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.)
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.