Monday, August 18, 2008


Driving through Guatemalan Western Higlands.

Relaxing in our El Salvador Palapa.

Pablo playing with Garífuna. My camera suffered terminal failure..

What a fabulous trip! We made it home on Friday. Here is the update:

I wrote the first report of our adventure from San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It was just an overnight stop for us, but an important one. I needed to check the internet. We had to have our clothes washed. I had to reorganize my "stuff" so I could find things I was looking for. We needed a real good sleep. It had been hot hot hot in Livingston. Our room there was air conditioned but not very well. The electricity and water were cut off a few times while there, and usually during the hottest part of the day or during the evening in an electrical storm when there was no air circulating at all.

San Pedro Sula is one of Honduras' dangerous cities. Each time we mentioned that we were heading to Copán via San Pedro Sula we were advised to be careful, not go out after dark, etc. The biggest problem in the cities of Central America is gang war. Apparently most of the time tourists are not involved, but if a blue eyed blonde and a Latino are seen together on the street, there could be trouble. We found a hotel in a nice residential area of the city and were able to walk to a karaoke bar and restaurant two blocks away where we celebrated with grilled steak, a few cocktails, and a couple of botched karaoke songs.
Stelae at Copán Ruinas, Honduras.

Copán is situated in western Honduras near the Guatemalan border. The streets are cobblestone in the hilly quaint little town. The ruins are a UNESCO project, and although I do not understand what exactly that moniker represents, to me it meant there were a lot more foreign tourists than I expected. Day trips are run from Antigua, Guatemala to Copán. The prices were higher than they should be....on hotels, food and souvenirs. When I asked about something I was quoted prices in US Dollars, in English. We managed to find a nice family hotel that did not raise its rates when they saw me, and spent two lovely nights up the hill from the centro with a beautiful view of the valley. We ate at one of the market stalls after one expensive experience with a rude Uruguayan restauranteur. Let's just say we might not have been hip enough for Copán's crowd.

The ruins of Copán were impressive, not so much for the size of the site, but the detailed work in design. Much of the site has not been restored, and some was lost over time as Mother Nature reclaimed territory and many Mayan buildings near the river running along the area. The ruins are located in a well manicured site and guarded by soldiers with guns. The heiroglyphics and inscriptions are amazing. One temple that was found under layers of more temple still had its color. They have reconstructed the Rosalila temple in the museum there. After seeing the detail work at Copán I felt I could better picture Mayan life in its day. The language spoken around the area is Chorti. I learned that there are at least 15 different Mayan languages; not dialects, separate languages. I also found out that all I can grasp right now is the Yucatecan Mayan we study, the new vocabulary in Chorti went through one ear and out the other. I was interested enough to ask "how do you say..." but not sharp enough to remember any of it.

Rosalila temple restored in Copán museum.

Plan A was to drive back to Guatemala after visiting Copán. But we were not ready to leave Honduras, as we felt we had not seen any of the country but the road to Copán. And we had permission to be there until the end of October, why leave so soon? So we went to Plan B. We drove out the way we came in and decided to head south to investigate more of the country. The first pleasant surprise was in La Entrada, a dusty busy little town about 45 kms. east of (at the turnoff for) Copán. We were looking for an ATM and breakfast, and we found a parade of high school marching bands. Pablo is a freak for marching bands, so he hopped out of the car and went running with the camera. There were many participants, lots of drums, percussion, and the complicated songs they played were most impressive. I heard "Sounds of Silence" when I had finally parked the car and gone looking for Pablo in the crowd. Other songs were recognizable to Pablo but not to me; there are a lot of Latin songs! These kids were dressed in colorful uniforms with long capes which they effectively swayed as they played and slowly marched forward. It was already a great day.

Sunday morning in La Entrada, Honduras.

We drove to Santa Rosa (or is it Rita) del Copán, about two hours south of La Entrada. Coffee and tobacco are the attractions there. What a pretty colonial mountain town. We found food and money, and by then I had found someplace more interesting and outback for us to seek on the day's adventure. We drove to Gracias, and took a turnoff toward La Calma. Seventeen slow kilometers and four river crossings (no bridges) later we eased into a little village nestled in a valley next to a huge canyon. The guidebook said they had great pottery there. There was a small town square, but no tourists, no market, just calm. We stopped to ask about the pottery. We were in luck. The woman Pablo chose to ask for information was a potter. She was a Lenca woman named Mercedes. She was polishing a piece as we drove up. Besides the usual pottery fare, she made mobiles and sold the parts individually. How fun it was to find the intricately carved beads and miniature pitchers, pots, etc. so I could make my own mobiles. Pablo fell into a Honduran cigar hunt and came back all smiles with 100 hand rolled cigars. The sky rapidly clouded up and we were in for a storm. We took a room in one of two hotels and settled in to watch the excitement of lightning and sideways rain from the patio. Had snacks for dinner and got a good night's rest for the bone shattering journey back to the main paved road. At Gracias, we took another side trip to some hot springs. We were the first of two couples to enjoy the 97°F mineral baths that day. A beautiful neon blue butterfly took a liking to me. We enjoyed a few hours there and decided to head yet farther down the Ruta Lenca toward La Esperanza. We were supposedly going to see these interesting indigena who speak Nahuatl (Aztec?) in the little villages all decked out in traditional gear. But they no longer dress that way except on special occasions. The people in Honduras seem to live on second hand clothing, period. I would like to add some info about the Lenca Indians but at this writing I have not had time to research that. Later.

Mercedes the potter in La Calma, Honduras.

My little blue butterfly at the Hot Springs near Gracias, Honduras.

The rejuvenating mineral pools.

La Esperanza was an interesting and scary little place. We did have an excellent meal and found a decent room with safe parking. We even went to a little bar and had conversation and a few drinks with some locals. We did not feel threatened there, but we did not feel extremely welcomed by all its inhabitants either. It was colorful and definitely had its own personality.

Lots of derrumbes.

The fountain at La Esperanza, Honduras.

Bright and early the next morning I was ready to leave town, hangover and all. We drove south a few hours past Tegucigalpa heading straight for the Pacific Coast. We found an old volcanic island called Isla del Tigre in the Gulf of Fonseca. The town of Amapala used to be a port and now is trying desperately to learn to capitalize on ecotourism. It is a slow process, as there are only three places to stay there and one of them is rather uninhabitable. From points on the island, you can see Nicaragua, Honduras and El Salvador. It was a beautiful harbor where I could picture tall ships hiding out centuries ago. Two days later we moved on.

Looking at Honduras & El Salvador from Amapala, Isla del Tigre, Honduras.

We crossed the border into El Salvador with no problem. Within a few hours we were heading to some famous surfing beaches. El Zonte and La Misata were our two Pacific destinations. We had been advised a bridge was out on the route we intended to take, and did not heed the warning; we drove on. When we got to the collapsed bridge, some kids said we could surely drive across the river. Luckily we could not see the river before we set out on the adventure, because we would have chickened out. Pablo drove his amphibious vehicle across a wide river, pretty damn deep too, and we made it to the other side. It worked in our favor when we found rather isolated beautiful beaches to hang our hammocks and hang out for a few days watching the giant waves and walking the black sand beaches. El Salvador was surprisingly beautiful. We had no gang problems there because we avoided congested areas. Beaches and mountains only.

Crossing the river at La Libertad, El Salvador.

Campsite at Río Misata and Pacific Ocean.

Black sand, blue water...all to ourselves. Paradise found.

Once relaxed and saturated with salt air, we headed back to Guatemala. The next mision was to make it to Q'uiché Mayan territory in the western highlands. Chichicastenango was our destination. The Mayan bible, the Popol Vuh was written there. They have a church much like the one we had been in in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas, México....half Catholic and half Mayan. The Catholic saints were present but to the local people represented their Mayan gods of corn, rain, moon, sun, etc. The church at Chichi was also built on top of a Mayan ruin with exactly 20 steps...the number of months in a year according to the Mayan calendar.

A fireplace! It must get cold at night!

The Mayan church at Chichicastenango, Guatemala.

Hotel room view of Chichi valley and pueblo.

We were given a great room with a fireplace. It was cold up there! That was fun to play with, as the moisture in the air made it challenging to light and keep the fire going. We froze in the middle of the night when the fire went out. We went there for Sunday market day. We picked up some very colorful clothing. The things I bought were expensive, and when Pablo went back out alone he came home with tons of shirts, pants, masks for dirt cheap. You have to Latin to get a deal in a market in Latinoamerica. If you are Caucasian, you are automatically deemed a millionaire, and must pay three times the going rate for everything. We tried local tamales: cooked rice with a hunk of chicken and some delicious red sauce wrapped in banana leaves and steamed. Mush, in other words. I liked them. We were nearly three weeks into our journey and ready to be at Palenque relaxing in our hammocks again. So we bought up a fair amount of souvenirs and headed northwest through the most beautiful volcanic mountain road we had seen to date, from Huehuetenango, Guatemala to Ciudad Cuautemoc, México.

The roads were not all in great repair.

The buses were distractingly colorful.

The border crossing was easy, but the military revision was brutal. They first used a little gadget with an antenna and insertable credit sized cards that said cocaine, marijuana and pastillas (pills). They waved the wand around our car and our belongings. Then they brought out the German shepherd. We patiently waited for this long and thorough process, then headed to Comitán del Dominguez to get some food and sleep.

The cabaña at Palenque.

Howler monkey eats, poops and entertains at campsite.

Pablo happy to be with other tamboristas in Palenque.

The next day we drove the long winding road to Palenque. We thought about stopping at the beautiful clear cascades at Agua Azul, but there had been so much rain in recent weeks that the usually pristine pools were as brown as coffee. We opted to skip the cascades and spend the time at Palenque. We found a great cabaña there in the woods. We enjoyed the howler monkeys and birds and lizards. One morning there was a howler in the campsite and it was quite the spectacle for all the campers. After two nights and a major mud splattering downpours all night long, we took the straight road 8 hours back to Mérida, supposedly ready to face reality once again.

We had a super adventure, learned a lot, met interesting people, and I wrote two notebooks of travel story material. Pablo learned new rhythyms on his tambor, and he spent hours drawing scenes from the ruins and the mountains. We are back in realityville here and getting a move on with our ongoing projects. Before we can blink it will seem like the trip is in the distant past. Then it will be time to decide where to go next time after trudging through our tasks in the heat of the tropical summer. If born with wanderlust, it is just a matter of learning how to support the habit. I guess I am still working on that but I was born with this need to see the world and I am sure I will manage.

Sunset at Isla del Tigre, Honduras.

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