Spring break group held up by protests

Abbey Swank

A protest in Honduras delayed a Kent State geography study group during spring break. Photo courtesy of Andrew Smeltzer

Credit: DKS Editors

A hot, sunny day during spring break in Honduras turned to confusion and chaos for a group from the Kent area, including two Kent State students and a professor.

The group was on a trip organized through the Kent State geography department. They had finished visiting Mayan ruins in Copan and were on their way to Tela, Honduras.

“It was about 2 p.m. on Tuesday, March 27, and we were traveling down the main highway in Honduras when we came upon a group of about 50 people,” junior hospitality major Chessie Henry said. “We thought it was a car accident. But when we got closer, we saw the people had sticks, rocks and knives.”

Andrew Smeltzer, junior management and information systems major, said the driver tried to turn their bus around, but the people began beating on the bus and wouldn’t let them leave.

“We saw Honduran citizens get their car windows smashed,” he said. “We were afraid that was going to happen to us.”

Smeltzer said the protesters where trying to force the government to live up to its political promises. They were stopping everyone on the highway.

A local family allowed the group to stay in the safety of their home, Henry said.

“We stayed at the house, waiting for the police to break up the protest,” she said. “But they didn’t come that afternoon. The family was kind to us. They fed us and allowed us to stay the night.”

Smeltzer said the next day, they were able to buy their way out and a charter bus was waiting to pick them up at the front of the protest, four miles away.

“We began our walk to the front,” he said. “The protesters were yelling and calling us names. The police had come during the night, so there weren’t as many people as before, but it still made us nervous.”

The group was taken to a nearby city where they waited for the rest of their luggage. No one was harmed in any way.

“This is the first time anything like this has happened while a group was in another country,” geography chair Jay Lee said. “We do not take students to places of political turmoil. Unfortunately, our group ran into it this time, but our interest is most certainly the students’ well being.”

Frank Erickson, geography professor and instructor on the trip, said strikes and political protests are numerous in some parts of Latin America, but the region they were in is not known for that type of action.

“We weren’t specifically detained because of who we were,” Erickson said. “We ended up caught in that situation with everyone else on the road and as long as you did what the protesters said, they were not a hostile group. And the care given to us by the local family shows the true hospitality of the people in Latin America.

“I hope this does not deter anyone from going on future trips somewhere. They are a great way to learn. The rest of our trip was wonderful and everyone enjoyed it.”

Contact College of Arts and Sciences reporter Abbey Swank at [email protected].