Honduras: Coban Ruins, El Ceiba, Roatan
Well, the 1st 24 hours in Honduras were relatively pleasant, especially considering the reputation Honduras has, but naturally that would all change soon enough. Land of the corrupt cops, many overlanders fear Honduras, and the only reason they enter it is the fact that it is impossible to drive to the rest of Central America (Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) without crossing through it. Most trip reports I read consist of people crossing at the infamous El Amitillo border crossing, and making a mad dash to freedom. Now each persons experience is almost always different no matter what border they choose, but this crossing consistently brings about horror stories of corruption and hassles, sometimes paying fees as high as 200-400USD, nowhere near what you should be paying to cross the Honduran border. People seem to put up with this as once crossing here, you can drive across Honduras to the safety of Nicaragua in between 3-5 hours depending on how bad/many police checkpoints there are, limiting the time spent in this savage land. Well, I am awesome, and only fear things like hippies, so I decided to see what Honduras has to offer and headed north for two reasons. One, I don’t fear Honduras like the typical Gringo, and two I have read a few comments about the northern crossing of el Florido being a mellow crossing. Turns out those who want to experience Honduras, rather than believe everything they hear and rush through it, end up often having a great time in this country, with very few problems, if any.
1 US dollar = 19.7000 Honduran lempiras
Amped up on a Dunkin Donuts sugar high from Guat City I headed for the el Florido crossing late in the evening. It was dark out, and there was a military checkpoint not far from the crossing, but no one was manning it, they were all standing around on the sides of the road. I had my window down and heard a whistle that sounded like they were trying to flag me over. I continued on not wanting to deal with it knowing I could claim I never heard it and its dark so never saw them…but as predicted no one was up for attempting what would be a futile attempt at chasing down an Astro, they must have known they could never catch me. I arrived at the border around 7:00 pm, well after dark this time of year. I have read the crossing here is a breeze, so the late start in the evening did not bother me. I had not worries of how it would go since I have read others have arrived later at night and were forced to sleep here, with zero problems, so I knew worst case scenario meant a night on van camping in a safe area. The Honduras portion to get your passport stamped is open 24/7 I believe, while I think the vehicle import portion is open till 9pm. Speaking of driving at night, I remember back in my naive days when I said I would drive the speed limits, not pass on solid lines around blind corners, and not drive at night…well those all get broken too many times to count, but I really try and avoid the driving at night, that one is very important. Seriously, I have almost hit at least 4 cows, encountered missing portions of road large enough to swallow the Astro, and in Guatamela while driving at night had to not only deal with tons of people walking the lonely back roads, but also had to deal with hundreds of kids running around carrying torches. Yeah it was bizarre, I think it was some sort of high school cross country thing, but it went on for the entire 2 hour drive from the border to Flores, all driven at night. I asked the guy running the desk (UK tourist) at the hostel in Flores about it, he didn’t know. See what I mean, tourists just don’t care what is going on around them unless it involves partying in some way. Anyway, I still don’t recommend it, but here I was, ready to exit Guatemala after a successful session of night driving.
Guatemala to Honduras Crossing:
This part is easy, 1st drive through the gate and park right after the gate on the left side, go up to the office on the left and get your vehicle import cancelled, and yes, the guy will make the photocopies for you. He didn’t copy my license though, and I ran out of photocopies so that bit me in the ass a little later, but overall it was easy. Next walk 15 feet to the exit window and get your exit stamp from Guatemala. Now drive about 100 feet into Honduras and park in front of the Aduana. Enter the door in the center to import your vehicle into Honduras. It was about 7:30 when I got in here, and no one was around. Knowing this is Central America I stay patient and relax inside. After 10 minutes I entered the other part of the building to ask the officer in charge of passport stamps if the vehicle portion was open even though I knew it was open, but really politely letting him know I could use some help in there. Eventually the woman comes, asks for my photocopies, and gives me a disgusted look when I don’t have one for the license. The photocopy machine is literally behind her seat so I put my license on her desk, but she asks me to wait outside while she chats with some guy who is probably her husband. I am waiting outside assuming she is delaying until she can say she is closed since its now around 8:20. 10 minutes later a different guy shows up and helps me out, makes my copy and fills out my forms. I paid 35 dollars for the import (in US dollars even though I had Limperas, it would have cost the same, so I wanted to save them) I then walked over to the section next door and got my passport stamped and was ready to enter Honduras, boom another cake walk, and I didn’t have to pay 400 USD.
It began to pour heavy rain as I was finishing up at the border. An older woman had been hanging around and I figured she needed a lift, so I asked the customs guy what the deal was, and he confirmed that if I could take her to Copan it would be a huge help. No problem, I am headed there now. I make room for her, and another guy, luckily skinny, asks if he can get a ride too. Sure, if you can both fit hop in, its miserable out there. We make our way slowly crawling through the rain down towards Copan, and he is asking me if I am going to Copan Ruinas now. Confused, I tell him tomorrow probably, but he doesn’t understand. What the hell man, why would I go to the ruins now its pitch black and raining cats and dogs. Turns out the actual town name is Copan Ruinas, so while I was saying I was going to the town tonight, I was telling him I would visit the ruins tomorrow. Eventually he has me let him out on the side of the mountain in the pouring rain. I think he was asking the questions to make sure the woman would be alright, but I hope he didn’t get out early thinking I wasn’t going into town. I certainly wasn’t shocked at his request to get out on the side of a mountain in the middle of the night as it is Central America, nothing is out of the ordinary anymore, and it looked like there may be a house of some sort down the hill nearby. I then headed to the Centro to drop off the woman, who tried to pay me even though I refused. Eventually she said something about me and God and points to the sky in a move she must have picked up from Eli Manning during the Giants‑Pats Super Bowl game, (either one, Eli kicked Bradys ass in both) so maybe Jehovah is cool with me now, we will see if he sends anymore Israeli chicks my way. I stealth camp for the night right in the centro and wake up the next morning to go see some ruins, not exactly thrilled to see them but figure if I am here I cant not go, they are literally within walking distance from the town.
Copan Ruinas – The Mayan Site/San Pedro Sula:
As mentioned I took the 10 minute walk from town to the ruins. The ruins were nice, and are famous for having the longest set of hieroglyphics of all the Mayan ruins, and are built into the stairway of the main temple. They are impressive, but they are also very worn, which is why the tent now covers them. I finish up with the site in an hour so decide to make the drive all the way to La Ceiba, on the coast. You end up taking the road to the ruins and continuing on, so you might as well just drive there and park in the lot if your not hanging out in Copan any longer, though it seems like a cool little town. I know the ferry wont be going to Roatan by the time I arrive but figure if I sleep there I can catch the 9:30am the next morning. Now I mentioned Dunkin Donuts in Guatamela City on my drive the day before, well Honduras has at least 4 of them, what the hell Cali, you cant even get one?? Anyway, I stop to get my fill of donuts in San Pedro, and see it’s a pretty good area with a lot of new looking restaurants, with all kinds of fast food choices, my kind oft own, hey you can only eat so many tacos.
It’s a very clean city in the part I was in, and there seems to be very attractive girls everywhere. I pull up my lonely planet on the iphone and consider staying here for the night as I am sick of driving. Just an FYI, turns out San Pedro has a crime and gang problem. It also mentions San Pedro is the AIDS capital of Central America, needless to say I grabbed some donuts and hit the road. To follow up with this, I considered staying here after taking the ferry back to mainland, but asked around and was advised it wasn’t the best idea. Well, some friends from the island did a quick google search as they were figuring their options out as well, and it turns out San Pedro was named the most violent urban area in the WORLD in 2011. So yeah, skip San Pedro, just to be safe.
I make it to La Ceiba after a day of driving and decide to crash early as I am a bit tired. Its not a bad city from what I have read, but it’s a bit seedy and there are certainly poor people here, as is normal in Honduras, the poorest country in all of Central America. It apparently has a good night life, though I am in no mood to find out. I setup shop under a street lamp just off the main drag, but within maybe 30 feet of it, so basically on the main street. I have mentioned I don’t mind sleeping in my van when its not too hot as I feel my things are safer, though I also have no problem leaving it behind to stay in a hotel or hostel. If the van, and all contents get stolen, well its just a van, mentally I am prepared for that. If I wasn’t, there is no way I could leave it behind and enjoy myself, I would be busy stressing out about my things. So back in the van tonight, I am reading a bit of the Lonely Planet trying to figure out which island to go to, Utila or Roatan, as I have not had any time to catch up on reading/planning. Suddenly I hear some scratching on the side of the van, which is somewhat normal when I am in there. I figure someone is walking by and being careless as people are always walking into my car while I am in it unbeknownst to them. After 10 seconds its clear that this is no normal passing, so I give it 5 more seconds, and realize someone’s trying to jimmy their way into the Astro. Ok, shit just got real, its on! I jump up, throw down my iphone, punch the window where the noise is coming from with a closed fist and rip down the curtain. I hear a scream followed by “ok, ok” and see some douchbag in a white and black striped shirt scrambling to his bike. Luckily my van is covered in curtains so there is no way I can drive, cause I immediately jump into the drivers seat and start the van, ready to run this bitch over. Now I don’t want to kill him, I am thinking a nice love tap, enough to break a few bones and make him rethink his Iife of crime. I relax for a second and realize he is now gone and was just looking for an easy target. I look at the clock and somewhat shocked realize its only 7:45 (pretty much 24hrs since entering Honduras) in the evening, though again its pitch black by this time though im illuminated under the street lamp, pretty ballsy if you ask me.
For several days I have been telling myself I need to find the knife I packed away back in the Yucatan just in case something did happen, and now make a mental note that tomorrow morning that is the first thing on my to do list. Just two days ago during my visit with RuinedAdventures, we had discussed how we prefer being in the vehicle for this very reason, so we know our stuff is secure. We figured a kick to the face would deter any would be thief who was most likely just looking for an easy opportunity. I wish he had gotten his face in so I could have verified that, but am glad I was in fact in the vehicle, so nothing was taken, and of course that he gave up so easily. I think next time I will rip down the back and front window covers instead, so I can drive away (or at a bitch) if needed. I didn’t have time to think and pulled the one on the sliding door side down so I could see him and what he was doing, knowing he wouldnt be able to see me due to the tint. I will also try and not throw my iphone in the heat of the moment, as it took me a solid 30 minutes to find it in the mess of my van.
Forgetting all about the Lonely Planet I find a hotel with some secure parking, as I don’t need a repeat of this later tonight, and rest up knowing the van is safe for at least one more night. While I know my mom doesn’t like to hear this kind of story, I think its great. It could have happened anywhere, to anyone, so you cant take it personal, its just another story for the books. Seriously, who wants to just keep reading about me sitting on a beach enjoying myself, sometimes a little adventure is a good thing.
Speaking of sitting on a beach enjoying myself, the next morning I head off to Roatan which supposedly has a bit better animal life in the reefs than Utila, leaving my van at the terminal which is supposed to be safe, we shall see. I pay about 28 USD for the one way pass and jump on the ferry, where I resume my Lonely Planet reading and see Roatan is for Tourists, while Utila is more for backpackers….son of a bitch! It also says that unlike Utila, the toursists and locals don’t really mix on Roatan, uh can we turn this boat around? Roatan is slightly more expensive, but both islands are pretty similar regarding prices as they are both more expensive than the mainland. Roatan does not have the whale sharks that Utila has, and while I saw them in Cancun I was hoping for more as they are supposedly even larger here. Turns out its very dead on Roatan this time of year, and it looks like Coconut Tree Diving school is the only one that really has any people, plus it comes highly recommended, so that is where I go. It costs 280 for the open water course, 35 for the book, 10 bucks for something about saving the reef, and I get a dorm room for 5 bucks a night since I am diving with them, as opposed to the 50 dollar a night cabin I was offered elsewhere. So for just over 300 dollars you can get the open water certification, in one of the best places to do it on Earth. The 1sttwo nights had 2 other guys in it, but the rest of my stay with the exception of 2 other nights I have it to myself, and it has AC…not bad. I don’t particularly like Roatan, but I don’t dislike it either, and the diving was great. I had been hoping to share my diving experience with a boatload of hot chicks, but once again it was myself and my instructor Marco, for some one on one romantic diving. Diving is kind of weird since you cant talk under water, there is a lot of fist bumping, some high fives, ok signals, a lot of underwater bro
time….where is that boatload of girls? I suppose one on one was the best way to get my money’s worth, and Marco was an awesome instructor. The water was nice and warm, we had 80 Ft visibility, saw a ton of giant turtles, one of which swam with my guide and I for 5 or so minutes, saw a 4 Ft moray eel which was kinda sketchy as hell, a couple octopus, and hundreds, if not thousands of fish. It was like swimming in a giant aquarium, except this is the ocean. The people at Coconut tree were all nice, but certainly a different breed than I am. It was like hanging out with Captain Ron and his buddies, as they sat around trading diving stories. I wasn’t very social on this island, but they did lure me out a few times while I was there, and it turns out they were all really good people, and I can see why people go back time and time again.
There was also a big to do on Roatan as the paving of the main stretch of road here, about a quarter mile or so, was just being completed. Now originally I was going to head out after 3-4 days whatever it took to get my open water SCUBA certification, but was informed there was a festival in celebration of the road on Saturday, which would include the President of Honduras. A road paving party, now that sounds like something I should stick around for. I remember sitting home back in college one morning with my roomates as we contemplated taking the day off when some geese flew by the window. Now Canadian geese in Buffalo is an extremely rare event (heavy sarcasm here), so we immediately called it and made it an official goose day, which following tradition involved a lot of beer pong. But even we had never experienced a road paving party…I was pumped. So pumped that I decided to hangout with the diving crew Friday night, which led me to being extremely hung over on Saturday, which also meant I missed the President of Honduras and the festivities that afternoon. Luckily the festivities turned out to not be all they were cracked up to be, but I was hoping to get a pic with the President to put on my “wall of pics with myself and famous people”, since it is currently a wall painted white, with nothing on it at the moment. Eventually 3-4 days turned into 18, even though I didn’t really like the island I just couldn’t get off. I always find it pretty difficult to get off these damn islands, my life is so hard. After the road paving party I was ready to take the 7am ferry, which meant I had to be up at 6. Well, I woke up at 3am, and couldn’t go back to sleep. Not wanting to drive all day after 3 hours of sleep I decided to skip the ferry. Since I was still on the Island I decided to grab my advanced open water certification as well, as this would enable me to see more dive sites on the trip if I decide to, as open water limits you to 60 feet, where advanced gets you down to a max of 130. After that went down I got some food poising from the street food, so ended up on that island much longer than I originally wanted.
On the advanced dives I had a partner to go with, and a chick instructor…who was much better looking than my male instructor. Her looks were not the only reason I would have liked some one on one instruction, turns out my partner was pretty awful at scuba diving. I picked up the diving pretty easily, and Marco had previously mentioned that I was really good and hoped I would stick with SCUBA diving. I figured he said this to everyone on these one on one romantic adventures, but once I saw this guy I immediately understood. I guess some people get it, and others struggle, cause even the simplest tasks were tough for him. He was also an air hog, a term the chick instructor openly called him, so I am not even being mean. He had to use a larger tank than what most people used, and even then our dives were always cut short, which was unfortunate as I always had plenty of air. We did a deep wreck dive, which was at 110 feet, and that alone means your air will go faster. The wreck was cool, a giant shipping freighter of some sort that had been intentionally sunk in the 90s, and later broken into 3 pieces by hurricane Mitch, one of the few hurricanes the island has ever had to deal with. The site was also home to giant 4-5 foot grouper which would come right up to you and hang out or follow you, hoping you had some food for them. Well there were two groups doing the wreck dive, and my group had to surface about 10 minutes earlier as one of us was once again low on air.
The other group got to see some more moray ells, which I would have liked to see again even if they are weird. Luckily the terrible diver was a nice guy and meant well, so it wasn’t a problem. He also provided some great entertainment during the buoyancy dive, were we practiced our skills going through hoops, and floating in place. While I lightly touched the hoops a few times with my flippers, something that pissed me off as I thought I would have no problem with them, the task were fairly easy. Well, this guy didn’t just touch the hoops, he constantly hit them, and at one point ended up wearing a hoop around his neck and swimming about 30 feet up before he even realized it. Seriously, even if he wasn’t wearing the hoop, there was no reason he should have been 30 feet above where we were. It was pretty funny to see my instructor doubled over in what was obviously laughter while under water.
One of the other advanced dives consisted of a night dive, which provided a different perspective and allowed us to see animals that are normally not present in the day. As a wanna be surfer I am fairly comfortable in the ocean, but why would anyone go down there at night, with nothing more than a couple flashlights to fend off any sea beasts? This is where I got to see the 2 octopus, and watching them change colors to blend into the rocks was amazing, so certainly worth risking life and limb for. Just when I thought this wasn’t such a bad idea after all, it was then time for us all to turn off our flashlights, and swim around in the dark ocean at night. Wait what, are you trying to have sharks mistake us for gourmet meals, if I am going to get eaten I would like to at least see it coming. Well we shut them off so we could play in the phosphorescent green stuff, which was pretty cool as well, and it turns out there were no sharks. The night dive was fun, though due to the lack of visibility I don’t know that I will do another night dive, its differnt, but you don’t see as much.
So after doing dangerous things like diving at night, I decided it was time to smarten and play it safe. In typical fashion this meant signing up for the shark dive, yup, cause I am awesome. The shark dive is a bit expensive at 100 dollars, as well as an additional 20 dollar round trip cab ride. Had I known, I would have taken a colectivo or a cab from just outside West End, as prices are inflated greatly from here, especially when they know your doing the shark dive. Turns out the shark dive leaves from Coxen Hole, which should only be 5 or so dollars in a cab, max. Get in a cab and tell them to take you to Woods medical Facility, the shark dive operates out of the hotel literally across the building from it. Anyway, due to the food poisoning I didn’t get to go with a couple I had met from coconut tree as we had originally planned, so headed over alone once I was back to normal. I was with 6 other random people, and the dive was awesome. I wasn’t necessarily sold on SCUBA diving, its cool, you see neat shit, but its something to do occasionally. Well, if I could dive with sharks every day I probably would. There are Reef Sharks which live about 2 miles off the island, on the edge of a ledge which drops into some deep dark abyss. Reef Sharks are not very dangerous, I think there have only been about 30 attacks since 2008 worldwide, so what could go wrong? They have a bucket with fish closed off, so
that the sharks spend 20-30 minutes getting all worked up looking for an alternative snack in their impatience, namely SCUBA divers. There was probably 30 sharks, though it seemed like 50 as they swim at you, over you, just past your head from behind…whoa where did he come from? You sit along a reef wall so they stay relatively in front of you, and I mean a 2-3 feet in front of you. Depending on the current the guide said you can swim with them, well the current was right so he signaled we could leave the protection of the wall and we all proceeded to swim along side the sharks, which means they are now coming from every direction. There was an instance or two where a shark and I would be heading at each other in a winner take all game of chicken. I admit, I lost every time and stopped in place, not sure if it was better to move or not, I figured I would let him decide my fate instead. After 30 minutes or so they opened the bucket of food and the sharks devoured it, at which point they left…mostly. 3 or 4 hung around after, I figured they were still hungry so kept my eyes on them, hoping to throw one of the chicks in the way if they came our way, hey survival of the fittest!
Oh one last thing, every speaks English here, something else I am not a fan of. The first woman I talked to about a room told me “relax, you are on the island now, everyone speaks English”. I told her I need the practice, and she said most people, including her, don’t even like speaking Spanish. I should have gone to Utila!