Tegucigalpa and the on-going political situation

Trip Start May 12, 2009
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17
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Trip End Sep 29, 2009


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Where I stayed
Super dodgy hostel

Flag of Honduras  ,
Thursday, July 23, 2009

Companeros,
   After more than a month in Nicaragua, I am now in Honduras!
   I am in Tegucigalpa... and I love it. I was prepared for it to be just another Central American capital, dirty and busy. It is busy and there is grime, but there is also more. I have found people to be very welcoming and helpful. I was just in the Garingau museum talking to man who was telling me the recipe to happiness. He shook my hand and emphatically stated that "You are welcome, this IS your house". He had me repeat it several times until I said it in a way that I truly understood this IS my house, and I am welcome there. He sat with me over an hour explaining why he loves his people, the Garifuna.
   Letīs backtrack. My journey from the northern Nicaraguan highland city of Esteli was pleasant yet eventful. The bus broke down on the second leg of the journey to the border. I am finally getting the hang of this "tranquilo" thing, and when the bus puttered to a stop on a particularly steep hill, I just laid back in my seat on this chicken bus (US school bus manufactured by the good old Blue Bird Bus Co. in Tennessee) and waited for the afternoon to unfold. A little while later a pick-up full of men came by and they went to work under the hood of the bus. After no less than four men were laying in the hood of the bus, with their feet in the hair, legs wrapped over the edge frame, torsos submerged in the engine chamber, the bus was ready to go again.
    I have heard a lot about scams at the Honduran- Nicaraguan border. Probably more scams there than the Honduran- Guatemalan border. Yet the hype was really uncalled for.
   A small boy followed me for a bit, taking extreme interest in my passport. I had heard from another traveler that a child at that border swiped her passport and then wanted an extortionate ten dollars to get her stamps in it for her.
   To avoid this issue, I told him I did not need company, please leave. This was not clear enough, so I resorted to something I donīt usually do: call children names. I told him his nose was too big a few times, and he finally lost interest. I think it is hard to follow someone who is telling you they donīt like your face!
    I successfully changed money with a cambionera, after several attempts to give me the incorrect amount. I held my ground, and slowly the full amount I was owed materialized in my hands.
    The ride into Tegucigalpa.... a dream. I really felt I was dreaming. I was missing Colorado sorely being in Esteli. I have now been gone some 11 weeks, and the nice cool climate of Esteli was making me miss Colorado. The more rugged, mountainous terrain, not sweating by 8 a.m., pine trees... Yet Esteli was still true Nicaragua, and still had problems with garbage and pollution. The air was dirty enough to make me feel like I need a shower after just walking down the street. Everywhere you can cast your eyes, you can see crushed cigarette packages, beer bottle tops, candy wrappers, Gatorade bottles. They are trying to combat this with ubiquitous "YO no tirar basura" stickers (I donīt litter), yet these stickers are pretty much an eyesore, too, after they end up on every streetlight and car.
    In the Zamorano valley between Danli and Teguc, I really felt like I had to pinch myself. It was the landscape of my dreams. The ponderosa pines smell just like the ones I miss in Colorado, scenting the air with vanilla. They are on rolling hills, propped up with outcroppings of white and dark grey rock. There are even gashes of dark red soil visible in places- like Colorado! It was amazing to see the banana trees next to the pine, eucalyptus and willow, sumac next to hibiscus bushes, vines covering the sides of houses, chickens in the yard, bright laundry blowing in the wind. I have known people to come to Honduras and be affected the beauty of it... I understand, now.
   Today, I have explored Teguc. It took me no less than three and half hours to find an ATM that accepts my debit card AND does not look like it is infected with something. Along the way, many things have surprised me:
1. I had a hot shower this morning. You have no idea how shocked I was when hot water came out of the shower! To even be able to steam up a bathroom by taking a shower is amazing!
2. I went to a shrine in the menīs bathroom of a downtown cafe. Seriously. And, I totally did NOT get a picture of it, too!
The story is that there is a little statue called La Negrita (small dark stone statue of Mary) which is pretty important in the region. One year, it went missing. Everyone was frantic, and the nation wide search was on until it was found. All the newspapers were covering it. Finally, it was found in the menīs room Don Pepeīs Terrazo. A small shrine is now there where people leave roses, incense, small candles, photographs. The space is obviously no longer the menīs room, and is now covered with framed newspaper clippings of the frenetic search and announcements that La Negrita had been found. This little statue is associated with the Virgin of Suayapa, which is pretty important regionally, affililated with the Suayapa Cathedral. The cathedral is impressive architecturally, but apparently the little La Negrita is a little more important.


3. I found a protest. In Nicaragua, people kept warning me about those crazy northern neighbors, the Houndurans. I said I was not worrying about the political situation, everything is basically tranquilo. No civil war. If I see a Zelaya protest, walk the other way...
   Well, I found a Zelaya demonstation. And I did not walk the other way!
   There were drums and banners. A student group wearing shirts saying they were for the Student Rights Union was carrying banners in front of an important plaza. The national art museum was on side, and an important government administration building was on the other side. It was across from a nice cathedral. There were about forty soldiers and police watching them, each with a rifle. Some had riot gear on, although it did not at all look like that was needed. The banners really pulled out the big guns in this debate. They said: "Jesus ama Mel". Mel is the common name for Zelaya. Jesus loves Zelaya. Wow. I mean, what can top that? How can Michelleti be in power if Jesus loves Mel?
    The graffiti here provides an interestings sampling of political commentary. Here are some I have copied down from Teguc:
No Vote Este 30 Nov.... PLNC
Mich. Asesino
Fuera Mich.
Mich. Fascista
also, 
Alto Femcidio
 
Yet in the south near the Nicaraguan border, I was seeing freshly painted Micheletti propaganda on the rocks, in exactly the style of a campaign advertisement.


4. You CAN buy happiness, after all. I bought happiness today. It cost a dollar. It came in a small bag.
It costs just a dollar to have a strawberry- chocolate shake made downtown. It tasted JUST like any chocolate covered strawberry I eat in the States at Christmas parties!
Iīm now biding my time in this internet cafe until they re-open this morning so I can buy another. Itīs 7:50 a.m. and Iīm hoping they open at 8. I will catch the 9:30 bus across Honduras to La Ceiba. Itīs a seven hour bus ride with good roads, weather, and traffic. I think I need some happiness to get this treck off to a good start!
Cheers,
Lisa


PS If anything in this email doesnīt make sense, it may have been censored


PSS The papers are saying this morning that Zelaya broke off talks with Arias in Costa Rica.  More protesters in front of the plaza today. Lots of police.


Also, for anyone interested, here are the highlights of a meeting between a friend of mine, a divemaster in Utila, and the US Ambassador to Honduras. He is concerned about the State Dept. advisory on travel to the Bay Islands because it is hurting his business.



Summary of our meeting with US Ambassador, Hugo Llorens


There were 5 of us attending the meeting, Mitch Cummins, Russ Summerell,
Lloyd Davidson, Gary Chamer, and Eldon Bolton. We spent about 1 hour and 20
minutes with the ambassador. I think that this was an extraordinary amount
of time.


We began by introducing ourselves, establishing our credentials (between us
there was about 85 years of experience in Honduras), and stating our
position on the actions that led up to and have occurred since June 28. Hugo
Llorens was polite and actively listened to our points. He then expressed
his and the State Department's position. This did not vary from what we've
all read and heard. A lively debate followed the ambassador's presentation.
Neither side changed the other's opinion on the base issues.


Here are some key points of our discussion:


. The US believes that the resolution of the crisis must come from
the negotiations in Costa Rica. This includes the NEGOTIATED return of
Zelaya. I add the emphasis on "negotiated" because I believe that they are
backing off the "unconditional" return that has been stated by other
countries


. During the conversation, Ambassador Llorens stated emphatically
that the US would NOT allow Chavez or any other foreign power to invade
Honduras. The US still sees Honduras as a friend and ally.


. We asked for the Bay Islands to be removed from the travel
advisories. The Ambassador was going to check with his legal team, but felt
that could be done. I personally believe that will happen pretty quickly.


. We believe that this may have been the first time that Hugo
Llorens had discussed these issues with Americans that believed as strongly
in an opposing view to his. He is sequestered in the embassy - he's not
allowed to leave Tegucigalpa. I think that it was VERY good for him to hear
a contrary opinion.


 
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