Erich’s shuttle came in safely to Pana on Friday morning. Eva and I said our goodbyes and Erich and I caught a boat to Santiago Atitlán. We chose a cheaper boat, saving ourselves 5Q ($.75) each but little did we know this was the slow local boat that waited until it had enough passengers (50 minutes) and then plugged along at a glacial pace across the lake (another 70 minutes). Next time, we’ll pony up the extra $1.50.
By the time we arrived at Hospitalito Atitlán, the administrative staff had gone for the day so there was no one to help us with accommodations. Luckily, the night staff was extremely helpful and we were able to get a little casita at Hotel Bambu directly next door to the hospital for only 800Q ($102) for the week. Our little house is the perfect size, it has two floors and I promise to have pictures in my next post. The only complaint is the same one I’ve been having the whole trip – a lumpy bed and inconsistently warm showers. Still, the price and location are perfect!
Erich and I spent Sunday exploring Santiago Atitlán and enjoying the sun. The city is a little off the beaten path for most tourists making it better to see what daily life is like for the indigenous people of Guatemala who don’t rely on tourist dollars. The city has a small but crowded market as well as a Catholic church, filled with mannequins dressed up as saints as I’ve seen in other churches in Guatemala.
The men here are some of the few indigenos that still wear traditional dress. Most places the men wear Western attire, sometimes literally (check out those cowboy hats!).
Unfortunately, I’ve run into some complications with my volunteer work at Hospitalito Atitlán. Even though I was sent an email asking me preferences for accommodations and acknowledging my arrival at Hospitalito, I found out upon arrival that my application was not officially accepted by the powers that be. The hospital is very new to the community and the founders are still working to earn the trust of the local people meaning they aren’t accepting many volunteers except for practicing doctors, 3rd and 4th year med students and nurse practitioners. Even though there is a lot of work and education that could be done regarding public health, in the words of one of the NGO founders, “we just aren’t at that place right now.”
It was a huge bummer to find out I made the trip only to find out I wasn’t expected. However, I was still determined to offer assistance wherever I could. I can’t do any shadowing at the clinic, per policy, but the staff has been very helpful in setting me up with a public health clinic in town where I may be able to observe a little bit more. I also have permission to talk to all the staff members and find out ways I can help with staff and patient education. My hope is to return to the United States and create presentations and educational materials on health topics such as COPD and contraception that I can send back to the Hospitalito. In the future, the program may be able to accept Public Health students and I may also work to facilitate placement of students from Wisconsin in Santiago Atitlán with my connections in the Global Health program. I also will be spending time with some of the midwives working in the clinic and learning more about how local community health workers play a role in the clinic that is full of a revolving staff of mostly foreign doctors and medical students.
It seems all is not lost and that the experience may turn out to be mutually beneficial after all. I’ll be figuring out things as I go for the next few days.
On the plus side, this means Erich and I have had more time to relax and explore. We’ve run every day since we’ve been here (I need to get back in shape!) and we also had a delicious dinner tonight at Las Posadas, which is probably the nicest restaurant in the area. The hotel and restaurant are run by Americans and our meal exceeded expectations. We had cheese fondue, homemade biscuits, salad, and blackened chicken. It’s funny how being in Guatemala for almost three weeks and spending $4-9 per meal, the $20 (for two) price tag seemed hard to stomach! Well worth the “splurge” though.