So here we are in Honduras, having navigated the chaotic world of the buses of El Salvador and crossed the border. The sharpest of our readers will have spotted that we are not supposed to be here! Nor were we supposed to be in El Salvador.
As Annika will gleefully tell you, so far this trip has been meticulously planned. OK, so we’ve been fairly flexible with regard to dates and precise plans but we have stuck to the route we decided on from the start on the whole…until Volcan Pacaya erupted and was swiftly followed by Tropical Storm Agatha! Our connecting flight to Guatemala from El Salvador was cancelled and so, after all this time, we are now ‘proper’ travelling!
We only spent a single night in the capital as we have agreed that neither of us like big cities (apart from London!) and San Salvador has a pretty bad reputation for crime and not a lot to see. Our original plan, to take a bus straight to Guatemala – four hours away – was ditched in favour of travelling east to Honduras as Annika had read about the luxurious Caribbean island of Roatan and the prospect of some time on a beach in the sun became hard to resist.
In the morning, we asked our hotel receptionist about buses to La Palma, a small town near the border which sounded quite nice in our guide book. The lady on the desk warned against it, advising us to take a taxi instead, at a cost of $90, as the bus was very dangerous apparently. Of course, we’d read about this online and in the books but we had convinced ourselves it would probably be fine – but this nice lady telling us that when she takes the bus she just ‘tries not to be scared’ didn’t exactly fill us with confidence. Still, we had a long way to go until the end of our trip and we can’t just take expensive taxis everywhere so we decided to go for it.
The taxi driver that took us to the bus station warned of the dangers of being held up on the buses too so it was with a reasonable degree of trepidation that we jumped on to the 119 bus to El Poy as it left a dirty bus yard in the east of town.
The local buses here are old US school buses which have been repainted in garish designs but seemingly never refurbished and leg room and comfort are an alien concept. With all our valuables and passports secured in money belts and various other measures having been taken, we were constantly on alert for any nefarious behaviour. Every time the bus stopped, I was worried to see who we were going to take on board and was relieved to see mainly women with children and old men wearing the ubiquitous cowboy hat.
The lush, green countryside rolled by for three hours and eventually we arrived unscathed in the town of La Palma. In the end, the most terrifying moments of the trip were when we stopped in certain towns and gangs of between 5 and 15 food and drink sellers would come storming through the bus screaming ‘AGUA!’, ‘MANGO!’ and various other things, simultaneously, before disappearing through the other end of the bus, seemingly without having allowed anyone to say ‘yes please’.
La Palma is a tiny town which is known for it’s many painted walls and lamp posts – there’s not much to see or do other than good hiking so, since it was late already, we simply headed out for dinner. We found one of the three places that sold food and devoured a beer and a taco each before ordering something a touch more filling to eat – some pork. We waited. And we waited. And we waited. We were the only customers! How long could it take to grill some pork?! Eventually, we asked what was going on, at which point our staggeringly dimwitted host denied all knowledge of a food order and we left, as bewildered and confused as the restaurant owner who must have wondered why we’d been seated in his restaurant for the last hour with neither food nor drink!
Our one day in La Palma was supposed to be hiking day – a day of exercise which we badly needed before our beach-vegging to come. We set out a little late in the morning and walked the hour or so to the next village, San Ignacio, where we needed to take a bus to begin the walk to a viewpoint called Miramundo (See The World). However, our tardiness in getting out of bed had cost us and, after 45 minutes of waiting at the side of the road for a bus which, as it turned out, wasn’t due for another hour and a half, we decided to try and walk it.
The weather was baking hot and very humid and the road was winding and steep so progress was painfully slow. After some time, my hero and, coincidentally, my girlfriend, flagged down a flatbed truck and we jumped aboard. The ride was painful, as I was perched on the back corner, amongst the bags of food the other passengers were carrying up the hill and I had to hang on for dear life as the truck flung its way around the tight bends.
As we reached the top, the cloud became thicker and, by the time we reached the ‘view point’, it was raining and we decided a more appropriate name would have been Miranada. We jumped off the truck and tried to continue to walk but the rain got heavier and we had to turn back when it began to come down much in the fashion of a tropical storm! Once again, we waited for 45 minutes for a non-existent bus and, once again, we began to walk down. Fifteen minutes later and yet another frantic waving session and we found ourselves on the back of another truck, this time a more rural type vehicle with some enormous carrots on the back of it, having been harvested by one of the two-foot long machetes that everyone carries round here, I assume.
We got back to town and hitched a ride in a minivan back to La Palma and congratulated ourselves on a failed hike but a fun day nonetheless.
Next day was Four Bus Day. First, a bus from La Palma to the border town of El Poy. Easy. A small walk across the border and we were herded into a minivan which took us to the town of Nuevo Octopeque in Honduras. As soon as we emerged from the bus, we were urged to get a move on as the bus to La Entrada was about to leave and, sure enough, the driver was revving his engine and inching away. Why do we continually fall for these tricks?! We leapt aboard quick-sharpish and then sat for 20 minutes while the bus gradually filled up with passengers. Hrmph. After three hours of winding our way up and down vast rolling hills of green jungle, we changed onto another bus at La Entrada and by this time the searing heat made the interminable wait for more passengers seem all the more annoying. This last bus had brakes which sounded like thick sheets of metal being ground into small pieces by a chainsaw which I guess wasn’t that far from the truth. But at least we made it!
We are now in Copan Ruinas – a very nice little town in the jungle which is near to an ancient Mayan city which we are going to visit tomorrow. At least that’s the plan – for the last five hours it’s been chucking it down with rain and we have heard thunder louder than anything we’ve ever experienced before.