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Caught out by a coup in Central America

At five in the morning Dave, Kate and I wandered down to Utila’s dock to catch the ferry to mainland Honduras. Whilst slapping away the sand flies that were glued to Kate and my legs we discussed whether we should try to travel through down to Tegucigalpa the capital of Honduras or stop at San Pedro Sula.  Getting to Teguci would mean that the Tuesday travel time would be cut and as we had all Monday we might as well try and get as far as we could.  Once we got to La Ceiba, we investigated the options, timings and price ($24) and decided to do it.  At San Pedro we had a couple of hours to wait before the bus departed to Teguci, so we cleverly bought our Tica bus tickets ($20) to Managua for the next morning, which would save us time doing that when we got to Teguci.

The bus was slow we departed an hour late and it took over 4 hours, it is meant to take 3.  The woman next to me was shouting, constantly on the phone, getting more and more het up.  Dave, Kate and I exchanged looks, pulling funny faces at each other.  About half an hour from Teguci we get stopped at a road block, not unusual in central America.  A policeman stuck his head into the bus and then departed.  Seconds later we were on our way again.  We arrived at the bus depot to silence.  There were no taxis, no one out on the road.  People were grabbing their bags and calling on their mobiles and no one was talking to us.  We went up to the security guard and I asked in my halting Spanish where we could get a taxi. He responded, I caught ‘there are no taxis’ and then the woman who had been sitting next to me, translated.  “He’s trying to tell you, there are no taxis you have to stay here at the hotel.”  We all turn and look at her nonplussed. “There is a curfew, you can’t go anywhere.”  Okay so she had had a reason to be getting more and more agitated.  She then apologised that she wouldn’t be able to give us a lift as her husband who was a policeman, and coming to pick her up, had only a small car.  We thanked her and followed the security guard into the back of this building, which turned out to be a hotel. 

We then found out that, that afternoon Zelaya had decided after 3 months of exile to return to Tegucigalpa.  He had taken refuge in the Brazilian embassy and was rallying his supporters.  Of all the days he chose to return, after 15 hours of travelling over mountains and through rivers – what by foot?? It had to be the day we were travelling through to Nicaragua.  We obviously did not co-ordinate our diaries, next time I will get my people to talk to his (or other disposed presidents) people. I don’t think we really grasped the seriousness of the situation as we negotiated the price for a night’s stay and confidently believed we would be able to catch the Tica bus the next morning.  Frustrated we shelled out all our lempiras still positive we would be leaving. We watched the news, which was sketchy on the situation, I spoke to my brother, first time in months and reassured him everything was fine.

The next morning we woke early, packed had the complimentary breakfast, asked the front desk to get us a taxi to take us to the Tica bus station.  At this we were met with blank and confused looks. “I don’t think the bus will be running?”   This stopped us in our tracks. “What?” we collectively asked.

“Er, the bus it won’t be going. The ex-president returned yesterday.” The bewildered man replied
“Yes we know he returned, why can’t we leave?”
“There is a military lockdown, there is a curfew.” He tried to explain

A curfew during the day?  Baffled we looked at each other, none of us had contemplated that the curfew would continue into the day. 

“Please would you call the Tica bus to see if they are leaving?” we pleaded.  None of us could afford to spend another night in the hotel.  He called and confirmed that no they were not leaving.  We sat down and tried to think of what we were going to do.  I was all for trying to find the action, which he overhead and promptly warned us not to leave the hotel.

We got back to the room and called the British Embassy in Guatemala and were advised not to leave our hotel, that they were monitoring the situation and it could become volatile at any moment.  In fact the military had moved into the disperse Zelaya’s supporters who had defied the curfew outside the Brazilian embassy.  Tegucigalpa resembled a ghost town, there were no cars, few people on the street and all shops were shut.  We slowly came to the realisation we would not be leaving on the Tuesday and just hoped that on Wednesday we would be able to get out.  6 pm rolled on and the curfew was extended to 6 am.  At 8 pm we were watching television when all of a sudden a stationary screen appeared with the Honduran flag and a message stating there was an official announcement.  We turned over and listened to a statement being read out in English saying that Zelaya had to accept the elections on 29th November.  That the interim government were open to have a dialogue but Zelaya had to understand that there was also a warrant for his arrest, which had been issued by the supreme court and was therefore out of the interim government’s control.  So if Zelaya stepped outside of the Brazilian embassy he would be arrested for unconstitutional acts.

It was the weirdest press conference I had seen.  The press secretary took questions from a motley crew of reporters in Spanish, which revolved around the fact that water and other amenities had been cut off to the Brazilian embassy.  But the upshot of the whole thing was the curfew was not just going to last until 6 am but would be extended again to 6pm.  Our hearts sank, we would be under hotel arrest for another day.  There were only so many games of cards we could play.  Food was also expensive so we decide to stock up on breakfast and steal as much as we could from the buffet cart to last us through the day.

Wednesday morning rolled on and the breakfast tables were filled with local reporters.  The staff were angry saying that all Zelaya was doing was disrupting Honduran lives.  We were hearing complaints that the curfew had been imposed too quickly not allowing people to get in provisions.  This could be damaging to the interim government which on the whole had been reasonably popular.  Therefore at 9:45 there was another press conference, all the other channels were taken off air and it was announced in Spanish that the curfew would be lifted from 10 am to 5 pm to allow people to get provisions and to work.

We watched as the streets filled with cars and people, the supermarkets overflowing with braying crowds, the multiplaza teeming with locals trying to get to banks, get essential and some non essential supplies.  Everything was pretty calm and there was only one incident where the crowd looked hostile, so we quickly scurried away.  Meantime the front desk was trying to find us a way and means of getting out of Honduras.  They came up with another option for Thursday; we weren’t going to be getting out of there on Wednesday but possibly Thursday.  So another expensive night and then possibly shelling out for another ticket to Nicaragua on top of the one we bought in good faith on Monday. 

I write this on Wednesday 23rd, about to enter my third night under curfew; the roads are becoming quiet, as people are returning home to meet the 5pm deadline.  The TV crew is pulling into the hotel carpark and the rain is flooding the empting streets and I’m hoping, still optimistic that we will get out of here tomorrow.

So much for my bolshie comments, travelling to Honduras is fine, there are no problems, it’s all perfectly safe, best time to go is after a coup and then the friggin’ ex president instead of taking his millions and running to find asylum in some African, European or South American country, returns.  Who could have predicted this?  Well I’m well and truly learned.

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