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A man of many words. Profane, profound, loyal to a fault and a right rat bastard. I love the finer things in life: expensive cigars, cheap women and all the salted, cured meats I can eat. A friend to dogs, lover of humanity and despiser of people. If I were King the world would be a better place, because, well...I would be King! Oh, and I like ice cream.

Sunday, July 23, 2006

Travel Day: Flores to Copan Ruinas

Travel days aren't usually very interesting. But, I loved them on this trip. Even though most of it is experienced while sitting on a bus, there is always something for the inner dialogue. You can have your sun drenched beaches and summer novels while sipping pina coladas. Give me a crammed, smelly bus traveling bad roads for eight hours any day. But then that's me.

The night before the trip we asked around to try to figure how long it would take us to get to the city of Chiquimula, near the Honduran border. We were told variously: four hours, four and a half hours, six hours and eight hours.

It took nine.

The tuk-tuk pulled up at the hotel precisely at 5:40AM. We were mildly surprised at the Guatemalan efficiency. By 6:20 the bus was rolling. At first it looked like we were golden. After all, it was an Express bus. Like most buses in Central America it was a little older, but comfortable enough. There was no A/C, but in the early morning with the windows open it was nice. It was fairly empty and we were flying along well-paved roads.



The Driver's Assistant was curious about my camera. The beauty of digital technology. Nothing makes friends faster in the developing world than to take one's picture and immediately show it to them.

Gradually our progress began to stall. At first there were the brief stop-and-gos along the highway to pick up the odd passenger or three. Later we would briefly leave the main highway to dip into a small village to drop off or gain others.

We couldn't locate the city of Morales in our Lonely Planet map of Guatemala, but it took an hour to get in and out. Morales had a proper (well, Centroamericano proper) bus station. The stop gave me a chance to hop off and relieve myself in an absolutely filthy bano, which cost me 50 cents (I think) for the privelege. I gave thought to negotiating a BM. But, dropping trou on that urine-flooded floor was a non-starter. Discretion being the better part of valor, I went into intestinal lockdown. And I would maintain that status until reaching our hostel in Copan. (TMI?)

It was pouring rain in Morales. June being the height of rainy season. The merchant's stalls extended so far into the roadway the bus could barely clear them. Turns were a fiasco of back-and-forth attempts to change directions. At the same time hawkers of various goods were boarding and making a nuisance of themselves. "Comidas! Comidas! Comidas!" Heladas! Heladas! Heladas!" "La Prensa! La Prensa! La Prensa!" It was Developing World chaos I love so well.

In the countryside one could see every shade of green but neon. And maybe that too in a certain light. Paul Theroux, in "The Family Arsenal" wrote of the "green heat of Guatemala."


There were more villages and towns. One, for some reason, we passed through twice. Eventually, with a more or less full load, we rolled into Chiquimula. Or rather we crept. More narrow streets and intermittently parked vehicles made the last few blocks maddening.

Another chaotic bus station. Our journey was not yet ended. Not even close. We were still a couple hours from the Honduran border. Our bus driver pointed us toward a place where we could find a mini-bus for the final hop to the border. We immediately got lost. We were stumbling around a market-place right out of Indiana Jones when we emerged onto a crowded street where sat a white mini-bus looking for a few more passengers. From the moment our bus stopped at the station until we boarded the mini-bus took fewer than five minutes. We were moving so fast I hadn't the time nor presence of mind to take photos. Too bad.

Happily we took our seats in the back. The ride to the border was more of the same, picking 'em up and laying 'em down. I calculated at one point we had 36 passengers in a vehicle designed for 25. Impressive, but would be bested in another ride before we got to Copan.

Again we crept through various small, but busy villages. Rounding one street corner I looked down to see a bodega owner packing a nine millimeter automatic in his waistband. We weren't in Kansa anymore. (Actually I NEVER been in Kansas.) After that we stopped for 15 minutes. Why I didn't know, but the pause allowed us to see one of the strangest sights of all. I've seen transvestites and cross-dressers before. In Mumbai, India they were hooking in broad daylight at a busy intersection. Hideous looking creatures.

Here I saw wat at first appeared to be a non-descript middle aged Hispanic woman standing on the sidewalk having a conversation with passers by. She seemed a tad flat chested, but not overly amiss. Then I noticed the bald spot. About this time she headed down the sidewalk toward our bus. I'm stage-whispering to Mick, "Look left! Look Left!" He caught just a glimpse, but his expression said "I saw it all." Then she winked as she passed by. Later Jason said cross-pollination or whatever was common down there.

Eventually we got moving and soon we arrived at the border. Typical border crossing scene in Central America. The money changers helped free us of our Guatemalan Quetzales, the proper stamps were acquired in our passports, and we were in Honduras. Country 33 for me. On to Copan.

We were under the impression Copan was only a kilometer from the crossing. Turns out it was ten Clicks (six miles) of dangerous, narrow,mountainous, windy roads. I wanted to hump it anyway. But, Mick held out for the supposedly frequent mini-buses. So we sat and waited. After ten minutes I was chomping at the bit, so I convinced him to start hiking. About 100 yards up the hill Mick says, "Well, it's only about three miles." To which I replied, "You don't quite have that metric thing down yet, do you Bud?" An inflammatory remark to be sure. After about five minutes here comes a little minivan headed BACK towards the border. They stopped, telling us to hop in. They would only be there 20 minutes to pick up more passengeros. Then we'd get going.

I hate to cover the same real estate twice, but Mick was for it. So in we jumped. The driver spoke Spanish so fast Mick could barely follow him. We pulled off the road for the 20 minute wait. Fifty minutes later the twenty minute stop was over and we got going.

While waiting for incoming passengers there was some excitement nearby. Someone spotted some kind of wild animal in the hill above us. We couldn't understand what they were calling it. Jokingly Mick asked if it was a Chupacabra, "The Goat Sucker, famous in the Caribbean and throughout Central America. This got a laugh from the driver. Eventually we decided what had been spotted was a boar. I never saw it.

Finally we were loaded and we crept up the hill we had previously hiked. If I thought the mini-bus from Chiquimela was crowded I was soon to be further impressed. Picking up others along the road we soon had 18 passengers in a vehicle designed for maybe 12. Sure, there were a couple kids, but could you see getting away with that in the States? Later in our hostel an Australian traveler told us her minivan on the same route had 20!

At a buck a person I couldn't gripe. We hit Copan probably within ten minutes of when we would have walking. It was OK, but since the hiking I had done in my dream of Cuba we hadn't been getting much exercise beyond climbing the steps of Temple IV in Tikal a few days before and I had wanted to stretch out my legs.

Utilizing the trusty Lonely Planet we were soon esconced in a four dollar a night per bed dorm room with shared bath. It was co-ed, Mick, me, two well-traveled American lesbians from Wilmington, NC and the aforementioned Aussie. They were nice enough and we exchanged travel stories.

The Aussie (maybe 20 years old) was traveling alone, to which Mick later admitted was gutsier than anything he would do. It's funny. Mick is a well-built, formidable target. He speaks passable Spanish. He's done some world travel, but seems overly concerned about his safety. I've been in much dodgier areas, but have never felt in danger. I guess my attitude is pretty casual. As I always say, "If something bad happens and you live through it, it's ahelluva story. If you don't, your troubles are over anyway."

Maybe that comes from living longer and having your wife die too damn young in your arms. You're going to die anyway. Why worry about it? I'm not in any hurry to go, but better doing something like this than lying in your own piss and shit in a "nursing home" not knowing your own name.

But, I digress (yet again). Copan was ours. the ruins awaited.

Our Hostel in the village of Copan Ruinas.

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