Yesterday was ADVENTURE DAY here in Guatemala!
I’m here with Lynn and Michelle of National Geographic and Carmen, our interpreter. We left Antigua at 8:00am for what we anticipated was a 5-8 hour drive to San Lorenzo. The first four hours were fine as we were on the Pan American Highway and there was very little traffic. The van was comfortable and Saul, our normal driver, had insisted he bring another guy because he had heard that the last 35K was “questionable”.
I know you’ve heard me say that Guatemala has 23 languages and 27 volcanoes, and I think we went up, around and over most of those volcanoes! What a windy road we had. Anyone who suffered from carsickness would have been throwing up the entire way!
Then we got to the last 35K… and Lynn was worried about the light (she’s the photographer), so she wanted us to take the “short cut” to San Lorenzo. She was also worried as Driver #2 was extremely cautious and slower than she liked, so we took the first turn-off to San Lorenzo and started climbing — up and up and up some more on a single lane road with hairpin turns back and forth until my head was spinning. Then the van came to a stop. It had overheated and we all jumped out hoping that the van would start, and in the meantime we all started climbing - up and up and up some more - with vehicles coming and going slowly, but continuously. Of course, this was the time it decided to rain! I was, at 9,000 ft and out of shape, having a hard time keeping up, but I did make it with the others to a small tienda in an area where two roads met. Still no van, still no van, and none of us had a cellphone or i.d. We knew the two guys were back working on the van, but we weren’t sure what to do next.
Michelle, Carmen and I crouched in the shop away from the rain, and then Lynn, who was worried about losing her camera equipment, decided to hail a passing police vehicle. Luckily, the police took her back to the van where she got things for each of us. Not knowing what to bring, she grabbed my backpack which only had my jacket, cellphone and the collection of scarves I had bought for a friend in Minnesota!
Of course, the others had been checking GoogleMaps to see where we were, so once Michelle arrived with all of their cellphones, they were out of battery charge. Luckily, mine was working so we made contact with the Project and let them know we were on our way, just late! Then, the very nice policemen drove us all of the way to San Lorenzo and dropped us in the middle of town. The town was, of course, very hilly, so we climbed another hill up to the Project where our hostess was waiting for us.
We then got into two trucks and took off to visit homes of people where chimney stoves had been installed 10 years ago. We were coming unannounced so only one home had people in it, but there were three with the old “built-in-place” plancha stoves. I only went into the one where the family was living as Lynn and Michelle prefer to be there to do the interviewing alone. The stove was still in place, but using huge logs, but unfortunately, nobody was cooking so we didn’t see what it was like with a fire inside.
This project is looking at the long-term effects of using a stove that uses wood vs a stove that uses LPG. They are checking birth weights, lung function, etc. It’s a spin-off of the old “Respire” study done by UC Berkeley, and documented by my friend Gabi Martinez at UO. The woman in charge of the study is someone I met years ago in Peru, and she’s very credible, so I’m excited to see what she learns. It will be the world’s largest study of the effects of smoke as it is ongoing in India, Rwanda, Guatemala and somewhere else that I can’t remember.
So, after all of that, when we returned to the Project, the van had arrived, having cooled off, and we took the OTHER short cut down to San Marcos to our hotel and walked to dinner in town.
It was an easy drive downhill, and we were assured that the brakes were good and all was well, but then we decided that it would be much safer if Saul, his side-kick, and I, stayed here in the hotel for the next two days while the Nat Geo people are ferried back and forth to the Project in the local trucks. (There just isn’t room for all of us!)
I’m perfectly happy to stay here in the hotel and catch up on e-mails and read a book, as what they are seeing in the small villages around San Lorenzo is all scientific stuff that I don’t need to see. Saul is off getting the van washed and cleaned, and I’m just hangin’