Saturday, March 13, 2010

Headed to Quetzaltenango-Where there be Quetzals!

This will be my new home, where I will be settling in to a brand new life, a whole new adventure. All I really know about it, though, is the name! And that it’s located in the department of Quetzaltenango which literally translates to “there are quetzals here” in Guatemalese. We went to the Peace Corps office in Santa Lucia on Site Assignment Day, March 12th 2010. David, our program technical trainer drove excruciatingly slowly along the curvy highway, and we yelled at him in excited frustration to hurry the heck up! This was our lives and we were about to find out where they were going to lead! They blindfolded us and we stood in front of a map of Guatemala, outlined in the grass with sticks, leaves and twigs. In the grass were masking tape X’s Flavio, the man who made the decisions, led us each to one of the points and we stood, blind, listening to the rustling of whoever was close by. We were handed a folder and knew that on the front of it was written the name of the town that right that moment was eagerly awaiting their perky new volunteer. I clutched mine like my life depended on it. We reached out and could feel other hands feeling around and were told to take off our blindfolds. Looking down at the folder, I saw “Stacey Hollis, Quetzaltenango”. On the map I was the person standing furthest to the west and nearby I saw Tara and Amber. We all laughed and ripped into our information packets, flurrying through the overload of information, deciphering the Spanish into some idea of what we were about to dive in to. So here it is. This is an Aldea, which I loved the sound means a small community, 1,200 habitantes strong. Next I saw the climate: “calido lluvioso” rainy, con temperaturas entre 23-26 degrees Celcius”.. umm had to look that one up (73-78 in Fahrenheit). Okay, warmer and rainy is actually good, that means tropical..well when I read on and saw it mentioning “abundante vegetacion tropical” I felt a rush of excitement!! The altitude was 1250m which translates to about 4000ft, and I’m basically on the slope that leads off the volcano chain toward the Pacific Ocean. My town is small, “hay 5 tiendas pequenas, un hospedaje o albergue (small visitor’s lodge), y la iglesia catolica”. So there’s not much to it! Definitely a soccer field and basketball court, though. This will be a good icebreaker, and “sin duda”, is recommended as a great way to introduce yourself into the community..hop on in to those pickup games!
So now the nitty gritty good stuff: When Flavio set me on my spot on the map, he said, “you are the first volunteer to be sent here”, my mind raced and I grinned and squirmed under my blindfold..I felt proud that they believed in me to kick start a whole new place, all on my own. They decided that little Stacey Hollis would be the first to place the mark of Peace Corps on this little aldea in the southwestern foothills of Guatemala. What I leave will be a manifestation of my own ambition, my own initiative. I will come in and be the first Gringa to spend two years lending my hands to that which the community desires and I won’t have a volunteer to give me their take on the town, no structure to follow, no (darn!) house to inherit. I am thrilled!
Next: The town has a reserve comunitaria de bosque nuboso…yipppeeee!! I got me a cloud forest!! And oh man, I was jumping when I read on “35 hectares (86 acres), senderismo y el aviturismo (!!!) con la presencia de mas de 180 especies de aves” including a strong presence of “el ave nacional, El Quetzal”!!! Flavio got me a bird site! Woohoo!! It said “existen abundantes quetzals (which totally means good quality healthy forest to support this bird that relies on mature aguatillo trees), aves, mamiferos silvestres como pizotes, andasolos, micoleon, tigrillos (little lions and tigers?!)”. And furthermore, “cercano a la comunidad puede apreciarse el Volcan Santiaguito (activo) y el Volcan Santa Maria..I got volcanoes! That really did make me happy because I get a lot of pleasure out of looking at my three volcanoes here in San Antonio and the occasional rumble and blast of silt and ash is exciting. Steph, one of the masters students who is here to study volcanology totally told me she knew where I was going and that supposedly there’s some big valley that’ll protect me if it ever does give a really good blow. Hey, sounds good to me.
So my town already has a Sustainable Development Association that they started in 2008 and they have been working on the development of interpretive trails in the Reserva Forestal Comunitaria and “ruta a Catarata El Chilamate” (a waterfall trail!). They have been actively inviting in international volunteers to live with host families and work on local coffee and flower farms as well as to help with the trail work. So it sounds like there is something established, but it’s new and they want training for the hosts families and guides. Also there’s talk about training teachers in environmental education and involving the school kids in environmental projects in the reserve, oh it all sounds good to me. It’s nice that there is something set up already that I have at least some structure to work off of!
So yea, this girl isdefinitely not complaining! I am ecstatic. Course I have yet to see the place en vida real. But sheesh, it sure sounds good! So now I have the weekend to scour the internet about my soon-to-be-home and get ready to meet my counterpart, my partner in crime for the next two years. His name is Claudio and he’s the secretary of the association. We will spend Monday getting to know each other at the training center and then together will travel to the aldea on Tuesday where I will spend the next 5 days getting to know my new community. We come back for 3 days of paperwork in Santa Lucia, swearing in (graduation!) is on the 25th and that weekend I will set off, my bags all packed, for a lone ride on the camioneta to my new home. Warp speed, I’m telling you.

My pictures include a group shot of the women artesans that my group worked with, here they're holding their diplomas that we awarded them for successfully attending our charlas on hosting tourists in their homes. The kittyshot is Pancho "Panchito" Lopez, sitting next to the wood stove. This is why his lil' whiskers are singed.


  1. sounds perfect! i'm eager to hear all about it after you've gotten to see it next week...good talking to you last night and thanks for sending more you like a rock...yr mom

  2. I'm so happy for you!! And super proud of you! Big Hugs! Pam

  3. I'm so excited for you! I'm going to go goggle earth and zoom in on "Loma Linda, El Palmar" and check out ur new landing.Whooo Hoo for u! "WCM"

  4. Wow, Stacy - sounds like the perfect place for you! I can hardly wait to hear more about it! Have fun settling in....

  5. Hi Stacy, Lee, Clifford's Mom here. I'm so happy for you! It sounds like most all your wishes came true! What a beautiful place (I went to the website)I too love birds, volcanoes and waterfalls so now I really look forward to your blogs. Clifford is also in the Dept. of Quetzaltenango. His town is called Cabrican. I tried to find Loma Linda on Google Map but it didn't like it. I think he will be way northeast of you. Although he's NW of the Dept. He'll be working with Grace in H.S. program group 2 He's very happy with his assignment too. Although I wished they had a website like your town. He'll be at about 8000' in a much different climate than he's in now and that you'll be living in. About 15 of them leave at 4am Monday to spend the week in Quetzaltenango. He told me that many of you will stay in town after the swearing in ceremony. I hope all of you have a great time and that someone takes lots of pictures!! Take care and have a safe trip. Lee

  6. OhStacy-trail work, environmental education, birds, children, sports, cloud forests, VOLCANOES...perfecto!
    Love love Robin


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