Pueblo Nuevo & Petoa
The lower Cacaulapa valley lies 7km west of Naco (the home of the Program until 1996). The two areas are connected by the winding valley cut by the Chamelecon. The Cacaulapa River, a major southern tributary of the Chamelecon, has carved out a narrow fissure over its south-to-north course. Nowhere is this defile more than 1km wide and the 14km2 of flat to rolling terrain found here is scattered in small, dispersed segments along the stream.
The floor of the lower Cacaulapa valley is 180-300m above sea level. This elevation contributes to the slightly cooler temperatures the area enjoys compared with the hot, muggy conditions of the neighboring north coastal plain. The mountains ringing the lower Cacaulapa create a rain shadow that gives the area a slightly drier climate than most of northwestern Honduras (average annual precipitation is about 1300ml). That rain is not evenly distributed throughout the year but is concentrated in the months stretching from May-November (the "rainy season" or "invierno" (winter, in Spanish). The dry season ("verano," or summer) encompasses January-April, the remaining months being transitional between these two major seasons. The terms "wet" and "dry" refer to tendencies, not absolute conditions; rain occurs sporadically even in the driest month, April, and variably long cessations in precipitation occur throughout the wet season. Daytime high temperatures in the dry months generally reach the upper 70s to low 80s in January and February, peaking in the 90s and low 100s in mid- to late April. Lows at night can reach into the 50s in January and remain in the 70s during April. Wet season temperatures are usually cooler, dipping into the 50s as Christmas approaches.
The lower Cacaulapa environment was significantly modified by human intervention probably since the first appearance of settled farmers in the area (by at least 1000BC). Processes of environmental modification have accelerated over the past 50 years, however, as vast areas of valley floor have been cleared for cattle pasture, sugar cane fields, and banana plantations. Even the surrounding hillsides are being cultivated now as a burgeoning population seeks out land to grow subsistence crops (corn, beans, and squash) and commercial fruits such as melons and pineapples. Consequently, much of the native flora and fauna have been moved or fled to remote areas in the mountains.
The lower Cacaulapa, therefore, is not the tropical environment beloved of B-movies, i.e., hot, humid, and covered with dense vegetation. It has probably never supported a rainforest during the three millennia of recorded human occupation, and has been modified during long spans of human use. It may not match our image of the tropics but the processes of change operating in the lower Cacaulapa make it representative of what is actually happening throughout most of Central America today.
We will be living in the town of Pueblo-Nuevo (literally "New Town"), in the Santa Barbara Province of Honduras. Pueblo-Nuevo receives its name from its close proximity to the town of Petoa, immediately adjacent. Petoa has probably been in its present location since pre-Columbian times. After rainstorms one can often find ancient pottery sherds lying in the square. In contrast, Pueblo Nuevo is "only" about three hundred years old, hence the name. The two towns lie at the head of the Lower Cacaulapa Valley, also the home of El Coyote, the site where we will be working in 2012.
In recent years the two towns have grown together to the extent that there is no physical separation between them. However, they have quite a cross-town rivalry, and very different characters. Pueblo Nuevo is probably more liberal, while Petoa remains a focus of religious and cultural ceremonies of considerable vintage.
Though long isolated from other parts of Honduras, recent improvements in roads and public transportation have brought these communities within a 50 minute bus-ride of San Pedro Sula, Honduras's commercial center and fastest growing city. The towns are increasingly pulled between rural and urban worlds. Many of their residents are still at least part-time farmers growing crops to feed their families along with a small quantity of items to be sold at market (mangos, pineapples, and melons are particularly popular). Others grab the bus each weekday morning, commuting to jobs in San Pedro Sula or to one of the factories that have sprung up in the nearby Naco valley. Commonly, families include members who pursue complementary rural and urban economic paths, pooling their resources to help make ends meet.
Pueblo Nuevo and Petoa, therefore, suffer all the advantages and problems of being integrated within a national economy which itself occupies a distinctly disadvantageous position within the world market. Wages are low, prices for basic foodstuffs and commercial crops fluctuate unpredictably, and tastes and aspirations are modeled on concepts derived from western, industrialized nations that are difficult, if not impossible, to achieve in rural Central America.
The Lower Cacaulapa Valley is a microcosm of Central American adaptation to modern world conditions, ranging from commuting to urban jobs to relative seclusion and subsistence farming. No one, however, lives in splendid isolation and all are affected by developments in the nation and world. People from all walks of life and cultural backgrounds share the Lower Cacaulapa valley. They have been invariably friendly and welcoming to past program participants, generous of their time and knowledge.
Living In Pueblo Nuevo
Living in Pueblo Nuevo, it is impossible to escape being pulled into the lives of its residents. Friendships struck up with neighbors across the fence, on buses, at work, and in stores lead to visits throughout the semester. Program alums still keep in touch with friends in the valley and return as time and money allow to celebrate weddings and christenings. This experience is impossible to capture in the classroom, quantify, and grade. Through these contacts, participants directly confront and come to understand another culture, how the United States is perceived, and what the aspirations of young Central American men and women might be. Latin America is never again a sea of faceless poor or dangerous revolutionaries, two images popular on the nightly news, but a collection of diverse, terribly real individuals who can not be easily ignored or facilely explained. These contacts are essential elements of the entire learning experience.
Interactions among students and professors on the Kenyon-Honduras program are intense and take place on formal and informal bases. All of us live in Pueblo Nuevo and eat together. Living in such close proximity forges close bonds and encourages conversation as well as cooperation. Taking courses together ensures formal interaction among all participants. Close structured and unstructured contacts guarantee free and open communication among all program members. We live in rented housing, frequently adobe- or concrete-walled buildings with brightly painted plaster facades and ceramic tile roofs. These houses have running water and electricity, though supplies of both can be erratic. All food is prepared by local cooks, but is generally "American-style" fare, while local laundresses wash our clothes. Students will have some household responsibilities, such as clearing tables after meals, but these are kept to a minimum so that the performance of daily maintenance chores does not detract from the living and learning experience.
San Pedro Sula
There are of course times when the idyll of Pueblo Nuevo may get to be a bit much, but luckily the burgeoning city of San Pedro Sula is only a bus ride away. San Pedro is Honduras's second largest city, and certainly its fastest growing one. It is also the commercial center of the country, and as such there is considerable foreign influence.
San Pedro provides students with the opportunity to check e-mail, watch a movie, do some shopping, eat at a local restaurant, or even an American one like Friday's. Most weekends are available to make this trip.