Postcards from:La Ceiba Honduras
Utila Island Honduras
La Ceiba Honduras
San Pedro Sula Honduras
Belize City Belize
Orange Walk Belize
Lamanai Mayan Ruins
Panama City Panama
Galapagos Is. Ecuador
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Machu Picchu Photos
Lake Titicaca Peru
Lake Titicaca Photos
La Paz Bolivia
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Easter Island Chile
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Puerto Montt Chile
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Buenos Aires Argentina
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Ciudad Bolivar Venezuela
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Cayenne French Guiana
Pointa A Pitre Guadaloupe
Back Home in California
Hello from the tropical city of La Ceiba Honduras,
When it rains it roars... at least in La Ceiba Honduras. Metal roofs commonly used to cover major buildings make an effective drum and the torrents of daily rain are effective drum sticks. The first time I heard the low pitched screaming in my hotel room I thought one of the airliners had veered off course or the usually whisper quiet air conditioner had suddenly gone on the fritz. Nope, just the rain making its music. And, speaking of music, like the Chinese, Hondurans love Western Christmas music any time of year. In the Megaplaza mall the cheery music plays in the background; the children's merry-go-round uses Jingle Bells and once the hotel selected Santa Claus is Coming to Town to entertain guests.
Leaving Copan Ruinas on the 11AM Hedman Alas bus, we traveled seven hours, stopping briefly back in San Pedro Sula before continuing on to La Ceiba. An hour before reaching La Ceiba our bus came to a screeching halt at the side of the road to avoid a mob of people craning for a look at another inter-city bus like ours that had run off the opposite side of the road. Several passengers near me discussed fatalities. I saw no covered bodies and the bus looked intact, though clearly stuck halfway down in the drainage ditch. After a ten minute delay we continued on.
My plan to take the nearest decent hotel when we arrived didn't work out. As it had already turned dusk I stopped at the Hotel La Quinta near the bus terminal where reception quoted one rate for the room I inspected and then wanted an inflated value when I went to register. With that sort of problematic beginning I decided to look elsewhere, so off I walked with dark skies threatening to provide liquid cooling. Even at 18:00 the air felt stiflingly hot and sultry.
The city's Parque Central appeared on my map to be a mere eight blocks form the bus terminal, but those eight blocks turned out to be at least a mile. Right on the Parque Central plaza the Gran Hotel Paris is anything but grand. Barely adequate, it served as my first niter. The next morning my exploratory hike took me past the elegant Hotel Quinta Real. Located on the beach facing the Caribbean Ocean, I can watch the sun set from my balcony room each evening. During low tide families of pelicans show off their hunting skills, transforming into sky diving bullets before plunging into the surf for a fish spotted while soaring fifty feet above the water.
I am writing this on the free Internet terminal provided on my floor by the hotel. This is one of the best five star hotels I have ever used and the room rate with a 10% discount is an astounding $67.50 . Unlike most hotels in Honduras, that rate includes taxes and a full service poolside breakfast each morning. Fresh orange juice (or watermelon juice) and frijoles are available with most meals. I've been eating a lot of mashed beans and never experience the gas associated with that food back home. I have to wonder if cooks have discovered a natural form of "Beano" here. It is so humid that everything cold sweats: iced drinks and beer (I've been trying to drink the prescribed one a day for health) are always served with a napkin folded around the outside to absorb the condensations.
Yesterday I walked through the less affluent residential area between the hotel and the river to the east. Poorly constructed shacks serve as dwellings for a majority of the residents with a few new buildings under construction sprinkled here and there. Many of the homes have no electricity nor water... as evidenced by the small children carrying plastic containers of water home from the river. Women and men huddled in the shallows of the river were washing clothes. Others waded into deeper water where they cast nets that always came back empty as I watched. Many row boats clustered here and there along the river banks. Children played in and along the river.
Quite a few people greeted me in English and when questioned, one young man volunteered his entire family spoke English. A few elementary school aged boys aggressively yelled "Hey, Gringo" or just "Gringo." These encounters did not feel friendly, but were in the minority. Several people including a couple teenage boys asked me why I walked in their neighborhood, apparently few tourists care to see the poorer sections of La Ceiba. I found it fascinating; the "real" Honduras not yet spoiled by tourism. While unburdened by an over abundance of material goods, most people appeared to me carefree, the children joyous, healthy. The heat and humidity guarantee a good sweat with even the mildest walking exercise. My shirt always returns to the hotel dripping with sweat and ready for a daily quick washing. Fortunately drip dry clothes dry over night in the dehumidified air-conditioned room.
Today I walked the shoreline west of the hotel and into the middle class residential neighborhoods, no shanties here. The concrete block structures appear substantial, but rarely elegant. Iron grills and fences protect most dwellings. Streets seldom are paved, though most are graded and graveled. Life for the average urban Honduran is simple. Eventually, I found the area where the wealthy live in the south-east of the city. Here, every corner has an armed security guard and every residence is surrounded either by a high wall or barbed fences, sometimes both. Pickup trucks full of private armed guards patrol the area.
Every morning at 06:00 exactly except Sunday I hear the minute-long wailing of "air raid sirens." I am told they are sounded by the Standard Fruit Company four times daily to announce the times to wake up, start work, stop for lunch and quit work. With increasing ambient city noises only the six o'clock siren can actually be heard at the hotel. During one of my walks I passed the Dole Pineapple office located in the upscale residential district.
Public transport within the city is inexpensive: during daylight hours a taxi ride to anywhere usually costs 15 Lempira, about 80 cents and 20 after dark; they operate as collectives, picking up anyone going in their present general direction until the cab is full. City bus fares run 5 Lempira, about 25 cents. That's cheap for me, but for Hondurans making less than $4 per day it could be a significant budget item. I'm still walking a lot, but the cheap taxis are tempting, especially for the 2 mile distance to and from the only modern mall in town where I spend a lot of time using Microsoft FrontPage in one of the cyber cafes.
PS: The on-line version of my Time Magazine subscription arrived today and the cover story is about "The Evolution Wars." The article appears balanced and sensitive to the broad spectrum of reader beliefs. I found it quite interesting the topic could command "cover story" billing.
My friend Ian has created a "blog" for my postcards and adds each new missive to the collection. Take a look at his effort here. I'm impressed and will study the benefits of using that technology instead of my currently maintained personal website which requires repeatedly finding cyber cafes that offers Microsoft FrontPage. BTW, I am slowly getting the latest postcards added to my site. This one is here.
As I write this the evacuation of Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip is underway. Some of you may recall my comments about the naked provocation idealistically motivated Orthodox Jews created in the Palestinian territories back in March 1998 during my visit there. Religious fanatics on both sides of the contest want total control of the land and vow to expel the other, citing historical justifications for their diametrically opposed positions. My judgment at the time, based on conversations with many ordinary Israeli citizens and Palestinians supported the absolute necessity of disengaging the fanatics. That meant abandoning the provocative Jewish settlements as soon as possible. Now the process has begun and I pray my best judgments were realistic. Al-Qaeda still demands the expulsion of all Jews from the land of the Prophet and die-hard fanatical Jewish settlers insist the land of Abraham is theirs alone, so much work remains to be done.
My comments about the adverse reactions of locals to some of the zealous Christian missionaries in Honduras brought responses from several friends including three who have themselves been missionaries and two who have served in the Peace Corps. All described service to Third World people in need provided with no strings attached. I am more aware now that being inspired by religious ideals does not always mean changing current beliefs of the recipients as a precondition for giving desperately needed help. However, too many of the people I encountered during these previous weeks made it clear they had been sent by their religious organization to "save souls," and to change people's minds. Never mind some (most?) of those people were completely satisfied with their current spiritual beliefs and had no desire to change anything.
When I think of the missionaries who have given the movement a bad name in some circles here in Central America, I remind myself of all the truly wonderful people who simply want to help... inspired by their religious beliefs. Several of my friends have told me heart warming stories of people who have worked selflessly, motivated by their spiritual beliefs, but without a compelling need to supplant whatever beliefs the recipients of their help might currently hold. Two of my friends who have served in the Peace Corps tell similar stories of helping just for the joy of it, albeit motivated by spiritual considerations.
I have been learning more about the history of the ancient Mayans recently. A thousand years before the appearance of any of the modern religions the Mayans had evolved a relationship with spirits unseen which provided them benefits not unlike those enjoyed by many Christians today. Creation myths provide an insight into the way ancient human groups evolved their spiritual traditions. As you know, my view is that it is the faith itself, not the objects of faith or dogmas that provide the principle benefits of religious activities. I remain convinced that absolute faith provides the most significant benefits, and I am privileged to number among my treasured friends many who have deeply held, unshakable religious convictions totally different from my own. F