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Tegucigalpa, Honduras: Living in the World’s most dangerous city.

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Minutes after my friend and I booked our February vacation to Honduras in 2015, we received the state department warning that we were about to travel through the world’s most dangerous country. Whoops!? Subsequently, our little week long visit to the mecca of murder resulted in my full on move to Honduras 8 months later.

Honduras might have the highest murder rate in the world, but it also has safe neighborhoods, strong ass home grown coffee, green plush and mountainous terrain, baleadas, wilderness DJ parties, gorgeous waterfalls and lakes, Caribbean beaches, every American franchise, everyday mall life, a president almost as controversial as our new president-elect, ancient history, ancient ruins, terrible city traffic, colorful city streets, fun nightlife, organic selections of produce, a thriving art scene, Spanish colonial architecture, cultural diversity, some of my closest friends, and a capital city with the funkiest name to pronounce, Tegucigalpa.

TEGUS (Tegucigalpa)

I had the pleasure of a “homestay” experience for almost a month in Tegus. I stayed with my Catracha friend and her family in the capital city and felt right at home. The city is built on rolling hills that give you mountainous views from every angle, day and night. 12841342_10153304413386020_7127754082683651887_oBreakfast views of La Champa and the Mormon Church with a fresh climate was our daily ritual. Markets downtown are like busy labyrinths, and there are so many Churches.   We road tripped for a week in our little blue toy rental car that had scooter wheels for tires, drank craft beer (finally), survived Las Vegas, and got to roam the countryside with great company.

Nightlife in Tegus

It’s always a better experience to visit a foreign country through a local’s eyes. In my case a local’s bar scene. We spent a lot of time at the Distrito Hotelero area, a small strip downtown that is the home to a few different bars. Cien Años, Tres Tintas, Tito Aguacate are packed on the weekends and have a local boho vibe, offer chill outdoor hangouts, salsa dancing, live music, DJ sets, and a damn good party. Grab a Caguama of Imperial (40oz of local beer) and hit the dance floor. 14680769_10153805183241020_3900139512736726505_nIn a closeby barrio, Glenns bar plays throw back jams and has that underground rock and roll vibe. Hostel La Ronda is a nice mix of backpackers and locals on a rooftop with live music, Centro de Eventos Vista Hermosa in Las Uvas is an open air event space that also throws fun parties with killer views of Tegus by night. All of the lights! There’s never a shortage of partying Honduran style, que pedos majes!

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Pupusas, gringas, tacos, baleadas, tortillas, frijoles & pastelitos. Wash them down with Salva Vida, Imperial, Port Royal or a Barena.  Catracha desayuno tipico is my #1!

Mainland Roadtrips

40 minutes outside Tegus you can find the most charming towns with cobblestone streets, tuk-tuks, historic colorful buildings with classic terracotta roofs, local artisan shops, and bars and restaurants surrounded by Catracha street food vendors. Valle de Angeles is a popular destination amongst the city folk. Families can enjoy the quaint restaurants and parks, and party people can enjoy the many music festivals thrown in the nearby forest.   It’s got a laid back energy for that quick escape from the Tegus hustle and bustle. 14425339_10153732883571020_7101085393895842751_oI enjoyed Hierro Barro y Verde Café as the menu has specialty pizza and burgers in one of the oldest buildings in Valle (haunted?!) that has a beautiful garden and couples as an art gallery.  Ambiance on point! On the drive back from Valle, we stopped in Santa Lucía, another delightful little mountain village with stunning views and historic appeal. Ojojona, Comayagua, all authentic countryside towns worth the visit.

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12052650_10153320801311020_5722698067204479560_oAt the start of our roadtrip through the mainland, our little blue toy car could barely make it up the hills in Tegus, I was eager to see how we would fare on the highways, since my friends enjoyed reminding me “if you can drive in Tegus, you can drive anywhere.” Ironically I could drive in Tegus, but the Honduran highway was a real mind fuck! No speed limits, no clear lanes, rubble and construction, narrow twisty roads, cars overtaking buses overtaking cars, no rules, no thanks.

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We made it to Lago de Yojoa (YAS!) and immediately hit the D&D brewery for some well overdo craft beer (YAS!). This spot is a backpacker favorite and set in the jungle. Our friends joined us for a cute 10 minute hike through a coffee farm, before we decided we would rather be eating and drinking, so we dipped into the small village of Las Vegas. What happened there………img_6704

We swung by Pulhapanzak for some waterfall time before setting sail back to The Capital. What another cool place for a music festival. Honduras has so many festivals set among so many scenic landscapes. Go figure. Fun times.

The Crime Situation

The mainland gets a bad rap for soaring crime rates, and that’s not to be ignored. Statistically, Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula rank the top cities in the world for homicides. If you ask locals about their experiences with crime, everyone has a story, but not everyone feels the same threat. Neighborhoods in most communities have 24 hour security, and the little boxes on the hillsides that make up Tegus, line the colorful streets with barrier walls, gates and barbed wire.   I followed my friend’s lead and left my purse in the back seat and rolled up my window at certain stoplights. Only one time did I catch her break a sweat when we were driving downtown midday and her car stalled in the middle of a 2 lane bridge for a good 7 minutes. We caused a jam. Buses were honking, bikes were swarming, people were staring, and finally she cracked her window to let some dude help us get the car running. What an adrenaline rush!

I have been held up in New Orleans more than once, pick-pocketed in NYC and was targeted in Jordan. While circumstantial, my intuition has not yet failed me, and I still have never felt unsafe in my one year spent in Honduras. Steer clear of the favelas and gang-infested areas, don’t flash your devices around, just don’t be stupid, duh! For foreigners traveling through, you’ll get a dose of the AK’s on the road, in the back of a truck, or outside a gas station. Police, Military and Watchies all carry.img_6582

It’s a shame that travelers graze over Honduras on their routes through Central America. But I realize my comfort and familiarity with Tegucigalpa and the surrounding mainland is in part by local friends in the know-how. The statistics create a perception of fear and horror when millions of Hondurans from all social statuses live very normal lives and make honest livings.  Crime sucks, jobs are scarce, and the economy suffers from a corrupt government, but the citizens are proud Catrachos. In a country with so much potential, I am proud to have called it home.  Cheque leque panqueque!

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All foto cred to @noisybird and her cracked Ipad

Cuba and the hunt for black market lobster

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Over the years I would Revel in my friends adventures in Cuba. They would rave about the people, the beaches, the music and the rich Cubano culture. I indulged in their stories of salsa parties, music festivals, and roaming the streets full of vintage Chevys and Art Deco architecture. But what they failed to include in their review was what I found to be the most interesting about the country. Communism.

HAVANA

My friend and I flew to Cuba from Honduras in February 2016 and were extremely curious to explore a country that has endured such strict limitations.

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With a wad of Euros in our wallets (no credit cards allowed) and a stamp on a piece of paper shoved between our passports, we navigated our way to Havana for our first night at a Casa Particular in Vedado. This neighborhood is dope as the streets are lined with artsy bars and creepy, majestic, abandoned crumbling neo-classical mansions.

After a few mojitos with some random gringos at Kings Bar, we craved local company and stumbled our way into Café Madrigal, a funky gay bar they kept open for us after hours. By day the bar tender is a gynecologist, but his measly $40 a month salary plus food rations isn’t enough to live on. Bartenders and Cab Drivers make more money than doctors and white collared professionals, so the combination is prosperous. And, we tip 20%.

CASA PARTICULARES 

img_1066If you want to live like a Cubano, live with a Cubano. Casa Particulars are private homes for rent similar to a B&B or even just a guest room for an authentic Cuban homestay. Our Vedado Casa felt more like a Parisian Boutique Hotel, but in Habana Vieja we had a room with a bath in our host’s apartment. Lucky for us he was a party boy, so we went out with him and his friends on Friday night to a jazzy piano bar and had an after party back at our Casa with Havana Club and some black market Jameson. Our host Joao, is a professional ballet dancer, and proud owner of Café Arcangel. Previously the living room of his parents home, they transformed the Café after the law passed in1997 that allowed Cubans to turn their home into a business. This additional income allowed him to buy and renovate his 2 bedroom apartment and turn into another Casa.

CUBAN FOOD

Bravo to Joao, Café Arcangel was the only delicious and affordable food we could find in all of Havana. It took 2 days and 2 mildy pricey meals ($15/person) for us to smarten up and save our money on the liquid diet. When two gringa meals cost the same as the monthly salary of doctor, no wonder tourism is the preferred industry to sustain a lifestyle.

Cuban food is “super rica”, just not in Cuba. When you walk into a “grocery” store you can see why restaurants struggle to provide decent meals. There is a glass showcase of food to select with one brand of tomato paste, a few cans of mystery fruits, some pasta options, chicken stock, a few condiments (to drown out the taste) and rows upon rows of Havana Club Rum and Crystal Beer.  I am still looking for eggs. No spices, no cheese, no flour, no hummus! All this fun stuff is a black market purchase. One day we walked for 2 hours looking for a bottle of water (no joke), but all we found were beer and pringles! So many pringles in so many flavors!? How did pringles slip through the embargo crack? I became fascinated with the absence of selections that filtered into the all areas of commerce. Pharmacy, retail, ferreterias. The stores in Old Havana were either desolate, provided scarce opti ons or strangely specific. One store had us baffled as it was the size of a 2 car garage and sold aisles of piles of one brand of cleaning detergent. No excuses for dirty dishes or clothes!

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When we got to Trinidad, (the perfectly located historic beach town surrounded by mountains and lined with cobblestone streets, horse n buggies and colorful one story homes), we met adorable local boys at a literal underground club in a cave (Disco Ayala) who treated us to a homemade lobster dinner the following night. Since lobster is a specialty for most cultures, in Cuba this meal prep provided us with a bit of a goose chase. Black market shopping in the neighborhoods surrounding Trinidad was exhilarating. img_0050With our cab packed full of 3 Cubanos, 2 gringas and a dutch girl, we parked the car and waited for our Cuban friend to pop out behind a random home. Nope no lobster. Next spot. Nope. And again. Nope. This was a 2 hour game and the possibility of getting arrested was not off the table. Finally we won. Lobster, Shrimp, Bucanero, Havana Club, boom!

The night provided not only a delicious homemade meal prepped and procured by sexy Cubanos, but a stimulating debate conducted by our tres amigos over their dichotomies on Cuban government, economy and cultural pride. Then we partied.

I was eager to share my adventures with friends back home while I was still feeling the Cuban Beats. This led me to my next journey, finding internet.

THE WIFI DEAL 

If you have money you can set up a black market internet feed, but it’s dial up and brings me back to my Hewlett Packard circa 1998. Otherwise you can sit like a phone zombie in one of the few hotspot locations in the park or standing on a side street and pay a shady wifi dealer 5CUC ($5) for one hour of access. The one bonus to this absurdity is that no one is attached to the phone outside the park! It took me a couple days to quit the obsession of trying to connect because you simply cannot. Not even at the fancy resorts. Cuban culture must be so rich because everyone is living in the present and not for the next Instagram post (guilty!).

img_1236Art, music, dance and the creative spirit are thriving in Havana and all of Cuba. Walk along the Malecon and listen to the taxis blasting Jacob Fever. Hit up a jazz club and dance salsa with a local. Smush yourself into La Bedeguita Del Medio amongst other tourists and enjoy drinking a mojito one of the oldest bars in Old Havana. You may not be able to purchase any books other than the history of Fidel or Che, but local artists (using black market supplies), have galleries all over the city for your memorabilia. Or walk through the market and purchase a “magic box” and watch your friends try to open it.

Cuba is so much more beautiful and interesting than I could have imagined it to be, and the people are so lovely. I recommend a trip before capitalism occupies the Cuban soul.

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