Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Checkin' out the New Digs


Met my counterpart! Actually, I had two guests on counterpart day, not just Claudio but Rosa as well, the president of the sustainable development association that I will be working with. We had a day and a half of getting to know each other at the training center and on Tuesday the 16th we each headed off to our own future sites to spend a week introducing ourselves and getting to know our new community. It was a jam packed week, and then some. Rosa is my new host mother and I immediately grew to like her..she’s very friendly and has a fantastic sense of humor, is easy to talk to and helpful with my Spanish, not to mention wonderfully welcoming. Getting to know her and all her great qualities put me at ease, knowing I’ll be living with her for the first three months (Peace Corps requires we spend this introductory time with a family for safety and to better integrate into the community). We rode with Tara, another volunteer, whose counterpart had his own wheels and offered us a ride (score!). Tara will be living about an hour away from me which is fantastic, we can go to the market together and be a support system or even getaway for those times of need! Our travels took us south of the volcano range and westward. The landscape got more tropical and we stopped for mangoes and coconuts (had a truly juicy mango experience, fyi). We parted ways about an hour outside of our aldea where Rosa, Claudio and I hopped on to a camioneta for the last, breathtakingly beautiful stretch. The bus labored up the bouncy dirt roads, winding up and up through the lush foothills of the mountain range. Soon the edge of the road dropped off into oblivion and the facing ridges were covered in thick green vegetation. Flashes of color darted everywhere and I wanted to hang out the window with binox and bird book in hand but I think that might be seen as a little culturally unacceptable. We rounded a bend and, across a span of nothingness, another ridge drew sharply skyward and Rosa pointed out where I would be living for the next two years. It was dreamlike. I think my eyes must have been large as those mangos and I couldn’t wipe the inadvertent grin off my face. Gringas! Weird creatures, those. It was late afternoon and the bus crawled up the last bend onto the cobblestone stretch of my new home, the school on the low end and the church up at the top with houses lining either side. I got out and Pascual, smiling eyed and with a warm friendly grin, introduced himself as the husband of Rosa. They showed me my room, large and spacey with a window to outside (yaay!) and a huge comfy bed. Pascual and Rosa have three kids still in the house; the oldest is their only boy, Jonathan who is 15, Josaline is 11, and Marbet is 6. They have two girls in their 20s who live and go to school in Xela (the city of Quetzaltenango). The kids are shy and very polite and the parents are outgoing, love to talk, are very curious and thoughtful and intelligent, we immediately got on. Pascual is the director of the secondary school (Instituto Secondario) but also invests a lot of time and energy in the Asociation (looking for funding and training workshop opportunities, for example) and Rosa also runs a good sized store out of her home. They are very busy people, but so energetic and I feel lucky to be settling in with them. For the week, I was able to introduce myself to droves of people, starting with every grade in the primary school (what a way to begin!), and I met the main members of the Association. I also met with the representatives from every organization within the community (head of schools, members of the association, head of the coffee industry, organic and inorganic, the COCODE (basically a group of town representatives that are organized and able to petition to the government), and the auxiliary (church related). We talked about town priorities and needs. I got to sit in on a workshop led by an NGO community development group that has assisted the community greatly in their efforts to start up an ecotourism sector. This is a great organization that has done a great deal but that runs off of very little money and has lots of other towns they’re assisting so they were glad to see that I was coming in and I was glad to learn that I’d have their contact and support. I got to know the town, saw the coffee factory (harvest just ended for the year), their lombricompost (worm compost) production, weeded in the beginnings of a trial community vegetable garden (completely organic!), and saw the new guest quarters-a small 3 room lodge for visiting tourists that volunteer for the association, helping in the coffee, garden, or trails. This lodge is brand new and still needs a bit of work, along with the volunteer and ecotourism program in general. These people are so passionate, though, ready to make it really roll. They’re so excited to have me here to help in their mission and they are all just so friendly and welcoming. I got a huge tour of some of their trails with their 3 tour guides, Eduardo, Claudio and Keller. We birded for a whole half day (starting at 5am) and saw all KINDS of birds(!!!) They have great potential in the aviturismo department, but the guides have a lot to learn yet. They do know a lot of the common birds, even by ear, but many of their names are local names, and in Spanish. A serious birder coming here would be disappointed if they expected to know every last little bird they saw. I’m definitely excited to work on improving our bird tour option, any excuse to get back into those woods and learn the birds with a bunch of gung-ho Guatemaltecos! We saw some cool birds, too..squirrel cuckoo (I was psyched, I love these long tailed characters), several kinds of strikingly colored jays, tanagers, emerald toucanet (!),a hook billed kite, lots of migrant warblers still here before they head back north in the spring, and we heard quetzals!! This is fantastic, Resplendent Quetzals are very true to their name, absolutely magnificent birds and a huge attraction for birders..so basically gold to us. What we need to do is find out how we can guarantee a sighting, find the specific trees they feed upon and determine their daily and seasonal habits. Gold. This is what we need, to get tourists in to the town, bringing in money because there is NOT much work for citizens of this community and they really have to struggle to make ends meet. The land they produce off of is pretty measly, very steep and not easy to work and, as the town grows, there is less available to support all of the people. But they have a rich bounty which is the hugely diverse forest beyond the coffee; they own 35 hectares of natural bosques further up the mountain. The community is slowly coming to understand that that is their goldmine. They don’t have to use up their resources; they can share them with the public! We just need to tell the world, get them to come, have them fall in love, tell others, come back, and bring friends! So here we are now. This, ladies and gentlemen, is where my true journey and challenge begins.

Here is my new host family, and yes, they are as sweet as they look.


  1. beautiful post! sounds like you totally lucked out, missy... i am so eager to visit you when the time is right...can't wait! loveyoumissyouproudofyou
    yo mama (#1 of 3)

  2. are you sure you didn't just wander onto the set of Avatar?!? what a beautiful wonderland! lucky girl.

  3. hey trailblazer! finally had a chance to check out your most excellent blog. ft. carson closed for snow today. so, great photo of you and your host family. they look like cool people. i was just telling tammy about lombricomposting and community gardens. she's psyched for you. only you could end up with quetzals. sweet! had to laugh when i saw photo of panchito. a cat showed up at the office last month. looks a lot like panchito. we're calling him 'el gato' for lack of an agreed upon name. he was skittish at first but has become quite the lap kitty as i'm working. they call him my shadow. oh! and rental cat showed up after 3.5 months mia. she's gordo! stuck in neighbor's basement with food and no exercise. she's very confused, as are we. anyways, keep up the great posts. and have a happy graduation tomorrow. enjoy your cloud forests and your aves! hasta, rico and and tammica

  4. WOW! Sounds like you are literally on cloud nine!
    Love you, Tia Dorothea


I'd love to hear what you think, go on ahead and slap some words down!