Honduras March 2011 Part 5 – Tela

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me with some wooden boats

We decided to visit Tela, where my parents had also visited back when I lived in Honduras.  Tela is a beach town east of San Pedro and we drove there in about 4 hours.  Again, the roads were fine, becoming flat as we neared the coast.  We were heading towards areas that had been affected by Hurricane Mitch about a year after I had last visited (Mr Fantastic and I took a trip to Honduras in 1997).  The hurricane was devastating to the country, far worse than surrounding countries, destroying entire villages and killing over 14,000 people.  I am not sure how average Hondurans affected by the storm have done since then; the mountain village I know did not experience severe problems (although my outhouse collapsed in the heavy rains, villagers told me!)  According to this writer, Honduras has done well recovering from Mitch.  The roads in the northern coastal area are used for international commercial interests in bananas and palm oil, so these roads were repaired soon after the hurricane.  I cannot say that this directly benefitted residents there.  A lot of the damage seems to have taken place more to the south, notably in the capital Tegucigalpa, where we did not venture on this trip.

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sunburned Fiercely drinking coconut water from the source, downtown Tela, Cleverly and Fiercely at the hotel’s infinity pool

We stayed at the Hotel Cesar Mariscos, a moderately nice hotel on the beach.  We could walk all over Tela from there, which we did.  We also took two day trips.

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My parents and Fiercely at Lancetilla

The Lancetilla Botanic Garden is just outside of the town of Tela.  Apparently, it is the 2nd largest botanical gardens in the world.  The kids were mildly impressed; my parents and I loved it.  we had a guided tour and saw the bamboo forest, orchids, and heard stories of historic trees growing there.

Punta Sal lunch and beach

We also took a nice day trip to Punta Sal National Park.  There are tour agencies that have trips there including a boat ride to/from the area (the peninsula is not accessible by car), hiking to ‘Hidden Port’ cove and in a rain forest, snorkling and lunch.  I had done this trip when I lived in Honduras and it is nice, though much more crowded than before.  There were several tour agencies with their boats there when we went, but the beach is large and it doesn’t feel over crowded.  We took a brief hike through a rainforest to the cove on the other side and actually saw a poisonous snake, a barba amarilla.  I remember being warned about them when I lived there.  Our tour guide handled the situation well and kept our distance, telling us later about the snake we had passed.

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in the center square in San Pedro Sula

After a few days in Tela, we headed back to San Pedro Sula and spent a day there.  We found a nice museum, Museo de Antropología e Historia, we walked to and spent an  hour or so looking at the exhibits about the natural and cultural history of the area.  That was the end of a great trip!  We did get harassed a little at US customs on the way home (Fiercely had not signed her passport with her full name – sheesh) but strangely enough they didn’t notice the weird herbs a village woman had sent via me to her husband in the US, so I guess all’s well that ends well.

Honduras March 2011 Part 4 – Copan Ruins

It was hard for me to believe there was a Hilton in San Pedro Sula, but there it was.  I used to splurge occasionally at the Gran Hotel Sula, and we did go there later for breakfast with the grandparents, but for now here we were.  My dad had made reservations online from home so as to have a destination on arrival, and we stayed for one night before heading back west, through La Entrada and out to Copan and the Mayan ruins.  Later, we stayed another night at the Hilton before catching our flights home, and it is worth mentioning that it was much cheaper arranging for the hotel in person.  My parents were pleased with the ‘senior’ discount they received at the hotel and at other places we went, so it is worth requesting if it applies to you or anyone you are travelling with.

I can’t find any of our pictures, but this is the pool at the San Pedro Hilton where we went, and a street view of the hotel. I like this street view because you see how different the hotel is from its surroundings; also I had to cross this crazy street with my dad to change some money at a (heavily guarded) bank across the street!

My parents had visited Honduras, including the village, when I lived there and were eager to come back.  My dad especially liked the Ruins, and a hotel we had stayed at there, so off we went.  We drove through the hills, passing roadside villages that were little collections of shacks, a few stands selling roasted corn or various fruits, small piles of burning trash, and the familiar sight of farmers walking by with their bundles and machetes.  The road was no problem, paved with asphalt and curving around gentle hills.  Getting lost is not an issue since there is really only one paved road between San Pedro and Copan.  You will get there as long as you don’t go South to Santa Rosa De Copan (a popular ex-pat town, it isn’t bad at all to end up there anyway!). We drove through La Entrada and continued to the town of Copan Ruinas.

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The Hotel Marina Copan is so beautiful – not only the pool which the kids adored, but there are mysterious little corners with beautiful displays of art, Mayan artifacts and plants.

The town of Copan Ruinas is well-known to backpackers and has become adapted to more sophisticated tourists as well.  There are now ‘resorts’ and bigger, newer hotels on the outskirts of town in addition to the simple varied-budget hotels on the stone streets of the picturesque central town.  The Hotel Marina is an easy walk from the central town plaza, many restaurants, and a local market.  It was built in the late 1940’s to house the growing number of archeologists and tourists coming to the ruins sites and has been lovingly maintained and modernized through the years.  From there, we walked everywhere except when we drove to the Ruins site a mile or so outside of the town.  We ate at a different low-budget, backpacker type restaurant every meal and were not disappointed.  There are many blocks of them, and walking the area is a pleasure.

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Inside public area nestled in a corridor of the hotel with couches and historic photos, Fiercely in a garden in the hotel, overhead view of hotel

The Ruins, synonymous with the town, have ongoing archeological digs as well as long-established stelae (Mayan hieroglyphic towers) and the famous Mayan ball courts as well as other structures.  Copan is known for artistic details such as sculptures and hieroglyphics as opposed to Tikal, Guatemala which is known for more for its stepped Mayan pyramids.  Copan has recognizable monkeys, bats, and Mayan rulers carved into stone that have endured the centuries remarkably well.

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Fiercely being a Mayan bat, Cleverly and me in front of the museum, which is painted as historians say the original sculptures were painted.

We spent a day walking around the Great Plaza at Copan and checking out the new (to us, actually opened in the late 1990’s) museum on the grounds.  This is an easy place to be with active kids because it is so big and open.  There are steps to climb, great lookouts, and also a newer tunnel area the kids liked a lot.  The museum houses sculptures, and is also large and spacious.  The kids were free, grandparents were discounted, I’m the only one who paid full price.  We had a lot of fun taking pictures at the museum.

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me and my Dad and a Mayan, Cleverly on part of the main plaza

One day we went to a bird sanctuary called Macaw Mountain in the hills above the town of Copan Ruins.  We took a tiny taxi, of which there are numerous, up to the site of a working coffee finca/rescue facility for birds confiscated from illegal trade.  We had an English-speaking tour guide as we walked the grounds and learned about the sad stories of the birds there.  Macaw Mountain is a newer facility here, and a wonderful example of eco-tourism as it is locally owned, ecologically sustainable, and provides a destination for these birds that have been mistreated.

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The taxi that took us into the hills, My mom and the girls with the guide, Cleverly with a parrot

We also found a children’s museum in the town, a bit uphill from our hotel.  Casa Kinich appears not to have its own website, which of course makes it more endearing to me.  The name means “House of the Sun” and the castle-like building housed a fun, interactive museum for kids and cost about $1 for me and was free for the kids to enter.  The exhibits covered the natural and cultural history of the area and Mayan civilization, and was geared towards children, so unlike the Ruins sculpture museum, the kids could touch and explore various parts of the exhibits.

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Kids at the Casa K’inich exhibits, and the building from the outside

Honduras March 2011 Part 3- more at the Village, then the grandparents in SPS

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Cleverly (top) and Fiercely on mules, local kids are amused we don’t know how to ride them!

Not only did people feed and house us, but they let us ride their horses!  We went on several beautiful rides around the village and surrounding hills.  We provided amusement since we don’t know much about riding, especially bareback or on minimal saddles.  I’ll wager that four-year-olds here are better riders than most US citizens.

I knew people would be generous during our visit so we had discussions beforehand on what to bring as gifts.  Gift-giving can be difficult since it can cause a frenzy if you are giving things away, and it can breed resentment, jealousy, greed and ugly crowds.  The village has good soil, hard workers and good crops, as well as income from those working in the US, so it is well off compared to many Honduran villages.  Of course, the resource inequality between the average US family and the average village family is vast.  I had seen while living there charitable giveaways that were unneeded and sometimes detrimental to the village – processed food like canned sauerkraut which confused people, candy when tooth decay was already a problem, and fertilizer which depleted the soil and caused poisonings.  We decided beforehand to give things that could be shared, also we travel light so nothing could be large.  We settled on books for their school library, since I knew that was small, some soccer balls for the kids to share (we bought those in San Pedro with Isai), and a cell phone for Marta – I bought one while there to call home since they are so inexpensive, and gave it to Marta when I left.  I also procured toothbrushes, floss and toothpaste from a dental clinic and left them at the village health clinic.

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Inside and outside the village health clinic

We were there about a week then it was time to find our way back to San Pedro Sula to the hotel there to meet my parents.  They were actually staying at a Hilton Hotel, quite the other extreme from the village!  The kids were ready for the change.  I made a mental note that the village was tiring in many ways for the kids, and me too, always being the center if attention, living in an environment very different from home, dependent for food + housing on our hosts, living in a different language + culture, etc.  I plan to keep this in mind for other trips – it is wise to schedule breaks from intensive adventure travel.

People in the village assured me that Chema’s nephew always drives to a large town down the mountain with a milk delivery on Sundays, so we planned to get a ride with him.  Hondurans are unsettlingly casual about this kind of thing, especially if you are a US citizen used to time pressure about everything, but I didn’t worry.  I figured if the milk truck didn’t work we could go Monday when the bus went down – there seemed to be a reliable bus trip once a day from what people told me and I did see it once or twice while there.  Surprisingly, the milk truck did work out for us.  We waited with Chema and some kids and our luggage and the truck eventually came.  This part was kind of rough on me since I didn’t know when I’d be back.  I hate goodbyes, but I did have something to look forward to – meeting Marta and Chema’s kids in the US – and that made things a little easier.

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The milk truck stopped at a finca – a coffee farm on the way to the town.  Above is the coffee processing area with hand-cranked mill.  Coffee beans are seeds from a red fruit which are removed with the mill.  The driver and assistant loaded these huge bags into the truck bed along with the milk containers, there must have been literally a ton of cargo or more!

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A little mud brick house I liked at the finca, Cleverly on the minibus to La Entrada

The trip was 3 legs – first to the town, then a packed minibus back to La Entrada, then a  school bus to San Pedro.  Public transportation in Honduras was wonderful – so frequent, cheap, easily accessible, and they kept letting Cleverly in for free since she was under 9 years old.  Imagine considering a 7-year-old a child in the US, just unthinkable, and not charging them seems downright anti-business!?!  Many times the laid-back Honduran vibe did me right.  We got snacks from vendors at the bus station – cheap, healthy, wonderful!  We got popcorn balls held together with a sweet molasses syrup, ticucos which are corn dumplings with greens packaged in a corn husk, and datiles, fingerlike small bananas.  We got to the San Pedro Bus Station, a much newer facility and in a different part of town than I knew, and we took a taxi to the Hilton Princess.  And back to the developed world.  And grandparents!  There they were with a rental car and a sweet hotel with a pool!  The next part of the trip was to begin…