Welcome! Don and Leslie have been full time Realtors in Ventura County for over 30 years. It's been fun watching as "little" Victoria Avenue (and many other streets) have morphed into what they are today.

Just as our local communities have evolved, we've seriously considered for the past several years how we could someday "give back" and "finish well" - expressions that can mean a lot of things to different people.

As part of our research into opportunities for service, in early 2013 we contacted a Peace Corps recruiter who helped us start our journey. But our new path wasn't going to be as straight and easy as we thought! And so we began a transition into something completely different from the routines we've known for the past 30 years - and have begun a path that's leading into the exciting unknown. This will be our story!

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Mass Transportation – Guatemala style!

Last Saturday, while we were waiting for the bus, we noticed many Mayan women waiting on the steps of the local church nearby. We figured something was going to go on – a funeral, a wedding, or a church service. But to our surprise, a box truck pulled up, the side door opened up, a step ladder dropped down and all these people started to climb in!

A woman standing next to us explained that these women lived up in the mountains beyond the bus route and this was their transportation.  We were curious if they’d drive away in darkness with the door closed, but they left it open!

We catch our bus from this spot, but on Sundays the area is packed with flower vendors selling gorgeous varieties – primarily to the families paying their respects to those who are buried in the adjacent cemetery. This particular cemetery is absolutely huge, perhaps a mile long!

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Walking around town

Walking around Xela is always an adventure! Ancient cobble stoned side streets, uneven (or non-existant) “sidewalks” that vary in height, width and quality make for interesting trips! But other things that you might encounter are:

Little “herds” of goats are a common sight. They provide on the spot goats milk.

 

Stray dogs are everywhere you walk. There are 10 strays in this photo, and some of them are absolutely beautiful. Tourists who are dog lovers will have a hard time seeing a scene like this. Generally, the dogs are more afraid of you than you are of them, but I always give them a wide berth.

 

Unfortunately, this too is a not too uncommon sight. Guatemala faces significant challenges and for some, alcohol is the only way out.

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Radical contrasts and rapid changes

My good friend Eddie has been selling me 2 pounds of strawberries every few days for the past 2 years from his little stand (literally) on the street.

But since Leslie and I have been invited to serve here in Guatemala with the Peace Corps later this year, I’ve been reflecting on the rapid changes that are happening in our city of Xela and the impact it’s having on the culture and fabric of this society, and especially to people like Eddie and his little business.

His street is filled with other vendors selling fruits and vegetables, all mixed in with cars, motorcycles, pedestrians and big (former US) school buses (“chicken buses”).

I buy pineapples, mangos and other fruit from along this street to mix (with yogurt) into smoothies.

Many of the women vendors still wear their traditional Mayan clothes of vibrant fabric while they carry their little ones wrapped on their backs.

But exactly one block over, a new mall is being built with 4 stories of underground parking plus a 12 story new hotel.

Our town, deep in the mountains of Central America, has all the latest “stuff” you can get in the US.

HDTVs, the newest iPhones or Samsung cellphones, computers – you name it, you can buy it here. Plus, the new theater that’s going in here will have all the first run movies you see in the States.

How will all these rapid changes affect Eddie and all the other vendors one street over? It’s not unusual to see an older Mayan women, sitting cross-legged at her spot on the street, chatting on her smart phone. The ancient culture of this city is rapidly being assulted with technology and “progress”.

And so I reflect about what our roles will be in adding to that mix.

You can stay here when you come to visit us!

Eddie, Leslie and Don

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Our Wednesday morning kids – and garbage…

Wednesday mornings before 8:00 is garbage day on our street.  People put their garbage bags out on the street and a dump truck comes along later and men throw the bags into the back.

But poverty here is endemic. When we bring out our garbage every Wednesday morning, these young kids are regulars and they’re waiting to sort through the garbage from our little apartment complex. Some mornings it’s cold and they bundle up best as they can and huddle together in the early morning sun.

But today I thought I’d have a little fun with them.  I brought out my cell phone and showed them how to take pictures. Kids love it!  But before I took their picture, I made lots of feo (ugly) faces to get them laughing and they quickly got in the game.

The thing that amazed me was how fast they learned how to shoot, preview their shots, laugh and do it again. A lot of these indigenous kids don’t really speak Spanish, but rather the ancient Maya Quiche language.

But no matter the language or culture, kids are kids!

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“Air-conditioned” transportation and waiting in line

A very common sight in Guatemala is a pick-up packed with people standing in the back.

As you can see, this pick-up is designed for that very purpose with its grillwork.

Surrounding Xela are the mountainous areas where many of the indigenous Maya families live and work.  They bring their produce down to market in these pick-up trucks.

Another common experience is waiting in lines – sometimes VERY long lines.  These people are waiting to get into Western Union for their remittances from family back in the States.

This shot was taken in Antigua, a city near the capital, from a hangar mate of mine from California when he recently visited Guatemala.

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Don's building a replica of a 1930s era biplane at Camarillo airport. Over the past several years, he's had numerous students help in building the plane. Track the Tiger Moth progress here!