Some of the most interesting and stressful times of my journey so far have been the actual travel days. It’s not that it’s not fun, it’s that there is so much research that goes into them and then I still get thrown curve ball after curve ball. Getting from Belize to Honduras is the best example so far.
When I started laying out my route, I was leaving a fun filled week with friends in Ambergris Caye headed straight for Roatan, Honduras, both sweet little Caribbean islands known for their scuba diving. That was my original plan, but on a whim I decided I’d like to make a quick stop at Caye Caulker, Belize. The ferry back to the main land from Ambergris Caye stopped there on the way back anyway. Just one night to relax on a new island….well maybe two.
Getting Side Tracked
Those two nights actually turned into 9 nights pretty quickly. It’s great to be somewhere having a good time and really not have to leave. Once I finally decided it was time to continue my plan to move south to Honduras, I decided I couldn’t come to Belize for a third time and not visit the Mayan ATM Cave I had always wanted to see. That led to 4 days in the middle of Belize near Belmopan. Originally I had just planned to stay 2 nights, but again I wasn’t ready to leave.
Now that I had gone off plan, there was new research to do on how exactly I get from Belize to Honduras. Locals, other travelers, Lonely Planet, Trip Advisor, and Google are all helpful in figuring out a route but in the end it came down to timing. There were a couple of options.
Planning the Route to Honduras
First I could go back the way I’d come to Belize City (sketchy) and catch a boat to Puerto Cortez, Honduras. From there it would only be a short bus ride to La Ceiba where I could catch a ferry to Roatan. Sounded simple enough, but the boat from Belize City only left once a week and it was 5 days away.
Instead of waiting around I opted for a second path. I caught a bus from Belmopan to southern Belize and the small fishing village of Punta Gorda. It’s a place I hadn’t yet visited and it had a daily ferry that went to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala. No, that’s not Honduras but it’s just an hour or so north of the Honduran border. Looking at the map, it actually made more sense to reverse my planned destinations in Honduras and go to Copan Ruinas first since it was technically closer to the southern route. So from Puerto Barrios, Guatemala I would take a nice air conditioned bus through the bottom of Guatemala and end up in Copan Ruinas just after dark (only 10 minutes from the Guatemalan border on the Honduras side). I really wanted to be there before sunset but I figured it would be okay if I took a taxi from the bus station directly to a hotel.
Change of Plans
Again, that was my plan. I did visit Punta Gorda and stayed a couple of days. The morning I went to catch the ferry I met another traveler also headed to Honduras who spoke great Spanish so he became my best friend for the day. When we arrived in Puerto Barrios after less than an hour on a small boat, we were greeted by the typical onslaught of locals trying to sell rides, taxis, hotels, and just about anything else you can think of. Based on my new travel friends’ Spanish I learned that my leisurely bus ride through Guatemala would actually be over a section of road that was really bad and that it would take hours longer than if I just went down to San Pedro Sula and then caught a bus back north to Copan Ruinas.
Not the plan, but it seemed to make good sense. We also ended up sharing a car to San Pedro Sula instead of taking a bus and I saved a few bucks and even more. Since this was really my first border crossing where the US dollar had no meaning, I was a bit underprepared for the cash exchange game. I exchanged some money before leaving Belize but only got 40% of its value. At the border, the local cash exchange gang (just a guy with a wad of various currencies) was only offering 50% and with that exchange rate, I wouldn’t have enough Guatemalan Quetzals to pay the entrance and exit taxes. Sooo glad I met my Spanish speaking friend! Luckily he’d been traveling for a while and had extra of a few currencies so in addition to translator, he was also my cash exchange for the day. One possibly big derailment averted.
Once we arrived in San Pedro Sula and I left my Spanish speaking friend, I was left to my own devices to figure out the bus to Copan Ruinas at the bus station. I found the right window to purchase a ticket but no one was there. I stood with another guy waiting for 20 minutes as the clock ticked towards 3pm, the time I knew was when the last departing bus for Copan Ruinas left. Finally a woman showed up and after a lengthy exchange in Spanish with the guy waiting in front of me, I finally discerned there would be no 3pm bus today.
I was prepared for a lot on this journey but staying over in San Pedro Sula wasn’t on the list. I wasn’t even planning to be in San Pedro Sula that day! I had only heard bad things about the city. Murder Capital of the World is what the other travelers were calling it….and granted there may be some stock in that title. I was less than thrilled to be unexpectedly staying the night.
Instead of trying to find that gem of a hotel that is just nice enough, while still inexpensive, sometimes a feat I don’t achieve even with hours of research, I opted to have a splurge night. I hopped in a cab and had the taxi driver take me to the Hilton for a night of nice linens, comfy mattresses, plump pillows, and free Hilton Rewards Executive floor drinks and food (a recent upgrade offered from American Airlines). Now that was a hard destination to leave! It had been a while since I’d truly had first world accommodations so I had to fight the desire to stay another night…..the budget just couldn’t take it!
After a good night’s rest, I rode back to the bus station and learned how crippling my lack of Spanish was going to be. The day before I was dropped off at the same bus station, but apparently on the local side of the station where you can catch the chicken buses (the term travelers and locals alike assign the old US style school buses that are used as passenger buses in other countries – chickens not always present). What I didn’t know the day before, even though I tried futilely to ask, was that the Hedman Alas bus line was only about 150 yards away and it did have a 3pm bus that ran the day before just as it runs every day. After a pricey night in the murder capital of the world, that was certainly a kick in the gut. It was also a lesson I needed to learn. I signed up for my first round of Spanish classes when I arrived in Copan Ruinas.
So while I enjoy the adventure of trying to maneuver from one city or country to the next, it certainly provides a challenge. That’s a big reason some of my plans continue to change. Once I get somewhere it’s hard not to want to recoup from the journey for a bit before diving into the city and activities that I’ve come to experience. And while I know that each person’s journey is their own and that I’m still traveling at a fairly rapid pace, more so than ever, I feel pressure to fit in as much as I can and not waste a moment.