Honduras   Leave a comment

On the island of Roatan, off the coast of Honduras, the pace of life slows to a standstill as the sun sinks into the sea.

Honduras, more than any other country in this part of the world, lies at both extremes of the Central American spectrum.  The extremes I’m talking about are not what your average Honduran would think about on a typical day.  They would just find this either hilarious or insulting.  I’m talking about the typical North American’s perceptions of Central America.  Almost anybody who thinks about going to Central America, if they’re honest, will tell you they’ve thought about crime, and usually it’s violent drug crime.  But they’ve also fantasized about walking along a glorious Caribbean beach, scuba diving over colorful reefs, or exploring a misty cloud forest.  Some of us push the worries to the back of our minds, embrace the positive, and plunge right in.

After visiting Copan, the southernmost known major Mayan ruin, I visited Lake Yojoa in central Honduras.  I got my nature fix here, hiking and birdwatching in the beautiful forest bordering the lake.  I actually saw, with the help of a guide, 75 different species of birds in one morning’s walk.  Then I headed north toward the Caribe coast.  Crossing Honduras, one thing becomes clear: this is the emptiest country in Central America.  It is El Salvador’s opposite.  Most people live near the coast, leaving the mountainous interior strangely (for Central America) lacking in people.

A waterfall near Lago Yojoa in central Honduras.

And it was to the coast that I traveled, winding up in the oppressively hot streets of La Ceiba.  I suffered through just one night in a dingy room downtown.  Seeking relief from the heat, I strolled down to the waterfront, looking for something to eat.  After dinner I visited a watering hole.  But once my eyes got used to the dim interior, I began to notice that my fellow patrons were not the type of folks I wanted to have a beer with, not unless I knew them very well that is.  Unsavory is not a strong enough word.  When I began to notice poorly concealed weapons, carried by most of the men, I performed my best quick-quiet exit.  Walking back to  my hotel in the now-empty streets, I put on my “dark” face, striding tall and with purpose, chastising myself the whole way for acting the clueless tourist.

The next morning I caught a taxi to the airport, intending to catch the day’s first flight to Isla Roatan.  On the way, we got stuck in a traffic jam.  The taxi driver somehow got out of the line and onto a frontage road, where we could bypass the stopped cars.  We came up on the cause of the backup, and I just stared.  It was a pickup turned on its side, with at least a dozen big shotgun blasts through its upturned side.  I saw two blanket-covered bodies lying on the shoulder as the police circulated through the scene, but there could have been more dead.  The taxi driver said it was probably a government hit.

Turns out that the Honduran government surreptitiously hires hit squads to take out the local leaders of drug smuggling rings.  It is quite an effective but unorthodox method, hiring criminals to act as judge, jury and executioner, and if it was done too openly the U.S. Congress might cut off the money.  But the average Honduran seems to supports the effort, and truth be told the U.S. undoubtedly knows what’s going on.

So those experiences hint at every would-be Central American tourist’s misgivings about coming here.  That is why most go to the Americanized and relatively beningn Costa Rica.  If they do come to Honduras, they fly directly to Roatan, which was my next destination.  Here you’ll find the other end of the spectrum, the paradise that brings tourists here despite their deeply held fears and biases.  Roatan and the nearby island of Utila are indeed idyllic, surrounded as they are by the warm waters of the Caribbean, and fringed by beautiful coral reefs.  The scuba diving here is quite inexpensive, and backpackers come to get certified on the cheap.  I did one morning and two night dives, wanting to see sharks and octopus (my favorite sea creature).  It was fun, but my standards have become too high with diving.

The beach and warm clear waters of the Caribbean at West End on Roatan, off the coast of Honduras.

And so I mostly just tooled around the island on my rented scooter, walked the beaches, and swam in the sea.  The island is not small, and it is quite hilly.  The pace of life here, as you might expect, is tortoise-slow.  If I had just flown directly from Miami to Roatan, however, the effect of this slow pace would have hit me in a different way.  As it was, after being in the hot, somewhat dangerous city of La Ceiba, the sleepy beaches of Roatan, with its blessed cool breezes, felt like a true Eden.  It felt more like salvation than simply an escape from cold weather.  I have to say that, despite all of the charms, I tend to become bored with places such as this.  I enjoy it for three, maybe five days max.  After I left, on my way to Tegucigalpa, I thought back and wondered why I didn’t stay longer.  I was just getting the rhythm down.  What did I have against relaxation anyway?  With no good answer, I looked out of the bus window at the highlands passing by, signalling the approach of the Nicaraguan border.

Sunset over the Caribbean.

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