Another day, another early start – surprised much? I can imagine a lot of people reading this being completely baffled at the fact we choose to wake up so early pretty much every day of our supposed holiday. I think this is one of the big differences between a holiday and travelling. When you travel to the other side of the world for such a short time every minute matters and getting up at 6a.m. is no hard feat, especially when you have an exciting day and another country ahead of you. Today we had a few flights to look forward to finishing up in Honduras!
We had been assured by the hotel that the ‘island taxis’ which were basically people who drive around in their cars and pick people up along the way would be driving past the hotel at 7 and picking up any passengers going to the airport for the 8.20 flight back to Managua. Thus, we were able to have another one of the delicious local breakfasts before heading off to the airport aka building with 2 small waiting rooms to catch another tiny plane back to Managua. One thing to note about the Corn Islands, or any of the La Costena flights for that matter, is that they have a very small baggage limit. Since Carolyn and I were travelling for 2 and a half weeks our bags did not quite meet the tiny limit and so we had packed our stuff for the island into Carolyn’s bag and left mine with a friend in Managua. Thankfully he had arranged for his cousin to kindly drop off the bags at the airport when we arrived in so that we had all of our bags to check for the next flights to Honduras. Thanks Anry!
Another point to note generally about flying in Honduras – direct flights between countries are rare and expensive! The countries are all so close together that the majority of people travel between them using local or ‘chicken’ buses but for us who were so tight on time, we decided to pay the high stakes and fly to Honduras. Our destination was San Pedro Sula in Honduras and although this is super close to Managua we had to annoyingly fly via San Salvador which is the hub airport for airline Avianca. Fortunately we had a short 40 minute layover which resulted in us having to sprint rather unattractively in flip-flops through the airport due to us circling above the airport for 30 minutes. Thankfully we made it and it resulted in some lovely photos of El Salvador from the plane!
When we arrived into San Pedro Sula we had a plan – cash, sim card and car in that order and thankfully we were in our lovely sporty vehicle within about 30 minutes or landing on our way to Copan Ruinas. The staff at the rental company – Budget – were extremely friendly and reassuring about driving around in the city with the highest homicide rate in the world and they were so right to re-assure us. The drive was a straight road up some very windy mountains with a lot of potholes, perhaps not the best idea in the dark. Unfortunately, google maps does not give road terrain when it tells you how long it takes to drive between 2 places Thanks to my phones GPS we had no issues with navigation in either of the countries we drove in, although in Honduras the accommodation was less easy to find than it had been in Nicaragua. We arrived at a pitch dark building that was clearly not in habitation and caved and called the hotel for directions. My Spanish is not the best and so after some very bad attempts to explain I was lost in a car (I knew the word for car but not lost…) they went and found someone to direct me in English in a local hotel.
We arrived tired, hungry and frustrated after the long drive at Hotel Graditas Mayas and so were less than impressed when the Spanish speaking reception guy spoke no English and did not seem to have a clue where we were or how to check someone in. He gave us a room with no A/C and when we found 2 cockroaches he agreed to move us. This entailed him opening every room on the floor to let us try out the A/C and make sure they were clean before we finally ended up in the room we were supposed to stay in. He was extremely nice about all our grumpy complaints and brought us some cold water and weirdly a mini toothpaste for the misunderstanding. We asked where we could eat and he recommended Via Via which was a 5 minute walk along the road (or more like down a huge hill and then up another really steep one, Copan Ruinas is on the side of a mountain). This was probably the worst place we ate in the entirety of our trip. I imagine it was recommended as it is a hostel and full of tourists so he assumed this is what we would have liked. We ordered chicken nachos to share and 2 Frescas (Central American sprite) and waited for quite a long time due to a big tourist group on our food. I wouldn’t call myself a nacho connoisseur but I have had my fair share and these were probably the worst I have ever had. There was no sour cream or guacamole (despite these ingredients being used in almost all of the food here) and the cheese was the horrible squirty fake cheese. Even the salsa wasn’t very good so it was basically just crisps and chicken. After a bad start to Honduras we decided to head to bed hoping things would look better in the morning.
As always things looked much better today, we had some ruins to see! We decided to pack up first thing and drive to the ruins since the hotel was clearly a write off. Driving through the old cobblestoned town in the morning sun we could understand why the driving had been so difficult in the dark the night before. It really was a gorgeous town and thankfully the ruins were only about a 10 minute drive outside. We had breakfast at the on-site café which had only just opened and had our first taste of traditional Honduran food. Although it was very similar to Nicaragua in terms of the scrambled eggs and plantains there were small differences like having the addition of avocado and sour cream, the cheese being more like a goats cheese and the obvious lack of rice and beans!
We hired a local guide, Obed Guerra who explained he has been a guide for the ruins for 10 years and firstly took us to the entrance to buy our tickets. There is a huge model of the ruins where he explained that this is one of the most famous Mayan sites in Honduras and the whole of Central America. We had arrived early and so there were not too many tourists and the gorgeous Macaws were having their breakfast and so we managed to get in a quick photo opp before we had even seen the ruins! The birds are fed every day but can fly around wild and so they are quite used to humans and happy enough to pose for a photo or two!
As with most of the Mayan civilisations it was covered over by jungle and only discovered in 1570! The city was the home to 16 Mayan kings and was one of the Mayan political centres from 100AD until the city was deserted in 900AD when the people moved over to Guatemala. As we entered the site I was immediately struck by how huge the structures were and how beautiful and green it was, it is essentially a city in the middle of a jungle. Our guide explained that this is one of the only places where the Mayan carvings can be seen. Thus, we started here with him explaining that only the 13th King – who was called 18 rabbit due to being born on the 18th day of the month of the rabbit, the Mayan’s have links to the Chinese calendar – ever made statues of himself and to his father and so all of the statues you can see are off him. He showed us the hieroglyphs that show how was can determine this and then explained that the wide open area where all the statues are kept today was used as a football field! It is seriously crazy how developed the civilisation was.
Sacrifice was a hugely important part of Mayan society and animals were sacrificed daily as offering to the gods with them even sacrificing humans twice a year. The lucky people were determined by being the top scorer in the Mayan football games and it was a hugely sought after honour to be the chosen one. Although I use the term ‘football’ as this is how our guide described it, the aim of the game was actually to try and score by hitting the ball of the carved heads of parrots which were at the edge of the plaza. The king and royal family would sit at the top of the huge temple structures keeping an eye on proceedings while the high society would watch from the side-lines. The poorer members of society lived further up in the mountains out of the centre of the city.
Another interesting thing about the Mayan’s is that each new king, who inherited the position from his father, built their own new city on top of the previous rulers and so much of what we know about the civilisation comes from excavations which happen deep underground. As Copan is much less visited that its sister cities of Tikal in Guatemala and Chichen Itza in Mexico the excavations are not quite as advanced and there are still huge parts of Copan that are just big mounds and haven’t been excavated at all! Archaeologists, take note.
Our guide explained that the statue king, 18th rabbit as well as carving all the statues of himself also carved out the famous hieroglyphic staircase which is a huge structure representing most of the kings who ruled Copan through the ages, each represented by their hieroglyphic names. We climbed up through the ruins and temples and the views of the city below It was insane just how much a civilisation such a long time ago managed to build and how developed their calendar and way of life was, quite similar to us today. We were able for example to go inside the changing rooms for the football until we realised it was home to hundreds of wasps. It took us about 3 hours to walk round the whole city and we learned a lot from our great local guide. We noticed a lot of the big tourist groups seemed to have American guides as opposed to using local people which we thought was a shame, I would definitely recommend Obed who was full of knowledge and more than happy to take lots of pictures of us.
After our nightmare drive in the dark the night before we decided to head off to Tela – our next stop early. It took us about 4 and a half hours and we noticed a huge difference as soon as we left the mountain roads and were back to the flat highways. Again we had some difficulty locating our hotel and so called the tour company we were using – Garifuna Tours – for visiting some local National Parks the next day. They were so helpful and they sent one of their staff to find us so that we could follow him to the hotel we were staying in. We were so impressed with the friendliness of the service and the hotel was beautiful with gorgeous views of the sea! We stayed in the Mango Room and after making the most of the A/C decided to check out the beach and local restaurant recommendation for dinner.
Tela is a small town so easy to walk about and we didn’t feel unsafe walking at night at all. It was about a 10 minute walk to Caeser Marisco’s along the beach. The beach was a lovely sight after a day of driving and we wandered along in the late afternoon sunshine before taking an outside table right on the beach for dinner. The car rental company had recommended this restaurant to us and it was my favourite meal of the trip! We sipped margaritas and had jalapeno shrimps with grilled potatoes, rice and vegetables. It was sublime! We also took the chance to try the local fish ceviche which was also very tasty. We sat sipping our cocktails watching the sunset before heading back to our pretty hotel for an early night. Love Honduras!