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It's Days Like These
when I really want to pack it in.
What kind of day am I talking about? Just about every day that I journey to the big city, I regret it.
Yesterday it was time to take Gerardo to dialysis. He goes three times a week and normally he either rides with Leslie, whom goes almost every week or he takes a bus with Antonio, which is a far more comfortable ride than our old clunker van with worn out chairs, doors that don't open, doors that don't close and zero climate control. It was also time for Faith to renew her residency. This was Faith's third trip in two weeks, four total, for the immigration affair, so she was not looking forward to it. Faith is like me in that I'd rather never leave the farm than see the big city again.
The day started out well enough. The little boys didn't get their school clothes ready the night before, so we had a bit of a delay waiting on that. We piled into the van and drove over much improved roads, less than one hole per meter, arrived at the highway where we dropped off one of the older boys with the little boys to wait for the school bus. We journeyed forth on a much worse road known as the Pan American Highway, which is basically one hole after another through 80 miles of mountainous turns, climbs and dives.
Our first roadblock was somewhere before Comayagua. They've started about thirty construction projects on the road between our town and the next. The roadblock lasted no more than twenty minutes as the loader filled the dump truck. We journeyed on. Holes in the road had us zig-zagging and topping out at a dangerous pace of 20 mph. Folks, this is supposedly the best highway/road in the country.
We arrived at Ruach School, where Lance and Annette work, so that they could give us a document needed for Faith's immigration. The paper basically stated that I was her father and I was in charge of her. I'm not sure why Ruach has that authority while I do not, but don't question; just do it.
We journeyed on through worse roads and arrived at our first destination, Gerardo's hospital, three and a half hours later. In total, the drive was 80 miles long; roughly a 30 minute drive for a Texan in his native land. Gerardo knows the drill as he's been there three times a week for a month now, with no end in site. He went to dialysis and we hurried to immigration to try and get the renewal done before the lunch break.
We've driven to Tegucigalpa dozens of times, so I feel like we are starting to know the main roads. I drove off, confident that we would reach our destination directly. I was wrong.
We drove to the end of one main road; I have no idea what it's called, but it has some of the big stores and restaurants on it. I spotted what looked like a familiar exit. I told Faith, "that looks like the one". It was unbelievable, but I actually found an exit that took me to the road I needed. I drove forward on the road, but the further I went along, the more it looked like the wrong road. I figured that I'd better turn around before I got to into dangerous territory.
I started the u-turn. I looked and nobody was coming. If you've ever visited Tegucigalpa before, you'd know that the city is set on rolling hills surrounded by mountains. Halfway through the turn, I saw motorcycles coming from both directions but they were slowing down for me. Rather than wait for me to turn completely around, one cyclist decided to rev up and thread the needle between the front of our van and the curb, measuring about three feet. Bad move. I was trying to complete my turn when the cyclist fell over on the curb in front of us.
Oh boy, this is familiar territory for me. On a previous occasion I've had one other cyclist actually run into us while we were waiting to turn. He also tried to thread the needle between us and curb, without success. So, I exited the vehicle to see if he was alright. He stood up quickly, and asked in English "What are you doing, man?". I apologized and said "trying to turn around". He reverted back to Spanish to call me crazy and then we started the long process of evaluating his bike, calling the transit police and most of all: waiting. I wanted to move the van so that traffic was not blocked, but he told me not to move it until the police arrived. From my point of view, that was fine as it would have shown that he had space to get by, even though he should not have tried.
Some thirty minutes of him talking on the phone and me basically asking how we can resolve this without the police, which inevitably involves another visit to Tegucigalpa and hours of torment while waiting, he decided that I was desperate enough. I told him that I would pay for his damages and give him some money in good faith until he gave me a bill from the mechanic via fax. He reiterated the damages to the bike, which in his mind were extensive. The damage amounted to a three inch long, one inch deep dent in the fuel tank, a loose headlight housing and a broken front reflector. Mechanics work for about $20/day in Honduras, so the cost would not be much. I offered 500 Lempiras ($26) and would pay the rest when he sent the bill. He told me 500 was not enough and repeated the damages. I waited and then offered 1000 ($52) with the offer to pay the rest when he had the bill. He made a call and accepted the offer. He left with a smile on his face. I was very content in that I would not have to waste time and money visiting the transit police, whom had never met a gringo whom was not guilty.
Faith, Timothy and I drove on in the search for the immigration office. I was a bit shaken and nervous, especially when I saw a motorcycle, which are everywhere in Tegucigalpa. We found the road but it had no turn or exits for about eight miles. We drove, turned around, backtracked and entered the immigration office at 11:45 AM. We found the appropriate line and sat down. There was time for one more person to enter the small renewal cubicle before lunch, but they did not complete their business. We were informed that it was lunch hour and they tried to encourage us to leave for our own lunch. No way. I was not going to take another chance of being hit by another motorcycle. We waited in line.
The renewal employee returned promptly after her hour and ten minute lunch hour to resume business. We waited another 45 minutes in line before it was our turn. Meanwhile, Mr. Motorcycle called and told me that he determined the damages to his bike. It would cost 2000L ($105) but he did not want problems, so he would only ask me for another 500 (1500 total, or $79). He asked when we could meet. I told him we hoped to be done by 2:00 PM and could meet him near the airport, where we hoped to dine at Church's Chicken.
We waited for the renewal. It didn't take that long to shuffle papers and take Faith's picture. The woman said we could wait for the residency card at window 5. We moved along and waited. Ten minutes turned into forty five. Meanwhile, Mr. Motorcycle called another three times asking where we were. I told him we were waiting for immigration to finish. Finally he agreed to meet us there, even though it was a bit of a drive for him. A couple minutes after agreeing to the new meeting location, we got the residency card. The whole process of getting the card took no more than two and a half hours; like a flash. Now it was time for Mr. Motorcycle to arrive.
Fifteen minutes later the motorcycle man arrived and took his final payoff. He volunteered to write something for me saying that he received 1500 Lempiras for damages incurred. I accepted. Meanwhile he showed me how he was limping due to the accident. He also didn't mind showing me his Bible since he knew I was a missionary. This actually makes me want to ralph. I've had a number of sales jobs done to me by professionals toting silver fishes, Bibles and talking church lingo. Don't bother, I don't buy it. We concluded our business. Show me your Christianity, don't talk about it.
We finally left for lunch and rushed through it. Fried jalapeno cheese (Church's Jalapeno Bombers) were quite clearly the highlight of the day.
It was time to pick up Gerardo. We left again and I was very conscious of the motorcycles zigging and zagging through traffic. It's as if they are seeking me out as a target. There's been another close call with a motorcycle that I won't go into. We found Gerardo at the hospital and he was ready to go.
We left the hospital at 4 PM but we needed to get Gerardo something to eat because he'd not eaten since breakfast. I wanted to go to the big store that is something like a Walmart. I wanted to see if they had a rechargeable flashlight like the one that was broken while we were gone to the USA. We entered the parking area and the guard handed us a parking ticket. He told us to get the ticket validated to avoid problems when we left. We went to the store and I let Gerardo pick out some donuts, which he loves. We bought some water, apples, other items and checked out. I gave the ticket to the cashier for validation but he said he didn't do that. We left, anxious to get out of the city and the danger zone. I drove to the parking exit, handed my ticket to the attendant and he said thanks. I drove on and he started shouting. The guard closed the gate in front of us. I asked what was up. He said I needed to pay because I did not validate the ticket. I told him we bought $15 worth of food but nobody would stamp it. He told me that was OK and I did not have to pay; I could exit. I sat there staring at a closed gate for a few moments wondering if the van could take it down. Since the front of the van is armored with 1 millimeter of fiberglass, I figured that might not be a good idea. Beyond the fiberglass, stood the steering wheel and then me.
The three hour return drive home was rather uneventful but it capped a glorious day spent sitting in the car, waiting in lines and knocking over motorcycles.
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