By Ben Anson
HAVANA TIMES – In Honduras, there is a saying, which does indeed cause some humor amongst Hondurans – that is: “el Honduras de aquí y el Honduras de allá.”
The Honduras over here and the Honduras over there.
Now, why such a saying? It is owed mostly to the big differences one notes between life, people and ambience on the North Coast (the Caribbean sector) and the western interior. Recently, due to my move from the Caribbean to the western highlands – I have been quite unable not to notice these differences.
Before journeying to Copan; the internationally renowned UNESCO world heritage site boasting the oldest-dating Mayan ruins throughout the ancient Mayan realm of modern day Central America, I was told outright by a friend of mine – a businessman from El Progreso – that I would be in for a shock. Yet a good one – at that.
“No, pues… allá vas a ver puro turismo. Calidad. Todo bonito, historia, cultura vos… la verdad es otro país.”
“No, well… you’re going to see pure tourism over there. Quality. All pretty, history, culture… truth be told it’s another country.”
The COVID situation forced me out of my beloved coastal zone, after I found myself without work. Misfortune plagued the day to day resulting quite sadly in me owing months of rent before having to empty my apartment back in El Progreso. Needless to say, the lockdown was horrifically tedious. A struggle to get by day in day out as hustle became one’s best friend in a scorching, sun-blazed city filled with deported rogues from the US, peso-chasing businessmen, Cuban doctors, Palestinian millionaires, Korean restaurant owners and a majority of respectable, hardworking citizens.
I shall state once again as I have done upon various occasions within previous articles of mine, that the people of El Progreso (on the whole) are entirely noble, kind-hearted souls who’ll stop whatever they are doing at a moment’s notice to assist one in whichever way that they can…
However, without some decent line of work in Progreso, there is truly no need to stay there. It is – in all honesty, an ugly setting, filled with filthy street markets, sprawling commerce and factories. I found myself henceforth, in search of work further afield a couple of months ago.
To not turn this simple recount into a full blown saga, or using a more common phrase, – “to cut the long story short”-, I was offered a teaching position at a prestigious bilingual school in Copan. I accepted, albeit after long consideration for one dreaded the notion of having to leave behind the crystal clear, lucid waters of the Caribbean coast, its laid-back lifestyle, gorgeous women, thrilling night life and one’s colorful friendships etc.
“Don’t be so closed-minded Ben, Copan is wonderful; Mayan ruins, great coffee and colonial architecture.”
I admit to having bestowed some daft responses.
“Well… sounds nice but it’s hardly comparable with spending a day on a beautiful beach, sipping rum whilst bobbing about in the crystal-clear sea with a mulata.”
“You should try and grow up a bit Ben.”
Maybe I should. Maybe life is not all about rum and mulatas.
Yet I do beg to differ…
I can honestly say however, after having spent nearly a month in Copan Ruins, that I am finding the place to be perfectly comfortable and decidedly refreshing in many ways. No longer, do I sweat and hasten along the flat, sun-sizzled streets of coastal cities such as Progreso, Tela and Ceiba, all lined with motley-colored, disorderly buildings of American-influenced architecture (a historical result of the bygone US fruit companies operating there), traffic ridden and chaotic – with stray dogs taking shade under randomly situated palm trees – and reggaeton or dancehall blasting from countless speakers.
Now, I climb and descend the cobble-street hills in and around central Copan Ruins, Spanish colonial buildings on all sides, resplendent Macaws flying in their pairs overheard – screeching and flapping, three-wheeled tut-tut motor taxis wobbling along – whilst indigenous men and women ply their trades. Descendants of the once mighty Maya Chorti, many here proudly carry the clear features of indigenous Amerindians; women sell fast foods such as steamed corns – on street corners, whilst men and young boys cut timber in the hills – seeking firewood for their dinnertime pupusas, baleadas and empanadas and fresh local coffee at breakfast.
Coffee is perhaps the number one export in Copan, with numerous fancy coffee houses and family businesses such as San Rafael and Welchez Cafe operating successfully from their bases here. Tremendously green, luscious mountain scenery surrounds the town on all sides, which has been remarkably transformed from Jaguar-ridden jungles of the Mayan heyday to the mass of coffee plantations we see today.
Much to my personal liking, this is also an international community filled with intellectual sorts from archaeologists and historians to wildlife conservation experts and tour guides. I have met Colombians, Venezuelans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, Germans, Brits, Americans and Canadians so far. As a result of so much contact with internationals, locals have gradually become well acquainted and accustomed to meeting foreigners.
This makes all the difference in a country like Hondurans where no question is too personal and where interrogations can be conducted at any time of day by absolutely anyone. Copan, if not the entire western zone of Honduras – including its capital Tegucigalpa, is blessed with a respectful, open-minded and more understanding populace compared to (quite frankly) the largely-ignorant, borderline-plain-rude and utterly deluded majority encountered along the coast.
You see, in Copan or Tegucigalpa for instance, a foreigner may be asked the following question in a courteous, polite and genuinely ‘interested’ tone of voice:
“And so what are you doing here?”
They may also ask: “so what brought you here then?”
These questions are posed with a friendly smile and an interested gaze; one immediately feels at ease to answer the question knowing that any answer is a ‘good’ answer whether one is a German wildlife enthusiast intrigued by the behavior of a female macaw or an Alaskan coffee addict looking to purchase first class coffee beans for friends and family back home.
On the coast though, the same questions are posed yet more often than not with scrunched up faces, condescending tones and bemused smirks implying rather unsubtly that the interrogator already considers the foreigner strange or peculiar for wanting to be in Honduras.
“But you’re from England! You all have money and live well there! I’d love to go to England, fuck, what I wouldn’t give to have been born in England – and here you are in Honduras Ben!”
If I gained a Lempira for every time I heard lines like these I would have made Pablo Escobar appear a pauper with all the millions I’d have accumulated. The tragedy of the coast is that the people there have been blessed with outstanding natural beauty yet zero ambition and minimal education. Not all – but many, slumber about on hammocks, engrossed in their semi humorous yet ultimately banal and delusional discussions of making thousands of dollars working as illegals in construction over in Boston or Houston, whilst awaiting for days at a time for relatives to send them money via Western Union – drinking themselves silly – sleeping around and terribly immersed in social media. When not involved in such activities, they can make marvelous company, loose, good-humored and simply fun – yet this negative attitude and US-worshipping bullshit gets horribly tedious.
However, in Copan, there exists a noticeable pride for the history and culture of not only the town yet the nation as a whole. Discussions of the United States are minimal – at best. Locals immediately understand one’s love for Honduras. I have also noticed how they are more willing to comprehend that “the grass is not greener” in Europe or North America. After watching Billy Elliot with a nurse from Olanchito by the name of Maria, she turned to me and said “it looks very bleak and depressing in England, I’m not surprised that you like it here.”
Swearing – intriguingly, barely occurs in Copan. Having come from the coast, where every other word is followed by an ‘hijueputa’, ‘comepinga’, ‘pija’, ‘paja’, ‘mierda’, ‘verga’ or ‘culero’, I myself have even had to bite my tongue and quickly rearrange sentences as I became accustomed to speaking rather freely and with a tremendously liberal usage of curse words and slang. That simply isn’t done here.
In conclusion, it has made for a most intriguing discovery – my short time in Copan – so far. I am greatly enjoying experiencing the differences and learning about the area – day to day. I shall always miss the fun and games, laid-back carry-on and general locura of the coast as well as my colorful friendships there, yet for someone wishing to promote and establish a productive future in the country – Copan is probably a better fit.