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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Where Central America Shops..

 …for Discarded American Clothing

Early on in our travel in Central America and other developing countries, one of my observations was the number of children and adults who wear clothing with American logos or slogans.  At first it wasn´t so striking however t-shirts from fun runs, athletic teams or corporate events are regularly seen on children and adults in Central America, especially Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua.   As I began to observe the shops and markets, it became clear to me that discarded US clothing is a major source of clothing for people in the Central American countries.  What follows is what I´ve learned to date.

PACA Stores or Tiendas

Clothing from donation programs such as Goowwill Industries, packs clothing into large bales or ¨Pacas¨.   The bales are shipped and a wholesaler in the Central American country who in turn sells the bales to local people.  For example in Coban, Guatemala, bales could be purchased for 100, 500, 800 or 1000 Quetzales (7.7 Quetzales/dollar).  The purchaser may have a small storefront or tienda which then is essentially an American style ¨second-hand store¨ where clothing is sold for several dollars per garment.  In Coban, where this photo was taken, there were probably 20 or 30 stores within an area of 6-7 square blocks. 

PACA store in Coban, Guatemala

Public Markets

Another option for selling used clothing is in the public markets, which is where the majority of people shop anyway, whether for fruits and vegetables, household goods or new clothing.  You can always see when a new pack of clothing comes in because women are elbowing for a good spot from which to look through the clothing, just like an US ¨after-Christmas¨ sale.  As you can imagine, this is quite a feat as the clothing isn´t sorted by size or type.  Nevertheless, for people who don´t have the resources to purchase new clothing, getting an early look at a new shipment is probably a pretty good shopping day.

Public Market in Granada, Nicaragua

In several cities, and again in public markets, we saw pick up trucks of shoes only or as in the following photo, a large tarp was laid out with a huge pile of clothing dumped on the ground.  Any piece of clothing could be purchased for $0.50.

Santiago Atitlan, Guatemala: Shopping in the Hot Sun

 In the US, I´ve heard and read about the controversy –  if you donate to places to Goodwill or other similar donations services, the goods might be ¨sold overseas¨ and won´t get to the people who need the goods.   I can´t say that I understood why this is controversial, possibly I don´t understand the whole story. However after seeing that the vast majority of people in Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua benefit directly from this phenomenon, it is apparent to me that the clothing that we discard is getting into the hands of people who appreciate and value what we eagerly discard as no longer useful.

If any of you have more information to help me understand this phenomenon from another viewpoint, I´d love to hear your thoughts.  Until then I stand firm – having discarded US clothing available for resale is working for the people.

Lenten Friday in Coban

Day 9

By now its likely not a surprise to you that one of our favorite travel experiences is to see local festivities or celebrations. Today as we returned to Coban following a day in Semuc Champay, the traffic was very congested and then we realized it was being re-routed.  For Lenten Friday, which we may think of as a minor event, there was a huge procession (or maybe several) and the traffic was at a standstill all over town.

I’m not sure of the exact purpose or origin of this procession however it appeared to be a version of the “Stations of the Cross”. There were two very ornate platforms or floats being carried by about 20 women or girls. The first had Jesus carrying and falling with the cross and the second held the Virgin Mary. Hundreds of men, women and children marched, some carring lit candles while thousands looked on. There was very somber music blasting from speakers.

The procession wove through the city streets and stopped at each church only Catholic, I think) where there was a prayer service, more somber music, clouds of incense but no singing. In addition, some homes placed an altar or pictures of Jesus on their front steps.

If you have more information about this custom, please leave a comment.

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.

You can’t Judge a Town by it’s Bus Station

Day 3
To ease into our vacation (really because airfare was dirt cheap) we started by flying into Cancun and spent several nights in Playa del Carmen.  Here we are at the Philly airport.

Today we took a bus to Chetamul, which is a border town and a launching point for either Belize or Tikal, Guatemala. The travel books said the only thing to do here is to leave, so our expectations were low to begin with. When we rolled into the bus station in a drab part of town, we wanted to depart immediately. Upon learning there were no more buses to Tikal until tomorrow we had no choice but to stay overnight.

Imagine our surprise when we got to the city centre which has a huge market (we love markets), clean inexpensive hotels ($40) a Mayan museum and it’s a seaside town with a beautiful waterfront and promenade.

We settled in and walked to the waterfront, only to find that it’s “festival-time” in Chetumal. I’m talking about a pre-Lenten, MardiGras type event but more family oriented. Tonight the whole city came out for the parade, carnival, music and food festivity, like I’ve never seen before. Apparently there are 3 more days – each day the town hits the repeat key.

Oh, and we’re staying another day.

A Sewing Sabbatical

I’ve always thought professors are fortunate in that many or most of them get the opportunity to take a sabbatical – just time away to focus, re-focus, discover or study.  For the sake of simplicity, let’s say that’s what I’m doing for the next several months.  This week I will be retiring from my professional work/job in healthcare.  Two days later we’re hitting the road for two months – a time to travel, to learn, to celebrate retirement for both Kevin and me (his is a belated celebration as he’s been retired for 8 years), to contemplate the next steps and to enjoy life.

As you can guess, sewing isn’t a part of life during our travels.  While I don’t feel a need for a sabbatical from this creative form, it will be interesting to see how several months away helps me to reflect and decide on the next steps for my future.  While I don’t plan to work professionally, I definitely will plan to be involved in some type of work that stimulates my creative side and it likely will be sewing or fabric related.


From Sewing to Travel Blog

The upshot is that for the next 2 months this blog will be focused on travel as opposed to sewing, family and other aspects of life.  Please join me as I share our travels with you.  I’ll try hard to find some sewing, fabric or fiber arts to share along the way  but either way the posts will be replete with Central American culture.


Please bookmark this site, add it to your RSS feed or just stop by from time to time.  Either way, you are all invited to join Kevin and me on this adventure, sabbatical or vacation.  There won’t be any sewing patterns or tutorials but hopefully there will be a few photos and some interesting details to share..

A Second Career in Sewing?

Retirement is on the Horizon


You all know that I love sewing, fabric and all things fiber, but for the duration of this blog I’ve not posted much about the “other than sewing” aspects of my personal life (well, except for my husband, children and granddaughters).

In a nutshell, I’m a nurse by training and worked as a pediatric nurse for 25 years. For the past 15 years I’ve worked to improve the safety and quality of healthcare  – if you’ve been a recipient of healthcare services lately, you know that’s a job without an end in sight.

All totaled up, I’ve spent more than 40 years working in Children’s Hospitals.  I could probably write a book about the Pediatric diseases that were common in the early 70’s and thankfully are no longer seen today.  Likewise there are new diseases that were non-existent years ago.  My work has been and continues to be very gratifying.

Despite my love for the work, the time is coming for me to pass the baton to another leader.  So my boss has sufficient time to recruit for a replacement, I gave notice months ahead of time.  Today the announcement came out – I will retire at the end of Feb.  This will give Kevin and I the opportunity to travel and of course, I’ll be able to dream about my next career, albeit part-time.  

We’re planning a post-retirement trip to Central America but as yet I’ve not landed on my next calling but as you can guess, fiber or fabric will be in the equation.  Stay tuned.

Any career suggestions?