When planning this trip, we initially wanted to be in Belize for Christmas. We fantasised about Island life on one of the Cayes and waking up to a fine Caribbean vista on Christmas morning instead of the gloom that we have faced each of our 29 years in the UK so far (Due to the heavy storms and flooding in Ollie’s hometown this year, I feel we chose wisely when we decided to choose this year as our sweet getaway). But, like all things we planned, it changed. But we had left ourselves an evil journey, followed by a hopefully stunning reward in the shape of the Caribbean Island of Roatan in Honduras. Why did we deviate from our plans? Money. Belize was not cheap, and being quite nervous about lodgings, we tried to book in advance finding that most of the accommodation was booked or asking silly money (one hostel on Ambergris Caye asking US$70 a night a room for God’s sake!)
So this left us in a geographical nightmare as we were now in the NE corner of Guatemala and had to journey to the Bay Islands in Honduras which are situated on the North coast. It’s quite a journey, and we had no idea how long it would take, only that we wanted to do it in one day. We booked a bus ticket with Fuente Del Norte to take us across the Border into San Pedro Sula, where we catch another ride to La Ceiba. We started our journey at 05:30…….I started to write a long description of our arduous affair, but you don’t care. (If you do, and want to know the specifics, please email us!) All you need to know is, that it took 16.5 hours, two border crossings, two bribes of US$3, two taxi rides, 3 buses, 2 helpings of the Fast and Furious franchise dubbed in Spanish, one terrible chemical toilet leaking it’s odorous charms over us and a diet consisting of one small cheese and luncheon meat sarnie, half a pack of biscuits & some pineapple chunks. It was rough basically and we had to pass through San Pedro Sula (the bus station isn’t that bad) to get to our goal of the port town and doorway to the Bay Islands, La Ceiba.
We left our German travelling companions at the bus stop and journeyed to Hotel Catracho in La Ceiba at 22:00. After being told they had no rooms initially, we must have looked so pathetic that the receptionist let us take a room supposedly above our budget but telling us not to touch one of the two beds. We were very grateful until we realized that the room only had two single beds. This was the first hint we got about how welcome we were in La Ceiba…
We wanted to spend three nights in this town before crossing into the bay Islands to get a feel for Honduras. By all accounts, there is a beach a bus ride away, the Garifunan town of Sambo Creek and some mountains to hike. It did not work out this way for us.
That first night we went for a walk at 22:30 at night, in search of beer naturally, and found the place quite seedy and grimy. Outside our hotel there were abandoned vehicles surrounded by heaps of trash and the whole place had a general bad vibe. After realizing we were not making a wise decision going for a walk, we quickly returned to watch kids play football in the streets around the abandoned vehicles from the comfort of our hotel with a cold beer in our hands.
We went out to explore this town in the light of day, hoping for a book store we headed to the mall. This was a poor decision, as not only are there no book stores, or anything deviating from selling clothes, electronics or sickly sweet American fast food, it was also the Saturday before Christmas, which we forgot in our haste. The town is so run down and poor, but the place was packed with Hondurans spending their money thoughtlessly, much like a shopping center back home at this time of year. We later found out that some Hondurans get double pay in December which allows them to spend so freely. After wandering round for the whole of 15 mins we had done the lap, only to look at one another in general shock and bemusement. We headed out to the parking lot where we noticed the beautiful mountains surrounding the town, barely visible for the Pizza Hut, KFC and other fast food chain signs obscuring the vision. We took cab back into town, (past a large green area surrounded by traffic, which turned out to be the strangest placed golf course ever) and into the central square area as every other Latin American destination we have visited so far has always had a pleasantly soothing center. This was not to be, and yielded another disappointment, not seedy or threatening, just dilapidated, ugly, and in need of investment. We later found out that it had only recently seen a fix up. Another example, as a local friend put it of ‘alleged misappropriated funds by those in power’.
We retreated to a bar called ‘Expatriats’, for the second time in a day, this time for dinner and watched the Saturday night unfold. We were the only ‘expats’ in there apart from the owner who told us that it used to have “roughly 140 people in on Saturdays, but now”…he gestured to the bar area where a handful of locals sat and a group at the back enjoying a Christmas dinner. “Since they built the airport on the Island (Roatan), people don’t need to come here anymore. Why take a long bus journey then a queasy ferry crossing when you can just fly from the States?” It appears that his only expat trade is the odd backpacker who lingers more than 12 hours in La Ceiba.
There are handsomely built wooden slatted houses standing in ruin on most streets, some abandoned, some not but all in need of TLC. Its history is a proud one, with parts of the old railway used by Standard Fruit (Dole) in it’s heyday still visible, but like everything else with a feeling of being forgotten. So what is the point of this post? I’m not really sure, I just didn’t want to involve it with our pleasant experience in Roatan. But, it is one of the things that has since stayed with me along the way and as such, something I would like to remind myself of in the future.
Making our final journey to the port on way to our luxurious 12 nights (we left La Ceiba a day early!), we passed more poverty, bigger piles of trash with kids playing around them and further ghosts of the profitable times of this once great town. The problems with this town probably go deeper than my understanding and I am by no means claiming to be an expert on the place having spent only 3 days there.
This is the first example we have seen of Honduras, and at the time of writing we have travelled further into the country. It is a beautiful land, as our further posts will show, but it is also a poor one. Economically it suffered heavily from British involvement and many still would blame a time in the 1860’s when some British bankers set up a sham railroad deal which left the country with less than 100km of usable track and £6 Million in debt. (Possibly the tracks the Dole fruit company put to good use.) The debt ballooned to US$125Million over the next half a century. This, combined with the devastating effects of Hurricane Mitch in 1998 as well as much political upheaval and war with its neighbor, has left a country out of pocket and struggling to recover, only to be hit hard by the recession. It is a subject I am only just learning about and will endeavour to learn more as we move forward.
In La Ceiba, we also heard of alleged financial discrepancies in the mayoral budget may have something to do with its recovery. One example of this highlighted to us was a recent million dollar investment in CCTV coverage for city, only to find out that the installed cameras where fake and much of the money had gone unaccounted for. It surprised me to find out that the deputy mayor was assassinated in January of this year. For what reason? It does not say. Surely this is some hint that there is something not right at the top? Anyway, another pause for thought on our travels….sorry no pictures this time. A more cheery note next time I promise.
Thanks for reading. Any thoughts or further information would be greatly appreciated.