Coming across from Nicaragua to Honduras at the Las Manos border we were lulled into a false sense of security. The first three steps of the process proceeded at such a rapid pace we thought we would be through in twenty minutes. Immigration procedures for Central America have apparently been streamlined, so our 90 day stamp into Nicaragua is supposedly valid until we exit Guatemala. Even the vehicle permit was cancelled in the blink of an eye. Then we hit the Honduras Customs! For the first time ever there was a sign in Spanish and English explaining the necessary procedures and payments for getting a vehicle permit. Wow, we were only too happy to join their efforts in eradicating corruption! Two hours later, after interminable form-stamping, countless trips for photocopies, waiting in line at half a dozen wickets and having wrong data entered by the last guy corrected by the next guy, we were about fit to be tied. The amazing thing was that there were hardly any other vehicles crossing the border that day...what would it be like on a busy day?! We did attempt to itemize every piece of paper that was shuffled, every stamp and every photocopy, but after three pages we decided that it really wouldn't make for very interesting reading on TravelPod. Suffice to say, we did just make it through before the border closed at 4:30 pm!
Tegucigalpa, the capital of Honduras, turned out to be a rather dirty, noisy city sprawling across the Choluteca River valley, ringed by mountains re-forested in pine. We moved on quickly and camped for the week-end in the Valle de Angeles. At an altitude of about 5,000 ft the climate was cool and refreshing, and there were many delightful hiking trails. The area has several old Spanish mining towns so we made a couple of excursions to enjoy some 16th century ambience. Early in the week we were back on the road, heading north-west through the colonial town and one-time capital Comayagua, until we reached Lago Yojoa. This is a favourite recreation spot, famous for its black bass fishing and its abundant bird life - the area is reputed to be home to almost 400 species. We camped near the lake and kept our field glasses very busy for a couple of days. An ex-pat American has set up a small micro-brewery in the community of Los Naranjos, so that provided an interesting evening diversion sampling his various beers.
Our main objective this week, however, was to dip our toes in the turquoise waters of the Caribbean on Honduras' northern coast. Unfortunately, the rainy season hasn't quite ended here - which has meant stormy seas and cloudy days - so it wasn't quite as 'picture-postcard-perfect' as we had hoped. Nevertheless, we've spent quite a bit of time on the deserted white sand beaches and enjoyed playing in the surf with the local kids. This is home to the Garífuna people - who have their roots in West Africa and the islands of the Caribbean - so the atmosphere is decidedly laid-back, with the emphasis on enjoying the good things of life: fresh fish and seafood cooked in coconut sauce; 'aguardiente' rum; and traditional music and dancing. Tela is a sleepy little town right on the beach, and is a quiet and relaxing place to spend a few days. However, it probably isn't quite so peaceful during Easter Week when the area is apparently jam-packed with Honduran tourists and things really start to hop!
A highlight of our visit was a day spent exploring the watery mangrove forests of the Punta Izopo Wildlife Reserve. Quietly paddling our kayak through the lush tropical growth, we glided silently in search of howler and white-faced monkeys, alligators, iguana and many different types of herons, egrets, toucans and parrots. Although we saw some of the wildlife, and thoroughly enjoyed the day, we did end up nicknaming Mark, our local guide, "Jusmistit". Every time he'd spot an alligator, a monkey or a hawk, he'd rock his kayak with excitement and exclaim.... "Did ya see that? Ah, ya just missed it"!!
Border crossings are a pretty simple procedure. You check out with Immigration of the country you're leaving and get the Temporary Import Permit or relevant Carnet sheet for your vehicle cancelled at Customs. Then you drive a little way down the road or over the bridge, fill out your tourist card and get your passport stamped by Immigration of the country you're entering, and then get your new Vehicle Permit at Customs. There might be a couple of inspections involved, and maybe a quarantine spray....oh, and of course a photocopy or two. Sounds like a 'piece of cake', right?! Wrong!! What should be a relatively straightforward procedure inevitably turns into a time-consuming, inefficient, mind-boggling exercise in frustration. In South America it was generally better, but now that we're back in Central America our promises to ourselves to keep cool and just 'go with the flow' are usually out the window within half an hour.