We left Thursday after class on a bus heading to Juticalpa for the night. Arriving in Juticalpa we found a relatively cheap hotel to stay in for the night. We went to a local restaurant and retired to bed early as we needed to wake up early for our 4:30am bus departure to Catacamas.
Friday morning we woke up and took the bus through the pretty countryside as we saw the sun rise. Unfortunately, it quite a bumpy ride that I could not rest at all (actually Becky somehow managed to sleep). I loved looking at the countryside and seeing the small cities we traveled through waking up. There were kids ready to go to school in their uniforms (all students here wear uniforms). Mothers doing laundry in the backyard. And lots of farms with horses, cows, and banana plants.
As we arrived in Catacamas, it started to sprinkle nicely. We decided to find a guide at the beginning of the trip as the path is not well marked, and they can provide a lot of information (and they are relatively cheap). After going to the park headquarters and talking about our hike that we planned on hiking we found out it is six day trip instead of a 3 day trip. We somehow found a local ‘comedor’ (restaurant) owner who has explored all the areas around. She then lead us to a two local guides and decided to go to some caves that she had mentioned.
Our guides were Juan Jose and Eddie. After meeting them we set out for these caves. After about an hour walk we arrived at the caves. We then had lunch there and climbed up the side of the hill a little to enter one of the caves. The cave ranged in size from small to the size of huge rooms. The first cave had been frequently visited so sadly the stalactites and stalagmites in the cave had ‘died’ leaving behind only worn down formations. It was fun exploring these caves without restrictions of what we could and could not do. When we turned off our flashlights and stayed quite the darkness and silence is completely amazing.
After exploring the dry cave we put on our swimsuits and went into the ‘wet’ cave which is a cave with a river running through it. This was incredibly scary as we swam into this pitch black cave where we didn’t know what was lurking ahead: fish, animals, loose rocks, or we could have swam over a trench in the cave a hundred feet deep. In this cave we saw alive stalactites, and stalagmites as we swam under them and climbed over boulders blocking our path of swimming. At one point the cave was extremely large (over 60 feet high) and we could see light streaming in from above adding visibility to the cave. I didn’t have a flashlight so at times I was swimming in complete darkness, which was quite scary but also fun (except when I would swim into a wall or kick a rock).
After we dried off we were ready to continue hiking. We started to look for a place to spend the night as it we getting late, so our guides led us to a field where we pitched our tent. Fairly close was the town soccer field where we watched a team practicing and Matt joined in. We started a fire and had a supper of toasted tortillas with cheese for dinner. We also enjoyed the stars, the fire, the sounds, and each other’s company.
Saturday morning our guides came and brought us to one of their families farms where we milked a cow and ate fresh sugar cane. To accompany the hot frothy milk straight from the cow we had granola, which was an amazingly delicious combination. The sugar cane was incredible also. To eat it you cut it down and then peel of the outside with the machete those exposing the juicy pulpy inside. You then bite of a piece and chew on it for a while and then spit out the pulp. It taste really good; basically its sugar water. It makes for a nice snack. We were quite thankful for Juan Jose showing us his farm with us.
Before we entered the farm we were warned about the ticks there as there are many and within two or three minutes they burrow their head in your skin. Compared to the ticks back home, these are a lot smaller and back home it takes several hours for one to burrow. We all knew about Lyme disease that ticks carry so this frightened us. After walking through the field, I had about two hundred ticks crawling up my pant leg. This freaked me out, and made it hard to enjoy being there. But after a little while I calmed down, but for the rest of the day we each had many burrowed ticks on us. While we went to the farm, Aaron stayed back and chilled. For a while he laid in the grass and later realized that meanwhile over a hundred ticks had crawled onto him and burrowed into him. At some point at the farm we found out that the ticks in Honduras fortunately do not carry Lyme disease! So we were and are safe from it.
For the rest of the day we hiked around seeing amazing pastures and mountain views. We headed towards the river where there is a hot spring and soaked our mildly tired feet. After that we headed to a different river that we could swim in. So we cooled off and cleaned ourselves, while also getting a few more ticks off our bodies. Afterwards we went to the top of a hill there and set up camp. Oddly, the spot our guides recommended was between the two water storage tanks for the city water supply. So we had another fire and once again relaxed and shared many stories. By our campsite was a beautiful prairie that glowed beautifully during the sunset.
Well, the next day we left for home on the bus. We rode a “chicken bus” home, which basically is a school bus that is cheap and easy. On the trip home though I had a suitcase from the racks above fall on my head. It really hurt, but luckily the suitcase seemed quite empty.
This is the delayed second installment in my group emails. I was planning on writing and sending it out last Tuesday but that was delayed by me getting sick. But I feel great now (other than the constant unquenchable hungry I have had for the last day).
Since I last wrote many things have happened, including weekend trips with my class. The second weekend here I visited the city of Copan with my class. Here we absorbed more of the culture and visited the Mayan Ruins right outside the city. It was beautiful to see these huge structures, many of which had collapsed or fallen apart, but are now put back together by archeologists and cryptographers. We saw the remnants of the upper-class houses, the amphitheater, statues, pyramid-type graves, and the ball court. The most interesting or unusual part that you probably do not know about is the type of game they would play. Two teams would face each other and would pass the ball (7 pounds) back and forth in the air (like volleyball) with only their hips, head, or feet. The goal was to hit the goal on the sides of the court. At the end of the game, the best player was sacrificed on a special altar. I loved having a chance to sit down and imagine the market that was in the huge plaza several thousands of years ago.
Also, it was interesting to see how similar the religious beliefs and practices are to other indigenous groups throughout the world. The Mayan's worshipped the sun, stars, built elaborate graves, and sacrificed, very similar to what I know of other cultures, specifically the Egyptians. But its sad to see that these cultures knew that there was a higher power (general revelation), but did not know about the one true God.
The next weekend we traveled for the weekend to a sub district of Tegucigalpa, called Nueva Suyapa. When the city was expanded this area was built on top of the city dump. In turn it has turned into a severely economically challenged area. Many of the families struggle with making ends meet. The class was paired off and I stayed with a family who was one of the more affluent families in the area. The dad of this family sends remittances (money) back from Miami, as it was to difficult to get a job here to support his family. It was hard to put the burden of two extra people in the family (Aaron and me) for the weekend, but it was a amazing chance to see the fun this family has. It was nice having a chance to find out about their family and laugh a lot at not being able to communicate. This weekend was informal so, I along with several other classmates (Carrie, Mandy, Anna, and Melissa) ended up helping out teaching an English class at the area school. This wasn't planned but we came across this opportunity inadvertently by talking to one of the teachers in the school. We also spent some time with one of the youthgroups on Saturday night. As we were outside we saw the smoke of a forrest fire over one of the big hills(half a mile away) slowly climb the far side and eventually saw it on the ridge. But we were safe because our side of the hill had no trees to keep the fire moving.
Ok, I'll try to be more succinct. This last weekend we visited two maquilas and a Chiquita banana plantation. To sum this up quickly, we have all been shocked at how well the working conditions and pay are at the maquilas. Maquilas are the factories here that create products for the U.S., (one was producing Hanes bras, and the other was producing Nike and Reebok socks) and typically they are portrayed as sweatshops were employees have horrible pay, working conditions, and abusive bosses. For several different reasons the maquilas are a lot different then portrayed in the U.S.. The general consensus of our class is that they are not the best option; there are some problems with unappeasable bosses, and do not help the Honduran economy at all (both maquilas are exempt form 100% of import and export tax by the Honduran government). But to stay short, the maquilas are not much different from American factories in working conditions and pay so they are not a crucial problem as popularly portrayed.
At the banana plantation, we took more of a tour of the process of cutting the bunch of bananas to packaging. It was very interesting, as I love seeing this kinda stuff. Generally, the working conditions here are fairly good, but there are struggles with the companies not protecting the employees and their families (the employees live on the plantation) from chemicals (mainly pesticides). I was said that I didn't get to eat any of the bananas as they were way to ripe. One really interesting part is that the plant bananas grow on are about 14 feet high. Each 'bush' (not a tree) producing one bunch of bananas (~30 bananas). When each bunch is harvested the bush is cut down and the next bunch starts to grow producing a new bunch and a new 14 feet bush.
Well that brings me up to now in the way of the weekend trips. I hope now to address what more of my life is like here and what I am learning in my class in my next email, as there are no more class vacations for the semester so I won't have to write about those.
Now I will give you a brief synopsis of the smells here (continuing with the senses them). From the very beginning I have noticed how loud of a city this is. Along the roads, you always (I mean always) hear honking of the cabs (to let any and everyone know that they are not occupied). Loud cars with no mufflers or loud stereos. Or conversations that I do understand, or a sudden realization that I am hearing some speak English! To hear the laughter my family because of the obvious language barrier. Also, to hear the rooster at four thirty in the morning or one of our babies crying. Reading this over sounds negative, but it is part of the character of Tegucigalpa that I have grown to love.
Well, I need to go. I will actually post this to my blog (calvin.edu/~dlt2/honduras) this time, as I did not last time. Thanks for the many replies I got to my last email and don't be disappointed if you don't get a reply as I have been really busy, but thanks for the interest. (I actually plan on responding but I don't know if I will actually find time to). Well, I'm excited because today it rained for the first time since I've been here (and as you know I love rain).
Right now it is 4 pm the ninth of February here, exactly one week since I arrived here. Well a lot has happened. Over all, I am having a great time learning about the culture (including the history of the country and area), my host family here, and the other Calvin students.
Well, several have asked for my address to send my cards. But remember if you want to send a card, don't send after halfway through April as I probably won't get it. Also, I can't receive packages here (I actually can, but it takes a while and I can buy lots of things here cheaper). Here it is:
Dave Teitsma c/o Calvin College Program
The flight here went smoothly, but as we came closer to Tegucigalpa I became a lot more anxious about meeting my family in the next couple of hours. Landing here allowed us to see the beautifully colored houses, mountains, and the whole city. Once we went through customs we were greeted by our professor, Roland. From there we visited our classroom at the university, including the mall across the street. It was really overwhelming to not understand the language and to have many people looking at us.
After learning some culture notes about families here, we met them. A few minutes before I met them I found out a couple of things about my family here, like jobs and children. My 'mama' and 'brother' (Oscar) picked me up at the school. I must have looked so stupid as I stumbled over trying to find the right words. The whole car ride was nerve racking as I could barely communicate with them, so we just laughed a lot (a good common language).
Here is my room:
My family here supposedly is a foster family with four foster children (Reina, Asrael (like the country) and two other have not seen...). My dad (Raul) helps train economically challenged families to fix problems around their house, which they cannot afford. My mama takes care of the children and the house. Also, Ebelan (12 years old) is our maid who helps with dishes, the wash, and the children. Oscar (21 years old) is majoring in psychology at the catholic university. His younger brother is Juan Jose (5 years old) who I believe was adopted. My family here has a total of 6 sons. They also are actively involved in the Catholic Church here.
Life here seems very similar to the U.S., because so many things are basically the same here. The biggest difference is of course the language. The food is very different; we have tortillas, refried beans, and mantequilla (kinda like sour cream) at every meal. But there are many franchises of American restaurants here (Burger King, lots of Dominos, Ruby Tuesday, Mc Donald's). They are about the same price as the u.s. but everything else is a lot cheaper!
The water system is very different as you can't drink it or use it for anything eaten. We loss water pressure every once in a while (so most houses have a 200 or so gallon reservoir), so we can't flush toilets, take showers, and such. Yesterday, we got water again after not having it for a day. No houses have water heaters either, so that means very cold showers. My shower the first morning made me barely able to breather; but I have adjusted since. Also, the architecture of the houses reveals a lot about the climate as many rooms don't have full windows, so it must never get cold enough to need to close the windows.
To start the semester our class traveled to a national park, La Tigra, a ways outside the city set on a mountain overlooking the area valleys. It was incredibly beautiful. The hotel / lodge allowed us to just relax and get to know each other (and speak Spanish, which is a nice reward at the end of the week). We spent about 4-5 hours introducing ourselves Friday night, and then Saturday morning we hiked 2 miles to a waterfall. The group here is getting along extremely well and everyone seems very comfortable around each other, which I hope continues throughout this next semester. Attached are several pictures of this trip.
I am learning and remember a lot of Spanish. I have grown a lot more comfortable with talking with taxi drivers, and other merchants, and even some bartering. Interestingly I have started to think in the language here, where my I have thoughts that I start to automatically translate in my head then realize I don't need to. Also, when thinking about coming back to the U.S and talking with friends and family I first feel anxiety because I feel like I won't be able to communicate with them, but then I come to me sense and realize that all of you speak English. These are two signs that the language has overtaken my mind.
So, to get you a better picture of life here, I will give you some smells that have become common or characteristic of my experience here. First, the car fumes along the road are noxious. On the walk to school (2 miles) and back, each day we smell the street vendors cooking chicken on a stick, which smells wonderful. Also, it is common to smell rotting trash when crossing the river. At La Tigra, the air was wonderfully clear and refreshing. Constantly people are cleaning streets, steps, or school walkways, where you can smell the cleaning liquid. Well, these are just some of the common smells that I hope paint a better picture of what it is like to live here.
I forgot about the weather... it is really nice here (70-80 degrees here) but some nights get really cold.
Thanks for reading, I will be posting this message on my website