Monday, July 27, 2009

21.09 km = 13.1 mi.

To kick off the celebrations for the birthday of the saint of Antigua, Santiago de Los Caballeros, there was a half marathon in town last weekend. Already a completely busier place on the weekends than during the week, Antigua was swarming with people. It seemed like everyone was out and about all weekend long - maybe that's one of the affects a canícula has on people!

medio maraton Las Rosas (half marathon) was held early Saturday morning. About 2 weeks before the big event, Ben got wind of it and decided that he was going to run. He's a natural athlete and has previously run 1 marathon in Ft. Collins a few years back, but he has a bit of a problem over comitting.....usually to work....which kind of got in the way of his training as of laterly. So even though he didn't get many practice runs in, he decided he'd still compete and of course I was there as the support team!

Check out the crowd at the finish line.

I stood on my tip toes for at least 30 mintues, absolutely positive that he would pass by any minute. It didn't take long for me to make friends with a couple of taller Guatemalan men standing nearby and they kept a good lookout for Ben's bright yellow shirt for me (a lot of other people seemed to have had the same yellow shirt idea...not so unique!). Before I even had a chance to shout out a "whoo hoo", he sped by me finishing the race in 1 hour and 37 minutes. Not bad for guy who didn't get in much practice on the cobblestone streets of Antigua.

Luckily I did have time to capture a photo right before he crossed the finish line!

He ran the first half of the race with Brandon, who decided to participate just the night before.
What a great weekend!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

a vision in red

Yes we have moved to our new "permanent" home and you're probably wondering why we haven't yet posted pictures. 2 reasons. I'm super busy these days scheduling and now putting into action the plans for my first very own vision team at Common Hope. (Stay tuned for more on what a vision team is later.) 2nd reason - we're tired. We've been working like dogs on this house - cleaning, organizing, cleaning, shopping, decorating, more cleaning, painting, etc. I'm not the kind of gal who can just deal with things the way they are (and certainly not for a whole year). I like need my house to feel like a home. Luckily I have a super-duper sweet husband who "gets me" and helps me put my visions into action (within reason).

Here's a sneak peak at the outside of the house.

It's red. Deep red. I love a cute red house. And that's Ben. He's super-duper!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Farewell Uncle Sam Dan

Part of our weekend fun included a final hooray with our new good friend Dan. While we've really only known Dan a couple of months, we like him a lot and have had some great fun with he and Dani lately. Unfortunately for us, Dan's several year stint in Guatemala has come to and end, just as ours has kicked into full swing. But while we're sad that our favorite couple friends are now 1 man down (but 1 great woman left standing), we're really happy for Dan as he begins his post-Guate life. We totally get the whole long distance dating thing too, so hopefully we'll be able to lend our listening ears to our dear friends in future days.

Dani organized a fun little get-together for all of Dan's friends at La Peña de Sol Latino (where we indulged on the best brownie south of Texas) and afterward a rondeavu in the park.

Even though everyone seems to be putting forth their best 'tude in this picture, we really were in good spirits!

A few of the handsome crew just minutes before, in happier times!
(ps. not liking how I look short and plump next to über skinny Dani)

Of course the cathedral was looking all spiffy too.

And what kind of night would it have been without a long arm Dan shot? Who else could capture 6 people in a self-portrait and even get a little scenery!

Ciao Dan! Que le vaya bien!

it's a worm thing

To kick start the awesome weekend we had, we started out with a night at Café No Se. We're not really sure about the whole "no se" thing because these guys definitely "se" a thing or two...specifically about Mezcal. Not so sure about it yourself? Let me share with you what my Wikipedia research has found.

check out the goods - they've even got some home brew

What is it?
Mezcal is a distilled Mexican liquor made from agave plants. Basically the term mezcal refers to all agave-based distilled liquors that are not tequila which is made exclusively from the blue agave plant found in the Jaliso, Mexico area.

How is it made?
After the agave plant matures for 6–8 years, it is harvested by magueyeros (agave farmers) & the leaves are chopped off using a machete, leaving only the large piñas (pineapples) or corazones (hearts) behind. The piñas are then cooked and crushed, producing a mash called tepache which is then placed in large (300–500-gallon) wooden vats to ferment for two days, after which 10% village water is added and stirred into the mix. The Mexican government requires that 80% of this mix be from agave (as opposed to tequila which is regulated at a lesser amount: 51%). Cane and corn sugars may also be added at this time. When the fermentation stage is complete, the mash is double-distilled. (The first distillation yields ordinary low-grade alcohol.) After the first distillation, the fibers are removed and the resulting alcohol can then be added back in. This mixture is then distilled once again after which point, the mezcal may be bottled or aged.

Let's talk nitty gritty. Mezcal ages quite quickly in comparison to other liquors. It is aged in large wooden barrels for two months to seven years. During this time the mezcal acquires more and more of a golden color, and its flavor is influenced by the wooden barrels. The longer it is aged, the darker the color and the more noticeable the flavoring effect.

Age classifications

  • Añejo (aged) – aged for at least a year in barrels no larger than 350 litres.
  • Reposado (rested) – aged two months to a year.
  • Joven or blanco (young or white, often marketed as silver in English) – colorless mezcal, aged less than two months.
What's up with the floater? The "worm" (sometimes more than one) commonly seen in bottles of mezcal is actually the larve of one of two kinds of insects. Inside the mezcal, however, the worm is more a marketing substance, as it has lost its nutrients inside the bottle.

Although the custom is relatively recent, larvae are used frequently by several brands of mezcal to give flavor to the drink. A whole larva is deposited in the bottle, normally after having previously been cured in pure alcohol.

Note: There is nothing to support the widespread myth that the worm contains hallucinogens or aphrodisiac properties.

When a worm is included, the mezcal is known as con gusano (with worm). Aside from its consumption with mezcal, the maguey worm is considered a delicacy in Mexico and can be found on restaurant menus throughout.

the scorpion is an added bonus

At Cafe No Se the top secret mezcal bar is in a special room that is entered by crouching through a tiny door. Oops, guess this secret's out of the bag!

terrible picture, but you still get the picture

In this room is where we honored our friend Dan with some of his last drops of alcohol, before he returns home to Michigan to begin work at a "dry" college, where he will commit to a "dry" lifestyle. Sounds awfully "dry" for a guy who digs sucking down wormy liquor, doesn't it?

Salud - to a new way of life

caught in the act

even a boy who eats worms can win the heart of a pretty girl

Dan, we miss you already! In honor of you, we vow to not set foot back through that little door until you go with us! Hurry back soon!

Friday, July 17, 2009

It's a canícula out there!

This week I've been attending Spanish class each afternoon for 4 hours at a local school, Escula Maya, where the generous owner provides long term volunteers with a 2 free hours of class a week & significant discount if we wish to study more. It's really such a sweet thing for him to do, as we volunteers don't have much extra time or money to study, but really want to work hard on becoming fluent. Well this week just so happened to be a bit slow for me (but I have a mega-team just around the corner), so my lovely Letonian boss Viola agreed that my time could be well spent practicing Spanish......since we pretty much speak English all day long in our office.

Anyway, the weather here in Antigua has been unseasonably strange for the past couple of weeks and when it came up in conversation between my teacher and I, she used a word I was not familiar with - Canícula. You see right now is "winter" (the rainy season) in Guatemala and it usually rains every afternoon/evening, but lately we've had fabulous weather with warm temps, blue sky days and nights where a sky full of stars is visable. This might not sound so odd to you, but rainy season here is generally dependable - it will rain everyday. And along the same lines, when rainy season ends, all of the sudden one day it is just over - no more rain for 6 months.

So I did a little research on canículas (because I have found that often times when you ask a Guatemalan to explain something like this - vocabulary we are not familiar with- you get their version of a definition (ie. a bit wives-tale sounding!). For example, the explanation I was told that is a period of strange, hot weather during the rainy season. There are ususally 2 each rainly season - 1 in June & 1 in July, each lasting 3 weeks.

Here's what I came up with:

Canícula: a period of the year when the heat is most strong. (, Babelfish (which is highly unreliable) directly translates canícula as "dog days" - interesting. Strangely there was no mention of the period being during the rainy season on either site.

So, maybe you knew, maybe you didn't, but either way, now you do. And wherever you may live, I hope when you have your canícula, it is just as enjoyable as ours!

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Hope 4 All

Now that I’ve put in close to 2 months at my new “volunteer” job, I feel comfortable enough to share about the mission of the organization and specifics of my position with Common Hope. (It’s also good practice for the community tour that I give twice a week as a part of my position!) Prepare yourself – this is a long one, but so very worth your time.

Common Hope was founded in 1984 by Dave and Betty Huebsch, a missionary couple from Minnesota who were residing in the area of Lake Atitlan (specifically Santiago Atitlan). Dave and Betty fell in love with the culture and people of Guatemala and quickly began asking the locals what they could do to help. The people all responded with a resounding answer – Educate our children, so the Huebsch’s began a simple sponsorship format of writing letters to their home church in MN and asking for donations. Soon enough they came to understand that education isn’t enough when the children are coming to school hungry, sick and often not coming at all due to the impoverished circumstances in which they were living, so the areas of housing and health care were eventually added to the goal of the “Godchild Project”.

Dave & Betty Huebsch

Unfortunately about 23 years ago, during the Huebsch’s time there, it was the height of the civil war in Guatemala, and the Lake Atitlan area was in the center of the warfare. One evening in 1988 Dave and Betty received a very credible death threat and they were forced to shut the doors of their program and leave the country immediately.
Reluctantly they went back to MN, but remained hopeful that one day they would be able to return to Guatemala. Sadly though, during their time at home, Betty passed away, due to circumstances unrelated to their time in Guatemala. However, keeping the dream alive, Dave and his son John were able to return to Guatemala a few years later in 1990. Because of the continued instability of the Lake Atitlan area, they sought a safer location to rebuild their project and ended up in Antigua, an area that has always remained fairly safe. They started by renting offices in Antigua proper, but the project soon outgrew the space and when they had an opportunity to purchase land (a coffee farm) just a few kilometers outside of Antigua in 1993, they jumped at the chance.

Over the next few years with the help of volunteers and affiliated families, the Family Development Center (the largest site of Common Hope) was constructed and continues to operate from the same location today. While there have been a few changes (the name as well as the fact that the organization is no longer religiously affiliated), the philosophical center of the project continues to be education and housing, healthcare and family development (social work) programs have been added. Additionally the Heubsch family no longer runs the organization, but they do continue to be supporters.

Common Hope (or Fundacion Familias de Esperanza as they are formally known as in Guatemala) is a non-governmental organization (NGO) comprised of about 150 paid staff and long-term volunteers. Of the 150 only about 15 are foreigners. When Dave & Betty were forced to leave the country back in the 80’s, sadly no one was left to run the organization. This is something that Common Hope has worked hard to change, so that if there is ever a time when it is not safe for foreigners to be in Guatemala, the project will not have to come to and end. The employees are spread out over 3 sites in Guatemala and 1 in the US. St. Paul, MN functions as the main fundraising site. The Family Development Center outside Antigua is comprised of a primary health care clinic, dental clinic, educational offices, construction site, social worker offices, psychology department, national administration, sponsorship offices, human resources, and the hospitality department (that’s me!). Throughout these departments many programs are offered, such as occupational/speech therapy classes, nutrition clinic, job training, a youth group, mentorship program, day care, pilot school, legal services, and many more. In 1993? After devastating Hurricane Mitch hit Guatemala, New Hope (located north of Guatemala City) community development and relocation program was founded and now consists of New Hope Village as well as a Common Hope school. More recently Common Hope began assisting with education in an indigenous village called San Rafael el Arado, about 45 minutes from Antigua. Common Hope strives to not duplicate services already existing in communities and for this partners with the public school system as well as other existing programs to meet the needs in the 4 areas of the project.

Family Development Center & New Hope School

Today Common Hope supports 2,707 affiliated students, however upon a child’s affiliation their entire family is able to receive services. That’s 1,398 families helped for a staggering grand total of approximately 8,000 Guatemalans served! It’s a truly amazing organization and a really inspiring organization to work . I feel completely privileged to have had the opportunity to be a part of it all.

There are so many other aspects of the work that I want to share with you including my job specifics, but considering this is already one heck of a long blog entry, I’ll save it for another day! If you're hook and you just can’t wait to hear more, check out their comprehensive website at

Friday, July 10, 2009

True Blue....

A few weeks ago our good friend Aaron from One Drop posted a eye-opening blog about the future of water. Did you know that just like you can calculate your carbon footprint, you can now also caluculate your water footprint? We just did it this morning - the results are actually quite embarassing. Just like everyone else, before we didn't even consider how much water we were using & wasting. Now that we live in Guatemala, where clean drinking water, let alone running water in your home, is a luxury, it is a whole lot "easier" to keep ourselves in check by simply using the way locals do.

Recently we heard about a new documentary that premiered in 2008 at the Vancouver International Film Festival - Blue Gold: World Water Wars. Since we're not exactly in a place where we can get our hands on the latest and greatest, we haven't been able to see it, but are dying to do so as soon as we can. Have any of you seen or heard about it? What did you think? Is it going to be another An Inconvenient Truth (the Al Gore documentary on Global Warming that we love)? If you've got a copy and you're done viewing it, we'd love for you to share!

Below is some blog love for One Drop - thanks for bringing up something that has been on our minds lately too Aaron!

blue is the new green

i can't claim that phrase as my own - blue is the new green - but its something we've said around our office quite a bit lately. with all the attention given to the environmental or "green" movement over the past several years, it will probably be dwarfed by the attention that water will get over the next 10 years or so. This article seems to confirm that - A wake-up call on water use |

in that article there is a link to a website that helps calculate your water footprint. i went through the extended calculator and was a bit shocked at how much water i use every year - about a half a million gallons. so in the course of two years i would go through this whole water tower:

what about you? what's your footprint? Do you think it matters?

its interesting to me that the meat products i eat account for almost more than my actual water consumption at my apartment. its crazy to think how its all connected - the energy and water to make the grain to feed the cows to run the slaughterhouse to transport it to the store to keep it in my freezer. its a kindof hard for me to think about how my consumption here affects people in developing countries, but when you start connecting all the dots it really does make sense. and talking about water being put to good use - Healing Waters International just crossed a significant milestone- 75 million gallons of safe drinking water distributed to the poor! so to put that in perspective - it would almost fill the rose bowl (which holds 84 million gallons).
i know that interesting fact thanks to the LA county wastewater website (which also informed me that if all LA's wastewater was diverted there it would fill in 3.8 hours. now that would be a disgusting sight!)
i'll finish with a bit more of a pleasant thought -this all reminds me of a bumper sticker i used to have on my VW bus - "Live simply so that others may simply live"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

We're all Dutch

When I married into the Lengacher family, it didn't take long for me to be introduced a very addictive card game that's a old Mennonite family favorite - Dutch Blitz. It's a lot like Speed if you've ever play that, but with it's own special cards with cute little Dutch (Pennsylvania Dutch- I'm assuming) boys and girls on them.

Back in 2008 during our first visit to Guatemala we went on a trip to Semuc Champey with some friends from our language school. It just so happened that on of them had gone to school at Eastern Mennonite, the same college that Ben attended for 3 years. Of course she too was a menonita and low and behold, she had brought along a set of Dutch Blitz cards. Anyway, long story short, we were all sitting around a picnic table in the middle of nowhere, reading the directions (which happen to be written in a very stereotypical Dutch-like language) and laughing all the while, when a couple from Holland overheard us. Intrigued, they wanted in on this game that we all thought was so fun and soon become more competitive about it than even we were. Who would have guessed that we would ever have an opportunity to play Dutch Blitz with real Dutch people??

Fast forward a few months to Antigua where we have found a new set of friends who also know and love Dutch Blitz. None of them are Mennonites, but apparently it's quite popular in the mid-west as well. And thanks to Ben's Aunts Sharon & Mary Lou, we now have our own set that we brought along with us, secretly wishing that we'd find friends who wanted to play - and we have!!

We played our first game in Antigua at Dani's birthday party a few weeks ago and we're pretty sure, it won't be the last time we see those pumps, carriages, pails & plows flying around the table!

For those of you who don't know the first thing about the game, I'm sure you'll get a kick out the of this rhyme that's written on the box.

It's a Vonderful Goot Game!

Dutch Blitz is such vonderful goot fun
For young folks - and old vones too.
Vhy you should see the vones who plays:
They gets in such a stew.

Easy to learn - exciting to play,
For two or three or four.
And this for sure is vone such game,
That ain't gonna be no bore.

So now, sit down with your friend or kin
And try this game to play.
Chust bet that vhen you get started vonc't ,
You'll play for most the day!

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Proud to be Americans (in Guatemala)

Despite the rain filled week that we just finished, this weekend turned out to be pretty much the best one ever - at least weather wise. We had our fair share of fun celebrating our American Independence at BBQs all weekend long. Turns out being patriotic is a great way to make some more friends!

Saturday morning we made the final arrangements for our "big" move next weekend to the other side of town where we will officially be living until June 2010. Then we hit a 4th of July BBQ with a bunch of other gringo NGOers (and some Guatemalans too). Sunday morning Ben christened his new bike with a ride up the volcano while I hit the market to stock up on produce for the week. That afternoon we had a small fiesta of our own with a few friends we've made since our arrival in Antigua.

Here's a brief photo recap that unfortunately does not include any photos of gringos BBQing - guess the camera doesn't work so well when you're having such a good time that you forget to take it out of your purse!

Check out the amazing view of Volcan Agua that we enjoyed all weekend. It's actually pretty rare that you can see the peak, especially during rainy season (like it is now), but somehow we lucked out 2 days in a row. Be jealous - very jealous!

a sunny afternoon on Quinta Avenida

Ben was loving his very first ride up the volcano with Dan

of course we have to show off his new (used) ride too

firing up the grill for a little neighborly get together

Hope you all had an enjoyable 4th of July weekend too!

Friday, July 3, 2009

Observations from the Land of The Savior

Just a few things we noticed in El Salvador.

"Football" doesn't always mean soccer.
This one made us think of Denny Finotti!

The first tunnels we saw on our entire trip - 5 in a row.

A non-tacky church. No gold plated walls or creepy statues. Just class.

Progressive. "In this house we want a life free of violence towards women."

Open concept living.

Wash while you shop. "Green" car washing in parking lots.
Why don't we do this in the US?

Probably not the best decor for a unisex campground.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Pennies, Nickles & Dimes, Oh My!

What does US currency have to do with our weekend vacay in El Salvador? We had to use it – that’s what! After months of spending Monopoly money in Mexico and Guatemala, our dollars were long gone, so you can imagine how strange it was exchange our hard earned quetzales for expensive dollars! In fact, we would have never guessed that a lot of things in El Salvador would practically cost the same as they do at home (seriously). Even though we didn’t see any, we sure do miss their old colones!

While the smallest country in Central America is not highly know for tourism, El Salvador is popular for a few other reasons – surf, shop, and scrumptious pupusas!

After doing the border crossing song and dance for about a hour and half (way long than either of our crossings into Mexico or Guatemala) we made our way to the beach – Playa Tunco – where we stumbled into a campground of sorts. It was a far cry from some of Mexico’s fab RV parks, but sufficient enough for a night – especially considering we arrived well after dark. Besides we had been looking for a reason to pop the top on Dewey for quite some time, so that made all 3 of us least until this guy decided to pull up right next to us.

Obviously he doesn't understand campground etiquette.

Without plans to surf, we soon grew bored at the beach (there was pretty much nothing else there) and headed inland to San Salvador to meet up with our friend Dani (a native of El Salvador) and her BF, Dan. (Isn’t it the cutest that they’re names are Dan & Dani?) We did however make a day long detour to Suchitoto, a quaint colonial town outside of the capitol. We stumbled onto this hotel (El Tejado) and made ourselves at home, poolside for a day.

Ben relaxed in the hammock...

and I practiced my photography skills.

Back at the main square in Suchitoto, we dined on delicious pupusas -the traditional dish of El Salvador. They’re basically thick tortillas stuffed with all things yummy (like beans and cheese) and topped with cabbage. We’ve tried them before in Guate, but they don’t even compare to the real deal.

Later on we visited Embalse Cerrón Grande, the reservoir that Suchitoto overlooks.

Ben got his money out of a $5 zipline ride

...while I filled up on some more yummy treats.
Check out the size of this chocobanano – frozen banana, dipped in melted chocolate, coated with peanuts on 1 side and crushed oreos on the other – Pure Heaven!

When we finally left Suchitoto and headed for San Salvador we were pleasantly surprised. A small city, San Salvador was everything that we had been told it wasn’t. Much cleaner and safer feeling that Guatemala City, we had previously been told it was one of the most dangerous cities in Central America. Surprisingly though, we found it to be quite nice. We spent most of our time indulging in a favorite past-time that involves the dollar – shopping. With American-like malls around each round about, I think we may have visited them all - more than once. Not just for shopping though – it seems that all the popular restaurants are located in or around the malls too. I did make sure though to stop in my new favorite fashion store, Zara – twice!

All in all we had a pretty great time. We definitely spent more time in the car than we had planned, but certainly saw a good part of the country too. There will most definitely be a return trip to El Salvador in our future (near future as we can extend the permission for our car at the border in 30 days) and next time we’re going to try a little harder to relax at the beach!