Capital – Tegucigalpa Currency – Lempiras Language – Spanish
11th February – We leave Nicaragua through a rural landscape of valleys, hills and mountains, roads lined with trees full of pink blossom. Exiting this country is without problem, and because it is included in the C-4 Countries Agreement along with Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, we don’t need to have an exit stamp in our passports. We are allowed a stay of 90 days in total within these four countries.
We cross into Honduras at Los Manos, where Mario wants to help us. He’s a really nice guy and very helpful and sorts all our paperwork for our vehicle. Unfortunately, we then have to wait an hour for the bank to open so that we can pay for our seguros – vehicle insurance. Our impression so far of the people here, is that they are friendly, helpful and welcoming.
From the border we go through El Paraiso and then Danli, where we stop at Villa Alejandra set high up on a hill amidst a lovely garden plus other land and owned by a delightful, older couple who allow us to park on a concrete area just behind their house and use an outside bathroom, which their maid comes out to kindly clean for us. This white, single-storey villa was probably very beautiful in its day, but now the swimming pool is empty and the whole property must be a lot of work to maintain.
12th -13th February – We leave Villa Alejandra after a peaceful night and many bird calls amongst the trees this morning. We keep to the main road as it is going to be impossible to avoid passing through the capital of Tegucigalpa.
An attractive, hilly landscape with tall pine trees but there are many scarred areas, signs that loggers and livestock owners have cleared the land. Deforestation is one of the most important environmental issues facing Honduras today. Every day we see donkeys loaded with wood, more for sale at the roadsides, similar to rural NIcaragua, where cooking is done using wood fires. An enormous percentage of logging is illegal and much of this ends up in the US. Honduras is a country with so much to offer in the way of natural beauty, flora and fauna. However, studies show, that the largest source of water in the country from Lago de Yojoa, is polluted by heavy metals from mining activity. Overfishing plus illegal catches, are endangering the coral reefs around the Bay Islands, part of the second-largest barrier reef in the world after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. Large rivers that drain agricultural run-off into the Caribbean, are also one of the main causes of reef deterioration.
Many lorries on this uphill road to the capital make for a slow journey. A huge section of the road has broken away and they give the edge a wide berth. It’s a dramatic landscape however, with many mountains in the distance, although Honduras has no active volcanoes like its neighbours. The outskirts of the city look very poor, houses clinging to crumbling hillsides. Roadside stalls overflow with green watermelons. We have our first police check where a very smiley, young policeman asks us how we are, where we are going and then waves us on with another smile……can’t be more pleasant than that!
We head for La Paz, also surrounded by hills and mountains and where we can camp in a field belonging to Hotel Rancho Victor. This is a big farm growing jalapeno peppers but now it is the dry season until May, so what is left of the crop, is not up to the standard required for the machines at the factory. Raoul speaks excellent English, having taken the opportunity to study it when he was able. He also has many cabanas for rent on his land, all of which have a shady porch and the most beautiful wooden chairs and tables made locally from teak wood. There are also some lovely examples of black and white pottery here, made by the Lenca people. Raoul assures us that we can find this at Guajiquira, about an hours drive from here. We plan to make a trip there tomorrow.
Church at La Paz
Well, Raoul’s 1 hour drive to Guajiquira turns out to be 3 hours along a dreadful and deserted dirt road through mountainous scenery that climbs to almost 2500m. Not sure what this road must be like in the wet season but would imagine it is terrible! It’s very rural, with many banana trees and coffee bushes and wild flowers. Cattle, horses, pigs, chickens and dogs are free to roam and we have to be careful, as they don’t seem so accustomed to vehicles. People are friendly and wave once smiles are exchanged.
But it’s bad news once we reach Guajiquira, there is no artisinal Lenca here, only at San Jose, another 15 minutes or 30 minutes or perhaps an hour, according to various people and along another bad, dirt road. We won’t make this journey and return to La Paz for camping again so unfortunately retrace our route. It’s unfortunate that we seem to have been given wrong information, but Bill is not a happy bunny!!
14th February – Wooded hillsides and mountains, some lost under cloud, continue along our route.
We pass a man mowing a football pitch with an ancient looking hand mower. Stalls by the roadside are selling pots, woven baskets, plants, hammocks and those lovely wooden chairs. Small, white sacks with their tops turned over to show neat piles of oranges, are also for sale, as are piles of local rock, some having been chipped away into regular shapes and then stacked so neatly like a piece of art work. We stop at a stall for bananas and oranges and some small children venture out shyly to see us. The girl is holding a much younger little boy with matted hair and a streaked, grubby face……he has obviously been crying but gives us both a smile and a timid wave. So many people trying to make a bit of money to scratch a living. People can still earn a few lempiras by sorting through the rubbish that is everywhere and filling sacks with the plastic. Lago de Yojoa appears on our right and then there are fish for sale, hanging from rickety, wooden poles. Fishing on this lake is good, particularly for black bass which is very tasty!
A dirt road takes us to Pancam Lodge, situated in the Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meambar, where we have heard there is a camping area. There’s a lot of activity going on here, as this venue has been chosen for a wedding tomorrow by a wealthy family from the city of San Pedro Sula, further north. We have time to follow some hiking trails through primary forest, where howler monkeys shatter the silence and I never cease to wonder at these amazing trees with massive roots, or straight, tall trunks that reach vertically to the sky.
15th – 17th February – Torrential rain in the night, a white mist is shrouding the soaking forests and the locals are wondering what is happening as it is the dry season and not meant to rain until May! Do hope it clears up for the wedding.
We decide to head for Gracias but first turn for La Esperanza…….capital of the Inibuca Department and the highest town in Honduras at 1600m. It is also a very poor town however and attracts a large number of foreign volunteers. Crossing a river, it’s a wonderful sight to see it so full of water, as most that we have crossed, have had only a trickle. Deep pot holes take us unawares at times on this broken stretch of tarmac…..some of these could seriously damage a vehicle.
Gracias (its original name was Gracias a Dios – Thanks to God), is located in the west Honduran mountains, much of which is still forested. It’s a small town with two very grand churches and it doesn’t take long to walk the cobblestone streets.
No camping here, but Hotel Guancascos is a real gem, set on a hillside with simple rooms amongst terraces of greenery and with secure parking. Its green and social policies, include separating and recycling trash, using biodegradable products, saving energy and water and working with the local people and community projects. Having said all that, the food is excellent too!
From Gracias, a dirt road takes us 16km south to La Campa, a small, rural town amongst hills, located at the foot of sheer, rocky canyon walls. La Campa has a very interesting little church and when we arrive, many of the roads are closed off whilst the people prepare their stalls for a fair.
We are determined to find some Lenca pottery and the Lenca people in this area are particularly well known for their roja (red) pottery although not the black and white as stated in our guide book. We have been told to find Dona, who has a real cottage garden in the front of her house and her kilns at the back for firing her pottery. She is quite happy to give us a demonstration, whilst her daughter-in-law, who is responsible for decorating the pottery when it is ready, provides us with explanations about the clay and tools that Dona is using.
The clay has to be ground from grey rocks taken from near the river. Sprinkling the table with sand, also from the river, Dona effortlessly shapes a pot to which she attaches some handles. All the tools that she has used to either roughen or smooth the clay, are natural…….smooth pebbles once again from the river and the hard inside core of a sweetcorn.
Pots are fired for 6hrs. Dona then shows us how she applies the red colour to the dry pots. This red colour has also to be ground from local, red rocks and 3 or 4 coats have to be applied, each being allowed to dry before the next coat is added. The pots are then ready for the finishing touches of decoration.
We choose a pot amongst the many, although we are not quite sure where it is going to go to keep safe and I buy a pair of dangly earrings, that do have the black and white design on them. It’s been an interesting day and lovely to be able to buy something direct from the potter herself.
18th – 20th February – We leave Gracias today and Hotel Guancascos. I notice an award from Trip Advisor for 2013 on their wall and am not surprised….it is certainly a place to be recommended.
The rugged landscape toward Santa Rosa de Copan, plunges down to the big Rio Jagua that winds its way along the valley floor. Trees full of pink blossom soften the landscape. Men and women trudge up the hills shouldering bundles of wood for their cooking fires. The tarmac once again is breaking up creating many pot holes. As we near Copan Ruinas (often simply known as Copan), the landscape turns greener.
In ancient times, the town of Copas Ruinas was known as Oxwitik and its foundations trace back to an important Maya civilisation. By the time of the Spanish conquest of Honduras, the town’s site had long been overgrown by rainforest, but since the discovery of the nearby ruins, it has grown and prospered. The Mayan ruins, which are only approx. 1km outside of town, are the biggest draw for tourists although there are many other places to visit in the area.
Once we arrive in Copan we check out a couple of hostels but there is no suitable parking so we spoil ourselves by taking a room at Hotel Magdelena where Moby has a perfect parking place in the gated courtyard and we even have a small kitchen in our very, comfortable room. Exploring the narrow, cobbled streets of this relaxing town you will find little cafes and restaurants tucked away amongst gardens full of greenery and tropical plants. Cafe Rafael is one of these, where their farm cheeses are all made by hand. Casa de Todo sells a variety of excellent breads – brown, cheese, sweet, garlic…..your choice! They also sell some lovely crafts and it is here that we choose our black and white Lenca pot that we were unable to find in Guajiquira. And of course, no visit here is complete without exploring the Copan Archaeological Site, where one of the most important of all Maya civilisations lived, prospered and then mysteriously collapsed, perhaps it is thought, because of severe drought. Now recognised as a Unesco World Heritage Site, the city produced quite remarkable sculptures and hieroglyphics. Many of the ruling kings had wonderful names such as Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw and Smoke Jaguar, but it was under the rule of a king, popularly known as King 18 Rabbit, that the skilled craftsmen and sculptors really flourished.
The Maya sought to settle in a place with a good climate, fertile soil and pleasant landscapes and they found these in Copan. The Maya obtained wood, medicine and food from the surrounding forests, they hunted deer and enjoyed the fruits of the land.
“Yax Che’ was a Maya word for the giant, sacred Ceiba tree or silk cotton tree. They relied upon nature for inspiration and survival.
There are a number of Scarlet Macaws flying around or amongst the trees, screeching noisily. These beautiful, endangered birds are the national bird of Honduras.
The Great Plaza has many monuments of the great rulers of Copan, a number of them portraying King 18 Rabbit.
Some of the structures still have traces of red paint and it is thought that all may have originally been painted.
The Hieroglyphic Stairway is one of the most remarkable monuments built by the Maya in the Classic Period and was built during the reign of King 18 Rabbit. The many glyphs inscribed on the 63 steps, bear the history of the Royal House of Copan.
There are many more interesting structures and carvings in the East and West Courts.
And so tomorrow we will leave for the border with Guatemala, our last country in Central America before Mexico. We are not visiting El Salvador as this country does not accept right hand drive vehicles, although we have heard that some people managed to enter without a problem. We did contact the El Salvador LR Club to obtain an invitation but unfortunately there was a mix up with the vehicle information. This would have meant a further delay to wait for the correct paperwork.
We have once again enjoyed our time spent in Honduras and look forward now to Guatemala.