Posted by: Thida | December 24, 2013

Travel Magic: Sierrra del Merendon, Honduras

Back in July, in my last days in Honduras, I traveled to San Pedro Sula, Honduras, with the intention of going to Cusuco National Park, on the mountain range of Sierra del Meredon.

I was traveling alone and although I’m quite used to doing so, it’s not something I do/did regularly in Central America for safety reasons.

Since I was alone, I felt it would be safer to hire a guide to go up the mountain. I found this travel company that offered guided tours but when I inquired about the schedules and conditions, I learned that there was a minimum of two people for the tour.

I was bummed and the guide offered me a solution. Seeing that I spoke Spanish, he suggested that I go up there alone and assured me it was simple.

Perfect, I thought. How do I do this? I expected his explanations to be something like this:

  • Start from point A.
  • Take a bus.
  • Arrive at point B.
  • Someone will be there waiting for you, will take your hand and will bring you where you need to go.
  • Walk in the park, take pictures.
  • Come back the same way you got there.
  • THE END

Instead I got this:

  • “You take a taxi. Go in neighbourhood Barrio La Primavera.  Near the football field, there’s a wooden pulperia (a pulperia is sort of small convenient “store”).
  • You wait under the tree that is next to the pulperia for a pickup truck that is going to the village Aldea Naranjita. You hitch a ride.
  • At Aldea Naranjito, pay the driver 40 lempiras (approximately US$2). Then you walk on the main road for about 10 km until you reach the village Buenos Aires. Don’t get off the main road!
  • Once there, find the comedor (small eatery) Tucan and ask to stay there for the night. They can arrange a guide who can bring you to the waterfall and park.
  • To return back to San Pedro Sula you can do A) find Martina and ask her if Roger can give you ride back, or B) wait by the side of the road for a truck that goes back into town.
  • Any questions?”

Erh…yeah…I have questions…Let’s see…Oh! Will I die during this trip?!

I mean…don’t get me wrong. I’ve hitchicked before. In fact, in Central America is very common to do so, especially in small villages where transportation is limited but I still felt unsure about the whole thing.

The guide reassured me tried to reassure me. He wrote all the instructions on a piece of paper, read them to me again about three times. He also gave me half a dozen phone numbers in case I needed them. These, as I later found out, would have been useless because my phone couldn’t pick up any reception on the mountain.

And off I went! I survived — obviously, since I’m writing this blog post — and nothing bad happened to me either but please be aware that it is not recommended to hitch hike alone! I took a huge risk! But I’m so happy I took it!

My Favourite Moments

  • Being in the back of a pickup truck with approximately 15 people, a chicken and a whole lot of merchandise. Speaking with an old man whom I could barely understand because he had no teeth and, like I said, we were in the back of a pickup truck going up a dirt road. At one point during the conversation, being asked by the old man if I liked flowers while he pointed at the sky. Looking up and seeing a field of flowers on the slope of the mountain.
  • While staying at the comedor Tucan, chatting with 12-year-old David about the violence in San Pedro Sula. Being in awe and feeling a little sad that such a young person could be so articulate about this very heavy subject matter.
  • After two days in the mountains, waiting five hours on the side of the road for a ride to go back to the city. Finally seeing a truck and meeting two agronomists who worked for the government. Being invited to tag along on their farm visits before heading to San Pedro Sula. Visiting farms, drinking coffee and sharing stories with small coffee producers.

It was great!

People asked me if it’s worth going there. Honestly, I’ve seen mountains more jaw-dropping than this one. However, this was probably one of my best travel experiences of all times.

That’s the beauty of traveling, for me anyways. It’s not so much about a great view, a museum, a sculpture or whatever other tourist attraction. It’s about the encounters you make along the way. The beauty and kindness of people. There are no travel books out there that could have helped me plan out a trip like that.

I wish you all wonderful holidays and a fabulous 2014. May your year be filled with heart-warming moments, either while travelling in far away places or while rediscovering the beauty of your own backyard.

Coffee fields in the mountains. Sierra del Merendon, Honduras

Coffee fields in the mountains. Sierra del Merendon, Honduras

Waterfall El Tucan, with my two “guides” at the bottom right of the picutre: 14-year-old Ever and 12-year-old David

Waterfall El Tucan, with my two “guides” at the bottom right of the picutre: 14-year-old Ever and 12-year-old David

 

Posted by: Thida | December 15, 2013

Corruption…Here and There

Pour la version en français, voyez ci-dessous.

I’ve been back in Canada for a few months now and one of the topics I still talk about is Honduras, especially when I meet new people. It’s only normal, I guess, and I’m not bothered by it at all (I’m more concerned about my friends who must be bored to tears of hearing my stories again and again).

I recently met a women in my Boot Camp class, at the gym, and we started talking about Honduras. She asked me:

– Is there a lot of corruption in Honduras?
– Yes, I replied. Corruption is everywhere over there, at every level of society. It’s paralyzing. But you know, we find corruption everywhere on this planet.
– It’s true. I guess it’s the same as in Quebec (Note: In the past few months – dare I say years – Canadian and Quebec news have been riddled with stories of fraud, corruption and frivolous spending by government).
– Yeah…I guess it’s the “same”. Except for the fact that in Canada, you’re not afraid to get shot because of it.
– …  [Blank stare].

I knew I said too much.

I don’t want to be the type of person who says: “Well…You know…In other countries, everything is SO MUCH WORSE than here! So you guys SHOULD really shut up about your so-called problems!”

I would immediately be banned from any social gathering or be tagged “Thida Downer” (If you are a fan of Saturday Night Live, you must know Debbie Downer! Youtube it!)

I don’t want to be patronizing. But admittedly, sometimes I slip. In this case, I couldn’t help it. I was right. You know I was.

I was looking at corruptions levels around the world and according to the 2013 Corruption Perception Index released by Transparency International, an organization present in more than 100 countries that works on raising awareness on the problems of corruption, Canada is ranked 9th over 177 countries. Meaning it is in the top 10 of the least corrupt countries in the world.

As a comparison, the United States ranked 19th place. And Honduras? 140 over 177 countries. It is the country with the worst grade on corruption in Central America.

Humm…slight difference, don’t you think?

How does this translate in Hondurans’ daily lives? I could talk about the pathetic condition of the health care system, the awful roads or the lack of confidence in the justice system, but I’d like to talk about the last presidential elections that took place on November 24th.

There was a lot of confusion when the results came out. So much so that two candidates self-proclaimed themselves as victors. However, it seemed that Juan Orlando Hernandez, leader of the right-wing National Party, had the advantage.

The Libre party, left-wing party led by Xiomara Castro – wife of ousted president Manuel Zelaya in a coup in 2009 – claimed that the election was robbed and called it a fraud.

Other election observers also documented Election Day fraud such as vote-buying, intimidation and fraudulent tally sheets.

Debates, protests and a recount followed.

This past week the Honduran Electoral Tribunal announced that Juan Orlando Hernandez won the election and that he is the new president of Honduras.

All is well that ends well, right?! Well, since the November 24th election, at least six people were assassinated, including a journalist, a candidate in the Libre Party, and an activist who was against Hernandez. 

Imagined if this happened in Canada? Nobody would leave their house!

So finishing on the conversation I had with the women in my boot camp class. She’s right. There is corruption in Canada. And we should absolutely complain about it because it is unacceptable. Because we want to see change. So we need to voice our opinion.

And we are lucky that we can voice our opinion freely and not worry about serious repercussions because, you know…in other countries, it’s SO MUCH WORSE…OK, I’m going to stop talking now!

Thida Downer, OVER AND OUT.

This photo was provided by Eustacia Molina, a Honduran lawyer and a friend of mine. This shows her inked finger indicating that she voted. Did it count?

This photo was provided by Eustacia Molina, a Honduran lawyer and a friend of mine. This shows her inked finger indicating that she voted. Did it count?

FRANÇAIS

Ça fait déjà quelques mois que je suis de retour au Québec et malgré le fait que j’essaie de me réintégrer  dans ma vie québécoise, je suis encore les nouvelles du Honduras. Je continue aussi à en parler, surtout lorsque je fais des nouvelles rencontres. (J’essaie de ne plus en parler à mes amis. Je crois qu’ils commencent à en avoir marre).

Justement, j’en parlais avec une dame dans mon cours de boot camp, au gym. Elle m’a demandé :

– C’est comment le Honduras? Il doit y avoir beaucoup de corruption, no?
– Oui, je réponds. La corruption est partout là-bas, à tous les niveaux de la société. C’est très paralysant. Mais, on retrouve la corruption partout sur notre planète.
– Mets en! C’est pareil au Québec. Il y a TELLEMENT de corruption!  (Note : il y a eu plusieurs histoires de corruption et de fraude dans les nouvelles québécoises et canadiennes ces derniers temps).
– Ouais…disons que c’est « pareil », sauf qu’ici, t’as pas peur de te faire tirer.
– …

Oups! J’ai trop dit. Elle m’a regardé avec un air gêné. J’ai l’impression qu’elle ne voudra plus me parler après.

J’essaie de faire attention avec la façon dont je parle du Honduras ou d’autres pays où j’ai voyagé. Je ne veux pas être la personne qui culpabilise les gens et les rend mal à l’aise en leur disant « Tsé, dans le pays X, c’est PIRE! Vous avez vraiment pas à vous plaindre de vos soi-disant ‘problèmes’. »

C’est un discours qui peut être condescendant et déprimant. Dans ce cas-ci, ça m’a échappé. Sauf que… J’avais raison. Et vous le savez.

Je regardais des chiffres sur la corruption à travers le monde. D’après l’Index de perception de la corruption publié par Transparency International, une organisation présente dans plus de 100 pays et qui travaille à éveiller les consciences sur les problèmes de corruption,  en 2013, le Canada est placé 9e sur 177 pays. Ce qui signifie qu’il est dans le top 10 des pays les moins corrompus sur la planète.

En comparaison, les États-Unis sont 17e . Et le Honduras? 140e sur 177 pays. C’est le pays avec la pire note en Amérique centrale.

Comment ceci se traduit dans la vie quotidienne des honduriens? Je pourrais vous parler de l’état désastreux du système de santé, des mauvaises conditions des routes ou encore du manque de confiance dans le système judiciaire. Je vous parlerai plutôt des dernières élections présidentielles qui ont eu lieu le 24 novembre.

Après la journée de vote, il y a eu beaucoup de confusion au point où deux candidats se sont auto-proclamés vainqueurs. Il semblait, par contre, que Juan Orlando Hernandez, leader du parti National, un parti de droite, avait les devants.

Le parti Libre, parti de gauche mené par Xiomara Castra, femme de l’ex-président Manuel Zelaya qui a été chassé du pays après un coup d’état en 2009, a contesté les résultats et a déclaré qu’il y eu fraude et corruption.

En fait, plusieurs observateurs électoraux avaient aussi documenté des cas de fraude lors de la journée de vote, tels que l’achat de votes, l’intimidation et des feuilles de comptage frauduleuses.

Des débats, des manifestations et un recomptage ont suivi.

Finalement, la semaine passée, le Tribunal électoral hondurien a proclamé Juan Orlando Hernandez vainqueur et président du Honduras.

Tout est bien qui finit bien, n’est-ce pas? Depuis les élections du 24 novembre à ce jour, au moins six personnes ont été assassinées, y compris un journaliste, un candidat à la mairie et un activiste. Toutes ces personnes étaient associées au parti Libre.

Imaginez si ceci se passait ici, au Canada! Il n’y aurait plus personne qui sortirait de chez eux.

Alors en terminant sur la conversation que j’ai eue avec la dame dans mon cours de boot camp. Oui, elle a raison. Il y a de la corruption ici aussi. Et oui, il faut se plaindre pour voir les choses bouger. Il faut en parler parce qu’on a de la chance de pouvoir s’exprimer sans crainte. Vous savez, dans d’autres pays c’est VRAIMENT pire et on ne pourrait pas s’exprimer librement…

Bon, je me tais. Et je vous laisse parler.

Posted by: Thida | November 5, 2013

Being Zen

I was interviewed recently for an article for La Presse + about being healthy and Zen (for those who have an IPad, you can read the article in French here).

Being a dietitian/nutritionist and all, I’m all for talking about eating healthily and having an active lifestyle. But talking about being Zen? Me? Really? I thought to myself that this is the time when lying is necessary.

Reflecting back on the two years I lived in Honduras I think I can divide my time as such:

  • The first year: patience, listening, understanding, nodding my head. All of that.
  • The second year: shit hits the fan! Explosion, frustration, exhaustion.  (Heck, one of my nicknames in Honduras was “Tsunami”…says a lot doesn’t it?)

Does this look like the portrait of someone who is Zen? Not remotely!

Even coming back to Montreal I’m having issues.

I can’t deal with traffic. It drives me crazy! Hear me out. In San Lorenzo, Honduras, it took me four minutes to walk to work. The most traffic I could get was perhaps if the old man selling coconut in his wheeled cart was a little slow.

Before that, I worked from home for four years.  So let’s just say that it’s been a while since I dealt with a daily commute. Traveling back and forth, day in and day out, for 1 or 2 or 3 hours a day is beyond me!

It’s also such a headache to try to see friends. In San Lorenzo, I didn’t have much to do. It’s not like there was a yoga centre where I could go take classes, or a cinema, or a coffee shop…you get the point. So when it was time to see friends all you had to do was pick up the phone and call. Most likely they’re not doing anything either…since we live in the same town! Within an hour, we are together. There! Done!

In Montreal it’s a little more complicated. People have activities. Their children have activities.  We need 5 e-mails, 3 Facebook messages, 16 text messages and one doodle calendar survey to figure out a date and time. Once we figure that out, we need to determine a place! Argh!

So yah… I admit. I lose my cool sometimes. Just a little bit.

So going back to being Zen…Well, I’m working on it. Sleep helps me. Exercise and a balanced diet help me. Being with friends and family is essential.

And I have to laugh about it. I laugh at myself. I know that I’m ridiculous, that I’m a little crazy. So I laugh.

There was something I forgot to mention while I was doing the interview for the article. My mom always used to say that it was important to laugh. When I was little, she told me that when you laugh you live one more year. In other words, it keeps you young.  When I was a kid though, I took this literally so I think I should live until I’m about 327 years old, give or take.

Thanks mom for giving me the ability to laugh.

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