April 17, 2008

La Ceiba Gran Carnival, who cares?

Update to my 2008 Carnival article, April 17, 2008: Okay! I give up. I guess the La Ceiba tourism powers-that-be think that enough people come to the Carnaval as it is and don't want anyone else to know about it. Reader Quitos informed me that the "official" carnaval website, linked in the above article, has lost their domain as of April 12. "Typical," he says.

It was a pathetic website, not finished last year until May 20, although the 2-week carnival started on May 12, 2007. Some of the events were long over with before they were posted on the website. The site was only available in Spanish, even though articles in the newspaper report that English-speaking tourists spend more than 4 times the amount that Central American tourists do during their stays in Honduras.

The schedules of events are printed in the newspaper, usually after they are over or if printed in advance, are wrong because they decide at the last minute to change them. Last year the parade was postponed by hours, leaving spectators and the participants sitting in the blazing hot sun waiting. Many people left before the parade was over because it was late, people were hot and tired and hungry.

Three years ago we tried to go to an art show that was supposed to start at 9 a.m. When we got there, no one even knew what we were asking about. Finally we found someone who told us it wouldn't be until 1 p.m. Believe it or not, with our newfound Honduran patience, we waited, strolling around the pathetic fairgrounds looking at the pathetic things for sale - groceries(!) priced the same as the grocery stores, cheap clothes and shoes, a few cheap souvenirs, more from China and Nicaragua than from Honduras, since basically no one makes anything in Honduras. Drinking beer is the favorite passtime.

We checked back at 1 p.m. and the show still wasn't ready. By 1:30, they had all the artwork out on display but for whatever reason, it was roped off and they STILL wouldn't let anyone in. I can't put in writing what I thought of the whole situation - and we were customers ready to BUY! We left and have never been back. It's just too frustrating to find out when and where these things occur and then they usually aren't really what they were promoted to be anyway.

I'm sorry. I don't get it. I'll never get it. I read time and time again how the government thinks tourism is THE hope for the future of Honduras. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to figure out little things like websites will get the attention of people throughout the world.

You don't have to have a PhD in tourism to figure out some of these basic things − like tourists need to know when the stupid thing is going to be held so they can make their plane and hotel reservations. Heck! It's not the money. They could do a blog for free! Or the Ministry of Tourism could host the information on their website. Even though the Carnaval is touted as the biggest event in Central America, it warrants only one general paragraph on the Ministry of Toursim site.

Look at this Google search for "La Ceiba Carnaval" please.

La Ceiba Carnaval

What does that tell you? It tells you that no one in charge of the carnival gives a damn about attracting tourists to it. (In case you didn't look at the search, La Gringa's Blogicito is the first two entries! The next entry is from 2005.) I only write about carnaval trying to be helpful! If my blog can be number one in the searches, theirs can, too.

If you want to know the truth, I don't even like the carnival - I've been pushed around by too many drunks and rude people on the street. I don't like going to the parade or the free musical events only to look around and see all the glum, frowny faces around me. Even the local beauty queens on the floats usually look like they are pissed off to be there. It looks like no one but the gringo tourists even have a good time.

Do you know how the city of La Ceiba prepares for the Carnaval or the other big tourist event, Semana Santa? They paint lines on the streets. It's true. Every single year there are articles in the newspaper congratulating themselves about how they have prepared the town for the event by painting the white lines down the middle of the streets!

I'm so mind-bloggled by this, I don't even know what to say. Have you ever vacationed anywhere in the world and were stunned by how neat and white the lines down the middle of the streets were? Is that what made you want to vacation there again and again? Is this the most asinine thing you have every heard of?

The other Carnaval preparation is the placing of trash barrels on San Isidro, the main street. There is never enough and only the tourists use them anyway. I guess that is why they take them back up and hide them away the rest of the year so the locals can go back to throwing their trash and garbage in the streets.

Whoever is in charge of tourism in La Ceiba is a raving lunatic. Other articles about promoting tourism frequently point to the "estero" as a beautiful tourist attraction. Do you know what the estero is? It is the damn sewer creek where all the feces floats out to sea. Again, I am not kidding you! Yeah, there are some large trees around it (trees being a rarity in most of downtown La Ceiba) and a couple of ridiculously uncomfortable concrete benches, but how much time can a tourist spend looking at the sewer creek and a couple of big trees? Even better, how much money can they spend doing it?

Recently, the dock in La Ceiba finally collapsed. It was lamented as a great loss of a tourist spot. It was long before my time that the dock may have even been safe place to walk. I don't know how many decades ago that might have been. It was absolutely incredible with rotted wood and large holes, seriously, large enough for fat men to fall through. There were no boats, no fishing trips, no fishing gear rental, no souvenirs, no food stalls, no nothing, just an old rotted, dangerous dock with drug addicts and prostitutes living underneath it. What are tourists going to do? Walk carefully out to the end, take a photo, and walk back. What else is there? How is that a tourist attraction?

It's not just me who complains! Every year the Ceibeño section of the newspaper rants about how unorganized the event was and blah, blah, blah. The hotel owners complain that they can't even tell potential guests when the event will be held because no one knows.

Last year there was a scandal about the head of the La Ceiba tourism department writing $10,000 checks to herself and her assistant. I don't know what ever happened about that, but my guess is nothing. There are also articles about how tourism related employees need to be trained, how shameful it is that people rip off the tourists and are rude to them, etc. Talk about biting the hand that feeds you.

Do you see anything in this article that would indicate that Honduras will ever be able to pull themselves out of third world status? Is there any sign of organization, actual thought put into what tourists want, or striving to do improve?

La Ceiba has potential to be a tourist attraction but until the city gets their act together, it will never be anything more than it is now - a stopping off place for tourists to get to the Bay Islands as soon as possible, leaving a few remarks on the travelogues about how they were "stuck" in this dirty town with nothing to do because they missed the ferry. (I guess they forgot to visit the dock or the estero.)

Okay, let me have it! But I know that if you know La Ceiba, you know that I'm right. ;-)


See the 2013 carnival update here.

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