Kristina's Honduras 2000 Journal:
Los Angeles, CA USA
December 14, 2000 Welcome back to the third world
"We're already in the third world", said David, and we hadn't even left home yet. This came after I made the sixth phone call to find out if our departing plane was on time. The first two numbers were met with no answer. The third told me they didn't know any TACA information, only LACSA. The fourth told me my TACA flight was a code share with LACSA and I needed to ask LACSA. The fifth call turned out to be to LACSA Cargo, but at least they gave me the correct number to call next. The sixth call yielded a young man's voice, barely intelligible over the loud radio playing in the background, who told me, "yeah, they should be on time" but he "couldn't guarantee anything."
When we arrived at LAX and walked into the Tom Bradley International terminal it was like having a weird flashback to traveling around the world. It felt like it could have been KL, Hong Kong, or even Bali when we walked inside. Everywhere there were people with enormous bags waiting to go somewhere far away. The line for LACSA was out the door of the terminal and we were told by a guard unceremoniously to go to the back of the line, outside in the cold. Fortunately, we saw this repeated again and again over the next hour, so we knew it wasn't just us. We waited an hour in line, and discovered that I could have, and most definitely should have, booked our seats in advance. I was under the mistaken impression that I had to book the seats at the ticket counter. Live and learn. The flight was 5 hours long and fairly uneventful, but neither of us was able to sleep, so we watched the movie, "The Kid" .
We were fairly exhausted when we arrived in Guatemala City's small airport, but David did manage to have a free sample cup of the local beer. Then we just sat and waited for our small plane, a 48 seater to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It was not as bad as I thought it would be, and only a 45 minute flight.
HONDURAS, San Pedro Sula to Copan Ruinas
$1 US=15 Lempiras
December 15, 2000
We arrived in San Pedro Sula, waited for our bags, got waived through customs, and walked through the tiny arrivals terminal into crowd outside. The humidity and the heat were surprising since it had not been that warm in Guatemala City. Unfortunately, no one was waiting for us outside. We were supposed to be met by a local representative who was to give us out onward tickets to Roatan for Monday. After 10 minutes, I looked at our vouchers and determined that we should go into Departure terminal to the airline listed.
It took us a moment, but we finally figured out that we had to walk around outside of building to go inside the main departure terminal. It was much nicer than I expected; here we found ticketing agents, car rental counters, a Wendy's, a frozen yogurt counter, a cigar shop, and a coffee kiosk. Not to mention the all important ATM! No baggage storage that I could see. At a pay phone I was able to use my MCI card. I don't know what the privilege will cost though.
We waited for 45 min for the Maya tour agent to arrive with our tickets. After that we were able to pick up our rental car; a Nissan pathfinder with "new tires". This car had already seen some action but it held up well for us.
As we left the airport we looked for a gas station as they had only given us a 1/4 tank to start. We found a Shell station where we had an uncomfortable learning experience. First, there was the guy who stood next to the tank as we were filling up and just stared at me the entire time. It was so obvious that David stood in front of the window trying to block his gaze. Then, the attendant came back with the credit card slip and it was for 100 L. more than the amount on the pump. When David pointed this out to the kid, he quickly said "ok if I give it back to you in cash?" without batting an eyelash. Nice scam they got going there when they can get it to work. We left, trying not to let it color our immediate impression of the country.
Honduran Country Roads....Adventures in Driving
The road to Copan was longer than expected, mostly due to our exhaustion and unfamiliarity with the location. It was, however, beautiful scenery filled with forests, jungles, and horse drawn carts. In addition, there were all sorts of people along the road, working, walking, and playing. There were also Grandmas with machetes, young men with machetes, and, you guessed it, even 3 year olds with machetes. Everyone here seems to own a machete, the tool of choice.
Goats, Pigs, chickens, horses, donkeys, mules, cows and even an iguana, competed for space along the two lane highway with big, smoke belching trucks, old american school busses, and taxis held together with coat hangers and duct tape. Add to the mix, children playing in the road, people walking with firewood on their heads, and the occasional horse drawn cart, and driving was truly an adventure.
Along the drive we were stopped at police checkpoint for "donation" to build a new "temple". When we politely declined to contribute we were let pass easily. However, later along the route we were stopped again, this time by 5 year old children holding a blue rope across the road. They bluntly demanded money from us to let us pass. We said no. They didn't move. Finally it became a showdown and we just had to drive through so they'd let go of the rope. Nothing like an attempted mugging by a 5 year old to shake up your day.
As we drove I thought that this appeared to be the poorest country I have ever been in. Supposedly, Honduras is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Haiti is first. Both David and I agreed that it seemed poorer even than Nepal. Maybe it was all the poorly constructed houses that could barely be referred to as a "hovel". At least the one room homes we saw in Nepal were made of stone. These "homes" in Honduras were made of sticks, random boards nailed together, and corrugated metal. It just looked like the definition of the term "abject poverty". Yet, one of the odd juxtapositions we saw was that most of the women were fairly well dressed to be living in such conditions. Many wore outfits that would be at home in any major city, complete with skirts and heels, walking along the muddy roadside.
The long road seemed to take forever and we were just so tired. We arrived in Copan about 4 PM and promptly got a little lost trying to find our hotel. We needed to use the 4 wheel drive to get up hill but we finally found it. The Casa de Cafe is quite nice and is run by an American expat, Howard Rosenweig and his Honduran wife. The rooms are small, but clean, and each has it's own bathroom with shower. A wonderful breakfast was included. The hotel sits on the edge of a small hill at the far end of town and has fantastic views of the mountains in Guatemala, the border to which is only 6 miles away. The rooms face this vista as does the wonderful back patio/sitting area where we would breakfast every morning or sit in the afternoons.
Copan is one of those wonderful towns where travelers seems to gravitate and stay. The town has a charm that is missing from many of the other towns we passed through; cobblestone streets, whitewashed buildings and a central plaza. It also has many of the things travelers are looking for; internet access, laundry, good food, and a small nightlife mixed in with the local ex-pat community. Add all that together with the cultural draw of the fantastic ruins and it becomes one of those spots on every long term travelers must see list. We met a few other Americans there, some just visiting, some working as teachers in various "international" or private schools. We also met a man from Zimbabwe and his Guatemalan wife who are graduate students in Arizona, a couple from Holland, a Belgian man who just bought a local restaurant, and we came across an Italian couple who had definitely "been out too long" (see our nepal journal for a definition of this phenomena).
After we arrived we went for walk so we wouldn't sleep just yet. A nap at that point would have completely thrown off our body clocks. Better to stay awake just a little longer. We had snack at Via Via, the restaurant just bought by the Belgian man mentioned above. When we asked, he explained that it was customary to tip about 10% as long as service hadn't already been added to the check. While there, we sampled the local beer, Salva Vida, and had a snack of Carnachos, which were small tortillas topped with seasoned ground beef. Total bill, 54L. The owner swears he will be revising the menu and raising prices soon.
From there, we had dinner at the famous Bar Tunkel, known for its happy hour and as a haven for archeologists and ex-pats alike. I think we were there too early for any such fun. We did, however, get to sample a Honduran specialty called anafre, which is essentially a bean and cheese "fondue" served with tortilla chips in a clay pot over hot coals. This was quite tasty as were the chiliquilis David had. All this and a couple of beers, 120L. A short walk back to our room and, exhausted, we fell into bed at 7:30 after being awake 36 hours.
December 16, 2000 The Mayan Ruins of Copan
In the morning we walked to the entrance of the ruins from town. Just outside the main entrance to town there is a clearly marked, paved pedestrian pathway that leads directly to the entrance of the ruins. As we walked we passed something we had seen a lot of along the drive; large concrete slabs covered with drying coffee beans. We stopped and chatted with one of the young workers spreading the damp beans over the concrete to dry. From what we understand, after the beans dry, the coffee is then bagged and exported to wherever to then be roasted and probably show up in your local Starbucks.
After a short walk we reached the archaeological park of Copan Ruinas. The entrance fees were expensive; US $10 for the ruins and another US $12 for tunnels. We decided that as long as we were here, we should see everything (we did miss the museum which would have been another $5). Then, we hired an guide which we had heard was another "must". The guides available are now all "official" and the price is set, about US$20 for a 2 hour tour with explanations of the ruins. There was no choice as to who, except that we asked for someone who spoke English, basically it was you take what you get. Had there been other English speakers around, we could have split the cost with them.
Our guide, Freddie, was only ok; he spoke English but in a monotone. Ask him a question out of the ordinary and he was lost. He seemed to know what he was talking about, but his delivery was just boring.
After about 2 hours, the tour was over and we ended up in the Jaguar court. It was time to enter the tunnels. These tunnels were created by archaeologists who are researching the ruins that lay beneath the ruins. Supposedly there are five layers of civilization, four below ground and the one remaining on top. It seems that the Mayans just built over existing building when they wanted something new. The first tunnel shows a complete temple underground and it is only partially unearthed. The second tunnel is longer and shows not only the outside of another temple wall, but rooms complete with waterway for baths. All in all, they were interesting, but seemed overpriced in comparison to everything else.
I'm not going to go into the details and history of the ruins here. They are really something that have to be seen to be appreciated. Please see our Honduras Photos-Part 1 for more details.
After the ruins, we had lunch at Llama del Bosque, a place Howard Rosenweig had recommended to us. Service was very slow, but the place was air conditioned and had cold sodas and decent burritos de pollo. Lunch cost us 161 L. Back to the hotel for siesta and then we found one of the 3 or 4 local internet cafes.
We had dinner at Las Carnitas where we had been told we could find some of the best local food in Honduras. We ordered the restaurant's namesake, which turned out to be a yummy, huge portion of stewed beef with peppers and onions and thick, homemade tortillas. That, with an order of anafre con chorizo, and a couple of drinks set us back 160L, including tip.
December 17, 2000 Butterflies, Haciendas, and Las Seputuras
Today, was a busy, fun day. We decided that we'd better put that expensive 4 wheel drive to good use. We began with a trip to the butterfly farm. This place is an offshoot of another farm in la Cieba. Both were started by a Peace Corps volunteer, Robert Gaillardo, in conjunction with the San Diego Zoo who helped with funding and purchase the pupae. There, we chatted with Robert, who started the place, and is now married to a Honduran woman. He's also from Southern California, but has no plans to return. He explained the whole process and the entire life cycle of owl butterfly. The "farm" is actually a net covered enclosure, L shaped, and filled with tropical plants, a waterfall and dozens of different fluttering butterflies. Unfortunately, many of the pupae hadn't hatched recently, so there weren't as many butterflies as usual. Still, we did see a rather large "owl" butterfly and some other interesting red and black butterflies. For butterfly photos, please see the Honduras Photos-Part 2 page.From the Butterfly Farm, we crossed the river and drove up an unpaved road and a very steep hill until we reached Hacienda San Lucas (In the Moon handbook this place is mistakenly listed as Hacienda San Carlos). There we were greeted by Hacienda San Lucas' owner, Doña Flavia, a Honduran woman whose family has owned the hacienda and the surrounding 200 acres for the last 100 years. She used to live in Kentucky and has three children who live in the US. A couple of years back she returned to Honduras to find the place so dilapidated that she had to almost tear it all down and start over. With a lot of hard work and effort, she has a lovely place that includes 2 rooms for rent for $45 night inc. breakfast. The rooms have no electricity, but do have some light run by 12 volt solar powered batteries. Funny thing is, her place was mentioned in the LA Times article I mentioned in my pre-trip journal, but I had forgotten until I got there. Doña Flavia wants to revive homestyle, traditional, Honduran cooking. She is doing this with the aid of two or three local women who help cook over the open fire in the kitchen. We stayed and had a wonderful lunch, served on the front porch of the Hacienda, consisting of all manner of savory items, including an incredible tamale, stewed chicken, and pork ribs. She also offers ice cold lemonade.
After the filling lunch, we took a walk around her property, which includes marked trails, and a Mayan archeological site called Las Sosas. Las Sosas is basically a bunch of moss covered boulders, one of which, if you squint enough, is a frog shaped rock. Myth has it that this is where Mayan women came to give birth. From here, as with most of the Hacienda San Lucas property, there are great views of the entire valley. Eco-Hacienda San Lucas Copan, Honduras. For our photos of Hacienda San Lucas and Los Sapos, please see the Honduras Photos-Part 2 page.
Back at the Hacienda, we met two Americans who teach in the bilingual school in Copan. They had walked up from the town, planning an outing for later in the week with their students. We gave them a ride back down and then drove to Las Sepulturas, another set of ruins. Las Sepulturas means the tombs. Originally, people thought that these were just tombs, thus the name, but now it's thought that this was a suburb of the main center of Copan, filled with homes that include tombs underneath. We arrived at the entrance and showed the guard/guide or tickets from the main Copan Ruins from the day before (the ticket is good for both entrances). The man insisted on showing us the way and wound up giving us a tour of the ruins en espanol. Ultimately, it was worth it, as he gave us quite a bit of information. At the end, we tipped him 50L. For Las Sepulturas photos, please see the Honduras Photos-Part 2 page.
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Last updated on February 2, 2001