Lately we developed a serious obsession with one of the most successful TV shows of all times, “The Big Bang Theory”. When people ask me how did we start watching the program, as it is well known that we don’t have a TV, I reply: “Oh, we became addicted to it while cycling in Central America”. Most people raise their eyebrows and say: “How did that happen?!” As I find getting hooked on a TV show while cycle touring quite surprising myself, I decided to ‘unravel the mystery’, and tell the true story of how cycling and sex hotels created a Big Bang.
While cycle touring you very often find yourself in out of the way places. While many “regular” tourists hop between the touristy hot spots, cyclists most often find themselves in the “in between places”. These are towns that most often foreigners wouldn’t visit since there is simply nothing really attractive about them. Sometimes, though, this is the charm of these places. You get to see the real face of the country, not the places that have been “destroyed” by tourists, places that have changed completely and are full of hotels, tourist traps and Western food. No – during most of our trip we were the only foreigners in the town we spent the night in.
As expected, in these towns the local accommodation is intended for locals. Many times, there was only one hotel in the town, making our choice very easy. Often we found ourselves in places officially called “Auto Hotels” and un-officially “Sex Hotels”. These are hotels where one can park in a garage attached to the room and enter the room with his/her companion without being seen. Most of the action happens during the day for an hourly rate. For a full night we often got the special rate of seven dollars (“La Noche Completa”).
We later realized that these places weren’t only intended for “dirty business”, but actually regular couples use them as well. Many people live in small houses and have big families, so having sex in their own home is complicated… Weekends were the most difficult days for us to find a room. On one occasion in San Juan Sacatepequez in Guatemala we looked for a room for hours, but we couldn’t even view most rooms since they were all in use, although we were assured that a room would be available after 7pm. We ended up staying in a bible camp, but that’s a whole different story…
Sex hotels were most often sleazy, dirty and sometimes creepy. On the positive side they were often cheap, convenient (almost every small town had at least one) and the rooms always came with a TV, which I guess most people used for porn because that was always the first channel to come up.
I must admit that in the first two months of our trip we simply ignored the TV’s in our rooms. That changed one afternoon in Estelí, Nicaragua when we found ourselves in a tiny hotel room after looking for a place for almost two hours. With the bikes inside the room, we could simply not move from the bed. Suddenly one of the boys from the front desk came knocking on the door with a remote control in his hand. He wanted to check if the remote was working properly (it wasn’t) so he stood there in our tiny room trying to switch channels. I tried to explain to him, with my broken Spanish, that it did not matter because we don’t watch TV anyway, but then as he switched channels I heard familiar voices: “Friends” was on, and in English!
So, yes, I have a history of addiction to TV shows. It started in fourth grade with “Full House” (the true story of how I learned English), continued with Beverly Hills 90210 in junior high and went big time with “Friends” all through high school. So even though I knew most episodes by heart and watched all of them more than once, it didn’t stop me from enjoying “Friends” one more time, now in Central America.
This is how we discovered the Warner Brothers channel (“Somos Warner, Somos curiosos”), probably one of the only TV channels in English throughout all of Central America (minus Belize). I knew that every day between 6 and 7pm they were showing two episodes of Friends. So if we reached a town and found a place to sleep before 6pm we could watch “Friends” while relaxing from the strenuous and sometimes stressful day.
I guess that one day I switched on the TV a little bit earlier and got the tail end of one of the episodes of The Big Bang Theory. I watched a few episodes of this show in the past, maybe during flights, but I admit I never got into it. I knew it was about a bunch of pysicsits, but not much more. I think it’s only when you get to know the characters that you understand how funny, and actually brilliant this show really is. I actually think that Gili got hooked before me as I wasn’t sure I was ready to adapt to a whole new TV show.
Gili could totally relate on the physics level, and I on the psychological level. Maybe it was because I was working in the special education field for a while, with a focus on social and emotional development, that I could really relate to Sheldon. He is a genius on every scientific level but just cannot read social codes, does not understand sarcasm, doesn’t think much about human relations but is quite sensitive himself. All the characters are well rounded and if you go to any physics department at any North American University you will probably find a few duplicates (I definitely found a few just from hanging out at a few physics events with Gili).
So we started to make an effort to try and reach a place before 5pm. At first it was a silent effort, we didn’t really tell each other why we were making this extra effort to try and cycle just a little bit harder, a little bit faster and to end our cycling day just a little bit earlier. But it became clear very quickly when we started quoting the characters, for example adding the word “sarcasm” when one of us said something as a joke and the other one didn’t quite get it, or humming the theme song “…we built a wall, we built the pyramids…” during endless hours of cycling. We had a severe case of addiction.
Then one evening in San Lorenzo, Honduras in what was probably one of our worst accommodations ever, a cheap disgusting motel with cigarette butts in the sink and sheets with holes, a fan that was hardly spinning in 30 degrees celsius and traffic noise from the Pan American Highway, we made another discovery. It was Tuesday evening and out of desperation I turned on the TV, and here they were again! It turned out that on Tuesday evenings they were showing the new season. The traffic noise was forgotten, the horrible room where we were did not matter any more, we were laughing and having a good time.
Another discovery was the “marathons”. Every now and then on Friday evening they were showing non-stop episodes mixed from different seasons. One Friday evening we arrived to La Ceiba in Honduras, a city which is absolutely deserted at night due to gang violence and crime. The manager actually offered us a cheaper room without a TV, but we remembered the marathon, so we asked to see the room with the TV, confirmed they have the WB channel (they didn’t even know it existed) and took it. We walked quickly to the very eery plaza, grabbed a few baleadas (a typical Honduran dish – two flour tortillas filled with cheese and beans) and then ran back to our room for the “marathon”.
We might sound a bit desperate, but it actually makes sense. Cycle touring is fun but not always easy and cycling in Central America was sometimes challenging. It was very hot (all the time) so we started riding at 5:30 or 6am. In addition, often we were slogging up many long hills. Aside from the physical effort, it was also mentally challenging with people telling you how dangerous it is and how crazy you are (we personally didn’t encounter any problems, only warm hearted people). Also seeing poverty and huge social gaps all around and knowing there isn’t much you can do to change the situation. And of course there was the accommodation issue.
Wild camping wasn’t usually an option because most of the time what was beyond the road was fenced off. Every now and then we camped in locals’ backyards, by restaurants or in hotels on the lawn. A lovely Costa Rican couple even offered us a room in their home when we had asked about camping in their yard.
But often we found ourselves in those dingy sex hotels, and when feeling discomfort human beings often try to escape and there is no greater escapism than the TV. So we escaped, and when possible for an hour a day we forgot where we were and dove into the world of four physicists and their girlfriends, their jokes, wisdom and yes, even physics. Makes sense, right? or was that sarcasm?