Tuesday, June 26, 2007


Trujillo Taxi
Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
Another question from my grandmother Ruth, and the answer deserved it's own blog entry.

How do you travel from place to place? Do you do lots of walking or are there buses?

Here in Trujillo, I walk everywhere. I do have a bike, but the tires are flat and the only pumps sold here in Trujillo are useless pieces of junk that don't even push out enough air to inflate a beach ball. I'll eventually get to Ceiba and buy a real pump, and then I might use the bike a bit. But even then I'll still probably walk everywhere.

If I'm tired or carrying a bunch of stuff or just feeling lazy, I'll take a cab. Taxi cabs are all over every city in Honduras. They're white with a colored stripe (the stripe in Trujillo is light blue) and it costs 15 Lempiras (about 80 cents) to go anywhere in town.

For longer trips, there's the Honduran public transportation system. How to describe it? In a sound bite, I would call it "miraculously effective." Effective because you can get from almost any part of the country to any other part of the country (Gracias a Dios excepted) for a reasonable price and in a reasonable amount of time. Miraculous because Honduran transportation is the most haphazard, slipshod, run-down, disorganized and utterly chaotic "system" I've ever seen. It makes second-class Mexican buses look like luxury cruises on wheels. Yet somehow, it works.

There isn't one or just a few bus companies. There are dozens, if not hundreds, in Honduras. Each one operates on a small number of routes, and often has it's own stop in the cities and major towns it passes through. Trujillo actually has a bus terminal, but many cities don't, and where you catch the bus depends on which company you're riding with. Despite these complete decentralization, it's actually pretty easy to get from place to place. All buses fall under one of the following categories:

Directo - "Directo" means direct. But in reality, "directo" means slightly fewer stops. The only truly direct buses are the Hedman Alas buses, which are extremely expensive and don't really count as Honduran transportation because the average Honduran could never afford them. Directo busses usually only stop at major towns/cities and don't enter the city, instead pausing a few minutes on the shoulder of the highway. And they usually don't stop in the middle of the road to pick up passengers. On average, directos are a little bit newer, a little bit more comfortable (the seat might recline, and there might be legroom for someone taller than 5'6").

Semi-Directo - Meaning "semi-direct," these buses make more stops, for longer, and will usually enter the city, crawling along unpaved roads, letting passengers on and off. They will also pick up passengers anywhere on the road. People just stick out their thumb or wave their hands to get the bus to stop. Bus quality is pretty low. Usually these are old school buses, designed for elementary- or middle-schoolers. That means no legspace. The tires are usually bald and the engine sounds like it's about to fall out of the chassis.

Indirecto - I've heard talk of these, but I'm not sure if in practice there is a difference between Semi-Directo and Indirecto. Indirectos ("indirect") are probably just like semi-directos, just with even more stops and even worse bus maintenance. And it's hard to imagine semi-directos being substantially worse. And who would want to advertise being an indirecto?

Rapidito - These are usually large vans or minibuses. They run a fixed route, usually connecting two or more neighboring towns. They pick up anyone who flags them down, and drop them off wherever they ask. They usually seat around 10 - 15, with little standing room. That doesn't stop them from cramming in as many people as possible, which is especially uncomfortable when you're a 5'10" gringo forced to bow under the 5'3" ceiling and stare at either the breastfeeding mother who has somehow fit herself, her baby and her two other kids onto a single seat or at the machete-carrying toothless campesino who's missing 3 fingers.

Urbano - Urbano ("Urban") buses follow a fixed route through a large town or city. There's an Urbano here in Trujillo that goes through most of the major neighborhoods. It's a clunky old schoolbus, but at least the trip is short.

All of these buses run with a driver and an ayudante (helper). The ayudante announces stops and walks the aisle from time to time checking tickets and collecting fares. These different transportation options form a pretty good transportation network. But a critical ingredient that keeps everything working (relatively) smoothly is the jalón. Hitchhiking. I've heard of PCVs who have jaloned hundreds of kilometers because they missed a bus. And it is often time the only way to get around rural areas.

There's a whole system to jaloning, with hand gestures and etiquette. The jaloner starts by standing on the road, sticking his thumb out at passing cars. When a car passes, the driver who doesn't stop will usually respond with one of three hand gestures (instead of just blowing past without acknowledging the jaloner). All five fingers bunched together and pointed upwards means the car is packed and there's no room. Pointing ahead in an arcing motion means sorry, I'm just going alli no mas (there no more). Wagging your index finger side to side just means no.

If a driver decides to pick up a jaloner, he'll pull off to the side of the road and the jaloner will come up to the window and state his destination. The driver will say where he's going and where he'll drop of the rider (if he's not going all the way). The jaloner jumps in (usually into the back of the pickup truck), and holds on for the ride. Upon reaching the dropoff point, the jaloner jumps out and thanks the driver. For longer jalons, the jaloner may offer to pay some money for gas.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007


What's this? Two blog entries in two days! Something must be going on. Well, yes. I've been sick with diarrhea and a cold for most of the last two weeks, and finally am starting to feel better, and so I'm sharing my joy with you. Yay.

Several other volunteers have blogged recently about what their average day looks like, so I figured I would do the same. My work is very different from day to day, depending on if I'm working with the Foro, or with Agua Pura, or with the Ministry of Health. But otherwise it goes something like this:

6:30amWake up
Light Exercise
Breakfast (Corn Flakes and tea - Thanks Parents!)
8:30amStart Working
Sometimes this means going out for meetings or fieldwork, sometimes it means staying in to write up documents, study, or make charla papers. Often times there isn't enough work to fill up the time until lunch, so I'll go to the internet cafe for a while.
11:30amLunch (I eat at a little eatery called Merendero Nayarit about 3-5 times per week and converse with the owner, Doña Reina)
12:30pmSiesta (As far as I can tell, Hondurans don't take siestas. I do. The heat is usually unbearable by this time, so I just lie in bed with the fan blowing on me full-blast.)
2:00pmContinue Working
Usually I save indoor work for this time, since walking the streets is no fun at this hour.
5:00pmHead over to the basketball court and play pickup
6:45pmStop playing when it gets too dark to see, head home for dinner.
9:00pmRead in bed, fall asleep

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Q & A

Originally uploaded by StormyPetrel
My soon-to-be 95-year-old grandmother (Hi Grandma Ruth!) and my mom (Hi Mom!) each sent me an email this week and asked a few questions. Since I'm having a hard time coming up with ideas for blog entries, I figured I'd answer some of them here.

Is Trujillo is sort of isolated from the rest of the country being surrounded by mountains and tropical forests? Since Trujillo is on the coast do you get storms such as hurricanes, etc.?

Trujillo is nearly at the end of the coastal highway, CA-13. The highway technically ends at Puerto Castilla, but the road is really bad after Trujillo. Trujillo is more isolated than anywhere I've ever lived, but in the range of peace corps sites is not very isolated. It is a roundabout trip to get to the nearest city, La Ceiba, as the Highway heads east, then south around the mountains before finally heading northwest back towards La Ceiba. It takes about 3.5 hours one-way. Luckily, stores in Trujillo sell most everything that one needs, but prices are quite a bit higher than in Ceiba.

Trujillo does get storms, though the land here seems much better equipped to handle precipitation than other (more deforested) parts of Honduras. We had a wet front come through here and move on into the center of the country, where it wreaked havoc and caused severe flooding. There were barely even any puddles here. And the north coast does sometimes get hit by hurricanes. But only about once every 20 years. And the last one was in 1998.

Does it rain for long periods or just short time? Is it always quite a downpour?

May through July is a mini-rainy season (the real rainy season being November through February), and we get afternoon showers more often than not. It's usually a big downpour. Like afternoon thunderstorms in certain parts of the States. Unfortunately, the rain does little to lower the temperature. It just makes everything damp.

What you do for meals? Are you able to get fresh fruit and vegetables? Are there restaurants where you can get good food?

Food-wise, I eat breakfast and dinner with my host family, who has a muchacha that prepares their meals. I stick with Corn Flakes for breakfast, but she does make me dinner every night. There are plenty of places to by fresh fruits and vegetables (though there's not much variety). There are two supermarkets, each about the size of a 7-11. They carry a lot of foodstuffs, including peanut butter and cheese. Occasionally I skip dinner at home and cook a communal dinner with my sitemates (There are two other Peace Corps volunteers here and a Canadian volunteer). There are a lot of restaurants in Trujillo, though not much variety in what they serve.

My host family is very caring and feeds me well, but I am still looking forward to being able to cook my own meals and have my own place. This saturday, I signed on the dotted line for a one-bedroom apartment! I'm moving in on July 1st. The total cost is 2,000 Lempiras (a tad over $100) a month. Of course, it's unfurnished, and I don't have a lot of money to fill it with stuff. So it'll be like camping for a little while. There is a lumber yard nearby, so I'll probably buy some wood and make shelves and a desk for cheap.

On the lack of direction from Peace Corps...

I didn't mean to make it seem like Peace Corps is not giving us any support or direction. There's just a limit to what they can do for us. Each community has different characteristics and needs, and only the volunteer on the ground can make the contacts and form the relationships that are necessary to really know a community. I think Peace Corps does a very good job at giving us the resources we need to be effective volunteers, however the bulk of the work is still on the shoulders of the volunteer.