Archive for the ‘Honduras’ Category

Estelí, Nicaragua – America, not Africa

Dienstag, August 30th, 2011

Nicaragua – a country that sounds as if we would have to search for it in Africa instead of America. But it is right in the middle of the isthmus, it is Central America’s largest and poorest country – even Latin America’s second poorest after Haiti. It shall be the safest country for travel on the continental bridge although vigilance wouldn’t harm.

But the day starts with difficulties, the entry is delayed. First we have to detect that our electronic map for Nicaragua doesn’t function. We are so used to this indispensible combination of classic map navigation, intuition, asking locals, and auto GPS that we don’t want to go without the latter. has Garmin-compatible GPS maps for many countries to download including installation instructions (for Nicaragua for instance US$ 49.95 – not distinctively reasonable). Navigating is a bit more complicated than with the software provided by Garmin, but it works.

Next the gas station in El Paraiso refuses all my credit cards. (Fuel is most inexpensive in Mexico, and then it’s slowly getting more expensive to the south via Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua; fuel up in front of each border.) Right before the border I don’t have enough cash left what I usually do. The cashier has a bright moment and splits the amount in two sums, that works. Immediately in front of the border crossing Los Manos (around 500 m / yards) there would have been a tax-privileged gas station that offers fuel for a better price.

But we don’t get that far. The access road to the border is obstructed with waiting trucks on the right and left side, the only lane in the centre is blocked by a bus broken down, which can’t be towed for any reason. More than an hour passes before the parking vehicles are shunt back and forth so that there is a gap to pass the obstacle. From then on it goes fast. The aduana puts a stamp into the passport to verify the vehicle export, the migración provides the emigration stamp, and there are no costs. A young overbearing border helper wants 20 $ for his service for immigration, but sometime even he gets the meaning of the simple word, just consisting of the two letters N and O. Before leaving Honduran territory there is an animal check, but we neither transport pets nor breeding cattle. The exchange rate offered for Lempira to Cordoba is fair (100 Nicaraguan Córdoba / NIO are around 4.20 US$).

The Nicaraguan entry starts with vehicle disinfection (68 NIO). Nicaragua requests for the granted 30 days of stay a local insurance (12 US $). The insurance agents are official, and the paperwork can be done easily with them. The customs officer fills the forms, but she is happy to be helped. Another officer only peaks from outside into our opened cabin door to confirm the detail “RV”, but again we get off without vehicle search. This process is complimentary, unlike the immigration card for the passport at the migración. 12 US $ per person mature. It is important to get a receipt for all payments. Finally the border police check all papers and might ask for some copies (they forget to collect ours); title and vehicle registration document are necessary. There was nothing to complaint about friendliness and helpfulness of the Central American borders so far, it was even fast.

After 40 km we reach the Pan Americana, single thoroughfare in Nicaragua. First city is Estelí. At the UCA Miraflor office (ask around in town) we check for a place for the night in the Miraflor nature reserve (no entrance fee) where there is ecologic farming besides hiking and horse riding. They confirm we can take the road, but 4WD is necessary in rainy season. There are some pretty deep brooks to cross. Finca Lindos Ojos was recommended to us, it has some space for parking., camping 5 US$ per night, N 13°14’30.2’’ W 86°15’21.7’’.

El Paraiso, Honduras – Greed versus huge pizzas

Montag, August 29th, 2011

Via Danlí (with supermarket) we reach El Paraiso right before the Nicaraguan border. Not even one of the Honduran police officers who were regarded as extremely corrupt in the past (and partially are still today) wanted anything from us. One reason might be that we didn’t even touch the Pan Americana that’s mainly used by tourists. The country’s inhabitants are helpful and friendly, maybe even a bit lethargic: Honduras is the only of the Central American countries that never had a civil war of a revolution – despite military dictatorships.

In spite of its promising name „The Paradise“ El Paraiso is a nondescript quiet town. We ask for a spending a night in a completely run-down, decayed lido. After a glance to the truck and an extended pause for thought how much the tourists could be squeezed until the pips squeak the manager wants an absurd demand of 200 HNL. Greed involves the danger of getting nothing. Joerg jumps into the truck and just drives off. We have realized a pizzeria with big lot on the other side of town. The responsible there quickly consent to our wish. I change my tactic: Instead of asking for fees I make enquiries about the dinner. The pizzas are huge, on medium-sized instead of two with starter would have been enough for the two of us, but they are still delicious next day when cold. We don’t get a written invoice, that’s why we can’t comprehend why we pay less than calculated according to the menu. Recommended: Mi Pequeño Jardín, El Paraiso, N 13°53’04.1’’ W 86°33’15.4’’.

Zamorano, Honduras – Sausage and cheese instead of camping

Sonntag, August 28th, 2011

500 metres of elevation on a distance of a mile – that is the way we have to descend this morning. Again we need one and a half hours. Further, extensive clearance is necessary since branches subside in the course of two days. In other places branches broke off halfway and block the track. Finally arriving in Zamorano we aren’t lucky with the agricultural university: They don’t allow us to camp on the whole area. Not even in front of the hotel that’s run by the uni. We may only overnight if we rent a room – not cheep though. Too bad, we would have liked to see the education facility for agricultural engineers and economists that’s famous on the entire continent. We only call on the supermarket where beside regular articles milk, bread and meat products from university-owned production are sold. The Zamorana brand is available in other Honduran groceries as well, but selection and price are unbeatable here.

Few kilometres east of Zamorana we find shelter with Eco Parque Zamorana for 100 Lempira (N 14°01’13.0’’ W 86°58’58.1’’). The only thing they have in common with “eco” might be the thrifty use of swimming pool chemicals. But it’s a spacious and quiet camping spot anyway – eco or not.

Parque Nacional La Tigra, Honduras – Like Jurassic Park

Samstag, August 27th, 2011

It’s only one more kilometre to the park entrance but we wouldn’t have made it. Here are definitely too many trees. Clearance works wouldn’t have made ourselves popular with the park administration. The tiny indentation beside the entrance road wouldn’t have been ideal for camping either. The entrance fee of 10 US$ per person (can be paid in HNL) might support the park if pretty steep for what’s offered. With the ticket we receive a copied orientation map for the few hiking trails. Signposting isn’t as good as claimed, and the distance details don’t seem to be always correct.

Favourite routes are crossing the park to the second visitor centre and the hike to a waterfall. We decide for latter that starts a viewpoint. In the beginning trees are sparse but the closer we get to the cascade the more jungle-like and marshy it gets. Strange plants grow here; it looks a bit like scenes from Jurassic Park. We aren’t lucky with wildlife today, but the dark dense cloud forest and the not too sumptuous but 40 m high waterfall are nice.

Pulhapanzak / Tegucigalpa / El Rosario, Honduras – How to get a Unimog through cloud forest

Freitag, August 26th, 2011

Pulhapanzak is said to be Honduras’ most beautiful waterfall with its 42 m fall depth. And really, the cascades of Rio Lindo, to be admired during short strolls from different view points, are pretty. Swimming is better in dry season. Pulhapanzak isn’t far from Lago de Yojoa and costs 50 Lempira entrance fee pp. Camping would be allowed on the shady parking lot for another 50 HNL pp (Cataratas de Pulhapanzak, N 15°01’29.8’’ W 88°00’05.2’’). The CA 5 to the south is being extended to defuse some sharp bends and is partially in good condition. Restaurant and Hotel Granja D’Elia is worth a stop along the highway. The adjacent supermarket sells products of own production (bread, produce) and (expensive) imported delicacies. Dining shall be good in the Italian restaurant. The parking lot would be big enough for camping, but we feel it’s too close to the road, and too noisy. Instead we travel straight through Tegucigalpa, the state capital. We don’t see too much of the one-million-metropolis since there are well-built through-roads.

We decided to give every country a chance, even the Central American ones, so we have to visit a National Park here as well. There are quite a few in Honduras, but many of them resemble each other since they protect the remnants of rain forest, and they don’t have any infrastructure. We decide for the supposedly easiest accessible one, Parque Nacional La Tigra close to Tegucigalpa, and cross Valle de Angeles to reach El Rosario. Roads are getting tight, but the bus is still in front of us. Unfortunately it stops at the town square. Where to go now?

A very European looking pick-up driver points the way and then asks in German: “Is that you car vehicle?” It is. By chance he and his wife are owners of a small facility to rent cabins. He offers to camp in front of his door and to follow him. Since he seems to be busy with his guests he picked up from the bus I skip the usual questions if we could use the road with our vehicle’s size etc. He has seen it, I thought. A mistake. An extremely narrow gravel path in bad condition leads up to the mountain in steep sharp bends. The track isn’t thought for Unimog size, but we make it o.k. There are no means of getting out of the way, but no oncoming traffic as well. After almost half an hour we are on top. We’ve lost the white pick-up, but an old lady shows us where it has disappeared. “It’s only two more minutes”, she encourages us. Two minutes stretch to one hour for a few hundreds of meters. There are trees in the cloud forest, and they’re hanging low. Too low.

I try to guide my husband through a space between a wall and a strong branch – without success. Role reversal: Joerg tries to guide me through the same spot, same result. The unfortunate bough can’t be lifted from below. Eventually Joerg climbs on the cabin roof, lifts the branch and crawls along the roof whilst I slowly continue driving. That worked out somehow, but this was only the first hurdle. In the meantime the cabin-guy appears with a helpful machete. And so Joerg chops us a green tunnel sitting on the roof, defoliates, de-branches and deforests, during me manoeuvring through the bush. Half treetops land on the hood and obstruct my view. After another hour we’ve made our way through the jungle, arrived in front of the facility’s door, and are both completely shattered.

There are not many camping options at La Tigra National Park: Cabañas Mirador El Rosario, N 14°13’13.1’’ W 87°04’46.0’’; they sell home-made fruit wines and jams.

Lago de Yojoa, Honduras – About potholes and counter-police strategies

Donnerstag, August 25th, 2011

My travel literature states that roads are good in Honduras, potholes are rare, and police controls seldom. Let me say it this way: The amount of potholes exceeds by far the number of the country’s inhabitants (after all 8 mill.). Quite a few of them are so deep that we could easily open a fish-farming in them. The number of police controls also surpasses our expectations, but most of the time the officers just wave their hands. If not, my strategy proves itself: overwhelm them with talking. Beat them at their own game! Exactly as I have to sift the only interesting information out of a lecture lasting several minutes following a simple question (like “How do I get to…”) I fill them up with important and non-important information at the same time. As if I was keen on using my fragmentary Spanish I don’t tell them only what they want to know (where we come from right now), but also that we are Germans, what we have already seen in the country, where we’ll go now and what we plan to visit in future. I list all cities and sights I can remember even if I stretch the truth a bit. Perhaps I also tell them how beautiful the country is and how friendly the people are. That forces even the toughest officer to his knees. It is to remember to take the sunglasses off to show off blue eyes to their advantage. But at this point the policeman has already given up and lets us pass.

12 km in front of La Esperanza the potholes end because the road ends, and a rough dried mud track blends in. But as long as the low-loading vehicle is behind us (This dirt road would be a reason for an instant dismissal for every North American and European truck driver) and “school busses” or the more common coaster busses drive towards us we don’t have to worry. The CA 5 then is a good road for a change. We quickly reach Lago de Yojoa, the country’s largest lake, which isn’t huge but pretty and good for bird watching. We decide for the only official campground in Honduras I know: Honduyate Marina, camping at the lake shore, 100 HNL for two persons, N 14°51’29.5’’ W 87°57’16.9’’.

Gracias Lempira, Honduras – Welcome to banana republic

Mittwoch, August 24th, 2011

In the morning the weather is reliably good, and so we really can see El Salvador’s valleys, the volcanoes, and to Guatemala. The descend from El Pital mountain is gigantic: In 9.4 km (less than 6 mi) we descend 1214 m (3649 ft) of elevation. The border crossing El Poy to Honduras is situated only few kilometres north on CA 4. In El Salvador everything goes so fast and free that we nearly regret to leave the country.

Did the Salvadorians amaze us with their efficiency and professionalism, Honduras fulfils nearly all of our expectations regarding a Central American border crossing. Nearly, we have to be fair. No tramitadores appear, border helpers, for whose obtrusiveness Honduras is otherwise famous. The border crossing El Poy is a busy truck crossing, but there are probably not enough lucrative tourists at a distance from Pan Americana. Passport processing is fast. We fill a form that remains in the passport and pay 3 US$ per person, then we head to aduana where the vehicle papers are issued. Here the officers fill in all forms themselves. Contrary to all my expectations this doesn’t accelerate the process. Quite the reverse! Perhaps we aren’t lucky and didn’t catch the brightest officer in the squad. Several dozen times (I missed to count) she shifts the papers from one side to the other and back. In doing so she throws about 50 % of them on the floor, picks them up and drops them again. The immigration paper nearly gets lost, that’s why she takes the plucky decision to staple the receipt to a passport sheet.

My travel guide asserts that Honduran graduates of the minimum six years school master reading, writing, and the tables from one to ten. After ten years of education they can speak some words of English and talk to a normally educated adult. I grant her that she might have overcome the first obstacle – although reading is such a thing. Despite the Salvadorian form in Spanish is with her she has problems to find the correct lines. Unfortunately she doesn’t like to be helped. On the side she must stuff some sweets down for strengthening and maintaining her figure. As everything has to be transferred into the computer it becomes even odder: The country Germany isn’t to be found and our vehicle type doesn’t exist as well.

No sooner the extensive problems are commonly solved than the bank is closed for lunch where we have to pay the fees. Who cares for one and a half hours more waiting time? Actually, the bank is situated on the left and not on the right side as the lady claimed, but we don’t want to be petty. At least I find out that the office wants to have each three (!) copies of all documents and stamps and I ask to receive all papers back to complete that in the meanwhile. After paying 635 Lempira (only cash, only in domestic currency, 100 Lempiras / HNL are around 5 US$) another officer takes over and then the rest is done quickly. After three and a half hours the customs officer wants to peak into the cabin but goes without entering it.

Then we are on the way on the up-and-down-roads typical for Central American highlands. The beggars are back, we didn’t see too many since Mexico. Especially kids like to stretch a rope over the road to stop cars. Honking and continue driving helps. One of several traffic controls stops us, but thanks to “tourist bonus” we just can continue driving. In the city of Gracias Lempira we look for a swimming bath with adjacent small hotel. After short consideration the boss approves us to camp. She leaves it up to us if and how much we pay. We think 100 Lempira to be proportionate (Balneario Villas de Ada, at the bypass of Gracias Lempira, signposted).