Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Kristi Survives Honduras

What’s that you say? You can’t come visit me in Honduras because the red-eye flights sound too straining? Well enter stage-left my darling friend Kristina Bruner, because she not only came to visit me in the crime-riddled land of Honduras, but she got off a plane and headed straight to a bus station without complaining. Quite a feat, if you ask me.

That’s right, one Kristi Bruner and I were set loose in Honduras for a week and we took the opportunity to relax on the northern beaches. Kristi caught me up on all the Seattle/Tacoma gossip and ate Pringles with me during our 7-hour bus ride to Tela, Honduras. I could see by the look in her eye that she was prepared to have a real Central-American adventure, which turned out to be a good thing, because it’s safe to say we had an awesomely Honduran week. How, you might ask? Well let me just fill you in.

(Yay! We're in Honduras!!)

When we got to Tela it was early evening and we asked a taxi to take us to our hotel, Bertha’s Number Two (no, that’s not a rating- merely the second of Bertha's two hotels). We were only a few blocks away, and thanked our taxista for a quick ride when he dropped us off. However, when we went inside we didn’t have a reservation. We chatted with a mildly incompetent desk worker and eventually realized that the taxi driver had dropped us off at Bertha’s Number One instead of Number Two. As we turned to leave to find our real hotel, she kindly warned us about the “ladrona” (thief) waiting outside the door, but I’m pretty sure that woman was a prostitute, not a pickpocket, so we didn’t have a problem.

(Kristi outside of our hotel)
 When we were dropped off at the correct Bertha’s we did in fact have a reservation, but the room was this crazy tiled place with two single beds shoved in it. It was, to say the least, a bit odd. More odd was when we were woken up before 6am because the management needed our passport numbers to officially check us in. Anyone who knows me knows that 6am and I are not friends. Needless to say, the workers at Bertha’s and I are similarly not friends.

After a quick laugh and an attitude adjustment, Kristi and I set out to explore the small town and soak up some cancer-filled rays. We made our way to the beach with the help of some locals, and walked all up and down, checking out the area for the best spot. Kristi had her first baleada for breakfast (classic Honduran cuisine: a tortilla, beans, and chismol) and I got a nasty sunburn after choosing not to reapply my SPF 70 as my mom would’ve surely recommended.

(We used the "No Distorb" sign to avoid getting woken up at 6am the next day. It didn't work.)

(Yes, this is breakfast, but no, it is not a baleada. Kristi enjoyed some "plato tipico" on the last morning in Tela.)

(Enjoying the ocean!)
The next day we contracted a local restaurant-owner to take us to a Garifuna village (one of the native peoples of Honduras). We knew there would be other people on the trip, and at first we thought we had run into our first group of American tourists- middle schoolers… until we realized they were speaking French. That’s right, Kristi and I spent a day in Honduras with a group of tweens that didn’t speak a word of English. Wait, that's not true. One girl asked Kristi if she wanted a “coooookie”.

We saw monkeys in a tree (and almost got pooped on), tried to snorkel but there were no fish to be seen, and generally enjoyed the short tour of the jungle and the delicious, right-out-of –the-water fried fish. It was a wonderful day… until our boat was filled with bad gasoline and we almost got stuck in the middle of the sea. When we finally got going the waves were so rough that I closed my eyes to keep the salt water out, and used my messenger bag as a body shield… and yes. My bag was sticky with seawater for the rest of the week. It wasn’t the smartest decision I made that day. The smartest decision was buying “pan de coco” (coconut bread) and taking a nap in the sand at the end of the day, in the late afternoon warmth.

(Our boat that broke down)
After our stay in Tela, Kristi and I headed to the middle of Honduras to rendezvous with a crew of my fellow volunteers to spend a weekend at Lago de Yojoa (does this location sound familiar? Ya, there's only so many places to go in Honduras. It seems that all the visitors get a similar tour). We took a bus from Tela to San Pedro Sula (congratulations, Kristi! Another survivor of the murder capital of the world! We should've sent your mom a postcard or something!) and transferred in SPS to a bus to Lago. Now, I didn't get to sit next to Kristi on the bus, but it was okay because I sat right behind her and watched her break her college-learned-Spanish back in... by chatting with a BOY. And by that I mean, a very young man that probably thought she was 18 tried to work some Latino magic on her. Don't worry, Kristi's conjugation was great, as well as her immunity to Central American charms; girl after my own heart.

(We made it to our lodging! And this time there was no taxi mix-up.)
Kristi and I made it to the lake before anyone else, and so we had time to claim the best bed and head to the coffee plantation down the road to explore before my friends finally arrived. Although the sign stated that the plantation closed within the hour, we asked the guard if that meant that we had to be out of the area by that time, or just that no one could enter after the hour. He assured us that we could take our time walking the trails and as we thanked him and walked in, he was suddenly struck with the notion that Kristi and I were about to wreck havoc on his beloved nature reserve (I'm still not positive what kind of trouble it looked like we were capable of creating) and he told us very abruptly and seriously, "no jumping". Also, "no swimming". Ya, because those would be my first reactions.

(Not to give away the ending, but I jumped while we were inside. It was crazy).

(This is right before I jumped. It's why I look so devious)
(Beautiful blue pond)
After walking on the trails for a while and visiting this pond that is unnaturally blue for some cosmic (or scientific) reason, we headed back to good ole D&D to meet the crew; about 6 volunteers came to spend the weekend with us. Everyone was super excited to test out the local brew and to indulge in some American cuisine- there really is only so much beans you can take before your tastebuds just DIE. Between the fare from the kitchen, steamy showers and real mattresses on our beds, things were just heavenly at Lago de Yojoa.

(Breakfast with the volunteers. We're deciding what to do for the day.)

(Irene, Kate, Lydia, and me, all excited for our adventure-day!)
(Cows on the road, what else is new?)
The next morning we dined on delicious food right next to a huge map of the area- complete with different places to visit and natural wonders to see. As a group we decided to take a trip to a waterfall seldom-visited by gringos, and then to some nearby hot springs. With blueberry pancakes in my stomach and a spring in my step, I hurried off to put on my green outfit- we may have been in Honduras but it was still St. Patrick's Day, after all.

(Me, Lydia, and Kate, all decked out in GREEN!)

That waterfall was beautiful, and it was totally worth the harrowing ride in the taxi (our driver for the day seemed a bit more concerned with turning around in his seat to flirt with us than keeping his eyes on the road. It was quite concerning). We all jumped in and played in the current and jumped underneath the stream of water for quite a while. So far, we were having a lucky St. Patty's day!

(The waterfall)

(The whole crew at the waterfall)
After we were all done playing in the water, we packed up the taxis again, and headed off to some hot springs. When we all spilled out of the cars and hiked down to the river, we were all in awe at the sight waiting for us- there was a boiling river that we had to cross by balancing on rocks, and jumping from stone to stone. It felt a bit like a videogame except that if you faltered you would be burned, instead of simply asked to try the level again. I was really, really nervous for this part because although the sight was impressive: a giant tunnel of rock with steam billowing in the wind, I was concerned about slipping.

(The steam rising off of the boiling water)

(The line of gringos walking through the steamy cave, jumping rock to rock)

And with good reason- when we made it safely across the molten river we saw pools of boiling water with corn tossed in them. That's right- the water was so hot that locals were cooking corn-on-the-cob directly in the hot springs.

But by then we had made it safely to an area where cool and hot water were mixing in a deep pool of paradise... so I pushed the thought of our return trek across the burning river to the back of my mind and hopped into the pool. And it was lovely.

(Finally relaxing in the hot springs)

(View of the river from where we were soaking)

(Group shot in the aguas termales)

We hung out the the hot springs for quite a while and then decided it was time to get back to reality... well, not quite reality I suppose, as we were headed back to a brewery on St. Patrick's Day instead of to work... In fact, we were heading back to dine on fish & chips!

As I was treading across the river, up ahead of me I heard a blood-curdling scream, and looked up to see Jen freaking out. She slipped her foot into the hot, hot water by mistake and got a nasty burn on her foot that was exacerbated by having to continue her trek with the boiled straps of her Chacos still stuck to her foot. Plus she had to wait for us to drive out to the main road, and then get to the neighboring town before we could get any ice or even cold water on the burn. It was really terrible.

After our erratic driver not only almost got us stuck on the backroads, driving through mud that most people needed 4-wheel drive to conquer, but as we were on our way to the main road, we could see a car stopped on the road and men with huge guns (weapons, not biceps. I know. Disappointing.) outside of their cars, arguing. We all yelled at the driver to STOP and not drive past this pre-homicide scene. He listened. And then he started driving again, telling us "It's okay, it's just the police". Um, REALLY!? Have you MET the police here? Let's just say that they don't make headlines very often for being not corrupt. Well, we yelled again "stop!" and he did. And then he went again. Thankfully he was correct, and it was some police officers stopping someone on the road, but we were very lucky that nothing happened while we were watching- there was no way our driver could have known that the situation was safe (sorry Kristi's mom! This post has a lot of hilariously dangerous stories in it, doesn't it...).

I guess in some ways our St. Patty's day WAS pretty lucky.

(This picture is for Kristi- a chicken sitting on an armchair, on someone's front porch. You know you're in Honduras when...)
Well, after that stress was over, our driver generally continued to drive too fast and pass cars when I would have chosen to wait. In fact, his idiotic style eventually led him to break the taxi we were in. That's right- we asked him repeatedly to slow down and drive better, and all he got himself was a broken car. The other taxi in our caravan tied a rope from his bumper to ours and we continued at a much, MUCH slower pace the rest of the way home. Until, that is, our driver started "showing off" again and rear-ended the car taxi that was pulling us and we finally got out and got in a new cab. Our driver was TRULY a treat.

Well, after our misadventurous day, it was certainly time to pump up the celtic station on the satellite radio and chow down on fish & chips. And, of course, call my favorite red-headed leprechaun brother (Jono, you are my favorite NOT-leprechaun brother. Congratulations.) and wish him a festive evening.

(A crew of happy gringo's after a fun weekend)

The next morning we settled our tab, took a group pic, and shlepped our backpacks out to the highway to catch a bus back to the city. Kristi and I ditched our bags with some of the volunteers (thanks again Lydia!) and headed to the "luxurious" Granada Hotel in Tegucigalpa. Kristi opted for local food instead of a pizza chain, and so we walked across the street to the seedy "Pincho Loco's" for a plato tipico and some Pepsi in glass bottles. Eventually we tired of gossiping and watching futbol on the TV and headed back to the Granada to watch reruns and terribly offensive reggaeton music videos. It was great.

On our last day we were planning on going to Valle de Angeles, but one of the two of us had lost a round of street food roulette and was not feeling up to any activity not close to a bathroom. Such is the life in Honduras, sometimes. ;)

Instead we headed back to the Ranch and saw the boys in my hogar, and explored a little more the next day as well, Kristi even heading down to the external clinic to see where fellow volunteer and Class of '09 Lute, Heather Brook works.

(Visiting our friend Heather at NPH's external clinic)

(Hanging out in hogar)

(Having dinner in Hogar San Pablo!)

All in all, a pretty good week. I would have to say that I LOVE living in Honduras, mostly because it IS so ridiculous sometimes. When things go wrong here, it can mean feeling like the parasite in your stomach will never be cured, the driver of the bus or car will never get you home alive, or the man hissing at you in the street will never just leave you in peace. But when things go right here, they are amazing: relaxing in some hot springs after a week of travel, playing in a waterfall surrounded by nature and locals, having a friend that loves you enough to brave layovers, bus rides, and Honduras in general. Things here are FRUSTRATING and WONDERFUL, and I am so thankful that Kristi got to see my life here.

Also, I'm glad that Irene is my friend because the transportation to the airport got messed up (oh, Honduras) and I had to bit Kristi adeui from the Ranch instead of taking her to the airport myself. Just sent her off in the capable arms of Irene, with a hug, and a bit of that Irish luck.

(Thanks for being such a good friend and fun travel-buddy. Love a miss ya, Brunski.)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Beans and Alcoholism

While Skyping with my dad before Mom came to visit, he was teasing me about being jealous that the two of us were going to be adventuring and vacationing without him… plus he was going to be working. Ew. Well, he worked the angle pretty hard and I started to feel just a little bit bad that he was missing out, and that’s when he sprang into action- the sob story was all about getting a souvenir.
“Bring me back something, Caroline!”, he implored. “What is Honduras known for?”
I considered the thought for a moment and answered honestly, “Beans and alcoholism”.
“Oh”, he answered. “Well, maybe just take some pictures of you and your mom , then.”

And here they are:

(One of the structures at the Mayan ruins in Copan)

My mom and I took a week to see some of the country, heading north to the Mayan ruins at Copan, bussing back down to the center of the país at Lago de Yojoa (Yojoa Lake) and then to the Spanish settlement-turned tourist town right outside of Tegucigalpa, Valle de Angeles (Angel Valley).

When I travel in Honduras, I usually do it on chicken bus (old school buses that have failed their emissions tests, or are otherwise considered in dangerous disrepair by US standards) but when the Mother Hen came to visit me in this beautiful country, we rode in class... at least to Copan. We took a super-expensive charter bus with seats more comfortable than my bed. And even though we rode in the lap of luxury, I still felt like this when we got to our bed and breakfast:

After a walk through town and a good dinner, Mom and I came back to our B&B (pictured here) and relaxed for the evening.

The next morning we dined in the garden and headed off to the Mayan Ruins to soak up some CULTURE. It was fairly awesome. We hired a guide and he told us a lot about ball games and 18 Rabbit and other historical-ish stuff that I don't remember. Maybe Mom remembers better, she's into history and knowledge and other crap like that. Show-off.

(The O'Connell Family Christmas card this year. All of us are there!)

(This is a giant staircase that archaeologists put back together. The bricks have symbols on them, and they tell the history of the Maya here at Copan. When the  bricks were discovered they were just in a huge pile, so it's amazing that  a beautiful staircase like this could even be reconstructed from scratch! ...But apparently a while after they put the bricks together they realized that they put them together in the wrong order... Whoops. I'm sure that doesn't affect the story of the recorded history that is displayed here.)

We even took the extended tour through the tunnel system. There were more masks and carvings inside. Also, there were ghosts. 

Not really.

(Look how excited she is to be descending into the
depths of history!)

After we had toured the main site, and our tour guide successfully tricked all of the gringos into our group into paying him more than we agreed on (don't worry, I gave him a lecture in Spanish) we decided to take a taxi (golf-cart?) to the other Mayan site. When we arrived, the only tour guide there was an old man who only spoke Spanish. I was glad that we decided to go to this additional site because the carvings were in better condition and we could walk all over the architecture and see things up close. 

(Our caballero friend "helping" Mom down some steps. She's getting old you know.)

While we were climbing down some steep steps Mom faltered for a second, considering the best path to take, and our guide- a true gentleman- took his cue and lent her a hand. After that, every single step or pebble in the path warranted a "La Doña" (a term of respect for older women), and then he would grab her hand and assist her. It was AWESOME and awkward at times- one of the highlights of the day for sure.

(The cat with one huge eye that hung out in the garden during our Skip-Bo tournament. That I totally won.)
(View from the garden, where we enjoyed the second B of
B&B every morning)

The next morning we headed to a bird paradise- which turned out to be located at the top of a very large hill. It was quite a jaunt in the sun.
(Go, Mom, go!)
However, we got a nice view of Copan with our exercise.

The bird paradise really turned out to be more like a mommy paradise... it contained pretty much every bird you can imagine, and lots of macaws.

(Haha, this is her dream.)
(I should stop poking fun at Mom, I look pretty happy too.)

Instead of walking back down the giant hill, we called one of those three-wheeled taxis to come and get us. Just the day before Mom was giggling because apparently in India Dad would never let them ride on those- only taxis that were real cars. She was delighted to find that when you travel with Caroline, basically anything goes.

Well, I think that Dad has more sense than we were giving him credit for, because we almost died on the way home; our driver really had somewhere to be, and was RACING down through town, hitting all these bumps in the road, sending us literally bouncing out of our seats. There weren't any seatbelts- moreover there weren't any doors- and about 20 seconds into the ride we came to discover that the only thing separating us from the pavement were some straps to hang on to. After Mom started laughing hysterically (coping mechanism?) and I started making passive-aggressive comments in Spanish (that's right, Caroline. Subtly shame him into slowing down, geez) he finally told us, "oh, well you can hang on to those straps!" Right. Thanks for the advice.

Long story short, Mom's glasses bounced their way OUT of her pocket by sure force of speed, and she had to wear her prescription sunglasses all night. We got them back the next day, but I know she truly enjoyed wearing her sunglasses during dinner and being completely EMBARRASSING. That's right folks, she's still got it.

(This is BEFORE we almost died in a taxi)

The next day was departure day- we caught our last charter bus out of Copan, and transferred to a chicken bus in San Pedro Sula (that's right! The homicide capital of the world! What a great vacation stop!) and high-tailed it out of there. We spent two night near Lago de Yojoa and visited the waterfalls while we were there.

And then we saw some rogue chickens or turkeys or something. So of course I took some pics for the mother.

After Lago de Yojoa we bussed it back to Tegucigalpa, and went to Valle de Angeles for the night, a tourist town that sold lots of weird souvenirs. I was, to say, unimpressed with our lodgings in Valle, but we had a nice time walking around. And well, I had a nice time watching reruns of cable television (who knew that old episodes of Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives could be so great!?). The next morning we headed out for some American breakfast (pancakes!?) but could only find "plato tipico" (beans). Mom was the more disappointed party, as I have come to enjoy "frijoles" at any time of the day.

The beans for breakfast weren't enough to ruin the day- we made it back to the Ranch and got to go see my boys again!

Love you Mommy. Sorry it took me so long to get this blog post up. Thanks for coming and "ruining my fun" for two weeks, I really enjoyed it.  :)