Saturday, January 5, 2013

Day Three - Comayagua and ascending to Rio Negro

Thanks to another cup of coffee at 7pm, even though I am exhausted, I'm awake and able to write about today.

Last night I slept well. I was awoken twice by the incredible sound of a pack of motorcycles racing down the street, the Doppler effect in full force. Knowing that motorcycles are the most common vehicle for "drive by" activity, it was a bit unnerving. But I will say that at no time on my trip so far have I felt uncomfortable or unsafe. I've been told many times to keep my guard up no matter what, but I will admit that I occasionally slip into a state of total comfort. They are still celebrating New Year's here with fireworks, so the startling "crack" of a firecracker will remind me immediately where I am.

An ancient bell, part of the clock.
We had the Hotel Morales breakfast of eggs, beans, fried plantains, little chorizo like sausages and tortillas. The coffee wasn't great, but thankfully I'm not picky. After breakfast a group of us went for a walk through Comayagua. It is a beautiful small town. We made ourselves to the Centro where we were able to take a tour of the church clock. It is the oldest clock in the Western Hemisphere, still manages every 25 hours by a person who pulls the weights. The ancient bells still chime at the exact moment they should, and the Comayaguans are proud of their clock and take good care of it.

Adalid's workshop
While waiting, Rick helped troubleshoot
Adalid's Gas Generator
We had some licuados (fruit smoothies), stopped for cash at an ATM, and purchased several whole roasted chickens for lunch at Adalid's home and workshop. The large group hung out at Adalid's for a few hours while we made the somewhat complicated arrangements to get our group up the mountain. We have a few Honduran families in addition to our Farmer to Farmer group of Andy, Alex, Rick, Peggy, Jeff, Ana and I. The vehicle needed to have four wheel drive, and a friend of a friend had a truck, but it needed a cage mounted to it so ten or more of us could stand in the back for the ride. Another complication ensued when we learned that there is a new law in Honduras that only 4 people can ride in the back of a truck, so at the last minute we commandeered a car to take folks past a police checkpoint, after which we all loaded into the truck to ascend the mountain.
This is cool.

I had no idea what to expect on the ride, but I did know that I was going to be in heaven. Riding in the back of a truck in the open air is my favorite way to travel, reminiscent of days and nights I spent as a teenager jumping trains and observing the countryside as it speeds by. Conversations flowed between Americans, Hondurans and a new friend Max who is a seasoned world traveler originally from the island of Mauricious now residing in Comayagua. Politics, jokes, personal stories, and some things that can only be said in the back of a speeding truck.
8 or 9 in the back of the truck!

As expected the roads got progressively more primitive until we were simply crawling up a rocky gravel path, where 4 wheel drive was clearly mandatory. The last time I was on a trip like this was in the mid 90's in Colorado, navigating rugged four wheel drive trails in the Rockies with my Sister and friends. We passed small houses and shacks, lots of people walking or biking the road, some cows and chickens and an occasional vehicle coming down, almost always a truck with plenty of people in back. We'd always wave and greet them.
That dark band of mountains in the distance
is the cloudforest where the coffee is.

Since we got a late start heading out, the sun started to set as we made our way from the pine forest into what's called the cloud forest. Since I've been warned not to be out after dark, I did have a slight nervous feeling, but the great company kept any real fear at bay, especially knowing that Adalid, Hernan, Luis and the other native Hondurans were with us. The layers of mountains, clouds and a beautiful sunset gave way to an eerie darkness. "One more hill!" was repeated many times along the way. "Just over this hill" said Adalid. After the hill, he said, just another half hour or so, and we all laughed and called him a Texan for his big lies. After crawling up more slippery steep slopes and crossing a few more streams, we finally left "the grid", which is a reference to how far the electric power grid extends into the mountains. Rio Negro is still off the grid (this may change soon) and a deep black world enveloped us.
The dining room at Avilio's

We finally saw a light ahead, and knew we were approaching someone with power. It was Avilio's ranch, and they have a microturbine creating power from the river, Rio Negro. At Avilios we met with the rest of our entourage and engaged in our evening of food, drink, laughing, storytelling and of course, serious discussions about agriculture, eco tourism, politics and more. Avilio shared his homemade wine and we feasted on beans, eggs, tortillas, sausage and vegetables. And coffee, of course, dark and sweet as we've enjoyed throughout Honduras.

As the evening wound down, we negotiated our sleeping arrangements. Alex and I are staying in the house of Avilio's parents. I have no idea what I'll wake up to in the morning, since we arrived in darkness. Tomorrow we will walk around Rio Negro to meet some other coffee farmers and help install a motor on a remote microturbine. Buenas noches.

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