Tag Archives: Honduras

One year later…

11 Jun

“There are far, far better things ahead, than anything we leave behind.”

~ C.S. Lewis.

My last relationship ended a year ago today. I woke up on the 11th of June 2012 expecting it to be just like any other day.

Instead I found myself having a brief, unanticipated conversation with my boyfriend. The end result being a couple of nearly intelligible phone calls to my family asking them to help me move out of my now ex-boyfriend’s apartment.

Later I would joke that if we had been playing Survivor it would have been the best blindside in the history of game. I had no inkling I was about to be voted off the island.

After three and a half years of being a “we”, when you suddenly become a “me” you find yourself facing a future unknown but one full of new and previously unthought-of possibilities.

Rather than wallow indefinitely in the misery every break-up invariably brings, I allowed myself a brief window of time be sad and then wholeheartedly threw myself into the process of moving on.

It was during this period I decided now was the time to turn my dreams of ‘one day’ of doing volunteer work overseas into concrete plans.

As I’ve written previously, with no partner, no kids, no pets, no lease, no mortgage, and all my worldly possessions neatly packed in boxes, there was never a better time to seize the day.

And so, one year later, I find myself in Honduras.

I was hoping for another once-in-a-lifetime experience and Honduras certainly hasn’t disappointed.

I’ve …explored ancient Mayan ruins …written press releases for UNICEF …toured a volcanic island in a mototaxi …nearly sparked an diplomatic incident while playing paintballvisited families living in extreme poverty …traveled to another country for the love of seafood soup …been bogged in an airboat …celebrated my birthday Mexicatracho style …suffered through the ‘Honduran hurl’ …marveled at rugs made of sawdust …experienced a wild and crazy electrical storm …stomped around a coffee plantation in the rainand spent many, many hours lazing in my favourite hammock.

I’ve also had plenty of time to think and reflect. I’ve come to realize I’m happy both with and by myself. I may be alone, but I’m certainly not lonely. Becoming single wasn’t my choice, but I’ve owned it.

I’m not sure what’s over the horizon for me, but all I can say is, “bring it on!”

I’m ready.

Better latte than never

10 Jun

“No one can understand the truth until he drinks of coffee’s frothy goodness.”

~ Sheik Abd-al-Kadir

Ah coffee. How I love thee so.

I firmly believe the second best way to be woken up in the morning is by the aroma of a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Even better if it’s the aroma of a coffee someone else has made for you.

I’m getting ridiculously spoilt here, as each morning our lovely housekeeper has my breakfast and accompanying coffee ready and waiting for me on the kitchen table.

My first coffee of the day is black, and then my second is normally a latte of dubious quality from the UN building’s Espresso Americano kiosk.

I’ve whinged about the poor quality of cappuccinos etc. here in Honduras before. Honduran coffee itself, on the whole, is excellent. If you drink your coffee black, you’ll be as happy as a pig in mud.

It’s the latte and flat white drinkers of the world who will struggle to find a good brew here. So I guess what I’m trying to say is: yuppies beware—your orange-mocha-frappuccino may not be up to your usual standard.

I have to admit that despite all the publicity about fair trade and rainforest alliance coffee these days, I don’t often pause to think about where my coffee has come from.

Baby coffee plants

The other weekend I got the chance to get up close and personal to a cup of coffee’s origins. We travelled to Güinope—pronounced win-nop-eh—the original home town of my host family.

My host-uncle has a coffee plantation up in the hills behind the town. It was an overcast and drizzly day, but at least that meant it was nice and cool as we wandered around the farm.

Visiting the coffee plantsI was surprised to learn coffee plants need shade, so are always planted with another crop, such as banana trees to give them cover from the sun. I had imagined the hills would be rather bare with only low rows coffee plants, but the shade crop made it look more like a neat jungle, planted by an OCD Tarzan.

Coffee plantationThe harvesting season is well and truly over but we were able to see the different stages of growth, from white flower buds, to unripe green berries, and we also found a few red ripe berries that had been missed in the harvest.

The entire harvest is done manually, which is a labour and time-intensive process. My uncle’s plantation measures about 25 manzanas. The Spanish measurements confuse me a little, but according to Wikipedia one manzana is 100 varas by 100 varas, which is the equivalent of almost 7000 square metres.

So, if my maths doesn’t fail me, this would make the farm a total of 175,000 square metres. It takes about three to four months to harvest the entire plantation by hand.

Once the berries are harvested, the flesh is removed and the seeds are laid out in large concrete patios to dry. When the seeds are dry, the coffee is ready to be roasted, after which it’s ground and then ready to be brewed.

When we returned back to my uncle’s house we enjoyed a cup of strong, black coffee with an accompanying slice of orange cake and rosquillas. It was delicious.

Plus it was quite the novelty knowing I was drinking coffee derived from some plants I’d personally visited.

Coffee plant

Flower power

31 May

“When you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it’s your world for the moment.”

~ Georgia O’Keeffe

Whenever I see a pretty flower here I’ve gotten into the habit of taking a photo.

I’m no botanist, so I have no idea if these flowers are native to Honduras or imports, but I thought I’d share them with you all the same.

It’s a nice bright way to start the day. Happy Friday!

Decal declarations

29 May

“There’s a difference between a philosophy and a bumper sticker.”

~ Charles M. Schulz

According to the CIA World Factbook, Honduras is 97% Catholic and 3% Protestant. I think this is most evident when watching traffic.

Day to day, I have noticed a lot of conversations are peppered with the phrases ‘God willing’ and ‘thank the Lord’, however it’s when driving around that Honduras’ Catholicism really stands out.

Religious stickers and decals abound. I haven’t done a proper count but at a very conservative estimate I would think at least one in three cars has this rosary sticker on the back window:

Rosary

And the taxis and buses take it to a whole other level. Huge decals plastered on their rear windows or big white lettering across their windscreen tint strips proudly declare their faith.

  • Dios es amor
    (God is love)
  • Jesús te ama
    (Jesus loves you)
  • Jesús me ama
    (Jesus loves me)
  • Jesús es mi pastor
    (Jesus is my shepherd)
  • God is Lord
    (This one was in English)
  • Yo manejo, Dios me guía
    (I drive, God guides me)
  • Cristo vive
    (Christ lives)

And my personal favourite:

  • Propiedad de Jesús Cristo
    (Property of Jesus Christ)

I’m guessing this last one is meant to discourage thieves. Although if 97% of the country is Catholic and the other 3% is Protestant, the thieves are probably religious too, so I’m not sure if it’s much of a deterrent.

Every afternoon I wait outside the UN building, keeping an eye out for my ‘Dios es amor taxi coming down the street. Occasionally my other driver picks me up, although he just has the ubiquitous ‘Taxi’ marked on his tint strip.

It’s really silly, but I often find myself humming the opening lines to The Fray’s ‘You found me’ while I’m standing there.

I found God, on the corner of 1st and Amistad…

Although in my song, it’s the corner of Avenida República de Panamá and 2 Avenida, which doesn’t fit the tune so well.

The photos in my mind

24 May

“A picture is a poem without words.”

~ Horace

There’s been many a time I’ve found myself wistfully longing to use my camera here in Honduras. I’ve come across many interesting and fascinating sights, even in poor old ‘dreary’ Tegus. 

However it’s often not safe for me to take out a camera, and it’s never wise to use your cel phone in public, even if it’s only to snap a quick photo. Mobile phones are thief-magnets and being robbed is not on my ‘to do’ list.

CameraIn any case, I’m rarely out on the streets. Most of the sights I see are from inside my host-mum’s car or during the taxi ride to and from work. There have been countless perfect photo opportunities that have flashed past me in a blur.

One of the few times I’ve actually been on foot in Tegus was when I visited a marginalised barrio with TECHO. Despite being in one of the poorest areas in town I actually felt quite safe.

I had my camera with me, but it felt wrong to be strolling around taking photos. We weren’t there to play tourist, we were there to help. So once again I kept my camera in my bag.

I wish the photos in my mind would always remain as clear as they are now. A picture paints a thousand words after all. It seems a shame they will slowly fade with time, but I guess it can’t be helped.

UNICEF Honduras recently published a photo book, Retratos de Vida: Niños, niñas, adolescentes y mujeres de Tegucigalpa (Life Portraits: Children, adolescents and women of Tegucigalpa). It contains images of Tegus that are both beautiful and saddening.

The book’s aim is to raise awareness of the living conditions that stop these women and children from living a violence-free life. It’s well worth a look.

It also includes many sights similar to what I’ve personally seen, but haven’t been able to document photographically myself.

It’s belly puzzling

10 May

“If I eat a huge meal and I can get the girl to rub my belly, I think that’s about as romantic as I can think of.”

~ Ryan Goslin

Rubbing the belly of a Laughing Buddha statue is meant to bring good luck and good fortune.

I’m not sure what rubbing the belly of a sweaty and overweight Honduran man would bring, but if I wanted to do so I would have plenty of opportunities.

There is a phenomenon here in Honduras no one has been able to adequately explain to me. I have lost count the number of men I have seen in the streets with their t-shirts pulled up to their armpits, bellies proudly on display.

The most common pose is slouched, leaning against a wall, with one hand lightly rubbing the exposed belly.

If they were Ryan Gosling lookalikes I could probably understand this as a bit of masculine peacocking. However it’s rarely a six pack that’s being proudly revealed for all to see. These are big, bulging, occasionally hairy, bellies.

I’ve asked many people, why this is done? And apart from, “it’s probably because they’re hot,” I haven’t been given a satisfying explanation.

I would have thought that if it was too hot to wear a shirt, you’d take it all the way off. Not just hike it upwards to display your belly.

I’m tempted to give it a go myself, just to see if there’s something I’m missing. Maybe there’s no greater feeling than a cool breeze on your warm belly?

But recent events have led me to feel a little self-conscious, so for now I’m leaving belly-flashing to the pros.

Buddha_Beipu

I would have loved to include a real life photo in this post for illustrative purposes, but it’s hard to snap of pic of a man’s belly in a discrete manner!

Un techo para mi país

9 May

“Wishing you always…
Walls for the wind,
A roof for the rain,
And tea beside the fire.”

~ Irish blessing

TECHO is a youth-led, non-profit organisation that works throughout Latin America and the Caribbean. Their aim is to overcome poverty through the collaboration of youth volunteers and families living in poverty.

Part of their work involves constructing transitional housing to meet urgent and priority needs in slums. As stated on their website:

The house built by TECHO is a prefabricated module of 162 square feet, built in two days, with the participation of young volunteers and families in the community.”

However before the construction phase begins, the volunteer team regularly visits the community and interviews families to determine their needs and establish priorities.

As mentioned earlier, I forwent my post-birthday party sleep-in to volunteer with TECHO. About 30 young Hondurans and I piled into a big old yellow bus on Sunday morning and headed towards one of the marginalised barrios (suburbs/slums) of Tegucigalpa.

We divided into pairs (or in my case, a group of three) and were assigned families to survey. We would either be interviewing families for the first time, or conducting second visits. Visiting families for a second time helps TECHO verify facts as well as build relationships.

My group was given an initial survey to conduct. We wandered along the dirt streets under a hot mid-morning sun until we reached our designated house. It was a small 6 metre x 3 metre wooden construction with corrugated iron roofing.

Once the interview started I was amazed to hear that ten people (5 adults and 5 children) lived in that tiny building. It only had two rooms, a kitchen/living area and a bedroom. The bedroom contained two beds and a mattress on the floor.

They had electricity, but no running water. Marina*, the interviewee, pointed over her shoulder up the road to indicate where the families bathed. I’m guessing this means there was a creek or a small river further along.

It was an eye-opening experience. Working at UNICEF I’ve read countless documents about poverty in Honduras, but it’s not the same as seeing it in person or talking to people who live it every day.

Marina explained that when her husband, who was some sort of construction sub-contractor, had consecutive jobs lined up they could expect their income to reach 4750 lempiras per month. That’s AUD$235 per month to provide for a family of four.

The second house we visited had neither electricity nor water and had one wall made of cardboard and old, raggedy tarpaulins. Rosa*, her husband and three children shared the home.

We noticed they had a television in the main room, which seemed a little odd, considering they had no electricity. Rosa explained that each night her husband, who was a taxi driver, would connect the TV to the car battery and the family would watch one hour of TV together.

Any longer and the battery might go flat. The taxi was their sole source of income so more than an hour of TV was too big a risk to take.

Despite their miserable living conditions neither of the families we spoke to seemed miserable. I got the sense they were living each day as it came but were now quietly hopefully things might improve with some help from TECHO.

I was impressed by how warm and welcoming the community was to the volunteers. You could see there was a strong spirit of cooperation. And with a hospitality that demostrated how those who have the least often give the most, the entire TECHO group was cooked lunch.

I’m hoping to do more volunteer work with TECHO before my time ends here in Honduras. I’ll be sure to write more about it if I do.

*Not real names

132 days in Honduras

8 May

AFS Australia asked me to send through a report to let them know how my AFS experience has been up until today. It’s been published on their website, but for posterity’s sake I thought I would cross-post it to my blog too.

* * * * *

I had the good fortune to complete an AFS high school exchange in 2000 to Brazil. I often describe this year as a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but that hasn’t stopped me from signing up for another AFS exchange, determined to turn once-in-a-lifetime into twice-in-a-lifetime.

Once caught the travel bug is an itchy little critter, so it was with a huge sense of excitement that I said farewell again to family and friends and headed overseas. This time I’ve landed in Honduras to complete a semester-long AFS Volunteer Abroad program.

I’m thrilled I can combine two passions of mine: travel and volunteer work. The idea of ‘seeing the world with purpose’ is a philosophy that very much appeals to me. An AFS volunteer program was the perfect way to realise this goal.

And Honduras certainly hasn’t disappointed. It’s a fascinating country full of contradictions and extremes. I often find myself surprised, elated and dismayed. Sometimes all three in the same day.

It’s difficult to single out just one or two highlights of my trip so far. I’ve explored ancient Mayan ruins, written press releases for UNICEF (my community project organisation), toured a volcanic island in a mototaxi (the Honduran version of a tuk tuk), visited families living in extreme poverty, been bogged in an airboat, and spent many, many hours lazing in my favourite hammock. And that’s just the tip if the iceberg.

I was also lucky enough to celebrate my birthday here. I had a fantastic party with all my extended host family. As well as tacos, tequila and cake, my fiesta included the violent destruction of a piñata. This was a lot of fun and the remnants made a great party hat!

Piñata party hats

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve lived and travelled in Latin American countries before or because I’m now older (confirmed) and wiser (debatable), but culture shock hasn’t been an issue. I’ve settled into life here with an almost surprising ease.

However making friends can prove more challenging than you might expect. It can be difficult to express your personality when you’re working with a more limited vocabulary. I’m lucky that my level of Spanish is pretty fluent, but I still find it hard to joke around and banter like I would in English.

One of my host-mother’s friends actually thought I got my words mixed up when I told her I was an extrovert. We now have a running joke that I’m only extroverted in English. In Spanish I’m an introvert.

Introvert or extrovert, the way to get the most out of your exchange is to keep putting yourself out there. Always say yes to any opportunities that come your way. You’ll be surprised where saying ‘yes’ can lead you.

I’m really glad I decided to turn this particular travel dream of mine into a reality. Halfway through my 132 days in Honduras and there are no regrets, just lots of great experiences and happy memories.

If you’re contemplating going on an AFS exchange, I only have three words for you: take the challenge! You won’t regret it.

My arch-enemy: Ramón Rosa

7 May

“El aporte de Ramón Rosa para la cultura y la política hondureña es de primer orden, de hecho es uno de los más grandes pensadores que ha tenido Honduras desde que existimos como nación.”

~ Mario Argueta, Historiador

Ramón Rosa was born in Tegicigalpa on 14 July 1848. He was a prominent journalist, liberal politician, lawyer, diplomat and writer in Central America throughout the latter half of the nineteenth century.

The historian Mario Argueta wrote: “Ramón Rosa’s contribution to Honduran politics and culture is of the first order, in fact he is one of the greatest thinkers Honduras has had since we began to exist as a nation.”

He sounds like a decent bloke, and undeniably made many important contributions to Honduras’ development, so why is he my arch-nemesis?

This is why:

500 lempiras

It’s his face that graces the Honduran 500 lempira note.

It’s legal tender, but pull out one of these bad boys to pay for anything less than 400-and-something lempiras and you’d think you’d offered to pay with a wad of chewed up gum.

A few weeks ago on the cab ride home I opened my wallet to find that I’d spent all my 100 lempira notes. Cue mild panic. I asked my driver if he had change, which of course he didn’t.

No worries, there’s a drive-through Espresso Americano near my house, so I figured I’d treat myself to a coffee and break the note. It was 5pm, so after a full day of service surely they’d have plenty of cash on hand.

We arrived at the service window and I ordered my latte. Before she’d even finished relaying the order to the barista, the hawk-eyed cashier spotted the 500 lempira bill I was nervously clutching and asked me if I had anything smaller.

I gave her my most winsome and apologetic smile and told her that this was all I had. She promptly refused me service.

That’s right, rejected by the coffee shop because I had too much money. For a second or two I contemplated buying 400 lempiras worth of coffee (which at 24 lempiras a latte is a LOT of coffee) but I decided that was a tad ridiculous.

Fortunately my taxi driver is lovely, and he knows where I live, so he agreed to let me pay him the next day.

Carrying around a wallet full of 500 bills is like carrying a pocket full of unstable uranium isotopes. You’re constantly worrying about where, how and when you’ll be able to safely get rid of them.

I’ve started taking out 900, 1400 or 1900 lempiras at ATMs. At least then I know I’m guaranteed to be given four 100 lempira notes which will hopefully tide me over until I can work out how to break the dreaded 500 lempira bills.

I’m a bit obsessive compulsive so I normally make sure the notes in my wallet are aligned the same way with the famous faces to the front. All except the 500 bills with Ramón “Hard-to-Break” Rosa. I turn his note the other way.

I can’t stand looking at his smug, unbreakable face.

Tick tock, tuk tuk time

6 May

“Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

~ Margo Channing (All About Eve)

The first time I travelled outside of Tegucigalpa I was surprised to find the streets full of tuk tuks. While you could be forgiven for thinking we’d suddenly travelled through a worm hole to India, this wasn’t the case.

Copan mototaxi

It turns out that motorised rickshaws, called motaxis here, are the most popular form of public transport outside of the major cities. They’re a cheap way of getting around, and also a bit of a novelty for tourists, so their popularity is understandable.

The majority are red-hued but you’ll come across green, yellow and black mototaxis too. Once I even saw a metallic gold one. I wish I had had my camera with me that day. Pimp my Tuk Tuk could be MTV’s next hit program.

As you might imagine, on asphalt they’re a reasonably smooth ride, but on the cobblestone streets often found in Honduran rural towns and villages it’s a whole other story.

When watching the short video I filmed in Copan, you’ll soon see that a mototaxi trip can be a teeth-rattling experience.

This weekend we travelled to the island of Amapala in the south of Honduras to eat lobster for lunch. (Hey, it’s a tough life, but someone has to do it.) After lunch we took a mototaxi tour of the island. There were four of us, so three sat in the back and I perched up front with the driver.

It was a bit of a precarious position as there was no real seat for me to sit on, just a small metal ledge, but by gripping onto the roof struts for dear life I was able to stay on board. It’s not uncommon to see, five, six, seven or even eight passengers crammed into a mototaxi like a red can of sardines.

Halfway through our driver needed to fill up, so we stopped at the equivalent of the local gas station. This was a simple white cement building, from which emerged an old man with a juice bottle full of fuel.

Our driver pulled out a plastic tube with a coke bottle funnel attached and they proceeded to fill up the spare tank (aka soft drink bottle) and the mototaxi itself.

Hondurans are nothing if not ingenious.

I must admit that despite the fact they’re a slow, noisy and bumpy form of transportation I have a big soft spot for mototaxis. I’ll miss seeing them puttering along the streets when I return home.

Riding in style: mototaxi at Amapala

Riding in style: mototaxi at Amapala