It is a city, famed not for its beauty. Many, will say that El Progreso (the fourth largest city in Honduras), is ‘ugly’, ‘chaotic’ and a complete ‘mess’. Un solo relajo. It does appear so, I must say. Any journey across its distaster of a highway; which finds itself in a permanent state of traffic-ridden confusion, or across the rancid, sprawling ‘open market’ in the city centre – shall leave the visitor fatigued and seeking a way out.
However, and I do declare that only have I recently noticed this whilst we’ve been undergoing quarentine (placed upon us due to the current issue of Coronavirus), the only thing making Progreso appear as ‘ugly’ or ‘chaotic’ is… the people. When the searing, sun-fried streets of this city are empty, El Progreso suddenly appears as being rather calming and pleasantly attractive. The expanse of open fruit, vegetable and produce street stands, stalls, shops and markets and the subsequent rubbish which is piled up and amassed around them, is what gives this city its dirty and messy look.
As soon as these streets around the central parks are cleared, and the street vendors, pedestrians and onrush of vehicles disappear, ‘The Progress’ city becomes – as stated, both calm and pleasant.
One is able to witness this wonderful transformation contemporarily – as I write this, on account of the aforementioned (if not decidedly ‘overmentioned’) Coronavirus. Streets are empty as they are worldwide. During periods of normacy, however, the best day to enjoy a quiet and peaceful glimpse of Progreso, is on a Sunday. The hideous markets are closed and the rowdy public transport is kept at a minimum pace.
A brief history of the city.
El Progreso, Yoro department, was founded under the name Rio Pelo in 1850 by a group of people originally from Omonita and El Negrito (Yoro department) who settled on the modern day site.
It is located in the eastern area of the Sula Valley, on the slopes of the Cordillera de Mico Quemado (a mountain range) in the department of Yoro. It reached the category of ‘municipality’ on October 19th, 1892, the date in which it was known by the long-winded name of Santa María de Canaán del Rio Pelo. The community was called Santa María de Canaán del Río Pelo for a long time but due to the remarkably accelerated growth of its economy, infrastructure and population, the community was thus baptized with the name of El Progreso or ‘The Progress’.
The name was also given to the city in honor of a one Juan Blas Tobías, an original citizen of the city of El Progreso in Yucatan, Mexico. He was in fact, a prominent person in the community during that time. For being bathed in the waters of the River Ulua, the city of El Progreso, Yoro is also popularly called La Perla del Ulua. ‘The Pearl of the Ulua’.
I include a link here for any Spanish speakers who might be interested in a sub-topic of Progreso’s history, regarding the Palestinian community we have here https://www.xplorhonduras.com/palestinos-en-el-progreso/. I have taken the liberty of translating two excerpts as to give one the ‘gist’ of the article’s opinion of the Palestinian in Progreso, which is undoubtedly filled with sheer truth.
“A lot of Palestinians want to make us believe that they simply arrived with a one-way ticket to El Progreso and it is a farce. They were able to extract the juice from the peasants and they left El Progreso with their mouths full of bills (money) sending their children to study abroad off the business money they quickly generated from acquiring cheap land that was almost free in those days.”
“All of us Progreso citizens have to ask ourselves, what have the Palestinians done for El Progreso? What health benefit or permanent community support does El Progreso get from them and when we have that answer (which is ‘none’) we will see the reality, which is that the Spaniards first took the wealth and then came the Palestinians – there is no difference between them. They were the same just at different times.”
I myself, have met Palestinians here. Very hospitable and not without a few Lempira bills…
Geography of El Progreso.
Much of the territory of the city of El Progreso is flat, therefore it presents a risk of flooding in high rainy seasons as it is located 500 meters from the Ulua River on its right bank and the Pelo River at its southern end. Due to its strategic location, El Progreso is the point where most land travelers go to other parts of the country, as they can easily make their connections to the cities of San Pedro Sula, La Lima, La Ceiba, Tela, the department of Olancho and Tegucigalpa.
The city is also very close to the Ramón Villeda Morales International Airport (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ram%C3%B3n_Villeda_Morales_International_Airport), located in the Municipality of La Lima. The City of El Progreso holds 51 villages, 213 hamlets and more than 150 neighborhoods.
The city of El Progreso is surrounded by the waters of the Ulua, Pelo, Mico Quemado, Camalote, Quebrada Seca and Caraco rivers. The Ulua River is one of the largest and most important in all of Honduras. It has an extension of 400 km. It begins in the department of Intibucá under the name of Rio Grande de Otoro and runs through the departments of Santa Barbara, Cortés, Yoro and Atlántida. The most important Mountain in the city of El Progreso is the Cordillera de Mico Quemado, located to the east of the city, facing the fertile Sula Valley. There are more than 28,000 hectares of protected areas of great ecological wealth. This green lung is the main source of water for the inhabitants of El Progreso.
The largest source of work for the inhabitants of El Progreso comes from the factories with ‘Zip El Porvenir’ being the largest. In recent years, the city has experienced an increase in commercial, agricultural and industrial activities. My best friend has worked at one such US owned factory for over five years, which he has recently lost all patience and love for. Exploitation and poor pay are the norm in such establishments. The city centre is laden with markets, shops and businesses thus employing thousands of individuals.
Why is El Progreso worth a visit?
To start with, I shall say that of all the places that I have spent time in within the glorious nation of Honduras, despite finding all Hondurans to be – on the whole, extremely friendly, warm, kind and inviting, I must be entirely sincere and say that the people of Progreso are the without any doubt the most noble, hardworking and honest of all. They are not to be compared with their coastal neighbours, who are capable of being rather largo. ‘Long’. Hondurans apply this word to those who are ‘long’ as in capable of anything and are able to go to long lengths to get something. Truthfully, the people of Progreso are very genuine and as said – noble. No nonsense, no games.
Another thing I do like a lot about Progreso, is the availability of coffee. My word. Coffee, is to be found absolutely everywhere at all hours. The city if filled with lovely coffee shops; my favourite being the following: https://www.facebook.com/Aramacaocoffeeshop/
The city offers all modern amenities such as its shopping mall (containing a cinema) its bars, restaurants and nightclubs. The parks are very pleasant; especially the central one, which sits in front of a beautifully white-washed church, mountains in the far distance. The other sits outside the El Progreso municipality headquarters with a coffee shop situated within a large dome-like construction. Large supermarkets, banks and fast-food chains are plotted throughout the city as well. Sports venues are also available – gyms too. From the indoor basketball courts to the five-a-side football courts, many locals thoroughly enjoy getting some excercise in.
I thereby, highly recommend some exploration of the city, if at all possible. It is not a ‘book to be judged by its cover’. El Progreso holds many surprises.