We’ve been house-hunting, an experience I never liked in Canada. In Copan Ruinas, it’s so baffling it transcends unpleasantness.
For starters, there’s no simple way to look for places here. There’s no local paper or bulletin boards with apartment-to-rent ads. A handful of places have “Apartmento se renta” signs tacked up on doors, but not many.
The standard method is to ask anyone you can think of if they know of a place to rent, generally in Spanish, adding a layer of complexity. We’ve asked at the language school, in hotels and restaurants, called the local bilingual school that hosts teachers from North America, and asked the women running pulperias - the ubiquitous corner stores - in areas that looked promising.That’s part of the challenge - figuring out which areas look promising.
The first criteria is security. Copan, I stress again, is safe. But people are poor and every house has bars of some kind - often decorative - on the windows to prevent break-ins. As gringos, we’ll be presumed (not inaccurately in this conext) to be rich, and sometimes we’ll be away from home for a few days. Our new home needs to have good locks, a decent neighbourhood and, ideally, neighbours who will keep an eye on the place when aren’t there.
Then there’s the giant difference in basic standards between Canada and Honduras. We don’t want to live as if we were in Canada, even if we could afford it on a Cuso budget. It seems rude to come here and live way better than the people Jody will be working with, and foolish to live in a bubble that prevents us from understanding the place and the people who live here.
But housing here tends to be really basic. Partly, that’s simply a matter of money. Most people don’t have much. But there are also different cultural values. Decoration - even family pictures - is sparse to non-existent. There’s a tolerance for a lack of privacy that we don’t have. And things that would bug us on a daily basis - a shower head supported by a piece of string tied to the ceiling, bare florescent ceiling bulbs powered by a tangled web of wires and electrical tape, grimy walls - don’t seem to register.
And then there are the surprising issues. The municipal water supply serves most homes three days a week; you need a big enough roof tank to get through the times no water is available.
We’ve looked at half a dozen places, one twice when two different people guided us there. Several have been small - one room, or a room with a bedroom. One was a largish house, but in rough shape. A couple have been furnished, if a set of plastic outdoor chairs and a plastic table count. (Buying furniture presents another set of problems. We’ve found two “furniture stores,” both tiny and with four or five dressers, a couple of beds and two or three sofa, loveseat chair sets.)
Apartments have been cheap. Typically $150 bare, $250 furnished. And there seems to be little between cheap and way basic, and too expensive for us.
We’ve found one promising place, and have a few more to look at. (We stopped in at a German restaurant yesterday and asked about rentals today. They steered us to a house we’re going to look at today.)
And we’ve had a lot of generous help from people.
It matters quite a bit. Copan is beautiful and the people friendly, but we’re strangers in a strange land. A home that’s comfortable and secure is going to be critical on the inevitable days when things seem just a little too crazy.