As we approached the McDonald’s for a jetlagged breakfast at dinner, an armed guard held the door open for us. You’d expect to enter and find president Obama enjoying a Big Mac following such a welcome. In Honduras’s second biggest city however, this sort of security was far from abnormal. In fact you rarely walk a hundred metres without being confronted by an AK-47 or pistols poking out of someone’s jeans.
Most stores ranging from McDonalds to 7elevens are guarded day in and day out, banks are locked behind you upon entry and hotels are protected 24/7. You are also reminded prior admittance of most stores to leave your gun outside. It can be quite surprising to find a no gun poster in the windows of a bank door, a sight usually only seen before passing security check at an airport. With a murder rate of 85.5 per 100,000 residents, compared with 4.78 in the US and 1.2 in the UK, San Pedro Sula has not been named the most dangerous city in the world for no reason.
This violence stems from organized crime and gangs. San Pedro Sula used to thrive in the banana trade with the US, as did most of Honduras. Following disasters such as Hurricane Mitch however, banana production plummeted and it dragged San Pedro’s economy along with it. Nowadays its situation does not seem to be improving due to increased poverty and negative press. Popular travel guides such as lonely planet’s description of the city is far from appealing: ”few travellers will want to linger long here: there are no sights, there’s little cultural life, and the sultry climate can be oppressive.”
As we walked back from the McDonalds with our McFlurries in hand, we heard a few whistles coming from the street. I turned around expecting to find the usual scene you’d get in Europe: guys smiling creepily whilst eyeing you up and down followed by cheesy pick up lines. The truth was however slightly different: a group of seven men were sate at the back of an open delivery truck, each holding an AK-47 and probably hiding more under their clothes. We sped up our walking rate and were welcomed by yet another gunned porter at the Hotel. Welcome to San Pedro.