Trip Start Jul 31, 2005
Trip End Feb 18, 2007

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Flag of Honduras  ,
Monday, July 31, 2006

When you cross borders in Central America, you often have no choice but to change some money with the shifty moneychangers who pounce on you the second you step off the bus. At least, you need to change enough to pay for the bus to the nearest town with a bank. They have tried a couple of times to rip us off, but we've always been ahead of the game, though i'm sure some tourists aren't and get taken for a ride. We always check the latest exchange rates on the Internet, before we leave for the border, change just the money we need to get us through the first day, check all their calculations with the calculator on our mobile phone, and don't hand over our money until we've checked what they've given us. Various attempts in ripping us off, ranging between a dollar and 10 dollars have been attempted, but it doesn't work with us and we head straight to another moneychanger. Losing business is the only way they will learn to be honest we're afraid.

After crossing the border from El Salvador, we arrive in the Honduran town of Nueva Ocotepeque. The language hasn't changed, the food hasn't changed, the architecture hasn't changed and the physical appearance of the people hasn't really changed, but boy has the character of the people changed. It's not long before we realize that the Hondurans could give the Mexicans a run for their money in their laziness, crap customer service and inability to give a straight answer.

In took us half an hour to find out what time it was, another hour to work out that there were no buses because of a strike, another half an hour to exact information from a bus employee that there may be buses later on that afternoon.
We asked a taxi driver how much it would cost to the town we need to get to, which was a two hour drive away. In a neighbouring country, the driver would be ecstatic at the prospect of such as great fare. However, it's clear the driver couldn't be bother to travel that far and didn't give us a straight answer, instead he just mumbled something about the strike which we were unable to decipher.

Something dawns on us here. Honduras, like Mexico, has had a relatively conflict free past 100 years. Whereas, the neighbouring countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua have been embroiled in bitter civil wars. To us it seems quite clear that this is why the neighbours are a lot more attentive and the Hondurans don't seem to see the need to make an effort with anything.

Anyway, back to the strike. We've been stuck in this shit hole border town for 4 hours now and have about 45 different versions of what the strike is about, and when the buses are likely to start running. We start to contemplate going back into El Salvador, but a conversation with a relatively alert taxi driver made us realize that the strike didn't involve the bus company, rather that people were blocking the main road to the border to protest about a Hydroelectic power station that the government wishes to build. He says he can take us to the point where the road is blocked, and from there we can walk through the strike, and then catch a bus from the other side. Sounds dodgy doesn't it? but we were so fed up of the people in that town that we decided to give it a try.

After a 45 minute drive, we arrive behind a seemingly endless queue of backed up lorries. The taxi driver says this is as far as he can take us, so we get out of the cab and start to walk. After about a kilometre, we see that the road is blocked by people who look like they are having a party rather than demonstrating against something. However, everybody appears to be carrying some sort of weapon, mostly machetes or baseball bats. As we cautiously walk past them, it appears that more people are paying attention to us tourists, than listening to what their spokesmen is saying about the strike. We don't really stop to talk, just dart out the other side. After another kilometre of walking past backed up lorries on the other side, we come to a police block and ask the officers about buses to the next town. Not to break the tradition of Honduran helpfulness, they just start to laugh, and we eventually prise out of them the fact that there aren't any buses. Oh great, so what do we do here, two tourists stuck on a blocked road in the middle of the Hondurian countryside and with no onward transport. We started to think that this really isn't our day, when a nice chap who overheard our conversation with the cops, said that he's waiting for a friend to walk through from the other side of the blockade, and when he arrives, he can take us to the next town. So we climb in the back of his truck, and an hour later just make our bus connection to our next destination, called....... wait for it...... Gracias. It was certainly muchas gracias to this chap or we'd have been stranded in the middle of nowhere.

So we eventually arrive in the small highland town of Gracias and check into a hotel with a great view over the town and surrounding countryside. Gracias was a nice enough place, but probably not worth the long journey to get there. The people were another off-putting reason. A typical encounter would be that you walk in a Internet cafe and ask how much the access is, 5 minutes later you finally get an answer, after which you proceed to sit down and realize that the Internet is not working. You then ask that same person who says, uuuh, yeh, there's no system at the moment. Well, why the hell didn't you tell us that as soon as we walked in for christ sake!!! Time for a sarcastic Gracias!

We've had enough of the dim people and have decided to head straight to the Bay Islands. The Bay Islands, just off the north coast, were a British colony before they joined Honduras and the people, we read, are a mix of the original British settlers and settlers who came from the West Indies. So we're hoping the people will be more awake!

Before catching our ferry, as it's been a long bus ride from Gracias, we decide to spend the night in the coastal town of Tela. The area already feels more Caribbean than Latin and our hotel has a great view over the town and coast.

The next day, and after a short boat ride, we arrive in Utila, the smaller of the Bay Islands and which has a fascinating British/Caribbean atmosphere. There are many local people who look like they've just stepped off the boat from England, though their ancestors came here over a century ago, and they speak a slightly strange version of English, which sounds like they are acting in Pirates of the Caribbean or something. Actually, English seems to be the preferred first language of the islanders, although many also speak Spanish as many mainlanders have come over to work. This interesting mix between, Latinos, Caribbeans and Anglo-Saxons is a great example of Spanglish! You choose the language which you'll use to speak to somebody, based on their physical appearance.

As an island bonus, we also happened to arrive here at Carnival time, and it was so funny to see local girls who looked so typically English, dance Caribbean style and continuously switch between English and fluent Honduran Spanish.
Another highlight here was a bar called The Sea Horse, which must be one of the best decorated bars we've ever seen. The person who designed this place could possibly be the modern day Gaudi. It was so well decorated, with such detail and imagination creating a kind or fairytale land spread over a large garden. A place you absolutely must visit if in Utila.

We've really enjoyed Utila and it'll be a shame to leave, though we did have one diabolical customer service incident, again caused by a mainlander waitress. After 1.5 hours waiting for our food, having inquired about it no less than five times, and being continuously told that it was in the process of being cooked, she eventually comes to our table and says sorry, they've run out of what we ordered. We almost wanted to shoot her. This is the first time we've done this on our trip, but our fury caused us to storm out of the restaurant without paying for our drinks. We just hope the owner doesn't catch us, as there's only one boat a day out of this island!

We've just a quick overnight stop now in the capital Tegucigalpa, before head towards the border with Nicaragua.
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