Note: This column picks up from the end of the writer’s travels in Nicaragua, which he described in the column “Managua, Nicaragua is a beautiful town…” published in the Dec. 9, 2010 issue of the Nichi Bei Weekly.
Departure from Managua at 5 a.m. for San Pedro Sulas was not a hardship since I couldn’t wait to leave Nicaragua. My original plan had been to stop in Tegucigalpa just to tour the Honduran capital, but my couch surfing stay with a school principal was canceled because of an outbreak of swine flu at the school. Luckily, my couch surfer host in San Pedro Sulas was gracious enough to accommodate the change in my arrival date. He worked in information technology for a British/American cigarette company that — in an example of legal drug distribution monopoly — bought up all the smaller competitors and consolidated them in this town.
My host spoke excellent English, but because of the late arrival we did not really have a chance to see much of the town — except to attend his office party being held at an Applebee’s (this is Honduras?). He graciously hosted me in his large home and then drove me to the bus station to catch an early morning bus ride to Copan. With its large central bus station, Honduras seemed much more organized in comparison to Nicaragua, which has dinky offices for each bus company scattered all over the city.
The express minibus to Copan about 200 kilometers (124.2 miles) away cost $5 and took about three hours. Even though it was an express, the bus would stop to pick up passengers if a seat was vacant.
Prices for hotel rooms in Copan are incredibly cheap. There were good reviews for places costing only $5 a day, but I selected one for $15 a day because it had air conditioning, wireless Internet access and television, and provided round-trip transportation to the bus area.
Copan has the best-preserved Mayan hieroglyphics and it did not disappoint in that area. I paid $1 for a tuk-tuk to take a guide and me from the town to the ruins. The English-speaking guide charged $40 for a two-hour tour, but he was not worth the high cost.
The modern birth of Copan dates from around A.D. 426. It was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1980. It was one of the dominant Mayan cities and is compared in importance to Athens as a cradle for the New World civilization. However, Chichen Itza near Cancun, Mexico and Tikal in Guatemala have more impressive structures in my view.
The sheer volume of stelae and carvings attest to the artisans based here. The most famous structure is the hieroglyphic staircase of 63 steps relating the history here, but dislodgement of many of the stones makes exact deciphering difficult.
The most famous ruler was named 18 Rabbit (A.D. 695-738) and he ruled for 43 years without warfare, allowing Mayan architecture and the arts to bloom. Unfortunately, the population also expanded and led to deforestation to provide fuel and fields for food production that eventually led to soil depletion. Sky Monster, 18 Rabbit’s nephew, murdered 18 Rabbit in a revolt fueled by the society’s dissatisfaction with dwindling food supplies and this marked the general decline of this area’s importance.
There is a beautiful museum here at the Ruinas and also one in town that should not be missed. Another area with ruins is called Los Sapos (the toads) but it did not sound appealing (even if it is a kaeru in a sense) because it was described as mostly dilapidated rocks. A horseback ride to see the surrounding area to that destination might be fun if one spends more time here.
The town itself is very quiet, with cobblestone streets. Many school children dressed in uniforms made a better impression than what I observed in Nicaragua. There is essentially no nightlife but there are excellent restaurants with dirt-cheap prices. Life here is slow and peaceful, so laid back that instead of greeting each other with a “buenos dias” or “buenos” as in some other small towns, the people here have shortened the greeting simply to “bueno.”
Carnitas Nia Loa is a fun restaurant decorated with collections of funky antiques, and waitresses bring food and drinks perched on top of their heads. It doesn’t hurt that the food is delicious and inexpensive (try steak and beer for under $1).
One ubiquitous garnish found throughout Honduras is called chismol or chimol; it is very similar to pico de gallo, a combination of chopped tomato, green pepper and onion with added cilantro, lemon, salt and pepper. I used it for all my meals. Another addictive dish is called curtido that is served in different combinations in Mexico and throughout Central America. It is pickled vegetables and equivalent to Latin tsukemono.
Coffee is a major crop in the Copan area and it is delicious. Don’t leave without buying bags for yourself and as omiyage. Sadly, coffee served locally is average tasting because the best quality is exported for a higher price return. The souvenir bags should be the top quality and one might ask for a sample taste to confirm.
My next destination was La Ceiba, touted to be the entertainment capital of Honduras. It claims to be a very prosperous port town with many excellent schools as well as the source of many agricultural products such as pineapples and bananas. However, reading reviews of hotels in my lower price range raised concerns, such as items missing from locked rooms and other unsavory activities, so I decided to splurge for a stay at Casa Cangrejal (“crab house”) Bed and Breakfast for $75 per night in a single for the high season (December through August) rate. The low season rate for a single is only $50 per night.
The owner, Karen Brooks, is a Canadian general contractor and personally built this custom B&B made of rocks. It has a swimming pool and rock waterfalls.
My plan was to explore La Ceiba using the B&B as my base, but the B&B was located in the middle of a national forest (Bonito Pico, or beautiful peak) and was an expensive taxi ride back and forth to town. As it turned out, there were so many fun activities here — zip-line canopy tours, yoga retreats, rafting, hiking, whitewater trips and canoeing — that there was no time to go to town.
One day I went kayaking to a lagoon on the Mosquito Coast (La Moskitia). It is not named for the insect (there are plenty here) but for the local Miskita indigenous people. They received their name because of the muskets the English provided them to fight Spanish colonists. The real “Friday” on which the author of Robinson Crusoe based his description was a Miskita.
The tranquil Cacao Lagoon located in a gorgeous rainforest is named after the many trees growing here. I saw an occasional howler monkey and many electric blue butterflies. After the rainforest cruise, we slowly paddled to the sea for lunch on the beach. Fishermen using nets were catching very small fish.
The next day solo mountain biking was on the schedule, or “how to die in one easy lesson.” I had ridden bicycles but never mountain biked. Ignoring the fact that I am no longer young, agile and able to leap tall buildings in a single bound was an invitation for a disaster. The dirt road had deep furrows strewn with rocks, gravel and sand. Carefully navigating down and occasionally stopping to enjoy the scenery overlooking the valley led to a false sense of security. A motorcycle suddenly came roaring by from behind and startled me into swerving and putting too much pressure on the front brakes, resulting in my being tossed head-first into the side of the road. Thank heavens for the helmet. Bring lots of water because I drank my large container dry.
On departure from the B&B, two dead bodies were seen strewn on the road. Conversations with locals and other travelers surprisingly concluded that Nicaragua was overall safer than Honduras. Honduras has major problems with illegal logging, drug dealers, gangs, murders, teenage pregnancy, poor family planning and inferior education. No one seems to like former Honduran President Manuel Zelaya, who changed the constitution to remove the term limit so he could remain in power. The U.S. backed Zelaya, leading to further resentment against our country.
Note: This is the first of a two-part column.
For videopoker fans, Bob Dancer is once again giving free classes on how to play videopoker correctly. The Tuesday classes will be held at 1 p.m. in South Point Casino starting on Feb. 15 weekly and ending April 19. To see what each class will cover, visit www.bobdancer.com/seminars.cfm. If you follow his instructions, you will definitely lose a lot less and might even end up ahead. If you see your favorite game being discussed, it might be a perfect time to visit Las Vegas.
The Kaeru Kid lives in Las Vegas and hopes readers will send him comments at KaeruKid@yahoo.com.