Despite having spent four weeks in Honduras the previous Christmas, I hadn’t really spent a lot of time around the city, and I wanted to get a good look at the capital. No sooner had I mentioned this, than Fafa offered to be my guide, and a couple of days later, we were off again in the paila with camera in hand to see the sights of Tegucigalpa. A common theme in a lot of Latin American cities is heavy traffic, and Tegucigalpa is no different, but we snaked our way through unpaved multicolored side-streets in residential areas where the graffiti from last year’s coup d’etat is slowly fading on the walls, past women heating tortillas and baleadas calientitas on street corners, across bridges lined with stalls and Stetson-wearing locals, and through markets selling fresh fruit and Christmas decorations. Tegucigalpa’s parks and colonial heritage are not as well maintained as those of Santo Domingo, but there are some beautiful scenes nonetheless in this hilly city.
One of Tegucigalpa’s lesser touristed attractions is the airport. As Fafa always says, “What’s the Chinese word for airport? Ton-con-tin!” Toncontin is Tegucigalpa’s airport right in the heart of the city. With a short runway and surrounded by mountain’s on all sides, it’s not for everyone. Watching a plane landing from the ground is a much more enjoyable exercise than sitting inside the plane, although it has plenty of excitement as well. Fafa knew a little road that took us right out at the start of the runway, and we went there one afternoon to watch the plane’s come in. We were able to watch them approach the city and fly right over the runway. Once inside the ring of mountains that surround Tegucigalpa, the airplane does a complete 360 degree turn around the inner edge of the mountains, before swerving around and straightening at the last moment, right above our heads, before touching down and slamming on the brakes. By far the largest aircraft to land at Toncontin is the American Airlines flight from Miami. After having watched two or three planes land, Fafa and I headed off to a local bar for a quick beer and a snack of grilled chicken, when we heard the AA flight flying over and landing. We had missed it, but managed to enjoy the beers and the chicken anyway, and promised to return another day. And it was worth it. The day we returned, the AA jet circled around and seemed to be heading straight for us, before straightening and landing safely on the runway. The size and speed of the jet was not lost on us as soundwaves continued to lash around us like lashes of whips for about 15 seconds after it passed over. Not the usual anorak planespotting activity.A Honduran Christmas is filled with family gatherings, but we enjoyed a couple of night’s out on the town. The first was with Fafa who invited Ninfa and I to a martial arts fight night in one of the nightclubs in a newly developed part of the city centre. The action was fast and furious as was the rum-drinking (and eventually gambling) around the ring. I woke up with a sore head and shy a few hefty IOU’s the following morning. Another night we met up with Hernan and his wife Natalie, and went to the Mariachi and Piporro lined Boulevard Morazan to enjoy a typical Honduran evening out. Hernan played a pivotal role in how Ninfa and I met, as he was in Dublin visiting his cousin (a friend of mine) when Ninfa, who was traveling in Europe at the time, decided to come along and meet him, and eventually me, and the rest is history. We had a great time, despite the fact that both Natalie and I had to respect the self-imposed rule of only speaking Spanish for the whole night. Funny how rum seems to make it easier – they don’t teach that at school!
In a Christian-dominated society, it was a little surprising to discover that what Hondurans worship most on Sundays is grilled meat. Alas the false god of barbecue Sundays is a temptation not worth resisting. We spent two Sundays as guests of Jorge and Taty, and then Javier Tovar, in the scenic Valle de Angeles, a little over half an hour outside Tegucigalpa. Set among hills covered in pine trees, Valle de Angeles is a well-preserved, sleepy, little colonial town that is well worth a day trip from the capital. Sunday is the day to visit, and if you haven’t had your fill of grilled meat, there are numerous stands along the road that are filled with capitalinos enjoying grilled corn, pupusas and a cerveza or two. It’s a little higher than Tegucigalpa and the cool mountain air was the closest we were getting to snow this Christmas.
But most of all Christmas was spent in Tegucigalpa with Ninfa’s family. We got to see the Batruny’s again (plus Martita this time), and spend time playing games, singing karaoke and eating loads with Ninfita, Maria Stefania, Salva, as well as all the aunt’s and uncles during the festivities at Mama Ninfa and Papa Victor’s. And while Ninfa’s grandparents on her father’s side, Mama Negus and Papi Salva, had gone to Santo Domingo, we had a great night of chicharron and pastelitos de perro (dog cakes, but not dog meat!) with Gaby, Conrado, Gaby, Tato and Paulina, not to mention drinks with Ina, Roberto and family at their place. No, Honduras doesn’t do small family gatherings. Everyone was keen to feed us well after 9 months on the road and we were settling into a pleasant rhythm of breakfast in bed, lunches at Mama Ninfa’s and evenings eating tortilla soup and playing video games with Victorcito, or gambling (for pride) with Victoria and sharing nerves about wisdom teeth extractions with Loris Gabriella (hope you’re smiling again!). But arguably, the people Ninfa was most pleased to see aren’t actually people at all, and they were just as pleased to see her too. Four chihuahuas, one labrador, and one big cuddly crossbreed, Takito, Mingy, Figurin, Dos Veinte, Carmela and Lola were the object of copious amounts of affection and doggy treat throughout the holidays.There are a few specific traditions that are respected in a Honduran family Christmas. The first is that Christmas dinner is served at midnight on Christmas Eve, and although it’s not our usual dining time, it went down a treat. And a New Year’s tradition that we had to observe (for the third year running) was that of sporting our luggage (not for the first time this year) and running around the block, which is a superstition which is supposed to promise the bearer a new year full of travel and adventure – it worked last year!
Other than celebrating Christmas, Ninfa and I had high aspirations of planning the last three months of our trip which would take us around South America. Alas, following postponement after postponement, there we were with only five days left in our stay and all we had were a couple of visas, and precious little else. Probably because Ninfa was too busy spoiling the dogs, and I was too busy watching football and teaching Victorcito a thing or two on the Wii. For news of what we finally planned, and how we got on our on weekend on the south coast of Honduras, check out our next post.
So belatedly, from Honduras, Happy New Year 2011! And muchas gracias to all Ninfa’s family, and everyone we had the pleasure to spend a great Christmas and New Year with in Honduras. Viva!
PS Check out more of Tegucigalpa from our photos here.