Is Honduras as Scary as it Sounds?

Honduras, what does that name bring to mind for you?

 

Violence, crime, beaches, or paradise? Maybe none of these. Maybe you have only heard the name and know roughly that it is in central America.

 

That was me I had heard of it but knew nothing about it. I did realize that after looking at a map we would be riding right through it after exiting Guatemala and before reaching Nicaragua. With this in mind I started to do a little research.

 

Life lesson # 1: never start by looking at the travel advisories posted by the Canadian Government or if you do, at least try and find some real facts from someone living directly in the country. Rather than stifling a great country with negative details. This post will be an account of our experiences in this vast and wonderful country.

 

On our return to Roatán, Honduras on October 6th after Karen had completed her dive master and both of us working the summer at home in Canada. Our bikes were safely waiting for us as they were kindly stored by a few good friends of ours. Happy to be reunited with our bikes again and hosted by good friends Jason and Suzette who are in the process of filming their own web TV series, the Dive Masters, we were able to enjoy a day of diving and seeing some of Karen’s friends.

 

One of the highlights of Honduras is scuba diving in the Bay Islands. Located on the second largest barrier reef in the world dive sites are located a short boat trip away, no more than 5 minutes and there is something for everyone. Amazing swim throughs, wall dives, drift dives, wrecks and amazing deep dives. Diversity is abundant and this reef is really known for the macro flora.

 

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Diving Roatán, Photo courtesy of Bill Sullivan

 

After a few short days and a quick visit we left Roatán feeling quite apprehensive about whether or not we should elect to ride or bus it after pesky travel advisories has wormed their way into our thoughts again. In the end we said ‘F%&* it‘ and mounted our trusty steeds with the satisfaction knowing if we wanted to we could hop a ride anywhere. An e-mail conversation with fellow cyclist, Bob Stanley, presented us with an enticing back-road route to cross Honduras from the north coast of La Ceiba to the southern border crossing to Nicaragua.

 

Our first night after the ferry ride back to the mainland and after a short cycle up the valley of the Río Cangrejal we arrived at the base camp of Omega Tours, an outdoor adventure company specializing in river rafting and mountain bike tours offering comfortable jungle accommodation. We met a great Canadian couple here working for the company. We were able to spend some time with them hiking into the near by Pico Bonito National Park.

 

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Our sweet little tent shelter at Omega Tours.

 

Snake Karen Stepped on

The snake that Karen stepped on in Pico Bonito National Park giving her the stink eye. Somehow she has developed a magnet towards snakes and almost stepping on them.

 

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Riding alongside the beautiful Rio Cangrejal.

 

Leaving Omega Tours after a couple of days we continued up the valley’s dirt road up into the mountains. About 20 km’s after leaving Omega Tours the maintained road ended turning into a double/single track grind leading us straight up the mountain (but we had been warned about this). The grind took us about 4 hours with 50/50 ration of biking to hiking. AWESOME!

 

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How the road across the mountains to Olanchito started out. Packed, wide and hardly any traffic, except for a few horses…

 

Single track

… and what the road (better called a ‘track’) turned into.

 

Once over the pass, the road gradually “improved” from thick mud to hard gravel. We made it into the town of Olanchito just before dark, completely spent. Definitely top 5 hardest days but the adversity and gorgeous scenery has made it one of our most memorable and rewarding.

 

Stunning river valley

We climbed high in the heat but were rewarded with scenic views.

 

The next day onto Highway 41, another back road with unbelievable mountain scenery but also a road with a reputation. This specific road was explicitly mentioned in travel advisories to be known for armed robberies and assaults. Traffic was light but every delivery truck was accompanied by a heavily armed guard wielding something to the effect of an assault rifle or what looked like and AK-47. Already feeling unnerved and from warnings of passing motorists we had become very aware that with the difficulty of the terrain we wouldn’t make it to the next town by nightfall. With the sun waning quickly we searched out a spot to place our tent for the night. Not the way we envisioned what our first night wild camping would be like.

 

We found a spot, invisible form the road, or so we hoed and set up camp. Sleep did not come well as the passing of very vehicle and every bump in the night kept our senses on guard. Morning light could not come quick enough and with first light was were packed up and on the road rolling towards the town of La Union, the town we had hoped to reach the day before. Looking back know, it seems a little ridiculous on how paranoid we were that day. Those that we did meet on the side of the road were more than friendly. One memory that comes to mind is just before we reached yet another summit of a large hill a very poor man came out of his hut with cups of water for us and his wife offered a handful of delicious fruit she had just picked. We had a wonderful conversation and departed with handshakes and hugs.

 

We checked into the very hospitable hotel La Muralla (named after the nearby National Park) and re-grouped. The small mountain town probable only sees a handful of visitors a year but everyone we met made us feel welcome. One of our most memorable Honduran friendships was formed here with a man by the name of Carlos. Carlos, a local business owner, father, trained water technologist and potential future mayor who spoke excellent English, helped us out immensely and also put our minds at ease. We talked in depth about local politics, national politics and compared notes between what it’s like living in Canada and in Honduras.

 

It was obvious our friend was extremely patriotic and was also concerned about the future for his children. He talked of a close knit community, of good business, but also highlighted some of the problems of political corruption and the effects of the drug trade. Carlos spoke of perhaps running for mayor in the next election so he could be a part of positive change within his community but he also spoke of moving to a country like Canada where he could ensure his children received a good education. One of his aspirations if he was elected as mayor was to develop a sustainable tourism model promoting the town and the nearby National Park known for its abundance of birds which included the now rare Resplendent Quetzal (which we’d been searching for since Guatemala). La Union is a charming town and if there is anything we can do to help promote this place and its people, we’d like to help.

 

Unfortunately, to our regret we were anxious to push on in our journey and looking back we should have taken the opportunity to spend more time with Carlos and his family and also visit the park nearby.

 

Carlos and I also discussed the safety concerns on the road ahead, which he was well aware of. He explained that the ‘trouble’ spot was further south of town and targets mainly merchant trucks which ale explained the armed guards we saw. He said we probably wouldn’t have any problem but we were still apprehensive. We decided to ask our friend if we paid of his time and the cost of gas if he’d be willing to give us a ride past the trouble spot to the next main town. He said yes of course, but was disappointed that we were leaving so soon. Upon arriving at our detonation of Campatamento, we bid farewell to our new friend as carried on our way on our bikes humbled by our experience and conversation.

 

Mike and Carlos

Mike and Carlos, from La Union at Campatamento.

 

Back in the heat, down from the mountains the next two days we struggled keeping adequately hydrated. Two days before the border crossing into Nicaragua, Karen was having a particularity tough time and demanded to stop for the night in the town of Villa de San Francisco, one valley away from the capital of Tegucigalpa. Samir, the owner of the Hotel Macris greeted us with open arms, his wife treated us to delicious sweet coffee and cookies and his youngest daughter (Veronica) became quite fond of us as we spent the afternoon doing some much needed maintenance on our bikes.

 

Samir, Veronica and Karen

Samir, Veronica (18 months) and Karen fixin’ bikes.

 

Two days later we crossed into Nicaragua, our 7th country at the Los Manos border crossing. We couldn’t leave Honduras without the friendly help of another Honduran who helped bandaged Karen’s rear rack that had broken on both sides at the weld. His quick fix allowed us to carry on until we could reach a town where we could get it welded properly.

 

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Karen’s rack broke in the same place on both sides.

 

Our view of Honduras has been totally changed, We really had nothing but good experiences, met wonderful people and enjoyed the ever changing scenery. There definitely are some security issues and the stories in the media and from friends in Roatán where the crime situation seems to be escalating leaves a bad taste in our mouths and fills us with apprehension. It’s a sad situation as this country has a lot to offer.

 

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The deserted roads in Honduras are perfect for pedaling on a bike.

 

Click here to download the GPX track of our route though Honduras including the cross over to Olanchito: Honduras – Part 2.

 

Overview of Honduras Route

Overview of Honduras Route using Google Maps. Red = caught a ride, Green = cycled, Blue = ferry, Black = SPOT track.

 

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