Red Oxx Economic Efforts in Guatemala Show Progress

Red Oxx Economic Efforts in Guatemala Show Progress

Jim's Monkey Fist Project Update 2010

It has been said that the human mind is like a restless monkey swinging from branch to branch, preventing the mind from finding peace. Jim can readily relate to that inner struggle to calm the beast. Should one try to talk the monkey down with meditation? Or maybe a fatal dose of Xanax would quiet the inner chimp? Jim, on the other hand, tends to embrace his wild side and make it work for the betterment of his sphere of influences.


Such was the case when I envisioned doing something about a little corner of Guatemala using the monkey's fist. When ideas attempt to crowd the mind with ceaseless chatter it's time implement them any way you can. Small steps lead the way to change as an incremental process, which over time envelops the barrier to the path less taken.

Our economic development efforts were founded to bring ownership and prosperity to the hills of Guatemala by empowering the people who tie our Monkeys fist knots with the spirit of entrepreneurship. Helping them attain financial independence and mastery of their destiny.

Last year we made it halfway to our goal to sell 60,000 Monkey Fists, time to take action and move ahead with construction of the Molino. We saw some interesting orders since our last communiqué, and quantities were quite surprising as monkey fever infested the Oxx herd. One order in particular comes to mind, I know those kids think grandma was a bit crazy stuffing their stockings with Monkey Fists but the story behind them was an excellent opportunity to demonstrate where things come from.


Returning to Guatemala each year affords me the opportunity to explore the culture a bit deeper each time. It's also time to explore new packing methods and styles of Red Oxx luggage. Adhering to the carry-on policy for outbound travel, I decided to go with a Sky Train convertible carry-on. Since no trip would be complete without a haul of coffee from Crossroads café, I folded a Medium Aviator kit bag neatly into the outer compartment of the Sky Train for my annual haul of black gold.

Toiletries are easily organized as usual in the Tri-fold and for a personal item carry-on, I switched to the Rock Hopper day pack. Liquids restrictions has made traveling with a toiletry kit a bit of a challenge.

Our current solution to the TSA liquids rule is to leave the Tri Fold packed with your dry goods and slip the one quart Ziploc into the open side of the bag and keep it near the top of your carry-on. Once you're in country it's quickly reassembled with your toiletries and then you have the convenience of the Red Oxx Tri-fold toiletry kit for staying mobile and organized.

Packing everything away I was amazed at the compactness of my load for a two-week trip. The outer pocket of the Sky Train Carry-on easily holds a folded up Medium Aviator Kit Bag. With the Rock Hopper as my personal item carry-on/camera bag I was all set to travel.


Living in Montana can pose some serious challenges when it comes time to leave the state. I've been trapped here in the Northlands along the highways from road closures. Think you're going to fly out? Think again….. This time it was fog. After standing in line for 2 hours I managed to get a flight to Guatemala for the following day. The bright side being I was all packed and just needed to get up the next day and try again.

Flexibility is the key to traveling these days. Tight connections mean you're more than likely going to get delayed along the trail sooner or later. Being prepared to overnight with your carry-on luggage is crucial to reducing the stress of becoming stranded along the way.


To date we have now built a new workshop with excellent lighting and a kitchen. Our next project was putting in a real shower and flush toilet. With the basics met we were approached to do a micro loan and help build a Molinillo (corn mill) for the village.

What I thought was going to be a simple building has since spiraled into a major project. Now with a Tienda (snack shop) and Molinillo and for good measure a Lavandaria (or laundry) on the roof, talk about lost in translation!

Well plans change, things happen and it's the savvy traveler who learns to go with the flow. The cool part is that we are actually stacking blocks and moving towards completion. After setting up our production runs for next year's crop of Monkey's Fists it was time to head back to Panajachel for some more coffee roasting instructions at Crossroads Café.

molinillo storeThe Molinillo is coming into perspective

Mike has been taking the time to apprentice people on the finer points of purchasing and roasting coffee here in Guatemala. Somehow, I think it is all a ploy to get me to work for him while I am in country. Since I have yet to meet any other "students" on my annual visits.

After roasting my order, I still needed to bag it and somehow got pressed into grinding and bagging a huge shipment for another customer. Working with Mike is always a high energy experience and a million laughs.

Jim Markel roasts coffee beansCan you smell them?


To the varied assortment of global vagabonds in attendance we put on a show for the crowd. Filthy with coffee dust I got to thinking there has to be a better way. Maybe it was time to go back to school? Well Spanish school that is. Jabel Tinamit is Pana's only Mayan owned language school. For years I've neglected my Spanish and pretty much muddled through with stick figures and nouns.

The whole concept of a classroom environment for learning a language never really worked for me. Finally, I decided to break down and attend some lessons in Guatemala.

The school and teachers at Jabel Tinamit exceeded my expectations. Starting bright and early you get to work one on one with your teacher in a relaxed conversational style.

Sitting in the tropical garden sipping coffee while you work on learning is a much more enjoyable experience than your typical stateside teaching environment. Still after 4 hours of brain calisthenics I needed a break, so back to Crossroads for some wicked deserts and wise cracking expats.


Exploring the culture of a country is what the essence of travel is all about, from the food to the sights, sounds, and most of all the people. It all comes together to create a unique experience that in some ways is very puzzling to the outsider, yet the take away from this can affect you in subtle ways. Everything from art to cooking affects your tastes, which are molded by the experiences you have in the world at large.

Traveling is a positive way to bring about great change within yourself and those you encounter. Festivals are a concentrated version of the local culture. The bringing together of masses of people to swirl about in a frenzy and then depart back to their daily lives. I have been fortunate to share some festivals in my travels and the coming together of families and even wayward travelers is always a rewarding experience.


Semana Santa is one such festival in Guatemala and other Spanish speaking countries. Held each year during the Holy Week leading up to Easter, it's one of the largest events in predominantly Catholic countries. The processions in the major cities are quite the spectacle and the elaborate floats are carried on the shoulders of the faithful.

Around Panajachel the celebrations tend to run from religious to outright drinking in the streets. Things tend to get a bit rowdy when all the folks from the city roll in for a good time. If your tastes run to people watching, you can pull up a chair on Santander and get an eye full.

This year they were taking a greener approach to making the intricate "carpets" in the streets. Using all natural plant materials and sand they make some awesome displays which are walked over by the procession as it makes its way around the small village.

Later after the sun has gone down, I decided to take a tour of one of the clubs. The mass of humanity packed into a small nightclub was truly astounding. I was literally surfing on bodies as I swam my way through the dance floor. The humidity was worse than the jungles of South East Asia, A physically impacting smell of cologne and alcohol fueled by a techno beat.

Semana Santa is full of ironic contrasts, pagan like processions fronted by a devoutly religious people.

Drunken kids stumbling in the street, while families are enjoying a tropical evening munching on a smorgasbord of festival treats. Each visit to Guatemala has brought about a different set of experiences, and with them some great friends as well.


The commitment from Red Oxx has been based on a building a lasting relationship with the workers who handcraft our Monkeys Fist Knots. With the passing years we have made a tremendous difference in their lives. While things may not be happening as fast as they would here in the United States, they're changing at an acceptable pace by Guatemalan standards.

Managing expectations based on western thinking is a tough pill to swallow in the world we all live in. Learning to let go and accept is something that bears a little thought.

Jim Markel

[caption id="attachment_18764" align="aligncenter" width="500"]Colorful crowds line the streets in Panajachel Colorful crowds line the streets in Panajachel[/caption]

Colorful crowds line the streets in Panajachel

Did you enjoy Jim's latest installment of his on-going Guatemala Trip Reports? Be sure to read the next adventure, A Fair Trade Marathon in the Making.

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