Touching down at dark in Tegucigalpa, Honduras gives you just enough adrenalin buzz to get your wits about you. You would think at least the airport would have electricity. The best idea under these circumstances is to share a taxi with fellow travelers in the same boat and score a budget hotel before it’s lights out permanently. Oh I forgot half of Honduras is on some kind of a generator restrictor program. We will give you electric when we feel like it. Sounds like a government with issues! At least the hotel clerk was polite as he guided me back a long stairway with his large flashlight and opened the double locked door to my no windows, no air conditioned room. Isn’t this why we travel for the adventure? Could be!
After working through the night sweats and being awakened by the street generators, I headed to a beautiful White Colonial hotel where I had a wonderful mixed real fruit breakfast with homemade bread and jellies, a large glass of fresh pineapple and orange juice and several cups of Central American Java. There is something about Central American coffee— maybe it’s because it is always served piping hot in white china cups or water glasses with smiling waiters and waitresses or because they use cheesecloth to strain the milk, or because they keep the best coffee beans for themselves. That’s good Java!!
Seasoned travelers skip this part. If you are traveling on a budget zero in on the most expensive hotel in any city you are traveling in Central or South America and find budget lodging within three blocks. Hangout at the expensive hotels, have a cup of Java, and always use their bathroom facilities— you will be glad you did. Also a great place to meet other fellow travelers. To break the ice pull out your tourist maps or your computer printouts and spread them out over your table as you plan your day or the rest of your life. You never know! This could be your last ride. Might consider a pocket computer language converter. I have never used one but I saw a fellow traveler from Denmark had one and he thought it was a handy item to have along. I will check one out for my next trip. Hope it converts Burmese or to be Atlas correct Myanmarese and can spell and talk intelligently.
The smell of the buses exhaust system almost went directly into my brain as we roared out of Tegucigalpa on what the conductor said was “Directo”. Not only was it Directo it stopped every time anyone needed picked up until there wasn’t anymore standing room left and the luggage compartment on top of the bus was full. Do not take the last seat on the bus since this is where the engine is imbedded. Too hot!– also your hinny hits bottom on every bump pounding against bare metal. Depending on your thriller skills you may also skip the seat directly behind the bus driver and the one across the aisle unless you need the leg room and don’t care if you live or die. Because whether you know it not— all you need for a extreme bus race in Central America is another bus traveling the same direction you are and the conductor yelling something in coded spanish to the other conductor and your off for the ride of a lifetime.
I have seen drivers so conservatively dressed (with a white pressed shirt and a black string tie) and a picture of their family and Jesus mounted above the steering wheel race side by side for miles around curves driving the traffic coming the other direction onto the berm or into the fields. Some governments have tried to slow these bus-a-maniacs down by installing governors which won’t allow them to exceed 65 miles per hour. Others have tried speed bumps. I think they need video cameras and tazer guns. I have actually offered to pay a nice bonus like a crisp $5.00 bill if the driver would just slow down a touch. “DON’T TELL ME YOU ARE LIKE SOME THEM QUEEZY AMERICAN WOMEN I get from time to time.” You haven’t lived until you see your bus driver grapple the huge steering wheel, hit the brakes and broadslide the bus through a series of mountain turns that would defy gravity.
On the road again— I know we started out a little bumpy but man look at this countryside.
Royal Palms as far as the eye can see and miles and miles of blue sky and nothing but wide open spaces. Hold on— we are grinding the gears down to an abrupt stop at a small village. Look at those pavo silvestres (turkeys) strutting around like they don’t have a care in the world. In my hometown they would be dinner. There’s a vaquero (cowboy) riding alongside the road. Look at all of the people walking– where do think they are going? I don’t know but hats off too walking. Central Americans walk everywhere!
The windows open down from the top and the vendors hand you everything from red kool aid in plastic bags to stuff wrapped in hot leaves with long sticks. If you missed the outside vendors not to worry— now you will have a continuous line of women and children selling everything from coke a cola to religious cards and pots full of good smelling food.
As if on a mission the bus rolls out with the second tier of vendors— vending every kind of a dish you can hide in your apron or in a pot. I’ll have one of those as the cute, petite, grandma shows me some sort of a snack and politely says: “muchas gracias senor” as you part with a thin dime. Forget trying to learn spanish in a stuffy classroom. Hop on a bus anywhere in Central America and start hablan (speaking) away espanol.
Since changing all that funny money could tax even Allen Greenspan I have developed a Central American exchange formula that works every time. It costs approximately 30 cents an hour to travel. As you plan your trip and I have taken many 8 hour trips— that’s just a small warm-up. At the end of the trip simply hand the conductor 8 x .30 = $2.40 score your hotel for about $5.00 add a few bananas and pastries and there you have it. With a roll-up poncho and backpack you could travel 313 days by bus for a cost of $751.00 and don’t forget to rest on the sabbath. By adding in your bus travel, food and hammock rentals you could easily live a year for $1500.00. They do!!!! Need extra money! Comes in handy to have relatives working in the states. They send billions of dollars a year to their families.
Offer to move to Central America if your relatives will chip in. It pays to be hip!
Leaving Merida, Mexico on the night bus I inspected the bus drivers mannerisms, and looked at the conductors facial expressions looking for signs. Everything seemed perfect I had the seat directly behind the conductor and was traveling on a brand new Mercedes bus. We had a full house. The gears were so smooth as he pulled out of the bus station I couldn’t have felt better. Heck, I might even nod off with such a good bus crew and a spanking brand new Mercedes bus. Greyhounds motto “Leave the driving to us”. Tilt your seat back and relax— this is travel as it should be.
The bright moon soon began to play hide and seek as we traveled at a rather brisk speed going down the mountain as our night driver shifted into fifth gear overdrive. Patches of fog began to appear from time to time. Looking around every passenger was already asleep and snoring to kingdom come. Talk about “THE NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD” Are you kidding me! This ace bus driver is now going 97 mile an hour on what looks like too narrow of a road to have traffic going both ways. Boy was I wrong, as another Mercedes bus came flying right toward us blowing the air horn at least four times as if this was some kind of religious passage. The only one that came to mind was my funeral. At least I could afford one more glance as I was scared stiff. Talk about praying. I could already see it in the morning papers “Bus traveling at high speed runs into oxcart and skids off the road killing all of the passengers.” Hell the press won’t even pick this up in the states. What’s another bus load of Mexicans?
Get a grip doesn’t this bus driver have a family and such. Able to turn my head now. Prayers at the height as I see the odometer cross the 100 miles per hour threshold.
Hell I have to piss like a racehorse —shouldn’t have drunken that last cup of coffee just before boarding. On my final prayer I’m jiggling and asking the Good Lord to slow this thing down. I’m so sensitive to sounds and everything. I hope this isn’t a cruel joke, but I think I hear the bus driver touching the air brakes. Oh my God he is slowing down, in fact the bus is coming to a crawl shifting downward all the time. Thank you Jesus! Thank you Jesus! As I suddenly realized we only slowed down for one of the government imposed speed bumps. The bus driver started revving and double clutching the rpms right back up in record speed. It’s now beginning to rain and drizzle. Oh great, it wasn’t bad enough to drive like your in the Daytona 500, but now we have terrible weather conditions to boot as we fly through the clouds at breakneck speeds and can’t see a dam thing.
We went through a series of these speed bumps with the weather closing in on us. Our driver stopped the bus at the last speed bump and had the conductor get a large ladder and wipe the crud from the windshield. At least I was still alive. Roaring through the mountainous fog and looking down at the speedometer pegging at over 100 I knew then that Jesus was definitely our co-pilot. You would think as busy as he was he wouldn’t have time to take up bus driving. Just then the bus came to an abrupt halt. Senor bus driver wheeled the Chariot from Heaven into a planned bus stop and announced this was the midway point to Chetumal. (The last free zone city before bus crossing into Belize) “Be back on the bus in 45 minutes.” Under my breathe– yea right buddy in your dreams.
The driving rain and fog were relentless. I picked up my small backpack and went inside the warm Mexican restaurant– whereby I handed my bus ticket to the driver and told him this was my jumping off point. I told the driver what a wonderful driver he was and thanked him very much. He just pointed up to the sky and said he had very little to do with it! I believe it! In fact I may have witnessed the first bus on divine auto-pilot. How do you account for the fact that while he was combing his hair and looking in the mirror the wheel turned expertly through a series of curves. DIVINE INTERVENTION!
When the sun eventually broke through the clouds I headed south on a converted yellow school bus. The rather portly Mexican bus driver with the traditional black beaded Mexican sombrero drove so nice I just wanted to kiss him. On second thought maybe not! I was so dam glad to be looking at the sights again I think I would have done almost anything. One thing I won’t due is travel through the clouds at breakneck speeds again or will I. I guess it depends on my mode of travel and who’s really driving.
Forget going to Moscow (The most expensive city in Europe) where a pair of men’s shoes costs $2000.00. Hop on a bus and get off the beaten path in Central America. The people are normally generous to a point. Colorful indigenous Indians with amazing handicrafts. You can see and photograph Mayan Ruins and discover things you didn’t know. You could track a shy inhabitant of the cloud forest, The magnificent Quetzal, (pharamachrus mocinno) the elusive and sacred bird of the Mayans, try out a new language at one of the many language schools with built in lodging and adventure trips and learn to read facial mannerisms of the Central American bus drivers. It’s so important it may determine if you are in for a thrill of a lifetime or not. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me to see this skill exposed on Oprah.
Note: For those less adventurous Central America has some wonderful, modern buses with direct routes, pull down screens for watching mexican soaps, and curtains to cover your windows not to mention some of the freezing air-conditioning systems. Also take special note what tapes and videos the conductor hands the driver. By pulling down the blinds you miss all of the wonderful colorful sights and miss the smells of the country and might even miss holding a pavo silvestre while your seat-mate excuses her-self at the next rest-stop.
But oh how touristy you look, bused fom one ecolodge to another and honestly do you think you are really off the path when you are in a brand new Landrover and pull over to look at a few birds sitting on the telephone lines. I witnessed that very scenario in Costa Rica. I couldn’t make something like that up. Zentraveler says get the smells, ride on top of the bus, get lost, you might be surprised at what’s around the next bend.
“The truth is out there —or is it!”
— Don’t know
Things you may not know: History tell us that folks have been flying kites at Weifang,
China since A.D. 1368
Things you may want to save: Water! The aquifers are being depleted faster than you can
Zentraveler says it’ all in zee travel.