Before we cross any border, I read up on what it is going to take to get ourselves and our truck across with as little hassle as possible. Was it G.I. Joe who always touted, “Knowledge is Power?” Or was it, “Knowing is half the battle?” I don’t remember. It’s not important. What is important is that the other half of the battle is actually using that knowledge. Because of my reading, I knew that we were going to need multiple copies of our passports, truck title, temporary import permit from Guatemala, and driver’s license. I knew that some of the copies needed to be double-sided. I also knew that since we were crossing the border on a Sunday, there was a good chance that there wouldn’t be many shops open at the border. Knowing what I knew it would be a fair assumption to think that we would have rolled in there with a highly organized file folder containing everything we needed. Nope. But we did wear clean clothes.
It was sunny and steamy. There was hardly anyone around and those who were there were clinging to the shadows trying to move as little as possible. We didn’t even have to wait in line to get our passports stamped out of Guatemala. Slide one window over, pay a little money, and we were getting stamped into Honduras. Everyone was smiling and treating us like we were handing them puppies instead of paperwork. Slide over one more window and it was time to cancel our vehicle permit for Guatemala and get a new one for Honduras. Everyone is still all smiles. We hand him all of our documents and he asks us for copies. A lot of copies. We smile, tell him we don’t have any copies and ask where the copy shop is. He tells us that the copy shop is closed. It is Sunday. My eyes go big and we share a moment of silence. I ask him what we should do. He tells us a few things that we don’t really understand, points across the parking lot, tells us a few more things that we don’t really understand, and starts talking about doors and Honduras. Scott and I look at each other, confirm that we are both only understanding about 3% of what is being said to us, and go back to smiling at the man behind the counter. He gets up and walks away. We are standing there looking confused. The man, no longer behind the counter, is motioning us to follow him. He takes us outside and back into the building through a different door. This is where the Honduran vehicle import office is. He talks with the guy in charge there for a bit and then motions us to follow him again. This time he guides us across the parking lot and motions for us to go to a window with a counter. The man unlocks and enters the building, opens the window, notices lizard poop on the counter, washes the counter, and proceeds to make copies for us. A ton of copies. All of the copies that he needs and all of the copies that we need to for entering Honduras with the truck as well. He stacks the copies into organized piles and sends us back into the main building to finish canceling our Guatemalan import permit. Back inside there was some stamping of copies, signing of stamps, stapling, rotating, and organizing before they told us they were done with us and sent us back to the other room to get our permit from Honduras. The man from Honduras ignored us for a few minutes and then took our paperwork from us, looked at our truck to make sure everything matched and then spent about twenty minutes typing in his computer and writing on forms. We took that time to complete customs declaration forms. I saw a handwritten sign on one of the desks that looked important but I didn’t understand it. I opened the translation app on my phone to find out what it said. Turns out it was telling me not to use my phone in that office. Oops. I quietly tucked my phone away and waited patiently for the man to finish filling in all of the boxes in the forms. Moments later we were all set! One quick visit to the nice guy in the shade of a pop-up canopy to exchange our Quetzales for Lempiras (he gave us the bank rate!) and we hopped into the truck to go explore Honduras, but not before showing all of our new papers to one more smiling guard, of course.
We didn’t have a concrete idea of what we wanted to do while in Honduras so we got some lunch and started checking out the options for camping near the border. We were considering staying the night and visiting the ruins of Copán the next day. The camping options were looking grim and we were feeling pretty burned out on ruins so we headed further into Honduras towards the polite-sounding town of Gracias. We took a shortcut through some coffee farms on our way. The road was a steep, narrow, dirt affair and most of the people we passed looked genuinely confused to see us. I don’t think that many tourists pass that way. We smiled and waved at everyone we passed. They would either continue to look confused or make kissy faces at us. The kissy faces lead to us looking confused. Turns out that the locals there greet passersby with a whistle. Whistle and kiss look very similar at 20 mph. We stuck with smiles and waves because we didn’t want to accidentally whistle wrong at somebody. Right after we left the dirt shortcut and were back on the highway the rain started. We pulled into the driveway of the place we were hoping to camp for the night and the guard gave us a look like we were crazy to want to camp in this weather. Crazy people need to sleep too! Anyhow, he let is in and we drove down a steep driveway to camp next to a series of thermal swimming pools. It was too expensive for our budget but we stayed anyway because we felt like we deserved a hot swimming pool in the rain after our successful border crossing that afternoon. Plus, it was getting dark and we don’t drive after dark. The pools were the perfect temperature to relax in and they had a pavilion for us to use that was complete with picnic tables and a barbeque out of the rain. If it had been cheaper we would have stayed a few days.
We took our sweet time leaving the next day. We swam in the pools, made a nice breakfast, and did some navel-gazing in the hammocks. We were only a couple of minutes from the town of Gracias where the plan was to get some groceries, find some lunch and then drive up to the nearby Parque Nacional Celaque to camp. Most of that worked out. We filled the truck with groceries, found a delicious pupuseria (pupusas are thick corn tortillas filled with whatever delights you and topped with pickled vegetables) for lunch and realized that the park gates were closing about the same time that we were ordering. No problem, there was a bar/hotel nearby that allowed camping in their parking lot. It was not the tranquil park setting that we had anticipated but there were cute itty-bitty baby chickens roaming about so we were pretty stoked. We spent the evening on the patio of the bar enjoying adult beverages and playing cribbage.
The next day we had no trouble getting into the park before the gates closed. We met the friendly ranger, Rudy, who was happy to tell us all about the different trail options for hiking in the park. The reason we were there was that the park contained the tallest mountain in all of Honduras and we wanted to hike to the top! Rudy told us that we needed to plan on staying overnight at one of the campgrounds on the way up. He strongly recommended that we not try to hike to the summit and back in one day. The trail map said that it was 7.5 km to the top and that we needed to allow 12 hours to complete the trail. That seemed like a day hike to us. Rudy waxed poetic about all of the other beautiful trails we could hike if we wanted a day hike and reiterated that we should not try to attempt the summit in one day. The problem was that we didn’t have any fuel for our backpacking stove and I was not excited to sleep in a cloud forest in the rainy season without hot coffee in the morning. It was a day hike or it wasn’t going to happen. Rudy told us we would need to start hiking before the sun came up. Okay. I set the alarm for 4:30 am (so I would have time for coffee before hiking).
Despite my best efforts at morning motivation, we did not start hiking until almost 7 am. Whatever. We figured that if we could keep a pace of at least one mile per hour we would be in good shape. The trail was definitely steep. And beautiful. We hiked all morning without seeing another person. Scott was wearing his GPS watch to help us stay on track with our pace. Comparing the distance we had walked with the distances posted at the trailhead, it became clear that we were in for a much longer hike than 7.5 km to the top. I think that distance was a point to point straight line on the map, not including the meanderings of the trail. We accidentally missed the last water source on the way up and made the last couple miles of the hike feeling thirsty. I started to fantasize about licking the mist off of the mosses on the trees. Bright orange centipedes in the moss made me think twice. When we reached the top, we had hiked over 7 miles. The view was unspectacular. That is the thing about cloud forests, they don’t offer the best vistas. The hike down took just as long as the hike up. Mostly because we goofed off taking a bunch of fun pictures and contemplating nature. I really wanted to get back before Rudy got off work so that he wouldn’t worry about us but we missed him by about 20 minutes.
The next day we went back into Gracias and visited the pupuseria again. Can’t get enough of those things! It was then that I remembered that we needed to request permission to enter Nicaragua at least one week in advance. The Nicaraguan government has an online form where you fill in your basic details and they do a background check on you. They give you a code that you can use to check the status of your request online. Once it clears you are good to cross the border. Apparently, if you skip that step it can lead to a 1-2 hour long interview at the border with someone who wishes that you had filled out the online form. Anyhow, we filled out our form and headed to the town of Marcala to go find a camping spot that is near a waterfall. When we arrived at the camp spot it was very closed. Nobody was around, the natural swimming pool was drained and the gates were tied closed with canvas belts. All of the people returning home from work in the coffee farms with their plastic coke bottles and sharp machetes were ignoring our smiles and waves. It didn’t have the vibe of a place where we could just camp in the parking area anyway. Plus, I was hoping to have an accessible toilet nearby. There weren’t any other potential campsites nearby so I lobbied for a night in a hotel in town. We found a decent one and were able to negotiate a lower price if we were okay with a room containing too many beds and no other furniture. Also, by paying cash and forgoing an invoice. And by only having the breakfast included for one of us. Ahhh, the luxury of hotel life. Aside from the power going out for an hour, the bedding strongly smelling of Axe Body Spray, having to share a towel, and missing the breakfast by 20 minutes it was great! Missing breakfast turned out to be a blessing. The receptionist recommended we go to Café Exotico for breakfast and it was amazing. The man who owned the café was a professional coffee taster. We drank the very best coffee we have had on this whole trip. It was amazing. So good that we bought a bag of whole beans to take with us.
We were feeling a little downtrodden by the rains and the lack of enticing camping options nearby. I had read about a place out in the middle of Honduras that looked intriguing. Why not head back up north for a while? It’s not like we are on a southbound adventure or anything! The truth was we had time to kill while we waited for Nicaragua to sign our permission slip. So, we headed a few hours north to the tiny town of El Naranjo on the shores of Lago Yojoa. The lake is big and shallow. We didn’t really go for the lake. We went to go to a brewery! D & D Brewery promised to have ample camping in their parking lot, craft beer, and vegetarian options on the menu. What more could a couple of waterlogged overlanders need?
The drive there proved to be a little tricky. We spent about 5 hours on what should have been a 2-hour drive. We wove our way up over mountains, through coffee fields, past ominous No Trespassing signs that promised booby traps and sharp teeth. We actually felt compelled to have our bear spray handy in case we were accosted by someone who thought we were inclined to trespass. Of course, everyone we passed was either smiling, whistling, or confused. The views from the mountaintops were stunning. According to Google maps navigation, we were not on a road. It thought that there was a road off to our right that we should try to get on but I am quite certain that the only thing to our right was coffee and booby traps. As the coffee fields gave way to villages the rains started. This was not good. We hadn’t seen pavement in hours. We stopped on the narrow road while the unfortunate passenger in the truck in front of us got out in the rain and mud to lock the hubs. We shifted into 4wd as well. Once the sticky mud coated all four tires it became a game of momentum and luck to keep us moving in the right direction. We had a couple of exciting slips and slides before we outdrove the rain. Eventually, we drove down out of the mountains and rejoined the gloriously paved CA5 highway.
Arriving at D & D Brewery we knew we were in the right place. They even had a sign with an arrow directing us to Overlander Parking! The brewery is owned by a guy named Bobby from the US. He brews 5 different types of beer out of a repurposed shipping container. The operation is more than just beer. He also has guest rooms, a restaurant, and a tour company. He emphasizes sustainability and job creation. The employees get a living wage and health care (not common in Honduras). The smoothies come with stainless steel straws. I was excited to see two shelves of books for exchange. This was the place that we chose to hunker down and wait to hear if Nicaragua wanted us to visit. I read the best of the books on the shelves while Scott worked on making music and editing the latest video for our YouTube channel. We limited ourselves to one visit to the restaurant daily, eventually cutting ourselves off from the beer and switching to hibiscus tea. The days flew by. We spent some time deep cleaning the truck and tucking away a thing or two we did not want to be seen at the Nicaragua border. Scott found a nest of ants living under the liner of a spare pair of running shoes. They were really fast ants. I speculated that they were the fast ants form the mango orchard we had camped in before leaving Guatemala. Scott, traumatized by the horror of finding so many ants swarming out of his favorite shoes while crouched deep within the hot humid confines of the back of the truck, refused to engage in speculation. We visited a beautiful botanical park down the street from the brewery. They had a network of trails to miradors and spring-fed pools. It felt like a little fairy-land with giant flowers.
It took Nicaragua exactly a week to decide that we could come for a visit. As soon as we got the news we packed up the truck and headed toward the border. This time we skipped the slippery muddy trip through the coffee fields. As it turned out, that was an unnecessary side trip in the first place. For some reason, there was a huge stretch of the CA5 highway that was missing from Google’s database. It was also missing from the database for Maps.Me. Apparently, it used to be there but it has been erased sending drivers out into the back of beyond for no reason. Oh, technology, why do you have to be so fickle?
We arrived at the border town of Chimula just before dark. We had already decided on a hotel room for the night so that we wouldn’t have to deal with the pack up in the morning and we could just go straight to the border. The room cost us 460 lempiras which was under 20USD so we didn’t feel the need to negotiate. The guy showed us our room, it was the only one without a number. When we were inside he asked us which bed we would be using as it had two double beds in it. We shrugged and pointed to one. He promptly scooped up the towel and soap form the other one and left. I guess sharing one towel is par for course in Honduran budget hotels. We were in a weird part of town that only had fast food options. So, we endured an unsatisfying dinner at the local Pizza Hut chain. Thin crust, no cheese, and a warm 10 oz can of Coors Light. Sigh, not every night can be a winner.
When we returned to the hotel, the parking lot was full. We couldn’t have left if we had wanted to. It seems that they rent nightly parking spaces as well as rooms. Way to diversify. We were pretty confident that they would be cleared out in the morning in time for us to go to Nicaragua, but that is a story for next time.