From Baja to the Land of Fire #7: Tegucigalpa, Honduras

7: Tegucigalpa, Honduras

Coban – Laquin – Chiquimula – Copan – Omoa – La Ceiba – West End – Trujillo – Tegucigalpa

5 January 2002

So, last time I was still in Coban. Seems like years. I was looking to do a tour to the caves of Laquin and the waterfalls of Cemuc Champey. But nowhere did they have enough people (minimum of 4). I decided to go there on my own with public transportation. Again the trip was beautiful through the green, jungle mountains. In the small village of Laquin I stayed at the El Retiro Lodge, a backpackers place (don’t let the name fool you) just outside of the village next to a clear blue-green river. It was very peaceful and almost unreal, relaxing in the middle of Guatemala. Like at Santa Cruz we all ate together which made it a little more easy for me to make contact.

I stayed two days. The first day I visited the caves. There is a huge cave system there and for the first kilometer it is lighted and a small trail leads you through the many big and sometimes eerie stalactites. The next day I went to Cemuc Champey, a river in the jungle with a small waterfall and many small pools of water in which you can swim. Too bad that for the second time I had only one picture left in my camera and no new film. In the evening I got my first good look at two real and wild tarantulas, and even though they were still considered very young, they looked pretty big to me.

Very early, on a rainy morning, I left to try and reach Copan in Honduras. Due to all kinds of delays I only reached Chiquimula, the last town before the border, and slept again in a warm, humid and typical Latino town. Hardly any ‘Indians’ to be seen and it almost didn’t feel like Guatemala anymore. It is now clear to me that the biggest charm of the highlands of Guatemala are the local people themselves.

On the bus to the border I met Stuart from the U.K. He is one of those travelers who has been everywhere, traveling for many years (working at home every now and then to get some money together). I could see this in his passport where there were hardly any spaces left to put the immigration stamp. We took a room together in Copan and visited the Maya ruins. Well, I was disappointed. The beauty of Copan comes from the many stalea or sculptures of the ancient rulers and their stories. Nice, but I like the bigger stuff. Here is my top 5 list for the Maya ruins:

  1. Tikal, beautifully set in the jungle with many big pyramids and other structures.
  2. Palenque, jungle setting although a little small, I have good memories of this.
  3. Chitzen Itza, many tourists but nice big pyramid and ball court.
  4. Uxmal and Copan, well…just nice I guess
  5. Tulum, only when it’s Sunday (free) and you’re staying at the beach next door.

The ruins of Teotihuacan near Mexico City are not Maya but Aztec. They would share the third place.

After Copan I was planning on going to Trujillo for Christmas. But after reading a negative mail from friends of Stuart’s I decided to go with him to Omoa, another small Caribbean town. This was a good decision. Instead of spending Christmas alone somewhere, all nine people at Pia’s Place got together and created a nice atmosphere for the holiday. For two days we cooked, ate and drank (a lot) together. Some of us joined the locals at their party on Christmas Eve and danced to Latin music into the night. After this we all separated again and went our own way. Very strange.

Very satisfied, except for the 100+ bites from the invisible and notorious sandflies, I left for La Ceiba to catch the ferry to Roatan Island. Here I would spent New Year’s and do some more diving. The next day a little storm kept the ferry inside and I was stuck for the day. Not to get bored (it was raining like crazy) I signed up for a white water rafting trip on the Rio Cangrecal.

The group of five people were all beginners so two guides came along since the river was wilder after the heavy rains the days before.

Well, almost didn’t make 2002. Everything went fine until we were nearing the Class V rapids. We were going to walk around these, but I couldn’t wait. I fell off the boat and went alone through the rapids. I have never felt such power from water and so powerless to help myself. At a certain moment, not being able to get to the surface anymore and running out of air, I clearly thought I was going to die right then and there. I remember being frustrated and feeling stupid about dying in this river in this way.

Somehow, after relaxing (I had been in some little pain) there somehow came a moment I surfaced near a rock, which I grabbed with my finger tips (you know, like those bare-handed mountain climbers) and pulled myself out slowly, very careful not to get pulled back for the last time. Wow, never been this close to death before. When the guides saw the rapids I had passed through they were amazed! Back in town I immediately went to Pizza Hut and treated myself.

Later that afternoon I discovered that a plane ticket to Roatan was just a bit more expensive than the ferry (really). So the next day I flew to the island, made my way to West End and got a four person room at Chillies. Since Roatan is relatively expensive for a backpacker and there was a kitchen available, I went shopping for food and cooked for myself during my entire stay.

The next day I started my Advanced level diving course, having done my Open Water levels more than 15 years ago in Turkey.

During my stay in West End I quickly felt at ease after meeting many other travelers staying at Chillies and their friends at other places and seeing some old acquaintances from Santa Cruz, Xela and Omoa. This would mean that on my daily walks through the village, I would be greeting people as if I was living there. This feels pretty cool and is a benefit when staying longer at one place than one day (like I usually do).

Just two full days of sun, that’s all I got. Luckily these were the last and first day of the years, with a full moon adding to the merry atmosphere, celebrating new year on the beach. Just another typical tropical New Year’s thing.

On the second day of my stay I did my second dive and this went to a shipwreck. It was stormy weather and the waves were high. But when we got down to the wreck it was very nice and also a little scary. Since it was only my Australian instructor, Tony, and I, he took me into the ship as well. This felt like flying, or a camera man doing a 3-D shot of a ship. The minute I got back on the diving boat I threw up and didn’t recover for the rest of the day.

This meant I had to delay my night dive that evening and stay an extra day. This was well worth it because after a full moon many creatures in the sea are fully charged and fluorescent.

I can barely describe how it is to sit on my knees on the sandy bottom of the sea, surrounded by the coral of the reef, with a group of people around me. One minute after turning of our lights, the sea around us starts to light up. Like fireflies, coming together in strings, all over the place into the distance. And when you move your hands through the water, pieces light up like magic stars, as in a cartoon. Wow.

Enough fun. It was time to leave the island again. However, another little storm kept me at the airport the whole day. Finally, the next day, I got on the first flight out in a little plane. Never knew how much the winds can effect a little plane. During the whole 20 minute flight I kept my bearings on where the land was, in case we crashed and I had to swim to shore. It wasn’t necessary. I did arrive in a heavy rainfall and on the bus ride to Trujillo I could see the damage the flooding had done. One bridge had partially collapsed and I had to walk through the long traffic jammed in front of the bridge and cross over to catch another bus. I could now imagine more clearly what devastation Hurricane Mitch did three years ago, of which many signs still remain (broken bridges, etc.).

I went to Trujillo to both get a look at the town I didn’t visit for Christmas and to take a bus from here through the Honduran highlands to the capital, Tegucigalpa. And even though I wandered around the town early the next morning at 3 o’clock, I only found a (luxury) bus to to the capital via San Pedro Sula. And so I backtracked part of the road and after 10 hours arrived in the big and dangerous city. From here I will take a bus to Nicaragua and try to get to Leon tomorrow.

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