We wanted an adventure? Well, we got it.
For the past few days, we’ve been discussing the best way to get to Honduras from Guatemala. We don’t know the country well even though we passed through it in 2001 and briefly took refuge there in 2003 because of the elections in Guatemala. Time to visit again and explore a bit more—we still have some time, 3 ½ weeks exactly.
There used to be a direct bus from Antigua to Copán, the first Honduran town at the border. But this bus service doesn’t exist anymore. Now there are two options: a luxury bus from Guatemala City to Copán, or a minibus from Antigua to Copán.
We weren’t keen on the minibus because, well, we hate minibuses. They aren’t reliable and their schedule is a hit or miss—if there aren’t enough passengers, they can be cancelled. On the other side, taking the luxury bus forced us to spend a night in Guatemala City and the capital is nor safe nor cheap.
First, we had to get out of Lago de Atitlan, a small adventure in itself. The chicken bus schedule to Guatemala City was erratic and we weren’t sure we were up for the challenge with our backpacks. So we booked the 9:30 a.m. minibus to Antigua.
After a noisy night in Panajachel (chickens, dogs and firecrackers were on the menu), we found ourselves waiting in the street for said minibus, which only showed up past 10 a.m., as we were about to get a refund and run to the chicken bus stop (yes, there is such as thing: it’s usually the corner of the main street).
We arrived in Antigua at 12:30. Quick, we had to make a decision. Either taking a chicken bus to Guatemala City, an hour away, and taking the luxury bus to Copán, or taking the 13:00 minibus to Honduras.
We rushed to one of the many travel agencies in Antigua. « ¿Podemos comprar un bolleto por el minibus a Copán? » « ¡Va a salir en 20 minutos! » « Si si, esta bien. »
The woman looked at us, slightly bemused. We left the bags at the travel agency, ran to Subway (the quickest way to get some food) and hoped onto the minibus which showed up late—of course—at 13:30.
The minibus was packed as well and we were three in the backseats. I didn’t have any legroom whatsoever.
That was going to be a long ride. Minimum six hours.
Behind me, three French girls in their early twenties complaining loudly about everything, and then discussing how they lost their virginity. Yap yap yap. “Don’t you have a book to read, and iPod to listen or something?” I muttered to myself.
Gosh, I’m getting old.
I turned off the French language part of my brain and focused on reading a novel on my Kindle (definitely the best purchase ever!). We quickly got stuck into a monster traffic jam in Guatemala City, and I mentally added a couple of hours to our estimated arrival time.
Eventually, around 5 p.m., the driver pulled out in a gas station and we grabbed a quick drink. Then we went back to the minibus, like sardines in a can. We tried to see where we were on the map and sighed. Not even half-way.
For many reasons, we never ever cross borders at night. First, borders do close outside normal working hours. Second, whenever we cross borders, we have to change money and that often includes a trip to the ATM—not an option late at night. Finally, we don’t book hotels but looking for a place when it’s dark in an unknown city is a challenge.
We eventually got to the Guatemala-Honduras border at 8 p.m. Normally, the process is straightforward: get a salida (exit) stamp, pay whatever bribe/border crossing fee; get an entrada (entry) stamp and pay the bribe/border crossing fee.
There were only 11 of us in the minibus but it took forever for everyone to get their exit stamp from Guatemala, mostly because the migracíon guys were half-asleep.
A guy doing cambio (money exchange) stood there with a thick wad of banknotes. We wanted to change our last Quetzales for Lempiras but he had apparently ran out of local currency and was calling on his BlackBerry to get some more.
Finally, we got Lempiras and walked to the Honduras border crossing to get our entry stamps. The hall was big and empty, huge insects crawling on the tiled floor, halogen lights flickering above our head. Outside, a bunch of uniforms were watching T.V. in the middle of the road. The guy behind the counter looked like he had just stepped in for a second: he was wearing a t-shirt and looked like he had no clue what he was supposed to do with our passports.
It looked like we were going to spend the night in there.
Each traveler had to pay $3 to enter Honduras and most of us wanted to pay in Lempiras, but the immigration “officer” (read “the guy wearing a t-shirt behind the counter”) ran out to get some change for each person.
Back to the minibus, again.
The road was pitch dark, twisty and dirt at times. The driver had no visibility whatsoever but he changed lanes blindly, preferably in the middle of sharp turns. My iPod ran out of battery and it was too dark to read, so I was forced to look out of the window and follow the death ride in vivo.
We eventually made it to Copán just before 9 p.m. The first couple of hotels were full but we eventually found a nice place to stay. We dropped off the bags, quickly washed our hands and changed clothes—back to the humid lowlands. No need for jeans, shorts and sandals are the way to go.
We rushed to the nearest restaurants, swallowed some food and paused.
Honduras. Okay, we made it. How about some sleep now?