Tuesday, November 30

Quotes I dig: not in a hurry

Beachcomber: 'I'm not bothered,' he said. 'You can go anywhere, you can do just about anything, if you're not in a hurry.' That is one of the sanest statements I have ever heard in my life.
- Paul Theroux


Me: The kitchen has a microwave and an oven and a toaster ov---

We've arrived in Antigua, and it is grand. Check out my earlier post for sea turtle photos!

Baby sea turtles

My friend Celine took these photos and I edited them a bit. We release most hatchlings after dark, but sometimes the babies climb out of the sand during the day. They only have so much energy reserved for their first swim into the sea, so it's important to release them as soon as possible. Unfortunately we don't have any adult turtle photos; camera flashes can keep mama turtles from laying their eggs. You'll have to hop on a plane and come see for yourself! It's pretty amazing.

In the following video, we're in the hatchery collecting over 10 hatched nests (around 400 babies).

Monday, November 29

Football and murder

1. The Iron Bowl. I was working in Monterrico at the turtle festival all Friday and had no idea how the game was unfolding. Around halftime, I took my lunch break and hurried down main street to the internet cafe, but the owner had closed shop to enjoy the festivities. After a lovely splurge of a dinner with the other volunteers, we walked 10km home and I was thrilled to learn of Auburn's tremendous victory. That's all I'll say about that.

2. We saw a murder victim on Saturday. A section of street had been marked off with police tape, but after asking a policeman what happened we were told there had been an "ordinary incident" and that we could walk under the tape. Fifteen minutes later we returned to find a dead body lying on the street, the feet sticking out from under a white sheet. A crowd had gathered, and several police were placing numbered cones around what I assume was the murder scene. Again, we asked what happened and we were told that oh, there had been a murder. But don't worry, the guy had been a drunk thief and a menace and no one was too upset when someone shot him.

3. 7 day blog challenge in Antigua. We're spending the next seven nights in Antigua (so excited for cool dry air and laundry services), and I intend to blog every single day.

Thursday, November 25


Thanksgiving on the beach wasn't really Thanksgivingy. We spent all day in Monterrico helping set up for the turtle festival - it was so hot. But it was a satisfying, productive day and I'm excited about the weekend. Several of the German volunteers left this morning so we had a smaller group for dinner tonight. Midway through the meal, we decided to share things we are thankful for and in doing so created that heartwarming atmosphere of gratitude and contentment. Our Thanksgiving list included the park dogs, Thunder and Flash, unlimited agua pura (especially on hot days like today), being able to travel, good health, and no more maggots.

Me and "the Germans" hitching to Monterrico for ice cream
(Flash is sitting in Marissa's lap)

Taken on a sunrise patrol; fishermen trying to catch the tide

Friday, November 19

Life in Hawaii, Guatemala

"We buy turtle eggs HERE --> Quetzal/dozen"

I was supposed to cook last night, but instead a North Carolina businessman invited us to his nearby resort, Hotel Casa Bella. We hopped in the back of the ARCAS director's pick up truck, rode to the other side of Hawaii, and had a lovely dinner of fried chicken and beer. I devoured a breast and two legs in under five minutes - mmmm, protein. Johnny, the owner of the hotel, lives and works in North Carolina; he and his family visit Guatemala once or twice a year, and he's currently in the country working on the property. It's such a nice place - really luxurious, especially compared to where we've been staying, but still affordable. It'd be a great place for a family vacation (hint Brown family hint). It's right on the beach, about fifteen feet from the ocean, and there's an awesome crystal blue chlorinated swimming pool. I felt so refreshed and disinfected.

Speaking of disinfection, Danish volunteer Emile has been complaining of a two month old mosquito bite. It seemed infected, despite the round of antibiotics he'd taken, and after lunch today he noticed the wound wiggling. A few minutes later he'd squeezed a full grown maggot out of his leg. It was one of the most disgusting things I've ever seen. Emile's reaction: "I have a tropical DISEASE! I need to update my Facebook status..." Heaven help me if I ever have an insect living under my skin. Eduardo, the park's coordinator, says this particular type of maggot is only found in the most northern part of Guatemala and in Costa Rica, where Emile spent the first two months of his trip. Good.

Emile and I in the hatchery

Tonight I cooked pasta, green beans, cheese toast, and peanut butter honey granola balls for everyone. The no bake dessert was a huge hit. My Dutch friend, Joy, is leaving tomorrow and asked me to write the recipe in her travel notebook. She said, "we call them sweet balls!"

I've taken some good photos and videos of sunsets and baby turtles; as soon as the internet connection is strong enough, I'll share them with you. One night we released over 400 babies at once. It was amazing. Unfortunately, while I was busy with the turtles, sand fleas were busy with me. I've mentioned insect bites before, but these are the worse yet. I worry for my sanity. It's a good mental exercise, though - fighting the urge to scratch when my brain can't focus on anything but the itching.

High tide is at 1:20am tonight. Two groups will patrol - one group at 11pm (I'm thankfully in this group) and another at 3:30am. Until then, some of the volunteers are watching a movie on a laptop, others are reading. I'm catching up on emails and trying to keep one of our six month old puppies, Thunder, from stealing my sugar cookie. Yesterday Thunder and/or his sidekick Flash ate ten of my tomatoes. Our deaf USA-resident English springer spaniel, Lyra, would approve.

Thursday, November 18

Quotes I dig: travel is a state of mind

Is there any point in going across the world to eat something or buy something or to watch poor people squatting among their ruins? Travel is a state of mind. It has nothing to do with distance or the exotic. It is almost entirely an inner experience.
-Paul Thoreaux

I'm reading a collection of Paul Thoreaux's shorter writings. I think I'll find a lot of quotes I dig before I'm through. One thing I like about his approach to travel writing is that he treats every experience, even a half day boat trip on a river near his house in Massachussets, as a journey and as a story.

Sand fleas are biting me this week. Tonight's my night to cook for the other thirteen volunteers, but the national director of ARCAS might be taking us out to dinner. So I'm killing time until then. Earlier today I made peanut butter honey granola balls for dessert... Thank you, internet, for no bake dessert recipes with less than five ingredients.

Sunday, November 14

The original plan

The original plan

The original Guatemala plan was to live and volunteer at Nueva Alianza for two months before meeting up with my Australian friend Amy for a few days of travel. But, after almost a month in the community, we decided to go elsewhere. It was a frustrating situation for several reasons.

1. Our Spanish isn't good enough to make real friends or to communicate effectively in a work environment.
2. There weren't that many work projects we could do. We didn't have the language skills, resources, or authority to properly coordinate projects or acquire supplies.
3. We were paying money to stay in the hotel, and we decided we weren't contributing or enjoying ourselves enough to warrant "sticking it out" another month.

While I was often bored and frustrated, I'm thankful for such an intense learning experience. I'll elaborate on my new thoughts about international development in a separate post, but more generally, I learned:

1. Despite my desire to be low maintenance, my day to day happiness is still largely tied to material luxuries such as cold milk and disinfectants. Darn. I may be well traveled and flexible, but I'm still a dairy-loving American.

2. Lack of cold milk is one thing. But I absolutely
cannot handle not talking to other people. Communication with others is where most of my energy comes from. Forget being a productive volunteer or able to buy a pound of green beans in the market - I want to ask complex questions about inappropriate Spanish-specific jokes and complain about my day and tease and laugh and learn about people's families. But I was restricted to very basic questions and answers with everyone but Tara and Hannah; this made it difficult for me to stay energetic and positive. I will never (again) live in a non-English speaking community before investing in serious language training. (And I do really want to become bilingual.)

Good times in and around Reu

There were a few rays of sunshine during our last week in la finca. Last Friday Tara and I chicken bussed to nearby coastal village Champerico. The warm ocean water and fried fish were good for my soul. Tara's primary Peace Corps project is developing a tourist organization for Guatemala's underdeveloped Pacific coast, and during lunch I quizzed her on various obstacles to growing Guatemala's tourist infrastructure. We encountered one such obstacle, crime, when a local man chased us down the beach, warning us to turn around because of numerous assaults that occur south of town. We were already aware of the dangerous stretch of beach, but it was heartwarming having a local go out of his way to help us.

Later that evening, Tara, Hannah (who'd spent the day sick in Reu...), and I were riding
la camioneta back up the mountain. It began to rain and two men rushed around shutting the windows. My window wouldn't budge, but I wrapped myself in my sarong, content to get a little wet, watching the pink sunset and basking in The Moment.

By Tuesday, the refreshing Friday had worn off. I couldn't wait to leave that part of the country. We'd been in Reu using the internet for several hours, and upon returning to the mercado we realized that we'd missed the bus. It always leaves about 45 minutes after the scheduled departure time, but the one time we were ten minutes late, it left on time.
Typical, absolutely typical, I thought. We didn't have enough cash for a hotel room and we were wary of using a taxi on the obscure road to Nueva Alianza. But, long story short, we were saved by an old grandmother who sells snacks day after day at cuatro caminos, an intersection on the outskirts of Reu. We told her we'd missed the Nueva Alianza bus and we needed to get another ride, maybe with the agua pura truck. She let us wait under her snack shack and after awhile she helped us cross the street and told us to wait there. And in about five minutes the community's agua pura truck drove by and Ramón (ah, Ramón, how happy I was to see him) told us to hop in. He refused to take any money once we were back home.

The snack selling grandmother and Ramón redeemed the whole three and a half weeks. It was nice to leave with good feelings.

Where are we now?

taken from givingchallenge.ning.com

We're in Parque Hawaii, a natural reserve on the Pacific coast between the beach town of Monterrico and the smaller village of Hawaii. An organization called ARCAS operates a turtle conservation program, and year round volunteers live here and work with turtles and other wildlife and do environmental education in local schools. We're currently in the middle of nesting season. Every night we patrol about 10km of beach, looking for mama turtles nesting their eggs and for local men who have already claimed a nest. If we find a turtle nest, we dig up the eggs and rebury them in our hatchery. If a local has already claimed a nest, we collect the legally required dozen egg "donation" for our hatchery and offer to buy the remaining eggs. Sometimes they sell to us, sometimes they don't. They'll eat the eggs themselves or sell them to other vendors.

It's interesting work. And it's amazing to see the mother turtles coming out of the ocean and the tiny squirming babies scrambling down the sand. During the day, we hang out in hammocks, eat fresh pineapple, swim in the delightfully warm ocean, hitch rides in pick up trucks to Monterrico to buy groceries and attend town meetings about
the upcoming turtle festival, and do various work around the property. Hannah and I plan on sticking around until the turtle festival in two weeks time, maybe longer.

Stay tuned for beautiful sunset photos and more thoughts on our Guatemala experience thus far.

Sunday, November 7

Nueva Alianza photos

i am currently in an internet cafe in reu and thought i would take the opportunity to upload a few photos from the past three weeks. on wednesday, we´re relocating to parque hawaii, a national park(more or less) on the pacific coast. internet is quite scarce at the moment, but hopefully i´ll manage a few updates later this week.


the kitchen (la cocina)

reading outside before we realized this is where the most bugs are

i fail at setting up mosquito nets

our beds and closets

the first meal we prepared... oatmeal, pineapple, fried egg, and coffee

the patio outside our room and la sala

a failed attempt to document the dozens of bug bites on my neck

chopping veggies in the dark

thrilled about our first mac n cheese dinner

dan does laundry at la pila


an untoasted coffee bean

jungle hike

at one of the three waterfalls

kevin finds a cobra (not poisonous)and comes over to play

view from the outside la cocina

Quotes I dig: the opposite of cynicism

the opposite of cynicism isn´t optimism but action.
- jim wallis

Wednesday, November 3

Fighting fear

Fear. It's an interesting and tricky phenomenon. I did a lot of thinking about fear during college, maybe in response to terrorism and politics, or overseas adventures, or books defending the goodness of humanity and strangers... probably in response to all these things. And I became passionate about the importance of fighting fear. Don't let fear control you, don't let fear keep you from trying difficult things, that sort of thing.

Fighting fear felt poetic for awhile. I jumped out of a plane and helped a diabetic drug addict in a rough Atlanta neighborhood. I drove six hundred miles by myself five months after I got my driver's license. I went to South America. But then, and this happened in a matter of months, I began to fear less tangible things, like myself and failure and the future. That kind of fear has proven much harder to fight.

Anyway, I don't know if fearing myself activated my previously dormant fear center or what, but recently I have experienced more ear ringing palm sweating fear than ever before. Some of you have heard about our camping trip in Yellowstone. Hannah heard a bear (or something) circling our tent and woke me with a terrified barely audible whisper: "Stop breathing. There's a bear." I think the experience will make a good short story some day. For now, suffice it to say that night was the first time I felt I'd come to terms with death. Paralyzed in my sleeping bag, unable to control my alarmingly rapid pulse, I thought calmly to myself, "You might die very soon. But that's okay." For weeks, even in north Alabama where there are no bears, my stomach lurched every time I heard a rustle in the woods.

For the first time in my life I was scared of an upcoming trip as I read warning after warning of armed robbery, rape, and bus hijackings in Guatemala. I was on high alert in the poorly lit parking garage of Guatemala City's international airport, and my heart pounded hard when it occurred to me our driver could be kidnapping us. Here in Nueva Alianza, I've woken up to mysterious noises around the hotel. Sometimes I hear distant voices and remember our lockless door and think about machetes. And don't get me started on all of the insects and critters in this place. Bright green buzzing flies dive bomb me when I brush my teeth. Cockroaches live in the fork and spoon drawers. Mice race across the attic floor at night and scurry through the kitchen during lunch. Once I was lying on the floor fixing my bunk bed when an enormous black scorpian crawled right under my nose.

Luckily I've developed a coping mechanism for creepy crawly things: I've taught myself not to look for them. When I shower or open drawers, I actively choose not to focus my eyes on any walls or corners. I calmly go about my business, and if I notice an animate dark mass that may or may not be a tarantula, I ignore it. "It's probably not a tarantula," I say to myself. Ignorance is bliss. I don't want to know. The other night, Hannah and Dan insisted on talking about an awful spider that was crawling across the living room ceiling. I refused to look and managed to forget about it. Later, as I was stretching, my eyes accidentally found the spider on a beam above my feet. Shudder. It took five minutes of disciplined thinking, but I managed to forget it again. The same night we heard creaking floor boards outside and a few startling BANGs, either recreational gun shots or oranges falling on the tin roof. Though I knew we were probably hearing dogs and fruit, I still felt uneasy. But I didn't dwell on the noises and focused on our James Bond movie instead.

On multiple occasions people have asked, "aren't you scared of anything?" Yes, I am. Ask my dad about the time I almost screamed and clawed my way out of a Disney World water ride. Sharks, tsunamis, spiders, and the idea of armed assault freak me out. I don't do horror movies. During this past year alone, I've discovered all sorts of new scary things. But I've also discovered that even my worst fears can be fought. It's always been worth it.

To be honest, if I didn't insist on fighting fear I would be back in the States by now. Good grief. Hannah just reported she was washing her face, looked down and saw a rat chasing a grasshopper under the bathroom door.

On a separate note, my friend Dan just got back to Alabama after two weeks in Guatemala. He visited the capital, Antigua, and then spent a few days here in the community. You can read about and watch his adventures here.

Tuesday, November 2

Photos i dig: Mendoza, Argentina

I'd like to start sharing cool travel photos once or twice a week, some from my own travels and others I find around the web. I took this photo early one morning outside Mendoza, Argentina. We were headed to the Andes mountains to spend a day in the snow, and these kids were waiting to catch their school bus.