All good things come to an end and our first night in Honduras left us feeling like we had just jumped the fence between homely, flowering garden, into a concrete back yard. Not that the scenery was hugely different, but the feel of the place and the people were drastically different. We had found Nicaragua surprisingly calm, friendly, colourful and peaceful. Now we were faced with a loud, gritty and rough country with semi-automatic machine guns slung over the shoulders of every male civilian in view. Is he pointing that thing at me or is he just changing shoulders…?! – Not something you want to ask yourself more than once!
Getting out of the town brought some relief. We were not faced with the brash unsmiling crowd and the big guns. But what was meant to be one long day to get from mountains to the coast, turned into two physically exhausting days. The roads on the first day weren’t too bad, but the lack of sleep the night before and the twists and turns up and down the mountains meant that the going was, on occasion, pretty slow.
After arriving in Juticalpa for a late lunch at 2.30pm, we decided to call it day. The unusually nice and friendly chaps at the petrol station just outside town tried to persuade us that we could make it to the coast, which was only another four hours over the next mountain range. But we knew only too well the dangers of setting out mid-afternoon for ‘just-another-few-hours’ ride – they invariably turned out to be longer, leaving us riding in the dark, with no room for error or getting lost. Chloe gracefully stepped down and decided we had better leave the rest of the journey for the morning, while Chris battled on, trying to convince her we’d be alright! Our friendly chaps sent us on our way, with a mixture of directions meaning we managed to get lost in the middle of some fields and mud, before we’d even reached the town of Juticalpa only five miles away! At that point, Chris finally conceded it’d be a better idea to not try and make it to the coast that afternoon after all!
The next day we set out refreshed and ready for what the day had in store for us. The first few hours were pleasant enough, passing small villages and farm land. The unsmiling and sometimes abusive children at the side of the road, and the dour policemen weren’t exactly what you’d call friendly, but we had to put that aside and explain it away using words we can only guess at – resentment, or contempt, whichever way you wish to look at it.
After a couple of hours the roads got worse and the riding got harder. Roadworks after roadworks didn’t aid our speed, but the ‘making good’ of the road suddenly ceased at what appeared to be the worst bit. Rough crevices across the road, rocky outcrops to navigate, and then mud, mud, mud everywhere! were to be the order of the day. Thank God! we had not tried to make this treacherous and exhausting journey in the short afternoon of the day before!! Not to mention the other ‘dangers of the road’ that we had been told about, coming in the forms of armed drug gangs hanging about in the dense jungle-shrouded mountains. I don’t care if I need a pee!.. I’m not going in there…! Thankfully we didn’t see any of those undesirables, but we did get stuck in a lot of mud!
Reaching the rather rundown but nonetheless historic settlement of Trujillo on the coast, we headed straight for the beach for a well-deserved beer before trying to find somewhere to stay in the tumble of the rather worn-looking town.
Without much to tempt us to stay we moved on the next day, further along the coast to the springing-off point for the Bay Islands. The springing-off town of La Ceiba was just like a much larger version of Trujillo – Run down and pretty awful, an oppressive air of dark dinginess clung to every big concrete mass, shouting out poverty despite desperately trying to name itself as a tourist destination. Again, not desperate to stay a moment longer than necessary, we packed our big bag full of essentials for a few days holiday away from the bikes and hopped on a ferry across to the island of Utila!
The Bay Islands, formerly British, have a population of white and black Caribbean-English speaking inhabitants. Although the islands were given to Honduras back in 1860, the islands have kept their sense of identity and continued as before. Latterly, Hondurans have been making their way over to the islands, forcing Spanish to be spoken due to their lack of English, and a strange role-reversal is now taking place. The islands’ inhabitants feel they are ‘being taken over’ by another culture and language. The older generation are strongly resisting the change, and disassociate themselves with Honduras. The younger generation are firmly Bay Islanders, descendants of the British-Caribbeans, not Hondurans. The Hondurans are now the ones seen as imposters… An odd, but very real concept.
But for us, on a lighter topic, we were there to do some diving!
We had booked in for a three day, six dives each package where the accommodation comes free! This appealed greatly to Chris’s Scotsman’s heart! While checking in and getting ready for our immediate dive that afternoon, we got chatting to a rather nervous first-timer who was about to start his first PADI course. And where should this lad, Phil, be from…? Apparently “a little town just north of Manchester called Bolton”. Oh really!?! Funny that!! Well, it actually turned out he was from Horwich… even better!! So we reassured our lad from Horwich about the diving and he finally got in the water and overcame his fears. Phil has been travelling for over two years now and is not planning to go back home anytime soon, if at all. So we won’t see you around then…? No, probably not.
So, in the water we got to see some pretty amazing coral, gorgeous purples and yellows, and huge, waving, fan-like lacy plants. Several eels made themselves known and some tropical fish thrown in, but the main event was the coral reef. The intricacy of the reef meant we were swimming in and out of crevices, caves, tunnels and down cliffs. Again, the photographs make everything look a bit green, but really, there is every colour under the rainbow down there!
After a few days we were dived-out and were ready to get back to the bikes. The island temped us to stay, and may be we would have if there was not another few countries waiting for us. It felt so alien from Honduras mainland, so peaceful and relaxed, we were not particularly looking forward to getting back to the dreary and grey Honduras to which we had become accustomed.
And as if our ill thoughts had been answered, we arrived back onto the mainland in torrential rain! The type of rain that immediately soaks you completely through to the bone, even with waterproofs on…. It was that type of rain! …No! Send me back to the island!
In the dreary rain we found our way to a Mircobrewery Hostel that we had been recommended, but not before spending more than an hour riding backwards and forwards, and round in circles, in the rain, trying to find the place. It seemed most people had heard of it but all were of a different opinion on how to get there. We rocked up, sporting our very best drowned-rat costumes, and attempted miserably to hang our clothes up to dry on every available surface, including the arms of the ceiling fan, hooks or hangers being absent. But if anyone has tried to dry wet clothes in a humid tropical-rain-forest environment before, they will know that they do not dry!! So, still bedraggled, we set off again into the misty, cloudy rain, hoping to get somewhere that was reasonably dry. Fortunately, the further west we went, the drier it became, and weirdly, the friendlier and nicer the people became as well!
Our stop on the west side was Copan Ruinas. A pretty, quaint town with cobbled streets and friendly people. The town, as its name suggests, sits next to the large Mayan ruins of Copan. The temple complex at Copan is known for its carvings and intricate stonework. Copan was one of the major centres of the Mayan Kingdom between the 5th and 9th Centuries AD, but has been occupied since the 3rd Century AD.
Back in the days, a Mayan ruler would build his own temples on top of previous temples of his forefathers. Sometimes the previous temples will have been destroyed, but often they just re-faced and built up on top of the existing, completely submerging the other. This practice was common place, and today, archaeologists are able to physically remove layers and dig tunnels to discover the generations of buildings below.
At Copan, many of the buried temples display carvings and hieroglyphics, unique to the Copan dynasty. Also, unusually, one of the former temples that had been decorated with plaster mouldings, has been found completely intact, the latter temple being built around and above it, rather than physically on top of it. This has not only preserved the plaster mouldings that would have otherwise perished, but also indicates to us the type of decoration and styles used in this period, 570AD. This was supposedly the last building to use plaster stucco for decoration, due to the mass deforestation, the lack of timber meant limestone could no longer be burnt to make vast quantities of plaster needed for these reliefs.
From Copan, we crossed the border into Guatemala with relative ease compared to the prolonged ordeal coming into Honduras. As we had felt we had stepped over a garden fence coming into Honduras, so we felt the same going out. Guatemala seemed instantly more friendly, happy and peaceful. It dawned on us that we hadn’t seen any guns since heading west towards Copan. Of course I’m sure there are a lot of guns in Guatemala too, but each and every guy didn’t walk around the streets with one slung over his shoulder. That instantly makes one feel more at ease! We immediately headed straight for Antigua, the old colonial capital city before the new capital Guatemala City was ‘rebuilt’ 30miles down the road.
Antigua has got to be at the very top of our ‘places we could live’ list – it is beautiful. Cobbled streets, old colonial properties, quiet and friendly people. We also arrived in the middle of a parade which marked the beginning of Advent – a colourful parade where old women and men, young children and families took part.
Everywhere you look there is colour, activity and vibrancy. We spent a week in Antigua (partly because we ordered a new bike part from the US!), but we couldn’t have picked a better place to stay and absorb the vibe of Guatemala!
A lot of the old churches, and even the cathedral, are fully or partly derelict. Antigua lies on a fault line and is susceptible to earth quakes, causing damage to many of the old colonial structures that are over two stories high. This is the reason the capital was moved 30miles east, but was also Antigua’s saving grace – there are no new high-rise offices or apartments and beauty of the place has been maintained. The ruined churches are now a feature on the landscape and offer a real beauty in themselves. Some are even being creatively reused, housing new structures within their walls.
While in Antigua, waiting for the new part, Richard, a fellow biker who lives in Guatemala City and who had been helping us get the replacement part, invited us out to his bikers-club Christmas gathering on Saturday afternoon, followed by their weekly Sunday ride-out the next day! So bikers were met, and fun was had! Sunday’s ride out to Lago Atitlan started off with eight of us, but was sorrowfully reduced to just us four, (us two, Richard and his wife Suzanne) when we hit some bad road!
In all fairness, the other bikes that had turned around were not really fit for dirt, and we soon found ourselves floating through fine sand, drifting steeply downhill. The fact that Richard himself managed to fall over is testament to how precarious the road was!! We said goodbye to Richard and Suzanne at the end of our lap around the lake – they went back to Guatemala City and we decided to stay the night in the nice town, perched on the edge of the lake.
After our nights rest at the lake, we began heading back to the big city to pick up our bike part and hopefully get it fitted. (For those of you who are interested, Chloe’s bike was having problems starting, and had begun to stall while idling, so we decided to order a new idle regulator to see if that would fix the problem.) But The Force clearly wasn’t with us that day – on the way back to the city, Chloe’s bike (yes! Chloe’s bike AGAIN!) began to spurt out liquid and the temperature warning light shone out a brilliant RED! We pulled over, stripped the covers off and found that radiator expansion-box cap had popped off. We let the bike cool down, put the cap back on again and off we went. No less than 100yards down the road the same thing happened again.
To cut a long story short, knowing we were heading straight to the mechanics anyway, we waited, we scratched our heads, we even added water into the radiator to replace some of the liquid that had spilt, but to no avail. 100 yards down the road the same thing happened. Okay, so we weren’t going to get to the city, or the mechanics, with Chloe’s bike. So we did the only thing we could, plonked it on the back of a truck and drove it into the city. Not exactly the entrance we wanted, but the only option available to us the time! And Chloe had her first ride in a Guatemalan taxi-truck!
So having waited for a week for one part to come, after a day of fruitless part-replacements and investigations, we found out that we had to order another part from the US!! What, another week…? Yes, another week…!
So that’s it. At least we like Guatemala, it’s a beautiful country, so we may as well make the most of it. On one bike may be…?!
Fell, with bike, in a very big, muddy puddle Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Fell with bike on very slippery muddy road Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Puddles inside waterproof boots Chloe 2 v 2 Chris
Dove without fins Chloe 1 v 0 Chris
Bought 6lbs of coffee Chloe 0 v 1 Chris
Had spiritual healing Chloe 1 v 1 Chris