Monday, April 25, 2011

Amazing Race: Tegucigalpa

As I locked the gate behind me, the wind bit my cheek with cool morning air.  Although it was unseasonably chilly that morning, I knew that when the sun came up it was going to be hot.  I had gone to Tegucigalpa on this same early morning bus, but never alone.  In all my travel experience in Central America, I rarely have the opportunity to travel alone, which is something that I very much like to do.  I sat on the curb of my street corner 15 minutes early waiting for the bus to make its 5 o'clock pass.  Tick-tock went the clock and soon enough 5 o'clock was history.  Besides a few women carrying fresh ground corn meal on their head to make tortillas, the town was dead.  Thursday, Friday, and Saturday San Francisco de la Paz was completely shut down.  No stores, restaurants, or businesses of any kind functioned.  I had a fear that the bus wasn't working either, but I thought I would try anyways.  When I finally realized the bus wasn't going to come I had a few moments of panic which in turn blended to anger.  I knew what I had to do.

Chad was the name of the Peace Corp volunteer who recruited me to teach English in Olancho.  My impression of Chad is that he is quite the character.  Chad is very popular among his Peace Corps peers, so whenever I meet a PC volunteer I just mention that I worked with Chad Ryerson and they normally have a good story to tell.  Chad is a story teller himself.  When I first got here he made sure to tell me every good and bad story he had about the past two years he spent in Olancho.  Stories included watching someone being shot and burned alive on the side of the road and witnessing fatal car accidents.  None of this bothered Chad one bit.  He has the ability to separate his life from the world spinning around him.  I think this helped him function so well as a volunteer.  I met a Peace Corps volunteer recently who spoke of Chad, "Chad is such a goof ball, but for being such a goof ball he accomplished so much in his time here."  The Third World atmosphere never seemed to phase him, considering the murderous things he saw and the many robberies in which he was a victim.  For the first part of his deployment, Chad was dating another PCV who was stationed on the other side of the country.  Chad would go see her when he could, but the bus system from Olancho is quite difficult.  Normally, in order to take a trip from Olancho, you first need to go to Tegucigalpa, the capital and hub for bus routes.  This is often incredibly inconvenient and expensive.  On one occasion, Chad bought a bushel of bananas, hitchhiked for 14 hours to his destination, and gave a banana to each car that gave him a ride.  Chad said about this experience, "I have never felt more alive than when I was hitchhiking in Honduras--especially on the back of motorcycles.

Now, I didn't expect to have this same experience with the same amount of risk, but I knew if I wanted to get to Tegucigalpa to make my hotel reservation and renew my visa, I would have to hitchhike.  I left the corner and went home to grab an extra bottle of water, not knowing what was in store for me, and set off on foot toward the main road leading out of San Francisco.  I tried a couple times to flag down cars but to no avail. If I couldn't get a ride, maybe I would just walk the 300 km.  As I was trying to flag down another car I spotted two women at a bus stop with luggage.  "Where are you guys going?", I asked.  "We are going to Juticalpa.  The bus is coming at 6."  "Do you think there is a bus from Juticalpa to Tegucigalpa?". I said.  "Of course, they leave every hour on the hour."  Crisis averted.

I knew from my experience in Guatemala that going to the immigration office to get a visa renewal is painful.  In Guatemala I had to leave my passport there for a period of time and come back a day or so later to pick it up. You don't want to lose sight of your passport in a country like Guatemala.  You may never see it again.  Most of the others I was traveling with were under the impression that we would arrive at the office and they would just stamp our passport with a smile and we would be on our way.  Not quite.

It was like an Amazing Race scavenger hunt.  It made me realize that government anywhere in the world is ridiculously inefficient.  First of all, Hondurans hold little regard for the concept of a line.  People would blatantly cut in front of you and not even act embarrassed about it.  After a while, I just started cutting back.  We waiting in the immigration line for a good 15 minutes.  When I got up to the window I told the lady I needed to renew my passport.  She gave me 5 forms to fill out and told me to make a copy of one of them and get back in the same line.  Task number one: Fill out paperwork and make a copy.  After a copy was made and paperwork was filled out to the best of my ability I got in line and waited.  When I got to the window again she looked through the paperwork, barked at my mistakes, and gave me my next task.  Task number two: go to the bank, any bank, and pay 380 Lempiras into the office of immigration account and come on back and wait in the same line.  At least the bank had air conditioning.  I waited at least a half hour in the line at the bank and finally got my receipt of payment.  I returned to the immigration office, waited in line, and got up to the window.  "Give me your passport", she said.  "We will call you when it is ready."  Immediately after she sent me away she went on lunch and there was only one other lady working.  The passports didn't get stamped for another 30 minutes.  They called me up to the window after all my friends had already received their passports and said, "I am going to need to see your passport."  Did they not understand why I had been waiting for the last 30 minutes?  You are supposed to be stamping it right now!  Finally, after a scavenger hunt and over 500 lempira in fees and cab rides we were done.

We were traveling with two other Americans in Tegucigalpa who work at another similar school in Juticalpa.  They are both from Columbus, Ohio, which was weird.  Then, when we were waiting three hours for the next bus to Olancho, I spotted a blonde girl across the bus station with a University of Arizona bag.  I went up to her and said, "Excuse me, did you go to U of A?"  She did in fact go to U of A.  Not only did she go to U of A, but she graduated the same year as me.  We both agreed that we had been missing Tucson.  We both hadn't been back since we graduated.  I asked her where she is from originally.  "Ohio", she said.  Small world, I guess.  She is a PCV in just outside of Catacamas.  It will be good to have another Ohioan and fellow U of A alumn around if I get homesick!

On the bus ride back, I was bored from the day of bureaucracy so I decided to take a bunch of pictures of Tegucigalpa as we left the city.  Don't know how they turned out because we were moving, but I am going to post them anyways.  There are also a couple from the river we swim in.  


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