I arrived in Tegucigalpa this morning as planned, got a bus into town and stopped at the first hotel I came across. It was more expensive than I intended to pay but I was extremely tired and just needed to sleep. I will find somewhere more reasonable tomorrow. Why so tired? I went to bed in San Andrès last night at about 11pm. I had been in bed for about half an hour when a banging came on the door. One of the six car hirers, completely drunk, was asking for help. He said there had been an accident, my room mate was injured and was being threatened by a gang wanting to rob him. I got dressed and the two of us jumped into a taxi to go and help. From stories we had heard there was no point in involving the police, especially as the driver was drunk. An example of police helpfulness, a German had all his money and his passport stolen, there are no embassies on the island so that could be quite serious. He went to the police and reported the robbery. They told him that as he had no identification he had till Saturday (about 2 days) to get off the island. As far as they were concerned that was the end of it. The taxi kept on breaking down, and it was quite a way so it cost me a lot of money, the other guy had spent all his. We ended up walking the last bit. It was on this walk that the truth began to come out. The accident was nothing more than a puncture and no-one was injured. The threatening gang actually happened in town and they were threatening because this guy had taken a long taxi ride and had no money to pay. When we got to the car there was no spare and no jack, so nothing we could do. None of us now had any local money so we had to walk back to town. We finally arrived back at the hotel at 4:35 am, I had to be away at 5:45. so I did not gat any sleep. I am feeling a bit more refreshed now, so I will start to explore a bit.
After my recovery sleep yesterday I had a bit of a wander around town. First impressions are good, especially when I got a meal with no rice. Can’t remember the last time that happened. In my wanderings I found a much cheaper hotel, the Pension San Antonio, and moved there today. The couple who run it seem very friendly. When I say the couple run it, the wife runs it and the man tries to avoid doing anything. They have a fridge full of cold drinks which they sell at a reasonable price. At one time I think it must have had quite a large courtyard. The ground floor rooms all open on to the courtyard. My room is on the first floor and opens on to a balcony which looks over the courtyard. Standing on the balcony or sitting in the courtyard seems to be the best place for conversations My room is quite a good size. The furniture is basic and there are no windows, but the bed is comfortable. The showers and toilets, some on each level, have taken over most of the courtyard leaving a small L-shaped open air area. I think I am the only foreign person here. It is used mostly by local business men wanting a cheap bed in the city. I intend to stay for a few weeks, and this has a nice feel about it.
The emergency shoes I bought in San Andrès are really uncomfortable so I asked my new landlady if she could suggest anywhere I could get some new ones. She sent me to prison! I followed her directions until I came to a large dirty stone building with a guard on the gate. I walked up to him and explained I wanted some new shoes. He waved me in with only the briefest pause, no search or anything, and I entered the prison market. Apparently the prisoners here are allowed to earn money by making and selling things. The exercise yards are covered with prisoners wares and they all call out for you to buy as you walk past. I knew what I wanted though and soon found a shoe maker. They would be handmade in leather which would also be hand decorated. We agreed a price of L12 (Limpira) The value of the Limpira is fixed at half a US dollar, so it is about £3. I am really happy with that, though I am sure local would have got them much cheaper. The made-to-measure bit was easy, he drew round each of my feet on to a piece of paper. They will be ready to pick up next week. As I headed for the exit two thoughts crossed my mind. First, should a prisoner really be allowed the sharp tools needed for leather work. Second, would they let me out again. They did.
‘The South American Handbook’ suggests that it is best to have letters sent to your embassy rather that the post office. That is the address I gave people here. Today I decided to track down my letters so I set off for the British Embassy on the Av. Republic de Chile. I asked many people where the Avenue was, but no one knew, so I went into the tourist office and asked them. They told me how to get there and asked me to wait one moment. The man checked through his files and came back with the information that the Embassy had closed down. I explained to them about the letters I was expecting and they shrugged their shoulders. So I wandered off and into the nearest travel agent and asked them where the British Embassy was, not very trusting am I. He confirmed there was no embassy but told me there was an honorary vice consul and gave me his name and address. I went to see him thinking that things were looking up, I found him with no trouble, only to hear that his appointment had not been confirmed yet, so he did not have the letters. He did give me the name and address of the man who had taken over the PO Box, so I went off to see him. It turned out that he had not taken over the box, but he said that three people had keys and they went along and sorted out the letters when needed. He very kindly phoned all three up for me, and found that they actually had some post for me, which I have now collected.
I am not the only foreigner in the Pension San Antonio. At the far end on the ground floor is an American lady, a New Yorker. She has only been here for a week, but lived in the Pension San Antonio for six months up until a few months ago. She has the largest room, which gives her somewhere to park her currently broken scooter. She is quite well travelled, even living in Afghanistan for a while, but has decided she wants to live in Tegucigalpa and is currently waiting for a residents permit. She has offered to show me some good places to eat. This evening she was heading off to try to get tickets for a concert and asked if I wanted to come along. I am still watching my money so it really depended on how much the tickets were, but I said I would go to the box office for a walk at least. When we got there we were told it was by invitation only, and they promptly gave us an invitation. The concert was classical guitar by a local man called Miguelangel Aparicio. He played lots of different short pieces and it was quite good fun. Especially as it was free.
Living here is quite cheap, my room costs 2L (par at 1L to half a US dollar).Breakfast is eaten in the market, a bowl of porridge (Quaker Oats) 10c and a pancake, also 10c, sometimes two of either or both. Lunch is normally a Taco or two at 10c each. A Taco is a sort of savoury pancake. You can have a choice of things with it, I normally have beans. Those are the market prices, the same thing in a restaurant would be about 60c or 70c. For dinner, again in the market, rice and egg, or meat beans and egg with the inevitable tortillas which are served with every meal here about 50c. During the day I eat a lot of fruit, 5c for a mango or an orange or a slice of pineapple. Oranges are peeled for you on a small lathe. I drink lots of cokes. Cokes range in price from 10c for a small and 15c for a large, up to 35c and 45c. Unfortunately the bottling plant is on strike, so only the most expensive places have them. Fortunately the lady who owns the pension has quite a good stock at 15c and 20c. I spent a while wondering why they don’t have things like the food market here in England. Then I looked at it and realised just how many health regulations it must break. So far it has not done me any harm.
Went to see a film last night. First one since the martial arts film in the open air theatre in The Gambia. The film was ‘Mahogany’ starring Diana Ross, a much better film than martial arts one, and a much better cinema. The Spanish subtitles were a slight distraction but at least that meant the film was in English.
Got a letter from Mum and Dad today. After some trouble with the Bank of England they have transferred £150 for me. Thank you. One small problem. This is not a very big city, but it has 15 banks listed in the telephone directory, all quite widely spaced. I think a small hint as to which bank the money was in might not have gone amiss. Fortunately I made an educated and got the right bank the first time. I went for the Bank of London and Montreal simply because it had ‘London’ in the name. It is nice to have some money again, though the pound is a bit sick still, $1.7025 to £1, not good. Also that is just about the last of my savings. I will start to plan my onward and homeward journey.
Now I have some money I have applied for a visa for the USA. I wiIl find out in a few days if I have got it. I have picked up my shoes from prison. They look good and are much more comfortable than the ones I bought in San Andrés, but I would have to say not as comfortable as I was expecting from made to measure. The guy I bought them from might be a serial killer though, so I said they were fine. South and Central America were both inhabited by fairly advanced civilisations prior to the arrival of the Spanish. Those civilisations are now all lost. Illness played a part, but mostly the appalling attitude of the Spanish, a belief in a God given right to rule, meant they took what they wanted. This area is where the Mayans lived. There is nothing left of them now except the ruins of some of their cities. On my journey through Central America I am going to try to see some of the ruins. Some of the most beautiful are at a place called Copan, which is where I shall stop first after leaving here. I can get a guidebook here which should hopefully give me some background information before I get there. I believe it is where their written language was first translated. There is an attraction here called the Jardin Maya which has reproductions of some of the Mayan ruins. I will go and have a look at that in the next day or so.
Porridge and bean tacos are good, but it is nice to have a change. When my money arrived I thought it would be nice to go out for a proper meal. I chose a restaurant called Don Quixote. The food was exquisite, I had shrimps in breadcrumbs with salad, and the floor show was brilliant. First there was an acrobatic Macaw who sat and perfomed in a hanging Goodyear tyre. Then there was a verbose parrot in a nearby cage. The parrot’s favourite trick was to say ‘Señora’ every time a female walked past, and if that brought no response he would try ‘Señorita’ . Finally there was a very energetic tortoise who seemed to spend all his time trotting around the courtyard and garden.
Went to a jazz concert last night. It was very enjoyable. I left an open packet of biscuits on my table when I went to bed. I woke up to discover a line of ants going across the floor, up the table, and into the biscuits. I picked up the biscuits to put them in the bin, and discovered that these were biting ants. Like having pins stuck into you. I was looking forward to finishing those. I have effected a temporary repair to my St. Christopher, bought my bus tickets, and I’m almost packed ready to go. Copan tomorrow.
I had to have it explained to me a few times before I understood that the bus would pick me up from my hotel. I had never heard of that before. So I went to bed having paid for my room and at about 3am the night porter knocked on my door telling me the bus was there. I put the last couple of things in my bag and got on the bus. It was unexpectedly comfortable, padded seats and air conditioning. I am getting over a cold at the moment so I just settled down into my seat and went to sleep. The journey was long but uneventful. We arrived in Copan this afternoon, too late to go to the ruins, so I had a meal and will just get some sleep. I will spend tomorrow in the Mayan city.
I spent this morning at the ruin, absolutely incredible. The guide book I bought was very good, and I am glad I got it even though it was quite expensive. There were many statues and buildings and of course the great stairways you often see pictures of. I would not have missed that for the world. I took more pictures here than I have taken anywhere else. In the afternoon I had a look around the museum. which was not that interesting. I met a couple of other English guys there and we spent the afternoon chatting. We also swapped some books, so now I have got some new reading material.
The next place I want to go is Belize City in the British Colony of Belize, British Honduras up until a few years ago. It is supposed to difficult to get there overland, so I got the bus here to Puerto Cortes to get a boat. The bus from Copan was more the more usual Central American bus. Hard seats and the only air conditioning is by opening windows. The first 60 miles from Copan are all on unmade roads which made the journey quite tiring. I did manage to doze briefly but was woken up by most of the passengers laughing. The bus had stopped because there was a horse standing in the road. I asked someone what was so funny and he pointed underneath the horse. The horse was obviously a stallion and was very excited about something, and it showed! I checked into a hotel here and was told that there had not been any boats this week, but that there should be one in the next few days. It is a 6 or 7 hour journey by boat, and about 3 days by road. The road journey is also slightly more expensive.
The hotel I am staying in here is a large wooden building. It looks just like something from a cowboy film, complete with a veranda to sit on and watch the world go by. I was hoping to go swimming, but it is a real port with large ships and so probably not safe for swimmers. I am not sure there is much to do here, but I should be able to get a boat to Belize in a couple of days and I am sure I can keep myself occupied till then.
I went to the shipping office today. I’m not sure they know how to run a shipping line. There is supposed to be a service between here and Belize City, but they can’t tell me when the next one is due. A few days is all they will say. Out of interest while I was there I asked about the price of boats to Europe and was quoted $350 direct or $750 by the pretty route. There are a few more things I want to see before I go home anyway.
The bar in the hotel has a jukebox full of many fine Spanish songs. It only has one English song, Rhinestone Cowboy sung by Glen Campbell. It is not really my sort of song at all, but I have played it a few times. I think I must be missing the sound of people speaking English! My Spanish is at best enough to get by, so to have three whole minutes of something I can understand is quite a pleasure. In Belize English is the official language. I will not be playing Rhinestone Cowboy on any jukeboxes when I get there.
There is almost nothing to do here. It is a working port and little else. I tend to read or walk most of the day. Today I was walking along by the harbour when I noticed a large Norwegian cargo boat had arrived. Standing on the gangplank was a Norwegian officer in immaculate whites. It occurred to me that I might be able to work my passage home, or at least to somewhere in Europe or Scandinavia. I checked that the officer spoke English, and asked if I could see the Captain. The officer was friendly and chatty. He led me onto the boat and up some stairs as we talked about Honduras. He asked me what I wanted to see the Captain about and I said I was going to ask if I could work my passage across the Atlantic. Immediately he stopped and turned around. His whole attitude had changed. He said no that wasn’t possibly and led me off the boat, barely speaking any more. He almost looked scared. I guess they must have had problems in the past.
I’ve already said that the hotel is a large wooden building. I’m not sure that it has any foundations, but apart from that it seems solid. Until a train goes by. The train line runs behind the hotel, only about 10 yards away. When a train goes past it is like something from a comedy film. Everything shakes. Nothing has actually fallen off a table yet, but it is only a matter of time.
Most days I call in and buy fresh fruit from the large fruit market here. Last night I decided to have a walk around after it was shut. It was quite pleasant, very quiet, so different from the day time. Walking down one of the alleyways I heard a noise behind me, and turning round I saw a huge rat. It must have been a foot long, excluding it’s tail. I carried on walking and discovered it was not alone. I have never seen so many huge rats before. I left.
I went to post a letter today, and the post office said I had to put it in a box. Very odd. Still I suppose I should thank them. I went into a souvenir shop to find out if they had a small box I could use. In the shop I found a pile of second hand english books at L1 each. A new book costs about L6. I bought two, ‘The Wilby Conspiracy’ and ‘The Eiger Sanction’. I even got a small box. Checked with the shipping office. Still no firm date for a boat. I think I will have to go overland.
A final check with the shipping office. They say the earliest a boat will be leaving for Belize City is two days from now. I am finding it difficult to believe the dates they give, so I have booked to go overland. Going overland also means I can stop and see Tikal, one of the largest Mayan cities. My ticket is for tomorrow, going to the town of Flores in Guatemala from where you can do a day trip to the ruins.