Friday, October 15, 2010

In the shade of the Banana Tree

Another day, another topographic study. (Well, my first real study, the other time was just a hike to see what we were up against.) Study days require early mornings, up at 7 am, at the here unnamed NGO office by 8, only to wait around for 20 to 30 minutes before actually leaving while people are doing heaven knows what besides wasting time. We set off in a pickup truck, luckily not in the pila, for the 1.5 hour drive to Masaguara, a neighboring municipality, which, although right next to Intibucá, is still lejos because you have to skirt around every mountain in the range to get there. 1.5 hours is speedy, especially when your pickup is going 100 km/hr along a winding mountain road that suffers daily from derrumbes (landslides) which take out big portions of the major highway. In a bus, it would be twice as long. When we hit our turnoff in Jesus de Otoro, the road turns to unpaved gravel. I keep thinking to myself that if I had money to invest here, I’d put it into roads so people could get around easier and avoid terminal back pain. Then I think that although paved roads would cut travel times maybe in half and save people so much time, time here does not equal money, it is just time, so maybe there wouldn’t be any efficiency improvements.

We are greeted in Masaguara by members of the Junta de Agua (water board) and pile into another pickup with our help for the day for the 20 minute drive further up into the mountains to the fuente (water source). The fuente in Masaguara is beautiful, a towering cascada along a rock face with ferns, palms and vines aplenty. This is partly the reason I wanted to come on this day of the study. As we hike through random tracks in the woods to the fuente, we chat with our study party for the day. Hector, the friendly Junta secretary who speaks a little English, tells us he has a friend whose child is named Needbreezing and wants to know what that means or what it would translate to. I would love to hear people’s thoughts about what that mother was actually trying to name her child, I told Hector it was gibberish. He also explained to us how people were up here in the woods chopping down perfectly good and protective natural trees to plant things like corn which grow poorly and have a low yield. He agreed with us that there needs to be more education and protection of natural areas, especially around water sources.

Hiking through the mountains to the fuente

The fuente

Once we get to the fuente, the only real uphill climb the whole day, the real work starts. We scramble down waterfalls and across rocky escarpments from one point to the next in a little train. Two guys are out in front blazing a trail through the woods by slashing down every bush (except coffee, cuidese with the cafĂ©) with their machetes. I’m convinced that Honduran men just love to chop things with their machetes, no matter how little it may actually need chopping; it’s a machismo thing. But they are handy with those things. They can chop down a small tree and make estacas (stakes) to mark our trail, they can slice through grass and brush that once seemed impenetrable, and one guy even made us a quick ladder/stepping log with notches carved in it in his spare time to help us down a rocky riverbank. I would probably chop my own foot off wielding those things, but it’s like an extension of their body almost. Off topic, but they can also cut the grass with machetes in towns where there is no lawn mower, which is quite often.

Making stakes

I was able to try my hand at surveying, which is easy and hard at the same time. All you do is look into a theodolite atop a tripod and read some numbers off (most of the day I was the note taker of those numbers). But you have to have a gentle hand to guide and then lock the theodolite in place and then focus it on the measuring stick in the distance to read the numbers. I tried it once then let Nolan take over. It was overall exhausting work, which I think I’ve mentioned before. Although you’re going mostly downhill, there is an occasional uphill stretch and when you are walking over big rocks and knee deep in bushes, you get tuckered out. Plus our lunch was about 2 hours late so I nearly passed out from starvation. The scenery was beautiful; the weather just about perfect and the company was friendly. The guys helping us out probably thought I was ridiculous, marching around in my rubber boots like one of the guys, but I think they secretly enjoyed my company.

Don't you love my boots?

Secret agent in the coffee bushes

We halted the study at 2:30 pm to be back in town in time for our 3 pm ride back. The NGO guy called at 5 to 3 saying they were waiting for us at the plaza and were about to leave, we convinced them to stay another 5 minutes. Of course, in Honduran fashion, when we got to the plaza, they were nowhere to be found and then called to say they would be there in 50 minutes, which later turned into about 75 minutes. And they said they were waiting, lies! All lies!

Feeling marooned, we walked a bit around the completely dead town, trying in vain to buy a refresco from the dozens of shops that were wide open with no one inside. It was eerily empty to 4 pm on a Monday. On the way back, I was exhausted, but those damn gravelly roads kept me from dozing off, as did our near brushes with death every three seconds. I noticed a binder in the pickup truck, a guide to the procedures of driving the truck from the NGO. I noted that the book probably strictly prohibited passing semi trucks on a two lane mountain highway with fog limiting visibility to about 20 feet, just a guess though.

I’d had enough after one day, achy all over and then catching a cold, so I let Nolan take over for the rest of the week. But I was still sad to say goodbye to our team of Honduran helpers, knowing that I would probably never return to the isolated community of Masaguara.

Church in Masaguara

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