[HONDURAS] We took off around 9:45 up into the hills and countryside for our weekend adventure, graciously set up by Megan. After about an hour on the highway, we stopped at a theme park of sorts that was corn stand slash restaurant slash soccer park slash zoo: Ronald was leading us on an adventure.
The complex was relatively empty, which may have contributed to the strangeness of what we were about to witness. First we wandered over to an outdoor kitchen where we sampled a drink from a giant pot on an old stove, stirred by a stout old woman, while Honduran TV shouted at us from overhead. The drink tasted exactly like creamed corn. We also shared a frita, a corn pancake with azucar (sugar) on top. All good so far.
Because we had purchased something to eat, we could then go into the kids' park and zoo. The children's play area had an odd assembly of old plastic playhouses, giant rusty slides with old tires at the bottom, broken swings and miscellaneous other things. There was also some extra seating for corn stand diners and some tall, slightly scary wood carvings that seemed to be for sale, I think. Or just on display. We passed through the statues to the saddest little zoo. There were rabbits, birds, owls, deer, one monkey, a few raccoons, chickens, and other miscellaneous animals. All were in a strange maze of tiny concrete cages with rusty chain link fences, trash strewn all around. The stench was horrible, the flies were thick, the heat was awful, and the animals looked sad and without hope. I can't imagine being one of those poor little creatures. The day they were captured had to be the start of the worst days of their lives.
Past the zoo area, we came upon guys doing major woodworking, sawing and such out in an open yard, then we wandered down a passage with some dusty glass cases displaying the stuff I would imagine populates LSD dreams: weird ceramic animals, odd stuffed animals, a broken TV and a torn-up cloth pad. We wandered through the restaurant to use the restrooms before leaving. I never did fully understand what the complex was all about, but it was definitely an experience, and I love experiences!
We got back in the car and traveled another hour or so before we stopped at a tiny park by the side of the road where they give cave tours. Taulabé Cave was discovered when workers were building the road; they decided to put lights and steps inside and take visitors on 30-minute guided tours. We were game!
It was wet inside and, if you can believe it, even hotter in the cave than it was outside. It was pretty cool-looking, though, and our guide pointed out odd formations that looked like a sombrero, or an angel's wing, etc. They shut the lights off for a minute for us before we left, and it was the blackest black ever.
We got back on the road and drove another hour before coming to Lago, the largest lake in Honduras. It's quite pretty, with the hills all around. But the lake is teeming with parasites and such. The area around the lake was broad and sunburned, cows grazing behind the maze of little restaurants lining the road alongside the lake. We had lunch in one of them, some kind of tasty fish, though the flies were nearly unbearable—absolute swarms at all times. I prayed that neither the fish nor the flies would make me regret my meal.
We left the main road at that point and headed up into the hills toward Pulhapanzak Waterfall. It's known as a resort-type area in Central Honduras. Nothing like the true resorts of Roatan and such, but listed among the 30 marvels of Honduras because of the waterfall. There are picnic areas along the resort side of the muddy river and a series of tiny cabins with beds wedged inside. Cows graze along the opposite bank or in the river.
There was also a small pool inside the gated resort area. We dropped our bags off at our little cabin and wandered down to the waterfall, climbing up and down a series of wet stone stairs to explore a bit.
Not long after we went back to our cabin, it began to rain, suddenly and hard. Hard like a wall of water pounding down, able to pulverize pebbles into sand. We decided to all go in and take turns showering. We learned the roof leaked, so we moved the beds out of the streams of rain and played cards until about 9, when we went to bed. It gets dark at 6:30, and the roads were full of enormous potholes even before the rain; with the absence of street lights and with rain gullies making the roads even more treacherous, we were basically stuck. Why not get some rest?
Fortunately, the next morning turned out to be nice. We were awakened when a little boy came running from the pool, mistook our cabin for his and wanted to come in to use el bano. There were at least 50 people staying in the three little cabins beside ours and the two tents outside of them, and they were all up with the sun, heading to the pool and the picnic area. We moseyed over to the little outdoor bar area next to the river, across the yard from the cabin, and had a traditional Honduran breakfast: some scrambled eggs, a tortilla, a thick wedge of very salty cheese, some refried beans and some mantequilla, the cream/butter concoction that makes everything taste good. It's probably just my American standards that made me notice that the paper lanterns were covered in thick mold, the rafters were full of spider webs which were in turn full of bugs, that everything was really dirty and damp. The sun was bright, though, and the sound of the river was beautiful.
After that, it was time for our zip line canopy tour! We strapped on harnesses and climbed to the first platform. The first few lines were short, over the yard or the river. It was helpful to get used to the feel of zip lining before we did the big lines. The final segment was the very best: We slid on a long line over where the waterfall crashes into the rocks way, way below, certain death if one were to fall. I could see rainbows from the spray and the river tumbling on down the hill, and hear the roar up close as I soared like a bird through the air. It was exhilarating!
We all got in the pool for a bit before packing up and heading out around 12:30. We drove for about 45 minutes before peeling off through a little town to go to D&D Brewery, a little microbrewery hidden in the trees at the end of a dirt road, run by ex-pats and frequented by lots of Americans and foreigners. There is a tiny restaurant under the trees, there are some little cabins, and there are some dorm rooms for rent. D&D also offers tours, particularly for birdwatching—they claim there are almost 300 different types in that area.
As we waited to order lunch, I noticed several backpackers who could have been right out of a novel, with patches on their bags from places like Jordan and Iraq, wearing motorcycle leathers and smoking Marlboro Reds while reading novels. We heard people talking in German, and we heard people talking about being from Michigan. I had amazing grilled chicken kebabs (pinchos con pollo) and an amber ale. This was the highlight of the weekend for me, second only to the ride over the waterfall. Oh, the mysteries and stories I could imagine!
After that we got back on the road, which was lined with tiny stick shelters or sometimes a small shack, locals selling anything and everything, particularly fruit. Megan bought some honey from a girl along the road, and we stopped to check the prices on some oranges. We drove about an hour through the mountains to another small town, where we looked for the Mennonite goat's milk ice cream shop that Megan remembered. This town seemed a little more middle class and cleaner than most of what we'd seen so far. A little less trash strewn everywhere. (The only place with less trash was D&D. I'm not sure why there's always trash everywhere; people here seem to find a way to reuse every little bit and scrap of everything somehow. But there it is.)
Alas, we didn't find the ice cream shop, so we continued on. We made another stop at one of the many roadside shops selling happy, garish pottery—bright Smurfs and fluorescent frogs for the mantle, perhaps—and found Mia a hammock at last. One more stop on the way back for restrooms and Coca-Cola Light, and we were back at Micah.
It was great to be back and see the boys, great to take a shower, great to put down our things. Megan's cabin is so wonderful particularly when contrasted with the way so many live here. Since I was nursing a cold, I showered and went off to bed. I was looking forward to one last day tomorrow with Victor and Manuel, Nelly and Hector, Axel and Moises, Noe and Eduard and Ismael and Peter. We were celebrating Joelle's 19th birthday tomorrow night; it would be fun to see how they do that here.
It was quite an adventurous weekend, but it's clear that I'm spoiled. Not just because I can flush toilet paper in America and have air conditioning and hot water, but because our country has such an abundance of grand natural beauty like Pulha. (Roatan, one of the resort islands on the north coast, is famed for its amazing beauty, so I can't judge it all.)
Interesting fact about the country: Did you know that Honduras is only about the size of Tennessee? But because of the mountains, it takes more than a day to drive across it.
The wonderful thing here as with Central America in general, it seems: The warmth and pace seem to be good for my fibromyalgia. I don't hurt as much here at all. Now, if only I could stop sneezing!