Monday, March 14, 2011

El Niño Oscuro

Some of you may be wondering how Elicia and I have been getting around San Pedro Sula. Well, maybe you aren't, but you should have been. In the beginning, the Galindo's would drive us to and from the BIT. We loved it, of course. Each morning, Papa Galindo would teach me Spanish, repeating each word or phrase a little louder each time until I got it right. Then he would smile broadly and say, "Bien!" I actually really miss those days. However, the family runs on Honduras time, which we learned very quickly means that you can be picked up on time to two hours late. This and the fact that we couldn't go anywhere BUT the BIT, and that the Galindo's wanted 37 dollars a week for this service convinced us that we had to find an alternative form of transportation.

We laid our case before Dennis of course (Dennis is like a really jolly Oz for us here in Honduras. He has solved all our woes), and he said, "We will figure something out." He and Camilo put their heads together, and Camilo said simply, "They can use the BIT car." Apparently there was a car that the BIT owned that was passed between the schools in San Pedro Sula and Tegucigalpa to whomever needed it at the time. We tried very hard to refuse it, not only because we felt like they must need it much more than we did, but also because the suggestion of us actually driving around the streets of San Pedro was alarming.

Camilo just looked at us and said, "This will work. The car will be here next week. You have your liscense?"

Elicia puposefully avoided eye contact. I knew there was no way in heck she would want to drive these roads, and so the lot fell to me. I said I did. He looked at me doubtfully. "You want to drive here? This driving is not like any driving you have ever seen..."

I nodded. "Yeah, I have been watching it. I can do it."

Elicia, bless her, put in a word of good faith, which made me feel more confident as well. "If anyone can drive here, it's Kathryn. I know she can do it!"

The possibilities started to open up before my eyes. We could go anywhere we wanted! Whenever we wanted! I had been going CRAZY sitting in that little room all day and being carted to and from the school. Camilo must have seen my excitement, and said, "It is not a very nice car..." We assured him that a car in any condition was fine as long as it ran. I have definitley drunken the dregs of the vehicle cup in my day. We left the BIT, and I had a pretty clear picture forming in my mind of the car we would get: humble yet sturdy, maybe some rust spots and no air conditioning.

The little guy arrived the next thursday. Camilo pointed out the window of the BIT office. It was a dark blue Toyota Camri, probably mid 90's. We bounded down the stairs to get a closer look. The inside looked a little more shabby but not too bad. The real discovery, however happened as we started to drive. One of the Galindo uncles came to drive it home with us. I felt like I was in driver's ed again. He told me when to stop and go, to turn on my blinker, etc. To be honest, though, it didn't feel like too much. Hondurans drive by different rules than I learned, anyway.

They drive by some strange rule book that may or may not include "stop at the red octagon." The city is on a grid. Avenues cross streets. Avenues have the right of way. Always. Almost. Most streets are one way, except Boulevardes, which may start out as two way and turn into a one-way without warning. Just because the street you are on is going one way on one side of the cross-road, doesn't mean that it goes the same way on the other side (Seriously. My first day driving, we went through a light and found three lanes of cars coming straight at us, honking and swerving. While I almost peed my pants, Elicia, bless her again, found some incredible place of calm and said, "It's okay. Just pull over here, Kathryn." ).

Lanes basically mean nothing; a road with two lanes can easily have a wall of five cars barrelling down it. At least we are all going the same way. Most of the time. Honking is pretty much a constant. Pot holes the size of our car threaten to remove an axel every block or so, and speed limit signs are non-existent. Taxi drivers have an entirely different rule book than anyone else. They act like two more seconds at a light is a matter of life and death. Someone should tell them that it actually is.

As crazy as this might sound, though, I actually feel very safe with these drivers. Why? Because they pay attention! They have to! In the states, everyone seems to have a mentality that they are safe because everyone else is going to stay in their lane, stop at their light, etc. etc. But here, there is no guarantee. The drivers are super alert and have to be personally accountable. If you get in an accident, you don't get a hunk of someone's insurance to pay for a new car, you just don't have a car anymore. Its still a crazy free-for-all, but somehow it works. I love it. Kenya told me the other day that I drive like a Honduran and I grinned from ear to ear. Best compliment ever.

I actually have to disagree with her though, to be honest and to protect my mother's sanity. I actually drive alot more slowly than Hondurans and I usually let the traffic flow by me. I am probably driving more carefully than I have in my life. I drive very slowly (potholes) and in the slow lane (taxis) and very alert (Hondurans).  It's actually not the other drivers that scare me. My greatest fear is getting pulled over by a cop. The police are very corrupt here. They can pull you over for no reason and make you pay. I have been told that the best thing to do would be to simply hand over two hundred dollars and they will let me go on my way. I am prepared to do that if I need to, but our family told us that they get into some pretty sticky trouble when they pull over American's, so they basically turn a blind eye to us.

So Elicia and I have been thoroughly enjoying our newfound freedom. And we have developed a deep fondness for our little car. We named him El Niño Oscuro (the dark boy), which sounds racist in English, but El Niño is Honduran, so he speaks Spanish. We quickly discovered that he is a very "special" car. Not one part of him is complete and fully functional. Each door for example: Mine has no handle on the inside, only a shiney wire loop that hooks to some obscure gadget behind the door pannel. The first couple of days had me tugging on it in a panick while the car heated up by ten degrees per second once we stopped at our destination (I have mastered it now though). Once you get it open, you have to carfully push the wire thing back in or the door won't shut at all. My window, however, rolls down, praise be to the Japanese, I guess. Elicia's does not, and there have been numerous occasions where she will snap in the heat, glare over at me and say, "I swear I am going to break this window..." I just try to get moving so she has a slight breeze on her at these moments. The window behind her rolls down, but if it goes beyond like 1/3 of the way, it won't roll back up. Elicia has the magic touch with it though. She just pulls the electronic panel out of the door (don't worry, I don't think it has been attatched for years) and fiddles with the wires and up it goes. The other window just doesn't do anything. One of the doors in back doesn't open at all, and the other one only opens from the outside (thanks to little brother Galindo. It worked when we kidnapped him to show us where the movie rental store was...). The air conditioning doesn't work at all, my lap belt buckle is only half of what it was born to be (Of course I have the ever-present shoulder belt of the toyota camris, thanks to the Japanese again, though it doesn't have the capacity to move along the door anymore), and my sun visor now has masking tape wrapped all around it because the flap thingy flips down into my face every time I need to use it. We only have one headlight, the speedometer doesn't work, and we think that our gas gauge is about a quarter tank off. To top it all off, there is an enourmous family of teeny-tiny spiders that lives around the shifter. As soon as the car roars to life , they begin their senseless scurrying all over the general area between our two seats for the entire drive. Elicia doesn't even mention them anymore (the first day she squealed a lot). They are just part of the car.

El Niño has some special problems under the hood as well. Camilo said that we needed to put some water in the radiator every once in awhile because it had a leak. No, actually, he needs like half a gallon EVERY morning. The first time we went to fill him up, I was thinking we would have to go inside the Galindo's house and grab a bottle or something, but Elicia suddenly lugs a 2 gallon jug from behind the passenger seat. El Niño has three of these, it turns out.

Two days after we started driving him, El Niño's stearing became like sandpaper and after a particularly hot and sweaty 22-point turn in the mall parking lot (Their parking lots are insanely cramped here. Elicia jumped outside and sprinted back and forth waving me inch by inch while three or four cars sat and watched me wrestle with zero stearing fluid, sweat dripping into my eyes), we informed Camilo of the problem. He said, "Well, it needs fluid." I knew this, I mostly just wanted to whine about it before we went and bought some. We all trooped down to the car anyway, and again Elicia magically appeared from behind the passenger seat with a bottle of stearing fluid. El Niño had his own first aid kit. The stearing was gloriously silky for about a day and we needed another bottle. Turns out El Niño needs about a bottle every two days. After we drizzled 3 bottles of stearing fluid all over San Pedro Sula, Camilo made an appointment with the mechanic.

So, El Niño has made life in Honduras much more of an adventure. He is pretty dependable as long as you take care of his special needs. Of course, he did choose the night of the YSA formal dance not to start, when it was raining and I was left alone in the car with Hector... but that is a story for another post.

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