Tag Archives: Honduras

Pure Water

People are always attracted to water. We hiked up the mountain to this cascade in Le Tigre National Park, Honduras.

(This post has been sitting in my drafts for a couple of years.  Now, that we’re on a “boil” order in my county in northeast Kansas in July 2011, I thought again of how we take our clean water for granted.  I wrote this about a visit to Honduras, where you can’t drink the water from the tap.)

It’s early on a February morning in 2007, Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and already hot.  I don’t mind.  Back home in Kansas City it’s freezing.

Behind the courtyard wall, I wait at the gate, listening.  I’m an early riser so I volunteered to make the water bottle exchange.

“You’ll know when they’re coming,” my friend Michael told me the night before.  “They call out “Agua Azul, Agua Azul.”  He likes the sound of it.  “It’s like a call to prayer.”

Most societies and religions find spiritual and cleansing properties in water, so Michael is right about that.

Three large empty bottles sit on the driveway near the gate.  I hear the faint call, and I lean out to look.

I see a truck slowly rumbling down the steep incline of street in this affluent neighborhood in the capital city of Honduras.  The back of the truck is stacked with large water bottles.

“Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.

I wave my hand at the truck. A man darts to the gate, grabs the empty bottles and replaces them with full ones.  He hops back on the truck and continues his call.  “Agua Azul.  Agua Azul.”

Now we’ll have purified water for the next couple of days.  We go through it quickly, using it for everything that passes our lips. The water truck comes three mornings a week.  It saves the trouble of taking the bottles to the store. The house has running water, but it’s not purified.  We have to be careful not to drink it or even use it for brushing our teeth.  I keep a small bottle of purified water in the bathroom during my visit.

You can’t be careful everywhere, and on a trip to see the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, some of us come down with horrible gastrointestinal distress.  I’ll spare you the details (worst diarrhea of my life!), but it was touch and go on the drive home.  Michael and Anita knew the roads and the rest stops, and thankfully, my husband is an Eagle Scout, prepared with supplies at all times, including a roll of toilet paper.

At home, we take pure water for granted.  But civilization has long been plagued, literally, with contaminated water.  Cholera is one disease spread by water fouled by bacteria.  People would often drink alcoholic beverages, rather than water, because they were less likely to get sick. Steven Johnson writes about a cholera epidemic in “The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic — and How it Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World.”

Hacienda San Lucas overlooks the Copan River Valley, where the early Mayans settled more than a thousand years ago. Maintaining pure water is always a problem wherever people gather in cities.

In Copan, we visited Flavia Cueva, who owns the Hacienda San Lucas.  Anita, who is with the U.S. State Department, had met with Flavia before on an official visit.  Local people and members of the International Rotary were working to improve the water quality. International Rotary is providing water distribution and health education to six remote villages in the area.

My water district at home, WaterOne, sends out an annual water quality report, summarizing what’s in the water and provides lots of facts, which are also available on the website.  WaterOne was one of seven utilities worldwide selected as a finalist for a global water award for its Wolcott Treatment Plant. We’re very lucky we don’t need to buy bottled water, regularly, although there is a run on bottled water now because of the boil order.

Here’s a copy of the story in the Kansas City Star about our boil order:

Raccoon Believed Culprit in John County Boil Order


The Kansas City Star

Posted on Fri, Jul. 01, 2011 03:57 PM

A raccoon appears be to the culprit in a water pipe rupture that led to a boil advisory for more than 400,000 water customers in Johnson County.
Officials of Water District No. 1 found the animal dead inside an electrical unit at the Hansen treatment plant on Holiday Drive in Kansas City, Kan.
Eric Arner, a spokesman for WaterOne, said the animal may have chewed into wires or just brushed by the equipment, triggering an event that will affect customers at least until 5 p.m. Saturday during one of the hottest spells of the year so far.
People in the WaterOne service area — which includes most of Johnson County but excludes most of Olathe — are advised to use bottled water or to boil their tap water at least two minutes before consuming it. Unboiled water is safe for washing and bathing.
Retail stores in Johnson County are reporting brisk sales of bottled water. People are buying shopping baskets full of it at the Lenexa Sam’s Club, 12200 W. 95th St.
“We’ve got plenty for today and two more semis were dispatched when we heard about this,” said club manager Eric Rector. “We should have more in stock tonight.”
The Price Chopper at 8686 Antioch Road in Overland Park was sold out by mid-afternoon. A new shipment was expected over the weekend but store management did not know when it would arrive.
The boil precaution is necessary because the pipe rupture led to a drop in water pressure, which may have drawn contaminants into the system. Officials are testing tap samples from across the 275-square-mile water district for safety. That process, and flushing any contaminants out of the system, takes at least 18 hours.
Arner said water officials noticed a sudden drop in system pressure at 7:20 a.m., which they later attributed to a raccoon that got inside the housing of one of the huge electrical switches that run the pumps. The animal apparently shorted out the switch.
“The pumps themselves are designed to trip off when there is any fluctuation in power so they don’t fry their circuits,” Arner said. “So when the power was restored in a matter of seconds or even milliseconds the pumps turned back on and created a water surge.”
Officials believe that surge caused a 54-inch pipe near the Hansen plant to rupture at a joint. Arner said the pipe should not have failed even with a surge and WaterOne is investigating whether there were any other factors involved.
Water officials were able to restore pressure throughout the system shortly after the pipe break but some areas may have less pressure than normal.
While most of Olathe is outside WaterOne, between 6,000 and 7,000 people in northwestern and southwestern areas of the city are affected, said city spokesman Tim Danneberg.


Filed under Biology, Drink, Health, Life, Personal, Random, Travel

Quetzal Quest


Who wouldn't want to spot this incredibly beautiful bird? The Resplendent Quetzal is the Brad Pitt of birds, but much harder to spot. (I didn't take this photograph.....)

A friend’s recent soggy — and fruitless — quest to see a Resplendent Quetzal in Panama reminded me of my own rained-out effort two years ago in Honduras.  

Here's a NASA satellite view of Lake Yojoa in Honduras.  You can see Santa Barbara Mountain to the left.

Here's a NASA satellite view of Lake Yojoa in Honduras. You can see Santa Barbara Mountain to the left.

My husband and I went with our long-time friends Michael and Anita, who know their birds. Even their son when he was three could fire off the names of all of the birds in Florida, not just pelicans and flamingos but anahingas, wood storks and roseate spoonbills and other (probably less flashy) birds I don’t even remember.  I’m a haphazard birder with no particular bird identification skill, no life list,  no great spotting ability and a weakness for seeking out flashy birds.  Still, I love to watch any kind of  bird.  It’s calming.

On our quetzal quest, Michael, Anita, my husband and I stayed overnight at an inn and brewpub near Lago de Yojoa, Hondura’s largest natural lake, which lies in a depression formed by ancient volcanoes.  Bird-watchers flock to the area around the lake, which is home to more than 375 species of birds.  We planned to hike up the Santa Barbara  mountainside with a guide to look for the gorgeous Resplendent Quetzal. 

The sky was overcast.  We asked the innkeeper/brew pub owner about the weather forecast.  He laughed.  “Can you see the top of  Santa Barbara?” 


“That means rain.”  The innkeeper, kind of a gruff guy originally from Oregon, was an old hand at lowering expectations. It rains a lot at Lago de Yojoa.   This innkeeper had the right idea when he started brewing beer for his rain-captive guests.

This is the only photograph I was able to take of the lake area. This was just outside of our cabin.  I took it from our porch.  It rained too much rain, and I forgot my camera battery charger.

This is the only photograph I was able to take of the area around our cabin before my camera battery died -- and I forgot my charger. Because of the rain, we were confined to our small cabin and didn't see much beyond this. On her second visit, Anita chose a hotel with a view of the lake.

We crossed our fingers.  Maybe there would be only a sprinkle?  

Soon it did start sprinkling.  Not so bad at first, but then the downpour came.  It rained as we ate our dinner of tilapia from the lake and drank the inn’s beer (four kinds!) The rain pounded all night on the tin roof of our cabin, and it was still raining in the morning.   No hike for us.  The closest we were going to get to a bird was the incessant clacking of toucans in the forest around us.  We never saw so much as a single beak from one of those 375 species of birds!

We dashed to the covered patio, where the meals were served.  Rain blew in.  The innkeeper appeared as we were eating blueberry pancakes. The blueberries were from a farm down the road, he told us.  The pancakes were delicious, but they couldn’t distract us from the dismal scene and the disappointment.  

“Hey, I want to show you something,” the innkeeper said, beckoning us to a little shed up the hill.  He was dressed in coveralls and ready to head off to his day job of digging septic tanks and swimming pools.

"Yes, we have bananas!"  We stop for fruit at a stand on the road to Lago de Yojoa.

"Yes, we have bananas!" We stop for fruit at a stand on the road to Lago de Yojoa.

We squeezed into the tiny building, where the innkeeper showed us the artifacts from the ancient Lenca people that he’d found while digging trenches and holes.  One by one, he removed treasures from a glass case.  He trilled on a 2,000-year-old pottery whistle shaped like a macaw, let us handle a large jade ax blade and showed us brightly painted pottery.

Most magnificent was a finely polished concave slab of dark marble with a rolling pin.

“Do you know what this?” he asked.

“Does it crush corn?”  someone answered.

This cowboy leads a herd of cattle along a highway near Lago De Yojoa.  The trees behind him are grown as fences.

This cowboy herds cattle along a highway near Lago De Yojoa. The trees behind him are grown as fence posts.

“It’s a paper maker,” he said.   He explained that the marble roller squeezed and flattened tree bark pulp on the slab’s calibrated surface.

He pushed the roller. It smoothly rocked over the slab like a perpetual motion machine. A hair, plucked from my head, was placed on the slab. The roller shuddered a little as it passed over my hair. Soon the strand was flattened to a white powder.

Modern-day Lenca pottery is known for its creamy patterns on black.

Modern-day Lenca pottery is known for its creamy patterns on black.

“You can see how the Lenca made really fine paper this way,” the man said.

It was such a magnificent and stunning object that I forgot for a moment about our dashed and splashed plans to see a quetzal or any other birds.  What amazing people these Lenca were. 

As we packed up the car to leave, the sun came out, and now we were heading to our next destination, the spectacular Mayan ruins at Copan. (Scarlet Macaws there.)   Despite coming up short in quetzal viewing, I was glad we’d come to the lake.

 Anita and Michael, who lived in Honduras at that time,  decided to return the following year to Lake de Yajoa in search of quetzals again.  They arrived in sunshine and hoped they’d have better luck this time.

They had just visited the impressive Pulhapanzak Falls waterfall there (which we missed on our trip), when it started to rain. This time they had chosen a hotel that looked out onto the lake.  The hotel’s big veranda was a pleasant place to watch the rain, but rain wasn’t what they’d come to see.

“The rest of the evening it poured, much like the last time we were here,” she said.  Prospects didn’t look good.

Fortunately, the next day was beautiful with the sun out in full force. 

A woman refreshes the day's catch that's for sale near Lake Yajoa in Honduras.

A woman refreshes the day's catch, which is for sale near Lake Yajoa in Honduras.

“We went with this eccentric British tour guide named Malcolm, with a long grey beard and hair who spent half his life in India pursuing Buddhism,” Anita said.  He promised us a four-hour hike, which was really eight hours over very rugged, muddy slippery terrain.  The terrain was steep, and we were often using horse trails.  Coming down was almost worse than going up. We all came back covered in mud.  I guess that kept the mosquitoes down.

“We saw an interesting type of toucan and a few other song birds, but there wasn’t a quetzal in sight,” Anita wrote. “The guide kept saying he just saw quetzals two weeks ago.” 

Two weeks ago?  I’m beginning to think that this quetzal is as mythical as the Aztec Quetzalcoatl, the feathered serpent.

Anita decided she’d probably never return.  Sadly, I probably won’t return to a Central American rain forest to see the Resplendent Quetzal, either.  Can I still brag about getting this close?

P.S.  By the way, the friend Mary who missed seeing the Respendent Quetzal in Panama did see some other great birds, such as the oropendola, which make nests that look like airport wind socks. Dozens of the nests hang in a single tree.

You can console yourself with honey, if you don't see a quetzal.  Honey is for sale along the road in certain areas around Lake Yojoa.

You can console yourself with honey, if you don't see a quetzal. Honey is for sale along the road in certain areas around Lake Yojoa.


Filed under Animals, Bird-watching, Birds, Friendship, Humor, Life, Natural History, Nature, Personal, Science, Travel