Posts Tagged With: Honduras

At the Copan, Copan Cabana

And yes, I did just write that.

Compared to the TicaBus, my Hedman Alas from Tegucigalpa to Copan Ruinas was the height of luxury (I guess it should be at twice the price): controlled air conditioning, muted overhead movie, and a snack! Oooh! I also loved their station in San Pedro Sula, where I had to change buses. Super clean, well- lit, and playing awesome music. I heard both Daft Punk’s “Digital Love” and Billy Idol’s “Eyes Without a Face.” Never underestimate the importance of excellent waiting room music.

20140402-160213.jpg Whoa! Whah happah???


The drive to Copan Ruinas was absolutely gorgeous. Through its winding hills covered in green forests, I was thrilled just to be able to listen to music and look out the window at the scenery. Once in the town, I traveled by tuktuk to my hotel, Hotel ViaVia, which had come with high recommendations from a Honduran friend. It was very convenient to have a restaurant and travel agency within the hotel, since I was able to book a few fun activities through them. I really wanted to try an all-day package with horse-riding, hiking, and a visit to a coffee finca, or plantation, but there was no availability on the days I was there.

My first morning in Copan Ruinas, I walked to the nearby Mayan ruins of Copan. Although these ruins are small in relation to other major sites like Chichen Itza, they are renowned for the extent to which the sculptures and painted colors have been preserved. I splurged on a guided tour with Vergilio, who had been on the team which found the Rosalila Temple on the site in the late 1980s. He was a wealth of information, and I learned a ton about the history of the Mayans in the area. By the end of the tour, I was even able to pick out the names of certain rulers, like 18 Rabbit, when I saw them carved into the nearby stones. Vergilio told me that one of the many Mayan languages was his primary tongue; therefore his name is not actually “Vergilio” but a complex-sounding Mayan name which translates into something close to “the bat that flies in the night.” He joked with me that his name was actually Batman ;).





20140402-161345.jpg 18 Rabbit, the 13th ruler of Copan





20140402-161528.jpg Mayan ball court. Unlike in American sports, the MVP received the honor of being sacrificed to the gods. Go team!


20140402-161559.jpg The statue missing from the middle of the Hieroglyphic Stairway was used by the Honduran government to pay the US for the completed excavations earlier in the 20th century. Its current location? The Harvard Peabody museum in Cambridge, MA… which I failed to visit before moving. Grr!

20140402-161704.jpg In the mouth of the snake (and the entrance to the museum)

20140402-161717.jpg Archeological and dental double geek-out: the Mayans knew about rugae!!!

20140402-161637.jpg Awww… freak out! Le freak! Tres chic!


20140402-182119.jpg Vergilio with his namesake, the bat



On my second morning, I went for a guided hike with Girardo, the Belgian owner of Hotel ViaVia. We went with his dog and explored some ruins farther out from the main site, and i got to see some amazing views of the valley.

20140402-161825.jpg Not the dog who joined in on the hike. This guy had been clipped in two different places that morning (one was his claws; you can guess the other) and looked like he needed a drink.



Later on that day, I booked a trip to Jaguar Springs, the local hot springs. As I boarded the shuttle, I found that I was the only passenger. The driver, Onri, and his coworker, Carlos, work every day, seven days a week, nearly 365 days a year, driving the shuttle from early in the morning until late and night. Onri stated that the only time that he really gets a break is when he takes passengers to the hot springs; then he can at least enjoy the baths until his passengers are ready to leave. We spent most of the 1.5 hour drive there practicing our respective Spanish and English with each other. I found that we were able to understand each other really well.

And boy, were the springs a good idea. The site sprawled out through the trees along an entire hillside: natural hot pools, cold pools, mud baths, steam baths, “head and neck massage” waterfalls, etc. You could spend a whole day here and not see them all. Coincidentally enough, the large group of patrons nearby were a dental brigade from UConn. It was kinda funny to be sitting in a steaming hot bath with a bunch of others dentists from New England. 🙂

Onri and Carlos were total sweethearts. We spent the whole afternoon talking in the pools: they told me about their wives, I told them about my travels, and we told each other language jokes. My favorite Spanish pun of theirs?

Q: What did the Japanese man say when he lost his motorcycle?
A: Yo no miro mi Yamaha! (I don’t see my Yamaha!)

They also really liked to say, “See you later, alligator!” and were pleased to learn, “After a while, crocodile!”


20140402-162221.jpg Onri, Carlos,and I. And a lot of mud.

20140402-162511.jpg White arms, red legs.

Once we had transformed into large prunes and the skin of my legs turned a bright red due to the increased circulation, we decided it was time to leave. Off we went in the shuttle, listening to what I realized was Spanish-language Christian reggaeton (there’s a first time for everything!) and picking up any locals on the way who needed a ride. A lot of people were heading for Copan Ruinas to celebrate at the city festival. I joined in on the fun with friends from the hotel and was thrilled to hear some of my new favorite songs on the dance floor. Check out “El Caballito de Palo” by Joseph Fonseca. Catchiest. Song. Ever.

I REALLY would have liked to stay in Copan Ruinas at least another night, but the timing of shuttles to Guatemala ended up making my decision for me. I was scheduled to start Spanish classes on Monday, so I needed to start heading in that direction. My heart broke to be leaving Copan. Maybe next year…?

20140402-161959.jpg The town of Copan Ruinas



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Tegucigalpa: Home Sweet Home (for a night)

After the paradise of Laguna de Apoyo, I needed to start heading back northwest in order to begin my month of Spanish classes in Guatemala as scheduled. This involved several long-haul trips, which were considerably more pleasant than my initial bus ride to Nicaragua because I no longer felt as if my body was plotting against me.

First I needed to get back to Honduras. The same 8-hour TicaBus that I had taken from Tegus to Managua also travels back to Tegus… leaving Managua at 5:30am. I did not feel comfortable trying to walk or even get a taxi to a bus station at four in the morning. I learned that TicaBus actually has hotels in some of their bus stations for this very reason. I decided it was worth a shot – especially at $14 a night – considering I hadn’t planned to do much in Managua, anyway, the evening before my bus ride. I splurged on a taxi ride from Laguna de Apoyo to Managua because I would be arriving after dark. The TicaBus hotel was a good idea, in retrospect, although the dim lighting gave it a decidedly creepy feel. My room was simple and clean, however (minus a cigarette burn on the comforter) and included a towel, bar of soap, and shampoo packet. Aside from going to the shared bathroom to brush my teeth and wash my face, I stuck to my room (quite literally, due to the oppressive heat), sleeping spread eagle in minimal clothing under the ceiling fan… and keeping the chain locked.

It was a good thing, too: the following morning at 4am, I received an (unrequested) wake-up knock at my door. I had somehow cooled off enough overnight to wiggle under the bedsheet, for which I was immediately grateful when the hotel worker opened my door (did he get a key?!?!?) to the chain and barked, “Cuatro!.” I bolted upright, heart pounding madly, holding my sheet up over my bare skin and squinting at the blurry silhouette in the light of the open doorway. The door then closed, and I was left there in the darkness. Um, what the hell???

The ride to Tegucigalpa was pleasant, again overlooking TicaBus’ unfortunate choices of loud-volume movies: Alvin and the Chipmunks, some other animated movie involving a bear and an antelope… sigh. Want to listen to the new Beck album you just downloaded? Sorry, it’s Tinkerbell for you today. En español.

I was SO HAPPY to arrive in Tegus, where I was picked up at the bus station and driven to the high school of my new friend Nicole, who was one of our student interpreters on the CapeCARES trip. Nicole’s family generously offered to let me stay at their house while in Tegucigalpa for the night. Our other interpreter, Valerie, took me on a fantastic tour of the Discovery School where they study. What a gorgeous campus!

20140327-182111.jpg Nicole and Valerie

The rest of the night was spent in celebration of Honduran Fathers’ Day. I went out for an early dinner at a shopping plaza with Nicole and her family. I feel like there are two Tegucigalpas: “the most dangerous city in Central America” that I read about in books and newspapers, and the Tegus where I can visit a cozy crepe restaurant and an import store for a beer tasting on family night. (Note to JP residents: it is possible to buy Sam Adams Seasonal in Honduras!) Our second dinner came later at Nicole’s house, where her parents had invited over a big group of family and friends to celebrate.

I was overwhelmed at the kindness and generosity of Nicole’s entire family and hope that I can see them again in the future. People like them are just another reason why I love Tegucigalpa.





20140327-182221.jpg Introducing the family to Sam Adams




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Randy, our team leader, determined that if the group was interested, we would have enough time on Friday to make a day trip to the island of El Tigre off of Amapala on the Pacific coast of Honduras rather than arriving early in Tegus for our last night as a team. We said our goodbyes to the people of San Marcos and headed out right after breakfast in our truck caravan.

We arrived on the coast a little after 11am and negotiated the price for a boat to take our entire group across. Once docked on the island, we split up into groups so we could be taken by tuk-tuk (a moto-taxi) or truck to the other side of the island. Setting our things down in the shade of a local restaurant, we feasted our eyes on something that we had not yet seen during our trip to the land-locked capital and village: a beach! This was not a tourist beach. Neighborhood kids were playing soccer, fishermen were preparing their catch in a boat to sell to the nearby restaurants, and locals were burning trash nearby.






Immediately, a group of us went to sit out in the sun. I noticed a leggy local girl who couldn’t have been more than ten years old loitering around our towels. My first instinct was that she was going to try to steal something (traveler’s paranoia), but she kept her distance. Lauren, Teresa, and I ran down the beach and jumped into the water. I swam out for a bit in the attempt to get some exercise (gotta get rid of this Boston winter spare tire!) As I turned around to tread water facing the shore, a little head with a big smile popped out of the water next to me. The girl had followed us into the water: I think she just wanted some company. We made our way back to shore and checked out the fishermen at work (it was both disgusting and strangely fascinating to see the fishermen throw big handfuls of fish entrails back into the water, where they were promptly scooped up by enormous black birds hovering over the beach).

Soon we were surrounded by an entire team of little girls who were probably between four and eight years old. We ran back down into the waves, the girls running beside us, giggling and splashing. The next hour was spent playing tag, making sand castles, playing “motorboat, motorboat, go so slow” in the water, and throwing dirt. It was awesome. What I have discovered is that one thing that little girls worldwide seem to love, regardless of background, is playing makeover. As I sat in the shallow water, one of the girls carefully attempted to braid and/or twist my wet, filthy hair. Finished, she would then wade around to the front, sit down on my lap, appraise her work, and then lift my sunglasses up to look into my eyes and exclaim, “Que bonita!

Eventually we had to leave the water and join our group for lunch. The older girl, whose name was Ismenia Elizabeth (spelling?), seemed sad to see us go. Wanting to give her something, I took out my little steno notebook and drew her a picture of the group of us. She accepted it with a big smile. I was sad to see her go, too! (In retrospect, I had a little too much fun, because I both cut my big toe while running and completely forgot to put on sunscreen, which did not bode well for my pasty New England complexion).

After lunch, we took the lancha back to the mainland and set off in our trucks back to our last evening together in Tegucigalpa.






Update 3\16: Thanks to Heather for sending me some additional photos from the beach. Kindly disregard the horrifically pale skin and spare tire. I have neither the time nor the skills to PhotoShop on a tan :P.



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Cutest kid in Honduras

Cutest kid in Honduras

David communicated with me solely by pounding on the hood of the truck and blowing raspberries (or whatever you call it when you vibrate your lips together to make a “brrr!” sound).

Here he is, chillin’ with Dad.

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A Visit to Isletas School

One of my favorite days from my trip to San Marcos last year was the morning that we spent at a local school teaching about oral hygiene and distributing toothbrushes. When it was announced that we would be visiting another school this year, I jumped at the chance to be part of the team that went.

A small group of us: Randy, Helena, Lauren, Bill, Nicole, Linda, and two of the soldiers and I boarded our truck to head up the road on Tuesday morning to the Isletas school. I think that it was my first time riding in the back of a truck, so I have to admit even that part was pretty fun :). The truck would only take us so far; the rest of the way we had to hike up a dirt path.





Upon our arrival at the school, there was a buzz of excitement among the students. Last year, the students the San Marcos Abajo school had assembled in the main yard for our presentation, but this day we learned that the Isletas students had a performance planned for us. We were seated on a raised platform in the courtyard of the school while the students sang, performed a drum line, and even acted out a little song for us.

One older boy stood out as sort of an elder statesman of the school. He was one of the lead drummers in the drum line and was the boy chosen to perform the courting song for us. During the drumming, he coolly put on a pair of sunglasses, and after the performances, he came up to me to shake my hand and ask my name. He also arranged a small group of boys to accompany us part of the way back down to the truck afterwards. I am confident that he is on his way to becoming mayor or president or something!


Then came time for our presentation. With an interpreter for time’s sake, I introduced myself and said that I was a dentist. I asked the students, “Who can tell me what a dentist does?” It broke my heart to hear one boy yell, “Saca los dientes! (You pull teeth!)” Back at home, when I ask this question, most kids will answer “You clean teeth.” This is how different the expectations are between these two populations. I tried to segue that into something more positive by saying that yes, dentists do extract teeth, but we clean and fill them and try to keep them healthy so we don’t have to pull them. So we talked about brushing twice a day (I was nudged that I shouldn’t add “with toothpaste” because many of these kids don’t have that) and limiting sugary foods, which is another huge problem. Lauren then spoke about proper hygiene: handwashing before and after eating, after using the toilet, etc.

And then the anticipated event arrived: the distribution of new toothbrushes! We dotted each brush with a little bit of fluoride (a million thanks to Kathy Gentile at VOCO for the donated Remin Pro!!!!) and had the kids apply it and brush for one minute. Any kid would love to be able to spit enthusiastically with the full blessing of all adults present, so they had a ball with this:

Once we were done, the staff had a surprise for us: a handmade necklace for each team member. The kids had gathered the natural materials themselves.

We headed back to the truck and San Marcos in the hopes that some of our message would make an impact and that maybe the CapeCARES dental clinic will have a few fewer patients next year.










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Extracurriculars in San Marcos

Our visit in Honduras was not all official medical and dental business. Here are some of the fun things we did before- and after-hours.


Gordon and Warren organized early morning hikes for anyone who was interested. On the first day, the idea of getting up at 4:45am to hike in the dark sounded muy loco to me, but I did join them for some of the easier hikes on subsequent days. On the second day I walked with the group (and an accompanying soldier), we walked past the very nice home of a local family. A couple, likely in their 50s, approached their gate: they recognized us as part of the medical brigade. The woman had a bandaged foot and was limping a bit. She asked Warren to look at her foot, which he did. After his consultation was over, her husband walked over to a tree in the yard and brought Warren this as a thank-you gift:


While I would often curse myself at the beginning of each hike for not staying in bed, by the time the sun started to rise, the views became worth it.




Heather and I took it upon ourselves to teach Teresa yoga so that we could stretch out our muscles that were tight from hiking and (for me) lawn chair oral surgery. Our first session occurred after dinner in the dark on the porch near the storage room. We had a lot of fun, but probably not as much fun as the local kids watching the stupid gringas contort themselves into weird positions wearing headlamps in the dark.


Sampling local products

As said before, a Salva Vida (or Port Royal, which I don’t like quite as much) at the end of the work day was a nice way to unwind.


Group toothbrushing

In the mornings and before bed, many of us would gather around the main water cistern to brush our teeth, sometimes inadvertently to the entertainment of locals watching on the other side of the fence.

Sorry guys, no photos of that one :).

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Back to San Marcos

Norma was back to pick me up at the hotel lobby at 9 the following morning. We drove back to Toncontin airport and headed for the United desk, which was supposed to open at 9:30. Surprise! No one was actually there until almost 10:00, but I was able to finally get my bag, which had arrived unscathed.

Norma, her sister Susi, and I headed onto the highway in our rented SUV. Normally, the road to San Marcos takes about four hours , but on that Sunday morning with minimal traffic, we made it there in pretty good time, passing through Nacaome where the CapeCARES team had stayed the night before and then through Langue, the last major town before the road turned from pavement to rocky dirt. The last stretch of road that winds through the hills to San Marcos is so bumpy that I consider it a “sports bra road.”

20140310-091349.jpgBehind a truck on the highway

The town of Langue

It was a happy feeling to finally drive up through the gates of the complex in San Marcos where we would be spending the rest of the week. I saw lots of familiar faces: Maria, Vergilia, and Marle, the women who work in the kitchen cooking our meals every day; Juan Carlos, one of the jefes of the village; Tomasa, who launders our clothes and attends all of the Catholic celebrations in the chapel; and Maria Norma holding her cousin David, who still has my vote as the cutest baby in the world.




I got a warm reception from everyone on the team. Five of the team members had been there with me a year before: Randy and Gordon, both dentists; Warren, our physician; and Helena and Diane, who work as support staff in the pharmacy and dental clinic. We had a great team of nurses this year: Lauren, Teresa, and Heather, as well as Jen, a respiratory therapist. Bill and Bob also worked as support staff in the pharmacy and at triage. Two high school students from the Discovery School in Tegus, Nicole and Valerie, were our interpreters, along with their chaperone, Linda, who assisted me in dental. In addition, CapeCARES had hired three Honduran military guards, Carlos, Johnny, and Darwin, who would be accompanying us for safety all week. I had arrived just in time for lunch, and then it was time to get to work.

I’ve written an article about our setup in San Marcos, but for those of you who don’t happen to subscribe to a Cleveland-based Slovenian newspaper, I’ll give you the rundown. Our medical clinic and pharmacy are set up inside the main building, and the dental clinic operates on the porch. Just off that porch are the women’s dorm rooms, where we sleep in cots. The men’s dorm and the food storage room are on the opposite side of the building. For meals, the medical and pharmacy tables and chairs are pushed to the center of the main room and covered with tablecloths for dining. Within the gates of the complex are also a water tower, a set of connected stalls with latrines and two simple showers, a chapel, and an open-air kitchen.

20140311-140613.jpgTeresa in the women’s dorm

20140311-200430.jpgJen organizing records

20140311-200608.jpg The main gate
20140311-203459.jpg Bathrooms and showers

20140311-200925.jpg Breakfast time

20140311-200657.jpg Bill in the pharmacy

Wake-up time comes early in San Marcos, especially if you have been kept awake by any of the following:
1. Barking dogs
2. Fighting dogs
3. Crying babies
4. The bus to Langue blaring its horn from the road at 4am
5. Frequent rooster crowing. I am used to the normal crowing, but this year one rooster emitted the weirdest sound. I finally found a way to describe it: look up the song “Creep” by TLC. There’s a repetitive horn loop playing in the background: “buh-BAH!” Now imagine that horn dying a long and painful death: “buh-BAaaaaauuuhh.” Now imagine that over and over again between the hours of 2-5am. Bring earplugs. 🙂

“Office hours” are from 8am to about 12-12:30pm and then from 1 to about 5-5:30 pm (or whenever we finish with the last patient). In dental, we had three chairs set up this year: one for fillings and two for extractions. Lack of electricity changes how we do a lot of things: sterilization of instruments is done with pressure cookers twice a day, diagnosis has to be done without the use of xrays, and our “drill” runs on a gasoline-powered compressor (which this year also became popular as a charging station for cell phones. What a difference a year makes! Last year, no one used a phone. This year, all we had to do was turn the generator on, and within minutes 3-5 people would come running in the hope of claiming a spot on the power strip!)

20140311-093649.jpgDental supply table

20140311-200201.jpg San Marcos restorative department

20140311-200230.jpg My “office”

20140311-200245.jpg Sterilization department

20140311-200301.jpg Sharps container





I did extractions all week. Because of poor dental health education, infrequent use of fluoride toothpaste (whether due to lack of access, finances, or interest), high consumption of sweet sodas and juices, and what seems to be absolutely no social stigma against loss of teeth, it was not uncommon for us to extract 3-5 teeth for one person. Many people walk for several hours to get to our clinic and appear to come with the mindset that they want to get as many teeth removed as they can. Many people, even including younger people in their teens and 20s, have full or partial dentures with gold teeth added, which are very popular. One day, I extracted the four front teeth of an 18-year-old boy because of rampant decay; at home, I would have treatment planned him for root canals and crowns on all those teeth, but that’s not an option here. It’s a very different way of practicing dentistry.

The clinic setting is a bit different, too. My patient chair was a reclining lawn chair, which was SO MUCH BETTER on my back compared to the upright plastic patio chair I used last year. We are on a porch, so in the late afternoon when the sun is on the other side of the building, we have to rely more on headlamps and flashlights. And (my favorite part), once every couple hours or so, you would hear this increasingly loud chorus of chirps. Sure enough, coming around the corner and through the clinic would be the local chicken and her twelve little chicks. I was so entertained by this that I would always run and get my camera to take pictures if I wasn’t with a patient (after several rounds of this, Gordon told me that I might have a problem!)

Dinner time is usually around 5:30 and for me was either preceded or accompanied by an end-of-the-day beer. I have come to really enjoy a local Salva Vida after a long day. After dinner, it is already dark, so other than finishing up some daily paperwork, the rest of the evening is free. However, given our early wake-up time and the heat of the day, I usually found myself in bed before 9pm (which never/ happens at home!)

More on other activities in my upcoming posts!












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