Posted on January 2, 2012

Honduras Day 3: Scouting Out The Money Trail

San Lorenzo is a two hour drive south from Toncontin Airport in Tegus. Pediatric Neurologist Dr. Ron David, Optometrists Norma and Brian, Stephanie our translator, and my filming partner Adam Pelletier arrived in mid-afternoon. The other half of the team, including Ophthalmologists Dr. Carlos Martinez and Dr. Jim Wheatley, is coming on another flight later on, so we went ahead with one of the vans. Tegus isn’t that big, and once you leave the main part of the city, it turns rural very quickly. Although San Lorenzo is closer to the coast than the centrally located Capital city, the scenery didn’t change much from there to here…. everything is just hilly and dry. I was trying to think of a word to describe the landscape, but couldn’t come up with anything that really nailed it. It’s not jungle. It’s not forest. It’s not fields. It’s grassy, shrubby woodlands interspersed with palm and banana trees. Sometimes there are cornfields running down steep sides of the terrain which I can best describe as a neverending range of buttes similar to what you see in Wyoming. The narrow pot-holey road out of Tegus is cut into the sides of these buttes, following the twisting, curving contours of the range. The turns doubled-back so tight at times that you could look a little bit right or left and see the section of road you were on just five minutes before. Somebody said it had been a very rainy season here, and because of this, every few miles our driver would have to slow down to crawling-speed to get around a sinkhole where half of the road had simply slid down the face of the mountain. (No orange traffic cones, no yellow danger signs–just great big holes that plunge 800 feet straight down if you’re not watching for them).

Considering that the major hub of the entire country,Tegus, isn’t that big itself, and the road we took was basically going out into the middle of nowhere-nowhere, I was surprised at how much traffic there was in both directions. Judging by the very little industry there was in the city (pedaling bottled water on the street, working at a supermercado, or maybe as a police officer if you were lucky) and by the shacks that we were passing, I wondered how anyone could afford to fill up a gas tank, let alone actually buy a vehicle. To describe the “houses” that we passed along the way is like trying to describe a Salvador Dali painting to someone. The buildable terrain is right along the roadside, as the buttes are too steep to terrace into otherwise. And all of them were inevitably buried in litter. Bottles. Plastic bags. Cans. Trash in general. Everything is dry, dusty, sooty and grimy. Some of the houses were just lean-tos built out of branches with a down-trodden mule tied to the side. Others were stacked cinder blocks with stick roofs. Then there were the brick or cinderblock frames with no roof, no doors, and now windows…but a TV inside with a whole family gathered around sitting, literally, in the dirt. In fact, all of the houses were occupied by at least one or two people, all just sitting and watching the traffic go past. What do they do? How do they subsist here? We hadn’t passed any sort of town or seen any signs of industry. No buildings other than shacks, no sign of work other than the random tiny corn field.

Other than the bizarro television-in-a-roofless-house scenario, the weirdest piece of the puzzle was the amount of advertising. Honduran cell phone service providers Claro and Digicel were painted at regular mile-marker intervals on wooden fences. The ever-present Coca-Cola and Pepsi logos were painted on some of the shacks, or represented on old, cracked plastic signs. But the biggest one was a huge red TOYOTA billboard that appeared around a corner about a half hour out from San Lorenzo.

Total marketing fail? Hasn’t anyone from corporate been here and seen how the people live?

Who can afford to buy all this stuff?