Tag Archives: Central America

Gracias Lempria and Gracias Suyapa

2 Jul

“I can’t think of anything that excites a greater sense of childlike wonder than to be in a country where you are ignorant of almost everything.”

~ Bill Bryson

My last weekend in Honduras was spent with my host-mum and her friend Claudia in Gracias Lempira. It was a relaxing, terrifying and lovely way to end my trip.

I’ll get to the terrifying bit in a moment, first the relaxing part. 😉

Gracias Lempira is a small colonial town famous for its aguas termales (hot springs). It’s about a six hour drive from Tegus in the north-west of Honduras.

We left at about 3.30pm on Friday after work and arrived around 9.30pm that evening. My host-mum said the first thing we’d do after checking into our hotel was visit the hot springs.

I thought she was joking, but she was serious. After four and half months of having a ‘night time is dangerous’ mantra drilled into me, I have to admit I was a little nervous at the thought of being out and about so late.

Gracias Lempira is a tranquil and secure little town though, so people visit the hot springs at all hours with no worries. It was lovely. There were families and groups of friends and everyone was chilled out and relaxed.

The water was the perfect temperature and I swear I fell asleep for a moment while floating. It was like being in a giant bath. We returned to the hotel just after midnight and as soon as my head hit the pillow I slept like a rock. Bliss.

The next day we strolled around a local market before heading to a store that sold a huge variety of jarred and pickled fruits and vegetables, chutneys and chillies. I loved all the vibrant colours and shapes in jar after jar lined up on their shelves.

Pickled veges

They also sold a range of natural paletas (ice blocks). I had a pineapple one on day one and a passion fruit one on day two. Both were delicious.

Paletas

That afternoon we headed out to an even smaller town called La Campa. This is where the terrifying aspect of the weekend comes into play.

La Campa is famous for having Central America’s highest canopy zip line. There are six lines that zig zag across a canyon, the highest being more than 300 metres above the valley.

My host mum and Claudia had both indicated they would throw themselves off the cliff with me, but once we were there and they could see the impressive drop they both chickened out. I was abandoned!

Extreme Canopy

The first line was the scariest. Waiting and watching the others only increased my nerves, but once I’d done the first zip line (and my hands and legs stopped trembling) it was simply a blast.

This is a video of me on the second line. I was calm enough to hold the camera reasonably steady.

And after the second line I even got up enough confidence to give myself a running start off some of the other platforms. It was a huge amount of fun.

There are two sets of hot springs in Gracias so that evening we headed out to the other aguas termales. This time I remembered to take my camera, although it was a little difficult to take photos with all the steam.

Aguas termales

Before I knew it, Sunday had arrived and it was time to head home to Tegus after a brilliant weekend away.

* * * * *

I’m dedicating this post to my host-mum, Suyapa. In our short time together she has travelled with me to an amazing number of Honduran cities and towns. I can’t express how grateful I am for her generosity and the time she’s dedicated to showing me her country and culture.

She’s been a wonderful ‘tour guide’ and friend. I feel blessed to have been placed in her family and to have had her support throughout my stay.

Suyapa, gracias por todo. ¡Le extrañaré un monton!

A soup-inspired border crossing

13 Mar

I’m on a boat [censored] take a look at me

Straight flowin’ on a boat on the deep blue sea

~ The Lonely Island “I’m on a boat”

In the interests of not worrying mum and dad, for every ‘insecurity-themed’ post I publish, I’ve decided to publish a ‘look-what-a-lovely-time-I’m-having-themed’ post. It’s ye olde the good will cancel out the bad trick.

I can now lay claim to the fact that I have crossed a border for a soup. That’s right, this soup is so good, it’s worth driving to another country just to taste it.

My Honduran host mum is not only lovely, she’s also very keen to show me her country. She loves driving and doing day trips, so it looks like we’ll be able to do a lot of exploring over the next few months.

This weekend she decided to show me the south of Honduras, including a quick stop over the border in El Salvador to show me what was, in her words, the best seafood soup she’s had in her life.

The border crossing was a little sketchy. As soon as our car pulled up we were accosted by an over-excited guy in a ratty blue t-shirt that insisted he and his ‘colleagues’ help us out.

I’d read online and in several guide books that Central and South American border crossings are often made unnecessarily expensive by shameless hucksters that dupe you into paying them for their ‘help’ in crossing the border.

I almost went to mention this to my host mum, but then figured that as a local she probably knew what she was doing. I should have said something. By the end of the transaction it became obvious that we’d been hustled. Oops.

In my host mum’s defence, it’s difficult to work out what to do. There are no signs or obvious-looking officials out and about and the whole place looks more like a market than an immigration point. There are mini stalls and people spruiking their wares left, right and centre.

I wish I’d taken some photos, but I was too busy keeping a hawk’s eye on the whereabouts of my passport at all times.

At the El Salvador end things ran more smoothly. We were immediately approached by an immigration official in uniform that told us what to do and where to go. There were also signs up explaining the costs and that anyone asking you to pay more wasn’t part of the official system.

Border crossing completed, we headed to the border town of Santa Rosa de Lima and to El Restaurante La Pema, home of the infamous seafood soup.

A soup to cross borders for

A soup to cross borders for

It was a damn good soup. Whether it was worth going through the hassle of a dodgy and expensive border crossing, I’m not so sure, but it was definitely delicious.

After lunch we crossed straight back over the border to Honduras and headed south to San Lorenzo and the gulf that El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua all border.

El Golfo de Fonseca is actually a little contentious at the moment. The sovereignty of the area has a complicated history and today the Honduran government actually threatened to bring out its F5 planes to defend its rights, if necessary. Hopefully the three countries will be able to resolve the tension diplomatically.

As you can see from the Google Maps image below, the port of San Lorenzo is surrounded by a mangrove estuary.

San Lorenzo

It’s beautiful. We jumped on a boat to do a tour of the bay at the perfect time to snap some great shots of the sunset.

San Lorenzo sunset

And near the end of the tour we were even able to land on the beach of a small sand bar island. I couldn’t resist trying to stake a claim on a small patch of the Gulf myself:

Emma's beach

All in all it was a brilliant day. Seafood soup and a boat ride. What more could you ask for in a day trip?

Feeling hot, hot, hot

25 Nov

“What dreadful hot weather we have! It keeps me in a continual state of inelegance.”

~ Jane Austen

Despite occurring in December in my part of the world, summer is not on my Christmas card list. I simply adore autumn, get a kick out of Canberra’s chilly winters, and tolerate sneezing my way through spring, but summer and I are not friends.

I hate the heat. Can’t stand humidity. I spend most of summer (when not indoors with the AC blasting—sorry environment) in a hazy fugue counting down the days until it’s over.  Anything more than about 24 degrees Celsius and I start to feel like a wilted flower.

So why I’ve decided to head off to a Central American country where it’s hot and humid almost all year round is a question I asked myself many times today. We’re starting to head into summer and Canberra’s top temp today was 33 degrees.

And I felt all 33 of those degrees! We’ve had reasonably mild weather recently so today’s heat was a bit of a shock to the system. And it made me worry a little about how I’ll cope with the weather in Honduras. (A lot of whining and moaning about the heat, I expect.)

The internet research I conducted this afternoon—in a hot and bothered stupor—informs me that the average monthly temperature in Honduras ranges from 25 to 30 degrees. The average monthly humidity ranges from 60 per cent ­to 80 per cent.

So it’s actually not quite as ‘bad’ as I was expecting. Still much hotter than I prefer, and I’m sure I’ll still whinge, but maybe not in every blog post. Just every second blog post. 🙂

Do you like the heat? Or are you a sane person like me and prefer cooler climes?

More hard core than the Peace Corps?

21 Sep

“When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.”

~ Clifton Fadiman

As you may have noticed, when researching Honduras one of the ‘fun facts’ I discovered was that in January of this year the US Peace Corps pulled out all of its volunteers from Honduras due to safety and security concerns.

My main worry about this is that the withdrawal of 158 volunteers has seriously depleted the ‘potential husbands’ pool in Honduras. My grand plan of meeting and falling wildly in love with a dashing fellow volunteer may now have much lower odds!

On a more serious note, before you all start panicking, you can trust in the fact that AFS would not send me anywhere that was too dangerous. The organisation has an excellent safety and risk management system. Worry warts can read more about it here.

The Australian Government’s Smart Traveller website currently recommends that travellers exercise a high degree of caution, which is the second lowest out of four levels.

Not that I’m downplaying the risks here. Honduras can be considered a dangerous country and I will need to be extra vigilant about my personal safety while I’m over there. Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador are known as the Northern Triangle, which is recognized as one of the most violent regions in the world.

Honduras is currently facing many socio-political issues such as extreme poverty, gang violence, high crime levels, the illicit drugs trade, corruption, limited health resources and high rates of disease. Just to name a few.

When reading about the Peace Corps’ decision to withdraw from Honduras I did find it a bit comforting to note that there wasn’t a particular incident that had caused the review. I did a bit more digging and read on a couple of PCV blogs that the majority of the volunteers were considered safe in their assigned locations, but it was travelling to other areas within the country that was causing the most concern.

All that being said though, I’ve decided to find and enroll in a self defence course before I leave. I’ve done one before, but I think it will be good to get a refresh before I head over there.

And speaking of refreshes, it’s probably time to update my first-aid qualifications too. Watch this space.

Fun facts about Honduras

18 Sep

“Gracias a Dios que al fin salimos de esas honduras.”

~ Christopher Columbus

Here are some ‘fun facts’ about Honduras that I’ve found in my recent googlings:

  • Honduras has a population of roughly 8,250,000. Tegucigalpa is the capital city.
  • Around 59% of Hondurans live below the poverty line, and 36% in extreme poverty.
  • Honduran cuisine’s most notable feature is that is uses more coconut than any other Central American cuisine in both sweet and savoury dishes.
  • According to the United Nations, Honduras has the highest per capita homicide rate in the world, with 91.6 homicides for every 100,000 inhabitants. (By way of comparison the US rate is 4.2 per 100,000 and Australia’s rate is 1.0 per 100,000)
  • Honduras has coastlines on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.
  • In January 2012 the US Peace Corps pulled out all its volunteers from Honduras due to safety and security concerns.
  • The orchid is the national flora of Honduras, and the white-tailed deer is its national fauna.
  • Honduran roads are poorly lit and poorly marked. Major cities are connected by an inconsistently maintained system of paved roads.
  • ‘Honduras’ literally means ‘depths’ in Spanish. Columbus is traditionally quoted as having said “Gracias a Dios que al fin salimos de esas honduras” (Thank god we have finally come out of those depths) while sailing through storms along the Northern coast.

Recommended reading

16 Sep

“The more you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

~ Dr. Seuss

As soon as I found out my application had been allocated to Honduras I started googling madly and looking for Honduras-related reading materials. I was particularly interested in first-hand accounts of living and traveling in Honduras.

I came across several blogs, books, and magazine articles that gave me quite a good insight into what my Honduran experience might be like.

If you’re interested, you can check out my reading list page for details of the books and blogs I particularly enjoyed or recommend.

I’ll update the list as I discover more.

Where in the world is Honduras?

15 Sep

“The cool thing about being famous is traveling. I have always wanted to travel across seas, like to Canada and stuff.”

~ Britney Spears

The main response I’ve been getting when telling people that I’m heading off to Honduras, is a quizzical look and the question: “remind me again exactly where that is?”

For those not in the know Honduras is in Central America. That’s the skinny connector bit between North and South America. The isthmus to be precise. Isthmus. I do like that word.

Map of Central America courtesy of worldatlas.com

As you can see on the map, Honduras shares borders with Guatelmala, El Salvador and Nicaragua. It also has coastline on both the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean.

¿Por qué Honduras?

When submitting my application, because I’m a grand old lady of 30 years, my (Spanish-speaking) country options were limited to Ecuador, Guatemala, Honduras, Argentina and Mexico.

As I’ve already been to both Mexico and Argentina (albeit briefly) they moved lower down my list of preferences leaving Ecuador, Guatemala and Honduras as the front-runners.

I originally nominated Ecuador as my first host country preference because I have been sponsoring a child from Ecuador (through World Vision) for the last three and a half years. I really liked the idea of travelling to Ecuador and helping out another Ecuadorian community directly.

However, I soon found out that Ecuador won’t be running the community service program next year. Jason, the AFS Sending Coordinator, had heard great things about the program in Honduras, so that’s where we submitted my application.

I was very excited to receive advice last week that I have been guaranteed a spot on the Honduras program. Look out Honduras, here I come!