It’s bright and sunny the day of our nutrition charla in El Carbón. What starts as a blazingly hot morning progresses into a real scorcher by noon, especially near the wood-fire oven that Micah (a Peace Corps volunteer) is stoking for some brownie baking later on. We’re hanging out at Micah’s host mom’s house, and a crowd of women and their children have shown up for the charla. While the former Peace Corps volunteers wow the eager audience, the others help Micah roast dried, fermented cacao beans and peel off their bitter shells, gathering the bared beans to be ground into paste. Soon an enormous tub of brownie batter is mixing away, courtesy of Peter’s hands-on baking technique.
The charla is a hit—no surprise there—and afterward comes lunch at long last. We plow through enormous bowls of soup and munch on brownies so decadently dark and delicious, most of us are buzzing off theobromine-sugar highs for hours afterward. Later, after Micah shows off his neat little house sitting alongside a cornfield, he takes us on a short hike up the side of the valley. We take in the whole of Jalapa from a rocky outcropping near the top, and on the descent we spot a three-toed sloth flashing his privates at us—a slow-motion exhibition artist at his finest.
We part ways with Micah on Tuesday morning and bus to Ocotal, where Laura reunites us with our trusty steeds. (Thanks for everything, you two.) From there we make a brief overnight stop in Dipilto before crossing into Honduras. Rather, we fly into Honduras: immediately following the border is the most exhilarating downhill we’ve come across yet, both steep and surprisingly lengthy. A memorable introduction, indeed. As Nicaragua disappears in a greenish blur behind us, the scenery subtly morphs from dense equatorial jungle into sparse, sun-dappled copses of evergreen trees.
This is the Central American pine-oak forest, a 43,000 square-mile tract of montane greenery that comprises parts of Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, and southern Guatemala and Mexico. At least seven species of pine are endemic to this region, and the national tree of Honduras is counted among them—the Caribbean pine. Seeing pines and oaks and sweetgums dotting the hillsides is a little eerie after so much rainforest, and we legitimately wonder whether the trees had been planted there by humans for lumber.
We arrive at the capital city of Honduras by mid-afternoon on Wednesday. Tegucigalpa is bursting at the britches with chaos, as only the finest of big cities tend to do. Taking deep breaths, we board our bikes like diehard road warriors (either that, or an all-American mobile circus) weaving in and around various traffic jams in a seamless stream of blinding neon. Imagine New York City congestion on steroids, but with all formerly accepted traffic rules deemed null and void. The honking is deafening and the exhaust will inevitably cause long-term respiratory problems for us all, but we are relentless as we make our steady way to the heart of the city, avoiding potholes, construction work, and the like. A hair-raising and heart-pounding few kilometers later, we reach el Parque Central (the Central Park). Here, we decide to ask a policeman if he knows the whereabouts of our hotel. He kindly escorts us the whole way there, along with an entire policía entourage in tow. The extra personnel seem to glom on at random, as if they had absolutely nothing better to do than follow a gringo train from block to block.
Upon reaching our hotel, we race up the stairs to greet the newest member of Cycles of Change! She’s sound asleep in her bed after a long red-eye flight from Portand, Oregon. But, that doesn’t stop Devon from yelling out her name, “Alyssa!” And suddenly, Devon and Alyssa are locked in a joyful embrace. Peter, Logan and Kate receive the same felicitous recognition, and happy introductions are made by Kat and Janell. After some mirthful tittering, Kat asks Alyssa how her flight was, and that’s when Alyssa goes all stony-faced. She recounts the most horrifying air travel story we could imagine. Only forty minutes into her five-hour flight from San Francisco to Miami, she realizes that she’s feeling a bit sub-par. Of course, she’s assigned a window seat and her aisle mate is sleeping. After a heroic effort trying to curtail her nausea, Alyssa begs to be let out of her seat and makes her way down the aisle to the bathroom. She only gets about three steps before…well, there’s no discrete way to describe what happens next…projectile vomit covers a well-dressed businessman’s entire front! All’s well for the rest of the ride, minus the fact that she may have lost all hope at ever befriending the victim of her airborne spectacle.
Flight horror story recounted, we all decide it’s time for dinner. We exit the hotel to find that dark has descended and few places remain open for dinner, although the time is only around 7 p.m. We ask a policeman for directions to the nearest comedor (little restaurant) and he leads us—again with an armed policía posse trailing behind—to a dark maze of corridors criss-crossed within a concrete complex. The labyrinth is sketchy, to say the least, and despite all our apprehensive gut feelings about the situation, we remind ourselves that we’re travelling with about six policemen and it will all be okay.
And, it is. Finally, one of the dark tunnels opens up to a loud, steaming cluster of kitchens. We sit stadium style in front of one and order up a round of baleadas, tortillas filled with eggs, beans, and cheese. We leave the scene content, our stomachs full, and scoring a few slick bumper stickers that read, “Vamos Volando”—We are flying.
Our hostel is nestled in a vibrant pocket of colonial-style Tegucigalpa, complete with a faux Eiffel Tower, flocks of fluttering pigeons, and a convenient cobblestone boulevard designated solely for pedestrians. Our corner of the city is positively steeping with European flavor, like a royal bag of English Breakfast tea. Devon and Logan appear dressed for the theme the following morning when the group finds them relaxing on a park bench sipping espresso. Several Honduran passersby have already insisted that Logan is German. Devon has just treated herself to a chocolate éclair, and would be the spitting image of “French” if only she was wearing a beret.
We jokingly dub ourselves “European Intelligencia” for the day, and busy ourselves with indulgent activities, like purchasing a Spanish copy of Franz Kafka’s Metamorphosis, painting toenails, cutting hair, and buying chocolate Frosties at Wendy’s. Again, we feel almost like foreign dignitaries, with people pushing generosity to the limit. Logan, Peter, Alyssa and Devon are escorted by Officer Martinez (accompanied yet again by an armed entourage) for many blocks to a trustworthy taxi. After reaching their destination, they scour a supermarket for bug repellent, but to no avail. Alyssa asks a woman if she knows where one could find such a necessary item, and the woman volunteers to drive somewhere to pick a bottle up for us. She returns about 20 minutes later with bug repellent and vitamin B tablets and refuses to let Alyssa pay for it.
We attribute all this positive attention to our newly acquired celebrity status. Surely the people of Honduras heard about us from a Nicaraguan radio station. The icing on our quasi-European cake is our evening spent at El Paradíso, a Bohemian little hole-in-the-wall where they skimp on the wine, yet provide a cozy little alcove for followers of semi-contrived art culture.
The next morning we designate for errands before hopping on an afternoon bus bound for Juticalpa. It is in this eyeblink of a town that we try Central American Chinese food for the first time, and to our complete and utter surprise, it’s not bad. They do give us a basket of sliced white bread for an appetizer, though, which was a little weird. We go to bed stuffed with cosmopolitan chow and mentally prepare for the morn: our first ride as a septet!
Saturday starts out swimmingly enough. We don our team jerseys and hit the road, a fluorescent streak seven bikers strong. The skies are clear and the sun is hot. Morale is astronomically high, along with heightened levels of camaraderie, altruism, and general feelings of goodwill toward the universe. Unfortunately, things sort of went uphill from there.
Saturday, let it be said, shall go down in Cycles of Change history as a day of epic struggle, an arduous ascent of biblical proportions—The Day We Climbed Forever (On An Unpaved Road, No Less). By the end of it, all of us had succumbed to the comforts of flatbed trucks that taxied us and our battered bikes into Gualaco. Needless to say, we do little that night but eat and go straight to sleep.
And then comes Christmas in July! On a Sunday otherwise spent riding the bus in our spandex (we had planned to bike but impulsively decided against it), we redeem ourselves by arranging a White Elephant gift exchange after some home-cooked curry and coconut rice. Who celebrates Christmas in July besides prospective mattress buyers? Us, of course. Feliz Navidad!
Today we rode a rainy 74 kilometers to Jutiapa, and tomorrow we embark for the Bay Islands!
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