Tag Archives: Honduras

School children in Nicaragua. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Honduras to Nicaragua

My guide Patricio and I drove out of Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras, going southbound to Nicaragua. What I remember most about this day were the long, continuous highway construction delays in Honduras. During the day, especially on our long drive and during the highway delays, Patricio would help me practice my Spanish, and talk about his country: political, geography, history, and economy. The scenery was changing from the tropical mountains of coffee and cocoa trees to the valleys of fields of cantaloupes and many types of vegetables. Corn is used as a natural pesticide bordering the large fields of crops. Groves of orange and fruit trees are everywhere, and oranges are harvested year round, whereas cantaloupes are produced from March to July. There were signs with the word TUMULO and Patricio would slow down—BUMP in English.

We stopped for lunch at Chesters, a national fast food franchise that came to exist as competition when KFC from the US came to Honduras. The people have widely supported the business and claim better food. We drove south to the Fonseca Gulf on the Pacific Ocean which is shared by El Salvador, Honduras, and Nicaragua. It is semi arid, a great area for growing crops and much hotter on the Pacific Coast at sea level.

Illegal iguanas for sale in Honduras.

Illegal iguanas for sale in Honduras.

Before we crossed the border, a group of five men ran out of the woods to stop our car. They rushed towards us as we slowed down. I kept my window up and my door locked.  They were selling their prized possessions. Each man was carrying two live iguanas, their legs and tail were tied and their mouth bound. They were selling them two for $10.00. I asked Patricio to take a picture. This made them mad and they shouted dirty remarks at us. I am sure they knew they were doing something unlawful.

We reached the Honduras-Nicaragua border and things went okay, but it was a slow process, with many unorganized steps. We cashed in our lempiras currency from Honduras.

In Nicaragua, US currency is accepted everywhere. President Daniel Ortega, a dictator, keeps order here. It is safer here, and the roads are better; progress is slowly improving, as there have been many rebellions in the past–as recent as the 1970s, when the US sent troops to Honduras and Russia and Cuba sided with Nicaragua. There is a mix of old and new technology, manual labor, and new machinery. Help has come from Denmark and the Netherlands with wind turbines, and a great influence from China and the US is seen everywhere.

We reached Leon before dark. This beautifully restored Spanish colonial city dates from the 1500s, with narrow cobblestone streets, and it is a clean, safe, and welcome place for tourists. Patricio dropped me off at the wrong place. While he was trying to find a place to park, I met a gentleman who was from Chicago. Patricio soon returned and we found my place, a former convent built in the 1500s, a very historic placed filled with antiques along the walls and covered walkways in the interior garden. It is next to San Francisco Church in the center of the old town, in a restful setting, and near places to see and dine.

We walked around the old narrow streets with the restored buildings, old cathedral, and churches, and we saw a very long, narrow, one-story seminary and the central plaza. Leon was the hottest place I have yet encountered in Central America. It was beyond hot to me and I needed to retreat to cool inside sanctuaries every so often throughout each day.

(posted October 17, 2017)

A bus can carry almost anything in Central America! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Honduras: Tegucigalpa and Chicken Buses

View from Picacho Hill, looking down over Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View from Picacho Hill, looking down over Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Tegucigalpa is the capital of Honduras and the third largest city in Central America, with 1.5 million in population. My guide Patricio and I took time to drive to the Basilica of Sayapa that sits high on a hill, with a great stone balcony overlooking the city. Inside, the windows are beautifully designed and colorful, and the entire edifice is quite simple in design. Patricio explained that two weeks prior to our visit was a great annual celebration, the birthday of Sayapa, The Virgin Saint of Tegucigalpa. The festivities go on for a week, with a holiday from school and work. The remains of colorful decorations were being torn down by residents along the streets in the area; not even Christmas compares to this local celebration.

Statue of Christ on Picacho Hill. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Statue of Christ on Picacho Hill. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We drove to Picacho Hill, which is part of a National Park, and saw the giant statue of Christ at the peak. Here was a great lookout over the capital below us. Patricio pointed out the National Soccer Stadium, the old colonial section of the city, the business districts, and the airport.  The airport is considered one of the most dangerous in the world because of the short runway and the hills and mountains next to it. There is an ongoing political debate about relocating it.

We departed the city for Santa Lucia, a colonial mining town in the hills when the conquistadors came hunting for gold. This town is set on steep hills and very picturesque. We spent part of the day walking around the historic buildings, old homes, and churches. I found obsidian, which was not mined here, in the cobblestone of the street. We drove to Valle de Angeles, a restored artisan town for the wares of Honduras craftsmen, mainly leather and wood. We drove back to Tegucigalpa that evening, as Patricio was staying with his sister-in-law and family. The next morning, he told me the family had held a birthday party for him. His mother-in-law, wife, daughter, and two-year-old son drove many miles to surprise him. Family gatherings are very important in Central America.

The transportation system in El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua uses recycled US school buses. It is very universal and the thinking here is that the buses were only used a little in the U.S., to take the students to and from school just 5 days a week for part of the year, so they are still in good condition. Here they are used 7 days a week, many hours a day, year round. They are privately owned and gaily colored, with racks added to the roof of the buses. Everything is carried on the buses, including chickens, and many people are squeezed into the buses.

There are some city buses in the major cities, but the long lines were waiting for the chicken buses. It offers a cheaper transportation option, and it is more widely used to go from the city to the neighboring towns and villages.

School children walk to school. There are two sessions of school each day. After the morning session, they go home at 12:30 to work, play, or study for the later part of the day. The second session starts at 1 pm and goes until 4:30 or 5pm. We would see many school children coming to school or going home, walking on the side of the road; there were no sidewalks, but the students, clustered in small groups, were cheerful and happy. The children were in neat, clean uniforms, and all of the students carried backpacks.

There is much to learn from travel, from the natural hiking environment in the forests to the types of mass transportation for the people. Being with the local people is a great education. Each trip is an adventure, worth all the effort, with lasting memories.

(posted October 3, 2017)

Madelyn Given on a zipline in Honduras. What fun!

Fun in Honduras

One day while traveling in Honduras, Patricio, my guide, asked me if I would like to go to a bird sanctuary for relocating birds back into the wild. We were staying in Copan and it was a short distance so we took a tut-tut. The way was up a steep hill on a narrow bumpy road. That little three-wheel mini transport hardly made it.

A toucan at a bird sanctuary in Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A toucan at a bird sanctuary in Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We were the only visitors and the director stopped his work and took us around, explaining that this was not a zoo and the sole purpose of the sanctuary is to relocate native birds and to educate locals about not keeping native birds as pets, especially the endangered macaws. The sanctuary began the long process of reintroducing a single pair into the wild a few years ago. Now there are 52 pairs in the area. The macaws that have been domesticated as pets unfortunately will not survive in the wilds as they have spent a lifetime depending on humans. Also to get a pair is very difficult because a male and female are alike in coloration and size and only though DNA can a pair be matched. There were owls, ducks, toucans, parakeets, and other native birds.

On the way to the bird sanctuary was a public zip line. I asked Patricio if he was up for some fun. We stopped and made arrangements. Once we were harnessed up with a pair of heavy gloves, we took off in a truck high up on a small mountain. There were 16 long lines going though the passes and down to the valley and over the trees. It was great fun, quiet, peaceful and magnificent scenery. At the end we caught a ride into town with the zip line crew as it was the end of their work day.

We went to a cocoa museum as this is the heart of where it is grown. Chocolate was the drink of Mayan nobles and royalty.  Their chocolate (ate at the end of the word means hot) was made with honey, chili, chocolate, and water. Ekchua was the Mayan god of chocolate.

I had chocolate, good coffee, and good food while traveling. I enjoyed typical dishes of beleada made with fried beans, chicken or beef, fried egg, avocado, cheese, and sour cream inside a folded tortilla. Casado was another typical dish made with fried beans rice and fried bananas with a fresh salad.

Early one morning, Patricio and I hiked on a trail through a rain forest part of a national park. Patricio brought his binoculars and we saw a number of birds. Three red-crested macaws, the national bird of Honduras, heard us coming and warned the forest animals with a loud continuous cry. Other birds were moving about including the blue crowned mommot, the national bird of El Salvador, woodpeckers, black birds, and small songbirds. Butterflies and frogs are colorful attractions when hiking. Monkeys are noisy and sound an alarm before you usually see them. Where ever we walked came across Mayan ruins protruding from the vegetation. The weather was hot and quite dry and there was no one around to disturb the natural setting but nature itself.

After our walk in the rainforest we met up with an archeologist near Les Sepulture, a cemetery for nobility and craftsmen. The site is closed to the public but he offered to show us what was happening there if we took no pictures. Part of the area will be a new museum to be completed in the next five years. It is a major project to find and match pieces for entire buildings, sculptures, benches and carvings. We spent a long time there, even though we had a long drive planned for that day.

After only a few more miles, we made a stop at Welches coffee plantation. The owner, a barrister, made me a cappuccino frio. After a walk in the tropical rain forest, it was a grand treat. I went with the young owner, of many generations, here into the sorting rooms of a big building for processing the coffee beans. Coffee has such humble beginnings: hand picked up in the mountains, carried down in heavy sacks on the back of workers and dried on cement parking lots. The beans are picked red when just right, 15 days later more are picked from the same trees, and this goes on from September through March. Trees produce up to 15 years and then are destroyed and new trees are planted. It takes 15 beans for a cup of coffee. The traditional coffee is dried over three days: each day the beans are laid out of doors on the cement, bagged up each night, and brought in, and the process is repeated for three days. Then the beans are pealed and roasted in big roasting machines. Honey roasted beans are not washed of the little juice or peeled. Much of Welches coffee beans are sold to Starbucks.

Pulhapanzak Waterfall, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Pulhapanzak Waterfall, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We drove many miles for a short hike to Pulhapanzak, the largest waterfall in Honduras. There were locals here enjoying a natural swimming pool of the stream above the falls and people were enjoying a picnic on the grass beside the falls. It was very hot in this tropical area and walking up the steep path was a bit of an effort. In the town of Taculpan we passed a large fish processing plant. Tilapia is raised on fish farms near the falls.

View at Yojo Largo, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

View at Yojo Largo, Honduras. Photo by Madelyn Given.

We drove around part of Yojo Largo, the largest lake in Honduras.  Here we decided not to go to a place for native fried fish as we had several stops to make and our long visits at special places and many miles on the road made a late arrival at our sleeping destination.

We drove on dirt roads, country highways, and toll roads. We made a special stop at Comayagua, in the 1500s a Spanish colonial capital, now restored for tourism. For several days Patricio had told me he could hardly wait to take me here to show me the oldest functioning clock in the Western Hemisphere. It was getting dark when we arrived at the central plaza and sat on the steps of a grand old church and listened to the chimes go off at the hour and half hour. It was worth driving the last few hours to this historic site. We walked around several of the old streets. The area was beautifully restored, clean, and safe. The mayor had done a good job with this small city.

(posted Sept 13, 2017)