Let me preface this post by saying it speaks volumes of how awesome my friends are that they don’t entirely blame me for the events that happened earlier this year in Honduras. But even awesome friends can’t help the fact that I still sort of blame myself. So here’s the story of my travel fail…
It all started when Andy and I decided to go to Honduras and we told some of our friends.
They said, “That sounds fun!”
We said, “You should come!”
They said, “Okay!”
From there, the trip moved forward as most do: we got plane tickets, got hotel reservations and got excited. All was fine and dandy until I one evening when the husband half of one of the couples was over at our place. He informed me that his wife was more than a little concerned about safety (I believe he used the term “freaking out”) – a sentiment that was shared by the other couple too.
“No worries!” I said, “ I’ve been there before, we’ll be fine.”
“They’ve had a political coup since you were there. It’s the most dangerous country in Central America.” He said.
“No way, Guatemala is worse, and we went there with no problem… except for the gunfire outside our van that one day… but still, no problem.” I assured him.
“Nope, Honduras is more dangerous now. And San Pedro Sula is the most dangerous city in the world?” He retorted.
“Hogwash! That can’t be right. Stop worrying.” I said, confident in my claims of our safety.
After he left I couldn’t help but wonder… the world’s most dangerous city? Surely that couldn’t be right – what about all that turmoil in the DRC and what about Afghanistan for crying out loud. San Pedro Sula? Honduras? No way. So I Googled it, because, you know, Google knows everything.
But just like you shouldn’t Google a medical condition you think you may have, (Google makes hypochondriacs of us all) you should also exercise caution when Googling safety information about foreign countries. Google will find sources that could make even the most Utopian of places sound like cesspools of germs run by blood-thirsty criminals – so if a place has any bona fide dirty laundry, you’d better just forget about it and go hide in a bunker. If you recall, I once told a story of how my sister’s former roommate would sprint through Portland out of sheer fear.
Google can be a real jump-straight-to-tragedy kind of fellow. Which is totally counter intuitive to my tendency to be a stick-my-head-in-the-sand-and-hope-for-the-best kind of gal. Needless to say, I’m not a natural worrier.
But against my inner ostrich, I consulted Google anyway and I found this list, which indeed confirms that San Pedro Sula is the most dangerous city on earth.
Okay… that’s one list. That doesn’t mean anything.
There’s no sense in worrying about something we couldn’t do anything about – we already had our plane tickets. Instead, I assured my friends that I would personally make sure we had a very safe hotel booked in a very safe part of town for the one night we were staying in San Pedro Sula… that and we would avoid getting in the middle of any gang fights or cocaine deals. Easy peasy.
So time moved forward like it usually does and before long, our trip was upon us. We hit the ground running the moment we touched down in San Pedro Sula; bypassing the city we headed down the coast. On our trip we met welcoming locals, played drinking games with friendly tourists, explored jungles, rafted rivers, celebrated the New Year, learned to scuba dive (Andy and I), explored uninhabited cayes (everyone else) and soaked up the island sun. By the end of the trip we were relaxed and happy – with only a few bumps in the road due to some sunburns, mosquito bites, stomach issues and a combined total of 90 minutes on the
Utila Princess vomit comet. All in all though, life was good.
Then the time came for us to take a bus up north to the city and this time, we’d be staying a night. I’d stayed there before with no problems. In fact, one of my favorite the-world-can-be-a-really-kind-place stories was from a night spent in San Pedro Sula. And this time I’d even made a hotel reservation and everything. This was going to be a piece of cake… very safe, very uneventful, very bland cake. Like a rice cake!
After a few hours on a too-fast and too-swervey bus ride with a horn-happy driver, we pulled into the station and grabbed a couple of cabs to take us to our hotel. The area was great – modern, clean and all the cars were way nicer than the ones driving around back home. “Perfect,” I thought to myself, “there’s nothing for anyone to worry about.” The hotel looked just fine from the outside. We climbed the stairs, rang the bell and waited. We rang it again and waited some more. And again. Still nothing. A janitor from the office below the hotel told us that the owners were on vacation. They’d been gone for a week or two and he didn’t know when they’d be back.
Hey guys, remember when I said I’d definitely have a super-safe hotel booked in the most dangerous city in the world? I actually meant the opposite! Psych!
I’m not going to name the hotel because I’m not sure whose fault it was. I’d used Booking.com to reserve the rooms, a site I’ve used with wildly successful results many times before and since that trip. I’m not sure where the communication failed; sometimes these things just happen. At the time though, there were six worn out travelers in need of a place to sleep.
The upside of already being in a nice part of town is that you are über safe walking around; the downside is that nearby hotels are more on the Hilton side of the lodging spectrum rather than the budget side. Had we known this would happen we could have easily popped into one of the many hotels near the bus station- a far more budget-friendly and hotel-dense part of town. Damn that 20/20 hindsight.
We took refuge from the heat and advantage of the wifi at a nearby Pizza Hut while we formulated a plan. Like I mentioned before, I’m not a natural worrywart; I am, however, a guilty Gus. Despite everyone reassuring me that this clearly wasn’t my fault, I still felt pretty bad. So after a quick bite to eat and a brief look at Google Maps, Andy and I volunteered to be the ones to do the leg work; we set out on foot in search of a new place.
A few blocks into our search we found Hotel Maya Colonial. We didn’t stay here but I cannot say enough good things about the girls at the front desk. I knew the place was out of our budget but I told them our predicament in my broken Spanish anyway hoping they could recommend a place “mas economico”. One of the gals tried to point us toward a place nearby but apparently my Spanish had left her less than impressed and she clearly doubted my ability to understand “derecho” and “izquierda”. Instead of explaining, she kindly walked us all the way outside, then walked us to the street and then decided it would be best to walk us all the way down the street to the corner where we could actually see the sign of the place she was telling us about. The staff at Hotel Maya Colonial is now the star of my second San Pedro Sula the-world-can-be-a-really-kind-place story.
We checked out the new place, the charming Los Laureles Hostal, explained our predicament again and the delightful proprietors agreed to hold the rooms for a half hour, giving Andy and I enough time gather up our friends and our belongings. Back at Pizza Hut, the group was ready to go. A third good story about the city is that while we were gone, the waitress had called one of her relatives who had said if we couldn’t find anything nearby, we were welcome to stay at his place for a small fee. It wouldn’t have been much, but it would have been appreciated. Seriously folks, San Pedro Sula is a place full of very good people!
Our stay in San Pedro Sula ended up a good one. The place was great, the grocery store next door was hands down the fanciest supermarket I’ve ever been to in my life (including any store in the US or Europe) and in the end, I did deliver on my promise to find a budget hotel in a super safe part of town.
So here’s what you should take away from this post: don’t let Google freak you (or your travel companions) out. Use the internet to book plane tickets, research sights, reserve hotels (eh… easy come easy go) and post pictures online later – but for heaven’s sake, don’t let it freak you out.
I leave you with this anecdote. I once had a friend from L.A. who was going to study in Hong Kong for a term. All her friends said, “By yourself? Are you crazy? That’s so scary!” But she went anyway. When she told her new friends in Hong Kong that she lived in an apartment in L.A. they all said, “By yourself? Are you crazy? That’s so scary!”
People everywhere fear the unknown and are more than willing to encourage you to do the same… especially Google.