Monday, 31 December 2007

Thank You Gracias

26th-29th Dec

Capital of the Lenca Highland, Honduras


Gracias church
One of the Gracias churches

Gracias is a small mountain town in the western Highlands of Guatemala, an area occupied by the indigenous Lenca people. The bus journey from the coast rose through ever-more stunning countryside flanked by high mountains. We met a British-Irish couple who now live in San Francisco on the bus and shared stimulating conversations to pass the four hour journey. On arrival, we hopped in a tuk-tuk to the Finca Bavaria, a German-Honduran owned small walled coffee finca and hotel on the edge of town. Our room was set in a beautiful but somewhat neglected garden of forest trees, flowers, bananas, mangoes and coffee plants, all hidden behind a high stone wall and foreboding black steel gates – German style. The family who run the finca for the owners comprise a friendly but somewhat dotty hombre, a scowling senora and their pleasant, smiling daughter. The gates were purportedly closed at 10pm, to be opened on knocking, but were closed by 9.30 and opened with comments of ‘ooh, isn’t it late?’

Chat Up
Gracias Chat Up

The town is a small grid pattern of low pan-tiled painted houses, with a labyrinthine market at its centre. Two white Hispanic churches are the highest buildings in the town, one of them set next to a small wooded park. It gets its name from its founder, Spanish Conquistador Juna de Chevez, who called it Thank You to God when he came to this part of Central America in 1536. It is one of the oldest towns in Honduras, and has twice been it capital albeit briefly. An indigenous Lenca revolt against Spanish rule was brutally put down here when the Lenca leader Lempira was murdered on the pretence of an invitation to peace talks. He is now a national hero and his name is the name of the Honduran currency.

Lenca Hombre
Lenca Hombre

Gracias doesn't get many tourists which means that there is a different atmosphere in town than elsewhere we have visited so far. People are going about their normal lives and as visitors we can see what that means in Honduras rather than solely being on holiday mode and seen by locals as a source of cash. One feature is that there are lots of men in cowboy hats.

Oranges are the only fruit
Oranges are the only fruit

The market is a delight to explore and buy tortillas, fruit, vegetables and cheese. The outer walls are honeycombed with small shops selling everything from saddles and hardware to clothes and plastic things. Gracias is a place to wander around aimlessly and absorb how people live in highland Honduras. We also climbed to the nearby 19th century Castillo and spent an afternoon in hot springs situated 8km outside the town in a wooded gorge. A group of American and British backpackers arrived mid-afternoon and we shared beers over conversation – the ideal way to enjoy communal bathing. The only issue being the overly-amplified music which was further let down by Depeche Mode, Metallica and Eye of the Tiger.

More photos on our flickr photostream, link top right.

No comments:

Post a Comment