Saturday, February 6, 2010

How to get from Todos Santos to St-Hyacinthe in 20 easy steps

Warning: reader may experience feelings of fatigue, frustration or déjà-vu. If you experience these feelings, please lie down and close your eyes, and the feeling will quickly pass.

1. Set alarm for 4:30 am to leave Las Ruinas. Take the still dark, dimly lit cobblestone road down the very steep hill to El Centro, and get on the bus where the person is yelling “Hue hue.”
Note: Attempt to ignore the fact that someone in the very crowded bus smells bad, possibly the larger gentleman in the row in front of you.

2. Drive 2 hours down the mountain to Huehuetenango, and ask for “la parada, por favor” when the driver yells out “La paserela”. Here, pass the 60L backpack that was on top of the bus and is now covered in white dust to the driver of the other bus yelling “Xela”, and get on.
Note: There is no chance to go to the bathroom, so try to ignore the fact that you already have to pee and that there is another 2.5 hours ahead of you.

3. Call when you arrive in Xela to let your host “Dad” know that you have arrived, then walk 5 minutes to the grocery store that is the designated meeting place, trying your best to look inconspicuous.

4. Spend a couple of hours greeting your previous host family, dropping off donated materials to the vet clinic for sterilization campaigns, and wolf down a quick lunch (because you haven’t eaten yet) made by your host “grandmother” at her comedor, before hopping on a coach bus back to Guatemala city.

5. Call your other host Dad when you’re on the bus, and meet him 4 hours later in Zona 1 of Guatemala City. Then drive another hour back to San José Pinula, grab McDonalds, have a shower, rearrange luggage, and go to sleep.

6. Wake up at 5:30am to leave to go to the Faculty at 6am. Hang out at the vet faculty for a couple hours working on trip report, before getting a lift from your host Mom to the airport.

7. Wait 45 minutes for the baggage check-in to open, (big backpacks are very comfortable to sit on), drop off bags, and then wait until 1pm to catch 2.5 hour flight to Miami.
Note: You realize going through security that when rearranging your baggage, you forgot to put your Swiss Army knife in your checked luggage, and grudgingly hand it over to the severe looking authorities.

8. Take flight to Miami, pass through US customs, grab fast food dinner, and work on trip report while waiting three hours between connecting flights.

9. Find out that connecting flight is delayed because the flight crew is currently on another delayed flight that hasn’t arrived yet.

11. Get on plane 2 hours behind schedule, and pull out onto tarmac.

12. Get announced that the pilot has exceeded his maximum number of continuous flying hours, and that we were waiting for a replacement captain.

13. Get announced that we had passed the curfew for flying to Montreal, and would be flying out the next morning.
Note: Word on the street is that they were just stalling, because hotels would be difficult to find with Super Bowl going on.

14. Wait in line to receive meal vouchers and hotel voucher for Holiday Inn. Flag down hotel shuttle, arrive at the hotel at 12:30am and check in.

15. Return to hotel desk because key doesn’t work. Get into your room, take a shower, and change into last pair of clean underwear that you luckily had packed in your carry-on luggage, because your checked luggage is still at the airport.

16. Set alarm (on both cell phones and on hotel clock) for 4:45am to catch shuttle back to airport.

17. Get back to airport, check through security, and look for flight on display panel. It's not listed. Walk through airport trying to find someone to direct you to your new gate. Finally find someone and get sent to the completely opposite end of the airport.

18. Get on 7am flight back to Montreal, arriving at 10:20.

19. Take bus number 204 to Dorval, wait 15 minutes in the cold for bus 211 to Lionel Groulx. (Note: You barely bat an eye when the kid that you’re standing next to in the bus- while you are wearing your 60L backpack, because there is no sitting room - throws up on himself). Take Metro from Lionel Groulx to McGill. Wait 15 minutes before taking a half hour bus to Nun’s Island to pick up bag of dirty laundry from boyfriend’s house that is there from previous trip to Calgary (boyfriend away for the weekend). Take same bus half an hour back to McGill, metro to Berri, metro to Longueuil, wait 15 minutes for bus, take bus 1 hour to St-Hyacinthe.

20. Walk into apartment, greeted by cat who gives you a scared look and runs away.

Total time from Todos Santos to St-Hyacinthe: 57 hours
Number of flights: 2
Number of times getting in an airplane: 3
Number of buses: 8
Number of hours of sleep: ?
Number of healthy meals: 1

Ok, it wasn't THAT bad!!

In short, the dog count with Andres wrapped up very well, with similar results to the stray count in May of 2009. Most of the dogs seem to be congregated around the cattle slaughterhouse and the two chicken slaughterhouses, with very few strays outside of these areas. I leave Guatemala with a red neck, some new language skills (I can now say such useful things in Mam as 'I have four white cats'), and a renewed appreciation for the beauty of the country and the people. And believe it or not, between the dog counts, sitting on the porch drinking tea, and the crazy amount of travel time, I did get some good work done on data analysis!

Thanks for following along once again!

Monday, February 1, 2010

Back in Todos Santos

It is wonderful to be back in Guatemala! I am here on a 2week 5th year rotation with VWB, in partnership with the GIV of the Faculty. I am here to do another stray dog population count, as a continuing follow-up process of the dog population control program here.

I arrived on Monday evening, the 25th, with my Guatemalan mom Blanca there waiting for me at the airport. When we arrived back in San José Pinula (just outside of Guatemala City), the rest of the family was waiting up for us with fruit salad already prepared. It was like I had never left, except that according to them, my Spanish had improved (I am skeptical). The following morning I traveled with Blanca to the vet faculty, where I dropped off some text books, surgical scrubs, and a couple of stethoscopes that I had brought on behalf of the GIV. In the afternoon, I represented Vets Without Borders in a meeting at the Pan American Health Organization that included participants from the veterinary faculty, the Guatemalan rabies program, WSPA and McKee, discussing the possibility of expanding the project in Todos Santos to neighbouring communities. My first day came to a close at the movie theatre with Blanca and Alejandra (my host sister). We went to see “Up in the Air”, and I’m quite sure we were the noisiest group in there!

It’s funny, but I feel more aware of my surroundings this time to Guatemala. It’s almost as if I were in a bit of a haze last time, which has since been lifted. The colours seem more vivid, the scenery more interesting: the crumbling cement walls covered with bougainvilla, the trash along the roadsides, posters everywhere, the varying smells of wood smoke… The road up towards Huehuetenango was incredibly beautiful, the mountains in stark contrast with the sunny skies. The “chicken bus” (ancient multi-coloured school bus) from Huehue to Todos Santos climbed even higher, as we moved into the fog of the Cuchumatanes mountains. I traveled with Monica and Carmen from WSPA and Carla from McKee, who stayed for a few days to visit the VSF project and to meet with the municipal leaders to discuss the possibility of the project’s expansion.

We are staying at Roman and Christina’s guest house, up on the hill in the community of “Las Ruinas”, overlooking the town. They have a beautiful garden with irises, climbing flowers covering a trellis, humbingbirds, and a hammock chair. We have our own kitchen, and have been drinking tea like it’s going out of style. We each have our own bed, covered in a very thick pile of fleece and hand-woven blankets for the chilly nights. Monica also apparently has a few “guests” in her bed, as the other night I heard her looking for the “pulgas enormes” that have given her a nice row of bites along her back.

The day after arriving, we followed Andres to the final houses that needed collars for their dogs. At the same time, Andres noted out a list of 6 dogs that had various health problems that needed attention, and so we did some house calls to see what we could come up with. I will be heading back later this week with what medications we could scrounge up here. Friday we did our first day of the dog count, which you keen Blog followers may remember consists of spraying unowned dogs (the ones that don’t have collars) with a red food-colouring based paint from a high-pressure paint gun. This was preceded by a trip down to the dump and the slaughterhouse at 5:30 am to observe the dog activity. No dogs at the dump, but they were apparently in the process of slaughtering a cow, because there were at least a dozen dogs hanging around outside the slaughterhouse waiting for food. I didn't stick around too long to watch, because to be quite honest, being out on one's own at that time in the morning is always a little creepy! When we passed by later during the count, there were about 15, fighting over a big piece of entrails.

Friday afternoon I went back with Andres to visit one of the dogs that required medical attention: a puppy of about 4 months who is very thin, and has a decreased appetite and diarrhea. The dogs here are only vaccinated against rabies, so parvovirus could be a possibility. Within my capabilities here (which are limited), I decided that I could bring back some oral rehydration fluids, some chicken to try to stimulate its appetite, and dewormer. I was pleasantly surprised to find that when I arrived with Andres, the owner had already gone out and purchased dewormer and had started the treatment! I went back a couple of times over the weekend to check on "Muñeco", and was happy to see him bouncing around with a lot more energy on Sunday.

It is much warmer than I expected it to be. Last time I was here, I didn’t have as many warm clothes as I would have liked, so this time I came ready for an Antarctic expedition. The evenings and early mornings are quite cool, but by 9am things heat up significantly, and walking around 16km (up hill, both ways) in the direct sun is hot work! I have a wonderful burn on my face (which I refuse to look at in the cracked piece of mirror that is next to our wash basin), but I am told that one side of my face is worse than the other, that my nose and ears are “muy rojas”, and that I have paler lines from my glasses. Awesome.

While the girls were here, we had lunch in the comedors. The servers have been very obliging to us vegetarians, serving up variations on the theme of eggs (fried or scrambled), rice, beans, French fries, and local cheese, which we like to ask for with subtle differences in each order (poor waitresses). The cheese is VERY yummy, although unpasteurized, and I'm quite sure that I would react positively to a tuberculine test right now :) Saturday was market day, and far too busy around town to continue the dog counts (we will finish Monday through Wednesday). There is little I enjoy more in life than an open air market, and the one in Todos Santos has to be among the best! People come in from all the neighbouring communities, bringing with them assorted fruits, veggies, woven cloth and all sorts of different wares. You can tell the Todos Santeros apart from the rest because of their typical dress, and I tried to give them my business as I shopped around for plantain, cilantro, eggs, tomatoes, avacados... in seventh heaven! Today on our count, Andres started teaching me a bit of Mam (the local Mayan language). Most people here speak a bit of Spanish, or at least understand, but the primary language is Mam. I should now be able to ask for my eggs, beans and coffee at the comedor in Mam, I can count to 10, and say thank-you! Andres' french is also coming along, although "fruit" is causing him a bit of difficulty!

Keep posted for the last leg of my trip! Thanks for following!