San Pedro Sula has nothing going for it. Literally nothing. You would expect a city that is so incredibly decked out in all the trimmings of poverty would at least be cheap. Alas, no. It was remarkably overpriced, and yet everything was shite. I took almost no pictures, so the images in this are from other locations.
I had to get myself some new glasses while I was in the city waiting for James. I had jumped off a dock in Caye Caulker with mine on my head. Not my finest hour, but funny nonetheless.
Once I had finished my work, sitting out on a balcony overlooking some of the most depressing buildings I had ever seen, I nervously made my way into the city. It wasn’t something I relished. The plastic chair I had cramped onto the 3-foot balcony overlooked a small slice of life, and bleak barely began to cover it.
The city had smells and sounds of its own, of course. However, the smells and sounds were nothing but an insult to the senses. It was hard to hear myself think over the almost constant road of cars with their exhausts cut off. It was a tradition here to remove any outward piping from the engine it seemed.
This resulted in cars that sounded like they were either screaming or bellowing way above a comfortable human hearing level. It wasn’t just the cars, either. The tiny little 125 motos they all drive also feature the lack of exhaust. This sound was even worse when came from small engines. It was just as loud, with the added insult of being incredibly high-pitched. It was a regular occurrence to be in a shop, bar, or restaurant and have to stop speaking numerous times through an order as a car went past outside.
The smell was in part due to the fumes. There are a lot of little things in an exhaust that stops the smell and pollution that comes flying out of a combustion engine. Remove this, and all the stinking rot from the 25-year-old engine just goes straight out into the air. With the still and oppressive heat of San Pedro Sula, it didn’t go anywhere and just sat as a thick smog, quickly introducing itself to lungs, clothes, and hair.
The engine smoke was diluted somewhat by the smells of rotting piles of refuse that sat in every corner, garden, car park, and abandoned house. The heat of the city turned the bags of old food and household waste into fly-infested heaps of slop. The smell is bitter, cloying, and pervasive. It is one of those scents that, once smelt, clings to the inside of the nose and throat for minutes after. By the time one buzzing, steaming pile of shit is passed and finally gone from your olfactories, there’s another.
Usually, in Latin American cities, there is the smell of food floating through the air from the many varied and delicious food stalls on the streetside and tucked into small tiled cafes. However, San Pedro Sula only seems to cook one food, and it’s solidly deep-fried. As much as I love fried chicken, the eternal smell of boiling grease and fried ‘Chicken’ does little to loosen up the already crowded air. The constant burning of oil brings an added weight and grease to the atmosphere that keeps everything close to the skin and thick as soup. I think I took about 5 years off my life just looking for a pair of glasses.
As I picked my way over pavements that looked like they had been mortared, between piles of biological waste and over small piles of burning refuse, I started popping into various opticians. One of the better things about being out of the UK is that you can just go to an optician, take the 5-minute eye test, and buy a pair of glasses on the spot. The UK requires a six-month wait and a 2-hour rigamarole by some pleb who wasn’t sharp enough to become a real doctor. Almost everywhere else, it’s a doddle.
Now, I have seen a lot of people in Honduras by this point with glasses. I presumed that bearing in mind the average Honduran income is £10,000 a year, glasses wouldn’t be extortionate. Turns out the smog and the fact I was glaringly white had gotten to the opticians’ heads.
Over and over again, for very mid-range frames, I was quoted prices that would make Gucci blush. Now, none of the frames are priced on the shelf, so the person over the counter just freestyles it. At one point, the guy didn’t even know how much he was ripping me off for. He quoted me the equivalent of $70 for a pair of frames that could have been pulled off a shelf in Poundland. When I pointed out just how much he was charging, he had to check it on his calculator three times to make sure it was right. He was inflating so far beyond the norm he couldn’t even do the conversion. His greed had blinded him to the point that he didn’t even know what he was asking for. I bid him a swift “Adios Vaquero” and made my way to the next thieving shitheel.
I found a pair in the end. Basically, I went in behind someone who was also buying a pair of glasses. I waited for them to buy a pair, which, luckily enough, were pretty much the same style as mine, and stood next to him as he bought them. This meant that I heard how much they charged, and they knew it. I swear to god they tried to whisper it. Nonetheless, after a whole day of walking around in the infernal noise of the fume soup, I had my Jeffrey Dahmer look back on track.
This was a city that didn’t make me want to explore. It is rare that I won’t get restless sitting inside when there is a new place outside my door, but honestly, the aircon and vaguely reliable wifi were more than enough draw to outstrip whatever sad show San Pedro Sula had to offer. I got my head down and did some writing. James would be here the next day, and I had made friends with a fellow traveller and Instagram famioso who was travelling with her dog, so the hotel was welcoming enough.
Waiting for James was exciting. I hadn’t seen him for almost a year, and the trip I had lined up promised to be a lot of fun. It was a whole new environment for me, travelling around Central America, and it was a whole new culture for him. We’ve not always got on, but as we both grew up and no longer had to live together, our friendship has become concrete and unshakeable. I knew the next month was going to be full of brotherly foolery and laughs.
James arrived early the next morning at about 1 am. I had been out for dinner with my hotel buddy, and we had somehow managed to polish off about 10 beers each. It wasn’t my intention to drink so much just before he arrived, but it was what it was, and I had to just deal with it. I walked her home and hopped in a taxi to the airport. The beers hit my bladder about halfway there, so when I arrived at the waiting lounge, there was no time to check if James had arrived, it was straight to the toilet.
Thankfully, James took another hour or so actually to show up. This gave me time to sober up a little and enjoy the delightful air conditioning. The heat of San Pedro Sula sits on the skin like an oil. James’ arrival was marked and then punctuated by texts of his initial reactions. The first, unsurprisingly, was the same as one of mine from an earlier blog post. “Does nobody here know that headphones exist”. This is in reference to the fact that everyone who uses their phone, be it to watch a feature film or call their grandma, does it on full volume, no matter where they are. As two people who are quite sensitive to sounds, this is a glaring annoyance. I have since learned to become deaf to a lot of things, but James still has to learn that. Or not.
His second observation was the fact that he was a solid 4 feet taller than anyone else in the airport. This concerned him after 16 hours in the compressed chamber of an aeroplane and the food that comes along with it. He was aware that 90% of the population was in the danger zone of his ass.
Seeing him was a delight. I don’t often miss anything, but having family come to visit fills my heart in a way nothing else really does. We had a million things to talk about, and from the moment we met at the airport until we finally got back to the hotel, we carried on carrying on.
We stopped off on the way back in the pouring rain. It was a wet welcome for James, and the skies had opened. We hopped out of the taxi at an all-night Papusa stand and queued with the rest of the Friday-night drunks for what was the first of, quite frankly, a sickening amount of Papusas over the coming month.
Standing there in backwards, impoverished San Pedro Sula, James stuck out like a sore thumb. After months in Latin America and multiple wardrobe changes, my fashion has more or less started to blend in with the various countries. I’ll turn a few heads due to my skin colour, accent, and stunning good looks, but on the whole, I look blended. James stands at a solid 6 feet 2, and he was wearing a skintight white vest with a white linen shirt open over the front. He was sporting expensive white trainers and equally expensive loose white linen trousers. With his pushed-back long hair and shining white skin, he turned heads so fast that I think a few people ended up having to get neck braces in the morning.
I had planned it so that we spent almost no time in the shithole that is San Pedro Sula, and the very next day we woke up nice and early and jumped straight on the bus to the coast. We went blasting straight across the Caribbean and to the Island for a week of Scuba diving lessons.
James refused to believe in Jet-Lag and so didn’t suffer from it once. We got to bed about 2/3 am the night he arrived. We woke up at 8 am the next morning to get the bus to the docks, and that was it. He was instantly on Central America time, not once complaining or over or undersleeping. I am glad that the thick-headed stubbornness runs in the family and continues to work in our favour. Question everything, accept nothing.
The bus took us to the town we needed to get the ferry across to the island of Utila. We took a little shuttle across. This was the first one James would take for the month, but not the last. James got his first look at the countyside of a country that will be quickly swallowed by jungle given half a chance. The culture shock was less shocking, from what I could tell, and merely fascinating. From the London james was used to, this was a very different way of living. Whether it was better or worse was still yet to be decided.
It dropped us at the coastal town which was also gross. We walked through it looking for something to eat before we had to get onto the boat, but all we found was shit and run-down cafes. We sacked it off and jumped in a taxi. I tried to haggle with the driver on the cost, but it sounded like he was speaking his Spanish out of the back of his head and through a thick sock.
We arrived at the ferry port, and I can only imagine how James was feeling. We had had little time to eat, and since two days before, he had been in transit. It was only now, on technically his third day, were we getting on his final leg of the journey. We checked in through the various processes and got onto the first clean-looking vehicle we had seen in days. It was a huge Catamaran, and it was exactly the vessel we needed to carry us across the Carribean sea to an island adventure away from San Pedro Sula.