This past weekend we made our first overnight trip in Honduras to magical Lake Yojoa, Honduras’ largest lake. While driving through the countryside from Tegucigalpa to Yojoa I found myself thinking “I am so grateful that we ended up in this country.” Its natural beauty, its warm people, its rich and ancient history, I love it. And I’d come very close to letting my fear deprive me of discovering that.
When Eric initially floated the idea of bidding on Honduras I laughed and laughed and laughed. Are you off your nut???? I’m not moving my children to the murder capitol of the world! No way. No how. Not happening. Cross it off the list. Then my inner voice spoke up …
“Heather, you traveled to Guatemala on your own during the height of the civil war when you were 18!”
“The State Department issued a travel warning for Americans while you were there, given the chance to leave you decided to stay!”
“They named that August “Black August” because of all the bodies that were being found!”
“Your point being?”
“That you had some of the most incredible experiences of your life! What would you have missed if you’d let fear determine your actions?”
“This is not that. I was young then, I didn’t have kids to think about, this is a completely different situation. I need to be practical and, practically speaking, it’s not worth the risk.”
“Pffffft …you’ve clearly grown old and boring and I’m leaving now …”
“Fine, do that, nobody needs an immature dark angel on their shoulder anyway.”
Deal done, decision made. Except it wasn’t.
Central America was a place that got under my skin at a early age. When I was 15 my family and I took a trip along the “Ruta Maya,” traveling from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, through Guatemala, into Belize, and then looping back. We took the rickety buses the locals traveled in because the aim was to encounter the fewest number of gringos possible, getting to know the countries and the people along the way. At first I cursed the experience …
“Dad, what are we doing? I have a chicken in my lap and I think this bus is close to dying. Why can’t we go to Cancun and stay in a resort?”
“That’s boring, that is exciting! What’s the point in traveling to a different country if you’re just going to surround yourself with other Americans?”
“This isn’t a vacation, it’s work! Why can’t we go to Disneyland, like a normal family?”
“Because I’m trying to raise you right.”
And, of course, he knew what he was talking about.
We swam in underground cenotes, explored Mayan ruins, had a few close calls with guerillas and soldiers, and had the time of our lives! We weren’t afraid, though we were careful, and the richness and depth with which we lived our lives increased in countless ways. So when my dad gave me the choice between a high quality camera and a trip to language immersion school in Quetzaltenengo, Guatemala for my high school graduation present it was an easy choice–next stop, Guatemala! Of course, this was a decision I was kicking myself for making when my grand adventure was finally underway. I landed in Guatemala City, all excited to be an “adult,” traveling on my own, can’t stop me now, world, I’m on fire! Until I discovered that nobody from my school was there to pick me up. What’s a girl to do? First, fight back the tears, try to look brave, not vulnerable– inside I was utterly panicked. The police officers with sub-machine guns, the taxi drivers and money changers calling to me, the darkness of a city I hadn’t been to in years, all made me feel less adult and more “I want my daddy.” But, I couldn’t stand there all night, I had to do something. I put one foot in front of the other and began to walk towards a taxi whose driver looked friendly.
I had the name of a hotel written down where the school, I’d been told, had a standing reservation for their students, so I hopped in his cab, gave him the name of the hotel, and hoped for the best. Once at the hotel I was feeling pretty darn proud of myself for making it that far, and relieved that I had someplace to spend the night. Whew! I’m on fire again, world, lighting it up … that’s the point when the man at the front desk doused me with a healthy dose of water. “Standing reservation, ” I said, and he looked at me with confusion, informing me nope, not so much. Then it went like this …
“Well, do you have a room available?”
“The only room we have is a double and there is only one of you.”
“Um, but I’ll pay for it, I don’t mind.”
“No, it’s for two people.”
“But what does it matter that it’s a double when I’m willing to pay as if I am two people?”
“Because you’re only one person.”
“Can’t you just pretend like there are two of me?”
“There’s only one of you, the room is a double.”
“But that doesn’t make any sense!”
Shrug, “There is only one of you.”
“But I’ll pay for two!”
“But there is only one of you.”
Dear God, get me off this evil merry-go-round.
I stared at him in disbelief, he sighed as if I were the stupidest person on the planet and said “look, if two people don’t come in within an hour I’ll rent you the room.”
I nodded, picked up my backpack, and went to wait. My veneer of self-confidence was beginning to crack as I sat there and thought about what I would do if two people came and took the room. It was very late, I was exhausted, in a city where I couldn’t just walk out the door and find a hotel, and I knew I would be screwed without that room. So I did what any self-respecting, confident young woman would do under those circumstances–I held my head up high, marched straight to the man at the desk, plopped my money down in front of him, and demanded the key! Kind of. I burst into tears, sobs of loneliness and fear, shoulders shaking with the force of it all. The desk man from beyond the looking glass appeared shocked at first, then his face clearly said “make it stop!” and he told me he enough time had passed, I could have the room. I sniffed, eyes full of tears, nodded, thanked him, paid him, and made my way to the room, which was a bed in a tiny space with a door that didn’t lock. I tucked my backpack under the bed, made sure my money belt was secure around my waist, and fell asleep, straddling gratitude and fear.
The next morning I showered in the shared bathroom, made my way downstairs, caught a taxi to the bus station, and hopped a bus to Quetzaltenengo. Hot damn, can’t stop me now, world!
In the end, the trip changed my life in a way a life can only change when you’re 18 and on your own in a foreign land. I studied Spanish with a tutor several hours a day and, on the weekends, traveled, either with the school or with friends. I hiked through a rainforest, visited a squatter’s camp outside Guatemala City full of some of the bravest and most resilient people I’d ever met, wandered colonial cities, visited villages that rarely saw Americans, got lost a bit, learned about the people’s struggle for land and dignity, and discovered that I was stronger and more resourceful than I’d ever known.
So when I really thought about Honduras, and moving there, I thought about that girl and all she did during a month that changed her life, then I held my breath and though, Honduras or bust!
We’ve been here about five months now and I haven’t regretted our decision to move here even once. So when Eric and I were sitting in the restaurant of the lodge where we stayed during our trip to Lake Yojoa, talking to the lodge’s guide, and he asked how we liked Honduras I was very enthusiastic in my answer: “we LOVE it!” He smiled and asked how it compared to what American’s know of it from the news, which, of course, only talks about the violence. We told him it wasn’t anything like what most Americans think. He said that it makes him sad that so many people think of Honduras only as a place of violence and drugs because he loves his country, his country is beautiful, full of rich history, and people don’t give it a chance because of the misconceptions that surround it. I agreed with him, in part because I’d been guilty of that myself.
All of this–my experiences in Guatemala each time I went there, my experiences in other countries where we’ve traveled, our time in Honduras, our lives as nomads, it all got me thinking about fear and how, so often, we allow fear to be the deciding factor in our lives. It comes in many forms; fear of the unknown, fear based on one-dimensional pictures of a place or a person, fear of failure, fear of taking that first leap, fear of being vulnerable, but it all ends the same way, in deprivation.
So when we were hiking through Los Naranjos park, which borders Lake Yojoa, walking in the footsteps of the ancient Lenca tribe, among their unexcavated buildings, marveling with our kids about the mysteries buried beneath the ground, about the lush forest, my inner voice spoke up again, “Heather, thank goodness you listened to your immature dark angel because … This. Is. Awesome!”