Grace on Pace

Tag - La Ceiba

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.


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.


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.


Tourism vs. Traveling in Honduras

Sunday January 14 – We all woke up around 6:30 Am, excited about getting back to the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado, to meet are boat.  The night before had been spent researching jaguars, howler monkeys, white face monkeys, manatees, crocodiles, turtles, cayman, fishing eagles, hawks, parrots, as well as 196 birds and 35 mammals, all of which we could possible see.  Our enthusiasm was short lived though.  When we arrived at the docking entrance to the small village of El Embarcadero, there were a few people waiting around.  Eventually we could hear a boat off in the distance approaching us slowly.  Finally we thought to ourselves, our boat had arrived.  But this is Honduras and nothing ever seems to ever go as planned.  The young man jumped out of the boat carrying two huge milk containers.  Rasa asked how long it would be until he was back from milking his cows.  About thirty minutes, he assured as he headed up the road.  A short time later a woman had had enough of waiting for the water taxi and she headed out across the enormous swamp.  We were all stunned as we watched her appear and disappear across the swamp, belongings balanced on her head.  Eventually, we could see our man strolling toward us and we piled into the boat.  The boat trip was well worth the wait though, as we ventured along slow flowing rivers filled with thick vegetation and countless birds.  Dropping people off along the riverbanks, we made our way toward the ocean.  Peering around a river bend, I could see the waves crashing against our river highway.  Noticing the manatee warning signs, we began scanning the surface.  “Where are they?” asked Rasa.  “They’re sleeping,” replied our guide.  It was quite a let down traveling all that way and coming up short; however, it was still exciting to see their habitat.  After a quick stop along the riverbank to collect sand, check out the beach, and investigate a Canadian flag, we headed back to the truck.  Our adventure in the marshlands had produced quite a hunger, so we decided to grab some lunch at a restaurant known for its friendly birds.  Not long after our lunch arrived, a parrot and a ma caw were at our feet begging for our banana chips.  Jennilou could hardly focus on eating her lunch, and soon had one of the birds perched on a stick she was holding.  Back at home; I got a much-needed nap, waking up just in time to head out to Pizza Hut.  At dinner, it was exciting to here that Robert and Rasa had discovered El Embarcadero was on our list of communities receiving filters.  I cannot imagine the difficulties ahead if this community personifies the challenge of reaching our project’s areas.


Monday January 15 – After our day off, we were excited to get right to work installing filters.  Our plan was to meet the mayor of Masica at Pozo Sarco, a small farming town.  The community would be small enough to allow us to meet with the community leaders and start installing filters in the same day.  An aggressive set of plans, but according to the mayor, very possible due to the size and location of the town.  As we rolled into the community, it was easy to see that something was wrong with the situation.  Pure Water For The World’s mission is to reach out to the communities below the poverty line, giving them a better chance at improving their quality of life through access to clean water.  The community that we had arranged a meeting with and were currently standing before was by no means below the poverty line in Honduran standards.   Not only did we find out that there were fifty homes, but they already had a water system and were using chlorine.  The whole weekend was spent preparing to install for at most fifteen filters in a small community.  The point was to get some experience for Enelida and Kayla before they headed off to the cost training.  After realizing this was the wrong community for us to install filters in, we had to strategize a new plan.  Enelida tried to explain to the leaders that their community was in no need of filters and we were mislead by the mayor.  This was a very hard point to get across to the community because in order for them to realize why they didn’t need them, they first needed to know how they worked.  This is probably the point when we should have tucked our tails and tried to leave as quietly as possible.  Our next hour turned out to be chaos.  More and more community members gathered to see what the meeting was about and as we started to educate them on why they didn’t need the filters, the more they wanted them.  One man pointed out that the filters would save money on chlorine, and another explained that the filters would help during flooding.  All these comments were hard to stomach and Enelida could do nothing but agree.  The fact was they did need the filters, just not as much as other communities in the area.  Our group had fallen victim to anther one of the mayor’s ploys.  See, the mayor was put in charge of MAMUCA by the Swiss and Canadian funding agencies, probably for the lack of a better person.  Consequently Robert & Rasa have been butting heads with him for some time.  His recommendation to extend our project to this area was in no doubt based on political reasons.  Soon, we had no choice but to backpedal our way out the situation.  We tried to explain to them that we were not ready to do a community of their size and that the mayor had mislead us.  Again, the tides turned for the worse and people started to become extremely upset.  Then suddenly, they started clapping and cheering.  The mayor was standing at the door!  I didn’t get it.  One minute they were extremely mad at the mayor and know they were cheering for him.  Eventually through all of the commotion, I realized that they must have been afraid of him.  Imagine being afraid of a politician.  This was a whole new concept for me and I sat quietly trying to evaluate the situation.  Should I be afraid as well?  Is it dangerous for us to talk about MAMUCA and the mayor in a negative way?  Soon, the major was in front of the crowd lying through his teeth.  He explained to the people that we were an inferior organization and were only responsible for the smaller communities in the mountains.  He told them, we had gotten confused and that he would bring filters to them.  He had crossed the line, but our hands were tied.  How could we afford to argue with him, when he had agreed to help us locate communities and pay for the filters to be delivered?  After the meeting, we tried to make amends by asking him if there was a small community on our list we could start with.  He began crossing off communities, telling us they did not exist, had clean water, or were scheduled for a new systems.  It was easy to see, he was trying to pull filters away from non-voting mountain communities, to create enough filters to do Pozo Sarco.  I could see the frustration in Robert’s face and soon he stood up trying to exit the situation with a smile.  We all shook hands, assuring the major we would do everything we could to find him the extra filters.

As we drove up the road, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking the morning had been complete waste of time.  We had been naïve to accept the list MAMUCA had provided us.  Why would the mayor spend money on remote communities, when they don’t even vote?  We needed to get a new list of communities if we were to accomplish anything.  We decided to try the health department on our way home.  Angry, tired, and frustrated, we walked into the lab.  The lab director sifted through a stake of PetriFilms and pulled the results on our test.  Just as we had expected, the results from El Recreo had come in completely contaminated.  Rasa began questioning him on the other communities on our list and if he could recommend any for project.  He glanced over the list and then scurried out of the room.  He returned with exactly what we were looking for.  He held in his hands a master list of all the communities in the area and what type of water system they were using.  We began comparing our list with his. According to his list, EL Recreo was in the top category out of four.  In short, we had visited two communities recommended by MAMUCA and both were considered rather well off in comparison to the others in the region.  Realizing our frustrations, he recommended that we visit the local branches of the health department in each of the counties.  Thankful for his advice, we offered to send someone from his office to a fully sponsored, weeklong seminar on our project.  He agreed to our invitation and we gratefully shook hands.  Extremely happy to salvage something positive out of the day, we piled into the truck wondering how our five-minute stop had turned into two hours.

I have learned a lot about the difficulties of International Development in my short time here in country, but today it had hit home.  Billions of dollars are sent to developing countries every year by ODA’s, NGO’s, PVO’s, and religious affiliations. So why can’t countries find a way to climb out of poverty?  As I found out today, one of the main obstacles is finding a way to spend this money.  It sounds absurd to have difficulties spending money to help people in a developing country, but it is.  How do you make people account for their actions?  Who do you entrust the money to?  What type of results do we expect to get?  These all seem like obvious questions, with relatively simple answers, but the more I think about them, the harder them seem be.  Surely, I won’t let it rest but for know, I have to, because my head is spinning.


Tuesday January 16 – Following yesterday’s extremely draining day, Robert and Rasa decided to catch up on their backlog of e-mails.  With Jennilou scheduled to leave Saturday, we decided to seize the moment and head to Copan.  Thus at six in the morning, we headed on a bus towards San Pedro Sula.  The trip would take all day, with an afternoon layover in the city.  San Pedro acts as a hub for all the major bus companies in the country.  Consequently, it is very easy to find a bus to the city; however, there is no universal bus station.  Apparently the city built one, but they were charging too much for its use, leaving bus terminals scattered around the city.  Arriving in San Pedro at around 10 AM, we tried to use our moon book, bus schedule, and Honduran tips guide to navigate our way to a bus that would take us to Copan.  Eventually, I had to swallow my pride and Jennilou asked for directions.  Of course, as soon as we arrived, we discovered our schedule was out of date and there wasn’t a bus until three.  We decided to take the chance to explore the busy streets, eat lunch, take some pictures in front the San Pedro Sula Cathedral and buy a copy of Babel to watch on the way to Copan.  When we finally arrived to Copan, we found a small hotel room for six dollars a night, including hot water and cable television.  After a quick shower we headed out to find a restaurant.  During our walk, it was easy to see why Robert & Rasa had recommended the area.  The small colonial town had quaintness about it, almost forcing you to slow your life down.  The cobble stone streets, adobe houses, clay tile roofs, and open air markets combined with the backpacker vibe and a feeling of safety made for one of the best evenings since arriving.  After a three-course gourmet dinner at Twisted Tanya’s, we made our way back to our hotel.


Wednesday January 17 – We woke up early and made our way down to the archeological park.  Getting to the ruins before the tour buses arrived, would give us a chance to see some of the wildlife living around the finely groomed site.  Outside the park we teamed up with a couple from California and two brothers from Virginia to hire a guide.  Inside the park, it was interesting to learn about the history of the city and its importance to the civilization.  Copan’s claim to fame is its hieroglyphic stairway, with similar significance to the Rosetta stone.  One of the last rulers of the city built the stairway explaining the history of its people.  Archeologists have used this artifact to decipher hieroglyphics in the much higher profile ruins of Chichen Itza and Tikal.  Overall the experience left me feeling a little unsatisfied though.  Not unlike other Mayan ruins, much of the site remains a mystery, with only twenty percent of the area excavated.  In addition, many of the countries providing the funding for the excavation, in turn have obtained many of the artifacts for their museums.  Currently Japan is working on uncovering a temple built by the eighth ruler of Copan.  They worked out a deal to pay 12 million US dollars for the rights to work within the park. In exchange a portion of the artifacts are to be sent back to Japanese museums.  I guess this had been happening for hundreds of years but it would be of been nice to see the ruins as close to their original splendor as possible.  After our tour, we grabbed lunch back in town, returning in the late afternoon to explore the rest of the park.  The entire area is fenced off, so it wasn’t long before we were spotting strange animals trapped within the gates.  The tour was interesting but it was just as fun to venture off the beaten paths to hypothesis what each of the giant mounds in front of us might have been one day.  Before dinner we were able to catch a local soccer game from our hotel roof.  We decided to take an early night, after a long day of hiking and a historic information overload.  Plus, for the first time in three weeks, we had cable television including three English movie channels.


Thursday January 18 – Our day started a little later than usual, mostly because I could only here three roosters at the crack of dawn.  After a late breakfast, we took the chance to visit some of the handicraft shops spread around town.  I can’t tell you exactly what we got but the exotic hardwood selection was by far the most impressive at the shops.  Woodworking being one of my hobbies, it was easy to respect the craftsmanship, but hard to see how the artists could be selling them for so cheap.  We caught the afternoon bus out of town and our adventure home began.  It is always a surprise getting on a bus here because it seems every one is a new experience.  This time, we had found ourselves on a chicken bus, for lack of a better term.  Imagine a forty-year-old school bus crossing the Rocky Mountains.  We huffed and puffed our way up the steep inclines and then flew, barley in control, around hairpin turns on the declines.  Every seat was packed with people and new passengers were forced to stand.  When we arrived to our first transfer point, people begin yelling and screaming as we spilled out of the bus.  I remember uttering the words San Pedro, among a furry of confusion.  I clung to Jennilou’s hands and eventually we were basically tossed onto another bus.  This was all fine and dandy, except both of us never had a chance to visit the restroom.  The next three-hour’s could only be explained by pure misery.  Despite several attempts to relieve myself into an empty bottle, I couldn’t manage a drop among the crowded bus.  Honestly, I almost passed out when I finally stood up at our next transfer.  Halleluiah, I thought as I stumbled behind the buses!  I couldn’t help but feel a little lucky to reach the last bus to La Ceiba from San Pedro Sula, with only twenty minutes to spare.  I guess I am learning to expect the worse down here and in this case scheduled the perfect bus commutes.  All and all the strangest part of our day was the ride home from the La Ceiba terminal.  The driver spoke perfect English, but sounded exactly like Kermit The Frog.  How bizarre!


Friday January 19 –During our absence, a series of unfortunate events plagued the advance of our mission to install a filter before our trip to Danli.  Hundreds of e-mails kept Robert and Rasa on house arrest for the first day.  On our second day gone, the two woke up to a flat tire, only to discover the spare was the wrong size.  Thursday, our final day in Copan, Robert & Rasa traveled to Esparta to meet with the mayor and visit the health department.  Again, their efforts essentially failed because the entire health department was on vacation and the mayor happened to be in Tela, probably at the beach.  However, the two were able to salvage the trip, setting up a meeting with the mayor and her advisors.  Therefore, for the second day in a row, our team headed out to Esparta to establish a basis for the communities we were hoping to serve there.  Following an hour drive, we turned onto a picturesque dirt road heading out towards the ocean.  We switched back in forth across an old railroad bed, slowly making our way through valleys of pastureland.  After a second hour of driving, we rolled into a dusty mid-western tombstone like town.  The customary stares came from every direction, as we made our way into the municipal building.  As usual, nobody in the office had any intentions on starting the meeting on time because as soon as we arrived everyone was heading out the door to eat lunch.  It didn’t bother me though because I am always hungry and everyone is happier after they eat.  The meeting went very well and we managed to schedule a unique assembly.  The advisors comprised the idea of inviting one member from each of the communities in their county to an informational session.  This would save traveling to each of the communities separately and help us gather valuable information on their whereabouts, number of citizens, and type of water systems.  In principle, this seems like a great idea, but after so many problems so far, it should be interesting to see how this approach pans out.  After our meeting, we headed back to La Ceiba to buy a bus ticket for Jennilou.  Our last night in Honduras together happened to coincide with our two-year anniversary, so we decided to go out to dinner at my favorite restaurant in town.  Following our meal at Wendy’s, we made sure Jennilou had plenty of snacks for her long day of travel and then hurried home before it got to late to be out at night.


Saturday January 20 – It was sad to see Jennilou off in the morning and even harder to get back to sleep.  The combination of roosters cawing, dogs barking, and worrying about Jennilou made it impossible to get any rest before the start of our day.  Eventually, I salvaged a good hour of slumber, before rising to our days challenge.  Our plan was to inspect, clean, and move the remaining filters at the taller before leaving for Danli.  With fifty-four filters already awaiting paint in the yard, our task was to prepare the remaining forty-six constructed under the first phase of our grant.  Despite being physically demanding, it was very comforting having a tangible goal to achieve.  The three of us got right to work pounding out about nine per hour.  As the sun set, Rob rolled number one hundred out into the yard and lined it up neatly with the others.  Soaked, tired, and pleased we headed back to La Ceiba, stopping once more at the bus station to buy tickets.  For dinner, we cleaned out what was left in the refrigerator and packed for our eight-day trip to Danli.  At dinner, I used the chance to call my parents for the first time on interesting web-based communication network called Skype.