Monday 1st December
We left the hotel at Esteli just before 8.00 a.m. which theoretically gave us a leisurely drive to the border and on to the airport where the revised itinerary would involve us in catching 3 separate flights to Roatan.
On the way to the Nicaraguan/Honduras border, Jackie received a phone call to say that our afternoon flight/s, which yesterday she’d been told were firm, were in fact not so at all – and that there was no room for the group! If we were to get to Roatan today at all, it had to be on the flight leaving Tegucigalpa at 12.55. There was barely time for us to catch this flight when the news came through and this was particularly annoying since we could easily have left earlier had the agent told Jackie the truth originally.
Mario put his foot down and we hurtled towards the town of Ocotal and the border at Las Manos. Once there, Jackie tackled passports and taxes on behalf of all of us and we did toilet stops in record time – clearing the whole process within 15 minutes of arriving. We were a little alarmed to find we had no passport stamps – either out of Nicaragua or into Honduras. We would have to see what happened and whether the stamps on Jackie’s group paperwork were sufficient.
Honduras has a population of 6 million people and we were told it is a particularly poor Central American country. The topography reminded us of Switzerland with steep sided mountains and pine forests which we had not seen previously. Everything was very green and lush.
We careered onwards, heading for the airport at Tegucigalpa, unsure whether we would be in time for the first of our flights or not. Jackie had been told that they would hold the flight for us but she really didn’t know whether or not this was true – particularly in the light of yesterday’s false assurances.
As we drove, we came to several places where there were enormous holes where the road had been washed away. We had to drive on the wrong side of the road for quite a distance – in places noting the vehicles that had not made it and had crashed down below. At one point we saw a newly built once smart house which had been taken down with the landslide caused by all the recent rains.
We had 137 km to travel along winding mountain roads and we covered the distance in about 2 hours. Finally we arrived in Tegucigalpa which is an amazing place set on several hillsides. In some areas there were slums whilst in others were a couple of sky rise buildings and modern condominiums. Mario had got us to the airport with just enough time to check in and go through to our plane. We were intrigued by the immediate surroundings of the airport which appears to have been built just off the main street – surrounded by Pizza Hut and other fast food outlets. The Control Tower is within yards of the shops and banks!
On arrival at Check In, we discovered that we were to take two flights – rather than the three we were expecting – and in fact the aircraft actually took off about half an hour late so we need not have rushed quite so much. The plane we travelled in seated 35 people and was the strangest in which we have ever flown! I really wanted to take a photo of it but felt I had better not chance doing so. In fact I think no one would have minded.
The captain and co-pilot could be seen straight in front of us first of all and we could look straight through the cockpit window. Sadly they closed the dividing door behind them just before we took off. We had a somewhat smooth flight, with just a little turbulence, and landed at La Ceiba airport at around 2.00 p.m.
The staff seemed rather vague about when our next flight would take off – around 5.00-5.30 p.m. they thought – and five of us, with Jackie, decided to stay at the airport and have coffee there. The rest of the group went into the local town. Shortly after we entered the airport building, it began to pour with rain. This became torrential and there was a power-cut soon after we had taken delivery of the cups of coffee we’d ordered
After about half an hour, the power came on again and we decided to go back to the gate and sit there. However, the rain continued unabated and we began to wonder whether our flight would be allowed to take off.
The folk who had gone into town returned at around 4.45 having come through deep floods and what should have been a journey of about 15 minutes had taken them an hour. A car that had overtaken their taxi had gone off the carriageway and was stranded at an angle at the side of the road.
Once all together, we discovered that our plane had not yet arrived and that departure time had been put back to about 6.30 p.m. Time went on and on and got to around 7.30 p.m. It began to be more and more likely that we would not be going to Roatan that night.
By 7.40 p.m. we were really hungry and the airport authorities finally brought in pizza and Cola or water. Still they were not telling us exactly where things had got to and what we could expect to happen.
Finally, at 8.30 p.m., they announced that a bus was waiting for us outside the airport and that it would take us to a local hotel for the night.
We drove through the pouring rain to what turned out to be quite a presentable hotel which even had hot water and quite pretentious décor – with fur blankets and elaborately covered pillows. However, there was little in the way of light.
We showered and washed our hair since we didn’t know what sort of conditions awaited us on Roatan and went to bed relatively early; we’d had a short night in Esteli and had to be ready to leave for the airport at 6.00 a.m. in the morning.
Tuesday 2nd December (Day 18)
Every time we awoke in the night it was still teeming with rain and on looking out of our window at 5.30 a.m., we could see grey clouds everywhere. The corrugated iron of our roof, and that of others, meant that there was the constant noise of water bouncing off it.
At just after 6.00 a.m., we all piled into the minibus that had brought us to the Hotel Montserrat just a few short hours previously. The La Ceiba town siren sounded long and loud to wake up all its citizens for their day’s work.
We took a very circuitous route through many back streets and what would have been housing estates in England. When Jackie asked the driver why this was, he said that we were to pick up the pilot of our plane! We duly arrived at a rather smart ochre coloured bungalow with a black car parked in the drive way. We parked outside and hooted loudly (feeling sorry for the neighbours since it was still only about 6.15 a.m.) No-one emerged and the driver concluded that the pilot must have already left.
We travelled on and came to a small hotel where we stopped to pick up other passengers for our flight to Roatan. Our minibus driver was expecting two – but in the event there were four, with quite a lot of luggage. There was no way that we could fit them all onto our bus and so Jackie advised them that they should take a taxi but ensure they didn’t pay for it.
On we went, through heavy rain still, and arrived at La Ceiba airport at around 6.30 a.m. The plane, we thought, would leave at about 7.30 a.m. but as usual information was sketchy and likely to change at any time. Certainly there didn’t seem to be a plane on the tiny runway – and still the rain poured down. Perhaps we would spend a second happy day in the departure lounge that had become so familiar to us!
Time went on, and still there was nothing happening and no information. We got chatting to one of the guys who had hoped to be picked up by us earlier. He told us he’d been born in La Ceiba but his family had moved to California when he was a child and he was now living in Santiago – he is a golf photographer and has a web site – I must see if I can find it when I get a moment. It was good to talk with him as it helped to pass the time.
Eventually, at around 9.30 a.m. we were at last told that we could board the largish plane we’d seen come in a while earlier and finally, at around 9.55, we taxied off for the 15 minute flight to Roatan.
Sadly the clouds remained with us and we landed there in rain, coming down on the runway which had been laid almost at the water’s edge, running parallel to the shore. It did not take long for our luggage to come round on the carousel in the small airport building and porters took it outside and onto the waiting yellow minibus.
Then there was a drive of about half an hour, initially on tarmac roads and then on sand with enormous potholes which were probably designed to slow us down – and succeeded. We were staying in West End at the West End Inn and we arrived there in our customary teeming rain – which would have soaked us in seconds had some of us not been met by a guy with an umbrella who escorted each one individually whilst others donned waterproofs. It was quite a problem getting the luggage off the bus in such conditions and a bit of a pain to find that our rooms were on the third floor of the hotel up very steep concrete steps. However, we made it – and settled our things into our fairly pleasant room which at least had hot water. It was at that point that Jill discovered that her Eagle Creek luggage had been damaged – either by the airport personnel or by getting it on or off the minibus. This further added to what was a fairly gloomy arrival.
However, we pulled ourselves together and walked with Helle along the beach road, stopping at Rudy’s for lunch. We then wandered further, exploring the various shops along the way and buying some oat and raisin cookies from a Bakers. Then, after visiting the tourist office, we decided to go to the bird and butterfly park which was a relatively short walk away. It was interesting although the girl who guided us spoke in a somewhat disinterested way in rather a monotone. It was sad, too, that the birds were all in cages.
There were many biting insects and one on Jill’s leg drew blood. We bought some natural oils which were supposed to deter them and then returned to the seafront area where we spotted, in a passing car, the guy we had chatted to at La Ceiba airport. He saw us too and got his driver to stop the car and greeted us like long lost friends. We were introduced to all his family.
We bought some bananas and some water before returning to our room. There we made up the diary, read, studied Spanish on the Ipod – all accompanied by the screeches of the parrots caged in the adjacent hotel.
They had a wide repertoire of words as well as loud raucous laughter and an all too realistic imitation of a small child screaming. Hopefully they will not feel the need to continue to impress us with their impersonations all through the night!
Although we were due to go our for a group meal in the evening, many people decided that they didn’t want to depart at the pre-arranged time as they had lunched late – therefore Helle, Adrian and I went by ourselves to a Thai/Vietnamese restaurant that we had seen earlier. It wasn’t the best Pad Thai we have ever had and part way through the meal it again began to pour with rain. We waited for it to abate when we had finished eating but became marooned on our way back because of another down-pour. We had to pick our way cautiously between the myriad of puddles some of which were virtually covering the whole road. We arrived back at our hotel at around 9.30 p.m. wondering how much worse the weather could get.
Wednesday 3rd December (Day 19)
We had arranged to meet Helle at about 9.00 a.m and it was as well we had not made it earlier as we were ready with only about five minutes to spare. In part this was because we knew we had to be up to leave at 5.30 a.m. tomorrow for our journey to Copan.
We had heard from other members of our group that it was not possible to walk along the beach from where we are at West End to West Bay – about 4 km away. However Helle asked the hotel proprietor about it when we were partaking of the free coffee on offer. On being assured that it WAS possible – we decided to set off.
Certainly it was an interesting walk! At times we had to jump wide stretches of water and at others clamber over rocks that were pretty steep.
Helle and Adrian went in swimming and the water was really quite OK. Jill read the book that she’d got from the book exchange in West End yesterday.
We carried on walking and arrived at several points where we thought there was no further passage, but then we met a local man and asked him. He also said that it could be done and that we had to go up a ladder to a narrow bridge that we could see over a water inlet. There was a glass-bottomed boat there and we climbed over it and then onwards some way until eventually we came to West Bay. There were many bars on the beach and we chose one to have a drink and some strange “chips” with salsa.
After a while, we began walking back and came to a Mini Market where we bought a snickers bar and then sat outside for Helle to swim again. Jill switched on the laptop only to find that it connected immediately to what was evidently an unprotected wifi somewhere. This was great as it meant that we were able to download our emails and also check the weather forecast for Tekal.
We then scrambled back again the way we’d come (each direction had taken us about an hour because of the terrain).
Almost as soon as we arrived back at the hotel, the heavens opened – we had just made it back in time!
Jill then read the emails previously downloaded for free – and we discovered that VAT had been reduced to 15% as of Monday. That could well help us with the cost of the kitchen and the saving could fund our trip to Tekal!
We had an early supper with Helle at the Pizza restaurant next to the Thai place we had visited last night. Helle and Jill shared a large pizza – w.hich proved to be enormous and we carried off what we couldn’t eat in a box
Thursday 4th December (Day 20)
After yet more torrential rain in the night, we were woken at 5.00 a.m. to find it had ceased but had left everything soaked. Adrian struggled down the steep wet concrete steps from our third floor room with each of the two heavy suitcases. We drank our last free cup of very strong coffee from Reception and finally our minibus arrived.
We clambered in after our luggage and were driven to Roatan’s ferry port which took about half an hour. Our part of the island was definitely more the backpacker/ basic area and we passed extremely impressive hotels and private houses on the other side of Roatan nearer the marine terminal. The latter was large and modern with security checking and well equipped waiting area. We arrived there in very good time for our 7.00 a.m. ferry which was much larger (3 decks) than the ones we had taken earlier in the trip. The crossing took around 2 hours before we arrived at La Ceiba terminal – much less grand than that on Roatan itself.
Reclaiming the luggage was an interesting experience as it was all impounded within an enclosure surrounded by walls of about waist height. Everyone had been issued with a numbered ticket which had to be waived when the staff called out that they had located the right bag. It became easier to see what was happening when most others had received their belongings and had left the compound. We then all went outside to discover a much larger bus than usual (although it was somewhat elderly). We boarded it at around 10.20 and began our long drive to Copan.
After about 2 hours we stopped near El Progresso at a restaurant/buffet catering mainly to the local market and selling local food. Adrian had rice and some sort of minced meat whilst Jill had fried banana or plantain and some other unidentified vegetable. A choc ice was a good way to finish.
As we set off again, we realised that not only was it dry – but the sun was even shining weakly through a hazy mist. Perhaps we will be blessed with dry weather for our remaining four days!
It actually got hotter and hotter as we drove on and, without air-conditioning on the bus, it was a bit of an endurance test. However, we needn’t have worried because the sky soon acquired its customary grey colour again and we continued on our way. The topography became more and more stunning, with a steep climb through mountainous countryside. There were far reaching views of the distant hills each with its own halo of cloud. Unfortunately it grew too dark to be able to capture the beauty with a camera.
The Honduran housing continued to show extremes of build with the worst being simply some corrugated iron, seemingly without doors and certainly, in some cases, without electricity.
In places the road became virtually non-existent and at one point we grounded with a tremendous clunk. However, no damage seemed to have been done and we continued on.
Eventually we arrived at Copan itself and passed the Mayan ruins on our left comparatively near our hotel which was just off Copan’s main square. We were given our keys and arrived in our rooms at about 5.40 p.m. At 7.00 p.m. we went out for a group meal at a local restaurant where the waitresses brought bottles or plates of food to the tables on their heads.
Friday 5th December (Day 21)
At 8.00 a.m. our group took a fifteen minute walk out of town to the ruins of Copan. Our guide there told us that the structures came from the classic period of the Mayan civilisation (400 – 900 A.D.)
The principal buildings were grouped around two courts and a central plaza with these occupying about a quarter of a mile by about 300 metres. However, the site was much larger with more than two and a half thousand structures – many of which are just mounds. It remained lightly wooded with many trees growing on the buildings themselves.
There had been many previous buildings with a number of these being incorporated into those built later which were simply built over them – indeed we were able to make a visit down some tunnels that showed us these earlier structures and their decorations.
Such large and skilfully worked stone buildings were highly impressive. We were able to appreciate some of the stone carving in greater detail in a new and very well presented museum.
After lunch at the site restaurant, we walked back into the town which we were able to see in more detail than previously. It is highly attractive, with white stucco buildings sporting red pantile roofs bordering cobbled streets.
We took a tuc tuc to a new children’s museum which was fun and also showed us more of how the people lived as well as what plants and animals are native to the area. We were surprised to learn that the Mayans were one of only five civilisations that had invented writing. They also had a quite clever form of numerals whereby up to 4 dots representing single digits and a line represented the number 5.
We walked back into town and found an excellent place, just adjacent to our hotel, where we were able to enjoy fruit smoothies and cakes and also use their wifi connection.
In the evening we went out for a meal with Helle and Tom and Linda from Canada. Unfortunately it wasn’t very good but a parade and fire dancers made it more memorable.
Although overcast and with occasional short outbursts of drizzle, it had been a most memorable day. Tomorrow, Guatemala!
Saturday 6th December (Day 22)
Copan at around 7.00 a.m. for our drive across the border to Antigua.
The rest of the diary continues under the title “Guatemala”.