Posts Tagged With: Central America

What I’ll miss (about Central America)

My travels in Central America began on March 1, 2014. When I planned this leg of the journey, I worried that two months might be too long a time to travel mostly by myself here.

Now I realize that it wasn’t nearly enough.

There are about a million and one things that I will miss about Central America (Honduras and Guatemala in particular). I supposed you could roughly categorize them, so I will attempt to do so here.

First, because I am a human vacuum cleaner, I will miss the food.

1. Frijoles
Beans, beans, the magical fruit. While I did not have any problems like those indicated in the popular rhyme, I *did* eat them with almost every meal. Honorable mention to any type of desayuno tipico, or typical breakfast. These vary from country to country, but they usually include beans, eggs, and tortillas. And fried plantains if you’re lucky that day.

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Guatemalan desayuno tipico. I could seriously swim in those beans.

2. Chuchitos
We have already discussed my love for chuchitos.
3. Licuados
4. Guatemalan coffee (aka ridiculously good and ridiculously inexpensive cappuccinos)

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Handcrafted by my buddies at Y Tu Piña También in Antigua
5. Guacamole
Another food product that I could swim in.

Other non-food things that I will miss:

1. Views like this on a regular basis:

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2. Latin-American Spanish
I have worked SO HARD to get to a point where I can speak this. And I like the way it sounds. (Do you know what my favorite Guatemalan Spanish word is? Poporopos. It means “popcorn.” See? Isn’t that awesome?) And within a few days,I will be in London speaking English, and then within a week, I will be in Spain, and the Spanish there is from another universe: different words, different sound (all those “corathons” and “Lorenthos“), and a faster speed. So it makes me a little sad.

3. People that I’ve met along the way
I know that I’ve already mentioned a ton of people in previous posts, and I know that it goes without saying that I will miss them, but here are some more:

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Megan, on what we jokingly called our “non-romantic friend date” when we splurged on a nice dinner in Antigua

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Chicki (and Roberto, not pictured) from Y Tu Piña También, my favorite cafe in Antigua

4. Affordability
A private room for $15. A haircut for $5. A nice meal for $7. When I was researching the cost of hotel rooms in France for May, I cried a little inside.

5. Bachata, bachata everywhere!
Every single song ever released by Romeo Santos playing on a continuous loop for two consecutive months. Restaurants, radio, bars, while driving in shuttles and cars. I love it. (Except for Drake’s rap interlude during the song “Odio.” Why doesn’t he just belch in the middle of the song? It would have about the same effect on me).

6. The animals
Yes, you read that correctly. For anyone who does not know me well, I am NOT an animal person. I have never owned – nor have ever wanted- a pet. I enjoy the idea of animals, but more so in an “Oh, hai sweet doggy, how – no, you need to stay over there” sort of way. Some of this has to do with allergies. But sometimes I really just don’t want an animal jumping on me.

A few little guys have changed my mind. (OK, not about the jumping part or the sneezing part, but these two were really sweet).

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The cat at Cafe Cristalina’s in San Pedro had just had two kittens, who often hid in the wall between the sitting area and the kitchen. Maybe she was just a new mom who needed a break, but she just hopped right up and fell asleep.

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Maggie, who lived with my homestay family in Antigua. Every day, she would jump up next to me (not on me. Thank you, Maggie) and forcibly nuzzle her head beneath my arm so that I’d have no choice but to hug her. She dares you not to fall in love with her.

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Here’s one for Ripley’s Believe It or Not

Things I will NOT miss upon leaving Central America:
1. Not being able to drink tap water or open my mouth in the shower
2. Not being able to flush toilet paper
3. The smell of trash burning
4. “Guatemalan time.” I’m definitely not the most prompt person in the world, but this is ridiculous sometimes
5. Not going out alone after dark, even to a cafe, in certain cities. (I was so lucky that San Pedro did not fall into this category). This was a tough one for me. I consider myself to be a very independent person. I travel alone. At home, I go out by myself to the movies or dinner or concerts all the time. Even though I love to be social and do things with friends, I really like to be alone sometimes. So it was frustrating for me to visit places where I *could* have gone out alone, but then maybe it was not the greatest idea for me to walk back at 10pm by myself. Or the tuk-tuks or cabs weren’t really so easy to find at that time, and I didn’t want to be stuck somewhere. It makes me really appreciate the relatively safe environments I have lived in in the U.S.

Despite this… I really don’t want to leave! But England and then the Camino await, so here I go. 😦 / 🙂 ?

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Pacaya

On my last day in Guatemala, I took a group trip to climb a nearby active volcano, Pacaya. Depending upon the recent activity at the peak, sometimes it’s even possible to roast marshmallows on top.

A shuttle picked me up at 6am across the street from my house. I lucked out and was the first passenger of the morning, so I quickly chose to sit in the front passenger seat. Leg space is at a premium in shuttles, and we had a full house.

There’s really not much to explain. We hiked up a volcano. It wasn’t a difficult hike, taking under one and a half hours, but it was definitely worth it. We had several wild dogs accompanying us on the way up and down, mostly because they understand that hikers bring food with them and that food is good. There were also a large number of local guides bringing “emergency” horses up the trails in case people weren’t able to make it the whole way, which I took as a bit of a diss to our hiking ability! (No one needed them). I also met two women from Innsbruck, Austria; we spoke most of the way up only in Spanish. I felt kind of proud to be able to have a long conversation in a mutual language that was not the primary language for any of us. (I know that this is not a big accomplishment – Europeans, for example, do this ALL THE TIME- but it was a nice reminder of how much I had actually learned in four weeks of classes). Niki and Petra made the hike a lot more fun, and I hope to be able to meet up with them in Austria later this summer.

We returned to Antigua, sweaty but happy, just after noon. It was a good way to spend my last full day in Central America.

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View of neighboring volcano Acatenango

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There’s Pacaya!

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Haht haht haht!!!

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Standing in a lava tube, at an unfortunate angle which makes it appear like I have a large dog sprouting from my head. Thanks, photographer! 😦

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Lots of doggies waiting for food after our descent

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Why I love bachata and hate boats

The afternoon shuttle ride from Antigua, Guatemala to Lake Atitlan, where I would be spending the next month studying Spanish, was thoroughly enjoyable due the scenic views and our driver’s music selection. (I had also picked the passenger seat with a headrest in contrast to that morning’s tiny backrests. So much better!) He had several flash drives of music that he could plug into his stereo. Much of this was current Spanish-language radio hits, while others were bachata remixes of popular American songs.

This is thing about the bachata style of music: it makes everything better. It expresses joy and love and passion but with an underlying hint of sadness at the same time. And anyone who knows me well knows that I like a bit of darkness in my music. I become really really happy when I listen to grunge ;). Bachata transformed Coldplay’s “Clocks” and Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” into danceable melodies. Normally, I like Adele’s “Someone Like You”… but it’s the type of song that makes me want to curl up in a ball on my couch in sweatpants and either drink heavily or inhale a pint of Ben and Jerry’s. But set that baby to bachata, and it’s time to put your dancing shoes on! Bachata has even accomplished the seemingly impossible feat of making Jason Mraz palatable. (Whaaaat? Well, I never!) I found myself tapping my foot to the bachata-style “I’m Yours,” when typically I start looking for the nearest sharp object when I hear the original version. (Only a slight exaggeration).

Our shuttle descended through the town of Solola down fog-covered roads to the lakeside pueblo of Panajachel. In order to reach San Pedro, I would need to take one of the many lanchas that ferry passengers across the lake throughout the day. The problem: the weather was overcast and rather cold, and the water was wicked choppy. I do NOT do well on small craft. Still, without any realistic alternative, I threw my backpack in the lancha, donned my acupressure wrist bracelets, and hoped for the best.

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As our boat bumped along the waves, water and mist splashed at us from the front of the boat. One of the workers who was sitting on the roof lowered a bright blue tarp over the front of the seating area to keep the water from hitting us. (The couple sitting in the front two seats of the boat were not so lucky). The upside was that the tarp blocked the wind, keeping the interior a bit warmer; the downside was that the tarp dangled about three inches in front of my nose, creating the equivalent of being blindfolded on a magic motion ride. Vomitus.

Roughly twenty minutes later (was it twenty? I don’t know, I was blindfolded), a hint of sun started to peek through the clouds. The tarp was lifted, and land ho! Whereas before, the mist obscured any type of view, we could now see our boat approaching the other side of the lake and the dock of San Pedro.

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Pleasantly surprised that I had not lost my lunch, I disembarked and got my first look at the town that I would call home for the next month. It was my last night of “vacation”: the next morning, it would be back to school for me.

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At the Copan, Copan Cabana

And yes, I did just write that.

Compared to the TicaBus, my Hedman Alas from Tegucigalpa to Copan Ruinas was the height of luxury (I guess it should be at twice the price): controlled air conditioning, muted overhead movie, and a snack! Oooh! I also loved their station in San Pedro Sula, where I had to change buses. Super clean, well- lit, and playing awesome music. I heard both Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” and Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face.” Never underestimate the importance of excellent waiting room music.

20140402-160213.jpg Whoa! Whah happah???

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The drive to Copan Ruinas was absolutely gorgeous. Through its winding hills covered in green forests, I was thrilled just to be able to listen to music and look out the window at the scenery. Once in the town, I traveled by tuktuk to my hotel, Hotel ViaVia, which had come with high recommendations from a Honduran friend. It was very convenient to have a restaurant and travel agency within the hotel, since I was able to book a few fun activities through them. I really wanted to try an all-day package with horse-riding, hiking, and a visit to a coffee finca, or plantation, but there was no availability on the days I was there.

My first morning in Copan Ruinas, I walked to the nearby Mayan ruins of Copan. Although these ruins are small in relation to other major sites like Chichen Itza, they are renowned for the extent to which the sculptures and painted colors have been preserved. I splurged on a guided tour with Vergilio, who had been on the team which found the Rosalila Temple on the site in the late 1980s. He was a wealth of information, and I learned a ton about the history of the Mayans in the area. By the end of the tour, I was even able to pick out the names of certain rulers, like 18 Rabbit, when I saw them carved into the nearby stones. Vergilio told me that one of the many Mayan languages was his primary tongue; therefore his name is not actually “Vergilio” but a complex-sounding Mayan name which translates into something close to “the bat that flies in the night.” He joked with me that his name was actually Batman ;).

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20140402-161345.jpg 18 Rabbit, the 13th ruler of Copan

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20140402-161528.jpg Mayan ball court. Unlike in American sports, the MVP received the honor of being sacrificed to the gods. Go team!

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20140402-161559.jpg The statue missing from the middle of the Hieroglyphic Stairway was used by the Honduran government to pay the US for the completed excavations earlier in the 20th century. Its current location? The Harvard Peabody museum in Cambridge, MA… which I failed to visit before moving. Grr!

20140402-161704.jpg In the mouth of the snake (and the entrance to the museum)

20140402-161717.jpg Archeological and dental double geek-out: the Mayans knew about rugae!!!

20140402-161637.jpg Awww… freak out! Le freak! Tres chic!

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20140402-182119.jpg Vergilio with his namesake, the bat

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On my second morning, I went for a guided hike with Girardo, the Belgian owner of Hotel ViaVia. We went with his dog and explored some ruins farther out from the main site, and i got to see some amazing views of the valley.

20140402-161825.jpg Not the dog who joined in on the hike. This guy had been clipped in two different places that morning (one was his claws; you can guess the other) and looked like he needed a drink.

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Later on that day, I booked a trip to Jaguar Springs, the local hot springs. As I boarded the shuttle, I found that I was the only passenger. The driver, Onri, and his coworker, Carlos, work every day, seven days a week, nearly 365 days a year, driving the shuttle from early in the morning until late and night. Onri stated that the only time that he really gets a break is when he takes passengers to the hot springs; then he can at least enjoy the baths until his passengers are ready to leave. We spent most of the 1.5 hour drive there practicing our respective Spanish and English with each other. I found that we were able to understand each other really well.

And boy, were the springs a good idea. The site sprawled out through the trees along an entire hillside: natural hot pools, cold pools, mud baths, steam baths, “head and neck massage” waterfalls, etc. You could spend a whole day here and not see them all. Coincidentally enough, the large group of patrons nearby were a dental brigade from UConn. It was kinda funny to be sitting in a steaming hot bath with a bunch of others dentists from New England. 🙂

Onri and Carlos were total sweethearts. We spent the whole afternoon talking in the pools: they told me about their wives, I told them about my travels, and we told each other language jokes. My favorite Spanish pun of theirs?

Q: What did the Japanese man say when he lost his motorcycle?
A: Yo no miro mi Yamaha! (I don’t see my Yamaha!)

They also really liked to say, “See you later, alligator!” and were pleased to learn, “After a while, crocodile!”

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20140402-162221.jpg Onri, Carlos,and I. And a lot of mud.

20140402-162511.jpg White arms, red legs.

Once we had transformed into large prunes and the skin of my legs turned a bright red due to the increased circulation, we decided it was time to leave. Off we went in the shuttle, listening to what I realized was Spanish-language Christian reggaeton (there’s a first time for everything!) and picking up any locals on the way who needed a ride. A lot of people were heading for Copan Ruinas to celebrate at the city festival. I joined in on the fun with friends from the hotel and was thrilled to hear some of my new favorite songs on the dance floor. Check out “El Caballito de Palo” by Joseph Fonseca. Catchiest. Song. Ever.

I REALLY would have liked to stay in Copan Ruinas at least another night, but the timing of shuttles to Guatemala ended up making my decision for me. I was scheduled to start Spanish classes on Monday, so I needed to start heading in that direction. My heart broke to be leaving Copan. Maybe next year…?

20140402-161959.jpg The town of Copan Ruinas

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Tegucigalpa: Home Sweet Home (for a night)

After the paradise of Laguna de Apoyo, I needed to start heading back northwest in order to begin my month of Spanish classes in Guatemala as scheduled. This involved several long-haul trips, which were considerably more pleasant than my initial bus ride to Nicaragua because I no longer felt as if my body was plotting against me.

First I needed to get back to Honduras. The same 8-hour TicaBus that I had taken from Tegus to Managua also travels back to Tegus… leaving Managua at 5:30am. I did not feel comfortable trying to walk or even get a taxi to a bus station at four in the morning. I learned that TicaBus actually has hotels in some of their bus stations for this very reason. I decided it was worth a shot – especially at $14 a night – considering I hadn’t planned to do much in Managua, anyway, the evening before my bus ride. I splurged on a taxi ride from Laguna de Apoyo to Managua because I would be arriving after dark. The TicaBus hotel was a good idea, in retrospect, although the dim lighting gave it a decidedly creepy feel. My room was simple and clean, however (minus a cigarette burn on the comforter) and included a towel, bar of soap, and shampoo packet. Aside from going to the shared bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face, I stuck to my room (quite literally, due to the oppressive heat), sleeping spread eagle in minimal clothing under the ceiling fan… and keeping the chain locked.

It was a good thing, too: the following morning at 4am, I received an (unrequested) wake-up knock at my door. I had somehow cooled off enough overnight to wiggle under the bedsheet, for which I was immediately grateful when the hotel worker opened my door (did he get a key?!?!?) to the chain and barked, “Cuatro!.” I bolted upright, heart pounding madly, holding my sheet up over my bare skin and squinting at the blurry silhouette in the light of the open doorway. The door then closed, and I was left there in the darkness. Um, what the hell???

The ride to Tegucigalpa was pleasant, again overlooking TicaBus’ unfortunate choices of loud-volume movies: Alvin and the Chipmunks, some other animated movie involving a bear and an antelope… sigh. Want to listen to the new Beck album you just downloaded? Sorry, it’s Tinkerbell for you today. En español.

I was SO HAPPY to arrive in Tegus, where I was picked up at the bus station and driven to the high school of my new friend Nicole, who was one of our student interpreters on the CapeCARES trip. Nicole’s family generously offered to let me stay at their house while in Tegucigalpa for the night. Our other interpreter, Valerie, took me on a fantastic tour of the Discovery School where they study. What a gorgeous campus!

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The rest of the night was spent in celebration of Honduran Fathers’ Day. I went out for an early dinner at a shopping plaza with Nicole and her family. I feel like there are two Tegucigalpas: “the most dangerous city in Central America” that I read about in books and newspapers, and the Tegus where I can visit a cozy crepe restaurant and an import store for a beer tasting on family night. (Note to JP residents: it is possible to buy Sam Adams Seasonal in Honduras!) Our second dinner came later at Nicole’s house, where her parents had invited over a big group of family and friends to celebrate.

I was overwhelmed at the kindness and generosity of Nicole’s entire family and hope that I can see them again in the future. People like them are just another reason why I love Tegucigalpa.

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20140327-182221.jpg Introducing the family to Sam Adams

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Laguna de Apoyo

I admit that I was a little burned out after the heat of Granada, so I decided to spend a few days in Laguna de Apoyo (no, not Laguna de a Pollo, or Lagoon of a Chicken, as some people have joked. Wocka wocka wocka), which is a volcanic crater lake about 30 minutes from Granada. I took a shuttle from a nearby hostel on Sunday morning and on the way met a couple from… Cleveland! I look forward to hanging out with Billy and Angela when I return to the Cleve later this year.

The shuttle dropped us off at a partner hostel where some of us would be staying, Paradiso Hostel. Now, any given town and city, especially in a warm climate, will have a place to stay called Paradiso or Paraiso. I have stayed at several, with varying results. But these guys aren’t kidding around. My jaw dropped as I walked down the steps to reception. Because this place is within a crater, it was necessary to walk down past several terraces to get to the water. Built into each terrace was a section of rooms and an eating or lounging area. It was beautiful: lush with flowers and green plants. Although I didn’t stay in the dorm, I cannot think of any other dorm where the entire front wall facing the lake is a screen and you can watch the sunrise over the lake from your bunk. Wow.

Along the lake itself was a restaurant/bar area with hammocks and hanging chairs; there were free kayaks for use on the shore, plus a ping pong table and another area that I didn’t notice until later with a television (although I can’t imagine wanting to watch TV when you are in paradise. But that’s just me).

The next few days were filled with swimming, kayaking, napping, writing in my journal, learning how to play Jamaican croquet, and hanging out with some fun new friends, culminating in a celebration of both St. Patrick’s Day and the full moon. I never thought that St. Patrick’s Day in Boston could be topped, but then again, I had never jumped off a party boat in the middle of the night to swim in a volcanic crater lake under a full moon, either :).

Laguna de Apoyo left me with some wonderful memories of Nicaragua. I would return in a heartbeat.

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20140324-214543.jpg My room was $15 per night

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20140324-214758.jpg Hanging out with some new friends

20140324-214927.jpgNo St Patrick’s Day celebration is complete without a Guinness toast. Fortunately, my swimsuit is green 🙂

20140324-214944.jpg Yes, this is the moon

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Gra-na-daaaa!

Before I continue this post on the city of Granada, Nicaragua, I will preface this with a link to the song that has been going through my head for the past few days. It has taken all my willpower not to break into spontaneous song and dance in the streets.

OK, now that that’s out of my system, we can continue.

Leaving the comfort of Big Corn Island was difficult, but I managed to get myself on the flight back to Managua (stopping in Bluefields to let off and pick up passengers) without a problem. One option of getting to my destination of Granada was to take a taxi, which would have cost about $40. However, I went the cheaper route: I caught a cab (about $5) with several other women from the airport and was dropped off at the front of UCA (Universidad Centroamerica, pronounced “OOH-cah”), where local shuttles leave every 20 minutes or so for Granada, Masaya, Rivas, and other towns. The cost? Twenty-four cordobas; that’s a little less than a dollar. Sold! I definitely stuck out like a sore thumb, which was evidenced by the number of taxi drivers who offered their services while I waited in the long line of locals that snaked its way around the shuttle bay. I realized that it was rush hour, so many of the people in line with me were professionally dressed and likely making the commute home from work. Several of the women near me in line were very helpful in helping me manage my cumbersome duffle bag containing my backpack while on the bus.

Managua is somewhat of an unusual city. From what I saw during the numerous car and shuttle rides I took through it, it doesn’t seem to have a distinct city center and so sprawls out for many miles. One thing that stood out were the rotaries along the highways. Most rotaries contained a huge yellow curlicue tree (look up “Managua trees”), often surrounded by Christmas lights (I’m talking reindeer, trees, and angels, not just twinkly ambient lighting) and an armed military guard in a chair beneath. Merry Christmas!

Upon my arrival in Granada, I checked into my hotel, Hotel Casa Barcelona, and decided that I would be staying in the rest of the night. The hotel was spacious and clean with a lush courtyard, and the staff was very pleasant and helpful, but I did NOT like the neighborhood it was in and did not really feel like hiring another cab just to venture out at night.

The next morning, the neighborhood didn’t feel much better. I was fine walking through the local market street to get to the center of town; I just got this really strong gut feeling that I shouldn’t be taking my camera out. So my photos of Granada are somewhat limited.

That said, the architecture in Granada is magnificient. There’s a reason why it’s often described as the “colonial gem” of Nicaragua. So I walked and walked and walked and walked that day, taking in churches, the entirety of Calle la Calzada, and the pier on Lake Nicaragua. I also got a 15 minute head and neck massage at Seeing Hands, which is an organization (similar to those in Cambodia) which offers training for the blind to work in massage therapy. My therapist found a couple of nice knots in my upper back left over from my week of oral surgery and worked those puppies right out (ouch).

All that walking in the heat (did I mention the blazing, scorching heat?) did me in: the next day, I was pooped. I nixed a trip to Mombacho, the nearby volcano, in favor of staying in the shady courtyard of the hotel, reading and writing, and then finding an afternoon yoga class, which helped to wake me up a little.

I finished the night by meeting up with Mary Ellen, who is the friend of a former patient in Boston, and her friend Heather. It was pleasant and very surreal to be grabbing a drink in Granada with two people who live (full or part-time) in Jamaica Plain, my old neighborhood! I felt like quite the social butterfly when I later joined Randy, Helena, and Gordon (recently arrived from Big Corn) for dinner and then ran into a girl that I recognized from my yoga class. This trip has already confirmed my belief that this huge world we live in is actually very small.

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20140321-221335.jpg Holding back a Patrick Swayze bar fight reference…. 😉

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A Visit to Isletas School

One of my favorite days from my trip to San Marcos last year was the morning that we spent at a local school teaching about oral hygiene and distributing toothbrushes. When it was announced that we would be visiting another school this year, I jumped at the chance to be part of the team that went.

A small group of us: Randy, Helena, Lauren, Bill, Nicole, Linda, and two of the soldiers and I boarded our truck to head up the road on Tuesday morning to the Isletas school. I think that it was my first time riding in the back of a truck, so I have to admit even that part was pretty fun :). The truck would only take us so far; the rest of the way we had to hike up a dirt path.

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Upon our arrival at the school, there was a buzz of excitement among the students. Last year, the students the San Marcos Abajo school had assembled in the main yard for our presentation, but this day we learned that the Isletas students had a performance planned for us. We were seated on a raised platform in the courtyard of the school while the students sang, performed a drum line, and even acted out a little song for us.

One older boy stood out as sort of an elder statesman of the school. He was one of the lead drummers in the drum line and was the boy chosen to perform the courting song for us. During the drumming, he coolly put on a pair of sunglasses, and after the performances, he came up to me to shake my hand and ask my name. He also arranged a small group of boys to accompany us part of the way back down to the truck afterwards. I am confident that he is on his way to becoming mayor or president or something!

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Then came time for our presentation. With an interpreter for time’s sake, I introduced myself and said that I was a dentist. I asked the students, “Who can tell me what a dentist does?” It broke my heart to hear one boy yell, “Saca los dientes! (You pull teeth!)” Back at home, when I ask this question, most kids will answer “You clean teeth.” This is how different the expectations are between these two populations. I tried to segue that into something more positive by saying that yes, dentists do extract teeth, but we clean and fill them and try to keep them healthy so we don’t have to pull them. So we talked about brushing twice a day (I was nudged that I shouldn’t add “with toothpaste” because many of these kids don’t have that) and limiting sugary foods, which is another huge problem. Lauren then spoke about proper hygiene: handwashing before and after eating, after using the toilet, etc.

And then the anticipated event arrived: the distribution of new toothbrushes! We dotted each brush with a little bit of fluoride (a million thanks to Kathy Gentile at VOCO for the donated Remin Pro!!!!) and had the kids apply it and brush for one minute. Any kid would love to be able to spit enthusiastically with the full blessing of all adults present, so they had a ball with this:

Once we were done, the staff had a surprise for us: a handmade necklace for each team member. The kids had gathered the natural materials themselves.

We headed back to the truck and San Marcos in the hopes that some of our message would make an impact and that maybe the CapeCARES dental clinic will have a few fewer patients next year.

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Back to San Marcos

Norma was back to pick me up at the hotel lobby at 9 the following morning. We drove back to Toncontin airport and headed for the United desk, which was supposed to open at 9:30. Surprise! No one was actually there until almost 10:00, but I was able to finally get my bag, which had arrived unscathed.

Norma, her sister Susi, and I headed onto the highway in our rented SUV. Normally, the road to San Marcos takes about four hours , but on that Sunday morning with minimal traffic, we made it there in pretty good time, passing through Nacaome where the CapeCARES team had stayed the night before and then through Langue, the last major town before the road turned from pavement to rocky dirt. The last stretch of road that winds through the hills to San Marcos is so bumpy that I consider it a “sports bra road.”

20140310-091349.jpgBehind a truck on the highway

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The town of Langue

It was a happy feeling to finally drive up through the gates of the complex in San Marcos where we would be spending the rest of the week. I saw lots of familiar faces: Maria, Vergilia, and Marle, the women who work in the kitchen cooking our meals every day; Juan Carlos, one of the jefes of the village; Tomasa, who launders our clothes and attends all of the Catholic celebrations in the chapel; and Maria Norma holding her cousin David, who still has my vote as the cutest baby in the world.

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I got a warm reception from everyone on the team. Five of the team members had been there with me a year before: Randy and Gordon, both dentists; Warren, our physician; and Helena and Diane, who work as support staff in the pharmacy and dental clinic. We had a great team of nurses this year: Lauren, Teresa, and Heather, as well as Jen, a respiratory therapist. Bill and Bob also worked as support staff in the pharmacy and at triage. Two high school students from the Discovery School in Tegus, Nicole and Valerie, were our interpreters, along with their chaperone, Linda, who assisted me in dental. In addition, CapeCARES had hired three Honduran military guards, Carlos, Johnny, and Darwin, who would be accompanying us for safety all week. I had arrived just in time for lunch, and then it was time to get to work.

I’ve written an article about our setup in San Marcos, but for those of you who don’t happen to subscribe to a Cleveland-based Slovenian newspaper, I’ll give you the rundown. Our medical clinic and pharmacy are set up inside the main building, and the dental clinic operates on the porch. Just off that porch are the women’s dorm rooms, where we sleep in cots. The men’s dorm and the food storage room are on the opposite side of the building. For meals, the medical and pharmacy tables and chairs are pushed to the center of the main room and covered with tablecloths for dining. Within the gates of the complex are also a water tower, a set of connected stalls with latrines and two simple showers, a chapel, and an open-air kitchen.

20140311-140613.jpgTeresa in the women’s dorm

20140311-200430.jpgJen organizing records

20140311-200608.jpg The main gate
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20140311-203459.jpg Bathrooms and showers

20140311-200925.jpg Breakfast time

20140311-200657.jpg Bill in the pharmacy

Wake-up time comes early in San Marcos, especially if you have been kept awake by any of the following:
1. Barking dogs
2. Fighting dogs
3. Crying babies
4. The bus to Langue blaring its horn from the road at 4am
5. Frequent rooster crowing. I am used to the normal crowing, but this year one rooster emitted the weirdest sound. I finally found a way to describe it: look up the song “Creep” by TLC. There’s a repetitive horn loop playing in the background: “buh-BAH!” Now imagine that horn dying a long and painful death: “buh-BAaaaaauuuhh.” Now imagine that over and over again between the hours of 2-5am. Bring earplugs. 🙂

“Office hours” are from 8am to about 12-12:30pm and then from 1 to about 5-5:30 pm (or whenever we finish with the last patient). In dental, we had three chairs set up this year: one for fillings and two for extractions. Lack of electricity changes how we do a lot of things: sterilization of instruments is done with pressure cookers twice a day, diagnosis has to be done without the use of xrays, and our “drill” runs on a gasoline-powered compressor (which this year also became popular as a charging station for cell phones. What a difference a year makes! Last year, no one used a phone. This year, all we had to do was turn the generator on, and within minutes 3-5 people would come running in the hope of claiming a spot on the power strip!)

20140311-093649.jpgDental supply table

20140311-200201.jpg San Marcos restorative department

20140311-200230.jpg My “office”

20140311-200245.jpg Sterilization department

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I did extractions all week. Because of poor dental health education, infrequent use of fluoride toothpaste (whether due to lack of access, finances, or interest), high consumption of sweet sodas and juices, and what seems to be absolutely no social stigma against loss of teeth, it was not uncommon for us to extract 3-5 teeth for one person. Many people walk for several hours to get to our clinic and appear to come with the mindset that they want to get as many teeth removed as they can. Many people, even including younger people in their teens and 20s, have full or partial dentures with gold teeth added, which are very popular. One day, I extracted the four front teeth of an 18-year-old boy because of rampant decay; at home, I would have treatment planned him for root canals and crowns on all those teeth, but that’s not an option here. It’s a very different way of practicing dentistry.

The clinic setting is a bit different, too. My patient chair was a reclining lawn chair, which was SO MUCH BETTER on my back compared to the upright plastic patio chair I used last year. We are on a porch, so in the late afternoon when the sun is on the other side of the building, we have to rely more on headlamps and flashlights. And (my favorite part), once every couple hours or so, you would hear this increasingly loud chorus of chirps. Sure enough, coming around the corner and through the clinic would be the local chicken and her twelve little chicks. I was so entertained by this that I would always run and get my camera to take pictures if I wasn’t with a patient (after several rounds of this, Gordon told me that I might have a problem!)

Dinner time is usually around 5:30 and for me was either preceded or accompanied by an end-of-the-day beer. I have come to really enjoy a local Salva Vida after a long day. After dinner, it is already dark, so other than finishing up some daily paperwork, the rest of the evening is free. However, given our early wake-up time and the heat of the day, I usually found myself in bed before 9pm (which never/ happens at home!)

More on other activities in my upcoming posts!

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