I’d gone from Chetumal, Mexico to Caulker, Belize by water taxi. Now, April 14, 2012, too soon, but because people were waiting for me, I had to head to Honduras. This would be a very full travel day. From sunrise until after sunset I’d be on the road.
It was time to move on to Belize City by the same water taxi. From from Belize City I’d go to Puerto Cortes, Honduras on a boat called Pride of Belize. Then Puerto Cortes to San Pedro Sula by semi-chicken bus and from San Pedro Sula La Ceiba by a nice bus. Quite the long day of traveling! There’d be a quick overnight in La Ceiba, and then ferry from La Ceiba to Roatan — my destination.
This was a big event for me. I’d promised myself that I would not travel into or within Honduras alone, and not without a male escort or a group of others. Yet here I was departing for Honduras alone.
As the day dawned I was awake and out on my sand-covered patio enjoying the morning light as I put the finishing touches on my backpack to be ready to move again.
By 7am I was on the dock awaiting the day’s first Belize Express Water Taxi to carry me from Caye Caulker to Belize City. The boat was 10 minutes late (which gave me more than 10 minutes to worry that I would miss the boat to Honduras) but did a great job of making up for lost time if any time was actually lost. I was on land again by 8.
Backpack firmly in place on my hips, I received clear directions to the Radisson Hotel boat docks where I was to find the Pride of Belize, the ferry that would deliver me to the Honduras mainland.
Walking to the right and taking the left fork in just a block or so, I passed a guy and asked if I was going the right way to the Radisson. As he said yes and I continued, it hit me that this was Martin, the traveler who, back on Caye Caulker, had given me the info about the boat and told me where to get the boat. He was to be on the same boat. But I couldn’t conjure up his name quickly enough to ask why he was heading away.
It wasn’t long before I arrived at the boat dock and learned why. The boat to Belize was departing from another dock this morning. I needed to walk back the way I’d come.
Five or ten minutes later I was back where I’d started at the docks of Belize Express Water Taxi — only that turned out to be wrong too. There are two water Belize island taxi companies and the other’s is the dock I needed.
Heading out the door of the Belize Express docks again, this time I walked to the left. Another 10 minutes later I arrived at the correct location to take the Pride of Belize.
I still arrived with more than a half hour before its 9am departure and had plenty of time to say hello to staff, find and say thank you to Candy for replying to my email query, and to present my passport and purchase my ticket.
The ticket was B$524, cash only. I was happy to find that the Belize departure fee (actually an Eco support donation) was only 7.50, rather than the anticipated 37.50, so I had enough Belize dollars to cover my entire fare without delving further into my sparse US currency emergency fund.
I even had 3.50 left so I was able to seek out some food. There was a snack stand in the station but asking about food, I was directed out to the main road and to the roadside shacks. I opted, as usual, for a stand that had a local customer. I watched what he got and paid so I’d know. Plus there were clear signs.
The 3.50 was enough to buy a liter of water (2.00) and 3 tacos (1.00). The tacos were sparse but they were food so I was happy. I bought a 4th taco with the last .50 in my hand. Back inside the terminal, I bought cookies with a US dollar — then later found I still had 2 more Belize dollars and could have gotten them perfectly too.
I was a bit bummed that I wasn’t leaving Belize with no Belize currency after all. I would have money to change. I lost a round of the popular travel game: leave-with-no-local-currency-left. But those $2 became Honduran Limpera later.
Seeing Martin at the boat, I asked if he had recognized me. He had, but too late. He said, when I passed him, I’d asked for the Radisson and that is what he had responded to, realizing later. Anyway, I was soooo happy to have Martin’s company as I travelled to a place I worried about. We were four foreign travelers as it turned out and all of the other three were men.
Crossing to Honduras on the Pride of Belize
The Pride of Belize, the boat to Honduras — a 5+ hour ride — was more utilitarian/cargo than passenger comfort but the crew was great.
The water was rough this day. Any chance of sitting up top as we’d been invited to at first, became out of the question. It was actually difficult for the crew to be up there.
Going below with all the locals for whom this ride wasn’t exciting, one of the guys and I opted to sit on the window-backed bench so we could look out.
Our little boat sped through the ocean sending water over the upper deck and back down through worn window seals. Yep, my seat-mate and I were sitting under the window hatch. He was the first to join the other two on the inside bench as his seat became a puddle of ocean water. Then I had to switch seats as water made its way to me. By switch seats, as you can see in the photo, I simply had to stand up, rotate 180 degrees and plop down on the inside bench. On this ride, that wasn’t so easy! I was very impressed when one of the crew got up to help me. It really was a bumpy ride!
After over an hour we pulled beside a dock at a location I cannot recall (sorry) and an immigration agent came on board. Our crew had already collected our passports. We just waited on the boat and soon had our newly stamped passports back.
Moving around this small wave-tossed boat was difficult for everyone. What an adventure a bathroom excursion was! I was again impressed when a crew member got up and offered me his arm as I tried to make my way to the bathroom. Then once inside the bathroom, there was no place to hold on and my sweaty sea water dampened skirt was sticking to me, adding to the challenge.
When another woman attempted the same feat later I noticed everyone watched, and when she accomplished it, I quietly applauded. (I was now sitting in her line of site so it was a fun kind of handshake between the two of us in our private club.)
This was a little engine that could type of boat and crew. Out on the open water the engine stalled out. Without the engine, as we sat adrift, the ocean gave us quite a ride. The determined crew worked on it and got us going again.
Later, with land in sight, we had another mechanical issue. Again we were tossed around as the crew checked out the situation, ran around to gather what was needed, and get us going again. I couldn’t hear their words as the wind carried them away but watched with interest. This time stripping the connection to the battery was what got us back on our way. Wet batteries, wet electric wires, and a knife to scrape the connectors. I was sufficiently worried for the staff as they worked on this while waves toss water around and onto them. I was quite relieved for them when the motor started and we were moving again.
Arrival to Puerto Cortez, Honduras
It may have been around 3:00 when our 9am, (more than) 5-hour ride arrived into Puerto Cortez, Honduras.
Greeted at the dock by several money handlers and the guys talked to a few, choosing one. I changed my 2 Belize dollars, then another 10 or 20 US dollars.
The four of us shared a pen, filled out the simple paper, and easily passed through immigration.
Martin speaks Spanish and had been to Honduras before, so he led us on our no-taxi walk to the busses. Out the bus station to the right, up onto and across a bridge and more walking along the side of the road. The guys walked quickly and talked about the walk. I just tried to keep up.
It was odd. One minute I was following some steps behind my three companions and the next minute four buses were in front of me, each calling out a destination. I think they all knew we’d arrived at the makeshift bus station but as I was behind them, I didn’t have any idea what to expect, and I didn’t expect this!
I lost track of one or two of my companions and tried to keep the other in my sight. One of the guys stepped into a bus, then backed out saying wait, my mates. He’d found the bus to the right destination, so we were soon behind him.
We stepped into the bus and were directed passed all the full seats and to the back. At the back of the crowded bus, a folding seat was thrown open and I was told to sit. People were coming in behind me and within a second, I pretty much fell into it — and when I did, it nearly touched the floor.
Another moment later, rushed and under pressure to pack the bus with as many fares as possible and go, the bus guy picked up my backpack and half threw it onto my lap. I was now stuck in an odd position, sliding to the floor, feet sort of stuffed, with one of the pack’s metal support strips pushing into my chin. That was not going to be a good one hour ride. Luckily Martin was behind me so he heard me say, with very little movement of my mouth and jaw, that I was going to have a hole in my throat or broken leg if the bus hit a bump. He and a few men saved me from chair collapse and being choked by lifting my back over and back one row into the very rear seat bench.
Adding my thoughts in 2015, this was my first experience with a chicken bus in Central America. It’s a shock to all travelers the first time. Knowing how these buses work makes it better for you in the future because you know you need to crowd in. It would have also helped if I knew Spanish at the time because I bet they were telling me to move back, move quickly, pick up my pack, etc.
After that, the one-hour ride was, well not luxurious and not a nice comfy Mexican ADO bus ride with window views and food sellers, but coolly air-conditioned and ok. I enjoyed the ride. I had a limited view but managed some conversation with Martin and the guy next to me.
San Pedro Sula bus station and bus
Arriving at the San Pedro Sula (Honduras) bus station, an impressive terminal, one companion needed to meet his ride. I asked the other two to see me in, just in case, to help me stay safe. They kindly accompanied me into the terminal to see me onto my next bus.
There was a bus to my destination city, La Ceiba, in just 10 minutes. How lucky!
I easily bought the ticket, then ran to the bathroom while guys watched my bag. Then we walked over to the bus gate and seeing I was well taken care of, the guys departed. The very sweet bus porter took my backpack and placed it under the bus. I took a seat on the side opposite of the bus driver so I could enjoy a view.
Upon telling the bus man that I wish I had time to eat, he kindly escorted me to one of the food places quite nearby within the terminal. I was able to buy a plate of hot rolled fried tacos! Food! I was so happy to return to my real seat on the bus and unwrap my meal.
Funny… Just as I took a bite, a guy came on selling ice cream. I couldn’t resist. Hot food on my lap, I bit off the corner of my ice cream pouch and enjoyed the cold sweet immensely as we rolled out. Yes, I did say pouch. The ice cream came not in a cone or on a stick, but in a pouch. Quite smart, actually. (Amending this in 2015, I can add that I saw this more after Honduras and even saw ice cream sold rolled in plastic in Germany in 2014.)
After the ice cream, I ate my tacos. A couple of teens were highly amused by me; they spoke no English and loved looking over at me. A nice man with limited English sat next to me and we had halted conversation as I attempted Spanish.
Shortly after we started out, a man pointed to the ceiling above my head and told me in limited English that I have good luck. He pointed to a green praying mantis or grasshopper. Esperanza, he said. It is for luck. You are lucky. My tiny green companion flew to the metal bar in front of me and was with us for quite a while as we left the city. I watched it with wonder as it held fast to its perch despite the air-flow from the often open door right by it.
I was having good luck, I felt, and maybe this meant the sailboat I was heading to was the right step for me.
I enjoyed that 3+ hour bus ride!
At one point we stopped for gas and the fantastic bus driver allowed me to use the restroom.
After a while, we stopped again. This time it was to fix the headlights. It was getting dark and when the driver realized the lights weren’t working, he made sure he got them on before continuing.
At or around this time, my seatmate departed and a new one boarded. Turned out he was a Pastor and spoke English well. Nice conversation. He told me about the poverty there and his soup kitchen and other work. None of it was about preaching or religious views. Fantastic man!
This kind Pastor, upon arrival to La Ceiba, had the driver drop us at his church and home. His wife, young daughter and young granddaughter greeted us and he introduced me to them. After speaking with his wife, he took the girls with him as he drove me to my overnight stop. We stopped at a gas station along the way. It crossed my mind for a moment that he might ask me to pay for the gas. He didn’t. I had money out for him but instinctively knew it was not the right time to offer it.
Arriving at the address I had for the Banana Republic Guest House, recommended by Lonely Planet we saw no signage and he worried that this was not the correct address. He told me to wait, got out, knocked at the gate, spoke to someone, and made sure it was the right place.
He accepted my US$5 contribution to his church only after I insisted and asked that he allow me to help feed the hungry people. (He refused it as a gas contribution or a thank you.)
It was April 14, 2012. I was in Honduras! My first travel in Honduras was successful and safe. The people had all been fantastic. (Well, the chicken-bus man was short of fantastic but with good reason.)
Tomorrow I would take the ferry to Roatan. Another adventure awaited.