Los Naranjos – Jícaro Galán 

Walter, the main guide, finally got back to me over breakfast with information on a cave tour I could do, however, it was expensive and if I was going to do it, it would have been better the day before. I politely declined and tucked into my blueberry pancakes. I learned the previous day that these were the way to go…  
I caught a colectivo taxi into the tiny town of Peña Blanca, then a bus back into Guama. From there, another bus dropped me off at Cuevas de Taulabe, a local tourist cave which had developed and undeveloped sections. I bought a ticket for ‘The Extreme Tour’ (ie. the undeveloped part of the cave open to the public) and trotted off with my guide. Fortunately, I think he realised I wasn’t particularly interested in viewing ‘Snow White and the seven short señors’ in the formations so didn’t elaborate too much. Especially when I explained to him how a remnant rim-stone pool on the roof had been formed. 

About 300 m was developed, along with atmospheric lighting. It was as hot as Hades and I think this was the theme they were running with as the majority of lights were either red or orange. I was glad to have my cave light with me as the substandard lighting in the slippery conditions were somewhat on the treacherous side. The ‘extreme’ part of the tour was just wild caving and covered a further 300 m. My guide tried to do the ole ‘just go down this small slippery shute which doesn’t go anywhere and I’ll wait for you here’ trick, but I perfected that malarkey many years ago and called him out on it. 

The cave itself was very heavily decorated and had a lovely display of pristine helictites in the undeveloped section which were in surprisingly good condition. It was obvious where our tour ended as the passage dropped down into a lower level which would have needed SRT to negotiate. Still, it was an interesting cave and I enjoyed seeing it, even if I was only able to go 600 m in. We exited wet (with perspiration!) and muddy, so I took opportunity to clean up and change before jumping on another bus. I showed my guide some photos of caves back home, by which he was most impressed as his knowledge of caves would have only be this cave and maybe some other nearby ones. 

I waited on the side of the road outside the cave for a bus to come along. By now, I had used up my allotted time for Honduras and needed to make a move to cross into El Salvador for the next part of my trip. I had to backtrack down through Comayagua, and then travelled on to Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa. As the bus climbed up the pine clad hills, one had wonderful views of the underlying valley. 

Tegucigalpa is situated in a highland valley, surrounded by beautiful forest. As you enter the city, you notice pastel coloured adobe buildings neatly stacked side by side along dirt roads on various levels on the hillside. The effect is almost like a surreal painting. The bus pulled into its final resting place for the trip and I asked for directions for a bus heading further south. An hombre accompanied me the two blocks I needed to go for the next bus, where I again waited on the side of the road for it to pass. 

On board my final bus for the day, we drove up out of the valley and out of Tegucigalpa. The road ran alongside the international airport which did not look as if it would be able to take too large an aircraft; punctuated by hill at one end and drop off over the city at the other. Soon we were clear of the city and on the open road. As the bus climbed ever higher, one could see the lights of Tegucigalpa sprawled out prettily over the hills and valley. 

I didn’t get to Jicaro Galán, my final destination, until well after dark. I was dropped off at a tiny settlement at a crossroad and pointed in the direction of a hotel. La Hotel Colonial ended up being way out of my budget and I got directions to the only other accommodation choice in ‘town’. As I was leaving the hotel, the guard came out of his guard-box and enquired as to why I wasn’t staying at the hotel. I explained it was too expensive for me and that I was going to try the other hotel. The gracious guard was most adamant that that would not do and reiterated the salient points of his hotel, explaining that it was very secure (illustrating that point with a wave of the ubiquitous shotgun all the up and coming guards have in Honduras) and that I would sleep well. I thanked him, but would not be swayed. He reluctantly let me pass but was not happy. 

Hotel Sirleny was in an unlit section at the far reaches of ‘town’. I didn’t have a light on me so carefully negotiated the patchy road in between traffic passing. I was quite relieved when I finally arrived as by now I was hot and tired. A room less than half the rate of the previous hotel was offered to me by a most affable señora and I gratefully accepted it. Pursuing my room, however, I began to realise that the guard at the other hotel well knew about this one and considered it well below par. Not only was it dirty and ramshackle, there was a large jar of condoms sitting on a shelf adjacent to a grimy mirror attached to the ceiling above the bed. My second Honduran Whorehouse! Maybe they thought I could use a little extra cash as I had complained about the price of the other hotel… None the less, the bed was clean and it was a welcome retreat from pounding the pavement. 

Los Naranjos

The guidebook touts D&D’s famous blueberry pancakes and for very good reason! A plateful of those washed down with superb Honduran coffee is a wonderful way to start a day in this little piece of tropical paradise. As I hadn’t heard back about going caving, I decided to spend the day exploring a local coffee plantation and gardens, and a nearby eco-archaeological park.   
The US airforce guys I had been chatting to the previous evening were discussing what to do for the day as it had started raining and they decided to visit the coffee plantation as well. They invited me to join them and we wandered up the road together. The three guys were firefighters and there was also a girl who was an air traffic controller. They were part of the US military presence here in Honduras to help combat drug trafficking. I told them about my experiences in Brus Laguna and that I wonder whether anyone was actually doing anything effective in this part of the world, but they assured me that their crew still manages to stop a sizeable amount of narcotics. 

We passed an energetic football match which was part of a mini knock out competition with some sizeable (for these parts) prize money. The entrance to Bio Parque y Finca Cafetalera was just over the road and we managed to drag the man at the gate away from the match to pay our entrance fee and get a map. 

The Parque had amazing gardens which were a riot of tropical colour. Little trails wound through the property; up hills, across streams and through some magnificent forest. We had a very pleasant couple of hours exploring the property. When we left, the football competition was in full swing and a highly vocal crowd was providing support. 

We stopped off at D&D’s for a drink then continued on into the tiny village we were on the outskirts of. I farewelled the others and veered off to visit to the bio-archaeological parque. After walking about 500 m along a dirt road, I found the path leading to a suspension bridge over the river into the Parque. I couldn’t find anyone to pay and the two soldiers on the bridge didn’t stop me, so I continued on. 

Parque Eco-Arqueológico de Los Naranjos has a small pre-classic Lenca archaeological site in one corner and walking trails throughout; including about one kilometre of the dodgiest, termite ridden boardwalk I have ever had the discomfort of traversing. That said, the tropical marsh area the boardwalk crossed over was stunning and well worth the treacherous trek. There were also beautiful vistas of Lago de Yojoa from a viewing platform at one end. 

Back on terra firma, I followed one of the trails to a small museum and the other entrance to the Parque, before returning to follow a different trail to the archeological site. There was a lookout tower nearby which I climbed for a lovely view of the forest. Up top were the two soldiers from the suspension bridge and three young boys who were smoking. I tut tutted and the soldiers laughed at the boy’s discomfort. 

Back over the suspension bridge, I picked up the dirt road back into the village and back to D&Ds. I was then able to sample more of this little microbrewery’s selection of home brew. Apart from the Jurassic mosquitoes, it was a very pleasant evening spent by the fire-pit and chatting to expat locals. 

Comayagua – Los Naranjos

Awoke to the headlines and detailed analysis of the recapture of the Mexican drug lord, El Chapo. What a media beat up! Everyone in Central America knows that the drug cartels are untouchable. Corruption goes to the very top in this part of the world. The Mexican authorities need to be seen to be doing something so they provide us with this thrilling little epilogue. Mainly to satisfy the Western World. Drug addicts around the world can relax, though. It won’t alter supply a bit. The only thing that does are the indefatigable efforts of law enforcement officers in other parts of the world.   
I made my way back to the plaza restaurant I spent the previous evening at to meet up with Ricardo and help him put his restaurant on Trip Advisor. He was out when I arrived but wasn’t long in coming. I had never put a business on Trip Advisor myself before, but figured it would have to be fairly easy. And it turned out to be, though, still took hours due to Ricardo needing to take off and run errands and my iPad spitting the dummy and me having to re-enter all the info several times. We eventually achieved success (we hope…) but have to wait several days before it is live on the site. Although it took far longer than anticipated, I had a very pleasant time and it was nice to do something for a genuinely lovely person. 

Ricardo offered to take me to pick up my pack from the hotel and drop me off at the bus terminal. It turned out that he also had a coffee shop at the bus terminal. As we walked across the plaza to his vehicle, I was stunned to see it was a Landrover Defender Td5. As a fellow Landrover driver, we now shared a common bond. Ricardo told me there are only 18 Defenders in the whole of Honduras. I had already seen one in the north, so there must be another 16 lurking around the country somewhere. 

Pack collected and ticket purchased for next leg of the trip, I bid Ricardo adios. I knew I had a longish trip ahead of me with several changes so was keen to be on my way. As the old bus rumbled out of town and back onto the highway, I could see the spires of the magnificent cathedral poking up amongst the surrounding buildings. Although I didn’t spend a lot of time in Comayagua, it turned out to be quite a special place. 

If wasn’t long before we were leaving the long flat valley Comayaqua is situated in and climbing back up into the mountains. The bus slowly chugged its way up the steep road which wound its way up and around the slopes. It was quite a slow trip as there were various roadworks holding traffic up at intervals. Local vendors had taken good vantage of this and plied the halted traffic with food and drink of all kinds. One never needs to worry about not finding something to eat in Central America. If you stand still long enough, something will come your way. And it’s usually fresh and tasty. 

We eventually came to Lago de Yojoa and the terrain changed again; from pine tree clad hills to tropical forest. The road travels quite close to this vast lake and glimpses of its beauty could be gained on occasions out the bus window. The bus pulled into La Guama on the northern fringes of the lake and I was shunted into a minibus for the next leg of the journey. Through the little village of Peña Blanca and further onwards to the tiny settlement of Los Naranjos, where I was dropped off on the side of the road to walk the final 300 m to my digs for the next two nights. 

D&D Brewery and Lodge is run by a US expat who came to Honduras with the Peace Corp and stayed. Astonishingly good beer is brewed on site and in plentiful quantities for the parched traveller with a hearty thirst to slake. As an Australian, I considered it my national duty to sample the range on offer and found the blueberry beer to be a lot tastier than it sounded. I met the owner of D&D and told him I had read in the guidebook about some local caves one can do tours to. He was going to get back to me with further information but I heard nothing more that night. I chatted to the main tour guide, Walter, and some US airforce personnel who were on leave for the weekend, before retiring to my dorm hidden in the tropical gardens. 

Marcala – Comayagua

I returned to the little comedor I had lunch at the previous day for breakfast. I’ve learned that in such places, you don’t ask what is for breakfast, you just ask for breakfast and you will be given a typical breakfast of refried beans, scrambled eggs, plantains, a feta like cheese, tortillas, and what is essentially sour cream. Sometimes, you may also get avocado, chicken or a slice of ham. Good coffee is plentiful in this part of the world and one can also get an impressive array of fresh fruit juices.   
A fracas caught my attention shortly after leaving the little comedor. A woman was loudly and passionately abusing an hombre just down the road from me to an increasing audience of onlookers. The hombre largely ignored her which seemed to raise the senora’s ire. To this end, she threw a motorcycle helmet at him and flounced off. The hombre was left to pick up the helmet and the shreds of his dignity after this very public dressing down. 

As I needed to top up drinking water supplies (and also change a 500 limpira note – not easy even though the ATM dispenses them…), I headed to the local Dispensia Familia (Honduran supermarket). There, I met a small group from Illinois, US who were in a nearby village doing a research project into community water supply. They were also running health and hygiene workshops which explained the caterers pack of soap in their shopping basket. 

I collected my pack and checked out of my hotel. Thinking I would take a short cut to the edge of town to walk up to the bus terminal, proved a brutal error. I crossed a bridge which looked like the one I had crossed the previous day and continued on my hot, sweaty way up and up and up the side of the hill. Not recognising any landmarks, about half way up I began to realise I had erred in my choice of direction. Still, I traversed ever onwards and upwards thinking (nay hoping…) I actually was on the right road and would soon recognise something. At the top of the hill, I couldn’t even argue with my optimistic self, as it was bloody obvious I had stuffed up! Still….maybe I could cut across to the terminal from here? Enquiries from a local led to a big fat NO!

Back down I trudged, right into the centre of town before coming across any form of transportation that could take me where I wanted to go. By now, I had had enough of traipsing up hill and down dale in the sticky heat and opted for a ride in a tuk tuk up the correct hill to the bus terminal. I soon saw my error, but it wasn’t in vain; I got to see a little more of this beguiling town. 

The journey from Marcala to Comayagua was interesting for reasons other than visual. As our little minibus chugged slowly up the hill out of town, the driver took opportunity to text his mate. All of a sudden, another vehicle cut in front of us, very nearly causing our vehicle to roll into the ditch on the side of the road. Evidently, this little indiscretion was solely the fault of the other vehicle and our driver awoke from his stupor to roar off and try catch up to the now targeted driver. It wasn’t long before we were brutally cutting him off and coming to a complete halt. As did the unfortunate driver who wasn’t planning on overtaking our vehicle anytime soon. Eventually, he realised he had to run the gauntlet sooner than later and passed us to a torrent of abuse from our driver. Then followed a half hour dissection of the event between driver, assistant and fellow passenger. At no point did it occur to them that perhaps if our driver hadn’t been texting on his phone, the situation may have been less perilous. 

The journey itself was extremely beautiful with the soft green of the pines punctuating the vivid blue sky. We drove slowly through mountainous country, eventually coming down to a long flat valley where our little minibus was able to pick up a bit of speed. I managed to get a seat up front next to the driver which meant I had a great view of the countryside, however, I also got the full impact of the midday sun. It was with mixed blessing when I finally got dropped off on the side of the road in Comayagua. 

After a shorter than anticipated taxi ride to the hotel I had picked out of the guidebook, I dumped my pack and went to explore this large colonial town. I followed directions to the Parque Central and eventually came to an impressive plaza, complete with large, ornate cathedral. By now, I had well and truly worked up a thirst, I found a little restaurant in the plaza next to the cathedral for a cerveza and quick read up of the place. 

Comayagua was the original capital of Honduras for over 300 years, until it was moved to the current capital, Tegucigalpa. Although hot, humid and choked with traffic, it has many beautiful colonial era buildings within its historic centre. The pace of life varies from hectic in the markets and commercial areas, to tranquil in the various plazas. In all, a rich and interesting place to explore. 

I went back to the little restaurant in the plaza later in the afternoon and watched the early evening parade pass through the plaza as the sun set. Throughout, a most affable señor kept up wonderful service and checked on me regularly to ensure everything was OK. When I left, he told me he was the owner of the restaurant. I asked if he was on Trip Advisor as I wanted to write a review to commend the place. He told me he wasn’t as yet as he wasn’t sure how to set it up. I figured this was as good a place as any for coffee and breakfast in the morning so offered to help him. Arrangements made, I walked back to my hotel, which to my delight, I found in the dark with most of my landmarks having shut up for the night. A much better effort than earlier in the day. 

La Esperanza – Marcala 

After a lovely stop over in La Esperanza, it was time to push on. Marcala beckoned, like a saucy siren, with promises of a large cave on its outskirts. Along with colonial history and an indigenous flavour, this solitary sailor was hooked. I got directions to the bus terminal and walked to catch a minibus to this much touted (in the guidebook) town. 
I was warned by the hombre at my hotel in La Esperanza that the road to Marcala was in poor condition, but compared to some roads I’ve driven on in Australia, it wasn’t really that bad. Though to a Landrover driver, what seems ‘not that bad’ could be seen as somewhat questionable to others… It was a beautiful drive through pine clad hills, past gullies where small streams gurgled ever downwards. As everywhere, farmers had carved their little niches into the countryside, with small crops nestled in the surrounding forest. 

It was midday by the time I arrived in Marcala and got directions to the town centre. It was a hot, dusty walk, though it was pretty easy to find the main road into the centre – it was the only one paved! I eventually came to a large square sectioned off with shiny bright corrugated iron. No prizes for guessing that this was the town plaza. Closed for renovation. I got directions to the tourist office where I had been assured in my guidebook I would be able to secure good directions to my much lusted after cave. 

It appeared that the ‘tourist office’ was more like a ‘tourist officer’ who latched onto me with relish. I couldn’t have had more personalised attention. Even though I struggled with her thick accent, she assisted me as best she could and even escorted me to the hotel I had chosen out of the guidebook. Estheffany assured me that they got lots of tourists to this part of the country, but I had my doubts that they were of the foreign kind. After assisting me to check into the hotel (including coming up with me to check the room!), Estheffany told me to contact her if I needed any further assistance. I thanked her and bid her adios. 

A quick bite to eat, then it was off to negotiate a taxi to take me out to the parque I needed to get to as it was several kilometres out of town. We drove past a tiny settlement and I was dropped off at a locked gate just beyond. I organised with my driver to return later in the afternoon and trotted off down the dirt road. It was lovely walking in the Honduran highland countryside without a soul to be seen. Even though my driver had instructed me to keep to the left, I spotted the river to my right and went to investigate. A very pleasant stroll along the river led to a large pool of water under a cliff where water was cascading down from a above. A small crevice was behind the waterfall but nothing of significance.

I made my way back out of the gully to the dirt road and continued my journey. The stream above the waterfall had been dammed and there was irrigation pipe going in every direction. Clearly this was a major irrigation point for the area. It was truly a tranquil area with a couple of horses quietly grazing on grassy banks leading to pine forests. There were a few small wooden structures suggesting stalls of some description, however, I saw no other person the entire time. 

  Looking for an obvious path to what I thought was a major tourist attraction, I followed a path along the stream for a further few hundred metres. Realising I had probably passed the cave, I backtracked and made my way up a precarious pathway up the side of the hill. When I reached the top, I met with the track I should have taken. From there, it was only a short stint to the cave. 

  La Cueva Gigante was a total misnomer in my eyes. From what I could gather, it was more a recess than an actual cave, but as I couldn’t access it, I couldn’t be sure. It was a major archeological site and the crumbling remains of a concrete bridge was a tantalising former means of entering the site. As it was getting time for me to return to meet my taxi driver, I cut my losses and made my way back to the tiny settlement where I had been dropped off. Even though, I didn’t get to go in a cave, it was still a magical meander through the local countryside.   

 My driver returned and we made our way back into Marcala. Hot and sticky, the cold shower didn’t seem like such a terrible option now. Freshened up, I found a restaurant overlooking Parque Central in the guidebook that had wifi and local cuisine. A well presented woman came over to me after I had eaten and introduced herself. She was the owner of the lovely restaurant and I found out that the Parque Central had been closed for four months and would be closed for another three. Even though the Parque was completely boarded up, one could see the trees which dominated it. I can only imagine it would be a beautiful little place for the locals to chill and enjoy. 

La Esperanza

I was glad for the extra blanket I had sequestered as it got decidedly chilly during the night. This was a pleasant change at least from the sweltering heat of the lowlands. I found a pretty little restaurant nearby to have breakfast and sample some of the region’s superb coffee.   
There was mention in the guidebook of a small cave converted into a grotto. It wasn’t hard to find; high up in the side of a hill, La Gruta overlooked the valley of La Esperanza. If there ever was a cave there, it is now indistinguishable as the little grotto completely takes its place as a concrete edifice of worship. Still, it is a pretty little colonial era chapel with an impressive view over the town. 

I found a small path meandering down the back of the hill to the main road into La Esperanza. My initial plan was to just walk back into town, but was surprised to find a public bath at the bottom of the hill. Several small streams cascaded into a series of pools and made their way further down the tiny valley. Water was siphoned up to some large troughs where several señoras were doing their laundry. There were also enclosed separate bathing pavilions for señors and señoras; water cascading out of a pipe in the centre. All set in tranquil gardens. 

Walking back into town, I wandered around the cobbled streets. Many colonial era buildings line the streets and the Parque Central was one of the prettiest I have seen. When I passed the main church which faced onto the Parque, I noticed the local fire brigade hosing down the front of the building. Several people were also engaged in sweeping the area in front of the church. On further investigation, I found there were dozens of people inside and outside the church cleaning and repairing. It must have been Busy Bee time at the local parish. Pews were all set on their sides with local women polishing the worn surfaces. 

Further on, I reached the commercial part of town where the streets were lined with shops of all nature, including the ubiquitous second hand clothing stores. If you ever wondered what happens to the clothes you donate to charity bins, a lot of it ends up in the Central American (as well as other parts of the world) clothing market. It is sold to cheaply to the locals and it is a good form of recycling, but there is little transparency about who makes money out of your clothing donations. They also have stores here selling white goods and furniture, along with motorcycles! It seems odd to have a line of motorbikes parked up alongside a plush lounge suite. Perfectly normal here though. 

Dinner in a local Lenca restaurant, then hunkered down for another chilly night. I’m relishing these cool temperatures at the moment, though, as I know when I move on, I’m back into Sweatville. The oppressive heat and humidity can be quite tiring day after day so it’s nice to have a short break from it. 

Copan Ruinas – La Esperanza

A restless sleep brought about by my festering legs, came to an abrupt end with my alarm going off. Despite the monumental midge attack of the previous day, I returned to my favourite place in Copan Ruinas to chill over a tasty breakfast. This time, heavily marinated in bug spray. 

Back on the road, I walked to the bus terminal in the drizzling rain. Thankfully, I had found a route through town the previous day which was fairly flat and a final descent that was a little less steep than most. Cobblestone roads, though appealing on the eye, quickly lose their appeal in the wet. Safely down on the flat again without upending, I jumped in a minibus heading to my next destination. 

At La Entrada, I changed buses for one to Gracias. Or so I was told. It turned out that that particular bus only went as far as Santa Rosa de Copan, about half the distance. But I had paid an amount commensurate with the whole journey. I kicked up but was assured by the bus staff that it was ok, that I had paid for the whole way. My pack was handed to the offsider of the new bus I had to catch but I saw no money being exchanged. 

On board my new bus, I asked the señora in front of me what the price to Santa Rosa de Copan should have been and she confirmed what I thought. I explained what had happened, but also added that I wasn’t sure whether the driver of the other bus had passed on the fare for this leg of the trip. I soon found out. The ticket collector passed me by as he went through the bus collecting fares. I normally check price of fares with another passenger, but hadn’t on this occasion. 

The weather hadn’t improved and actually worsened when we got to Gracias. My plans of stopping off here and exploring this colonial town were reconsidered and I ended up continuing my journey onwards to La Esperanza. The bus didn’t actually go through town so I didn’t get to see anything but the outskirts of Gracias. The countryside on the way through to La Esperanza was magnificent though. La Esperanza is the highest town in Honduras and some of the best coffee in the world comes from this region. Pine trees clung to the sides of the hills we traversed through. 

It certainly started to get chilly as we climbed in altitude and I was glad I had pulled a jacket out of my pack. The journey to La Esperanza took forever as every time someone got on or off the minibus, the driver had to get out and open the side door. Eventually, we turned onto a dirt road and made our way down into the valley in which La Esperanza nestles. By this stage it was dark and the lights of the town lit the hollow like a spangly bolt of cloth. 

At the bus terminal, I caught a taxi to a hotel I picked out of the guide book. Unfortunately, the name in the book was incorrect, but my driver managed to work out where I wanted to go. My pack dumped, I changed into warmer clothes and headed out for something to eat. A little restaurant just down the road was still open and served wonderful local Lenca cuisine. By the time I returned to my hotel, the mist had settled in and swirled around the now deserted streets. I grabbed another blanket for my bed and settled in for a chilly night. 

Copan Ruinas

I had allocated the day to explore the famous Mayan ruins of Copan, after which this town was named. The view from the cafe next door bewitched me the previous evening, so I headed back there for a delicious breakfast topped off with a side of sumptuous scenery. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the only one dining as I discovered dozens of tiny dried dots of blood on both ankles and on the backs of both legs. I soon discovered the source of this mystery was tiny little midgies I had given little credence to at the time. By the time I left, the the dots had swollen into large, angry lumps which I knew would plague me for days to come. 

The weather had turned and it was drizzling when I left. Water on steep cobbled road is never a preferable option but I found a route through the town that only had one steep downhill section and gingerly made my way down that. After that, it was a very pleasant kilometre stroll out past the town to the archeological site. 

Copan Archaeological Site is a Unesco World Heritage Site. Though not the biggest nor most spectacular of the Mayan sites, Copan is exceptional due to the high relief sculptures and hieroglyphics found within its boundaries. I engaged the services of Gladiz, the gregarious guide, to interpret the site for me. Not only did Gladiz really know her stuff, she was lots of fun as well and I really enjoyed the tour. Even though I had visited many Mayan archeological sites previously, I found myself learning even more about this intriguing culture. 

I already knew that the winning captain of the ball game played in the day was occasionally sacrificed for the gods and that was OK in the victim’s eyes. What I didn’t know, was that the unfortunate was heavily plied with hallucinogens before being submitted to the event. By this stage, he was probably one accident away from checking out of the mortal world anyway so a sacrifice to the gods wouldn’t have seemed such a bad option. The other thing I learned was that the Mayan of the day didn’t have names like Bruce or Jesus, but 18 Rabbit and Smoke Monkey. I’m thinking the hallucinogens probably had a hand in that too. 

After an incredibly informative two hour guided tour, including some archeological tunnels exposing the Rosalila Temple which was built over the top of many Mayan moons ago, I bid Gladiz adios and continued wandering around the site taking photos and further exploring. The sacred Mayan bird, the scarlet macaw, has decided to take up residence again on the site and was a colourful addition. I also wandered down a couple of walking trails which lead through the jungle to some other sites, as well as visited the on-site Museum of Sculptures. 

Finally, all Mayan-ed out, I wandered back into town to explore its hilly streets. The walk up to a local lookout point was particularly brutal in one section, but I was astounded to see a couple of locals pop up from a track I would have thought impossible to climb. I’m sure they must have been crossed with mountain goat in some stage of the evolution process. Still, it was lovely wandering around the town, trying to stay on top of the hill where possible. What goes down must go up! At some stage. 

Back at the hostel, I had a by now much needed freshen up and went out to grab some street food in the form of burritos with a lovely Canadian family I had met at the hostel. Interestingly enough, our burritos were prepared by an expat Belizian Garifuna man who was now living in Copan. Not what I would have expected in a sleepy little Honduran highland town such as Copan Ruinas. 

San Pedro Sula – Copan Ruinas

Despite San Pedro Sula being listed as the No. 1 most dangerous city in the world, the Travel God of Security decided to take things a little too far this morning. The only way to keep the dorm room shut last night was to engage the lock. Seems a simple enough thing. Not, however, when said lock decides to jam up completely and refuse to budge. After several unsuccessful attempts, I started calling out through the bars of the window. Nothing. I googled the phone no of the hostel and rang it. Continuously. For about ten minutes. Accompanied by loud banging on the offending wooden door. 

Finally, the young Salvadorian guy who checked me in last night groggily came to my aid. I explained my predicament and he shuffled off to get the key. Alas, the key wouldn’t work either which meant I was trapped. A locksmith was called but my bladder wasn’t going to wait the length of time it may or may not take a Honduran locksmith to arrive. I pulled out my little multi tool set and took apart the lock casing so as to get to the main locking mechanism. The Salvadorian guy tried disengaging it with a utensil knife but to no avail. I didn’t have anything suitable my side to use so left him to try find something more hardy for the job. He eventually returned with a large screwdriver which he managed to wedge into the locking mechanism and finally disengage it. After nearly an hour, I was finally free! For that, my bladder was extremely grateful. 

Packed and ready to leave, I waited for the taxi I organised last night to return to pick me up. After more than half an hour, I decided to get the hostel staff to call for another one as I wanted to get a move on. The bus terminal in San Pedro Sula has a large shopping mall attached, with a great food hall right where I had to wait for my bus. As I chowed down on local cuisine, a young boy came over with a plastic cup and a bottle of soft drink. His mother, sitting nearby, smiled and nodded. I politely declined, but the three young children soon became my waiting room companions. 

To exit the waiting room, I had to go through security screening, though it wasn’t as stringent as others I had been through in this country. Then I was sandwiched in a minibus with my pack atop in the roof rack. The drive up to Copan Ruinas allowed me to see another part of the country quite different to where I had just come from. The road in the main followed the Río Ulua and wove through the valley passing spectacular scenery. As we left the tropical jungle behind us, pine topped hills took its place. We passed small coffee plantations carved out of the surrounding bush, though there is always room for maize and other Honduran staples. 

The bus stopped just outside the entranceto Copan Ruinas. The pastel pink archway on the edge of a bridge crossing a little river made a pleasant welcome to the town. Cobblestone and paved sections of road crisscrossed the hilly terrain Copan Ruinas is situated on. Traipsing up and down some of these roads fully laden in order to find the hostel I had picked out of the guidebook, was losing its appeal in the sticky heat. Especially when it wasn’t where it was indicated on the guidebook map! Directions sought, and I gladly dumped my pack on a dorm bed.

Hostel Iguana Azul ended up being an absolute gem of a hostel. Dirt cheap (AUD11) and spankingly clean, the US expat who built it 20 years ago did an amazing job. A more upmarket bed and breakfast next door served light meals and was available for hostel guests to use as well. This part of the property overlooked the Copan Valley with stunning views. A couple of cervezas watching the sun sink behind the mountains was the perfect end to another interesting day in Honduras. 

Olanchito – San Pedro Sula

Checked out of my little windowless dungeon and walked straight into a passing funeral procession. I was expecting Olanchito to be a little more bustling than the previous day, but wasn’t expecting this. Scores of locals, sheltered from the already blistering sun with umbrellas, slowly walked behind a vehicle carrying the dearly departed. I respectfully waited for the cortège to pass before continuing on to the bus terminal.   
Touts accost you as soon as you approach the buses as they get paid to get backsides on seats. There’s a sense of urgency that feels as if the bus will leave without you if you don’t jump on. Now! But then you end up waiting ages for the bus to fill and the driver to get his act together. One of the touts starting chatting to me on the bus, asking me where I was from. When he found out I was travelling solo and that I wasn’t married, he decided to try his luck and asked for my phone number. I explained that my phone didn’t work in Honduras, but he was persistent. Just before we were about to drive off, he came back over again and tried to charm a phone number out of me. He was really cute and funny, but I was leaving the area so not much point. I bid him adios as the bus roared off. 

I was hoping to do a loop to travel a different route, but it turned out the only way back was the way I had come. Nevertheless, it was a beautiful journey and well worth a second visit. As it was, I had travelled between Tela and San Pedro Sula in the dark, so was surprised to discover several aquatic parks located along this stretch of the road. We drove past the ubiquitous plantations of banana, palm oil and sugar cane. As I always try to take the local buses, we are forever stopping to drop off or pick up passengers along the side of the road. This slow pace allows one to experience the finer details of everyday Honduran life; vultures feeding on a carcass, wooden carts pulled by oxen, a panicky foal running along the road in search of its mother. 

Mid route, we stopped for one of the numerous police/military checkpoints and were directed to pull over on the side of the road. The two bus assistants got off and started talking to the police while the driver handed over the necessary paperwork. Then, a heavily armed police officer with hard hat and bullet proof vest climbed on board and addressed the passengers. Basically, he said they were going to conduct a routine search and that all the male passengers were to exit the bus. As the hombres exited the vehicle, I saw them lining up alongside the bus and being patted down by waiting policemen. Then, several armed police officers climbed on board and began a fairly thorough search of the luggage. For some reason, they didn’t ask to look in my day pack, for which I was grateful as I carry all my valuables in it. Probably would have been fine, but easier not to go there. Their search completed, the policía exited the bus and the waiting passengers got back on.

We were stopped a few other times and it looked like we were going to be searched again, but our driver managed to talk his way out of it with a little greasing of the palms. After a brief rest stop a couple of hours out of San Pedro Sula, one of the assistants took over the driving and the driver sat next to me. It was really interesting talking to him. His story was not that dissimilar to others I had heard from locals. His family had emigrated to the US where he worked ridiculous hours on minimum wages for several years. Returning to Honduras, he bought a bus and started his little business. He now owns four buses and seems to be doing quite well for himself. But he continues to work long hours driving the bus. Our trip was over seven hours and he still needed to drive back to Olanchito. Nevertheless, I guess he is back in his homelands. 

We eventually arrived at the main bus terminal in San Pedro Sula and it was nice to stretch out after such a long bus trip. I caught a taxi to a hostel I found in the guidebook and organised myself a bed and a beer. Saturday night appeared to be party night at La Hamaca and the little courtyard outside my dorm room filled with locals and marijuana smoke. San Pedro Sula, according to homicide rates, has been the most dangerous city in the world since 2012. That said, if you keep your wits about you and don’t go looking for trouble, it probably won’t come looking for you. I certainly didn’t loose any sleep worrying about meeting my maker in the midnight hours.