La Ceiba

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In 1975 La Ceiba was the third most populated city in Honduras with 43,000 inhabitants. Eco-tourism did not yet exist. The main employer and source of income was the fruit company which had not yet been taken over by the government. Other local industries supplied the entire north coast with soaps, soft drinks, beer, alcoholic beverages, concrete block, and cement. La Ceiba was also a major port used for the importation of automobiles, motorbikes, appliances, electrical and plumbing supplies. The city itself was much more limited geographcialy than in the 21st century. To the east it was bordered by the Cangrejal River. To the south, the highway demarked the termination of most development except for the high school and a Red Zone. Police and army units had tried to limit prostitution to this zone outside the city. Lone exceptions to this sparse development were areas where squatters had taken over the fruit company land like Colonia Melgar and Suyapa. In these areas, there was no potable water, no electricity and most homes were built of sticks and discarded materials. To the west, the city ended at the fruit company compound. Water and sewer facilities had been installed by the fruit company. Those lines outside the compound had been donated to the city. Most buildings within 100 yards of the ocean and east of the dock were still uninhabited in 1975, damaged by Hurricane Fifi. Because of the constant ship traffic from around the world, the city had a great number of bars serving sailors. Ships arrived from various ports in Europe, the United States and even China. By 1977, 10 Peace Corps Volunteers served in La Ceibe. The majority of these were teachers although other programs were represented. There were consultants to the fishing cooperatives and engineers from the community development program. During the preparation of the city's first general plan, a PCV urban planner was also sent to assist.

The main highway had been recently paved from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba. The one-lane bridge which spanned the Cangrejal River was constructed by the fruit company out of railroad ties. East of the bridge, the highway was actually an unpaved meandering dirt road that sometimes narrowed to one lane through the jungle. Along the way, many creeks and small rivers had been forded with the use of corrugated metal pipes covered with concrete. Traffic east was sparse and many included trucks carrying food, diesel and other main-stays.

The airport at La Ceiba had recently been expanded to permit the landing of large jets. The terminal itself was small but two jets per day landed from the capital city.

Following a golpe de estado in 1975, the military ruled. There was a large army base just outside of town and the streets were regularly patrolled by both police and army. No curfews were used between 1975 and 1977.

The population was much more heterogenious than in the capital. There was a significant black population, some of whom spoke Garifuna, an ancient Indian langauge. The population was often referred to as trigeñas; the mixture of Indians, Spanish and Africans. Although Catholicism was the dominant religion, there was a number of protestant churches in the city and at least one windowless building near the river said to house the practitioners of Garifuna customs including animal sacrifice. During certain months of the year, drums from inside the building could be heard.

Crime was relatively low except during carnival. It was safe to walk the streets at any hour, any day. Many did not lock their doors at night. A good description of the Peace Corps Experience in La Ceiba and other parts of Honduras during this time period is contained in Lawrence F. Lihosit's book "South of the Frontera; A Peace Corps Memoir" (iUniverse, NY, 2010). In addition, Peace Corps training materials and a handbook from this era are part of the PCV collection at the Kennedy Library in Boston.

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