When you touch down at Toncontín International Airport, you hold your breath. The only runway, which is 3,000 feet shorter than a typical runway for commercial aircraft, is surrounded by mountains and mighty winds, making it hard to approach head-on.
The pilot, in preparation for the fast descent and sharp turn, slows your 115-ton aircraft until you’re convinced that you’ve stalled. You’re no longer flying. You’re hovering.
The flight attendants have already advised the passengers to hold onto everything. Still, as the wheels touch down and the pilot applies the brakes — HARD — a cell phone slides down the aisle, followed by one purse, a shoe, and a box of breath mints.
The plane stops. Everyone exhales, offering robust claps and cheers!
I met my man on the ground, Kerim Perdomo, and he took me straight to Riviera, a restaurant that’s been making yucca con chicharron for 70 years.
Then, we walked through downtown Tegucigalpa, having a look at some of the magnificent cathedrals and museums.
Then it was time to view Tegucigalpa from a god’s eye, so we ventured to El Picacho National Park.
Sitting in the dark at the top of a mountain in Honduras is not where I saw myself one week ago. The wind sounds like an ocean; the crickets are brash; and Christ stands here, looking over Tegucigalpa.
For dinner, Kerim had the chorizo and carne.
I loved the Honduran tacos!
On the docket for the next day was a trip to Comayagua.
My first two baleadas!!
We walked around Comayagua.
We saw people preparing for Semana Santa de Honduras (it’s a big deal, as the schools are closed for “Easter Week”).
Nearby, there is an extensive network of caves. We entered the Talgua Caves.
Then, we drove to Lake Yojoa, the largest lake in Honduras (30 square miles) for, what Kerim promised, would be the best talapia I’ve ever tasted.
I asked if the 4 national beers were the only Honduran beers available, and Kerim quickly pivoted in the direction of a local brewery.
The Peña Blanca was most excellent.
Because I love to eat my way through a country, we ate again.
I met one of the cooks and had an opportunity to check out her oven.
The next morning began with coffee and rosquillas. (I’m officially addicted.)
And then we drove to Santa Lucia.
We enjoyed some coffee, along with bollitos and semitas.
Many of the walls in Santa Lucia glow with artful, poignant graffiti.
For an exceptional cup of coffee, check out Bendito Cafe in Santa Lucia.
Mondongo is mouth-watering. I enjoyed my first bowl of mondongo at La Tasca de Manolo in Santa Lucia.
And then, nearby, more coffee.
Kerim was kind enough to invite me to have dinner with his family.
Upon returning to the Marriott in Tegucigalpa, I decided to go out again. I wasn’t hungry, and I wasn’t thirsty, but it was my last night.
Already I find myself saying things like, “Por favor, una cerveza de Port Royal y dos pupusas de queso, gracias”. It all comes out naturally, but it will likely fade once I return home tomorrow.
If you google Honduras, you’ll likely find warnings of terror, murder, extortion, corruption. But based on what a student told me, I decided to roll the dice. And she was right. Tegucigalpa (and the surrounding areas) are brilliant. This is a recurring theme in my travels. Had I trusted the news, I’d never have gone to Colombia 11 years ago, or Croatia, or Cambodia, especially in 2004. At this rate, I should probably book flights to North Korea and the Congo.
And I’m not saying that every country is great. After all, I’ve not even made it to 50 yet. But I’m close. And I’m beginning to realize that, yes, there are bad people everywhere. But there are good people too. And the good outnumber the bad.
I could’ve stayed home, played it safe, watched Anthony Bourdain take this trip instead. But like Hellen Keller observed, “Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. The fearful are caught as often as the bold.”
Flight: United Airlines from Los Angeles (LAX) to Houston (IAH) to Tegucigalpa (TGU).
Lodging: Hyatt Place (brand new, 5,000 points/night) and Marriott (nice property, perfect for redeeming a Free Night Certificate).
Trusted Guide: Kerim Perdomo at http://www.intercambiocatracho.com. Check out his photos at http://www.kerimperdomo.com. He arranged a custom itinerary, and since I didn’t want to be part of a tour group, it was just the two of us.