One Of My Honduran Trips
Honduras! I spent 11 days not shaving and wearing a hat. It must be paradise!!!! Actually, it was. It was my first time to Utila Island although I have spent time in Honduran mainland and the island of Roatan on previous trips. Utila is a small and relatively undeveloped island close to the coastal city of La Ceiba. It is just a 15-minute plane ride on an old Russian STOLplane with the Israeli insignia on the nose and the Honduran flag on the tail. I lived through the exciting landing on the island’s very short (!!) runway just skirting the coast. The town is small and peaceful with approximately 3,000 permanent residents. Most of the US folks stay in the all-inclusive resorts just a short boat ride out of town. The city visitors are the more adventurous types from Europe, Asia, Australia, Canada, and New Zealand. Actually, I was the only non-resident US citizen in town! There are several US people who own land and/or businesses on Utila. It is becoming a very popular retirement destination. There are several small Cays on the west part of the island. Some are individually owned with homes on them.
Utila Town consists of an English speaking population who can trace their heritage back to the pirates. The infamous pirate Captain Morgan is said to be buried in the local cemetery. The main road consists of an eight-foot-wide cement road going the length of the entire town. There are no cars and a very few pickup trucks. Most of the transportation consists of "quads" and bicycles. As you can imagine you have to keep alert in all of the activities to avoid accidents. Tourism is its lifeblood. There are no less than 11 dive shops serving the visitors and residents alike. Utila boasts of being the most inexpensive place to learn to dive on earth, so there is an endless stream of neophytes coming to learn this great sport. The food is WONDERFUL. Fresh and very well prepared. I ate every meal in a local restaurant and thoroughly enjoyed each. I would advise drinking only purified water. Most hotels provide it free of charge to their clients.
Utila Water Sports is the place I went to set up some diving. The diving costs a very reasonable $25 for a two tank dive including all dive gear. You can take a 10% discount if you have your own equipment. I scheduled my first dive the next day. I arrived bright and early the next day. I was pleasantly surprised to find the boat consisted of four other divers. Plenty of room! It was pleasing to find out that "cattle-car" diving is not the practice on Utila. The rest of the morning was spent enjoying the warmth and clarity that have made the waters in the Bay Islands world famous. Additional dives were scheduled and I was never disappointed with the location, the service level of the boat staff, quality of boats, or hospitality of the dive shop personnel.
It rained for a few days. It is the kind of rain that used to be in Phoenix. – where it just poured down and the streets flooded. Most homes and hotels have tin roofs. So most of one day I just sat on the porch in the rocking chair (most places have either a rocking chair or hammock on each porch), read, and listened to it pour down rain. It was a relaxing and soothing change from big city life in the USA.
I went over to La Ceiba for a few days. It was fun. There are rugged mountains to the south of the city. These beautiful peaks have a large bird sanctuary and contain trails as challenging as any on the Mosquito Coast. Mitch did its damage, but most of the city was bustling and busy. La Ceiba has the highest literacy rate of any city in Honduras. There are three types of taxis over there. The first is very expensive and takes only one person to the destination. The second is where several people meet the taxi and negotiate a price, then the driver takes all to their desired destinations. The last is where you flag down a taxi and negotiate a price. Then he takes off picking up the passengers along the way. It may take 5 minutes or 2 hours depending on whom he picks up. Guess what type I chose. Yup. It was a great adventure. The driver stopped picking up youngsters, old people, a priest, a businessman, women shopping, etc. I was talking in my broken Spanish and some of the people trying to answer in their broken English. And the rain pouring down with all of the windows in the cab down. Great fun!!!
I stopped to have lunch in the local Pizza Hut (I know why go to Honduras and have a pizza!) and then walked into the local neighborhood to get to know some of the residents. It was quite an interesting experience. The younger people were easy to approach and they wanted to practice their English. All of the residents seem to be warm, gentle, and gracious. I never felt threatened or in danger. The people are very interested in the US and it’s people. This country has had good relations with the US for over 70 years (especially the 80s), and it has had a stable government for over 100 years. They have elections on a regular basis. The are stable, but they have problems like any one else.
The hurricane was devastating to certain areas of Honduras!! I saw complete sides of mountains gone. The government has no type of "welfare" payments for their citizens. If a family lost it’s home, they have no agency to turn to. All is gone. If their place of work was destroyed they have no way to make any money. Unemployment payments does not exist. The relief agencies in the US are doing a great service there. The Catholic Relief Fund should be applauded for its work. I was talking to a Minnesota farmer who was in country helping teach the people better farming techniques. He was down in southern Honduras in a valley approximately 2 X 10 miles at the base of the mountains. The hurricane dumped 15 feet of rain in 3 days. It collected in the mountains and ravaged the lowlands. This valley was covered with 30 feet of water – 30 feet!! Everything was gone – every cow, chicken, person, fence post, house, light bulb – all gone. Every resident who lived came back to NOTHING. It is hard to imagine the horrible impact on the poor.
There are several members of the US military in the country. They were rebuilding schools, roads, civic buildings, sewage systems, and some communication facilities. Most cities have blackouts between midnight and 6am each day.
Then on to Copan, the most artistically advanced and elaborate of any Mayan city. It is in northern Honduras just a few miles from Guatemala. It was a very interesting 2.5-hour drive from San Pedro Sula to Copan. For instance, some of the rural folks spend their day "fixing" the highway. Travelers can see them with their shovels filling in holes along the road. They try to stop the traffic to collect "tolls" for their work on the roads. All know that they spend their time at night creating the same holes they will be filling the next day.
After fighting through the waves of enthusiastic vendors in Copan I checked into the hotel. Then off to the museum by the ruins. The museum contains artifacts reflecting the artistry and skill of the Mayan people. The most beautiful Rosa Lila Temple has been reproduced in all of its spender and glory. The artistry and colors are stunning. It was their culture to "kill" (destroy) old temples and build another one on the same spot. The new temple is more ornate and grand than the previous one. The detail in the stone work in the actual ruins is quite good especially considering these artists and craftsmen used no metal tools.
Back to the hotel and then to the ruins the next day. I was not prepared for the beauty and grandeur of this site. The archaeological work is still in its infancy. They have identified over 4,500 sites where there is good evidence that temples are below the existing dirt mounds. It is still smaller than Chitzen Itza, but contains more detailed sculpture and has a certain feeling of power and majesty. It consists of four parts: (1) the Grand Plaza, (2) the ball field, (3) the hieroglyphic stairway, and (4) the acropolis. All are spectacular and combine to make this a very enjoyable experience. The Grand Plaza is well known for its stelaes and alters that are scattered around this immense plaza. Many of the alters take a zoomorphic form. . The ball field was the social center for the community. The captain of either the losing or winning team has the honor of being a human sacrifice to their gods. No one knows at this time which person is sacrificed (the winner or loser). Their society places a great honor on being the sacrificed person as they are the one who makes the journey and communicates directly with their gods. The hieroglyphic stairway contains several steps to the entrance of a temple. Each step is intricately carved with a portion of the people’s history. Together these steps are compiled to make the history of several rulers. The British archaeologists took each stone down to study and catalog them. Unfortunately, they did not make notes of the stone’s original location and replaced them in a random order. So, the history was lost! The acropolis consists of two large plazas. These plazas offer the most significant architectural contributions and contain the "Q" alter. The original Rosa Lila temple is here. Also, the ruling class had their residences in this area.
The time just seems to fly by and it came time to return. Honduras is a rare combination of a "third world culture", warm friendly people, spectacular diving, incredible eco-tourism, and a rich and beautiful history. I am ready to go again.