pig made from detergent bottle

Making do

The busito that takes us to school is gray and battered, like a package that’s fallen off a truck and been kicked around several times. I identify its approach in the morning by its squeaks and rattles. There’s no speedometer, the front passenger door opens from only the inside, and the rear sliding door has always been tricky, requiring a strong arm. On Monday a volunteer’s arm was a little too strong and pulled the door completely off the track. The driver spent a few minutes attempting to slide it back into the track, then left the door at the pulperia across the road. The door was reattached on that afternoon, but has since disappeared. I don’t mind; the additional breeze is nice. The rainy season is long past.

As we trundled off to school, I couldn’t help thinking that if this had happened in the States, we would still be at the small house, waiting for a new van to pick us up. And rightfully so, I’m sure. Part of me was worried about a sudden turn that could push me off my seat and spill me into the road, or a T-bone collision on my side of the van. But we had to get to school and the busito still worked, so, doorless, off we went. Practical.

Almost everything here is cheaply and poorly made, as if this town is supplied solely by Walmart. Bandages don’t adhere. Paint peels quickly. My earbuds broke almost immediately and are held together with masking tape. Kay’s new coffee thermos cracked on the side the next day and it no longer pours well. None of the replacement bulbs for my Christmas lights worked. Our washing machine needs a lot of assistance to get anything clean. But the broken isn’t thrown away. People use wire, twist ties, and plastic connectors to hold the easily broken but ubiquitous plastic chairs together. The cheap and now broken fans are repaired. Empty paint cans are used to scoop water for flushing the toilets. Old pants are used as wash rags and fences for hanging clothes on to dry. Plastic bottles, cans, rocks, and even unripe mangoes double as footballs.

I am not very handy, except with duct tape, my go-to solution for just about everything (tape, albeit packing, currently holds our toilet seat together). While DIY and making and crafting has resurged in the US, still the prevailing attitude is buy and replace. Shop and Home Economics aren’t offered much in school anymore, as the push is for academics, not life skills, unless a child is in a special education program. College is the goal, not trades. Rather than a holistic view that values and incorporates academic and life skills, the sides are split and actively—and sanctimoniously—battling each other.

Now, pause that thought. Biking. There are two or three bike parts and repair shops in the less than half mile walk to the town center. Many people, mostly men, bike. A bike can be a family vehicle, with a father pedaling, a mother sitting on the center bar holding a child, with maybe another child sitting on the handlebars. One of my students once transported himself and three others from school to the nearby football stadium on his youth-sized mountain bike, and going at a rather rapid pace, I might add. Bikes carry bundles of firewood and supplies. Vendors pedal and peddle newspapers, pastries and coconut bread, and hot food from plastic coolers.

My home is in a place that desperately wants to be the biking hub of the US. Within a one mile radius are at least three, maybe more, bike repair shops. I bike, my partner bikes, and there is traffic during rush hour and I get bike road rage. If I want, I can order pizza or soup or sandwiches to be delivered by bike. I can move house by bike. New Seasons, the local grocery store chain, included bike parking in its promo campaign for the store opened in our neighborhood. You can go on a pub pedal and ride while drinking beer on a nifty and ridiculous contraption to all the nearby bars, meanwhile drunkenly harassing passersby. Biking is THE THING. Portland is GREEN. Cars vs. Bikes…Who Will Be Victorious?

I started my life as a full-time biker and special waterproof clothing wearer eight years ago when I transitioned from full-time to part-time work and could no longer afford a bus pass. And I had been taking the bus because driving makes me nervous, plus, yes, it is better for the environment. What would generate a low internal boil was when people ascribed moral qualities to me for biking. I’d get comments, particularly in winter and on rainy days, about how good and admirable I was for biking in the weather and how the commenter could never do that. Well, sure, the commenter could if her income was low enough. If the alternative on those bad weather days was a nausea and headache inducing hourlong bus ride. I don’t deny I’ve got a chip on my shoulder about the topic because, honestly, biking in the rain, when condensation builds up in my jacket and my shoes get soaked, sucks. Biking in freezing weather while wearing three pairs of gloves that still aren’t enough to prevent my fingers from going numb is unpleasant. Biking to the point that I have soft tissue (aka genital) pain that several different saddle styles hasn’t helped, leading to significantly decreased sexual pleasure, sucks. Please, don’t moralize at me. I do love having exercise built into my life and the wind-through-the-helmet feeling. But, sometimes, a car would be nice.

I do wish more people would bike in the US because it’s better for the environment. It’s also good exercise, if that’s your thing, and, really, I’m not a gym person. But I don’t appreciate the moralizing, and ego, and, again, sanctimonious attitude from other bikers. I’m not a better person. I don’t like the price markup that comes with bike appropriate gear, like waterproof clothing or bags. The idea of moving house by bike is ridiculous and causes more pollution as the crowd of bikes blocks car traffic. And can my fellow bikers please be honest about how annoying wet shoes and socks are?

Ultimately, the point of biking, just like walking or cars, is to get from here to there. The bikes here aren’t fancy or shiny (that’d be impossible in this dust), but they get the job done. Point A to B. If given the choice, I’ve gotta believe that someone would much rather drive than pedal up that steep hill while carrying firewood on a road that is so rutted and rocky as to bump and bruise anyone’s genitalia. I’m also sure that someone would much rather afford a better built fan in the first place than having to fix it when it breaks down the next day.

Honduras is not an environmentally conscious country. Trash is thrown from the window of a bus and garbage is burned and people wash their clothes, cars, and animals in the river. The choices made to repair and bike are usually, I’m assuming, financial ones. But I appreciate being amidst the attitude of why we repair and bike in the first place—it’s necessary and the best choice. Ten people ride in the bed of a truck because it’s the best way to get somewhere. It’s certainly not safe, but it is practical. This is a place where people make do. They have to. Some people in the US who don’t have to are relearning to, and that’s terrific, blah blah, but along with that comes an attitude and judgment toward those who don’t. The reaction is extreme. I suppose if that gets others to change, great, but in the meantime, I appreciate this aspect of life in the judgment free zone. Don’t talk, just do.

Sweatily,

theresa

P.S. Another project from Earth Day, this time by seventh grader Isabel.

Advertisements
Junior the cat

Almost Christmas in La Ceiba, or I’m a terrible planner

22 December 2014: Maps

The deceptive map.

The map of deception.

Maps deceive me, at least the kind found in my travel books. The cities consist of small, four-sided outlines. The parks and rivers are shaded gray. Deemed notable restaurants and places to stay are marked with black squares and triangles. The streets and avenues are clearly labeled. It’s all so contained, neat, clean, conflict and stress free. Look! The ocean is only seven blocks away! That cafeteria that sounds so tasty is on the same street as where I’m staying!  So despite my guidebook and other sources saying that La Ceiba is the largest city on the North Coast, I’m, because of all those neat, clean lines, dismayed when the bus enters…what is obviously a big city, with its powerline bundles, streets crammed with vendors, and crowded roads without stop signs or lights. The lines in my guidebook have been colored in. Crap! What was I thinking? I’m in Central America: this is what a big city looks like. Baby pout, complete with thrashing fists: But I don’t wanna be in a big city on my vacation.

Now it’s time for damage control—I don’t have to stay here, we all make mistakes, the owner of the hostel is supposed to be helpful with things like setting up tours, just taking the buses here by myself was an accomplishment-–mentally talking myself out of purchasing a ticket for the Shame Spiral Express. I keep talking and talking, through the awkward exchange with the woman at the hostel who lets me in but doesn’t understand when I try to explain that I’ve already partially paid for a room (she straightens it out with the owner); through the wandering up and down of streets in search of a non-US fast food place to eat; through observation that there are very few street signs, rendering my guidebook and the internet nearly useless unless I want to count blocks;

[Shame break: After a bit of pacing back and forth on the street in search of the ingress point, I found my way to the pier, a rather new structure and wonderfully designed so I can either lean against the railings or walk a few steps down to a walkway surrounding the pier to sit or dive off into the water. I choose sitting and am joined by a local with decent English who when I passed a few minutes earlier was insistent on learning where I was from and my name. I told him he’d have to wonder, which prompted a response of “You are a wonder woman!” He’s older, dressed in paint splattered clothes, earnest and not creepy. He speaks mostly, about his country and how he wants it to get better. He has a strong belief in the current president, who doesn’t look the other way with the drug violence. He believes that the US can and is helping Honduras and also hates the Bush family. We chat; I watch the clouds pass over Pico Bonito, the boys diving into the water. The beach here is not nearly as ugly as I was lead to believe.]

through finding myself back at the hostel rather early, wondering if I’ll be able to set up any tours tomorrow, because dammit, I really shouldn’t have started planning my vacation only two weeks ago, and I should have called some tour companies because fuck doing it all DIY but I have this thing about using the phone, especially in Spanish, and I have a well-developed ability to avoid activities that cause me extreme anxiety, like planning adventures to unknown places; through watching a movie and feeling generally like a loser;

23 December 2014: Monkeys and mangroves

through waking up and wondering if the owner will prove helpful in setting up tours today; through laying in bed and feeling like such a wimp for all of this being so emotionally difficult.

11am. The owner, Peter, has arranged a kayak tour at the Refugio de Vida Silverstre Cuero y Salado, a mangrove covered wetland home to lovely animals like jaguars and howler monkeys and manatees and birds.  I am the first to request a kayak tour at the refuge…go me! [The tour actually takes place in Laguna de Cacao, which is pretty but not what I requested and paid for.]

I ate a delicious plato típico for breakfast (eggs, frijoles licuados, two kinds of cheese, tajadas, and ham slice), discovered corn flan on the menu and promised to return tomorrow, and then wandered to the beach alongside the rather stinky El Estero, observing how nice it is to walk freely because I’m ignorant of the dangerous parts of town, though I’m still in the central part of town with all the hotels. My lip was and still is twitching…from anxiety? As I was leaving the hostel, I passed a large group of travelers eating breakfast and looking generally as if they do this all the time, and I suspect that no matter how much I travel, I will never look that cool and casual because I’m just not that kind of person, though I want to be. They were also tall—is that the key to cool person travel? Should I invest in a stretching machine or heels? Anyway, anxiety because I don’t want to have traveled six hours just to read in my room and occasionally leave to eat decent food. Granted, it is quieter here than where I currently live. There are firecrackers but not right outside my window, and I do have a fan and private bath and it is overall rather pleasant except for having to be let in and out of the hostel, which is kept locked for security. I suppose what is really bothering me is possibly being judged, by the anonymous Them always lurking in the soft, insecure corners, or in the physical form of the Other Volunteers or People in My Life, as having failed at My Vacation; and I don’t want to waste these precious days in being unhappy.

Then I suppose I just shouldn’t. I am content right now writing in this. I’m a little tired so may take a nap, get lunch, and then get ready for my kayaking adventure.

3pm+. I am picked up in a white battered truck by a young man named Daniel, who also has some English (with all these English speakers I have few opportunities to practice Spanish). I am his third tour of the day. He’s been working nonstop since about 5am and has barely eaten. None of this is said in complaint—he loves his job and spends most of the hour-long ride pointing out edible plants and telling me about the 400 snakes in Honduras, only three of which are poisonous, and how he prefers living in the jungle to his apartment in La Ceiba. As we drive, swerving around the potholes that plague the roads in Honduras, I reflect that it feels rather odd to be alone on this tour, with an unknown man in a truck, when the reputation of Honduran men isn’t that positive. (Or is it odd that I am prompted to think this way?) I am self-conscious of my skin and gender when he idles at a stop light to purchase coconut water and when we pass slowly through a village, where the residents stare at the truck (as I’ve noticed people do to all cars passing through any neighborhood). I’m not concerned, but I can hear the voices of those who worry about these things questioning, Is This Wise? Still, I push those voices aside and reflect that right here, in this truck, on my adventure, I am happy.

Later: I see a howler monkey and her baby waaaayyy up there in the tree. Daniel hoots deeply. The monkeys respond. Another monkey sits in the crook of some branches. Another is hanging by her (I’m told) tail and poking through the leaves and eating. Yep. I am seeing monkeys. They’re too far away for my camera, so believe me. They have fat bellies and their tails are so strong as they do that dangling monkey thing!

The lagoon is surrounded by mangroves, their massive roots jutting out of the water. Daniel tells me the Garifuna use the water to make wine. I haven’t kayaked before. When he paddles too, we move rapidly; otherwise, the kayak barely moves and I splash a lot of water on my shorts. The only wildlife we see is a crab that bites Daniel’s hand. I’m mildly disappointed but not much. The lagoon is so quiet and calm and the mangroves impressive with their bunches of legs. In 8th grade I read an essay about floating mangrove islands, but I’m told these don’t move. Maybe their roots are too entangled. My camera runs out of memory after five pictures (and I later discover didn’t come with a cord to transfer pictures).

Cacao pod.

This could make chocolate.

On the drive to the lagoon, we also passed many cacao trees, but none with ripe pods. Daniel’s co-guide hands me a ripe pod, creamy yellow the length of a banana but thick like a mango. The seeds are surrounded by a sweet edible flesh. Nature!

On the ride back to La Ceiba, Daniel asks if I’d like to try mango wine, or garifuni, a type of alcohol made by the Garifuna. I’m not much of a drinker but when New Experience calls, always answer. He pulls into Sambo Creek, a Garifuna village, and inquires of passersby for garifuni. We pull in front of a house and he returns with manzanitas, a Honduran apple—red skin, soft, tart—and a small bottle, two shots worth. The alcohol is raw but reminiscent of mangoes. It warms my stomach and leaves Daniel invigorated. I really want to find more of those apples.

Back in La Ceiba, hungry, I end up at Pizza Hut. Meh. I read Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.

Should I stay here for Christmas Day? There are no buses that day and everything will be closed down. I could probably use the kitchen to cook food, but how awkward, maybe too awkward. I decide to go to Pico Bonito tomorrow and then leave that afternoon. While Christmas in my new home will be dull, at least I will be able to eat.

bridge to waterfalls

Bridge over Rio Cangrejal, to the forest.

24 December 2014: Waterfalls     

Breakfast is another plato típico. Afterwards, as I repack my backpack, I question my choice to leave after only two days. It’s not as if my small town has anything better to offer and here there are more places to walk around, and while the shower isn’t hot it is lukewarm, and that’s something. Plus it’s peaceful. But damn having to ring the bell to be let out of the building is awkward and then how am I going to eat if everything is closed? No, might as well go. Why pay to sit in a room in another city for a day if I’m planning to leave the next?

Daniel and I re-meet at 830am. Today he’s tired—he got too much sleep. The road to Pico Bonito is horrible. Really, nearly all of the roads here are horrible, even the paved ones. Most of our journey is over a road that is unpaved but covered with large, smooth rocks. I suppose it must help with drainage during heavy rains but it is bumpy as hell to drive over. Two women hop a ride early on and are carried most of the way into the park. A friend/co-worker of Daniel climbs onto the back of the truck and is carried to the visitor’s center. The truck rattles, groans, and shakes, but holds together, and I admire the river, rapids, and trees. Daniel picks a purple morning glory for me.

Waterfall

The first waterfall.

I’m not an experienced hiker. I enjoy it, but the paths I’ve been on would probably be categorized as easy. This is not easy. It is up and up and up, lifting myself over tree roots that ring hollow when tapped, ducking under branches, looking for solid footing amid the rocks, and even slipping and falling on a wet patch near a waterfall. I jog occasionally but this is the most strenuous exercise I’ve had in months. The breaks are worth it though, at a small waterfall, eating melon indio, soaking my feet in the pool. Then at the biggest waterfall, approached by descending extremely steep steps where I tell myself that as long as I am careful I will not slip and die. (I didn’t.) Initially I had planned to swim in the pool of this waterfall, one that hikers have apparently scaled, but upon sight of the rocks I would have to scramble over to reach the pool, after the scare of the descent, I content myself with sitting in the mist, drinking juice, eating pineapple, and watching Daniel scramble and hearing him hoot at the numbing temperature.

That brings me to another topic, which I should research at some point. In Honduras, people throw trash on the ground while walking, biking, driving; it all goes to the ground.  Other volunteers do this, albeit with only fruit. I’ve asked them about this and their response has been, “It’s natural.” Well, yes, but doesn’t it take a while to decompose? So I am surprised when Daniel says I should toss my melon rinds aside. I do, but I’m uncomfortable, but I know he and others hike here and I don’t see fruit rinds or food all over, so…the animals must be eating it? And while I see food wrappers all over the roads, I don’t see banana or orange or lychee peels all over the place. So…the animals? I am content to not throw my stuff out the window, but I wonder who is right in this case.

The big waterfall.

The last and biggest waterfall.

The return hike is a rush because I’m close to missing the bus. Now it’s down and down and down, its own challenge. At the visitors center I spend a few delightful moments with their black and white cat, Junior. Junior is the first affectionate cat I’ve met in Honduras. Most cats are feral and kept by families as mousers. While my own three cats may drive me crazy, I love having cat affairs.

My 230pm bus is cancelled and the next isn’t until 415pm. This means: time for flan! Alas, the cafe is closed early for the holiday. I have yet another plato típico, boring, but the licuado saves the day.

The bus to San Pedro is mostly empty and I have the two seats to myself. Am I making the right decision to return early? I should have gone somewhere else, probably, like a good, spontaneous little traveler, but I don’t have any regrets until I hear the first firework. Shit. Near San Pedro we pass about 20 or 30 firework stands…in a row. My little neighborhood loves fireworks. For the past few weeks I’ve been wearing earplugs constantly. How did I forget about this? I did hear them from my hostel room, but being on the second story, I was a little removed.

The taxi driver gives me a bit of a deal on the fare because “Tengo cuidar con los maestros” which I appreciate on the pitch black road, with its blind curves and potholes. I teach him how to say “Hi,” “Hello,” and “My name is Juan Angel.”

And then I’m back. The fireworks and music are going like mad, Maxi Despensa is closed so I grab what food I can from the secret pulperia. I talk to a housemate and eat rice. I watch a movie, mope over an annoying email, and try not to be upset with myself. There were no good solutions to the Where to Stay for Christmas problem and I just didn’t plan properly for this vacation. Next time I will. It’s all about learning, isn’t it? At least the roommate isn’t home.

25 December 2014: Sigh 

Feliz Navidad and be sure to hug a unicorn!

Without fail,

theresa

Pretty river.

Rio Cangrejal.

Las Ruinas

Copán! Getting there

In honor of Independence Day, school is closed from Monday – Wednesday. Five day weekend = travel! Seven of us decide to venture to Copán Ruinas, the site of Mayan ruins and most popular tourist destination in Honduras.

After a long Friday evening of drinking, most of the volunteers are not ready for travel at the agreed upon time of 8 a.m. Vee and I, two newbies desirous of adventuring as soon as possible and annoyed by our cohorts’ irresponsibility and rudeness, decide to attempt the journey solo. I purchase a stack of corn tortillas to ensure my fortification during the journey. Thus begins my life on the edge, because bus travel is different here.

New public transportation systems make me nervous, even in the States. When I first lived in New York City, for college, I chose to walk 40 blocks rather than try the subway system. What if the ticket machines were complicated? How would I find the right platform or know where to get off? What if I got lost? In Portland, despite many years of experience with the transportation system, when going some place new, and especially at night, I stare out the window, slightly breathless, tracking the street signs just in case my stop isn’t called or following my GPS dot on Google Maps. Now, NYC has large signs announcing each stop and clear maps that explain where each train goes; it’s easy to master. Portland has a comprehensive map and bus/train identification system, street signs, and I can always ask the driver to announce my stop. Here, there are no street signs or marked stops, buses are privately run with unclear, to a neophyte, routes, and there is no consistent payment scale. Some buses are large school buses, the (de)famed chicken buses, while others are small minivans known as busitos. Plus, my Spanish, well, is pretty bad. Such details do not inspire confidence. But, armed with the name, if not location, of the town, my guidebook, rumor of a direct bus, and a vague emergency plan, we set off.

I ask a young woman who runs a small shop, and who for some reason remembers my name, where the bus to Copán stops. She glances at her friend, a little uncertain, and they tell me to go to La Avenida Salida. Okay! That’s one step closer. I assume she means the street corner that is often crowded in the early mornings with bus commuters. We stand. I’m all for hanging out, confident we’ll know the bus. It’ll say “Copan,” right? Vee is less confident and asks at an eatery when the bus stops. Oh, it doesn’t stop there but at the highway. Okay! So now we’re at the highway with a bunch of other potential passengers but still uncertain as to the existence or arrival of this direct bus to Copán. I attempt some Spanish. A cluster follows our interaction closely. My responder, according to Vee, either says we just missed the bus or that there is no direct bus. We sit and consult the guidebook.  There are supposedly two bus lines that go to Las Ruinas. A man approaches us. Do we want Las Ruinas? If so, the next direct bus arrives at 11 a.m. I think he also offers to take us there. We’re approached by a young boy. The men at the food stand stare. We’re getting way too much attention. And it’s only 9 a.m. But then we see the Mormon missionaries, from El Salvador and Idaho. They tell us there is no direct bus and that we have to switch in La Entrada. Crap. They board their busito for the next town over and we plan. Again, we consult the guidebook. Buses pass. La Entrada is on the way to and a town called Santa Rosa appears to be close to Las Ruinas. Rather than wait for the possibly nonexistent direct bus, we’ll take the next one to La Entrada or Santa Rosa. Ah ha! Santa Rosa it is.

It’s a chicken bus and we’re standing. We’ll be standing for the next hour and a half as the wrangler stuffs people into the bus. The wrangler insists on putting my backpack on the inside overhead rack. Shit. That was not expected and my passport and extra money are in there.  Well, okay, I’ve got a copy of my passport somewhere and the money is just…money. I’ll watch my pack. Despite this surprise, the wrangler puts me at ease. He is quick and attentive. He remembers passengers and their stops. He does his job of shoving us into this tube well.Not only is there standing in the aisle, there is standing butt to butt with people in the aisle. We ride, and we ride, and it’s thrilling that we’re off, by ourselves, and things are going relatively smoothly. And there’s the beautiful, lush, lovely, verdant, untamed countryside passing by. About an hour and a half in, a seat frees. I stare out the window. The view doesn’t get boring. At major stops, vendors approach the windows with soda, candy, fried foods. They crowd the aisle of the bus, shoving these in our faces. It is loud and chaotic. Some stops are quick, others long, but there are many. It is at least three hours until we arrive in Santa Rosa de Copán.

Santa Rosa is the terminus of our current line. We step off and are swarmed by wranglers for other bus lines. They follow us. They shout in our faces. Vee and I surge out of this mass of noise and people. We cross the highway to find a place to breathe and plan. I need to pee; she needs a bandage. Her bandage comes easily; the bathroom…is a fluke. We step into a building that might be a hotel or shopping center. Vee suggests we ask the reception. We stand there, waiting for an attendant to be free, and a man sitting in what we think is the waiting area, in unaccented English asks, “What do you need?” Startled, I say, “The bathroom.” He points to a door. Success!

I won’t detail what happens next in Santa Rosa, but in summary a confusing conversation with an attendant ensues, we leave, a wrangler approaches Vee, and we follow him to a busito to Las Ruinas. Again, the lovely countryside, which truly defies my abilities of description, and also softer seats divert us. But the map was misleading. Actually, Santa Rosa is quite far from Las Ruinas. We really should have switched at La Entrada, but we were too comfortable at the time. This busito stops every few feet, or at least in every tiny village, and there are more switchbacks on this highway than a snake breakdancing. Our asses hurt, we’ve been traveling for several hours, and the blaring music – are we at a disco? – is monotonous. The thrill of adventure is replaced with concern that we will not arrive before dark.

But we do, around 5 p.m., and we are now swarmed with taxi drivers and hotel wranglers. Fortunately, we already know what we want; a co-volunteer recommended Hotel Mar Jenny. A man, coincidentally the wrangler for Mar Jenny (or a wrangler for many hotels), approaches and offers to guide us. We follow him up hilly, multi-colored cobblestone streets. In the twilight, I can tell this is no small town outside of San Pedro Sula. There is money here. He shows us to a room, which surprisingly has its own bathroom, and, did I hear correctly? hot water. It’s clean; we take it. All for USD$11 each a night. (Which we later learn is a rip-off, but more later.)

As we confirm with the front desk that we will take the room, the proprietress asks if we are part of a group. If so, our friends are already here. Yes, those hungover friends caught the direct line and beat us. Vee and I stare at each other. Our pact had been to not mention our long journey, but now we can’t avoid it. They will fuss and give us unrequested “should have dones.” But, you know, I’m really proud of us. I had a blast. This is what my trip is about – diving in, messing up, and finding a way to enjoy it.

More later,

theresa