30 Below to 30 Above
Trip Start Feb 08, 2007
13Trip End Feb 22, 2007
As is so common with most aircraft, there was not enough leg room for Martin. There are advantages to not being particularly tall! (Though I envy him sometimes when it comes to being able to see over peoples' heads in a crowd.) Beside us in the aisle seat was a young American named Justin from Kansas City, Missouri who worked for social security. He was flying to Honduras and meeting up with a group of friends (one of them a Honduran) to drive around the country. It was his first time out of the US and he was nervous and excited. Once he found out we were seasoned travelers, he peppered us with questions and asked our advice on a number of things. We pointed out that traveling with a Spanish-speaker (and a Honduran, to boot) would be a distinct advantage
Once we had disembarked and were standing in line to go through customs, we noticed he was carrying cash in his pocket! We suggested he purchase a money belt or money pouch or he might find himself sans cash should he encounter a pickpocket. No use taking the chance!
We arrived about noon: from -30C to +30C in two short three-hour flights! The heat and humidity hit us the minute we walked out of the plane. It's always nice to arrive during the day, so you can get your bearings and explore a bit before it gets dark. Honduras is also in the same time zone as Saskatchewan which is also a bonus. No need to set your watch back or ahead, but the best part of it is: no jet lag!
It took us about an hour to clear customs. We were photographed and finger printed (a first for both of us. Non-North Americans have to be fingerprinted upon landing in the US and I've always been grateful we haven't had to go through that, but there's always a first time for everything!)
We quickly claimed our backpacks and headed out to the taxi cab area. It took us awhile to bargain for a taxi (about $7.50 to our hotel) and if the lack of cab drivers' English is any indication, we're in for a bit of trouble!
Thankfully, the traffic was relatively tame and there was little horn honking. I doubt we'll ever experience anything close to Vietnam again! (But then again, we likely will if we travel to all the places I have planned!)
To play it safe, the one precaution we took was booking our first night's accommodation. We chose the Gran Hotel Sula, a hotel popular with business travelers in the downtown area. It was built in the 1970s, but like so many buildings in tropical/subtropical climates, it has aged very quickly and appears much older than it actually is. (I think we could have probably made a better choice for $90 USD, but the only information we had to rely on was our guidebook and the Internet)
One of the first things we did after we checked in was to suss out bottled water. Airline passengers are no longer able to take liquids through securities and this includes anything from shampoo to sunscreen, unless they are in small quantities in zip-locked bags. (They're OK is checked baggage, of course.) Somehow Martin managed to get his lighter though security in Saskatoon, but it was confiscated in Minneapolis. Going through security at all three airports (Saskatoon, Minneapolis and Houston) we noticed security staff had confiscated dozens of water and drink bottles, as well as considerable personal hygiene products, lighters and matches. The standard line is now, "Do you have any liquids, gels and creams?" as you pass through the security line. Just one more way that flying has become more unpleasant since 911.
We took a bit of time to explore the downtown area of San Pedro Sula. Our guidebook (the Moon Handbook) tells us that there's really not that much to see here, the exception being the local market which we hope to hit on our return
San Pedro Sula, population 800,000, is considered the business capital of Honduras. Our guidebook warned us of muggings and told us to keep our wits about us if going out at night. Since we're not much for night life, we usually don't consider this a problem. About all we venture out for in the evening is to eat. We did notice a few young drunk men sleeping it off on the sidewalk and a couple of beggars.
Honduran currency is the lempira; there's about 19 lempira to a US dollar. ATMs abound in the cities, so travelers' cheques aren't necessary (and it can be a pain trying to get them cashed). An ATM card, a credit card and some US cash are about all you need to travel in most countries these days. The good old US dollar is widely accepted and prices often appear in both lempira (SU) and USD. There is a healthy blackmarket for US dollars on the street, but the exchange rate isn't much different from what you'd get at a bank, so why bother?
The dress of Hondurans seems to be quite modern - we saw no women wearing traditional costumes like we did in Guatemala
Like many countries in Central and South American, Honduras is a very poor country. The annual per capita income is only about $1,000 per US; 65% of the population lives below the poverty line. Coffee has recently overtaken bananas as the countries' top cash crop.
After Uruguay and the US, Honduras has the oldest two-party system of government in the world, those two parties being the Nationals and Liberals. Until the mid-1990s, it d could be argued that Honduras' official political system was nothing more than window-dressing. Ultimately, it was military who controlled Honduras but, except for the height of the US-sponsored Contra war against leftist Central American rebels in the 1980s, few military abuses have ever been reported. A number of social and agrarian reforms were instituted under military leadership
Music from the 1980s appears to be popular here. We heard it everywhere - where we ate breakfast, in the hotel lobby, at the grocery store. Can't say I've listened to disco in a while . . . .
We tried out a local pizza place for supper which was just down the street from our hotel. At first we thought it was closed because the door was locked. The security guard (with a gun) let us in. (We found restaurant/bank security of this sort to be fairly common practice in many cities in Central and South America.) We had a very good pizza marguarita (diced tomato topping) and drinks for about US $7. Martin quickly discovered his beer of choice which was Salva Vida. Following supper, we went back to our hotel and listened to a marimba band in the restaurant surrounding the pool.
The next morning we again headed downstairs to the pool restaurant for our breakfast. It took a little finagling for the server to figure out what we wanted (yep - the communication gap is going to be interesting), but we did eventually get something to eat! It was beautiful sitting by the pool - about 22C, calm and peaceful. We watched the pigeons help themselves to tables vacated by customers. The staff were continually shooing them away.
Our first task was to find the Hedman-Atlas bus depot for buses traveling to Copan. One of the confusing things about Honduras is there is seldom a central bus station; rather, there are various bus stations that have buses going to different parts of the country. We ran into a snag at the ticket counter because we couldn't understand the ticket agent's questions. I asked people standing in line behind us (we were holding up progress) if anyone spoke English. Luckily, a fellow from San Francisco spoke enough Spanish to help us out. What the ticket agent was trying to ask us was if we wanted a one-way ticket or return. I think we're going to be referring to our Spanish-English phrasebook quite a lot on this trip!
So it was back to the hotel to grab our bags, haul them on our backs the six blocks to the bus deport and we were off to Copan!