Connie in Morocco and Beyond

These are my travel experiences beginning with my Peace Corps service in Morocco from 2006-2008. At the request of friends and my own desire to document, I continued blogging my journeys to other countries as well as in the U. S., including my service as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in South Africa for most of 2014. This blog will continue as my travel journal.

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Location: Billings, Montana, United States

The Big Sky country of Montana is home sweet home!

Monday, November 30, 2015


NOVEMBER.  Daughter Heide and granddaughter Jazzy from California came for a brief visit.  We did a day trip to Heart Mountain near Cody, WY, to see the Japanese Internment Visitor Center.

SEPTEMBER. Went on my four-year delayed trip to DC to see
 former Peace Corps Volunteer friends Kareem and Leslie.  Love those two!

Then on to Boston to spend a couple of nights with Lisa Hull, who picked me up there then on to Wellfleet on the Cape for a wonderful visit.

AUGUST. On a hike to Woodbine (in the Beartooths)  with friend Barb Batts in August
JULY. With the four oldest grandsons camping at Fairmont
Hot Springs near Anaconda, MT, along with the rest of their families.

Sunset at Canyon Ferry, near Helena.  Enjoyed lots of short camping trips in my little RV this summer.

Marci's oldest son Hayden and husband Paul, hiking with Marci

JULY. Had a great time at the Montana Folk Festival in Butte.  This is the main stage under a former headframe for an old mine there.

Cinda's Noah.  Lots of baseball games to watch.
Cinda's Nathan and Marci's Keaton

Daughters Marci and Cinda and I at a picnic for cancer survivors.  Cinda just completed recovery from her second bout with cancer.
Cinda's husband Andy and their little one, Kellen at a baseball game.

Always enjoy cribbage, here in my sister June's backyard with friend Wayne, June and Wayne's son Eric, and his son Zach.

Flew to Seattle in May with Terry to visit niece Laurie and watch great nephew Skylar play baseball.

MARCH.  Guatemala,as blogged separately.

JANUARY.  Started off the new year doing a half-marathon in January with daughters Heide in CA (and her husband Jim), Marci from UT, and granddaughter Jasmine who lives in San Diego, near Carlsbad where the beautiful event was held.

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


What a very marvelous experience in Guatemala!  So glad I took the time for the Spanish language immersion, and I'm so motivated to continue learning and hope to do another immersion next year if at all possible.  The Habitat build was just great.  My diverse team WAS a team and we all worked hard and learned so much from our masons, and partner families, and each other.  I hope to lead another team again, most likely to another country in Central America or Mexico.  If I get some good photos from other team members, I'll be posting them here a bit later.

Monday, March 30, 2015


One of the biggest days of the year is Palm Sunday, and the entire Semana Santa (Holy Week) draws crowds from far and near.  The Sunday processions start several weeks prior, but Palm Sunday and Good Friday processions are the biggest.

I am sorry to admit that I was so tired and the crowds were so dense that I didn't view as many alfombras or the procession as I now wish I had. So, guess I'll have to go back!

This is Catedral de San Jose which had a huge alfombra on the floorIt is made from colored rice, sawdust, plant material and lined with colorful fruits and vegetables.

Semana Santa celebrations take place annually. The festival typically commences on Palm Sunday, one week before Easter, and goes through the week  until Good Friday, when devotees remember the Passion of Christ, the suffering Jesus endured on the cross and the solemn anniversary of his death. Most Holy Weeks end on Holy Saturday, a day of vigil in anticipation of the resurrection.

Semana Santa celebrations are predominantly Catholic and celebrated in Latin countries that almost exclusively identify with this religion. In Guatemala, there are many fusions between local beliefs, the Mayans and Catholicism, and the farther you travel into the mountains, the more you’ll see the mix. The three main activities of Antigua’s Semana Santa are the processions of floats and horses (procesiones ), carpet-making (alfombras ), and candlelight vigils (vigilias ).  The alfombras are made of sawdust, rice, flowers, vegetables, and are absolutely amazing to see.  Suggest you google "alfombras" to view good photos and explanation of the creations.
Saturday prior to this was a travel day from San Marcos, with a dinner at a very nice restaurant that evening.  Team members left at various times, with seven of us still in Antigua on Sunday.  My shuttle picked me up at 3 a.m. for the airport for a long trip back to Montana, filled with wonderful memories of another special international travel experience, but glad to be home once again.

Friday, March 27, 2015


Jackie, family daughter, Connie, Gracie(the youngest team member), Ryan, Samantha, Mike Stevensons from Miles City, Ruben the mason, Cathi and her daughter Sara, Horalia the family mother, Jorge the son, and Willun, the mason's helper

We got very dirty today with concrete bucket brigade, more rebar tying, but first we visited our family's current  house,where Horalia gave each of us a little gift,  then she and her children came over to the work site for lots of photos.

Next was the ceremony with the local Habitat affiliate and both families at the other work site.  More thanks and prayers and short speeches, then a treat of tostados and hibiscus tea.  We bought a pinata as it was Ryan's birthday (the young tall guy in the back of the above photo) and a few days past the birthday of Daisy, from the other family.  This photo is of Jeff, the other team's Habitat rep and interpreter, guiding Daisy.

Dee Dee and Dina from Vancouver, BC: Maura, my roommate from San Fran, Karen Stevenson from Miles City, Rick from Seattle...all member of the other team.
Ambrosia and Trudy (74 yrs. old), granddaughter and grandmother from Seattle area.


Interspersed with the work week are cultural activities.  The main one was on Wednesday morning, when we went to refuge/national park that is known for quetzal nests.  It is a very rare thing for anyone to see these gorgeous birds, and we were blessed to see three of them, including one in flight.  A truly spiritual experience, combined with the lovely cloud forest and waterfalls.  I couldn't capture them with my camera; one team member did but can't send at this time so I am posting a photo from the internet.  At the waterfall with me is Christian, who lives and works in New York but is from Puerto Rico and the only fluent Spanish speaker on our team.  Gracie is our youngest member, age 19, and it was her first time to fly by herself and first time out of country.
Both teams visited schools near our separate work sites, and that was a kick.  We had maps of North America, Mexico and Canada, along with one of the U. S. and sat with small groups of kids (ages 8-11 in one classroom) so they could get a perspective of where we live and tried to dialogue a bit with them with simple Q&A's, like their names, ages, etc.  The teacher spoke to us a bit about the curriculum and various aspects of the school.  They were very excited, as were we, to meet each other!

One day before dinner we participated in tamale making with the hotel cooks.  The tamales were just the dough with no filling, but a couple of us got our hands in it and mixed the ground maize, water, cream, and butter, then everyone wrapped a blob of it in a banana leaf.  All were put in a large pot to boil and we had them for supper.  They were very similar to dumplings.

Thursday, March 26, 2015


We really work hard today, lots of block and rock moving as well as tying rebar.  No water was available at our worksite so we couldn't mix/carry/pour concrete.

My team is really super; everyone works hard and gets along with minimal complaining.  One one hand it seems like we've been here for weeks, but again, just like the other day.
Block brigade.  We also carried two (or one) at a time later

Sara from Albany, New York but in college at Stanford.  She and her mom were there together during her spring break.

Concrete and mortar mixer in foreground.  Not electrical, as you can see!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015


Our team all arrived at the hotel in Antigua last Saturday and we departed by a van/bus Sunday morning for San Marcos, which was nearly a six-hour trip.  We arrived just in time to meet the two families whose homes we will be working on, and members of the local affiliate of Habitat.  A nice little ceremony, then settled in our hotel rooms, had dinner,  and  a little orientation before ending the evening.  The hotel dining room is nice, and we are served meals family style.  Plenty of food and it's good.  Rooms are fairly spartan but that is what we expected.  Adequate blankets on the beds and not as cold as I feared.

I divided the group into two teams based on age, sex and roommate's preferences and it seemed to work out okay, with my roommate being the leader of the other work group.  However, she got sick in the middle of the night and couldn't come to the worksite, so I asked my friend Karen to lead that team. Then mid-morning, a young woman on my team got sick so the driver took her and her mom back to the hotel.

One of the first jobs introduced was to tie re-bar. Here are Samantha and Gracie hard at it.

Our family is a single mom with two kids; a girl Jackie age 15 and a boy, Jorge, age 12. He stopped by to see us after school in his soccer uniform.  A real cutie.  He had a harder time with my Spanish than our mason, so I helped him with some English words.

Here's a video of the concreto mixing and pouring.  I allude to it as mezcla in the video, but that is incorrect, as mezcla is the mortar, and has different proportions of cement, water, and gravel, plus lime is added.



Here's more videos of the work we did Wednesday.

video video

Sunday, March 22, 2015


 We flew on a small plane (a 24 seater, I think) to Flores, where we were picked up by a drive for an hour drive to the Tikal National Forest.  Our tour included dinner at the very nice lodge where we spent the night, enjoying the meal and the night sounds following.  Up at 3:30 a.m., grabbed a cup of coffee then walk for about an hour to the ruins.  Our guide pointed out a number of fun things in the dark along the way:  a small fox, large tree frog, termite hills.  Would have been swell to see a jaguar, but they are seldom seen.    
We walked up a wooden staircase to one of the temples to see the sunrise.  Listening to the jungle wake up was amazing.   The howler monkeys sounded like huge monsters of some sort, but they are just a normal size monkey.  I tried to video to capture the sounds but it didn't turn out too well.  Some temples can be seen through the foggy cloudy scene.

This is one of the major temples, not allowed to be climbed, but we roamed around with the guide, returning to the lodge about 9:00 for breakfast.  We then walked back on our own and did more exploring for awhile.

Masks were carved into the base of \ the temples. They have built thatched covers over many to preserve them.  There has been a lot of restoration and is still ongoing.

A termite nest spotted along the walk
And a beautiful wild turkey.

Resting in front of our room after a day of lots of climbing and walking.  Wonderful little trip!  Lots more photos and will post more later.  Internet connection is slow and others have better pictures.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015


Am finishing up my Spanish classes today.  Much too time, three weeks.  I have barely scratched the surface.  As is always the case, the more you learn, the more you realize how little you know. But it has been good.  Played Scrabble yesterday with one of my teachers (I have one for four hours in the a.m. then a different one for two hours in the afternoon) and that was a fun exercise.

I move my bags over to a hotel tomorrow where I will meet three other team members, then go to the airport for Tikal, where we'll meet Mike and Karen Stevenson, friends from Miles City who are also here for the build, then back Saturday when all the other team will meet at the Antigua hotel prior to leaving for San Marcos.  Photos of the Mayan ruins coming up next!

Monday, March 16, 2015


One of the recommended places to visit is Lake Atitlan, so on Sunday I was picked up by a shuttle van about 5:45 a.m., and after a few stops on a primarily poor road, we arrived at the town of Panjachel about 8:15.  There were two brothers from England who I met so we had breakfast together there, and then boarded a boat an hour later a tour of some towns.

First was San Juan, where a guide took me to a women's association that made thread from cotton and dyed the thread with natural products, such as hibiscus, beets, wood bark, and an assortment of other things.  Plant leaves (not sure what plant) are used to change some colors, and the color is fixed using the stalk of a banana plant.  I made my first purchase in country of eight lovely placemats.

Weaving the thread from raw cotton that has been pounded
by hand to remove seeds
Vat with banana stalk liquid to make thread color-fast

Next we went to San Pedro, and when the guide asked me if I wanted to see the inside of a Catholic church or walk, I opted for the latter.  We encountered his daughter and her friend.  When I asked where he lived, he told me that it was close by, and did I want to see it.  Sure, I would!  So we went there and met his little boy and his wife, and noticed two machines in a room where we entered.  Discovered that his mother-in-law had a business of grinding coffee beans and maize (to make the dough for tortillas).  People bring in the plastic tubs of maize (or coffee) and pay to have it ground.


Last was Santiago, which was a larger town where we had lunch.  Again I ate with the two very interesting brothers, and had vegetarian pasta.

Returned home about 7 p.m.  A long but very enjoyable day!

Saturday, March 14, 2015


Friday concluded my first week that included 24 hours of classes, several cultural activities, getting a bit acquainted with the downtown, and meeting lots of great people.  Our classes are held in sort of a courtyard.  There is a teacher and one student at each table.  Friday afternoon we took a little walk around to see the various plants there, and I was surprised to see these plants or trees: orange, avocado, basil, cotton, and pepper, plus many other plant and flowers.

Saturday morning four of us walked up the hill to a cross that has a good view of the city, and here is one of the sights...the volcano on the right that is smoking is Volcan Fuego, which is see right outside my room,  and is the one that shut the airport down for two days recently as the smoke/dust creates a danger for the planes.  The other is inactive and it is Volcan Agua.  Hope you are able to view this video

After the little hike, I went to a corner coffee shop and had a wonderful cup plus a couple of homemade chocolate meringue cookies.  Here's the view I had there.

Saturday afternoon three of us caught a shuttle up to San Cristobal, which boasts an organic garden.
Quesadilla with salad.  Very tasty and great price!

View from the restaurant, the yellow building near center of photo is La Merced by my house and the hill on the right is where we walked this morning.
Janet and Bill, also attending my school
My salad greens came from this organic garden

An area where they do weaving demonstrations.  Notice the bike part.