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Archive for the tag “Honduras”

A Long Weekend On Isla de Roatan

One of the things that I love doing is telling people about The Real Honduras. Like any country, Honduras has its challenges but too often those challenges are all people pay attention and that’s unfortunate because Honduras also has A LOT going for it — its stunning beauty is one of those things.

A few weeks ago my family and I spent a relaxing long weekend on Roatan Island, one of the Caribbean islands here in Honduras, and it’s not a stretch to call it paradise. Our family took a boat out to one of the reefs that surround Roatan and had a snorkeling adventure, some of us (the crazy ones) went parasailing, we swam a lot in the warm, clear water, did some more snorkeling at closer reefs, took sunset walks, and did a lot of relaxing. We stayed in an all inclusive resort right on the beach, Paradise Beach Hotel. If it had just been me and Eric we would have found some tiny remote spot but all inclusive makes life so easy when you’re traveling with kids — they can eat and drink to their heart’s content and they have a bit more freedom to roam the resort on their own. And I definitely didn’t hate the unlimited margaritas!  We had an amazing time and wonderful adventures! This is #therealhonduras

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Sunset walks on the beach with drinks were our nightly ritual (and, yes, our youngest is in that phase where every pic is met with a crazy face)

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My kids are a little wacky

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Nothing like sending your three most precious beings hurtling hundreds of feet into the air

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Aisleen got to go twice, once with her brothers and once with her Granny

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Roatan Island from our parasailing boat

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My boys on the beach

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I don’t even know what my kids are doing in this photo

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Our hotel

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Our last day was stormy, still gorgeous!

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Selfie with my honey

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Relaxing on the porch of our room

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Selfie with my sweet boy, who pretty much owns my heart (and he’s actually smiling instead of clowning it up!)

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Liam is just a tad bit taller than I am …

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Our awesome bartender, Jeremy

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Selfie with my beautiful girl

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This was pretty much the moment I decided I never wanted to leave

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The incredible water of Roatan

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Wacky selfie

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Leaving paradise is never easy …

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This is #therealhonduras, folks! Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise!

A Whirlwind Trip to Roatan Island

We have, for what seems like forever, been encased in dust and smog in Honduras — especially in Tegucigalpa because we are all valleys and mountains. I haven’t been bothered much by it, other than the fact that it’s dreary. At least not until we were on our way to the airport to begin a short, but very appreciated, trip to the Caribbean island of Roatan, when we were informed the airport was closed — all out going flights were grounded and all incoming flights were being diverted. I get why, the airport in Tegus is a notoriously difficult one to land in. The pilot has to make this crazy hairpin turn, turning the plane nearly sideways  in order to avoid slamming into a mountain, before righting the plane and stopping it very quickly on the short runway. Takeoff is slightly less dodgy.

So, yea, nobody wants to mess with that in smog so thick that visibility is only 1 kilometer. Long story short, rather than spending my noon hour standing in crystal clear water with a margarita in my hand I was sitting with my feet propped up on my suitcase in the Tegus airport, playing Plants v Zombies on my iPad. Thankfully, the smog cleared enough that we could fly out and, seven hours after we were supposed to take off, we were finally Roatan bound, with a stop in La Ceiba to change planes. To a 17-seater. Not that I was nervous or anything. I can’t remember the last time I was on a plane where you could actually see what the pilots were doing …

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Eric thought it was fun to be able to watch the pilots, I found it mildly disconcerting and kept having to stop myself from shouting “Both hand on the wheel! BOTH HANDS!” But it was a short flight, maybe 15 minutes, and soon we were landing on Roatan …

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Our hotel shuttle delivered us to the Mayan Princess, where we checked into a room with this view, which made everything sunshine and rainbows …

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This was a work trip for Eric, I was just tagging along for the sand and the ocean (and because I really like the group of people who were holding the convention he was attending). For the record, I was on our dime — just so everyone is clear. There was an event to attend shortly after we arrived, but we had time to take a stroll along the beach before we needed to start scraping the airport funk off and get all prettied up. We did get to enjoy our first Caribbean sunset in a long time ..

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A highlight of the evening was a surprise performance by Garifuna musicians and dancers. Garifuna are an Afro-Caribbean people with an interesting history, you can click here to find out more about their culture. Whenever we see Garifuna musicians and dancers perform we are immediately swept back to Guinea, our first post in the FS, which was full of the music of djembe drums and mesmerizing dancing.

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After a lovely dinner with folks who are thoroughly enjoyable, Eric and I decided to finally get that margarita, which we drank in an open-air thatched beach cabana. Side note: anyone considering bidding Honduras, most of the places you’ll go on business are not quite like this but, every once in a blue moon, you get really, really lucky! And even the not-so-posh places are oh-so-interesting. So go for it!

The next day was all work for Eric so we woke up early for a beach stroll ..

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Exposed coral at the end of West Bay

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We’re pretty positive that when we bring our kids to Roatan they are going to ask to do this crazy climb/slide inflatable thingy

I spent the rest of the morning with a book, doing pretty much this …

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and after lunch we headed back to the airport. Where our flight was delayed, of course. Still, totally worth it just to stand in crystal clear water and feel the sand between my toes …

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Why I Can’t Quite Bring Myself to Visit My Favorite Village

We have lived in Honduras for a little over one year now and we have visited some truly gorgeous places. Honduras, as I’ve written before, gets a bit of a bad rap, but it’s a country I’ve come to love. To me Honduras doesn’t represent violence and poverty. It represents natural beauty, warm people, fascinating history, and friendship — here are a few places we’ve been that I will always associate with those things.

Lago Yojoa, which we visited for the first time this past January, is a place we immediately fell in love with.

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Lago Yajoa is stunning and one of the things we love about it is that there are Lenca ruins, and a eco-park with beautiful hiking, right next to it. The only thing wrong with the first trip we took there was that it was very rainy every day of our visit, except for the day we left (of course).

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So we decided we needed to go back and see the lake when it wasn’t fogged in.

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What a difference the sun makes!

My dad and our youngest walking through the eco-park

My dad and our youngest walking through the eco-park

We discovered there are more Lenca ruins at a Finca near the lodge where we stayed

This is an old Lenca ball court. Archaeologists believe, because the Lenca pre-date the Maya, that the Lenca actually invented the infamous ball games the Maya played.

This is an old Lenca ball court. Archaeologists believe, because the Lenca pre-date the Maya, that the Lenca actually invented the infamous ball games the Maya played.

We climbed a nearby mountain called Las Nalgas or, The Buttcheeks. It’s self-explanatory

Las Nalgas

Las Nalgas

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Climbing up the mountain

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The view from the top

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Our youngest walking back to our lodge with our fantastic guide

There was much silliness from the kids

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“When I say ‘no, you can’t take my picture’ I mean ‘no, you can’t take my picture.'”

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Even at 14 he still wants to be an explorer

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“I know you said it was too cold to go swimming, mom, but I did it and I’M FREEZING!”

And, there was beer. Because the lodge where we stayed is also a Brewery

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The other place we really enjoyed was Tela, on Honduras’ Caribbean coast.

A good time was had by all, though Firu made it quite clear that he had no intention of entering the water.

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Tela March 2015

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Racing on the beach

Racing on the beach

A face that just screams WHEEEEEE!

A face that just screams WHEEEEEE!

She makes a floaty out of her rash guard.

She makes a floaty out of her rash guard. Every. Time.

Chasing the man selling coconuts

Chasing the man selling coconuts

Sunset on Tela

Sunset on Tela

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There’s one more place very close to home that I’ve come to love, a small Colonial village called Valle de Angeles, about a half hour drive from our home. Valle has two things — the village and the entrance to a lush national park where there is fantastic hiking. This is a place I can’t wait to get back to.

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My kids are goofballs

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Seriously, goofballs

Then there is the town of Valle de Angeles, or Valley of the Angels.

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Where you can buy fresh papusas — a little slice of heaven.

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Have coffee in this very cool coffe house, Cafe Las Estancia.

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Have lunch at Las Abuelas restaurant

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Or just wander through the lovely central square.

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Valle de Angeles represents friendship to me. And I can’t bring myself to go there right now. Because everything about it hurts a little — the cool coffee house, Las Abuelas restaurant, the central square, even the damn papusas. And please don’t mention iron because I’ll probably burst into tears. Trust me on this. It all stings because it was the place that was “the place” my closest friend here and I would go. We’d frequently message each other “Valle this week?” and the other would always respond with an enthusiastic “YES!” Always through messaging because she knows I hate to talk on the phone and she respects my quirks. She gets my quirks. It’s one of the reasons she’s an amazing friend. And everything there, everything, reminds me of her. There is so much to love about being a nomad — but saying goodbye to friends blows. It’s the friendships that are, all at once, beautiful and painful. I am an introvert, a shy introvert, a shy introvert who isn’t crazy about being around people I don’t know. But from the very first moment I met my friend I knew I’d met someone I would adore. The second time we met up I knew I’d found a soulmate. In part because she told me the story about how she’d used a wildly raunchy Spanish word, thinking it meant something else, for about her first year in Honduras. And the fact that she could say that word to me, in English, without even breaking a blush told me, “yep, this woman is part of my tribe.” She became, over the course of a year, a soul sister.

She and her family moved, on to their next post, while we were home in the U.S this summer. As much as I was looking forward to coming home to Honduras I was dreading them not being here. Her oldest and our youngest were inseparable, and I knew the loss, when he saw that his friend really was gone, was going to hit him hard. And it has.

And me? Most of the time I’m okay — though yesterday I had a million things I wanted to tell her and had to stop myself from messaging her every five minutes. But sometimes, I’m not okay. Sometimes I think of her and burst into tears. And I know, for now, I’m not quite ready to walk the cobblestone streets of Valle without her.

The Pros and Cons of Life in Tegucigalpa, Honduras

It’s that time again — bidding season. Not for us, thank GAWD, but for many others (you have my sympathies). I know some folks love bidding season, for me whatever patina bidding season once had is gone and I just dread the researching and the waiting. And waiting. And waiting …

I’ve decided to do my Foreign Service blogger duty and write out my list of pros and cons of life in Tegucigalpa, I hope it helps folks. Plus, if I don’t blog about something besides PETA Imma lose my damn mind.

So, here is my list. I’ll start with the cons first so we finish on a high note.

The Cons of Teguc:

1. Not being able to go out on foot. This is, by far, my biggest issue with living in Teguc — to the point that I really had to scrounge around for the others because they’re so minor to me. But there is potential for violent crime and post states that going out and about on foot is a no no. This is a quality of life issue, it’s a major quality of life issue for a runner, especially since Teguc has some really nice straight aways for running and all I can do it look at them longingly while we drive past. Now, having said that, once you leave the city you are good to go — walk around (or run) to your heart’s content. I’ll write more about that in the pros section. Also, in contrast to what we’d heard before we moved here, driving at night is fine, just know where you’re going and don’t wander into areas that are not safe.

2. The security situation. Loads of narcos out there, folks, and they don’t play. But let’s keep things in perspective. Our major cities have hot spots for violent crimes, and they have all the things that cause it, and Teguc is no different. Be smart, stay out of the areas you’re not supposed to be in, practice safe driving techniques, pay attention to your OPSEC — you should be fine. I don’t dwell much on the security situation, I think folks blow it out of proportion. Bad stuff can happen no matter where you are but you choose whether or not to live in fear (which is different than just being cautious). So don’t let this prevent you bidding Teguc.

3. Traffic. It sucks. ‘Nuff said.

4. The air quality can get obscenely bad at the end of the dry season but it’s temporary so not a huge deal.

5. I’m thinking … I’m thinking …

The Pros of Teguc:

1. Post morale. While I realize this is fluid I wanted to list it here because it’s pretty awesome. Local staff are fantastic, knowledgeable, responsive, and friendly. And our Ambassador? He’s like the Old Spice guy of Ambos — you wish your Ambo was as cool as our Ambo is. Seriously.

2. Loads of fun weekend trips. There is a huge national park with lots of hiking (La Tigra), a very large park up in the hills of Teguc (El Picacho — where you can RUN), and there are beautiful colonial villages to visit (Valle de Angeles and Santa Lucia to name just two). There are also other activities I’ve heard about but not yet done, like the children’s museum, which I’m told is fantastic. Farther afield there are fun and completely manageable, even with kids, weekend trips. Our favorite so far is Lago Yajoa, where we’ve gone so many times that we have yet to visit other places because sometimes when you travel so much you just need spots that are comfy and familiar, right? We’ll branch out soon. If you do visit Yajoa, make sure to stay at the D & D Brewery and Lodge, it’s not only lots of fun but the people are some of the nicest you’ll meet and they have fantastic guides who can take you around to all the best spots in the area. D & D is also within walking (or RUNNING) distance from Lenca ruins, which are very cool to explore, and the national park they’re in is large enough that you can spend the whole day hiking. The beach is, in my opinion, too far for a weekend trip, it took us about five hours to get to Tela, but I’ve been told the beaches of El Salvador are much closer and very nice (they’re on our list).

3. Proximity to the rest of the Mayan world. The Ruta Maya is at your fingertips here, and it’s awesome! We recently took a trip to Tikal, Guatemala. It’s a long haul, it took us two days to get there, but it is so worth it. We stayed on the beautiful island of Flores, which is incredibly charming, (another hotel recommendation, Hotel Isla de Flores is inexpensive and very sweet, also has great food). We’re planning what we’re referring to as our epic adventure for this winter, where we will visit as much of the Ruta Maya as we can squeeze into a few weeks — Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula.

4. The Honduran people. They are warm, welcoming, and very down to earth. And they don’t mind gringos in the slightest, which is a plus. The folks I’ve met not only tolerate my awful Spanish but are very patient when I can’t seem to spit the right words out or when I look at them with that awkward deer in the headlights look I get when I don’t understand something. And they have a real pride when it comes to their country, which they should, because it’s an absolute gem.

5. Discovery School. It’s small, which is important to us, and the teachers, administration, and staff are fantastic. They’ve got an open door policy — which I appreciate because, while I’m not a helicopter mom, I do like to pop in and say hi to my babies now and again. Our kiddos are pretty scary smart and I feel that their teachers at Discovery picked up very quickly on their strengths, and they provide them with the avenues to move forward and be challenged. The teachers also recognize the areas where our kids need extra assistance (or where they’re just being a bit more lax than they should be — yea, I’m talkin’ to you, kids).

6. Bonus Pro: The cost of living and availability of stuff. You can get just about anything here and it’s relatively inexpensive. Imports are pricey, of course, but that’s to be expected. Travel is not expensive and that’s a huge bonus for a family of 5. You can make it expensive, of course, but you don’t need to pay big bucks to stay somewhere decent or to have fun while traveling.

So there you have it, my list of pros and cons. I was very hesitant to green light Honduras because of the whole “Murder Capitol of the World” headline but I am so glad that we did. We bid Honduras for the job, which we’ve never done before, but we’ve ended up loving it because it’s a fantastic country. Bid Teguc — know what its limitations are but don’t let them stand in your way because they pale in comparison to what makes this a special country.

Choosing to Listen to My Immature Dark Angel

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!”

“So?”

“The State Department issued a travel warning for Americans while you were there, given the chance to leave you decided to stay!”

“And?”

“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!”

Lake Yojoa

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There is a lake out there, you’re gonna have to trust me on that …

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The boardwalk leading through the forest

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A Lenca statue outside the museum in the park

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Unexcavated Lenca ruins

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The mounds of ruins

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Lenca ruins

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The Space Between AKA Crap, I’m Bored

The last few months have been chaotic, stressful, fun, and full of change. I’ve been so busy that it was all I could do to just squeeze everything in, and sometimes I didn’t. Now we’re at post, in our temporary house, living out of our welcome kit (who buys those damn comforters anyway, clearly someone without any nerve function in their skin because those bad boys are like sandpaper!), which means the house is pretty much empty. I feel kind of like a little ball of fur rolling along the tile floors, looking for stuff to do. For the first time in months I have time on my hands. Gobs and gobs of time, in fact. You’d think I’d be happy about this. And I’m not unhappy, I’m just bored. I haven’t reached the level of boredom where I do stupid shit because, as Eric just wrote to me “uh-oh, a bored Heather is like a curious cat!” I’ll force myself to be un-bored before I reach that level but, for now, meh, not so much. Ordinarily I’d set out on foot to explore our new city but that’s a no no in Tegucigalpa–going out would be filed under “stupid shit Heather does when she’s so bored that she’s going to start beating her head against the wall for stimulation”–so that’s out. And we have shiny new maps on our GPS so I can start driving when I work up the courage (I’m the only person I know who can get lost driving around a block so a GPS is a must). My desire to run, even if it has to be on the treadmill, will soon outweigh my cowardice about getting behind the wheel. But, for now I’m here.

This is what I think of as the space between. Between the insanity of an international move, the whirlwind of DC training and home leave, the mad rush of getting settled at post, and truly making this new city our home there exists a no man’s land for me. This is the space where I do a lot of wandering around the house, straightening things that aren’t crooked, talking to our dogs even more then usual, staring off in to space, and writing down all the things I can bake in the one loaf pan I have. I seem to have zero motivation to actually be productive, I’m not sure why and, honestly, I’m not even sure if I care that much. See? No motivation, I tell ya! The kids have started school, Eric has started at the embassy, I keep things rolling along at home and, right now, that doesn’t take much.

This is the part of the roller coaster where you’ve done all the fun twists and turns, felt like you we’re going to hurl a couple of time, maybe screamed a bit, thought “why the hell am I on this thing????” and then BOOM! That hard brake at the end before you pull back onto the platform, moving slowly to the spot where you get off the ride and figure out which one you want to conquer next. For now, I’m just coasting, sitting in my little roller coaster car, twiddling my thumbs, waiting for the next bit.

Maybe I’ll read a magazine. Maybe I’ll brush a cat. Oh, look, it’s 11:27, only 6 more hours till I can get dinner started. Maybe I’ll take a nap …

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