Going back to the Murder Capital of the World

It was Sarah Dodd who told me that the city I’d chosen to visit next was the “murder capital of the world”.

I’d already booked my hostel accommodation in San Pedro Sula and bought my bus ticket. Sarah and I were staying in the same backpackers’ hostel in Granada, Nicaragua and I was heading next into Honduras. Sarah had come from there, travelling in the opposite direction, and our paths crossed for a few days while we stayed at the Hostel Cultural Casa del Poeta in Granada.

I’d chosen San Pedro Sula as my next stop without doing much research. Ironically I’d chosen that city in Honduras in order to avoid the capital city Tegucigalpa, expecting it to be dangerous. Arriving at the bus station in San Pedro Sula late at night I got talking to three young German backpackers who hadn’t booked any accommodation, so I suggested they try the hostel I’d booked, La Madrugada, in case they had vacancies. They were lucky and in the end stayed there, which I guess is a much better option than roaming the streets or sleeping in a public park.

In the morning, after showering, I opened my laptop to get online in the hostel’s dining room. Even when backpacking I keep in touch with my clients and keep my business running in the way that so many people do nowadays, operating as ‘digital nomads’, operating location-independent enterprises. I was about to plug in to the mains when there was a power cut, so I left my connections unplugged. That also meant that the wifi was down, so I did some offline laptop work whilst drinking my breakfast coffee. Soon after, I packed everything together and left the hostel to take the bus to the next Honduran town, Puerto Cortes, where I’d get a ferry across to Belize the following day. It was a fine morning, I had slept well, and the coffee had done its job in waking me up, so I left the hostel with a spring in my step: I remember thinking that my backpack somehow seemed lighter than usual. I wasn’t exactly sure where the main bus station was, but local folk on the first bus directed me. I must have looked lost, or confused, or both. Anyway, I found the right long-distance bus and was soon on my way to the northern coast of Honduras. In Puerto Cortes I checked in to Hotel Costa Azul Faro Marejada, then dumped my backpack in my room and went out to get something to eat. After a while I returned and unpacked, but couldn’t find my small bag of electronics in my rucsac: the power cable, mouse and adapters for my laptop and charging up my iPhone. So I looked again. And again. They say it’s a sign of madness to do the same thing again and expect different results. Perhaps. But it can also be a sign of desperation, disbelief and denial. I could not accept that it wasn’t there. It should be there, it’s always there, it must be there. Then the penny dropped. Yes, my backpack WAS lighter when I set off from La Madrugada because I wasn’t carrying my small bag of wires. And then I remembered that I’d put it down on a chair beside me when I decided not to plug in all the wires because of the power cut. Shit! My laptop would soon be dead without its power cable. I thought about the possibility of buying a new power cable when I got to Belize, but wasn’t confident I’d be able to find one. There was no other option, really, than to go back to San Pedro Sula.

There’s never a good time to leave essential stuff behind and have to go back to get it, but as it happened, I wasn’t catching the ferry across to Belize until the following morning, so I had the late afternoon and evening free. I phoned back to the hostel from my hotel to check that it was in fact there and they confirmed they’d found it and were keeping it safe for me. It was too late to go by bus there and back so the hotel negotiated with a local taxi driver to give me a fixed price for the return journey, which was about 40 USD. That was about ten times the bus fare but worth every penny to keep my laptop alive and my business online. And cheaper than the cost of replacing the various connectors and cables, even if I could find somewhere to buy them.

So that’s why I returned to the ‘murder capital of the world’. Not for a bet, or for a dare, or out of bravado or stupidity, but to get the power cable for my MacBook Pro. All of a sudden the story doesn’t sound so adventurous or daring, just mundane and practical.

Needless to say, I didn’t get murdered. Nor did I expect to, or ever feel in any danger. The reality is that most of the murders are between gangs in certain districts of the city. Unless you want to pick a fight, or fancy your chances setting up as a drug dealer in someone else’s territory, you’re pretty safe in most cities, even in San Pedro Sula. It doesn’t really make sense to generalise about ’safe cities’ or ’safe countries’ because in all places there are dangerous districts and situations. You can get yourself murdered in even the “safest” of cities or countries if you try hard enough. Conversely, you are perfectly safe in 99% of even the most “dangerous” locations, 99% of the time. I responded to a question in the Lonely Planet Travellers group on Facebook saying the same thing. Yes, on a macro level you can gather statistics about safe or unsafe countries or cities. But on a micro level, in other words in the experience of any individual, those statistics don’t really matter. What does matter are the exact circumstances, how you behave, whether you act carelessly or stupidly, or whether you use common sense to keep out of trouble. Or perhaps you just have the bad luck to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. But that can happen anywhere, even in supposedly “safe countries”: in your own city, doing the shopping, or going to a concert, or crossing the road. Danger is not just about travelling, or being in foreign countries. So my conclusion is not to be fearful, because if you are, you might as well stay barricaded in your own home, not going out even to the corner shop because of what could happen. Even in your own home you’re not completely safe. So in the end you might as well be backpacking through Central America; even in Honduras; even in San Pedro Sula.

Copyright © David Parrish 2018.
First published 05 December 2018.
Edited 01 July 2019.

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