10 May 2012 – Arrival to Tegucigalpa, Honduras.
I’ve gotta start this blog with a simple rule we’ve all heard; “listen to your gut”. In preparation for this trip, I looked at my carry-on bag and contemplated buying a new one. My old bag had been back and forth between Central America and the Middle East quite a few times and even though it wasn’t looking bad, I had a feeling that it should be replaced. Well, I shrugged it off, which turned out to be a bad decision. When I used the handles to hoist it to the overhead bin, it ripped open. Nothing came out, but I had two gaping holes where one side of the handle was attached. If only I had replaced it at home I would have been able to save about $20 from what I had to pay in the airport. Why did I buy a new suitcase in the airport you may ask, well, this was a stopover on my first flight of five. It was either buy it at the airport or wait until I could pick one up in Honduras hoping that it wouldn’t continue to rip and more importantly hoping the airlines wouldn’t require me to send it as “checked baggage”. Bottom line, listen to your gut.
The flight from Miami to Tegucigalpa was about 2 ½ hours and uneventful. But the landing is one that I have only experienced a few times before. Tegucigalpa is in a valley and you basically feel like you’re doing a “combat landing” on a military plane. It was not a landing where you feel like your gliding straight in, but rather the pilot had to bank (turn) the plane and descend at the same time. There were times when I looked out the window to see tree tops on my side of the plane and nothing but blue sky on the other. Just before touching down, I was looking into the windows of three story structures on my side and tree tops on the other. I only wish I had my camera in hand.
The Immigrations and Customs folks here are very professional. The whole process from deplaning to getting into a taxi took about 20 minutes. For me, that is a first. I was a little concerned with the cost of a taxi to the hotel, but after talking to the Immigrations agent I found out the basic price. Before leaving the Customs terminal there was an airport sanctioned taxi and decided to make the arrangements there versus on the curb. And, the Immigration agent was correct in her pricing ($12 for the 30 minute ride).
As I’ve come to expect when arriving to a country as a foreigner, everybody and their uncle want to “help” you with your bag, get a cab, or anything else you can think of; only wanting to end it with “give me”. I’m not a rude guy, but if I’m traveling with only my carry-on and I’m in good shape, why do I have to tell the same guy “no” at least six times, only to have him continue to follow me. But, when I got in the cab, I just shut the door. On the flip side, I do tip for services I’ve asked for or to individuals that appear genuine.
After arriving at the hotel I did a little walk about to get my bearings. My first impression is the area is not in the touristy part of town, but it is clean and appears to be safe. I talked to some of the staff and they did not mention any challenges except those I’d already heard about. The main thing being, do not walk the streets in Honduras after dark. Not even in a group or for a short distance; take a taxi. The food in the hotel restaurant is good and you get plenty. I paid $10 for a dinner of chicken, rice, salad, and a drink. Breakfast is included in my room rate and it’s not the typical buffet style, you order from the menu.
11 May 2012
I was awakened the last night with a sound that became all too familiar to me while in Iraq. It’s the same type alarm that was used to notify us to take cover because we had a missile or RPG coming in. Anyway, it got my attention and I all but hit the ground beside the bed purely out of instinct. I’m guessing somebody uses it as a horn for their car but who knows.
I walked around town today and for the first time in a while I had an uneasy feeling. It wasn’t a feeling of be attacked and the people weren’t unfriendly, they just avoided eye contact. In the two and a half hours I walked, only one person acknowledged that I was on the street, and he spoke English.
I want to start this little narrative by saying a few things that may or may not make sense to you, but in the end it’s something you should be aware of. With my goal of getting my passport stamped with all the countries in Central America by the end of 2012, I did a lot of research. In that endeavor, I didn’t want to believe all the warnings on various websites, to include the US Department of States about Honduras being dangerous. I’ve come to realize that while a lot of the postings/warnings are hype, when we travel, we all may be subject to witnessing things that are not always pleasant. It’s the keeping our vigilance of what is going on around us, that is the difference from being a witness and a victim.
With that said, let me tell you what started my rethinking process. After walking the town for a while I decided to return to the room to do some research on future house sitting and travel writing locations. While sitting in the room I heard a single gunshot fairly close to the hotel. So like any curious (and probably foolish) person I went to the window to see what was happening. Before I could reach the window, I heard another four shots. Once I got to the window, I looked to the left and saw two, young local guys jump into a car speed off. I then turned my attention to the right and less than 100 yards from the hotel entrance I saw a crowd gathering (the type of situation I always stay away from). They were all looking towards where I’d earlier seen a street vendor selling flowers for Mothers Day. I couldn’t see what they were looking at, but with what I did knew, five gun shots, people jumping into cars, cars speeding off, and a crowd gathering, one could only assume someone just got shot. After staying in my room a while, I noticed that I hadn’t heard the sirens of either the police and/or an ambulance. But then I remembered that in my travels (especially in countries with rampant corruption) that more often than not, the locals take matters into their own hands. I’m not saying they chased the guys in the car, but I think they took the victim to the hospital in a private car. It’s usually much faster than waiting on an ambulance and for sure it’s cheaper (no ambulance bill later). The crowd soon dispersed and things got back to normal. Not knowing any locals here and of course the staff not wanting to discuss anything that could put a negative light on their country, city, and hotel, they weren’t speaking. So I’m left to only my assumption and imagination as to what took place.
12 May 2012
I walked around town and stopped by the National Gallery of Art today. It’s a pretty neat place considering I’m not a big fan of ancient history; they do have a nice exhibit of Mayan artifacts which I enjoyed. This being an old country that has not progressed much, architecturally speaking, there are a lot of old buildings and old churches in particular. Within the central city area, I’ve counted at least five large old churches, on very narrow and usually jammed with traffic. Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras and it is not typical of any other capital city centers I’ve seen. It reminds me more of a small to medium size city that is not geared around national politics and economy. While it is like most other Latin American city centers I’ve seen with parks, street vendors, and a street designed strictly for pedestrians, it just doesn’t have the feel or look of a capital city.
Some of you may be wondering about the night life here. Sorry, but I can’t tell you anything about it because everything I’ve read and all the locals I’ve talked to say, do not walk the streets or go out alone here at night. So I figure if the locals are telling me to stay in after dark, this is their country and they know more about it than me.
13 May 2012
Well the weather forecast finally held true, it rained most of the day; the sun broke through the clouds for about an hour this morning. So, I stayed at the hotel most of the time with the exception of my daily stroll around the city center. In other words, I got nothing to say today. Well other than, travel safe.