Surviving a week in the Murder Capital of the World

 

San Pedro Sula- Central America

Honduras, a country of some 8.5 million people, suffered an average of 19 murders each day in 2013, down from 20 the year before.

December 24, 2013- The Department of State continues to warn U.S. citizens that the level of crime and violence in Honduras remains critically high.  http://travel.state.gov/content/passports/english/alertswarnings/honduras-travel-warning.html

Honduras is one of the poorest countries in Latin America and has the world’s highest murder rate. More than half of the population lives in poverty and per capita income is one of the lowest in the region.  https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/ho.html

Honduras map

While there are many reasons to visit Honduras like, it’s a tropical paradise with gorgeous islands, lush rainforests, Mayan ruins and picturesque mountains. My own personal reason for visiting was one of adventure and of compassion for my fellow man. Outside of the main tourists areas you find high crime, despair, corruption, and poverty. In a little village near San Pedro Sula, we worked to complete a medical clinic for the local villages. This clinic would offer treatment for various illnesses and diseases, while treating the people with dignity and respect. In these remote mountainous places of Honduras, medical care can be non-existent or hours away. On average there is only one doctor for every 1667 people. While there, we witnessed a car wreck with injuries and it took hours for an ambulance to arrive. By the time help arrived, the injuries had turned into fatalities. Large crowds gathered around the wreckage in hopes of finding anything of value to remove from the victims.

I knew in an instant when we were flying over San Pedro Sula that this was going to be an adventure to say the least. On our final approach I could see many villages made up from the smallest houses you could imagine. It seemed that every house was on fire or had a fire in front of their house. I later found out that propane is the main source for cooking and heating, and since it was expensive, most people would bring in sticks and firewood to cook with. Smoke would come out of every orifice of these homes while cooking meals. This also leads to the amount of respiratory issues that people have been inflicted with. The small fires I had seen from the air at each home were from burning of trash. Since there is no trash pickup, this seems to be the best way to get rid of it. This smell of burning trash would be with me for the rest of the week. The airport had several men from the Military Police roaming the grounds with automatic weapons. These men looked to be teenagers at best; I tried to always keep a low profile around these guys. The ride from the airport to the village was heart breaking. Every STOP sign children from all ages ran into traffic in order to sell whatever they had in to help support their family. We were instructed not to buy anything as this would draw unneeded attention to us behind our tinted windowed van. One moment of concern was the local people pulled a rope across the road blocking our path. During this stop I noticed hired guns protecting shops and other business places looking at us. After our guide spoke with the locals we were free to go on our way and start our mission.

So, how and why does one prepare for a trip like this? P and P, “Prayer and Preparation” were important to the success of this mission. In June 2013, people were sent to this area to make sure our trip in March 2014 would be possible. Water was a key concern as the local water sources are not safe to drink. We found a local company that delivers fresh water and could accommodate our needs. The next time you turn on the faucet to brush your teeth, think to yourself “What if I couldn’t use this water?” To brush your teeth with this water would cause dysentery. Imagine taking an ice cold shower and not allowing any water to get in your mouth. We would always keep fresh water on hand in a bottle for teeth brushing, drinking, etc. With a water source secured, we verified our other basic needs were obtainable.

We were able to bring our own food by using plastic totes. This, however, proved to be a little troublesome getting through customs. While officers were inspecting our totes, local people stood close by to our food and occasionally asked to take some. Given the fact that food production has been insufficient for the country’s needs, widespread malnutrition complicates the population’s fragile health. So, we wanted to make we had enough food to last.  We were fortunate to find some locals ladies to prepare our lunch each day as well as take care of some cleaning needs. This worked out well for them and us, as they received compensation and we enjoyed a little local cuisine each day.  

Shelter and security were also a big concern for us. We were able to stay on location at the medical facility during our stay. The 10,000 square foot building was very secure with fencing all the way around. The front gate was the only way in or out. The gates would stay open during the day to allow local people to come by for medical treatment, but would stay locked all night. Our method of transportation was a Ford 350 pickup and an older van. It would seem that traffic laws and or speed limits are only a suggestion, as people drive as fast as they want to. Our location was on one of the busiest roads, the Pan-American Highway. This road runs through the mainland of all the Americas. This is the world’s longest drivable road. This makes it very dangerous as drugs are hauled back and forth on this road, from South America to North America.  One moment of panic was when passing an 18 wheeler uphill in a blind curve. Our driver would laugh each time we showed any panic.  Our guide and translator would always go along with us as we needed supplies or just to visit the country side. My own personal security was tricky as I could only carry a metal pen and a tactical flashlight on my person on the flight to and from Honduras. Both of which are allowed on aircraft. However, at no time did I feel threatened due to the fact we were well prepared for the trip.

Having a translator for the trip was a blessing. We relied on her from the start. From dealing with customs to what to and not to order at local restaurants was so helpful.  If we needed to communicate with local families we could do so with ease. However I do recommend reading up on some basic Spanish before making this kind of trip. As some slangs words or expressions might just get you in trouble.

We did experience times of power outages which gave me a glimpse of what an EMP attack would look like. I would walk outside at night during an outage with a flash light and turn it off and without any street or house lights I would notice the only light would be the stars. Soon the power would come back on and that sense of helplessness would fade away. Water as well would stop flowing for some reason, no more than a few hours each time.

Many times we experienced moments of joy as when the local children came to us for gifts that we had brought them. The gifts were only a backpack filled with little things like pencils, paper, crayons, and etc. Parents came from miles away by walking, cab, driving, or hitching a ride just so their kids could get in line for these items. At one time we started to have too many kids as word been traveling fast, so we had to close the gates. Parents would then push their kids over the gat

e. We also gave away several hundred Nerf footballs. Some of the kids played with them, some would hide them so no one would take it. I had wondered why such excitement and craziness was given over these little things. To my surprise I learned that this would be the one time of the year the kids would receive any kind of gift. My own kids would have just treated these items as an everyday treat. It was really an eye opening experience to visit a place where people have barely anything but are grateful for everything. As opposed to living in a country where we have everything but are grateful for little. I went on this trip to make a difference, give hope, and to work on the hearts and minds of people. When in fact my heart was the one changed. In the scriptures we as Christians are instructed to “Go” to all the nations to make disciples, while some may not have the gift of evangelizing, however we all have a gift to do something, in our own cities, country, and or world that furthers Gods Kingdom.  

Author: Matt2818

 


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7 Comments

  1. And I thought Haiti was bad. . . . .although there is nothing like having the Ton-Ton Macoute give you the hairy eyeball. . .

  2. Matt,

    What a wonderful post. We both have the adventure bug.

    I was in and around Manila when Mt. Pinatubo erupted and was stranded due to the ash grounding turbine engined aircraft. In those days the Huk were a force still beheading Japanese businessmen and the occasional US Citizen and there was cannon fire in the mountains. Electric outages were more common than not, usually going off in the afternoons. After making my way to capital I headed directly for the Hotel Manila which was the pre-WWII headquarters of Gen. MacArthur. One could see very real pockmarks in the cement wall around the pool from Japanese small arm fire and visit a representation of the great man’s penthouse office. The hotel was just like stepping back into an old Bogart movie. Orchestra on stage, people dancing in formal clothing, and the smells of old money mixed with bougainvillea. San Miguel was I think about five cents a bottle.

    I ended the year in Columbia which then was a very violent Honduras. Assassination and murder were so common that Bogota had an open air morgue. Like most of my travels, I made some wonderful friends there, true Columbian patriots who struggled on in the quest for a stable society operating under rule of law.

    When traveling, I always tried to pack some helpful gifts to hand out in exchange for the occasional special and unexpected kindness. Leatherman knife/tools were the gift de Jure and presentation of one never failed to draw a huge smile. Of course most thought I’d gave away a personal knife/tool but I had a dozens securely locked away in luggage. I simply cannot tell you the doorways opened by such a small gift humbly presented.

    I had to rethink the Leatherman gift in an African country where the per capita annual income was about $200US. It such a huge gift that one would spark jealousy and even fighting. The few I handed out were given in private, fully understanding the tools would likely be resold.

    Matt, thanks to people like you, I found Christians everywhere and some were indeed truly excited by the opportunity to share their faith with someone from the great land of America. Pray with them I would but recognizing we live in a fallen world, I kept one eye open.

    Sincerely,
    PR

  3. Awesome story PR, sounds like you have all kinds of stories and adventures from travels abroad. We may never know what difference one act of kindness has on someone, but I do know that a difference was made in me.

  4. I have been to San Pedro Sula, La Ceiba and Roatan. Beautiful area. Once again, it’s government policies that keep people down.

    Last year I visited Dominican Republic and Haiti – same island, different government and therefore different living conditions.

    The USA liberals should visit some of these places and see the direct result of what government policies do to people.

  5. I spent some time in Central America in the military during the 1980’s. Your article brings back memories! At the time, Honduras was key terrain in the Cold War. The Communist Sandinistas had taken control of Nicaragua and were exporting guns and munitions across the southern tip of Honduras to feed the Marxist insurrection in El Salvador. Within a 160 square mile area, there were multiple heavily armed groups. On “our side”, were the Honduran and El Salvadoran Armies, with assistance from the United States. Also opposing Communist expansion were Nicaraguan “Contra” Guerrillas and Right Wing militias in El Salvador. The “Bad Guys” were the Nicaraguan Army and Marxist guerrillas in El Salvador. Sorry, I really can’t say much more than that. It was a very dangerous place, indeed!

  6. MSKYprepper, governments can only get away with what the governed let them. A wise man once remarked that every people have the government they deserve. We have our way of life because brave men valued freedom more than their very lives giving rise to Franklin’s observation that we should all hang together or we will certainly hang separately. My problem with most of the third world’s population especially Mexico that wants to emigrate to the US is that those very people who want something for nothing and likely the worst candidates for citizenship. If they really cared about freedom then they, like our forefathers, would fight in their country to see it established. I really don’t care much for people who want something for nothing.

    If you look closely at the history of DR and Haiti, you will find one government cut down the forests for short time gain and created erosion that destroyed the ecosystem; the other government did not. Look at El Paso and Juarez. Like the island, the difference between the two is government not geography but both cases the people of the prosperous regions had sacrificed to establish an enlightened government.

    Have a look at: http://www.indexmundi.com/factbook/compare/haiti.dominican-republic. The best information is near the bottom of the link. Let me know what you think.

    My thoughts,
    PR

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