In Honduras

I’ve spent the past few months in Western Honduras helping some organizations brand and market. Working, traveling, or living in this small less developed economy is qualitatively different from Europe or North America. That said, I’d recommend it either for the pleasure or business traveler. But before you go, consider the following.

Language:
Spanish is, of course, the official and principal language. You will find English speakers of greater or lesser competence in tourist attractions, “better” hotels, and some larger businesses. Still, knowing no Spanish is a larger handicap than, for example, in Spain. It also makes the trip much less fun.

Even if you count on using English at your meetings, it may not be all you need to get to them. At the very least get a phrase book and listen to a few traveler’s CD such as those from Berlitz or Pimslieur on the flight down.

If you can spare an extra week, consider spending it at one of the intensive language schools such as Guacamaya http://www.guacamaya.com or Ixblanque www.ixbalanque.com. Tuition is less than you’d pay for an adult Ed. night class in the US.

Finance:
Payments and payment processing can be difficult. The Lempira, the Honduran currency, is not always how Hondurans like to be paid. You will find some prices quoted in US dollars and sometimes get a preferred rate if paying with dollars or, less frequently, dollar denominated travelers checks. Dollar denominated checks drawn on US banks can be problematic. The Honduran bank of the payee may delay payment for weeks.

Debit cards are widely accepted and you can get local currency from ATMs in the larger towns. You’ll pay a fee of a few dollars per transaction, though some banks charge a good deal more. Read the on screen instructions before pressing the accept button.

Robbery is common, so don’t be surprised to see armed guards in bank lobbies or even next to ATMs.

Food:
I doubt anyone goes to Honduras for the food. If you travel as a tourist, you can probably find the familiar, from fast food to a variety of world cuisines. Yet to understand Central America, include its food. The country is not prosperous and the typical diet is basic. Staples such as black beans, corn tortillas, rice, plantains, and potatoes are eaten daily. Chickens are ubiquitous (often running free in the streets) and so eggs are common, though relatively little chicken is eaten.

The fruit is excellent. Mango, pineapple, papaya, citrus fruits, banana, and a variety of melons not only enhance breakfast, but are served in a variety of drinks called licuados. If you want yours iced, you may have to ask for it.

Many foods we take for granted – from aged cheese to fresh crusty bread – are not part of he culture and can be hard to find. There’s an abundance of street food sold from carts or stands, from fruit salad to roasted meat on skewers. Much of it looks appealing, but you’ll have to decide if it’s worth the risk of moderate to severe intestinal distress.

In the coastal towns or the bay islands the Caribbean seafood can be excellent. Hondurans seem to like theirs fried. If you’d prefer it grilled, ask for it a la plancha.

Drink:
“Don’t drink the water” is a cliché worth following. Tap water is generally unsafe as is anything made from it, such as ice. Ask for purified water and learn its name in Spanish – “agua purificada.” It’s readily available virtually everywhere.

Honduras is a major coffee producer and you can count on getting a good basic cup. Specialized roasts or even decaf are unusual.

Local brewers such as Salva Vida produce beer comparable to Coors or Miller. Rum and Tequila are also popular.

Medical Care:
The CDC
http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/honduras.aspx
advises being vaccinated for typhoid and hepatitis A and B. If you go the coast, and I recommend you do, you should take anti-malarial medication starting a week before your first visit and continuing for four weeks after you leave.

Many communities lack ready access to hospitals, but clinics and physicians are often available.

Stray dogs are common. If you’ll be spending time out of town, rabies vaccination may also be advisable. Ideally allow four to six weeks before leaving to allow the vaccinations time to become effective.

I had to find medical attention after being bitten by a dog on a coffee plantation. On the third try, I was able to find a doctor, who would see me that day. I might have had more trouble if I needed to find one who spoke English. The total cost for the examination and medications about $18.

Many insurance plans will reimburse for medical expenses, you might also consider medical trip insurance. Short term policies such as those from Access America http://www.accessamerica.com/ also provide evacuation when necessary.

Getting Around:
Within Honduras it sometimes seems you can’t get there from here. There may not be a direct road between relatively nearby towns and the quality and state of repair Even within towns roads can be narrow and unpaved. You can rent a car in one of the major cities, but in most other places.

The country moves by bus. Schedules can be irregular and the bus doesn’t always arrive. Even “express” buses are not particularly fast. Bring something to read and a bottle of water.
In addition to conventional cabs, many villages have fleets of three wheeled open sided “moto-taxis.” These are even cheaper than cabs and fun to bounce along in. Although rates are generally low, ask about the fare first, before “relying on the kindness of strangers.”

Smaller towns may not have any scheduled bus service. General practice is to waive down a passing truck. If they choose to take passengers and have space, they’ll stop. If a seat is not available, you may stand in the back. Many trucks have hand rails installed over the cargo bed for this. Expect to pay a nominal amount for the ride.

Lodging:

You can find US style hotels at somewhat less than US prices. Depending on your needs and preferences, you can also find comfortable accommodations in posadas (roughly translated as inn or B&B) in the $20 to $40 per night range. Longer stays can be substantially less expensive per night.

Infrastructure:
Mobile phone use is very common and not having an in country phone number is a handicap. If you have an unlocked GSM phone, you can purchase a SIM card and blocks of minutes. It seems every tiny bodega resells these. You can also buy a basic phone for $10 to $15.

You may be able use your domestic phone and calling plan, but international roaming rates can be $2 per minute or more. Similarly, text messages, email and web browsing tend to be substantially more expensive.

There are WiFi hot spots in cafes, hotels, and souvenir shops. They often work well. However network down time as well as power outages are frequent. A demo, which depends on a robust Internet connection, is risky.

So why go?
In spite of the challenges (and also because of them) Honduras and its people offer opportunities to develop products and markets. I came away impressed by determination and enthusiasm of many people. As an entrepreneur or a volunteer your expertise will be rewarded.

¡Buen Viaje!