1st July 2004

Sometime since the last installment I have ticked the 180th day off my Requena's Charters calendar. It's amazing how fast time is going by. I can still remember conversations that I had my first days here. It feels like it was just yesterday, how can six months have passed already?

The Rest of Honduras

Picture a man, separated from civilization by both time and space, walking through a place that, however foreign, seems oddly familiar. A place where the cars are clean and new, towns all seem the same, and Pizza Huts are as ubiquitous as Starbucks' on a New York morning. You have entered…The Gringo Zone.

McDonalds right across from the Burger King, around the corner from a Wendy's. Little Caesars' (pizza pizza!). Mister Donut. Payless Shoe Source. Texaco. The Gap. Domino's. Exxon. Subway. Volkswagen. Toyota. Church's Chicken. Sears.

Can you guess where I am? No, I'm not in America. Hint: most of the people are dark-skinned and speak Spanish. No, it's not that odd land south of the states that they call "Texas." OK, OK, I'll tell you. I'm in Honduras. Tegucigalpa, the capital city, to be exact. This town, really the whole country, however lovely, is a shining example of globalization at work. Not too surprising really, this is the fabled 'Banana Republic,' built by United Fruit and presently sponsored by Dole. There are a lot of pineapples here.

Clean, modern Tegucigalpa, a model of cities of the future
Honduras must be managed better that Guatemala. It has the third lowest GNP in Latin America (behind Haiti and Nicaragua), a 30% un- and under-employment rate, and even though it exports a huge amount of fruit it maintains a tremendous trade deficit. But despite all this you don't notice the 50% poverty level unless you really go looking for it. All of the American establishments I mentioned charge what amount to American prices, and they are all packed. Away from the coast, there doesn't seem to be any more of an expatriate community than in any of the other countries, and since most of the land is foreign-owned, there is no rich land-holding elite. But driving around, Honduras does not have a poor look or feel about it, like Guatemala and Belize, who by the usual economic indicators are better off. The roads are well maintained, stores are clean, and people are good-looking and well dressed.

They do like to use their horns though. The driver on the first-class bus (yeah air conditioning!) from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula used the horn to announce everything to other folks on the road. Going to pass you—honk honk. Just passed you—honk honk. Changing the radio station—honk honk. Feeling a bit gassy today—honk honk. Come on people, there's no reason to honk—just wave!

Normally I swear by the Lonely Planet, but I must say that the Honduras chapter of my guidebook is quite possibly the worst publication of theirs I have ever laid eyes on. The book is 3 years old, so I'm willing to accept that some things close, new things open, prices go up, bus times change, etc. But there are more things in that chapter than I can count that could never possibly have been right.

Case in point. I wanted to go to a town named La Union in the mountains in the middle of the country. The book described it as being quite lovely, I heard other people talking about it, and the temperature there was purported to be 10 degrees cooler (that's 10 degrees Celsius, too) than along the coast. I thought that it was too far away, but I heard some people saying that it is only an hour and a half away. The book confirmed this.

So I get a cab from the ferry terminal to the bus terminal, the taxista pulls me right up to the bus that says "La Union." I paid one dollar, exactly what the book predicted, and we were on our way. Twenty minutes into the ride, in full view of the mountains, I couldn't figure out why we were heading west from Ceiba, when the map showed the road should go east. An hour later we were still winding through sea-level jungle when the ayudante came back to ask me where I was going to get off. I told him "La Union." Estamos aqui. Donde quieras bajar? We're here. Where do you want to get off?

It turns out there are three La Unions in Honduras. This was clearly not the right one. It also turns out that this La Union is at the end of the road, and you can't get anywhere else from there. Another two hours later I was back at the bus terminal in Ceiba. So much for the book.

I made my way back to San Pedro Sula, hoping to move on to Tegucigalpa that night. But alas, the location the book gave for the bus terminal to Tegus is actually an office building. A very old office building. The book is right that there are not very many good cheapskate traveler hotels in SPS. It is wrong when it says that the Hotel Brisas on 5a Avenida between 6a and 7a Calle is old but clean, and popular with Peace Corps types. The abandoned warehouse on 5a Avenida between 6a and 7a Calle is old, that's where reality ends. Nice place down the street though.

Also, apparently they have undertaken a massive plan in Tegucigalpa in the last few years to rearrange all the buildings because the directions in the book for the walking tour are all wrong. And none of the hotels are where they are supposed to be. But I lucked into a very nice hostel there.

It was in Tegucigalpa that I decided I could no longer ignore the crescendoing pain in the side of my chest from when I slipped off the back of the dive boat while hauling my 'victim' aboard during the rescue diver course. Dr. Sava's chest film lecture during ATLS came in very handy, as all I needed to do was walk in to the X-ray laboratory, order a film (2 views for us$12), and discover for myself that I had cracked three ribs. Nice. Also nice that I could walk next door to the pharmacy and buy 5 days worth of Toradol, without a prescription. No need for any pesky physicians here.

South to Nicaragua

Waiting with William at the
Nicarguan border
My last night in Tegus I ran into a girl that had been at my Spanish school in Xela that I saw again when I was in Todos Santos. She was headed toward Costa Rica and looking for a reason not to stay in Tegus another night. Drawn undoubtedly by the promise of my entertaining company, or perhaps (more likely) the company of someone that knew where the right bus station is, we decided to travel together the next day to Managua.

And naturally, the next morning in the bus station we ran into William, a guy I shared a house with in Antigua, then saw in Cobán, then again in Utila. I think he's stalking me. So then we were three. Until we got off the bus, then I lost both of them in the mob of taxi drivers and hotel headhunters.

Mural in León with the famous shadow of Gen. Sandino
I went first to León, one of the two principal cities in Nicaragua and purported to be the livelier of the two. It was the center of Sandinista activity during the civil war. It is ridiculously hot. There isn't all that much to do there. There are a handful of nice restaurants and a nice movie theater—I went to see Troy with a couple of Norwegian girls, members of a quite lovely race of people that I am discovering must have certain odd mannerisms (aside from raping and pillaging, of course) embedded in their genes. I got some great music from them. One night I had to have one of them protect me from the gay midget that wanted to hug me and have his picture taken with me. They weren't there to protect me when a 'guy' tried to introduce to his two 'cousins' (female, at least, but you can safely replace 'guy' and 'cousins' with 'pimp' and 'hookers'). It was Mother's Day there and there was a large fiesta in the square. The site of the old city nearby, only rediscovered in the last 40 years, is pretty interesting, and would be more so if I hadn't been melting into a wet spot in the volcanic ash the whole time I was there.

After León I headed to Granada, another well preserved Spanish colonial town. I thought this was the more lively of the two, although there still isn't too much to do there. I ran into Richard from Celas Maya, for those of you that are keeping track of his whereabouts. Helped out at a school there one afternoon, trying my hardest to keep the kids from whacking each other with the piñata breaking stick. I got whacked a couple times pretty good. Good times.

Granada sits on the edge of Lago Nicaragua, the largest lake in Central America, although Granada certainly does not have the feel of a lakeside town. The center of town is a 15-minute walk through blistering heat, heat so hot you could cook an egg on the sidewalk, a dry heat, yet so intense that you can hear the sweat boiling out from under your skin before it is even perspired. A heat reminiscent of Brigham Young leading the Mormons into…wait, I'm getting sidetracked. Lakeside town, it's hot, oh yah, there's nothing by the shore, just a statue and a plaque with Somoza's (old dictator guy) name rubbed out.

Las Islas Ometepe,
an exact copy, just 1/8 your size
It's true! Two out of three pigs DO like Cheetos.
I moved on pretty quickly to Ometepe, the largest island in the largest lake in Central America. It's made of two volcanoes that merged together into one big island. Now, neither of them are really all that big, but it does take a long time to get around them. One day I took off with Zach, a guy I met at Semuc Champey, to climb one of them. But it took two hours on the bus to get around to the other side of the first volcano, and it's not more than 15 miles. We decided to look at some petroglyphs instead.

From here I decided that due to circumstances beyond my control I could not make San Jose, Costa Rica, my final destination and had to turn back north. I returned to Granada in time to catch their Friday night liveliness in the park, which included a young woman singing the town's ancient and revered anthem, interestingly enough entitled "Granada." About two thirds of the way through, she forgot the words. Everyone thought she was done, applauded, the MC came to shoo her off the stage, then she starts singing again. It's a very long song.

Nicaraguan cab drivers have mastered the use of their horns as well. In Washington or New York it can be nearly impossible to hail a cab sometimes, here you practically have to beat them of with a stick. Actual experience: I'm walking down the street, minding my own business. A line of 10 cabs passes me. The first toot-toot-"taxi amigo?" I use the waggering finger no. Second cab. Toot-toot-"taxi amigo?" Waggering finger again. This repeats with every cab, I'm not joking, ten of them, one behind the other, each of them watching me say no to the one in front of them until finally I ask the last cab "You just saw me say no to the NINE cabs ahead of you, what could possibly make you think that I have suddenly changed my mind?" The response: "Taxi, amigo?"

This turned out to be a really long chapter, so I'm going to break it here into two smaller chapters. When you're ready to read ahead, you can link from the index page, or just click here.

Vaya sin claxon--
-Tim(!)

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