People often travel for adventure, no? We’ve had a couple of small “adventures” during our current journey, but none have had me wondering about my decision to give up “normal” life and make this journey like our trip from beautiful, tranquil, Flores, Guatemala to the Bay Islands of Honduras. I know others have had worse experiences, and really in hindsight it wasn’t that bad, but that’s the advantage of hindsight. In the middle of it. . . well, I was saying a lot of choice words in my head.
It began easily enough. Like always I researched our options for travel before settling on our final choice. We could take a bus to Livingston/Rio Dulce, then a boat to Puerto Barrios, then a ferry to Puerto Cortes, Honduras, and then hop a bus to San Pedro Sula (SPS), hop another bus to La Ceiba, stay overnight, and then catch a ferry to Utila. Basically plan on 1-1/2 to 2 days depending on when you depart and schedules. I was so happy when I discovered there was a direct bus going from Flores to SPS! That would cut our traveling down to just under 1-1/2 days. Score!
At least that’s what I thought until we boarded the bus at 6 AM. When I bought my tickets I made sure to ask a series of questions multiple times to different people. Unfortunately, they were all “in” on the subterfuge. ”This bus is direct, right? It won’t stop for passengers along the way?” Of course. It only makes 3 stops at actual stations. No stopping for extra passengers like the chicken buses. ”There are bathrooms on board?” (It’s a 9-hour ride.) Oh yes, it’s first class. ”A/C?” (If I’m paying good money, I want A/C dammit). Yes, yes! It’s first class. Bathroom, movie, direct bus. ”And it’s a 9-hour ride? No switching buses?” Correct. It’s 9 hours, no switching buses. The chicken bus wasn’t that much cheaper and added another 4 hours, so I opted to pay a higher rate. And discovered everything but our arrival at SPS was a bold-faced lie. It did stop for anyone who flagged it down. There were no bathrooms, no A/C. It didn’t stop for a meal break at Rio Dulce as we were told it would, and we had to switch buses (which turned out to be a bit better as it was slightly more comfortable). Tigger and I survived off of sodas and small snacks I had packed in my daypack until we arrived almost 12 hours later in SPS. Yeah, the trip took a lot longer than 9 hours.
By the time we finally arrived at SPS I was in a sour mood. The relatively cheap tickets to our next destination made things more pleasant, but I was still fighting being overly grumpy. By the time we arrived in La Ceiba, we had been traveling for about 15 hours, most of that on buses. I was exhausted, surly, and still had to work for a couple of hours. Our taxi took us to a place he assured me was safe. The owner spoke perfect American English and obviously was either American or had spent a lot of time there. That explained the higher price than other hotels I had checked on in the area, but they had WiFi and A/C, and I was exhausted. Our closet, er, room did have an A/C unit, but it wouldn’t have cooled down a matchbox much less our closet. The bathroom faced the street and, to my surprise, had no drapes or covering for the window so anyone on the street was going to get a treat they probably wouldn’t enjoy. They brought in a 2nd fan, though, so that helped a bit. I did my work and then passed out.
After getting up early and getting ready to meet our taxi to the ferry, the hotel owner asked if we wanted breakfast. Sure, I said. It was decent enough until he informed me afterward it was $10. Umm, I could’ve gotten a MUCH better breakfast on the street for easily half of that! No time to argue as taxi driver was there and pacing. I handed the owner some money. He handed me the change, and since we were in a rush I just stuffed the bills in my pocket. On the way to the ferry I counted the bills and discovered I had been short changed by about L.50 (only about $2.50, but still). Now I was really grumbling under my breath. It didn’t help when the taxi driver informed me our agreed-upon rate was per person. Now I was close to saying all the words floating around in my head for the last 24 hours. Discovering the ferry’s listed prices on their website were before taxes, and had also recently gone up, had me almost banging my head against the wall since it added quite a bit more to the fare than I had planned.
After being sealed inside the catamaran to take us to Utila, I discovered the air conditioning units on the boat were a freakin joke. We had no fresh air and were seated inside a floating tin can in Caribbean heat and humidity for a 45-minute bumpy ride on choppy water. My one consolation upon arriving on the island was going to be someone waiting to pick us up. They didn’t show up. Then when we arrived at our alternate lodging, a Couchsurfing place, I discovered our host wasn’t there, wouldn’t be there for 2 days, and apparently no one got that they were supposed to give us a room. Honduras was beyond getting on my nerves at this point. If the ferry hadn’t already left the terminal, I would’ve been tempted to get back right on it and head back to Guatemala.
Now that we’ve been here for several days, have my feelings changed? I’m trying not to let a bunch of poor situations color my opinion of an entire country. Also, I don’t feel I can make a decision about how I feel about Honduras based on our stay on Utila. The islands are definitely a different world from the mainland, and in this case even more so. Most locals are of British descent, and the common language resembles Patois (aka Creole on Caye Caulker). Utila is mostly international. The island “flavor” is still here, but it isn’t really typical Latin America. So I will hold my opinion for when we return to the mainland and begin exploring there more. Even if that means another round in the steam bath tin can known as the Utila Princess.
Words to the wise: If you’re coming here from Guatemala and not going to fly, try taking the Linea Dorada bus if you want to avoid the chicken bus type of travel. It’s a LONG ride, and in the end you won’t save a ton more money by taking the cheaper local buses. Even a lot of locals take Linea Dorada. The down side, however, is they don’t go straight through to SPS. You’ll have to catch another bus from Rio Dulce, but that’s a town worth checking out more anyway. If you’re super tired when you get to SPS, you may want to pay extra for the Hedman Alas buses. It’s about a 4-hour ride to La Ceiba, and if you’ve been on the road for 2 days or so, you may find it worth your money. Otherwise Diana Express is the most recommended local-style bus, and it costs about $5 per person. You don’t need to make advance reservations, and their buses make frequent trips to La Ceiba. When you arrive in La Ceiba, I would strongly recommend avoiding Hotel El Estadio at all costs. The Banana Republic Guesthouse is reportedly a much better bet, is safe, comfortable, and inexpensive. There are plenty of other reasonable choices in downtown La Ceiba, though.