7/15/2010 First day in Honduras

7-15-2010

Why did we choose Honduras?  Why not?  Tell me what you know about Honduras. How many people do you know that have been there?  I wanted adventure.  I wanted unspoiled beauty. I didn’t just want a vacation I wanted to travel and to possibly find an answer or two.

Landing in San Pedro Sula

We landed in San Pedro Sula around 11:45am.  While waiting in the immigration line we met a young dark haired light skinned Allison.  She had just returned from visiting Dallas.  She has been living in La Ceiba with her Garifuna boyfriend whom she met while attending college as a linguist in Dallas. Her Spanish was amazingly superb in comparison to ours.  After quite a wait in line we had a lengthy talk about everything from travels to pronunciation into developing a friendship.  She proved a life saving asset as we exited the airport and were bombarded with our first Spanish.  Unreasonably fast. Muy rapido. Taxi’s, buses, aaaah…taxi drivers all battling for your dollar while grabbing to ‘take’ your things. I was not prepared and no matter how much Rosetta Stone you study you are not prepared for the ‘real’ situation when it challenges you. It looks you square in the eye and you have no idea how to compute and process it.

From the sights, the smells, the sounds, and the complete difference between your co existing worlds. Before this day I never knew this world existed.  Yes you can read about it, you can talk about it, but you never really comprehend the fact that in your daily life that at the same very moment these people are doing just this. San Pedro Sula is a valley surrounded by hills or small mountains and a brown milky river. There is a 360 view of misty haze of ridges of land. I was in love, not with the city but with the land.  As I said, I was not prepared but Allison effortlessly communicated-Spanish flowing from her like a liquid. We shared a taxi to the main bus terminal in central San Pedro Sula.  The taxi was 100 Lempiras or $15 dollars, $5 each. When we arrived we exchanged numbers and promised to meet up when we reached La Ceiba.  Farewell for now, hasta luego. As we turned away from her and that taxi I knew reality was at our heel yet again.  The bus terminal also happened to be their mall. Inside were a cluster of clothing shops selling American fashions or name brand knock offs. Shoe stores, a food court with Pizza Hut and most importantly a bank. At the door to the bank stood two…not one but two armed guards, in uniform and bearing shotguns, who explained quickly that only one could enter at a time.  I stayed with the bags knowing I would only do harm trying to speak about our money situation in my poor Spanish.  As I waited I realized I was quite the attention grabber with my blond hair and quickly reached into my pack and put my bandanna on to cover the cluster of glances I was receiving for my rubia hair.  Soon after Matt walked out of the bank with more than 5,000 Lempiras.  Instantly you feel rich and yet vulnerable. The average daily pay in Honduras is a mere 150 Lempiras. We were easily carrying what it takes about 33 days for them to make. We grabbed our packs and walked back to the bus terminal doors to the bus to Puerto Cortes. In the bus we both had time to let reality try and catch up to us, our thoughts, and emotions.  

The first bus

The language is spoken so quickly it is excruciating at first. In the time you are taking to process what was just said they are already onto something else. On the bus we found a spot in the back, comfortable with room for our bags and Matt’s guitar. The bus winded its way through the small city streets with a man whistling out the door and filling the bus with riders. At each stop children, mothers, fathers, men, women would file on and try to sell their goods of fresh cut fruit, breads, and refrescas. We had to kindly decline the fruit because you don’t know how clean it was, the person cutting it was, or where they even cut i.    With each stop another traveler would join until the bus was filled.  Matt & I separated between two men. My pack was between my legs, one of which was pinned between the rather big man and the seat as I hugged my camera and eased the thought from my head. I was too wrapped up into the land the lives outside of my window in which I could not remove my gaze.  It was like a movie scene and although I knew I was there in that moment, it had not yet reached in and grabbed me and I couldn’t even tell you when I would fully grasp it. I knew I was here, I knew it was real I could feel it and I truly could not wait to dig in and succumb to it. We passed hundreds of shacks made from scrap wood and thatched roofs.  Stands selling fruits, drinks, and plenty of clothing and somewhat dressy sandals. Small restaurants that looked like small sheds. Mango trees heavy with fruit and coconuts dangling from wild trees. Bright red, yellow, pink, and peach flowers.  Driving is not complicated with rules only suggestions.  Stop signs became a short yield & a honk.  Motorbikes between huge buses next to children walking on the small shoulder of the road.

Puerto Cortes

Arriving in Puetro Cortes proved to be a difficult feat with not really having a bus guy that wanted to help.  He spoke fast even after asking slowly please and even after getting off the bus at some random strange stop we had no idea where we were or what to do next to get to Travesia where we planned to sleep. We just got off with everyone else and crossed our fingers. A taxi driver quickly found us, with me thinking ‘oh how could you not find the light skinned babbling Americans with huge backpacks looking around like a lost child in the mall.’ The taxi drivers name was Jose and he charged us 100 Lemps or $5 dollars to take us to Frontera del Caribe in Travesia.  It was a little higher than my Lonely Planet had predicted but in the moment we were happy to pay it and know that we were on the right path. Before coming I had read my Lonely Planet book, highlighting and bookmarking.  Looking back it is pretty hilarious at how I had developed such a plan for an ‘unplanned’ trip.  I can also look back and say that all the highlighting and bookmarks were merely suggestions and rarely followed.  In the taxi I was happy to just reach our first destination and put my feet down in a place for more than a moment. Having traveling by plane, bus, and taxi I needed a moment for my mind to compute and enjoy this trip.  Jose didn’t speak much English but he got us there safely and gave us his number on a ripped piece of paper for the next day when we were leaving. We found he lived in Omoa, which was closer to Guatemala and he said they had a decent beach.  He offered to take us there instead of Travesia stating there was not much there. We declined, as this was the one part of the trip I had planned and wanted very much.  I knew there would not be too much in where we were going to stay but the Garifuna festival was to happen about 15 minutes north on the coast and for me to be in the country so close and not see it would be just plain foolish to my brain.

Travesia

We arrived at Frontera del Caribe on a bumpy dirt road. It looked like a villa with a patio covered in thatch umbrellas under a coconut palm garden overlooking the Bay of Honduras, a part of the Caribbean Sea. The bottom floor of the hotel was a family run restaurant that also served drinks.  This is where I met Ana, a 9 year old girl who quickly stole my heart.  She had a great sense of humor when Matt asked her what beer she preferred when ordering our first round of drinks. But I am getting ahead of myself. We checked into room 1 that faced the coconut palms and the water through a huge window. We were lead to it by a friendly older gentleman who did not speak any English.  We set our packs down on the bed and began to rejoice in our path so far. The room was simple with a queen bed by the huge window, a small television, and a private bathroom with a cold water shower which is the norm.  All this for $15 a night. We quickly left the bags to get a beer and walk down the beach with our feet digging into the foreign soil with each step surrounded by warm salt water.  The beach wasn’t the prettiest especially after growing up on Lake Michigan, but it was perfectly fine for me and my first night in this magical place. The water was perfect, weaving in and out of each one of my toes as my feet sank into the beige sand. Matt and I walked for some time in both directions while drinking two beers each before getting changed into our suits and ordering camaron del ajo (shrimp in cream garlic sauce) and a tequila shot. It was sooo delicious cooked by the woman that checked us in (also Ana’s mother).  It was shrimp in a garlic cream sauce, beans and rice, and french fries, we opted out of the green salad. We enjoyed the meal and then went for a swim in the warm surf.  Body surfing the waves with goggles on.  We then showered in the cold shower on the patio and went for more beers and another plate of food.  We decided if we shared then we wouldn’t waste food hence waste money.  This time it was fried chicken, papas fritas (fries), beans/rice, more beers, and shots of rum. This is when we met Nikki (her parents are Nigerian), Helena, and Julia all from the UK.  Nikki was my favorite with long corn roll braids, great conversation, and over all warm & friendly spirit.  We talked, laughed, ate, and saluted a few shots of rum together. Helena talked about getting a cab to Baja Mar for the Garifuna festival and we agreed we would love to come along.

Baja Mar

After about 10 minutes a taxi arrived we drove about 10-15 minutes very slowly down a very bumpy dirt road until we arrived in the village of Baja Mar.  Here we were the only 3 white people, not knowing the best Spanish let alone a lick of Garifuna (a mixture of Carib, Spanish, and I believe a dash of french) in a tiny village without a plan or a clue.  We walked….people were roaming the streets as reggae and punta rock music filled the night air, while the bright stars and crescent moon filled the night sky. We stopped in a church and had a moment with two young girls,one stuffing her cheeks with some sort of sweet treats and leaning her head over the pew, giggling.  After leaving we strolled a bit further and heard traces of Bob Marley ahead which lead us to meet Seleem in front of the bamboo shack with the music pouring out of large speakers. We didn’t know what to expect from the people of Baja Mar, but they were the friendliest people we met thus far on this trip besides Nikki & Helena. Seleem could speak English fairly well due to his education in Belize.  He welcomed us as he smoked, told us to come have a drink as he explained they were very friendly people given the exception here and there.  In the small shack Seleem had set up a small store selling cold drinks from a cooler chest and a few snacks, behind a curtain I could see his sleeping quarters containing pretty much only a mattress. Matt and I bought a few cold beers and Seleem offered us shots of Garifuna rum, which is a white rum infused with numerous herbs and twigs.  He offered us a slice of mango sprinkled with salt to bite after to bring out the flavors. Matt and Seleem talked for quite sometime as Helena and I peeked around and talked.  Matt and I then got a tour of Seleem’s small spot of land that looked over the Honduran bay, he had just built 4 or so huts for visitors to bunk in order to make a little more money.  They were very simple and made out of bamboo, no electricity basically a bed and a roof. Just to add, while we were looking Matt and I both had our ankles attacked by the fiercest fire ants I had yet to meet. Seleem led us a few yards away to his beachfront with a small thatch roof gazebo and log seats. We talked, laughed, drank, smoked, and I enjoyed cooling my bitten ankles in the salt water of the sea.

The kinship and great vibes from all of the people we met in Baja Mar was exhilarating and I can’t have been happier spending our first night in their company.  Around 10:30 we haggled a ride back to our hotel from a local shop owner for 150 Lempiras, around $7.50 expensive but it was late and out of the way. We dragged our feet up the steps and fell fast asleep watching some small lightning flash over the Caribbean through our very large window. Ahhh.

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