“The American South” is one of those phrases that carries with it all sorts of implications depending on who you ask; Hollywood has sculpted the image of a region dotted with slow-talking hicks settled alongside gun-toting cowboys and the good-ole Southern hospitality thrown in there to serve up some sweet tea, fried chicken, and a dollop of mayonnaise.
I actually grew up in the South, although saying that and being from Florida can cause all sorts of eye rolls from “true southerners;” but I do consider myself a southerner. Florida actually gave a bit of the best of both worlds – I grew up with all of the homey (read: unhealthy) foods of the South without the drawl (well, mostly without the drawl ;-).
The heat (and the elderly) makes the pace of life lazy and slow and the attitude is just different down there.
Which was precisely the thought moseying through my mind as I backpacked through Honduras.
Honduras is “the South” of Central America.
Stepping out of the bus into Honduras was like entering another world even though the border town of Copan was a mere 15 minute bumpy drive out of Guatemala. The sticky heat hit like a relentless wave attempting to drown an unsuspecting swimmer—Guatemala is hot, but the sun in Honduras is altogether different. Less elevation in the country translates into no cool air and pure undiluted sunshine baking the roads and anyone on them.
Then there’s the subject of cowboy hats. They’re everywhere. I may have spied maybe a cowboy hat or two during my months in Guatemala. Not the case in Honduras where all of the local men perching themselves within the Copan parque central avidly watched the new arrival of backpackers with a low and critical gaze skimming just under the brim of their downward tipped cowboy hats.
The entire vibe and culture took a major shift in Honduras…one that was not as immediately evident in the crossings between Mexico, Belize, and Guatemala and it immediately brought me back to feelings of traveling through the American South.
Everything I see and do is filtered through my past experiences, my culture. Extensive travel lessens that cultural bias in some ways, but it still lives on strong in others. So although Honduras is actually not one of my favorite countries (it has to happen at some point, I guess), the flavor of the interactions in Honduras created a déjà vu moment. Here I am surrounded by a heat so intense that it flows upward from the baking cement in visible ripples, surrounded by small glass stands selling greasy pollo frito while the locals take a slow and careful pace down the streets to avoid heatstroke and the one key difference is actually just the language…and even then, not so much.
For me, Honduras was a case of “anywhere you go, there you are.”