Monday, August 23, 2010

Beachy Keen

We had what you might call our first real vacation this past weekend, and it was even Peace Corps subsidized. We are part of a ‘support group’ called MARV for married volunteers. We get together twice a year in different locations to talk about issues we might be having with the Peace Corps, counterparts, our sites etc and PC gives us a little money to cover expenses. There are also groups for religious, gay/lesbian, older volunteer, and racial issues. So our first trip was this past weekend to Omoa, a small beach town on the north coast of Honduras, almost due north of San Pedro Sula and near the border with Guatemala. The road north from San Pedro to get to Omoa just opened up for Peace Corps volunteers a few months ago (used to be pretty dangerous, probably still is) so we wanted to capitalize on our new freedom in this area. It took us about 6 hours to get there, which is actually a relatively short series of bus rides. The bus terminal in San Pedro where we changed buses is actually more like a big mall outside of town with tons of shops and a food court. From there we hopped on a busito (little bus) that was actually air conditioned to Puerto Cortes. It took an hour and half to Puerto Cortes, mostly because the bus stops every 5 seconds to let someone new on. Busitos are almost always at 50% above capacity, every time you stop to let one person off, two more get on in his place.

From Puerto Cortes, we took a chicken bus to Omoa then walked in the baking sun for 20 minutes to our hostel, Roli’s Place. The rooms were simple, shared bathroom, twin bed accommodations. The place had nice grounds with table tennis, hammocks, a kitchen, tables and bunnies roaming free. The talk of the weekend were the signs that Roli had placed on every wall in the place with rules about what not to do, no mosquito coils, no eating in your room, no liquor (but beer is okay), no candles, etc etc. We understood it was probably because less cultured backpackers had trashed the place in the past, but they were still funny.

I’ll be the first to tell you that it was hot, but surprisingly not as hot as my prior visits to Catacamas or Amapala. There was a nice beach breeze. Friday we went swimming for a bit to help us cool down, then had dinner. We were searching in vain for a place to eat among the 50 or so almost identical restaurants that lined the beach, when a guy approached us and started offering us food deals. We got him to offer us fried fish and a beer for L.100 so we headed over to his place. They looked like they were already closed for the night but promptly brought tablecloths, speakers for music and fans for us. I ended up getting a delicious garlic fish filet and Nolan had garlic shrimp, probably not the best seafood we’ve ever had, but a nice change of pace from our normal fare.

Saturday we had homemade yogurt and granola at Roli’s for breakfast then headed to Fortaleza San Fernanado, a Spanish fort built in an unusual three-sided fashion. Because we had residency card, we got in for half price to the small museum plus the fort. Aside from defending the coast for a few 100 years from pirates, the fort was also used as a jail in the 1950’s. We took some beautiful pictures there with huge leafy mountains in the background. It was so hot our shirts were literally soaked with sweat. I was expecting that the gobs of sunscreen I had put on were basically useless because the sweat was rolling off me, but I didn’t get sunburned!

In the afternoon we rode bikes around a bit (free at Roli’s) to check out the ‘other beach.’ Omoa used to have tons of great beaches but the construction of a gas refining plant somehow altered the ecology of the area and the town is losing more and more beach each year. What’s left is a few meters of undeveloped beach that is blocked from the water by three feet of trash. The land could probably be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars if cleaned, as evidenced by the lujo resorts just a bit farther down the beach, but this is how Hondurans take care of the environment. We learned that on the smaller beach closer to town, men come out and rake up all the trash each morning to get rid of it so people can swim there. Makes you wonder what we were swimming in.

Tropigas - the reason the beaches have eroded

Beautiful Caribbean Beach

Saturday afternoon we had some delicious baleadas from a stand that included chunks of fried chicken, mmm mmm good. The lady kept calling me ‘amorcito’ and telling me I needed to eat more to fatten up my panza (belly). We took another swim, played some table tennis and then had our MARV ‘meeting’ watching the sunset on the beach. We didn’t have much to complain about. Things are going well for us, married or otherwise. Our second dinner, Nolan tried caracol (conch), a local specialty, which was a little chewy but otherwise good. We spent the night chatting and playing card games at the hostel.

We woke up really early Sunday to catch the sunrise, which actually rose from behind us but still made the water look pretty. We slept a few more hours then headed out around 9 am to get back home at 4 pm. While not really beachy people, we had a great time in Omoa. The scenery was stunning and it was nice to have a real vacation and just spend some quality time together. We also got the chance to meet one other couple that we hadn’t met before and to see our other married friends from training. While we don’t have any plans to go back (we pretty much exhausted all there is to do there), we can see ourselves spending more time on the north coast in the future if anyone wants to join us.

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