Saturday, December 30, 2006

A very busy Christmas

Mom and Maya came to visit last week, and hung around for nine days with me in Honduras so I could be all accompanied and stuff for Christmas. My last blog entry was during the first stage of that trip (picking them up from the airport in Tegucigalpa) so this one will pretty much pick up right where it left off.

I spent some time that first day I got to Tegucigalpa trying to get bus tickets arranged in advance for our travelling the following day, but wasn't able to do it because the bus lines here apparently don't sell passage in advance during the holiday season. But I did manage to make some hotel reservations and figure out the best option for a bus line, and when mom and Maya got to the airport and we had our happy hug-filled reunion, I already knew at least where we had to go next. Mom had changed some money into Lempiras in Houston so she already had some cash (although she got totally ripped off there), I had money, and we changed some dollars at the airport so by the time we got on the bus going north towards Lago de Yojoa, we were set to go for the next few days.

It was night time when we got to the turnoff to go to our hotel Agua Azul, and I got a nasty surprise that the bus lines which I knew ran from that turnoff in the direction we were going stopped at 5:30 (it was like 6:30), but luckily, there was a family getting off the bus with us in the exact same situation, and they had sent their relatives or friends in the area with a car to pick them up. They immediately offered to help us with a jalón (hitch) to cover the few kilometers down the road we needed to go. So off we went, Maya giggling every time the truck's wheel wells scraped against the tires because the shocks were bottomed out from so many people in the cab.

We got to the hotel and gratefully dumped our stuff in the room, a really nice cabin with wooden floors and walls (almost everything is cement or maybe brick around here, when it isn't adobe), and basically stretched out to relax. Mom and Maya were really tired from the trip. We shared an exhorbitantly expensive plate of comida típica at the hotel's restaurant and hit the hay.

The next morning, we got a leisurely start and hopped on a local shuttle around 9 am going farther north towards Peña Blanca, a small crossroads town that I knew pretty well from previous trips to the area when I was getting some training in coffee processing. We asked around about good places to see and how to get there, and had two locations recommended to us - a private ¨ecological park¨ called Puhlapanzak that mom had read about in a guide, and an archaeological park called Los Naranjos. We opted to check out Puhlapanzak and hopped another bus in Peña Blanca, a short ride that took us to a dirt turnoff. From there it was maybe a kilometer walk to the park, which was a pretty well-kept place with a lots of big trees and a river that had some places to bathe in at the upper end of the park, and an awesome waterfall down at the lower end. I later learned that it was 47 meters tall, which I guess is about 150 feet.

We had managed to while away most of the day by the time we left Puhlapanzak, but since Los Naranjos was only 3 kilometers from Peña Blanca, we decided to check it out real quick before heading home. A 15 passenger van (which they called a ¨taxi¨) took us to the entrance, where we argued with the gatekeeper about paying the $5 ¨for non-residents¨ entrance fee until they let us in for 35 lempiras, which came to about five bucks for all three of us. We had to walk through a sugarcane field to get into the park, because the first few hundred yards or so of the official trail were under water due to the lake's being at the highest level it had in years. Los Naranjos was extremely deserted and really pretty, especially the part where a raised wooden walkway went through an inundated forest. It felt kind of like being on a bayou in the states, at least in my imagination.

We had to leave Los Naranjos pretty quick because it was getting late. We grabbed some takeout food from a cheap comedor in Peña Blanca and went back to the hotel, packed tighter than sardines into an airport-shuttle sized vehicle that probably had something like 40 people in it. Maya didn't think we'd get on, but as I explained to her, one of the rules of transportation in Honduras is that there's always room for one more on the bus. :P

Back at the hotel, we relaxed some more and once again went to bed shamefully early. The next day, we were thinking about trying to get up someplace high on Montaña de Santa Bárbara, a national park that sits right on the edge of the lake, but we sort of realized that it was going to be too time-costly and we had no idea how to do it. So we went back to Los Naranjos instead and saw all the parts that we didn't have time to hike to before, including a somewhat undeveloped archaeological site that felt like a tropical park, although it was hard to figure out where the things we wanted to see were. We ran into a french-canadian couple that day looking for the rather scanty archaeology, and hiked around with them for awhile. As far as I can remember (maybe someone can correct me on this), they were the only other foreign tourists we saw the entire trip.

That evening, we got home a little earlier to have time to rent a boat at the hotel and paddle it out on the lake, which I did with mom. Maya stayed home, fearing the wrath of the mosquitos I think. We got some nice pictures I think of the lake at sunset, and possible of some white egrets although it wasn't possible to tell because mom had a digital camera with a busted screen. An hour and a half of that was enough, then we rowed back in and jumped in the pool before it got totally dark. That night, since it was our last one there, we splurged and ordered some of the hotel's fancy dinners and a few cocktails. Their margaritas were cheap and unbelievably good.

The next day was Christmas eve, and I was pretty worried about the transportation situation so we got up pretty early and got out to the main highway heading back south to Tegucigalpa. Getting on a bus outside from the side of the road like that often means you won't get a seat and have to stand up all the way to your destination, but we lucked out somehow and the first bus to Tegucigalpa that came by had seats for mom and Maya right away. A little farther down the road someone else got off and I was able to sit down also. Yay!

We got to Tegucigalpa a lot earlier than I'd expected and went over to Juanita's house (I had called her husband from the lake to let them know we were coming), because he'd invited us to spend Christmas eve and day with them. The reason for this, besides having a nice place to spend Christmas and hang out with a great family, was logistical - no transportation whatsoever runs on the 25th, and we wanted to get to my place by the 26th which meant having to spend the night someplace reasonably close to Choluteca so we could get there by 12:30 am that day.

Christmas at Juanita's house was a lot of fun. Although we felt pretty awkward at first, and were even thinking the whole thing might have been a mistake since mom and Maya didn't know them at all previously, we all sort of warmed up to each other and pretty much had a great time. Humberto took us around to see parts of Tegucigalpa on the 24th and on Christmas day, driving out to pick up some special rum that he was looking for on the one occasion and going to see the biggest, fanciest church in the city on the next. We sang and danced and had lots of fun on Christmas eve, and on Christmas day we made an apple crisp to share one of our special gringo holiday foods with them.

The 26th, all transportation concerns went relatively smoothly, except for the Agua Fría bus being way more crowded than normal. We just stopped for an hour and a half or something like that in Choluteca to go to the bank, get some lunch, and check email and arrived at my site around 2 pm. Mom and Maya, once more, were pretty tired so we grabbed some necessities at the pulpería and went right to my place to set up camp. We relaxed the rest of the evening and visited.

The two days we had at my site were both pretty relaxing as well; almost exactly the way it was when Dad and Daya were there. We got out and went on some hikes, going to the top of the Cerro Guanacaure and heading to Agua Fría a couple times, but did nothing real ambitious. We got to eat some more good Honduran Christmas food when Isaí's wife Elsy brought us down some chicken tamales wrapped in banana leaves, and squash cooked with so much raw sugar that it was turned black.

As all good things must come to an end, so did this trip. Mom and Maya's plane was going to leave from Tegucigalpa at 1:30 on the 29th, which I was slightly concerned about. 90% of the time I can make it to Tegucigalpa by 11 am using the normal transportation, but we were worried about possible problems and it was a flight they really couldn't afford to miss. Luckily, the pulpería owner Neri was making a trip to Choluteca anyways that day so he gave us a ride and we got there nice and early, rolling out of Cholu by 7 am and arriving at the airport in Tegucigalpa by like 10:15. I hung out with mom and Maya there for an hour and a half or so as we ate some pizza hut and said our goodbyes. Then I got on a bus and headed home.

So I'm back in Choluteca, typing up this report. I should be getting on a bus pretty soon to go back to my site, where I'm planning on staying for awhile heh. New Years' should be fun and from there I am going to start right away giving computer classes to a local girl as full-time as she or myself can manage. As always, I send my love to you all as well as hopes that you had a great Christmas and that the New Year will see you with health, spirit, and determination.


Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Utter bullshit

About six months ago, during the training period of the most recent Protected Areas Management volunteers, a group of four guys in that group were asked by an armed guard if they'd take a picture with him. They all got in the photo, unloaded his gun, and held it along with the guard for the shot.

I'd never have found out about this apparently irrelevant event, as indeed I shouldn't have (because who cares?) if somehow the picture hadn't found its way onto one of the computers here at the Peace Corps office in Tegucigalpa. From there somebody saw it and sent it to Carolina Cardova, the acting Country Director (or she found it personally) this week or last week. As a direct consequence - at least as far as I can tell - the four volunteers who were in that photo taken six months ago holding an unloaded gun with a guard were summarily kicked out of the peace corps. One of them was my new neighbor Patrick who was in the community of La Palma, an outstanding guy who I was really looking forward to working with and having as a friend for the remainder of my time here. Though I didn't really know the other three much, they are all held to be some of the most motivated, serious, and hardworking volunteers out there. So not only did I lose a friend, neighbor, and co-worker, but the program as a whole lost four excellent volunteers for doing something SIX MONTHS AGO that probably none of them imagined was an offense.

Now there may be facts that I'm not privy to. Facets to the case that escape my notice. I'm sure it's a very complicated case, a lot of ins, a lot of outs, a lot of what have yous......

Yeah, right.

I can't believe they are doing this. It could so easily have happened to me. Nobody was really consulted outside of the country-level administration before the decision was made, neither the volunteers in question, trainers, nor our project director. These guys set aside two years of their lives for the peace corps, jumped through all the hoops to get in (which commonly takes up to a year), suffered through three months of intense training, and were just getting settled into their sites and by all accounts enjoying their work. How is kicking them out of the peace corps at this point the best solution to this perceived problem? How is it the best option? How is it even necessary, to say nothing of appropriate?

I heard somebody mention some kind of so-called justification having to do with "loss of trust." Yeah, I think I know who really lost trust in who here.

They'll all be gone by tomorrow (two are already) but Pat is still around luckily, so if yall will excuse me I have some last minute hanging out with friends to do. Hopefully I'll manage to make it through the evening without doing anything to get myself kicked out of the peace corps.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Nuttin much

I figured it was time to give the ol´ blog an update, even if all I have to post is that there isn't much to post. Following the theme from last time, I guess I could talk about my cat. Man, am I really writing about my cat on the internet? I need help.

There isn't that much to say I guess, just something specific that happened with her. A couple weeks ago I put her out for the night as usual. Although I think she was finally learning to use the sand-filled pail, I didn't quite trust her yet. Around midnight I was woken up by her cries, which is sort of normal on a given night as she is quite the crier. I heard a special note of what seemed like desperation in the cry, but I was too semiconscious to pay it much mind. She quieted down after awhile and I drifted back to sleep.

The next morning, I couldn't find the cat around the house. I figured she had gotten hungry and wandered off to the neighbors' or something (which she'd already done once), which was probably why she had been crying. I went about fixing breakfast, frying an egg, then grabbing my coffee pot to take it outside and rinse it out. Suddenly, I found my kitten.

Floating in the water barrel.

I gasped in horror and then sat down heavily on the back step of my house, then cried for quite awhile. Sometimes, I really don't like myself very much. I'm not talking about suicide thoughts ¨I hate myself I want to die¨ crap, but I just get so mad and frustrated about being a fuckup. That week was one of those times. I buried my cat and went back to life as normal within the same day, but it still hurts when I think about that poor little kitty who trusted me and liked me an awful lot drowning, and me within hearing distance not doing a goddamn thing. Well, that's the drama that my life was lacking I guess. Most if not all members of my family have already heard about this, but I felt it should be recorded here because I am probably going to save all these blog entries after my peace corps service for of a history of the experience to have when I get old and even more forgetful than I am now.

Since then, things have been pretty quiet around Agua Fría. I've been planning a lot for what I want to do next year with the schools, because with all this free time to figure out how I want to spend the rest of my service I'm feeling most interested in schools. I want to teach environmental education (which would be the project-oriented side) but not just that, any science education I can incorporate, trying to get these kids thinking critically and problem-solving and becoming more observant of the world around them in general.

The one other event that I guess has some significance was the meeting to wrap up the year of Maestro En Casa work. Myself and two of the three other teachers in our school went to Choluteca to meet with the people who direct the program there and do an evaluation of the year, discuss problems, and put forth some ideas for the coming year. It turned out to be more of an excursion slash meeting because we got on a bus and went out to Cedeño, a beach on the Gulf of Fonseca near Choluteca and had the meeting there. Not too shabby a locale, if I do say so myself. I had heard that the gulf beaches were substandard, but for my own personal tastes I would beg to differ. Now, I don't know about the swimming... the water was pretty turbid and one of my fellow teachers Denis told me he was almost run-over by a leviathan turd last year that he saw at the last minute as it bore down on him riding the crest of a wave. I'd stay out of the water, personally, though I'm not much for swimming in saltwater anyways. But the view was actually pretty awesome, you could see volcanoes in El Salvador and Nicaragua as well as Isla Del Tigre (an extinct island volcano in Honduras) and it was cleaner than I expected.

We spent a couple hours on the meeting, then ate lunch and lounged around for a couple more hours. I had a fun time visiting with my fellow teachers Nancy and Denis, who are some of the few educated Hondurans that I get to interact with on a regular basis and thus are important friends for me.

Today I'm in Choluteca planning my trip with mom. Looks like we're going up north a little bit to Lago de Yojoa to check out that area, and might spend Christmas with some Honduran friends somewhere in Siguatepeque or Tegucigalpa if it works out. I'm more or less in vacation mode now because this needs to be planned carefully. Transportation around the holidays in this country is a real mess. If you've never seen it, imagine the holiday rush in the States, and then double the percentage of people travelling, make 90% of them use public transport instead of private cars, and subtract 75% of the paved highways and you'll have some idea.

Merry Christmas! Grandpa, if you're reading this, I'm thinking of you!