Most violent city in the world. Highest murder rate outside a war zone. Three Americans murdered this year alone. The warnings I'd read over the past few months ran through my head as my propellor plane, nearing the end of its 50 minute flight from San Salvador, touched down in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
From the air, Honduras' second largest city didn't look like much of a city at all -- with no skyscrapers or densely packed buildings, it seemed we were landing in the middle of an empty valley surrounded by low mountains.
I made my way through the slow customs process, submitting electronic fingerprints for God knows what security purpose and receiving my first stamp in my new passport. The owner of Guacamaya Inn, where I was staying my first night, met me just past the departure gate, holding a sign printed with my name.
San Pedro Sula is hardly a tourist hotspot, but it is an important business center in Honduras and therefore is filled with hotels like The Hilton and The InterContinental Real. Instead of staying in a large, impersonal hotel, I had opted to stay at a smaller bed & breakfast. Such personal service as the owner picking me up at the airport was one perk, although I must admit I was having second thoughts as I climbed into the front seat of a strange man's care in The Most Violent City in the World.
My fears were unfounded -- Roberto was extremely friendly, and took me on a short tour of the city as we drove back to the hotel, pointing out downtown, the main square, and the municipal buildings along the way.
As we drove down the main strip of San Pedro, it struck me that this was just another city with people going about their daily lives, dangerous as it might be. I am sure the city isn't safe, but I can say I survived two nights in San Pedro and am none the worse for wear.
That first night, I was barely brave enough to walk down to the mall less than five minutes away and back. The most dangerous part of the city seemed to be crossing the street -- as in other Latin American countries, no car is going to stop for a lowly pedestrian. The Honduran front desk girl told me to avoid the walkways above the freeway, so I braved the multi-lane rush hour traffic on my way to and from the crowded shopping center.
San Pedro is full of American fast food -- Popeyes, Pizza Hut, and even a Church's Chicken. Roberto highly recommended Power Chicken, a Honduran fast food chicken joint. I didn't get a chance to try it, but I definitely will if I am ever back in Honduras. On that first night, too nervous to attempt to go out alone after dark, I ordered delivery to the hotel.
The two men at the front desk provided me with a delivery menu, and for 278 Lempira (around US$12) plus a 29 Lempira delivery fee, I got a delicious steak sandwich from a restaurant called Arnie's. Maybe it was the fact that I had just spent a very long day traveling, but I swear that was one of the best sandwiches I ever ate.
I went to sleep securely locked up in my hotel, wondering what my next day of navigating this country alone would hold.