Well the adventure has been underway for a couple of months now. The first three months were spent in Honduras, and now in Guatemala, Mexico. I thought I’d take the time to give a few pointers out to anyone thinking of traveling this area.
1. Don’t give anyone your passport.
My friend Randy reiterated this to me over and over, and I’m so glad he did. At first I was very fearful to even show someone my passport. However the truth is a lot of hostels and travel buses need a copy of your passport to travel. Besides that only the immigration official who sits behind the window should ever touch your passport. Why is this? Scams up! As soon as you reach a border crossing a small horde of men start asking you for your passport and will help you change over money. They are going to seem real helpful and nice, offering you a pen, carrying your luggage. Don’t be fooled! Once they get their hands on a passport It’s $500 to $1000 Usd to get it back. These men are not your friends.
2. Different currency
All three of these country’s have a different currency, and none of them except the other. In Honduras we use lempiras in bills and the conversion is about $1usd to $23 Honduran. In Guatemala we use quetzals in bills and coin, which is about a $1usd to $8 quetzals. In Mexico we use the peso in bills and coin and the conversion is about $1usd to $21 pesos. So if you’re traveling around these country’s your pouch is going to jingle. This all becomes really relevant at border crossings when your trying to exchange money. So look up the currency exchange before you cross a border and make a currency exchange with the local man. Not everyone is a con man and it’s nice to have cash.
3. Visa or Mastercard.
The answer is neither. Truth be told you’ll have more luck with a Visa card then a Mastercard. However you will rarely find a place to use your card other than the Atm. Some places may advertise they accept Visa but this might mean you pay for the hotel at the gas station. The Atm is sometimes a disaster. Only some Atm’s take your card. Which is quite frightening when you are out of cash and then think there is something wrong with your account. Just find another Atm. My favorite is when the Atm’s are out of cash. This happened on Utila all the cash on the island gone. Talk about a fiasco. As always US dollars talk.
4. Going to the bathroom.
Oh sweetheart we’re not in Kansas anymore. I remember traveling around America and stopping to get a pop at the gas station so I could use the bathroom. Here that is not the fact. You gotta pay to pee! Sometimes a merchant might have a bathroom and it might have toilet paper. Those are the lucky days. My best word of advice is keep some toilet paper in your pocket. Along with some change or small bills, and hand sanitizer. Also always use the bathroom before you leave anywhere that has one. My current situation is on a bus with a free toilet no paper, water or soap. I also have never seen a toilet cover yet in Central America.
5. Accept the unacceptable.
I know most of my current readers are from North America. Where we want it now and, we have rights and, I payed for this attitude. This is not necessarily a good attitude to have in Central America. Now does not really mean now, here. Now can be an hour waiting for the bus to leave. Food takes a long time to cook. There’s not a lot of fast food or convient food. Be thankful you’re not grinding and making the tortillas. Whatever it is that you think you ordered, it doesn’t matter, just eat what is served. Sometimes your food has eyes and sometimes there is a banana in your soup. Just eat it. Don’t be offended by the cat-calls and speak only english when men are trying to pick you up. Walk quickly and quietly by the people asleep on the street. Try not to be horrified when someone halls off and beats their child. Realize that being human is more important than being afraid. So yes hug the child with head lice, and love them, and pray you don’t get it.
6. Be safe.
I have a lot of people worrying about me in my travels. I can’t honestly tell them not to. Being safe is very important in Central America and I’ve really learned a lot from my friends here. The most important thing is to be street smart. Of course all that information about walking in groups and not at night, not flashing money or carrying expensive items. In some places this is the only truth but not all. There are plenty of places where you are very safe throughout Central America. One of my favorite things about Honduras is the people. When you’re a blue-eyed blonde like me people literally grab your hand and lead you away from unsafe areas. Of course the bus boys will also take your hand and lead you to the wrong bus. They will call you a cab and sit on the sidewalk with you if you’re in a bad part of town. Gangs. Yes there are gangs, and especially in the big cities. Despite the bad rap gangs are not necessarily out to kidnap you and kill you just because you’re a foreigner. The businesses have to pay the gangs to get their protection from other gangs. So when you see a man posted all night at the hotel, you don’t need to fear him he is actually paid to protect you.
7. Guns and machetes.
About two months into this adventure I finally broke down and told my best friend some hard truths. We were talking about some clowns when I told her that there were guns everywhere here. Of course she came back with “Omg the clowns have guns! Come home now!” To say Central America is ran very differently than the US. Many of the stores have lockers and armed guards. McDonald’s has an armed guard. There’s police everywhere and they have some super solid guns. Along with huge armored trucks and mounted cannons. I know total culture shock. Men carry machetes everywhere, they use them to cut wood and weeds. Also people are always yelling out to you and honking and trying to get you to buy things. Which just adds to the confusion.
I hope you find this helpful and useful. Actually writing out the currency exchange has helped me understand it better. Math has never been my strong point. If you get the chance to travel you should. Since the day you were born you have been dying. And for once no pictures!