2010 Year in Review

December 31, 2010 at 9:29 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Costa Rica, Cuisine, Culture, Cuzco, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guatemala City, Kiva, Microfinance, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel, United States | Leave a comment
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I usually don´t have new year´s resolutions, but the last few years, it has been a generic “make this year better than the last”.  Whether that be traveling to 15 countries or graduating from college or working for Kiva, this year has been both un-forgettable and equally hard to top. Here are some highlights!

January. I´ll bring this full circle. Last New Year I spent in Frankfurt, Germany with Sandra Nymphius lighting off bottle rockets. A subsequent trip to the glorious dutch nation of Holland to visit Shamir, eat herring, and see Amsterdam make January 2010 equally unforgettable.

February-March. Columbia with Devin Dvorak. This whorlwind tour of Medellin, Cartagena, Santa Teresa, and Bogota involved a lot of beach side eating, mojitos, salsa dancing, and monkey chasing.  Never forget that day in Cartagena eating Ceviche… And back at Pepperdine for Songfest! Half the time I think I hated doing the practices, but at the end (and KTD´s almost win), I wouldn´t trade it for the world.

April. Wine tasting for my birthday. Getting the Kiva Fellowship. Graduating from college. My favorite month / memories of 2010…

May-June. Cruising the Mediterranean with Princess Cruises with the parents. Highlights: seeing Venice, quads in Mykonos, the spice market in Istanbul, Florence, Rome, and going back to Barcelona (easily one of my favorite cities in the world).  Road tripping up to San Luis Obispo with Hallie. The 24 hour drive out to Houston for Andy and Trudy Smith´s wedding.

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July-August. Kiva Training. Visiting with the cousins in San Francisco. Moving to Guatemala City to start my fellowship. Getting robbed on Roosevelt in Guatemala City (not a highlight but definitely memorable).  Moving to Aldea Nimasac in Guatemala. Visiting Lago Atitlán.

September-October. Kiva Vacation in Nicaragua (one of my favorite vacations of all time). Kiva Vacation in El Salvador. Surfing. Visiting with Devin Dvorak in Costa Rica. Seeing the Kite Festival in Sumpango.

November-December. Visiting the U.S. My weekend in San Diego. Moving to Cusco, Peru. Finding the meeting place. The near miss with a Machete Robbery. Having Marc Capule come visit. Exploring the Incan Culture and Ruins. Christmas with Peruvians and brunch in San Jeronimo.


Guatemala Rundown (1)

October 27, 2010 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Antigua, Culture, El Salvador, Guatemala, Lago Atitlan, Mountains, Travel | 1 Comment
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So, in exactly 8 dias, my feet will touch U.S. soil once again.  Now, this usually isn´t a feeling I have when I´m traveling, but I´m ready to go home.  It´s not that I haven´t enjoyed Guatemala; it´s just that i´m ready to move on to the next adventure.  I have basically finished my Kiva workplan for FAPE (at the start of the fellowship 770 hours of work), and am (minus a couple of field visits) just bidding my time.

But before I go, I wanted to post a short series (and will help keep me busy) about Guatemala: my favorite and least favorite parts and what I have learned about life and microfinance.

Lago Atitlan. For anyone that has visited Guatemala, they would list this as a highlight.  Six years ago, I came to Guatemala on a high school trip building a school and besides the sacrificed goat on the steps of a church in Chichicastenago, the iconic image of three volcanos shrouded in clouds was forever burned in my memory.  And thankfully so, the film from six years ago was ruined and my camera this time was stolen before I could back up the pictures.  Particularly jumping into the pristine water from the cliffs in San Marcos and eating the fresh burritos and drinking coffee from a nameless café on the waterfront will inevitably be some of the highlights of my trip.

Antigua. Is it too touristy to say this? The pristine colonial city nestled in the mountains just minutes from Guatemala City was my refugee multiple times from the city.  There are more extranjeros in a 10 block radius here than the rest of Guatemala (ok, I made that up, but its true), and more cafés than natives, but the presence of an additional police force keeps the streets clean and I can´t think of a better place in the world to spend an afternoon drinking a coffee on the patio of a café overlooking its cobblestone streets.

Totonicapán. Or the Xela and the surrounding mountains. The only place you can get a real taste of Guatemala.  Small towns, beautiful churches, comedores serving a hot caldo de res (soup) on a cold day, and untouched mountains.  Where corn is more popular than McDonalds (and more prolific: think corn tamales, tortillas, atoll (corn drink), corn liquor, and whatever else you can dream of) and where hospitality is a way of life.  My two weeks living in a small village in Aldea Nimasac and being the first gringo that most of the kids had ever seen was unparalleled.

My reason to return to Guatemala: Tikal, the Mayan ruins in the Peten district to the northeast. Yesterday, someone asked me my favorite parts of Central America, I replied that lets take the food, culture, Lago Atitlan, Antigua, and combine them with the beaches in El Salvador.  Ideal.

Going Above and Beyond

September 10, 2010 at 1:00 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Guatemala, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance | Leave a comment
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A new kiva fellows blog on other services given by microfinance institutions!


Cooking Lessons

September 9, 2010 at 2:46 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Cuisine, Guatemala | 3 Comments
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Read this if your names are Sam or Kim or if you want to learn how to cook some delicious Guatemalan cuisine!

Could you please teach me how to make comida chapina? I asked.

Yes, Claudia replied. But not tonight. Tomorrow we will make some good Guatemalan food.

The next day I asked, So, what are we going to make.

Chomí con Pollo.

Sounds good. I replied, Do you know how to spell that? As usual, had no real idea what we would be making or eating that night.

For this recipe you need: (serves 4-6)

  • A whole chicken
  • Four Carrots
  • Guiskuil (if you can find it)
  • Three stalks of Celery (with the leaves)
  • One Red Bell Pepper
  • Half cup diced onion
  • One package of Chow Mein
  • Two Tablespoons of Soy Sauce
  • One cube of chicken bullion
  • Salt to taste
  • Two serranos (if  you dig some spice)
  1. First boil the chicken with the skin on in salt water (about 10-12 cups) for at least 30 mins (watch earlier to see if the chicken is done, all these times are at altitude of 7500ft).
  2. When waiting for the chicken to boil, cut the guiskuil and carrots into thin inch long strips, and remove the strings from the celery and dice both the celery (with the leaves) and bell pepper into small chunks.
  3. After the chicken is done, remove from the water and begin to debone the chicken and cut the skin and meat into half-to-quarter inch chunks
  4. Put the guiskuil and carrots in the same salt water and boil for 20-25mins (until the carrots are soft enough to break easily)
  5. Remove the carrots and guiskuil from the water and add one package of chow mein to the same water (the noodles broken up into 3 inch pieces).  Boil the noodles for 10 mins or until fully cooked.
  6. Strain out the salt water, and rinse the chow mein in cold water.
  7. In a large frying pan, add a tablespoon of cooking oil and the half cup of diced onion. Sautey until brown. Add the serranos here to make it a bit more spicey.
  8. Add the diced bell pepper and celery (cook for two mins)
  9. Add the chopped chicken (cook for ten mins)
  10. Add two tablespoons of soy sauce, and the guiskuil and carrots stirring the mixture constantly. (cook for one min)
  11. Add the chow mein and one cube of chicken bullion and salt to taste.
  12. Serve!

woah, woah, woah. hold up. The traditional Guatemalan food I have been waiting to learn to make isn´t chomí con pollo but Chow Mein con Pollo.

Now, you might be thinking. I´m up in the mountains. I´m cold. I just made my Chow Mein con Pollo over a word fired stove and I need a hot drink.

This, my friends, the Guatemalans call Caliente

  1. Boil a medium sized bot of water.
  2. Add 2-3 sticks of cinnamon
  3. 1 cup of sugar
  4. 2 cups of chunks of watermelon
  5. 2 cups of chunks of pineapple (can add more fruit to taste)
  6. Boil the mixture while cooking for 30-45mins

After slaving over the wood fired stove for about two hours, we finally sat down to eat. Claudia´s husband comes in and immediately says. MMm Delicious Comida Chapina (chapin means Guatemalan). I thought, so, this really isn’t a joke.  Haha, I guess the Chinese and Guatemalans have more in common than I thought.

Where I´ve Been (Not a Facebook App)

September 8, 2010 at 8:09 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Cuzco, Guatemala City, Kiva, Mountains, Nicaragua, Peru, Travel | 1 Comment

Read this if you are wondering where I am. Where I am going (both soon and not so soon). Read if you have seen Guatemala in the news lately or if you were wondering what the life of a Kiva Fellow is like.

First of all, Happy Birthday Mom! Secondly, I have been way too many places in the last couple of days, and it looks like my journey is just starting….

I had to leave Aldea Nimasac. I had to get back to the capital. For one, I had basically completed my work there (with the Cerise 98% done and finishing my Borrower Verifications on Friday).  And secondly, I had a summons to present myself at the police station regarding the report that was filed (of my robbery). I was stoked at first about the prospects that they caught the guy and I would be getting my stuff back, but as it turns out, they only wanted to expand the report that was filed.

First, a recap of my time in the Aldea:

But I had to leave. Unfortunately over the weekend, it rained. Hard. It was plastered all over the news, and I didn´t realize how bad it really was until I received a phone call from my Dad asking if I was still breathing. Living in a village really disconnects you from the world around you (so much so that my Dad a thousand miles away knew more about what was happening than me 30km from the action).  Determined to get back, I convinced the driver at ASDIR: intentamos por lo menos (let´s try at least).  We tried two routes that were both blocked by landslides and finally came across one that went from Totonicapán to Quiche to Chichicastenago back to the road we wanted to be on at Los Encuentros.  After an 8 hour trip (that should have taken 3 hours) I was back in the capital…

On a completely different note: I got accepted to the following Kiva fellowship in Cuzco, Peru (so if you want to go to Machu Piccu there has never been a better time than coming to visit me!).  I will be working with a microfinance institution there called Asociación Arariwa.

And this Saturday, I am leaving on a 17 hour bus ride to Managua, Nica to meet up with some Kiva fellows for a vacation to Ometepe and San Juan del Sur!

As a closing thought, remember the words of John Steinbeck in Grapes of Wrath “How can you hope for heaven if your life ain´t lived?” And Viví.

50 Hour Weeks and Climbing Peaks

September 1, 2010 at 9:26 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Guatemala, Kiva, Microfinance, Mountains, Travel | 1 Comment
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Read this is you are really bored or if you care about me and about what is going on in my life. Contents: rainy days, movies, books, working Saturdays and climbing everything in sight. And a video of the valley I´m posted up in.

So, I only have two weeks here. Which means I have a lot to get done. On my workplan I have implement the “Cerise Questionaire” and do Borrower Verifications. All of last week I spent in the office trying to convince people to talk to me about social performance in the ASDIR office. Essentially, Cerise is a social performance metric that quantifies how microfinance institutions measure up against their own goals and mission.  This data can be used by funding institutions, can be used to benchmark their progress in the future in the field of social responsibility, and is a standardized measurement that can be used to benchmark microfinance institutions against others (a great tool considering the depth and breath of services that microfinance institutions can offer). Read here another fellow´s blog about the subject. So, I collect data and do interviews to fill out this 60 page questionaire.

My other job is doing borrower verifications. Basically, for a random group of ten borrowers, I check all the data surrounding their loan between Kiva´s system, the institutions MIS (read management information system), and the borrowers passbooks. It´s checks like these that allow Kiva to say with reasonable confidence that all the borrowers on the site are legitimate. So, there is my 50 hour week (even came in for a half-day Saturday!).

In my free time, I love Climbing Peaks around my house. If I don´t have access to sand, waves or the beach, I´d say that this is one of my favorite activities. Everyday after work, I change clothes, don my rain coat, pick an apple for the road and rise from 2500m to well over 3000m as I work my way out of the valley where Aldea Nimasac lies.  I drag myself up and slide down.  All for that great view at the end of the climb. Of sweeping fields, pine forests, and not one house in sight.

I come back as the sun is setting (although I never get to see it because of the cloud cover), and settle into the hammock with a good book or movie. And wait for Andreas to get back from work so we can chow down on his wife´s delicious cooking. Read: fresh tamales, tortillas, and platos típicos everyday. I know its a lot of work (helped chop wood for two hours for the word-fired stove and hot-water heater), but I could get used to this lifestyle.  If only I could stay for longer.

Stop and Stare

August 30, 2010 at 5:59 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Guatemala, Mountains, Travel | 3 Comments
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Read this if you wonder what exactly makes my life a One Republic song, if you have ever been out of your element, if you love thrift store shopping or lived in a town with less than 10,000 people.  If you have ever been the first white person a kid has seen or if you were wondering what happens to criminals in small towns in Guatemala.

Aldea Nimasac: population 6,591, elevation 2531m, 6.5 km from Totonicapán.

This is where I live. Well for now. As a roaming Kiva fellow, I get to work with multiple organizations here in Guatemala.  The first, in the capital, and the second here in Aldea Nimasac. The closest big town is… well small.  At least by my standards. I am used to Camarillo: which I consider a suburb of Los Angeles with over 600,000 people, not a suburb of a town of 50,000 with suburbs of less than 10,000 people.  Add some zeros….

Over the weekend, I trekked down to Totonicapán to pick up a sweater: yes, at 2500m, it is cold here, and the clothes I brought (an old sweatshirt, a long sleeve tee and a very thin shell) just don´t cut it. As I walked through town, I stopped every half a block at these second-hand clothing stores. Asking if they had sweaters or jackets in my size.  The store owner´s eyes traced my feet up to my head. They would laugh. No, we don´t have anything. Then, when I would ask about the biggest size they had, they would pull out a used, small A&F  sweatshirt. Does this fit? After the first store, I wouldn´t even humor them by trying it on.

I finally stumbled on a used clothing store and went through the same dialogue. But as I was browsing the racks, I found a large Eddie Bauer sweater. Yes, a little small, but this would do. I wondered what part of the U.S. it came from, and at 10Q ($1.25) I knew it had to have been donated to down here. In the U.S., I clean out my closet only to repurchase it six months later down south.  At least I didn´t have to pay to get it shipped? A whole industry based off the things we Americans no longer find useful.

Passing through the market, I stopped at a stall to buy some bread and papaya.  As I was paying, I felt something on my arm. A four year-old boy poking me. Seconds later, he had his foot pressed up against mine and his finger in his mouth looking down at his foot. He smiled and laughed. Am I really that big? As I walk through the town, the kids whisper gigante as I pass. I smile and say Adios–the standard greeting here–unsure of what else to do.

On a separate thread, as I was walking through the town to play soccer with the guy I am staying with, I mentioned how I got robbed in the capital. He grinned, and said I should have been here.  There are no thieves because they kill them. He corrected himself, well in the next village the neighborhood watch kills them. Here, when they catch one, they drag them through the town with a loudspeaker saying come look at the criminal.  When they finally get to the community center (an elementary school) they strip them naked and tie ropes and boulders to their body and make them haul them back through the town. He said, “the police never do anything…so we do”.

And because of this, the thieves flee or never rob again.  So, yes, mom, I feel very, very safe here. Now, I can walk around, and hike and not really worry about anything!

Tough Conversations: A New Fellows Blog!

August 28, 2010 at 7:52 am | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Kiva, Kiva Fellows Post, Microfinance | Leave a comment
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The most avoided topic in microfinance: deliquent loans, I touch on in a new fellows blog. Read it if you are curious about the other 2%, and what steps are being taken to avoid these tough conversations.

Fellows Blog: Tough Conversations

All the best, Eric

And because this post is pretty much just a link… I attached a video of my ride on the back of a moto to go visit clients!

Not all who wander are lost…

August 24, 2010 at 3:10 pm | Posted in Aldea Nimasac, Cuisine, Guatemala, Lago Atitlan, Mountains, Travel | 5 Comments
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Read this if you enjoy ranchera versions of Hotel California, if you like climbing volcanoes at 5am, or jumping off climbs into ancient Mayan lakes. Or read it for the secret location of the best burrito place in Guatemala or perhaps if buried somewhere deep inside you too have a sense of adventure and a little bit of energy.

A sense of adventure and a little bit of energy. That’s all lonely planet listed under the prerequisites to climb Volcano San Pedro, one of the three that rises up from Lago Atitlan. Somehow, I doubted that was all it took as the lake sits at a little under 1600m and the cumber, the top of the volcano is buried by a heavy cloud layer at 3020m. But, after three weeks of smog, and Guate City, I was ready to get out. And an invitation from Tommy, a friend I meet last weekend at the beach, to get some fresh air helped to seal the deal.

The trip worked out well into my workplan. This morning I had to be in Aldea Nimasac to start working to implement the Cerise Questionnaire (a questionnaire that works to measure the social performance of microfinance institutions) with Asociación ASDIR, another microfinance organization in Guatemala. And Aldea Nimasac is a part of Totonicapan which lies an hour away from Quetzaltenago (nickname Xela): so I caught a ride with the executive director of FAPE´s family to Xela on Friday, and made my way to the Lago Atitlan from Xela with Tommy early Saturday morning.

We got to Panajachel, the largest town on Lago Atitlan, (by the way, I was originally going to name this post something along the lines of traveling to places I can´t pronounce but decided to go with the Tolkien quote to reflect my journey as a wandering Kiva fellow) on Saturday and immediately made our way over to San Pedro which lies at the base of the Volcano. We took another lancha (small transport boats on the lake) to San Marcos—home to more foreign hippies than Guatemaltecos, and make our way to some cliffs that Tommy discovered the last time he was there.

We hiked past half a dozen long-term meditation centers and yoga places and finally got to the cliffs rising a good 12m out of the lake (for all us Americans a good 35ft). And jumped off into the warm waters of Lago Atitlan.

On the way back, we stopped at Moonfish for some burritos. Possibly the freshest, tastiest burritos in Guatemala (perhaps California as well). I had a falafel burrito (don´t laugh there is a huge Israeli community around the lake) with homemade salsa, super fresh veggies, homemade tortillas and the best falafel I have ever had (yes, better than Israel). All with the best cup of coffee I have had since Colombia: the coffee plants grew out back and they did all the drying and roasting of the beans on site! French pressed for maximum deliciousness. Needless to say, we returned the next day for some breakfast burritos and nachos—that for sure would have topped Lily´s in Malibu if they had bacon.

Fast forward to 5am. I dragged myself out of bed and threw on my Merrills. We still couldn´t see the top of the Volcano San Pedro, but having located the trailhead on Saturday, we grabbed our headlamps and made our way through sleepy San Pedro to begin our ascent. At the trailhead two natives stamped our hands and made us aware that it was 100Q a piece to climb the mountain with a guide. “And without one?” we asked. “The same.” I panicked I brought only 50Q for a meal after, but Tommy thankfully had enough. I thought they were going to send us the 300m down to the town to get the money if we didn´t have it.

I´ll let the videos tell the story of the climb as I was a little too out of breath to say much. 1400m is a way to climb and most of the time it was stairs straight up. The climb was even a bit harder because I was coming from Guate City. Thankfully, we had homemade banana and chocolate bread that we bought in town for around a dollar waiting to be consumed at the top.

And now, I´m here in ASDIR. Over the weekend, the combination of the climate change and being around some people with the flu caused me to be a little under the weather today, but I´m hoping it gets knocked out by some good sleep and some delicious caldo de res a little later today.

Until next time, your wandering Kiva Fellow.

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