I was on the last leg of my saga centroamericana and this was going to be the highlight of my trip. I had been down with diarrhoea for four weeks straight, eating fried chicken and tortillas for breakfast, lunch and dinner and sleeping in $1 fleabag hotels night after night. I’d been travelling on top of obsolete American school buses in torrential rain and in the back of pickup trucks on roads that didn’t exist on any maps. I needed a break. I needed a tan.
I had two more weeks to go and much more cash than I had expected to spare. So I decided to follow the advice of fellow backpackers I’d met in Antigua and head for the Bay islands of Honduras. I bought myself a return ticket to La Ceiba and off I was to reggae paradise. I was going to enrol myself in a budget 4-day scuba diving course and enjoy the Caribbean sun, beach and reef for cheap.
First I had to go check out a seaside Garifuna village called Trujillo. Aside from its reputation as a happening punta dancing spot, the village was supposedly where a number of famous and not-so-famous buccaneers had been buried in some spooky pirate cemetery. Just had to see this.
Besides, it was only gonna be for a couple of days. I’d be back to my islands and diving in no time… really.
So I hopped onto yet another recycled American school bus for an 8-hour fun ride. Interestingly, Honduras folks don’t even bother trying to hide the origin of their public transport vehicles. Quite unlike their northern neighbours who go to great lengths painting them in all tones of pastel and plastering images of Jesus and Holy Mary over all walls and ceilings. Here one might see the odd rosary wrapped around a rear-view mirror, but all third-class buses remain as orange as can be.
It must have been 35 degrees Celsius. Everybody was sweating profusely and I kept busy trying to track where the strongest odours came from. With Murphy’s Law as my sole and eternally faithful travel companion, I got a window seat over one of the rear wheels on the sunny side of the bus. I shared my grade-schooler seat with some titan Garifuna man and his reggae-blaring stereo. For hours on end, he played the same Bob Marley’s greatest hits tape at full volume. And yes, he sang along.
After a few hours, the bus pulled over at some sort of intersection in the middle of nowhere and both the front and back doors were kicked open. This could have been a God-sent opportunity to stretch my semi-paralysed legs, but no. A dozen street food vendors stampeded in “offering” passengers all sorts of snacks. For a minute I got nervous about my pack which had been “stored” somewhere by the back door. But then I got distracted by the juice man who sold me a half-litre carton of pure OJ for the equivalent of a quarter.
The vendors who couldn’t board the bus swarmed around it holding up long wooden sticks to which they had tied all sorts of treats, such as bags of sugar-coated peanuts, popcorn and home made cookies. A passenger just had to wave and they’d rush over, lifting up their stick of goodies so that their new customer could easily reach out his/her window and grab the desired treat. The passenger would then simply hand down/throw out the window whatever money was owed. Now THIS is drive-thru service!
Less than five minutes later, all vendors had ran out/jumped off the bus, front and back doors were kicked shut once more and off we were again. My titan neighbour got off at the next stop and was quickly replaced by a big surly mama who forcefully squished the whole of my already cramped 5’9″ against the scorching window.
I drank up what was left of my juice and carefully tucked the empty carton under my seat, I could find a trash can whenever I’d get off. However this eco-friendly initiative of mine met with sharp resistance from my new neighbour. Appalled by my thoughtless bus littering practices, she demanded that I throw the carton out the window like any good Honduran would.
Now, I strongly adhere to the “take only pictures, leave only footprints” philosophy. Refusing was a matter of principle, the result of years of exposure to “stop global warming/save the whales/hug a tree” propaganda. But my stoic rebellion only served to exasperate her even more. She had precious little patience for this gringo nonsense. Reaching under my seat, she grabbed the empty carton and threw it out the window herself. “Basura fuera!” (“garbage out”) she told me for the tenth time, convinced the nature of this “miscommunication” was purely linguistic.
I sadly watched my carton tumble down to reach the accumulation of trash already lining the highway. A good friend of mine had once told me: “when you travel abroad, never forget that everything you know is wrong.” No kidding.
So finally we reached Trujillo. I got a $5 room with a view over the pirate cemetery. Completely weeded over, crumbling and abandoned, the place was spooky all right, but still a bit of a disappointment. I took a few pictures and did some sightseeing in and around town for a couple of days until I came down with some mix of turista and heat exhaustion. Lost four days feeding the colony of roaches in my bathroom. The fifth day I was finally better, packed my bag and got ready to head back to La Ceiba and the Bay islands for my diving holiday.
Before I had to go to the beach and get a bit of a tan. I was only gonna be an hour… I’d be back to my islands and diving in no time… really.