Wednesday, January 27, 2010

I'm a lucky guy

For the past sixteen plus years, I've been fortunate to have an interesting and rewarding job as County Extension Education Director in Des Moines County. In those sixteen plus years, I've worked with many wonderful people: community leaders, volunteers, elected officials and fellow Extension staff. I've been especially blessed over the years to have what is undoubtedly the finest staff in the state. All of them are highly motivated people who put their hearts into their work. They're so good that they allowed me to live my management philosophy: "I don't hire people who need management!"

Last night, with the support of our wonderful Extension Council, my staff hosted a super going-away party for me. I was humbled by all the wonderful people who came to say good-bye...people with whom I've worked during my career in Des Moines County. Thank you to all who came and especially to my great staff, who worked so hard to make it an evening to remember.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Packing - second time

We've totally unloaded and repacked again. Since we are allowed to check two bags each (each under 50 pounds), we've divided our study material (books) between two small roller board cases. Since neither is full, we use our memory foam pillows to fill the remaining space and keep our books from shifting. We're hoping to keep our roller board duffles under 45 pounds. To make sure we don't exceed 50 pounds and incur extremely high excessive weight charges, we're going to take our bags down to the Burlington airport and ask them to weigh our duffles for us.

Dedicated email address added

I've added a dedicated email address for private inquiries. To find it, click on "View my complete profile" on the right side of the page. On the profile page, click on "email" under "Contact." Questions asked here will not appear on the blog itself, unless they are of general interest and I cut and paste them.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Our Current Itinerary

We begin our Guatemalan adventure on Sunday, January 31. Our good friends, Judy and Al, will drive us to the Amtrak station in Galesburg, where we will board the 7:00 p.m. Carl Sandburg and travel to Union Station in Chicago. Once at Union Station, we'll be met by a limousine that will deliver us to O'Hare airport, where we will depart for Guatemala at about 2:00 a.m. We're flying on TACA, a Central American airline.

Our non-stop flight to La Aurora airport in Guatemala City should take about 4 1/2 hours. By the way, the round trip tickets for this trip only cost $200 each, about half their normal price. TACA advertises that they have the lowest airfares to Latin America and this time they really came through. I guess they'll tie the crates of chickens to the roof of the aircraft. :0)

At La Aurora airport, we will be met by a private driver in a Mercedes, who will take us to our hotel in Cuidad Vieja (about 7 kilometers or 4.3 miles south of La Antigua). We're staying in a small hotel, La Casa de los Tios (House of the Uncles), that has two apartments for rent. The two apartments are named after nearby volcanoes, Agua (water) and Fuego (fire). We're staying in the Agua apartment. Here's a link to show you what a rough time we're going to have for the first six weeks of our stay: For all this we're paying the exorbitant rent of $55 per week or about $7.86 per day.

We'll be in the La Antigua area for six weeks working with Child Aid (, a nonprofit from Oregon that works with indigenous (Mayan) schools and libraries. We'll be doing computer repair and maintenance and perhaps be helping on a bookmobile chicken bus. I may also be doing some grant writing for them. For most of our projects, which will be in nearby villages, we need to travel by chicken bus. Some projects, like a 16 computer lab in a village near Lake Atitlán, may require that we stay one or more nights in a neighboring town while doing the project. We'll also be studying Spanish with the help of the 25 pounds of instructional material we brought with us.

After we finish our six weeks in the La Antigua, we're planning on traveling to the Petén, the northern-most department (state) of Guatemala. We'll begin by having the driver, who delivered us to our hotel, take us to the Linea Dorada bus station in Guatemala City, where we will take the 9:00 p.m. Pullman bus ($30 each way) to Flores. We should arrive in Flores (an island on Lake Petén Itzá) around 7:00 a.m., after sleeping for most of the trip.

After breakfast, we'll take the 2:00 p.m. bus ($6 each way) to Tikal National Park ( where we'll probably stay at the Jungle Lodge ( I had thought of renting a hammock under a palapa (thatched roof), but discovered the hotel was cheaper. The hammock rents for about $8-10 per night, but, according to Linda, would require two silk sleep sacks ($40 each) and delivery of our heavier luggage to the bus station when we returned to Guatemala City ($35), since we didn't want to carry it with us to Tikal. Thus, a private hotel room, which can be used to secure our luggage, for $60/night is actually cheaper than sleeping in a hammock! Don't you just love logic?

We're staying two nights at Tikal so that we have enough time to really explore it. We'll use a guide, at least initially, so that we can maximize the experience. They say that sunrise and sunset from on top of the tallest pyramid is quite an experience.

After we leave Tikal on Thursday, we'll return to Flores, where we'll rent space in a hostel ($6.66), so that we have a place to store our luggage prior to our 9:00 p.m. departure for Guatemala City. We should arrive in Guatemala City around 7:00 a.m., so that we can take the 8:00 a.m. Pullman bus to Xela (Quetzaltenango). We should arrive around noon, although we could be delayed, as I've heard that there is major construction on the Central American Highway (part of the Pan American Highway).

After arriving in Xela, we take a taxi to our guest house, Casa Latina (, where we will also stay for six weeks. For these crude accomodations, we'll pay the princely sum of about $42 per week. What's interesting is that the last time we were in Xela (2007), we actually saw Casa Latina being built, although we didn't know what it was. It's actually directly across the street from the home of the family we boarded with on that last trip.

While in Xela, we'll be volunteering with two nonprofits: Partners in Solidarity ( , for which we will be doing computer support and repair in some of the thirty indigenous villages in which they have installed computer labs, and Primeros Pasos (First Steps -, for which I'll be doing grant writing in support of their health care and health education projects in the Palajunoj Valley outside of Xela. We also be studying Spanish with the help of a private teacher (Q30 or $3.75/hour for the two of us).

At the end of our adventure, we'll return to Guatemala City by Pullman bus and probably take a taxi or shuttle to Antigua for our last night and day in Guatemala. Our flight leaves at 8:30 p.m. and should land in Chicago around 2:00 a.m. After going through customs, we'll take the subway to the Chicago Loop and walk the short distance to Union Station, where we will take the 7:30 a.m. Carl Sandburg back to Galesburg, arriving around 10:30 a.m.

Now, if there is anything about Latin America that is a truism, it's that no plan remains unchanged. So stick around and discover what actually happens to Don and Linda as we experience our new 2010 adventure in Guatemala.

Packing - first time

On Sunday, we packed for the first time for our Guatemala trip. We're using two roller-board duffel bags (with backpack straps for use when rolling doesn't work, i.e. on cobblestone streets) to carry most of our gear. Mine weighed in at about 45 pounds (we're allowed 50 pounds), so I'll need to go back and try again. We don't know what Linda's weighs, but it got to be about the same. We're allowed two pieces of checked luggage each that don't exceed 50 pounds. We'd really like to keep everything in one bag, since we also have a suitcase for our study materials (weighing in at 25 pounds right now), my CPAP (breathing) machine for my sleep apnea, Linda's case for her diabetic supplies and our prescription medicine and our two carry-on backpacks, which will carry our laptop computer and our new netbook. Fortunately, we won't have to carry our gear very far.