This year marked my third trip to Honduras volunteering with CapeCARES. It has come to feel like a tradition, like something that I just naturally do this time of year. With any luck, I will be able to continue these trips in the future. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go this year, but after reviewing my finances and happily discovering that I still had enough saved to cover the cost of the trip (see, being frugal has its benefits!), I signed up with CapeCARES in January. Unfortunately, March is high season for travel to Central America, between all the volunteer brigades, college spring break-ers, and people in northern states desperate to escape the lingering winter weather for a few days, and this was reflected in the prices of airfare to Tegucigalpa. Yikes. My choices were either shelling out over $800 for a flight to Tegus (absolutely not!) or paying less but connecting not once, but twice in the US (again, after my missed-connection and delayed baggage debacle last year, absolutely not). So I devised a plan C: flying into San Pedro Sula, Honduras (frequently awarded the moniker “Murder Capital of the World”) and taking the bus down to Tegucigalpa. Even including the price of a round–trip bus ticket and accommodation before and after arrival, this was a savings of several hundred dollars.
This was also the first year that I attempted to take only a carry-on with me. Ahhh, such a luxury not to have to worry about losing checked bags! I landed in San Pedro Sula, flew through customs, marched directly over to an ATM, bought two baleadas for lunch and a Honduran SIM card for my phone from the Tigo lady, and soon was on board the Hedman Alas bus en route to Tegus. I like being able to look out the windows, which is not as scenic from a plane! The bus was over an hour late arriving into the capital, and the cab that I had arranged was not there. Arriving after dark to a locked bus station made me VERY thankful that I had a cell phone. I called my hostel to rearrange the cab pickup, and my driver was even nice enough to swing through a drive-thru -at no extra charge- so that I could get dinner (more bean-and-cheese baleadas; I had given up meat for Lent 😉 ).
The next morning, I hailed a cab to the airport to meet my team. The regulars were there: Randy, Gordon, Helena, Warren, and Diane, as well as a slew of new volunteers: physicians Bill, Susie, and Okechukwu (whose name we immediately shortened to Okie for simplicity), midwife Meredith, dentist Josh and his wife Jessica, and two high school students, Gabriel and Monica, as well as her mother Maria Elena, all of whom would serve as our translators. I sat with Gabriel at the restaurant at the airport, eating my rice and beans. “So you go to the Discovery School, ” I asked him. “Do you know Cati?” mentioning a volunteer student from my first trip two years ago. She and I have kept in touch and even met up once for dinner in Washington, DC, where she is now studying. “Uh, yeah, ” Gabi responded. “She’s my sister.” No way! Small world!
Once we were met by our military guards, we split up into trucks to begin the ride to Nacaome, where we would stay overnight. We usually try to avoid driving at night for security reasons. I was happy to be driving through the countryside again.
We enjoyed a relaxing evening at the pool at our hotel in Nacaome, then loaded the trucks back up the next morning to continue to San Marcos. Some of us decided to walk down the road to the gas station to pick up snacks (and a bottle of wine) for the week.
We drove on to Langue, the last major town along the paved road, where they were having their Sunday market. Then it was onto the bumpy dirt road, my favorite part of the journey.
Before long, we were passing through the gates of the compound where we stay in San Marcos. We greeted all of the familiar faces of the village and immediately began setting up for the week. This year, we hung up bedsheets over the porch that we use as our dental clinic: this not only blocks out the intense morning sun from our workspace, but an additional sheet also provided a bit more privacy while we worked. Normally, I sit on the corner of the porch, in view of all those waiting for appointments as well as the people congregating outside the gate. With a sheet in place, it was like having my own private operatory :).
As always, the women of the village provided us with three delicious meal a day. Eating temporarily vegetarian was not an issue for me this year, since many of our meals are bean- or egg-based as it is. And they are drool-worthy!
In past years, the weather during the day was hot but became dramatically cooler at night. My first year, I was so underprepared for the nighttime chill that I had to ask someone in the village for a thick blanket by the second night. This was not the case this year. Although the wind was so intense that at times we were afraid that our equipment would blow over in the night, the heat was oppressive: I typically would lie in spread eagle position on my sleeping pad, trying not to make contact between any of my sweaty limbs until I had cooled off enough to crawl into my sleep sack and fall asleep. I have gotten San Marcos sleep down to a science: with ear plugs firmly in place, I am now impervious to the loudest of nighttime roosters and barking dogs.
Since the snowy Ohio weather had prevented me from getting much outdoor exercise this winter, I reveled in Gordon and Warren’s early morning hikes. My favorite memory from these excursions was standing in the middle of the woods and hearing a series of little grunts and snorts. Then one, two, three hairy little brown piglets appeared in a line, trotting their way down the hill, across the path, and up the opposite slope to a village. They knew exactly where they were going.
After a busy and successful volunteer week in San Marcos, we packed up our trucks and drove off to see another side of Honduras. More on our continued travels in a future post!