Entering the “Banana Republic”

September 25, 2016, Trip: Honduras
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September 25TH

Upon arriving in SLV last night, we were surprised to get an entire new C4 visa which gives us 90 days once again so instead of having to be out of Nicaragua by Nov 9th, we have until December 22nd; bonus!

When you arrive at the airport here and get to Customs, after looking at your visa, they ask you to push a button which randomly decides if your luggage will be checked; it turns red or green. It had turned red for Doug three weeks ago and they emptied out everything and wanted values. This time we were lucky and we got the green light. Our arranged driver was waiting for us and off we went back to El Tunco and Tigger.

After spending a final night in El Tunco, we hit the road around nine in the morning and headed towards the city of San Salvador to do some stocking up and get gas – we wanted to get our jerry cans filled as well, as we understand gas is more expensive in Honduras.

By the time we finished running our errands we had to decide whether or not to make a run for the border as it was mid-day and we had read that this border can take two hours plus to get through (naturally due to the vehicle permit). As the closest camping spot we were aware of was another 100km from the border once we crossed into Honduras, we decided we’d hit the border in the morning instead of risking driving at night on windy and probably poorly maintained roads.

We stopped about 5km/3m before the border in a small town called San Ignacio at a hotel/resort in the woods that was recommended on iOverlander. They did not offer power but it was a quiet, pretty location and we were now no longer at sea level so it was not so humid/hot. We haggled a bit on the price as they wanted $20 for the night and without power that seemed a lot. Previous campers had paid it but most paid $16.   Doug asked the woman if she’d ask the manager if he’d take $15 as we didn’t need to use the bathroom facilities. She came back saying he’d charge the $16 so we took it. Shortly after we parked and got a couple of things done, the rain began and the temperature dropped (which was nice) but that meant we couldn’t make use of the hotel’s pool. It stopped before dinner so we took a little walk and tried to get on the Wi-Fi at reception with no luck. It rained off and on most of the night and we awoke to fog Sunday morning which burned off eventually.

After breaking camp that morning, we topped up our gas once again and drove to the border. First stop is El Salvador customs where we had our vehicle permit cancelled (after making a copy nearby); this took 20 minutes which was longer than expected so this didn’t bode well.

Next was immigration where we expected them to just look at our passport stamp but they also wanted to see our vehicle documents and the cancelled permit; this too took longer that we’d expected – about another 15 minutes.

So we left El Salvador with wonderful memories of the people especially; warm, friendly and quick to smile.  We travelled 831 miles in total, got new rear brake pads and a new rotor on one side and have to say our week long stay at La Tortuga Verde was wonderful.

Now it’s on to Honduras.  We drove across the border and went to immigration which seemed pretty modern as they took our fingerprints and a photo, and then put their own stamp in our passports (despite being part of the C4 country visa plan) and we paid $3 for this service. This process took maybe 15 minutes.

Now came Honduras customs which was what we’d read took quite a while. As today was Sunday we were concerned about the nearby bank being opened as in order to pay for the vehicle permit here, you take the paperwork to the bank and pay it there. We’d been told by the woman at the hotel the night before that it would be open.

There was only one person in the customs office but we were her only clients and she seemed to know what she was doing (we’d also heard of people who show up and no one knows how to do a vehicle permit or the bank is closed for lunch or something).  This woman was quite friendly and processed us through in less than a half hour, and then told us the bank was not open today BUT if we paid $38 instead of $35 to her, she would take our money (!) to finalize the paperwork. This was not a problem for us and we proceeded. So in total we were only about 1.25 hours at this border. Not bad relative to other crossings.

Honduras is in mid/north Central America and is the second largest country. It borders both the Pacific and Caribbean in a sort of weird “J” shape. It is the original “banana” republic and in 2012 actually won something: the UN announced that it had become the murder-rate capital of the world and at that time, many Hondurans went north – it is said there is hardly a family in the country that does not have a relative in “El Norte”. Much of this violence is drug and gang related and rarely touches tourists. 90% of the population of Honduras is mestizo which means a mix of Spanish, indigenous and African heritage’ their is a Garifuna culture on the coast like in Belize and Guatemala. The country became an independent nation in 1838 and its largest export is coffee followed by, you guessed it, bananas!

The national beers of Honduras are Salva Vida and Barena. Doug didn’t care for the first and Fran thought the second was okay. Buying beer in the supermarket is just under a dollar each and a couple of bucks in a bar.

Gasoline is pricier than El Salvador; about $3.20US a gallon. They sell in litres here though unlike SLV and GTM despite all these countries being metric. We did fill our jerry cans before entering the country to ease this slightly.

Our collection of Central American flags is growing:

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We stopped in the first village, Ocotepeque, for an ATM as Honduras has its own currency: the lempira. It exchanges at about 23 for one $USD. Apparently in touristy areas they like/accept USD of course, but it’s usually less expensive to use the local currency.

We met a British man outside the ATM who is cycling the Pan Am. We offered Wayne a ride to where he was headed but he’s pretty hard core; wants to cycle the whole way. He’s pretty brave as he often just finds a place off the road to set up his tent for the night and rarely stays in campgrounds/hostels.

The roads here remind us of Guatemala – like playing reverse “whacamole” avoiding pot holes and bad sections of road, but once we made the turn onto the CA11, the road improved and was good all the way to Gracias, our destination for a couple of days. El Salvador certainly has better roads.

We set up camp at Finca Bavaria and it began to rain; when it appeared to let up, we took a walk into town, bought a couple of items we needed and each did our Spanish lesson. We had bathrooms, cold showers, Wi-Fi and power hook up here which was nice as it rained again hard after dinner and it became quite humid in Tigger so we used the AC to help us sleep.

As we are staying another night, we asked about getting laundry done and the nice lady who checked us in last night, said they’d do it right here.

We walked around town today which is touted as quite colonial but while it has some charm, it was not that great. It was founded in 1539 and called “Gracias a Dios” (which means thank God) – the explorer, Captain Juan de Chavez, so named it as he was thankful they’d found some flat ground in the mountains! There is a an old fort, Fuerte San Cristóbal, here on the hill which is not that large (and locked up) but it has some interesting stone sculpture outside it and some information boards about the history of the town. At one time, and for a short time, Gracias was the capital of Central America before Antigua. Later in history, the town name was shortened to Gracias. The other unique thing about Gracias is that the church on the main square does not face the main square but rather its left side does; unusual.

San Marcos Church - does not face the plazaWe managed to get some mending done today and later, as we were getting ready for “cerveza time”, another overlanding couple arrived. Joe & Josee are retired and from US/Canada and are doing the same journey we are; they crossed into Mexico a month after us last year so are travelling just as slowly. We had a couple of drinks in the Finca’s bar and then went into town for dinner together before calling it a night.

Tuesday we hit the road for the Copán Ruinas and Joe & Josee headed to Lago Yojoa (our next destination after the ruins – they have a two week booking on one of the other Bay Islands, Utila, starting Thursday). We expect our paths will cross again.

We arrived at the town gates of Copán Ruinas in about four hours to discover the archway over the town was too low for our rig so we backtracked a bit and found the way to our “hotel” campsite where we checked in and got set up. Here there is power, Wi-Fi, bathrooms and they opened a room for us to have hot, yes, hot showers!

We ended up staying here five nights as the rate was good, and we’re in no hurry. We’re paying 120L a night (less than $6USD). We have booked a great deal for a hotel from Doug’s Choice points on Roatán but don’t have to be there until the 10th, so we have decided to hang here longer than originally planned.

There are two major attractions here; the first of course, being the ruins themselves which are noted for their sculpture and hieroglyphics and the second is the macaw sanctuary. The scarlett macaw is Honduras’ national bird. Back in the time of the Mayan, macaws and quetzal birds were quite revered. Sadly their population has dwindled but this sanctuary has helped bring them back. There are now about 20 that live at the entrance to the ruins in the wild but are provided with food and there are another couple of dozen, some in captivity and some free here on the sanctuary. They breed them and release the young into the wild. They keep about another dozen or so types of birds as well including toucans, other macaws, parrots, parakeets, owls and hawks.

dscn4245-signWe caught a tuk-tuk outside the hotel, and Abel, became our “go to driver” whenever we needed a ride. At Macaw Mountain, they offer you a guide at no extra charge and your ticket is good for three days. We took the tour with a guide the first time and it was quite informative. Some of the cages are walk through. We learned about their program and its success with re-introducing macaws to the ruins, about the birds here and then got to actually hold three different types of macaws; quite an experience.

dscn4339-and-both-of-us-posingWe took advantage of the three day ticket and went back a second time two days later, without a guide and it was fun.

Wednesday, we walked over to the ruins, (less than a km away) and spent a couple of hours there. The morning was overcast for the most part but the sun came out in earnest before we left. The site is not too large and not all excavated. The unique thing here is the number of sculptures, the tunnels where they have excavated temples and the 63 step staircase covered in hieroglyphics. We passed on a guide as our Lonely Planet had a pretty good map and explanation of things. We toured the site counter clockwise and at our exit (which was the main entrance) we found the resident macaws – magnificent. It was a delight to watch them for a while.

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We paid the extra fee to see the temple museum as well. The temple is a replica of the one they found under a structure and many of the original sculptures/stelas are kept here with only reproductions on site. It was very well done and had English information boards.

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Abel picked us up before noon and took us to the mirador in town (which was not that impressive) but on the same hill,there is a children’s museum which was less than $2USD ea and inside were some interesting things about the Maya culture, the first ruler of Copán and a short DVD about the ball game the Maya played.

We then walked to the El Centro looking for another museum which we never found. After picking up a few groceries, we called Abel and returned to Tigger. Doug had arranged with Abel to have a couple of people come to help get some work done; Tigger’s headlights were looking worn so we ha them “scrubbed” and we’d once again been experiencing some water leaking in through the bathroom vent and the back window so he had a guy remove and replace the silicon on the back window and he replaced the bathroom vent with one we picked up back in LA so he had help doing that.  Also upon arriving in Copan Ruinas, we had discovered we’d lost the cyclone vent off the bathroom exhaust (luckily we had a spare!) and Doug replaced that at this time as well.  Joys of the rainy season!

Thursday, we went back to see the macaws for about an hour without a guide before going back into town to run some errands and spent a relaxing afternoon reading after doing our daily Spanish lesson. We had a touch of rain tonight and so far no water in seeping in. It’s a good sign.

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Friday was also a chill day other than Doug having a work call and a quick trip to the dentist for a cleaning (it was recommended that he get cleanings every 3 months instead of twice year so we’ll do two of them south of the border). The cleaning cost 500L which is about $22USD! After the appointment while walking back “home” we met a Dutch couple, Marlén and Loud (pronounced “loot”) who are sailing around the world. Their boat is currently in Rio Dulce, GTM but their visa was expiring so they took a bus trip to Honduras in order to reenter GTM and get a new visa. They have been sailing for FIVE years and love it. We met them for a beer later and then they joined us a Tigger for a few more before we all walked back into town for dinner. As it is Friday night, there are food stalls set up around the main plaza for the weekend and we picked a Mexican one and enjoyed some street food and good company.

We decided to stay one more day here so we’re catching up on downloading, websites, booking hotels for our trip home at Christmas and hopefully skyping with the grandkids in the afternoon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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