Belize to Honduras - The Adventure Continues
Date: 31 July 2005
Greetings from Roatan, Honduras! After 10 days of travelling, we finally arrived in Roatan, one of the Honduran Bay Islands in the Caribbean Sea. After 3 years of living in Belize, we have packed up the bus and have driven safely to Honduras with our car in tow. We are sad to be leaving our little town of Corozal. We have come to enjoy the simple life and have made many friends here. I suppose we are having a bit of trouble letting go as we still are renting our house there and have left all the furniture and appliances. We hope to fix it up some more and sublet the house during the Summer while we figure out whether Honduras will be 'it' for a while. I will return in about a month to wrap things up and do a little telecom work, too. I have begun a new job in Roatan as branch manager of Tropico Telephone and Internet (TTI) providing DSL internet service, wireless internet, local phone service and soon cable internet service. It is what I had tried to do in Belize, but politics, corruption, and plain old incompetence have made it nearly impossible to deliver the kind of service that is needed there. I am still willing, obviously, as I am ready to go back anytime I can fulfil the 'dream.'
But we are on a new adventure now. It took us a couple weeks to pack up the bus and clean up the house. I replaced our old Onan generator with a Honda generator, and it is doing much better. We fixed up our car, too, to make it ready for the long trip. The remains of our old Pathfinder are still around, we took whatever we needed, and our car was re-fitted with the tow bar so that we could tow it behind the bus. Gasoline is about $4.25 a gallon, so whatever we can do to reduce the amount of fuel we consume, is welcome. After final repairs on the bus, we took a few day trips up to Consejo Shores to make sure everything was working alright before we started south.
Our first day's drive was to Caesar's Place in Unitedville near San Ignacio. Caesar and his son Julian were among the first folks that welcomed us to Belize when we first arrived, and it seemed fitting to visit them one last time before crossing into Guatemala a few miles away. I look forward to coming back again sometime and to visit Black Rock where they have an incredible lodge at Vaca Falls on the Macal River. Black Rock Lodge is now for sale, and if you are interested, let us know, as we can arrange for a discount. ;-)
We spent the next day visiting our friends Daryl and Thelma who have built a nice house in Cristo Rey on the Macal River. They are off-the-grid and raise chickens, ducks, and goats, and grow fruits and veggies organically. They moved from Corozal a year ago and have an organic farm for sale there in San Joaquin.
We crossed into Guatemala the following day. It was a very easy process compared with other border crossings into Mexico and Belize. The Guatemalan people are very kind and easy-going. The first 20 miles of road from the border is dirt -- or should I say mud as it had been raining everyday for a week. But the road eventually improved and we headed to Tikal for the night. The Tikal ruins and pyramids are quite stunning -- very different than any other site I have visited. We had a nice spot for the bus and made an afternoon trek to the pyramids. The following morning we headed out to Rio Dulce.
The drive to Rio Dulce was spectacular. Beautiful winding roads through the mountains -- often slow at times as we tugged up steep hills pulling the car behind us -- I'd never seen the speedometer on zero while moving before... After a couple hours of driving we got some gas and right next door was a huge water park -- it was too hard to resist as there were only about 10 people there and we had the whole place to ourselves. We had all the water slides to ourselves -- no lines, no waiting! It was a very welcome surprise and only about 10 bucks per person. After a couple hours, we continued on.
We made it to Rio Dulce at sunset, parked the bus at a gas station, and went to Bruno's for dinner. Bruno's is right at the base of the bridge that crosses the river and has a little hotel, restaurant, and yacht club. It is a popular spot for boaters, and many 'gringos' tie up here and offer day trips to the Livingston beaches. We camped out at the gas station and got an early start the next morning.
There are 3 points to cross into Honduras from Guatemala. We chose the 'road less travelled' and spent the day winding up and down mountain roads to El Florido. The border there is quite simple with a single building for both Guatemalan and Honduran Immigration and Customs. It was VERY easy and we passed through in no time. We made it to Copan by lunch time.
Copan is an old town at the top of a hill near the Copan Ruins, another don't-miss pyramid site. The cobblestone roads are very narrow and there was no way the bus was going to get through there. We left the bus at another gas station and took the car up for a tour. The roads were so bumpy I was worried the car was going to fall apart before we could get out of there. It is a charming old city with motor rickshaws as the primary taxis there. We eventually found a place to park the bus at the Real Posada de Copan, a very nice hotel at the top of another hill just outside the city. They let us park there for free -- we just paid for meals at the restaurant and the pool.
The family stayed at the hotel while I took the car to Santa Rosa de Copan to install a Direcway satellite system for a client there. On the way back I hit a couple police check points and got delayed trying to explain myself in my very poor Spanish. For the most part, they were trying to get me to pay them something even though all my papers were in order. Eventually I asked, "Vamanos?" And they said, "Si" so I went. However at the next check point down the road I discovered that I did not have my driver's license any more (after spending 10 minutes cursing searching through all my pockets and car) coming to the conclusion that it was still back at the last check point. So I turned around and went back. I parked the car away from the previous check point and walked up to the last guy I gave my papers to and said simply, "Mi licensia, por favor." The guy was already busy with someone else and since my car was not around and there was nothing he could do, he reached into his pocket and gave me my license. I will not repeat here what I muttered to myself as I returned to my vehicle.
The next day we left Copan and drove to San Pedro Sula (SPS), a very big city. I have been there a few times in my satellite installation travels, so I knew where I wanted to go. We went to TransExpress, a shipping company with an office in a residential section of SPS. Gian Membreno is one of the principals of the company, and he was kind enough to let us park there for the night. For a little diversion, we went to see 'Batman' at a local movie theater -- the first taste of civilization in a long while.
The next day we drove to La Ceiba. The highways are good between SPS and La Ceiba so we made very good time. Our bus has two 50 gallon tanks for gas, and as one was completely empty, we stopped for gas just outside of La Ceiba. 2500 Lempiras later (18.5 lempiras to the US dollar) we were back on the road. About a mile up the road (we were going up hill with the car in tow) the exhaust pipe made quite a pop. Cheyenne was yelling, "Daddy! Daddy! Something is wrong with the bus!" I looked back and we were spouting thick black smoke covering the bus. The engine was coughing and losing power. Obviously it was related to the fuel so I switched back to the other fuel tank, but the bus wouldn't recover. I pulled over as best I could but there was no real shoulder, and then came to a stop with black smoke everywhere. The feeling of dread came over me. We had gotten so far and now this. It didn't take long to figure out that our tank had been filled with diesel fuel instead of gasoline. (Add your own favourite curse words here...)
I popped the hood and opened up the carburettor and there was oil all over it. I really didn't know how much damage diesel could do -- I didn't even know if the bus would start again. But after a few more minutes of coughing and smoking the engine finally turned over and was running again. We turned around and went back to the gas station. The next hour was spent siphoning the diesel out of the tank -- the poor guy who pumped it was relegated to the task. They brought out a couple 4 gallon buckets and I told them, "You are going to need more than that." So they kept filling up buckets. Eventually we drained all the diesel out by removing the plug at the bottom of the tank. Since there was no gas in the tank prior to filling, the owner was OK with pouring the diesel back into the main tank (freeing up some buckets) and emptying the entire 50 gallon tank. Then we filled up the other tank (which was low, too) with L2500 worth of gas. Needless-to-say it was quite a show at the gas station that day. ;-)
La Ceiba is a city on the Caribbean with miles of deserted beach on either side. TTI's headquarters is in La Ceiba, so we planned to spend a couple days there until we could catch a ferry for the bus to Roatan. We parked right next to the new Popeye's Chicken place across the street from La Quinta hotel and a block away from the Megaplaza (mall). We stayed there a couple nights. I went to TTI to report in for work, and we did a bit of touring of the city, too. We eventually found Island Shipping which ran the only ferry service for cargo to Roatan. We made reservations for both the bus and the car for Monday at 5pm. It is supposed to be only for cargo, but they allowed us to ride inside the bus. We got there at 3pm ready to catch the 5pm ferry. Little did we know that 5pm was merely the cut-off for getting a space on the boat. When I asked when we would be leaving, they said around 8pm. So we went to have dinner and came back. We stayed in the bus in the shipyard as we watched other containers being loaded by forklifts. It was getting quite late and when I asked one of the workers when we would be leaving he said 1am. So we watched the loading continue for the next few hours. The children went to sleep. At 1am we moved the bus and car to the ferry dock and waited there another hour and a half. We watched them load the boat with containers and 4 horses. They saved us for last. It was a very tight fit for the bus between 2 containers on each side. We were so tight, we could not even open our door to get out -- but there was no where to go anyway. We could see out the back window, but Lila was getting a bit scared and kept the shades drawn. At 2:30a the boat pulled out slowly and the children woke up when the stallion tied up right next to our window started neighing. It was like being in the hold of a ship. When we got out to open seas, the boat rolled back and forth and our bus (on springs) seemed to roll even more. We tried to sleep but sometimes the rolling was so strong that we really thought the bus was going to fall over -- but there was no where for it to go except against one of the containers next to us. Walking down the hall of the bus in the dark was interesting as you would be thrown to one side and then the next before you could get 3 feet. I was laughing, but Lila was a bit freaked out.
Once out to sea, I climbed out of one of the windows and climbed up onto the roof of the bus. The sky was a sea of stars and I laid back for a while. I took out the GPS and tracked our journey. According to it, we would arrive in 6 hours -- not 2 hours as we had expected. I did not rush to tell Lila the news... The children were doing their best to keep their dinner down but alas to no avail. I kept telling them to open the shades and look outside, but they wouldn't. The sun eventually came up and we could see better. We arrived at 8:30a or so. We were first off the boat and on Roatan!
We spent our first few days parked at the Roatan Yacht Club and enjoyed our first hotel room on this trip. We have since found an 'island house' in Sandy Bay across the sandy road from the Caribbean Sea on the north side of the island. We have a bit more room than our last house and a huge yard with many old fruit trees -- avocado, mango, banana -- plenty of room for the bus, too.
Indeed Roatan is a beautiful place, and we are glad to be here. Please come and visit! The diving is spectacular and the mountainous countryside is amazing. I will add some pictures soon, but we just wanted to get this out so that everyone knew we were safe and sound.
Vaya con Dios!
-Eric, Lila, Cheyenne, and Lakota
Places we recommend:
Caesar's Place, San Ignacio, Belize
Black Rock Lodge, San Ignacio, Belize
Bruno's, Rio Dulce, Guatemala
Posada Real de Copan, Copan, Honduras
La Quinta Real, La Ceiba, Honduras
Roatan Dive and Yacht Club, Roatan, Honduras
Anthony's Key Resort, Roatan, Honduras
Blue Parrot restaurant
Pura Vida Resort
here's some more good info from these folk sand pictures... http://centre.telemanage.ca/img/pix.nsf/web/Belize1