Permanent Vacasian

The traveller sees what he sees; the tripper sees what he has come to see. – G. K. Chesterton

Honduras Is For The Birds

Lago de Yojoa and Copán Ruinas, Honduras – Because we had to stay an extra day in Roatan, we had a long day of travel ahead of us to get to Lago de Yojoa. We heard that because of Semana Santa the ferry was going to be crowded so we arranged for a taxi driver to pick us up a 5:30am to take us to the ferry dock. We figured we’d get to the dock at 6am, plenty of time to make the 7am ferry. We’d learned that Central Americans don’t really show up early, so we’d be sure and beat the crowds.

Looking out over Lago de Yojoa.

Looking out over Lago de Yojoa.

Of course when we pulled up to the terminal it was packed. Tons of people were pouring out of taxis into the long lines to buy tickets. I started to get anxious – did we misjudge this? Thankfully, the lines moved fast and we bought tickets for the 7am ferry, phew. It wasn’t even 6 yet and they started loading a ferry so we got on it and surprisingly it left at 6. I guess they changed the schedule to accomodate the crowds – so there was a ferry at 6 and 7:30. How everyone knew this, I have no idea. When I bought tickets for 7, the woman who sold them to me didn’t say anything or correct me. We were supper happy to get a jump start on our travel since we had a long way to go and we knew the busses would be crowded.

After a crazy hustle to get our luggage at the terminal (essentially, they bring carts of bags off the ship and you just start yelling when you see yours – imagine hundreds of people doing this) we asked a taxi driver to take us to the earliest bus towards the capital. Annoyingly, there is isn’t just one bus terminal in La Ceiba, so you have to go a a specific bus company’s depot. Thankfully, taxi drivers usually know the schedules.

Returning from early morning fishing.

Returning from early morning fishing.

The bus depot was super crowded when we got there and I got in line right away while Stuart paid the taxi driver and retrieved our bags. We were hoping to get tickets on the 9am bus. Almost immediately the woman behind the counter announced that the 9am bus was sold out, in fact all the busses for that day AND THE NEXT DAY were sold out. I didn’t quite understand at first, but as waves of groans went through the crowd I caught on.

This is the moment during travel you dread, stuck and needing to make a quick decision with little information. Do we hop in a taxi and try another bus station? Do we buy a ticket for the day after tomorrow, just in case those sell out too? Thankfully, the girl in line in front of us told us that they might have some cancellations and that we should wait. So we waited, and low and behold, we got tickets and once again we were on a “sold out” bus, happy and relived that we were on our way.

We got off the bus in La Guama and transfered to a waiting bus across the street and continued on to Peña Blanca and then took a tuk-tuk to our hotel, the D&D Brewery. A pretty easy trip for a day that could have been much more hellish.

Waterfalls near Copán; Nuns walking through water.

Waterfalls near Copán; Nuns walking through water.

All we’d really heard about mainland Honduras before we got there was that it was dangerous. San Pedro Sula is frequently nominated as the most dangerous city in the world. We weren’t sure what we would end up doing, but were heard good things about D&D on Lake Yojoa, so we started there. We soon discovered that Honduras is not only much safer than its perception, it’s also a beautiful and interesting place to visit.

When we arrived at the D&D Brewery around 2:30, it was packed. Tons of people were enjoying a late lunch and homemade beer and soda at the outdoor restaurant. The staff ran around franticly filling food and drink orders. We had heard the D&D was a place to come relax by the lake and this was not what we expected. The owner, Bobby, eventually came up to us to apologize for the chaos and explained that it was the last day of Semana Santa and that things would calm way down tomorrow. He was surprised himself at how crazy things had been for him in the last week. We were just grateful that we had a reservation and the we had made it there. We could deal with the crowds for one more day.

We spent the next few days visiting the lake and the local attractions, including a waterfall and swimming hole and a nice trek through the nearby forrest reserve – the Parque Eco-Arqueológico de Los Naranjos. And of course, enjoying the yummy food at D&D. After months of beans and rice it was nice to have a menu of grilled cheese, burgers and blueberry pancakes to order from.

On the boardwalk, Parque Eco-Arqueológico de Los Naranjos.

On the boardwalk, Parque Eco-Arqueológico de Los Naranjos.

But by far, the most interesting thing we did at Yojoa was a bird watching boat trip with this English guy, Malcolm, who has been living in Honduras for the past five years. He took us to his house first (he pays $75 a month in rent) and served us some tea and coffee while we talked about what we would see and then headed out on the lake in a boat with a local guy rowing.

Malcolm was the most enthusiastic guide we’ve had in all out travels and even though he’s been doing this for years, he got just as excited as we did when we spotted toucans and parrots and tons of other birds. It was a really fun tour (worth the 5am wake up call) and ignited our inner ornithologists.

*     *     *

Our next destination in Honduras was the town of Copán Runias. All roads lead through San Pedro Sula (or SPS for those in the know) so we planed to take a bus there and then transfer to another bus to Copán. It just so happened that Bobby, D&D’s owner, was headed to SPS so he offered us a ride. Heck yeah! Not only did we get to SPS an hour and a half faster, we had a really interesting conversation with Bobby about his experience with the D&D and crime in Honduras.

He pretty much confirmed that parts (where tourists go) of Honduras are fairly safe and that most of the crime is gang activity in SPS and the capital, and general crime in the wilds of the Miskito Coast. He then told us a story of a local family that was giving him problems. This family was known to the rest of the villagers as trouble makers and Bobby decided to put things at ease by employing a cousin of theirs at his hotel.

Ballcourt, Copán

Ballcourt, Copán

Unfortunately, this employee ended up stealing a dress from a guest and Bobby had to fire her. The family “retaliated” by robbing some of his guests while they were on a hike. Bobby went with the village elders to the family’s house and explained that he had to fire their cousin and told them that they would never rob any of his guets again (and he recovered all their belongings). The family never bothered him again, although they did end up bothering the wrong people and were run out of town after their house was shot up by some guys in an SUV with machine guns. I don’t think any of the village people were sad to see them go.

The reason to visit the town of Copán Ruians is for the nearby archeological site, but the first thing we did in Copán was visit a doctor. I started to have some weird pains in my arms, legs and chest in Lago de Yojoa – they actually started the day after our last dive on Roatan. Being new to diving I thought they might be signs of decompression sickness. We found an English speaking doctor and he assured me it wasn’t Decompression Sickness, but arthritis brought on by an infection. The visit cost me $15.



In the afternoon we visited a local bird sanctuary called Macaw Mountain. They mostly rescue pet macaws and parrots to rehabilitate them and release them into the wild. The park has several large cages with lots of scarlet macaws, but also several kinds of parrots, parakeets, owls, hawks and toucans. The scarlet macaws are exceptionally spectacular with brillant red and blue feathers. There is an interactive zone as well, where the birds rest outside cages and people can hold them and take pictures with them. Stuart held three Macaws. I daringly held one (that’s a big step for me – I’m not a big fan of birds).

I wasn’t really too reassured by the doctor I saw since I never had an infection, so the next morning I called a dive medic (a great, free service provided by Divers Action Network). The medic again assured me it wasn’t Decompression Sickness but seemed concerned enough about the chest pain to encourage me to see a doctor and get an EKG.

So, after just a day in Copán, we headed back to SPS where the closest decent hospital was located. It’s kind of ironic that the best place in Honduras you can go for medical care is also the most dangerous city in the world! We took a bus and then a taxi straight to the hospital, and with the help of some very friendly hospital staff I managed to get an appointment with an English speaking doctor right away. I explained my symptoms, he did an exam and ordred a bunch of tests. He was very friendly and even “prescribed” a couple hotels nearby.

"Stay here or here and see me in the morning" - Doc

“Stay here or here and see me in the morning” – Doc

As we were leaving the hospital a bunch of police cars were parked outside another entrance with heavily armed police in the street. The taxi driver didn’t even want to slow down to pick us up – he kept yelling at us to hurry while staring into his rearview mirror. He asked us what was going on but we didn’t see anything abnormal inside the hospital. As we were driving away he said that he wanted nothing to do with that scene – that things were going to get really bad, really fast.

I had to go back in the morning after the doctor looked at the test results, so we had an evening to kill in SPS. With numerous warnings about how dangerous the city was (including one from the doctor) we opted to take a taxi down the street to the mall and had dinner in the food court. Not our most interesting adventure, but at least we were safe.

In the morning the doctor assured me that my heart and lungs were fine and without going into too much detail, I did have an infection and he prescribed antibiotics. The doctors visit, all the tests (including and x-ray and EKG) and the medication cost me less than $200.

Birds of a feather...

Birds of a feather…

We headed back to Copán Ruinas and restarted our trip. We had a really nice dinner and chat with the owner at a German pub in town. He told us stories about how Copán was so filled with tourists for the December 21st “end-of-the-world” that all 22,000 hotel beds in the city were full and people were sleeping on roofs. Crazy. The town is pretty small so we weren’t sure where all those beds were.

We finally checked out the ruins the next morning, thought we weren’t as enthused as we should have been.  It was hot and we were still burnt out on ruins, and the ones at Copán aren’t all that impressive, though they have a nice collection of stella. What really took our attention was the birds. We spent most of our time there looking for toucans and macaws. The rehabilitated Scarlet  Macaws from Macaw Mountain are released at the ruins to mix with the native birds already there, so there are quite a few there. We also spotted some yellow orioles, collared aracari, woodpeckers, mott motts and parrots.

We rewarded ourselves for a difficult morning with a couple of licuados (fruit milkshakes) in the afternoon and a pizza dinner. In Southeast Asia we were way more into the food and ate local cuisine most of the time, but the food in Central America is almost the same from Guatemala to Panama and we quickly got tired of chicken, beans and rice. So we found ourselves seeking out pizza and other international food way more on this trip.

We did discover a couple of foods in Honduras that we really liked. Baleadas are like quesadillas with beans and a really thick flour tortilla that come with all kinds of filings – we liked them with avocado, beans, and cheese. Anafre is essentially bean dip with cheese served in a clay pot with a candle underneath to keep it bubbling hot. Yummy. Either of those with a licuado made for a delcious and cheap meal.