TBT - "The Trouble With Driving In Honduras"

This is the second installment of the "Trouble With Driving " series.

Honduras in the '70's.

In spite of the light traffic on the small number of major highways and linked cities in the early '70's, there was still traffic issues to contend with in this quiet and easy going country. Honduras may be know as "The Murder Capital of the World" today - but back in the '70's it was a quiet and peaceful nation with most of the Central American civil unrest taking place in the neighboring countries.

The greatest danger to driving in Honduras was the darkness of night. At this time Honduras had just finished paving the main roads (without any night time lighting) and residents with and without vehicles had not adjusted quickly to the changes that paved highways bring. Before the highways were paved, the people in the rural areas (75% of the population then was rural) would stroll along on the roads with their farm animals, or push carts, or be on their bicycles. The nightly carnage was terrific from speeding cars not seeing the people, animals, carts, or bicycles in time to avoid hitting them. Of course it would have helped if the bicycles had reflectors on the rear finder ( all the bikes in the country were black), or if the people would have worn light colored clothing, or kept their animals off a road with speeding vehicles!

Fortunately I never hit anyone or anything - but then I was always on the alert for the 'Ratones Blancos' - day and night. Most Honduran traffic cops at that time were on foot and wore white uniforms - and they preyed on anyone that was on wheels - thus the derogatory Spanish name that translates to 'White Rats'. Like most government employes in Latin America they were poorly paid and had to supplement their income with small bribes from drivers - the 'mordida". To avoid having to give one of these guys a mordida was a constant game of cat and mouse - or in this case, cat and rat.

In the cities it was easier to spot them and circumvent their location - but on the highways it was much more difficult to find a way past them without being stopped for an inspection of the vehicle, papers, license, safety equipment, etc. They could usually find some 'infraction' worthy of a fine - and you would end up giving them a bribe to be on your way again. But if I was on my big Honda motorcycle, which is what I would normally use during the day, I had options. The option I would usually take is to pull off the road before the Ratones Blancos check point and wait for a bus to come along - a wait normally of just a few minutes. Then I would pull out very close behind the moving bus and when it slowed to a stop at the check point I would pass on the blind side of the bus and hit the throttle! If they had posted cops on both sides of the road - that tactic would not work. But we are in the hot tropics and the cops would always select a big roadside shade tree on one side of the road to stand under as the check point.

There was one serious vehicle accident I was involved in - in a 1969 VW Beetle. Driving from La Ceiba to Tegucigalpa with an associate, I got tired at twilight and gave the driving over to the associate. He seemed to be doing fine, doing about 55 mph, and I was just going into a doze when he yelled: "Oh no!". I looked up to see two black cows walking towards the centerline from opposite sides of the road, which was built on a high berm - completely blocking our passage. It was perfect timing = perfect disaster. The two cows and the VW Beetle all touched noses at the same time in the middle of the highway! The bodies of the cows then wiped around from the collision and blew out the rear side windows - showering us with broken glass and a ton of cow dung! What a smell!

Acting as quickly as possible I pulled the buckled fenders away from the tires so the vehicle could roll again. Then we had to get out of there before some angry farmer showed up with a machete!

Good thing the motor was in the rear!