The mountain roads of Olancho are torturous. Like a washboard carved by the rivulets of a hundred rains, these passages are a challenge for both the body and the mind. Shadows falling across the road sometimes hide crevasses a foot deep and potholes you could hide a VW in. Vaughn took the roads to task and came out on top, finally bringing us safely to the small city of Gualaco, just ten minutes away from our target – the village of Linares.
If you are ever in Gualaco, there is but one hotel that should be on your agenda – the Hotel Mi Palacio. I believe the proprietor’s name is Berta but I do know that she is a hairdresser and barber whose shop is just a couple doors down the block from the hotel. She maintains a clean hotel with gated parking and 24-hour security on staff. It is not what we as North Americans would call posh but it is the Hilton-level accommodations of Gualaco, to be sure.
We would be taking our meals at the home of Digna and Santiago. Digna is a carer educator in Honduras and previously ran a restaurant on the main road that runs through Gualaco. They closed the eatery some time back and now they are “open” only for family and close friends when in town. Their home is beautiful and their hospitality even more so – it was like having momma cook for you three times a day. The kids in Gualaco have learned how to make homemade fireworks and as soon as the sun goes down (about 5:30pm) you hear them going off all over town. They have recently upgraded these makeshift noisemakers to fly up with a load whistle, much like a bottle rocket. The first night we witnessed this, my mind was drawn to the juxtaposition of how Disney would celebrate the day every evening at sundown with several hundred thousand dollars’ worth of fireworks (when we were in Anaheim, California for the SCAA convention a couple years ago). It seemed to be the same celebration of life to me there in that small mountain town.
Gualaco would be our basecamp, our HQ of operations for the next several days as we traveled back and forth to Linares and it served very well for these purposes. More than that though, Gualaco was an opportunity to experience and hopefully better understand life in Honduras in a small town (a small city by Honduran standards). As our presence and faces became more familiar around the place, it seemed to open itself up to us – by “it”, I mean its people – the reality of any community. A town is not buildings and streets. A town is a convergence of lives, a confluence of people that meld to make a qualitatively new flavor – not a patchwork but rather a tapestry.
What we now know as the Republic of Honduras has endured centuries of colonization and external influence by many different cultures. Honduras has seven indigenous peoples as well as Afro Hondurans (as in the Garifuna), but the largest group of the population is called “mestizo”: people whose lineage is indigenous mixed with European. On top of that, there are also substantial pockets of Middle Easterners, Chinese, German and many other peoples. In a way ( and I reserve the right to amend this opinion at a any time as I learn more), Honduras is a melting pot much like the US in some respects, woven into an often cohesive but sometimes partitioned whole. It all makes for an immense spread of cultures to learn about in order to have a good launching point for understanding the complex social and cultural structures of this amazing country. Gualaco was like a case study in this diversity, an aliquot portion of the whole.