Wednesday, October 26, 2005


17 kilometers off the PanAmerican highway down a still and empty road is the town of Yuscarán, home of the aguardiente (sugar cane liquor) of the same name and home of Donkey Polo. My friend Colin and I waited for what seemed like an hour in the hot, early afternoon sun along this untravelled bit of road for a ride into the town. The roadside was covered with scrubby plants with green mountains in the distance and I let myself, for a moment, pretend I was in Africa, somewhere I have been dreaming about lately. Two pickups passed us. The first sped by, taunting us with an empty truck bed. The next truck stopped and filled up before it got to us, collecting a half dozen women with buckets and parcels. Finally, a logging truck stopped. We threw our backpacks on top of the logs and the driver made his cautious way along the crumbling mountain roads to Yuscarán.

Like all Honduran towns, Yuscarán is centered around a central park. Like all central parks, Yuscarán´s features a cathedral (see photo below), a fountain, and lots of curious
locals sitting on the benches, staring at us with slightly amused looks in their eyes. Apparently, it is not every day that the logging truck passes through the narrow cobblestone streets and lets out 2 tall, sweaty gringos bearing enormous backpacks.

We knew of only 2 hotels. At one of them, no one answered the bell, the other had no electricity (but they kindly offered to a 30 lemp--about $1.50--discount and candles). Knowing how early dark comes (5:30 p.m.), we set out to find a hotel whose name we kept forgetting owned by someone named "Junior." We were given a point in the general direction. Everyone from whom we tried to extract more specific directions said the same thing, "go straight, go straight." Sometimes, they elaborated: "go straight and ask that man." Funny thing is, the roads in Yuscarán don´t go straight. They bend at unexpected angles, plummet down into unknown barrios, climb up toward ruined castles of buildings.

A man with a big belly and red eyes--possibly "that man" they kept telling us about--finally got us going straight down the right street. He and his pals gave us some kind of warning about our hotel in mumbled, regional Spanish which I did not completely understand. When I asked him what he meant, he made a reference to Halloween and how at our hotel "you go to sleep on one side of the bed and wake up on the other." All the men laughed and we laughed too, just to be polite.

One of the men, looking for a tip, insisted on showing us to the hotelito and banged on the door until we finally got the attention of the owners. Our room was clean and simple, filled completely by beds, and didn´t appear to be haunted, but still had luggage on the beds which meant we couldn´t check in until 5:30. Considering our other options, we told them it would do.

We walked past the stinky aguardiente factory, which looked more like an abandoned YMCA than a factory, through the cobblestoned streets onto the dirt roads at the edge of town in search of the famous lookout, beneath an immense Ceiba tree, high above Yuscarán. We climbed a set of stone stairs toward a small chapel (see photo below)
the tree, sat ourselves down on the hill as the day began to fade. We watched children play and then get called home and for a few moments found ourselves alone looking over Yuscarán and the other tiny pueblos that dotted the mountainsides. When the clouds rolled in we hurried away, back into town to the only restaurant, a Chinese place attached to the electricity-less hotel. We sat down before the rain came and ordered anything that appealed to us from lemonade to wontons. We hadn´t since early that morning and it was almost 5 o´clock, but we still couldn´t finish all the food. After the meal, not having seen or heard a word about Donkey Polo, we ask one of the restaurant employees. We are disappointed to learn that Donkey Polo (yes, Polo played on donkeys instead of horses) is only played during the annual town fair. On our return to our hotel, we found the Yuscarán factory already closed, which meant if we wanted a souvenir bottle of the famous aguardiente, we would have to buy it ourselves.

Tired from the travelling, hiking, and eating, we spent the evening watching the Discovery channel and, when we found ourselves yet again hungry, eating our leftovers. Around 4 in the morning, I awoke to find the television on, but muted. Faces flashed on the screen, silent and eerie. I wondered how long they had been watching me sleep. Thinking I had rolled over on the remote, I look for it and find it nowhere near me, but on one of the empty beds. We both swore we had left the TV on the Discovery Channel, unmuted, when we turned it off before falling asleep. Perhaps, our big-bellied friend had been right to warn us.

The next morning I went looking for breakfast and coffee. A cup of coffee was not to be found and I ended up with a plate of steamed rice and beans and fried plantains at a dim comedor that appeared to have been, at one time, a library. The walls were tall and lined with dark, vacant shelves. A political rally was blasting on the TV and a mangy dog sniffed my feet. Later, we rode out of Yuscarán in the back of a brand-new pick-up truck. The driver, like us, bound for Tegucigalpa, finally going, like they all said, in a straight line down the highway.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Getting my fix

I am in Tegus right now as the internet on the Ranch is being withheld from the volunteers, employees, and kids as some kind of punishment for passwords being changed and general chaos in the internet lab. Of course, the volunteers who have no motivation to change passwords and cause problems in the lab, suffer the most as we are cut off from friends and family without notice. We are admittedly very upset and there´s unfortunately not much we can do about it, so we are grumbling and making treks to Tegus to feed our internet addiction. There is a meeting about this tomorrow and so, hopefully, there can be some new, stricter rules limited the kids´use of the lab and I can return to my friendly little internet hut in the Honduran countryside.

Spending the day in Tegus is always some kind of adventure. Today, I went shopping. The best deals for anything from sparkly high heels to blender parts to lacy underwear are often found on the street. You can hardly walk on the sidewalks there are so many vendors. First, I decided to buy some shoes which is always difficult because I wear size 9 1/2 (39 European) and that is grotesquely big compared to most Honduran feet. So, first I have to find a style I like, then the size, and then deal with the price. Tons of vendors sell the exact same thing, so you usually are best off to shop around. No one, for some reason, likes to bargain over shoes. Finally found what I was looking for--100 lemp (about $5) black sandals. Hilary wanted to find some of these Puma zip-up sweatshirts (70 lemp each) which are sold by a woman named Elizabeth with whom we are friendly. She wasn´t at the normal booth, but we picked up a couple of these shirts and mosied on. Had a Mochacchino in Parque Central almost not bothered by the men staring and shouting "gringa" and had a lunch of pinchos (shishkabobs), rice, salad, plátano, lime, tortillas, and Coca-Cola (35 lemps for everything) at Doña Tere´s, a stand in Plaza Dolores with the shouts of men selling carrots and tomatoes and women passing by with coolers full of bags of water punctuating our conversation.

After that, we bought groceries and then, I had to make some copies of keys. There is a place that advertises that they make keys just a couple doors down from the internet place so I thought I would try that. The hand-written sign that says "Se hacen llaves" is between two businesses. One is an electronics shop, the other, a Mexican restaurant. I, torn between my options, try the electronics shop. Nope. They tell me to go into the restuarant and ask for Jorge. They also advise, "No tenga miedo"--Don´t be scared. Unsure as to why I should be scared, I am now a little scared. I go in and the restaurant turns into a little Honduran version of a mini-mall. There is a seamstress working, a computer place (which is closed), but no sign of a key place. I ask the women working on sewing machines in a dark room with no door. They tell me to go up the stairs. I look at the stairs. They lead up to what looks to be someone´s house, complete with a live chicken, gate, and dripping water. I go up the stairs and meet a little girl. I ask her who is it that makes keys. She brings her mom from the living room and mom takes my keys and agrees to have them ready for me in 15 minutes.

There you have it. Soon, I will pick up my keys, jump in the back of a pick-up truck that stop collectively at the exit to Cerro Grande to haul hitchhikers up the big hill. From Cerro, catch another ride 36 kilometers through the countryside to the Ranch entrance. From there, it is a 15 to 20 minute walk to my room. Travel time: a little more than an hour with some good luck, but realistically more like an 1 1/2 trip when all is said and done.

Let´s hope the internet is back soon. I am in serious withdrawl and as you can see, it takes a lot of travel and energy to get my fix.

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