Sunday, 30 September 2007, La Palma, El Salvador
We crossed into El Salvador yesterday after 11 unexpected days in Honduras. We had planned only as far as going to visit the archaeological site at Copán and then to make our way toward El Salvador, thinking that the Pacific coast between El Salvador and Nicaragua might be the most interesting part to spend some time. The Atlantic coast didn't interest us at this time of year, especially since there have been 2 hurricanes in the region already, one of which hit Honduras quite badly. But we read a bit more in our guide book and ended up taking a circuitous route through this western part of Honduras - and we are glad we did. We found the mountainous countryside beautiful in a relaxing kind of way. There are no real vistas that bring sighs of absolute awe, but for the most part it is unspoilt, mostly pine forest, with few inhabitants.
Honduras is the second largest country in Central America, but its population is less than El Salvador, which is the smallest. For this reason it is possible to drive for some time between any obvious evidence of habitation, except maybe a cleared area of fields, way up high on the side of a mountain. Our circuitous route took us from Copán, to as far east as Comayagua, and then back to Gracias, before driving south to the border. On our journey we travelled highways in relatively good condition, paved highways with enormous potholes (that make Juergen a good candidate for winning a truck camper slalom competition if we can find one), and so-called 'secondary highways' which were little more than mud or stone tracks, complete with washouts and corrugations during this rain season. These secondary highways required 3 hours to cover 40 kilometres and at one place, and a wait of 3 hours at another while the locals repaired a huge area of mud so that the waiting line of vehicles could eventually pass. We were extremely thankful for the first time that we had a truck with 4-wheel drive!
The border crossing from Guatemala into Honduras was one of the easiest we have had. We were there for an hour and a half, but spent at least half of that time talking to an Argentinean couple who were travelling in the opposite direction, with their ultimate goal being Alaska. It was really good to talk to some fellow travellers after such a long time, and we swapped maps, information and contacts. They also invited us to come to see them in Buenos Aires, whenever we reach there. After crossing the border, we drove into Copán Ruinas, a small colonial town with very narrow streets, looking for somewhere to stay. It was such a difficult place to navigate in the camper that we left and drove out of town. About 10 km away is a Balneario - water park - which was quiet and peaceful, especially after 5.00 when all the workers had gone home and there were just us and the night watchman. Even though it is on the main road from the border to San Pedro Sula - the second largest city in Honduras - there was little overnight traffic, and we slept very well on our first night in the country. It would have been interesting to see this park fully operational and full of people, but it was only early in the week and we didn't really want to stay around for the weekend crowds.
The next day we visited the archaeological site, which has the most impressive stellae we have seen so far. They are so intricately carved that they have a real 3-dimensional quality which we haven't seen anywhere else. The Hieroglyphic Stairway is also an incredible sight, also with intricate carvings, although it is a shame that some of it has been removed and is on show in a museum in Boston! Other than those features, which were certainly worth seeing, we both still agree that Tikal is the most impressive ruin site we have seen on our travels. We stayed another night at the Balneario and then drove on to Santa Barbara.
We had decided to visit Santa Barbara area because, according to our guide book, the department of Santa Barbara is supposed to be the 'cradle of artisans' in Honduras. We did stop on the way at a small village selling 'panama hats' made from junco palm, and bought several for gifts, but the town of Santa Bárbara is not overly impressive, and we found no sign of the crafts that should be available from the local area. The town didn't inspire us to hang around either, with its rubbish strewn and uncared for central square, and the filthiest public toilets I have encountered so far. Despite the disappointment in the town we had gone out of our way to visit, we had really enjoyed our views of the beautiful countryside along the way - as they say, it's the journey and not the goal!
Our next stop was the Hotel "Finca Las Glorias", which is a working farm with coffee, pineapples, papayas and orange trees, and lots of gingers with masses of beautiful flowers, right on the shore of Lake Yojoa. It is a beautiful spot and we stopped for 3 nights. During the day there seemed to be a lot of activity, especially on Sunday when there were more than 600 people on the site. In the salon next to our camper there seemed to be some sort of Christian gathering and further away in another salon, a large group of teenagers including a marching band, who had been brought in by the busload - at one time we had the preaching in one ear and the drums in the other! But we didn't mind because they were all gone by the evening and it was a quiet place to sleep.
From Las Glorias it is a short drive to Pulhapanzak Waterfall. This is an impressive 42m drop of water and, since we are right in the midst of the rain season, there is plenty of water falling. It is possible walk down a trail, which leads to a platform close to the bottom of the falls giving a great view, but you get soaking wet from the mist. It would probably be a nice place to stay but it was still quite early so we drove on to Comayagua.
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