Thursday, September 21, 2006

Honduras: A tale of bruised knees, dead dogs and injuries not sustained

Somewhere under the roadside litter and lime-covered carrion, through the toxic clouds of burning plastic, somewhere away from the mangy dogs, and beyond the sexual advances of teenage boys, there is a gem of a country that I have yet to discover. But, please, be tolerant of my rant---being shot at was really the last straw.

I wasn't there for long, so perhaps I am not at all qualified to make any judgments about it. I'll just recount events that occurred this year, during Semana Santa.

Parts of the country are beautiful, indeed. For example, this is a photo of the sunset from Roatan, one of the famous Bay Islands.

In this photo, there is no evidence of events preceding it, and no hint of what was to come. This scene, alone, is beautiful. The context could have been better.

The beach from which it was taken was so infested with sand fleas that sitting on it was not an option. Perhaps the reason for this is that, unlike many other resort beaches, the coast here is not sprayed with poisons to keep the pests at bay. I can support that.

Nevertheless, I alternated with applications of sunscreen and insect repellent and escaped without a sunburn. The extremely itchy red patches were merely an allergic reaction to the fleabites. They would disappear within 72 hours, a few hours short of clinical insanity. And, considering the severity of my other experiences in Honduras, it seems petty to complain about the bugs.

My itinerary was more-or-less planned as follows:

Days 1 & 2: Visit Copan Ruins
Days 3 & 4: Travel to Roatan by bus and boat, enjoy beach
Days 5 & 6: Visit Comayagua and enjoy Semana Santa celebrations
Day 7: Depart for Nicaragua

I know, from experience, that nothing ever goes quite as planned, and I like that. But, I wasn't totally prepared for this:

Day 1:

Witness vultures devouring a dead dog on the way to the Copan ruins.

Listen to 90 minutes of culturally and sexually offensive jokes about Mayan women from hired local guide while visiting ruins.

Upon returning to hostel, observe that it took under 90 minutes for the vultures to completely devour the dog, save for its skeleton with which they were attempting to take flight.

Comfort less experienced traveller concerning dead, devoured dog.

Day 2:

Enjoy local beer and practice Spanish with locals in town square.

Resist advances from young men.

Refuse to buy cocaine.

Refuse to buy cocaine again.

Absolutely refuse to buy cocaine from the Honduran police station.

Return to hostel and realize the main gate is locked for the night.

Day 3:

Travel by hot, cramped bus to port.

Check baggage on boat, decide a cold beer would be dreamy, ask all dock workers, taxi drivers, restaurant staff and passengers, find none.

Board boat, notice local bar adjacent to dock house.

Steam across bay until dark. Attempt to collect baggage amid mosh pit of passengers, and realize dock workers gave me the wrong baggage tag.

Arrive at resort. Receive keys for the only room that is not beach front.

Accidentally knock anomalously large cockroach, while attempting to kill it, into travel partner's luggage while said partner is in the shower.

Break the news to her.

Day 4:

Wake up and go to beach, succumb to sand fleas.

Watch sunset. That part you know.

Go dancing and begin earning the year's worst hangover. (I blame this only on myself.) Stumble home with Australian and Irish travel friends.

Days 5 & 6:

Fall asleep on boat ride back to mainland, and reluctantly head to Comayagua for Semana Santa religious celebrations.

The processions really were beautiful, and the artistry of the colourful carpets of sawdust for "Christ" to parade over was spectacular.

We, a group of fellow travellers, were captivated until nearly 9 p.m. That is when we decided to stroll back to the hotel we all shared. By this time, I had grown accustomed to the ever-present pop of firecrackers in Central America. I am told this is a long-standing tradition, and a symbolic attempt to cheer up Catholicism's pouting saints.

Pop-pop-pop. Pop-pop-pop. With little puffs of smoke.

As we rounded the corner of the walled street in front of our hotel, I heard that familiar pop. But, just one. Pop. It was its singularity that was shocking. And I thought, as I turned my head in the direction of the sound: That's strange.

And I saw: A man on a bicycle coming toward us with his arm outstretched behind him, gun in hand, and people at the next intersection running.

And I thought: I didn't know guns actually smoked.

And I saw: The man's arm moving to our direction, pointing the weapon at us. The light from the street lamp transformed him into a beautiful silhouette.

And I heard: Pop.

And I thought, as I threw myself face-down in the street: This will probably hurt, but I probably won't die.

And I heard: Pop. And a whistle. Pop. And a whistle. Pop. And a whistle. And silence.

I lifted my head. There were six of us, and none of us had been hit. We had bloody knees and scratches, but that's it. No one had seen where the gunman went, so we walked the final half-block back to the hotel. The night manager was unaffected.

One of our group chose to watch TV, the newlyweds locked themselves in their hotel room, and I chatted with two other women until the adrenaline subsided and a headache replaced the void.

In the morning, others at the hotel asked us if we'd heard gunshots. I'd already been outside searching for casings. We heard gunshots. We saw the gun. That is all that really happened. Bad things happen, or they don't. Is there really any such thing as a close call?

Nevertheless, we opted to stay in and throw a hotel party the next night.
A toast was in order like never before:

Cheers to all the bad things that don't happen. May more bad things fall into this category.

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