Memorable Impressions of Central America

I found it weird that Christmas was in full swing the minute after Halloween ended, and also weird that Halloween was any occasion in the first place. I didn’t see any trick or treaters, but I did crash a family Halloween party in Panama city with a lot of orange and black decorations and a dalmation dog wearing pumpkin lights. Christmas songs have been playing on the radio and Christmas lights have been on sale in the markets for all of November, and I guess that might have something to do with the fact that they don’t celebrate Thanksgiving or Rememberance day between the two holidays.  

I had to get used to the fact that a lot of men just carry around machetes strapped to their belts, both in town and in the lonely countrysides, occasionally convincing myself that they’re probably not used as weapons, just crop tools. Although it made me wish I carried around some functionable item that doubled as a weapon. My friend Jeff in San Jose, Costa Rica, lent me his umbrella one day that did just that, but they’re just to big and clumsy to travel with. Maybe they make sweet smelling pepper spray that can double as deodorant? Someone should patent that.

for the best market finds, pay only in cash, with small bills (or coins). Across from this market in El Salvador Guy paid $0.02 to use the internet for 5 mins, so dont say pennies are useless

Having to function in a new currency and exchange rate every week was fun, trying to figure out all the coins and bills and actual values of them. In Honduras, their lowest paper bill was 1lempira, which is the equivalent of 5.3 American cents, and they had bills in denominations of 2, 5, 10, as well as 5, 10,and 25 cent coins!

One reoccurring problem I always had was that people hate accepting big bills or making change. It may have something to do with the fact that things cost next to nothing, but even if you were paying with a bill with the equivalent value of 2 euros, people would scratch at it and hold it up to a light to make sure it wasn’t fake before grumbling about having to give you change.

the one time you dont need cash for dinner is when you fish it yourself - these catches in Caye Caulker thus tasted even better

Cash seems to be the only way to go as well, with atm’s and banks nonexistent at borders, replaced by a bunch of businessy looking men strapped with the biggest wad of cash their hands can hold. I guess there’s no point in using VISA for $0.25 purchases, but then when you want to buy something expensive, the only way to get it at a reasonable price is to pay in cash or else they charge weird visa surcharges. To make sure I always get the haggling discount, I had to visit in ATM every week or so to minimize the amount of cash I had to carry around, and of course they only dispense big bills for big withdrawls. Shockingly though, one ATM in El Salvador dispensed $10, $5 and $1 US bills – $1 US bills out of an ATM!

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Tongue Twisting Place names: An Excercise for your Spanish Pronounciation

I have to admit that all my memories of different places have sort of melded into one big impression of Central America. Even though each country has had its own quirks and isms, things kind of start to feel the same after a while. Not in a boring way, but in a  comforting, familiar type of way. As my spanish has improved I’ve also gotten more comfortable in all the new places, and a little bit more confident in my travels alone.

Every time I open my lonely planet Central America shoestrings book, I have to think for a second what chapter to open to because I can never remember what country I’m in. Trying to remember the name of the town I’m in would take even longer, but one can always rest assured that every single city has a parque central with an iglesia (or two or three) within walking distance, with all the things, information or amenities you could ever need all in one square.

the main church in Comayagua's central park

Once I remember what town I’m in, spelling or pronouncing it is almost always an issue, especially in El Salvador when there was one day we went to Ataco, Apaneca, Ahuachapán and Juajúa all in one day with 5 different buses, and the only words I could think about to help me remember was ‘jube jubes’ and ‘a taco.’ Trying to say ‘jubejubes’ or ‘taco’ to the different bus drivers taking us around didn’t seem to help much, except put a big, confused smile on their face.

Tegucigalpa took some practice, but I still can’t say Quetzaltenango or Quetzaltepeque. Sometimes the same town existed twice or the names were so similar I almost ended up on the wrong bus headed in the totally opposite direction. Frankly, I can’t believe that hasn’t happened yet.

Every Latin American country seems to have an endless supply of town names beginning in San or Santa’s, like San Ignacio, Santa Maria, and every country so far has had a town called Agua Caliente. Towns beginning in ‘Ch’ were tricky in Guatemala because of cities like Chichicastenango, Chimaltenango (not Chalatenango in Honduras), and Chiquimula, not to be confused with neighbouring Chiquimulilla. Other tongue twisters included Huehuetenango, Cuauhtemoc and a bunch of towns beginning in the letter ‘X’ which I’m still not sure how to pronounce.

A floating house in San Pedro, one of the many San- towns, but not the same as San Pedro Sula

Each country has also had its own special Spanish accent or slang words to make things more difficult, and towns where Maya inhabitants still thrive often had one Spanish name and one Mayan name, like Xela which is actually the same place as Quetzaltenango but not the same place as Xel-ha, Mexico. I guess as long as I can remember my own name I’m doing just fine 😛

Honduras with some pretty Honduran guides

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our cozy hotel in Chinandega

When me and Guy left Nicaragua, waking up in our $6 hotel room in Chinangega was a bit of a shock. We had arrived the night before at 11pm from our 7 hr horse carriage ride from Leon, and thought anything not as hard and bumpy as our cart would be comfortable, but the room was atrocious. We just laughed about it, but still a little repulsed by the bathroom and resident 3 inch cockroach territorial of the sink.

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the view of Tegucigalpa from Hondura’s version of the Christ the Redeemer, except this one looks out over the largest Coca Cola sign you’ve ever seen

We left for the bus terminal, a few blocks away, and got into the first bus that agreed to take us to the ‘frontera,’ but then ended up at the Guasaule crossing instead of Las Manos. We just went with it and carried on, with a chicken bus, to Choluteca, and then called my Honduran friend Claudia to let her know we were getting closer to where she lived in Tegucigalpa. We got on another chicken bus to the capital, which we learned later dropped us off in one of the worst part of towns, on a bus company not even Claudia would ride on. Oh well, we ended up ok, and made a toothless friend who sang Eric Clapton to us while waiting on the side of the road.

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Santa Lucia, one of the prettier towns located in the surrounding hills of Tegucigalpa

Claudia and her Dad poked some fun at us for our choice of transport, and then took us on a driving tour around Tegicuigalpa, introducing us first-hand to the slightly nerve-wracking way Hondurans drive. We almost hit a few people, but then made it home to the most delicious home cooked meal I could have ever dreamed of. The next day we drove around neighbouring colonial towns with Claudia’s sister, Sabrina, and she reconfirmed the driving standard. The following day we left on a 3 day road trip, and most painful during the drive was always the unnecessary, but very numerous speed bumps along the highway, that Sabrina insisted on taking at 0.5km/h, or, when she didn’t see them, at 80 km an hour with someone yelling from the side of the road “Slow Down!” Both were equally uncomfortable, but also just as hilarious.

we drove past Lake Yojoa but had to stop for a photo

We ate alot of pupusas (stuffed torilla thingies), baleadas (tortillas folded with beans), and drank horchata (like chai tea but better) under our excellent Honduran guides’ recommendation. We saw so many beautiful towns and beaches along the way, many of which I didn’t ever even learn the names of, and also visited her other sister in San Pedro Sula who treated us equally like family.

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Copan Ruinas

We ended our road trip in Copan, where I had my first salsa dance this entire trip. Amazing how little latin dancing I’ve been able to find in the last 2 months, shameful really, but I got it out of my system with a Guatemalan salsa teacher who danced excellently. My other first on the trip was the Copan Ruinas, my first Maya site visit, and prefaced what has become probably my highlight in every country since.