Saturday, March 17, 2007

Parque Nacional Cerro Azul

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel.
Last week, all the aspirantes (trainees) traveled to other parts of the country to do a volunteer visit. it's a 3-4 day visit with another volunteer, to give us an inkling of what we're getting in to. I was assigned to visit Jeremy, a PAM (protected areas management) volunteer in Cerro Azul, Comayagua.

Cerro Azul is a small down of 500 people in the Parque Nacional Cerro Azul. The houses run along a river as it winds its way down from the tallest mountain in the area (also called Cerro Azul). Since I was visiting a PAMer, I expected a scuzzy hippie living in a mud hut somewhere. I don't think I could have been more wrong.

My volunteer, Jeremy, is a hardworking, relatively clean-cut guy from Iowa. And his house is far from a mud hut. It was a fixer-upper when he got it, but his stress relief activity has been working on the house and his yard. It´s on the bank of the river (and he had his own little swimming hole). It has a back porch with a hammock. The yard was filled with flowers. The house itself was simple, but had plenty of space, plus electricity, running water, even a heated shower! I did not expect my first warm shower in Honduras to come in a small town in the middle of a National PArk.

As impressive as the house was, the landscape was even more so. Mountains covered with ferns and trees (some trees at least...there's a bit of a problem with people practicing slash-and-burn agriculture there). Birds everywhere (as well as chickens and donkeys). Lot's of water.

As we walked through the town, it struck me that Jeremy knew everyone. And not just their names, but what they did, who their family was, and so on. He stopped and had a conversation with everyone. At home, he said that when he arrived he made a point of introducing himself to every family in town. One of his more time-consuming projects is coaching a youth baseball team. MLBPA gave a grant to the Peace Corps to start up rural baseball teams, and Jeremy's is one of the more successful (at least in terms of attendance). He tells me how hard it can be to motivate kids to play baseball when it's so much slower than futbol and he's the only adult encouraging them to come out. But at baseball practice, nearly 20 kids show up! I umpired a 3-inning scrimmage game, and it brought back a lot of memories of playing little league back in SF. Daydreaming in the field, taking bad angles to fly balls, the satisfaction of driving a ball into the outfield. The kids had fun playing, but by the end of three innings it was clear that their attention was waning. So we packed up the baseball gear and brought out the futbol. Here, just as in Spain, 10-12 year old kids are my match.

Saturday, after batting practice, we took off for Lago de Yojoa. We met up with other volunteers and headed to a nearby waterfall, catarata de Pulapanzak. It's a 20-meter waterfall that you can walk down to the base of and actually stand in a cave behind the roaring water. From there, we headed to a hotel, Agua Azul, on the shores of Lago de Yojoa.

The hotel was really gorgeous, and with all of us cramming 4 and 5 into a room, very cheap as well. We relaxed there, and it was really nice to take a night to just unwind, forget about the challenges of integrating into Honduran culture, forget about the long training hours, and just converse, hang out, and enjoy.

It´s interesting, the challenges I thought I would face here aren't the ones that I expected when I committed to go. While the country is less developed, daily life really isn't that hard. As a health volunteer, my site will likely have all the amenities: water, electricity, probably an internet cafe. But what will be hard is integrating into a culture that is even more different than I expected, where many of my american hobbies and behaviors are viewed at best as eccentric and at worst as iniquitous. Compounding that is the fact that my peers are generally married with kids. We had a presentation on the adjustments that volunteers go through during service, and the presenters said that their best friends were 13 and 64 years old. That seems pretty common for volunteers here.

But even knowing this hasn't fazed me much. I'm still excited to get to my site in 2 months and make the best of it. There's been a lot of talk among the trainees about where in the country they would like to go, north coast, mountains, the west, etc. I thought for a while that I really wanted to go to the North Coast, but the more I think about it the more I don't really care where I end up. Any site I go to will have it's advantages and disadvantages (we're there because of the disadvantages, right?) so I figure I'll just do my best to make it work and figure out how to be productive and enjoy my two years there.


Laura Weissbein said...

hey raph - im staying updated on your blog and definitely sending you good american vibes. some good gossip this time - Alicia passed the CBEST!! anyway, we are thinking of you & missing your presence. the more i read the more i admire you & what you're doing. insane. anyway, be good. you are missed.

Jared A. Sorensen said...


Honduras? Man, long way from PF, eh?

- J