domingo, 10 de enero de 2010

Girlfriend of the Sun

A Honduran politician in the early 1900’s once bitterly crumpled up a piece of paper and threw it down on his desk exclaiming that it now accurately represented a topographic map of the country. I don’t know what exactly the context was but perhaps he too had just spent 12 hours in a bus with his knees crammed against his chest and his shoes covered in baby vomit traveling only a few hundred miles as the crow flies. What else could make him so angry? In truth, traveling for many hours doesn’t really faze me all that much anymore. I used to avoid the 2 ½ hour trip from Austin to Houston like the plague but would now travel that kind of distance for a jar of peanut butter. I try not to think about how many hours of these 2 years will be spent either waiting for or riding a bus but I know I’ll probably get a lot of reading done. The busses themselves offer a pretty interesting glimpse into many different subcultures of Honduran society and have a complex system all to themselves. First there are the drivers or “chofers” who take great pride in passing any car, truck, or other bus going any slower than their desired speed thus decreasing the trip time by a few seconds and increasing my laundry load. Next, the “cobrador” or guy with gelled-up hair and lots of cologne collecting the money. The advanced calculus that he uses to determine exactly how much each person owes based on where they got on and where they get off (there are very few actual “stops”) amazes me. I often have to break out my mental calculator to disprove his “round up on the gringo” theorem. And then we have the “ayudante” who helps everyone by cramming as many human souls onto the bus as possible and assuring that you can indeed move further back if only with a bit of flexible imagination. Collectively these three fellows get me from point A to point B and I guess that’s all I could ask for. It’s the other business men on the bus that really fascinate me though. These people have found the bus to be the perfect mobile public forum to sell products, services, and ideas no matter how ludicrous they may be. Anytime the bus is moving slower than 10 mph, swarms of pirate vendors will surround and board the bus with tacos, fried plantains, green mangoes, and sodas. No matter how crowded the bus is, they find a way to get themselves and a hot tray of food up and down the aisle. “Oh how these vendors annoy us,” says the man in a white coat and hair slicked back, “good thing I’m here to sell you a product you really need.” He then busts into a spiel about his Chinese magic pill that cures everything from headaches to mosquito bites to cancer while at the same time making you a pro with the opposite sex. I hate when these spinsters actually make a sale which, unfortunately, is often. One man got on the bus to sell a teach-yourself English book and loved to give examples of his impeccable pronunciation which of course led to all eyes being averted to me for approval. I opted not to tell him that being able to say “I is liking speaking the English” is not the best marker of fluency. On my regular route, there is a jolly old hombre who comes on with an armful of useful items like lighter fluid, magnifying glasses, batteries, and plastic baseball bats. Jugglers, fire-twirlers, singers, dancers; they all make their rounds and meet back up at the end of the day to discuss their failures and successes. It makes for an interesting trip to the market. My bus has a sticker on the front proclaiming that my town is the loving partner of our Earth’s sun. That’s nice.
I made my longest trip to date this past week traveling from the Southland out to the Western department of Lempira, a trip that would be relatively quick if I didn’t have to sidestep El Salvador. The plan was to meet up with some of my closest friends from training to ring in the New Year after celebrating Christmas in site. I woke up sweating on the morning of the 24th wishing more than a little that I could be at home getting ready to eat my mom’s delicious waffles and watching my beautiful niece, Ella, make out with the cold window pane (see the hilarious pictures here) but felt better once I got outside and headed out for a slingshot hunting trip with Morlin and a new friend Moncho. We headed north on the only road that runs through town towards the sugar cane fields that are currently being harvested. The collection process consists of burning the unused parts of the cane which is picked up by the wind and rains down black leaflets every afternoon and leaves the fields an apocalyptic charred wasteland. School busses that bring in the laborers lined the street and we walked past groups of men washing up from the night’s extremely hard work getting ready to finally go home for the holiday. We turned off towards the mango groves that were our final destination and forked into a 3 pronged creeping barrage of small rocks and curses combing the thick mesquite for any signs of life. My father has always said that he loves hunting because it provides some sort of mystical connection to our primal instincts and our ancestors that depended on their own hands for what they ate. I always loved it because it meant I could spend some time outside away from the city with my dad but, to be honest, never felt totally comfortable with the odds in favor of the guy with the gun. If archery hunting provides more of that instinctual connection (and narrower odds), then the sling shot is a time machine back 10,000 years. We made our way through banana groves swarming with mosquitoes, crossed the river, cut across more sugar cane, and eventually made it to the mangoes that still have a few months to go ( I can’t freaking wait!). As usual, no stone from my slingshot ever came within 5 feet of anything I was aiming at but I had a great time and got to explore more of the surroundings of Tular. We came across some abnormally large jícaros which I used to make some cups pictured above. That evening, I ate dinner with my work counterpart who had family visiting from all over Honduras. Afterwards we went to set up for the big dance that would be the library´s biggest fundraiser of the year. I spent the rest of the night trying to look intimidating with my arms crossed and my chest bowed up working as the door man. It wasn’t my typical Christmas Eve but everyone was in an extremely festive mood and the party raged until 4:00am. Christmas for Hondurans is celebrated entirely on the 24th and by the time the morning of the 25th rolled around (very late for me) life was back to business as usual.
A few days later, I woke up around the same time as the chickens, hopped on the bus, and started the long trip towards Celaque, the tallest mountain in the country and our goal for the New Year. Once again, the air coming in through the window dropped and I watched the absolutely beautiful Honduran country side roll by. The amazing thing about a country with such expansive altitude disparities is the number of different climates and landscapes you get to see in a very small area. The sharp wind-blown features of the South gave way to billowing sheets of green plains, wildflowers, and quaint little mountain towns in less than an hour. Quaint- what a great word. I guess having little right after it is a little redundant. My Dad’s favorite word is Kiosk, also a good one. We all met up in the town of Gracias where the married couple that lives there was nice enough to host us for the evening as we prepared to climb the mountain the next day. Most of the faces were either new to me or ones I’ve been missing since training so the remainder of the night was spent catching up and sharing funny stories. We left the next morning with our packs loaded with food for 12 and snaked our way up the trail towards the first campsite and half-way point to the summit. Ahh the smell of a campfire, ahh the night sky miles from any city lights, ahh the crisp air at 8,000ft. It’s like that mattress commercial- you just wanna say ahhh. The next day I woke up with a little evil guy inside my stomach trying to talk the semi-processed food into vacating the premises immediately. Luckily, they held strong until that evening and I was able to make it to the top and back before they complied to his wishes. The mountain was absolutely beautiful. We very leisurely weaved our way through towering pines interspersed with enormous ferns under which one would usually expect to find a troll lounging with his legs crossed and his hat pulled down over his eyes. The air was almost always foggy and very moist and had that coolness to it that sticks on the end of your nose. We reached the top with a triumphant dropping of packs, snapped some photos, ate some sandwiches, and turned around to head back to camp. From the lookout point, you are supposedly able to see all the way to San Salvador but we learned that Celaque does indeed deserve its designation as a “Cloud Forest.” After a bit, though, we were rewarded with a small window and a stunning view of Honduras below us. I couldn’t have asked for a better way to celebrate 2009. That night, my grand plans to ring in 2010 were thwarted by that evil guy I told you about earlier who finally got his way around 11:00pm and kept me up for the rest of the night. Hey at least I got to see midnight roll around. If it hadn’t been for such a fun time otherwise, I think my mood would have been pretty sour. But as it was, I had an amazing trip with an amazing group of people and was very sad to see everyone part ways. We stayed the next night in a beautiful hostel overlooking Gracias and took a dip in the hot springs that stay open 24 hours and are a total party scene. I got back on the bus and back to real life. Happy New Year.
Last Thursday I was able to watch Texas play in the Rose Bowl and tried to explain to non-American football fans how my heart could be so invested in a game that wasn’t soccer. It turns out it is actually a good thing I wasn’t able to follow the season very closely this year or I would now be in a deep depression that would last for weeks. That being the only game I’ve watched in its entirety, the funk passed rather quickly. There’s always next year. I hope everyone had a very Merry Christmas Day and/or 8 Crazy Hannukah nights and brought in the New Year in style. Coming soon: What do you eat? What is your house like? What exactly do you do all day? What do you do when goats get into your house and are totally freak out? All great questions that I will attempt to answer.
The Three Obviously Best Albums of 2009:
1) The Wonderful Organization- TWO (
2) Umphrey’s Mcgee- Mantis
3) Opposite Day- What is is?

ps. My camera started turning all natural light purple so all my pictures are really weird. But there are lots of other people who have great pictures from the Celaque trip and they are coming soon...