Honduras recap – Day 9

Today wasn’t bad at all.  My boss has assigned me to a few more things and now I’m feeling like my plate is full, which is nice.  Jim and I raised our walks to 3 miles today, and we spent most of our walk talking about our upcoming trip down into the Baja.  Some time soon I’ll post some details about our plans.  When I got home I grilled myself dinner and then worked on my new photo slideshow webpage since I neglected it all last week.  I need to do a little Japanese studying tonight before bed too.

Jean and I are getting excited about Vegas.  I want to go see an IMAX movie at the Luxor and I’d like to finally get down to Fremont Street to see “The Experience” light show one night.  I also plan on taking Jean over to the Stratosphere so we can ride one of the things on top of the hotel – Kenny and I rode the coaster up there back in March 2002.

Even though it’s been three weeks since I got back to the US, I still feel like I needed to write about what Dave and I actually did down in Central America.  I know the postings have been kinda long, but at least you could just skip them if it was too much reading.  This will be my last post about the trip and then I’ll start posting about current things again.

Honduras – Dia Nueve

When we’d met with Juan and Jose the afternoon before to make final arrangements for our trip to the coffee plantation, Juan had told us to only bring our cameras and a water bottle.  He said Jose would pick us up at 8am in his tuk-tuk and that we’d stop at a nice little restaurant in a Mayan village for a real authentic breakfast.  I’m all about trying new things, but after some serious problems in Chihuahua, Mexico, and Lima, Peru, plus a minor incident in Istanbul, I was not up to trying an authentic breakfast in rural Honduras.  Unfortunately, authentic usually means the food tastes good and the diarrhea comes free of charge.  With that in mind, Dave and I got up and ready by 7am and scooted down to our favorite breakfast joint, Cafe Welchez, once again.

The breakfast was excellent, just as it had been the day before, and afterwards we headed back down the road to our hotel to pick our stuff up and wait for Jose.  Before leaving the hotel we asked the guy at the front desk if he could arrange a 4:45am ride to the Hedman Alas bus station for us the next day.  There was a lot of confusion, which I think was because they couldn’t understand why anyone would want to leave at 4:45am when the bus didn’t leave until 5:15am, but eventually he said “ok” and we left.  Jose was out front so Dave and I piled into the back of his new little tuk-tuk and off we went.  We rambled through town and then up the mountain past the Macaw sanctuary where we’d gone the day before and continued upwards.  On the way Jose picked a girl up and gave her a ride up to Macaw Mountain.  With the four of us in this little contraption we may have been doing 2 miles an hour at most of the mountain.  Once the girl got off and we started down a small hill our weight became an advantage and we started hauling ass and that continued for a while – like Newton said, “an object in motion tends to stay in motion”.

After about 30 minutes we pulled up to a little family farmhouse and hopped out.  Jose use to live outside of Copan Ruinas up in the mountains, possibly with his “grandfather” that supposedly owned the coffee plantation we were headed to, and therefore he knew almost everyone.  Dave and I half-way believed his story because Jose had to be fairly well off to own a brand new tuk-tuk and a car.  We headed inside the gate to this small farm and three little kids were over to the side cleaning coffee beans.  The kids couldn’t have been more than 10-12 years old at the most.  There was a long concrete aquaduct and they were washing the beans with water and pushing them around with some broom like thing.  Nearby there was a large area with lots of coffee beans spread out drying on the ground.

Jose asked if we’d like to go inside the little kitchen and meet the people in there and see what a typical farmhouse looked like, so we said ‘sure’.  We headed into the little kitchen area and I almost had to double over because the doors were maybe 5’6″, and that’s being generous.  Inside there was a small wood fire oven and two old ladies who appeared to be the mother of the children and their grandmother.  They were making fresh corn tortillas.  When I say they were making fresh corn tortillas, I mean they were really MAKING fresh corn tortillas, not warming ones from a plastic bag.  They had full corn kernels (from their garden) in a basket, then the mother was using a matate to actually grind the corn into flour, then they were adding water and pounding them out into tortillas and throwing them on the oven.

The best part about this was that it didn’t seem staged.  I’ve been in scenarios where it felt very staged for the benefit of tourists, but this didn’t.  The ladies both wiped their hands up and greeted Jose and ran out of the room and brought back tiny plastic chairs for Dave and I to sit down.  They offered us a tortilla and we accepted.  I wasn’t nervous about getting a stomach bug because they were really hot, but before I got too confident the mother rinsed off a plate using a bucket of water near the sink and threw the tortilla on it.  Luckily it was fresh off the oven and had to have vaporized any water still on the plate because it burned my wand when I tried to pick it up.  Another dubious culinary moment followed when she scooped an enormous wad of butter out of a small wooden bowl and slapped it on top of my tortilla.  Jose told us that this was homemade butter.  Lovely.

Actually, the buttered tortilla was excellent.  I knew I had some cipro to take care of any stomach issues later so I smiled at Dave and ate it.  Dave had a cup of their homemade coffee and said it was great but really strong.  Jose told us that these woman never go to a store for anything.  They have chickens for eggs, cows for milk/butter/cheese, coffee plants, gardens for vegetables, corn for tortillas, wheat for bread, and everything else you could ever want.  We walked into their back yard and took a look at their larger wood fired oven where they make their bread, and the mother let all the chickens out of their roost for the day.  After a few more minutes and some thank-yous, we left.

Our next stop was at another friend of Jose’s place.  This time it was a little house/flower nursery.  The lady had all sorts of colorful and exotic plants and was sitting on her front porch making baskets by hand to take down into Copan Ruinas later to sell.  We walked around and took a look at some of the flowers and left shortly after.  We continued up the mountain and the air had cooled down a lot.  I don’t know what our elevation was, but it was about 85F-90F in Copan Ruinas and maybe 70F up in the mountains.  We came to a crawl in front of this enormous house that Jose wanted us to see because it belonged to “a very rich man” who we found out had been a foreman for a general contractor in the US for about 20-25 years.  He moved back to his native Honduras with all his savings and built a 5 car garaged palace that was the envy of all the locals.

After about 50 minutes of driving we reached the coffee plantation.  We walked through a huge set of doors and saw the “modern” setup for processing coffee.  Compared to what the little kids at the family farm had been using, this stuff was unbelieveable.  There were piles of freshly picked coffee seeds with the beans still inside, there were large areas on the concrete where coffee was spread out to dry in groups based on the value of the beans, there was a huge automatic cleaning station setup and then long roasting beds where the beans sit on metal strainers while a fan blows hot air from a wood fire oven out underneath the beans.  After about 5 minutes of climbing around on the equipment a truck pulled up with 5 guys in it and they started loading huge sacks (maybe 150lb) into the back of the pickup to take for packaging somewhere down in Copan Ruinas.

Jose told us how much the large sacks sold for, and it was something like $300-$800 depending on the quality of the beans.  What really blew my mind was when he filled a 5 gallon bucket with seeds (two beans are inside each one) and said the pickers get 30 Lem per bucket ($1.58 per bucket).  He said workers will pick 5-6 buckets in a day, and if it is an adult male who’s done it for many years he can sometimes get 7-8 buckets a day if he eats lunch in the fields and doesn’t stop.  That means the best workers stand to make $12.63 in a 10 hour day of back breaking work.  These poor guys couldn’t afford more than 2 cups of their own coffee at Starbucks with a day’s wage.  It was sad…

The views, however, were incredible.  The coffee plants covered all the surrounding mountains, and the view looking out over the valley was unreal.  The plants were about 7-8 feet tall and had very few seeds on the ones we saw because the main harvesting season was over.  We walked up through the plantation for about 15 minutes until we came to an area that was being harvested.  We met the foreman who’s job is to stand there with a machete and make sure all the workers keep working without any problems.  Jose said he use to be a foreman working for his grandfather before he moved to North Carolina.  While Jose was talking to the foreman, I noticed a family picking seeds right beside the edge of the road.  I couldn’t really see the father and mother too well, but they had two small children working with them and the little boy was too curious to keep working and he came out of the bushes and watched Dave and I for a few minutes.  It was depressing to think about the dilemma US consumers create.  Our endless thirst for goods creates jobs and generates cash flows in third world countries around the world, but at the same time it causes the exploitation of children and the poor.  I felt bad that this family had to put their small children through such hard work at such young ages just to survive when I was spending money to simply visit another country.  As much as I hate globalization, it made me think for a moment that spreading the wealth isn’t a complete evil, even though it is dragging the US down.

After a hike through the coffee plants and up to a lookout tower, then down through another roasting/bagging house, we hopped back in the tuk-tuk and headed back to the hotel.  Even though Jose’s English was terrible, Dave and I had a blast and thought Jose showed us a wonderful time.  I wish I could have beat Juan’s ass and taken the $20 we’d given him for half the tour yesterday and given it to Jose.

Once we were back at the hotel, we got showers and laid down to rest for a while.  Eventually we rolled out of bed and headed into town to do a little souvenier shopping.  We went to the little store that did Dave’s laundry and I picked up a few things for Jean.  I bought her another purse (the first one was from the little girl’s in Rio Dulce), a t-shirt, some necklaces, and a few stickers and patches.  We hit another much larger store and I wish I’d had a larger pack because one of the hammocks would have been nice.  After Dave finished getting stuff for his family we went back to the hotel and relaxed some more.  We also pulled everything out of our packs and folded stuff up and re-packed to maximize the space since we’d be heading out of town and on to the airport in about 12 hours.

Once it started to get dark we headed out to get something to eat.  We’d seen an ad for a place called Twisted Tanya’s Restaurant on a bulletin board at Bruno’s in Rio Dulce and we’d read about it in one of the tour books, so we walked around for a while trying to find it.  Eventually I went into a little tienda and asked where it was and the guy pointed straight up.  We walked back outside and found a little opening with a staircase.  At the top of the stairs was Twisted Tanya’s.  The restaurant was incredible.  Tanya is this cool red headed English lady who runs around making sure everything is ok and her husband is this black guy born in the Bronx but from Honduras’ Bay Islands (in the Caribbean), and he was the bar tender.  They use to run a restaurant on the most famous Bay Island, Roatan.

I forgot the husband’s name but he was really cool.  He explained everything on their menu in detail – it was all hand-written on a blackboard because it changes daily depending on what ingredients they have available.  Dave and I were in luck because it was happy hour and drinks were half-price, so we threw caution to the wind and had our first drinks with ice in them – top shelf margaritas.  Tanya’s husband told us that they purify their ice because if they didn’t the word would spread and hurt their business.  In hind sight, it was true because neither Dave nor I ever got sick.  We drank about 6 margaritas each and they were excellent.  After a while Tanya’s husband set up three shots of the top shelf tequila on our table and told us he’d take a shot with us so we could finish the bottle that we started.  He was great – funny, friendly, spoke perfect English, and answered every question we had.

We ordered the seafood wontons for an appetizers and they were superb.  For my meal I ordered the option that came with split pea soup (had too much pepper), slow roasted beef with stuffed pepper and vegetables, and a slice of blackberry covered cheesecake.  The meal was the best one I’d had on this trip.  They played all kinds of great music, from Dead and Marley to more current stuff.  Another table asked to hear some CCR so they played about 10 CCR songs.  Dave and I sang along to Bad Moon Rising.

After dinner we thanked Tanya and her husband for an incredible last evening in Central America and walked back to our hotel completely satisfied…

Honduras – Dia Diez

Dave and I woke up at 3:30am and got ready and were in the hotel lobby by 4:30am.  We waited around until 5am for the guy in the van to pull up and take us to the Hedman Alas bus station.  When we got there we were amongst about 15 other gringos.  The bus was VERY comfortable with a nice bathroom on board, an armed guard in the front, and they didn’t open the security gates at the depot until everyone was on the bus and the doors were closed.  It was a little creepy that they were having each person pose for a digital picture before boarding.  We assumed that it was so if the bus was hijacked and you were kidnapped or killed they’d have some record.

We had no problems and about 3 hours later we got to another Hedman Alas station in San Pedro Sula.  Dave and I weren’t sure what to do so we sat down inside the depot wondering where our bags were and eventually someone came in the waiting room and asked if we were going to the airport and we said ‘yes’ and followed him outside.  Dave and I were on a huge coach (same size we took from Copan) with only one other guy to the airport.  When we got to the airport we got our luggage after showing our checked baggage tickets and then we went inside and checked in.  We had tons of time to kill since it was around 9:30am and our plane wasn’t leaving until 4:50pm.  I went to an ATM since both of us were officially out of cash, and pulled out $100.  We ate lunch at Burger King and then went upstairs to get our exit stamps and clear customs, immigration and security.  They charged us around $30 (US!) for our exit tax.  Once we got through security we were stock in the tiny terminal (~6 gates) and the place was like something out of 1970.

The Guatemala City airport was under construction but generally pretty bad.  The Flores airport was tiny and old.  The airport in San Pedro Sula was old and had absolutely nothing to occupy your time.  There weren’t any bookstands or magazine racks, no internet kiosks, no souvenier stands, nothing except a huge duty free store full of liquor, candy, and cologne.  We waited and waited and waited and waited.  I met some people from North Carolina down in Honduras with a Christian group on a mission trip which they do twice a year for 17 days at a time, and a guy with them had an Auburn hat on, so I didn’t like them.

We finally took off and flew to San Salvador, El Salvador – the capital.  El Salvador is the whipping post for all of Central America.  All the locals we talked to consider Costa Rica to be the best, Guatemala to be number two, and Honduras to be a close third (people in Honduras constantly ask if you like it better than Guate).  All of them say El Salvador sucks.  The main gang that makes Central America so dangerous, MS-13, is based out of El Salvador.  El Salvador has basically no tourism industry because it doesn’t have Mayan ruins like Mexico’s Yucatan, Honduras, or Guatemala, and it doesn’t have pristine rain forests like Costa Rica.  El Salvador is the poorest country in Central America, which is saying something since they’re all very poor.  Surprisingly, the have one of the nicest airports I’ve been to outside of Europe and Japan.  They had tons of nice stores (nicer than CVG airport in Cincinnati), English and Spanish bookstores, quite a few restaurants, free internet kiosks, and the cleanest public restroom I’d ever seen south of San Diego.  At least Salvadorans can be proud of their world-class airport.  If I ever have to sit in an airport in Central America again for 7 hours, it’ll be in San Salvador, not San Pedro Sula.

We had a long flight home and after waiting FOREVER to get our luggage at LAX we cleared customs and immigration.  We only stood outside for about 5 minutes before one of Dave’s daughters pulled up and picked us up.  An hour later I was finally at home.

It was a great trip and Dave was a lot of fun to travel with.  I hope I have another chance to go travel with him again in the future.

Honduras recap – Day 8

I’m glad it’s the weekend.  Today I got my oil changed, Jean and I went to the language lab for a few hours, and then I took her to get some henna on her hand.

Honduras – Dia Ocho

We woke up early and after getting showers under yet another dangerous looking shower head, headed down the street in search of breakfast.  Dave had checked out a little cafe right on the corner of the main square called Cafe Welchez.  We were the only ones there, but the food was great.  Of course I had my usual, a ham and cheese omelet.  It’s hard to mess up a ham and cheese omelet and everything on the plate is cooked so you don’t really have to worry too much about stomach bugs with this order.  I washed it down with a cold orange soda and we headed back to Hotel Graditas Maya to pick up our day pack before taking off to see the ruins.

Once we were back in the street a tuk-tuk driver stopped and we asked how much for a ride to the ruins and we decided to take him up on the offer because it was something like 20 Lem.  They call their currency “lem” instead of the full name, lempiras, and 20 Lem was $1.05.  All the travel books say that it’s a nice walk from town to the ruins, but after driving out there I would have to disagree.  You walk beside a road the whole time and there isn’t anything to see, plus it’s about a 35-40 minute walk and could be avoided for $1, so I don’t know why you’d ever want to walk it.

When we got to the ruins we were immediately approached by a boisterous Honduran with a bandana tied around his forehead.  He was a guide wanting us to hire him for a tour.  The Australian couple we’d met at our hotel, Alan and Yoko, had said they hired a guide the day before and it was worth it but they wouldn’t pay the full price for entry into the ruins and the tunnels since the tunnels weren’t much to look at.  They also told us the guide should be $25.  As we made our way inside the little building to the ticket counter, Dave and I decided to only pay for the admittance ticket to the main ruins instead of the combo ticket for the main ruins plus the tunnels.  The entrance fee for the main ruins was $15 and the tunnels would have been an additional $15!  Similar to our previous experiences, the Lonely Planet (only a few months old at this point) said the entrance price was $7 but it had apparently more than double within the past 2-3 months.  Besides tourists being afraid to travel through Central America because of all the violence and crime I’m surprised they’d also price themselves out of the market.  People can fly into a major resort area like Cancun and take an afternoon trip to Chichen Itza, which is supposedly as impressive as Copan or more so.  I hope Tikal and Copan keep their prices fixed for several years or even more tourists will change to Mexico…

After we purchased our tickets the guy badgering us to hire him, Juan, said a tour of the main site would be $35.  The Honduras Lonely Planet said it should be $25 (of course it hasn’t been right yet), and the Australian couple who hired a tour guide the day before also said it should be $25.  Before we could say anything two ladies walked up to buy their tickets and Juan instantly starting chirping loudly about how we could all share him to lower the price per person, and it would only be $10 per person.  Unbelievable what a scheister this guy was – it should have been $25 and now he’s acting like we’re gonna get a deal for $40 by bringing in other people.  I decided I would have paid $12.50 for the correct price if Dave and I had halved $25, so $10 was cheaper and I didn’t feel like arguing any more.  The two ladies, Lynn and Susanna, were from the US (Colorado and somewhere else), and they agreed to split the cost with us.

We toured the entire site over about 2-2.5 hours and Juan was a pretty good guide.  His English was good, he was very animated and enthusiastic, and he explained all sorts of things including some of the plants/trees we encountered.  At one point in the tour we walked over to a guy doing some excavation.  The Copan site was actively being excavated by something like 75 people, and this older Honduran guy was sifting through a gigantic mountain of dirt looking for pottery shards.  Juan showed us remnants of charcoal/ash in the sifting try which indicated that the Mayans had a fire pit in that area and there should be cookware near by.  In a small bag beside the old guy excavating was a bunch of pieces of pottery, and after his day was over they’d be catalouged and eventually cleaned and restored.  During the tour Juan kept pointing out that the Americans were a major contributor to the excavations and the reconstruction of Copan.  He showed us some fenced off areas outside of the main site where the Italians and Germans were digging, but he said only the Americans were allowed in the main site.  He smiled when he said “because Americans are the best”, but conceded that the real reason was because they’d provided the most funding for the work.  He told us which colleges and universities had been involved, and I wasn’t surprised to hear that the University of Pennsylvania was involved (they had been at Tikal), but I was surprised that Colgate was a major player.

Juan showed us all the intricately designed stelae that had managed to remain in tact over all these centuries.  The main reason people come to Copan is because of the details in the stone work.  While Tikal and Chichen Itza are impressive because of their enormous scale, Copan is called the Paris of the Mayan World because of it’s cultural and artistic contribution to the Mayan civilization.  My three favorite carvings were: a huge turtle with big teeth, a round stone with cut-outs for a severed head to be placed on top and the blood to flow down through some channels, and a massive staircase with statues in the middle going up a pyramid.  When we got to the staircase Juan told us our tour was over and Dave and I got a kick out of one of the girls giving him a 10 Lem note (~$0.60) instead of $10, and he said “and what is this?!”.  We all paid up correctly and he asked if we had any further questions.  Dave and I asked about the town’s best restaurant, the best Honduran cigar, and the best coffee plantation to tour.  I forgot what he said about the restaurant and the cigar, but he said he could arrange a coffee plantation tour for us that would cost $20 per person.  We asked what all was included and he said he’d join us in a 4×4 vehicle and we’d drive into the mountains to visit a plantation that belonged to the grandfather of a friend of his.  We told him we’d like to think about it and to meet us at Hotel Graditas Maya at 5pm to discuss it further.  He agreed, we shook hands, and Dave and I were left to wander a little longer through the ruins.

Eventually we hired a tuk-tuk to take us back into town.  We got dropped off at the central square and headed straight into a well armed bank (2 guards at the front door with machine guns).  We were out of cash and I used the ATM to pull out some much needed funds.  Next we walked to a little souvenier/internet/laundry shop where Dave had dropped some clothes off the night before, and picked up his stuff.  After that we walked back to the hotel and rested for a little while and took more showers because we were sweaty and stinky after hiking around in the jungle at Copan for so long.  After laying down and soaking up some AC, we decided to go see Macaw Mountain.

We headed back down to the central square (5 minute walk from the hotel) and got a tuk-tuk to take us up to Macaw Mountain.  The tuk-tuk ride took about 20 minutes and was up a series of steep hills, so it was worth the $2.50.  Macaw Mountain is a bird sanctuary where people with exotic birds from the region, tropical Central America, donate their pets when they’re tired of them and don’t want them any more.  The park doesn’t trap wild birds or anything like that, but all the birds they have can be seen in the wild in Honduras.  In fact, that morning we’d seen scarlet macaws in the trees at the ruins.  The scarlet macaw was a sacred bird to the Mayans and they used their feathers for headdresses and ceremonies.

Macaw Mountain had a pretty steep entrance price, $10, but that included a private guided tour.  The girls at the ticket desk were really friendly and within a minute or two a guy name Ruban, who spoke great English, showed up and asked if we wanted him to lead the tour in “Spanish, English, or Spanglish”.  We chose English.  Ruben was almost as good of a tour guide as Mario in Tikal.  He was very excited about birds and as we walked along the wooden pathways from enclosure to enclosure, he was constantly looking for wild exotic birds to show us.  He’d pull up his binoculars really quickly and say something like “oh man!  look at this right here!  a ruby throated parakeet!!  she is so beautifuly!  here, you have a look!”  He’d hand over his binoculars and try to guide us where to look.  Amazingly the color blind guy was able to find every one he pointed out while Dave wasn’t able to see quite a few.  I have no explanation for that…

Ruben said he’d been out on a birding trip that morning with a large tour group and that they spotted over 40 different species.  He told us about all the birds and got some of them to perform tricks.  He pointed out some of the exotic flowers that were growing around the exhibits, and the “lobster claw”, heliconia, was surreal.  I’d seen one at Bruno’s in Rio Dulce but never took a picture of it.  He also pointed out some of their coffee trees and told us about how they grow and package their own coffee to help support the sanctuary.  I’d never seen a coffee tree, but we pulled some beans off of a tree and he split the berry open and dropped the seeds into our hands and we put them in our mouths.  The beans are covered in a gooey opaque substance that is sweet, but it’s washed off before they’re processed for the drink since they have to be roasted first.  My favorite part of Macaw Mountain came at the end when we came to a little section with about 15 birds out in the open sitting on little stands.  Right when we walked up Ruben grabbed two huge macaws and turned around and put them on my shoulders before I could say anything.  I started to get kind of nervous because he’d told us about how strong their beaks were and that they can completely take off a human finger with one bite.  As soon as he’d sat two on me, he grabbed two more and put one little one on my shoulder and a big blue one on my head.  One of the big ones on my shoulder moved down to my hand and Ruben took my camera and started taking pictures.

I got even more nervous when the one on my head turned around.  I knew he was going to drop one on my nose, but luckily he never did.  Dave had said he didn’t want them on him, but before he could protest Ruben tossed the birds on Dave.  Dave didn’t look too happy, especially when three of his four birds starting attacking him.  One bird chewed a hole in his t-shirt, one bird chewed on his water bottle holder in his hand, and another bird chewed up his sunglasses holder that he bought in Rio Dulce.

Ruben took us to a little room at the end of the tour and showed us the final process of making their coffee, where it is roasted and ground in a little machine.  Just outside the tiny building two girls were putting Macaw Mountain stickers on little air-tight golden bags so they could package the coffee.  Ruben had asked what we were doing the next day and we mentioned the coffee plantation tour.  He tried to sell us a tour where he said he’d take us in a 4×4 two hours away into the mountains to a plantation and it would include lunch for $40.  We told him no thank you because we were happy with what we’d already setup and had the girls at the front desk call us a tuk-tuk.

Instead of heading straight back to our hotel, we took the tuk-tuk to a bus depot.  The Cadillac of Honduran bus companies is Hedman Alas, and after our experience getting to Copan, we were ready for some comfort and security.  We had a flight from Honduras’ second biggest city, San Pedro Sula, leaving at 4:50pm on Sunday.  The ride from Copan Ruinas would take about three and a half hours, so we decided to spend some time waiting at the airport instead of taking a chance of missing our flight – they had a bus leaving at 5:15am and another wouldn’t leave until 12:30pm.  We bought two tickets on the 5:15am bus that would take us all the way to the airport.  We didn’t want to take a chance of having to catch a taxi from a central bus station because supposedly San Pedro Sula is a very dangerous city with lots of cars jackings and gang violence.  We’d have to change busses once in San Pedro Sula and then take another one about 45 minutes to the airport.  The tickets cost around $20 each, and from the looks of the Hedman Alas office, the busses would be nice.

We walked back up the hill and into town.  We were getting hungry and decided to go find a pupuseria that we’d seen the day before.  I had seen these places all over southern California and didn’t know what a pupusa was.  Before we went on this trip I’d asked Dave and Tony one day what they were and neither of them knew, but we looked in Dave’s Honduras Lonely Planet and it described them as a staple of the Honduran diet – thick corn tortillas stuffed with cheese and other goodies.  Dave and I had joked about eating these things for 7 days so far on this trip and we’d looked around for them in Guatemala but never found any, so we were excited to finally find an elusive pupuseria.  We found the street with the pupuseria (actually two of them, right next door to each other).  I opened the door to the first one and it was dark inside because either the lights were out or they didn’t have lights, and about 15 Hondurans just stared at me.  I smiled at Dave and said I think we should check the other one out.  We headed into the one next door and it was much nicer.  It had lights.

We sat down and ordered a few cold beers and looked over the list of different pupusas.  I decided to go with a queso (cheese) pupusa and a queso y jamon (ham and cheese) pupusa, while Dave tried two of the chicharron (pork rind) pupusas.  A group of 4 little Honduran cowboys at the table behind us kept watching to see what we thought of the mystic pupusa, and they looked surprised when I pulled out my camera to capture a few specimens.  The pupusas were excellent.  Served very hot with some of the best cheese I’ve ever had.  The only problem was that these things around about 3 inches in diameter and about a 1/4 inch thick, so they’re not very big.  Luckily they only cost about $0.50 each.  We called the waitress over to order a few more and for some reason she went through some theatrics that would could only assume meant that we were being cut off.  We couldn’t understand why she had let us taste the nectar but wanted to now wrestle this bliss from our waiting hands.  I had no idea what she was talking about since she just served the cowboys, but we paid up and left confused.  We were still pretty jazzed about having tasted a pupusa.

On our way to the hotel we decided that we needed one last bottle of Venado (the Guatemalan rum we’d been drinking in Rio Dulce) since we would be hitting the sack early the following night to get up early enough to catch a 5:15am bus, so this was our last night to party.  We stopped by this little liquor store and bought the bottle (750 ml) for about $5.

Back at the hotel we headed up to the roof because they had a huge thatch roof covering and a bunch of tables and chairs, plus they were playing music up there.  Dave and I sat out there for about an hour or two having drinks and talking with Alan and Yoko.  Alan use to be a police captain in Adelaide, Australia.  They were both really friendly and adventurous.  They were on an extended vacation, something like 3-4 months, and heading all through Central America.  They told us about Costa Rica and Nicaragua.  We joked about the unsafe shower heads and everything else and were having a blast.  Around 5:15pm our guide from Copan, Juan, showed up with his friend, Jose.

I know, I know, what are the chances we’d meet two guys in Central America named Juan and Jose.  Anyhow, the story Juan had told us earlier in the day had changed dramatically at this point.  Now, instead of him leading us up into the mountains to a coffee plantation, Jose would be taking us because supposedly it was his grandfather that owned the plantation.  My main concern was that Jose spoke English because that’s why we had even been interested in Juan’s sales pitch earlier in the day.  In the town of Copan Ruinas there are literally hundreds of hotels and travel agencies that will organize trips to the surrounding coffee plantations, so it’s not like Juan was doing us any favors.

I tried repeatedly to talk to Jose, but every time I’d ask him something Juan would interrupt quickly and answer for him.  The only two things I heard Jose say were “yea man!” and “Charlotte, North Carolina” when I asked where he had lived in the US.  Instead of Jose asking, Juan wanted to know if we’d like to take Jose’s car or tuk-tuk to the plantation.  Earlier in the day it had been a 4×4 because of the rugged terrain up in the mountains, but now a three wheeled rickshaw with 5 horsepower can get us there??  I was enjoying the Venado and Dave didn’t seem to mind, plus it was only $20 a person and how often can you ride around in a tuk-tuk in Fontana?  We chose the tuk-tuk.  Juan laughed and said “good choice!  they’re fun, aren’t they?”  Of course before Juan and Jose took off, Juan wanted half of the money…

After they took off, Dave and I decided that since our Venado was getting low and the sun had just set, it was time to head back to our pupuseria to see if the waitress had decided yet if we were worthy of more pupusas.  We ended up sitting at their outside patio and eating a bunch more pupusas.  We had seen a bunch of places in Honduras that said “Pulpería” and we asked the girls at the table next to our’s what that meant and found out that it is identical to “tienda” (store).

After dinner we headed back into the main part of town to see what was going on.  When we got to the restaurant where we’d eaten our first dinner, Carnitas Nia Lola, I noticed Juan on a bench out front with some girl.  I said “hey” and immediately he leaned over behind her.  I couldn’t figure out why he was hiding from me, so I just stood there and said out loud to Dave “there’s Juan and he’s hiding from us, do you see him?”.  Dave said yes and eventually he came out of hiding and said hello.  I still have no idea why he was hiding – maybe he was embarrassed to be seen with gringos, maybe he was ashamed at lying and ripping us off earlier, who knows.  Dave and I headed back up the road towards the central square until a girl coming out of a bar said “Roll Tide!”

I stopped and talked to her, and she had gone to the University of Alabama and lived in Tuscaloosa for years until she graduated in 1981.  She had managed Harry’s Bar for a while and supposedly knew Wayne Mills when he was a baby.  I’d seen Wayne play at Harry’s quite a few times while I was in school.  She had been living down in Central America for years and owned a restaurant and was trying to sell it.  She invited Dave and I to join her for a drink, so we went into one of the bars and had a few beers before calling it a night.  Dave and I decided we’d had enough when this lady (Michelle I think) and the bartender both said that it’s very possible for gringos to be robbed and stabbed on the streets of Copan Ruinas after 11pm.  Since it was about 1am, we quickly said “check please!” and headed back to the hotel.

The day had been great and was greatly appreciated following a day of non-stop travel on cramped busses.