This is the second in our How to Meet People Abroad series! Today, we learn about the Lake Yojoa region in Honduras and receive tips on how to meet locals from Melibee’s Kate Kirk, who recently returned from an expat experience there.
Last edition, Kyle made some great points about how to meet locals in a big city where English is spoken. However, it can be harder in less populated areas where English, along with technology, are hard resources to come by. One such location is the Lake Yojoa region of Honduras, a picturesque area amongst the rolling hills and peaks of Santa Barbara and Cerro Azul Meambar National Parks surrounded by the states Cortes, Comayagua, and Santa Barbara.
Though it’s off the beaten path, Lake Yojoa is a great region for nature-lovers, adventurers, and those wanting to experience local life outside bustling cities. The area comprises towns including Peña Blanca, Los Naranjos, Nueva Esperanza, and Las Vegas. I’ve heard quotes of its population being in the area of 15,000. The region has two main seasons: a dry and wet one. During the rainy season – between October and January – it rains several days out of the week. Its tropical climate allows for an abundance of fruits and vegetables, and the mountains of the region are known for their coffee beans. In addition, Las Vegas boasts a mine yielding other natural resources. The wayward traveler will enjoy meeting locals at popular spots like the Pulhapanzak waterfall, the Joya Grande zoo, the hotel, restaurant, and water park at Finca las Glorias, and Los Naranjos’s Archaeological Park. Popular dishes in the area include the delicious and affordable (and favorite among the locals) baleadas, a tortilla with goat cheese and beans, and sopa de caracol, shell soup.
Sounds like a tropical paradise, no? But what skills do you need for meeting the locals? In some ways, one could argue that it’s quite easier to meet locals in the towns of Lake Yojoa compared to London. The locals do not tend to compartmentalize their lives. Instead, they are very approachable, and more than willing to chat or help you if you need directions. Once you’re “in,” you are welcomed into different facets of life, be it sports, church or otherwise. But after a discussion with Honduran national and violist Mario Rivera, he agreed that there are a few valuable facts that will give you an edge when trying to find a sense of belonging in the region.
1) Do your homework! In a way, going to this region requires more prep work than London. If you don’t know Spanish, do your best to learn some phrases before leaving. If you’ve ever studied a Latin-based language, this will help you learn Spanish. Since Peña Blanca is not as “on-line” it’s definitely harder to look up information about the area in advance. However, some guidebooks offer insight into the country, and the Lake Yojoa region specifically. Once you get there, try out your Spanish! There are a few people here and there who speak English, along with a few groups of Gringos, some who own the famous D&D Brewery, and others who teach at Lake Yojoa Bilingual School. These are all great resources to take advantage of in becoming acquainted with the area. But to have a richer experience, use your Spanish and learn about the interests of the locals.
2) Get in the game! Fútbol is wildly popular in Honduras, and Lake Yojoa is no exception. The people of this region are huge fans, with a newly-built field in the neighboring town of Cañaveral. Ask if a local group needs more players. There are plenty of locals into recreational fútbol. Not familiar with the sport at all? Check out a local game and ask questions! Students and families tend to congregate at these meet-ups, so this is a great way to mingle and become acquainted with the sport. Expressing a sincere interest will show locals that you value learning their pastimes, and even if you know little about sports in general like me, will give you a foot (pun intended) in the door to learn more about them in general.
3) Get involved with a local church. The area is predominantly Catholic, with other denominations mixed in. Whether or not you’re religious, getting involved with a church is a great way to meet locals and experience that aspect of Honduran culture. There are plenty of local churches to check out, but few signs listing service hours. Walk up to a local and ask which church they recommend you check out, and then ask for the times. There’s also a bilingual church up the main road next to the local technical college UCENM called Calvary Church in Peña Blanca. The service is completely bilingual, with the pastor speaking in English and stopping every several sentences to allow his colleague to translate into Spanish. By attending, you’ll likely improve your understanding of the language, as well as meet locals who want to improve their English. Note: In terms of going “out” and meeting people, it’s important to note that, unlike bigger cities, the towns of this area are smaller and more traditional with a stigma attached to women who go out to bars. This is not to say you shouldn’t go out to bars period, but you should be aware of this.
4) Be aware of their holidays! Children’s Day, Mother’s Day, and Independence Day are some of the big ones. I remember sitting in my apartment hearing a marching band approach down the street and wondering, “What on earth is going on?” I went out into the crowd, observed, and found out the parade comprised several schools celebrating Children’s Day. There are also seemingly random parades and rallies that pass through advocating local or national politicians. If you are a political junkie, chances are you’ll want to ask around and become more familiar with the politics of the region, and perhaps even get involved. *Note* – If you hear the sounds of gunshots, it’s most likely fireworks going off. Fireworks and sparklers are widely used, even in celebrating smaller occasions.
5) Develop an open-door policy. Many of us Gringos are less familiar with the concept of an “open door” policy when it comes to letting friends and acquaintances into our lives. Once you begin developing friendships, you’ll find that, regardless of how you met them (soccer, or otherwise), they will welcome you into their house. This is assumed to be reciprocal, so when local friends start randomly coming to your house, try to be flexible. If you let go and open up, chances are you’ll make lasting friendships, and learn a lot about their culture in the process. And at the very least, being open to their way of life, learning about them, and experiencing their traditions and values will help you find your place. Again, locals are very open and friendly. If you don’t understand certain values, don’t be shy and ask away!