A Year and a Day #22: Honduras – Honduras

Honduras
Monday, 22nd December 2003

Some bad news

In the capital of Honduras right now, the easy to pronounce Tegucigalpa. Had an amazing week scuba diving, off the
wonderful island of Utila, but just received some bad news. The language
school in Todosantos have decided to give the coordinator job to someone
else, for reasons that aren’t very clear to me. Only discovered on the
16th that there was any real competition, and on the 20th (my five month
anniversary of leaving England) got an email saying the decision had been
made (against me). Feel very disappointed and somewhat angry with the odd
way I’ve been treated; not quite sure where to go next now. Was really
quite looking forward to a several month break from being on the road.

Only in Tegucigalpa did I realise quite how tired I am. After five months
travelling, tired from lugging this backpack around, tired from
navigating totally new countries, tired of always meeting new people,
tired as well from just finishing a fairly intense week of scuba diving. Although I have no desire to come back to England for a rest, the idea of fixing myself for a while was immensely appealing.

I have a twenty quetzale note in one of my pockets, I didn’t change it
when I left Guatemala, figuring I’d be back soon. Now it seems to keep
resurfacing every time I look for change, reminding me that I’m not going
back after all. There are a lot of things about Todosantos I had settled
in my head that I would soon be seeing again: the friends I had made, the
mountains sharp against the morning sunlight, hiking, getting my
traditional red trousers and big collared white shirt made up at one of
the town’s tailors… Deeply sad to think I am unlikely to see these
things again for quite some time, if ever.

Going to have a rest and a think over Christmas and try to work out
another plan. Think it is either to head up north via Belize and maybe
stopping in Cuba and go back towards LA, to fly on to SE Asia, or
alternatively fly to somewhere in South America, and make my way to Australia
in time for my work visa. Probably I will fly to somewhere in South
America around mid-January. I realise, in the grand scheme of things,
perhaps this isn’t a big problem to have, but suspect it will be a week
or so before I’ve resolved the disappointment. Any suggestions of what
and where next would be very welcome.

Anyway, aside from all the above, what is Honduras like? Here’s some of
the things Gari and myself saw in mainland Honduras. An update on my
amazing week diving in the island of Utila should follow soon.

To the border

After the Day of the Devil in Coban, Gari and I travelled south to the
Guatemalan border town of Chiquimula. Chiquimula is like nowhere I had
been in Guatemala, it was hot, relaxed, with a distinctly freer, partying
atmosphere. Was this what Honduras would be like? It was a similar
feeling to arriving in Chiapas: where although I was still officially in
Mexico, I felt powerfully as though I had already crossed into a
different country.

Gari and myself wandered the nighttime streets, stumbling across the
first gay bar I had seen in Guatemala. Gari is gay, and immediately
remarked “Dan, something tells me this is a gay bar.” I resumed my
customary vague awkwardness that amuses Gari whenever he and I drink in
gay bars either in Soho or abroad, but I slowly relaxed somewhat, and
ended up having a long conversation with a Chiquimulan guy called Byron.
This ended abruptly when his intimidatingly large boyfriend sloped over
and muttered to him, “Vamos”. It was a fun and strange goodbye to
Guatemala, us and regulars choosing cheesy ’80s anthems from the jukebox:
Girls Just Want to Have Fun, Total Eclipse of the Heart, Bette Davis Eyes.

Copan Ruinas

Copan is the southernmost major Mayan archeological site, and as I hadn’t
seen any of them yet, and Gari wanted to see something of the history of
Central America, our first stop in Honduras was the pleasant town of
Copan Ruinas. The ruins themselves were kind of how I expected � not that
exciting. Most of the site had been so well restored you could have
played cricket on the grass, which didn’t really do much to convey the
wonder of this civilization long lost to the jungle, and according to my
guidebook many of the treasures of Copan are now held in the British
Museum. Wherever you go in the world, one can always count on the British
having nicked stuff.

One section really spoke to me, however, a great pyramid only partly
restored, its broken stone blocks all out of kilter, with great trees
bursting triumphant from its slopes, the claws of their long snaking
roots proclaiming their victory. This I felt conveyed the ancientness of
Copan better than all the pristinely preserved carved statues. I tried to
hold in my mind the reality of the Mayan population slowly leaving this
great city (as the valley’s agriculture failed) and the jungle stretching
out and reclaiming the land.

A real highlight of our time in the town of Copan was a birthday party we
stumbled on. Walking out of the tourist centre, looking for an actual
Honduran type restaurant, we came to a simple concrete building with
three Mariachi players standing outside. The manager came up and said,
“We’re having a fiesta, it’s my birthday, but come in, come in, dinner is
free”. Somewhat unsure what to do, we sat down and were served dinner
along with everyone else, and the Mariachis started playing. We tried to
think of an appropriate birthday present, as we felt privileged to have
been invited in � but we got stuck between somehow showing our thanks and
not taking over the party with our tourist novelty. Gari had a £20 note with him, which would be good as a present from England, but
this seemed too much, if anyone realized how many Lempiras this would be
worth (probably much more than any of the other presents). We thought
about singing Happy Birthday in English, but felt this would just emphasise our tourist-ness, and decided we didn’t want to ruin
the quiet acceptance of our presence. Perhaps the best thing was to
simply accept his hospitality, as he could have easily and politely
turned us away had he wanted.

Slowly we realised what an unhappy birthday this seemed to be for him.
Few people in the room seemed to be genuine friends of his � silent men
sat drinking his rum without more than a grunt of thanks. He was alone
most of the night, looking anxiously around, and it turned out a
remarkably boorish old man sitting behind us was paying for much of the
party. After a while, we thanked him for the meal and decided to leave,
still unsure whether we should have done more to make the night happier
for him.

In the glare of the Honduras sun

The Honduras sun is fierce. I feel it wounding my skin, the brightness
leaves me blind every time I cross into shade. The coastal city of La
Ceiba is my first ever taste of the Caribbean � I have unquestionably
left the Indian world of southern Mexico and Guatemala behind. The
quietness of Guatemala, the simplicity of an early rising, early to bed
life, three kids by your eighteenth birthday � all these seem to have
gone. Hondurans are much taller and much more multi-racial than
Guatemalans � I weave my way past skin tones from Afro-Caribbean to
northern European white.

This feels like a more extrovert, quick tempered
country, people shout much more here, though I rarely hear a voice raised
in anger. Kids use an immense amount of swearing talking to their
friends; La Ceiba school girls idlingly on their lunch break whistle at
me and shout “Hey handsome!”, something which hasn’t happened to me since
Oaxaca. The people wear shorts and sun glasses, two items I haven’t seen
in months, and I look utterly out of place in my Panama hat from Chichi.

Honduras seems less communal than Guatemala, people walk the streets
without acknowledging each other, until they run into a friend and shout
out happy greetings, making everyone wait while they embrace and natter.
The way many of the younger people hold themselves strongly reminds me of
parts of New York or LA, a bold swagger in their walk says “look at me,
don’t get in my way”. Hondurans may not have much of the Mayan quietness
about them, but this doesn’t make them any less friendly. I find it hard
to wait long at a bar without some young guy barking at one of the staff
to get their attention for me.

Honduras is supposed to be the poorest country in Central America, but it
is sometimes hard to see where all this poverty is (at least in the urban
centres Gari and I visited). People seem more or less well fed (some are
fantastically fat, something else I haven’t seen in months), children run
happily around La Ceiba’s sea front laughing, prices are if anything a
little higher than in Guatemala, people’s English often seems better too.

One thing that is very noticeable is the way the power of the United
States shines everywhere here. In San Pedro Sula’s centre, it is all but
impossible to eat in a non US-chain restaurant. The American world of
shopping malls, junk food and hip hop styles seems to have been
transplanted whole, something I find often disorientating. Honduras has
historically been an ally of the US in Central America; I see many men
wearing pro-USA t-shirts with the stars and stripes or with lines like
“We will win!”

Other aspects of past US involvement can be seen. An articulate Honduran
tells me that after the US sponsored war against the Nicuraguan Sandinistas
ended, guns flooded the country. An AK47 with ammunition at one point
apparently sold for 150 Lempiras (approx. £5), but now bank robbers in
San Pedro Sula have upgraded to anti-tank rocket launchers. Honduras does
seem a somewhat more militarised, gun-ified country than anywhere I’ve
been yet. Uniformed men carry assault rifles or huge shotguns everywhere,
even if they are just guarding a fast food restaurant. Walking past the
police station of the capital Tegucigalpa on the way back to my hotel one
night, I see four soldiers with immense rifles sitting in a car, and in
the back cowers a scruffy man, blood seeping from his mouth. I walk on
quickly – there are some suns is it perhaps best not to fly too close to.

PS: Merry Christmas to all. Thanks for reading my travel diary and
thanks to everyone who has been emailing me, I really appreciate it. It
has been a great boon on tough days to be able to retreat to an internet
cafe and see who has sent me a message.

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