Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Downtown Tegucigalpa

Following is a letter I wrote to the editor of "Honduras This Week". It appears in this week's issue. As always, I look forward to your comments.

Dear Editor,

I read the recent vignette about downtown Tegucigalpa with much interest. I have been traveling to Honduras regularly for the past twelve years, am married to a wonderful Honduran woman, have obtained Honduran residency, and am in the process of building a home just outside of Tegucigalpa.

Every time I visit Honduras, I always enjoy roaming around downtown Tegucigalpa. I leave my watch, jewelry, and excess cash at the house and my wife drops me off. I usually have no where in particular to go, so I just wonder around and end up wherever I end up. Invariably, I visit the National Art Museum which I really enjoy. It only takes about 45 minutes to go through its various galleries, but I like the sense of 'place' that I have upon leaving. Somehow I also always find my way to the 'parque central' and then into the cathedral where I set for a few minutes, meditate, contemplate, and pray. I then reenter the hustle and bustle of the city with a relaxed feeling inside.

Wondering the streets downtown always amazes me. I love the narrow streets, the architecture, the old facades and the sense of history that fills the air. Downtown Tegucigalpa is truly a jewel, but unfortunately, it's a jewel 'in the rough', unpolished and forgotten. While some people may relish its earthy nature, I've always dreamed of it being more.

I've had many discussions with my wife about downtown Tegucigalpa and what I dream and hope it could be. Honduras is very fortunate that its capital city has not been destroyed or severely damaged by earthquakes like Managua, San Salvador, and San Jose. While it suffered during Mitch, the damage could have been worse. It still retains its colonial character. Hondurans should consider this a national asset just as it would any natural resource and protect it in the same manner.

Laws should be passed proclaiming the area a historical zone with protections for the facades of all historical buildings within the zone. Incentives should be written into the law to encourage historical preservation and investment conducive to revitalization of the area in a historically sensitive manner. Large buses should be strictly banned. Security should be enhanced with a visible police presence and the creation of tourist police. There should be a constant police presence in the Teatro Bonilla area so theatre-goers will feel comfortable attending performances (thereby further supporting the arts and cultural scene). If they feel secure, maybe they will want to linger in the area for drinks and dinner before and after performances.

The city should clean up the trash downtown and discourage littering by placing more trash containers (and maintain them). It should enforce parking regulations. It should encourage the creation of business such as galleries, antique shops, cafes, and restaurants which would entice tourists to come. If tourists come, the revitalization would take on a momentum of its own. Hotels would open, shops and restaurants would thrive. People would then see potential and buy old houses in Buenos Aires and La Leona to renovate and live. Maybe sidewalk cafes would open. Kiosks could be placed on some sidewalks to sell magazines and newspapers.

I firmly believe that a strong commitment, followed by action could resurrect and revitalize downtown Tegucigalpa. Greater prosperity for all of Tegucigalpa's residents would be the result.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Tegucigalpa (Nov. 20, 2006)

On Monday, we moved to the Clarion Hotel Real Tegucigalpa, $$$/***, (Col. Alameda, Calle Principal Juan Pablo II, tel. 286.6000, fax 286.6001). This high rise hotel is only a couple of blocks away from the Marriott, and is in a convenient location close to the Multiplaza mall. There are plenty of eating places nearby from fast-food to Chinese, steak, and Mexican restaurants. It has an elegant lobby and the swimming pool area is also very nice, but the rooms are showing their wear.

I remember when I first started to go to Tegucigalpa on a regular basis in the mid-1990's this hotel was only a skeleton of what was supposed to be a Sheraton hotel. After the frame of the building was erected, construction stopped for many years. I guess the developers ran out of money. For years, people gave directions by saying, "down the street from the Sheraton hotel", or "turn left at the Sheraton and go three blocks..." But there never was any Sheraton hotel, only the skeleton of the 'intended' Sheraton. Regardless, everyone called it the Sheraton.

Finally, in the late '90's, a Guatemalan company bought the place and finished the hotel, renaming it The Princess Hotel. This company owned several Princess hotels scattered about in all the major Central American cities. They did a really fine job of completing the hotel with a grand lobby and pool. Close attention was paid to all the details and the rooms were finished in an traditional English style. There was a 'piso ejecutivo' with a lounge and impeccable service. I stayed at the Princess several times and it was one of my favorite hotels in Tegucigalpa.

Soon after it was opened, the Real Intercontinental Hotel was built nearby, and then the Marriott a couple of years ago. I guess the market wasn't big enough for three luxury hotels, so the Princess was sold to the Salvadorian company, Grupo Real. This company owns all the Intercontinental hotels in Central America as well as some other hotel properties. They rebranded the hotel as a 'Clarion' hotel, and have positioned the hotel a notch or two down in price, service and quality. They've done away with the executive floor, and the rooms while nice seem to be showing their wear.

We ate lunch at I'golosi, $$/*** (Col. Palmira, Ave. Rep. de Argentina, tel. 232.2168). The restaurant is tucked away behind the furniture store, Amanda's, and there is no sign. You can enter from Amanda's or from a walkway on the left hand side of the store. The ambiance is simple but tasteful with hints of the Mediterreanean and Mid-East. Because you would never know its there, its not rushed and you can relax and enjoy your meal. It's a wonderful place to linger with a friend and enjoy an espresso, pastry and conversation. The one drawback is that the menu is limited, but what there is, is all very good. There are some appetizers, lasagne, salads, soup of the day, and some sandwiches. My wife and I shared orders of kibbeh ($1.60), hummus ($2.10) and an Italian sandwich ($4.25). I'golosi is one of Don Godo's Favorites!

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Christmas season in Honduras somehow just doesn't seem like Christmas. Maybe it's the warm weather and lack of snow...

But there is one Christmas tradition in Honduras that is quite beautiful, and that I have really come to appreciate. While North American Christmas decorations tend towards elaborate Christmas trees, wreaths, and Santa Claus, Hondurans try to outdo each other with 'nacimientos'.

A 'nacimiento' is a Nativity scene. Some are elegant, some are simple, some are huge and others very small; but they are everywhere. Businesses from restaurants and retail stores to banks and offices have them. Both rich and poor people alike have them. Most are unabashedly on public display. Some are handmade, some are factory made, and some are real works of art. People go around and admire the biggest and grandest although I find the most humble to be the most elegant in their simplicity.

This is not to say that people don't have Christmas trees and lights, because they do. Most of these are all artificial and represent the imported American culture that so dominates Central America. But to me, 'naciemientos' represent an authenticity in the culture, one that does not shy away from recognizing the true meaning of Christmas. They represent an attachment to Christmas per se, instead of the brazen commercialism and secularism found in North America.

I believe Christmas in Honduras will grow on me...

Feliz Navidad!!

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Tegucigalpa (Sun. Nov. 19)

We stayed at the Tegucigalpa Marriott Hotel for the weekend. ($$$$, Boulevard Juan Pablo II, tel. 232.0033, fax 235.7700). It's a modern, high rise hotel located very close to the Mall Multiplaza. We stayed there Saturday and Sunday because they have a special weekend rate of $99.00. Since I had not seen my family for a long time, I sprang for the junior suite which was an extra $40.00. Being in a junior suite meant that we were automatically put on the concierage floor where there is a private lounge with free snacks and refreshments in the evenings and free mini-breakfast buffet in the mornings. The upgrade is definitely money well spent. The Napoc lounge located in the lobby is quite active on Saturday nights. During the weekdays, the room rates go up considerably...to $159.00! So unless you are on an expense account, there are other nice hotels that are much more reasonably priced.

For Sunday lunch we ate at Los Cebollines ($$$, next to the Mall Multiplaza, tel.232.0680). It's a Mexican chain restaurant with locations in San Pedro Sula as well as other Central American countries. The ambiance is nice and the food is quite good, definitely not your typical Tex-Mex fare. If you're in a group, I highly recommend one of their "meter" platters, which is quite literally served on a meter long wooden board with meat, beans, grilled green onions, sauces, etc.