exulansis n. The tendency to give up trying to talk about an experience because people are unable to relate to it.
The day had finally arrived: the day that Chris and I would be leaving the comfort of our little Pepto Bismol pink walled room in Bud’s basement for the unknown reaches of Central and South America. Having planned this trip for nearly a year, it was hard to believe it was actually happening. I thought back over the last year of my life, and the many, many things that had changed since this plan had first hatched in my mind. Through all that, this had been the constant in my life, the one piece of stable ground I had to look forward to in the future. Standing upon it, that ground no longer seemed so stable.
Regardless of how quickly everything seemed to be happening, Chris and I were ready to leave and start over. We had stored all our stuff (at least that which we had not sold), packed a few things on our backs, and said our goodbyes to both people and place. Bud took us out to one final dinner before driving us to the Kalispell airport, where we said an unceremonious goodbye (one of the many things we love about Bud) before finding ourselves standing alone, with only our packs and each other. I recalled the words of Kerouac in On the Road, “I was surprised, as always, by how easy the act of leaving was, and how good it felt. The world was suddenly rick with possibility.”
Unfortunately, we still had nearly 48 hours before we would set foot on Central American soil. For that long stretch of time, we would see nothing but airports and airplanes. My favorite. To save on money, we had split our travel into two separate tickets. First, we would fly from Kalispell to Las Vegas on Allegiant Airlines, the only budget airline that services the state of Montana. Since Allegiant Airlines only run flights between Kalispell and Las Vegas on Sundays and Wednesdays, we would be forced to take the Sunday flight out only to have to wait 27 hours in the Las Vegas airport until our flight to San Pedro Sula, with another layover in Houston. We had saved a lot by booking flights as such, but in exchange for saved money, there would be an inevitable amount of suffering.
The flight from Kalispell to Vegas was 2.5 hours in length, putting us landing in Vegas just around 9pm. Our next flight would not leave until just after midnight the next evening. Once we collected my pack from baggage claim, we found a relatively remote walkway overlooking the ticketing area just one level below. The walkway just seemed to have various office doors and thus there was little but official traffic on it. There, we blew up our Kymit Static V Luxe sleeping pad, pulled out my sleeping bag, and settled down for the night. Or at least for an hour, before the noise from the ticketing area below and the Cher music being blasted over the loudspeakers became too much for us to sleep and we made for finding a quieter place. We found it in an empty conference room down at the other end of the walkway. We turned out the lights, except for one that didn’t seem connected to any switch, and actually fell to sleep for a solid five hours. Our sleep was disrupted around 5:30am when a security guard came in to inform us that we couldn’t be in there. We had expected as much to happen at some point, but were at least hoping to sleep a couple more hours before it did. Once again, we hauled all of our stuff back into the hallway, and curled up again for another couple hours of sleep.
By 7:30am, the airport was bustling with noise of anxious travelers and beeping passenger cars, ending any hopes we had for more sleep. It had been a fitful night, but we had at least slept some. The rest of the day was long and boring; Chris took up a large chunk of time by wandering out of the airport to get us some food at a nearby Dollar Tree while I took inventory of all our gear and made some headway on some writing. Finally, around 5pm, we made our way through security and to the gate. Since the flight to Houston was only a couple hours in length, we wouldn’t have much opportunity to sleep through the night, so we wanted to try to catch some sleep at the gate. Once again, we spread out our sleeping supplies and curled up in a corner at the junction between B and C gates. We knew people would stare at us, but that didn’t stop us from falling asleep for five hours. When the time came to board our flight, we packed up all our stuff once again, and headed onboard, fingers crossed that Spirit Airlines wasn’t the type of budget airline to be very strict about their carry-on luggage restrictions. Our packs were definitely oversized, and we hadn’t technically paid for carry-on luggage either, which apparently you need to do on Spirit Airlines. In our defense, we didn’t find this out until we reached the gate and no one had asked me at the ticketing counter if we had any carry-ons. Luckily, the gate attendants didn’t pay much attention to the “checked bags: 0” on our tickets that we had intentionally obscured with our thumbs.
We landed in Houston around 3am, exiting from the gate just next to the one from which we would be leaving. Just beyond the gates near the food court were some couches that we curled up on and once again caught another few hours of sleep. We woke to a bustle of people around us, including an elderly couple that had taken up the seats next to our couch. The woman grinned at me as I got up and rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. Shameless, would be the word I would use to describe my traveler alter ego. She had been munching on some Wendy’s, but offered Chris and I both of their containers of uneaten potatoes. “We can’t eat as much as we used to.”
We began talking and I found out they were on their way to Rome for a few days, before taking a two-week trans-Atlantic cruise back to the States. “We’ve done a lot of backpacking travel, but now it’s our turn for luxury,” she told me. We chatted until our call to board, then bid them farewell and got on our final airplane. Again the flight was only about three hours and suddenly we were touching down in Honduras.
Landing in another country is always somewhat of a nerve-wracking experience, and this was no exception. Unlike traveling in Europe, I had absolutely no idea what to expect down here. I didn’t even know if I would be allowed in the country. I had been warned that sometimes Honduras required proof of onward travel in order to enter. The sometimes was the catch. We didn’t have proof of onward travel, considering we had no idea where we were going beyond the hostel we had booked for that night. I desperately hoped they wouldn’t ask for a ticket to show we were leaving the country. Thankfully, they didn’t. The woman at the border control stand spoke no English, but I managed to answer most of her questions in crude Spanish before she scanned our fingerprints, stamped our passports, and sent us on our way.
The San Pedro Sula airport was small and unimpressive, and the distance spanning border control, customs, and the main entrance was all of about 30 feet. Customs was an easy process that merely required us to put our bags through a small scanner. I had heard the customs process there was not so easy for all travelers there so I was glad that we hadn’t been given any trouble. Outside the door, there was a mass of people in white shirts offering taxi rides into the city. Since the airport appeared to contract out transportation to one taxi company, we didn’t have much choice. We hopped in a car that had seat belts but no way to fasten them on the seat, and took off for the city.
During that 20-minute ride, I was immediately confronted with the fact that I was in a completely different world now. The outskirts of San Pedro Sula between the airport and the city were bleak, filled with run-down buildings and rough dirt streets. Horses pulled cars down the main road among the cars and truckers stretched out hammocks underneath the axels of their trucks. The closer we got to the city, the more developed things became, but it was still a far cry from anything I had experienced.
The taxi driver took us right to the hostel, a dark turquoise building with a solid metal gate that completely lacked any view inside. The name Dos Molinos B&B was nowhere to be seen and were it not for the little Trip Advisor logo near the gate, I would have never known it was the hostel. We paid the taxi driver $20, an expensive fare but an inevitable one, and rang the buzzer. A woman named Blanca greeted us and ushered us inside. Now came the moment of truth; I had technically booked a single room online because the photo of the bed looked plenty large enough for two people. I was hoping it wouldn’t be a problem that there were two of us. Naturally, it was. We ended up paying an extra $10 for Chris, making the grand total cost of the room $30. It was way more than I would have liked to pay for a hostel room, especially considering how grim and no-frills the place was (not to mention the hideous mint green walls), but it would at least give us a bed for the night so we could get out of the city at the earliest opportunity.
Our first priority was a shower, wanting desperately to get the smell of airplanes and airport floors from our skin. It didn’t hurt that it was miserably hot and humid in San Pedro Sula and we had ben sweating like crazy from the moment we exited the plane. Naturally, the shower was cold, and I mean ice cold. If it hadn’t been stupidly hot outside, it would have made me angrier that we had paid so much for a shitty room with cold showers, but the temperature actually felt nice in that moment. And since the room also had no air conditioning, it was most efficient way we had to cool ourselves.
After that, we set out to find food. We quickly learned that San Pedro Sula is pretty inaccessible at best, and aside from the Pollo Express on the corner a few blocks down, there was little to no options for food. The hostel was, at least, located only a few blocks (and one very busy thoroughfare) away from the Multiplaza Mall, where we eventually found the food court. Seeing as it was our first meal in Central America, I wanted to step outside the box and get something traditional. I ordered the platos tipicos and found myself with a plate of refried beans, rice, tortilla, chicken, and some unknown yellow substance. We tried the yellow substance first and found ourselves pleasantly surprised at the delicious food. It was fried on the outside, but soft and sweet on the inside, a mysterious combination we mulled over for the rest of the meal. We later discovered it to be a common Central America dish of fried plantains.
Though we had obtained food for the moment, we knew we would need to eat later and didn’t want to stake our dinner on going out to find something. After a bit of research back at the hostel, we discovered a Supermercado Junior seven blocks from the hostel. The only problem was that it was starting to get dark.
If you’re wondering why that was a concern, consider that the Wiki Travel page for San Pedro Sula begins with a red warning box reading: “San Pedro Sula has been named the most dangerous place on earth, with an average of more than three homicides per day; It is one of the world’s most violent areas.” Now, to be fair, that information is a little outdated. Based on 2015, San Pedro Sula no longer holds the title of murder capitol of the world as it had for the last three years. Caracas, Venezuela, and the country’s current economic crisis, now holds that title, pushing San Pedro Sula to second place. According to an article by USA Today, “In Honduras, the drop in reported homicides- from 5,891 in 2014 to 5,039 last year- may partly reflect informal agreements between cartels and the government.” It follows in the footsteps of its fellow drug country, Guatemala, which has seen vast reform over the last decade. But in the end, they’re just numbers that do not, by any means, represent the whole of a country. For as many travel warnings as are placed on Central and South America, consider that America itself has just as many in place given the recent civil unrest. It’s all about perspective.
As you may have guessed by virtue of reading this post, nothing happened to us, save for some scary traffic crossings considering the drivers in Honduras are clinically insane and a whole lot of honking at the gringos. Of course it helps that San Pedro Sula is riddled with police. On nearby every block, we passed some stoic young man holding a shotgun or some form of automatic weapon. And yet America is the one that thinks of police is over-militarized. In the beginning, it was intimidating seeing so many heavily armed people in placed that would never strike me as needing it: shopping malls, bus terminal food courts, grocery stores even (a similarly armed guard asked to check our receipt as we left the store even though we had only purchased two items). The overt police presence was an odd mix of alarming and comforting, which seemed to be an accurate summary of everything I had seen so far. Central America struck me as beautiful and tragic, kind and dangerous, all at the same time.