Thursday, August 26, 2010

Movin' & Shakin'

As we wrap up our time here in Denver, we are finding ourselves busier and busier with moving plans but are still squeezing in as much time as we can with great friends that we're really going to miss. Tear. Last weekend we went to Winter Park with some friends for a weekend of biking, hanging out & hot tubbing. Coincidentally it also happened to be our 6th anniversary, so our little family of 3 spent Sunday afternoon hiking and playing in the water. I didn't really get any decent photos of all the other shenanigans that went down over the weekend, but I did take a few on the hike.

look at all the beetle kill. sad.

in her glory.

our best attempt at a family photo.

retrieving as usual.

look at that sky!

Right now most of our things are stored in a climate controlled, packed to the brim, storage unit on West Colfax. There are various other things in various other friend's homes as well. We been trying to consolidate those extra things into 1 location this week and come Saturday morning we'll be up bright and early, loading up our 26 foot U-Haul at the storage unit, hopefully with the help of some very kind friends (at least by mid-day). Unfortunately that won't be the end of the moving madness. We've made arrangements to move our belongings across the country with a company called U-Pack. They give you the trailer to load and then drive it for you to your destination. Frustratingly enough, the management at our storage unit will not allow us to park the U-Pack trailer on their premises (since it stays overnight), so we have to load a U-Haul (only 2 feet smaller than the U-Pack), drive it all to the U-Pack warehouse and then reload it all. Stupid, right? I know.

If all goes as planned we'll be pulling out of D-Town Sunday morning the 29th of August. Tear. We hope to pass through Kansas to visit Ben's brother who just began college (aviation school) in Hesston and then veer south, stopping in both Memphis and Nashville before arriving in Charlotte the evening of September 1st. We'll do a walk through of the house on thursday and then have the closing on Friday. So to say the very least, things are gonna be busy for a while, but as always I'll do my best to keep things fairly updated around here.

If you're in town (Denver that is) this Saturday and find yourself with nothing to do, come on over to West Colfax.....we'll provide the pizza!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Water & Beer

Krista likes to call me the absent blogger. While that is true, to my excuse it was a busy year work-wise. Plus I can say that some days I'd preferred to be watching ESPN Deportes (since there is 24-7 soccer coverage) than sitting in front of a computer. But now that I find myself with some down time I'm in the mood to share a little about the Ben front, first starting with a personal hobby that I picked up while in Guatemala.

Some would say that moving from a place like Colorado, where there are 80 some microbreweries, to Guatemala, where there is one main brewery with 3 beers, would be equivalent to dating only person your whole life. There is a lot of variety you miss out on. I have to say that I got hooked on microbrews while living in Colorado, even spoiled considering I traveled a lot for work and spent time tasting IPAs and stouts at just about every one on the list.

So when faced with 3 beers to choose from, of which 2 are light generic lagers, I started to long for bitter hops of an IPA or the chocolate aftertaste in a stout. I had a buddy who told me he had started homebrewing here in GT, ordering a kit from the states and using a hodgepodge of equipment that he made or purchased locally. That idea sat for about a week before I had placed an order for an imitation Sierra Nevada Pale Ale kit from Austin Home Brew in Texas. I immediately began a bottle collection in the house the next day. The hops, grains, IPA extract, and hydrometer and bottling accessories arrived in my in-laws suitcase in mid-July after a little hold-up in customs where they debated on what this paraphernalia was.

A month was spent searching out the essential brew equipment – stainless steel brew pot that I found in the Antigua market and bargained the price down to $5, 2 fermenters that I brought from work (new 5 gallon water bottles), a bung to seal the fermenters, grain sac that I made out of a mesh blanket I bought outside the market, and a promise to bring a sample of the beer to the guys who helped me find this stuff along the way.

The whole brew process is an exercise in patience. Having worked in a laboratory in grad school, yours truly probably over-disinfected and cleaned the brew equipment but then again, I didn’t want to ruin my first batch. Four hours into the brew process the first night, the kitchen was a mess but I had prepared my first wort, measured the specific gravity, cooled the wort with 2 huge ice blocks that I got from an ice cream vendor, transferred the wort with yeast to the fermenter, and had Krista tell me that it stank like a really bad fart in the house. I won’t comment on that one.

The first couple days afterward I was like a kid on Christmas morning…when is this going to start fermenting? 24 hours in and still no sign in the air lock. I went to the web to see what the problem could be and decided for what it was worth, I just needed to wait. The next day, Eureka!, the CO2 bubbles appeared and man was I pumped. That night I came home to what Krista called a blow-out, or what I can best describe as a pressurized explosion where I found the airlock in the sink and a beer trail from the floor to the ceiling. Seems that my 5 gallon bottle was a wee bit small for the application and the air lock was just not cutting it. So, lesson #1 learned. The wort was still good, as I was convinced, since it was still 90% in the fermenter. I re-applied the air lock and cleaned up another mess, this time making sure to monitor the pressure as thing progressed.

After the transfer to secondary fermenter and measurement of specific gravity a week later, I was ready to bottle. Armed with washed bottles and my fill equipment, I proudly filled my first brew while trying a little bit to see how it tasted. Flat, but it had great hops flavor and the promise of being really good. Three weeks later we had a little Christmas party at the house and I had the joy of watching friends try it for the first time. All agreed that it was better than good, so I chalked it up to a successful start. That plus the fact that 4 gallons of brew only last me a month with friends around and some Christmas gifts.

Water is an essential part of brewing, so I will segue to the other part of my life that has been keeping me busy. We at Aguas de Unidad (ADU) have recently installed a pilot project for a community in a small town called Los Lirios, which is near a major town called Masagua. The community is different in two ways from a traditional ADU system in Guatemala: first, there are 1,000 people and second it is not within the typical urban density of a city. We had wanted to serve communities like this for some time, but one challenge for us is how to change our model so that the system is self-sustainable.

The answer in terms of technology was to look at a simpler treatment system. While returning from a 6 hour trip to Tejutla one night, I had this idea to use a skid-mounted system where the equipment can be installed in our office and moved to a site in a pick-up truck. Four months later and that idea has been brought to reality with the help of our ADU technician Otto, and Victor a treatment equipment provider in Guatemala. We developed a drawing of the concept and using a local welder, had the frame for the skid custom built. From this, Victor procured the treatment equipment and he and Otto installed the equipment over a 2-day period. The main treatment step is an ultrafiltration membrane, the advantage being that this can replace a sand filter, cartridge filters, and a UV lamp which we typically install in our systems. I had worked with this technology in my former job and with help from Aaron in our Denver office, we were able to built the pilot around this technology.

As for the operational model, my co-workers Dani, Juan and Lety were instrumental in determining we would operate this type of system to minimize costs. Our idea was to setup a deposit where families pay a monthly fee ($4 USD) to fill their 5-gallon water bottles in the system for up to sixteen times. With 50 families participating in the co-operative, we will be able to cover the operational expenses (salary for water system employee, electricity, etc) and anticipated maintenance expenses including visits from a trained technician, laboratory sampling, and replacement of the system components and membrane.

So in that many words, take a look at the photos below and you can see the results of the 6-month process that turned this idea to reality.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

All grown up.

Mia's first birthday came and went and now we're the proud parents of a 1-year-old. Those of you with kids probably think I'm nutso, but I don't care. She's my kid and I love her. Here's a peak at how we celebrated her special day.

There was hiking and playing and shopping and walking and lunching and laughing and cuddles and cupcakes.

I don't care what anybody says, we're gonna celebrate all birthdays this way.....even if she is only a dog!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Party Time!

Today is a very special day in the Lengacher home.

Today is this little Chapina's very first birthday!

We're off to spend the day Mia style complete with sunshine, hiking and probably even a dip or two.

Tonight is the birthday celebration - be back tomorrow with photos!

Monday, August 16, 2010

It's not over yet!

Hey everyone! So as you've read we have safely made it back to the states and are currently back in Colorado, but don't worry - this isn't the end of From Colfax to Xela yet!

Technically we are not back on Colfax Avenue, but we're not far away, staying with Ben's sister, her husband and our new nephew! It's been quite a gentle readjustment period as we have been able to lay low and spend our time visiting old friends and some of our favorite places....sometimes it still doesn't quite feel real. It hasn't completely been all fun and games though, as we have also been working on another little project that has never before been officially mentioned on the blog.

We're moving to
Charlotte, North Carolina!!!

You may remember me hint hinting at a possible future change, back before our trip to Colombia. Does this ring any bells?

Well not only are we moving at the end of the month, but we also bought a house! Right now it's undergoing a bit of work, but will definitely be ready before we arrive. Check it out.

Goodbye Colfax, Hello Central!

Why are we moving, you ask yourself? Well as you may know, we aren't really from Colorado. Rather we were both born in raised in Pennsylvania where our families continue to reside. When we moved to Colorado 8 & 10 years ago (8 for me & 10 for Ben) we never really imagined it being forever, so when an opportunity came up for us to try something else, now felt like the right time for a transition. Upon our arrival in Charlotte, Ben will begin working for his dad's business that has a branch there. It's going to be quite a change for him, but something he is really looking forward to. He's not giving up on his water dreams completely though, and hopefully one day we will find ourselves back in Guatemala again - this time with a project of our very own! But for now we're off to Charlotte and even though North Carolina is not exactly close to Pennsylvania, we're excited to settle somewhat closer to our families and see them much more often. Although I do plan on working as well, for now I'm focusing on unpacking and making our house a home. After we're settled in a bit I plan to find myself back in the field of Speech-Language Pathology, using my Spanish skills with any luck. (Please let me know if you've got any contacts in the area!)

While we have done our best to keep fairly up-do-date with all of the noteworthy (and sometimes not so noteworthy) happenings of our experiences and travels over the past 2 years, believe it or not there are some things that never got published. So, for the next couple of weeks we're going to try our best to fill in the gaps and share even more with you. Please forgive us in advance for irregular posting and a lack of sequence - we're out of our normal routine!

Stay tuned, From Colfax to Xela lives on!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Xela to Colfax

Forgoing our visit to the Grand Canyon (it's pretty hard to hike down when all of your gear has been stolen), we forged on through the desert toward home sweet home, Colorado!

It was a long but beautiful scenic drive, with an overall sense of bittersweetness in the air. We were both feeling a bit overwhelmed about the end to this amazing journey being so close in sight. Will we ever have this opportunity again? Will we feel comfortable back in our old place? Will anyone even understand what this year has meant to us? Will we lose our memories of Guatemala too quickly? How did the end sneak up on us so fast?

Many hours and a couple of mirages later, we finally arrived at The 4 Corners, but missed out on the opportunity to put on feet (& paws) in all 4 states.

While we were sad that we would be missing out on a Colorado must do, we both agreed that it was high time for the sad little monument to be turned into something much better than it was.
Quite possibly though the better photo opportunity turned out to be just right down the road.

We left as 2 and return as 3!

(flashback to March 2009)
What an amazing year it has been. Life changing to say the least. We've met so many great people and traveled to so many unforgettable places, but there really is something comforting about being home.

With the sun setting behind us, and the last 24 hours of our trip planned out to a T, we pushed on through to Pagosa Springs to meet our goal. After an unsuccessful attempt to camp downtown, we drove on over to the highly recommended Pagosa Riverside Campground.

Unfortunately we were not very welcomed by an unfriendly Texan campground manager and his just as unpleasant wife. Having only $20 cash, we explained that we were wrapping up a very long trip and asked if it would be ok to pay the balance ($4) in the morning after a visit to the ATM and were scolded about needing to plan better. My eyes blazing (this was at least his 3rd or 4th rude comment in 5 short minutes), I kept my mouth shut, but as if he hadn't already been rude enough, he told me that he could see I wasn't happy with him and if I didn't like it, I could go on down the road. It took everything in me to not rip him a new one, but since it was late and we were dying to hit the springs before bed, I simply turned and walked away, leaving Ben to hand over the $4 in change he has just scrounged up in the car. (Who has that much change after more than a year with foreign currency?) Dorothy, we're certainly not in Guatemala anymore. Interestingly enough though, this was really only our 3rd unpleasant encounter with anyone during our entire year and a half away - none of which were Guatemalan.

So we returned back to town, situated our 4 legged friend in the car with a nice big bone, and hit the hot springs for a couple hours of soaking and relaxing.

The following morning we emerged from Dewey bright and early to find that nearly everyone else in the entire campground was already awake and taking their morning walk. Having slept outside the car, secretly guarding us all night long, as the sun came up one of us was tickled to learn that we had been parked right next water. By the time we crawled down from above, she was pleading with us to take her first dip in the icy cold Rocky Mountain waters and lucky for her we're suckers for her doggie paddle.

After packing up camp and drying out the dog, we loaded back into Dewey and hit the road.....or at least we thought.

Not recommended, Pagosa Riverside Campground.

About a mile down the road our tempermental left rear tire started acting up and we decided it was best to have someone check it out before we drove off into the middle of Rocky Mountain nowhere. Can you even believe that we made it the whole way to and from Guatemala and it was our first car incident? Well it was a good thing we did get it looked at because it was in need of repair, so $18 and an hour later we were good to go.

Rocky Mountain high.

Several hours down the road, fresh out of podcasts and needing a stretch break, we paused for a quick hike on Kenosha pass.

Not long after arriving, we returned to the car in order to make it to Denver by sundown. Some of us were not so happy about leaving.

Finally a few hours later we found ourselves in familiar territory.
Welcome back to the Mile High City!
Home sweet Capitol Hill.

And back on the 'Fax at long last!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Gotta keep on moving

Moving forward after our final day in paradise, we settled into our car routine with expectations that the days would be long and boring. We were right. With time running short we had given up on the idea of spending a few days in the Copper Canyon, especially considering our research revealed that dogs weren't welcome on the trains. With the music on our iPod feeling very tired by this point in the trip, we resorted to the last 3 podcasts of This American Life we had left. Our travel companion did a lot of sleeping - luckily she was pretty tuckered out from all the swimming - and didn't even try to make her way into the front seat more than twice.

Late that night, we pulled into this sad hotel and trailer park in Guaymas with not another camper in site.

Day #2 on the road looked a lot like day #1, but with more cacti.

There was at least a bit of excitement when we got pulled over somewhere outside of Hermosillo, for apparently traveling at a maximum velocity. The cop couldn't tell us what velocity that was but he went ahead and took Ben's license, wrote up a ticket and then talked smack at us for about 5 minutes. We knew all he wanted was a bribe and we'd be on our way, but instead of acting like we were in a hurry we called his bluff and agreed to go down to the station with him and pay the fine in person. Quite obviously his ticket wasn't going to fly at headquarters, so he let us off with a warning and I got a stern talking to about keeping my mouth shut (apparently he didn't like that a female questioned his authority) - puro Machismo.

Around 3pm we arrived near the Nogales border crossing where we turned over our car permit and then continued on toward the border.

All of our paperwork was in order.

Bye bye Mexican driving permit.

By this point someone had perked up in the backseat.

20 kilometers or so later, we found ourselves at the end of the road.
The only thing left to do was wait.

While we waited we watched a bunch of guys work on the construction of the famous wall. Interestingly enough they were both American & Mexican.

We made it, safe and sound.

Upon making past the first checkpoint, we were then directed into another line where Dewey was of course searched. I was disappointed to see multiple signs forbidding cameras. Didn't they know this is monumental for us? Border agents are not friendly, even to fellow US citizens. Strangely none of them would even look us in the eye. After checking various boxes of camping supplies, they made us surrender our dog food - something about Mad Cow Disease and it not being made in the USA. (We use Canadian food). The agent did allow me to take a days supply, but little do they know Mia doesn't eat 4 and a half cups a day! Frustratingly enough, bringing the dog into the US was the easiest part. After all those hours of us getting her health certificate and exportation papers in line, no one even asked to see them. They just wanted to see proof of a rabies vaccination and she was free to enter. We could have never dreamed it would be so easy.

I suppose we never really talked about our expectations beforehand, but the whole border thing was pretty anti-climatic. We never even saw an American flag flying or a "Welcome to the USA" sign.

In Nogales we stopped for a quick lunch at Subway and then drove toward Tucson where we made an important stop.

Welcome to the USA Mia, where stores just for dogs exist.
You lucky little puppy girl!

Later that evening we were able to track down a flag at a souvenir shop where Mia took her official oath and then had a photo session.
Proud to be a Guatemalan-American!