The Road to Recovery – by Gill

Who would have thought that a simple game of volleyball would have changed all our plans for a whole year as well as placing us for seven weeks in the “World’s Most Dangerous City”! It just goes to show that you never know what’s “round the corner” and the “best laid plans”, and all that … But here we are at long last back on the boat and the last few weeks are already fading into the past. Mike is still wobbly on his two healing ankles but every day sees an improvement and a totter along the sandy beach and long daily swim is reaping great results.

A single out-of-action ankle was one thing but two was quite a different matter. With one, Mike could have returned to Roatan and the boat and with his crutches he would have managed, albeit we could foresee a number of logistic difficulties, but with no legs and in a wheelchair it was impossible. The surgeon was adamant, Mike had to remain in San Pedro Sula and be available every day for physio – no hardship as Estella, a young Colombian girl, was pretty, chatty and firmly insistent when she wanted results.

Estella cracking the whip – faster, harder, quicker.

Mike progressed from the wheelchair (didn’t quite make it to the wheelie stage), to crutches, to a walking frame and finally on the threat during the last few days that he wouldn’t be allowed to leave unless he could walk without any other aid, to just a cane and his “special” thick black hiking type socks and very sexy supportive matching boots.

The standard of care provided by the hospital was outstanding and would be hard to beat anywhere in the world. The scars on his legs have healed to pencil lines, no infections (and remember this is the tropics) and it would be difficult to tell he had ever had the operations. He has healed well and quickly due in part to the skill of the surgeon but also the post operative care given by Estella. When Mike was due to leave for the apartment and needed a wheel chair they went out and bought a new one and loaned it free of charge. When he needed to progress to a walking frame, Estella arrived with one, everything he needed they provided and offered in such a caring way, he could not have been in better hands.

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Progress from walking frame to cane in two weeks

During the last couple of weeks the therapy progressed to the swimming pool where he was cajoled, threatened and entreated to walk, swim, kick and generally exercise twice a day under water pressure. The tiny swimming pool, sometimes a little on the green side, was the saving grace of the apartment and was somewhere to not only exercise, but just to sit and be outside, although we were still enclosed by high padlocked gates with armed guards manning the premises day and night.

The apartment itself was large and airy with great views out to the nearby mountains and along the valley. Watching the large variety of birds, both domestic and wild was interesting. Trying to close our ears to the incessant crowing cocks (they are obviously oblivious to the fact that they are only supposed to greet the dawn) became irritating. And the pop, pop of gunfire, near and far was unnerving but we were on the fourth floor so we reckoned that any stray bullets wouldn’t reach us!

One very pleasant surprise in all this was the response from our travel health insurance company. Mike contacted them from hospital to let them know he had had an accident and from that moment on they were supportive and responsive. You hear lots of stories of stalling, indifference and taking a hard line by insurance companies but once they understood the situation they agreed to meet all out of pocket expenses including the apartment, all treatment expenses, marina charges for the boat an our flights to and from Roatan Island. They even offered him the opportunity to return to the UK but with everything here going so smoothly that was not necessary.

From our balcony we could look down into the adjoining property, a huge parklike area with a river, trees, paths and lots of birdlife but we were told that we couldn’t go for a walk there and with the ferocious barking at night we thought it better not to chance our luck. So, we were pretty much “under house arrest” except for our weekly outings with Luis, our regular taxi driver.

Luis was an affable, always helpful guy but he had failed to develop his muscles and he struggled manfully with the wheelchair and loading and unloading into his already crowded boot (he ran on LPG and the boot was already half full with the tank) was a two-man operation, but we managed and were always grateful for his ready smile and helping hands. His time keeping was another matter though and on a couple of occasions he just forgot us. Once when I was catching the coach to Copan and Luis himself had set the time, the appointed hour came and went and upon calling him, he made the excuse that his engine had failed to start, but miraculously it came to life again and he got me to the bus station in the nick of time.

When you have little to occupy your day, little things take on a much greater importance and breakfast which was provided by the apartment complex was one of the highlights of our day. The highlight wasn’t so much what we were actually given because that was usually greeted with a groan rather than pleasure, but just the guessing and looking under the cover. I might add that the cleaning ladies who also prepared the meal would enter the apartment and leave the plates on the table any time from about 6.00am onwards. Plates of long ago cooked scrambled egg, cold shrivelled up indescribable bits of sausage, black bean puree (served with everything on every occasion, or so it seems, in Latin America), cold, chewy tortilla and a piece of rubbery tasteless cheese is not something you feel inclined to leap out of bed for, let alone pour yourself at speed into a wheelchair. The other two variations were cold toasted sandwiches complete with limp lettuce or our favourites, pancakes with honey which we heated in the microwave. I did ask for more pancakes and they came for a while but then we reverted to their favourites – scrambled egg, etc. I gave up and Mike ate the reheated scrambled eggs and the rest ended up in the bin. Needless to say we didn’t rely entirely on the provided breakfasts.

One of our few pleasures after the confines of the boat was having a gigantic fridge so we happily shopped without having to think of space or lack of it. The fruit and vegetables in San Pedro were fantastic quality and on one occasion a large sweet melon was added to the shopping to supplement our breakfast fare. Half was plenty for one meal so the other half was left in a bowl in the fridge. Imagine our surprise when by lunchtime the half was down to a quarter and that without any sign of mice or cockroaches in the fridge. Not an important matter but a mystery never the less and one we thought we should raise with the manager as the only other people with access to the apartment were the cleaning ladies and we had trusted them around our belongings and valuables, etc. “No, not me” was the answer given by the lady of the day to me and to Hector, the manager. So who raided our fridge? It remained a mystery but the word had gone out that we were watchful and not to be trifled with! Hector returned later with another huge melon and his heartfelt apologies.

Another pleasure which we had imagined would be ours in the apartment was a long, hot shower. Disappointment again. If we waited a couple of minutes the hot water finally came – scalding – 30 seconds later it disappeared again and we ended a very quick shower in a freezing burst. If we cared to wait another few minutes, already wet and soaped up, more hot water repeated the process. Washing my hair was a lengthy matter turning the taps on and off with a lot of hanging around in between. Mike had to be even more adept with his tap control as he found the most convenient way to have a shower was to sit on the floor with plastic bags covering his feet, so he couldn’t leap out of the way when the water was either too hot or too cold and on occasion a few choice words were uttered!

When they first removed the plaster, we all reeled from the smell of his stinky feet with their thick crust of dying skin and Estella who was at the receiving end requested that he do something about the offending problem toute suite. With no access to shops and a good scraper needed promptly, I volunteered to go in search of a substitute, remembering some rough waste ground opposite the complex. I returned with a selection of small rough stones which served the purpose admirably and after a good hard scrub, two shiny, pink feet emerged. Not sure whether the plughole ever recovered though!

Knowing we were within striking distance of Copan, the Mayan ruins, we had talked about the possibility of both of us taking time at the end to visit for a few days. It soon became obvious that Mike, even on his feet, would not be up to the venture. So, it was decided that once he was self-sufficient, with everything within reach, I would go to Copan on my own. Also a few days out of the apartment might save my sanity!

Copan is only about three hours by coach from San Pedro Sula and I was excited to have the opportunity to see a little more of the countryside. Like Guatemala, it’s beautiful with its mountains, valleys and rolling lush countryside. Tiny villages along the way indicated a mixture of modern and traditional life with the ubiquitous mobile phones in evidence everywhere, smart modern cars parked alongside the rusting wrecks half hidden under covering vines and horse-drawn carts trotting along dusty tracks. Women still gather in the rivers to do their washing and lay their clothes out on the rocks to dry. It was amazing to see people planting their crops, plant by plant on near vertical slopes (or that’s how they appeared to me) and slashing at crops with only machete-type tools. The fields stretched into the distance – what a hard life.


The steep roads in Coban

Copan is a lovely little town set on the side of a hill with picturesque buildings and steep cobbled streets on three sides. The main square was only one block from where I was staying and I was very happy to spend the afternoon exploring the town and then sit on a wall nodding hello to the friendly passersby watching a kaleidoscope of surrounding activity. As always, there were women selling fruit and cooking unfathomable dishes – usually something including tortillas of some kind.

Pupusas turned out to be the popular dish of the day – soft tortillas which are slapped into shape with a meat or veg filling poked into the middle, flattened and then cooked on a griddle or pan – delicious. The sights were simple but fascinating and it was therapeutic to sit in the sunshine and observe the scene.


Making papusas in Coban

The jolly icecream man with his handcart attracting attention with a little bell, the orange man pushing his wheelbarrow full of wonderfully juicy, sweet oranges stopping upon request to quick peel an orange on his machine, the local men in their Panama cowboy hats and the children in their mini fashion outfits. Overlooking all of this was the usual pretty church with a poster at the entrance, requesting that gum should not be chewed in church and please do not stick it under the seats!


Coban fruit seller in the man square


Just passing the time of day


Orange seller at at work with his peeler

The following morning it was overcast and cool, not a bad thing for a day of ruin-climbing and exploring. I followed the road back to the nearby ruins, skirting the heavily policed roadblock (apparently drug runs are frequent and this morning was no exception) and was amused that the police in the midst of their duties still had time to wave to me – lone gringo women hikers are probably still a bit of a novelty. The national bird of Honduras is the red macaw and these magnificent birds welcome you to the site. Dozens of them fly freely through the trees, encouraged to remain by being well fed and they are obviously very used to tourists, swooping low over our heads.


Red Macaws at the Coban ruins site

I had come to Copan because it’s there and not with any real hope that I would find it much different from the other sites we have seen, but I was wrong and so pleasantly surprised and impressed by the incredible stelae – the carved columns with their intricately sculpted integral hieroglyphics which document so much history of the Mayan culture, most of it still to be deciphered. The hieroglyphic staircase must have been magnificent and the still visible relief on so many of the remaining buildings is remarkable.


Beautifully carved stellar


The heiroglyphic staircase

During my wander through the site, I talked to a number of fellow sightseers, including an American doing voluntary work in El Salvador and his companions, a Salvadorian priest and a young woman from his village (I learned later that her father was the current mayor). They invited me to join them and we later explored another smaller but none the less interesting site where the nobility and scribes (very important people in that day) had lived away from the hoy poloi, a couple of miles down the road. To finish off a great day I drove back to Copan with my new friends and enjoyed their company and a great dinner whilst also having to practise my limited Spanish with non English speakers.


Dinner with new friends

San Pedro Sula seemed to us like any other bustling, affluent city with busy malls, modern buildings, plenty of evidence of industry, billboard advertising, just about everything you would expect and no obvious signs of poverty. It was hard to believe that we were in the midst of gangland, but apparently that’s where we were. It was brought home to me when I had been to the dentist and was waiting outside in the street for Mike and Luis to return for me. I started talking to a lady in one of the “hole in the wall” type snack places and she insisted that I join her inside her “hole” as it wasn’t safe for me to remain on the outside especially carrying a bag, so I sat and chatted for half an hour or so being questioned on personal information that no European would ever dream of asking about!

We had thought, mistakenly, that San Pedro Sula might have something of interest in its centre and so for something different to do, we got Luis to drop us off at the museum. Mike was still very reliant on his wheelchair at the time but with some help from a kind passerby, we lifted him up the 3 steps into the entrance. We had been assured that everything was on the ground floor. Once inside and about to pay for our tickets it became obvious that the exhibits were on the first floor with a magnificent stone staircase being the only access. My shoulders are not that broad and a fireman’s lift was out of the question so unfortunately we had to abandon the whole idea. Getting him back down the three steps was bad enough, none of the women were strong enough to help me lift the chair with Mike in it, so he resorted to sliding out and shuffling down on his bottom and then being heaved back in again at the foot of the steps.


The lifting crew

He then endured the uneven pavements and difficult to mount kerbs, not without a little complaining I might add, back into the centre and we manoeuvred our way around the square and into the side streets to await Luis’ return. Sightseeing in San Pedro Sula was off the menu!


Shaken but not stirred

Shopping in the modern, well stocked and laid out malls was a different matter though and was our treat of the week. We had no trouble filling the trolley with Mike whizzing up and down the aisles in his wheelchair, returning with goodies. Despite its obscure position and very narrow access, he soon located the beer and wine department, of course, like a well trained sniffer dog and returned with a big grin on his face and the week’s supply on his lap!

The standard of care provided by the hospital was outstanding and would be hard to beat anywhere in the world. The scars on his legs have healed to pencil lines, no infections (and remember this is the tropics) and it would be difficult to tell he had ever had the operations. He has healed well and quickly due in part to the skill of the surgeon but also the post operative care given by Estella. When Mike was due to leave for the apartment and needed a wheel chair they went out and bought a new one and loaned it free of charge. When he needed to progress to a walking frame, Estella arrived with one, everything he needed they provided and offered in such a caring way, he could not have been in better hands.

Apart from a missing filling and a trip to the dentist, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit an acupuncturist to try and alleviate a problem in my wrist and lower arm (not greatly painful but causing some discomfort during the yoga exercises I had been doing to pass away the hours and keep the joints working). The doctor diagnosed tendonitis but I hadn’t banked on having deep massage as well as acupuncture and certainly not from a shot-putting, sadistic torturer who had thumbs of solid steel. “It’s OK, it’s suppose to hurt, I’m just moving the pain along and it will be better next time”. Huh … I didn’t feel the acupuncture and was happy to endure the relief of just the needles! I was told that I needed at least three sessions and despite the bruises and the fact that most of my upper body now hurt, I thought I’d better return as directed. The second session was a repeat of the first and my slight discomfort had been replaced by a large discomfort down the whole of my arm. To cut a long story short, I did return for the third session, but just for a session of acupuncture with electric needles – a walk in the park after the massage. I can’t say that I feel any better but the expensive cream, pills and wrist brace will hopefully do the trick in time!!

It’s good to be home and back in French Harbour although the place has changed in our absence, our friends have all left, the marina is even more of a shambles than before, although we are assured that the palapa is about to be rebuilt, there will shortly be wifi and the bar will be re-opened. We’ll believe it when we see it, if it happens before we leave.

Joce, our new Canadian crew member, arrives on 7th March and we hope to be able to leave here a week later, first a gentle initiation for Joce and for Mike’s newly mended ankles with a sail to the nearby Cayos Cochinos, tiny islands which are supposed to be well worth a visit and then on to Trujillo and finally Guanaja to check out and head south to Panama and the San Blas. Fingers crossed …. We understand that internet will be a problem once we are in the San Blas but watch this space and we will be on line again with the next episode, probably in May.

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