Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Slow Ride to Paradise: A Weekend in Tela

On Friday, I woke up unexpectedly at the dark and chilly hour of three-thirty. I couldn’t sleep from the excitement of a visitor and the anticipation of a long journey: five hours alone to the airport in San Pedro Sula to retrieve Dante, my handsome guest. There was no returning to sleep so I reread Lonely Planet articles about how much I should anticipate paying for taxis in the big city.

The first ride was by motorcycle, a rush down the mountain that left my feet a little wet and frozen from river crossings. My driver, fellow volunteer Alan, and I had set out to hitchhike to Comayagua, where I would continue the journey on my own, but were almost immediately separated when the first vehicle that pulled over, a slightly suspect looking van with a small chemical gasmask symbol painted on the back, turned out to be going all the way to San Pedro.

The driver and his son were unbelievably sweet newspaper deliverymen, weary, quiet and delighted to have a change of companion. I sat between them for nearly four hours, the landscape changing from foggy mountains to dry-grass valley, to more tropical mountain roads lined with tire shops and roadside “stuff” vendors, past the vast Lago de Yajoa, and the dozens of fish restaurants all in a row, across farmland and finally into the chaos of civilization. San Pedro Sula is famous as the “Murder Capital of the World,” though far as I could observe, the real danger is the road-rage from the traffic that doesn’t move and the lanes that don’t exist.

My driver, Eduardo, was no exception. Boy, did he have a special relationship with his horn, accompanied by a sigh and a headshake whenever any car stepped out of line. There were probably more honks than words in the four hours we spent together, but in the end, he helped me cold-shoulder haggle for a very cheap taxi ride out to the obscure airport, and I couldn’t have been more grateful. Eduardo, who works incredibly hard distributing newspapers in the graveyard shift, driving five hours daily between the two biggest cities in Honduras, and his kind teenaged son in the purple Crocs, they saved my hiney, reminded me of humanity, and saved me a buck. Sometimes it pays off to take a chance on strangers.

Without a hitch (well, with a hitchhike, but no systematic issues), Dante and I reunited at the miniscule major airport of this country (I was stunned by the insect-sized proportions of this place. The parking lot was the size of one at a Target.) We bargained our way to the bus station and caught an un-express schoolbus to Tela, our beach town destination two hours away.* More honking and ample stopping filled our ride (as did ice cream!) and I was impressed by Dante’s quick adaptation to the slow pace of travel and life.
Well hello there, sea! Hello there, afternoon breeze! 

Our walk into steamy Tela reminded me immediately of Havana. Charming and sea-worn, wrinkled and tanned men sit in chairs on the sidewalk observing the passing foot traffic. Bachata music streams out of unbarred windows and stray dogs roam, food vendors sell Honduran specialties our of large plastic tubs in front of clothing stores and the pst pst catcall of strolling young gawkers fills the air. Tela is wonderful.

ACCOMMODATION RECOMMENDATION! Before this trip I had tried to research Tela, which is only breaking the surface of tourism, and had no success in finding a place to stay. While we were strolling into downtown, six blocks from the beach, we were beckoned “Pase adelante!” by a sweet woman inside Hotel Bertha, an unsuspecting, clean, inviting, barebones hotel. We passed inside and were given a room with a fantastic rotating fan, towels and even a tiny bar of soap for 280 Lempiras – less than $15 a night. For travelers like us who want to spend time at the beach and don’t need much but a comfortable mattress, a cold shower and friendly service, people have to stay here.

And so we passed the weekend mostly not in our cheap and lovely room but in the streets of Tela, walking around town, eating everything, swimming in the warm and beautiful Caribbean, chatting under palm trees, shooing away the women who want to braid my hair (oh come on, it will look terrible), buying ice cream cones, meeting curious strangers, and happening on the most peculiar things, like a truck transporting a pair of fully-grown lions.

Each hour seemed to change the city so much – first there are fruit vendors, then no fruit vendors, then there are crowds of shoppers, then there is no one, then there are buses, then no buses. Where did everyone go? Maybe they were ebbing and flowing like us, in and out of nap time in the heat of the day. We kept finding ourselves on the same streets, completely impressed by their novelty until we figured out we had already been there, twice.

The best of coastal life passed between us for two days and we walked out at sunrise on Sunday, satisfied, rested and well-fed. We arrived back at school via hitch, hitch, bus, hitch and hike, just in time to make tortillas.

Thanks to Eduardo, every baleada maker in Tela, Hotel Bertha and the superior Caribbean for a well-spent rest.

*I left home at 6AM. We arrived in Tela at 4PM.

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