Nov
26
2008
4

North coast of Honduras

I could have said, “Caribbean coast of Honduras”, but that would have given you the idea that it’s sunny skies, warm, and blue-green waters. Which it’s not. It’s more like the North coast of England, actually. Why, oh why, did I decide to come in the rainy season?!

How’s this for a travel day:
6:00 am lancha (small boat) for 45 minutes from Livingston to Puerto Barrios. Pleasant trip hugging the coastline. Then into a seriously overpriced taxi for a ride that turned out I could have walked in 10 minutes! [This trip is full of lessons learned.. like, even though the cabbies have more information than I do of what the distances are and therefore what the fare should be, I have time on my side – in the future, I will simply decline every offer until they either a) lower their price sufficiently, or b) I find out the necessary information from locals in the vicinity.. like, can I just walk there?!]
Into a minibus bound for the border. Walked across the border, got exit/entry stamps, caught a chicken bus (they say old school buses don’t die, they just go to Central America) bound for Puerto Cortes. Hugged the Northeast coast of Honduras on this ride, which was accompanied by American 80’s rock blasting at full volume. Even with my earplugs in, Bryan Adams doesn’t sound good.
Had a quick wander around and a bite to eat, then caught a local (non-direct) bus to San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras.
Here they actually had a real bus station (as opposed to being dropped on the street and wandering around to find the next bus) replete with shops, including Dunkin’ Donuts! Which I hadn’t experienced since the Atlanta airport at 5am, when I began this whole journey. I’ve kept both receipts, it’s amazing the difference in cost.
There are two bus companies that operate first-class long-distance service, and they’re legendary. A/C, meals served by wait staff (!), movies, reclining seats, the works. I took a similar one from Bulgaria to Istanbul a few years back that was pleasant. Alas, it was too much for me (and I was only going a few hours), so I went second class to La Ceiba. Which was absolutely fine by me, until… they forgot to drop me off in La Ceiba!
It’s not like it’s a small town or anything – it’s the third largest city, and it’s supposed to have a bus station that I would have gotten off at. I’m not sure what happened, but by the time the conductor and I looked questioningly at each other, we were a good 10km beyond the city, headed to god knows where. Did I mention that it was dark and raining, as well? We had just passed a police checkpoint, so they dropped me off and I waited out of the rain with the cops who were very nice in helping to flag down a taxi. They also told me how much it should cost, most helpful..
Then things got really weird. The guidebook I’ve been relying on for facts like hotels (Footprint, which is usually pretty accurate) had hotels listed that have not only disappeared, but in one case the street it was supposedly on doesn’t even exist! It was quite a sight. Me, hiking all over town in this torrential downpour at night (glad to have a light pack), trying to find just one decent hotel. It was a laugh or cry situation, and I was laughing.

All in all, what should have been a six-hour trip (according to one travel agent) became 13 hours of 1 boat, 2 taxis, 4 buses, and a lot of walking in the rain. But I’m happy to report that my spirits were high the entire day, it was a great adventure. I’m learning to have fun (rather than get annoyed) with the crazy people who shout in your face whatever they’re trying to sell. I just shout back.
And now I am armed with that much more knowledge of how things work down here.

There is something odd about this town. It’s as if a light hurricane struck it, which I suppose is not too far off the mark. There was a lot of flooding in in Northern Guatemala and Honduras about two months ago, and evidence abounds. A lot of the bridges we went over were obviously temporary, you could see the real one hanging in pieces next to us. Here in town the strip along the waterfront, which should be full of nice places, are all battered and torn up. But it doesn’t explain the missing businesses… a lot of the restaurants from the book are also missing. Strange.

One thing that really gets on my tits is honking. You know how in New York, all the African cabbies will honk to ask if you need a lift? Although you were doing nothing whatsoever to give them any indication that you needed a lift, you were simply walking down the street in peace. Well, here it’s worse. I swear every third car is a taxi, and all day long they drive about hunting for fares. I took a walk this morning out on the edge of town, and occassionally a cab would pass me incessantly honking until I told him to fuck off. Hello, you’re the only car for a mile around! Don’t you think if I wanted you, I would flag you down? Do you really think I don’t see you unless you honk??
As a result, the streets are full of cabs honking at people who naturally ignore them. Man, I really need to take up meditation or something to not let this kind of stuff get under my skin.
I´ve always felt that cars should come with a horn regulator, such that you’re given a certain amount of honks to use in a given day/week/month and once you’ve used up that quota, the horn won’t work again until the next day/week/month. It’s really a no-brainer.
Guatemala was pretty restrained in their use of horns, which I think is probably unusual for Latin America.

From the limited amount I’ve seen thus far, it feels like Honduras is a bit more organized with better infrastructure than Guatemala. The first stop lights I’ve seen since Guat City. The prices are about 50% higher too, which surprised me – other travelers reported the opposite. Perhaps things will be different in the south.
The people are lighter skinned (being Latinos), rather than indigenous Mayans. Since Spanish is their native tongue (for the Mayans, it’s their second language), they talk really fast and slur a lot. Even when I ask them to slow down, theysimplyinsert                      bigpausesbetween theirotherwisereallyfastspeech               soIcan’tunderstandadamnthingthat’sbeingsaid!

Something for you foodies: back in Livingston, I had the traditional Garifuna seafood soup made with coconut milk, plantains, shellfish, and (drum roll…) a whole fish plopped on top! It was delicious, but I was reminded of when Rissie and I drove across Bulgaria. Every restaurant served whole fish, and since she had recently rescinded vegetarianism (and for understandably aesthetic reasons), was grossed out by the head of the fish staring up at her from the plate. So we developed a routine whereby she would avert her eyes while I dissected the fish and hid the head in the nearest planter before she could eat.

People ordinarily come to this town as a jumping-off point for the Bay Islands, which are the main attraction in Honduras. It’s the cheapest place in the world to get PADI-certified in scuba diving. I was interested in perhaps doing that, or snorkeling at the very least, but this weather is really not looking good. It’s actually sunny at the moment, but I don’t trust that it will last. Anyway, the seas are still choppy and cloudy, which is no good for diving. Hmm. I guess I’ll go to the islands anyway just to see them, but might not end up diving.

Written by in: Honduras | Tags: , , ,
Nov
24
2008
0

Rio Dulce and Livingston

After Lanquin and Samuc Champey, I traveled to Rio Dulce. This is a town / lake / river that’s meant to be pretty. And it is, when you get away from the town itself. A lot of the rich bigwigs from the city have weekend houses out here – our captain pointed out a few (the owner of Gallo beer has several large boats – and he lives alone..)
There aren’t any decent places to stay in town, they’re all a boat ride away. Which sounds nice, but once you’re there, it means you’re trapped. You can’t even go for a walk, since it’s all marsh beyond the boardwalks connecting the few buildings. You have to take a boat to get anywhere, which costs money and is a pain. As a result, the lodges can soak you for food. I happened to stay at one that was Swiss-owned, so it attracted a lot of Germans. Not that I have anything against the German people, but I do find their language grating.

So I got out of there the next day, along with a few other folks I had traveled with. First, we visited a natural hot spring waterfall. Crazy! There is a large natural pool with a cool river flowing through it. And from above, a very strong, very hot waterfall of sulfuric spring water pouring down. Twas nice.
Trying to come back into town, we waited for a bus for a while before I finally flagged down a passing truck. They graciously peeled back the top cover, and we all climbed aboard the feed bags. Much better than being crammed into a packed bus, and cheaper too. I’d like to travel in the back of trucks much more. You do get pretty dusty, but the view is unparalleled.

After that, it was a long boat ride up the river through the gorge to the town of Livingston, where I am currently holing up. This town is only accessible by boat. Which is pretty incredible when you look around and see all the huge things that could only have come in by boat – roads, walls, water towers, cars, etc.
I was feeling a bit lonely and down (more on that later) when who should I run into walking down the street than Marisol, my dear friend from Spanish school! Oh, that was such a blessing. It really made my week. She was on her way from Belize to El Salvador to go surfing, and had stopped here for the night. We had a nice time catching up and such.

Livingston feels much more Carribean than Guatemalan. Mainly because it’s populated by Garifuna, so they’re black and have a completely different culture and language than the Mayans. The Garifuna have an interesting history – they were slaves that got run from one island to another in the 18th century. But they’ve gone from only 2,000 survivors in 1797 to 50,000 in New York City alone today. There are also strongholds in L.A., New Orleans, even London. Most live on the Carribean coast of Honduras, with a bit in Belize, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Their language is a unique blend of Arawak, French, Yuroba, Banti, and Swahili, owing to their mixed heritage. Their dugu (religion) is similar to Haitian voodoo, and death is seen as a freeing of the spirit; a celebration involving dancing, drinking and music. Punta is the name of their style of music. It’s very up, fast, and rhythmic. At dinner the other night, a group of musicians suddenly set up and regaled us all with some fierce rhythms. Congas, turtle and conch shells, maraccas, with chanting too. Locals wandering by stopped to dance. Kids taking turns showing off their moves. Here is a bit of it I recorded on the iPhone. Unfortunately I didn’t have my camera with me! I would love to see some Punta Rock, but the clubs that supposedly usually present it have been dark.

I can see that it would be a nice relaxing town if the weather were better, but it’s been raining off and on (mostly on) for three straight days now. I’ve been trying to arrange transport to the Bay Islands in Honduras, with little luck. I might have to take a whole series of local buses, which I’m dreading. Plus, the weather is meant to be similar over there, which doesn’t bode well for snorkeling and diving, the main activities on the Bay Islands. If any of you have been to Honduras, I’d love to hear recommendations of where else to go.

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