Monday, January 7, 2013

Day Seven - Goodbye Comayagua! I'll miss you!

The group and our van for the trip today.
The hotel was quiet last night and I rested well. Before bed, I hopped in the shower. As I washed my greasy body, I noticed a red spot on the back of my left calf. I didn't remember injuring myself, so it seemed odd. After I dried myself off, I pulled out my headlamp to investigate. A dark brown tick with yellow sides, sized between a deer tick and a wood tick, was fully engorged with half of its body in mine. Ugh. An overwhelming feeling of dread overcame me, and all of the worst outcomes flowed through my head. Lacking a tweezers, I struggled to pluck it out with my fingernails but it was pointless. I just squeezed it's guts into my bloodstream and pulled off a leg. Alex let me use his fingernail clipper, and I was able to gouge the thing out of my leg. It was sore and looked infected. I put some antibiotic on it and put a bandaid over the top.

(I know this is a blog for Farmer to Farmer, but it is also intended to be a truthful and open travel journal. So please excuse the details if they aren't what you were looking for.) As visions of ricketts and Lyme's disease, and all the chronic health problems ran through my mind, I was temporarily relieved of an even bigger horror in my life. My cousin passed away yesterday, and I just got news. It's pretty devastating to be out of the country, far from family when we need each other most. I have to say, I'm feeling pretty rotten right now, despite the party, the friends, the amazing adventures at hand.

But I can't lose focus on what is in front of me. Today we are all headed north to San Pedro Sula, and I need to keep a good head on. I'm a zombie at breakfast and don't have much of an appetite. One of our travel mates went on Cipro a few days ago due to diarrhea, and another just left the restaurant to pick up another prescription. Two down. I have to admit my own gut hasn't felt so solid, but I'm not ready to kill my gut with the Cipro just yet. I hope I can hold it together.

Back up to the room to pack our bags for departure. We hired a van to take us on a tour of the El Cajon dam on our way to San Pedro Sula. Jeff, Ana, Alex, Peggy, Rick and I are leaving the area tomorrow morning, and we need to stay the night in San Pedro Sula. Adalid's family came over to see us off. I was touched when they offered me a nice wooden keychain that reads "Honduras". Generous handshakes, solid hugs, and long direct looks eye to eye. "You're coming back next year, RIGHT?" they ask. "Si!" I say, hopefully.

I was in love with our van. It was a sweet, brand new Toyota HiAce that seats 18 but is just bigger than a mini van. Hand crank windows, manual transmission and plenty of torque in the Diesel engine. It was going to be a good ride, and we had room for our friends Xochitl, JD, Hector, Luis and Marta to join us. They will return to Comayagua tonight with Andy after dropping us off.
We stopped at a fruit stand

The group spent part of the last week working on and observing microturbines used to create electricity for rural people. Most people get electricity from the grid, though. In this area of Honduras, the grid is powered part time by a giant dam funded in the 1980's by the World Bank/IMF. We were able to arrange for a tour of the El Cajon dam to give us a contrast to the smaller projects we saw. And it was certainly a contrast. To get to the dam, we drove 26km out of our way to a grand military checkpoint. Big beautiful gates, manicured landscaping and a uniquely designed building formed the entrance to the dam. Wow, I thought, this is fancy. Well armed men in camouflage inspected papers and let us through. We paid 80 limpiras each for the tour, and a woman came out of the office to be our guide. This is where the facade fell apart. Although everything looked fancy up to this point, it soon became clear that this was a botched project. The tour guide hopped in our van and told us where to drive - the dam was 2km down the road. We passed a military base and lots of housing reflective of the rest of Honduras, dirty bricks, metal roofs, laundry... which was odd, because it felt like when we passed the gates we were in a compound of some sort. But were weren't, it was just an image at the gate. Arriving to the dam site took going through two more checkpoints where armed military men checked papers.
The massive turbine room

We parked, got out and started to walk down the road to observe the turbines. I've had the privilege of touring several dams, a nuclear power plant and coal fired power plants in the US, so I was looking forward to comparisons. Inside the plant it was much the same as back home - clean, loud, eerie. We got to touch a turbine that had been removed for service, then we got to go deep inside the plant to where the turbines are spinning, literally within arms reach of these massive powerful generators. Signs everywhere read "wear hard hat" and "must use ear protection". When we first walked in, there was a rack of helmets that read "visitor" and plenty of ear muffs. I initially put on a helmet, but the guide asked me to take it off. Weird. My ears are still ringing from the noise. One difference from plants back home was that everything appeared analog, including the clock on the wall with the piles of numbers that flip over as the minutes change. Dials and gauges, not screens.
Too dam big.

Inside we learned that since its inception, the dam has never really lived up to its potential. Whether it's a design flaw or climate change, I don't know, but most of our group pointed to corruption and politics as likely sources of the problem. The dam was enormous, but the water level behind the dam has never even come close to the top, meaning that it isn't producing the electricity it was designed to. Underperforming. Overbuilt.

The tour involved quite a bit of walking, and then some more driving. The group was interested, but tired, and hunger was growing. We dropped off our guide at the nice gates and made our way to the highway, stopping at our first chance at a Honduran truck stop buffet. The tables were silent as we devoured the mediocre food. We ate quickly and got back in the van. Since our hosts were driving all the way back up the mountain, and we were headed into the "most dangerous city in the world", we wanted to get through it during daylight.

As the van dropped into the city, the air quality got much worse and the traffic thickened. Luis navigated our driver right to the hotel. The hotel owner was outside waiting for us, and he unlocked the gates for us to bring our bags in. We gave another quick round of hugs so that our friends could make it out of the city during the dwindling daylight. We chatted with the hotel owners, paid up front and found our rooms. I laid on the bed for awhile and let some tears fall. My family gathered today for a funeral back in Minnesota, and I wanted to be there with them.

Dos Molinas B&B
Hoping for a distraction, I joined the group in the lobby and we decided to venture out. The hotel owners told us that they hired an armed guard to patrol the street in front of the hotel, the corner, and two blocks north. Now just imagine living in a town where you couldn't trust the police and had to hire your own guards with guns to help you feel safe. There was one restaurant in that zone, and we made for it. None of us were really hungry, so we had beverages and ordered a "parillada" to share - a platter of grilled meats, a platter of fried plantains, beans, and veggies. We laughed, shared stories and our most distinct memories from the trip. We remembered the (loud) sounds of Comayagua, the smell of woodsmoke and rotting coffee, and the sad faces of children. We reflected on the amazing, and not so amazing people we met. And talked about how we all wanted to come back again.

Everyone is asleep now but me. They will get up at 5 to get to the airport. I'll leave a few hours later for the bus station. The hotel owner has offered to give me a ride to the bus station and help me get a ticket to Copan. I'm very grateful for the hospitality, and am looking forward to the next leg of my adventure. Buenas noches.

1 comment:

  1. Quite an emotional trip and interesting trip. It's good to read these daily summaries. Thanks for posting them.