Thursday, September 10, 2009

Photo Journal

Participating in a workshop on marketing and photography at the park. I wanted to put this first so it would be clear that I do work as well, because all the photos that follow are of my random adventures...

My friend Marie from Miami took the trip down to see me and I of course had to take her the lake where we kayaked (or moreso I kayaked and let her enjoy the ride :)

Going out for an afternoon boat ride on Lake Peten Itza.

Climbing temple after temple at Tikal.

Tikal was just as beautiful as they all say.

Overlooking the you an incredible feeling!

The temple of the Jaguar. Even more impressive in person.

Eddy's 14th birthday party. Probably the most exciting one yet with traditional dances, merengue, duranguense, marimba and then we joined in with some line dancing, the cupid shuffle and even the dance from Slumdog Millionaire (thanks to Jess and Erika)!

My family had never heard of smores before so of course I had to fix that. We didn't have Hershey's and graham crackers, but Chiky's work just fine. Here's my host brother Chico using the stove to make his.

One of my good friends here Molly celebrated her birthday by inviting my family and I to her family's humble abode in the mountains overlooking Totonicapan...quite the party :) Molly and I pulled off a descent Guatemalan lunch and she treated us to a pumpkin-like pie.

Tiff came to visit and we definitely took advantage of her time by traveling around my area, including the ruins at Iximche.

On our way to the Nature Reserve in Panajachel (cute trail with lots of monkeys, butterflies and a waterfall).

Traveling with the two of them is quite the adventure. I have to say we make quite a group- the American, the Frenchwoman (Chloee) and the Indigenous Guatemalan woman (dona Filomena)- I love it!

We look like quite the cave explorers, don't we?

When my friends Jess and Erika came to visit I dragged them on quite the tour, one of our stops being the zip-line at the park Chuiraxamolo.

Semuc Champey. What can I say- it's one of the most beautiful sites I've been to so far in Guatemala. Limestone pools with caves, an underground river and surrounded by lush jungle.

We spent a day white-water rafting with the association of a fellow Peace Corps volunteer ( It was quite exciting as it was my first time and we conquered a few class 5 rapids...

My "second family" here invited me to the wedding of their son (second from right). Chloee and I of course arrived in style with traje from Santiago Atitlan :)

Chloee and I decided one Saturday to hike up the nose of Rostro Maya (Indian face). It's the tallest point in the photo below. The trail was a bit challenging but worth it to walk through the coffee fields, corn, forest and so forth. We began in San Juan La Laguna and ended up in Santa Clara La Laguna.

It feels so amazing to be on top of the water in kayak...with an incomparable view. Sigh.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Apologies for getting behind

So these past few weeks I've felt this guilt on my shoulders about not writing here to let you all know how life is going. Sigh. I feel like I'm always so busy and am beginning to think that it's me, overcommitting as usual. But life is good and I'm happy. I have various projects at work, the main ones being our marketing plan (we've already joined facebook and are about to upload to youtube...I'll post it here soon) and putting together business plan workshops for other community tourism projects. I'm also teaching English and environmental ed in the elementary school each week which has been an interesting challenge. It can definitely be fun and now I have little friends to talk with every time I walk down the street :)

As far as life stuff goes, I had my 25th birthday the end of May (I can't believe I'm already a quarter of a century...) My family here threw me a birthday dinner, complete with magic candles thanks to Molly and a dance. My co-workers at the park also surprised me with a birthday lunch; I felt quite loved :) June flew by, and at the end I had my first visitor from the States. My old college friend Tiff and I did a 5 day whirlwind tour of Antigua, Solola, Panajachel, San Marcos La Laguna, Santa Clara, the ruins at Ixmche and of course El Novillero. And then there was the 4th of July, which means a huge party for volunteers. I have to admit I really enjoyed our barbecue of hamburgers, hot dogs and potato salad. And then the next week my family and I took a road trip to visit my volunteer friend Molly in Toto for her was super fun and well worth packing the six of us in their small car!

And on the occasional day off I've gone hiking with Chloee our French volunteer, kayaking on the lake, more birthday parties, cooking with friends, movies with my little brothers, exploring small town fairs and so on.

Last week I went back to the Peace Corps headquarters for a two day Reconnect conference. It was pretty interesting to hear from my fellow volunteers about their experiences (aka crazy stories) and discuss how we are all handling the seemingly endless cultural differences. Every time I travel or spend outside of the US, I seem to learn more about where I come from and what makes up how I see the world; you come to understand that we all have very different "eyes". But oh how I love it!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Good days

Volcano on Lake Atitlan...
Teaching high schoolers about taking care of the environment and the importance of reforestation.

My tree I planted in the forest!Walking the trails and climbing up Tikalito- 192ish stairs up the mountain.
Rachel taking a break.
Mama Lupe's birthday party (she's on the right). My host mom (Dona Oralia) is on the left and my host dad (Don Miguel Angel) on the right.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

How time flies

I have seriously neglected my blogging duties lately and for that I apologize.  Life has just been flying by at a crazy pace, and I don't even know where to start from to catch you up.  Here's a list of some of the major points:


- Two grant proposals were submitted this past week, one for a World Bank competition on climate change, and the other through National Geographic and Ashoka's Changemakers for Geotourism.  You can check out the second one online at:

It's in Spanish, but for those of you who are able, look it over and make comments; it'll help us out!

- I've been participating in regional meetings for community tourism and sustainable tourism, getting to know strategic partners and the current alliances we have.

- We're trying to improve the signage in the front of the park, so I got a hold of a router and we've been making wooden signs to guide the way.

- I've also been collaborating quite a bit with Chloee, the French volunteer here doing a practicum in tourism, trying to improve kitchen processes and quality.  

- I worked with a group of students that came last week to learn about reforestation and then plant trees; we added over 120 pine and cyprus trees to our forest!

- I've also been busy with fun stuff like running diagnostics, cost analysis, and starting a marketing plan...


- Lots of visitors have come my way to spend the night at my house, both fellow PCVs and friends :)  Thanks to Erin, Molly, Natalie, Chloee and Rachel for brightening my days!  I hope Rachel will forgive me for the craziness we went through trying to get home from Panajachel...  I've never scolded anyone in my life like I did that taxi driver who tried to leave us off in the middle of nowhere at night.

- There have been parties galore: in a week and a half I went to 5 birthday parties (my middle brother Chico, one of the cousins, the grandma Mama Lupe, the son of my coworker Marta, and Dona Filomena, my co-worker Selvyn's mom) and we ended up having a big mother's day party too.  It's so much fun to get together with the extended family, make tons of food, laugh, share stories and even throw on music to dance :)

- I've been doing lots of baking and cooking, highlights include chocolate cakes decorated with strawberries, chocolate chip cookies, the most delicious granola and prize winning lasagna.  It's amazing the things you can do with a toaster oven.

- It's rainy season.  That means I spend a lot of time in the rain or trying to avoid it.

So that's just a smattering of life.  Each day brings new experiences and of course, many surprises.  I wouldn't have it any other way...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Quick history

We've been working on putting together a quick history for new menus, pamphlets, etc and I thought I'd share it with you all.

La Historia…
Bienvenidos a El Novillero, un valle con rica historia, donde en tiempos lejanos venían los novillos a pastar. Ahora es un parque ecológico que se llama Corazón del Bosque (Uk’ux K’achelaj). Esta iniciativa local nace de una asociación de la comunidad K’iche’ que se llama La Asociación Agropecuaria y Artesanal Para El Desarrollo “La Guadalupana", las raíces de la misma vienen de una cooperativa que durante la década de los '70 fue modelo de desarrollo en Guatemala y Centroamérica.

Corazón del Bosque cuenta con diversos objetivos y esperanzas: Ofrecer una nueva alternativa de sana diversión al turista nacional e internacional, enmarcada en el turismo ecológico, comunitario y sostenible. Propiciar una cultura de protección y conservación del medio ambiente. Promover el manejo forestal sostenible y proteger nuestra flora y fauna, únicos en nuestra región (ubicada en la parte alta del área protegida de usos múltiples Lago Atitlán) como alternativa a la deforestación que sufre actualmente el medio ambiente de Guatemala. Mantener un proyecto que beneficie a nuestra comunidad, promoviendo la igualdad participativa, el aprovechamiento sostenible de nuestros recursos naturales, junto a la valorización y rescate de nuestra cultura maya K’iche'.

Nuestros servicios:
Restaurante de gastronomía típica
Cabañas rústicas de madera
Temascales (baño sauna tradicional)
Senderos interpretativos
Observación de aves
El tikalito: un reto para los que aman el deporte
Santuario y altar maya
Día de campo
Eco campamentos
Vivero forestal
Aula de la Naturaleza: para eventos y capacitaciones

The History…
Welcome to El Novillero, a valley rich with history, where in times past "novillos" (great steers) would come to graze. Now it is home to an ecological park, Corazón del Bosque (Uk’ux K’achelaj) which translates as "the heart of the forest". It is a local initiative that was born in this Mayan K’iche’ community through a group of active citizens called La Asociación Agropecuaria y Artesanal Para El Desarrollo “La Guadalupana", whose roots stem from a cooperative begun in the 1970’s which was the model of community development in Guatemala and all of Central America.

Corazón del Bosque has a diverse array of objectives and guiding principles: To offer an alternative form of entertainment to national and international tourists, by way of sustainable community tourism; to initiate environmental awareness; to promote sustainable forestry by taking care of the region’s flora and fauna (located at the highest point of Lake Atitlán’s protected area), in order to mitigate the deforestation that has been damaging Guatemala’s environment; and to maintain a project that benefits the community by promoting equal participation among its inhabitants, sustainable management of natural resources, along with an effort to conserve and preserve the culture of the Mayan K’iche’.

Our Services:
Restaurant with typical cuisine
Wood cabins
Temascales (mayan saunas)
Interpretive trails
Bird watching
El tikalito: a challenge for those who love sports
Sanctuary and Mayan altar
Picnic area
Plant and tree nursery
Nature salon: for events and trainings

Monday, May 4, 2009

Cultural Tidbits

As I pass the four month mark here in country, I’ve picked up on some interesting cultural tidbits I thought you might all find interesting…

Being indirect is always preferable.

If I generalize, Guatemalans tend to shy away from direct communication.  Even if the news is positive, confrontation is avoided at all costs.  What this usually amounts to is a string of words and phrases, painting a picture of the general idea the person wants to communicate.  For those who speak Spanish as a second language or are unfamiliar with the ins and outs of the culture, this means getting lost in the forest of vague explanations and unclear directions.  Fun times.

Yes often just means no…in a nice way.

People here hate saying no.  When asked to participate in something, many people say they will think about it and get back to you.  For me this has always, always turned in to a negative answer.  I’m not sure why “no” isn’t just said in the first place.  But even better is when people commit to going somewhere, doing something or give you permission….when they really won’t go, won’t do, or don’t want you to do what you’re doing. 

Fíjese que…

So this phrase has turned out to be the bane of my existence in Guatemala.  It doesn’t have a good direct translation, meaning something like “look here”, or “fix on this”.  But my problem isn’t with the phrase itself, only what comes after it- always some type of excuse.  Like, fíjese que I would have finished cleaning but someone suddenly came in or fígese que we ran out of half the things on the menu.  My co-workers have caught on to my dislike and now use this to torment me, but I have noticed many have stopped giving me crazy excuses...

Monday, April 13, 2009

An assortment of pictures:

This is the view on my new commute to's so peaceful to walk through the fields and enter the forest as the day begins.

Here we are at swear-in day (March 27).  Saying goodbye to Dona Maria and Don Enrique was not easy!
Our ceremony took place at the US ambassador's house in Guatemala City; my host parents were thrilled to not only be at his residence, but also take the following picture with him.

Here is our entire training group (16 sustainable community tourism volunteers and 16 healthy schools volunteers) along with our country director, Martha (on left).
Hanging out with Rachel in Antigua after the swear-in...unfortunately we won't be able to get together as often now that I'm moving away!
So as time flew by so fast, I didn't have time to finish my tejido myself; lucky my host mom Maria wove the birds and the patterns at the top.  It's now proudly hung on my wall!

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Address

Here´s where you can now reach me:

Corazón del Bosque
Brittany Sickler
KM 145 Aldea El Novillero
Santa Lucía Utatlán, Sololá
Guatemala, América Central

And my phone number is still 011-502-4034-5514

Settling In

So the last news I shared with you all was the basic info of my new job. The two weeks I’ve been doing the typical things: learning all I can about the organization, its expectations, my co-workers, my new host family and the community of El Novillero. It’s been a little overwhelming but exciting at the same time. If you checked out the website you’ll know that Corazón del Bosque is the main project of a community association (La Guadalupana) which has been in existence for almost 20 years. It was first formed to get back forested land that was lost during Guatemala’s civil war. To this day they are very concerned with forest conservation and reforestation. But since then they have diversified with many other environmental and tourism projects: a recycle center for the area (since there is no waste management); a tree nursery for reforestation and sale; an interpretive trail through the woods; a restaurant; cabins and dorm rooms; a meeting room for environmental education and activities; an internet café; an area for Mayan ceremonies; a Mayan sauna; and a large green area for families to come and enjoy.

What I’ve been asked to do is help the association keep these projects sustainable through increased quality control, promotion and networking so that the community can not only reap the benefits of the income generating activities, but also conserve their land and resources for future generations. I’m sure there’ll be many challenges along the way, but I am very lucky to have solid support from the staff at Peace Corps here, from my professors at SNHU, and also from my fellow volunteers (several of which are in the area).

As far as life things go, it’s also been pretty hectic. I’ve moved in to the room where the previous volunteer April lived, with a wonderful family that has 3 teenage boys. There was overlap with April which was such a help, as she was able to pass on helpful tips, strategies and lessons learned.

The strange thing about where I am, is that it doesn’t quite feel like the Peace Corps experience most people typically imagine (a mud hut in the middle of nowhere, without water and electricity). But then I have my own little adventures: I’m always washing my clothes by hand, I’ll sporadically find myself in a cold shower, I’ll pack in to an old US school bus with three times as many people as should be there, I’ll dream of something shaking and wake up to a little earthquake, and I have yet to get tired of beans and tortillas :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

My last week as a trainee

So this week I've been busy finishing things up before I move out of San Antonio for good. It's so hard to say goodbye to all of the wonderful people we've been working with these last months. The week before last we met with the women's group for the last time, and tomorrow we have a meeting at the muni with the mayor and other offices we've been involved with. If it's this bad after three months I can only imagine what it'll be like to leave after two years! Maybe I'll just stay and avoid all that :)

So there's so much to write about the ecological park where I'll be working....since I'm short on time I'll direct you all to their website to check it out:

Oh, and swear-in is this Friday, when I actually become a true Peace Corps volunteer...pretty exciting!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Moving to Sololá...

Yay! Just found out where I'll be working the next two years- in the beautiful site of El Novillero, an aldea of Santa Lucía Utatlán in the department of Sololá close to Lake Atitlán! It's actually one of the communities we visited during our field based training. I'm super excited but have a healthy dose of nervous anticipation, as next week I go to visit and set up my living situation. I'll be sure to write more details about the project later.

Can't wait to have visitors....

Monday, March 9, 2009

Feria de la Cultura=Craziness

What a rollercoaster we’ve been on this past week and a half! When I mentioned the Cultural Day last, it was a completely different idea than what actually came to pass. Instead of afternoon activities with mainly Spanish school students, the Muni and women’s group decided to make it a huge 2 day affair open to the general public. With only a week and a half to plan, we thought it would be almost impossible. But even after weighing the risks and challenges, they still wanted to go for it…so the four of us took deep breaths and pledged our support.

Imagine trying to plan and promote a huge fair complete with exhibitors, food, entertainment, activities and vendors- with only 7 days (excluding the weekend) and in Guatemala, where things aren’t always as cut and dry as we’re accustomed to. I lost count of all the meetings we sat through trying to figure out who was doing what, who wasn’t doing they were supposed to, and just overall damage control (as our trainer David calls it). After hours and hours of stress and hard work, in collaboration with the Muni and women, we pulled off a nice event which included: a Mayan Ceremony; 20 women selling their textile goods; 8 exhibitors of products and services such as eco-parks, coffee farms, my friend Rachel’s NGO Camino Seguro, and the new bank that’s coming to town; a traditional folk dance; the game of Pelota Maya; the Departmental Band; traditional food served by the women’s group; and activities such as making tortillas, grinding coffee and taking photos in traditional dress. Although we didn’t draw a huge crowd, the tourists that came loved it and it was an enjoyable learning experience for the women (and us as well!)

We’ve also had some fun times lately, such as going to the beach (beautiful black sand!), watching the first procession come to Antigua during Lent, and having lunch with the US ambassador to Guatemala.

Sometime this week I’ll hopefully be posting very exciting news: I’ll finally find out which community I’ll be working in these next two years!
My old friend Matt from study abroad, who's just finishing up his PC term- crazy to run in to him each other after so many years.

Juego de Pelota Maya
Procession in Antigua

The beach at Monterrico

Monday, February 23, 2009

Project Update and Field Based Training

I can’t believe how fast the days are flying by- there’s so much to catch up on! Each day seems to bring a variety of experiences and cultural lessons, both with our host families and in our professional environment as well. As we get to know the women’s group more and more, they have been sharing not only their struggles, but their wisdom as well. I’m amazed at how much they do each day! While most men work from 8-5, these women are at it from at least 5-9, taking care of their families. A few weeks ago they gave us an entire afternoon to do various workshops. The topics were divided up amongst the four of us: working in teams, attending to tourists, promotion/marketing and understanding the costs of production (which is what I discussed with them). After guiding them through various exercises, I came to fine that most of them don’t take in to account the amount of time it takes them to do their weavings, and in the end are paid very little for the work they do. We discussed strategies to decrease costs and increase profits, but it’s very difficult for them to alter their traditional ways. It was undeniably a challenging seminar to give (particularly to indigenous women in Spanish!)

One thing I’m pretty excited about is an upcoming Cultural Day we’re helping to organize with both the women and the Municipality. We’ll be inviting students from the Spanish schools in Antigua to come to San Antonio and see traditional dances, hear marimba, learn how to make tortillas, grind coffee, eat typical foods and take pictures in the local clothes. We are also targeting regional residents by offering live music and a demonstration of the pelota maya. Our purpose is not only to share the culture of the town with tourists, but to give the women a taste of what it could be like to diversify their income sources. With only a few weeks left to work here, we want to leave them not only an annual operating plan (a POA) with a budget, but also the determination to see it through.

Our work was interrupted last week for field based training where the 16 of us in Sustainable Community Tourism spent a week together visiting different sites to learn more about the environmental segments of our program. Here’s the brief overview:

· Stayed the first three days at the park El Aprisco outside of Totonicapán. It was so cold, even wearing 5 layers to bed with my sleeping bag and two blankets didn’t help! If you think all of Guatemala’s hot, you are dead wrong. And here I thought I was pretty tough, coming from North Dakota. But it was a beautiful place, and we had some great hands-on training (for park management/eco-tourism). We were also able to visit a local school, teach the kids how to make crafts out of recycled materials, go bird-watching and have some crazy campfires.
· Went on to Corazón del Bosque, near Sololá- we were pretty excited to have running water, real coffee, and be a few degrees warmer! Continued our lessons on environmental interpretation and conducted an Eco-camp with local teenagers.
· Visited a volunteer at the Park Chuiraxamoló, overlooking Lake Atitlán, and learned the ins and outs of working despite local politics. Check out my picture below on the zip line!
· Visited another volunteer in Alaska, seeing various projects up close: stoves, wells, school gardens, and playgrounds made from tires and wood.

Here we are helping an elementary school in Baja Verapaz construct a building out of plastic bottles and trash. The kids went in to the community and gathered 4,000 bottles from the streets and river, filling them with around 100 plastic bags and chip bags each. After the bottles are placed together between the chicken wire, cement will cover the walls and there will be no difference in the insulation or durability.
This is a mini recycling center made out of plastic bottles. You can see how they left some spaces so people could see how it was constructed.
This is a view from a volunteer's site, called Parque Chuiraxamolo, on Lake Atitlan. You can see some of the lake's volcanoes in the distance.
We were lucky enough to go on the zip line at the park, which is 400m long and SO AMAZING! We were able to go across the valley like superman, and it really did feel like I was flying.
One day during FBT we went to an elementary school and taught the kids about environmental education, including a craft made from recycled goods. Our kids made super cute flowers out of plastic bottles and chip bags.
Here's the first park we stayed at during FBT, El Aprisco, in Totonicapan. Incredibly beautiful and tranquil, with a great diversity in birds and trees.
Here's us learning how to build trails with our homemade creinometer (sp?).
Teaching English to some of the women from the group...I love it!
We were also fortunate to be a part of a traditional Mayan ceremony- it was such a great experience to learn more about this part of their culture.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

What I've been doing outside of work...

This is my attempt at making can see the ones my host mom made are nice and round. Mine are a little off, but with practice hopefully I'll get there! I've even ventured out with some different shapes; the heart definitely got some good laughs.

Here I am grinding coffee beans. The neighbors across the street have plants in their yard, and after they pick them, they're set out to dry. My family buys the dry, green, coffee beans and then we roast them on the comal. After roasting they are ground on the piedra (which is what I'm doing). Then....we drink it!!! Talk about keeping it local; these beans don't go more than a 100 yards from home.

Weaving lessons are going good. Although I'm slow, it's been really fun to learn the process and understand more of what the women here do each day to earn a living. It is A LOT of work. If my tejido turns out alright, I'll post a picture when I'm done.

Let me tell you, it is SO fun to climb volcanoes! We hiked up Pacaya last week and were roasting marshmallows on a rocks that were from a 2008 lava flow. Yum :)