Honduras: Land of Plan “B”

Travel in Honduras can be a frustrating endeavor if you are unaware of the fact that nearly everyone there operates on “Plan B” most of the time.

As I lead medical and dental relief teams to the rural areas of northern and central Honduras, I start each trip by informing each member that all plans are subject to change without notice. This principle applies to all aspects of travel in the country as well as while crossing the borders. It seems that there is some unwritten law that any plan that has previously been made must be destroyed or completely changed with a minimum of notice, that would have allowed contingency planning. Hotel reservations can be botched, bus schedules can be rearranged, people who were supposed to meet you at 1 pm will show up at 5:30 pm…the next day. And on and on it goes.

Many Type A’s can be seen in total meltdown as they have reactions to, what they perceive as, the lack of organization on their trip to Honduras. If you are able to roll with the punches and don’t get too connected to your itinerary, you can find that “Plan B” has just as much to offer as “Plan A.”

First, you have to realize that it is nothing personal. No one is picking on you just because you are a foreigner. EVERYONE in Honduras has to deal with this phenomenon. This is one reason you very rarely see anyone getting upset in Honduras when the chicken bus breaks down, or the clinic is closed, or the school was shut down without notice, etc. The locals just shrug their shoulders and move on to the next step, whatever that may be and where ever that may lead.

Second, deal with it with a smile when your plan falls apart. One of the great things about travel in places like Honduras is the fact that there is so much more to experience than what shows up in the brochure. Most likely you have done everything correctly in your planning, but the “Hondofactor” (the pet term for this phenomenon used by the expatriates the area where we lived) kicks in and changes everything. When this happens, sometimes you can try to turn things back to the planned itinerary, other times you can go with it and see just “how far the rabbit hole goes” to steal a line from “The Matrix.” I have seen some beautiful places and met some wonderful people as a result of the Hondofactor jumping in and taking over the itinerary.

Third, control the things you CAN control. Since I am responsible for the welfare of large groups of people who, many times, have never left the comfort of their home nation, I have to sometimes combat the Hondofactor. Mainly, this pertains to lodging and vehicles. When making plans, get written confirmation of all accomodations, ticket purchases, vehicle rental confirmation, etc.

In San Pedro Sula, the base of our operations, many nice hotels are in operation. It has been my experience that having everything in writing will spark a hotel manager into action to make things right when someone has screwed up and overbooked the place. I have had this happen more than once when a receptionist says simply (with a smile of course) that “the reservation doesn’t exist, sorry, go to plan B.” Not wishing to leave 30 gringos on the street, that is the point at which I present a copy of an email, previously requested from the manager with reservation confirmations, who promptly comes out with a hundred apologies and makes it happen. This is more likely to happen in hotels such as the Intercontinental, Copantl, Princess, Holiday Inn, Gran Sula, and Microtel (I use the Microtel and the Princess the most in case you cared). Smaller operations may not be so accomodating.

The last thing you want to have happen is to get stuck without a place to stay in San Pedro Sula, or wandering around at night looking for a room. San Pedro has about five murders per day (2 percent conviction rate) and gang violence is rampant. I have met plenty of folks who were backpacking through the country and just holed up anywhere they could (i.e. parks or airport lobby). They laugh at me when I tell them they should get inside, they haven’t seen all the bullet holes in people that I have seen in the ER of the Catarino Rivas hospital. Your hotel room is an important safety factor in the San Pedro Sula area.

Vehicle rental is another important component of your travel that requires documentation of any reservations. If you choose to rent a vehicle, you may find that it is not the one you reserved or the one you wanted is not ready but “it will be here in about thirty minutes.” Or sometimes its just an inquisitive look and a “what reservations” moment. Have it in writing and be ready to negotiate. I had a 4WD pickup reserved from AVIS one trip and they just happened to be fresh out of those. I produced all my documentation and negotiated a 4WD Suburban instead for the same price as the truck.

Bottom line, some things are important and you need to keep things straight for safety or for monetary reasons. With most situations, though, be FLEXIBLE and just go with it. It’ll still be a cool trip.

Dr. Dave

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