How to move a roof

My roof leaked all winter last year. The corrugated iron channel system to collect rain between my two buildings, so favoured here in Guatemala, was just not working. So, in preparation for this winter, I got a loan and decided to redo my roof in the dry season – Jan to March. How naively and optimistically I stepped into what became a major construction project which aged me about 50 years. But in the end, I’ve got one hellova great roof!

Step One: Asking for help

Here in Guatemala you can’t be scared to ask for help. Especially me, living as a chica on her own, I often have to lean over my fence and holler to a passing man or kid to help me lift a sink, climb a coconut tree, bury a rat etc. for me (actually I buried the rat I feel quite proud to say) But the first job, lifting the roof off my existing house, was a BIG JOB. I would need to cash in all the brownie points for this one. Thankfully, all the tourists in Paredon Surf Camp were up for the challenge, in exchange for an ice cream. And at a critical moment (when the roof was half on, half off), 15 strong (tho short) army guys showed up (all with Tshirts that said ‘NAVY’) and helped lift the roof into the street and to the back of my garden, where it would be put on posts to make a chillout hammock area (and maybe eventually another house)

Step Two: Knowing when to call in the professionals

I was determined to contract workers from El Paredon. I got a few quotes and went for a builder who was touted as ‘reliable’ and ‘muy bueno’ and a contractor to do the palm roof who was ‘responsable’ and ‘muy bueno’.

The builder took his time. Lots of time. And as he had to take the boat over from his home, it was up to me to find a step ladder, large pieces of wood to fill columns with concrete and the materials budget doubled as he needed more and more extra things that I had to get. I was working full time running around them. Eddie was a sweet enough guy but, troubled by me, as a woman, asking if he could work a bit faster, he decided not to show up one day.

Meanwhile, I gave the palm roof guy his first $100 to pay his men who were chopping wood in the mangroves. After I didnt hear from him for a couple of days, I phoned his mobile, answered by a crying wife he lamented that he had been drinking for the last 2 days and if it wasnt for her elderly mother who fed her tortillas, she would be dead through starvation by now, as her husband didnt provide for her.

This was not a good start. Especially as I had work starting in Nicaragua at the beginning of March and I needed it all building before I left.

Fortunately, Todd, my guardian angel and a professional contractor building a property further down the coast, stepped in to help. I cancelled my contract with my drunk builder and in less than two weeks, Todd’s team from a nearby village created the roof of my dreams – levelling off the two buildings, creating a wood skeleton and eventually the palm on top! Then we got to painting and it’s now a beautiful (and dry) living space! Phew!!


the finished house!!
the finished house!!

Back in Guatemala

http://moving by waiting from Julia Harriman on Vimeo.

I’ve been back in Guatemala for 2.5 weeks. A lot has happened. And its time for a post.

I have three volunteers living in my house in El Paredon. Chris, from Guatemala City, is figuring out if he wants to make a business down there, so is doing some projects in my garden and round the house so he can live for free while he figures it out. Sandy and Tom, from New Zealand, are backpacking and love the simple life so are keeping the workshop up and running (much to the kids’ delight) in between surfs.

Me, well…I am figuring out a way of living a different kind of life. I love El Paredon but after three months back in the UK, I have decided it’s now time to go bigger. To make more contacts, seek out more opportunities both for La Choza Chula and for me  beyond the big sandbank.

So I’m in research and visit phase – finding projects I find interesting and seek connections which will turn to income streams. Stage one of my plan has just been completed: to spend a week exploring parts of Guatemala I have never visited so I can be more informed on this land I am calling home. One highlight of my little trip was ziplining through the Chicoj coffee farm near Coban (a very authentic and low key tour and fabulous coffee). I also visited an artist’s studio.

guide Marta ziplining

The next highlight was Lago Lachoa. The video at the beginning of this post  I made there. 

 I braved a 5km walk through jungle to an isolated lodge beside a crystal clear lake, resident to crocodiles and tropical fish. On my first night, I was the only guest, so resident worker Luis and I cooked the simple food I had brought (eggs, tomato, onion) while he warmed up tortillas on the oven top. We swam in the lake before a big tour group came and spoiled the silence on the second night, singing mournful love songs with their mobile phones until 4am.

Luis heating up the tortillas

Luis is new in post, after the former guy got ill after 28 years working there, in the middle of nowhere, with just the sound of the monkeys and the buzz of the lush forest for company. Luis is finding it hard to adjust to this life, missing his 15 kids and wife, regular meals and buzz of Coban. But he doesn’t have a choice as he needs the work. He works 15 days on, 15 days off, but whilst he’s at the lake he’s either completely alone or with big groups who leave rubbish and use loads of water.

It takes nearly 3 hours to fill the tank of water, which can be used in an hour with 25 people taking showers. I helped him, climbing the stepladder made of metal poles and cranking the pump round and round, a contraption with a rope pulling water up from the ground to a high tank where gravity takes it down.

pumping the water by hand
the water pump


When it is busy, Luis has to do this twice a day. He also has to change and wash the sheets of up to 40 guests, observe guests when they are swimming so they don’t go out too deep, where crocodiles lurk. Three times a week he walks the 10km round trip to the park entrance to buy tortillas and top up his mobile phone. He’s a good guy and works hard for his money.


The El Paredón Lamppost Project

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There is a tradition in Central American villages for local people to paint lampposts with colourful  designs – often of local birds, flowers and scenes. They really brighten up street corners, give  a sense of identity and an interesting aesthetic to an area. Below are some I found in Juayua, El Salvador, but other good ones can be found in Santiago, by Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Inspiration for the El Paredon project Bird-painted-Lamppost  Flower-lamppost

Before she left El Paredon, Carla (co-founder of La Choza Chula) had the idea to do the same in our village. I promised that we would make her idea happen. The project aimed to show off local creative talent in a public place and display positive environmental messages in the community, which would influence local people


No Tiremos Basura
We don’t throw litter
By Marvin and Julio, age 7
Mantengamos Limpio El Canal
We Keep the Canal Clean
By Dani, aged 11
No Matemos Las Aves
We Don’t Kill the Birds
By Delia, aged 14
Protegemos Las Tortugas
We Protect the Turtles
By Irma, aged 8
Protegamos Los Manglares
We Protect the Mangroves
By Elicio, aged 26
Amamos El Paredon
We Love El Paredon
By Frances from La Choza Chula, aged 26


Firstly, we held a drawing competition and the most enthusiastic and talented young artists were carefully selected to paint one of six lamp posts along the main street. We talked to the local representative of CONAP, the governmental environmental agency in Guatemala, who gave us six key messages they thought most important to promote. We asked the Mayor and the town committee for permission. We then worked on different lampposts with different artists when the sun was at its lowest – getting them to respond first on paper then on the post to the message we wanted to convey. Each post is unique.

We hope to paint more  posts in the future and are interested in working with other communities to replicate the project in other areas. Get in touch if you are interested or if you would like to donate towards paint and facilitation for more posts!  Write to


Facilitators – Frances Alderson and Julia Harriman – La Choza Chula

Concept – Carla Thomas – La Choza Chula

Artists – Dani, Elicio, Irma, Julio, Marvin, Frances, Julia, Delia

Thanks to our supporters – for funding the project, Paco Blanco, Mayor of La Gomera, Rafa from, Santos from the town committee and all the kids who helped out.

April update: Lamp posts, Life Saving and Life Creation

April has been a creative, productive month full of lovely visitors and lots of activity.

1. We have started teaching artesanias to women in the village on Friday afternoons. Here they are making earrings with Frances.

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2. We announced the winners of our drawing competition – of the plants and fruits of El Paredon, animals, surfers and landscapes.

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First prize winners received an acrylic paint set, awarded by my friend Helen from London. The exhibition was held in the Health Centre and received loads of positive feedback.

3. The most enthusiastic and talented young artists are collaborating with us on painting the lampposts along the main road.


Each post will have a positive environmental message and brightly coloured paintings by local kids who come to La Choza Chula. This project was dreamed of by co-founder Carla, and we are happy to make it a reality so she can see it when she comes back to visit us! The local environmental agency, CONAP, helped us decide on the key messages, with the most pressing issues facing El Paredon, such as the need to conserve at least 20% turtle eggs and keeping the canal clean from fish guts.

Our first post, above and below, will read‘ We don’t throw litter’


4. On a short trip to Antigua with Helen, we met a great girl Kathryn, who is an emergency nurse in Portland, US. She loved the sound of  El Paredon and asked how she could share her skills in the community. And so it was that she came and gave first aid training to local surfers and hotel staff, especially around resuscitating people who drown or who are bleeding after surfing injuries.


She also asked me to get a list of medications that the local health centre desperately needs and she arrived with lots of new supplies, including antibiotic tablets, cough medicines and parasite creams. The local nurse was delighted. Thanks Kathryn!

5. After a superb year in its current location, we are moving La Choza Chula to Julia’s new house. This will save on rent and the workshops will be held in the front porch area which seems to create a calmer environment for the kids to work. Larry Persic and colleagues have kindly fundraised in order to pay for a shed to store all the equipment and materials. Thanks guys!!

6. Another project needing funding in the community was the build of a bathroom next to the young kids’ classroom in the school. Currently, the teacher has to take a child 100m to the nearest facilities, leaving the other children without a teacher. This small development will drastically help the teachers and kids. Thanks again to our friends in Illinois for their generous contribution towards this project.

7. My dog Cusca has had a tough time this month as she became a woman and was the attention of the local dogs for a crazy 10 days. As a result she is now pregnant and will be giving birth in June. Anyone want a pup?


8. I got an invite to work in the canal with zoology students from Guatemala City, monitoring the sea turtles who feed there. It was a fascinating morning, seeing the turtles get measured, weighed and ultra-scanned to check their ovaries.

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Surf development


There have been some exciting, positive, local-led developments in the small surf community here in El Paredón. The local surfers have grouped together to start a SURF CLUB for the younger members. This involves training them, starting a board-rental rota system, holding local surf competitions and making sure they are not skipping school to go surfing. I managed to get some funding to buy a couple of boards from a lovely Canadian couple Meg and Scott who came to El Paredon and wanted to help the local community. At the moment there are 10 young surfers sharing 4 boards so they could do with a few more but it’s a great start. They pay Q1 a session to hire the board (about 12p) which contributes to paying for damages, wax etc.

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It would be amazing to get some sponsors for these guys – some of whom could become pro surfers if they had the right backing. Not having money prevents them from having the right equipment, being able to travel and stay at competitions. They also lack the learning tools other surfers have – videos, surf magazines etc.

The guys organised a surf competition a few weeks ago which gave lots of energy and motivation to the young surfers. It was also good training for the national competition in Iztapa – although the waves were huge, some of the local guys did really well.


This is development at its best – young locals working together, motivating themselves to make a  really positive change to the community.

Birthday bashings

3rd birthday

Birthdays are a big deal here in Guatemala. If you’re a little kid, practically the whole village comes to your party and brings you a little present. Cake and piñatas (paper dolls stuffed with sweets) are the 2 main events of any party. With the cake, you blow out your candles and then your face is pushed into the creamy icing. I went to a little girl’s 3rd birthday last week. She wasn’t happy about the cake face part.

cake face

Everyone else had a good time though, with kids queueing very patiently for their piece of cake.

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The piñata involves tying the doll to a piece of string, blindfolding the birthday girl/boy, then getting them to try and bash the doll until the sweets fall out. It’s actually pretty difficult though, as someone has the other end of the rope and yanks the doll away from you when you get near.

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My friends organised one for my birthday and it was really fun. And I organised one for Carla’s leaving do.

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Bathroom, bread, clams


A month ago, I commissioned the local builder, Jorge, to build me an outside shower and toilet from bamboo. Between us we came up with the design. I love it. I love looking at the stars at night from the shower.


I’ve also finished my palm fence to try and stop kids peering in all the time into the garden. My dog Cusca has dug her own dog entrance under the fence for private access. I’ve hung these 2 hammocks too, deliciously shaded by coconut trees. A little post-class sleep is always good.

my garden


my first loaf

I’ve started baking bread from scratch – a real act of love, patience and reward. El Paredon really needs a bakery as the bread that comes once a day is already stale, artificial, sweet. I’ve thought of selling it but it may be too expensive for the locals as  I would have to charge a decent amount to make any profit. I’ve started selling licuados (smoothies) and little ice creams though, and if I sell 10 smoothies a day it is enough to live on. It is quite satisfying ticking off the things I sell on my chart.


It is the clam season – plentiful supplies just a short boat ride away. The trick is to step onto the canal bottom and lift the clams up with your toes. They are delicious hot, fresh, with lime and salt. I just celebrated a year of being El Paredon. It is a joy to live through the seasons here of fruit, fish, storms. Mango time is here again – ripe yellow fruit falling like rain.



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