Grace on Pace

El Recreo, Honduras – Higher Ground

El Recreo, Honduras

Sunday February 4 – Determined to accomplish as much as possible in El Recreo, we set out early.  Our plan was to work as hard as possible to finish all of the installations, therefore leaving the rest of the week for a short vacation.  Day after day of long hours were definitely starting to take their toll with all of us had a new incentive to finish.  With little chance for Enelida to spend time with her two girls over the past few weeks, we were blessed with two smiling faced helpers for the day.  It was fantastic to see her children ready to give up part of their weekend to help us with the project.  Upon our arrival to El Recreo, the size of our task became quickly evident through our substantial stockpile of filters.  With sixty-seven homes to furnish in the community, only twenty of them had filters in their homes.  Despite trying to remain positive about our goal, I couldn’t help but notice the easiest houses to get to had filters in place.  We were going to have to earn the last two-thirds of the deliveries.  Loading five filters at a time into the back of the pickup, we drove as close as we could to the homes before muscling them over the treacherous terrain.  Many of the paths were incredible narrow and made for impossible maneuvering of the dolly.  Other homes were tucked away in hard to find hillsides and across small rivers.  Children helped us carry the aggregate, sand, tops, and diffuser plates, while some of the community members joined together to will the filters over any obstacle we came across.  Throughout the day, we tried to use as many of the big filters as possible, conserving the smaller ones for areas we needed to carry the filters to.  By the end of the day, we had delivered twenty filters and were completed exhausted.  Covered from head to toe in dirt, sweat, and who knows what else, I through on a pair of shorts and made my way down to the swimming hole.  After only a few minutes of relaxation, I made my way back into town to meet up with the girls.  I was met with tired but happy faces, as the girls had been successful in their installations.  On the way home, I had a chance to practice some of my Spanish with Enelida’s youngest daughter, Marialena, in the back of the truck.  The day was filled with many physical challenges and it felt good to have accomplished so much; however, my entire body ached, leaving nothing but the bed for me when we got home.

El Recreo, Honduras
El Recreo, Honduras

Monday February 5 – The morning came very early for our crew, and with a quick stop at Dunkin Donuts, we were headed back up the mountain to El Recreo.  I managed to catch some naptime in the back of our truck along the highway, but I was quickly awakened as soon as we made it to the turn off.  With my eyes to the treetops as we slowly made our way up the windy road, I was able to see countless birds in the early morning light. A black-bodied bird about the size of a seagull caught my eye, boasting a red, yellow, orange and green belly.  Arriving at the community and looking at our dwindling number of filters gave us a much-needed boost in energy.  We wasted no time loading up and heading out to the remaining houses.  As we worked our way down the main road, stopping at each home, we could not seem to find anybody who had ordered one.  Time after time, we were turned away for one reason or another.  At first, we didn’t think much of it because not everyone in the community had agreed to buy a filter at our socialization and we wanted to fully respect their right to choose.  However, as the number of remaining houses grew smaller, it was easy to see that we were going to have many filters left over.  This was a very unforeseen problem because we had a list of each household that wanted the filters and had brought just enough to meet that need.  With the last few days spent delivering as fast as we could, much of our time seemed to be standing around waiting for what to do next.  Something had changed their minds about the project and for whatever reason; the community did not have their share of the money or did not feel it was a worthwhile investment.  This was very hard for me to take after all of our hard work.  I guess I just assumed the people would jump at the chance to receive this technology.  As I sat waiting and wondering what exactly to make of the situation, I began realizing this sort of thing was going to keep happening until Pure Water was established in the area.  Despite all of our training and education efforts, it would still be hard for the people to trust that the sand would clean their water.  The technology itself can be very complicated and after a few days of the people observing how we were installing their filters, they had become skeptical on the project itself.  After a quick decision from our group, it was decided to stop all efforts of delivering and work on clearing up any rumors or misconceptions.  Enelida joined forces with Joel, one of the community leaders, going door-to-door asking why the people had changed their minds.  Meanwhile, I joined up with Rasa and Keyla on the installation circuit.  However, we soon finished all of the remaining filters in place and were left waiting to here back from Enelida.  With no pressing task at hand, I decided to go exploring up the river.  Soon, I found a young boy spear fishing and I sat down on the riverbank to watch and learn.  Suddenly, I heard my name being called back behind me on the trail headed toward the river.  Roni and Darwin, my swimming buddies, were leading horses with crates strapped to their back.  Curious on where they were going, I decided to follow them.  In my limited vocabulary, I discovered they were headed into the hills to their family banana plantation.  They ensured me it would only be a twenty minute hike to the field.  Five river crossings and an hour later, we arrived at a beautiful valley set beneath a rain forest backdrop.  The boy’s father and older brother were busily lugging stems of bananas to a fifty-gallon drum to be washed.  Quickly joining in, I worked to cut the individual bananas from their bundle and soak them in the streaming water.  We then filled the crates with one hundred and forty bananas each, before tying them to the backs of the horses.  With each banana bringing fifty-five centavos, the trek would be worth about twenty-eight dollars.  This seems an incredibly small amount of work, considering all the work it takes for a farmer to yield thirty bananas for the entire life of a tree.  After the work was done, the three brothers brought me further up into the hillside to see their farm animals.  They were very excited and proud to show me their eight cows, signifying their wealth and status among their peers.  After a short time resting under a shade tree in the field, we headed back to the plantation.  With the two horses loaded, each of us grabbed a full stem of bananas for ourselves and started our hike back to the village.  I felt like part of a caravan as we arrived into town.  Rob and Rasa could only smile as we entered triumphantly.  On our way home, we all listened to Enelidas interesting findings.  Apparently, many rumors had been circling throughout the community, giving the people second thoughts about investing in the filters for their homes.  She told us citizens were worried the filters would keep on running throughout the night, flooding their homes.  They were also bothered about some of our educational material and the fact that it showed all of the animals being penned up.  They refused the filters because they didn’t want to cage their pigs and chickens.  Some didn’t believe that running water through the sand would do anything at all.  Thankfully, with the help of Joel, Enelida had cleared up any falsities or misconceptions surrounding the project and everyone had agreed to participate again.  With good news to build on, we made plans for another early morning.

El Recreo, Honduras

Tuesday February 6 – With all of the people on our original list back on board, we set out for El Recreo eager to put a sizable dent in the rest of our filter stockpile.  With over twenty-five filters left, it would take at least two more days to finish.  Despite agreeing to give Enelida and Keyla the rest of the week off at the conclusion of the day, they ensured us that they would come back tomorrow if we had any work remaining.  One truck load at a time, we tackled the hillsides and riverbanks, lugging the casings up to the small homes.  Through the help of the community leaders and children, we located the remote families on our list.  Each new home brought another challenge, more difficult than the previous.  One of the most interesting recipients was a small local training center located up the road from the village.  With fishponds, eco-friendly stoves, and numerous agricultural exhibits, the school was designed to teach adults about alternative technology.  FHIA had heard through the community members about our project and wanted to buy two filters to incorporate in their education.  The staff was excited to see it was a Honduran made product and wanted to find out more information about how to become involved.  Our most difficult installation of the day came at the end.  A lady, I had seen crossing the river while visiting the banana plantation, had heard about the filters and come into town to investigate.  Completely exhausted from our day, we agreed to try the journey.  It was hard to turn her down, when she had brought her horse into to town to help with the delivery.  As usual, we had to stand back and let the family work through the problem their selves.  I felt bad for the horse when they hoisted the two-hundred pound casing up onto his back, but it soon become evident there was no way it was going to work.  We decided to use two poles to hoist the filter into the air and carry it ourselves.  The happy horse carried the sand, gravel, and stones instead.  After three river crossings and a quarter mile of hand truck work, we arrived at two homes in a small farming development.  It didn’t take long before we were headed back to grab another!  The girls stayed behind and installed them, so we wouldn’t have to venture back again.  After the second filter, I was ready for a long nap and about ten coconuts.  With Rasa’s help the family took us to a riverbank lined with palm trees.  I decided to try climbing the tree myself in search of the refreshing coconut milk.  Managing to get two coconuts down before giving up and letting the professionals show me how it’s done.  Rob and I waited down stream collecting the fruit as they came floating down.  With two of our hardest homes out of the way, we headed back for La Ceiba determined to finish off the rest tomorrow.

El Recreo, Honduras

Wednesday February 7 – With nine filters remaining in the stockyard, we were excited to return to El Recreo to complete our first village. Luckily, with only the most remote homes left to reach, the remaining filters were of the smaller variety. Again we used the children to direct us up the hillsides to the families. Foot by foot we wobbled the casings up the narrow washed out footpaths. Previously unaware of the homes, it was shocking to see the wide range of living standards in such a small community. Working along the main road had only provided us with one aspect, but the homes we were know serving gave us a driving determination to do anything possible to get the job done. As we ventured farther and farther, the homes had far less and it was necessary for their water to be carried by hand from a source. At one point, we reached a home perched on a steep stream bank and thought that we had reached the pinnacle of difficulty. I could only shrug when we discovered another home farther up the stream with virtually nothing but the river rocks as a path. We had no choice but to strap the casing to some poles and to again hoist the filter into the air. We arrived at a home tucked away deep into old growth rain forest. A thirty-eight year old woman greeted us at the door with her twelve children. There were no smiles though and we soon discovered her youngest daughter Digna was very ill. Eight days of diarrhea had left her emaciated and with almost no energy at all. Enelida, Rasa, and Keyla rushed to get the installation equipment, eager to do their best to get the family clean water as fast as possible. This was our first experience with this type of situation and everyone was doing their best to harness their emotions. So much of our work is based around providing good nutrition through clean water so children can develop properly throughout their growing years. I never expected to see such an extreme situation and wanted nothing more than to make sure we never overlook these areas in our work. Families in these areas come to town infrequently and it would be very easy to miss them when developing a project. Despite the intensive energy and resources spent to service only a few of these homes, the benefit in doing so rivals the shear quantity we were able to help along the main roads. By the end of the day, our seemingly easy task of delivering our nine remaining filters had drained us both physically and emotionally. We were very excited to have finished our first community, but after the day’s events, none of us felt too much in the mood for celebration. Instead, we decided to take a much-needed four days off from anything pertaining to work. Seven-day weeks, filled with long straining days, had taken a toll and all anyone wanted to do was sleep. With my time flying by, I became hesitant on the idea of laying low for our time off. I began talking with Rob and Rasa about their opinion on what I should do on our days off. Rob suggested visiting one of the bordering countries and trying to loop back before work started Monday. As the conversation developed, he pushed me to take a few more days off and travel further to some of the more dramatic sites in Central America. I began reading my Lonely Planet Central America on a Shoestring Guide and plotting my course. Still a little hesitant about traveling by myself, I decided to just head toward the border and see what happened.

El Recreo, Honduras
El Recreo, Honduras

Thursday February 8 – Eager and a little weary, I set out for the bus station early in the morning. I tried not to think about what I was getting myself into as I bought my ticket for San Pedro Sula. I tried to focus on getting to one place at a time and not to overwhelm myself too much. Mimicking the route Jennilou and I took to Copan; I switched buses in the city, after grabbing some food for the next leg. Using the Lonely Planet Guide my mother gave me for Christmas, I plotted out a route for the next few days. With millions of things running through my head, the trip seemed to fly by as I traveled over the mountains. Upon my arrival to Copan, I exited the bus, working my way through the frantic tourists and eager locals vying for a chance to promote their services. It was liberating to feel somewhat comfortable and to know my way around the town. After a short while, I had found a beautiful lodging at Iguana Azul, an old colonial home turned boarding house. The hostel was a little bit off the beaten path, so I had the entire bunkhouse for myself at a measly four dollars. Shortly after settling in, I returned to searching for a way into Guatemala. After asking a few local bartenders, I found out about a shuttle leaving for Antigua, Guatemala in the morning. I was able to buy a ticket for the remaining seat and thought to myself how much easier it was going to be to get from one place to another. With virtually no luggage and only myself, I would be able to squeeze myself onto any sort of transportation without much planning at all. I decided to kick off my journey with dinner at a nice restaurant in town. The food was very good but the conversation stunk.

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Friday February 9 – Without an alarm clock, I rolled out of bed around seven o’clock due to the pestering rooster calls. Eager to make my way into Guatemala, I packed up my backpack and hit the road. After a quick breakfast, I grabbed a few snacks and some water for the long journey over the mountains. With plenty of time to spare I arrived at Via Via, a small backpacker guest house, where some travelers had arranged transportation to Antigua. Much to my surprise, I was quickly faced with an unforeseen dilemma. With all my time alone on the road, I had quickly finished the only book I had brought on the trip. Rasa had lent me Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder and since leaving La Ceiba I had hardly put it down. With no time to search the book exchanges, I was forced to go without until my next stop. Soon, a few people started arriving at the lodge. Much to my surprise, I was the only American making the trip, but everyone was still speaking English. Five friends from Austria were on their last leg of their journey across South and Central America, while other’s seemed to be doing the same. It quickly became evident, that despite traveling by myself, there would be many others following the same path. An hour into our ride, we arrived at the border between Honduras and Guatemala. As the door slid open, a group of men holding huge wads of cash and calculators jockeyed for position. The black market moneychangers were eager to get our American dollars at a good rate and soon the people in my group were bartering between Dollar, Lempira, and Quetzal exchange rates. Due to my ignorance of the current value of the dollar, I opted to keep my cash on hand and wait for the next ATM we came across. The border crossing itself was very memorable, as it marked my first one in this type of atmosphere. We were ushered into a small room where a very official looking man waited behind a very unofficial looking card table. With only a stamp pad and a few pieces of paper, he slowly interviewed everyone. Understanding very little of his questions, I managed to receive the required paper work and exit stamp from Honduras emigration. I then walked on foot across the imaginary line into Guatemala, where I was faced with a similar situation. Another serious of questions regarding my length of stay and reason for coming gave way to another emphatic stamp, before piling back into the bus. The rest of our journey was soon plagued by Friday afternoon traffic. The cramped quarters, obviously not designed for regular sized people, soon became unbearable and many of us opted to walk along side the van. The traffic continued into the night as we crept through continuous construction zones and who knows what else. At one point I almost snapped, after waiting for over an hour, only to see four men busily painting speed bumps yellow with small brushes. There was at least ten people controlling traffic and countless others standing around watching or holding lights. I can’t imagine I would live too long in Pownal, seeming if we hold up traffic for five minutes we would be considered fools. After fourteen hours of solid travel time, we arrived in Antigua. I hurried to find an ATM, worried that all of the banks would be closed. Luckily after my third try, I was able to find a bank that would give me the Quetzals I needed for a room. I quickly oriented myself with the map in my guidebook and set out trying to find a bed for the night. Many of the hostels I found had long been full and I was beginning to give up hope at finding a reasonably priced room. Luckily, I was able to find a dorm room with one bed still open. I tried to be as quiet as possible finding the open bed, but don’t think I made too many friends getting situated. After a quick shower in the bathroom down the hall, I ventured back out into the streets to find a pub to get a bite to eat. Being the weekend, I had no problem ordering up a quick burrito and the local beer, aptly named Gallo or rooster.

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Saturday February 10 – I was awoken to some commotion from some of my roommates and slowly sat up in my bed to see what was going on. A girl had finished packing her huge backpack and was working her way through the tight spaces between beds. A young man in the bed next to me was also was stirred by the noise and rolled out of bed as well. Immediately we began talking about our travels and where we were headed. Traveling all the way from Texas only a day before, Mike was using Antigua as a resting place just as myself. Soon to be on his way west toward the mountains. I inquired further into his plans. Apparently, during his recent travels, Mike had discovered a lakeside town in the highlands and only recently traveled back to the States for a short time to visit his parents. His plan was to more or less move to Lago de Atitlan, enroll in Spanish classes and find work to pay for his expenses. Hesitant about asking Mike if I could tag along, I opted to tour the city and try to decide where to go next. I checked out of the hostel and made my way into town to grab a bite to eat. The city was full of tourists from all over the world to experience the past colonial era giant. Set five thousand feet high in a valley of giant semi active volcanoes, Antigua has become one of the most popular towns in Central America. With cobble stone streets, magnificent churches, and numerous shops and cafes, the area town had a very European atmosphere. Unsure exactly where I was going, I decided to buy a bus ticket for Panjachel, the launching city for the lake. I decided to use my remaining time to take a walk around the city and visit the many book exchanges. Unable to find anything particularly interesting, I settled on Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, to pass the time on the long journey. However, the bus ride ended up being spectacular, so I didn’t even open the book. Winding mountain passes through coffee plantations and highland rainforest felt more like a tour than a commute. Suddenly, after a swooping turn, we sat perched high up on a mountain roadway overlooking an enormous body of water surrounded by steep volcanic giants. Once an active caldera, the main giant has since filled with water, giving way to three other smaller semi-active volcanoes enclosing it. Slowly making our way down the steep notched mountainsides, gave us a fantastic perspective of the surroundings. After arriving in Panjachel, I made my way down to the docks to arrange passage to San Pedro La Laguna. With a little difficulty, I found a boat that shuttles people back and forth to the surrounding villages. However, the captain simply waits until his boat is completely full before leaving. I happened to be his first customer and we needed fourteen others prior to our trip. Unsure what to do and whether or not he would get his passengers, I decided to tour the town just in case my plan fell through. An hour later, I return to the docks and a few others seemed to be waiting. I cracked open my new book and joined them on the rickety swaying pier. As time went by I grew more and more hesitant about making the trip this late at night. Suddenly, just as I was about to throw in the towel, I noticed Mike making his way down the road. He too joined us on the dock and ensured we would be fine arriving at any hour. I decided to follow his lead and eventually, we had enough passengers to fill the seats. The ride was surprisingly rough, as we pounded the hull of our wooden boat off the wind blown waves. Upon our arrival, Mike led me up to his favorite hotel, where I booked a wonderful room for only five dollars a night. After settling in, Mike gave me a quick tour of the small town. Mostly dirt paths and alleyways through haphazard development, the town had a very laid back environment. Known as one of the cheapest places in all of Central America, it was easy to spring for a celebration beer and steak dinner. Excited about arriving, but completely exhausted, we both decided to make it a short night and head back to the rooms.

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Jeff Grace

I’d like to hope that when I leave this earth, my family and friends believe something about me giving as fully as I could. To the people I love and to the areas of culture that excited me to build things. Then a lot of dancing, loud music and talking about what an idiot I made of myself during that process.

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