A Travellerspoint blog

October 2009

En Vista del Mar y Lago: In View of the Sea and Lake

Heading south for San Juan del Sur, we finally hoped to get in our laid back beach vacation. Don't stop there, we heard. Go down 15-20k to Playa Majagual. You'll find a beautiful and largely wild place to swim, and yes, the water's warm. We took a two hour, 2nd class bus ride to Rivas,previous site of Vanderbilt's stagecoach service, and still a crossroads. From there another hour on a different bus got us to San Juan. Arriving in the mid-day heat, we stopped at Wavy Dave's for a beer. and asked about the next boat to Majagual. The boat ran infrequently, but for $15 US a piece, he knew a guy who'd take us by road. San Juan is in the midst of its own building and land boom, complete with another Century 21 office, and new houses and hotels sprouting up on the hills near the water. About an hour later, our American driver showed up in a beat up old truck, and took us down a dirt track which was dry and dusty at first, but as we headed further into the jungle, there were big puddles and mud. The truck lurched wildly from side to side, shocks totally gone. We arrived covered with dust, not long before sunset, at the Bahia Majagual Lodge, a small backpacker resort, complete with concrete cabins and a thatched roof bar and restaurant.

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From there, we headed on foot to Matilda's, a small guest house further up the road. Definitely funky, the wood and concrete house was festooned with shells and Christmas lights, and had a few other guests, most of whom were camping in the grassy sand that separated the house from the beach. Though our room faced the water, the window was tiny, but at least you could hear the surf.

"No meals served, but I do sell beer and soda," the dueno told us, hanging our hammock over the concrete patio. "Dos cervezas por favor," Nanette said, as she plunked down on the hammock.

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We made our way back to the Majagual Lodge for dinner, walking back along the road with our head lamps. Traffic was not a consideration. We sat at the bar, watching the last pink daylight fade over the water as Bob Marley sang on the stereo. There were perhaps 10 other people there, mostly European surfers it seemed. Ah, after the second Pina Colada it felt as though we had finally arrived at our tropical paradise. The food was not bad, curried chicken and some kind of fish, although they were out of more than half the stuff on the menu. Manana they said. Yeah, that's right Manana. We walked back to our room underneath a very starry sky.

The beach lived up to billing. Practically deserted, the white sand stretched for a half mile or so with volcanic rocks jutting into the water on one side, and a small cliff with cacti growing out of the rocky soil on the other. There were 2 or 3 upscale new houses that had recently been built a few hundred feet into the woods behind the beach, but other than that, nothing. There were even a few trees, which provided much needed afternoon shade. Our routine was to spend an hour or two on the beach in the morning, have lunch at the Lodge and then a siesta in the hammock, before going back out for another 2 to 3 hours or so in the latter part of the afternoon. The sea was very changeable. At times very calm and ideal for swimming, at others the surf was huge, with ten foot waves and a nasty undertow. Luckily, we had plenty of time to pick and choose when to go in the water.

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Sitting on the beach at night, without any lights nearby, and looking up at the milky way was one of our favorite times, and so was looking at the sun setting over the Pacific every evening.

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The weather was ideal. After a few days we got to know the other guests. There was a a young German girl, camping and traveling alone for a few months, as well as two Israelis, also alone. Yigal, a surfer who had finished his stint in the army and was traveling for a year, often the thing to do for young Israelis after they get out of the armed forces, and Sarah, a few years older, had taken time off from her teaching job to travel until her money ran out. A few times, we all chipped in for food to cook meals together on the outdoor fire pit. This provided a welcome change from the food at the Lodge. Sitting around the fire eating, drinking beer, talking about upcoming plans, and ogling the stars, was the primary entertainment. One evening just before sunset, I clamored up over the rocks on the beach and brought my camera. It had been somewhat overcast on that day, but as a result, the clouds created a spectacular sunset. In between tokes of weed, supplied by the Israelis, I took shot after shot of the rocks, as the sun dropped below the water line.

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I just couldn't stop shooting, and had to remind myself that the tide was coming in, and I needed to get back before the rocks I crossed were submerged.

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After a week, we decided it was time to to tear ourselves away. We considered going to Ometepee, but decided we didn't have the time, and still make it back to Guate for our flight to Quito. So even with 8 months, there is always the road not taken. Instead we headed back to Granada, and then to Lago Apoyo.

We stayed at the B&B run by the American couple we had met previously. Directly overlooking the large,volcanic lake, their place was beautiful. Our room opened to an inner courtyard, Spanish style.

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We spent the day relaxing on their dock, and swimming in the lake.

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In the evening we spent time talking to our friendly hosts, who gave us the use of their kitchen since restaurants were scarce. While drinking rum shots in the courtyard, we got the story of how and why they came to Nicaragua, and started their business. As promised, the slight elevation gain from Granada made the night air refreshing, as the breeze blewoff the lake. "Don't forget to check for scorpions," they said, as we turned in for the night. " What scorpions?" "Oh, they won't kill you, but you don't want to get bitten if you can help it. Makes you pretty sick for a few days, and you'll probably wish you were dead." " Where are they?" "Oh, they can be anywhere. Shake out your clothes, and look up in the corners of the room. They can drop down from the ceiling. We found one the other day." They showed us a dead one outside, squashed by George a few days earlier. So with some trepidation, we went back to our room, diligently shook out all our clothes, and looked in the bed and on the ceiling, carefully.

Posted by jonshapiro 17:33 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged photography Comments (2)

Talking Turkey in Granada

We spent the afternoon in Teguc, a fairly large city of modern office buildings and slums (mostly slums), not to our taste, and the following day we took off for Managua, Nicaragua. From there we caught a local minibus to Granada, an hour away. Granada, another colonial city, is on the shores of Lake Nicaragua, the largest freshwater lake in Central America. The city is larger than Antigua, but manageable, and we found our hostel, Oasis, without much trouble. It did indeed feel like an oasis with an inner courtyard, complete with hammocks, rather interesting murals on the walls, as well as a small swimming pool and restaurant.

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Oasis is an international place, and we could hear English, German, Dutch, French and Spanish being spoken within a few minutes of checking in. It was quite hot, and we dropped our packs in our room and plunged into the pool before going to explore. It was apparent that the city is in the midst of a relative boom. For years the overall Nicaraguan economy has been in the doldrums, and following the latest civil war and years of corruption, it remains the second poorest in the hemisphere, preceded only by Haiti. Here in Granada, many of the old, beautiful buildings are being renovated, mostly by Europeans or North Americans.

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The largest are being turned into hotels, at least in the center, and are fairly expensive by Central American standards. Others are being turned into restaurants or private villas. We passed a Century 21 office, with photos of houses for sale and captions in English. It was obvious that the great Norteamericano land and property grab is on here in earnest, despite the shaky economy and still unstable political situation.


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North Americans have been grabbing land in Nicaragua since the days of William Walker. Walker was a Tennessean journalist and adventurer, who saw an opportunity to take over Mexico and Central America, and create his own empire based on slave labor. In 1855, he had the perfect chance when the Liberal party in Nicaragua recruited him to fight against the Conservatives, in exchange for 20,000 acres of land. With 58 mercenaries, he stole one of Vanderbuilt's steamboats, and attacked Granada, the primary site of Conservative power. He executed and held captive many prominent people, and named himself commander of the Nicaraguan armed forces. Within a few years, he rigged the election to become president, legalized slavery, and even declared English to be the official language. The first foreign government to recognize him as the legitimate ruler of the country was of course, the United States, where Walker was considered a hero. There was even a Broadway musical, in 1856, which was based on his life. Eventually he challenged Vanderbilt's transportation business in Nicaragua, and Vanderbilt joined with the British, who were already active on the Caribbean coast, in financing a rebel force in Costa Rica. This combined force defeated Walker in 1857. He tried twice more to retake the country, but was captured by the British in Honduras, where he was turned over to local authorities and executed.

The US marines were involved in Nicaraguan politics on several different occasions, sometimes at the invitation of government officials in that country. With help from US Secretary of War, Stimson, a national guard was formed to help keep order. However a Liberal general, Augusto Sandino, opposed this arrangement and fought a guerrilla war for six years. Ironically, Sandino had become familiar with more radical union politics in Mexico,[i] while working for an American oil company. During this time, with full backing from the US government, General Anastasio Somoza became head of the national guard. Although Sandino had made peace, Somoza wanted power and had his soldiers trick and then assassinate him along with 300 of his men. Somoza then proceeded to amass a huge personal fortune and essentially run the Nicaraguan government, which was powerless to stop him. He was assassinated in 1956, but was smart enough to maintain ties to various US administrations, so that it was easy for his son, also known as Anastasio, and a graduate of West Point, to take over. He was easily as corrupt as his father, and continued his father's policies of close connections and support from the United States

In the early 60's another rebel movement arose which called itself the Sandinista Liberation Front , and came to be led by Daniel and Humberto Ortega. Initially very small, and without much popular support, it was given a large boost from the earthquake of 1972, which destroyed much of Managua. During this time Somoza wasted millions of dollars of international aide, much of which went to line his own pockets, and this set the business community against him.In 1979, the Sandinistas took over with little opposition, and Daniel Ortega became president. Gradually they tried to create a state run economy, and aligned themselves even more so with the Soviet block and Cuba. With encouragement from Fidel,they also became involved with the revolution in El Salvador.

In response, US President Reagan, aligned with the Argentine military to establish the Contras. Although badly mismanaged, the Contras gradually gained some popular support as the Sandinistas lost it, because of their disastrous economic policies. Despite the Boland Amendment,which expressly forbid it, the Reagan administration continued to supply and train the Contras. This eventually led to the Iran-Contra scandal and in part because of this, Oscar Arias the President of Costa Rica, was able to put together a peace agreement over Reagan's opposition. The Sandinstas were later defeated in a democratic election by Violetta Chamorro who, in an attempt to create a unity government, appointed Humberto Ortega as army chief of staff. Although this ended the war with the Contras, economic recovery was slow in coming and the Sadinistas remained a powerful force. In 1996 however, they were again defeated, this time by the center right PLC candidate, Aleman. An investigation later revealed that he had embezzled millions of dollars while mayor of Managua. Politics as usual in Nicaragua. In one of the strangest and most cynical political twists in a country full of them, Daniel Ortega, whose step daughter had accused him of sexual abuse, formed a pact with Aleman. Under this pact, he and Aleman, as well as all other outgoing presidents, were awarded lifetime seats in the Assembly, thus guaranteeing that each of them would have immunity from prosecution. Recently Daniel Ortega has, once again, become president.



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Despite these political machinations, Granada remains a delightful city. It has a beautiful central square, surrounded by mango trees, brightly painted colonial buildings and a church.

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Nearby there is the cobblestone and wide Plaza de la Independencia, with little traffic, a catedral, several outdoor cafes, and a cooperative art gallery and studio.

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From the Art Gallery
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On one of our morning walks we stopped into a small hotel, just in the process of opening. A young woman, Susan, was at the desk and we talked with her in Spanish about the hotel and what seemed to be happening in the town. She told us that a lot of North- Americans had moved up from Costa Rica in the last few years, where things had gotten expensive, and bought places for a song in southern Nicaragua. Prices were still cheaper than there, but going up fast. She explained that the person who was opening the hotel was an American woman who had been involved with the international relief movement in various countries, and had decided to settle here. Susan said that she had initially come down to Nicaragua as part of a graduate program in international studies, but that she liked Granada and planned to stay on for a while. “Oh which one?” we said in English. “The School for International Development in Brattleboro Vermont.” “Really,” we said in unison. “You didn't happen to know Arpita?” And of course, she knew her well. Arpita is one of our daughters best friends, who she met in Costa Rica a few years earlier while they were both in World Teach. Ah yes, the proverbial six degrees of separation. Susan said she was the manager of the new hotel, which had just opened that week. “In a few more years, this place will be the next Antigua,” and we could certainly see what she was talking about. “Do you have any plans for Thanksgiving?” which was coming up in a couple of days. “No.” "Well then you must come here. The owner is giving a big party , but its kind of a pot luck thing. Can you bring a dish of some kind?” We didn't have a kitchen we explained. “Just bring some fruit or something then, it doesn't really matter, but you'll get to meet the whole community.” “ We'll be there.”

Rooftops at Sunset
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Most of the next day we spent with an interesting German couple that we met at Oasis. She was about 40, with a Greek father and German mother, very chatty and boisterous. She told us she was going to spend six weeks volunteering as a physician in a hospital in Managua, and also mentioned there was an interesting volunteer project in Granada. Started and funded by a rich, expat Dutchman, who was still involved, it ran for about two hours a day for kids of all ages. They put on a kind of homespun talent show every night and fed them dinner. The purpose was to keep them out of street gangs, teach basic values about the importance of helping each other, and to make sure they had at least one decent meal a day. “We should go to one of the shows," she said. Just make sure you get there on time at 5 or, they won't let you in.” Her boyfriend, Stefan, who was younger and more serious, was going back to Germany after their week in Grenada. He was quieter and his heavily accented English was difficult for us to understand. When she heard that we were therapists, and that I specialized in work with couples, she pumped us for information about what we did and made it clear that she had a number of relationship issues . German men were often threatened by her, she said. Sometimes her Greek background made her feel different, and she often picked men who were not especially good for her. At times, talking to her felt like doing therapy. We later heard she was bitten by a scorpion in Managua and had a difficult time.

The project she told us about was in a run down part of town, close to the lake. The night we visited, there we were no outsiders, and several of the kids, more than 200 in all, made a fuss over us. " Why were we here" they wanted to know? Where were we from. What were we doing in Granada? The place was frenetic with kids banging on the tables and screaming to their friends. After about 15 minutes, the show began with singing and dancing. What was especially touching was that the older one's helped the little one's, and while the quality of was not the best, just like most talent shows, the energy was infectious, the kids wanted to be there, and were having a great time. After it was over, we helped to distribute the food and talked with the Dutchman who had come in just before the show started. He said he had started the program to give the kids a good meal, show them they could have a good time without drugs, and emphasize the importance of being kind and respectful to others. It was obviously a great success. Very simple and very effective.

Catedral with Lago Nicaragua in the Background
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The next day was Thanksgiving. We bought a couple of pineapples and some cashews and headed over to the hotel for the party. Susan greeted us, and introduced us to several other people including the hotel owner.
Terry was a fascinating woman about our age, who had been in war zones around the world, helping to bring in food and supplies. She had saved a bit of money, and bought the hotel a few years earlier so that she could “retire.” It had been an interesting project so far she said . She had more or less renovated the building from scratch and it took far longer than expected. We wanted to talk with her more, especially about her other career, but she was whisked off by another friend. A large contingent of the expat community was at the party. A lot of Norteamericanos certainly, but a few Dutch, French, English and Australians as well. There were also several locals, some hotel guests, and a few other travelers like us. It was an interesting assortment of people. There were a number of ex-peace corps types as well the other relief workers who knew Terry. There were also more typical retirees who saw Grenada as a nice place to spend their retirement years in a style that would be difficult for them to afford in the states. There were several investor types, including a couple of “contractors,” who saw dollar signs, and the potential to make good money as the town continued to prosper. There were hotel owners , restauranteurs and gift shop entrepreneurs. What they all seemed to have in common was a willingness to take some risks and a desire to live in a more relaxed way than they thought possible in the US. Everyone of course, knew everyone else in this small community, but they were very friendly toward us and the other mochilleros (backpackers).

The bar was open with wine and beer and a huge spread was put out on a buffet table, complete with turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, and cranberry sauce. Just like home. It had been prepared by the kitchen staff who apparently had never made a Thanksgiving dinner before, understandably enough, and needed instruction from the owner. We sat next to to an unlikely American couple in their mid 40's. They ran an auto-detailing business in the mid-west. About a year ago, Lily announced she was moving down here following a visit to her daughter who had spent some time volunteering in the hills outside of Granada. Lily had enough of the rat race, and her husband could come or not, that was up to him. After about 6 months he closed the business and followed her down, and a few months ago they bought a house on Lago de Apoyo and opened up a B and B. "You must come for visit while you're here. It's only about 40 minutes away. You even need a sweater at night," Lily said, as the sweat dripped down my neck. Now that did sound appealing.

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Posted by jonshapiro 15:03 Archived in Nicaragua Tagged food Comments (0)

The Tormenta and The C.I.A.

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The next day, Nanette and I took the bus to San Pedro Sula, a big, bustling, not particularly attractive city, near, but not on the Caribbean. This was a 3 or 4 hour trip. We had a two hour layover in the hot, dirty bus station, and then continued on for another 4 hours to La Ceiba. Our destination was a small garifuna village, Sambo Creek, about 12 miles further down the coast. We had been given the name of a hotel there, The Canadienne, from a young woman in Antigua, who had spent a year working in nearby Trujillo. She said it was a great place to spend some time hanging out on the beach, just what we needed after a hard month of studying. From there, we figured we would try and make it to Utilla. We arrived at the busy market and bus station, tired and hot after the long ride, and decided to spring for a taxi (about $7US), to take us the rest of the way.

The Canadienne did not turn out to be quite what we expected. It looked like a smaller version of a Miami Beach hotel. Although right on the beach, none of the rooms actually faced the water. The room was spotless, but antiseptic, and we seemed to be the only people there. Clearly the hotel was not always lacking business, as they were building what appeared to be an exact duplicate, right across from our room. Unfortunately, the beach itself, was nothing to rave about. It was, for the most part undeveloped, but narrow, with little vegetation, and course sand.

To get to the village, I had to walk another 200 yards along the beach, and then wade across a channel, thigh deep. By now it was starting to be dusk. Sambo Creek was obviously very poor, almost entirely black, with a few beaten up fishing boats on the beach, and a couple of shacks that served food. The men and teenage boys that I passed did not seem especially friendly. I walked up to another restaurant that I had been told about, relatively more upscale compared to the others, but if I wanted to get back to the hotel before dark, it would have to wait for another night. Tonight we would have to eat in the hotel. By the time I got back, the beach side gate was locked, and I had to walk down another 50 yards to nearby house and climb the fence, in order to get around to the front side of our hotel. It seemed a little over the top with security, considering that there wasn't that much around, but perhaps they were afraid of the poor villagers breaking into the place.

We had the hotel terrace dining room all to ourselves, and unlike the rooms, it did look directly out over the sea. We spoke to the middle aged French Canadian owners, and after a short time it became clear that they were evangelistas of some kind, highly religious, and somewhat rigid, whose primary business came from religious tour groups. So that explained the weird vibe we had picked up. We probably should have asked more questions before coming, especially since the young woman who recommended the place had worked in a church related volunteer job in Trujillo. Oh well. Dinner on the terrace was nice enough, but then, when we were sitting around relaxing with a beer, we heard the owners listening to the radio, and then directing one of their employees to take down the tables and chairs. We asked why. “Another storm coming. Tropical storm, possibly a hurricane. Not sure how bad. You'll be safe here of course. This place is made of reinforced concrete and we've weathered several other storms without any significant damage. Plenty of food and water too, so you'll be fine.” Great, just what we wanted to hear. The thought of being marooned here, with two religious zealots, for several days was not particularly appealing. Although still exhausted from the long bus trip, we decided to leave in the morning, and try to make it back further up the coast before the main part of the storm set in. It was now the middle part of November, and although still the rainy season, we figured we'd be safe from tormentas. Not this year though. They were already going back around the alphabet for the second time with named storms, and this was a record. No wonder we were the only people here. The rest had the good sense to stay away.

The next morning was overcast, but calm, as we waded across the channel with our backpacks to find a taxi to take us back to La Ceiba. Nanette waited on the beach, while I found the taxi stand and negotiated the price. By the time we caught the bus a couple of hours later, it had already started to rain. It was mid-afternoon before we arrived in Tela, a beach side town of perhaps 25,000, two hours from San Pedro. We decided to spend the night there, because it was still possible to make it to Utilla if the weather cleared, and San Pedro was not especially appealing. The bus dropped us in the center, which was small, but bustling with traffic and people.


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It was hard to find the hotel we had looked up in the guidebook, but after a while, someone was nice enough to give us a lift in his pickup. Unfortunately, when we got there it was noisy, and not particularly cheap. For the next hour or two, we took turns trying to find another hotel, while it was raining. One of us waited under an awning with the backpacks, trying to stay dry, while the other checked out places. Finally, Nanette came back saying she had found a room at the Hotel Tela, on the main drag, but a room in the back that was relatively quiet. It was an old wooden place that had obviously seen better days, but it was relatively clean, and quiet, and the staff seemed friendly enough.

Our Hotel in Front of Coke Sign
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We changed out of our wet clothes and then donned rain jackets for a walk around the town. It was not especially appealing. Tela seemed to have some pretensions of trying to be a beach resort, but didn't quite make it. It gave the impression of going up and down the economic scale simultaneously.

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There were a few newer upscale hotels that were in good shape, while others had fallen into disrepair. Many looked seedy with large patches of mold both inside and out, and a several had suffered from some kind of storm damage in the past. The houses were basic cinder block, and looked ramshackle, though the main streets were busy, and the stores full of people. Maybe it was the coming storm, or the various warnings in the Lonely Planet not to venture to beaches far away from the center of town, but the place had a vague air of menace about it. We stopped at an internet cafe to check out the weather. Sure enough, a very large and slow moving tropical storm Gamma, was headed directly our way. It didn't look like it would have time to develop into a hurricane before hitting the coast, but flooding could be an issue. It was starting to look like we might be here for a few days. Somewhat dejected , we walked back to the hotel. So much for our relaxing time at the beach. At least we had gotten away from the Canadienne. We ate dinner that night at Luces del Norte. The excellent seafood and ceviche cheered us up. Perhaps after a couple of days the weather would clear and we could get to Utilla after all.

The next morning it was raining harder and the wind had picked up. There was nothing to do, but read, or watch the television in the lobby outside our room. We had breakfast in the cavernous and nearly empty dining room. It once had a certain faded elegance, now very faded. The food was awful, and a leak had developed on one side of the room, and so we sat on the dry side. I walked over to the little balcony in the front of the hotel and looked out on the street which was now deserted. As the day went on the rain began to fall harder, and I made several trips back to the balcony to observe the sheets of water falling into the streets and cascading off the rooftops. We retired early, as there was nothing else to do. In the morning, more of the same gusty winds and unrelenting rain. It was hard to believe that that much rain could fall. Even the 6 inches I had witnessed in the Peruvian jungle many years before, didn't seem to compare. We watched the TV and saw that several nearby villages had major flooding problems, and apparently people had died. We talked to the staff at the desk about taking the bus to San Pedro Sula, but the bridges were washed out. The road was blocked in the direction to La Ceiba as well. It seems we were stuck here, at least for the time being. Another day of reading and writing passed slowly. During a slight lull in the rain, we walked out to get a breath of air and had lunch at a nearby restaurant. The storm drains were already flooded and there were several inches of water in the streets. It was beginning to look like we might have flooding here in Tela. The damaged hotels we had noticed earlier should have been a warning.

During the night the rain picked up even more, which hardly seemed possible. There was now a very large puddle in the dining room , and it was starting to flood in several of the rooms. Luckily, our room had a large overhang which prevented the wind driven water from being forced through the wooden shutters. Later that morning I went into the bathroom and turned on the sink. No water. Great. With all that water coming down, why should there be a problem? A few hours later, still nothing. I went over to the desk to ask what the problem was, and they explained that no one in the town had water. Apparently the pump had shorted out, and it was going to be at least several hours before anything was fixed. Getting a bit stir crazy, we went outside to get some lunch. It was still pouring, so we got wet in a few minutes. We noticed a Chinese restaurant which looked closed, but wasn't. Tiene agua? (Do you have water?) No Problema, they said. We ordered some kind of wonton soup, and saw someone leave go outside with a bucket a few minutes later. I glanced out, and could see where rainwater was gushing from a pipe coming off of the roof of a nearby building. Ah, now I knew where the water for our soup was coming from. I could only hope that they boiled it before serving it. It took quite a while to get the soup, which I took as a good sign, and when they finally did bring it out, it was indeed steaming hot. Another good sign. It didn't taste all that bad, but we ate it with some trepidation.

When we returned to the hotel, there was still no water and when we asked, they had no idea when it would be back on. “I can't stay here,” Nanette said. “This is crazy.” “Where are you going to go? No place has any water”, I said. “I'm going to call some of the more upscale places", she replied. "What about that place on the hill, the Maya Vista? If there's worse flooding it's better to be up there anyway? “Yeah, but the wind might be worse, I said.” “Well I'm going to call.” She went off to the desk and came back a few minutes later. It seems they did have water because they had their own backup system. “Alright, let's go check it out.” We waited a little while for another lull in the rain, walked the 10 or 15 minutes to the other end of town, and trudged up the hill to the hotel. It was an interesting concrete building with odd angles and various levels, vaguely Frank Lloyd Wright in style. They showed us a few different rooms, and we agreed on one at the discounted price of $30US. It was windier, but the place sure didn't look like it would come crashing down anytime soon. We had lunch in their restaurant, and spoke to another couple who came down to eat with their two children. It was nice to know that we would not be the only people in the place. They were French and seemed to know the owners quite well, who were French Canadian, but not overly religious, unlike the other duenos at the Canadiennes. We walked back to the Hotel Tela after lunch and got our things together to check out. This time we took a cab back to the new hotel.

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Our room felt a little like being in a tree house, a damp tree house. Some of the rain got in underneath the door, and we kept a towel there to try and keep some it out. Occasionally, we could see the ocean, but most of the time it was too socked in to make it out through the rain. We went for tea in the restaurant, one level down, hoping to get some idea how long the storm was likely to continue. The French couple worked in an NGO in Tegucigalpa, the capital, (known as Teguc), and had just come down to Tela, for a brief vacation. Now they were stuck here, like us. There was also another American couple, Christine and George, from somewhere in Florida, smoking like crazy, who didn't seem to fit in. It seems they had never been to any kind of third world country, and just came down for about 10 days on the spur of the moment. They had spent a couple of days going on tours around Tela, but had barely been out of the hotel since. They seemed, well, a bit on the red-neck, white trash end of the continuum. Nascar types who, it would seem, would be unlikely to choose Honduras, especially Tela, as a vacation spot. Maybe they didn't know what they were getting into. The were friendly enough, and we spent a while talking to them, as there certainly wasn't much else to do. They told us that the rain was supposed to continue for another day or two, but then how long it would be before the roads were back in commission was anyone's guess.

We ate at the hotel that night, not wanting to venture out. The next morning, more of the same. Chris and George were concerned that they would miss their flight from San Pedro back to the states in another day or so. The French couple was feeling that they needed to get back to work, and contemplated leaving their car in Tela and trying to get out in some other way. We all felt trapped, and it was clear that the weather and road problems were starting to get on everyone's nerves. There was talk of some food shortages in town as no deliveries had been made in several days. Nanette and I took another walk back into town during a lull in the rain to check this out. Many of the streets were now under a foot or two of water. We went back to Luces del Norte, which was closed because of the water. We walked back to the beach, which looked like it had been partially eroded in the last few days by the big surf. After a while we returned to the hotel. It was difficult to find out much of anything, and there was nothing to be done other than wait it out. At least, we didn't have just a 10 day vacation. Later that day the rain became more intermittent, and we had a few glimpses of the sea from our room.


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We talked with the owners about the options for getting out of town. There didn't seem to be any until the road opened, and who knew when that would be. We ate in the hotel another night. By the next morning the rain had finally stopped, although the sky was still threatening and overcast.

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We went for a walk around lunch, and this time Luces was open, the water having receded so that it was no longer seeping in under the door. Despite any shortages, we had good meal there, and then continued walking past the bridge to see the old headquarters of the United Fruit Company, the same one as in Guatemala, on the edge of town. Bananas had been what kept towns like Tela and others along the north coast going, and Tela had been one of the major ports during the 20's, as well as the center of operations for the Tela Railroad, a subsidiary of United Fruit. In fact, the country had been controlled for many years by United Fruit, and another large corporation, Cuyamel, in conjunction with the US government. Although largely free of the civil wars that have devastated so much of the rest of Central America, Honduras has been just as corrupt.

The wealth has always been skimmed off the top by outsiders, such as banana men like Sam Zemurray, or by the puppet governments controlled by them. As an example, in 1910, Zemurray plotted to overthrow the government and replace the president with his own man, Bonilla. He hired a black US mercenary, Lee Christmas, who successfully attacked Trujillo in 1911. Christmas has the distinction of having introduced the machine gun to Central America. When Bonilla later became president, he appointed Christmas as commander in chief of the Honduran army, and a former New Orleans policemen, Guy, Machine Gun, Maloney, as his chief lieutenant, and used them to control the nascent labor movement in the banana fields. Later, in 1954, the country was used by the CIA as a staging area for the overthrow of Arbenz in Guatemala. In the early 60's it was used by Kennedy in for the Bay of Pigs, and again in the 80's, it was used by Reagan and the Contras, who were trained and funded by the CIA, in their unsuccessful attempt to defeat the Sandinistas in Nicaragua. For this reason Honduras has had some trouble developing its own identity. Some, such as the government of Roberto Cordoba in the early 80's, have even suggested that it become a protectorate of the United States, which is more or less what it has been. There have been a few democratically elected governments, and some reforms have been instituted. However, there has recently been another army coup, per capita earnings remain extremely low, and street crime and gang violence, high.

We returned to our hotel, and Chris and George told us that if the weather did not deteriorate, they were going to try to make a run to San Pedro Sula, the next day. “How?” we asked. It seems there was another American, Carl, staying at the hotel with his Honduran girlfriend, and he had bought her a new four wheel drive truck. He needed to get to the airport the next day, and apparently there was a way around the bridge through some little towns and banana fields. "Can he take us?"we wanted to know. "I'll speak to him," said George. A few hours later I saw George again, and asked whether he had a chance to talk to Carl. “He's not sure that there's enough room, but we're all thinking of going out somewhere for dinner, and if you want to come, you can ask him yourself.” “Sure,” I said, but I was not feeling optimistic when I related the conversation to Nanette. “We'll, just have to throw ourselves at his mercy. Maybe if we act desperate enough,” I continued, which we were certainly feeling by then, “he'll squeeze us in.”

At six all we met in the dining area. Carl and his girlfriend were an interesting couple. He lwas in his early 70's, complete with paunch, and what looked to be a rolex on his wrist, while she was attractive, and in her mid to late 20's. He spoke almost no Spanish, and she spoke no English. They were both dressed considerably better than we were. As we piled into his truck, I asked if he thought they would be able to take us to San Pedro. “Yeah, no problem, we'll get you in somehow.” That was a relief. Dinner, once more at Luces, was just as good as it had been, and after we had a few beers, and knowing we would get out of Dodge tomorrow, my mood was considerably lighter. I asked Carl what he did, and he said something about having his own business that required frequent trips to Honduras. He seemed to know the area rather well, although he was vague about just what the business was. We also talked to Paulita in Spanish. Her family's house, near the bridge to San Pedro, had been badly flooded and partially destroyed by the storm. They were farmers, and the fields that they worked were also flooded. It was difficult to tell how long they knew each, although we got the sense that it had been a matter of months. They had met on an earlier trip Carl had made to Honduras. I couldn't help but wonder about the brand new truck after such a short time. Naturally, she was extremely happy with it, and told us that it would be a big help to her and her family. We drove the 5 minutes back to hotel, and Carl indicated he wanted to leave early, and try and make it to the airport by 10AM. If all went well, it would take about 2 & ½ hours.

Sunset from Hotel
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When we got back to our room, Nanette and I looked at each other. “Strange couple,” I said. “My fantasy is that guy is an ex-contra or some kind of ex CIA adviser. He seems to know a lot about the place and obviously has a great deal of money. A thirty thousand dollar truck for a girlfriend he's had for a few months. I'd love to know the real story.”

The next day we left about 7AM. It remained overcast, but dry. It was now almost 24 hours since we had significant rainfall, though we heard an unbelievable 30 inches had fallen in some places and the flooding was worse than Hurricane Mitch. I rode in the back of the truck with George, while Carl drove and the women sat in the front. We got to Paulita's house after about an hour and you could see the bridge was out up ahead. Men were clearing rocks off the road by hand, and it looked like it would be a long time before the main road was reopened. We stopped to pick up her brother who would drive the truck back after we dropped Carl off at the airport since Paulita couldn't drive. We continued on, away from the river through banana fields and villages. Some of them were still flooded, but the water had obviously receded. We had to ford a few streams, and then managed to cross the main river further upstream, where there was less water than where the bridge was located. We then made our way back to the road to San Pedro, without any significant obstacles. In an hour, we were at the airport, where Carl and the American couple got out. Paulita's brother was kind enough to take us to the bus station, where we planned to go to Teguc, hoping the bus was running. Indeed it was, and our timing was excellent as it left in about an hour.

Posted by jonshapiro 06:20 Archived in Honduras Tagged living_abroad Comments (1)

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