Tegucigalpan Taxi Trauma
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
108Trip End Oct 23, 2009
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These shampoos came in double packets and I asked how much for a set of two. A simple question with what should be a simple answer of uno, dos, tres, etc. Well all my ears heard was "andele, andele, andele, un dollar andele," but a dollar was the magic word I latched onto
Feeling pretty confident with my market skills I bought a bottle of water on a street corner from an old lady squatting behind a basket of them. I meticulously checked the bottle to make sure the top was factory sealed and that this wasn't actually a recycled bottle of Montezuma's Revenge tap water. Take note that sometimes vendors down in this part of the world reuse thrown out bottles by reselling them with filthy municipal water. They aren't trying to rip anyone off...reducing, reusing and recycling is just what they do to make some dinero. Satisfied that this particular water was factory pure, I handed the lady my dollar for three bottles and made my next target a bakery across the street. I am not into shopping but using some new found Spanish skills turned out to be fun practice
Somehow I have been appointed the lead negotiater for all things that must be conducted in Spanish for our group...taxis, a roof over our heads, food, customs and immigration...you know, the basics of survival. All that stands between sleeping on a parkbench vs. beds is what little Spanish I can muster up to reserve something for the night such as our very basic cold water shower and fan only room at the cheap International Custodio. Though not all that confident with my own Spanish, I am fairly confident that whoever invented Spanish is rolling over in his grave whenever his creation rolls off my tongue.
One thing is for sure though. Polite and courteous people get me pointed over and over again in the right direction whenever I make any effort to blend in. Unlike ours, the culture here is infused with basic politeness, manners and courtesy and what a refreshing change from the crap thrown about from supposed customer service people in the US. Am I alone in thinking that the self-checkout lane at Wal-Mart is far more pleasant and agreeable than the employee of the month behind an actual register?
On a more serious note, my wandering around took me right where the Salvadoran Civil War began in March 1980. After Archbishop Oscar Romero's murder that month, mourners carrying his casket to be buried under the main Cathedral were gunned down. Government troops fired from surrounding rooftops right into the procession and then into onlooking crowds as they fled for cover. Standing right where so much bloodshed began is a powerful feeling. I also happened upon something interesting about Suchitoto as well...some intense fighting there in the hills caused 80% of the town to flee
After dark, a heavy thunderstorm swept over San Salvador and the rain hopefully washed away some of the grit and debris. I don't think there is ever much of a reprieve though since every dawn just brings the chaos back to life. I began missing the place as the 5AM King Quality Bus bound or Tegucigalpa wound through upscale suburbs that would be home anywhere in the US, chaos of the Centro Historico downtown slowly waking up, and finally through slums clinging to whatever earth has a few feet of level surface. King Quality spoiled me on the way over and a few extra bucks were worth the comfort and safety for the ride back. Yeah, I sold out again and passed up a grueling all day chicken bus affair.
The Puerto Bus Terminal that we left from is like a bad dream from the 1970's in terms of comfort and looks. Yes, compared to Terminal de Oriente where the chicken buses congregate, it's not so bad. But picture it...5 AM deep in the bowels of what looks like an old dark parking deck. When a bus pulls in, the diesel engine just echos against the dirty concrete walls and its thick exhaust aims right inside a waiting room with bright green 70's chairs scattered about dirty black and grey tiles. A loudspeaker announces something that sounds like the teacher from The Peanuts. It sounds like wha, wha, wha, wha, Guatewhawha, el bus wha, wha. Luckily someone came and rounded up us Tegucigalpa bound people. Or rescued I should say since by now we were completely inebriated with exhaust spew.
What a lovely Buenos Dias at O Dark Hundred in the morning and an even better Buen Viaje to send people off with their final memories of San Salvador
And just as a side note...I don't want to hear that the US pollutes...take a look down here at the fumes, the piles of trash on the road, the wood cooking fires, the raw sewage...the US is a Garden of Eden compared to Central America. In fact, on the chicken bus, riders just toss their trash out the windows when done. Plastic bottles, wrappers, styrofoam takeout containers...it doesn't matter...it's all going overboard once outliving its usefullness onboard the bus. Roadways are just one giant receptacle for all things trash and even in the cities people just toss their crap right into the gutters. Garbage chokes the life and beauty out of any waterway that has the misfortune of passing near a roadway and raw sewage emptying out of pipes gives it all a nice brown glaze. So back off the US and our "pollution," you environmentalist whackos who have probably never seen what an actual dirty city looks like!!!! I want a clean world, too but the nastiness down here just takes the cake.
In the span of 7 hours, we traded a country that was recovering from years of civil war and political problems to one that just had a coup and hopefully won't descend into chaos. Never in a million years did I suspect I would be called upon to use my law enforcement Spanish I had learned years ago in another lifetime only minutes after stepping off the bus in Honduras. I think the locals were even a little shocked I had it in me to pull this "fluency" deep from the recesses of my brain
While jumping right in front of him I yelled in Spanish to drop the knife and put his hands on his head. Hey, when you are under pressure, what comes out isn't always the first choice but the message got across. I meant to say muchilla (backpack) and not cuchilla (knife) but cuchilla is what I learned first in class, and I have no idea where the "put your hands on your head" came from. The taximan actually complied and stood there confused in the muddy parking lot with his hands on top of his head for a few seconds. Yes, once upon a time I was telling perps in Spanish to drop their weapons and show me their hands in a former career and all that was forgotten came back to save the day once again a decade later.
Once the shock of a Spanish yelling gringo wore off, taximan got a little too mouthy for my taste so I cursed him out in Spanish and bowed my chest up when he snatched for my bag as well. I had even learned the word for a female body part synonymous with a feline by looking at the subtitles during one of the movies not three hours earlier on the bus
Having already chased off one ride, we still needed a taxi though, and the other drivers didn't dare approach us now for a fare. I played some eenie meenie minie mo and chose one, and said to myself, "you are it." Oh did he look thrilled right about that moment to be "it" as the Gringo Cop walked up to him, and I am sure he was thinking, "no senor, no por favor. taxi is no running. taxi is broke." He turned out to be a much amenable driver, and we very quickly negotiated a cheap price (I think he was a little afraid of us actually).
After wasting ten minutes in some muddy parking lot, we finally had at our disposal an awesome, authentic Tegucigalpan taxi to transport us from the bus terminal to downtown
A torn black garbage bag taped into the place normally sporting a glass hatchback window was the definitive piece de resistance of this rusted out rice burner. The Datsun 210 launched us into the traffic melee, and we were off like a herd of turtles...Not that I could have told our speed anyhow since the odometer was permanently stuck on 90 kilometers per hour. A swirl of black and blue smoke announced to the world we had just passed by, and fumes passing up through the floorboards bathed us in Eau de Datsun whenever we jolted to a frequent stop. Chanel Number 5 has nothing on Datsun Number 210.
The ride downtown took us back through the CamagŁela area from a few days prior and this slum just packs in market stalls that blur the boundary between sidewalk and asphalt. I could actually have reached out the car window and touched these tables heaped so high and generously with cheap plastic crap direct from some Chinese sweatshop. And pedestrians even managed to wedge themselves into the foot or two between the cars and tables without getting hit. Actually getting hurt might take some effort when traffic grinds along less than 3 miles per hour. Block after block after block of run down buildings look like they could collapse into the mix at any given moment from neglect or an earthquake. After sitting in this exhaust clouded mess for 20 minutes listening to car horns mixing with music blaring from just about every vendor stall I just got to the point of "please make it stop. por favor. please!!!!"
Our loco taxi driver added to the mix every ten seconds or so by shouting and honking whenever someone would run a red light or stop sign or when things didn't flow to his satisfaction (It's funny how he managed to keep the horn operable despite nothing else working). Talk about being able to dish it out but not take it...our driver would go into a rage when he himself was honked at for completely ignoring the same traffic devices that normally provide some semblance of vehicular order. If any type of distance opened up he would jam on the gas and one car length later we would come to a screeching halt in that dense traffic.
The driver kept cursing and hanging his head out the window to see what was going on when things ground to a halt every three to four seconds. I could have saved him the energy needed...el traffico seemed to be the problem in this slum area. This surely wasn't his first time at the rodeo. Backing up nearly into the car behind us and slipping down some sidestreet over and over again was evidently supposed to find a shortcut around a mess where all roads led right back into the the thick of it. Actually, the cursing, arm waving, and the head craning out the window brought back memories of being a kid and driving with my dad in traffic. Sorry, dad, I have to call you out on that one!! The similarities are striking...the only difference being the language delivering the curse words.
Ah yes, the sounds of Tegucigalpa. The city just bursts with with color and noise. I hope this country sorts out its political woes because Honduras truly is a great place with friendly people who have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome.