Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Random shots of rural Guatemala

Some horses in a field near my house.

Katie enjoying my most prized possession here-the hammock on my porch.

Katie snapped this photo of a bromeliad while we were on a hike near my house a couple of weeks back. Bromeliads are everywhere out here.

A nice sunset, photo taken from just outside my gate.

The road leading out of El Naranjo.

1. I was walking home from El Naranjo on the road in the picture above when I came upon these men. They are all residents of El Naranjo and are working to improve the road into their canton. Here they have a culvert that they are moving to a point below. The older man in the middle asked if I had a camera and they were all pretty happy to have their photo taken, amid cries of Viva Naranjo!

My buddy, Eduardo, at the school in El Naranjo.

1. A couple of weeks ago I arrived at the school on what I realized was Fat Tuesday, known as Carnaval throughout Latin America. The school had organized some races for the kids on this day and I watched as each group ran. Here a couple of kids get ready, one intense, one disinterested.

A small rainbow on the road to Quivala.

Meat at the feria.

Playing some fris with the kids in El Naranjo.

The view from El Naranjo towards San Andres Sacabaja.

La Feria de Chujuyub

Ferias. Every town in Guatemala has one and Chujuyub is no exception. In fact, I would go so far as to say that for its size, Chujuyub’s feria is superior to many others. The people here know how to have a good time…or what passes for a good time here in rural Guatemala.

Our feria was back at the end of January and a few weeks before this, I was approached by a friend of mine in town. He asked if Katie and I wanted to participate in the baile de disfraces (dance of disguises). He was pretty stoked about it so we agreed, never wanting to disappoint a Guatemalan or miss out on a chance for some ridiculousness. He told us he would get in touch with us before the feria to talk about getting the aforementioned disfraces.

The week of the feria rolls around and in true Guatemalan style my buddy never gets in touch with us. I seek him out mid week and he tells me we need to go to dance practice this week and that later in the week we’ll get our costumes in Quiche, which will cost around 300Q apiece. They are a bit expensive for the Peace Corps budget (I make about 2200Q a month) but we agree that it is worth it.

Thursday night comes and we have dance practice. We head up to a house not too far from mine and form lines, listen to blasting banda music and are directed by our illustrious choreographer who thinks that walking and dancing is a very complicated process. We endure almost 3 hours of practice.

On Friday we meet some people in Quiche and go to select our costumes. We choose (or rather it chooses us due to monetary and size restraints on my part) the Aztec God and Goddess. The costumes are one of a kind and while we thought that 300Q was expensive, some people paid up to 1000Q for theirs.

On Saturday we rise early and head to the covered market in town to don our costumes and dance, dance, dance. We get there and everyone is excited, getting their costumes just so and getting ready to start. It was a warm day and as we could hear Los Conejos Internacionales de Marimba doing a sound check, we knew that the time was upon us. We formed our lines and hit the dance floor….a dirt field that usually houses the market. It was not the most even surface and was very dusty. We danced for almost 4 hours, with a few breaks interspersed and around 1 pm we decided that we wanted to eat lunch and perhaps enjoy a cold beer back at my house. We peeled off our costumes and went to enjoy some beans and rice in an outdoor comedor set up for feria. After lunch we had a beer and decided that 4 hours was enough for us, even though our compadres were still dancing away. We went to pack up our costumes and were told by one of our fellow dancers that we needed to dance until 6 pm. We had already made the decision to stop dancing and this only reinforced that it was in fact the correct one.

We went back to the house and rested, enjoying a cool evening with some beers and homemade pizza. The feria took on a whole new twist participating in the dance and we were glad to be part of it, if only to say that we had done it.

Contemplating what moves will be busted once I get on the dance floor.

Our dance floor and fellow dancers.

The rocking band, Los Conejos Internacionales de Marimba, and a typical dance move-form a circle and walk around.

Shakin it.

Some of the costumes were disturbing and hard to figure out exactly what they were supposed to be.

Ours, however, were awesome.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Chuchos...part 2

Chuchos. Just when you think you have them figured out, they flip it on you. If you refer to one of my first blogs, I declared my undying dislike for Guatemalan dogs after a near death (ok, a slight exaggeration) experience with a couple particularly ferocious ones in Santa Maria Cauque. In my town, over the past 14 months, I've come to a conclusion. Chuchos, aka the dogs of Guatemala that claim no real home and just wander the street, are not the bad ones. These dogs are basically in just survival mode, scavenging what they can to get by and can even provide an occasional laugh when they are seen stuck together after a little baby chucho making-always with an incredibly guilty look on their faces as they stroll along attached end to end. The dogs that are the real culprits in Guatemala are the ones which are actually owned by people, who keep them close to the house and often on very short chains so that when they are released they are very aggressive and want to attack anything that moves. Guatemalans encourage their dogs to be aggressive as a deterrent to intruders, but the dogs will attack anyone who happens to pass within 50 yards of the house. These dogs are the ones who need to be eliminated. 

With that said, since about last September, I've had a couple of local chuchos that scavenge around my house. One of them, who Katie named Mama Bear, showed up with a huge wound on her back, what looked like a possible machete wound. This wouldn't be completely out of the question; Guatemalans can be pretty cruel to animals, especially dogs that they don't want around. When Mama Bear had this wound, she also had some super saggy milkers hanging down-a single mother who was being abused. She was a pretty sympathetic figure and I started giving her my leftovers. Soon enough, one of her puppies started coming around with her and she was christened Blacky by me-Katie's a bit more creative than I am. 

Majestic Mama Bear. 

Blacky licking her chops. 

Well, Mama Bear and Blacky have been hanging around ever since, eating my leftovers and chasing off other dogs that come around. I've discovered that chuchos will eat bananas, avocados, oatmeal and almost anything you put in front of them. They've become my buddies and lately have started to let me pet them. They don't understand fetch and whenever I throw food for them to catch in their mouth it usually just bounces off their nose. They mostly just want to lie back and have their bellies rubbed. They're good to have around though and have forever altered my view of chuchos for the better. 

Cows in Need

Vacas. Ganados. Toros. These are just a few of the words used to refer to cattle. In my town, many people have cattle. They raise them mainly for their milk. During this time of year, after the corn harvest ends in November, all the cows are brought back from Tierra Caliente (Hot Land) an area about an hour from my town where the cattle spend the rainy season. Tierra Caliente is quite a bit lower than my town, which is at about 7100 feet elevation, and when it is dry there is not much for the cattle to eat. 

Therefore, they are brought here and put to pasture in the corn fields and anywhere else there is food available. Last year, this meant my garden-a couple of cows knocked down my fence and ate my entire garden of kale, peas, beets, carrots, Swiss chard and squash right before I was able to harvest. It was frustrating and while the cows were the perpetrators of this crime, the blame really falls on the people who own the cows. They don't give them enough to eat and the cows lack the minerals they need. 

Since these cows are lacking in nutrition and during the dry season need as much as help as they can get, I have been encouraging the people in my town to give their cattle vitamin injections and antiparasite medicine. The majority of them are afraid to inject a cow, so beginning last year I became the local vitamin administrator. I buy the medicine and sell it at cost. My boss, Don Lincho, taught me how to inject the cattle and it has been a good project for me. Many people and cattle are benefiting from it and there are even a few people who have learned how to inject the cattle and buy medicine for themselves and sell to their neighbors. 

Every time we attempt to inject one of the cattle is an adventure. Usually it involves chasing the cow with a piece of rope, getting the rope around the horns and dragging the cow to a nearby tree, post, pillar holding up the house or whatever is close and tying it to the object. The vitamins are an injection in the cow's hindquarters and are usually what causes it to lose its cool. The trick is to hit the cow about 3 times with the back of your hand where you plan to inject it and then on the fourth hit, slip the needle in. Sometimes, the needle won't penetrate and it spooks the cow to have a sharp object jabbed into its skin-understandably so. 

Bringing the cows in. 

The cow has been tied up and is ready to be injected. 

The antiparasite medicine is a bit easier, at times, as you just have to use a large syringe (no needle) and squirt it down the animal's throat. Sometimes opening the mouth enough to get it in there can be tricky, but most of the folks here have it down. 

Trying to open the mouth for the antiparasite medicine. 

Placing the needle, after which I attach the syringe full of vitamins and inject them. Notice the perfect form. 

During this time of year, I always have my medicine and needles in my backpack as it is not uncommon for me to be walking down the road and have someone to invite to their house for an impromptu cow injection session. I have been lucky enough to get some fresh milk and am usually given some type of parting gift for helping out-avocadoes, oranges, limes bigger than your fist-and I enjoy the work. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

My housemates

My house is a small adobe structure, with a tile roof and wood ceiling. When it rains heavily, water can drip through and for this reason there is plastic immediately under the ceiling in a few strategic places throughout the house--my bed, my shelves with clothing and food and my table in the kitchen. While this keeps me dry, it also creates a space for some unwanted guests to set up shop--vermin.

While I've been here, I've had the pleasure of housing a few mice, rats and what I believe to be a possum. I've been able to get a few mice with my machete, they take a risk and run out from wherever they are hiding across the room and when they do, they suffer the consequences.

A couple of weeks ago, as Katie and I were sleeping, from the nylon above my bed we heard something crawling. I took my walking stick, jabbed at the nylon and whatever it was took off. After some more jabbing, I realized that this creature had built a nest in the nylon above my bed. We harassed it long enough to see it stick its long, disgusting nose out from the nylon and then scurry away to the side of the house where it can leave. This is what I believe to be the possum. I then started setting poison around the house for him to hopefully consume and die from. He has returned once, but I think he finally got the message that he is not wanted.

Last week, I walked into my kitchen and saw that a good sized furry guy, definitely not a mouse was perched on my stove, eating something. Grabbing my machete, I headed in for the kill. I took a swing at him and he ran into a space between my chimney and the wall. Blindly, I stuck my machete in the space and hacked away. After a few good blows, I was able to extract him from the space and see that he was dead. That was my first and hopefully my last rat.

Mexican Beer Tour

During the holidays, when not a whole lot of work is being done in Guatemala, Katie and I took advantage of the downtime and took a trip to Mexico. We visited Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca and San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas. We had a really good time and if you want to see more about our time there, I advise you to head over to Katie's blog at She did a great job chronicling our travels and activities. I'm going to focus on the one truly important aspect of the trip...the beers.

Before going to Mexico, I have had a few Mexican beers that are available in the States: Corona, Tecate, Dos Equis and Pacifico. While they don't measure up to the fine craft brews that one can purchase or make, they are pretty solid beers. In Guatemala, the beer landscape is dominated by light and tasteless beer; namely Gallo. It is the national beer and they have a monopoly on the market here. The one island of dark deliciousness in the sea of blandness is Moza, a bock style beer that is Guatemala's one decent beer. It is hard to find however and usually a bit more expensive. With all that said, when we went to Mexico we were excited to sample their beers. Here's a few that we enjoyed.

The Mexican staple: Corona. It quenches thirst, goes down easy and when you have lime and a bit of is damn good. Here, we enjoyed a few Coronas while we were waiting for some fish we caught to be prepared.

Superior, another light Mexican beer that is pretty commonplace. Not quite as tasty as Corona, but it did the job with the street tacos that join it in this picture.

Modelo Especial. I guess that Modelo is one of the fancier beers in Mexico, as it seemed to be a bit more almost everywhere we went. At this particular restaurant we were able to find beer on tap, a rarity. Modelo Especial is okay, a step ahead of Superior but not quite as good as Corona.

Leon, one of the dark beers. While shopping in a huge grocery store in Puerto Escondido, we happened upon a six pack of this stuff, which cost 48 pesos. With roughly 12 pesos to a dollar, it was a tough deal to pass up. However, once we got to the beach and sampled the goods, we realized why it was so cheap. Not a whole lot of flavor or body, it has a dark color but drinks like a light beer.

I am not sure who makes this, but this is a specialty beer made for Noche Buena, which is also the name of the beer. Noche Buena is what Spanish speakers call Christmas Eve, which tends to be the bigger celebration rather than Christmas Day. This was a real good beer, probably the darkest one we had while in Mexico. It was real malty and was heavy enough that you could only drink a couple. It was a nice find.

Dos Equis Amber. This is a good beer, not like a true amber that one might find in Idaho, Oregon or Washington; but still a solid beer. Being able to drink it on tap definitely helped.

Negra Modelo. Another beer that we can get in the States, Negra Modelo is a tasty beer. Like Modelo Especial, it was on tap and a bit pricey, but worth the few pesos extra.
In my humble opinion, the best of the Mexican beers, Bohemia Oscura. This beer was just right, dark and malty, but still smooth enough to down a few. While we were in Puerto Escondido, this was what we looked for when we stopped in to have a beer.

Duff beer. We didn't buy it because it was expensive, but apparently someone in Mexico is a big Simpsons fan and has the means to brew this as a tribute. Unless The Simpsons took the idea from Mexico. Who knows, either way pretty funny.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The highest I have ever been

We started out at 10,000 feet. That is where the bus dropped us off. While we waited for the rest of our fellow hikers, I pulled out my GPS and we were at exactly at 10,000 feet. So we had that going for us.

When everyone arrived, we departed on what was about a 3000 feet climb that would take roughly 4 hours. We started off on a dirt road, following it until we arrived in a big grass field with no real discernible trail. We had another volunteer with us who had done the hike twice before (a fellow Vandal actually) and told us that we just had to cross over the two ridges we saw in the distance. After these two ridges lies Volcan Tajamulco, our destination.

We hiked along slowly, inching our way towards camp. I could definitely feel the effects of the altitude; my lungs were burning as I hadn’t felt before. I wasn’t dizzy or nauseous, but deep breaths were not coming easily.

After about 4 or 5 hours of hiking, we arrive at camp (13,100 feet) and are greeted by roughly 30 Guatemaltecos, some of whom we had encountered on the way up. One in particular was drinking Gallo, the Guatemalan beer of choice, and tossing his cans on the trail as he went. When we came upon him and his group earlier they had built a fire for lunch on the side of the trail and were walking away with it still lit. When he was asked why he didn’t put the fire out, he told us that this isn’t California and it isn’t hot enough to have a big fire. Needless to say, not the brightest guy in the world. Unfortunately, we would be sharing a campground with some other folks of about the same intelligence level.

We made camp, gathered wood, tried to get warm and finally had a nice hot meal of chicken quesadillas and black beans and rice. After we ate, we all wanted to get to our tents and into our sleeping bags as quickly as possible. We planned on making our summit at 4 am, to be on top for the sunrise. We headed to our respective tents at about 8:30, ready to crash. Good and tired after a long hike and full of warm food, plus a splash of rum in my hot chocolate, I expected to fall asleep immediately. However, I did not factor in the drunk guys outside of our tent. Our wonderful neighbors were up talking loudly, playing music from their phones (a favorite pastime) and making a ruckus until about 11. Then again at 2 am, they were up cooking and talking, shouting and playing music. When 4 rolled around, I had neither the energy nor the motivation to get out of my sleeping bag and really did not want to see any of our neighbors.

I convinced myself to get out of my bag, put on a couple layers of clothing and headed out into the darkness at 4:30 am. With headlamps we trudged along, step by step for the last 700 feet up to the summit. We got separated from our group and climbed a hill that I would like to think of as the second highest point in Central America. Finally, from there we found our way and made it to the true summit, Volcan Tajamulco the highest point in Central America (13, 854 feet). The view was amazing, the wind was cold and we hung out for about half an hour, eating, taking pictures and complaining about the cold until we made our way down. Well worth the trip.

A view of the peak.

Countryside below on the way up.

Our group.

Katie and I at the summit.

A great view of the volcanos, one of which is smoking.

Another volcano.

View after the sun came out.

On the way down.

Still working our way down.

An empty field on the way down.

Katie, "going rogue" like our good friend Sarah Palin. If you look closely you will see that Katie is sporting a Rogue hat, not of the Sarah Palin ilk, but more of the Dead Guy Ale type. She thought that having a photo of her wearing this hat on the highest point in Central America may garner some good favor (free beer) with the folks at Rogue Brewing Company. Well, we forgot the hat on our summit, but decided to take a photo anyways. So, yes, this is the highest point in Central America.