Saturday, December 31, 2005

Weekend in Copan

Due to an early morning bout with...ummm.....gastro-intestinal distress, I opted not to go with the gang to Lago e Yojoa, the largest natural lake in Honduas which is about a three hour drive or so from Copan. The distance seemed too far, too remote for someone suffering from such a stomach malady. So off the group went this morning, leaving me here in Copan to recover. No matter, really, as I'm enjoying the additional time to myself. I took care of a load of laundry this morning and went for a walk around town once the stomach issues cleared, which they soon did. So here I sit now at the nearby Internet cafe wondering where to go for lunch. Most likely it will be Carnitas, which is were I've had most of my meals in Copan.

So it will be a lazy afternoon of reading, penning a few lines in my travel journal, wandering around Copan and probably a nap at some point. The latter will be important as it's going to be a very late night. Some friends here are planning their own New Years celebration thing, complete with fireworks at midnight and I've been invited. This is way past my bedtime and I hope I can stay awake long enough to partake in the festivities.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Free Day in Copan

Finally a free day with nothing on the agenda. No excursions, no plans, nothing beyond what I'm in the mood to do. As usual I arose early, had my coffee, and was out wandering about Copan not long after the sun rose. I so cherish such quality "self time" and am certainly going to relish today.

This has been a very busy vacation, obviously and time to post as been scarce. As such, I'm going to hammer out an abbreviated list of some of the most recent highlights of the trip since I last posted. Most likely, I'll expound on some of the more interesting points once I get home next week.

1. Expedition to Guatemala. Yesterday seven of us piled into the back of the pickup truck to make a trip over into Guatemala. Our destination was Esquipulas, the location of a large church famed in this area for its statue of a black Jesus. Such a trip was more sacred for my friends down here than to me. I more or less viewed the whole thing as a novel curiosity and I was and am still trying to decide which was more of the curiosity: the statue itself or the behavior of the devout. They certainly take such things very seriously. Probably more on this later.

2. Maya Ruins and Coffee Plantation. On Wednesday I toured the principal Maya ruins here in Copan and got many good pictures. That afternoon we ventured up to the top of a nearly mountain to visit a working coffee plantation. This was my own pilgrimage of sorts and it was interesting to see the process from picking the coffee cherries to the sorting, washing, and sun drying. It's a small operation but their coffee is very, very good.

3. Cutting coconuts. My host as a tall coconut tree in his front yard and a few days ago we got one of the local guys familiar with such things to climb the tree and cut several bunches of coconuts that were ready for picking. It's a rather tedious affair in the sense that the picker is way up in the top of the tree and climbing here and there as though he possessed a natural aboreal ability. As is the supposed tradition, I was the first to drink the water from a coconut once it has been cut open. Rather interesting save for the bits of coconut husk and probably a few ants or whatever else was cavorting about on the coconut at the time.

Will close for now. Happy New Year, everyone.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Copan Update

It's been a very busy last few days, almost a working vacation of sorts. Between the party of the evening of my last post, the "Santa Rounds" on Christmas Eve and yesterday's activities, I haven't has as much free time to post as I originally expected. In a sense, much of my first week has been a "working vacation" of sorts, mainly in preparation of and then assisting with the "Santa Rounds" on Saturday. As I may have mentioned in a previous post, this entailed preparing and then distibuting "stocking" to poor kids who otherwise may not have much in the way of Christmas. This all day endeavour...we had 109 stockings to give out...was a truly memorable experience of which I'll write in greater detail once I get back home next week. To see the look of sheer surprise and joy on some random little kid's face when we handed him or her a little bag filled with toys, candy, and other little gifts was perhaps the most heartwarming experience I've had to date.

Yesterday's activities were much more laid back and probably the first real "vacation" day since being down here almost a week now. A group of us went up to the hot springs about an hour drive from Copan. As is very common here, we rode in the back of the pickup truck when afforded some fantastic scenic views of the mountains and valleys as we snaked our way up winding dirt roads. We also had a number of "stockings" and candy left over from the previous day, which we distributed on the way to the springs. These were some of the most special of the gift giving moments as the kids we encountered were rural and presumably living in extreme poverty. I can't recall if I've ever seen such looks of complete surprise and huge smiles. As relaxing as the time was at the hot springs...other than the occasional strong odor of sulphur on the trail....the last bit of gift giving made the day memorable.

Must close for now. Hope that everyone had a great Christmas.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Copan Ruinas

It's a warm and sunny afternoon in Copan Ruinas, Honduras. I'm simply just taking a break from a stroll around town to fire off this quick update. More than likely, I'll wander off to Carnitas, a great local restaurant, for a mid-afternoon coffee once I finish up here. One thing that has impressed me thus far is the centrality of everything to where I'm staying. Carnitas just around the corner from home, this internet cafe is only a block away, as is the local market. One pretty much just has to walk anywhere they may need to go. In some situations this may not be as easy as it sounds since Copan is very hilly AND lined with cobblestone streets which don't offer the most stable of footing.

Anyway.....going to bring this brief note to a close and head out for a coffee. This morning my host, a few local friends, and I have been preparing for tonight's Christmas party. Should be a lot of fun and most likely worthy of a few lines in my next post.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Hola from Honduras

Made it safely to Honduras yesterday, depite the ONE HOUR delay leaving Norfolk. Not a big deal other than whittling the time from an hour and a half down to about 20 minutes to catch my connecting flight in Miami. Was rushing from one part of the airport to the other ever fun. No matter though as I made my flight. Unfortunately, my luggage did not. Will have to go back to the San Pedro Sula aiport later this morning to see if it has arrived.

So far Honduras seems very nice. One of the things I've noticed thus far is that everything moves at its own leisurly pace. No rushing around, no hurrying. Rather nice.

Anyway....will update again later on when I have more time.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Preparations Complete

Packed now and more or less ready to go. As usual, having a slight bout with pre-trip anxiety, but that's just normal I suppose. The real trick is going to be sleeping tonight. Though my flight isn't until 9am and I'll be waking up at the normal time (5am) the excitement and the fear of oversleeping (as improbable as that is) will conspire to make rest elusive tonight. Yet I feel the need for sleep watching from the shadows, a welcome vision on the edge of perception. May as well head off and try to make that vision a reality.

Hopefully my next post will be from warm and sunny Honduras.

Friday, December 16, 2005

The Race Is On, 2005

Two days to pack and prepare for the vacation. Not a lot of time, but will be sufficient to finish up what I need to do. Other than having to administer a final exam to about 100 students for my advisor (another pleasure of being a graduate student) tomorrow morning early there is nothing on the agenda this weekend other than final preparations. So tonight I’ll prepare the lists of what remains to be done as well as the packing list, then tomorrow when I get home from the final around noon, the race is on. Reminds me so much of this very time last year (hence the temporal demarcation in this post's title).

Thus far I’m very happy with the new digital camera purchased on Monday. As I needed to familiarize myself with its functions before the trip, I’ve been a total shutterbug this week. The camera is small enough that I can carry it around with me wherever I go without me looking like a total dork. I was going to go with a larger Olympus (the same digital SLR model I have for work), but opted to go with the smaller Canon due to the ease of transport. No large camera and clunky case to haul about Central America. Just slip it into a pocket and go. Since one of my photographic goals is to capture “unnoticed,” daily routine things, having the camera readily at hand will be a benefit. I’m altogether rather pleased as to its capabilities (though it doesn’t have quite the zoom capabilities as the digital SLR I have for work) and the two extra memory cards I purchased will store about 500 pictures each with large file size and fine resolution. I’m still experimenting with the latter two features to derive the most appropriate setting for crisp, clear (and in some cases, printable) images.

A frustrating learning process at times (like accidentally reformatting a full memory card on Tuesday. Oops), but nonetheless enjoyable. Perhaps I’ve rediscovered a rewarding hobby.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Rainy Night...Again

Rainy and miserable again this afternoon, though not quite as cold as it has been most of the week. I took off an hour early from work to give me a head start on tonight’s activities, which includes laundry and the second night of cooking for tomorrow’s office Christmas party. Only making Polynesian cocktail meatballs this evening which are relatively easy compared to the cook-a-thon last night: five hours in the kitchen making mini-cheesecakes. Very tedious and time-consuming and I gave up after making 72. Yes, Seventy-two bite-sized cheesecakes. I crawled off to bed sometime after midnight and was up a few hours later for a very early day at the office. I cannot foresee a late night tonight…though the thought of a late margarita is tempting.

Ah well…off to take care of laundry duties.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Day Off

Other than the two days in June when I was out sick, today is my first day off from work since mid-April. I arose at the usual early hour and went through the morning routine. The only difference is that I’m still at home. Oddly enough, I feel somewhat guilty about not working today, even though I have nothing pressing on my to-do list for this week other than finish up an employee evaluation that is due on Friday. Possibly, I’m becoming too much a creature of habit, or work has become too central a component of my life that on some level I feel as though I should be there. No matter though. I have my pager and I’m sure I’ll be summoned at least once today.

Many things on the agenda today, the most pressing of which is the long-overdue acquisition of a digital camera. I’ve done some comparison shopping (mainly online), but am still not sure what to get. Whatever model I choose, additional memory cards are going to be equally important as I tend to take a lot (ok… maybe too many) pictures whilst away on holiday. Perhaps because it is so close to Christmas, I’ll be able to find something on sale. The downside of this is that it gives me less than a week to familiarize myself with the assorted functions.

Other things on today’s agenda are:
1. Haircut
2. Buying some additional clothes for the trip
3. Buying a new watch (my old one rusted in Thailand and has not been replaced)
4. Buying some walking shoes/hiking boots (not essential, but will shop around)
5. Cooking for tomorrow’s departmental Christmas party.
6. Stock up on cat food and litter
7. Buy assorted travel items (toiletries, a few rolls of film for backup camera, etc.)
8. Find passport and other travel documents

Will I accomplish all these tasks today? Probably not. I’ll be lucky if by the end of the day I can scratch the camera, haircut, and clothes buying off the list. Such a procrastinator sometimes. Not a big deal, as I still have six days.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Morning Surprises

This morning I made the obligatory pre-trip visit to the parental units, which went well. No guilt trips about being abroad during the holidays for the second year in a row, so perhaps they’re becoming accustomed to my new tradition. This is a good thing, as the tradition is going to continue with Philippines tentatively scheduled for next December and a probable return to Thailand the following year.

Christmas? Bah! I’d rather be cavorting about in the tropics.

Such a cold, heartless son I am.

I was happy to hear this morning that the parental units are going ahead with some long-overdue home improvements/renovations in the very near future. What they’re planning sounds rather extensive and I’m looking forward to seeing the finished product. As it stands now, their house remains virtually untouched since construction in the late 1960s, with the same floors, cabinets, tile, etc. all original. It’s in remarkably good repair, though the forthcoming work will certainly add a fresh, new atmosphere to an otherwise tired environment. This was surprising news as the parents rarely ever do anything out of the routine, let alone anything as drastic as this.

What was even more suprising was them showing off their first-ever passports, which means that they actually intend on attending my sister's destination wedding in Scotland next September. Quite an event for them as they've never flown before or been abroad. This means that I've probably lost the wager with the future brother in law about them actually going through with it (OK...I'm being a bad son again as I had absolutely no faith in their fortitude and suggested they'd rather view the wedding via webcam broadcast). Perhaps now that they're in their retirement years, with the 9-5 workday long over, they're beginning to realize the full potential of life.

Certainly a remarkable morning.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Early Rising

The heavy, wind-blown rain woke me shortly before five this morning and despite the temptation to burrow deeper under the warm blankets, I crawled out of bed and began my day. Just finished cup of coffee #1 and will shortly pour the second cup. I managed to acquire a halfway decent parking spot when arriving home from the office (not quite half a block away) so I won’t get too terribly drenched on the walk out to the Jeep when heading to the office in a bit. Unfortunately both of my umbrellas are in the Jeep. Little good they’ll do me there.

There’s something to be said about getting up at such an early hour. Plenty of time to catch up on the news and various blogs, have coffee, and leisurely plan the day. On drier and warmer days, an early morning walk around the neighborhood is sometimes part of the routine. Not today though. It’s absolutely miserable out. Of course the great temptation is to take off from work today, but I think I’ll just wait until Monday to use a day of leave, which will still give me a three-day weekend and presumably a better day than this to run errands and pick up assorted things for the trip. I’ve decided that such shopping (trip preparation) won’t occur on a weekend due to my pronounced dislike of crowded stores and long lines. So I’ll try to knock most of that out on Monday.

Off to get coffee #2 and get ready for the workday.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Just a brief note....

…before I head out to the university to give my presentation for class. Those paying attention may recall that last night was the night scheduled for talks, but the professor added an additional night of class (tonight) for the student talk and final lab session. So it’s going to be a late night between the presentations and lab. May have to partake in alcoholic refreshments afterwards as I haven‘t done such in a while and it will be most needed. The professor also extended the research paper deadline until next Monday or Tuesday if we need more time. Since mine is done, I’ll more than likely just turn it in by Friday thus creating a happy mood to the start of a free weekend.

So very mentally fatigued and sleepy right now, probably due to the dehydrating effects of too much coffee and not enough water during the course of the day. This is something I tend to do all too often and it’s probably not a good thing for the kidneys. So I’m now in the process of rehydrating myself and will get some caffeine going shortly to prepare for the talk. Otherwise, I might go to sleep during my own presentation which is something I want to avoid as it’s boring enough as it is and there’s no need to encourage the rest of the class to nod off.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Cold and Rainy Monday

Very cold and windy today with a stead cold rain. Most of Virginia is receiving snow but right here on the coast, its just very cold rain. This is the usual pattern around here as the bay and ocean tend to moderate the air temperature just enough to preclude snow. Needless it say it has been rather the miserable day which was compounded by the temperamental old boiler system at the office which only worked for a few minutes at a time before shutting off. The problem had not been repaired by the time I left work at 4:30, so I suspect the tropical plants in my office will expire tonight from the cold.

Speaking of tropical things….two weeks from today at this time I’ll be in Honduras enjoying the warmth and sun of a more tropical climate. Such an attractive proposition given the miserable weather here today. Once the semester is over Tuesday or Wednesday evening (we’re having an additional class Wed night for our presentations), I’ll focus more on the travel preparations. Still so much to do between now and then. But all that I’ll start worrying about later in the week. Still haven’t procured a new digital camera which is beginning to worry me as I need time to familiarize myself with it before vacation. I must get it by this coming weekend.

The weekend was productive on the academic front only (in addition to the usual chores of laundry and cleaning). Socializing and such were kept to a minimum due to approaching class deadlines. I’ve more or less finished off the research paper for parasitology class which took longer than anticipated as I spent a lot of time tabulating my data, then deciding how I wanted to present it. Later on tonight, I’ll do a few revisions and begin working on the Powerpoint for the presentation on Wednesday.

Finished the coffee and feeling a wonderful caffeine buzz. Off to be productive.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Decompression Time

The experiments for the parasitology project are finally complete. Though I didn’t quite get the results I was expecting, the data is still sufficient to qualify the work a success. As such, this weekend I’ll spend writing up the results and preparing a presentation for class Tuesday evening. As usual, several more research questions arose from this project and whether or not I’ll eventually follow these additional lines of inquiry remains to be seen. At the very least I’ll informally replicate the experiments next summer in order to assess the probability of seasonal variability in parasitic activity.

So for right now the agenda is coffee, cigarettes, and much needed decompression time. It’s very cold and windy this evening and the warmth of the radiators is especially comforting against the howl of the wind and rattle of leaves.

Must…not… take…nap.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Thursday PM

Just home from the office and relaxing with the usual cup of coffee and cigarette or three. It’s been a rather eventful work week with my assistant starting on Monday followed by the implementation of a few long overdue procedural changes. So at the moment things are rather unsettled around the office as everyone adapts to a new way of doing things as well as the revamped organizational structure. Adjustment takes longer for some than others and most are coming around as expected save for the Gang of Four. They’ve dug in their collective heels and are actively (and might I add vocally) resisting, so they will take a little more time. So this week has required much communication and team-building and patience with these four (and admittedly perhaps a little “divide and conquer”) and I suspect that by next week they’ll be back into the fold save for the One. At this point things will become umm… fun. Out comes the policy manual, off come the gloves. Hopefully it won’t come to this as I greatly prefer resolution via diplomatic consensus building juxtaposed to more forceful, and usually messy, means.


Hard to believe that it’s the first of December. Vacation starts in 18 days and I have a lot to do between now and then. The semester will be over on Tuesday which will free up some time to knock out some things here at home and begin planning trip preparations. Looking forward to the break though as I haven’t taken an official day off from work since mid-April and I am rather burned out at present.

Off to the university now to work on an experiment, the write up and presentation for which is due on Tuesday. Thus far, it’s been rather unsuccessful, but that’s science for you. Just hope I have enough data to make it all worthwhile. Otherwise, I’m screwed. So totally, royally screwed.