and helpful at another border crossing from hell. The head official remarks to me that Trini is my ugly older brother.
We cross into Honduras around 9:30 pm, and head straight for a town called Nuevo Ocotepeque. Today is the 20th of December and Christmas is in the air, as people are out celebrating in the streets. We find a decent hotel of the main drag and enter to ask how much a night is. The reply is a bit expensive for our budget, and as we balk and begin to shy away, the owner of the hotel appears. HeŐs a big guy, and smells like a bottle of Gin and doesnŐt like the fact that we are leaving. He asks us rather jubiently how much we are willing to pay, and I set the amount, which is agreed to unanimously. Ň15 dollars! ItŐs a deal!Ó The young man at the front desk insists on carrying our bags for us and we chat with the owner. He is very pro USA, as well as very pro Bush. He starts to shout, ŇÁViva USA! ÁViva Bush!Ó Not wanting to get into politics at 10:00pm with a drunk Honduran, Scott and I both sheepishly smile and agree with him, telling him how beautiful his country is. Finally he leaves and once again I am out cold with my clothes on, dreaming about Pupusas.
We spend the next couple of days in the small town of Copan Ruinas, a beautiful village set on the outskirts of the Mayan ruins of Copan. The town seems to revolve around the tourism that comes to visit the ancient Mayan metropolis, but we are lucky enough to come in contact with a woman named Carin Steen, a transplant from Holland who has set up a wonderful program for children here in the village. By chance, I pick up a homemade book of photos from Copan Pinta, a program designed to give poor children the opportunity to learn art. Scott investigates and comes to meet Do–a Carin, who kindly invites us to join the afternoon activities with the kids. We come back to CarinŐs place at 1:30 or so, greeted by 40 hyper kids between the ages of 4 and 13 or so, raring to go. The dayŐs activity is a hike to Hacienda San Lucas for some food and drink, as well as ŇLas Ruinas de Los SaposÓ where we will visit the ancient ruins of a special place where it was believed to have been used for birth by Mayan women.
The kids are an interesting and diverse group, as I said ranging in age from 4 to about 13 or so, some kids looking more European than Honduran, while others looking very true to their Mayan ancestors. Unlike Guatemala, the Mestizo influence just about killed Mayan culture, practically eliminating Mayan dialects spoken before. Just in the past few years people are beginning to realize the importance of protecting and promoting their culture, but unlike the QuichŽ in Guatemala, Honduran Maya have a long way to go to reclaim their lost roots such as language. Carin is helping this though. Along with teaching the kids about how important our predecessors are to helping our growing future, she is teaching the kids about the importance of cleaning up the earth, and how we mustnŐt litter and how we must learn to recycle. She tells me before the hike to give a good ear pull if I catch a kid littering.
Although Copan Ruinas was supposed to be a transit stop, we end up staying an extra day and set out for Nicaragua on Christmas Eve, early in the morning. All is going smoothly as we drive out of the mountains with our bearing set towards the capital of Tegucigalpa. I am behind the wheel, and although we have a lot of territory to cover, I find no need to rush, and drive the windy road slow and methodical, enjoying the light rain that falls. About 10:00 am or so, I notice a green SUV on my tail and trying to pass. Not feeling like partaking in the race, I back off and let them pass. We stop shortly after to drink some Atole on the side of the road and eat a muffin. Back en route, I round a turn and we come upon a grizzly sight. There are two cars in the right lane, both spun around and twisted up from an obvious head on collision. As we drive by slowly, Scott reaches instinctively for the camera, and I see something that I would rather have not.
The car facing us in the opposite direction in the right hand lane has two people in it, and as we drive by in slow motion, I see a man writhing in serious pain who is stuck in the wreckage of the vehicle. Not sure whether to stop or forget and carry on, we drive 100 yards past the wreckage, and pull over. There is a good sized crowd surrounding the accident, yet we decide to return and see if there is anything we can do to help. What we find is a crowd of people feverishly trying to remove the driver from the car who faired worse. What I see is a woman in the driverŐs seat, I am sure is dead, but Scott sees her move, and we realize that she is alive. The crowd is trying to rip the door of with the help of a chain and another truck. I feel as though I am in a dream, as I look to my left and see a young girl sitting on the side of the road. Her stare is blank and in obvious shock, and her left leg is literally snapped in two. On the embankment below the accident, I see a group of people attending to some of the others involved, and what I see is a lot of blood.
A young man begins to shout if anyone has a knife, and realizing that we do in the center console of the cruiser, I shout ŇÁSi!Ó and begin to run to the car. When I get back to the accident, I cannot find the man who had needed the knife, and as I search, I see more of the chaos that is taking place, and I begin to feel sick and woozy. I will admit, I have no tolerance for situations such as this, and find myself having to walk away in order not to pass out. The taste of the Atole we drank 15 minutes previous is thick in my throat, and I feel the need to vomit. The question I keep asking myself is where the authorities are. We have been here 20 minutes and not a single sign of an ambulance or police. It also suddenly clicks in my head that the woman who is stuck in the mangled green SUV is the woman who passed me 4 kilometers back, 30 minutes ago.
I always think of the example I learning in biopsychology class about the human brain. Our teacher explained to us that in the simplest example, the brain is like the sea anemone that we love to touch at the beach. The first time we touch it, (the sea anemone that isÉ) its reflexes that work to feed itself as well as protect, grab your finger and suck in. The second time it is touched, its reaction is far less fierce, and by the fourth or fifth time, nothing happens. This is how I am feeling as we drive away from this horrendous accident. Initially I am in shock as we stop at a gas station to make a call to the police. An hour later I am still thinking about what I have seen, but by that evening, it is a distant memory. My brain has healed and no longer am I as affected as I was after the initial shock of seeing such a gruesome situation. Regardless of my strange analogy, our Christmas Eve has quite a somber feel.
We drive all day until we reach a town near the border of Nicaragua called Danl’. We joke about our friend Daniel Parks and how he should bring the whole Faml’ to Danl’. Ha Ha Ha... We end up staying in by far the worst hotel yet, 3 dollars a night for the both of us, in a room with no bathroom or a real window. We fall asleep to the sound of the discotec next door on full volume blasting the sounds of ŇFeliz Navidad, Feliz NavidadÓ and to the explosions of fireworks until the wee hours. I sleep fully clothed with my hood on, and have intense dreams that are interrupted quite often by explosions of M-80s. We both are up way before the sun is and ready to roll to the border. Merry Christmas, goodbye Honduras, hello Nicaragua.
We blasted through Honduras entering from El Salvador on the evening on the 20th of December and exiting into Nicaragua on Christmas day. When we crossed the border it was getting dark. There wasnŐt much activity but it still took us three hours. We had to use a guide to type the proper forms who had probably never seen a typewriter before in his life. He hunted and pecked his way through the half page form, with Zack and I leaning over his shoulder pointing out the location of the keys as we took turns on his bike ridding back and forth to the car to retrieve the proper numbers on the motor and chassis. The first hotel we stopped at we were put of by the price and poshness. As we were leaving to find another place to stay, we were approached by the owner, whose breath reeked of rum, and offered to name our price. Zack offered 15 dollars and he accepted, added on a free breakfast and then persisted to rant and rave about how great the United States and president Bush were, wanting to have a political discussion while all I wanted to do was pass out in bed.
The next morning we went to the hotels restaurant to take advantage of our free breakfast deal and sat down to order. The waitress had to check at the front desk and make sure we really were to get breakfast and then returned to take our order. ItŐs a funny thing in Central America how much of a big deal they make about coffee when you order it at a restaurant. ItŐs universal, they will always ask if you want it with or with out milk and sometimes sugar, meaning do you want it ŇservedÓ with or without milk in the coffee. If you ask for a small container on the side to add your own you will usually receive a look as if you just arrived from Mars and if you order coffee with milk there is usually more milk than coffee. The free breakfast included coffee but not coffee with milk, as I was very sternly informed by our waitress, that it would be extra, she informed me as if to say ŇHa so much for your free breakfast.Ó So I paid the extra 25˘ for a slosh of milk in my coffee but avoided trying to explain the milk on the side concept. It is bizarre how difficult it can be to order coffee at times. Sometimes I want it black with no milk or sugar and sometimes I want a little milk or a little sugar and sometimes a lot of both. Sometimes all they offer is powdered creamer and sugar with ŇNess CafŽÓ and the only way to bear it is to dive in and go all the way with lots of powdered creamer and tons of sugar, or just avoid it all together. Sometimes I will say ŇblackÓ and they will say, Ňok with sugarÓ and I will say, Ňno Gracias without sugar por favorÓ and they will say Ňno sugarÓ with this tone like, really are you crazy, as if no one has ever asked for coffee without sugar before. You would think in one of the worlds greatest coffee producing regions you wouldnŐt have a problem getting a good cup of coffee and a little slosh of milk wouldnŐt be so much trouble either but thatŐs just the way it is and you just have to embrace the difference to find happiness in it.
Honduras is beautiful country and the people, of course are equally as interesting too. It has been rainy and chilly which has been a nice change from the hot tropics of the pacific. The houses in the country are small, one rectangular rooms with these organic looking hand plastered bright white walls and terracotta tile roofs. They seem as if they have sprouted from the ground. The biggest difference I have noticed about the people, as far as we are concerned, is they pay us no mind and usually donŐt even return a wave, although they are generally nice folks to talk too and helpful as well. It feels a little more wild west, than the rest of Central America; there is a ranchero style like in northern Mexico. The Campencinos dress as such, any way with big cowboy hats, jeans and unusually large belt buckles.
After driving for hours through rugged mountains terrain we make our way to the Mayan ruins of Copan a major archeological site with pyramid style structures reaching thirty or so meters into the sky amongst the jungle. Driving into Copan it becomes obvious why the Mayans built a kingdom there. It sits in a valley where two rivers meet. The terrain is rugged and valley is lined with columns of basalt rock cliffs ideal for building their great pyramid structures. Had the Mayans been interested they could have pioneered some great sport climbing. I can see them now forging stone carabineers and belaying with hanks of jungle vine. In itŐs hay day Copan defined the southern most tip of the Mayan empire. The ruins are truly amazing, acres and acres of stone buildings, you walk around with your jaw on the ground dragging in the dirt of history behind you, and would never run out of things to look at in a million years. I find the ruins both extremely easy yet difficult to photograph at the same time. On one hand the ruins are so spectacular and you could point and shoot almost anywhere and come away with a good photograph and on the other hand finding a way to capture the feeling and spirit of such an amazing place with photography is very changeling. We stayed in the village of Cop‡n Ruinas, adjacent to the ruins, for three days. The town is a bit of a touristy but not offensively with big resorts or anything. The majority of the visitors have come to experience the culture, visit the ruins or as eco tourists. It is actually kind of a nice mix of local culture and western amenities. There is no problem getting a slosh of milk in your coffee and you donŐt feel outcast by not putting sugar in it either.
While we were in Cop‡n Ruinas we met a very special woman named Carin Steen who runs a youth organization called Cop‡n Pinta. It is an after school program in which she dose art and educational activities with kids like teach them to paint and take them on nature hikes. She invited us to tag along on an adventure. We joined here and 25 kids on a nature hike to a Mayan site in the hills above Cop‡n called Sapos where it is believed that the Mayan women came to give birth. After we visited the site the kids made a nativity scene with figures they had made and painted out of natural materials (Rocks, Sticks, Banana leaves etcÉ) and Carin told them a story with a donŐt litter morel. Carin was amazing, orchestrating and directing the entire event, she was one step ahead of everything and even saved the life of one child choking on a candy wrapper with the Heimlich maneuver. He subsequently vomited into her backpack as she squeezed him from behind. After spending time with her and seeing what she is doing I felt inspired. This Woman is actually doing something to benefit the society that she calls home and humanity in general. I hear so many people myself included say ŇI just want to do something to benefit society or the environment or benefit a causeÓ and then do nothing but be concerned thinking some how because I am aware that this is being active. Spending time with Carin reinforced to me the necessity to be active to promote the change you believe in.
On Christmas eave we left Cop‡n Ruinas and headed for Nicaragua. About an hour and a half on the road we encountered a horrific head on collision. Zack was driving and seems to remember one of the cars in the accident as passing us moments before. In all of Central America people drive crazy, passing anywhere with no regard to visibility and Zack and I are constantly commenting on how it is amazing that we donŐt see more accidents. This was quite graphic and a bit surreal. It set a very somber mood for our drive that day. We did stop to lend a hand but there were already a number of people who seemed to have control of the situation and it felt like we were in the way. They had a semi truck and a chain and were trying to pull the doors from one vehicle that no longer even resembled a vehicle.
That night we made it to the border and stayed in the most wretched hotel yet. A true dive. The beds were so soft I sank to the floor, everything smelled of body odder and cigarette smoke and the walls were filthy with a resin that looked as if it had been building since construction, who knows how long ago. I slept in my hooded sweatshirt with my hood up and shoes on and fell asleep and awoke, before sunrise to the incessant sound of fireworks. We were on the road at dawn again to cross another border. Merry Christmas