Passengers and I were more thrilled by skill of the pilots who managed to take the plane through the air corridors in the mountains and land it on a critically short landing strip in the densely populated part of the city.
It was not possible to come through the passport control in the airport «Toncontin». The employee with an impenetrable face and authoritarian manners meticulously studied the validity of CA-4 visa in my passport, took electronic fingerprints of my forefingers, and, in conclusion, took my picture fullface by a web-camera «eye» having left me forever portrayed in the computer of the Honduran border guards. Later they explained to me, that strict control procedure is carried out not only in respect of citizens of Russia and CIS, but also of all «non-western» foreigners. Illegal immigrants are actively penetrating from the territory of Honduras to Guatemala, Mexico and further to the USA. The Honduran authorities have to capture the «unwanted elements» also because that there appeared the information that emissaries of «Al-Qaeda» penetrated in the country and started recruiting members of criminal youth groupings «maras» for carrying with their help acts of terrorism in the USA. Supposedly Iranian diplomats (from embassies of Nicaragua and Venezuela) frequented in Honduras. Iranians have not done anything bad to Honduras, but Washington does not like them, and the government of Jose Manuel Zelaya Rosales has to take it into consideration.
Having finally obtained the needed «stamp» in the passport, I started to the hotel «Plaza del Libertador» situated on the borderline between the old, colonial part of the city and its modern quarters, with large trading centers, embassies, fashionable restaurants, casinos and houses of wealthy people. To tell you the truth, that prevalence of unpretentious structures, chaotic planning of the city, seal of provincialism on everything — even the presidential palace took shelter somewhere under the slope, surrounded by plain metal wire net of «country cottage type», - all this unpleasantly surprised me. Tegucigalpa was definitely losing both to San Jose, and Guatemala-City, and moreover, to modernistic capital of Panama1.
The hotel, despite the tourist season was almost empty - two or three married couples «gringo» and several local «caballero» with confident manners (type of merchant-business owners). I filled in the registration form paying attention that the word «ruso» in the column nationality produced absolutely no impression on the clerk. It confirmed my idea that they are used to guests from Russia.
This time I didn't buy anything from the owner of one of these shops, señor Mario Gonzalez, but, taking advantage of his sociability and total absence of customers, asked him the question that was the most burning for me at that time: what, according to his opinion, were the parameters of street crime? Do I look very defiant walking around Tegus with camera on the chest and with foolishly-curious expression of the face?
From the gracious señor Mario for the first time I heard the word «catracho», which he used, as far as I could understand, as a synonym of the word «Honduran». I was right. A male or female resident of Honduras can be easily called «catracho» or «catracha» and it will be conceived with positive emotions. As señor Mario explained, the history of appearance of this word is studied even in Honduran schools, because it is related to heroic past of the nation and connected with repelling the attacks of American mercenaries - «filibusters», headed by adventurer William Walker, to colonise all Central America. In 1856 the united Central American army was created. In May 1857 the filibusters were struck a crushing blow and Walker was captured and executed. One Honduran unit, headed by general Florencio Xatruch, displayed exceptional bravery. After his name in Latin American countries they started to call courageous Honduran fighters, but having reduced the pronunciation to the limit - «catracho»! The name turned out to be very tenacious and was fixed – lexically, historically and emotionally – in the collective mind of Hondurans. There appeared numerous sayings to the topic, the most well known sounds like this: «Catrachos are not made, they are born!»2
Tegucigalpa is the city without any special attractions. This opinion is not only mine. Hondurans themselves, say with bitterness that there are more museums in the country and in the capital than exhibits. One of them - Museo del Hombre (Museum of Man) was lucky for some time, a travelling exhibition of Rembrandt's etchings was held there. Some marked in guide-books «historical and architectural monuments» were difficult to locate, but if you were lucky, it turned out later that these «objects» were in a pitiful state, like, for example the «architectural pearl of Tegus» - Teatro Bonilla (Bonilla Theatre). It stands covered with dust and lifeless. The house where a national hero of Honduras general Francisco Morazan was born, has been given to Archivo Nacional (National Archives). The Parque La Concordia (Concordia Park) glorified by several generations of Honduran poets has a lonely look. Stone replicas of pyramids and other Mayan structures, scattered in the bushes of the park, could be taken for the real ones, if it were not for omnipresent nameplates with explanations that majority of the «originals» are situated far beyond the Honduran borders, from Tikal to Yucatan.
To my opinion the most original monument of Tegus is El Monumento a la Paz (Monument to Peace), that was erected on one of the capital hills as a sign of final reconciliation of Honduras and El Salvador after the «football war» of 1969 that rang out throughout the country. The landing airplanes invariably pass over the Monument – an impressive structure of concrete in the shape of rotunda with high, aimed to the skies columns.
1. Russian tourists, who used to come to the Honduran capital, shared their impressions in Internet, and they were all alike. Here is one of comparatively fresh «posts»: «Tegucigalpa did not seem to be friendly. At every crossroads some suspiciously looking people were clustering, there was a smell of danger in the air. We had only one wish – to hide behind the doors of the first hotel on the way, and we did it. In the morning the city did not look much better – dirty and unfriendly». I was more lucky: a cleaning campaign was at full swing in Tegucigalpa.
2. El catracho no se hace, el catracho nace!
3. Instituto Nacional Agrario de Honduras (INA)
4. Andre-Marcel d’Ans «Honduras. Dificil emergencia de una nacion, de un estado». Traducido del frances. Quinta edicion. Tegucigalpa, 2007, pp. 291. As of today this monograph is the best of all written about Honduras.