A Visit to San Marcos Abajo School

My favorite part of every Honduras trip with CapeCARES is our school visit.  We try to rotate schools every year so we are reaching a different group of students.  Last March, our team traveled to the Isletas School, but this year we stayed a little closer, heading off right after breakfast mid-week to visit the San Marcos Abajo (lower) School since we were staying in the upper (Arriba) region of the village.

Most of us decided to go on foot, running into some students who were also on the way to school.

Walking along the road also gave us a chance to get a closer look at some of the sights we might miss from a speeding truck:

A cashew plant growing over the road

I wonder if this was one of the little piggies I saw on our hike earlier in the week. He seems to know his way around!


A local man from San Marcos posed with his beautifully groomed horse.

As usual, there was pandemonium when we arrived at the school.  Don’t you remember the excitement of getting a visitor when you were in grade school?  The teachers assembled the students into lines (except for the older boys, who coolly decided to hang out in the back), welcomed us, and then organized a little performance for us:

I liked to dance along to the music, which made a lot of the kids giggle.  (I know they’re laughing at me.  It’s ok.  I have no shame). I also recognized a young boy whose tooth I had extracted the day before. When I asked in Spanish how he was feeling today, he gave me a shy smile and wave and answered that everything was good.

Next, it was time to provide quick lessons in oral hygiene.  I willingly handed over this job, which I have done for the past two years, to Josh, who gave excellent brushing instructions in his neon pink Kevin Bacon shirt :).  As he spoke, we distributed toothbrushes to each of the students.  Then Okie talked for a bit about handwashing, hydration, and nutrition.

Josh giving brushing lessons while Gabriel translates


Everyone have a toothbrush?


Okie speaking to the kids while Monica translates

Once our home care instructions were done, we split up into teams to apply fluoride varnish to the kids’ teeth.  This went quickly because we had so many volunteers from our group helping out.


Once the varnish applications were complete, we  said our goodbyes and continued down the road.  Team leader Randy thought it was important for all the team members to visit part of the local village to see how our patients live.  While we were visiting, the medical team made a few house calls to homes with elderly residents who couldn’t make it up the road to our temporary clinic.   One man who lived in a very basic lean-to comprised of narrow logs was in extremely dire condition:  the physicians determined that he was suffering from congestive heart failure and there was nothing that could be done to save him.  He died the next day.   


With our house calls complete, it was time to get back to clinic and start seeing patients again.  We crammed as many of us as possible into the bed of the truck to speed up the return trip to San Marcos Arriba.     

Something tells me that if this guy says you should brush, you listen to him!

On our way back up the road, we passed again by the school, and I saw something that made me cry out in excitement:  the little kids were brushing their teeth! Yay!!!

And so ended another San Marcos school visit. I hope that the children will take some of our messages to heart and that we can make a positive impact on their health and quality of life.

For more information on our CapeCARES group, please visit

Categories: CapeCARES, dental, honduras, san marcos, Uncategorized, volunteer | 2 Comments

It’s March: time for San Marcos!

This year marked my third trip to Honduras volunteering with CapeCARES.  It has come to feel like a tradition, like something that I just naturally do this time of year.  With any luck, I will be able to continue these trips in the future.  I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go this year, but after reviewing my finances and happily discovering that I still had enough saved to cover the cost of the trip (see, being frugal has its benefits!), I signed up with CapeCARES in January.  Unfortunately, March is high season for travel to Central America, between all the volunteer brigades, college spring break-ers, and people in northern states desperate to escape the lingering winter weather for a few days, and this was reflected in the prices of airfare to Tegucigalpa.  Yikes.  My choices were either shelling out over $800 for a flight to Tegus (absolutely not!) or paying less but connecting not once, but twice in the US (again, after my missed-connection and delayed baggage debacle last year, absolutely not).  So I devised a plan C:  flying into San Pedro Sula, Honduras (frequently awarded the moniker “Murder Capital of the World”) and taking the bus down to Tegucigalpa.  Even including the price of a round–trip bus ticket and accommodation before and after arrival, this was a savings of several hundred dollars.

This was also the first year that I attempted to take only a carry-on with me.  Ahhh, such a luxury not to have to worry about losing checked bags!  I landed in San Pedro Sula, flew through customs, marched directly over to an ATM, bought two baleadas for lunch and a Honduran SIM card for my phone from the Tigo lady, and soon was on board the Hedman Alas bus en route to Tegus.  I like being able to look out the windows, which is not as scenic from a plane!  The bus was over an hour late arriving into the capital, and the cab that I had arranged was not there.  Arriving after dark to a locked bus station made me VERY thankful that I had a cell phone.  I called my hostel to rearrange the cab pickup, and my driver was even nice enough to swing through a drive-thru -at no extra charge- so that I could get dinner (more bean-and-cheese baleadas;  I had given up meat for Lent 😉 ).

The next morning, I hailed a cab to the airport to meet my team.  The regulars were there:  Randy, Gordon, Helena, Warren, and Diane, as well as a slew of new volunteers:  physicians Bill, Susie, and Okechukwu (whose name we immediately shortened to Okie for simplicity), midwife Meredith, dentist Josh and his wife Jessica, and two high school students, Gabriel and Monica, as well as her mother Maria Elena, all of whom would serve as our translators.  I sat with Gabriel at the restaurant at the airport, eating my rice and beans.  “So you go to the Discovery School, ” I asked him.  “Do you know Cati?” mentioning a volunteer student from my first trip two years ago.  She and I have kept in touch and even met up once for dinner in Washington, DC, where she is now studying.  “Uh, yeah, ” Gabi responded.  “She’s my sister.”  No way!  Small world!

Once we were met by our military guards, we split up into trucks to begin the ride to Nacaome, where we would stay overnight.  We usually try to avoid driving at night for security reasons.  I was happy to be driving through the countryside again.

We enjoyed a relaxing evening at the pool at our hotel in Nacaome, then loaded the trucks back up the next morning to continue to San Marcos.  Some of us decided to walk down the road to the gas station to pick up snacks (and a bottle of wine) for the week.

We drove on to Langue, the last major town along the paved road, where they were having their Sunday  market.  Then it was onto the bumpy dirt road, my favorite part of the journey.

Before long, we were passing through the gates of the compound where we stay in San Marcos.  We greeted all of the familiar faces of the village and immediately began setting up for the week. This year, we hung up bedsheets over the porch that we use as our dental clinic: this not only blocks out the intense morning sun from our workspace, but an additional sheet also provided a bit more privacy while we worked. Normally, I sit on the corner of the porch, in view of all those waiting for appointments as well as the people congregating outside the gate.  With a sheet in place, it was like having my own private operatory :).

This space becomes our medical clinic, pharmacy, and dining room.

Step into my office.

Bill and Monica with their young patient

Warren checking blood pressure

Okie and Maria Elena giving a consultation

Meredith awaiting the next script to fill in pharmacy.

Diane, working hard in pharmacy.

Randy, Gordon, and Helena at work in dental.

Josh and Jessica treating their dental patient

Juan Carlos assisting in dental (with a patient who’s ready to go!)

As always, the women of the village provided us with three delicious meal a day.  Eating temporarily vegetarian was not an issue for me this year, since many of our meals are bean- or egg-based as it is.  And they are drool-worthy!

In past years, the weather during the day was hot but became dramatically cooler at night.  My first year, I was so  underprepared for the nighttime chill that I had to ask someone in the village for a thick blanket by the second night.  This was not the case this year.  Although the wind was so intense that at times we were afraid that our equipment would blow over in the night, the heat was oppressive:  I typically would lie in spread eagle position on my sleeping pad, trying not to make contact between any of my sweaty limbs until I had cooled off enough to crawl into my sleep sack and fall asleep.  I have gotten San Marcos sleep down to a science:  with ear plugs firmly in place, I am now impervious to the loudest of nighttime roosters and barking dogs.

The ladies’ dorm room (a bit of a squeeze this year!)

Since the snowy Ohio weather had prevented me from getting much outdoor exercise this winter, I reveled in Gordon and Warren’s early morning hikes.  My favorite memory from these excursions was standing in the middle of the woods and hearing a series of little grunts and snorts.  Then one, two, three hairy little brown piglets appeared in a line, trotting their way down the hill, across the path, and up the opposite slope to a village. They knew exactly where they were going.

After a busy and successful volunteer week in San Marcos, we packed up our trucks and drove off to see another side of Honduras.  More on our continued travels in a future post!

Categories: CapeCARES, dental, honduras, san marcos, tegucigalpa, volunteer | Leave a comment

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