Hat and I have been journeying along the Central American Caribbean coast in the runup to Christmas. Now though, her trip has come to an end and she’s winging her way back to the UK to spend a wintry Yule with her folks. With the UK under a blanket of snow, her next ride certainly won’t have any pineapple and coconut stops…
It’s been mini-adventure packed times: running the gauntlet with goliath, hand-me-down American trucks on the road into San Pedro Sula – the second largest city in Honduras. Loading our bikes into a skinny, precariously bobbing fishing boat to connect a remote stretch of Garifuna-infused coastline. And sampling some sweet singletrack across the Sierra Nombre de Dios into La Ceiba.
As ever, it’s been great to have company. As I sit here chomping on my tuna/tomato/avocado/salsa sandwich (our staple lunch these last couple of weeks), I know riding alone again will take some getting used to. But I also know that the accompanying sense of independence (and vulnerability) is bound to lead to rich, interesting encounters, keeping me motivated for the road ahead in 2011.
In the meantime, there’s Christmas and New Year to look forward to, before heading on towards the remote dirt tracks and waterways of the Mosquito Coast…
Hat and a surprisingly smooth ribbon of Honduran road.
Ex-US school buses barrel along the highways, minus the lavish decorations synonimous with Guatemala. Same breakneck speed, daredevil driving techniques, and ear bleeding horns though.
Hat, preparing for (colour co-ordinated) battle with these goliaths of the road.
A sign I like to see... Cold coconuts for sale. Delicious.
Two in one. A drink...
... and a wholesome meal, rich in protein and good for destroying intestinal parasites, so they say. All for 50c.
Way better than Coca Cola, who, seemingly unsatisfied with having whole shops painted in their telltale insignia, have endorsed entire towns. Their presence is felt throughout Central America, though Honduras' Coca Cola consumption actually pales in comparison to Mexico, the largest consumer per head in the world.
Street graffiti in Tela. Water privatisation is big business in Central America - apparently it takes four litres of water to produce one of Coca Cola. Interestingly, ex Mexican President Vicente Fox was also president of Coca Cola in Mexico and Latin America prior to his election...
More roadside snacks. Chargrilled corn on the cob, with a squeeze of lime.
In fact, Honduras scores well on cycling snacks chart. No shortage of fruit: bananas, oranges, pineapples galore.
Pick a pineapple. Any pineapple.
More tempting options: an agua de jamaica (hibiscus) refresco.
Long stretches of road, buffeted by trucks loaded with palm oil, weren't so enticing. We stopped for a break along one. As Hat disappeared into the undergrowth to go to the loo, a trucker slowed right down, pointing into the palm plantation before making a rather melodramatic finger-across-throat gesture. I took it to suggest we shouldn't hang around there too long...
The sign on this bus reads: My God is an Awesome God. Exhaust fumes and all.
In Tela, just as we were enquiring about cheap digs, we were invited into Alba's house for the night.
Up the rickety staircase...
... into her simple home, where we kipped on the floor. There was barely any water dripping out of the tap, the corrugated roof was speckled with holes and shafts of dusty light patterned the walls. Six months ago, she'd been robbed of her TV. Yet all this didn't stop Alba inviting two complete strangers into her home.
We also stopped in to visit her friend. Clarissabel had worked as a cleaner in New York for over thirty years, and in her broken english, subjected us to a blow by blow account of the complete contents of her thick tome of family photos.
In fact, Clarissabel’s children are still in the US, and send her back cash remittances so she can complete her half-built concrete home, a relative mansion in comparison to the wooden shacks on either side. She lamented the state of drug-rife Honduras, and offered an explanation with a religious slant typical to this part of the world. “Dios se enojo.” God has become angry because of people’s greed.
By way of example, she told us how a year and a half ago two women were gunned down almost outside her house. In fact, gun culture here seems even more prevalent than in Guatemala – it’s not uncommon to see a handgun nonchalantly tucked into a belt down at the juice bar.
The beach at Tela. Nice to look at but not a spot for moonlit walks, according to the locals, who keep to themselves when night has fallen.
A vast Dole (formerly known as Standard Fruit Company) pineapple plantation - in such stark contrast to the smallholdings seen during my recent travels in Cuba. Placards warned us to steer clear of the area when pesticides are being sprayed. Apparently Numegon (a soil fumegant) has been banned in the US since the '70s, cited as a cause for infertility, cancer and birth defects, amongst others.
The outskirts of La Ceiba, flanked by the impressive Sierra Nombre de Dios. The city was developed largely to serve the interests of Standard Fruit in 1924 - its owners, the Vaccaro brothers, dealt primarily in tropical fruit and steamships. Their banana export business, along with that of United Fruit (now Chiquita), remapped the social landscape of Honduras, thanks to their acquisition of vast tracts of land - much of which they didn't actually need. This land wasn't returned to Honduran farmers until agrarian reforms in the '60s - and even then, it was done with the interests of the banana businesses in mind.
It always takes a little time to find your feet in a new country. With national politics in turmoil after last year’s coup, and increased street gang activity, it sounds like safety in Honduras could be a little dicey at the moment. We’ve certainly been warned enough to take care by those we’ve met, though it’s hard to know just yet whether or not its really justified. So far, Hondurans seem quick to smile (or, in Hat’s case, whistle and catcall), and as welcoming as anywhere else I’ve experienced in Central America.