I haven’t written a blog before so I will develop my writing as the trip moves forward. Since this is my first journal, I will start from day one. The flights to Guatemala were easy, but it was a long day. I woke up at 4am to get to my flight in Reno, then had a 5 hour layover in Dallas Fort Worth airport. There are 5 different terminals there and you need to take a train to each one – I explored each one of them. In the afternoon I met up with two other students, Robert and Phillip, and we ate at one of the T.G.I. Fridays in the airport. We took the flight to Guatemala City and met up with the other two students, Sarah and Vanessa, at a coffee shop outside of customs. We waited there for about 10 minutes until our professor, Eliska, showed up. We had dinner then were picked up to drive to the town we are staying in, Santa Catarina Palopo. Outside of the airport there were two policeman on a motorcycle and the one in the back was holding a type of submachine gun – it was kind of shocking to see that as soon as you walk out of the airport. Throughout Guatemala City, there was a lot of graffiti on the walls and all of the shops were closed and locked off for the night. It didn’t seem like a place I would want to walk around at all. The drive took around three hours to get to the lake and we got to the house around 11. We met the assistant professor, Jenise, when we got to the house; they showed us to our rooms and told us not to brush our teeth with the sink water then let us go to bed. We were all exhausted.
The next day we were shown around the house, the little town, started lectures, and talked about the different projects and experiments we will do here. We will be making our own breakfasts and we will have shifts with two people making lunches each day. For dinner, we eat at a really nice hotel, the only place we have access to wifi. Previous years they have had lunch at the hotel too, but we are planning on doing a trip to Techal and a part of the eastern coast of Guatemala so we are saving money by not eating lunch at the hotel. I was told that the hotel costs around $11 US per person per meal and the lunch we had on Wednesday cost around $5 for the entire meal! It’s very different only having access to internet for about an hour a day instead of 24 hours like back home. It’s nice just being able to focus on the moment and get to know everyone here, but it’s also hard not having much contact with anyone back home.
Yesterday, we had a couple more lectures – one on aquatic plants and one on the chemical properties of water. We also started two projects – one testing how well the three most common plants at the lake filter the coliforms out of the water and one testing the rate of decomposition of each plant. In the late afternoon we went to one of the larger towns around Lake Atitlan, Panajachel. It was fun getting there because we all packed into the bed of a pickup truck. There are quite a few of these trucks with their bed modified to drive people around with patterned rebar welded to them to hold on and little bench seats lining them. In Pana, there are so many shops! The shops here are really different, most of them can barely hold five people in them. They aren’t like retail stores in the states which are really spread out. We all got a few gifts and snacks in Pana and took a truck back.
Today was our first day on the lake! We got up at 6 and were on the water by 7. Our goal today was to go to a few different locations and set up our plant decomposition experiment. The lake is absolutely beautiful; it’s hard learning about all the changes humans are putting it through and hurting the ecosystem of the watershed. I also walked around town with Sarah and Robert today. Sarah helped me talk with some of the locals and I got some really nice placemats for my dad to replace some we have at home. It was really cool because the lady who made them for me, Catarina, is the grandma of one of the caretakers here at the house, Virginia. Virginia and her husband, Ricardo, are the caretakers of the house and have three boys. They live in a smaller house on the property of the house we are staying in. Ricardo also helps run the wastewater treatment plant here, it works but not well enough to rid the water of coliforms (different bacteria species including E. Coli) and nutrients that feed bacteria so the water still contaminates the lake.
We also had a lecture on the history of the Mayan people and Guatemala. I learned a lot about the involvement of the United States in Guatemala’s history and our government participated in a lot of sketchy things that happened here that resulted in thousands and thousands of deaths. It has added to some of my distrust in the capabilities of our government actually helping foreign nations. There has been so much bloodshed as a result of our government (and other nations working for our government) that it is not a surprise why a lot of nations do not like the United States and don’t want our assistance.