Sunday, September 29, 2013

Episode 3: The Mannells Meet Utila

Utila is one of the Bay Islands in the Caribbean off the coast of Honduras.  When you go there, a few things are bound to happen.  There is a decent chance that you will throw up off the side of a ferry that is sputtering through its broken, hapless existence.  Chances are good you will meet some really cool strangers. You might even feed a dog a T-bone.  But you will definitely swim in the sea, you will definitely drink gifiti, and you will definitely enjoy yourself.

We had a really great time over our first long weekend away from students.  A large group of teachers all got together, chartered a bus to the coast, and made the trip up to the island.  Once you arrive in the town of La Ceiba, you have to get on the most jankety ferry you'll ever see in your life.

View of La Ceiba from the ferry

We met some very nice people from all over the UK who were doing a tour of Central America. We played cards on the 45 minute ferry to Utila, and Megan produced the aforementioned vomit along the way - I'll spare you the details.  Once we arrived we got the long speech from Madame Louisiana (note: not her real name, but her David-given-nickname) about our expected behaviors/duties during our stay at the Lighthouse hotel.  It was a bit intense, but our stay was nice. And the view wasn't anything to scoff at.

View from our hotel room at night

Our first night there, we went to a staple of Utilan life, Skid Row Bar.  You're able to procure a very cool tank top by drinking four shots of a Garifuna (local tribal group of African ancestry) drink called gifiti.  It's basically rum poured into a bottle of various herbs and plant roots.  Once it's in your mouth you quickly realize that it's alcoholic toothpaste with an eternal aftertaste.  The bar knew our group was coming and had special teacher-themed tank tops made for us.  The shirts are nice trophies.

Hammocks are key when recovering from gifiti

The food in Utila is very good, we were actually surprised that it was so varied and delicious.  Some of the food was pretty interesting, and the seafood was pulled out of the water and thrown straight on the grill.  We each ate barracuda at one point and it was really tasty! We also got to go to a really cool treehouse bar.

The highlight of our time there, though, was our time at the beach.  When you aren't getting bitten by sand fleas or sand flies, which are very common in the Caribbean, the beach is really quite nice.  We enjoyed swimming and hanging out with friends. On our last day we went snorkeling at the reef.  Megan has snorkeled before, but it was my first time ever going and we had a blast.  It was incredible seeing schools of fish in so many colors, shapes, and sizes.  My favorite was the four eye butterfly fish. It has a big fake eye on its tail fin to confuse predators.

We've had a pretty calm time since returning to San Pedro.  Yesterday a group of us went paintballing for a friend's birthday.  I've got some pretty sweet marks, and am thinking about changing my name to Franco Honduras, the name that was on my military-issue paintball jacket. Megan was not quite so brave, and instead enjoyed a day with the girls by going to brunch and lounging around poolside at the Hilton. It was not a bad way to spend our Saturday.

Last night we also went to the Marathón soccer game. The soccer is not always the best, but the atmosphere is usually pretty good. And for a measly $2.50 per ticket, who are we to complain? Marathón won 2-1 and scored the game-winner really late in the game. We don't know exactly when it happened, because even though the game was played in the "nice" stadium, there is still no scoreboard or clock on display. And for all our Sporting KC friends, I'm not going to lie - it's nice to see the home team win.  We are hoping to return to this stadium on October 11, when Honduras plays Costa Rica in a crucial World Cup Qualifier. The game sold out in less than a day, so we are trying to find tickets on the street.  It will be a huge deal.  National team soccer games are practically national holidays, our school has already announced an early release for the occasion.

We have another three-day weekend next week and are going to go hiking and camping in the mountains. We will update you with those adventures later. We miss you all and hope you are all doing well. Til next time...

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Episode 2: Brews, Balls, and Baleadas

So, we realize it's been awhile since we last wrote here... turns out we're not very consistent bloggers. This morning David was making me a surprise breakfast (I love Sundays!) so I decided to update you on a few of our first-month-in-Honduras highlights:

The school year has gone really well so far. We've learned a lot of the ins and outs of teaching here, and we've settled into a pretty good routine, which includes Ultimate Frisbee after school on Tuesdays. There's a group of teachers that plays every week. David is really good, while I am really bad, but it turns out it's super fun and a good workout either way. We also started playing soccer with some people on Thursdays... I'm slightly better than I am on Frisbee Tuesdays, as there's less hand-eye coordination involved.

Speaking of soccer, we also attended our first Honduran soccer game about three weeks ago... one of the two local teams, Marathon, played against Motagua, which is one of the teams from Tegucigalpa. The supporters' section for Marathon is called La Furia Verde. People definitely get crazy in a different way than at Sporting KC games... there is about an 8-ft wire fence that separates the fans from the field, and when something (good or bad) happens, dozens of fans from La Furia literally climb it and stand on top of it, either cheering, cursing, or getting a better angle to throw their beer at the ref:

Getting to the game was an experience in itself... we took the local buses, called rutas, with friends of ours that have been here much longer. Here are two important facts about local buses in San Pedro Sula:

1) There are no scheduled stops or timetables. Instead, you learn where each route goes, then stand somewhere on the side of the road along that route. They will stop and pick you up. Once on the bus, you just yell out when you want them to stop, and they let you out. It only costs the equivalent of 40 cents, and here's why:

2) Most buses are actually passenger vans. There is a driver, and there's a kid who stands in the sliding doorway. His job description is this: collect money from passengers, and also squeeze as many possible people onto the bus. (If you care about your personal space, you should not ride a bus here.) When we got to the city's center, which is full of vendors and people walking around, the kid literally got out of the bus and darted around trying to find the bus more passengers. The job is 90% salesmanship, 5% making change, and 5% not falling out of a moving vehicle, from what I can tell. On our way back from the game, the bus actually left one "stop" without the sales kid -- he had to run to catch up and hop back on!

On a more relaxing note, two weeks ago we took the opportunity to do some traveling and get out of the city with a few other teachers. We took a bus to the Lake Yajoa area, specifically to D&D Brewery, which is owned by an American ex-pat. It is awesome -- the brewery is literally built among the trees:

Our cabin at D&D, surrounded by jungle amazingness (a little blurry, sorry!)
Evening beers by lantern light at D&D, captured by our friend Chase
We stayed in a cabin there, enjoyed several pitchers of beer, and got to do some great hiking. We walked to a nearby coffee plantation, called Finca Paraiso, and we got to use some bamboo walking sticks to make it up a big hill for a splendid view of Lake Yajoa. Along the way, there were hundreds of coffee plants, both wild and domesticated:

View of Lake Yajoa from our hike

Baby coffee plants at Finca Paraiso

Our trip was highlighted, however, by a visit to a nearby park.  We were able to get a guided tour behind a pretty majestic (and roaring) waterfall. Now when I say "behind the waterfall", I mean it. The tour led us through some wading pool areas before we approached the waterfall itself. Once we got close, the guide told us to keep our heads down and hold hands with the person in front of and behind us.  This advice was more valuable than we anticipated, as once you are inside the belly of the beast, there is no such thing as vision.  All your eyes encounter is pain, and your entire body is pounded with about a billion gallons of water dropped 43 meters from above.  Once we got behind, there was a cave we were able to climb inside, and then on the hike back out there were a few ledges we got to jump off.

Pre-hike (still dry)

Behind the waterfall

David about to leap into the pools
We were hoping to return home a little quicker than our departing trip, and luckily we were able to hop aboard the brewery's delivery truck, which was conveniently driving to San Pedro that afternoon. The crew at D&D were super cool about helping us out with whatever we needed. I would definitely recommend the trip if you ever get the chance. If you would like to see more pictures, David set up a photostory using pictures from my camera and from our friend Chase's camera. You can see them here.

Now for the food. In a nutshell, the food here is amazing. Everything is fresh, even the American-style stuff, like burgers and fries. We ate dinner at a local burgers/wings/fries stand called Frites a couple weeks ago, and our food took at least 15 minutes because they made it to order! I never want to eat at a McDonald's again. And one thing we've been eating almost daily are baleadas -- they are tortillas filled with beans, cheese, and cream, and usually whatever else your little heart desires. We have a 20 minute mid-morning break at school each day, and the chefs there make a mean baleada for only 13 lempiras (about sixty five cents). We really have to restrain ourselves to not eat one everyday.

To celebrate our one-month-in-Honduras mark, David and I went to a Korean restaurant last weekend. It was called Restaurante Coreano (literally, Korean Restaurant), they got real creative with the name. It was super delicious and (according to our friends that have lived in Korea) super authentic Korean food. Pretty awesome ambiance, too -- we sat on cushions on the floor at our table! We also definitely ordered way too much food:

This is when we gave up trying to finish off our food.

Before the food arrived, they brought us kimchi and some other delicious pickled stuff.

There's also a bakery/corner store a couple blocks away from us, called Extra. They have delicious tortillas, pita, hummus, espinaca dip, AND they make at least a dozen different kinds of cookies. David lets me choose a different kind almost every time we're there. We both agree that so far, the pineapple empanada might be the best one:

Friday was practically a national holiday.  Honduras was playing Mexico in a crucial World Cup Qualifier. About 2/3 of the students and teachers were allowed to bend the rules and wear a Honduran soccer jersey at school.  Very different from the states, where kids often ask David "what's a World Cup Qualifier?"  We went to a place called Cerveceria Mary's to watch the game. The food was super good, the beers were cheap, David practiced his Spanish on some Honduran soccer fans he met, and best of all, Honduras scored twice in three minutes to highlight a spectacular comeback to win 2-1 in Mexico City. No one expected them to win, not even Hondurans.

People. Went. NUTS. Both times Honduras scored, (and when the whistle blew at the end of the match), everyone screamed and jumped up and down and sprayed their beers everywhere. This was on purpose -- a guy behind me tapped me on the shoulder right before the end of the game and said in Spanish: "Watch out, I'm going to spill my beer everywhere." (That's a rough translation anyway.) By the end of the night we were both soaked... Definitely an unforgettable experience.

So, that's a long, rambling version of what we've been doing this past month. We have a 3.5 day weekend for Honduran Independence Day next week, and we are headed to Utila, one of the Bay Islands, for some sun and sand and snorkel and scuba! Maybe that will be the next alliterative blog post title. (Bonus points, by the way, to anyone who can pick apart this blog post for the sections that I wrote and the sections that David wrote. You better believe I was the one who used the word "alliterative" in the last sentence though.)

Hasta luego!
-Megan and David