Recife, Pernambuco, Brazil

On the Road: Guatemala to Honduras

June 9th, 2013 | Posted by Ian in Guatemala | Honduras | Oh | The Places We've Been

So this post is admittedly long and rambling and at times tangential, but perhaps trying to make your way through without getting lost will give you some idea what a typical road travel day is like in Central America.

  1. Road construction near Lago de Atitlán, Guatemala

    Notice the high-tech road barriers they have blocking off the right hand lane.

    Construction and Rules of the Road – The mountainside between San Pablo la Laguna and the CA-1 (a high-quality highway that runs all the way down the backbone of Central America) is currently undergoing some reconstruction. Based on our observations of the road and the fact that it is on a mountainside where it rains pretty much every day, I’d imagine it is always undergoing some kind of work. Anyway, at this point in time the narrow, potholed, wet, twisting, steep road is blocked off going in both directions for about an hour at a time. After each hour, men and equipment are cleared from the road and traffic is allowed to pass, one direction at a time. After a few trips into Guatemala City we had experienced waits of 50 minutes, 45 minutes, and 30 seconds. On this Saturday morning, however, there was no road block. We just drove on through when it narrowed to a single lane, a bit confused as to what exactly was happening and somewhat fearful that a vehicle coming in the opposite direction would fly around a corner at any minute. Eventually we rounded a corner to see a standoff between two oppositely-oriented colectivos. If I might digress for a moment, let me say that defensive driving does not really seem to be the norm in the past few countries we have been in. The gas pedal is often slammed to the floor, the brakes are tapped late if ever, and a driver’s only responsibility seems to be for his own vehicle. It’s really okay; once you get used to it and understand the rhythms of the road, it becomes second nature and you realize that as long as everyone is on the same page there is no problem. However, on this morning, something amazing happened, something we have rarely seen on the roads through Mexico and Central America. Everyone cooperated. The vehicles heading uphill (our group) figured out how to get out of the way, let the downhill group pass, and then continue on our way. No cutting in line. No honking. No yelling. Just a logical process that left everyone going on their merry ways. Amazing!

  2. Driving in Honduras

    Smooth sailing...

    CA-1 and CA-9 – Holy hell these roads are fast. To give you some perspective, last month our 240 mile drive between San Crisbobal de las Casas, Mexico and San Marcos la Laguna, Guatemala took 12 hours. On the CA-1 and CA-9 we covered over 400 miles to the Honduran border in about 8 hours. Damn that’s fast. We are so fast. Smokin’.

  3. Hot Hot Heat – One of my pet peeves is people complaining about the weather. It’s hot, it’s cold, too humid, too much snow. Whatever. Everyone around you is dealing with the same shit. Get over it. Observations about the weather are great small talk. Acting all “poor me” about it is just plain annoying. If it’s too hot for you, move your ass to Greenland. With that in mind…good grief it is hot. We spent January on the naturally cool Pacific coast, then had four months of decreasing latitude offset by increasing elevation. Last Saturday, we got in the car at 6,000 feet, sixty something degrees and no humidity, then emerged several hours later at sea level to 90 degrees and 100% humidity. There was no sliding in, no transition, no preparation. Just sweat. Swelter is the number one word that comes to mind. There is no relief. Today it was 88 degrees with 99% humidity. At 8:00AM.
  4. Backwater Border – We had originally planned on crossing into Honduras near Copán, but our hosts last month advised us that taking the CA-9 all the across Guatemala to the easternmost border would be much faster. There is lots of literature out there about the crossing at Copán, but the most recent bits of information we could find online about the crossing we would be untertaking were from early 2011 saying that a bridge had been wiped out during heavy rains. Hmmm. The border itself turned out to be a fully operational and very sleepy post on both sides. For a more detailed account, check out tomorrow’s post, but suffice it to say in our time at the border the only other people we saw crossing were hauling trucks full of cattle.
  5. Cruising through San Pedro Sula, Honduras, murder capital of the world

    Just a little joy ride through the murder capital of the world.

    Murder Capital of the World — So, yeah, this is awkward, but I have to tell you something. Honduras is the murder capital of the world. The most recent estimates put the Honduran intentional homicide rate at 91.6 per 100,000 residents. For comparison, the overall rate for the United States is 4.8 per 100,000. That’s a 1900% difference. If that didn’t have you nervous enough, there’s more! San Pedro Sula, Honduras’ center of commerce, has the highest murder rate of any city in the world, coming in at 158.9 per 100,000 residents, just a shade higher than the notoriously dangerous Juarez, Mexico. And guess where our route took us? That’s right, straight through San Pedro Sula. So I guess we can cross that one off the ol’ bucket list.

  6. Puerto Cortes – After unsuccessfully trying to find a cheap place to stay the night in the Caribbean town of Omoa in Honduras (we didn’t have much cash; no one answered the door at the hostel and the credit card reader was “out of order” at the hotel we tried), we decided to try to race the sunset to make it to the next sizeable town, Puerto Cortes, which was also supposed to be the next town with an ATM. As dusk fell, we found an ATM in a gas station, then cruised the town looking for a place to crash for the night. At stop number one we were greeted by a man with a revolver stuffed in his belt who directed us to a parking spot and then the office. Inside, Brie had a fairly unnerving encounter with a couple staff members who wouldn’t put their cell phones down, then rudely wagged their fingers and said we couldn’t stay on account of the dogs. Trying to explain that they would stay in the car was met with pursed lips, shaking heads, and more finger wagging. Thanks, ladies, we really appreciate the hospitality. Stop number two was a bit more agreeable. At Hotel Costa Azul, we were greeted by two friendly and perfectly groomed busboys dressed to the nines. Fancy! The price (1500 lempira, or $75 USD) was about five times what we had expected to pay for the night, but with the last rays of sunshine slipping away (along with our last waves of brainpower after a long day of travel), we decided to just shell it out and get some rest. That price did include a glorious view of the Caribbean, a giant hot breakfast the following morning, Wi-Fi, and all the purified water we could handle, plus three men with shotguns and handguns to guard the parking lot (yeah, that’s pretty normal in these parts; any respectable business is guarded at all times — it’s unnerving at first, but you get used to it). Just when our worn out brains/bodies were about to drop, we realized there was another issue to be dealt with — even after sunset the temperature was in the 80s and the dogs were supposed to be sleeping in the car all night. So we sat with them, occasionally rolling the windows up most of the way for a few minutes at a time to test how it felt. How did it feel? Horrible. Popped a molly, I was sweatin’! And I don’t have a coat of fur over my entire body. Our fatigued minds attempted to strategize and come to grips with the possiblity that one of us might have to spend the night in the car in the most dangerous country in the world. We tossed around a lot of brilliant ideas; maybe we could trade shifts, maybe we could sneak the dogs inside in a backpack, maybe we could drive to the gas station to fill up and leave the car on all night, maybe we could tie them to a tree outside for the night, maybe we could steal the guard’s Coca Cola in order to stay up all night and just drive on to La Ceiba. Eventually we come up with something that halfway made sense, stick the dogs in the ocean to wet them down, then put them in the car with the windows cracked and repeat every couple hours if necessary. So that’s what we did. And it seemed to work just fine. We went to our room and after a while I checked on them — they were curled up together, sound asleep, with not so much as a single pant coming out. Finally, some sleep.
  7. Palm plantations in Honduras

    So many palm trees.

    Palm Plantations — On our ride between the mountains and the sea in northwestern Honduras, the palm plantations seemed to never end, a perfect grid of fifty foot trees extending for tens of miles a time along the highway, and as far as the eye could see to the left and the right.

  8. Black People! — I’m going to talk about skin color for a moment. Don’t worry, there’s no judgment here, only some observations and then an introduction to some incredibly interesting cultural history. We spent the first five months of this year in places where almost everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum between European and indigenous. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that — there are a lot more places in the world that are ethnically homogeneous than ones with a huge array of diversity — but it is realistically something that you might notice if you are an American traveling in this part of the world. And so, if we hadn’t previously been exposed to the Garifuna culture during our travels to Belize in 2010 we might have been surprised by their presence (along with a very sizable number of hispanicized Garifuna descendants) here on the Honduran coast. Today’s Garifuna number around 600,000. Garifuna culture is quite distinct; their language is a mix of Arawak, Carib, English, French, and Spanish, their cuisine and music both have unique flavors, and their history is fascinating, if uncertain. One theory on their origin is that after a slave ship filled with Ibibio (from present-day Nigeria) people wrecked near St. Vincent in the seventeenth century, the survivors were either assimilated into the local Carib population or forcibly carved out their own territory on the island. Another theory posits they were escaped slaves from various other islands. Either way, when the British took control of the island in 1796, they decided that the more “African-looking” Caribs were enemies who needed to be removed, while the more “indigenous-looking” Caribs were allowed to stay. Thus, 5,000 “African-looking” Caribs were forcibly deported to the island of Roatan, off the coast of present-day Honduras. The 2,500 that survived the journey found an island too small to sustain them, so they asked the Spanish administrators to be allowed to settle on the mainland. After approval, the Garifuna spread along the Caribbean coast, where they can still be found to this day in Belize, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua.

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