San Pedro Sula, Honduras
We are back on the road!
It’s true. Almost ten weeks (actually 69 days, or 1,656 hours) after breaking down, we collected the van yesterday, all spick and span. I did actually kiss the mechanic this time – he was a little taken aback. Thanks to everyone for all their concern and encouragement. We know it’s only a van, but some days in the last two months have been tricky to deal with. But we’ve managed to see a lot and meet some great people while waiting. So much so that this post is double length, so get a cup of tea and settle in.
At the end of the post are more teary thanks, to all the people who have helped us during this mechanical episode. Cheers all.
So, we are super-excited to be leaving San Pedro Sula today for our first night of camping in a long while. Tonight we shall no doubt celebrate this milestone with a beer or two.
But what have we been up to since we last blogged?
Just before we left Estelí, there was one last thing to do. Watch the final of the European Champions League – the result of which, although Jeremy’s team Tottenham was not playing, was crucial for their forthcoming season.
I opted to meet him in a bar towards the end of the game. I turned up and searched the room, my eyes sweeping back and forth to try to locate the lone gringo nursing a beer near the TV screen. No sign. I was just starting to get concerned when I saw his face popping up from within a group of raucous young Nicaraguans. He waved, just a little frantically.
I headed over to find that in the 80 minutes since I’d left him, he’d been co-opted by the most steamingly drunk people in the bar. One guy was sleeping at the table with a half-eaten piece of fried chicken still hanging from his mouth, another was just continually high-fiving Jeremy and telling him how much he loved him. Four blokes who’d just got a little bit over-excited about the game. It’s comforting to know that some things are just the same, the world over.
We left Estelí and took the long, long journey to Nicaragua’s remote Caribbean coast (more commonly known as the Atlantic coast), which involved two buses and two boat rides over two days. The main journey ended in Pearl Lagoon, a small dusty town in an area that’s home to Creole, Miskito and Garífuna people. It’s one of those places where hotels and eateries are few, and those that exist open when they feel like it, which can be a little baffling for the newly-arrived traveller. But we soon happily settled for a waterside cabin, complete with decks and hammocks, that was part of a great restaurant and bar.
Pearl Lagoon seemed to us like a mixed-up place; a microcosm of many of the things that are great, and not so great, about parts of Central America.
It had so much natural beauty on its doorstep, but a lack of infrastructure to support what some visitors would want. On the other hand, there was a sense that maybe some people liked it just fine that way.
As a region that’s seemingly ignored by central government, an investment gap has been filled by drug traffickers, who use the lagoon on their way north and apparently can be relied upon more to build new facilities such as the town’s only internet cafe. Under-employment seems to mean there’s a heavy reliance on migrant relatives sending cash from abroad, and chronic boredom is apparent on the streets.
Even small businesses seem to run hand-to-mouth, like the rustic little bakery-cafe we went to for breakfast each day. We’d order scrambled eggs, and they’d disappear out of the door, then come back with six eggs from the shop.
Set apart from the rest of Nicaragua, locals in English-speaking Pearl Lagoon often refer to their countrymen as ‘the Spaniards’ – many of whom have been coming from the Pacific side to settle in the east, to the chagrin of some lagoon natives.
One minute we were trying to tune in to the patois English, then the next someone would speak to us in Spanish, while others just constantly flipped between the two.
Without a doubt it’s a fascinating and stunning place to spend time. We took a boat trip out to Pearl Cayes, which had scenery to rival any idyllic Caribbean setting. It was the stuff of a desert island fantasy – as the first cayes appeared on the horizon I half expected to see a guy with ragged trousers and a long beard, waving madly – but then I realised Jeremy was on the boat with me.
Some of the islands – which have been disappearing amid rising sea levels – were merely a mound of bright white sand, and a tuft of palm trees.
We stopped at one and snorkelled in turquoise waters while our guide cooked up one of the local dishes, called rondon – an exquisite coconut milk-based soup of fresh fish, shrimps, crab, plantains, coco and yucca. It’s worth noting that one of the fish in the pot was caught by Jeremy with a hand-held line – his first ever catch.
Another day, after a failed boat trip to a different village in the lagoon, we found ourselves at a loose end. Before long we were found and adopted for the day by Anselmo, from Pearl Lagoon, and his British wife Libby, their baby son John, and their two visiting English friends Jen and Mike.
After a feast of a picnic we drove out to the nearby Miskito fishing village of Awas, to swim and enjoy an incredible sunset. With its undeveloped open spaces and waterfront palapas, it would have been the perfect camping spot, and we daydreamed wistfully about the absent van.
At one point Anselmo appeared carrying a blue crab he’d just caught, which was put in the car as an addition to the evening meal. We were invited to the couple’s house for dinner, where he whipped up a delicious rondon, complete with the blue crab. It was a great opportunity to chew the fat about the local culture and – with the four being involved in aid projects in Nicaragua – the whole development debate.
After a few nights there we did a marathon run all the way back to Honduras, with two days of 12-hour journeys to get back to San Pedro Sula, where the van was.
En route, we changed from boat to bus at the port of El Rama. While we were hanging around for the bus we bumped into a former BBC colleague of mine, Lynda Smith, who has been working in a school in Granada in Nicaragua. It was one of those surreal double-take moments! We’ll swing by and see her again once we reach Granada with the van.
That day we received an email to say that the transmission was due to be delivered in a couple of days!! We could hardly believe this episode might actually be reaching a conclusion.
We hot-footed it to the D&D Brewery and hostel at Lago de Yojoa – where, for complicated reasons, the transmission was being sent – and waited it out. The day it was due was a long one. Every time Jeremy heard a truck in the driveway he sprinted out. It didn’t come.
The next day Bobby, D&D’s owner who had been helping us with the shipping process, called the company and they promised it would be there in a few hours. A huge truck pulled in at lunchtime. I was too nervous to look, having – rather pessimistically – convinced myself that the wrong package was going to arrive. But it was our transmission, it really really was!
We loaded it into the back of a pick-up truck taxi and drove straight to the mechanic’s in San Pedro Sula. Ivan, the boss there, was surely as happy to see this bloody spare part as we were; he’d had our van sitting festering in his yard for more than eight weeks!
Ivan said he wanted up to eight days to work on it. So we headed off again, this time to Honduras’s north coast and another Garífuna village called – rather cringeingly – Sambo Creek. Not sure who’s idea it was to name it that…
This region of Honduras is particularly damn hot. We steamed for a few days, ‘cooling’ off in the bath-warm ocean and waiting for some other tourists to show up so we could take a trip to the nearby islands, Cayos Cochinos.
After a couple of days, we set off on a magical day trip to the cayes. Now, I don’t want to sound all fussy about which idyllic Caribbean desert islands are better than which – but these kicked the arse of just about anything we’ve seen. Just impossibly gorgeous. We snorkelled in sparkling waters on the beautiful coral reef, among luminescent fish. Incredible.
We then sat down to a lunch of fish so fresh it was practically flapping about on the plate, accompanied by delicious coconut rice n’ beans and fried plantains.
On the way back our boat broke down. Are we jinxed? Was this a bad omen? It was about the most untraumatic breakdown imaginable though. We were towed by another boat to yet another perfect desert island, and jumped in for a swim while the drivers installed a spare engine. Bonus!
Now, why can’t all mechanical problems be like that?
Things we now know to be true: It only took Phileas Fogg 11 days more to circumnavigate the globe.
PICS PICS PICS: We put a few Honduras pics on Flickr recently. More to come soon. Click here to see them.
And finally… GRACIAS / THANKS! to …