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Published: February 23rd 2019
Borracho a Honduras
I felt this sad picture was important to show. Not all is well in Honduras. But they get by.
Crossing into Honduras from Guatemala was bitter sweet. I had to watch my Pair of Brown Eyes disappear from my peripheral mirror. But the thrill of a new adventure propelled me onward.
Things have changed in Honduras since I was here 32 years ago. First off, I don’t remember there being an “official” border crossing at El Florido. Just a little man napping by the side of the road. Now there is a building and a process.
The officers from each country sit side by side in their respectable uniforms behind an impossibly tall teller’s counter. I wait for my exit stamp. They are unfriendly and curt. When I shuffle sideways to get my entry stamp, I’m barked at to get back in line. I look around, I’m the only one in the building. But I do as I’m told.
They leisurely continue with their discussions on someone’s flirtatious escapades and the stats of a recently televised footy match. Finally, I’m waved up. A photo and some fingerprints, and an entry stamp is smashed into my passport. Bienvenidos a Honduras!
Outside, the whole highway is a muddy, chaotic mess with crumpled culverts and eroded hillsides.
Ready to PickWas there a landslide here?
A group of Hondurans wait to be picked up to be taken up to the hills to pick coffee.
I've got no one to ask.
Hours go by before my micro bus frees itself from the bottleneck of transport trucks and we crawl along alternating traffic like a snail. Out my window, the tropical green of Guatemala is slowly replaced by dry highlands, as Honduras officially switches into its winter season. Truckloads of local workers are packed in like sardines, they stand stoic in this blazing midday sun as we wait. My squished seat in the back of this AC-less van, suddenly not so bad. I doze a bit because there is nothing else to do.
They let me out at the town square of Copan. Drenched in sweat, it’s a struggle to pull my heavy backpack onto my shoulders as I try to get orientated. I follow an obliging local's pointed finger up the steepest of hills. My hostel is up there? Gah.
A loitering Tuk Tuk driver offers to take me up for $1. Offer accepted.
The hostel is a festering, moss cinderblock. But for $17 a night, I kind of expected that. A friendly, shy family lives amongst the bustle, in the shade, doing their
Copan's Ruler forever frozen in carved stone
chores. There is a clunky ceiling fan in my room but it’s too weak for a siesta, so, I walk back down to explore Copan, finding a postcard for my niece and a post office to mail it, buy some fresh fruit, and look over the wares of the trinket salesmen.
Later, after a cold trickle shower and some cockroach-squishing gymnastics, I find myself loitering at the town square, they are in the midst of a telethon to raise money for various things. The town folk eat ice cream, kids run about, and we enjoy live music at that compulsory decibel acceptable only to Latinos.
Copan is cobblestone crumbly quaint, with enough expats living amongst, I am ignored rather than get that ol' stranger danger stink eye.
Hungry, I spot a restaurant that has a Canadian flag flying high in front, and I can’t resist. Inside, an elderly woman is fanning an open flame oven, she gives me a toothless greeting. The whole place is full of blue smoke and Canadiana junk nostalgia, and there is pizza on offer. I feel weirdly at home.
The bartender called Jorge flirts for his tip by saying my blue
Such a little sweetie, living in the coffee hills of Honduras
eyes are like a morpho butterfly. Smooth.
He nicknames me Celeste. As I settle in, he tells me a fascinating story. He remembers not so long ago, strangers from the USA came around asking to speak to any single mothers, homeless men, or anyone desperately needing financial aid. They offer 100,000 Lempira (about $4,500 us) to those willing to join a protest movement advancing towards the US border. Sound familiar?
As a good faith gesture, once they signed a confidentiality contract, they were given $100 for expenses. Most just signed up for the $100 which is the equivalent of a month of wages here. Those that did walk, were warned the march could turn confrontational, they were coached to provoke the media with stories of desperation and fury. The deal was, once they arrived at the US border, they would text a picture of themselves in front of a particular sign. That proof would activate their promised money. There was never any requirement to cross into the United States. Just be a massive, protesting wave of migrants and get international media attention. Interesting, eh?
As Jorge relayed this story to me, the actual march was advancing towards the US
So beautiful and cheeky as they hang out in the trees squawking at each other
border. We all know what happened. Nothing.
It failed to drum up enough negative reaction to get a wall built. Can you say Wag the Dog?
Sadly, I'm going to presume there was no money at the end of that rainbow either, and now many of those Hondurans are stuck in Mexican limbo.
Back at my hostel, sleep was as sporadic as the waves of cockroaches that skittle freely, plus there was a drunken fight in the alleyway. My toleration level is currently high because I know I’m only staying here one night. Tomorrow, I explore the Copán Ruinas.
My friend Linda and I took a pass on this Mayan kingdom 32 years ago. We were “ruined out” by then, and also, there wasn’t a surf beach nearby.
I awaken to women cooking breakfast in the parking area under a tarp, and for less than a dollar I get a plate full of beans and eggs. Delicious! The Ruins are only 1 mile away, I could have walked to it, but these $1 Tuk Tuk’s are handy.
UNESCO got involved with Copan way back in the 80’s, but I’m still pleasantly surprised at how well organized
I had a little cry when I found this bad boy. Being depleted so fast for their meat, they will be a rare find
and restored it is. I splurge for a guide that speaks English to avoid getting lost in translation.
We stroll around the manicured lawns as he explains the significance of each intricate stone carving. It’s early morning, but sweat is dripping down my brow. His too. Wild macaws streak across the blue sky.
Most of the upright stelae carvings are those of the Rulers. All of them with closed fists grasping a serpent bar perhaps made of gold, long stolen. With some coaching, I can quickly identify their lineage by the glyphs. 18 Rabbit. Moon Jaguar, Smoke Serpent. Around us, several tourists hover comically close trying to listen in because they were too cheap to pay for their own tour guide. My guy cleverly switches to Spanish and we lose them.
This was the Mayan heartland, and Copan was part of that major civilization, including Tikal. Built between 400 and 800 AD and then suddenly abandoned. Rediscovered in 1570 but not excavated until 1975, this lost city was unearthed from its jungle grips, revealing unbelievable architecture. It’s huge, approximately 24 square kms, but tour groups mainly concentrate on the 2 km Acropolis area built for high nobility.
The Daily Commute
Oof, and I thought traveling by Chicken Bus was uncomfortable.
Surprisingly, like at Tikal, I learned that all Copan temples and palaces were painted blood red. How stunning that would have been with a backdrop of green jungle.
Temple 11 has a gateway to the underworld, a forbidden path that only shamans and Rulers dared go. It cost me another $15, but it was well worth going underneath to have a look. The 4 kms of maze lead to tombs, but there are also grotto baths and intricate aqueducts. The underworld was highly significant in Mayan culture and designed to scare the bejezzers out of any of their common folk. I can see why. It's super creepy down here.
The ball court above was a brutal place too. After each game, the winner of the match was beheaded and sacrificed to their Gods. What the AF?
. Not sure how you could stay focused or motivated knowing your win means certain death. Personally, I’d probably throw the game.
I wouldn’t have noticed on my own, but my guide points out how the incredible hieroglyphic stairway was put back haphazardly by archaeologists in the 80’s as they tried to decipher it, you can see the designs on
Such a lovely oasis in the deep jungles of Honduras.
the stones don’t fit together properly. Under tarps they now toil trying to correct their mistakes, but this doesn’t take away from the majesty of it. I’m glad I went.
My Tuk Tuk driver mentions that there is a bird sanctuary not far up a dusty hill. He'll take me for $1. Not really my thing, birds in cages, but I go anyways to have a look. I'm pleasantly surprised, it's an oasis tucked along the Rio Sememil, focused on conservation and rehabilitation. And with so much deforestation in Honduras, very necessary. I cannot believe the array of birds they have, a rainbow of forest dwellers all being nursed back to health. I enjoy interacting with a few of the birds that speak Spanish. They are about as fluent as I am.
I hike the 5 kms back to my hostel in the midday heat to collect my stuff. Tuk Tuks temptingly zoom by in a poof of black smoke, but I force myself to get some exercise. I’m pretty sure my next few days in Honduras are going to be brutal.
I know I said I didn't plan anything for my entire trip in Central America,
Pueblo de Copan
Lovely little town on the edge of the Copan Ruinas. Quite touristy with lots of pubs and B&B's. Well worth a stay.
but there was one thing I did organize when I was back in Canada.
A horticultural practicum up in the Honduran hills, at a coffee plantation. My contact’s family own a gigantic farm and arranged for me to spend a week learning propagation, pest and disease management, and the production process from start to finish. I was so excited. Obviously, we don’t grow coffee in Canada.
With my crude map, I arranged for a belchy Tuk Tuk to take me up a twisty mountain road, but Daniel Sr. was waiting at my hostel with his truck. He is one of the coffee plantation managers and was summoned involuntarily. I quickly understand Daniel is the serious silent type and fetching me is cutting into his allotted time off. He is not amused. While Sr. doesn’t say a word, I delight at listening to his young son ask him endless questions as we bump along. His Dad works 24/7 to provide for his family, and this kid is relishing in their rare father-son bonding moment. Cheeky Junior shyly peeks at me from the front seat. He's not sure what to make of me yet.
Up in the coffee hills,
The Canadian Oasis
I saw the flag and I was like, oh ya. Pizza and beer.
life is simple. Everyone scrapes together a modest lifestyle...with of course fancier cellphones than what I have. All along the hillsides are the crumbling casitas owned by the permanent workers, bedazzled with flashing lights and tacky Christmas decor. I get a guestroom near the main building, past the shacks where the transient pickers live. We share the bathroom facilities.
Chickens walk through the mess hall, pecking at the dirt floor. I watch them and wonder how could they be SO not aware of their impending doom? The camp cooks spend all day in a blackened kitchen, its sweltering hot with the fire pits. Babies on hips, stirring big pots of delicious soup, slapping fresh tortillas on a grill. Someone told them I was a vegetarian, so they bring me a huge salad while everyone else gets a roasted chicken leg.
Coffee picking is extremely hard. My hands ache at the end of the day and are covered in a waxy film from the chemical sprays. I’m warned not to wash it off with water or get it in my eyes, we use a special detergent to scrub it off.
The chemicals immediately give me a hacking cough
Steamy Hot Springs
Just a quick selfie and then sploosh, in I go for a few hours of jungle bliss
and red eyes, runny nose. I can liken it to being pepper sprayed.
Men with concoctions in tanks strapped to their backs make their way down the steep slope in blistering heat, I try to cover over my mouth and nose with my t shirt, wishing for a N95 mask.
I unskillfully pluck each red cherry off long stems while trying to avoid the berries not quite ripe yet. It takes me several hours to pick a plastic basket full. A guy on a tractor comes around, weighs them, writes some numbers in my little book and then takes the cherries to the soaker where they are plunged into water and eventually agitated to remove their softened hull. The river runs an unhealthy brownish-red all the way into town because of this process.
Within each cherry are two yellowish green seeds. The coffee beans. The next step is the curing process, the beans are spread out in the blazing sun. Each town has acres of flat cement surfaces, ours is the elementary school’s playground. We use comically-long push brooms to move the coffee around, so it is evenly dried. I fall into my bunk at the end
Probably not a good idea to hang out in the kitchen and dining area, chicken.
of the day.
After a week, my back aches and I can barely bend at the waist. If the Starbucks crowd were aware of the effort it takes to harvest their precious coffee, I’m pretty sure they’d shell out $50 for a Venti.
To make conversation, I ask my fellow pickers if they drink coffee. They giggle and turn up their noses. That’s a no
. As usual, I am fairly amusing to teenagers. When they aren’t smirking at me as I clomp around in my gum boots, they chat me up freely and teach me Honduran slang.
They ask me Que Pedo? Which literally means What's the Fart? Apparently it’s their slang for How's it going? Either that, or they are having me on.
I love it either way.
Everyone wants to know what life is like in Canada.
I tell them all about the snow igloos we live in and sled dogs we use to get to and from work. They eat it up. It sounds so wonderful, even after I them I’m just joking. They can’t quite understand why I would come here and work for free. My sanity is questioned. I too
El Jefe Renaldo
Having a phone break on the hills of Honduras. I always have to laugh.
am wondering what I’m doing by this point.
Renaldo, the day boss takes me under his wing, and I am shown all the processes, I learn how to propagate one day, mix chemicals the next. Lastly, we hike up a hill and help replant an area mowed down by a recent landslide. When I was a teen, I did tree planting in the Yukon, and I’m reminded of this. The bugs, the heat, the backbreaking work. Acre upon acre that needs to be replanted.
This is not an easy life.
Everything on me aches. Then I remembered how Daniel Sr. pointed out a thermal hot springs resort as we drove in. I think I’ll go on my last day. Renaldo tells me the locals go there to sooth their sore muscles and socialize after church. Definitely worth checking out.
After receiving a warm goodbye from all the pickers, I jump on a colectivo and head back down the hill towards the resort. The driver drops me in front of a long driveway, I’m not sure what to expect. It's just a shack in the jungle with Christmas decorations. But the family who run it are super
Fireworks for Sale
OMG, you could blow up half of El Salvador with the fireworks available in Honduras!!
friendly and they want to know if I'll stay for a Tilapia dinner. Sure!
They take me across a suspension bridge and we gingerly hike up mossy stairs into a thick jungle, in Spanish, I am given a shamanic interpretation of each pool's spiritual meaning, it’s a bit kitschy but inviting. Stones have been arranged into deep pools to catch the sulphuric waters, and the further you descend, the cooler the water gets. At the top pool I can't even put my toe in. So I Goldilocks myself into a medium pool and spend the next few hours soaking under a spectacular jungle canopy, startled occasionally by ghostly apparitions that float through heavy steam in the backdrop, covered in a blue sediment mud, apparently a coveted health treatment for all skin aliments. I too cover myself from head to toe in the mud. When in Rome
It starts to get dark, so I text Daniel Sr. and he says he will come and pick me up. Next thing I know, Daniel and his four year old are jumping into the pools with me. Junior and I take turns holding our breath under water and counting to 20 in
Roatan in the Buff
A beautiful archipelago of Islands off the coast of Honduras
both English and Spanish, Dad smiles proudly.
He asks if I enjoyed working at the coffee plantation and I have to say hesitantly, yes. He shakes his head. He thinks I’m loca. The family feed us a whole BBQ’d fish for dinner before we rumble back down the hill and I’m deposited back in Copan. I get a big hug from Junior. My new bestie.
Tomorrow, I make my way to the Caribbean coast for a few days of beach life. Roatan is such a beautiful raw gem. Especially when its sunny.
Last time I csme here, it rained torrential for weeks, all I could do was drink rum and lay in a hammock. I know. Boo Hoo.
I figured the cheapest, most time-efficient way to get to Coxen Hole was to take an overnight bus to San Pedro Sula and then fly to Roatan. My planning is flawless and not only is my air B&B perfect, but I timed my trip for when it's not saturated with Americans.
The next day I hired a panga and we skiff out to a group of islands, I'm staying on Cayo Cochinos in a rustic beach hut.
Captured by the Military
Can't help but pose next to any armed officers I see
I will be Robinson Crusoe’ing myself for 4 glorious days.
Perfect weather blessed me. I snorkeled around the reefs, ate seafood, sunned myself, read and relaxed. It was pure bliss. But...
My tolerance for doing nothing...and with no boy Friday...and no electronics, is only about 4 days.
So I made my way back to the city of Tegucigalpa and spend a couple days in this charming colonial landmark, listed as The Most Dangerous City in the World. I’m going to look past that designation
As a traveler, you really need to be able to. Yes, Honduras is a little rough around the edges. Dangerous even. Currently our travel website for Canada screams DON'T GO THERE, EH?
As I walk around, I can feel the danger and despair. Most locals keep their heads down and work hard. I try street food and peruse the markets. Everywhere, the signs of a corrupt government, with extreme poverty, alcoholism and drug use having a solid hold on the indigenous peoples that innocently come into this city looking for a better life, and fail miserably. Many of their young sons forced to join the influx of gangs around
Streets of Copan
Small like quaint town in the heart of Copan country.
here just to survive.
Worse now since the Cartels have changed up their business strategy, and instead of using Belize as an easy halfway point for getting drugs into Mexico headed for the USA border, its Honduras. It seems hopelessly dangerous now.
At my hostel, a few Aussies warn me not to cross over into Nicaragua via Honduras as a solo traveler. Seems some unsavory guards are waiting for the likes of me to stumble into their sticky web. I have to say, my spidey senses fully concur.
I veer off towards El Salvador instead. Which seems like an oxymoron.
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