Honduras – Sights, Smells and Sounds July 2008
The first view of Honduras from the air is of green fields and a brown river snaking in and around the countryside. The flat land extends until the mountains begin without foothills. Honduras is either flat or vertical. Large companies own much of the flat land, growing bananas or cattle for export; the native Indians live mainly farther up in the mountains on the poor soil.
Driving into the city from the airport it's hard not to notice the industrial buildings, many with American names (the "sweat shops"), the numerous billboards advertising everything from cars to food to bottled water. In addition it seems as if every flat surface (walls, fences, etc) has some company's name painted on it. The city itself is crowded with people and shops and overhead cris-crossing electric lines looking like a badly woven spider web. Other sights include American restaurants interspersed among the Honduran ones, and guards at nearly every store, not just banks, but even McDonalds has a guard.
When driving away from the city heading toward the mountain villages, the road goes through small towns and then heads uphill where the scenery is beautiful – mountains in the distance and often steep drop-offs at the side of the road which is cut into the side of the hill. Some fields on the sides of mountains are so steep one wonders how they get planted or harvested.
The city of San Pedro Sula smells like any city in some ways. Cars, trucks and buses produce exhaust smells. When it rains the streets and sidewalks have that "fresh washed" smell. When the streets are crowded and the weather is hot and humid there are smells of human sweat. In addition there are the smells coming from some sidewalk vendors stalls of whatever it is they are cooking to sell to passers by.
In the mountains there is the smell of the roads – sometimes mud or else dust, depending on the weather. Beyond that, on the walking trails, and even sometimes when in a truck, there is the somewhat faint but definite smell of herbs, perhaps oregano or cilantro, or some of the wild flowers that are disturbed as one walks by. It makes for a pleasant walk. In La Laguna there is the smell of the vegetation around the clinic, the animals that wander onto the clinic grounds (dogs, cows, horses, pigs), the smells in the pharmacy associated with some of the liquid medicines dispensed, and the wonderful smells that come from the kitchen as the cooks prepare meals for the volunteers.
In San Pedro Sula there are the usual sounds of any large city – traffic, car horns (only here the horn is used in short, quick bursts more to say "I am here" rather than most American cities where the horn is used to say "hurry up" or "get out of my way" It really does have a different sound to it. Other sounds are vendors or money changers wanting your business. There is also music. It comes out of shops; it's on public buses; it seems it's everywhere – Latin music with a beat, mixed with some older American songs as well at times.
Up in the mountains the sounds are different, of course. Children playing in and around the clinic is a joyful sound, the cooks talking and joking with each other as they prepare meals, the various animals chiming in now and then. Of course there are the ever-present (and seemingly never sleeping) roosters. Contrary to popular belief, the rooster does not wait until dawn to crow, rather crows at any and every time of day or night, depending perhaps on how he feels about it. There are other bird sounds too, some seem familiar, others distinctly different, but pleasant. Whenever the sound of a truck coming up the hill is heard, it brings people out to greet it. There is virtually no traffic in the village.
Sights, smells, and sounds all come together to paint a picture of Honduras in my mind.
Ginger Comstock, July 2008