First Impressions of Honduras
After freezing my ass off for several months in a San Franciscan “summer”, it was very refreshing to be in a hot climate. I landed in San Pedro around 11am and the next bus to leave for Copan was at 1pm. My ticket with Casasola Express cost 110 lempiras (or about $5.82) and entailed a 3.5 – 4 hour ride. Not a bad deal, but still slightly more expensive than the $1/hr standard that I had grown accustomed to in South America. I walked out to the bus platform and saw that the Casasola bus was an older, slightly beat-down touring bus. In the hierarchy of buses, this represented a step above the chicken buses but still several rungs below the nice coaches we’re used to here in the states.
As in most cases, a lack of air conditioning insured that all of the windows were fully open. I had been traveling nonstop for about 15 hours so it was a nice chance to sit back, relax and enjoy the view. The ride to Copan took me southwest through the Honduras countryside. For all of the country’s troubles and struggles, you wouldn’t know it from the scenary. Lush, green land stretched as far as I could see, intersected only by a river here and there. Distant thunderstorms formed dark patches of shadows and every once in a while a rainbow would form from the still drizzling clouds. The terrain was hilly as we wound up and down the sides of mountains. To my pleasant surprise, the roads were nicely paved, smooth and flat. The usual characters of a Latin American bus trip also reappeared: the guys who come on board to sell fruits, snacks and drinks; the locals who seemingly get on and off in the middle of nowhere; and of course, the always smiling kid whose sole task is to check for tickets. Like I said, it was good to be back.
The bus ride also gave me a chance to get back in the groove of backpacking. Transitioning from daily life to life on the road always takes some time. The physical aspect, like riding a bike, comes back quickly. Mentally, it’s a bigger barrier because you realize you are no longer in the safe haven that you call home. I was now fully immersed, in a country thousands of miles away from home, alone and with only my backpack. Whatever adventures, misfortunes and experiences lay ahead, I had no way of knowing. Although a bit unsettling, it also gives you a rush. That little tingle down the spine or the goosebumps on your arm reminds you that this is reality and that you’re really here. It’s a feeling you rarely get at home. Maybe that’s why traveling can be so addicting.
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I watched and slept until we arrived in Copan around 5:00pm. Honduras does not have daylight savings time so darkness was slowly creeping in. The town itself is much like Aguas Calientes in Peru or Siem Reap in Cambodia: a lifeline to an ancient architectural wonder. Narrow, cobblestone stone streets formed a grid-like pattern. Low houses surrounded the area and dogs roamed freely in the streets. Like any traditional Latin American town, Copan had a central plaza where people sat, smoked and slept. It was a small town and it only took a couple of hours to explore the various streets and alleys. I didn’t have housing but my trusty LP guide pointed me towards Hostal La Manzana Verde, a small hostel off to the side of the town. When I pulled up to the front gate, the attendant warned that there was no running water (surprise, surprise). Nonetheless, I decided to have a look and true to the description in LP, it was clean, had a nice kitchen and a good common area. It just so happened that the water turned back on by the end of my tour so I decided to pay for two nights. At $5 bucks a night, it was cheaper than a beer in SF.
I spent the next couple of hours exploring the town and grabbing some toiletries. A common misconception is that third world countries do not have the common products of modern life. Granted they may not have the battery powered, self cleaning, it’ll wipe your ass after you shit, Mach 6 razor but I’m sure most people can manage with a disposable. Shampoo, soap, toothpaste, it’s all there. So next time you’re packing and you forget something, don’t freak out and call the parents to airmail ASAP. Walk down to the local store and surprise yourself with the selection and price.
After I got what I needed, I grabbed some food and headed back to the hostel for a shower. There I wondered what my first night in Honduras would bring.
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One of the things I love about traveling is the beer. Here in the States, there’s never really a “local” beer. You walk into a bar anywhere and you can grab a Coors or a Bud. But in many cities or countries, there’s only one or two beers. This intimate relationship between a place and its beer is something that I find very interesting. In Laos I drank Beerlao and only Beerlao. Argentina was Quilmes, Saigon was Saigon Green, Puerto Rico was Medalla and so on. The beers of Honduras were Salva Vida and Imperial. Although I had Imperial once or twice, my beer of choice was hands down Salva. Smooth, refreshing, cheap and always, always ice cold, Salva Vida quickly became a reliable travel companion.
My first taste of it would come at the Via Via bar/restaurant, a place that I would come to know well over the next couple of days. Like most small towns, Copan’s nightlife is very localized. On most nights, there’s only one or two bars with enough people for critical mass. On my first night, Via Via happened to have a salsa dancing lesson. A group of us from the hostel rolled in around 9pm and learned the basics. Later, we spiced it up with some twists and turns. Did I tear up the dance floor? I wish. But there was a good amount of backpackers there and we spent the night dancing, drinking and chatting away. Chill crowd, dance lessons and refreshing beer? Not a bad start to the trip.