Full disclosure: we didn’t really visit Honduras. We just sped right across from Guatemala into Nicaragua. But it’s the journey and not the destination, right?!
Having arrived in Puerto Barrios by boat from Lívingston, we wandered a few blocks up to the market, where we were again met with shouts of “Taxi? Shuttle?” After five days in Guatemala, we found a bank where we could exchange our quetzales for US dollars, and stocked up on snacks for the bus journey into Honduras.
Feeling prepared, we found a driver heading to the border and we climbed onto the collectivo with our huge backpacks – I find it quite embarrassing, but somehow they always find space.
It was a bumpy ride through the countryside, and each time we stopped we thought: is this where we get off? The Guatemalan customs and immigration offices were actually quite randomly located along the way but as usual if you follow everyone else you tend to end up where you’re supposed to! Then when we eventually arrived for our first experience of a border crossing in Central America, we were quite unceremoniously dumped by our by-now familiar little van.
One complication when spending just a few days in different countries, each with a different currency, is estimating the amount of cash you’ll need so you don’t (a) end up with loads of your old currency that you then need to exchange at a less than profitable rate or (b) find yourself without any cash at all with things still to be bought. We managed to pay the Honduran entrance fee with a combination of dollars and quetzals. (I’ve found a great blog post that details the process of this border crossing so if you’re interested in replicating this journey I suggest you refer to that rather than me repeating the logistics here!)
On trying to use the toilets at the border crossing – remember that huge tank of water? – we found them to be locked. A friendly young man tried (and failed) to open the door with a credit card and then kindly offered to take us to San Pedro Sula in his brother’s car. It was a tempting offer – it would be a couple of hours direct in a car while it would take at least double that time with the changes and stops we’d have to make by bus. Sadly, though, his Chiquita employee badge was not enough to appease my dark imagination, which was conjuring images of being found dead in a ditch the next day, and we politely declined. Banana man departed and we wandered across the border on foot.
Once on the other side, it wasn’t too difficult to locate the one and only bus that was, luckily, headed to Puerto Cortés on the coast. Looking at a map, there’s really only that one road going from the border into the country. Sheltering from the sun as we waited for the bus to leave at some unspecified time in the future, we met an Australian man who was cycling solo from Alaska to Argentina (all the As), a two-year adventure. I’ve lost his card unfortunately and can’t find his blog but I suppose he will have finished some time last year…
Eventually the bus, our first chicken bus in fact, took off. There are no bus stops to be found, no benches or shelters – instead passengers are dropped off and picked up at various spots along the road, often in the middle of nowhere. It’s actually a very luxury service: door-to-door! On arriving in Puerto Cortés, therefore, we were a little worried about finding the bus to continue on to San Pedro Sula. We needn’t have worried, though: the moment we got off our first bus in the middle of the road, a collectivo across the road shouted at us, “San Pedro! Directo!” and herded us on board.
In the rush to get us onto the bus, the driver had chosen to ignore my question as to whether he took dollars, leading to trouble when he later asked for money once we were well on our way. The smallest bill we had was 20 USD, and we had no local currency. The bus was in hysterics around us, though I’m not sure if the other passengers were laughing at us (most likely) or at the poor bus driver who was at a complete loss as to what he should do. In fact he told the young guys sitting behind us that he would throw them off the bus if they didn’t shut up.
Thankfully an older man sitting next to Annie offered to give me change – 19 single dollar bills for my 20, not a bad deal for him really. I could then give the ticket man 5 dollars. And finally another man exchanged those five dollars for the ticket price in local lempira. Money laundering in action.
Now as I admitted at the beginning of this post, I’m afraid our experience of Honduras was very limited and I’m going to tag the rest of the bus and currency saga onto this post, leaving next week to cover the more interesting adventures of Nicaragua. It simply wasn’t possible to do four countries justice in two weeks – who would’ve guessed it?! – so Honduras had to be sacrificed. Not to mention El Salvador, which we didn’t even enter. We’ll simply have to plan another trip!
So we spent just one night in Honduras, wandering the streets of San Pedro Sula to find a working ATM, stocking up on more healthy essentials (bread, ham and cheese, chocolate chip cookies and chewy sweets – I seem to be incapable of eating healthily while travelling, and I’m still paying the price after my South American diet experience), and booking the last two adjacent seats on the Tica bus to take us to Granada the following day. We failed at finding the restaurant the hostel had recommended but plumped for Las Casas Viejos where we had stone-baked tortillas served by waitresses in traditional dress (a tourist trap? But the food was very good).
At 4am the next morning, when our taxi didn’t arrive, the man in the hostel reception explained that it just wasn’t worth their while to roll out of bed on a Sunday morning after a late night out. The taxi drivers, I mean. Eventually the hostel owner – a famous jazz musician, as it turns out – arrived to drive the two of us and another Italian girl to the terminal and so we made our bus. Somehow these things always work out…