A village walk or two

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Good morning. My summer adventures continue today with a few days backpacking with Katina Daanen as she continues her flip flop Appalachian Trail thru-hike. I thought I would share some favorite Honduran village scenes today before I head off to Vermont.

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What a profusion of flowers grace the humble homes of Honduras.

 

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May spotted a few pink chicks in a village yard. It turns out that villagers dye the chicks, for Easter and other times of the year as well.
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Decorative windows add character and charm

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Coffee is often grown, dried, roasted, and ground at home.
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This would have be fun…we spent most of our time walking!
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Parque Nacional Montana de Santa Barbara

One day, members of our mission team had the opportunity to hike up into the largely undeveloped national park whose boundary is just above the village where we work. Somehow I came away without a photo of our guide, Mario Orellano, who has won numerous conservation awards for his work as a naturalist. Mario loves to share his knowledge with us and this was my fourth time up the mountain with him, although after the rainy deluges of the prior week, this was the slipperiest scramble up to date.

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The mountain abounds in orchards and each visit unveils new specimens.

In the United States, national parks usually come with a bounty of infrastructure. This particular park in Honduras has very little. The trail that we took, up through the family’s coffee plantation and on into the cloud forest, is one that Mario himself has hacked out from the tangle of vegetation. Each visit reveals new fungi, orchids, insects, and plants. Multi-day tours up into the national park are also available through D&D Adventures, associated with the lodge where I stayed in Los Naranjos at the beginning of my trip.

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I love to try to capture the hues, textures, and lines of the verdant foliage. Who cares if only one photo out of twenty is any good? The rest live on in my memory.

 

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Poisonous trees, poisonous snakes (like a bright green palm pit viper that can kill you in 2 hours and which Mario has seen only 4 times in 50 years), and poisonous caterpillars. It is not all orchids, sunshine, and mountain vistas on a stroll through this national park.

 

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Kim is holding the handle of a fragment of Mayan pottery. Over the years, Mario has discovered artifacts such as animal-inspired flutes, sting rays spines, knives, and pipes.

 

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Both the Lenca and Maya lived here and, to Mario’s trained eye, piles of stone reveal themselves as Mayan tombs or the foundation of a Lenca home.
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Goodbye for now…look for more soon from largely undiscovered Honduras!

On a Mission

Hello. I arrived safely home in the early hours of July 4th after a smooth trip. Delta tantalized me with the possibility of delaying my return for a day for a $600 voucher, plus hotel and food. Sadly, in the end they did not need my seat after all.

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The story of our week in the tiny mountain village of El Playon, in the central highlands of Honduras, begins with Hurricane Mitch back in 1998. In response to the devastation then, the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ began a relationship that continues today, the Maine Honduras Partnership with the E&R church in Honduras. Our trip was the last of many to this particular village, although work will continue in other locations. Since 2007, 15 simple but safe block homes have been constructed here.

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Upon arrival, both homes were at a similar stage of construction. Most of our work involved carrying blocks, screening sand, moving dirt, and filling cracks between the blocks with cement. This home was being constructed for a young family with two small children.

 

For the majority of the time, I worked on the home that was much farther away, about a 3/4-mile walk through the village. Below is Juancito, a 20-year-old man with Down syndrome, whom I have known since 2008 and who will live here with his grandmother. This family exemplifies the type of situation where outright assistance is very beneficial.

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Juancito worked long and hard and was always quick with a smile and a thank you.

 

The cinder block homes usually replace those constructed of clay and sticks, in the form of homemade bricks. With adobe brick construction, wall crevices can harbor dangerous insects like the chagus bug, which carries a potentially fatal disease. The new homes have two bedrooms, a simple bathroom with shower, kitchen, and living room. The family then adds improvements, such as a wood-fired stove, window grills, patios, and more.

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The materials to replace a home cost about $4,000 and are donated by the members of the mission team. The homes being replaced are generally not as nice as this one.

 

Stay tuned for photos of the homes at the end of the week. I wanted to get a post up and am only about halfway through sorting through my photos.

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Several men in the village are skilled masons and serve as site managers. Here Wilmer uses plumb lines and a plumb bob to level the next course of blocks. Megan and I were on the team that constructed a home for Wilmer and his family back in 2008.

Fuerte de San Fernando de Omoa 

Hello from the Atlanta airport, where the restaurant waiter seems astounded that all I want to eat is salad and bread (not that I didn’t enjoy the Honduran food). By the early hours of the Fourth of July, I’ll be back in my own bed. My photos from the village are on my camera (not my phone), so I’ll be posting the news from our time there soon. 

Yesterday our mission team headed to Omoa, to visit an old Spanish fort in what was once the busiest port in Central America and to relax and swim on a Caribbean beach.

 

This is absolutely the best picture I have ever had of myself with dear friends Tula and Reinaldo. In the background is the 18th century fort of San Fernando de Omoa, built to protect huge shipments of gold and silver from English and French pirates.
 
 
Our guide Julio spoke English quite well and unfurled the history of the fort with humor. Here we see the shield of the king of Spain .
 

The fort was finished in 1775, after 16 years of labor by 650 African-American slaves. Their heritage is reflected in the black population of parts of Honduras. Our guide Julio sang for us, demonstrating the acoustic properties of the chapel, described the tortuous punishments for wayward soldiers, and left us alone to enjoy the fruit bats that now inhabit some rooms of the fort. Of course, I loved that!

My first swim in the Caribbean Sea. After the refreshing lake waters that I’m used to, it was far too warm.

Well, we’re boarding now, so more later.

Definitely the most welcome piña colada in memory!

Becoming hondureña for a time

  

I am not Honduran and I never will be. On the plane here, though, as the news of our approach to San Pedro Sula came over the speaker in Spanish and English, I reflected on the culture that I would be joining for a small while. The simple turkey and cheese sandwich on the flight, the hot tea the flight attendant had made me…food here is energy for work, often very hard work. Life centers on that which feeds us, the families, the community, faith and always gratitude to God, at least in the villages.

  
For two weeks, I wanted to leave behind the trappings of our American life. Not that Honduras is without trappings. Those with resources dress much more formally and everyone treats each other with a more formal type of politeness. Americans are more casual about so much. We often take for granted our blessings, our confidence, our waste.

When I am here, I try to blend in with the customs, attitude and pace of the people. To wear capris instead of shorts, for example. Although yesterday I wore my bathing suit when suddenly presented with the plan of going swimming. I’m not sure what else I would have done. Later, my interpreter Karina told me that Honduran women don’t usually wear bathing suits, but she wishes that they would. 

The people here who I respect the most, the ones whose lives are as I would live mine, are quiet people, usually, though there are exceptions.
I close my eyes and return to the kitchen of José and Patty after church on Wednesday. There was hearty side-stitching giggling over some story shared about their boys who study finance together. The giggles continued as they walked me home through the dark velvet night. There is passion, too, sometimes loud, in those who lead the worship services and in the drumming of William, aged 9, the son of the pastor.

  
But in their demeanor, their ordinary conversation, Hondurans are quiet. I wonder why Americans are so often boisterous and silly? It makes me want to be someplace else, to apologize. So in the days that lie ahead, may I become as Honduran as I can be, to communicate my caring and respect with more than just my words.

NOTE: Part of our mission team was stuck in Miami last evening with a cancelled flight, giving me in unplanned day to relax at my hotel!

An industrial mechanic one day?

There is nothing so unexpected as travel. Right now I am at a hotel in the  city of Santa Barbara, Honduras when I had originally planned to still be in my cabin at D&D. I’ve come to the restaurant for dinner, only to discover a huge medical mission team celebrating their last evening together. The restaurant is vibrating with positive energy and a full-fledged concert by a couple of the leaders. At the moment, in between Christian songs, they are offering up a challenge. Someone calls out a year and they instantly play a song from that year. They’re good, too. 

Fredy was supposed to come to D&D for our visit today. For those of you who don’t know Fredy, he is the young man that I sponsor through an organization called Unbound, that works here in Honduras.

Fredy took this selfie of us, proving that the younger generation is more tech savvy in any country.

Unbound is a name that captures the organization’s philosophy that all people deserve the chance to pursue their dreams. Fredy’s dream, as he shared today, is to be an industrial mechanic, a career for which there is a trade school in nearby Chinda. That could change, as we all know who have had an almost sixteen year old in our lives. But it is a dream to hold onto, to be inspired by for now. And he could continue to live at home.

Look, Mom, it’s your favorite shirt of the many that you washed and ironed, and it fits just fine.

So I’m here, instead of there, because logistically it was much simpler and gave us more time for visiting. Tomorrow morning I will join the rest of our mission team here in Santa Barbara and begin our week of work building homes in the mountains up above the city.

  

Not only did we swim in the hotel’s pool, but we played Jenga and I taught everyone how to play Uno, two of my students’ favorite games. Fredy came with his father Rigoberto, who joined in the fun.
 
    

As if today needed any more excitement, after we finally had to say goodbye, I was lying down in my room flipping through the photos. Suddenly, a key started rattling in the lock and my door started opening and I started yelling. Whoever it was retreated very quickly. I scrambled to the door, opened it, and saw several men, one of whom was actually carrying a gun. The door doesn’t have any kind of a deadbolt, so I did stroll down to the desk later to a very sincere and elaborate apology from the manager, who assured me that I am quite safe. I hope so, as I am headed to bed to enjoy my last night in a spacious private room. 

Just a few more photos…

Boats rest along the canal that leads to Lago de Ypjoa

The patterns of nature, like those of friendship, faith, and hope, are the same the world over.
 
 
“If ever you’re in Vancouver, you must let us know,” Isabel and Jerry kindly offered. “If we’re home!”
  
Every day there are new plants that catch my eye here at D&D Brewery and Lodge. I’m already dreaming of returning for a longer stay…more smoothies and chicken quesadillas and pineapple chicken and, of course, more adventures. Until then, que le vaya bien!
 

Please can I stay longer?

The time is flying by like you cannot believe. I need weeks, not days, here. I’m loving the sunny days and torrential rains, all the Spanish, the super group of people who happened (?) to be here this week, the hummingbirds, the flowers, my cabin hammock, I could go on…

One of my new friends, Jennie from Sweden, generously shared this amazing photo that she captured during her travels in Central America. There are 42 species of hummingbirds in Honduras and I have been hoping to see one of the species with a long curved beak. Yesterday I lay in my hammock watching one bird alight on the same perch over and over. To my amateur eye, it looked much like this one.

Today I said farewell to my Vancouver friends Jerry and Isabel and went to visit José, the pastor, and his wife Patty. We had so much fun sorting through some of the children’s clothes that I brought, delighting in the fact that they could be purchased in the U.S. for only a tiny fraction of the cost of used American clothing purchased here. 

Being welcomed into the home of friends so very far away, to sit visiting over local coffee in another language adds a dimension my time here that is as rewarding or more than the putdoor adventures.
Two local girls in their new outfits. Most of the clothing I brought was purchased 3 items for a dollar at an outgrown shop in our Maine town. Patty says clothing would cost about ten times more here.

José kindly went with me to the larger nearby town of Peña Blanca to exchange more dollars for lempiras at the hardware store. This is not done at banks, where there are always armed guards and only bank customers can even enter the building. This town housed the public library that we have been supporting and which sadly is no more.

The owners of the hardware store no longer are donating space for the public library, which used to live here. The book collection has been donated to a girls home and school in the same town.

This is my last evening in Los Naranjos and then I will be traveling to Santa Barbara tomorrow to visit my sponsored child Fredy and his family.  Farewell, D&D Brewery and Lodge, D&D Adventures, and all my friends here. Hasta la próxima vez con la ayuda de Dios.

  

Kayaking Lago de Yohoa


In past years, the only option for renting a kayak here was a double sit-on-top style, which Megan and I used two years ago. Bobby is constantly upgrading, though, and today I rented a 10-foot single kayak for $10 for the day, including delivery of boat and paddler to the water.

The photo uploading is not cooperating tonight, so you will have to use your imagination to picture the artsy shots of rustic wooden boats and distant glimpses of the vast and plentiful array of birds.

I will try to paint a picture with words instead. From the village, a canal leads to the lake, passing clusters of boats in a palette of sun-faded colors. Today all the fisherman were throwing hand lines, but three years ago a spear fisherman bubbled up with startling suddenness from the depths, emerging right next to our rowboat. That was my first time on the lake, when I took the official birding tour.

Speaking of birds, they are everywhere. Some are as familiar as home, similar or identical species. Egrets, kingfishers, phoebes, grackles, grebes, and herons. The green heron, in particular, is such an elegant bird and quite common here. I saw at least a dozen this morning alone.

Then there are the unique birds. The snail kite is a large hawk that feeds primarily on the lake’s large snails. It actually goes as far north as southern Florida, but never further. I watched one for a while, its regal bearing unruffled as I lingered nearby. It never moved, but behind the perfectly focused bird in my binoculars, an ever-changing panorama of mountains unfolded as the wind slowly turned my boat.

Northern jacanas are incredibly numerous, exotic and interesting. Their bills and foreheads are yellow, but that is nothing compared to their opened wings, which are a bright yellow in contrast to their dark glossy black and brown bodies. Altogether a weird and fascinating bird, which can even run along on top of the lake’s massive lily pads.

After my fill of birds, I stopped to swim. The bottom was a bit squishy but the water felt clean and I had swum there before. For me, the perspective of any lake seems different, more impressive, when you are in it. Always I pause and just look, absorbing the reality that I am actually there. Last summer, and again today, I swam, I reflected, and I remembered that every day is indeed a gift.

Cerro Azul Meambar National Park

  
The evening rains have begun, pouring down upon a country in true need of the life-giving water. Yesterday, as we drove past sloping fields of corn and sugarcane, Roman told me how dry the spring had been. 

The downpour has gathered us around a simple wooden table, like family united by the bonds of travel. The steady rhythm on the metal roof began gently, but is growing ever stronger, accompanied now by some serious thunder. Safe and dry, we travel with our stories, from continent to continent, and it is amazing to think that this is the life that all the others have been living for months or even years.

Later, while I was writing this, a swarm of brown, lacy-winged insects appeared, driven in perhaps by the solid wall of water. On the rafters above, a gecko is in heaven, feasting, his tongue flicking out again and again amid the bounty. This day has been a good one.

The future of Honduras lies with people like Walter, who used resources like missionaries and a well-known ornithologist living nearby, to learn both birds and English.

A rustic cemetery, alive with birds, was our first stop. The hour was still early and Walter was quick to call out the species. The golden-fronted woodpecker, crimson-colored and blue-gray tanagers, the Montezuma oropendola, white-collared seedeater, and sulphur-bellied flycatcher. The exotic names and brilliant colors were soon swirling around in my mind as I jotted notes.

  

When we walked down from the cemetery, we discovered a vehicle full of soldiers waiting for us. They were assigned to protect the national park. Walter assured me that it was the park resources that were in danger, not us. However, one of the soldiers, Luis, walked with us for a couple of hours (with his gun) as we continued upward toward the park. 

Once inside the park, we were free to roam on our own and quickly found a blue-crowned motmot. Walter was able to set up his spotting scope and I got a good look at this beautiful species, with its long and delicate double tail. PANACAM, as the national park is commonly known, is home to over 250 species of birds, many butterflies, and the waterfall pictured below.Tomorrow I go kayaking on Lago de Yojoa!

A swim under the waterfall brought me back to life after the long, hot walk.