Grace on Pace

Tourism vs. Traveling in Honduras

Sunday January 14 – We all woke up around 6:30 Am, excited about getting back to the Refugio de Vida Silvestre Cuero y Salado, to meet are boat.  The night before had been spent researching jaguars, howler monkeys, white face monkeys, manatees, crocodiles, turtles, cayman, fishing eagles, hawks, parrots, as well as 196 birds and 35 mammals, all of which we could possible see.  Our enthusiasm was short lived though.  When we arrived at the docking entrance to the small village of El Embarcadero, there were a few people waiting around.  Eventually we could hear a boat off in the distance approaching us slowly.  Finally we thought to ourselves, our boat had arrived.  But this is Honduras and nothing ever seems to ever go as planned.  The young man jumped out of the boat carrying two huge milk containers.  Rasa asked how long it would be until he was back from milking his cows.  About thirty minutes, he assured as he headed up the road.  A short time later a woman had had enough of waiting for the water taxi and she headed out across the enormous swamp.  We were all stunned as we watched her appear and disappear across the swamp, belongings balanced on her head.  Eventually, we could see our man strolling toward us and we piled into the boat.  The boat trip was well worth the wait though, as we ventured along slow flowing rivers filled with thick vegetation and countless birds.  Dropping people off along the riverbanks, we made our way toward the ocean.  Peering around a river bend, I could see the waves crashing against our river highway.  Noticing the manatee warning signs, we began scanning the surface.  “Where are they?” asked Rasa.  “They’re sleeping,” replied our guide.  It was quite a let down traveling all that way and coming up short; however, it was still exciting to see their habitat.  After a quick stop along the riverbank to collect sand, check out the beach, and investigate a Canadian flag, we headed back to the truck.  Our adventure in the marshlands had produced quite a hunger, so we decided to grab some lunch at a restaurant known for its friendly birds.  Not long after our lunch arrived, a parrot and a ma caw were at our feet begging for our banana chips.  Jennilou could hardly focus on eating her lunch, and soon had one of the birds perched on a stick she was holding.  Back at home; I got a much-needed nap, waking up just in time to head out to Pizza Hut.  At dinner, it was exciting to here that Robert and Rasa had discovered El Embarcadero was on our list of communities receiving filters.  I cannot imagine the difficulties ahead if this community personifies the challenge of reaching our project’s areas.

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Monday January 15 – After our day off, we were excited to get right to work installing filters.  Our plan was to meet the mayor of Masica at Pozo Sarco, a small farming town.  The community would be small enough to allow us to meet with the community leaders and start installing filters in the same day.  An aggressive set of plans, but according to the mayor, very possible due to the size and location of the town.  As we rolled into the community, it was easy to see that something was wrong with the situation.  Pure Water For The World’s mission is to reach out to the communities below the poverty line, giving them a better chance at improving their quality of life through access to clean water.  The community that we had arranged a meeting with and were currently standing before was by no means below the poverty line in Honduran standards.   Not only did we find out that there were fifty homes, but they already had a water system and were using chlorine.  The whole weekend was spent preparing to install for at most fifteen filters in a small community.  The point was to get some experience for Enelida and Kayla before they headed off to the cost training.  After realizing this was the wrong community for us to install filters in, we had to strategize a new plan.  Enelida tried to explain to the leaders that their community was in no need of filters and we were mislead by the mayor.  This was a very hard point to get across to the community because in order for them to realize why they didn’t need them, they first needed to know how they worked.  This is probably the point when we should have tucked our tails and tried to leave as quietly as possible.  Our next hour turned out to be chaos.  More and more community members gathered to see what the meeting was about and as we started to educate them on why they didn’t need the filters, the more they wanted them.  One man pointed out that the filters would save money on chlorine, and another explained that the filters would help during flooding.  All these comments were hard to stomach and Enelida could do nothing but agree.  The fact was they did need the filters, just not as much as other communities in the area.  Our group had fallen victim to anther one of the mayor’s ploys.  See, the mayor was put in charge of MAMUCA by the Swiss and Canadian funding agencies, probably for the lack of a better person.  Consequently Robert & Rasa have been butting heads with him for some time.  His recommendation to extend our project to this area was in no doubt based on political reasons.  Soon, we had no choice but to backpedal our way out the situation.  We tried to explain to them that we were not ready to do a community of their size and that the mayor had mislead us.  Again, the tides turned for the worse and people started to become extremely upset.  Then suddenly, they started clapping and cheering.  The mayor was standing at the door!  I didn’t get it.  One minute they were extremely mad at the mayor and know they were cheering for him.  Eventually through all of the commotion, I realized that they must have been afraid of him.  Imagine being afraid of a politician.  This was a whole new concept for me and I sat quietly trying to evaluate the situation.  Should I be afraid as well?  Is it dangerous for us to talk about MAMUCA and the mayor in a negative way?  Soon, the major was in front of the crowd lying through his teeth.  He explained to the people that we were an inferior organization and were only responsible for the smaller communities in the mountains.  He told them, we had gotten confused and that he would bring filters to them.  He had crossed the line, but our hands were tied.  How could we afford to argue with him, when he had agreed to help us locate communities and pay for the filters to be delivered?  After the meeting, we tried to make amends by asking him if there was a small community on our list we could start with.  He began crossing off communities, telling us they did not exist, had clean water, or were scheduled for a new systems.  It was easy to see, he was trying to pull filters away from non-voting mountain communities, to create enough filters to do Pozo Sarco.  I could see the frustration in Robert’s face and soon he stood up trying to exit the situation with a smile.  We all shook hands, assuring the major we would do everything we could to find him the extra filters.

As we drove up the road, I couldn’t stop myself from thinking the morning had been complete waste of time.  We had been naïve to accept the list MAMUCA had provided us.  Why would the mayor spend money on remote communities, when they don’t even vote?  We needed to get a new list of communities if we were to accomplish anything.  We decided to try the health department on our way home.  Angry, tired, and frustrated, we walked into the lab.  The lab director sifted through a stake of PetriFilms and pulled the results on our test.  Just as we had expected, the results from El Recreo had come in completely contaminated.  Rasa began questioning him on the other communities on our list and if he could recommend any for project.  He glanced over the list and then scurried out of the room.  He returned with exactly what we were looking for.  He held in his hands a master list of all the communities in the area and what type of water system they were using.  We began comparing our list with his. According to his list, EL Recreo was in the top category out of four.  In short, we had visited two communities recommended by MAMUCA and both were considered rather well off in comparison to the others in the region.  Realizing our frustrations, he recommended that we visit the local branches of the health department in each of the counties.  Thankful for his advice, we offered to send someone from his office to a fully sponsored, weeklong seminar on our project.  He agreed to our invitation and we gratefully shook hands.  Extremely happy to salvage something positive out of the day, we piled into the truck wondering how our five-minute stop had turned into two hours.

I have learned a lot about the difficulties of International Development in my short time here in country, but today it had hit home.  Billions of dollars are sent to developing countries every year by ODA’s, NGO’s, PVO’s, and religious affiliations. So why can’t countries find a way to climb out of poverty?  As I found out today, one of the main obstacles is finding a way to spend this money.  It sounds absurd to have difficulties spending money to help people in a developing country, but it is.  How do you make people account for their actions?  Who do you entrust the money to?  What type of results do we expect to get?  These all seem like obvious questions, with relatively simple answers, but the more I think about them, the harder them seem be.  Surely, I won’t let it rest but for know, I have to, because my head is spinning.

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Tuesday January 16 – Following yesterday’s extremely draining day, Robert and Rasa decided to catch up on their backlog of e-mails.  With Jennilou scheduled to leave Saturday, we decided to seize the moment and head to Copan.  Thus at six in the morning, we headed on a bus towards San Pedro Sula.  The trip would take all day, with an afternoon layover in the city.  San Pedro acts as a hub for all the major bus companies in the country.  Consequently, it is very easy to find a bus to the city; however, there is no universal bus station.  Apparently the city built one, but they were charging too much for its use, leaving bus terminals scattered around the city.  Arriving in San Pedro at around 10 AM, we tried to use our moon book, bus schedule, and Honduran tips guide to navigate our way to a bus that would take us to Copan.  Eventually, I had to swallow my pride and Jennilou asked for directions.  Of course, as soon as we arrived, we discovered our schedule was out of date and there wasn’t a bus until three.  We decided to take the chance to explore the busy streets, eat lunch, take some pictures in front the San Pedro Sula Cathedral and buy a copy of Babel to watch on the way to Copan.  When we finally arrived to Copan, we found a small hotel room for six dollars a night, including hot water and cable television.  After a quick shower we headed out to find a restaurant.  During our walk, it was easy to see why Robert & Rasa had recommended the area.  The small colonial town had quaintness about it, almost forcing you to slow your life down.  The cobble stone streets, adobe houses, clay tile roofs, and open air markets combined with the backpacker vibe and a feeling of safety made for one of the best evenings since arriving.  After a three-course gourmet dinner at Twisted Tanya’s, we made our way back to our hotel.

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Wednesday January 17 – We woke up early and made our way down to the archeological park.  Getting to the ruins before the tour buses arrived, would give us a chance to see some of the wildlife living around the finely groomed site.  Outside the park we teamed up with a couple from California and two brothers from Virginia to hire a guide.  Inside the park, it was interesting to learn about the history of the city and its importance to the civilization.  Copan’s claim to fame is its hieroglyphic stairway, with similar significance to the Rosetta stone.  One of the last rulers of the city built the stairway explaining the history of its people.  Archeologists have used this artifact to decipher hieroglyphics in the much higher profile ruins of Chichen Itza and Tikal.  Overall the experience left me feeling a little unsatisfied though.  Not unlike other Mayan ruins, much of the site remains a mystery, with only twenty percent of the area excavated.  In addition, many of the countries providing the funding for the excavation, in turn have obtained many of the artifacts for their museums.  Currently Japan is working on uncovering a temple built by the eighth ruler of Copan.  They worked out a deal to pay 12 million US dollars for the rights to work within the park. In exchange a portion of the artifacts are to be sent back to Japanese museums.  I guess this had been happening for hundreds of years but it would be of been nice to see the ruins as close to their original splendor as possible.  After our tour, we grabbed lunch back in town, returning in the late afternoon to explore the rest of the park.  The entire area is fenced off, so it wasn’t long before we were spotting strange animals trapped within the gates.  The tour was interesting but it was just as fun to venture off the beaten paths to hypothesis what each of the giant mounds in front of us might have been one day.  Before dinner we were able to catch a local soccer game from our hotel roof.  We decided to take an early night, after a long day of hiking and a historic information overload.  Plus, for the first time in three weeks, we had cable television including three English movie channels.

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Thursday January 18 – Our day started a little later than usual, mostly because I could only here three roosters at the crack of dawn.  After a late breakfast, we took the chance to visit some of the handicraft shops spread around town.  I can’t tell you exactly what we got but the exotic hardwood selection was by far the most impressive at the shops.  Woodworking being one of my hobbies, it was easy to respect the craftsmanship, but hard to see how the artists could be selling them for so cheap.  We caught the afternoon bus out of town and our adventure home began.  It is always a surprise getting on a bus here because it seems every one is a new experience.  This time, we had found ourselves on a chicken bus, for lack of a better term.  Imagine a forty-year-old school bus crossing the Rocky Mountains.  We huffed and puffed our way up the steep inclines and then flew, barley in control, around hairpin turns on the declines.  Every seat was packed with people and new passengers were forced to stand.  When we arrived to our first transfer point, people begin yelling and screaming as we spilled out of the bus.  I remember uttering the words San Pedro, among a furry of confusion.  I clung to Jennilou’s hands and eventually we were basically tossed onto another bus.  This was all fine and dandy, except both of us never had a chance to visit the restroom.  The next three-hour’s could only be explained by pure misery.  Despite several attempts to relieve myself into an empty bottle, I couldn’t manage a drop among the crowded bus.  Honestly, I almost passed out when I finally stood up at our next transfer.  Halleluiah, I thought as I stumbled behind the buses!  I couldn’t help but feel a little lucky to reach the last bus to La Ceiba from San Pedro Sula, with only twenty minutes to spare.  I guess I am learning to expect the worse down here and in this case scheduled the perfect bus commutes.  All and all the strangest part of our day was the ride home from the La Ceiba terminal.  The driver spoke perfect English, but sounded exactly like Kermit The Frog.  How bizarre!

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Friday January 19 –During our absence, a series of unfortunate events plagued the advance of our mission to install a filter before our trip to Danli.  Hundreds of e-mails kept Robert and Rasa on house arrest for the first day.  On our second day gone, the two woke up to a flat tire, only to discover the spare was the wrong size.  Thursday, our final day in Copan, Robert & Rasa traveled to Esparta to meet with the mayor and visit the health department.  Again, their efforts essentially failed because the entire health department was on vacation and the mayor happened to be in Tela, probably at the beach.  However, the two were able to salvage the trip, setting up a meeting with the mayor and her advisors.  Therefore, for the second day in a row, our team headed out to Esparta to establish a basis for the communities we were hoping to serve there.  Following an hour drive, we turned onto a picturesque dirt road heading out towards the ocean.  We switched back in forth across an old railroad bed, slowly making our way through valleys of pastureland.  After a second hour of driving, we rolled into a dusty mid-western tombstone like town.  The customary stares came from every direction, as we made our way into the municipal building.  As usual, nobody in the office had any intentions on starting the meeting on time because as soon as we arrived everyone was heading out the door to eat lunch.  It didn’t bother me though because I am always hungry and everyone is happier after they eat.  The meeting went very well and we managed to schedule a unique assembly.  The advisors comprised the idea of inviting one member from each of the communities in their county to an informational session.  This would save traveling to each of the communities separately and help us gather valuable information on their whereabouts, number of citizens, and type of water systems.  In principle, this seems like a great idea, but after so many problems so far, it should be interesting to see how this approach pans out.  After our meeting, we headed back to La Ceiba to buy a bus ticket for Jennilou.  Our last night in Honduras together happened to coincide with our two-year anniversary, so we decided to go out to dinner at my favorite restaurant in town.  Following our meal at Wendy’s, we made sure Jennilou had plenty of snacks for her long day of travel and then hurried home before it got to late to be out at night.

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Saturday January 20 – It was sad to see Jennilou off in the morning and even harder to get back to sleep.  The combination of roosters cawing, dogs barking, and worrying about Jennilou made it impossible to get any rest before the start of our day.  Eventually, I salvaged a good hour of slumber, before rising to our days challenge.  Our plan was to inspect, clean, and move the remaining filters at the taller before leaving for Danli.  With fifty-four filters already awaiting paint in the yard, our task was to prepare the remaining forty-six constructed under the first phase of our grant.  Despite being physically demanding, it was very comforting having a tangible goal to achieve.  The three of us got right to work pounding out about nine per hour.  As the sun set, Rob rolled number one hundred out into the yard and lined it up neatly with the others.  Soaked, tired, and pleased we headed back to La Ceiba, stopping once more at the bus station to buy tickets.  For dinner, we cleaned out what was left in the refrigerator and packed for our eight-day trip to Danli.  At dinner, I used the chance to call my parents for the first time on interesting web-based communication network called Skype.

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Jeff Grace

I’d like to hope that when I leave this earth, my family and friends believe something about me giving as fully as I could. To the people I love and to the areas of culture that excited me to build things. Then a lot of dancing, loud music and talking about what an idiot I made of myself during that process.

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