Travel stuff

Tales of a thirty-something, wannabe backpacker: Honduras part 1

Written by Jesse Wilkinson

Part 1

They call Honduras a dangerous country to travel through….I didn’t find it to be that exactly.

I want to tell you I backpacked through Honduras for eight days, but that’s only half true. I began the trip as a backpacker, something I’ve been many times in my life, but I ended it as something else. It’s not something I want to admit to, but it’s the truth.

We landed near San Pedro Sula and the US Customs Travel Warning told not to spend any time in that city due to all the gang warfare….so we took a bus straight into San Pedro Sula. We didn’t get out, mind you, but we didn’t see any gangs as we drove through it on our way to La Cieba. La Cieba is a coastal city, a launching point to the Bay Islands, which I’ll get to in a little bit.

Now, to understand Honduras (and I don’t really – I only spent 8 days there), you have to understand some of its history (I don’t really – I looked most of it up on Google before I left). There are indigenous tribes such as the Mayans, who pre-date any European influence. Both Spain and England wrestled for control throughout most of the Common Era, Spain holding control of the mainland and Britain having a presence in the North and on the Bay Islands. The Bay Islands are where my girlfriend and I ended up, and due to the British presence, everyone spoke English, as well as Spanish. That’s really the point I wanted to make here – almost everyone speaks English, which makes it easy for me because I still don’t know jack when it comes to Spanish, even though I’ve been to two Latin countries in the past seven months. It’s disgraceful, I know.

The Bay Islands are made up of three islands– Utilla, Roatan, and Guanaja. Utilla is a backpacker’s haven, being the cheapest, smallest and liveliest of the three. As I boarded our boat for Roatan, I noticed the lineup for the Utilla Princess consisted mainly of white kids from America under the age of 25 and I longed to be that age again with a pack filled with whiskey, books and dirty socks. Well, actually my pack was still filled with all that, so I guess age doesn’t have anything to do with it, but I definitely didn’t feel like a real backpacker since I was only gone for a week. It’s not long enough to get those really dirty, nasty smelling socks I remember having while backpacking Europe, Canada and Australia. Who knows when the next time is that I’ll get to travel for months on end, but right now I’m happy for a week in the sun in a place they don’t speak English (kind of).

Guanaja Island is the most secluded of the three, with no roads and only a few places to stay. I guess a lot of famous celebrities go here to vacation away from everyone else, but imagine it would get rather boring or lonely with only a few people around. I guess if you got lonely you could paddle board to the next resort over. And if you got really lonely, you could walk one of the island’s footpaths into Bonacca, a town of 6000.

Roatan is the island where most people go – it’s got a little bit of everything. It’s got beaches, hiking, national parks, look-outs, restaurants, bars, resorts, zip-lines, diving, and snorkeling. It just doesn’t have any surfing, which is a bummer.  I asked a few people and they said it was because the island is surrounded by coral reefs that prevent the waves from forming.  Made sense to me, but I still longed to get on a board for awhile.  Getting around is pretty easy as everything’s close; you can traverse the island by bicycle, by car or the way I did it:

 

Look at this asshole

My travels through the most of Honduras reminded me of my recent trip to Ecuador: small settlements along the main highway that struggled with no real economy and cities that seemed to scream of a wide income inequality. But I remember my friend in Ecuador telling me that no one could really go hungry there because of all the food that grew naturally. I found that was the case here, as well, since there were coconuts and mango trees everywhere and once we made it Roatan, the fish were in abundance (I don’t have any pics since I don’t have one of those fancy underwater cameras, but I could probably just insert my photos from snorkelling in Australia and no one would know the difference).

It’s no wonder the Bay Islands were a place that Columbus embraced and that pirates made their home for so long – they had beaches lined with coconut and mango trees, and thousands of fish that swam around you at waist deep.

The large presence of fish is due to the coral reefs that surround the island and make for amazing snorkeling and diving (but no goddam surfing). They are a part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System that stretches from the Yucatan Peninsula down through the waters of Belize, Guatamala, and the Bay Islands. Now, I’m not much a diver, but I did snorkel the shit out of these reefs. I spent a whole afternoon following a school of brightly coloured fish through the coral until I eventually popped out of the water with a thirst for some Honduras beer.

This brings me to the beer situation in Honduras – it’s not too bad. I fancied the Port Royal, a pilsner, over the Salva Vida and Imperial. Beer was more expensive than I was expecting, coming in around $2.50 to $3.50 a bottle at most bars/restaurants. I had expected Honduras to be cheap; it wasn’t. Well at least Roatan wasn’t, but I guess it was a tourist destination and know we’ll pay the higher prices. Tourists can be such suckers.  Everywhere had a happy hour, though, something I think we dearly need here in Canada.

My girlfriend and I planned to spend quite a few nights in West End and then eventually leave Roatan and head back to the mainland to Copan for the Mayan ruins.  West End is definitely the cheaper, hipper part of the island and as we wandered down the beach upon arrival, a sun-slapped American kid, fresh off his sailboat befriended us, and after explaining how he left Detroit as a teenager and spent his life sailing through the Caribbean and Latin America, he pointed us in the direction of the Barefeet Hostel and Bar. It satisfied what we were looking for – cheap room, cold beer, hot sand. The good thing about this place is that you can still bargain for prices, so what started at $30 a night became $15.  And believe me – the room was only worth $15. But it had beach access and a decent restaurant and bar with daily bbq’s. The highlights of our time at West End would have to be days spent on the scooter and evenings spent at Frank’s Cigar Bar enjoying Ron Zapacca rum and a nice cigar that James had picked out (don’t remember what it was called but I look pretty happy enjoying it).

Smoking Rocky Patels

You could take the scooter around the whole island in a day and there were some fascinating places bursting with local culture, but we opted for the look out points where you could get views like:

The only complaint was that it was very difficult finding a beach to swim at and chill for the afternoon once you start heading East.  It turns out that almost all the good beaches have been bought up by big resorts (big surprise) and have no access unless you’re staying with them.  So, we headed back to the West End for a little beach action and nightlife.

The strip at the West End was full of little bars and restaurants, so we had lots of choice, but we usually opted for some live music. Monkey Island provides a good jam with a young American named Gavin who loves to turn radio pop songs into cool, stripped down acoustic jams. Our waitress was googly-eyed for him –  “he’s only 18” she would say. I guess he wandered down to Roatan somehow and landed a pretty sweet gig. Not a bad place to be playing guitar at age 18 with suntanned waitresses falling in love with you.

Now we hadn’t ventured over to West Bay because we heard it was all higher end resorts, and we were being cheap backpackers.  My girlfriend has prided herself on backpacking through Asia on an extremely low budget, as well as most of Central America.  We chose Honduras because it was one country she’d never been, and we expected it to be very cheap. It wasn’t, but we were making do with a small room off the beaten path that cost little, eating tacos on the side of the road and hitting happy hour for drinks (the cigars and rum were my idea – she wasn’t too keen, but obliged me).  But on a spontaneous decision one day, we acquiesced to a guy pushing a water taxi on us and headed over to the place we said we wouldn’t go.

This is where things changed in our trip, and I’m still not sure how I feel about it.

 

Part 2 coming soon…..

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Jesse Wilkinson

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