Sunday, October 31, 2010

Los Gigantes de El Salvador

Again, here are my latest pictures from El Salvador.  Album 3 is the newest.

I am now done with my trip in El Salvador and writing this post from The Bagelry in Santa Cruz, CA.  If you ever come here, toast a garlic bagel with egg salad.  There are a lot of hippies, a diva in juicy pants, and a few hipsters hanging out here.  Four mothers with infants have passed through.  There is also one person working on her computer next to a table of douches.  Its great!  In addition to quality bagels, many social groups are represented.  Alright, well here is what I came here to type:

I would like to start things off with another video.  I am sharing this video to show off that i am all that represents manliness when preparing breakfast in the Salvadoran mountains with my machete, yet I still appreciate a good Kermit The Frog song from time to time.

I bought a legit machete and leather case from the hardware store in town, and finally began to fit in a little more with the community. Besides being able to cut firewood at any given moment, other machete bearers would salute me with more frequency. I used it for coconuts, unnecessary yardwork (aka practice), and sometimes a little trailblazing. Also, if i took it with me on a hike to the waterfalls all the naughty theives kept their distance.  I have done some hedge trimming with it for my mom since arriving in California.

Naptime at the Juayua market

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Firewood cart
When I last wrote, I was finishing up the construction of the pump house.  That all went according to plan, and has been done for quite a while now.  Bert, "El Jefe," came down from San Francisco for a week.  He's the Project Leader for my group, and we had a week of exciting events starting with the completion of the pump house on his first day.  He was accompanied by Lauren, my original peace corps. volunteer helper and housemate, for a little reunion.  As a thank you for all of her work that was instrumental in getting us connected with the community there, we took her to the hot springs i had visited about a month earlier.  During the drive out there, we passed a bunch of people with firewood carts.  They start on the top of the pass and have these soapbox derby style carts which are loaded with cut firewood sticks.  Then, all the wood is brought down to the towns for sale.  The featured picture shows everything, but I like this one and this one a lot more.  On her last night, I went with her and Isabel, a fellow peace corprs volunteer, to the bar and got into it with the owner and bartender.  They accused us of unknowingly being spies for the US government.  Isabel was offended and spent a few hours arguing that she was there for the love of humanity, and I kept thinking, "AWESOME, I'm spying!"

Lindsey stuck it out after falling out of an orange tree
Alongside Bert, Lauren, and Lindsey, we set up meetings with departmental mayors, village development associations, Peace Corps. head honchos, and the local engineers involved in our project.  Since we had a lot of waiting to do (described below) we began research on our next project with the community.  My group is in its second year of a five year commitment with San Juan de Dios.  One day, the mayor of Juayua invited us to visit a small village outside of the city who was in desperate need of 32 new latrines for all of its residents.  The existing latrines were in terrible condition, but we chose not to investigate more there because our main ideal is cooperative efforts, and in this project the solution is clear; we would just be providing funding.

Bert receiving applause after giving a speech to the community of Santa Elenita

 We also visited a small community of 160 people from the same family who did not have any running water.  The residents of Santa Elenita had to walk a half mile up a steep hill from the closest spigot with a fifty pound water canister on their heads multiple times a day during the dry season.  We were a bit more passionate about this project because the correct solution is not quite so cut and dry.  Awaiting responses from a few private landowners regarding permission (again!) to lay pipe crossing their land, we visited the community a bit more in depth to research the quality of life.  A makeshift town meeting was in session within ten minutes of our arrival, and we explained to them how we work and what we'd like to do for them.  They all gave us a tour of the area, realizing that few houses had flooring, one house I saw just had tarps for walls.  The level of poverty there was grave, but the residents were all smiles and positivity was present whenever we saw them. 

Watching the Giants v. Phillies with Lindsey, Bert, and Jikke
I had been watching all of the Giants postseason games in the hostel there via streaming.  It was definitely a great use of that $20.  I watched them take it to the wire with the Braves, then a very tense series with the Phillies, and even the beginning of the World Series with Texas.  It was very exciting for me, and this is a fantastic clip.  I felt kinda like an ass for watching sports from home while down there, but Giants in October doesn't happen all that often.  A fellow Giants fan, Bert went with me to the market and we bought a $9 BBQ, and we had two Giants BBQs while listening to KNBR or watching the game (depending on the mood of the bandwidth gods at the time.)  I am ready for them to take it all tonight.

Bert took off after seven days with a lot of new and exciting information to share with the rest of the team in San Francisco.  It was by far the most interesting and productive week I had while down there, and we both had a lot of fun getting it all done and talking about them Giants.

Field engineering work
During my last few weeks in El Salvador, my housemate Jikke and I cooked a lot of dinners together and went on a few platonic dates to the pupuseria around the corner.  The rain completely stopped about a month ago, so I also took many trips out to the waterfalls in the late afternoon for a quick swim.  With little work left to do at the pump house, the remaining task was to complete the electrical connection from the existing power lines to the recently installed lines.  This proved to be a painfully long process.  Being the "project manager" I felt responsible for making this happen, but it still felt weird to me to go pressure the community leaders to get the permission so the project would get completed while I was still in the country, being that it was purely a benefit for them.  Between my visits to the community, little progress would be made in achieving this.

Celebration day as the pump house is completed
We were also still waiting for the delivery of the pump from Germany, and it took a bit longer than expected.  The day Bert arrived, I found out that the pump wouldn't be in country til the very day that I left the country!  In the end though, the tardiness of the pump was not an issue because  the community still hadn't gotten the permission documents signed!  So, on my last day, I arranged a meeting with the VP of the community and gave him all of the relevant paperwork, along with a letter detailing the project.  I felt bad leaving without having finished the project, but I also felt that my departure date was set before I arrived in El Salvador, and the community leaders knew the timeframe of my stay the entire time.  I chose not to stay and see the completion of the project because I didn't want to feel like a babysitter.  I'm confident that all the means are in place to get it finished quickly, its just a matter of a signature and a phone call for the installation.

On top of that, I was really excited about being back home after two months to visit Sonny and to go to Chicago.

A few days ago, I attend the West Coast Regional Workshop for Engineers Without Borders, it was really interesting.  I learned a bit more about sustainable development in rural communities, focusing on clean water and renewable energy delivery.  If you thought this project was cool, there are hundreds of others happening all over the world.  It can be a very constructive way to help rural communities abroad and strengthen the bond between countries.  You can be a pseudo-diplomat!  Even if you're not trained as an engineer, there is a lot you can do!  //endplug

- pa panamericano!

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Those startling horses!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Street Horses

Buenos Dias, Amigos y Amigas.

I haven't written an update in quite a while because I've been fairly busy and having lots of fun.  Since my last update, I've worked on the caseta quite a bit, swapped housemates, explored the region a little, and was graced with a visit from Elizabeth.  Here is a link to my El Salvador Photo Collection.  Photos from this post are in the 3rd album.

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Big Grasshopper
A few weeks ago, I was walking to Laguna Verde with Lindsay, the peace corps volunteer in San Juan de Dios, and she mentioned that her leg was kind of sore from falling out of an orange tree earlier that day.  We didn't think much of it, but she got an X-ray the following day revealing that it was broken.  I decided that I won't complain about the hike to work until I do it with a broken leg.  On the way there, we met a man with a bunch of Cypress tree seeds, and struck up a conversation.  He's in charge of reforesting the mountain.  He also has 12 children.  I noticed some legs in his bag, and he was surprised to find the biggest grasshopper I've ever seen.

building the new walls
Getting started on the walls
Afterwards, we went up to the site of the caseta at the laguna, where the boys were laying the first row of blocks for the walls.  The plan was to build the new house over the old one so the pump wouldn't be exposed to all the rain we've been having.  They thought that our arrival was a good time to "cook" lunch.  ie, take out what the female figure in their life made for them while stabbing tortillas with sticks and roasting them over a trash fire littered with a few sticks, ignited by diesel.  Que rico!
The next day I tried to go back up to lay some block, the the gods of rain denied my passage.  Halfway up, I took refuge in a friend's house, waiting hours for the downpour to stop.  It was too late once it did, but I was happy because it meant I could go home and get ready to leave for Guatemala the following morning.

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La Catedral in Antigua, Guatemala

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El Arco de Antigua
I found myself in Antigua 9 hours and 4 chicken buses later.  I hadn't really been on any of the "gringo trail" sites since my trip two years ago in South America.  I found it difficult to adjust.  I didn't wanna eat anywhere cause they were all expensive tourist traps.  Thai, mexican, irish, american, italian, mediterranean, chinese, and fusion restaurants were at my fingertips, but i just wanted some dirty old local food.  My stomach is used to that now.  I settled for the next closest thing, Guatemala's only Irish pub.  Paying six times what i should have, I kind of hated it, but the food wasn't bad.  The American next to me struck up conversation with me.  He was a surfer brah from the midwest.  That was my cue to go to sleep and let the next day arrive a little quicker.

antigua streetcorner
Wandering around Antigua

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Magma flow in the rain

In the morning I headed to Guatemala City to pick up Elizabeth from the airport.  Smooth as a baby's bottom.  The pickup and return, that is.  We wandered around Antigua for a few days, surrendering to Central America's Downtown Disney as we called it.  Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful city with lots to do, just a bit too much for me at that time.  That didn't stop us from eating some great meals and taking advantage of some nightlife finally.  We also took a rainy trip up to Volcan Pacaya, Central America's most active volcano.  There was lava!  I had gone up the volcano in 2006 with Pete aka Nacho and CJ, but this time was completely different.  It had erupted in May this year, showering one full meter of new volcanic rock onto the landscape.  The once densely forested area now only presented a few remaining trees, all of which were shaved bare by the rocky rain.  Mmmm, that reminds me of rocky road ice cream.  So, it was absolutely nothing like my first trip up there even though it was only four years later.

volcan pacaya
Volcan Pacaya

Back in Juayua, we were welcomed with tummy aches and rain.  Lots of both.  While my stomach of steel was fine, but Elizabeth insisted on eating some raw lettuce mix on top of her pupusas (cause its really good) and got the ol' Revancha de los Almohades, as Chris coined so poetically years ago.  It also rained like crazy for four days straight.  We weren't really able to do anything around Juayua because of it.  One day, I couldn't even walk the 2 blocks to the supermarket due to the class V rapids flowing down my street!  I twice attempted to go to the laguna to see the progress made during my time off.  I made it once, taking a few pictures, but it had been going slow due to the rain.  Jikke and I each fell on our asses scrambling down the volcano to learn that we just missed the bus on the way home.  I think she was annoyed with me a little for this wet adventure, so I yelled and ran after a truck heading downhill.  We saved ourselves from 7 rainy kilometers on foot with a cramped ride in the back of a toyota. The other passengers were a soccer team doing some altitude practice, and their main concern was Jikke's marital status.

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Elizabeth and I in the rain
We got cabin fever and visited Ataco in the rain.  The next day, the weather cleared up so we went to some beautiful thermal baths nearby.  It was relaxing to the max.  They were situated in a coffee plantation, and everything was meticulously cared for.  Some rich guy who was into fair and clean coffee trade owned the place, and it was really nice.  I hope to go back.  We spent a day in Santa Ana, supposedly El Salvador's culture-y city but I was happy to leave for Lake Coatepeque.  It was beautiful, just check out the pictures of all this stuff.

lago coatepeque panoramic
Lago Coatepeque

Since Elizabeth left, it has not rained a drop.  I bet the guy who owns the town dryer is bummed about all this sun we've been having.  I, however, am not.  I like the sun.  I also like going swimming.  I also like it when my clothes dry.  Since there are no more clouds, I see multiple volcanoes every day.  I also witnessed a man wearing a backpack containing a live and curious rooster walk past a wheelbarrow full of eggs for sale.  Not something I've ever seen before.  If only the bus wasn't driving 100 mph, I would have taken a photo.

big cockroach
Cockroach found in my boot
the team of OG's:  joalmo(?), chema, oscar, and ?
Working on the form for the roof
At this point, we've finished construction of the new caseta.  On my last day of construction, I met with the pump engineer to drive up to the lake together.  He needed to take some measurements.  When he arrived, I put my boots on in the foyer.  I felt a little lump in my boot, so reached up to pull it out.  Nothing was there.  Wtf?  I put the boot back on, and *crunch* went something.   Hmmm.  I shook the contents of the boot into my other hand, and learned a valuable lesson.  Don't shake out what you don't know into your own hands.  It was a huge cockroach.  I screamed and flung it into a nearby garbage can.  The engineer thought i was a wuss, and rightly so.  The bug was alive in the trash when i got home that afternoon, so I took a picture.  I can still feel the crunch under my toes.  Gross.  Up at the lake that day, the engineer took his measurements and the cement was poured onto the roof!  It will be dry in a couple of days, and then we just have to take out the forms and clean up the old materials leftover.  The floor is already done, so all that's left is the pump installations and perhaps some decorations.  I'm thinking some sort of floral wallpaper.

Pouring the roof on the new caseta

Once ready, we'll put the old diesel motor and pump back in as a backup.  The new pump will be installed in about a week and a half.  By that time, the power should be on as well, and our project should be complete in about 2 weeks.  One of my remaining tasks is to write up an operations manual for the community, in case someone new comes to work on the pumps, they'll have proper documentation.

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Beautiful day at Laguna Verde

During this week off, I've been visiting the nearby waterfall a lot, its been really refreshing with the heat and sun.  I sunburned myself yesterday, so I'm taking an "inside day" to write this and load pictures.  Jikke and I have been cooking a lot, too.  We made mediocre mushroom sauce.  My typical breakfasts are a smoothie consisting of three oranges, three bananas, half of a papaya, and honey.  I usually eat one coconut per day.  Its a fruit-filled life here.  At least in the morning.  Afternoon and evening is more of a starchy life.

Loose horses at the supermarket?  Last night, as we were walking to the store, and I thought I heard one of the town drunks rustling in the darkness under a tree.  I was surprised to find a huge horse instead.  Then another across the street!  I was surrounded!  They were still there, half a block from the supermarket at 8pm, completely unattended.  Jikke and I considered borrowing them.  In the end, I declined because El Salvadoran jail sounds bad, and my last bareback horse experience left me with a bloody head.

Today is Saturday, meaning local food fair here in Juayua.  It happens every weekend here.  There is bad marching band music in the distance.  I think today is some special day, supposedly there will be a dance this afternoon.  So excited!  I shall go seek out said dance and cooked rabbits.

vista on the way to work
View on my way to work