Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Guate Travel and Home Again!

I'm home in Durham, but just wanted to write about traveling in Guatemala with Jess. Our week was incredibly busy and we saw quite a lot of Guatemala :) After meeting Jess at the airport, we took a cab to a bus to Coban, which is a town about 5 hours north of Guatemala City. Although the town isn't that exciting itself, it is a jumping off point for going to Semuc Champey. The first full day we were there, however, we felt like exploring Coban itself instead of hopping on a long bus ride again. As it turns out, there is a fantastic orchid nursery where over 600 varieties of Guatemala's 700 or so varieties grow. Here is a picture of Jess with the orchids:

After the orchid nursery, we took a tour of a coffee farm (finca) where a very knowledgeable guide explained and showed up every aspect of the growing, harvesting and roasting process. Then we got to sit down to taste a cup ...

Our second day in Coban we went to Semuc Champey which is about 2 or so hours away: first a shuttle then the back of a pickup truck. I sat on top of the cab with the luggage and Jess squeezed in the back with about 15 other people. Semuc Champey itself is a series of stepped limestone pools. It is a bit difficult to describe so I've included a picture. We climbed up to a lookout point and then explored the pools and waterfalls for a few hours.

Our travels from Coban to Lago Atitlan were, not to mince words, awful. The van was driven by a guy who must have had a death wish -- even compared to the other crazy drivers that I had ridden with in Guatemala. We stopped in Antigua and were supposed to change shuttles but the person we bought or tickets from had actually not arranged anything for us. This was a large problem because we had to get to Lago Atitlan before dark in order to get a boat to our hotel. The death-wish-first-driver took us to a bunch of different travel agencies to try to find something but got more and more angry at us for taking his time. He wasn't the one who sold us the tickets in the first place and felt no sense of personal responsibility. Anyway, it all came to an ugly climax when he started berating me in Spanish about how I was just like all the Americans who come down and treat Guatemalans horribly. I tried apologizing, offering him a sandwich (he blamed us for his not eating lunch), telling him why I was in Guatemala in the first place ... Nothing worked. He was MAD MAD MAD. So, we got out of the van -- without getting the right amount of money back. It was traumatic. But, as it turned out, we took a chicken bus and arrived in time to get a boat to our hotel. Jess particularly enjoyed the chicken bus, although she was slightly injured by a package that fell on her head from the wrack above. Here she is with a small model bus she got later on in the market as a reminder:

The hotel we stayed in was Casa del Mundo, where I had stayed previously. I don't think I can adequately describe how happy we were to be there. We only spent one night, but had 3 delicious meals, spent a few hours in a hot tub next to the lake at night, and basked in the sun ... Here you can see Jess jumping into the lake and me getting ready to follow.

We spent the next day in Santiago visiting Traci and Jared. It was great to see them again and also to show Jess where I had been living and working. But soon we were off traveling again, this time to Antigua. We were quite lazy in Antigua but did manage to see some impressive churches and I took Jess to a lovely old monastery which has now been incorporated into the hotel Casa Santa Domingo.

Jess and I were on different flights out of Guatemala City and hers ended up being delayed by about 8 hours :( Anyway, I made it home on time that evening, Jess made it home that night at 11:30 and my luggage arrived the next evening.

The first few days I have to admit that I didn't want to leave the house. Or, really get out of bed at all. It is quite wonderful to be home. I've been eating salad, drinking water straight from the tap, going on errands with Chris, catching up with friends, and of course spending quality time with Mojo and Q (cats) and Stella (dog). I just saw that there is a possible medical school rotation in Sri Lanka, but I think I'm going to pass for now :)

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Story of Mexico

After Caye Caulker, flying in to Mexico City was an incredible culture shock! My mom and I stayed in a beautiful colonial hotel near Chapultapec Park. We were there for a few days in the beginning of our trip and were overwhelmed by a huge outdoor book fair (I bought Roald Dahl's Matilda in Spanish), hundreds of public sculptures (many in the shape of chairs) and an enormous park. Oh yeah, and the shower in the hotel was HOT with plenty of water pressure. We went to the Anthropology Museum, to a wonderful modern art museum (Alan Glass exhibit of fanciful diaramas) and a movie (Vicky Christina Barcelona), and took a double decker bus all over the city. After a few days we took a bus up to Queretaro where we stayed in a beautiful B&B (Casa de Santiago). The owners provided everything from a lint brush to delicious cookies to the softest blankets imaginable. And a huge selection of books and movies. Here is a picture from their website of the view from the roof:

Queretaro is a beautiful colonial town a few hours outside of Mexico City. There is everything you could need in this small city! Well, maybe no movie theater. Anyway, we went to San Miguel Allende (think Santa Fe) for the day to visit my aunt's friends. They have lived there for 20 some years and love it. They had a very old and sweet dog who I got to hang out with, but I found out she died the next day :( We also went to a hotel where the mom of a friend of my mom's used to stay for 6 months every year, for 20 years! The ladies there remembered him and were thrilled that my mom's friend had sent us.

The next day we took an 8 hour bus ride to get to Xilitla which is the home of Edward James. James was an eccentric millionaire in the early-mid 1900s who built a surrealist garden in the middle of the mexican jungle, called "Las Pozas". The garden itself is hard to describe, but you can imagine Dr. Suess's illustrations come to life ... Here is a picture:

Anyway, we stayed for two nights in Xilitla and then headed back to Queretaro and then finally back to Mexico City. I fineggled my mom to stay for 5 extra nights which was quite a coup! This time we stayed near the Zocalo and explored that part of the city. They had set up an ice skating rink on the Zocalo as well as a hill with snow on it for kids to sled down. The area was incredibly crowded and exciting! After going inside the main church we watched people getting blessed with incense and feathers ... The juxtaposition of Catholicism and traditional religious/healing rituals was striking! We spent a day down in Coyoacan which is a suburb of Mexico City where the Trotsky House/Museum and Frida Kahlo House/Museum/Studio are located. Both museums were fascinating, especially because Frida and Diego Rivera and Trotsky were all revolutionaries together (until they had an ideological falling out perhaps relating to Trotsky having an affair with Frida). We also went to Museo Diego Rivera -- Anahuacalli -- which he built like a Mayan temple to house his collection of ancient artifacts. Besides hundreds of pieces of pottery etc., this museum housed a installation art exhibit with skeletons (made of animal bones) that dance when you play an organ that is rigged up to them like marionettes. Here is a picture of the artifacts:

The last place in Mexico that we travelled was San Cristobal, Chiapas. San Cristobal is another beautiful, colonial city. We were very lucky to find Bela's B&B on trip advisor ( There was a lush courtyard, fruit/granola/honey/yogurt for breakfast each morning, a very comfortable bed, 3 sweet dogs, and a fabulous hostess. And I got a 90 minute massage (the best!!!) for about $25. We visited a Mayan Medicine museum and an Amber Museum and mostly relaxed. It was a welcome change of pace from Mexico City! Unfortunately, after a few days in San Cristobal, my mom and I had to go our separate ways :( I took a shuttle down to Guatemala and she flew back home to New Mexico. We had a wonderful trip (as usual)!

The shuttle took about 10 hours and I didn't arrive in Panajachel until 6PM at which point it was getting dark and I had to pay someone to take me across the lake since there were no more scheduled boats. It was a little bit scary in the boat, but I very much wanted to get back for New Year's Eve with Traci and Jared and Matt in Santiago. Everything ended up just fine and we had a relaxed but enjoyable end of 2008/ beginning of 2009.

Tomorrow I am going to meet Jess in Guatemala City and we are headed up to Semuc Champey which is supposed to be georgous. I'll update soon :)

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Back in Guatemala!

First of all, Happy Holidays! I hope that 2009 will bring all sorts of wonderful things such as Sunday Brunch, World Peace, and time in the garden.

I am back in Guatemala after a month of traveling. First I met Chris and Laura and Chad in Belize and afterward traveled with my mom in Mexico.

Our trip to Belize was utterly exciting and absolutely relaxing, by turns. We first spent several days in San Ignacio which is very close to the border with Guatemala. The chief excitement of this town is that you can travel to the ATM cave. (Our camera broke so these pictures are from Chad: The entire cave experience was other-worldly: after taking a van and then 8 of us squeezing into and on top of a jeep, you hike through seemingly prehistoric forest to the cave entrance. The river disappears into an enormous yawning cavity. The river is so deep at the beginning in passageways to the large rooms inside that you have to swim (without getting your headlamp wet). The cave system itself is enormous and we hiked inside for about 2-3 hours without exploring even a tenth of the entire thing. There were incredible stalactites and stalagmites as well as ancient pots and skeletons that had been left exactly where they were found.Laura and Chad spent a day in Tikal while we explored ruins closer to San Ignacio where we were staying. (This was after we tried to take a canoe up the river but the guy was too stoned or drunk and never came back after he supposedly went to get the canoe.) Here are L&C visiting Tikal:

We took a bus and then a very very small plane to Ambergris Caye off the coast of Belize. On the way we were going to stop and see a zoo, but left a bag on the bus. The bag contained the camera (before it was broken) so Chris and I tried to catch up with the bus to get the bag at the bus station in Belize City. We were going to try to flag down the next bus and I thought there was a 10% chance that we would ever see the bag and camera again. A very nice group of people picked us up and we rode in the back of their pickup truck to the bus station. Unbelievably, Chris found the bus and the bag was still on it. Furthermore, a guy who the ticket-taker at the zoo had called to try to get the bag for us actually had tried to get it (but wasn't allowed to take it as it wasn't his). He came and found us also! We were so thankful and wanted to give him some money but he didn't want any. So, the entire experience resulted in us meeting some very generous people :) However, then we were in Belize City for a few hours which at least around the bus station is quite poor and seedy. Some drugged out guy started talking to us and calling us racist for not wanting to talk to him etc etc. He was a bit threatening and manipulative (playing on our desire not to be racist). We were relieved when we finally sat down somewhere inside to eat.

Eventually we made it to the airport (2 little airline offices and a small airstrip). The plane to Ambergris was very exciting and we saw hundreds of smaller cays off the coast. San Pedro itself (the city in Ambergris) is very quaint and we stayed in a beautiful condo that had a pool and a outside bar and was right on the water. What's more, the couple who rented us the place were amazingly helpful -- we were spoiled! Besides eating delicious food and drinking fruity drinks, we rented bikes one day to explore the island and went snorkeling another day. Here I am holding a shark and Chris on our bike ride:

After Chris and Laura and Chad flew home (sniff), I went to Caye Caulker. This is the tiny and quieter island and I just stayed in a guest house and read by the water.

After a couple of days I was ready to go to the big city: Mexico City. I will write about Mexico in the next post since there is much to tell. Hope all is well :)

Friday, December 5, 2008


On Tuesday I traveled from Santiago Atitlan to Guatemala City and then up to Flores. The first part of the trip was much easier than expected as I was able to share a shuttle straight from Santiago to the airport instead of first taking a boat and then a bus. It got me to the airport in only about 3 hours rather than the 5 or 6 it would have taken otherwise, but then I had 5 hours in the airport. FYI, there is NOTHING to do or to see in this airport. For the first 2 hours I happily sat in the wonderfully clean food court and eventually enjoyed a Subway sandwich. All of this without any insects to speak of! Eventually I went to the terminal, listened to several Fresh Air podcasts and wandered in and out of ridiculous stores (crystal, ties, watches, makeup etc). After sitting at the gate for an hour or so I began pacing. Soon the caged-animal-like pacing turned into discreet dancing as I had switched to music by that time. I successfully fought the urge to break into a full run up and down the terminal. I don´t know why the caged bird sings because quite frankly I wanted to scream. But, finally I got on the plane which landed in Flores less than an hour later.

Flores is a cute little town on an island in the middle of a lake. I have eaten delicious food (lots of fruit and veggies, not to mention amazing french fries) and visited the Mayan ruins of Tikal. The ruins were spectacular and we had a good guide, but I have to admit that I was even more impressed by the monkeys and birds and strange large rodents that we saw. I will post some pictures later.

Yesterday I went to a small museum on another tiny island in the middle of this lake. Basically it is just the house of a family who loves all-things-radio. History, technology, broadcasting etc. Our guide through the museum knew very little about any of the objects and it was almost funny to hear him holding forth on ´ancient´objects that he clearly had no idea about. However, after the museum part we went into the radio broadcasting studio and talked to the older woman and her son who still live there. There was a broadcast going on, but they both took time to talk to us about the equipment they had in the museum and about radio in general.

I´m about to get on a bus to San Ignacio, Belize where I´ll meet Chris and Laura and Chad. HOORAY! Hopefully next post will contain some pictures :)

Saturday, November 29, 2008

T-day 2008!

I've finished my last full week at the Hospitalito! The time has flown by (mostly) :) Last week was a blur: clinic on Monday and Spanish class, on call on Tuesday, slept on Wednesday and got sick enough to actually not even go to work on Thursday, T-day dinner that night which I unfortunately couldn't resist, and clinic again yesterday with Spanish class and a B-day celebration afterward (complete with pinata!). Some disconnected musings:

1) Thanksgiving dinner was very impressive. Traci and her husband Jared, who are volunteering here in Santiago for a year and are the 'Mom and Dad' at Las Milpas where most of the Hospitalito volunteers live, cooked up a storm! (Here is their blog.) They even got a turkey! Someone who recently came down also brought canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce :) Different people made their favorite T-day foods which were fun to try, and I made an apple crisp (thanks Anne and Stephen for the recipe!) which was a hit. All things considered, it was an excellent T-day (besides the being sick part), but it certainly did make me miss everyone at home! Here is a picture of the feast:

2) Last night we watched the movie 50 First Dates, a romantic comedy with Adam Sandler. It features Drew Barrymore who, a la Groundhog Day, can't remember anything day to day. Now, she certainly 'lives in the moment', but that phrase must mean something different from the inability to make new memories. Any thoughts?

3) Today I finally felt well enough to have a piece of pineapple. If you are not already familiar with my attachment to fruit, suffice it to say that I adore and crave it probably as much as chocolate. Well, I guess I chomped down too hard on my fork. Here is before and after:

I had a little filling between my two front teeth that is no longer there! It is kind of funny because a similar thing happened to me in Morocco when I was very excited about eating salad. I bit down too enthusiastically on the fork and chipped my tooth. Coupled with the GI distress I seem to be prone to acquiring, the tooth problems make me think that perhaps fruits and veggies are a true menace!

4) Today a veterinarian came to town to fix dogs and cats. Some of the other volunteers were saying that it is a lot more efficient in terms of 'family planning' to fix a male dog or cat. I'm not sure if I lost a bit of brain when the filling between my two front teeth came out, but I can't seem to understand. Of course I understand that gestation takes time and so that in one year a male could father many litters. However, as far as I learned in the 80s in school, each baby needs a mother and a father -- so how can it be more efficient to neuter one versus the other? If there are, for example, 2 males and 2 females in the entire population, how does better control the population to neuter one male versus one female? Please please explain this in a way that makes sense. It is driving me crazy.

5) I've been busily making plans for the next month or so. On Tuesday I'm heading up to Tikal, and on Friday to meet Chris, Chad and Laura in Belize. We'll be there for a week with part of the time on the beach :) After that I'll meet my mom in Mexico City for 9 days!! I'll work my way back South stopping at San Cristobal de las Casas and stay back here in Santiago Atitlan over New Year's. Jess is coming to visit from the 5th to the 12th and we will have a few glorious days in Guatemala before I come home. I'm not sure how much I'll get to blog in the next few weeks, but I will take some pictures and post them later ... I hope that everyone is doing well and I would love to hear from you :)

Monday, November 24, 2008


Yesterday a very surprising thing occurred. Someone dropped off my package! Thank you very much Gary and Sue :) I am currently enjoying butterscotch krimpets (Tastykake), cinnamon tea and sitting in bed writing by the light of candles as well as the glow of my computer screen. What a treat to be able to do this, and at 7PM none-the-less ...

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Travelling Across Lake Atitlan

Yesterday we went to Pana in the morning and did touristy things until about 2PM. The day after that point was quite terrible but before I tell you about it I want to show you a painting I got from a gallery/meditation garden/workshop of a Mayan painter from Panajachel. We had a wonderful tour by the artist's wife and one of the many bizarre things we saw is this cow/monster painted onto the natural face of the rock. I see an elephant in the picture that I got, but what I like most is that it reminds me of this wonderful museum/studio.

Well, then we went to lunch which was lovely until we received a phone call from the Hospitalito. I was with a family medicine doc, a pediatrician, the volunteer coordinator and her husband. The information we got from the hospital is that a boat had sunk in the lake, and there were about 12 people on board some of whom had died before being rescued. The survivors were being brought to the Hospitalito but there were only 2 people working at that time: one doctor and one nurse. We were called and asked to come back immediately.

The ride over to Pana had been a little rough, but to be honest I didn't think it was that bad (compared to going to San Pedro on Tuesday). But sometimes the wind does pick up in the afternoon and with it the waves as well. So we had a bit of a dilemma because we could either take a big, slow and perhaps safer boat back or take a small, fast and perhaps less safe boat back to Santiago. In the end we hired a small boat just for the 5 of us and made sure there were enough life jackets (which we all wore). It was, to say the least, a nerve wracking 30 or so minutes. We saw from the boat that there were about 100 people or so all crowded at the boat dock where we later learned two bodies had been taken to shore.

When we arrived at the Hospitalito there was one French woman who was hypothermic and had aspirated quite a bit of water. I think that her husband had died shortly after arriving at the Hospitalito. I don't want to say too much more to respect their confidentiality, but here is a link to a news clip about the accident. The Malaysian archbishop also died in the accident. Apparently this was the first accident/drowning in 7 years on the lake. We ended up stabilizing the woman and transferring her to a private hospital in Guatemala City. Riding in the back of the ambulance on Guatemalan roads through mountains was, well, not easy on the stomach. It took a little bit over 3 hours to get to the hospital, but it seemed like a very good hospital where she would be in good hands. Here is a picture of Jen (family medicine doc) on the way home in the ambulance. I slept (quite soundly) on the floor of the ambulance on the way back and didn't wake up until we arrived back at the Hospitalito around 2:30AM.

I've thought a lot today about the accident, the people who died and their families. It is still a shock that something like this could have happened. Hundreds of people travel in these boats across the lake every day. I travel in these boats several times a week without ever having seriously considered that something so awful could happen. I did go out on the lake today in a kayak, but stayed very close to shore and wore my life preserver. Apparently the passengers on the boat were urging the captain to go more slowly or turn around but he didn't listen. I believe he is currently in police custody. Supposedly it might be safer for him with the police as I've been told that the community sometimes takes justice into their own hands.

Well, I think that is enough to report for one entry. Today Lago Atitlan, supposedly one of the most beautiful lakes in the world, feels to me like a monster.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The Home Stretch at Hospitalito!

Well it is 8 PM Friday night and I am finally relaxing in bed. It has been kind of a long week; I worked 7AM Monday to 7AM Tuesday, 7AM Wednesday to 7AM Thursday, Thursday afternoon and all day today. But, both call nights I got quite a bit of rest and I had Tuesday off. Let me share with you some of the week:

Monday: I got to catch a baby! Mom had a post-partum hemorrhage which was kind of scary but bimanual pressure on the uterus (one in one out) actually seemed to help stop the bleeding. Later in the night there was a woman who had a spontaneous, incomplete abortion at 9 weeks. She has 5 kids already but this was her 2nd in a row and needless to say it was tough.

Tuesday: This was the last week of one of the volunteers (Camilo) and so I tried to go with him to the lake-side town of San Marcos. However, the lake was so rough that not very many boats were running and as it turned out the first boat ride to San Pedro was more than enough for us. I felt pretty sick but was kind of relieved to see that the Guatemalans on the boat also looked scared and sick. I'd rather be vindicated but unsafe rather than wrong and safe! So Camilo and I spent the day hanging out in San Pedro. We at a lot:Luckily the boat on the way back was less terrifying and as an added plus the sunset was gorgeous. Here I am at the front of the boat and also a view of Santiago from the lake:

Wednesday: On call again. A 13 year old came in unconscious and having vomited blood. She had a blood glucose of 11 (very, very low). The family said that this happened all of a sudden. They were convinced she was going to die and wanted to go home rather than be transferred to another hospital. After quite a bit of convincing (during which time we couldn't get any other blood work because, among other things, the person who processes labs was sick), the family agreed that she could be transferred to Solola, about 2 or so hours away. Well, she made it to Solola, and they were working on transferring her to Guatemala City when she died. The thing is that she started kind of making sounds after we gave her some dextrose (sugar) ... I guess as is often the case we will never know what happened.

Thursday: I spent the morning getting my travel plans together for the remainder of the trip. I feel very good about having gotten my tickets (first Tikal, then Belize with Laura and Chad and Chris, then Mexico with my mom, then St. Cristobal de las Casas, then back to Guatemala for travels with Jess). In the afternoon I went back to the hospital to do prenatal clinic, and had dinner with the other volunteers because it was Camilo's last night here. We had a delicious zucchini quiche and carrot cake for dessert.

Friday: Clinic was super busy this morning but quieted down in the afternoon. Class with my Spanish teacher was good today. I've been having a 2 hour lesson about 3 times per week and I think it is helping (finally). I also got a phone call from my host mom that they picked up the package in Guatemala city. I think that is what the message said anyway :)

Tomorrow we are planning to go to Panajachel which is the most built up town on the lake. I hope that the lake isn't too rough (there were actually white-capped waves the other day when we went to San Pedro). I think that we're going to make a T-day dinner and need to pick up many of the ingredients. Is everyone looking forward to Thanksgiving??

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Guatemalan Post System

This will be a quick post, but I just want to find out what you think about the following:

I have received one very nice package with cookies in it without a problem (Thank you Gary!!).

However, last week I got a letter from the post office saying that I had to call them because there was a package for me in Guatemala City. My host mom called for several days and finally talked to someone who said I had to go to the post office here in Santiago and pay about $15. So, I made repeated attempts to go to the post office which has no posted hours and is rarely open. On my 5th attempt I was able to talk to the postman who was quite surly and said that I had to come back not only with my passport and the money but also with the letter advising me of the arrival of my package.

I asked him why there was this extra charge whereas in the past I had received a package without having to pay extra. He had no answer.

The thing is that I don't mind paying but I feel like it is just a bribe of sorts and I really didn't like this guy at the post office. My host family is going to Guatemala City this weekend and they said they might be able to pick it up from there.

So, should I just suck it up and pay and try not to role my eyes and sigh with exasperation too much? I will be interested to hear your opinions!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sick :(

I just would like to take a moment to complain that I am sick of getting sick. You can't really go anywhere or eat anything. All I can say is hostile microbes of my GI tract beware. Your days are numbered. (I hope.)

In other news, clinic Friday was quite busy. The exciting thing for me is that there was a chart with a post-it note on it that said "Rebecca," which indicates that this patient actually wanted to come back and see me in particular again :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Random Pictures and The Summit

The hospital: the laboratory and wash area for patients and families (no food is provided).

Pictures from Volcan Pacaya (the hike we went on from Antigua) where there was real, live flowing lava. This is actually a view of another volcano that frequently sends off plumes of smoke.

Before I describe the ascent of Volcan San Pedro, I'd like to report what I considered to be a frightening experience. It happened while I was on call last night. The Guatemalan doctor I was on call with was busy taking care of a patient with 2cd degree burns on his arm (the burns had occurred about 5 hours earlier but he had to keep working at the bakery until he arrived around 10PM to the hospitalito). Anyway, two women rush in and say there is an emergency but that the patient can't walk so can't make it in the hospital. An unconscious patient is embarrassingly enough already enough to freak me out. So somehow they carry in the patient -- woman, mid 20s -- while I'm trying to remember how to assess her. For some reason Dominga, the doctor on call, was not at all frantic about this and didn't even really move much from the burn patient. Anyway, the unconscious patient was found this way in her house and apparently something similar has happened in the past. She wasn't responsive to questions, but her vital signs were just fine. Finally, vigorous sternal rub produced some response. I couldn't ascertain any medical history and as it turns out she and her family agreed that it was an 'attack of nerves' brought on by her husband coming home drunk and fighting with her. So basically, all this to say she just fainted. Dominga and the nurse said that this happens quite frequently to women here in Santiago and that is why they weren't really concerned. Well, now I know.

Luckily the rest of the night was uneventful and I got plenty of rest because this morning we headed across the lake on a 7:00 AM boat to San Pedro to begin the hike up the volcano.We rode in the back of a truck to the entrance to the park which houses the volcano and arrived around 8. It was overall a rewarding hike but quite strenuous. We went with a guide (and there were armed police kind of trailing us). The guide wanted us to hurry up and get to the top because the cloud cover obscures the view in the afternoon. I was more of a slow and steady hiker which was good because otherwise I don't think I would have made it the 2-3 hours up the mountain. I don't that switch backs have really made it big here in Guatemala. The peak is at around 3000 meters, but the start of the hike is not at sea level. Never-the-less, it was more than enough for me! The view at the top was indeed mostly of clouds and not of the entire lake region, but by that time I was just happy to have made it :) The hike down was blissful by comparison to the way up.

After the hike we ate lunch outside overlooking the lake and then I got chocolate cake. Yum. I am currently working on the idea that I should shower before crawling into bed (it being
6PM and all I don't want to delay it any further)! Just one more day of work and then the weekend :) I am almost at the half-way point of my journey and am looking forward to coming home and seeing everyone again!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Ridiculously Relaxing Trip

So, for numerous reasons, last week was quite stressful. Not to worry! Just two boat rides away from Santiago is Paradise. Let me show it to you:This is Casa Del Mundo, a hotel in Jaibalito which is pretty much as close to Paradise as I've been recently :)

Thursday night I had call (which was relatively uneventful) and
on my way home Friday morning all I could think about was going away somewhere. There are two great places to stay here in Santiago, but I wanted a complete change of pace. So, I went off to Jaibalito, by way of San Pedro which is another village on the lake. Actually on the boat to San Pedro I ran into someone who used to live here at the house with me. I had a snack with her and her friends in San Pedro in a bougainvillea covered veranda overlooking the lake.

Here is a map (North is Down for some reason) of the lake. The place I stayed (Jaibalito) is so small that it isn't on this map. It is between Santa Cruz and San Marcos I think. Anyway, when I got there I was a little bit desperate for R&R and found my way quickly to Volcano Lodge.

The first wonderful thing about Volcano Lodge is that there is a beautiful garden all around the cabins. The second wonderful thing, which I didn't find out until later, is that there is HOT HOT water in the showers which is something not to be found where I am living in Santiago. I took two 20 minute showers in 2 days which is a record for me as I generally find bathing about as much fun as going to the dentist. I went down to the lake to swim and read for the afternoon and finished my book (Veronica by Nicholas Christopher, entertaining and fanciful but not superb) which I was able to trade in for a new one at the hotel (Golden Country by Jennifer Gilmore, Jewish family saga from 1920s-1930s centering on what it means to be successful). Dinner came in 4 courses and I sat with an interesting couple who live in Guatemala City. He: American, used to be in the
military, now working at the embassy and for NGOs. She: born in Guatemala City, quite Evangelical, was the head of a family planning organization in Guatemala.

Unfortunately that night I didn't sleep very well -- fevers, chills etc -- which I took as a sign not go climb Volcan San Pedro the next day. Instead of going home to get my hiking boots and meet up with the other people going for the hike, I went to the other hotel (Casa del Mundo)
and spent the night there. I didn't take full advantage of the views and location as I slept for a good bit of the day, but I was super happy to be there every time I woke up and realized where I was. I skipped dinner secondary to GI distress (seems to be a dependable part of life here) but breakfast this morning was delicious!! I hung out with an American woman who now works in Antigua (Guatemala) for a while and we went to a nearby restaurant for coffee. You sit and drink coffee and look out over the lake with the volcanoes in the distance. All I can say is WOW!

On my way back to Santiago I walked around San Pedro again, this time through the marshy/forresty/hippy part. I got 2 new books which is very exciting: The Kite Runner (which I have glanced through before but never slowly and completely read) and Mirrors of the Unseen (Jason Elliot, about Iran). I know Isabel Allende or Marquez might be more relevant :) The guy who ran the bookstore was fun to talk to -- he is currently interested in ethnobotany/space cookies.

Anyway, I'm back now in Santiago and am ready for another week! I feel quite refreshed :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Babies Galore

Some pictures around Santiago ...

My last call night was a bit stressful. We had two sick babies, one of whom was septic. The septic baby was getting so little oxygen that he looked almost white. It took about 45 minutes of attempting to put in an IV to finally get one. The Hospitalito does not have ICU level care and we wanted to send the baby to Solola (the closest hospital, about 1-2 hours away) but the family didn't want him to go. The dad was not in the picture and the family didn't have the money for the transfer and medical care at the other hospital. Meanwhile, the mom kept asking me if we would 'save the baby'. We had to get social services involved and finally the baby was transferred to Solola. The last I heard, he had arrived at the other hospital. I wonder what the answer to Mom's question turned out to be.

Then, in the middle of the night, came a pregnant woman who was having vaginal bleeding. She was approximately 35 or 36 weeks (almost term) and pretty much in labor when she arrived. There was a question of placental abruption and a question of how far along she really was. Luckily, she did not continue to bleed very much and the baby, although only 2 kg, was just fine.

This weekend we went to Antigua for Dia de los Muertos. The trip did not have an auspicious beginning with 4 people sitting in the back seat of a 4 door pickup truck, one of whom lost her lunch about 2 hours into the journey. Then the hotel we were going to stay at was completely booked. Luckily, the weekend improved considerably from there :) I called other hotels frantically and we finally found a good one. Inexpensive and clean. Plus, hot hot showers. I haven't been so excited to take a shower probably in years. Antigua is a beautiful city, more European than anything else. On Friday night the streets were filled with people (Gringos and Guatemalans) dressed up in goulish or slutty (or both) costumes.

On Saturday we travelled to a nearby town for the kite (barriletas) festival that is held each year. (First we ate breakfast and I got a cinnamon raisin bagel!!!!!) The kites were made out of intricately cut tissue paper and ranged in size from 5 to 30 feet in diameter. There were all sorts of prizes, for aesthetics, time of flight etc. It was a roudy event with lots of Guatemalan fare food and marimba music. That night we went to a delicous restaurant!! We also went to see a convent-turned-hotel where one of the volunteers is going to get married. I must admit that the place was quite magical.

On Sunday morning two of us climbed up a volcano with a guide. We left the hotel at 6AM. The hike up took about 1.5 hours -- it was gorgeous and we could see smoke coming out of other nearby volcanoes. Moreover, there was FLOWING LAVA! The side of the volcanoe was covered with black sand (from igneous rock?) and strange very sharp rock formations. It was quite windy at the top but the lava radiated quite a bit of heat. (My camera ran out of batteries before getting to Antigua or else I would have some pictures.) We took buses back to Santiago which was fine except for the very creepy guy with two gold teeth and one with a diamond on it who was really insistent. I am about to fall alseep so I'd better go. I hope you are all doing well!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Two Surprises!

Today I went with some of the other volunteers back to San Marcos (a small town by the lake). It was a beautiful day, we jumped off cliffs into the lake, and:

1) I found someone to bring back my ballot so that perhaps my vote will get counted.

2) I had a Tofu sandwich.

What a delight!

It seems I may be in Central America from around Christmas to January 12 with no apparent travel or work plans. Does anyone want to come meet me somewhere???

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Long Time No Post!

On The Road to Sipacate ...

On The Road to the Ocean ...

Just some Rest and Relaxation

This mural asks: which way do you want: God, Cigarettes, Love, Death, Prostitution or Alcohol? Any preferences?

After the last post I did end up getting out of bed eventually, and it was a good thing too! That weekend we went to Sipacate which is a beach a few hours away from Santiago. To get there we took a van, a few buses and a boat. The buses here are all retired US school buses (>10 years or 100,000 miles) which are repainted a garish red and somehow accommodate about twice as many people as I remember ever fitting in them in elementary school. (Similarly, often times you will see a family of four precariously balancing on one motor bike or bicycle.) The boat (shown above) takes passengers from a dock so small it almost doesn't exist across a mangrove-inhabited brackish canal to the one motel that sits on the beach. The 6 of us who went stayed in one room, but mostly we were either on the beach or on the porch/bar/restaurant area, which was complete with hammocks. We ate and drank well! Sipacate seems to be more a Guatemalan than a gringo destination. The beach was expansive and the ocean a welcome respite from the incredible heat and humidity. We stayed over on Sunday night and on Monday, which was a holiday, all the people at the hotel lined up on the beach and were each given a baby sea turtle to release. The sea turtles raced/wandered to the ocean.

We took several buses back to Santiago and got a chance to see the transition from the coast to the mountains. We also saw quite a few housing projects (perhaps government-sponsored?) which were not inhabited. It seems that abandoned or not-yet completed buildings are the rule rather than the exception here! I have heard various reasons for the unfinished houses including that until you finish your house (cutting the rebar etc.) you don’t have to pay taxes. I wonder how many people pay taxes anyway … This week back at the hospital was very busy, partly because Monday was a holiday and partly because 2 medical students and 1 resident left. Also, we didn’t have clinic on Friday morning due to a meeting for all the people working at the hospital. I’m not sure if it was because I wasn’t feeling well or because I didn’t understand most of it, but the meeting was interminable. It was half rally cry for the staff to work together and half presentation of statistics about the hospital. I have never seen so many numbers on one slide with such intricate PowerPoint transitions and graphics communicating so little information.

Friday was a sad day as there was a delivery of a fetus that died in utero at 8 months to a 20 year old woman who had already lost one three-month old baby. This couple had to be right across the hall from a huge rejoicing family who just had their third or fourth baby on Thursday. Although we got a few new patients during the day and the evening on Friday, everyone was set to go home today! It was a very quiet night and I spent a few hours talking to the nurse who was on call. I think my Spanish may be improving a bit. Last week I had 3 classes with my Spanish teacher which, while exhausting after work, was quite helpful. Also, a pharmacy technician who is volunteering at the Hospitalito just moved into the Sojuel’s house with me. I’m not sure how long she will end up staying here, but it is wonderful to have her here! When I was sick this week she tended to me and I think that just listening to her talk is soothing, which may be partially due to her being from Ireland.

One other thing before I go: I got my ballot today!!! So, I can get mail here. It takes about 3 weeks. My address is:

Francisco Sojuel (Rebecca Stein)

Canton Xechivoy

Santiago Atitlan 07019

Solola, Guatemala C.A.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Reasons Not to Get Out of Bed

1) Yesterday I was on call. In fact I did sleep quite a bit, but this is a good excuse.
2) It is still raining.
3) Thursday there was an earthquake.
4) Thursday night while cooking the stove exploded. It moved about a foot, the racks were thrown off of it and the fruit salad capsized. We were very lucky because it seems that if the gas line had been broken it would have been a lot worse. No one was hurt.
5) Friday night someone robbed the house of a volunteer while she was home. She is okay, but he did hit her resulting in an impressive black eye and the need for some stitches.

Are you convinced?

Thursday, October 16, 2008

24 hours of rain?

The hospital and clinic were quite busy this week. I was thinking about going to study Spanish somewhere for 1-2 weeks, but it seems that I, and the 3 other med students and 4 residents, are gainfully employed/volunteered. One day I stitched up a gash on a 2 year old's forehead. This made me reconsider my plan to get some thread from the market here and try to embroider. That same day on my way home I was looking for a dog to give my leftover meat from lunch to. I found a very appreciative dog and all was well. But then I continued on my way home and happened upon the Saddest Dog in Santiago Atitlan. I'd seen it before: all skin and bones and mange. But I had already given away my meat, so I went to get some bread from a tienda. Much to my embarrassment I couldn't hold it together long enough to complete the purchase and pretty much fell apart in front of the shopkeeper. I think she was baffled by my explanation which was along the lines of "sad, sick, hungry dog". Anyway, the dog seemed to enjoy the bread and I may have prolonged its miserable life a little bit. (Until it eats the poisoned meat that the city puts out periodically to control the dog population.)

I was shaken out of my despair when I got home by a very large spider on the wall next to my bed. I tried to collect it with a coffee cup, but it was TOO BIG! A cereal bowl, however, did the trick. I know that spiders are supposed to be good, and Charlotte was wonderful and all, but I think this spider could have bitten off one of my digits. I didn't take it too far away from the house and we may meet again ... I hope I don't shriek this time. Where did this visceral fear come from, anyway.

Instead of going elsewhere to a Spanish school, I decided to just hire a tutor here in Santiago. Today was my first lesson, which lasted 2 hours. It is about $5 per hour, which is more than other places, but I am really hoping it will help. We just talked and read stories, which I summarized. I even have an assignment which reminds me of second grade: use all the words that I didn't know from the stories in sentences. I think I used to try to use all the spelling words in one sentence. I'm afraid that my grammatical skills (or lack thereof) will not allow me to do this in Spanish, but maybe the next set of words :)

Tonight I'm going to eat dinner with some of the other volunteers and tomorrow is call in the emergency room of the hospital again. I hope that it stops raining so I can go to San Pedro over the weekend!