La Union – Alegría

Day dawned and the grimy streets of La Union soon began bustling with early morning activity. The large steel doors securing the hotel compound were drawn back and it was business as usual for its occupants. I wasn’t sure how I was going to get where I wanted to go today, but was sure I needed to find somewhere to eat. That somewhere ended up being a small comedor with a bain-marie full of tasty Salvadorian treats. It was only luke warm but I hadn’t eaten since breakfast yesterday, so gratefully tucked in. 

Sufficiently sated, I went about the task of finding a bus to take me along the Carretera del Litoral. This would take me along the southern part of El Salvador from which I could jump up further north later on. I picked the next major town along that particular route, Usulutan, and asked for a bus. Alas, it seemed I would need to backtrack to San Miguel on the northern route and take another bus down to Usulutan. I had troubles trying to convince the locals that I didn’t want to do this. For me it is usually more about the journey than the destination, but this was a foreign concept for a nation where one just goes where one needs to go. The quickest, least painful way. I eventually managed to get what I wanted by asking for a destination south west of La Union for which I would at least need to go part way along my preferred route. Success was achieved and I was bustled on a passing bus heading to El Tamarindo. 

I explained to the bus assistant that I wanted to go further along the Carretera del Litoral and arranged to be dropped off where the bus turned heading south. I waited with a small throng of locals on the side of the road for the next bus heading west along the Carretera. This small rural crossroad was serviced by a couple of tiny stalls hawking food and drink when the numerous buses passed by. In many cases, vendors would climb onto the bus, plying their wares down the length of the bus, jump off at the back and climb on a bus going in the opposite direction to do same and return to their original destination to restock. 

The bus arrived and our small group piled on. Shortly afterwards we picked up what I like to call a Mobile Medicine Man. These guys jump on a bus at a certain point, deliver a passionate sales pitch about their ‘miracle cure’ for an amazing array of ailments, go through the bus hawking their wonder product, then jump off the back of the bus at another point to grab a bus going in the opposite direction. 

Bus no. 2 pulled into a little town about midway from my final destination on this carretera. I sat on the side of the road with some other locals waiting for bus no. 3, soaking up the scenery. Senoras were manning little food and drink stalls, merrily going about their business with a genuine camaraderie. Most wore the traditional lace embroidered aprons which wrapped around their waists with several pockets in which to put money and other small items. People came on foot or pulled alongside in their vehicles to purchase their goods. 

Bus no. 3 finally arrived and I threw my pack, then me on board. I had got some information from an hombre while I was waiting on how to do the next leg of my journey. I needed to get off at a crossroad called El Delirio. From there I should be able to get a bus going straight into Usulutan. The bus began filling more and more the further we went. Even though I had a seat, I eventually was sandwiched in the middle of the bus when an hombre called out to me to get up. I thought I needed to get off at that point, but he was just letting me know I needed to make my way to the back of the bus so I could make a speedy exit when the time came. That is no mean feat when a bus is so tightly packed and I appreciated the advance warning. 

Off bus no. 3 at El Delirio, and walked with other locals across the crossroads to wait for bus no. 4 which I hoped would be my final bus to Usulutan. I was surprised to see a couple of foreigners on this bus – the first I had seen on local buses my entire travels this trip. It was interesting to see the difference in the way this young couple who spoke no Spanish were treated to the way I was treated. The couple were more or less rudely herded off the bus when their stop came, where I received friendly assistance. This was the kind of interaction I was used to with all my travel so far through Central America, but didn’t realise it wasn’t generic to all travellers. It certainly does pay to learn the language and travel sensitively in places like this. 

In Usulutan, I was dropped off on the highway outside the district hospital where I could catch a bus north to Alegría, where I planned to stay the night. I was somewhat bemused to notice a large sign facing the hospital entrance advertising funeral services. This would be the first thing people would see exiting the hospital gates. After a long, hot wait, the bus I needed finally arrived and I jumped on. The bus left the main road and lumbered up the hills, leaving the sultry heat behind which was a relief. 

Alegría is a pretty little mountain town precariously perched on the side of a steep hill. I was dropped off in the town square and immediately noticed a hostel adjacent. I enquired about vacancies, however, they were full so sent me off to another property a few blocks away. Cabañas la Estancia de Daniel was an excellent choice and I managed to get a cabin with private bathroom for USD10. All set in a lovely garden. I spent some time wandering around the townsite before finding a local comedor for dinner. The town had a lovely vibe and it was a very pleasant stroll back to my cabin later that night. 

Perquin – La Union

Perquin’s former standing as Guerrilla HQ during El Salvador’s brutally long and drawn out civil war now houses a poignant Museum of the Revolution, and that was my first port of call for the day. After breakfast, I conquered the hill climb back into town, and hiked even further up to get to the museum which was on the other side of town. 

Museo de la Revolución Salvadoreña is not going to win any prizes for spectacular displays, but it had an important story to tell and tell it it did. Civil unrest had long been on the Salvadorian agenda due to some fairly serious human rights issues and finally flared in 1980 with the assassination of an outspoken Catholic priest. While he was saying mass in the chapel of a cancer hospital, no less! Armed insurrection turned into fully blown civil war which dragged on for over a decade due to US interference by way of arming and training government forces. 

The museum contained an interesting collection of newspaper reports, biographies of key guerrilla personnel, photos of guerrilla camp life, camp memorabilia, and anti war posters from around the world. It was interesting to see fully armed men and women fighting side by side. There was also an impressive display of old soviet weaponry and the remains of a US helicopter that the guerrillas brought down. 

Adjacent to the museum was a reconstructed guerrilla encampment with many relics that were used during the war. Tunnels for radio transmissions, swing bridges connecting sections of the camp and various forms of camouflage were reconstructed to give the visitor an understanding of what it might have been like. What was real, though, were the huge holes in the ground from the vigorous bombing of the area during the conflict. That was sobering and probably the most effective portrayal of all. 

I wandered back through town then back down to the hotel to collect my pack. I didn’t have to wait long for a pick up to roar by and this time I got a seat along the side of the tray. When I had to pay the fare though, I didn’t understand. I was expecting an amount in dollars and/or cents and it didn’t occur to me that I would be asked for a ‘quarter’. I’ve never really got my head around US coins but now I was going to have to learn fast. Trying to work out which coin was a quarter in the dim light of the covered pick up defied me so I just handed over a dollar and got change. 

In San Francisco Gotera, the pick up stopped one last time and emptied. This was my sign that we had come to the end of the road for this leg of the trip. Nearby was the bus to San Miguel which I jumped into. It was a very pretty drive, passing little towns and settlements and watching the rural Salvadorian world go by. In San Miguel, I was directed to another bus which had La Union emblazoned on its front window so safely thought it would actually take me there. Alas, this didn’t turn out to be the case and the bus terminated some distance away from my destination. 

I was directed to yet another bus that I was assured would actually take me to La Union and handed my pack over to the assistant who placed it on the padded drive case cover up front. My pack had travelled this way on more than one occasion so I wasn’t overly concerned. Until the driver decided he was bored with all this sedate driving and cranked it up a notch. As we were thrown from side to side, a large plastic bag that was with my pack up the front, flew out the open front door. This caused a bit of a to do with the punters as the bus had to reverse back to pick up the bag. That was too close a call for my liking and I went up the front to collect my pack. The senoras up front told me that my pack was jumping all over their place and nearly followed suit. Clearly I had been too complacent and was lucky. Although there was nothing breakable in the pack, it wouldn’t have done it any good, so I wedged it safely next to me between the seat. 

I started chatting to one of the señoras near me and when another older señora got on the bus and sat next to me she also joined in our conversation. I took opportunity to ask the senoras about the coins and telling them apart. Identifying US Coins 101 was then held on a La Union bound bus much to the bemusement of the bus assistant. 

We eventually arrived in La Union where I had decided to stay the night. The señora I had originally been chatting to took me around the corner to a far from salubrious hotel in what looked to be a dodgy part of town. Still, USD12 for a room was reasonable. For this money though, I had to use the communal bathroom which was next to my room. This consisted of a toilet and water pipe behind a 1960s glass shower screen. No door. No lock. Anyone could just walk on in! A tiny wash basin was just outside the cubicle. There was nowhere to eat nearby but I wasn’t really hungry. The hotel sold beer for USD1 so couple of those tied me over. All in all I had a reasonably comfortable night in another town with a bad rep. 

Jícaro Galán – Perquin

I found I survived the night reasonably unscathed. Not by threat of the Jícaro Gigolo wanting his love shack back, but by the myriad of mozzies wanting their fair share of my blood. A hole in the door a rodent could have comfortably scampered through was certainly no deterrent to the entire 5th Light Mosquito Brigade. And I had run out of bug spray. I doubted the thin sheet would have held off the invasion, but to my delight it did.   
The affable señora of the house served me up a delicious local breakfast with possibly the worst coffee I had drunk in Honduras. I don’t know whether the Travel God of Foreign Foods was trying to prepare me for what lie ahead in El Salvador, but I prayed he just slipped up. After breakfast, it was standing on the side of the road again waiting for a bus to the border. At that particular point, there were heavy duty speed humps which slowed the continual stream of traffic to an almost halt. Local food vendors had taken good advantage of this and set up shop at this speed trap. Food and drink was thrust through windows of passing vehicles and it was amazing how much they sold. It seems everyone on Honduras eats on the run. 

My bus finally came along and I jumped on board. I found the landscape in this southern part of Honduras was significantly different from further north. It was hilly, but the vegetation was sparse and dry. It was bitter sweet leaving Honduras as I had greatly enjoyed traversing her beautiful lands, but onwards I must travel to El Salvador. 

To my surprise, the bus actually pulled alongside the Honduran Immigration office. This was a nice bonus, as often one has to catch some other form of transport to get from the ‘border’ town to the actual border. I changed my Honduran limpera for US currency and passed through immigration. On the other side of the building, one has to walk a few hundred metres past some little stalls and then cross a bridge to get to El Salvador on the other side. It was at this point that I realised that I still hadn’t got any bug spray and wasn’t going to risk another night without any. I asked around and ended up going back past the Immigration building to a shop where I bought the world’s most expensive can of bug spray (AUD8.65!!). 

Back to the bridge, I crossed over into El Salvador. I wasn’t surprised that the immigration official carefully examined my passport as I had just done what would have looked like a Tour de Drug Smuggle. No questions this time though and I was passed through without incident. I walked up the road to where a bus was waiting and jumped on board. 

I decided I would first head up north to a little town with a big story. Perquin was the guerrilla stronghold during El Salvador’s civil war throughout the 1980s. In this region, some terrible atrocities were committed by government soldiers; including a massacre in nearby El Mozete where an estimated 757 people were massacred – of the 143 victims uncovered, 131 were children. It’s only in very recent years that there has been any kind of formal recognition of this event, so it is still very fresh in the local psyche. 

I knew I had to take a few buses to get where I wanted to go. The first dropped me off at a crossroad where I waited on the side of the road for a north heading bus. I chatted with a local señora who was also waiting for the same bus and was heading herself not far from where I wanted to go. It turned out that there was a tourist office where she lived so she decided it would be best if I got off the bus with her so I could get some information. I didn’t really want to do that, but she was so persistent and helpful I sort of felt obliged. 

After wounding our way through beautiful verdant hills and passing numerous little towns and settlements, we finally got off the rumbling bus at the tourist information centre. It was in a most unusual position – on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere! I climbed the stairs and was introduced to a young hombre who plied me with tourist map and let me pass. The helpful señora come back down and waited on the side of the road with me to help me get a communal pick up into Perquin. Pack thrown up into the tray above the cabin, I climbed aboard the covered back to squeeze myself with another twenty people. At least it was authentic Salvadorian travel!

I chose a hotel out of the guidebook and was dropped off nearby to walk the rest of the way. La Posada de Don Manuel got a great write up in the guidebook, however I didn’t rate it anywhere near as high. I’ve stayed in some filthy digs in my travels, but the communal bathroom at this place reached new levels of skank even for me! Still, it was cheap and the little family running it were lovely. 
I had a couple of hours of daylight left, so decided to explore the little town. The road into Perquin ran up the side of a steep hill, past a pretty little cemetery. It was only 500 m, but felt much further in the sultry conditions. The town itself is perched on the side of the hill, with little pastel adobe dwellings fronting the narrow streets. Brightly painted murals abound on the walls of churches and civic buildings, and well tended gardens blazing with tropical colour add a whimsical touch to the vista. 

Heading back down to my lodgings, I was surprised to come across the turn off much sooner than I expected. It was certainly a much easier traverse than going into town! I spent a very pleasant evening at the posada which, despite the rank bathroom, felt like staying with a local family. 

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.