June 18, 2007

Cultural differences: Directions

Tegucigalpa area map, MultiMap.com

Getting directions in Honduras is an experience. Directions are often given by pointing with one's lips or chin. One of the biggest problems is that even if a person doesn't have any idea where something is located, they will give you directions anyway. We've learned to stop every block or so to ask again.

There is no such thing as 123 Main Street or "in the 3000 block of xxxx street." Directions are given as Barrio such-and-such, calle principal, yellow house across from the pulpería (convenience store). What they don't tell you is that there is a pulpería on every block, every other house is yellow, and "yellow" may actually turn out to be beige or dirty white or orange.

Also, I have no idea what they say if they aren't on the principal calle as there are no street signs in most areas.
I don't know how to tell where one Barrio or Colonia ends and the next one starts. Our best bet has always been to call when we are almost there and say "Stand outside and look for the white Jeep."

In Tegucigalpa, the capital city, there is no right or left, east or west. Instructions are always given as "arriba" or "abajo", ("go up" or "go down") followed by "recto, recto, recto," always three, never just one recto (straight). Yes, Tegus is hilly, but in many cases, I couldn't determine up from down. This satellite view is from Wikimapia, where you can zoom to see what a sprawling, complicated city this is.

We once spent a day and half trying to find a government building in Tegus. We must have stopped to ask directions at least 40 times. Either there are 500 Chinese restaurants in Tegucigalpa or we drove around in circles for two days. Luckily we accidentally ran across our hotel at the end of the first day.

San Pedro Sula, the second largest city, is laid out in a very organized fashion. The city is divided into four quadrants, southeast, southwest, northeast, northwest, surrounded by a big loop. Most of the streets are numbered, such as Calle Tres, Avenida Tres, with Calles running east and west and Avenidas running north and south.

So you would think if you had an address, it would be easy to find the location. Wrong. People don't seem to even know that the city is laid out that way. Time and time again we've asked "Is that NE or SW or what?" and people have no idea what we are talking about.

Once in San Pedro, El Jefe stopped and asked a taxi driver if he knew where a certain business was. The driver said he couldn't give directions, that El Jefe would have to pay for a ride with him. Since we had been looking forever, he got in the taxi and I followed in the car. The taxi drove halfway around the block and stopped in front of the business, charging El Jefe L.40 for the trip. He could have just pointed with his lips and we would have found it. What a jerk!

Amazing as it sounds, even calling the businesses to get directions from the employees is almost as bad. There are very few street signs in La Ceiba and even fewer addresses. Every location is defined, not by an address, but by its proximation to another location, such as "across from Panadera Coco" or next door to "Ferretería Jones." If you don't know where either place is, you are out of luck. Many people can't even give good directions to their own home.

And maps? Most people have never seen them and don't know how to read them.

Being a gringa, I couldn't bear not to have an address. We found that it was simple to get an address from the municipalidad. It only cost L.30 (US. $1.60), but then when we tried to help some other neighbors get their addresses, we found that that you can't get one if you don't register your property and/or pay your taxes. Not one of the 13 neighbors were eligible to get an address. How embarrassing.

The problem with our address is that El Jefe double checked on the number and they gave us a different number than they did the first time. Even worse, it was after I spent three days making our mosaic address sign and embedded it in concrete in the front column. But do you know what? It doesn't even matter. Nobody will know if it is right or wrong because no one else has an address anyway.

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