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Tegucigalpa, Honduras

February 13, 2012

I visited Honduras in January of 2011.  The visit itself was a mixed bag of emotions and anxiety due to the nature of my assignment. The usual excitement that accompanies most trips I undertake got overshadowed by pre-occupation.  This was a short five day trip to accomplish many tasks that would normally take perhaps up to two weeks. Likewise this write-up, will serve more as country info and less as a travel log.

I left Washington for Miami and then connecting on to Tegucigalpa, Honduras a relatively short flight except for the layover in Miami. However, taking off was the easier part of this journey because Tegucigalpa has the unenviable reputation of being the second most dangerous airport in the World. I do not kid when I say that upon landing I felt like I was being driven through some downtown with shops all around except in a plane. I have not seen rosaries (tasbih)being drawn any faster than during this landing. Jesus was the man on this flight!

From a Latin American perspective Honduras is a medium to a large country with an estimated land area of 43,277 square miles. Second largest in Central America and ranks 14th in size among all Latin American nations.

Looking at a map of Central America Honduras sits almost in the middle that forms the bend in Central America and has a 459-mile Caribbean coastline to the north and narrows in the south to 89 miles at the Gulf of Fonseca on the Pacific Ocean. It is bounded on the west by Guatemala, the southwest by El Salvador, and the east and southeast by Nicaragua.

A rugged landscape with three-quarters of the country composed of rugged hills and mountains, ranging from about 900 Ft. to nearly 9,350 Ft. in height. Perhaps, not an ideal place if you are afraid of heights or prone to nose bleeds. Tegucigalpa, the capital sits at a nose bleed elevation of 3,200 Ft. above the sea level in a mountain-ringed valley that resembles a bowl. As, I drove through the streets of Tegucigalpa it reminded me a bit of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia (see the post on Mongolia).  Never eat a full breakfast and get in a car in Tegucigalpa.

Tegucigalpa’s altitude contributes to a moderate climate, and most days feature spring-like temperatures. The rainy season technically begins in May and lasts until October but I suppose nature’s faucet sprung announced leaks because as long as I was there it rained every day although for an hour or so and mostly in the late evenings and during the night. How convenient for the rush hour traffic woes.

Honduras, declared independence In 1838 and Tegucigalpa became the capital in 1880. I guess it takes 42 years for El Presidente to decide where he would like his palace to be situated. Colonial Spaniards in 1579 founded the silver-mining town called Tegucigalpa, meaning hill or mountain of silver in the native Indian language. Most of that silver is now found in the Motherboards of computers most Honduran’s consider unnecessary baggage. I guess I would too with hikes all around.

The country has seen a good bit of turmoil during the 1980s, courtesy of neighbors like Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala. U.S., involvement via the military assistance maintained stability in Honduras throughout this period, as the country became the focus of U.S. policy and strategic operations in the region. But that was then and since then, Honduras’s economic problems, with falling exports, a growing foreign debt and a stagnant per capita income are the present. The façade of prosperity the U.S. aid brought then disappeared after the Central American conflicts ended in the early ’90s bringing another third World country down to its knees. A perfect picture of most under developed nations don’t you think. U.S., aid and direct involvement to keep Honduras “Free” and democratic played a key role during the Reagan Administration. Since, then things sort of went or fell by the way side. A fact that was bemoaned as recently as a few weeks ago during the republican Primaries a point raised by the far, far right republican aspirant Rick Santorum.

The population of Honduras is approximately 6.5 million largely unskilled, unemployed and confused people.  Strong European/ Caucasian influence mixed with the indigenous. There is some Caribbean influence mostly around the North Coast and not very visible at least in the vicinity of Tegucigalpa.  Now an interesting tidbit is that many Catholic Palestinians immigrated to Honduras in the early part of the 20th century locally referred to as “turkos”, mostly active in commerce, trade and of course politics.

Roman Catholicism is present and heavy in influence. The vacuum created by the disappearing U.S., aid left the country vulnerable and the Roman Catholic Church has admirably filled in part of that vacuum. Giving due where it’s deserved the Catholic Church is really doing great work with the local and indigenous population.  There is a marked presence of American missionaries and many have now laid roots in the local communities and married locals while plenty of other’s provide essential services as volunteers in a variety ways from construction to surgeries. (hopefully not by the same people).

The city it seems is a multi-storied building where streets of stairs connecting one level of the city with another and in places; the city climbs the hillsides on terraces. Narrow streets with blank walls pierced by heavy doors and iron-grilled windows, and reddish tile roofs all add to an impression of some architectural harmony except for the interruption called the downtown whose architecture is a by-product of imported modernity only in terms of the fast food/fast die lethal brew. So then the architectural unity if you will is interrupted by new building blocks without much character. The Latin/Mediterranean influence again reminded me of Bogota, Colombia.

I can’t say that I enjoyed my trip but I can say that I left with a heavy heart for the struggling Hondurans who start the day with a promise and end it with a hope.



One Comment
  1. Ah, you draw a vivid picture in words of a breezy land flanked by glittering seas. My only image of Honduras comes from the 1973 film “Papillon,” which depicts a tropical land of ancient Mayan ruins, impoverished cities, and beach-dwelling tribes living a simple existence of fishing and pearl diving that looks strangely appealing.

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