Reading the Signs (Honduras)
Reading the Signs (Honduras)

Reading the Signs (Honduras)

She sits upright, pulls off her damp t-shirt and slips into a clean cotton sweater.  She walks through the villa out on to the terrace basked in sun, the terracotta tiles cold on her bare feet.

I imagine the cotton sweater, crisp with cleanliness, so starchy it’s rough to touch and as dry as a grain of rice.  I have to imagine it because the girl is fictitious, as is the villa and the sun, I’m cooped up in the tent, reading again while the rain pounds the tent like falling gravel.  Damp after a week of rain, how I imagine that sweater.

I’d heard a few bad things of Honduras before I entered; crooked cops, unfriendly people, a difficult border, poverty, danger, drug gangs and too, of travellers who passed through in a single day to get through and even one who took a boat to Nicaragua from Guatemala to avoid it entirely!  But no one said anything about rain!

I should have seen it coming, in fact I did; a bulbous cloud of dark squid ink growing before my eyes, clearly defining the border as I approached from Guatemala.  An ominous sign I thought as I stamped out of Guatemala, looking back on the blue skies, the country I’d spent so long in, grown fond of and comfortable in….even the Guatemalan border guard smiled as he stamped down on the passport and into the grey of Honduras, made easy with a Guatemalan (Central American) motorcycle.  After changing my money to Limpiras I hop on the bike and ride down in to the river valley, green with coffee plantations hidden amongst the wooded mountains, the tangy aroma filling the damp air, towards Copan Ruinas, where I stop to eat lunch.  A nice town not unlike Antigua Guatemala with fewer gringos, but a very pleasant start.

It starts to rain then and after a walk around town I head off to find camp, trundling down a muddy track to a river.  On the other side of which are some huts, time to meet the nasty locals.  I cross the treacherous cable footbridge, stooping over to give balance and hold on to the knee height hand cables, and poke my head into the stable door of the first mud house, a room with five feeding people.

“¡Hola!” I say, rain beating down on my face.  Open mouthed, the family stop eating, empenadas hanging mid air between plate and each gaping mouth.  They say nothing so I continue…

“If it’s no problem with you, can I camp over there….” Still nothing, beans dripping on to their plates, so I continue, “on the other side of the river, just tonight, only me, I have everything I need and just need the space for the tent.”

Then realising what I want, and as if they’d been expecting me, the man of the house says “over there, yeah sure, no problem, that’s completely fine…there’s no problems here! Go ahead!” and they carry on eating again, almost to the point of ignoring me.

“Oh, okay…well, umm, see you later then…thanks!”  And I head off to set up back, across the perilous bridge….they seem okay anyway…

The rain stops and instead falls darkness and I sit inside the tent studying my Spanish study book, when outside somewhere I hear shouts, laughs and screams….Oh No! Drunks!  Coming to rape and pillage!  I hope they’ll just pass by the tent but they don’t, instead shout out to me….I don’t catch it first time….and nervously reply,
“Would you like some coffee?” says a woman, though I wonder if it’s some sort of cunning ruse and open the tent cautiously!  But it’s not and a flask of hot coffee is laid before me.  The commotion was them wading across the river, about six people!

“Isn’t it better to cross the bridge?” I ask.
“Not at night it’s too dangerous!” replies the woman.
“Is the river warm then?”
“Warms!” exclaims the man, “it’s LIKE ICE!”  And I laugh at them waist deep in cold damp jeans.  We chat for a long while, and then they wade back through the icy waters with equal commotion!

In the morning a rather beautiful girls walks down to the far side of the river.  I wave hello and pray she’ll start having a wash, alas, she just fords across to me and brings me a bag of mandarins and oranges.  Up close she’s even more dazzling and if she’s anywhere near as nervous as I am she doesn’t show it, instead showing only the fiery Latino confidence I seem to notice in women here, which means she is happy to stand there, expressionless, at ease, waiting for me to strike up conversation, which probably began with,
“So, what do you do, grow maize?”

The next night’s camp continues ever better after a ride to Santa Rosa de Copan, when the woman says “sure, camp wherever you like!” and I spend an age exploring their mountain grounds only to choose the first spot I picked out!  Not only that but later I’m brought a plate full of dinner and coffee!  Then in the morning with Julio, the farm owner, we chat and go to the house for coffee, which turns out to be another plate of food from his lovely wife, Gladys as well as more coffee (the best coffee I’ve had) and great company too!  I can’t leave without a gift, or even three; oranges, horchata (a drink made from soy flour, peanuts, sugar and pumpkin seed, made on the farm)…and even a gift of money (which needless to say I tried to decline).

Julio and Gladys seemed a bit sad about some people’s view of Honduras and are keen to put things right, so much so that anyone is welcome to go camp there near Santa Rosa de Copan, if you want to go let me know and I can give you a GPS point.  If you want to stay 2 or 3 days that’s fine too, but you must help on the farm!

The ride down to a town called “Gracias” is supposed to be a good one, and the town itself good too, and indeed the ride was pretty good, on a quiet stretch of asphalt passing and crossing a river towards Honduas’ highest point, Mt.Celaque and “Thanks” a town that turned out to be fairly lifeless.  I buy empanadas, not realising through my naievity that they are just tortillas stuffed with frijoles (black beans eaten everywhere)!

Rodney (the name of the new bike, more later) barely makes the steep dirt track up to the entrance of Mt.Celaque park, where I ask about camping…
“You can camp here, 50Limpiras.”  (One Limpira is US5c)
“Here!  But you can’t see anything, just trees!” I say. I often find this, at parks and wonders of the world, the campsites are often on the other side of road to the attraction with zero views, the attraction out of sight.  I tell him I’ll camp down the road in a field and head off and after several attempts find Ronnie, another top Honduran who is happy to let me camp on his plot of land, that will be the site of his future home, a top spot with 360º views.  He says he must confirm with the neighbour first, who also agrees as always with; “No hay pena.”

“It’s cold though!” she says later when she comes to inspect the casita that is my home in the field,
“Not as cold as England!” I tell her.
“And the dogs!”
“You call them dogs!  My dog at home is twice the size!”
“Tent’s waterproof!”
“SNAKES!!” I say.
“You can go in the house if you want?” meaning one that is under construction, but I can’t be bothered to move as I’ve set up and have a fine view of Mt.Celaque.

Nick 1 – 0 National Parks (Exc. African national parks which destroyed me on price alone).

The lady returns in the morning, wanting to know about dogs, snakes, wind and rain, and wants a book as a gift seeing me pack my two books away, I only have a Spanish dictionary and Spanish study book, and so offer her a map of Guatemala that I no longer need, she looks unimpressed but takes it all the same.

An unexceptional dirt road takes me out towards Lago Yojoa (yo-ho-ah), where there are also some 12km long caves that have been uncovered, 6km of which you can see….except you can’t because I can’t read….it was actually only 600m….I was bitterly disappointed and kick myself for wasting my money,  slap myself for stupidity and curse myself for ever reading a guide book and head out swearing never to visit a cave again!

The lake when I reach it looks remarkably like a big grey pond under the sullen sky and the glut of ugly fish restaurants do little to entice me in and I’m starting to think that either today’s not my day, or perhaps the balance will have it that things work out later?  My final point on my day’s itinerary is the difficult to say and spell; Pulhapanzak falls.

Luckily the falls are beautiful, even beneath the grey sky.  A cave tour I hear, is supposed to be very good, but the voice in my head shouts at me not to do it; “Flippin guide books!  What did we say about caves!”

(And yes, I talk to myself in the “we” form! left side and right side of the brain).

I see two others returning from the trip, they look pretty pleased with themselves, so I decide I must try these things, and head off to organise it.

“IDIOT!  Don´t say I didn’t warn you!”  and I tell the right brain to just shut up for once.

The cave is shit. (Ha told you!!!)

BUT…. getting to it is really quite something!  Barefoot and barefaced (no specs) me and my guide Raphael go head first towards the falls, through pools, over rocks and boulders.  Water falling 43m washes over you with the weight of the earth, as we breach the falls to get behind them.

I say “Jesus!  Bloody hell!” and “this is stupid!” repeatedly, then breaching the falls to come round the front edge slightly, I fall and cut my foot and back.  “Ves arriba!” shouts Rapha, and I look up to see a myriad of droplets glistening down, the cascades splitting above, to fall hard and deafeningly loud to either side of us now.  Spectacularly impressive, leading to more shouts of Jesus! Bloody Hell! Madness! from me.

Then, into deeper waters, heavier, tumbling waters; the main force of the falls.
“Keep your head down, ok.” says Rapha,
“I can’t see a thing without my glasses!” I shout back, but Rapha’s off again, clambouring easily over the rocks, knowing instinctively where to place his feet, whislt I trip and slip behind him to try and keep up with his pudgy frame.  The water washes over my face, pounds my head and dulls the senses, until eventually we reach the cave, and tranquillity!

Then back, to a half cave of sorts with a spectacular view of the falls, “I need a camera!” I say, but then it’s onto a small cliff jump into the pools, where Rapha goes to fetch my glasses and flip-flops from behind a wet rock and I fumble on half submerged rocks like a drowning cat, pulling faces without the meow of desperation.

As we go Rapha says “Wana jump this?” as though the thought just came to him.

“Jesus! Bloody hell! It’s pretty big!” I say, follwed quickly by “OK!”
“The current is very strong.” he says, and it’s easy to appreciate, as the force of teh falls is funneled down, down towards the HEP plant nearby, the waters frothing like milk in a whisk some 20m below….(actually it was 50m).

“Where do you get out?” I ask.
He points it out and then says “You’ll touch the bottom ok, look wheere I jump and follow me…” and he jumps off.

Ten minutes later he hits the water (it was THAT far.) and I leap out to follow suit, whilst my vital organs do there best to stay on teh safety of the ledge with the right side of my brain “IDIOOOOOO….T!” is said.

SPLASH! I pull up hard and fast to beat the current before I end up making electricity and reach for RApha’s outstretched hand,
“Jesus, bloody hell, AWESOME!” I say…and he pushes me back in.  Not really.

I find a great camp that night between a river a nd a huge sugar cane plantation, though met by a fairly scornful looking local, who I fear will return in the night to plunder my things, but he doesn’t come…but perhaps he put some curse on me, writhing through the night I wake up sick as a dog and I must visit ‘El baño’ numerous times before left and right brain agree that a hotel is required. I go to Omoa, a previously brilliant beach town, now the beach is lost due to a gas company’s building of tidal defences for their gas tanks!  Leaving instead only rocks and even more litter.  Too, gringos seem to be quite wholeheartedly disliked, having to absorb the abuses as I make the painfull trip to a mercado to buy juice or gatorade!  After aweek I’m feeling better and head out to a town called “Hope” (Esperanza), where I hope to be able to see the two groups of indiginous people the Lenca and the (I cant remember).  But, save afew head scarves I see little of interest, though the ride is nice enough and I meet some great local people, in my hunt for local pottery makers, walking through the mountains to try and find Nicolas Cortes with a helpful man called Anastasio and his children.  We reach teh house but Nicolas is not home, though his daughter who I meet outside I remember vividly as she grabbed my hand when I arrived and wouldn’t let go, using me in some imaginary game with dolls and water…some kids aren’t so bad.

I pass through the capital of Teguchigalpa, about 2million people, dotted over the hillsides, the roads linedf with truck reapiar, tire repair and garbage sorters.  On my way to a gold mine!  Though when I get there I find the mine is closed and the town itself has simply taken the name!  Still this leads me to a great route through the mountains and whispering pine forests, through valleys to Victoria and onwards.  Beautiful and tranquil are the forests, where the only sound is the wind slipping through the branches.  Another lovely camp wit hlocals, who share freshly baked bread from their earth oven, still warm/hot the next day and coffee and conversation, pushing my Spanish ability to it’s extreme!

In the morning 30 workers arrive, signaled by screams and laughs and shouts, they sound more like they’re going to a party than to work!  Ranging from 9 years old to about 70 the yget paid $5.00 per day, working 6hours, they say, from 6am until 12pm, though they certainly weren’t here at 6am.

I’m aiming for LA Ceiba now, to take a ferry to Agua Caye, a small palm tree’d island of white sand, 700m in length, only for campers.  I should be the only person there, and though the camping is cheap at $2 getting ther eis quit a bit more expensive and doubts run in my mind if this is really just a $80-100 camp spot!  I ride there through Pico Bonito park, an awesomely impressive set of tropical forested mountains that have my gaze permanently fixed.  After the heavy rains of camp here tha tnight, the trail to La Ceiba is a quagmire and I’m soon stopped by a fairly big river crossing.  The locals tell me it’s not possible at the moment, and I spend a long time looking at it wondering if it is possible.  I’ve been thinking that I’ve ridden lots of different terrain and proved myself pretty well, but the one thing I have done is a big river crossing, now was my chance….but bloody hell.  The water was angry and ripping down the valley towards the sea and I didn’t fancy my chances, especially with the locals being negative.  I decide to walk through and manage with the aid of a walking stick.  But almost waist deep (which from experience usually means knee deep when you hear people say that, but it really was almost waist deep) and strong, hard to walk through I decide that it’s probably a bit stupid, I will now doubt draw water in to the engine as it is higher than the saddle.  So after about 30 mins looking at it, I turn about….and spend all day telling myself that I’m really not brave at all.

I’m showered by more rain on my way on the regular road to La Ceiba, as well as gifts too from a nice chap at a shop I meet.  But for the next week I am continuously in rain, moving from camp spot to camp spot, in the hope of visiting the island, and then the Rio Platano reserve for two week boat hopping.  But as these both cost a lot of money, I was only willing if the weather was good, and anyway, the ferries weren’t running.  I visit Sambo Creek, the Garifuna village of black settlers, descendants of slaves brought over by the Spanish I beleive.  The ystand around looking angry at me (It feels) and beg me for money, reminding me of my time in Africa.  No one seems to work, only drink and  I wander around the place feeling more and more sully, wondering how could I have pt up with this in Africa for so long!  I meet a nice chap though, and chat to him about his old times in Belize under the Brits and he gives me an English History lesson….before begging for a beer to cure his hangover.

I check the forecast for the area, and looking bad for days to come, and speaking wit hthe locals who tell me this is it for December and January, I very reluctantly leave the area behind.  I don’t get to ofar though, as my panniers break and then I get a puncture so I’m left camping in the rain again!

“Where are you going?” they always ask, and today I’m saying, “south, to the bloody sun!  To Juticalpa.” and always now they reply in a murderous tone “ORLANCHO!” which is the name of the state this town is in….am I being stupid or is it bad there?

The road was certainly in a right state after the rain, and I was uncertain wheter I should have just stuck to the asphalt on this occassion and got out of the rain!  But I kept going, depsite Mr Right brain yelling “You’re stupid!  You’ll get us killed one day!”  He might be right, but it wasn’t today, though lord knows it was a testing ride, deep mud, and huge puddles that I worried would be mud underneath, but after adays ride I’m not too far from Juticalpa, and even the weather looks a bit better.  But looking for camp that night, my fears are confirmed when I ask the boy about camping here,

“I think it’s best if no you don’t camp,” this is a first, everyone has said yes until now.
“¿Por que no?” I ask,
“It’s very dangerous, the situation here, it is better you find a hotel.”
“What situation?”
“In Orlancho. A man was killed just here,” he points to the adjacent track, “last week.”
“Righty o, see ya then.”
“I think it´s best.” he says.

I head off, but really hate hotels and ask another dumb twit before trying to sneak in to a field which I do and hidea mongst heaps of old bean pods, a very nice night actually, no lights, I assume as everyone lives together in the safety of villages, rather than alone in their fields.

With my plans scuppered, and finally in slightly better weather I’ve lost all aim, and the rain has soaked me and doused my spirits, forced me further into my shell, so that I don’t know where to turn now, especially, thinking about Christmas fast approaching and fell into a bit of a low spot truth be told, though one knows I can’t grumble, I am and have been very fortunate!  So I put it down to tiredness!  I will head south now, into Nicaragua, and hope beyond all hope that some idea should turn up in time for Christmas!  Though for me there is only one thing Christmas is meant for, and that’s family (and friends)!

So to everyone a super merry christmas and please cherish your families on my behalf! and eat lots of mince pies!

Apologies for finishing on a low note….but I must always tell the truth and never sugarcoat the stories (like I think many other travellers do).

RODNEY IS BORN!  And as for the bike name, well, I was sat picknicking one day thinking about my family, in a pine forest and for some strange reason I looked behind me to see if out of some huge odd miracle my dad would be there smiling, and say “All Right!” he wasn’t of course, I must have been tired, alas I decided to name the bike after him and as his name is Dave I called it Rodney.  You’ll have to be British to understand this one and know a fella named Del-boy.