Sunday, May 8, 2011

A Beautiful Disaster

Marie and I were a little late getting out of the door for the 5 am bus to Tegucigalpa.  We left without a travel plan, only the intention to go to a national park called La Tigra, which is about an hour outside of the capital.  It has been raining quite a bit here in the afternoon which makes for cool soggy mornings until the sun heats up enough to burn off the moisture.  This made for a comfortable first leg of the journey since the bus was hardly full and we cracked the window just enough to keep us at a good napping temperature.  The buses that go to Tegucigalpa are custom fit with what looks like airplane seats and overhead compartments to put your bags.  If you close your eyes you can almost imagine being thirty thousand feet in the air.  Just like in an airplane, the bus had a large door on the side for an emergency exit.  The emergency exit has a large handle that opens the door in the event of an evacuation.  When that handle is lifted, it makes a buzzing sound that is annoying enough to make anyone on the bus want to get the hell off.  There was a loose connection on the handle and any time there was a bump in the road the buzzer would go off for a second or two.  The road from Juticalpa to Tegucigalpa is rough at best.  At points, the road isn’t even paved.  In other words, the buzzer was going off like fucking Morris Code for an hour.  After about thirty minutes of shifting my position and plugging my ears I gave up on my nap to look around and see if anyone else was as annoyed as I was.  Everyone was either asleep or calmly looking out the window like nothing was happening.  The emergency exit, where the buzzing noise was coming from, was a couple seats in front of me.  The guy sitting in the emergency exit had the buzzer right in his ear and he didn’t flinch an inch when the buzzer blasted in his face.  I woke Marie up and told her we have to do something about that buzzing noise.  She looked at me like I was crazy. 

I went up to the emergency exit and excused myself as I reached over the guy’s lap to try and assess the situation.  I found if I squeezed the handle in a certain way the buzzer wouldn’t go off at every little bump.  I just needed a way to clamp it.  I looked for a string in my backpack and thought really hard about using my own shoestrings before I found my head lamp which has a band of removable elastic on it.  I wrapped it tight and tied it off so that the handle was where it needed to be.  I sat back down satisfied and said, “Now that is some American ingenuity.”  Marie rolled her eyes and said, “Now that is an American ego.” 

I guess it is a cultural thing, but I know that if I hadn’t done anything to fix the situation that buzzer would have kept going off.  Though, maybe I was the only one who was annoyed because Marie said later, “You know if you hadn’t said anything I probably wouldn’t have noticed the noise at all.”  After the buzzer fiasco I was able to get some much needed sleep before the next leg of our journey.  When I got off the bus, I made sure to grab my elastic band, knowing that as soon as I removed it the buzzing would be back.  I got a good chuckle knowing that they would suffer the buzzer after I left.

We got off the bus at Guaimaco only to realize that we should have waited to get off at Talanga.  We would have to wait for another bus to take us an addition 45 minutes to Talanga.  The second bus was in true Central American fashion.  It was a beat up school bus painted blue with way more passengers than it could handle.  We stood up in the bus for the duration of the trip playing grab-ass with the locals. 

The bus dropped us off in what we thought was Talanga, but later realized was just the road leading to Talanga.  The sun at this point was hot, but we still had enough drinking water to make the thirty minute walk by foot.  The scenery was beautiful as the road opened up to green farmlands that blended all the way to the foot of the mountains.  The mountains in the distance looked so close and we knew that is where the park would be.  Our guide book gave a brief description about getting to the park.  In short it said, “Get to San Juancito.”  The only problem is that no one seemed to know where it was.  Each leg of the journey we were told that we needed to find some other town and that town would lead to San Juancito.  It turned out to be a rather illusive task. 

It was around 9 a.m. when we got to the Talanga city center.  There were buses leaving from the central park, but we had no luck finding a bus to San Juancito.  Finally we found someone that was familiar with the general direction of San Juancito and he pointed to the south of town.  He told us to wait on the bridge for a bus that would take us to Cantarranas where we could catch yet another bus to San Juancito.  On the bridge we asked a couple people when the bus would pass and they said it wasn’t due to pass for another couple hours.  We decided to take a “halon” or hitchhike. 

We stuck out our thumbs and waiting for a pick-up to pass.  We got lucky on the first one as he was going to Cantarranas.  The truck was beat up and had a large sticker with the letters V.I.P on the windshield.  It turned out to live up to its name.  We wound up and through the mountains and coasted quietly back down into valleys without pressing on the gas.  The wind ripped through the bed of the truck and dropped about 10 degrees when we gained altitude.  Our driver picked up several hitchhikers along the way giving us a warm feeling of the responsibility Hondurans feel for their fellow countrymen.  We ended up passing right through Cantarranas and I tapped on the top of the cab to let the driver know we had arrived.  He said several people were going to San Juancito so he would take us there.  We got to the entrance of San Juancito and had a short walk to the city center.

No wonder no one knew where San Juancito was—it is a ghost town.  It looks like Chernobyl.  Vines covered abandoned buildings that looked like they were deteriorating right before our eyes.  The main attraction at the center of town was a piece of artwork called the “Ghost Bus”.  It was just an abandoned bus on blocks that was painted in shades of blue and gray with dull stain-glass-like windows.  The whole thing was creepy.  We finally found evidence of life in a corner store.  We asked how we might be able to get to the entrance of the park.  They said they would call “Willie” and he would take us up.  Willie came in a rickety Datsun pickup that was just barely still running.  Willie quoted us a ridiculous price to take us up the mountain, but we had no choice, he’s the only option.

When Marie and I got to Rosario, which is the small collection of hotels at the entrance, it was like Mary and Joseph walking into Bethlehem—no vacancies.  We talked to the director of the park and he found us a place to stay that he said would be free with the entrance into the park.  The entrance of the park is $1.50 for residents of Honduras and $10 dollars for foreigners.  Unfortunately, we aren’t considered residents and we had to pay the ridiculous entrance fee.  At least we got a free room out of it. 

We started our hike at 11 a.m. with a steep climb to an observation deck.  At the observation deck, we met an Irishman who seemed to be in deep reflection starring out of the observation deck at the amazing view.  At first, I didn’t know what language to speak to say hello, but I saw a Blackberry and a Prince Tennis bag and I figured English would be a good bet.  He frequents the national park to get away from the city and take a long hike.  He works for HSBC and is usually on three year rotations around the world.  After a very pleasant conversation we exchanged email addresses and went our separate ways.  When we were walking I had another thought and asked, “By the way, how did you get here? Did you take the bus?”  He looked down embarrassed and said, “Oh, no, I have a driver.”  How come I didn’t think of getting a driver?

After 1.5 hours hike to see a waterfall that was nearly dry, I was in no mood to sit around all day in a hot cabin with nothing to do.  We found out later that they were in fact going to charge us 30 dollars for the room, which solidified out decision to try and make it back.  It was around 1:30 p.m. when we made the all or nothing decision to try and make it back.  We had so much luck getting here, why not try and let it ride?

I have found that morning travel in Central America is much easier than traveling in midday or late afternoon.  In the morning, if you screw up, there are always other options.  In the afternoon, options are limited and one mistake can ruin your day.  I hadn’t eaten anything the entire day because we had been traveling and the only thing I had available was crackers.  At this point I was beyond hungry and decided that if I had gone this far without food I could probably make it the three hours home.  We had no problem hitchhiking from San Juancito to Talanga.  It was Talanga that gave us some trouble.  We sat by the main road from Tegucigalpa to our home in Olancho for three hours looking for a bus or a ride.  The people willing to pick us up were those that we didn’t feel comfortable riding with—beat up cars, guns, drunk drivers, among other problems.  Finally as the sun was setting and we were losing hope to find our way home, a bus rumbled down the road full of passengers heading for Catacamas, which is the next big town after Juticalpa.  We literally piled on top of each other into the bus.  We kept picking people up until people were actually hanging off the sides.  I snapped a couple pictures inside of the bus until someone said, “We’re all miserable in here and this guy’s taking pictures!”  So, I said, “Oh, do you want one?”  I snapped a picture of the both of us. 

We stood up for at least an hour until we were able to get a seat as a good portion of the passengers had reached their destination.  At this point, not eating had given me the headache of a lifetime and a faint feeling that I may lose consciousness at any moment.  I got tunnel vision for about five minutes until I was able to find a pear juice and a sleeve of crackers.  All of a sudden we slowed down and the bus began to vibrate ferociously.  The driver and his assistant got out and I knew immediately what happened—we got a flat.  It was only at this point that I thought all of our luck had run out.  After a four hour hike and a full day of traveling I didn’t know if I could handle the current situation.  I needed a good distraction.  After the bus jolted to a stop, a girl about 4 years old woke up.  To keep her busy her mom was asking her the numbers and colors in Spanish.  For each number and color I taught her the English translation.  She was shy at first, but she was sharp and was able to pick it up pretty quickly.  I am sure her Mother appreciated the free English lesson and of course the entertainment. 

They couldn’t fix the tire, so they drove the bus anyway, but only about 5 miles an hour.  About thirty minutes later, another bus arrived and took us the rest of the way to Juticalpa.  I arrived sweaty, starving, and exhausting without the energy to hitchhike back to San Francisco.  All I wanted was food, a hot shower, and a comfortable bed.  We went to the gas station and got some delicious pizza and found a midrange hotel to stay at with hot war, a T.V., and a comfy bed. 

After taking the morning bus from Juticalpa to San Francisco I stepped into my house thinking, “Man, I’m glad to be home.”  I couldn’t help but think about how much fun I had though.  Despite the hunger pains, flat tires, and Honduran grab-ass, I really did have a successful weekend.  It really shows you how obscure my definition of success is these days. 

I learned a couple things—things generally work out if you keep a positive attitude.  A positive attitude can keep you safe and well when things aren’t going your way.  I also learned that Hondurans really look out for their own as well as for foreigners.  I couldn’t believe how willing Hondurans are to pick up passengers that never really ask for a ride.  Also, when your luck runs out, there is no shame in folding your cards and getting that hotel room.  There is a fine line between adventure and danger.        

1 comment:

  1. Awesome! I think that may be my favorite story yet. Great pictures too.