Hello Honduras! (And other stories.)

Seeing that we spend most of our time on buses, I’ve become quite the pro when it comes to comparing the different landscapes of Central America. Panama is a tough one, because we travelled only by night and I didn’t want to waste any energy peaking out of the window because the temperature inside the bus was similar to that of an industrial freezer. But you already know that story.

I had ‘deer in the headlight’ eyes for most part of Costa Rica because the country is just so beautiful. Mountains and hills right next to the road and deep ravines in between – all covered in such a dark, and at the same time luminous green, that I don’t even think Pantone will get it right. During our bus trips through the country I also suffered from serious ‘toucan strain’, as my neck was most of the time angled at 90 degrees in order to spot the elusive Toucan Sam. I didn’t.

Nicaragua reminded me so much of home. Except, we don’t have volcanoes. But we do have dry and dusty one horse towns, decorated with thorn trees and nothingness. The coffee growing region of Nicaragua doesn’t look anything like home, but I can easily make myself at home there. Hills upon hills, all covered in leafy green coffee plantations and cool breezes. Sounds nice, doesn’t it? The best time of the day is when the sun is about to set – the hills get this warm aura of being totally at ease – it’s almost like that feeling one gets during a boozy lunch on a Friday afternoon.

Here, my landscape story suddenly goes into a whole new (unplanned) direction
But the part I’m most excited to tell you about is Honduras. We arrived at the Las Manos border post super early in the morning, after spending a very strange night at a very strange hotel in a one horse Nicaraguan border town. We didn’t feel strange though, because we were excited. Partly because everyone says that Honduras is dangerous, but also because we had three really nice activities lined up – 1.) We were going the spend the night at a brewery; 2.) The Husband was going to learn how to dive in Utila; and 3.) I was going on a Spanish course in Copan. See, we’re all about beer and learning new things.

Crossing borders is not difficult (if you can speak Spanish). But we always manage to get the appropriate stamps (after a lot of confusion on our side). The bit that requires the most planning however is getting the bus connections right. Some travellers use international bus companies where you don’t have to change buses. The bus driver also chaperone you through migration. Other travellers (like us), go about it by chicken bus. The monetary difference is about $30 vs. $3.

In our case, the bus drops you off outside the border, then you walk across with a perpetual look of confusion. You pass one little room where you have to pay exit/learning to salsa/some sort of tax, and then, sitting under a tree, some very official looking guy checks your passport. He then phones all his friends and the president to ask whether South Africans need a visa. We don’t. Then, you walk to another small building and hand in your passport. The officer then phones all his friends and the Minister of Visas to ask whether South Africans need a visa. We don’t. Stamp stamp, and we’re out.

Then we walk some more until we get to a bus that’s just about to leave. Every single time we cross a border, the bus on the other side is just about to leave. Uncanny. So our border crossing into Honduras followed the same pattern. However, because of the country’s notorious crime statistics (contrary to popular belief, my dearest Johannesburg is not the most dangerous city in the world), we had to time our connections right. But it was actually fine. We gracefully hopped from one bus to the next, and after spending a cool 12 hours hopping, we arrived at Lago de Yojoa – and we were thirsty.

We stayed at D&D Brewery, which has become an institution amongst travellers. And with good reason – the beer is delicious. I ordered an apricot-infused beer* that’s quite sweet, and the perfect cure if you suffer from bus bum. After a couple of beers we decided to hike Honduras’ second-highest peak the following day. As one does.

Two South Africans, a German, a Kiwi and two Quebecois walk out of a bar and up the mountain
With our band of merry men and women we took to Montaña de Santa Bárbara with gusto and mosquito repellent. Our guide, Lionel, could spot the tiniest orchid species a mile away, and while he explained with the greatest of care the differences between species, we just nodded vigorously (without understanding a word). I saw a baby Quetzal in a tree, and that really made my day, because they are even more scarce than Toucan Sam. The hike was tough, steep and wet. The moment when you had to stop for a drink of water or some light orchid spotting, the mosquitos descended on you like a pack of really tiny dogs. Especially when Mother Nature called. But I won’t go into too much detail…

After some serious climbing we reached the top, but couldn’t see a thing. That’s the thing with hiking cloud forests – the journey is really nice, but there’s no real reward at the end. Just mist and a mosquito bum. Or maybe it’s just our luck.

Going down was tough. The other guide, cradling a machete with one arm while helping me down the slipperiest of slopes with his other hand, couldn’t stop giggling every time the Bearded Wonder slipped – my dear husband spent about 85% of the hike down on his bum. For our next hike I’m going to dress him in a leotard with sequins, because we can make really good money with his entertaining sliding-down-a-mountain ballet moves.

Afterwards we went for coffee and cake at Lionel’s house. Soaking wet and covered in mosquito bites and mud, a cup of coffee never tasted better.

The next part is actually what I wanted to write about
The Honduran landscape, seen from the window of a bus, is the prettiest I’ve ever seen. There are little heaps of mountain as far as the eye (and bus window) allows you to see. Tiny little mountains dressed in a wild green, or covered in the earthy rhythm of a maize plantation. Pineapple plantations and big open fields, framed by palm trees in between. Big coffee roasters and small road stalls cooking tortillas over an open fire gives this country a smell that will make you nostalgic about things you haven’t experienced yet.

My goodness, Honduras really is something else. But as always, my story is far from over. I still have to tell you about the night we did the Macarena in Utila. (This is probably the worst cliffhanger ending in the history of writing.)

Photo time!

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Early morning crossing border hair.

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Pre-hike smiles and our lunch of eggs, rice and tortillas, prepared by Lionel’s wife.

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Coffee plantations and Lionel’s stories about plants and things.

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Our band of merry hikers and the view from the top.

I’ve also made a video of a typical bus journey through Honduras, which includes a free breakdown: http://flic.kr/p/ovRtYV

*We’ve made really amazing German and Austrian friends during our trip, but without fail, they always remind us of the Reinheitsgebot while we merrily chuck fruit or cocoa infused beers down our throats. And I love them for that.

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Why Spanish palabras are way more fun than English words

My Spanish is so bad that I won’t even poke it with a stick. True story. So in the spirit of self-improvement, I went for a Spanish course. I can now say short sentences in the present tense (life is too short to dwell on the past, and too uncertain to refer to the future – so I’m doing just fine with my present tense verbs) and I can understand 10% of what other people are saying to me. I also bought a really sweet dictionary. Since we embarked on our great adventure, I made a list of all my favourite Spanish words. Without further ado, here’s why the following words are better than their English counterparts:

Hamburguesa: I love the way the Spanish version of hamburger moves in your mouth when you pronounce it. I’m going to keep on using it when I get back home.

Joyeria: The Spanish word for jewelry shop is the perfect description of how shiny expensive things make us girls feel.

Bailemos: It’s impossible not to break out in song and dance with this little number. Bailemos is the first person plural of to dance. However, Enrique seems to spell it differently. But I figure if you’re super rich, you can spell words any way you want to. Just look at Lil’ Wayne and Boyz II Men.

Nadar: Nadar means to swim. I can’t swim, so if someone asks me if I want to swim, I can just say nada nado. It has a preppy ring to it, don’t you think?

Sucio: The Spanish word for dirty was made for me. It sounds like ‘sauce’ and that’s usually the subject of the daily stains on my clothes.

Rabaño: Again, a way better word for radish than the English version. Rabaño (with a rolling ‘r’), sounds short, peppery and to the point. Just like a radish.

Desafortunadamente and Entonces: I really like these two just because they are so elaborate. Entonces desafortunadamente nada nado simply means ‘So unfortunately, I don’t swim’.

Deliciosas: At the very beginning of our trip when I still confused ‘carrot’ with ‘shoe’ (the one is zanahoria and the other is zapato), deliciosas was like a beacon of light. If deliciosas was written somewhere, I knew it was edible.

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Costa Rica – Part 3 (The adventures of Montezuma and the Zumazelas)

‘Montezuma and the Zumazelas’ is not only on the list of possible band names for when Natasha and I start our band, but I always wanted to use the word ‘Zumazelas’ somewhere and I finally found the perfect place for it.

During my days in advertising (hmm, which was about 3months ago, but being unemployed makes one quite nostalgic), there was an upbeat fellow with shiny shoes who always directed some of the voiceover artists during recordings. During one of our many sitting around and waiting conversations, he used ‘Zumazelas’ to describe our president’s (many) children. I took that description, put it in my pocket and saved it for a rainy day. Which is today. It’s raining, I’m feeling a bad case of writer’s block coming up and I need every word I can get.

‘Montezuma’ on the other hand has no direct connections to our political landscape (however, it makes for a dashing new name for the president’s multi-million rand homestead). Montezuma is in fact a small hippie town on the Nicoya Peninsula in Costa Rica, and was also our very last Costa Rican destination. And it was perfect. The town centers around one shortish street, and all the hippies centre in the centre of the street. The Husband and I centered ourselves on the beach. Nice.

Our hostel (which was more a one star hotel) was right on the beach, which made our backpacker breakfast of stale bread and pineapple jam taste like brioche and brie. Some light entertainment consisting of iguanas going for their morning stroll on the grass in front of our hotel added to the delight of not having to rush anywhere. Due to my sub-standard bird watching capabilities, we also might have seen the following birds:

– Loads of hummingbirds, incl. the coppery-headed emerald
– Bananaquit
– Great-tailed grackle (they are everywhere, and they have the most beautiful call)
– Orange-chinned parakeet
– Crimson-fronted parakeet
– Slaty-tailed trogon
– Glossy ibis
– Bare-throated tiger-heron
– Swallow-tailed kite

I tried to take photos of them, but all you can see is the wrath of an unsteady shutter and the scorn of premature zooming. I’ll get into birding one day…

Between the birding and the beaching we also went hiking. More strolling than hiking. We pottered around from secluded beaches to greener pastures and waterfalls. It was so pretty that I actually felt guilty about being smack bang in the middle of nature on a Monday. Mondays were made for meetings, schedules and three cups of coffee before 10am, not swaying palm trees.

We spent about 5 days in Montezuma – we ate papaya on the beach, shared beer from 1l bottles and were nostalgic together. We also met up with Canadian friends we made in Monteverde and made friends with a really cool couple from Austria. Traveling started to make sense in Montezuma – it wasn’t about seeing and doing and exploring, it was more about being. And sometimes, that’s the best thing to do.

Let’s rather look at pictures before I get too philosophical. It must be the rain.

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A bird, a beach and Mr Crab. All in a day’s work for a stroller.

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The police station, a hotel and a map of Montezuma.

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Scenes from our hotel featuring Mr Iguana on his morning stroll.

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Life is beachy. Horrible pun, but I did warn you about the writer’s block.

Oh wait! I forgot to tell you about Liberia! We decided to stay over at this little border town before we cross over to Nicaragua. As far as border towns go, Liberia was really nice for two reasons – the area we stayed in looked like a scene from a Gabriela Garcia Marquez novel, and we had the best cooked meat at a local eatery run by a women’s collective. It really doesn’t take a lot to make me fall in love with a place.

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Above: Casa de Papel – a beautiful building covered with paper and newspaper articles. Below: My Marquez moment.

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Above: A tile on the sidewalk marks the entrance to each house. Below: Every single town in Central America has a park in the centre of town. At night, the air is filled with the aroma of street food being prepared – corn, meat and tortillas. Teenagers skate and flirt, little amigos run around and around and around and people just sit around, taking it all in.

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Yum! Fried plantains with sour cream and stewed beef served with coleslaw and tortilla.