch and introduced my dad to life in Latin America. We ended up relaxing at our hotel, laying in the hammocks and catching up for a few hours that afternoon, and went out at night to a celebration in the center - which actually just turned out to be crowds of people doing nothing, and a handful of girls (mostly tourists) dancing under strobe lights. 
Today we spent the day at the ruins. There is quite a bit to see out there. Copan is known for their intricate hieroglyphics and carvings. The structures aren't as high as the other ruins in Guatemala and Mexico - but they cover a larger area and the stelas (totem pole type carvings) are amazing.  

Coming from Idaho - my dad really wanted a warm climate - and we definitely got it. It has been beautiful (and hot) here in Honduras. We are warm weather people so we have been soaking it up!

Copan is also known for having the longest hieroglyph in all of pre-columbian MesoAmerica. This is the staircase that is filled with hieroglyphics - literally every single step. Caitlin read that they only uncovered the first 7 or 8 steps in tact, then had to reconstruct the rest of them as they found the bricks all around the original structure. 

A few of the stelas.

Since these sights were uninhabited for so many years, trees have grown out of many of the buildings, and the roots have caused the destruction of many different buildings. As much as I love nature, this really makes me sad that so many of the buildings are ruined by trees. 

There are tunnels in a lot of the ruins, and according to the signs we read, there are buildings built upon buildings, built upon buildings. So depending on the ruler the archeologists have found different buildings under the earth. 

In Copan there are the palaces of the royalty and elite, but there are also houses that were for common folk. They have also found many bodies that are buried in the fetal position (about 145 bodies). These people are buried outside of their houses with offerings. 

My dad found one of the workers brooms and thought it looked like a hula skirt. Having him here has been a blast! 

The macaw is also very important to the Copan Mayans, and they have it depicted in many of their carvings/sculptures. We were lucky enough to see a handful of them. These two were just chilling at the base of a tree, so we watched them for a few minutes before they flew away. 

They had water, and bathrooms in the royal palace - and we even went into their sauna to snap a quick picture. :) The ruins are right next to a river, so they were big into irrigation. 

A lot of the sights also had weird holes in the ground - but there were no signs to indicate what they were. There also weren't any signs that said to keep out. :)

We ended the day with a tuk tuk ride and dinner at a delicious restaurant. Now we are on our way back to Guatemala to do some more sight seeing. This trip is already going by too quickly. We are off to Semuc Champey next. It looks pretty gorgeous, and we (and our feet) are excited to relax for a few days before heading off to Tikal.

PCI Guatemala

A few weeks ago I had the amazing opportunity to visit the PCI office in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. This was seriously a special treat for me. Of course, I work in international development, so I am always interested in what other organizations are doing - but there is definitely a handful of organizations, PCI being one of them, whose mission and goals line up with my view of development. Because of this, I really wanted to see PCI and how it works, and I especially wanted to see how they run their monitoring and evaluation, since that is what I've been doing down here for the past 7 months. 
We went to a few communities around Huehuetenango (well, really far away, we drove for a few hours to get there), and the first day we visited a few schools that do nutrition programs. We went to Cuilco where there are a handful of schools that are implementing this particular program and met with some teachers, principals, parents, and even spoke with some of the kids. The program has been put into place because of the malnutrition among so many of the children are underweight and don't receive adequate nutrition at home. PCI works with the parents (the moms are assigned to cook on different days of the week) and the teachers in order to fully implement the program. 
They provide rice, beans, flour (a corn-soy mixture), and oil to the participants of the program, and they are responsible for supplementing the food with other nutritious ingredients. PCI also hosts open houses where parents get together and learn about nutrition and share recipes. PCI works so well with these schools, when we showed up they were already having the kids line up to wash their hands and some had even been served. The administrators had all the paperwork filled out and up to date, and they were following the regulations of the program so well. That is something PCI does very well, they have a very well developed plan for these communities, so there is no confusion and everyone knows their role and what needs to be done to accomplish the goal of the project. 
While we were there, Nery, the M&E specialist, was teaching the field technicians how to use a new app to report M&E numbers and information. It was such an efficient way to report M&E and it made me jealous that I didn't have the app (or the projects) to do the M&E work for. 

One thing that really impressed me about PCI is the fact that every single person that works for them, in the office, in the field, in the communities, you name it, they know EXACTLY what they are supposed to be doing. Their roles are so clearly defined that they never seem to be confused or doing work that is not directly related to their function. It really makes for an efficient team when things are outlined so well.

After we visited three schools we went to la Casa Materna, a maternity house that provides services for women throughout their pregnancies, and then offers a place to stay next door to the hospital while the women wait for their delivery. Many women live several hours away from the hospital and would be unable to make it to the hospital in time for delivery and the hospital charges a lot to stay there. La Casa Materna provides the help these women need in a clean and safe environment with doctors and nurses who know what they are doing and care about the women. 

The next day I went to another part of Huehue and visited communities that were benefiting from a few of PCI's projects. The first thing I was able to see was a disaster planning meeting with a handful of community leaders. PCI was teaching them about how to implement a disaster plan and then the community would elect leaders, divide the community into districts, and then hold a mock disaster to ensure that they know how to implement the plan. We only had time to stay for a little bit of the meeting, but it was great to see how excited the community members were to learn about disaster planning. 
After we left that meeting, we went to a recipe workshop with some of the local women. Just like in the schools, PCI implements a program where they supply basic food rations to women who are expecting or have children under the age of 5... or 2. I can't remember the ages of the children. Anyway... they host cooking workshops to teach the women how to cook the food differently. Some of these families only live off of the food provided by PCI and a few other humble rations, so PCI tries to teach them diverse ways to prepare the food so they wont get bored or burnt out on eating beans and rice. This day we ate a bean puree with tomatoes, onions, and a spice that I didn't know the translation for. They were really good. And all the kids that were there gobbled them up - so I think it was a winning recipe.

Later, we visited a few farms to learn about some of the farming methods and techniques used by the local farmers, including the new fences and chicken coops they were incorporating. In case you have never been to Latin America - most of the time the chickens run free, no cage, no coop, just free range. And although that sounds great (trust me, I grew up in Portland, Oregon - I know the fascination of free-range birds), it isn't productive for those living in extreme poverty - especially because they cannot track down the eggs, and the chickens get sick because they mix with other chickens. 

These men were telling us that they have better, fatter chickens that they are able to eat (and supply more food for their families) when they keep them in a cage. And they are able to find the eggs very easily, and they haven't had any chickens get sick because they are able to vaccinate them and keep them segregated from the other chickens. Such a great program and such a simple solution to their problems.

Lastly, we visited with a woman who is part of a group of women who participate in a savings and loans program through PCI. These women are completely transformed and empowered through this program. They save their own money, then use the money to loan to the other women in the group. This particular group is planning on buying corn in bulk when the prices go down (the prices always fluctuate) then selling it when the prices go up - then saving the profits and doing it over and over again. They were very entrepreneurial minded. This women took us all around her house, showed us her sheep and compost pile, and then fed us lunch. She was so sweet.
After visiting all the projects that PCI had in Huehue I am so happy I went. It was a really long process to get there from Santiago, but so worth it. It was amazing to see how PCI really empowers a community to fix their own problems. They create leaders within the communities and give people the power to think and create their own solutions. It was so great to talk to members of the communities who are getting excited about other possibilities after working with PCI. They have a newfound hope that you don't often see in the ultra-poor populations in Guatemala. It was very impressive and gives me more drive and determination to continue my work in the development field. 

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Cerro de Oro

I really love hiking - being outside and enjoying some quite time in nature. Unfortunately, we haven't had a lot of time to go on many hikes since being down here - which really stinks 'cause there are a lot of hikes that we could've enjoyed. Oh well. This past weekend we decided to take a morning hike up the Cerro de Oro, or Gold Hill. It is a relatively short hike, but the view is great.
We actually didn't follow the trail since it forked off at one point in time and we took the wrong fork. But we had a great view of the lake and the other volcanoes surrounding the lake. Cerro de Oro received it's name from rumors that the Mayans had hidden their gold in the mountain when the Spaniards were approaching, but nobody has been able to find the gold. We didn't spend much time looking for gold, but sometimes I wish I were a gold hunter so we could spend our lives searching for lost treasure. 

Also, at the bottom of the hill there is a city that has been covered by water since the level of the lake rises and falls over the years. This isn't typical of lakes, and Lake Atitlan is one of the few in the world that actually do this. But the city that is underwater was found by archeologists and when Rick visited we went to a museum that had some artifacts from the city. 
We had gotten up really early to go, so we finished hiking by 8:00 in the morning, which was a perfect way to start out our day. The weather was perfect and watching the sun rise reflect off the water was amazing.
On top of the hill there are some rocks with hieroglyphics carved into them, and we heard that they do some Mayan rituals on top of the hill, but we didn't see anything interesting while we were up there. We really wanted to hike the Volcano San Pedro, but we never got around to it. It's an all day hike, and we just never had a full day to dedicate to it. Next time we are at Lake Atitlan it is on our to do list. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Visit to Xela

Somehow our time in Guatemala has FLOWN by. Literally. I can't believe we are leaving in just a few days. 2 months down here was not enough. We didn't get to see a lot of what the Western Highlands of Guatemala have to offer. We did, however, make a quick trip out to Quetzaltenango (Xela) this past week to visit the LDS temple there. And it actually turned out to be the perfect day. 

We caught the launch around 6:30 in the morning to go over to Pana, then caught a pickup truck heading to Solola, then another bus heading to Xela. Everyone told us that the bus would drop us off a few blocks away from the temple, but our bus dropped us off way far away, so we ended up taking a taxi to the temple. Our taxi driver was really nice, and we made it to the temple just in time for the session.

And of course, being in the temple was amazing. We really enjoyed this temple and we're really sad we didn't go there more.
After we finished at the temple, we thought we'd enjoy the US luxuries that Xela have to offer, which included a trip to Subway (which Caitlin has been craving ever since we left the states), ice cream, and a little Wal-Mart adventures. 

Isn't it strange how going to Wal-Mart in the states seems like a chore, but going to Wal-Mart in another country gets exciting? We were just so thrilled by the little things we could buy that were nowhere to be found in Santiago. And although I'm totally opposed to Wal-Mart infiltrating other countries and globalization and all that junk, I was beyond thrilled to get a taste of home while in Xela. 

After we finished shopping for a few things at Wal-Mart, we caught the bus back to Pana, and the very last launch of the day back home. It was quite the day, and everything worked out so perfectly. We wish were were going to be here a bit longer so we could go back and enjoy it all over again. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Spa Night

A few weeks ago Caitlin mentioned that we weren't being very good at serving one another. Maybe it's because we're living in a studio apartment and working from home, so we literally see each other nearly all day, every day - but I decided that we should have a fun night where I could serve Caitlin a little bit. So we had a Spa Night!
We started off with a homemade lime-mint foot soak, followed by a pumice stone exfoliation and foot massage... and in case you can't tell, I'm totally making up things. It's true that I made a foot soak with lime, mint, and salt - which was actually really nice. But I've never been to a spa, so I don't know how they do things, just thought it would be a fun experience.  

While Caitlin's feets were a soaking, we played some card games, cause that's what they do at a real spa, right? 
We then moved to oatmeal, and honey facials. Caitlin insisted I participate in this, and even though our skin felt real rejuvenated afterward, I was not as thrilled to participate as she was. 

It reminded me of this clip from Bedtime stories: 

The oatmeal was a little messy, but fun to play with and really easy to make. We didn't have a lot of options since there aren't a lot of spa ingredients in the market, but we made do with what we were able to find. 

Once the oatmeal was in place we relaxed with some cold cucumbers on our eyes, and then finally rinsed off and enjoyed our amazing spa treatments. I don't know if we will do this again, but it made me really want to go to a real spa and get a massage. It would feel so nice after traveling around Central America. Only 5 more weeks until we are stateside again!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Easter with Puerta Abierta

On Friday, Caitlin and I went with the school Puerta Abierta to celebrate Easter. The Easter week in Guatemala is called, Semana Santa, and is basically the spring break for schools in Latin America. And since the director of the school is from the US, she introduces a few US traditions to the students before they take a week-long break. These traditions include the Easter Bunny, dying eggs, and having an easter egg hunt. It was such a blast.
We went out there in the back of a truck, which is a pretty popular way to get around Guatemala. They are like shared taxis, but everyone stands up in the back of the truck. Super nice for those hot days when you want to be outside. 
Once we got there we helped prep for the dying of the easter eggs. Then we got to dye our very own eggs! One of the little girls gave an egg to Caitlin, so she got to dye two. None of the kids in my group were as generous. :)
Then the kids sang songs and played games while we hid all of the eggs. There were so many of them! We, along with our friend Michelle, literally hid hundreds of eggs. Once we finished playing the Easter Bunny, the kids had the task of finding 5 eggs each, and a personalized easter basket for each of them. Caitlin and I even had baskets we had to find, filled with candy and a mango! 

We have loved working with Puerta Abierta. If anyone wants to spend some time in Guatemala volunteering, this is the place to be. We have made so many great friends here too - we love the teachers at the school. Isaias and Juanita are two really great teachers. We wish we would've taken pictures with more teachers, but for some reason we never really got around to it. Maybe if we see them during the week off we will grab a quick picture.