Ryan O'Hanlon will file dispatches from Honduras, where he is covering the U.S. Men's National Soccer Team's opening World Cup qualifying match, all week.
“Javier, when was the coup?”
Those words came out of the mouth of some man—southern, reasonably-tall, and apparently the mayor of San Pedro Sula, based on some of the I’m-sort-of-a-regular way he tried to talk about the place—on our shuttle from the airport to the hotel.
It doesn’t really matter that the driver’s name was Melvin—he got three letters right, at least—or that, after a back and forth, they decided that the coup happened no later than 2008. The coup happened in 2009, as Noah Davis, esteemed person-who-has-been-to-Honduras-once, told me from the back of the shuttle. And what matters here is just that the coup happened. It happened less than four years ago, and now I’m here, rolling through the streets in a van, navigated by a man not named Javier, who has no problem cutting through gas stations instead of waiting for a red light to turn.
So, why the hell would anyone go to San Pedro Sula, Honduras?
That’s something I asked myself this morning, while I sat in the Houston airport waiting for my flight. I mean, it’s an easy-enough answer for the majority of people who were on the plane: they’re Honduran. But there were other not-Honduran people on this flight, too, all traveling to this city either to stay or to transfer on to somewhere else, but traveling to the same point for the two-and-a-half hours we were in the air.
Type San Pedro Sula into a Google search. See that second result? It’s a Washington Post article titled “San Pedro Sula, Honduras is the world’s most violent place.” As of January 2012, on the homicides-per-100,000-people scale, this city was first with 159. (For reference, New Orleans was the most violent American city on the list with 57 per 100,000.) The U.S. State Department also calls San Pedro Sula—the transportation hub and industrial center of the country; also, a hub along the dotted path that is the Western cocaine trade—“the world’s most violent city.”
(It should also be noted that the State Department says, “Tens of thousands of U.S. citizens safely visit Honduras each year for study, tourism, business, and volunteer work.” Which is then followed by, “However, crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country.”)
So, again, what were all these other people doing, boarding this flight? Well, the elderly Canadian couple I met were on their way to some hidden outpost to meet friends. When I asked if they were staying in San Pedro, the woman—as nicely and as old-lady-like as possible—just laughed in my face. Then there was a Canadian woman going backpacking with friends through the country (that makes it sound less menacing than it actually is) for five weeks, and the guy with the guitar from Tulsa who apparently grew up down here and easily switched from that Oklahoma twang to perfect, Honduran-accented Spanish. Oh, and the church group from Louisiana—all overweight, post-middle-age, John-Deere-hat-and-camo-bag types ... wearing John Deere hats and carrying camo bags—doing God knows (seriously) what.