Monday, January 14, 2013

Day Fourteen - Hospitalito and Respito

Lake Atitlan is a treasure. At sunrise this morning a few members of our group set out on a canoe ride. I arrived a few minutes late, so I didn't join them, but I didn't really need to. The view of the lake, the volcanoes, the fishermen and the birds was just fine from the dock. A low misty fog rolled across the lake as the sun brightened the peak of the volcano, then crept down the mountain illuminating the day turning gray to green.

Zack discovered Lox on the breakfast menu this morning, so several folks had themselves some Eggs Benedict with lox. The plates came immaculately plated with "good morning" written in hollandaise. I had one of my favorite breakfasts, chilaquiles - and the joke was that I paid for my breakfast twice. Last night I had guacamole but couldn't finish all of the blue corn tortillas. Chilaquiles are a breakfast dish made from the previous day's tortillas, and so it goes that the chips I couldn't eat were put in my breakfast this morning (a joke, yes, I'm sure they didn't save my chips). They were awesome. Well fed, we hopped a few tuk tuks and made way for the local hospital, our only solid agenda item for the day.

The hospital was way on the other side of town and it was a fun ride. Several major roads are under construction, so the tuk tuks race through skinny sidestreets up and down steep hills. They are quite maneuverable, and it is now clear to me why there are tuk tuks here instead of taxis or buses. Taxis or buses simply couldn't navigate most of the city.

The Hospitalito looks quite nice from the street, a large, interesting building with good architecture and a huge bank of solar panels on top. Well signed and clean. We entered to find a simple, well organized waiting room and were soon met by our host and brought upstairs for introductions. The Hospitalito has a heart wrenching history, much like the rest of this city, built from hard work and destroyed by violence and natural disaster, only to emerge again stronger and even better than before. Members of Farmer to Farmer have helped the Hospital in various ways in the past. I encourage you to read their incredible story on their own website,

Did you read it? I hope so. It is a story of hope and perseverence. Since my wife is a labor and delivery nurse back home, I had a special interest in the Hospitalito and a keen eye to their services in this area. In a town of 45,000 and covering a population of nearly 75,000, the region has over 850 births per year. Most of the births are not at the hospital, but are at home attended by Tz’utujiles midwives (comadrones), 3/4 of which speak only their native language. The Hospital has about 5 c-sections per month and takes high risk patients as well. Sadly, infant mortality is still relatively high, as is the death of mothers after birth. They have a lot of cultural and language barriers to complete care, but things are certainly improving with more access to education.

The staff are for the great part Guatemalan, with a handful of residents and visiting doctors and other specialists filling in. We were joined on our tour by two physicians starting to serve a four week residency there. The Hospitalito had a nice dental unit, but no dentists. They just can't find any. Twice a year, however, a dental team comes in and performs miracles for a week or two. Laundry is performed by one person. The building was incredibly green and well designed. The lights were off in all sections to save energy, but was still well lit by skylights and properly placed windows. Ventilation was great, no fans or A/C needed. This saves energy, and money. I was immediately reminded of the Hospital in Eau Claire, which recently had a bloated multi-million dollar addition built without any of these energy saving features. I left the Hospitalito feeling good about the things people can do to help each other, and I hope to connect some of my friends in the medical community to this amazing place that could really use help, big and small.

We walked down the road a bit to a small compound dedicated to helping those with disabilities. A man in a wheelchair greeted us and showed us their artists workshop and small store. We got to see some folks working on jewelry and recycled paper pottery. And of course we bought a few items that caught our attention. There is no equivalent of the ADA down here, and getting around in a wheelchair is next to impossible. Yet these people survive, smile, laugh, work and get by. Pure inspiration.

This is our last day in town, so I wanted to walk through the local market, and I'm glad I did. There is nothing like a big local fruit, vegetable, meat and fish market! The smell of fresh fish mixes with rotting fruit, the buzzing of flies, and the bustle of people. I got some candid photos and we continued our walk back to the Posada where we paused for lunch. Done with tours for the day, I returned to my swimsuit and crawled into the stone sauna for a sweat. Then a jump in the lake. Repeat. Then a few rounds of Euchre on the patio before a wonderful learning session with Libby, an acupuncturist and natural healer. She described several modalities that she is having success with a taught us some ways to improve our own health. I'm so happy to have joined this group of travelers, each one of them has something great to offer the group and we've really connected well. Even though I miss my family deeply, I'm finding how important it is for me to be on this trip to learn more about myself and my place in the world. Thank you to my travel companions for making this the trip of a lifetime.

The special tonight in the restaurant was Pad Thai. We ALL ordered it and were very happy. The Posada Atitlan has given us great accomodations, top notch service and wonderful food each and every day. All in immaculate grounds with a diversity of plant and animal life respecting the local environment. I can't wait to bring my family here. Tomorrow I'm on the hook for brewing coffee for the group canoe ride at 6, I'm tired and tucked in. Thanks for reading.

I should remind you that Farmer to Farmer is a non-profit member based organization. You don't need to be a farmer to join, or drink coffee. We could really use more members as we enter 2013 and I encourage you to join and see where you fit in, whether it is a simple monetary donation, volunteering for local events or even joining us on a trip like this sometime soon. Thanks for considering.

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