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The Paroissien Diaries

HONDURAS: Mayan Tombs and The Failed Volunteer Experiment

HONDURAS | Tuesday, 25 August 2009 | Views [933] | Comments [1]

Honduras...well lets get honest, it was always going to be exciting wasn´t it. We went against the grain and decided to ignore the travel warnings on the Australian webiste to avoid all unnecessary travel. Unfortunately this makes me an unsmarttraveller.gov.au but sometimes you just have to take a risk, and the volunteer job we were searching out in the west of the country just sounded so great.

lets begin with the border crossing from El Salvador to Honduras. After a short bus ride we arrived a little nervous to a big block of buildings. To the say the least the border corssing was ghostly in its appearance. The big empty halls contained lonely, dull, crome, ajoining desks that sat idly chatting with the dust about the glory days. Parallel to the buildings the road trains lined up waiting to be let through but unlike any other crossing in the world there was no ANGST in the air! No tourists nervously wondering whether maybe, somehow, that maybe, just this once they didn´t have the right stamp. No dodgy looking drug dealers or sleak buisness men being impatient at the end of the line. There were certainly no undercover policemen hoping that today would bring their big bust. The sniffer dogs, the customs officials and well the rest of the entire immigration team had seemingly been given the day off. The sounds of stamps slamming onto passports, the stench of sweat and rice and the old clasic intimadating officer with big bushy eyebrows, not there, gone, vanished, poof.

I thought at that point that the only thing for this occasion would be a good old fashion coooooooweeeeeeeee but thought this might wake someone up in the middle of their dream, which i have heard is not good for you. Alas, a tactical knock knock on a door leading to nowhere in particular was employed.

An óh what a surpise´look was hastily followed by a dirty finger pointing to some far off óther´building. A little confused we headed over to this other building but were not even half way when a small, large, balding man with a killer moustache stopped us and walked us back to the original building we had just been in. At this point you realize the classic philosophy that people work much better when things are busy.
From a few years of experience in the hospo game you come to realize that when service is crazy, things work efficiently and jobs are done. When things are quite however, service often goes to the dogs! And when things are really, really quite, a mental state starts to come over you when you start to fear this quiet peace being disrupted. You start fearing the customer! And when it happens, in your head you are screaming at them " ohhhhhh really, come on, are you sure you want to be here, no one else is!?!? and thus the effort of serving two people with a smile is harder than serving 100 people. This was the feeling I got when we were being ping ponged aroud the immigration posts. Please, however, dont get me wrong, this crossing was awesome! The fat, blading man with the awesome moustache barely looked at the passport, asked for 6 bucks and we left stepping over the old frayed swine flu health declarations who were clearly trying to make a break for it in the hope of being filed out somewhere along the line.

So with a hop, skip and a jump we crossed over into Honduras. A country that recently had a military operated but supreme court and congressionally supported coup. Poor old President Zelaya went to bed one night in Honduras and woke the next day to find himself in Costa Rica! How annoyed would you be! Hang on a second, this isn´t Honduras, take me back! Unfortunately for everyone he hasn´t been allowed back in the country and since then the country and politics of Honduras all goes murky. What does seem certain however is that there is no chance in the world that Zelaya will take back the Presidency.  I wont try to sum it up anymore but for a good overview of what is happening (both sides of the story) visit the website www.marder.com/htw

We borded a wait for it, you guessed, empty bus to a little town called Santa Rosa de Copan. Along the way we unfortunatly had a bit too much time to contemplate why we had entered a country on the brink of civil war. Being psycologicly confident when travelling, (for me anyway) is super dooper important. if someone tells you that a place is dangerous and you believe them then point of view can change dramaticly. All of a sudden the people staring at you from across the street are no longer nice cool locals interested in where you are from, they are vicious, machety carrying psycos out for blood! hahaha extreme i know but it happens and as a country Honduras is as volitile as any. Extreme poverty, high unemployment and a class system that is so drastically out of sync that the entire country's wealth is in the hands of 8 families. Tack on a little military coup and political unrest and you have two scared little travelers on a bus to Santa Rosa de Copan.

Santa Rosa de Copan
The bus from the frontier which had no one on it eventually cut its losses and handballed us onto another more full bus. Eventually we were dropped on the outskirts and feeling so rattled we jumped in a taxi. At these times of stress and confusion there is only one thing you can do, call your mum. Mums despite knowing this already and using it to their unfair advantage usually know exactly what to  do. So we found a nice hostel and made our way to the phone box. Unfortauntely a lovely 26 minute phone call to England set us back 60 us dollars. What!!!!!! 60 bucks!! This sent us over the edge and at times like these not even mum can help, we had to smash a few beers.

Hilariously the beer in honduras is called Salva Vida which translates to "life saver" brilliant.
-The introduction of the "baleadas," tortillas cooked on a crepe style hot pan and filled with delicious delights like bean paste, cream, cheese, avo and chicken.

Copan RuinsThe advantages of a tourist town in a country on the brink of civil war were obvious, even to the paranoid eye. In fact we were there for so many days that we convinced ourselves that Honduras was in fact a paradise with lovely Mayan ruins and cocktails at every turn. A wave of relaxation washed over us as we saw random tour busses with middle aged North Americans carrying cameras that were bigger than the security guards gun at the bank. If they´re here, it must be safe.

- In saying this, the tourist town was relativly dead. Lush. clean hotels all with personalle on the streets yelling at us to stay at their hotel. Swanky restaurants with signs saying, second meal free ( we still coudnt afford it) and tonnes of bars with 2 for 1 cocktails and the old ere classic sign of struggle "happy hour ALL DAY"
- By far the best thing there was the internationally known Mayan Ruins. These heritage listed ruins were off the rictor scale! We had these amazing temple like structures built thousands of years ago to ourselves.
The Mayan civilization was amazing, technical language, uber impressive mathamaticans, dudes who made all sorts of accuarate depictions of the sun and moons and calanders. 
Naturally I was interested in the sport they played. These hard core nuts played a soccer style game with what can only be described as a childs AMF Ten Pin Bowling ball with a little bounce. This ball made from sap from the rubber tree represented the sun and the moon and the aim of the game was to keep the bowl moving using anything but your hands or your feet! This resulted, I am told, in countless fractures of the ribs, shoulders and hips. also, pictures depicting this ancient game show players with severed human heads tied around their waistes, no one knows if this is symbolic or what actually happened to the losers... Hmmmmm werent quite on the ball with this one were they!

- Indiana Jones style setting, you walk out of these hard core jungles and step into this clearing and ahead are the temples. Ball courts, temples, pyramids, and the longest known maya script in the world written on glphys lining 63 steps heading up to a throne. Very cool stuff.

THE  GREAT VOLUNTEER EXPERIMENTBack in June we managed to organise  the perfect volunteer job. Working for 10 weeks in a school in a small town in Honduras. It was perfect becuase we didn´t have to pay loads of money to sign up, we covered some small costs for food and housing and we were going to be able to teach English in a primary school. From the net the school looked unreal, positive and well run and working with other volunteers and getting to know the community was going to be ace.
It all went wrong. Below is an email the Beth wrote to her mum hours after doing the scariest runner of our lives. I Literally believe that we may have broken backpack 400 metre records! Enjoy the descriptions.
oh for reasons that this site is public, i have changed names.

Hello all,
the big news is ... we quit. we just ran away this morning, it was horrible! John, the owner, far from being the organised, pro active, kind-and-caring-enough-to-set-up-a school-in-a-developing-country man that we had asssumed from the emails, was deathly pale, semi clothed, brink of death skinny, shrivelled old stoner who never left his bedroom. To meet him we had to go into his lair. in fareness, he did come out once, but that was with a big shot gun that he fired into the pool a few times to demonstrate (i kid not) what he was going to do to the stray kitten. He also said that he likes to fire his gun every now and again as it helps with the crazy gringo rummours that stop people from breaking into his house. according to local lore he has shot 5 or 6 peasants.
so we arrived and no one knew what was going on, everyone was slagging eachother off and blaming eachother for the fact nothing gets done, the whole place was drenched in negativity. doom and gloom. as for the school, it was failing, john had been accussed af redirecting school funds, there was no curicculum and not enough money.  we were told that because not enough volunteers had shown up we'd have to teach a grade (pick one!) and when andrew raised the point that these families are scrimping and saving to send their kids to this school and we didnt really feel we were qualified to teach fourth grade, he was told well, none of us are teachers either. hmm. reassuring. noone seemed to know what kids in fourth grade were supposed to know or be taught, there were no reccords of what they had already learned.
and also, the town was dangerous, we werent allowed to walk anywhere alone and volunteer houses were frequently broken into. added to which, the cigar factory was set to close down in september and with it 1200 jobs gone. and i was already dubious about the political situation! and our room was horrible and leaked with big puddles on the floor. and the bed collapsed when we sat on it... 
so we told them this morning that we were leaving, i was having nervous breakdowns about our security and andrew couldnt take the conning of the poor parents. and the shame is that we probably would have been among the better teachers there (at least we know what verbs are!). so we fled on a super fast bus back to copan and here we are, feeling relieved but bad because we dont usually give up on things and now those children dont have fourth grade teacher. quitting was difficult, we always see things through, and i really hope that it was the right thing to do. i dont think we'll shake that negativity for a while. though 2 for 1 cocktails may help.
So there you have it! Since then we have made it to Guatamala and are about to tackle 1 month of Spanish and try again to volunteer haha try.

Sunday score board
Mosquitoes- 978. Andrew 72
Internet deception-1, Andrew- 0
England cricket team- 2, Australian cricket team-  355, oh I am sooo bitter.
Dont try and talk Spanish with a banana in your mouth.
Speak Spanish clearly or they´ll think you are speaking  English and tell you that "sorry, I dont speak English"
When in doubt run as fast as you can with a backpack to a tourist town for 2 for 1 cocktails and a convo with your mum.

Good  times and Great Classic Hits




Dad's Day today - we are celebrating by dad cooking risotto tonight - leek, ham and artichokes! Don't know if we could survive for longon bananas and beans now - especially not without a touch of red wine.

Your new work with the children sounds quite magical - I'm only sorry I can't send dozens of little kangaroos and koalas. Do you have an address at all - I could find something in Paris to send. Take care - love and hugs to you both - you are doing a great job.
Barb and Ianxxxxx

  Barb Paroissien Sep 7, 2009 4:02 AM

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