We spent only four and a half days (the half being our last day in Honduras where we rode the bulk of our day in Honduras but then crossed the border into Nicaragua to spend the night) in Honduras riding 137km along the small Pacific coast region. However, our Honduran journey has been very special and a highlight of the trip. We crossed into Honduras at El Amatillo early March 28 and the whole way to Choluteca that day to our couchsurfing hosts, Jay and
The landscape had already started changing from the lush coast of El Salvador to the dryer stretch between San Miguel to El Amatillo but in Honduras, the change seemed complete and the arid dusty plains covered with dead brush and thorny trees was a different world from green El Salvador. The border seemed to collect trucks because for the number of semi-trucks in line at the crossing stretching for kilometres and in numerous dusty gravel pit parking lots, the road after the border was very quiet. It was almost half an hour before a truck passed us and then it would be large gaps between trucks in groups of two or three. The landscape is very rural and visibly more poor than in coastal El Salvador with homes spread out in the dry bush too arid to farm.
It wasn’t until after San Lorenzo that the final stretch to Choluteca was a little busier on the roads with traffic from Teguicigalpa, the capital of Honduras. Like the scorched black landscape we passed by on our ride today as bush fires are a frequent problem during the height of dry season here, this Pacific coast region of Honduras seemed more raw and, in a way, more primal than El Salvador. In El Salvador, people seemed always in clean, pressed clothes, polite and ready to share a smile. Here in Honduras, people seemed always ready to share a laugh, a full passionate laugh right from the belly with wild gestures with their hands to illustrate their point while breastfeeding their youngest child at the same time.
People were very friendly and eager to meet us as one restaurant which was closed for lunch opened up just for us and served us amazing triple decker ham, cheese, fried egg and avocado sandwiches while the owner’s six year old daughter hung out with us the whole time. I have a little dolphin horn on my bike’s handlebars and she and he younger sister would squeeze it and then jump excitedly up and down with the squeak. They would peer at it and dance in front of it. It was really, really cute.
One little girl, too excited to put on her pants, ran outside of her basic house screaming in a high pitched voice, “Gringos!….gringos pasean…”, basically enthusiastically telling everyone that foreigners are passing by! We would get choruses of “Gringos! Gringos! ” in high-pitched kids voices as we rode by. Also cute was the little voices saying “bye bye” in short clipped syllables. Kids would run up to the road or once, a group of school children ran across the road to gather in a group to wave and cheer us going by. I guess actually seeing foreigners is quite a novelty here… especially those riding bikes. Most travellers generally fly by Honduras as buses and shuttles often take tourists straight from El Salvador, or even Antigua, Guatemala where I saw some offered, to Nicaragua.
We spent all four nights in Honduras with our amazing couchsurfing family in Choluteca. Addresses are an interesting concept and often include directions rather than a street address you can look up on google maps. Our instructions to our couchsurfing host’s home included turning right two blocks after the bridge, which is a landmark in Choluteca, and then follow down that road almost to the end where there is a cemetery. The directions actually made perfect sense once we were on the right track but first, we had to figure out the landmark bridge! Bryan was getting excited after we first crossed a bridge on the outskirts of the city and then said that this must be the one after the second bridge. However, on the third bridge, we immediately realized it was the landmark bridge as it was an ornate metal bridge with two middle arch supports like a smaller grey version of the Golden Gate bridge.
Afterwards, we passed by three more bridges on the way to Patty and Jay’s house, with bright yellow painted concrete arches. One of these bridges we passed under, another was nearby on an intersecting road and one was in a church yard over a large decorative pool. Choluteca is a sleepy but historically significant colonial city with whitewashed walls and terracotta tile roofs. I really enjoyed Choluteca as an opportunity to see a colonial city that hasn’t been marketed to tourism but rather just left to how time and history treated it. It is quiet, sleepy and a bit understated in sharp contrast to the ultra touristic Antigua with souvenir shops and super hip cafes on every corner – thankfully, the streets are also paved rather than cobblestones!
Jay is an animal lover and frequently buys the giant iguanas people sell on the street which are still alive the moment at but destined for dinner and then releases them. Currently in their house, they have a baby owl which Dona found on street one morning in front of their house. Fearing that it would be run over by a car or eaten by larger predator, they have adopted the owl and have been raising it for several months now. During the day when they are at work, Harry the Owl sleeps in its cage covered with a thick fluffy towel but at night, Jay lets the owl out to wander through the house so it can feel free, Jay says. The owl flies to the curtain rods and sits there watching us with its big eyes. As you approach, it would softly coo at you. It is so small that it fits in one hand. On the first night we were at Jay and Patty‘s, Harry watched over a friendly poker game that Bryan was playing completely in Spanish with Jay and two of the teachers from their school.
On our second day in Honduras, Patty and Jay showed us around the city to the central plaza with the cathedral, to the Unimall (the one mall to rule them all) which seemed to be another world than the sleepy colonial centro on roads lined with KFC, Wendy’s, and Pizza Hut, to the local busy market then out past the hospital, the local university and finally their own amazing school that they started here in Choluteca. There are two racoons at the school that they have rescued and since adopted. Jay says that taking care of these animals at school helps teach kids to preserve wildlife. For dinner, we tried baledas – burrito wraps that Honduras is known for. They take a plate sized tortilla, spread refried beans on it and your choice of meat and then three toppings – the traditional is eggs, fried plantains and cheese – and then roll it up.
On Sunday, we took a day trip to Tegucigalpa, the nation’s capital approximately a 3 hour drive ascending most of the 140km distance. We climbed up winding mountain highways, relentlessly ascending. On the way, we stopped by a mango stand and got some super sweet mangoes that are only found here. We picked up two of their daughters, Andrea and Adriana who are studying at the Catholic University in Teguicigalpa and it was like family fun day I missed having with my own family on Sundays in Vancouver.
We first went to the huge Basilica, the biggest in the whole country with beautiful stained glass windows then went to the leafy central plaza and the nearby National Theater (which Patty has sang opera in!) and Museum of National Identity. I think if you go to one museum in Honduras (which actually is our case), the Museum of National Identity should be that one. Itself housed in a historic
building – the old hospital which was one of the first buildings in Tegucigalpa – it has featured art exhibits, a whole section detailing Honduran history (from geological, early man through colonialism and nationalism! It even included a movie theater inside of a constructed Mayan temple that took us on a virtual tour of Copan! The art exhibits were really interesting. I really liked the main exhibit in the central courtyard where the artist had drawn up common jobs that Hondurans have emphasizing their burdens and responsibilities in the style of manga art to show that they are heroes… and also to express the challenges they face in daily living. I also liked the photo art exhibit of the artist paving potholes with ice cream – a critique of the government for its short term fixes. Another exhibited a bunch of crooked structures made from seeing canes for the blind to argue that the government is blind and its structures unsteady. One photo exhibit praised local creativity as it showed a photo of parked motorbikes with a piece of cardboard on them to protect them from the sun. It expresses both the problems of unemployment but also how some people are creative and using only a pieces of cardboard, they make a living for themselves. Afterwards, we went out for lunch then up to a lookout over the city filled with picnicking families.
On Monday, we visited the students at the school and even gave a photo presentation of our trip at their weekly assembly in front of 200 kids!! Aterwards, we went around to each classroom and talked to the students on a more intimate level. It was a bit of giving back as the kids had a chance to practice English with a native speaker, an opportunity that these kids in an English-Spanish bilingual school don’t get very often, but really I think we got more out of it being so inspired by the fantastic school. The school is Jay and Patty’s dream come to life and their passion and vision come clearly. They aimed to make the school a fun place where the kids are happy and excited to be there, where they feel safe and respected. On all accounts, they seem to have achieved that. The kids seem so excited to be there and confident, showing that they are comfortable in their space. Apparently, stealing is often a problem in schools here but they have worked hard to make it not an issue in this school. The school started small, with only 6 students in their home. Early on, they rewarded a kid who turned in 50 lempiras (the local currency) that he found with a gift bought from that money when it was unclaimed and now apparently, kids run up to Patty with every single lempira that they find. She pools together all of the unclaimed money and buys candy for everyone at the end of the year. Now, things can be left unlocked at the school and it remains safe. The kids, especially the seniors, asked a lot of bright questions which left us talking well over our 10 minutes for each class. In the senior’s class that groups together grade 9, 10 and 11 since there are only a few students at that level, we ended up speaking with them for 45minutes… in that one class!!
The grade four class was the cutest with lots of hugs and I love you notes and kids coming up to us and giving us their candy! The grade four teacher is a brave soul for having that much candy in the rambunctious class. We left feeling so inspired by such an engaging school that will mold future leadership for the country. For community service, the high school seniors teach for free for 5 hours on Saturday for adults in the community who did not finish elementary school and are illiterate.
On Tuesday morning, Jay follows us out of the city in his car to make sure that we don’t get lost but then turns out to be a way of coordinating a surprise cheer for us! Patty, Carlos (the music and tech teacher at the school and good friends with Patty and Jay), Patty’s sister Carla and a number of other teachers and their students drove out and lined the side of the road cheering us as we rode by. Carlos would lead a cheer, “Another boo-yah!” and everyone would cheer wildly. They would chant, “Maggie! Maggie! Maggie!” and then switch it up to “Bryan! Bryan! Bryan” and back and forth. It was amazing and so touching. Definitely a highlight – if not THE highlight – of the trip.
Afterwards, it was a hot but flatish ride to the border. The Honduras side of the border was just a frenzy of money changers. We crossed into Nicaragua on April 1, 2014.
Frontera El Amatillo to Choluteca to Guasuale
March 28, 2014 to April 1, 2014 (cross into Nicaragua on April 1)
4 nights in Choluteca
1.5 days riding to cross the country
This section consisted of 4.5 days
Day 208 to 211 (of overall trip) in month 7 of the trip
Total km travelled – 136.6 km
Daily average – 90.4 km per riding day (1.5 out of 4.5 were riding days)
Number of rest days – 3 days
Route CA-2 the whole way from border to border
Weather 4.5 days sunny – always a headwind when we’re riding!
Accommodation – 4 nights couchsurfing (only four nights in Honduras)