Do you ever wonder what goes on when we are not at the dental office? This is the second year our hygienist, Marie, has travelled to Guatemala for a mission trip. The following is one of the updates sent from a member of their team during their trip.
“As I begin to type this from the mission house in downtown Barillas the unmistakable throb of the Bee Gee’s Staying Alive and Nite Fever blares over the loudspeaker from a building across the street. The bark of feral dogs roaming these streets is constant enough to be all but ignored, as can be the steady sputter of motorcycles and the three-wheeled TukTuk taxis that seem to be everywhere, always red.
This is the staging area for our team of 10. We finally arrived this afternoon after a full two days of steady travel, first by a pretty bumpy ride to Houston landing around 2:45 a.m. Friday, then after a three-hour layover catching a second plane to Guatemala City late morning. We are met at the airport by Marco Tulio Maldonado, Guatemala field director for Hands for Peacemaking, and Dago on the Hands for Peacemaking staff. Diane Malone, one of our team members, was also with them as she had flown in a couple of days before.
The rest of the day we would spend making our way to Heuheutenango (pronounced way-way-tenango), a large and thriving city that serves as the regional capital. I’ve been here before so am used to seeing the unusual on these journeys, but my brother Tom and nephew Andy were quite startled by the site of kids riding on the top of logs on a logging truck or a man hanging on for dear life on the back of a pickup truck seeming to enjoy it. Or, and as we were stopped waiting for some car wreckage to clear a group of firefighters came walking through the stopped traffic shaking coffee cans for money – that is how they are paid in Guatemala, Marco tells us. And, later, we are ordered over by a police blockade that merely wanted to check that our papers were valid. Had they not been, Marco explained, it would not have been a problem either had we slipped them a 110 Q bill, the equivalent of $13 U.S.
This is a country, after all, where the former president and vice president are currently on trial for running the Guatemala Mafia out of their office in collaboration with officials from the country’s social security system. The evidence is overwhelming, Marco informs us, and their conviction is all but certain. We stop for lunch at a lovely restaurant along the way and feast on their buffet – a wonderful assortment of salads, soups, chicken, rice and hand-made tortillas. We climb up Alaska Pass, known as that because at an elevation of almost 10,000 feet it is almost always socked in with fog and rain and colder than most places. The name did not disappoint us on this trip either. Around 8:30 p.m., just as our heads grew heavy and our sight grew dim, we arrived at the Hotel California, ate a late supper at the hotel restaurant and turned in.
The morning we rose early, repacked the trucks and headed up into the hills of the Sierra Madres, the mountain range that serves as the spine for Central America. It’s quite a steep pitch up a windy road up a barely two-lane highway as we climb from elevation 6,000 feet to more than 11,000 feet, slowing for the occasional truck laboring in front of us until drivers Marco and Dago could find room to pass. The weather was glorious, and we stopped at a popular viewpoint and saw at a distance heavy billows of ash and steam from the eruption of a distant volcano to the south. We made the stop a little longer than we intended – the view was so spectacular and the tea house below that serves about the best cup of chocolate you’ve ever tasted was calling us. While others were still finishing their coffee Julie Garrison and I hiked up the hill to get a closer look at two old and dilapidated structures above. We walked around the second one and saw a whole film crew there. The leader said they were there to film a famous Argentine chef named Arrelle cook a sheep on an open wood fire. He introduced us to Arrelle and we posed for a picture with him, and also examined the fine wines they had set on the table. Unfortunately we had to decline their offer to share the feast, but I did take a business card of the producer as he plans to visit Washington state soon to study viticulture.
The rest of our trip was long, but uneventful and actually pretty fun as we made our way along the mountainous highway taking in the glorious views. Ed Hong entertained us along the way with his Ukelele. Occasionally we would come upon a cross where someone had plunged down, in one case a bus that went over the side some years ago killing 32, including Dago’s brother-in-law. Someone blamed the bus driver, who was said to be drunk. There are no guard rails on this road, just posts where they are supposed to be. Locals steal them when the metal prices are high. We made a potty stop and Ed, a little hungry, decided to try a hot dog from a local vendor – two wieners in a bun and all of the fixings and a small Coke for under a buck. That’s better than the Costco dog deal!
The Hands for Peacemaking mission house in Barillas was a welcome sight. Marco’s wife Mimi and their son Alan greeted us and we immediately plunked down for a delicious lunch of turkey over rice, then unloaded the truck. This afternoon we toured the Aller Center where Hands for Peacemaking manufactures stoves, white boards and desks and other items for the remote villages that surround us. We then began out stove training. The stoves we install are unassembled, so we must learn how to put them together and secure the stove pipe.” ~~written by Brian
Marie and her group went to install 125 stoves in homes and were able to interact with the locals.