Having survived El Salvador with no obvious issues, we were excited to visit Honduras despite its impressively daunting gun crime and murder rate statistics. It’s also home to San Pedro Sula, which was awarded the title of ‘World’s most dangerous city 2012’. You may try to avoid San Pedro at all costs, but it’s unlikely you’ll manage it as you have to visit its major bus station on almost any route across the country. We ended up there twice but mercifully, not for long on either occasion.
Most of our time was spent free diving on Utila – you can read about that in Freediving part II if you haven’t already. A bus ride across the country also prompted this poetic offering: From the window. Right now though, I’m catching up on the rest of our time.
Coming from El Salvador, we assumed that we’d be able to bus our way straight to our first destination of Copan Ruinas, the home to the famously intricate Mayan ruins of Copan. This turned out to be possibly only via a ‘five bus sequence’ however, which had us going back through Guatemala, so we opted to share a car with Adam and Julie, the couple we met in Santa Ana. This would still follow the same route (meaning we got a third entry stamp into Guatemala, threatening my ever decreasing free space in my passport) but it would be quicker and much less hassle.
And it was. We only had to get out of the car for the two border crossings, three police checkpoints, and about fifteen mountainous speed bumps that the combination of our weight, our luggage and the car’s non-existent rear suspension rendered the route deadly to the integrity of the car’s chassis. Helena and I only endured the gut-wrenching scrape of metal on concrete once, before we were leaping out of the car at the first sight of speed bumps and running to the next clear bit of road.
Arriving in Copan, we quickly found a hostel and set out on the kilometre walk to the ruins outside of town. Sharing a guide with Adam and Julie, we enjoyed an informative tour of the small site that has many carvings and examples of intricate stonework. I’m not quite sure I grasped the full understanding of the legacy of the Mayan kings. The guide spent lots of time talking about a man called 18th Rabbit (at least that’s what I think he was saying), and various other numbered rabbit kings. It was good, but I think I preferred the sheer might of Tikal in Guatemala. One thing Copan does have though, is a resident flock of Macaws that are probably as much of a draw to the site as the ruins themselves.
Feeling happy with our efficient use of time (three countries and an important archaeological site in one day), we headed out for a quick meal and a few drinks, which is when our complacency about our safety suddenly reared its head. The four of us were sitting enjoying a few post-dinner Salva Vidas in an upstairs bar, when Helena pointed out that the police had arrived outside. This is not necessarily an unusual sight, as there is a huge armed police presence right across Central America, and we’d already become quite accustomed to seeing both police and security guards standing in various places nonchalantly bearing massive weapons slung over their shoulders.
These guys, however, were very far from nonchalant in their behaviour.
Moments after Helena first spotted them, five or six officers, armed with large assault style weapons, swiftly came up the stairs into the bar with their guns at the ready; their fingers were literally on the triggers. They rapidly targeted a young looking guy who had been standing drinking and socialising amongst the crowd. He made a couple of steps to escape but immediately relinquished himself to the situation, at which point one of the police officers reached behind the young man and pulled out the shiny silver handgun that he had had tucked into the back of his trousers before escorting him quickly down the stairs.
It all happened so quickly that we almost couldn’t believe what we had seen. I was certainly shocked at the idea that we were sat enjoying drinks in what was a relatively main stream, touristy bar, and at least one of the locals was carrying a gun around with him. We had no idea how the police knew that he had it, or why they came specifically for him. Maybe someone had tipped them off? Who knows. Either way, we quickly had to finish our drinks and leave as we were told that the police were closing the bar. We all agreed that it was probably home time anyway, and walked back to the hostel in a state of mild shock.
Adam and Julie left early the next morning to continue their trip, and Helena and I spent a fabulous day doing what we do best: sampling the local cafes and artisan producers. A quick scout through the guide book formed and itinerary which included cheese and coffee at Cafe San Rafael, followed up by a brewery tour by the fabulously eccentric Tomas at his microbrewery Sol de Copan, finished off with a relaxing visit to the superb Tea and Chocolate Place where we sat on a veranda enjoying the views while drinking noni tea organic hot chocolate. The latter two of these are particularly worth a visit if you are in town. Tomas’ heifer weizen is like no beer I’ve ever tasted and the T&CP is actually a project mainly focused on the reforestation and recultivation of the natural plants on the steep hills above Copan.
After our cross-country jaunt to Utila, we made a quick stop off at the Rio Cangrejal for a rafting trip, on our way back across the country. It was such a lightning stop that I almost forgot about it entirely. We seemed to be the only ones staying at the jungle lodge we had found, but it didn’t matter. They fed us really well just in time for an extended power cut to kick in that left us playing cards by candlelight before heading to bed.
The next morning, we met our guide (whose name has now escaped us!) and headed upriver. We spent an hour or so wading upstream through the shallower sections, clambering over boulders and jumping off rocks into deep pools before simply floating back downstream through some gentle rapids to our rafting put-in. Here, we were given a short introduction to paddling commands (pretty simply ‘forwards’ and ‘backwards’) and safety drills before heading into the white water.
It was an awesome trip downstream with a variety of class of rapids, some of which we ended up going down backwards and sideways but I’m not sure that wasn’t part of the plan! There was the only occasional moment when the regular, ‘forwards … forwards … forwards,’ of the guide became a rather more frantic and rapid ‘forwardforwardforwardforwardforwardforward!!’ whereupon we paddled like mad to avoid whatever impending catastrophe he had seen coming. All in all, a really fun morning that was topped off with some more time spent jumping off rocks into the river.
A quick taxi into La Ceiba, and bus back to San Pedro Sula was followed by a slightly confusing search for transport to our final destination: the Lago de Yojoa (yes, another lake!), where we’d booked to stay at D&D brewery. What’s that you say? A brewery that’s also a hostel? That will do nicely! I must concede though, that although D&D’s beer was good, it was absolutely no match for Tomas’ craft brews. Still, we enjoyed a few days exploring the local area. It is not a fully established travelling hot-spot as yet, and the lake in particular was almost entirely undeveloped along its shoreline. We spent one afternoon walking through a coffee and flowers ‘finca’, where I discovered a fleeting passion for up close flower photography, and had an early morning trip in a rowing boat onto the lake indulging further Helena’s interest in birdwatching. This was a great trip though, because we saw all kinds of interesting birds on the lake’s shores, including a good number of Toucans.
My favourite was the Tiger Heron that appears to have been blessed with an extendable neck that Inspector Gadget would have been proud of.
All of this had brought us to 9th September, so we were already looking nervously at the calendar. We had a flight booked to leave Panama City on the 30th September, and had yet to set foot in either Nicaragua or Costa Rica, two countries with reputations for being excellent travelling destinations. We had to get on the move to make the most of our remaining 21 days in Central America.