Honduras - Day 1
2005.01.07 - 08
Friday January 7 was my last working day in Guatemala City. The plan for the next two days was clear - leave the city as soon as practical, tour the ruins of Copán on Saturday and get to San Pedro Sula in the evening. According to Fahrplancenter, the only passenger train in Honduras was supposed to leave every Friday and Sunday at 6:30 am from San Pedro to Tela, so I had to be ready to board it on Sunday morning.
I finished my work shortly after noon. My colleagues took me by car to one of the downtown bus terminals (just next to the train station, where I boarded a train in September) and went towards Chiquimula. The trip took about 4 hours. I was at my destination around 5 pm. After asking a few people, I found Hotel Darío in about half an hour. The hotel was recommended by the guidebook (20 Quetzales = approx. $3 for a single room). I took a dinner and went to bed. There is not much to see in Chiquimula. The most interesting place is the main square with a white church (see photo) - and a beautiful mountainous landscape, that you pass through when coming from the capital.
On Saturday morning, I woke up at about 6 am and went to look for a bus towards the Honduran border at El Florido. In Guatemala, a traveler can be almost sure that he will find a bus to any destination. It is more challenging to find where it goes from - bus terminals are usually scattered in different streets depending on where they go. This is however not a big obstacle, because local people (including drivers on "competing" routes) know and if you ask a few times, you will get where you need.
The van (minibus) towards El Florido departed shortly after 7:00am. In about two hours with detours to villages, we got to the border. The van goes back, everybody has to walk across the border. We came in a bad moment - a tour bus came shortly before us and we had to wait long for customs clearance. When I got to the counter and showed my passport, the customs officer filled in a form for me and asked for 20 Q ($3), of course without a receipt. It was my mistake due to lack of experience. The right way is, to come to the counter without waiting, ask for a form, go to the queue, fill in the form and present it together with the passport. It would have been faster and free. On Honduran side, you have to pay $3 on entry - also without a receipt, but probably legally, because it was prominently posted on a sign. During waiting in a line, I exchanged 100 Q ($13) for 220 Honduran lempiras (L or HNL) to have some cash for the first day. Another interesting observation on this border is, that nobody inspects anybody. Travelers have to go to a customs house about 50 yards away from the road, wait in a line for a Guatemalan officer, then wait for a Honduran officer and finally go back to the road and cross the border. If somebody wanted to walk through without a stamp in the passport, he would have no problem. Nobody however does it - there are frequent police checks both inside the country and on other borders and a person without an entry stamp would certainly have troubles.
Procedures on the border took almost an hour. When I was done, I went to the Honduran side to look for a bus to Copán. Only one van was available, but I was the first passenger, so we waited further. In about half an hour (I was already watching the clock, because noon was coming soon and I had not seen anything yet), we set off. The bus went to the downtown area of Copán Ruinas, a modern city. The ruins themselves are about 2 km away on foot.
Copán archaeological site is justly considered a top attraction of Honduras. For many tourists, it is the only place they see - and frankly speaking, they do not lose too much. Copán was inhabited in Classic Maya period until about 1100 and competed with nearby Quiriguá (in Guatemala). Nowadays, we can admire Hieroglyphic Stairway, tunnels (for a special entrance fee, I did not go there) and several pyramids, stelae and other constructions - some of them restored, others as they were discovered - piles of stone overgrown with trees. Next to the ruins, there is also a short trail through the jungle and a museum, which was however closed during my visit.
I spent several hours in Copán and it was enough for me - the site is small and easy to walk around, unlike Tikal or Ceibal. I took a riksha back to the city together with two Americans (L10 = $0.60 per person), found a bus and went to San Pedro Sula. On the second attempt, I got a room in Hotel San Juan close to a bus terminal for L84 ($4.70) a night (there was also another one for L50 = $2.80, but there was such a thick layer of dust in the room, that I left right away) and went to the city. L220 exchanged on the border was shrinking and I looked for an exchange office. As it was Saturday evening and banks were closed, I had to change on the street again - this time getting a rate of L18 for $1. Informal money changers can be trusted here, bank gave me L18.60 (only 3 % more) two days later. Now it was almost 6 pm, a heavy rain started and streams of water flowed through the streets. A rainy season, which ends in October in Guatemala, extends here until January. It was quickly getting dark, so as soon as the rain stopped, I hurried to the hotel.
© Jan Peula, 2005