Eeks! Suicide Showers

One of the most fascinating parts of our recent trip to Central America was the daily shower.  We had been warned about cold showers which are OK in a tropical climate but certainly not in 60 or 70 degree weather.  Here’s a little information about our “shower” experience.  Before I complain too much, this was in large part an outcome of our decision to stay in hostels or small inexpensive hotels.

Cold Showers

As a person who loves a very warm shower, I never thought it was humanly possible to enjoy a cold shower.  When I say “cold”, I mean that the water is the temperature of the public water system or whatever type of storage or holding tank is the source for the water, but for me that’s still a “cold shower”.  In Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama and Cartagena, there were no tears shed at shower time because it was 95 degrees outside – even I will admit that a cooler shower felt good.  To sum it up, we traveled for a full month without a warm shower.  I am still in disbelief that I survived it.

The Alternative Shower

We had so many experiences which are incredibly innovative – often out of need – I think there are quite a few lessons we N. Americans could learn if we could get over the thinking that environmentally conscious solutions would take us a step backward.  For example, when it comes to warm showers, there is an alternative to water heaters which run constantly and burn gas or electricity.  A “suicide shower” is a solution we could adopt.  In fact, here’s a photo of some of the options:

Intrigued and want to learn more?

 Often called “suicide showers” by travelers, these showers have a single cold water line coming into the device (in fact, most homes didnn’t have a hot water line, even in the kitchen).  As you can see, the “super ducha’s” are available in a variety of sizes and shapes – some have a wider shower head (but none of them have a Holiday Inn style smart spray!)  A small pea-can sized heater within the shower head warms the water immediately when the faucet is turned on.  There is one caveat – with a small stream of water, the temperature is nice and warm however a higher velocity resulted in cooler water.  On average, the water was warm.

So why the name?  The first time we encountered one of these strange-looking devices, I turned on the water and sparks flew.  It didn’t take an electrical engineer to figure out that I shouldn’t step in.  Instead, I notified the hotel staff and soon a workman came to rewire the shower, which looked something the one below but with more dangling wires.  As we met more travelers, we learned that my experience was quite common.

In one of our homestays, we showered under this modern beauty:

Last of all I want to mention that these showers are no reason to stay away from Central America as a travel destination, in fact it’s one of the dozens of experiences that make it a wonderful travel destination.

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Niños de Guatemala

Last week we had an opportunity which was so unbelievable that I need to share it with you. Unfortunately there will be few photos in this post however I´m hoping you´ll enjoy the story.

The office space next to the office for our Antigua Spanish School is occupied by a program called ´niños de Guatemala´, which is how we learned about the program and therefore had the opportunity to visit this amazing school called ¨Nuestra Futuro¨ or our future.

Ninos de Guatemala is one of hundreds of non-governmental organizations (NGO´s) working in Guatemala to improve healthcare, education or other social or economic programs. This one, however is a little different. They started a school in Ciuda Viejo, which is a small and very poor town about a mile from Antigua. The focus of this school was to provide an educational opportunity for the very poorest children of the city; children who live in families where no other family member has had formal education and those whose families cannot afford to send their children to school. What´s more, the families often need the children to start contributing financially at a very young age. These are often the children who are begging or hawking souvenirs in developing countries.

Because there are so many visitors to this unique school, we were asked to not take photos.  However the following are several photos of where the children reside.  Homes have no electricity or water.  Families transport water 1/2 mile up a steep hill from a central well.  They also have no cooking facilities in these cobbled together homes which are made of cornstalks, corrugated metal, old bus parts and whatever can be found.

Walking path to the fields where many parents work for a substandard wage

 

Homes of the families whose children attend Nuestro Futuro

In  it´s first year the school had only kindergarten and first grade. In the two subsequent years they have added another year so that the school now has K-third grade and has approximately 120 students enrolled.  If not for this school, none of the children would have an opportunity for formal learning.   The school has thus far received all of it´s support from the NGO.  The following are some of the characteristics that were so impressive:

  • There is a social worker at the school who assesses each family to assure that they meet the criteria and to continue to provide support.
  • Parents (usually mothers) are required to pay a very small amount, which is a token for commitment to the program, and doesn´t really provide financial support.
  • Mothers work as volunteers in the lunch program, helping to make the 120+ meals each day.  As you can imagine, this is a way to keep parents involved and committed to the child´s education.
  • Since many children come from homes without running water or electricity, they have the opportunity to take a shower at school.
  • All children brush their teeth at school each day
  • In addition to meeting the requirements for the national curriculum, children learn crafts that are valued by their families.  Examples are embroidery or carpentry.
  • Instead of being in school for a half day like public schools in Guatemala, children are in this school all day.  Afternoon programs build life skills and there are tutoring opportunities.  The afternoon programs are mostly provided by volunteers.
  • A physician and nurse visit the school regularly (although this is likely only enough for the most serious health issues).
  • There are free educational programs for parents – topics such as nutrition, health or family violence.

The Library

Most impressive was the newly opened library.  For most of us, we view books and a library as one of life´s essentials.  Not here, however.  Like many or most cities in Guatemala, Cuida Viejo didn´t have a free library.  But life is changing.

A young intern from Germany volunteered at Nuestro Futuro for the past year.  Her project was to start a library for the school.  It opened several months ago for the families of children in the school and already it is going to open for the entire community.  On the day we visited there were about 30 children from pre-school on up who were taking books from the library shelves and enjoying them in a way that absolutely warmed our hearts.  The shelves were empty by our standards but there were about 1000 books in total – not enough but a start.  There are also several computers This intern will leave on March 31, immediately after the community open house, which she believes will be well attended.

The children at the school were delightful and you could see how eager they are to learn.  What an incredible experience.

Tikal

Day 6

For the second day in a row we got up with the birds to hop on a bus.  Yesterday we rode from Chetumal, Mexico, through part of Belize and to Flores, Guatemala.  In Mexico the buses were large tourist buses however this trip marked the change to mini-buses and vans, narrow bumpy roads, potholes, stretches of gravel and non-functional air conditioning.  No reading on this ride.

In Flores, a quaint little town which is really an island in the middle of an inland lake, we got a great waterfront room with a balcony.  In this town a waterfront room is easier than you would think – the town is about a half mile square and all hotels face the water.  For this we shelled out $16.00 per night, including 2 beds, TV and wifi service.  Amazing.  The reason for this location was as a launching point for Tikal.

This morning in a deep haze we boarded a mini-bus for our one day trip to Tikal.  This amazing acropolis which is the middle of a dense jungle was a center of Mayan civilization.  The photos speak for themselves.

I forgot to mention that Plano Juno is going with us – she is a part of one of our granddaughter Mira´s school projects.

 

In addition to the historical beauty, the wildlife was incredible – howler monkeys, spider monkeys, weaver birds, parrots, etc.  And of course a pregnant tarantula which is being held by another traveler.