Published: August 13th 2010August 10th 2010
(Day 858 on the road)
One thing that you won't see in Honduras are other tourists. After the very touristy Bay Islands on the Caribbean north coast we were expecting tourists all over the rest of the country, but to our surprise there were almost none at all. During our whole final week in the country we met only a handful of other travellers (three German students and a US family at Lake Yojoa).
Apart from them, it felt at times that all governments had issued stern travel warnings against Honduras and we had somehow missed it: Every hotel we stayed in: Absolutely empty, not a single other guest in sight. Every local bus we used: Only locals, no gringos or other tourists. Every attraction we visited: Dito, only us. Wonderful! When I look back at most other countries I have been able to visit on this trip, this is simply astonishing. Only El Salvador, where we will go back to after Honduras, can claim to be similar on this front.
The absence of other travellers made for some great encounters with the local population. And it also means that the country as such is totally unspoilt with regards
to tourism. Once again I was surprised to see that we hardly ever if at all were charged higher prices than locals, save for the odd entrance fee. It makes travelling just so much easier if you can just let your guard down when it comes to paying for things.
Our first stop on this part of the journey was Lake Yojoa in the western part of the country. Whilst the lake is certainly beautiful, the alligators make swimming here a rather risky undertaking, and we rather focussed on the surrounding sights, including some nice hiking in the Parque Nacional Cerro Azul meambar (quite a mouthful but great views of the lake from atop the mountains) and a visit to the pretty waterfall of Pulhapanzak.
At Pulhapanzak I somehow and totally by accident managed to do the most thrilling thing I have in a very long time: A trek behind the actual waterfall. It might not sound like much, I have no pictures and it is very hard to put it into words, but let me try: Start by imagining a thundering 40-metre waterfall. As with most waterfalls the water does not fall straight down, but hits a
few rocks and terraces along the way. It was on these rocks and terraces that our crazy guide let us along, roughly in the middle of the fall, right by the edge of a 20 metre drop.
He started off by telling us that it would be unlike anything we ever done in our lives ("Right, like I have never been behind a waterfall, blah blah"). Then: We shouldn't take anything at all as it will get wet ("Sure, a little spray from the waterfall can't be that bad, so stop dramatising it, mister").
Well, what can I say? It was unlike anything I have ever done in my life. And: I was wet to the bone in less than two minutes into the short trek. Lucky I had listened to the guide and and had left everything with Tino, who had decided to give it a miss (what a shame).
It was simply insane: Our little group that included a US family, Kristina and myself were wading up to chest deep through the brawly waters of the falls on a small terrace. From the left the water came crashing down from above on a twenty-metre drop,
on the right there was the edge with another twenty-metre drop. The mist and spray were so thick that for most parts we could not see but rather only sense the edge (and everything else, which made waking slow and tedious). Not sure if not seeing made us more or less relaxed.
Soon our little group was holding each other by the end so that we wouldn't be washed over the edge by the force of the water as we waded through pools, climbed over rocks and crossed rushing rivers. In the end we were standing literally right in the very middle of the huge waterfall in a tiny overhang of sorts that protected us from being swept away. Sticking our necks out of it into the actual waterfall (whilst being held firmly by the guide so we weren't swept away) was the best aqua-massage all of us ever had. In fact, we were a little worried it would break our necks, so strong was the pressure. Absolutely insane. I can't think of any (more) developed country that would allow a tour even remotely similar to this crazy trek. And, as always, I found that doing something is always
better than not doing it.
As an antidote of sorts to this daft trek we found ourself at the peaceful hot springs of Aquas Termales de Azacualpa. The piping hot water and tons of hot sulphurous smoke come out in the middle of a tunnel-like cave that a rivers runs down through. The part before the hot spring the river is cool and refreshing, after the hot spring it is unbearably hot, and a little further downstream (where it joins another, bigger river), the temperature becomes just right. Plus, the cave made for an excellent natural steam sauna; depending on how close one sat to the smoking vent it was either tame or scorching hot. Needless to say that we had the whole place plus an accommodation that can hold 24 people all for ourselves.
One thing I couldn't help to notice in Honduras countryside are the large numbers of blonde children. They are quite a sight really; in a Latin American country, where close to 100% of the population has dark hair and eyes and brownish skin, I keep asking myself time and again: Where are the parents of this blonde girl here? The Spanish influence is
the answer of course (is "cross-breeding" a term you would use for people?), but still: How two dark-haired parents can end up with a light-blonde son is quite amazing really. And I keep turning my head every single time I see a blonde child.
During our travels around the country we soon realised that hitch-hiking was by far the best way to get anywhere. Whilst buses are certainly an option, they are simply incredibly slow, with all their endless trailing at two kilometres an hour for more passengers and their countless stops every few hundred metres. Thumbing it is just so much faster. Example: On one route we took the bus there (one hour and thirty minutes) and hitched back a few days later (40 minutes). Adding the time we would have to wait for the bus to leave hitch-hiking is easily three times faster than using public transport. Plus, big bonus, it is free!
All in all, Honduras must be one of the easiest countries in the world to hitch-hike, even better than Malaysian Borneo, my number one so far: On one particular day we used a total of seven different pick-ups, a fully-loaded lorry and even
a gas-bottle truck to get from A to B. Each one of them was always the very first car that had stopped for us. It was almost scary - stand by the road, lift your thumb, the first car always stops, and we are on our way.
A few crazy drivers however got us right off hitching for a few days. The drivers here have simply no sense of danger, and no sense of responsibility either. Does a bus driver with a full bus really need to write an sms on his phone while speeding downhill and cutting corners, just after he spent over thirty minutes of idling along hoping to pick up more passengers? Or does the father with his whole family inside the car and us three foreigners on the back of his pick-up really need to overtake a lorry on an uphill slope in a steep right turn? Or am I being unreasonable here?
We saw a few horrible accidents and even got off a ride at one point as we were too scared and literally afraid of dying sitting in the open back of his pick-up truck that everybody seems to be driving here
(and which make hitching so easy). Possibly all the stickers proclaiming that "Jesu Christo es el Senor" or "Jeovoa es mi pastor" and similar ones seen on most buses and cars might have something to do with their careless and reckless driving. The numbers however speak for themselves: Honduras has over twice the number of road traffic deaths than, or instance, Germany with its Autobahn without speed limits in many parts. Not cool, Honduras.
But in the end there was simply no sensible alternative, so we resumed our hitches and were rewarded with endless memories and a few heart-stopping moments. The best one was certainly a hitch in a chartered bus with a group of US volunteers. The driver simply took us along, and after he delivered the volunteers to their four-day voluntary project, he happened to go exactly where we wanted to, and even dropped us in front of a potential hotel in the centre of town. Muchas gracias, Alex!
Our last stop in Honduras was what the guidebook had called one of the highlights of the country - the little colonial town of Gracias. Well, it wasn't anything special really. It was simply a small town
that has seen better days and that seems to live off its past, attracting tourists whilst it still can. Nearby Santa Rosa, which is only mentioned in the book as another town but not proclaimed anything special, was immensely more interesting and picturesque I felt. Then again, I did miss a trip Kristina and Tino took to some more hot springs nearby as I wasn't feeling well at all for some reason that day, so maybe that would have influenced my judgement a little to the better.
Looking back at our last and final week in Honduras, I feel that I have somehow not quite connected with the country. In a blog I read whilst being here the author was simply fascinated by Honduras, it being the best country in Central America for him and how he spent over three months here. Always interesting how different people can experience the same country. To be fair, I would imagine that the wild and vast east of the country, notable the national park La Moskitia, holds a few other gem for the traveller with more time than us at the moment. For us, Kristina flies out of Managua in Nicaragua in less than two weeks, so we have to rush things somewhat.
With everything written, I certainly enjoyed my travels in Honduras, but all in all I have to say that Honduras has, apart from the Bay Islands and the Maya ruins of Copan, simply no real highlights. But the absence of tourists in most parts of the country make roaming here a very authentic experience for sure, and looking back it is probably the countless encounters with the friendly locals and the great hitch-hiking that I will remember Honduras for most vividly.
Next stop: Suchitoto (El Salvador). Also have a look at my pictures at http://pictures.beiske.com