Hurrying through Honduras

Trip Start Apr 14, 2010
Trip End Apr 16, 2011

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Flag of Belize  , Stann Creek,
Monday, July 11, 2011

After leaving Ometepe we had a long journey ahead of us to make it to Mexico and our flight back for the wedding. This meant we could only spend only one afternoon and night in the much vaunted colonial town of Granada, which was very nice in a slightly ramshackle sort of way. Our favourite building was an old church of some kind that had fallen into disrepair to such an extent that it had fully grown trees growing out of its roof and walls. We then, after a little bit of hammock shopping, had an awesome dinner in a steak restaurant, again confirming our impression that food in Nicaragua (at least, the food we found) was much better than the other places in Central America.

The next morning we started the longest bit of our long slog up towards the Yucatan. The 1st leg of this was a bus journey out of Granada, across the Honduran border to the capital, Tegucigalpa. This was meant to be a 10 hour bus, but, as buses tend to in this part of the world, it took a little longer. 8 hours longer to be exact. Net result was being dropped at 1am at the side of the road in a grotty and frankly quite frightening neighbourhood in what is, at the best of times, a mediocre city. Parked next to the bus was a pickup truck with a bunch of youths in the back carrying automatic rifles. Time to leave, and fast. Of course, the only taxi driver in evidence knew he had us over a barrel (quite literally in this case) and stung us for about a month's wages to get us out of there and into a cheap hotel for the night.

The next day we continued our busathon by catching an early morning bus straight out of the city and towards the north coast of Honduras where we were planning on cutting down on bus time by getting a speedboat across the intervening sea to Belize, from where we could go straight to Mexico. There then followed twelve hours of travel involving three buses (one of which broke down for 2 hours), a minibus, a taxi and two lengthy stops where we were marched off the bus by Honduran policeman and submitted to a 30 minute grilling and bag search. The locals on the bus with us were left alone. They were clearly hoping we had a bunch of cash on us and they would be able to find an excuse to fine us. "Welcome to Honduras", we thought.

The boat didn’t leave for another day so we had a couple of nights at what seems to pass for a beach resort on the mainland coast of Honduras in a place called Omoa. Omoa turned out to be a mostly deserted stretch of ramshackle buildings along a litter strewn dirt track next to a muddy, dirty sea full of rubbish. Nice. We found a hotel with a pool (thankfully cleaner than the sea) and, importantly, a TV which had some English channels showing non-stop CSI or Law & Order to while away the day before the speedboat left.

The day we spent waiting for the speedboat was mostly clear, bright and sunny. The following day, when we had a serious marine crossing to do was, of course, not. There was a brisk wind and large, black angry looking clouds out to sea. Bugger. For a while, it looked like the boat might not go at all but finally, after waiting for a few hours we were half-relieved (we had begun to get worried about missing our flight) and half-nervous (the sea looked pretty angry still) to hop aboard the speedboat and set off. The ride was quite possibly the most painful experience of the trip so far. The speedboat was fast, it had 4 massive outboard engines strung out across the back and bounced from wave to wave in great leaps, throwing the passengers into the air, and then smashing into the next wave at which point the airborne passengers would crash back down onto the plain wooden benches. You couldn’t even see where you were going because the passenger area was covered and the boat was tipped up quite steeply. You just knew that whenever your stomach gave that rollercoaster-dropping-feeling it was time to hold on to something because the boat was in the air and about to crash into another wave. Within 20 minutes, both of our backs were absolutely killing us and sea-sickness had started to grip Gordon . The ride lasted 4 hours. We arrived in Belize us sea-sick, bruised and battered and also at least 2 inches shorter from the pounding our spines had taken.

In Dangriga, Belize we were once again ripped off by a taxi driver who, after much haggling had agreed to take us to the apparently distant bus terminal for $20 only to load our bags in the back, drive 100m down a road, turn left, drive 50m more and then pull up outside the terminal. “Welcome to Belize”, we thought.  Having travelled around Belize and Guatemala after university we didn’t feel too guilty to be heading straight on to Mexico this time but had forgotten quite how bad Belizean buses are; the whole country is only about 150 miles long but it takes a couple of days on buses which are all old American school buses from circa 1960 (AC, pah!, and who needs back rests?).  Our painful boat ride had got us part of the way there but there still followed several very slow and uncomfortable buses across Belize to arrive at the Mexican border a grand total of 7 hours after arriving in the country.  Although this meant we missed the beautiful cayes offshore that we’d visited last time, it did have the advantage that we managed a grand total of 10 minutes spent in Belize City changing buses which is quite enough (on our last trip we made the mistake of believing The Book of Lies when it said it was a city worth spending a night or two in).

And so we found ourselves in Mexico with very sore backs but a whole 48 hours to go before our flight, phew.  This might be an appropriate time to confess , at the risk of offending some people and perhaps surprising others, that, the San Blas aside, Central America has not been our favourite destination of the trip. We knew that we had traded the chance to give Central America a proper visit for time in Ecuador and the experience of crossing to Panama on a sailboat from Columbia and we know that we have missed things and places that we are sure are beautiful, fun, lovely, etc, as well as some spectacular diving.

But still. Travelling here is a pain in the backside. It is hot. Really hot.  And humid to boot.  And often dirty with what could be gorgeous beaches/countryside strewn with rubbish.  Buses are either very slow, hot and uncomfortable and or very expensive, still very slow and leave infrequently. Bus stations often don’t exist and you have wander from bus office to bus office, normally spread all across the city, trying to work out where you should be and when each company’s different buses go (just build one damn bus terminal people!). Although we met some really lovely people, we also had more hassle and people trying to and/or succeeding in ripping us off than we had had in other regions. Our being treated with great suspicion by police or border guards because we were gringos on a couple of the incredibly slow and frustrating border crossings didn’t help much either – we promise we don’t look that dodgy!

Don’t get us wrong we are not saying it was all bad, we had visited (albeit briefly) some nice places, done some fun activities and had a great time with Raakhee in Nicaragua. We are also sure there are some other great places we would like more but didn’t have time to go to and that our experience was affected by the huge distances we had to cover in a short period of time. Still, whereas other places we have been forced to rush through we have placed near the top of places we need to re-visit, for now Central America is fairly low on that list (sorry to any offended readers).  It’s just too hot for us!  Besides, did we mention that we like places with really big mountains?
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