“Hola, Gringos!” a little Honduran girl calls out to us from the garden of the coffee plantation-cum-guest house on the edge of Gracias, Honduras where we awoke Saturday morning.
“Hola, ninos!” we offer in response.
Giggles all around. Little do we know what a prescient greeting it is.
Honduras Football Fever
The streets of Honduras have been awash in Honduras football shirts and national flags for weeks. From adults to infants, the entire country has been decked out in the Honduran national team football garb. Tuk-tuks and cars drive through streets, Honduran flags flying.
The World Cup qualifying match between Honduras and the U.S.A. is on. It permeates every conversation.
At Castillo San Cristobal overlooking Gracias, a young man asks Dan who he wants to win the game. At the crossroads of diplomacy and metaphor, Dan stretches his Spanish skills (and the truth) and invokes the story of David and Goliath as a way out of explicitly taking sides.
On our return from Balneario Aguas Termales (the nearby hot springs), two young professionals from San Pedro Sula give us a ride. After confirming that we are American, the driver, a young doctor from San Pedro delivers in perfect English, “I hope your team loses tonight.”
It's impossible for us to come away offended, as it comes with good humor – and a free ride to our destination – attached. “Mucho gusto” (“Good to meet you.”) we shake hands, say goodbye and depart with a “Buena suerte!” (“Good luck!”)
The Only Gringos in the Room
As we scout the streets of Gracias for a place to watch the game, two women dressed in football jerseys welcome us into a dark, dingy bar. Why not?
Old dining room chairs are lined up in airliner fashion, no leg room. Beer posters, soccer pennants, and national flags are all obscured by virtual darkness. Room temperature is a cool 85 degrees. The attraction: the local company and a big screen projection of the game on a dropdown white sheet.
Believing that we could make a quick escape if the game turns nasty, we take a place on the edge of the second row. After all, we are in a country whose history includes a war with El Salvador in 1969 that supposedly ignited over a football game.
Men of all ages – some in football jerseys, others in work clothes – stream in as kickoff approaches. We catch surprised glances from the Honduran men who pile in. This is precious. No animosity; only curiosity.
We pay our fee – $0.50 a head – and settle in to watch the action. At $0.75, beers are the cheapest (and coldest) in all of Honduras. The room behind us is full of expectant faces paying loose attention to the Honduran sportscasters during the pre-game show.
Honduras v. USA
Four minutes into the game, Honduras scores. The room erupts; we congratulate everyone and take in the Honduran spirit. And we hope that team USA shows up sometime soon.
Then came the American goal from a penalty kick. Silent shock weighs heavy in the air. We wanted to cheer, but thought better of it and kept looking forward towards the screen.
At half-time, we decide to return to the streets to get some dinner. Walking through the hopeful faces in the dark room, we feel out of place. At the same time there's a sort of bond with everyone: the game is 1-1 at this point and anything is possible.
For the second half, we choose a bar with a bit more light and breathing room. Mobile phones are abuzz as friends and family live out the intensity and urgency of the game's second half. Two drunk women trade eyes with the bartender and some hearty men at the bar. Some scenes are universal.
The whole country is watching and praying for their team at that moment. But we all know the end result: USA 2: Honduras 1.
A Friendly Stroll Home
Even with America's win, we get a friendly “Adios!” and waves from the guys in the bar. A woman on the street offers “Felicidades!” (“Congratulations!”) with her baby in her arms. No shortage of waves and greetings as we make our way towards the main square. We still feel self-conscious as the only gringos around, but the mood is surprisingly jovial.
Before we reach our guest house, we pass the only polished hotel in town. A tour bus is parked in the lot and a sea of white faces mill inside the bar. So, we're not the only gringos in Gracias after all.
But, we are the only ones on the streets.
Travel Information for Gracias, Honduras
- How to get there: If you are going from Copan Ruinas to Gracias, take a local bus to La Entrada ($2.50), then a chicken bus to Santa Rosa de Copan ($1.50) and finally, another chicken bus from Santa Rosa de Copan to Gracias ($2). The total journey takes around 5 hours, but if our experience is any measure, you'll get a lot of smiles and photo-ops along the way.
- Where to stay: Finca Bavaria on the outskirts of town is a working coffee plantation with a few basic rooms available. The rooms are nothing to write home about, but the garden area – complete with a horse and chickens, and sweet, older man running the place – absolutely makes up for it.
- Where to eat: No visit to Gracias is complete without a visit to Rinconcito Graciano, a cute little restaurant with a gregarious owner named Lizeth. She is passionate about using only fresh, organic ingredients and everything is cooked from scratch, “like home.” You drink fresh tamarind juice from a vessel resembling a carved-out coconut shell. She is knowledgeable about Gracias and the surrounding region as well.
- What to do: Gracias was once the capital of all of Spanish-conquered Central America, meaning that the town is full of centuries-old churches and buildings. Climb up to the Castillo San Cristobal on the hill for a view of the town and surrounding hills. Relax in hot, sulfuric water in a forest setting at the Balneario Aguas Termales (hot springs) four kilometers outside of town. It takes about one hour by foot or a few minutes if you hitch a ride (or take a mototaxi/tuk-tuk, L50 each way).
- Where to connect: The internet cafe on the main square has a wireless router and friendly owners who keep it open past 9 PM if you ask nicely. You can also catch an unsecured wifi signal by sitting on the steps near Hotel Guancascos.