Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pinatas at the wedding

 Back from a weekend bus trip to Santa Rosa de Copan, a town about 105 kilometres away - or three-and-a-half hours. The roads aren't great, but that's not the reason for the long journey. The Casasalo Express, despite the name, stops to pick up anybody who waves at the side of the road, and to let off anybody who wants to strike off into some hillside village.
Which is not a bad thing. The first stretch, from Copan Ruinas to La Entrada, is hilly and twisty, and a fast ride leaves me slightly queasy. The stops help.
The Express is a relatively comfortable and fast way to travel. The price is a little higher than the low-end local buses - $5 - but you don't end up with three people on a two-person bench.  And the speakers are pretty good. We had '80s rock on the way there, and a lot of Van Halen on the way back. 
Honduras doesn't get credit for its impressive scenery. Copan Ruinas is about 1,800 feet above sea level; Santa Rosa about 3,800 feet. The trip between the two takes you along the Copan River to La Entrada, a slightly druggy commercial town, and then climbing up through the hills, with stunning views at every turn. Big hills, or small mountains, with forests and cleared corn fields and dark green coffee plants under shade trees, broad valleys and houses and communities scattered sparsely across the background. 
The roadside is just as interesting - just outside La Entrada, there is about a kilometre of firework stands, fuego artificiales stacked up on shelves like books. Why there, and nowhere else? I don't know. Horses are tied up to graze roadside grass, and you get to peer into no end of tiny communities or individual homes, sometime a tin roof and mud bricks and a swept dirt yard. Every now and then a few people - often a family - are working, or feigning work on filling potholes, and holding out their hands for contributions from drivers. It's an unusual system of road maintenance.
It would have been more comfortable, but Jody had her accordion on her lap and I had a day pack with my computer. Our pack was up on the roof of the bus.
The accordion was along for the ride because we were going to the wedding party for Gaetane Carignan and Humberto Alvarado, and Gaetane - a musician herself - has asked Jody to bring it along.
It's a romantic story. Gaetane was a Cuso volunteer, an agriculture expert. She met Humberto, whose family farmed near Santa Rosa. Despite all the obvious barriers, they fell in love and were married a few months ago. This was the chance for both families and their friends to come together and celebrate. The Canadians introduced the custom of striking wine glasses to get the couple to kiss and brought a toque and mittens and Winnipeg Jets jersey. (Dauphin, Man., is their destination once the immigration process is complete.) The Hondurans adapted the tradition of pinatas, usually a birthday rite, for the wedding party. Jody played the accordion, and a great band covered old hits and had everyone dancing to She Loves You. (Gaetane picked the dinner music; I’d wager it’s the first Honduran wedding party soundtrack that included the Barenaked Ladies doing Lovers in Dangerous Time.)
it was our first real visit to Santa Rosa, which we had only passed through.
It's bigger than Copan Ruinas - about 48,000 people, while Copan Ruinas proper is about 8,000 (though there are many thousands more in the tiny communities scattered around in the hills). More stores, at least two traffic lights and more bustle - a guy drove over the side of my foot minutes after we arrived. The instinct to yell at him was quickly overcome by second thoughts about the murder rate.
Santa Rosa has a longer history as a Spanish-influenced commercial town - some three hundred years. The Spanish made it the centre of the Honduran tobacco industry in 1765. (The industry has shrunk and the fields around Copan Ruinas are dotted with abandoned tobacco-drying sheds. But it hasn’t disappeared; Honduras, prompted by the big tobacco corporations, has joined a WTO complaint over Australia’s plan to force cigarette companies to sell their product in generic white boxes.)
Santa Rosa feels more Spanish, or Mexican. A tidy grid of streets and avenues, a church with more statues and paintings - including a couple of the Virgin of Guadalupe, Mexico’s favorite saint. The larger size means food vendors are in the square every day - in Copan Ruinas, they tend to show up on weekend evenings.
Best wishes, Humberto and Gaetane.

My partner asked her co-workers about the fireworks stands. Apparently, the vendors manufacture them along that stretch of road and sell in front of their homes. (You can see why they would likely have trouble finding locations for a small-scale fireworks factory.) At Christmas, they will set up temporary stalls in town. Home-made fireworks, Jesus and presents - should be an interesting Christmas in Copan.