They never tell us anything. In fact, it is not just us, it seems to be a cultural inability to tell anybody anything??? Thursday at break, Puran says to me, “are your classes cancelled tomorrow too?” “Huh??” I question. “I dunno, nobody tells me nutten round here” “I jis the gringo”. So we inquired. None of the other teachers seemed to know. Then finally someone said “ya, I think they’re cancelled because some of the teachers are going to La Ceiba for the weekend”. The plot thickens. I am definitely starting to see a lack of Friday classes in my immediate future. “Want to go somewhere?” I ask Puran. Ya she’s up for it. OK. Maybe that waterfall near Teguc? Anyway we keep inquiring. We piece together the scraps of information like a patchwork quilt, and examine the picture it makes. The older grades have a trip to La Ceiba this weekend. I trot as fast as my little feet will take me over to Rita. “Please Miss Rita”, I beg, “get me on that bus”. We stand diminutively, hands neatly folded in front of us, in the directors office. “pleaaaasseee” “bonito por favor con azucar” So 3500 Lempira later, I am on the bus. The neat thing was that the school gave me an advance out of my salary to pay for the trip.
I packed and marked all of my papers, finished the grade 11 Economics exam, and settled down to an hour of fitful rest. My alarm went off, and I struggled out of my cool slumber into the warmth of the night. Rita picked us at 1:45 am and drove us to meet the school to meet the old yellow school bus that we were going to spend the next six hours on with 50+ screaming teenagers. We sat on the sticky vinyl seats at the very front to escape the noise of the screamers. That was ok, until the driver turned on the high pitched tinny vibrating speakers with loud Punta music. The kids screamed and sang along.
So, five hours later Puran asked where we were, and was told “La Ceiba”!!! Yea! The bus pulled over and stopped at the side of the road. It didn’t look like a national park. It looked like a tiny greasy truck service shack. Bathroom stop? Perhaps they were stopping to change a tire like one of the other busses we took last week to San Pedro Sula? No one seemed to know. The driver and the assistant jumped off the bus and went away. Everyone carried on with their conversation, seemingly unaware that the bus was now parked at the side of the road, and completely unconcerned with finding a reason for the disruption. The conductor jumped back on and began to wiggle the gearshift, and call out the window and wiggle the gearshift again. Puran and I got a little suspicious. He jumped off the bus and back on a few times repeating the process. We said that we thought the bus had a problem and the teachers & students looked at us as if we had just made a stunning prediction about the future. I felt a little like Nastrodamus. The driver stood outside the front window and got on his cell phone. The bus is definitely broken – we aren’t going anywhere we said. The teachers were stunned. How did we know this? Puran and I were lost for words. This laid back Central American culture has numbed your brain I wanted to yell. Call H.A.A. or something, get a move on, you’ve got 50 students and you are at the side of a highway at a greasy little truck fixing shack where no-one is moving, it’s 45 degrees and rising. So two hours later… Well the truck stop turned out to have a cute little group of houses out back that let us use their little “toilet houses?” (kind of a ceramic bowl with no seat and no way that I could see to flush) I gave Ciaran 10L to give to them when he had to go. They were going to give me change, but I said no. After seeing the little houses,l I decided that I didn’t really need to go that badly. Ciaran & Aodhan caught every chicken and cat in the area and gotten very filthy. (Remind me to get de-worming pills for the kids when we get home…) Another even older school bus pulled up and we got on it, and drove the last 10 km to the park.
The park was kind of cool. You take a little train in – it’s a 9.5km trip. We went to a nice interpretive centre and looked at the manatee skeleton and at their dead bug collection. Aodhan was fascinated by the lady sewing canvas bags on a treadle sewing machine. After a while we were put in small boats in groups of about 10-12 with about life jackets for a few of the kids, and taken around the river and shown monkeys and birds and other assorted beasts. It was neat, but after an hour in an open boat with very little wind and 45 degree weather… I was certainly baked, the teenagers were fighting because they were bored and Aodhan had fallen asleep on the floor of the boat, leaning against a seat. However, since we had paid for two hours we were going to get two hours. Puran even said to the driver that we could go back, but he just smiled and showed us some lovely white birds.
We climbed out of the boat, and wandered wearily up to the interpretive centre. Now we only had to wait 2 hours for the second groups to go out for their tour. We went back into the interpretive centre and they were serving great big plates of rice and chicken and beans and ice cold drinks. We said we would like to buy some and they looked at us like we were crazy and said that we should have ordered them in the morning. We didn’t order any, so we can’t have any. Grrrrrrraaagggghhhhh. Can’t anyone let us know anything???? So Puran and the kids and I shared our little bags of peanuts and our one apple and warm water and smiled. 2 hours. Some guy out front asked me if I wanted coco agua – you know where they cut the top off a coconut for you and you drink the water. I know Puran likes these, so I told her and some of the students. We went down to get them and he wanted 7L each – we said sure. He wanted the 7L. We said sure. Where’s the coconuts. He said he didn’t have any and walked away. Hmmm. Finally it was time to leave. We drove into downtown La Ceiba. Big city, big mall, fairly run down rest of the town. Our hotel “Hotel Paris” was right on the central park. It was quite large and had a very nice pool. We put our suitcases in out room and went for a well needed swim. Then, since the peanuts and warm water that we ate 3 hours ago weren’t holding us any longer, we went in search of food. We decided to go down near the waterfront. We figured we would find some restaurants where the cruise ships came in. There must not be a cruise ship in right now, because the (run down) area is quiet and there are no people selling souvenirs etc. We stop at the Wendy’s because we are starving and there isn’t too much choice of anything other than fast food. So we get to the waterfront and we can see the one big pier. The beach was mostly deserted. There were no stores around. There were no restaurants around. The place looked decidedly untouristy.
We take some photos, look around and Aodhan went off and made friends with the guys that live under the pier. Puran is a little nervous about Aodhan’s new acquaintances. I tighten the straps on my moneybag. “Wolf” as he introduces himself, was born in The Bay Islands and lived in Florida for 17 years. He’s a bad dude he informs us, quite proud of himself. The kids think their “forts” are the coolest. Wolf informs us that the cruise ships haven’t come there since a big storm washed away the pier in the 1960’s. I guess that explains why the cruise lines don’t have a problem with a den under their dock. We are finally able to pull Aodhan away and give the guy some “money for to buy some dinner”. “Make sure you get yourself a beer with your dinner” I cheerfully call as I walk away.
We walked back to the hotel on another decrepit scary street. I made some Mr. Noodle packs for the kids went for another swim. Puran and I went out to see what we could find to do while the kids watched TV in the hotel room. We walked up and down the scary decrepit streets around the deserted Parque Central and finally went to ask at the front desk if there was anywhere with music that night. We were told that there was live music at the mall that night. We took a taxi, and went to the large Carrion store and bought some more underwear, and then went out side to hear the music. The bands were really loud and people were screaming. Puran likes screaming and loud music. There were 14 french fry stands set up. Papa frites are really popular here with mayo and ketchup and salsa and sometimes other toppings as well. We watched for a while and went to another store and then watched another stage and then decided it was time to head back. So the nightlife in La Ceiba is at the mall. If you ever find yourself in La Ceiba, go to the mall.
My ears are still ringing.
We found the director and the Assistant Director in the hall in the hotel, and asked them what time to be ready in the morning. “The bus leaves for the park at 8” she said. We need to check out and have breakfast before then. 6:30 we are up. Aodhan and Ciaran are exhausted after having almost no sleep the night before, and we have to work some to rouse them. Puran and I go down to the restaurant and order breakfast for the kids to be sent to their room, and order for ourselves. We get back to the room and quickly zip up our cases and put our ice waters in our backpacks. “Oh my” exclaims Puran, “It’s almost 10 after”. We run at breakneck speed for the elevator. We get to the lobby. It is empty. “Oh my goodness” Puran says. I run out around the corner to the parking lot to see if I can tell them to wait for us. I stop, like the roadrunner, and my head bobbles back and forth. The bus is there. The driver is there. No kids are in sight. Slowly the situation starts to percolate through my brain. I walk slowly back and tell Puran. “We’re in Central America Puran”. We’re still thinking with a Canadian clock. Puran called the co-ordinator, who sleepily answered that we would be leaving at 8:30 or 9, and we should put our luggage on the bus. I did this and we went for a quick walk to take a few photos and look at the downtown Carrion store and look at the market quickly. We got a little worried and raced back to the hotel as it was almost 9am. A student sauntered down the stairs about 9am and said that we would be leaving soon. He flopped down on a sofa and proceeded to read a newspaper. The coordinator came down and told us we should get on the bus as we would be leaving soon. We ran over to the bus with the kids and sat down. Puran said we should go to the bathroom as it may be a long ride. We asked if we had time to run to the bathroom and were told we could go quickly. We told the kids to stay on the bus and ran over to the bathroom. When we came out there were a bunch of students in the lobby, lounging on chairs. We asked them if they shouldn’t be getting on the bus, and they said that they would … but after they got breakfast. They also told us they were going on the bus now and getting breakfast at the park. We asked the co-ordinator and director again and the looked at us with indignation – where are the boys – you left them on the bus? They can’t stay there alone for an hour or so before we leave. What were we thinking? We went over to the bus, and a little too calmly, unpacked our bathing suits and brought the boys back to cool our frazzled nerves by the pool. At about 10:30 – 11am, the kids started returning from their foraging, and I told Aodhan it was time to get out of the pool and dressed. He went to change. The director came in and started herding students to the bus. She motioned for me to come and I told her that Aodhan was in the bathroom. She told us that we were making them late, we had to go now. Aodhan came out and we ran for the bus. The kids were still getting on. We got on and Puran started gesticulating madly from across the street. The director had gone a different way and she had asked why and was told that we are taking a different bus and we are hiking up a mountain and can’t leave anything in the minivans because they are just dropping us off and we will be getting the other bus for the way home. AAAARRRRGGGHHHH. Puran and I dump our our knapsacks and quickly toss in the things we might need for the day – I throw my wet bathing suits in a heap on the seat so I don’t have to carry those up the mountain, and we run for the other bus, which turns out to be two 12 seat minivans. We arrive while the last people are getting in. We climb in and get reprimanding looks from everyone for making them late. I had to hold Puran’s hands to stop her from punching someone.
We drive down a dirt road through fields of pineapples. Pico Bonito. We are all much happier now. The director gets out and pays the gate-keeper, and has a discussion with him, and then off we go into the park. Take everything with you we are reminded again. Don’t forget anything. “Is there somewhere to leave our lunch or do we have to carry it up the mountain?” we inquire. Take it with you, we are told again. We run after the director – some kids have left some things in the van we say. She comes back and looks and speaks with the kids. She says that we can leave our lunch in one of the vans if we want. We hastily dump our packs again and put in only the things we want to carry up the mountain. We go running off down the trail after them. We get 20 metres down the path and have to duck under a pipe across the path and go down a few steps. There is a lovely waterfall and a stone filled riverbed with little rapids and little quiet pools. Very nice little place. Some of the kids start to change into bathing suits… Mine are on the other bus. I tell the kids they shouldn’t get their clothes wet, but they can wade. The kids go in one by one. Some who have also not received the information about swimming go in their jeans. I tell the kids to go in their shorts and get as wet as they want. I figure if the other kids are going survive the hike in wet jeans, Ciaran’s bathing suit shorts and Aodhan’s boxers will be just fine. The kids swim and climb on the rocks for about an hour and then start to get a little bored. Puran and I start asking when the hike starts. The kids ask and then they tell us. We came too late, the guide that was supposed to take us left, and we couldn’t do the hike alone because there were dangerous animals. We would just be sitting by the river for another 2 – 3 hours. Puran had to hold my hands so I wouldn’t punch someone.
We decided that we would walk back and see the pineapple fields. We got to the gate of the park and were told that if we left he would have to charge us 100 Lempira each or more to get back in. We talked some more and explained that since pineapples don’t grow in Canada, my kids had never seen a pineapple plant. He told us that Dole owned the fields and absolutely no photos were allowed. He made me promise and he let us go. We walked down the dusty road, watching the tiny black birds and smelling the sweet smell of fresh pineapple that wafted through the air. We got to where the pineapples were golden. We picked a couple up off the ground and smelled them. I stuffed one in my backpack. “I only said I wouldn’t photograph them. I picked up another and dug out my jack-knife. It was the sweetest, juiciest pineapple we had ever had. We ate a second one and I stuffed a second in my pack for later. We went back with sweet yellow juice on our chins. The guard was quite adamant about cautioning us not to go up the mountain. The weather is unstable today – look at the storm clouds up there. So it wasn’t that we were late. We went back and ate our lunch and the kids went back to the river and Puran had a nap. Soon it was time to go. We crowded back in the little minivans and set off to meet the other bus.
We could hear the loud tinny music and hear the screaming voices, as we climbed aboard. We stopped for supper at some fast food places in Progresso. Progresso was another dirty little “big city”. We got Wendy’s again and ate on the bus as we drove. Overall the drive back from La Ceiba was quite pretty. The kids laughed as they watched the trucks with parasites in front of us. The parasites were cyclists who were hanging on the back or the side to go up hills. They gleefully watched one big truck with four parasites hanging on the side in a little row, pass another huge tanker truck with two hanging on the back. It was something watching them all swerve around in unison. That was one of those moments that I could have never got my camera out quickly enough for.
As we came down the mountain from Siguatapeque at about 10 p.m. it started to rain. It got very heavy and I mentioned to Puran that we were now on the part of the road that she had said was the most dangerous. It was pouring rain so hard that the visibility was quite questionable, and Tonio the defogger/conductor was wiping the window in front of the driver as fast as he could, but was not keeping up with the speed that it fogged up again. Also, what kind of accidents are on the news all the time – it’s always a bus load of students, or a bus load of tourists. Great, we were both. The driver careened around the hairpin turns, crossing over into the oncoming lanes, passing slower vehicles, and even one slow vehicle that had turned his lights off – perhaps to save his battery. Even the students were quiet. Puran and I closed our eyes and understood why they always say a prayer before they leave on a school trip.