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Dave and Jan's travels, day 266:
Doing jobs

9th February
Our first day Tegucigalpa in was spent "doing jobs". I wasn't going to mention this, but it occurred to me that some people might like an insight into the minutiae of our existence. Once every 3-4 weeks, we find ourselves with a number of miscellaneous tasks that have built up, and so we have to allocate time to "doing jobs". On this particular fine morning, we were faced with these tasks:

  • get some money
  • connect to the email to get mail and upload a web update
  • exchange some second hand books
  • find out about the La Tigra National Park
  • purchase a new radiator hose for our fine vehicle, Beluga.
It may surprise you to learn that there's a whole days' worth of fun and entertainment lurking in that innocent little list.

First thing (after a nourishing breakfast of scrambled eggs with bits of chili, fried plantain, cheese, bread and coffee (well, it wouldn't be wise to tackle these things on an empty stomach)) we set off to the bank. Somewhat unusually for us, the first place we tried was actually in the business of advancing money against credit cards. And their link to our US bank's computer was functioning. And our card is currently working. And they had enough cash in the place. Quite an unusual conjunction, particularly at the first try.

We then returned to our hotel to attempt the internet connection. Unfortunately Honduras is somewhat short of telephone lines, so the hotel (around 150 rooms) only has the one line. They tried very hard to allow me to use it, and I spent a happy half hour makes friends in reception and connecting our computer to every telephone jack in sight, but no connection was made. Unbowed, we set off to the "Shakespeare book company".

Our luck held: although they've moved since our guidebook was published, they've moved to another point on our walking route and Jan "eagle eyes" Doole actually spotted them. Our luck then started to run out: the shop was mysteriously closed, in active defiance of the posted opening hours.

Next stop an internet cafe. Sorry, we only have the one telephone line - shared by these ten computers - so we can't let you use it. This story was to be repeated at a few more such cafes throughout the day. One most helpful place suggested returning at 1p.m. - "when there's rarely anyone here" - but sadly, when we dutifully showed up, there were about six rare people present. Incidentally, if anyone out there is thinking of bringing a laptop to Central America, then bring the floppy disc and know how to do your communications via that and someone else's computer. Internet cafes are a lot more plentiful than usable phone lines and cheaper too.

Next stop, Hondutel, the local telecomms brigade, or as I like to call them, "that bunch of useless nitwits". The telephone area don't allow people to plug computers in and suggested we try the fax people in the next office up the hall. The fax people first ignored us for a while as we weren't locals. Then they eventually spoke to us, and said it couldn't be done. We explained that it could be done, at which a lengthy silence ensued. Then - when it transpired that we were still there - they suggested the telephone area. We explained that we'd come from there. Another silence. We still hadn't moved, so plan B came into effect: deal with absolutely any other customer - or even just a passerby - rather than talk to us some more. Still there, so plan C: get up, walk out of the office, two lengths of the corridor, nod at a few fellow gits, then return. Still there, and after a total of twenty five minutes, we're allowed into the office.

What's a little perplexing is that then, everyone is suddenly friendly and helpful. The fax operator tries the number himself to check it's in service, the boss man starts chatting generally, someone brings an extra chair over. Sadly after all this the Honduran ISP wasn't answering the phone, so we moved on.

An aside: one particularly brilliant feature of Hondutel is their approach to billing. "I'd like to call the UK please" "For how long?" "About five minutes" "OK". Eventually you get on the line, and after 5 minutes are cut off without warning or ceremony. Given that you have to pay for the minutes that you say you're going to use, this is pretty tricky stuff. You can have unlimited calls, but need to put down a deposit equivalent to about 2 months' wages. It's the same deal in Nicaragua too.

Lunch now intervened, a vegetarian set menu comprising veggie soup, main course of rice, beans, various stewed vegetables, a strange but yummie fruit juice and rice pudding. Next stop a couple more banks looking for some dollars (no luck) and the Amex office (no luck either, although we did pay our card bill). Then on to the Amitigra Office to learn about the national park.

About five people in the office doing work that doesn't really justify one. They all milled around us and with many smiles and joviality we fairly quickly found out all that we needed to know. Sadly when we eventually went to the Park it turned out not to be entirely accurate, but then you can't expect everything to be perfect.

On in search of that radiator hose. I can report that the US economic influence over Central America - at least in the car industry - is on the wane. Japanese pickups may not be as manly as a Ford Bronco but they apparently do more miles to the gallon and are more reliable and cheaper to repair. In any case, we tried about nine different car parts shops in Tegus, all filled to the ceiling with Nissan and Toyota parts, but nothing for Fords. Everyone was most helpful with directions to another spot though, and the ninth link in the chain turned out not only to have the radiator hose we needed, but to be run by an English speaking comedian into the bargain (What type of car? Upper or lower hose? Which year? Engine size? Petrol? What colour is the car?...).

We eventually returned to Hondutel for another go, but by now it was 4p.m. and so they were closing. Back to the internet cafe - still busy - but promised free access first thing the next morning. This eventually turned out to be accurate, and by the next afternoon Shakespeare books were back in business.

So, in summary, one and a bit days, five tasks. In terms of progress it's pretty frustrating, but as an opportunity to chat to the locals and get a better sense of what it's like to be Honduran it's very good value. We met loads of people. Although their level of competence varies alarmingly, they're always friendly, and try to be helpful. It's somehow much easier to take yet another place without the thing you want when the people inside are falling over themselves to point out the next place, and only too happy to chat about what's the most beautiful spot in the country or whether it's colder in the UK.