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Honduras - Day 4

2005.01.11

Tela - La Ceiba - Corozal - Sambo Creek
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Passenger train in La Ceiba Sambo Creek - beach

As planned, I left the hotel at about 6 am and went to a bus terminal. In a while, I was on a bus moving towards La Ceiba and even though we were half-empty, we did not wait long for anybody. The trip should have lasted for two hours according to a guidebook, but our driver made it in 1.5 hour and it seemed we caught up on a bus which left half an hour before us.

La Ceiba is attractive for two reasons - first, as a transfer point for ferries to Utila and Roatán islands, second, as a center of many entertainment places (according to a tradition, "Tegucigalpa thinks, San Pedro Sula works and La Ceiba parties"). I came for another reason - there is also a municipal railroad and Garifuna villages in the area. In the afternoon, I planned a return on a fast bus to San Pedro Sula, in order to take the announced train on Wednesday morning.

Bus terminal is, unlike other Central-American cities, far from the downtown, more than a kilometer away. As no city bus was coming, I walked, ignoring honking cabs. At the train station, if we can call it this way, a train waited consisting of a big diesel engine and one passenger car, converted from a freight one. The engineer was just pumping fuel from a barrel by a manual pump. I got on - there were already several families (or rather women) with children. To my surprise, the train was used for a regular transport of local inhabitants from a distant neighbourhood to downtown. It was not a tourist attraction. In a short while, we departed with the engine on the back. A conductor collected fares, 3 HNL ($0.17) a person, which is slightly less than in a bus (4 HNL = $0.23). He issues no tickets. There are several stops along the way, with no names, where the train stops on request. After arrival to the end of tracks, we went back in a few minutes and passing a depot and "station", we got to the other end, to a crossing on a main road in downtown. No trains go further, even though the tracks seem OK at least several dozens of meters. I got off and went to look at two nearby parks with a display of plants connected with a railroad exhibition. Then I came back to the station (one more "railroader" - an accounting clerk - works in the office, even though it is not clear to me how she can book fares if no tickets are issued).

Time was passing. It was necessary to make a quick decision, whether to tour villages in the area, or whether to come back to Tela and visit Tornabe, or rather not to risk and go directly to San Pedro to catch the train tomorrow. I took a city bus to the terminal. Before asking about options, I decided to call again to the railroad company and confirm the departure of the train. Their answer did not make me happy - track works continue and the train will leave one day later, on Thursday. It meant that I could spend one more day in this part of Honduras. What to do? In theory, there were two options: either go to Utila or Roatán islands for a day (or at least a part of a day), or spend the time in Garifuna villages on the coast. I decided for the first option. Even though I did not plan this in the beginning (the islands did not seem interesting enough - just beaches and diving opportunities, for which I have no certificates and no chance of getting them in one day), so many people recommended them to me that I started to believe that they were worth the trip.

According to a guidebook, there is no bus to the port, just a taxi. I asked at the terminal, if it is really the case, but everybody confirmed me the same. Is this possible in Central America? There was no time to look for options. I agreed 40 HNL with one driver (in the end, I gave him 45 HNL = $2.50, and he still complained how little it is) and got to the harbor. It is really quite far from the city, on the eastern side (the bus terminal is on the western edge) and there are no residential houses close to it - both of which decided that no bus comes here. A frequency of passengers is very unbalanced throughout the day (two arriving and two departing ferries, plus some irregular cargo boats), which could not support a regular route with a reasonable frequency. We can find more similar examples, such as an airport in San Pedro Sula.

I learned bad news in the harbor. The boat to Utila leaves in only two hours (i.e., around 4 pm), but as the travel time is about an hour, I would be there shortly before dusk. In order to catch a bus from La Ceiba before 2 pm, I would have to leave the island at 7 am. I would see nothing from the island. A trip to Roatán takes two hours, so I did not even look for details. One last hesitation - shouldn't I give up the train trip in favor of an island? I decided quickly - there have been so much confusion and wasted time because of the train already, that it is worth finishing. And the coast in nearby Garifuna villages is similar to that in Utila, at least according to a guidebook.

The taxi has left - how to get back from the port to civilization? On the way, I noticed that we went quite a long time along a main road, and the port was only about 2 km away from the junction. As a guard in the port confirmed to me, the main road went to the East to Trujillo through Corozal and Sambo Creek, villages which I wanted to see. I decided to walk. I did not get far, and a driver of a pickup offered me a ride. He was already carrying two other people. He dropped me off at a crossing next to a gas station, where buses stop as well.

The first bus, which arrived, was a long-distance one to Olanchito. In Corozal, the first village from La Ceiba, it stops on a main road at the edge of the village. I walked to the center. The community is, similar to others in the area, poor, with unpaved roads. People make their living with fishery. I ask about a hotel, and somebody shows me one. The only (?) local hotel has single rooms for 150 HNL = $8.40. I ask again if this is the best deal, and if the owner confirms, I have to go on. Luckily, in the same moment, an old bus leaves for a nearby Sambo Creek. I get on, we go through both villages. Sambo Creek is noticably poorer. There is a hotel close to the final stop. Night for 100 HNL = $5.60 is already within my limit, so I leave my backpack and go to explore the area. The village looks poor and neglected (unpaved roads, sometimes trash lying around), but there is also a good infrastructure - two internet cafés and many stores. Along a beach, I went to a restaurant and said hello to a few locals. I was the whitest one, all others were Caribbean blacks. Soon, another source of income for the locals arrived - tourists, coming on a speedboat from nearby Cayos Cochinos. These islets, relatively difficult to access (due to sea currents, you can take a boat there and back only at certain hours and not every day) are an alternative for tourists, who want to take a rest from civilization. The waves were so big on that day that several people struggled to draw the boat to the coast with thick ropes.

After a short swim in the see (just short, because it was cold, with rainshowers and high waves - the same could have been expected on the islands), I went to the hotel, spent an hour killing mosquitos (no idea where they came from, as there was a dense net on the window) and went to bed.

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Updated: 2005.01.29

© Jan Pešula, 2005