Volunteer Recap by Patrick (all you need to know and more)
I had completed my TEFL certification and was looking to take the logical next step. Unfortunately, I’d done it in late September (of 2020) and school years had already started (and they tended to be seeking more experienced candidates anyway).
That was when I found the opportunity to teach in Honduras at Garden School Victoria. I did the interview and booked my flight and prepared to leave in late January. I left Dublin for San Pedro Sula via Lisbon and Madrid. I had two goals for the year, to gain a year’s experience as an English teacher and to improve my Spanish- which I’d been studying myself for about two years prior and enjoyed my first real test passing through Madrid.
My first sight of Honduras was from the airplane as we flew past its Caribbean coast. It was a clear day but the landscape took on a warm haze as the plane descended and the hills and mountains with their deep green peaking ridges and swooping valleys better came into view. The land was penetrated and infiltrated by meandering muddy rivers and tributaries and the sides of the hills were dotted with small, colourful shanties that became more densely packed as the plane glided inland.
The volunteer house is located in Victoria, uphill across the road from the neighbouring Colonia of Brisas del Valle, both near the town of Cofradía (where you’ll find the supermarket and many stores). The area has pulperías for any additional food you may need to buy. There’s a gym next to the school and a swimming pool uphill under the trees, hidden away.
The house is comfortably large with the expected amenities (air conditioning, washing machine (that mostly functions), buckets for showers (which do function), and low-pressure cold-water showers and taps) and a living situation that was generally pleasant but for the strains that inevitably occur with communal resources. Water comes from a tank above the house which occasionally depletes depending on the number of occupants in the house at the time and filling can only be done at random time slots during the week. Food is delivered once a week and the house is semi-cleaned each Monday.
Honduran society is pretty plainly different. The most common type of food is the baleada. Baleadas consist of a tortilla with, usually, bean paste, scrambled eggs, chicken, mantequilla (which doesn’t mean butter in Honduras but refers instead to a sort of sour cream), and avocado. Plantains are very common and take the place in most meals of what would tend to be potatoes or rice in most countries.
Coffee, being Honduras’ prime export, is plentiful. On that subject, I only have to say that I wasn’t a coffee drinker before coming to Honduras and I am now. On top of all this, locally grown mangoes and coconuts are available everywhere (mangoes especially grow around the school and house for several months of the year).
The sun is perpetually shining and temperatures at their lowest match a freakishly hot day in an Irish Summer. Rain, far from being a blotch, is quite refreshing- and a relief if you’re not trying to dry clothes. The nature throughout the country is stunning and everywhere is awash with palm trees and the sort of views that greeted me on my arrival.
The cost of living in Honduras is very low. Clothes, meals in restaurants, travelling (going to San Pedro Sula will cost twenty Lempiras on the bus (less than one euro (an equivalent journey in Ireland would cost nearly twenty euro)); most everything is of minimal expense.
Holidays are easily planned. The school year has three full weeks of holidays, not including long weekends when there is no school on a Friday.
San Pedro Sula has both City Mall and Mega Mall. City Mall has a cinema, a food court with many well-known franchises like Wendy’s, Little Caesar’s, Pizza Hut, Dunkin’ Donuts, and more, as well as many stores (it should be noted that prices in the malls go beyond the average Honduran level). SPS also has many hotels to facilitate a weekend break.
Puerto Cortés is a small town on the Caribbean. There are limited hotel options but there is a supermarket and two quiet beaches hidden by palm trees a ten-minute walk outside of town and the more bustling Coca-Cola beach near the centre and it is an enjoyable getaway destination despite the severe littering issues.
Las Ruinas de Copán is far inland and to the West, on the precipice of the Mayan civilisation of the Yucatán Peninsula. The town is clean and colourful and picturesque, filled with restaurants and hotels and gift shops that are all incredibly affordable.
The Mayan Ruins outside of town are an incredible historic monument. There is a bird sanctuary, Macaw Mountain, a short moto trip outside the town with many exotic birds and a very nice café. One can also go horse-riding through the hills and along the river around the ruins park, guided by a local with very well-behaved tourist horses. Copán comes highly recommended and is a must for travellers to Honduras and buses for the trip can be booked in advance.
Roatán is the most touristic part of Honduras and can be accessed most easily by plane. It is a former British Colony and the most prosperous department of Honduras. The people in Roatán usually speak English (despite being Spanish speaking now, the island was in the Anglo-sphere until the early twentieth century before its lack of violence and availability of work attracted mainland Hondurans). The island is surrounded by the turquoise blue waters from travel agency posters and is replete with resorts and restaurants and activities for tourists. On our trip, we held sloths and monkeys, we went snorkelling along Roatán’s barrier reef filled with large and colourful fish, visited West Bay beach and French Harbour, and went kayaking in the sea and could go all the way up beside a dolphin enclosure and watched them swim a while.
Utila can be accessed by sea from either Roatán or La Ceiba. It is a sister island of Roatán and is world renowned for diving though unfortunately, I never made it to Utila.
La Ceiba is a coastal town with not much going on inside the town itself. Its main attraction is its boardwalk and beach. The littering issue is lessened in La Ceiba and is a pleasant locale roughly two and half hours from San Pedro Sula by bus.
Tela is a coastal town, halfway between San Pedro Sula and La Ceiba (that I did not visit but only passed through on the bus to La Ceiba). Santa Barbara is a small town in inland Honduras that is considered quite nice but I did not go there at any point during my stay).
Flying to surrounding areas can be tricky (not least of all because of government lockdowns) and I only once travelled abroad during my year with the school. Flights from and to SPS are limited so awkward layovers may occur. On a flight to Costa Rica, we flew past Costa Rica for a layover in Panamá and again on the way back. Most further afield flights will require a layover in Panamá or maybe in the United States.
There are, of course, negatives; cultural idiosyncrasies contributing to the detriment of Honduras as a whole. Rubbish covers every part of Honduras (except Copán and the coastal parts of Roatán in the resort and beach areas), not just the populated areas, but all along the roadways too and it is grating to see even children with their parents and the elderly casually discard bottles and wrappings as easily as breathing- never a purposeful throw, just a thoughtless relinquishing and letting their trash land where it may. Music is played very loudly from different points across the Colonia. The courtesies of developed societies are mostly absent from Honduras; like holding doors and good customer service and respect for others’ boundaries and property. I can understand how much of this could be perceived as an aspect of a gritty and authentic Meso-American charm and could probably be easily overlooked by many- if not outright enjoyed.
The primary form of transport in Honduras is what is called a chicken bus (although I was only ever once in one with a chicken). These buses run everywhere across Honduras from very early in the morning to the late evening and never cost more than twenty-five Lempiras (at the time of writing). These buses are usually mini-buses or repurposed American schoolbuses and they will pack in as many people as possible so prepare to be treated like cattle and ordered about. Generally though, it’s just a cramped bus ride. Driving in Honduras is reckless and rather than slow down when the vehicle in front is slow, drivers will keep accelerating and brake at the lost possible moment and keep doing this until they find a spot to overtake- which won’t take long because they don’t have an issue with doing this on blind turns and along the dirt path outside with people and pulperías. If possible, go for a larger bus for an easier ride.
The school itself is on the main road, facing Brisas del Valle. Teaching students in the classroom was rare and I taught mostly online but it was a pleasure to see students learn and develop their English ability throughout the year. The school also provided breakfast and lunch for us on schooldays and frequently held community events (that were mostly relegated to zoom this year). Garden School was prompt with providing schedules for classes and exams and maintained a very nice school for both teachers and students.
On an ending note, the Honduran dialect of Spanish is not accommodating to an untrained ear. A word like gracias (pronounced grathias to a European), in Honduras sounds more like grahia’. Consonants are constantly dropped from the end of words and, as in the example above, the s sound is softened to a lazy, open-mouthed sort of drawl. The usted form is applied seemingly randomly and el voseo, vos sos form is used instead of tú eres. Also, messages from parents and students will be misspelled. Common errors include aser instead of hacer, grasias intead of gracias, instead of receiving messages saying bienvenido, many parents sent me bien benida. However, this is a good opportunity for language immersion for anyone wishing to learn a more Caribbean brand of Spanish.
Teaching at Garden School Victoria is an excellent opportunity with plenty to offer to a wide range of people from teachers to travellers and wanderers and to learners.
Honduras, October 2021.