Yesterday was my first New Year´s Eve in Honduras in more than 15 years and it did not dissappoint.
In the morning, Zac and I found the bus easily in San Pedro, and I even had time to buy a cell phone. For $25 I am now living at the same pace as literally every Honduran. Our number is (504) 99034869. Call us. The bus ride was full, full, full, with people standing in the aisles the whole way. But I beat out a single mom with a teething baby to secure my seat, so you don´t have to worry about me standing. The ride was uneventful, although it was nice that every so often people would come on the bus and offer things we might need, like cold drinks in a plastic bag, fried chicken (throw the plastic out the window, please), fried plantains, candied squash, and a three-disc set of childrens´bible stories ($1.50 in case you were wondering -I passed).
I was able to call all my friends from the bus (yippee!), so once we arrived in Comayagua we had Hector and Adalid waiting for us. We dropped our stuff at Hotel Morales and went straight to Hernan´s house where we proceeded to talk for 2 hours while Hernan brought food out at regular intervals. Hector is our guide here and an old friend from my Peace Corps days. Adalid is the President of the Coffee growing coop here and also the installer of the microturbine system for producing electricity. We had a long talk about the difficulty they had last year getting the coffee adequately dry. Apparantly, according to Adalid they did a very good drying the coffee, but that the mistake they made was storing the coffee in the houses in the mountain village instead of bringing it down into the dry valley. In the moist cloud forest climate it seems that the coffee re-took on moisture while waiting in the storage area. So now we know not to have them store the coffee on the mountain.Adalid has a place in the valley, so this year they´ll store it there.We had incredible mandarin oranges, luscious papaya, and some meat that Hernan had roasted for friends the day before.
Then we went straight to Priscila´s house. I lived at Pris´s during Peace Corps and her daughter Xochitl is mine and Jen´s goddaughter. Pris was planning on having us over for a new year´s eve party. We caught up with Pris and Xochitl and Pris´s sisters Marta and Luzli. Her neighbors were cranking the music as we played cards and ate garlic toasted casabe (Casava cakes) with Salva Vida cerveza. We were on Pris´s new patio and from inside we could smell the chicken roasting. After we ate the truly fantastic food, we decided to go up to the central plaza to see what was happening for New Year´s. I was not prepared for what we saw.
First off, as we were walking to the plaza, it sounded like we were in a war zone. All day people all over the city had been setting off fireworks. As it got closer to midnight, the good people of Comayagua took it upon themselves to redouble their efforts. Smoke hung in the air like a thick fog and there was a strong smell of sulfur. Near the park, some kids who should have known better were throwing firecrackers into metal garbage cans and making some pretty impressive booms. Then, a block away from the Central Parque the fireworks gave way to a booming sound system. As we got closer I saw that there was a small military presence, which probably kept the firework-wielding delinquents away. They were protecting a massive stage that had been set up in front of the Cathedral.In addition to the stage, there were various screens around the park projecting close-ups of what was happening on the stage. The park was full of people, most dressed to the nines for the party. There were people walking around passing out free glow sticks and it seemed that there were a good many people with ¨Happy New Year¨plastic fedoras.
We had walked right into a media event.The music and festivities were being broadcast to all of Honduras. They had chosen the Comayagua Central Park as their own version of Times Square. Instead of a ball dropping, they had the oldest functioning clock on all of the Americas. When that clock would strike 12 times, the confetti would drop and people would wave their glow sticks and blow into the noise makers to beat the band while real fireworks went off right over the Cathedral. Until then, it was one lip-syncing act after another, with booming sound and a lot of patriotic pop songs. It was actually pretty cool.
In talking with Pris, her take was that the current President had commisioned the party and the national television coverage as a distraction from the continued effects of the coup from 2009. The deposed President Mel is living in the Dominican Republic and his supporters are still working to try to bring the leaders of the coup to some sort of justice. As the months pass, the government that was elected following the coup takes on more and more a sense of legitimacy. But the problem of the disenfranchisement of nearly half the population still exists. Of course, in this context, Pris might be right to regard any state-sanctioned display of patriotism to be a side-show, an attempt to get back to business as usual. There had been rumors that the President (Pepe Lobo) would show up in a helicopter to count us down, but we waited til past midnight and he never showed up. But they did bring out a big salsa band and people probably danced until the wee hours.
In the end it was an entertaining side-show and it probably brought some great attention to Comayagua, a city which deserves to be noticed for all of its history and beauty. I found myself imagining what would happen if Comayagua hosted this event every year. It could grow into something big. We could see people traveling from all over to have an all night party in the parque.
As we walked back to the hotel we re-entered the war zone and in some places we saw the remains of a Honduran custom of packing an effigy with fireworks and setting it off to represent the passing of the old year. The roosters and fireworks continued well into the night, but I was so tired that I went right to sleep.