As I begin to write this, it is New Years Day and I am sitting at the computer screen in our very cold home in La Esperanza, Intibucá, Honduras. The internet says it is 70˚ F., but I don’t believe it. I know, those of you from the northern US are laughing at me. But, one expects a great deal more from the weather when you are living in the tropics. Besides, there is no heat inside our house! It’s cold!
For the first time in the four years we have lived in Honduras we decided not to return to the States for Christmas / New Years. That had me a little concerned. One, we wouldn’t be seeing our friends and family. Two, we would have to endure holiday traditions that are foreign. For the first issue, we’d been back to the States in October for Laura’s Mom’s 90th birthday party. We managed to see most of our family and friends then. For the second issue, we needed to get creative.
Christmas is celebrated on December 24, and really very little happens on the 25th. Families usually gather in the evening and head out to a church celebration somewhere between 9PM and midnight. Upon returning from church, the family, a very large grouping, sits down to a huge meal. There are lots of tamales – corn meal made into a paste and infused with various vegetables, raisins, nuts and, for special occasions, some meat, generally chicken, all molded into a banana leaf shell. This is not appealing to me, though Laura can handle them. Everyone is making and selling these throughout the days leading up to Christmas and through the New Year. A US analogy might be the ubiquitous fruit cake. Besides this, there are fireworks. Not really pretty fireworks either, simply these rockets that fly up into the air and make a huge, noisy explosion that then makes all the dogs start barking.
Aside: I think rockets or fireworks for Christmas is simply out of place, even bad taste. Welcoming the Christ child with noisy bombs that also have the potential to cause serious bodily damage just doesn’t seem appropriate. Then again when I think about it, a fat elfish looking creature smoking a pipe, yelling out “Ho, Ho, Ho!,” sliding down chimneys, and riding through the night in a snow sled propelled by flying reindeer doesn’t seem that fitting either. But, that’s my Christmas tradition, and if the Hondurans don’t need to make excuses for theirs, I’m not making any for mine.
Lots of people invited us to their December 24 Nochebuena celebrations. It really wasn’t what we wanted to do for our Christmas, so we had to think of a way to decline all the invitations without offending anyone. We decided on taking a mini-vacation. Lake Yajoa is a pretty big lake and the only one in Honduras. We’ve driven by it a number of times, did stop once at one of the many highway restaurants to enjoy fried fish, but we’ve never really explored it. An American, Bob, who we know from attending NGO conferences in Copan Ruinas, runs a brewery / lodge on the lake called D & D Brewery. It’s the only micro brewery in all of Honduras, and it caters to English-speaking volunteers and eco-tourists. We thought we’d give it a try. It was without doubt the most unique Christmas we’ve ever had.
Who spends Christmas at a lake lodge for English-speaking tourists, adventurists, and non-profit, save-the-world do-gooders? Surprisingly, quite a few people. Mostly they were very young, avant-garde types bucking traditions – perhaps anti St. Nicholas types. But we met a few people with whom we enjoyed some spirited bonding. One guy, about our age, from San Francisco, retired from teaching seventeen years ago. Apparently independently wealthy, he’s been traveling the world ever since and spent about ten years in Thailand. He made for interesting conversation at meals. We ended up climbing a mountain called Cerro de Las Nalgas (Butt Cheeks Mountain – I kid you not) for a vista of the lake with a retired New Zealand couple and two young women from Canada on Christmas Day. That was certainly unique. We had a few conversations with another married couple who live in Tegucigalpa and were celebrating their wedding anniversary. She works with a non-profit NGO and he works with the US State Department. He didn’t tell us what he did with the State Department, and all I could think of was that perhaps he couldn’t or he’d have to kill us. These were people we would perhaps never meet unless we decided to spend Christmas at the D & D Brewery on Lake Yajoa.
The highlight of our vacation was the trip to Puhlapanzak, an impressive waterfall, on December 24. The national park had very few visitors on the special day. We arrived at around 11:30 AM only to find out that most of the staff would be leaving at around noon. We wanted to take the tour of the caves behind the waterfall. We were the only ones there for that, and we managed to secure the guide before he took off for the day. Carlos told us we were going to get wet. That didn’t surprise us. We had taken a similar tour at Niagara Falls. At Niagara, we had walked along these wooden, deck structures and walkways behind the cascading water and mist. They’d also given us rain ponchos and water shoes. Not so at the Honduran National Park at Puhlapanzak. We followed Carlos down a winding path to the bottom of the falls. He opened a padlocked gate where we entered onto the slippery rock path, buffeted by the mist from the falls. We followed our guide up and down the slippery ledges, holding on to a slimy rope to secure us from falling into the raging waters below. Then we came to a pool of water some ten yards from the falls. There was no more trail. At this point, Carlos asks, “Can you swim?,” as he dives into the pool. Coming up on the other side at a ledge just in front of the cascading waters, he smiles and beckons us to jump in. The waters rushed over this pool onto very jagged rocks twenty feet below. The current seemed quite strong. I first said, “No way, José,” or more precisely Carlos. But I didn’t want to waste the ten dollars I’d already spent on our friend Carlos. We both got into the pool, and with Carlos’ kind assistance we both swam over to the other side. I don’t think they let you do this at Niagara. On the other side, we ducked under the Falls and found ourselves in a small cave, a seven square foot room really. We were behind the falls. Not the most awesome thing I’ve ever experienced in nature, and yet it did bring smiles to our faces. Perhaps next year we’ll go back and try the zipline across the falls. I assume they give you a harness.
Today, New Years Day, we’re not doing anything special. Last night we were in bed by ten. Still we were most definitely awake to see in the New Year. The firework bombings began with serious force before 11:00 PM and continued into the early hours. No one living in La Esperanza slept through that.
So, we’ve now added to our Christmas / Holiday traditions. Candles, Christmas trees, Santa Claus, fireworks, tamales, late night feasts, and now, swimming under the falls at Puhlapanzak. It certainly will mark the day. And to think I was worried about what we would do spending Christmas and New Years here in Honduras.