Hondurans Invade American Space

Honduran Invader Armed to the Teeth

Even as thousands of Hondurans are making a bid to upset the American government, I am planning to invade Honduras. On Friday, I went to the Bretton Woods Foreign Currency Exchange in Brentwood and bought $140 worth of Honduran lempiras. (That’s not a food: It’s what their currency is called.) I checked to see f they had any Guatemalan quetzales, but they were dead out. I’ll just hope to get those at La Aurora International Airport in Guatemala City.

My Honduran destination is only a few miles shy of the Guatemalan border: The Maya ruins at Copán. It will be the first Maya archeological site for my upcoming trip. The others are Quirigua and Tikal, both in the Petén region of Guatemala.

Five Lempira Note

The Five Lempira note illustrated above has a portrait of Francisco Morazán, the only figure in Honduran history I have ever heard of before. He figures in John Lloyd Stephens’s Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatán as the generalissimo of the Central American Republic, which existed briefly before splitting up into its component parts.

I hope the Hondurans manage to find some place in the world of the Norte after they succeed in overthrowing the Trumpf Dictatorship.


Not a Fair Exchange

Malaria Mosquito

The New World gave the European conquerors many gifts, including potatoes, tomatoes, chocolate, tobacco, corn, vanilla, chili peppers, bell peppers, pumpkins, avocados, peanuts, cashews, pecans, quinine, wild rice, quinine, squash, and many types of beans. They were richly rewarded with such European gifts as measles, smallpox, and malaria. The mortality rate in Mexico alone was in the millions in the 16th century alone.

Most people do not realize that the malaria mosquito was a stowaway on ships that brought slaves from Africa. Mayan records make no reference to malaria, and many jungle areas in Guatemala, Honduras, and Mexico were inhabited which over the last several hundred years have been abandoned. The Petén region of Guatemala has hundreds of Mayan archeological sites, and more are being discovered each year. Where Mayan cities used to be connected by sacbés, or ceremonial roads, today they are connected by shoulder-deep mud.  Much of the Yucatán Peninsula is now sparsely populated thanks to the devastation wrought by the malaria mosquito.

According to the Institut de Recherche pour le Développement in France:

A large international study recently published in the PNAS by scientists from the UMR Migevec and their partners has shown that P[lasmodium] falciparum crossed the ocean on slave ships which crossed the Atlantic between the 16th and the 19th century, some 500 to 200 years ago. The research team has indeed just demonstrated that the parasite which is now found in America has African origins.

Through a global international scientific collaboration, biologists have collected several hundred samples of infected human blood from 17 countries representing the parasite’s entire distribution area. It is one of the largest sets of P. falciparum genetic data ever collected. The analysis of genetic material extracted from those samples has taught the scientists several things. First of all, the American pathogen is genetically distant from its Asian cousin, thus precluding an Asian origin. It is, however, close to the African parasite.

The IRD further concludes that the culprit were slaves who were brought into the Spanish and Portuguese colonies, partly, ironically, because blacks were more resistant to malaria.

When I go to Guatemala and Honduras later this year, I will spend part of the time in malarial jungles, which means I will be taking chloroquine and traveling with a mosquito net to place over my bed.

I hate mosquitoes, but I would dearly love to see the Mayan ruins, which are now in areas that are sparsely developed. The city of Tikal once had a population of 300,000 during Europe’s Dark Ages. Today, the entire Petén Department has a population under 700,000, mostly around La Libertad, San Luis, and Sayaxché.

You Can’t Get There from Here … Not Easily, Anyhow

Maps Can Be So Deceiving

There are three Mayan ruins that I hope to visit on my trip to Central America. You can see all three of them on the above map: Tikal in Guatemala’s Petén Department, Quiriguá in Guatemala’s Izabal Department; and Copán in Honduras’s Copán Department. As the crow flies, the distance separating the three cannot add up to more than three hundred miles. Ah, but tourists do not travel as the crow flies. They must take planes or roads; and in the jungles of Central America, airports are few and roads are not built for the convenience of tourists.

Probably the easiest thing to do is to make three separate trips from Antigua or Guatemala City: to Tikal and back, to Quiriguá and back, and to Copán and back. Take Copán and Quiriguá: They look so close to each other on the above map. But to go by public transport, I’d have to go by way of Chiquimula or Rio Hondo, and probably spend the night at one of those two towns. The buses are mostly for the convenience of the locals, and they just don’t go traipsing between Mayan ruins.

I could probably hire a driver, but there’s this international boundary between Honduras and Guatemala, which complicates things.