This was my life for two weeks on the southern beaches of Guatemala.
I met one of the gals from my Nebaj trip during my time in Antigua. She said that she and a friend were headed down to Sipacate to hang out on the beach for a few days and asked me if I'd like to join. I'm always up for an adventure, especially if it involves hanging out on a beach. With that, we loaded the car rolled out of town. We stayed with at a small surfer hangout just west of Sipacate called the Salty Beaver Beach Lodge (yes, the owner, is very aware of the double meaning). Peter is a cool Canadian who is giving life in Guatemala a go. He bought the small piece of beach front property a few years ago and has been slowly developing the place. So far he has a large concrete patio and well equipped kitchen, both shaded by a thatched roof. He also has a beautiful swimming pool just meters from the beach. This is by far the nicest pool for miles, it even has the beaver logo tiled into the floor. I must say that he has the most comfortable hammocks I have ever been in! I have become quite the hammock snob, and Peter has the creme de la creme, no question. It really is a great little place. Check it out on Facebook.
|The view from my favorite hammock.|
|My favorite hammock (thus far) in the whole world!|
The facilities at the surf house are simple yet satisfying. It is a very comfortable and communal living situation with relaxed, friendly folks. They have 2 thatched bungalows over looking the ocean, but they were too warm for me. I chose to stay in the dormitory above the main building, one of the neatest dormitories I've ever seen. There are about 10 beds in a huge space below a massive, vaulted palapa roof, each with its own mosquito net. A marvelous sea breeze would blow through, keepin me cool at night. The food is great, the people are very kind, the beach is wonderful, and the surfing is good.
I have never, I mean NEVER, been a morning person. If you doubt this, ask my parents about the frustrations they went through trying to wake me up for school all through grades K-12. Crawling out of bed didn't get any easier for me in college, vet school, or even after I got a real job. But something magical happened on the southern beaches, my circadian rhythms changed. I would wake up on my own every morning between 5:30am and 5:45am, just before the sunrise. I was fully awake and ready for the day, a feeling I had rarely felt before. It was as if I was as if I was meant to enjoy the sunrise each morning. This is just one of the reasons I fell in love with the Pacific coast, there is no question I will return one day.
Once I was settled in (meaning a few days of surfing and quality hammock time), it was time to refresh my surgical skills. Although I bought needles, scalpels, gauze, antibiotics, etc. at the farmacia, I was lacking anesthetic as well as surgical instruments. In addition to pharmacies, there are shops all over Guatemala called 'agroveterinarias'. These shops are like our granges or feed stores. However, like the pharmacies, they carry a number of pharmaceuticals only available by perscription in the States. Each agrovet is run by someone who claims to be a veterinarian. I have talked with a number of these 'vets', and every single one has very limited knowledge of anything veterinary or medicine related. The sad thing is their fees are less than a properly trained vet, so they often get called out first to a sick animal. As you can imagine, they usually don't help the situation or they make it even worse. I feel for the poor animals. At one point I met a horse breeder who had a stallion with an abscess on his jaw. Not only was he told to treat with the wrong antibiotic, but he was also given the dosage for a medium sized dog. Come on people, at least read the box and get the dosing right.
|Welcome to my operating room.|
As you can imagine, even the formally trained vets (and anyone else in the medical profession) do not receive the quality of education that we get in the Western world. Not only that, they have a very different way of doing things. I have done vet work in Honduras and Costa Rica, so I understand that things are done differently down here, there is not much that surprises me anymore. For example, in many places they use zip ties to ligate the pedicles and uterus during a dog spay. It's quick, practical, and they don't cause infection problems, so why not? It's a great idea, but would never fly back in the States. However, the vet said he only gives a partial dose of anesthetic because it's more economical and he likes the way they wake up quicker. I hate to see animals in pain, especially if I am the one inflicting the pain. Plus, it's hard to operate when the patient is moving around. So I made him give the full dose of anesthetic. The cats, on the other hand, were overdosed and didn't wake up for at least 5 of 6 hours post op, just a wee bit of inconsistency my dear vet friend.
|"Yes, I do it for the children."|
The vet especially got a kick out of my little stunt. He was taken back initially, but soon had a grin from ear to ear. I figured I could teach him a few things with my surgical training, but in fact, he taught me some great tricks for third world conditions. Of course, sterility was minimal (no surgical drapes and I didn't even use gloves), the suture was old, operating on a dining room table, etc. What surprised me the most was that he used tampons to soak up the blood at the incision site. Minus the lack of sterility, it is an excellent idea, since that's what they were made to do. Why hasn't anyone else thought of that? I cannot say that I will carry a box of tampons with me wherever I go (explain that one to the boys at customs), but I will definitely use them in my future surgical endeavors.
In exchange for my testicle rippin' abilities, they let me stay at the surf camp and use their surf boards whenever I wanted at no charge for the week. I was able to observe my patients in the days that followed. Everyone healed well, even the bloody gloveless spay. I did have to pay for my food, but it was a sweet deal. An afternoon of surgery for a week of fun in the sun, sign me up! This was the first time I actually enjoyed the perks of my profession while travelling, and it will not be the last, for I am discovering a nice little niche for my veterinary services overseas. Many more stories to come...
The Salty Beaver Beach Lodge and the Paredon Surf House are great places, I would highly recommend both to anyone heading down to the southern beaches of Guatemala. Whether you need a hard core week of surfing or just to kick back and relax in a hammock, you will find it on here. If you do go, please say hello for me.
In summary, these two weeks were a very special time for me. I cannot describe how beautiful and peaceful this experience was, it really did strike a cord deep within me. Even though I had spent a few months back home in Montana before leaving for Guatemala, this was the first time I was able to truly relax and clear my mind since my resignation in August. I literally felt the stresses of the past few years of life lift from my shoulders. It was a time for me to decompress and find that small voice of peace inside that is muffled, even suffocated by the busyness of life.This was that beach experience I had been dreaming about for so long, I was living my dream.