We were back on the road early this morning. I first of all went looking for a supermarket and also tried to get money out of an ATM, the latter without success. I decided not to have breakfast with the rest of the group but had a coffee and pastry on my own in the Plaza instead (good decision!). We were on the road by 8am as we had a long drive to the Honduran border.
We backtracked our way for about 4 hours, passing through the danger zone that is Guatemala City along the way. The journey to the border took about 6 hours with just a couple of short stops for toilets and food, such as was available, which wasn’t much. The scenery was very interesting and varied though and I was sitting in the back seat where there seemed to be a little more room to spread around.
It was a day of going up hill and down dale, at first, through very steep green hills around Antigua, and then over some very dry areas. As we got further along, the landscape changed again, and became much more fertile looking. However, it all still looked extremely poor.
Apart from Guatemala City, there were no really big towns, although there were a few smaller ones and a lot of villages. Houses varied from shacks made of wood and iron to some relatively substantial concrete ones. There seemed to be a tide of rubbish all the way along the road and occasional seas of it!
Once we got to the border, there was a very long line of trucks on the Guatemalan side, which must have been waiting for inspection or something. We saw several trucks having their load emptied bit by bit, including one that had toilet rolls being unloaded, packet by packet! It seemed quite surprising to us that they weren’t even in boxes. We didn’t have to do anything on the border as the tour leaders sorted it out, which seemed extremely lazy but made life very easy.
After that, it was only about 15 minutes to our hotel in Copan, which is a small town with another important Mayan site. We offloaded our bags and immediately went out for the inevitable orientation tour, after which I had a coffee with a couple of the others in the cheese cafe, (so named because they make their own cheese) before adjourning to the bar across the road where the Canadians were having Happy Hour and drinking mojitas, which were surprisingly tasty.
I left them there to eat and came back and joined the rest of the group for dinner, which was at a restaurant that has obviously captured the tour group market. The food was fine but there were at least two other groups there as, indeed, there are in our hotel. This town is definitely on the adventure tour trail!
Yet another early start as breakfast had been organised for 7am in the same restaurant as last night. Then it was back to the hotel to meet Saul, our guide for the morning for the Copan ruins.
We walked the 10 minutes to the site entrance and had an interesting wander around the main Plaza, the ball court, the areas used by the elite of the day including a large auditorium. In the main plaza, there was also an excavated stairway with hieroglyphics the whole way up it – the equivalent of a Mayan encyclopedia written in stone. It’s a pity that nobody has managed to decipher the meaning of the Mayan script yet as a lot of answers to the questions of how they lived would be answered.
The poor people lived outside the walls and apart from providing the work force, were of little consequence in the Mayan world. As the city grew to it maximum of 50,000, disease was rife, as was malnutrition and poisoning from the mercury that originated from the cinnabar that was used for the terracotta coloured painting of the stucco in the city. All of this led to the demise of the people and, consequently, the city itself.
The upper echelons of society indulged in one or two practices that appear very strange to us today. They considered it attractive to have a flat head, so they attached boards to a new born baby’s head, whilst the skull was still soft, to mould the face so that the forehead down to the nose was totally flat. Nice…. They also had holes drilled into their teeth into which jade was inserted so that when they smiled they showed a nice mouth full of green teeth, which must had been highly attractive! The archaeologists have found skeletons with a lot of jade attached, and have also found other jade artefacts, pots, jewellery and ornaments in the tombs when they have been excavated.
Saul was a very interesting and entertaining guide, which makes quite a difference when you are visiting yet another ruin (albeit the last). Once we had finished the tour, we paid a visit to the museum where there were a number of original artifacts as well as a lot of replicas, including one of a life sized tomb that was a copy of one that still exists intact under the main temple. There were a number of men constructing replicas whilst we were there.
After that, it was back into town and another visit to the cheese cafe for a very tasty sandwich (of cheese, of course,) before heading off in tuk tuks to Macaw Mountain, which is a refuge centre for macaws and toucans. These are rescued from people who have kept them in cages, which is illegal in Honduras. Once they have recovered from their ordeal, they are released into the wild again and there were a number of released birds at the ruins this morning.
We stopped for a coffee after the tour, this being made from their own coffee beans. Macaw Mountain was originally a coffee plantation and there were a number of bushes remaining.
We took tuk tuks back to town and went to the supermarket for snacks for tomorrow before going back to the hotel. I was intending to have a rest this afternoon but it was 5pm before I arrived back. So much for that idea! I went out to dinner with a few of the Canadians and then it was back to the hotel to pack, ready for an extra early start tomorrow.
We were up at 4.45am so that we were ready to walk to the bus station by 5.20am. Our bus left at 6am and when there are so many of us, time has to be allowed for late comers and slow coaches, of which there are one or two in the group. It was essential today that everybody was on time as we had connections all along the way.
Our first bus, an old U.S school bus of the yellow variety, took us as far as San Pedro Sula. The bus was filled primarily with tourists, including one group of obnoxious Polish people, who talked in loud voices, non stop for 3 hours. Luckily, I could plug into my music and block some of it out.
The scenery was much as we had been experiencing recently with green, rolling hills, poor communities, etc. We picked up and dropped off locals along the way, most of whom had to stand as the ‘gringos’ had taken all the seats. One very fat lady was refused entry by the bus driver, which certainly would not be permitted in any country I have lived in!
We arrived in San Pedro Sula about 10am and just had enough time to go to the toilets (but no coffee, alas!) The city is apparently number one on the danger list for Central America, based on murders per capita, and we were told not to wander off. The tour company used to stop over here, but changed the itinerary recently because of the danger factor.
Our next bus was to Ceiba and was a step up in comfort from the previous one as it actually had cushioned seats. The scenery changed quite considerably once we had left the city. It became very tropical and lush. Initially, we crossed quite a large plain which was literally covered in the biggest banana plantation I think I have ever seen.
This was followed by mile after mile after mile of palm tree plantations, which are used for the production of palm oil. There were, of course, also plenty of coconut trees scattered around. The countryside later became very mountainous but was still very fertile. Unfortunately, my camera battery ran out so I couldn’t even take bad photos out of the bus window.
We arrived in Ceiba at about 3pm. This was a very bustling town with a melting pot of people, present day Hondurans being descendants from Europeans, Africans and the local Indigenous people. There are only about 6% indigenous left in the country now, though. As soon as we arrived at the bus station, we were bundled into taxis and taken to the port to catch the ferry to Roatan. This boat is nicknamed the “Vomit Comet” for some reason! We were handed sea sick tablets by our tour leader to take if we wished. I did and was very glad I did so. The boat was a catamaran and the sea was rolling. I sat at the back at the top with a group of others and remembered a trip to White Island in the Bay of Plenty when I hadn’t taken any drugs. At least I have learned one lesson from that!
It was dark when we arrived at Roatan and a couple of cruise ships were sailing off into the sunset – the stuff picture books are made of. We collected our bags and went in a mini bus for the last stage of the journey to the hotel. By this time, everyone was very tired and hungry. When you are travelling on buses like that all day, with few, if any, stops, there is a tendency not to eat or drink too much, just in case…..
We left our bags and went straight out to dinner at a restaurant round the corner, owned and run by an ex-Pat Englishman. It was very nice but I, for one, was a bit too tired to appreciate it fully and was very glad when we had finished our meal and could go to bed. It had been a very long day, although it all went smoothly and was not as bad as I had thought it might be.
It was a very hard day at the office today! I woke up early (habits die hard) and decided to go for a swim in the hotel pool. It was a little chilly but not too bad. I then met up with some of the group to go for breakfast in the small town, West End, which is the part of the island in which our hotel is located. It appears to be a totally geared to tourists with lots of boats moored and shops selling dive and snorkelling tours and t shirts.
The service was unbelievably slow but the food was excellent. We wandered back to the hotel and hired snorkelling equipment and went snorkelling by the hotel. There isn’t any beach here – just coral – so we had to jump off a ladder (not as bad as it sounds), straight into the sea. Once in, the water was warm and I actually saw a couple of turtles, which was quite exciting, as they weren’t in a marine park and hadn’t been organised by guides!
After that, we adjourned to the beach. One of the group went snorkelling there and decided it was boring as there was just a lot of seaweed. However, I went in whilst they were at lunch and found the reef, where I saw more fish than I had done at the hotel. The others went in later and went even further out towards the main reef and spotted large barracuda and other different fish so I will certainly be going in there tomorrow.
I came back to the hotel and, whilst doing my diary, chatted to a Professor of Medicine who is checking on her students who are here doing placements in a clinic, which was very interesting.
It was Frederica’s birthday today (she is a Swiss girl in the group), so we all met for drinks by the swimming pool this evening. Becky had bought a pinata for her to break and a multi flavoured cheesecake that we had for dessert in the restaurant later. This was apparently bought at great personal risk, according to Trevor. They had had to go to Cozen Hole, which is the main centre on the island and is absolutely a no-go zone for us. They could not walk anywhere, even in daylight, and there were armed guards in the supermarket. I wonder if the thousands of cruise ship passengers that land are told this?
The group divided into two for dinner, which seems to be happening quite regularly, with the Canadians in one and everybody else in the other. I drift between the two. In this instance, I went with everybody else and we went to a Mexican type restaurant which was fine and quite a lot cheaper than last night’s dinner. Everything here seems to be quite expensive, no doubt because we are on an island and a captive audience.
It was another relaxing and enjoyable day in paradise today. I went for an early breakfast with the Canadians at the same place we went to yesterday where the food was good and the service actually a little faster today. We then went snorkelling off the beach where there were fish of all colours swimming amongst the coral. They were even more beautiful with the sunlight reflecting on them through the water. Whilst the coral wasn’t particularly colourful, there were still mauve, yellow and browny patches of varying shapes and textures and the mauvey coloured variety was especially attractive as it was like large lace leaves swaying in the current.
After that, it was back to the hotel with just enough time for another snorkel off the ladder on the beach before the snorkels and masks were due back. That was $6 that was very well spent, as I think it was the best snorkelling that I have ever done.
The others went off to lunch at a restaurant next door and I spent a bit of time by the pool and then on the internet. This afternoon, we got a water taxi round to the next bay, West Bay, with a taxi man that decided to go slowly so we could enjoy the ride. He also went slowly on the way back, but that was because he had a problem with his engine and he couldn’t get it to go any faster!
West Bay is completely filled with resorts, sun beds, all lined up side by side, cafes and souvenir shops and lots of people. It is apparently the low season now so I shudder to think what it would be like in the high season. We walked all the way along the beach and then stopped for a refreshing beer at one of the restaurants on the way back.
Our water taxi man was waiting, as he said he would be, and took us back to West End. It was after 5pm by this time and as one of the group wanted to eat early, we walked along to check out the restaurants. We ended up meeting up with another couple and having another beer (or, in my case, wine) whilst watching the sunset from a beachfront bar with a very grumpy bar man, who got even grumpier when one of the men asked him for the other half of my glass of wine, which had only been half filled.
It really was time for dinner after this and we strolled along to the cheap Asian takeaway/cafe. We were all getting a bit short of cash by now as none of the money machines were working and not many places take Visa. A bit of a problem which is going to be more of one tomorrow if we don’t find a machine that works in Nicaragua. Anyway, my Chinese meal was quite disappointing but very cheap. Unfortunately, the Visa machine didn’t connect so we ended up scraping around for cash between us which was not a good position to be in.