It’s hard to believe it was just two days ago I awoke at 2:30 a.m., had one last coffee with my new friend Homero (host of a highly recommended casa particular, more info below), and headed for the Havana airport. The trip to Belize would be a long and grueling one – there are no direct flights to Belize from Havana, and I had to pass through Mexico City, then spend the night in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
The contrast could not have been greater. The Cuban landscape is free of commercial clutter; aside from a few billboards proclaiming the values of the revolution, or lamenting the Yanqui bloqueo (embargo) or the imprisonment of the Cuban Five, there is no advertising anywhere. For a Yanqui traveler, it’s at once a shock and a relief to the eye.
From the moment I landed in Honduras, on the other hand, my eyes were assaulted with ads for cell phones, soft drinks, snack foods, cars, and any number of consumible items. Dos Molinas Guest House – also highly recommended if you find yourself in Honduras’ second city, the gateway to Roatan, Copán and many other tourist destinations – is located in a typical dusty Honduran street but just two blocks from the City Mall, a brightly lit megaplaza filled with Guess jeans, StrideRite and PayLess shoes, Starbucks coffee and the like. I thought I had stumbled into a forgotten corner of the Galleria by mistake, with blonde, scantily-clad models around every corner.
Another thing I noticed as the plane coasted in for a landing was the checkered hillsides that stretched for miles. Wide swaths of deforestation were cut into the landscape; perhaps a third of the native forest was gone.
Luis, owner of Dos Molinos, picked me up at the airport and filled me in on the background; the Honduras government doesn’t care anything about the environment, and everything is being sold to the highest bidder. Thankfully, he said, things are settling down after the coup, the standoff with former president Manuel Zelaya and the elections, and the tourists are finally starting to come back. Still, he said, Zelaya was the president the country needed, and he was sorry to see him go.
He recommended Toledo’s restaurant around the corner for local fare. Just a block from the house I saw something I hadn’t seen since I left the U.S. – a gun repair and ammunition store. Gun ownership is illegal in both Mexico and Cuba. The other contrast I noticed right away was a proliferation of locksmith and key shops and herraderias – people who make the iron bars that go over windows. Thievery and violence are at an all-time high in Honduras, as compared to Cuba, where violence is practically non-existent. The front page of La Prensa was plastered with a photo of a bullet-ridden vehicle. Don Toledo and his sole client shared with me quite a different view of Zelaya – whom they termed a corrupt puppet of Venezuelan Hugo Chavez – and they went on for quite a while about that.
That was Wednesday; Thursday I woke before dawn, grateful that Luis had offered to drive me to the bus terminal. A complicated series of transfers awaited: Maya del Oro bus through the miles of banana plantations to the Guatemala border; a spectacular sunrise over the green hills, then a half-hour wait at customs, where I met an Austrian couple on a Goldwing cruiser motorcycle, making their way back up through Central America after cruising the entire continent down to Patagonia, and then almost missed the bus as I patronized a small bathroom shack behind the immigration post.
The driver, impatient at our half-hour wait, dumped me unceremoniously at the Puerto Barrios bus stop, a little crossroads where I was told the Port was a full 15 kilometers away – I was dismayed, as I had been told the port was nearby. Fortunately a taxi driver materialized from nowhere and took me to the port, where I caught a ferry with some British tourists. By noon I was at the port in Belize, looking for the bus to Columbia.
The most interesting part of the journey was still to come: the 4 p.m. rattletrap schoolbus to the tiny village of Columbia; meeting Eric and Katherine, who joined me in my search for Jorge Coc, who for $10 poled us all up the beautiful, vine-draped river through the sunset to Maya Mountain Permaculture farm. Here our teachers awaited: Albert Bates, founder of the Global Ecovillage Network and author of a number of books, including Post Petroleum Survival Guide and Cookbook; and Maria Ros, one of Mexico’s leading permaculture leaders and teachers.
This morning I awoke in the tropical forest to the sound of some exotic-sounding birds, ready to learn. Now Maya Mountain Permaculture Farm’s founder Christopher Nesbitt is regaling us with stories and it’s time to go – more stories soon!
Meantime, if you’re in Havana, say hello to Homero, (53-7) 862-1883; he’s got a great little room for rent ($30/night) on the third story above Obispo Street, in the liveliest part of Old Havana, and he’s a wonderful conversationalist. If you need more space – a whole small apartment – contact José Cabrera at (53-7) 867-1497.
In San Pedro Sula, look up Luis and Blanca at Dos Molinos, listed on Hostel World and Facebook – a great family and a great guesthouse, for $40/night.
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