Sunday, July 21, 2013


Camping by the algal pool!

Given the time that it took to cross the border into Honduras, it was pretty clear that I was not going to make it to the Copan Ruins, my original destination, before dark. As I wound my way through the luxuriant mountains I kept an eye out for a balnario or water park, which turn out to be good spots to camp. Before long a ramshackle sign signaled an equally ramshackle park so I swung down the little dirt track and asked the surprised owners if I could spend the night. They were more than happy and recounted that their only previous camping guests were two Australians on bicycles. Their young daughter took the opportunity to practice her english in exchange for helping me with my spanish - a fun evening. While one of the pools was more like an algae farm, the other was relatively clean and a pre-dinner dip washed away the heat of the day.

My next stop was the ruins at Copan where I set up camp in the back of a restaurant immediately opposite the entrance which meant easy walking distance into the town and to the ruins. Following the raucous screeching sounds the of birds, I entered the park to be confronted with the amazing sight of a dozen macaws - what amazing birds! While many of them have been bred in captivity and released into the wild, and hence are very tame, it is still a remarkable sight to see them squabbling and  flrting in the trees and then swooping off across the forest.

Whilst the ruins here are structurally less spectacular than others in Mexico and Guatemala, the quality of the sculptures is exceptional and the grounds  were beautiful. The sheer scale of these sights meant that the presence of several hundred school kids didn’t detract from the experience. While now very much geared to tourists, the town of Copan Ruins is very pleasant with lots of good hotels and restaurants, but I have to stay, I preferred camping in a local garden where a couple of the local young boys took up residence in my van!

From Copan to Gracias, with a number of stops at various police checkpoints, all of which were friendly exchanges. One involved a roadside conversation about the importance of managing the environment and the problems of people making money while destroying the environment - from a policeman who would rather be an ecologist! 

The ruins of Copan

An emerging challenge is that none of the ATMs in Santa Rosa would accept either of my cards, so I pushed on to Gracias, a pleasant little pueblo nestled in among the cloud shrouded mountains. After 200 limperas for camping (a bit pricy), I’m down to my last 200. At 20 to the dollar, that isn’t going to get me very far! The ATM here won’t recognize my cards either. This could become a problem.... and tomorrow is Sunday, so I’m sure not going to sort it out with the banks here any time soon. I’ve got a bit of gas, a bit of food and half a bottle of red,so I’m good for another day. After that......??

Found a temporary solution by moving into the very pleasant Guanacaste Hotel were the Dutch owner, Frony, assured me that we would be able to sort something out, so I organised a bird watching tour with William, a local Honduran who is passionate about his birding and next morning we were off looking for the rare Honduran Emerald (a hummingbird, not a gemstone!). Didn’t find that but did have a delightful morning wondering around the interface of forests and farmland where the birds were abundant and the farmers were chipping weeds in the morning sun among the emerging corn crops. Can’t help but feel that we make life way too complicated in the west!

My money problem was solved as the bank gave me money over the counter, so I set off again to my next destination - a short drive up a very steep and narrow road to Parque National Celaque. I set up camp alongside a strange canvas shelter with a single mosquito net hanging up next to a large lamp. It turned out to be a screen for catching moths, set up by a group of 3 Russians who are collecting moths throughout Honduras. 

The diversity of forest types here is amazing. This time I spent the day climbing steep trails through liquid amber & pine forests  which gave way to cloud forest as I got higher. It was strange to see bromeliads growing on pine trees. Not to mention the ridiculously brightly colored orchids that looked like something you would expect as the result of extreme selective breeding.

My next destination was the area around Lago de Yojoa which I decided to get to via Esperanza. I was just thinking to myself how good the road was  when suddenly the sealed road just ended and I was on a muddy, slippery, one-lane goat track. Crawled my way to Esperanza where fortunately the road improved again and then continued on in search of Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meambar. The afternoon storms were building as I saw a small sign for the park. A quick check with locals by the roadside confirmed that the gravel road led to the park so I started to climb once again on yet another increasingly steep and narrow road, getting quizzical looks from the locals as I drove through little farming villages. Eventually I opted for 4 wheel drive as it got steeper and muddier and I was starting to think this wasn’t right, a feeling confirmed when I popped over a rise to find myself in the middle of a local football game where the road ended on the only bit of flat ground in the area. The amazed players stopped their game and confirmed that the park was above  where we were, but obviously this was not the visitors access. Having ascertained that there was another entrance with a visitors centre, I retraced my steps as the rain pelted down, eventually finding the correct entrance with quite a good road to some excellent visitors facilities and an excellent campground with views to the surrounding forested mountains where I settled in just as dusk fell. 

Parque Nacional Cerro Azul Meambar

Yet more beautiful forest trails, steep but well maintained, with babbling streams and vistas over forested valleys and nearby Lago Yojoa, kept me amused for a couple of days.  Another short drive then took me down to the lake and the D&D Brewery, set up by a guy from Oregon which seems to be a mandatory stop for travelers through Honduras, but is also popular with locals. Having been wondering where all of the other travels were, I found the answer here! 

Also here was Malcolm Glascow, an Englishman who takes bird tours on the local lake. It turned out that he wasn’t able to take me the following day as he was going up the mountain to visit a local community that was trying to develop a conservation program so after a bit more discussion we agreed that I should join him on that trip instead. 
Could this be my new address???

Lunch stop, with Malcolm, Dennis and Pablo
After a morning coffee, we were on our way on foot, walking for several hours through forest and farmland and small villages until we arrived at Union Del Dorado where I was introduced to Denis and Pablo, two locals with a passion for the environment and a desire to build an ecotourism model that would help them to protect the remaining forest in a buffer zone around Parque Nacional Santa Barbara and the lake. Slept the night in Denis’ house and next morning we were out with both Denis and Pablo, exploring the trails and making arrangements for a visit by a group of english school kids who were coming as part of an environmental challenge program. After a second night at Denis’ place I was getting excited by the prospect of getting involved here - they have many of the ingredients for a great project - young, dynamic leadership, an interested community, great natural assets with a national park and surrounding areas that have been impacted but are still in relatively good condition, already established tourist infrastructure nearby, and a beautiful location. I think this might be the sort of project that I’ve been looking to get involved in, and Denis is keen to see me involved. I think I feel a change of address coming on!

Waiting for our pre-birding breakfast
Back down at the Brewery I met a couple of Dutch girls, Sabine and Brecht, one of whom was a birder, and William from Gracias was also there with his girlfriend Soetkin, so we arranged for Malcolm to take us all out on the lake the following morning. 
Setting off a first light after yet another mandatory coffee (the local coffee here is outstanding!) we were on the lake in little row boats as the mist was rising and the otters were splashing by the shore. A beautiful fresh morning washed clean by the overnight tropical storms, with lots of interesting birds and brilliant vistas of the surrounding mountains. Yet more support for spending some time here!

Dawn on Lago de Yojoa

Back up the mountain..
Our little birding group then decided that we should all revisit the mountain village to take a longer hike through the national park, so we all piled into the van and made our way back up the mountain. Picked up Dennis and Pablo on the way so we now had 8 in the van! Breakfast was taken at a little house on the edge of the park where the local women whipped up a delicious meal for 6 unannounced travelers before we set off to explore the mountain. The trails here have all been put in by the locals with no government presence in the park at all as far as I could tell. While adequate to get around, they certainly could do with the resources to get it to a standard more suitable for general visitors. We scrambled around among lianas and fungi and broken bridges, getting a brief glimpse of quetzals among various other birds that were new to us. This area is feeling more enticing by the day!

Dasyuno (breakfast)

Maybe we'll pass on the bridge...

Malcolm - the forest elf

A dinner invitation from William saw us at the house of Robert Gallardo, a leading birder who is about to release a field guide to the birds of Honduras - the artwork is amazing - get a copy when it comes out. Enticing tales over dinner of the Mosquitia forests on the border of Honduras and Nicaragua - the largely unvisted “amazon of central America” further fueled my desire to  to spend some serious time here in Honduras.

Morning farewells to the D&D crowd as I set off to yet another National Park  - Tigra - just outside of the capital city of Teguchigalpa. This meant navigating the narrow unsigned streets - fortunately it was a Sunday afternoon so the traffic wasn’t too bad. After seeking directions, a local signaled me to follow him and went out of his way to guide me across town and put me on the right road, which took me to yet another delightful campsite in the forest where another couple of days were spent just exploring the forests and waterfalls. 

From Tigra, another short drive took me to the small village of El Paraiso just short of the Nicaraguan border where I found a place to stay the night, again in the garden of a restaurant. Having dined in the restaurant, the owners wouldn’t accept payment for the camping - you can’t fault the hospitality here. 

So, time to leave Honduras - much more to see, but the knowledge that I will be back has encouraged me to push on to Costa Rica where I will take more Spanish lessons and hopefully pick up the replacement part for my broken kayak. 

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