On Friday the 20th of June, we had our Teacher’s Day celebration. This consisted of going to a restaurant with all the teachers from our municipality and having a lunch and some presentations of awards. Of course, I am in Guatemala, so we also had to perform for one another. I was actually up in front of everyone twice, once with all of my teachers as we performed a dance to Thriller (check it out… ridiculous!) and the second time I was pulled up without knowing what it was for with my director. As it turns out, we had to prove our masculinity with a “campesino yell.” Think the high pitched crying noise that one might hear in a ranchera song, very stereotypically “Aaaaiyy Haaa,” and you’re just about there, you just have to add a gringo doing it in front of 500 of his “peers.” I won a clock, although I am not sure that it was because I was best, only the most unique.
On June 25th a small group from Michigan Tech arrived to try and get some work done on Fuego and Santiaguito. We spent the day getting supplies and arranging last minute details and on Thursday the 26th we set off for Fuego. After some mighty driving by one John Lyons and about an hour and a half hike we arrived to our camp site in between Acatenango and Fuego. From there we would climb every day up the side of Fuego to our observation point on La Meseta with a great view of the cone… or it would have been if it hadn’t been so blasted foggy. We spent Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights camping and each day we set out full of hope that today would be the day that the clouds would part and we would be able to see the volcano and get some work done. Unfortunately it is the rainy season here in Guatemala, and we were under a tropical depression the entire time we were on the mountain. We had about an hour of actual visibility, and the rest of the time we sat in the clouds with all of our equipment waiting for it to clear up. The Care Bears, Rainbow Bright, and any other beloved cartoon characters that I grew up watching are liars; living in the clouds is not fun. It is cold, windy, and boring.
We were originally going to head immediately to Santa Maria to try and get some thermal images of the Caliente dome of Santiaguito, but due to our less than great prospects of actually being able to see the dome from the top of Santa Maria due to the lingering tropical depression, the group decided it would be better to try their luck a little later in the week before they had to head home. This meant that I was able to attend an all volunteer conference at our training center in Santa Lucia on “Working as a Professional in Guatemala” as well as go to the fourth of July party that the Peace Corps had for all of us volunteers. It was a great time and the first chance I have had to see a lot of fellow volunteers in one place. There are kind of a lot of us for such a small country, but everyone seems pretty active at their sites, so I guess we are doing something right. I just need to try and remember a lot of new names…
On Sunday I did end up making the trip with the Michigan group up Santa Maria. We left Xela at 11:00 PM and started our ascent in hopes that we would get some good pre dawn images of the dome without a lot of ambient heating of the ground from sun light. We arrived at the top around 3 AM and set up a tent to protect us from the wind and dampness because, you guessed it, it was cloudy. We sat in the tent until about 8 AM when we finally gave up and got ready to head down again, utterly defeated. Graciously, the clouds decided to give us a break and we got about an hour of observation time in and hopefully some good shots with the thermal camera.
I got back to my site on Monday at around 3 in the afternoon, and my neighbors spent a good amount of time teasing me that they thought I had left for good (I was gone 12 days and I had told everyone what I was leaving for and to please watch my house). After I was home about two hours my neighbor from behind came to my door asking if by any chance I had seen an “animalito” anywhere in my house since I had been back. This intrigued me, so I asked what kind of little animal she thought I might have seen in my house, and she replied, “A duck.”
“Well, no, I don’t think so. I imagine I would have noticed a duck in my house, the house is not very large.”
“All right, well, if you see it, will you catch it and bring it over?”
“Sure Doña Sofia, I’ll bring your duck if I see it.”
Thankfully the mystery was solved about 15 minutes later when the duck turned up at my next door neighbor’s house. It was a close call though, because two of the dogs seemed to be ready to make off with the thing like a chew toy, but they couldn’t get to it because it was hiding behind a piece of discarded fence material. There’s never a dull moment in Las Marias.
Another fun story, there is a nick name that gringos have for the bluebird school buses that traverse the country and serve as our main form of transport in Guatemala: Chicken Buses. Now these buses are referred to as chicken buses because they are used to transport everything, from people to, well, chickens. I have personally experienced many chickens running underfoot on these buses, as well as dogs and pigs tied to the roof racks among other assorted oddities. However, on my way to Xela this weekend I had my first experience of riding on a bus where there were more chickens than people. I noticed a funny smell when I got on the bus at my stop, which isn’t in itself anything out of the ordinary. For this reason it took me a good five minutes to realize that all the boxes in the over head racks and under the seats were filled with about 50 newly hatched chicks each, and that these “animalitos” were responsible for that high pitched squeaky sound I had originally blamed on the bus itself. Ah livestock…
Our training group has our “Re-connect” conference next week. This is basically a chance to bring us all back in and talk about how the first three months of service have gone and make sure that none of us are too crazy yet. And after that, I fly home to celebrate the matrimony of Jared Paul List and Brooke Lindsay Allen. I’ll be stateside for about 7 days, from the 23rd at 9 PM until the 30th around 8 AM, so if you call my old cell phone number, odds are I will answer it during those times. I’m already seeing it as a whirlwind trip, and I will try to see as many people as I can, but if I miss you, please know that it was not on purpose. I’m going to be a little lost adjusting to all the bright lights and fancy machines of the United States… I hear they have these machines that control the climate of entire houses, and these other ones that wash dishes all by themselves. I hear there’s even one that runs around a house and sucks up dirt right out of these things called carpets… crazy. It’s been a little over six months since I’ve been home last, which might not sound like much, but I am a little worried that a week isn’t going to cut it. Wish me luck, and maybe I’ll be seeing some of you soon. In the meantime, here are some new pictures. Take care! Peace.