Tuesday, April 26, 2016


I spent most of the last two weeks in Guatemala on a kind-of service vacation. My wife has a better claim for service, she's on the board of a nonprofit that does microcredit and business education for women entrepreneurs there. We went for a board meeting and I stayed for my Rotary Club visit that was checking out projects it has funded over the years, including her nonprofit. Above is one of the stove projects we funded. Stove costs $125 for the deluxe model, owners pay $50, Rotary paid the rest. About 70% reduction in wood use, we tried to get an idea of how quickly they got their $50 back and it wasn't clear, several months I think (when my wife left I became Best Spanish Speaker, so the fault's mine). The project's new so we can't say yet about retention, but prior ones ranged from 50-70%, better than I expected. These prices aren't cheap - they work in certain parts of the country where wood is no longer free and people area a little richer than elsewhere.

We also visited my wife's Peace Corps village from 24 years ago, she said it was unrecognizable and much better off. The women she worked with also had a different type of eco-stove they got 10 years ago and were very popular - one woman used hers in preference to a gas stove she also had. They got their stoves free from a German nonprofit but can't afford to buy more on their own.

Both projects seemed much more successful than I'd expected for eco-stoves. If the stove cooks tortillas well, then apparently you've got a good shot at success.

Other aspects: I liked Guatemala City much more than usual for large Third World cities (I was a church mouse at night though).

Bus Rapid Transit in Guatemala City - standard dedicated lane and ticketing station, and as usual for BRT it seems very successful. Add Guatemala City to Jakarta as places I've seen BRT work, and meanwhile my local towns of Palo Alto and Mountain View in Silicon Valley say they can't make it work and it's too expensive.

Traffic-isolated, dedicated bike lane. Right next to some famous church our guide for the day was showing us. And on Sundays, the main avenue outside my fancy hotel is closed to vehicles and had families everywhere walking their children down the road.

We spent a lot of time in the famous Lake Atitlan region (Villa Sumaya hotel highly recommended, peaceful and beautiful). Probably wrong time to be there, very smoky at the end of the dry season as they burn in preparation for planting. We were informed the lake is in big ecological trouble, primarily from graywater dumping (I was surprised too, I'd have guessed erosion). Anyway it appears that banana trees love the nitrogen and phosphates in graywater, so one project is to get people to construct bioswales with papyrus at the bottom and ringed with bananas partway up. Pic obviously isn't a bioswale but it is a stream outwash hitting the lake. I'm not sure what they do with the papyrus, if anything. Ornamental bananas will grow here in California, so I wonder if we can borrow the idea.

I finally saw shade-grown coffee - didn't look that biodiverse to me, but that's what the experts say. Certainly beats industrial agriculture. I also saw surprising amounts of drip irrigation for seasonal produce, which I take to be a good sign, at least during the dry season.

No time for Tikal or for wildlife areas, unfortunately. Did visit a wildlife rescue project, very worthwhile if also sad. The Mayan archaeology museum in Guatemala City is excellent though, and probably a great backgrounder for people who are smart enough to go to Tikal.

Got quite sick for 2 days. Learn from my foolishness and don't resist taking Cipro, it provides huge relief. Who needs intestinal microflora, anyway.

Last note: I'd like to see less dependence on foreign expats at the top of every organization. There is some value to them as neutrals in local politics. It might also be us foreign funders who are part of the problem. Still, that could use improvement.


Barton Paul Levenson said...

Es bueno.

Russell Seitz said...

Next time drive down the Motagua and have a look at Copan and Quirigua

Jeffrey Davis said...

I had to take Cipro a few years back and c.diff followed. A month and a half of yogurt and over-the-counter pro-biotics.

Brian said...

Sounds unpleasant, Jeffrey! I've been eating yogurt proactively, although I'm not sure that actually works.

CapitalistImperialistPig said...

The eco-stove sounds like a really good idea, but it does burn wood, right?

Brian said...

CIP - yes they burn wood but 70% less than an open fire, so it's more sustainable and vents the reduced smoke through a chimney, so much healthier.

Also much safer in preventing children from falling into fires and reducing the injuries involved in gathering wood.