Saturday, August 3, 2013

Isla del Tigre and travel to Nica

It's kind of hard to know where to start with relaying the events of the last few days. On the one hand, I'd like everyone to keep feeling envious of my travels and all the wonderful people I'm meeting along the way; on the other hand, sometimes there are just hard days and hard situations. For the sake of fair and objective reporting (you mean I'm NOT a journalist? Oh. Oh well.) and the hopes that maybe the full telling of the story will be therapeutic, I'm gonna share all of it...

Wednesday started with a bright and early 6am bus. By about 10:30am I'd arrived at Comayagüela, just outside the capital of Tegucigalpa...and was thoroughly disgusted in relatively short order. I'd been warned that a taxi here from where the bus dropped off was absolutely necessary because of the danger. I don't know about danger, but I was completely gouged by the taxi driver (who charged me almost the same amount for a five minute drive as what I paid for a four hour bus ride AND laughed in my face when I called him out on it) and then practically attacked by touts who were grabbing at me to go with their bus company and not the other guy's. I was then routed onto one particular bus where I got to wait for the next hour until we actually left. That wasn't so bad, kinda comes with the territory in these parts. What WAS bad was that during that hour I got to basically see the worst of humanity. Touts harassing anyone in their grabbing vicinity, blatant littering of the worst sort (trash cans were *right* there), lots of nose picking, junk grabbing, and spitting. Plus, it was hot and dusty.

Multiple bus changes later and I was in the town of San Lorenzo which I knew to be the closest place to Isla del Tigre to get money from an ATM. I haven't had any problems at ATMs thus far, but of course this was the one ATM that wouldn't work for me. (Did you know that MasterCard isn't as widely accepted in Central America as Visa? Guess which one I have...) I was still an hour away from the island by this point and I was quickly convincing myself that if I could find a hotel that accepts credit cards (did you know that's not particularly common here, either?), I was going to suck it up and pay a lot of money for a private room with a/c. It took multiple attempts, but I did eventually end up in an overpriced, somewhat run-down room in a currently-being-renovated-hotel. But at least it was icy cold, was right on the water, and had sunsets that looked like this:
(When the tide was in, that little spit of land in the foreground completely disappeared.)
For my two days or so on the island, I was indeed the only foreigner visiting. Actually, during some parts of my wanderings, it felt like I was the only person on the island, foreigner or otherwise. It was almost creepy how few people were out and about. Aside from the roads in the main town of Amapala, the island just has one road that goes all the way around it, about 18km distance. After spending some time at the pool (too icky to go in, so I just sat next to it) trying to wrap my head around what the next five weeks will look like planning-wise, I took a tuk-tuk almost halfway around the island to Playa Negra - my first black sand beach, as far as I can remember. It was nice enough, but nothing too special if I'm being perfectly honest, and not much to it. The people there mostly just gathered around me and gawked, staring, not trying to make conversation even if I initiated. And the quietness was shattered when a boy who was old enough to know better tossed a glass bottle into the air and let it smash into a million pieces on the sand, right where people were walking and playing. I know it's kind of mean, but I almost wished that he'd cut himself. He would've deserved it. Lucky for him, my wishing had no impact.
(Playa Negra, pre-broken glass)
Friday came and it was to be another long travel day. The guys at the hotel front desk told me I could pretty much get a lancha any time, but that on the hour would be my best bet. Unfortunately, they hadn't told me that the boats are colectivos which means they don't leave until there are enough people to fill them. After waiting for about a half hour, one of the drivers offered to take just me for 50Lps instead of the usual 15Lps (more than triple the price, yes, but still only about $2.50 and I figured it was worth it since I had such a long travel day ahead of me).

That was actually the most waiting I had to do for the rest of the day because I was pretty much shuffled along without incident from there. In fact, in Guasaule I was shuffled so quickly onto a minibus that I barely had time to realize there wasn't really a seat available for me. I was essentially sitting between a guy's knees, facing him like we were in a marriage counseling therapy session, except it would've made the weirdest session ever since we'd never even seen each other before. There were about 20 people on that 12 seat bus and I had a cramped knee and an asleep leg about 10 minutes into the 45 minute trip. At one point there was a security checkpoint - fairly common, but it was my first where we all had to pile out so the bus could be searched. I still don't know what exactly happened, but one less person got back on the bus than got off.

Next came la frontera and it was probably one of the more maddening border crossings I've ever experienced, if not the most. A guy in a pedi-cab snagged me as I got off the bus and was cycling me from point to point, telling me what to expect next. By the time he told me about the fee to cross into Nicaragua, I'd already exchanged my Honduran lempiras for Nicaraguan córdobas and was beginning to feel panicky that I wouldn't have enough ($12). (Not that I wouldn't have enough, exactly, but I also needed money for my bus into León, etc. and didn't want to have NO money.) The ATM at the border also wasn't working for me, but I managed to piece together enough dollars, lempiras, and córdobas to pay the fee AND have some left over. As my pedi-cab driver and I were officially driving over the bridge into Nica, we were stopped by some soldiers. I'm not really sure what the point was - were they trying to bribe me? search my bag? something else entirely? - but I didn't even have to play dumb because I really didn't know what they were trying to say to me. It was mildly intimidating because the one soldier had this baton that he kept tapping against my leg, but the whole situation was over in probably less than a minute and a half. I finally got to where the buses into Nica were parked and this tout tried to gouge me, too. He was suddenly insisting on 200Lps, more than ALL of my travel up until that point had cost, combined. I gave him the rest of my lempira, about 80Lps I think, still too much, but I'd had enough and wanted to get away from him. As I thanked him and walked away, he was still calling after me that I owed him more money, but he did eventually give up and bike back the direction we'd just come.

My arrival and first 18 hours in León have presented their own challenges, but that will have to wait for another day because this has already gotten long enough. Suffice it to say that I have cash now and can eat something substantial for the first time in a couple of days, so things can only go up from here, right?

Sorry if this was a bit of a downer of a post, but I had to get it all out. Here, about a cheerier picture to wrap things up?
(Because how can you not smile with this guy staring down at you like that?)


  1. Oof! What a trek! I had kind of been jonesing for some travel (it always hits every 6 months or so), but this is definitely not the part of traveling I miss. It's really hard when you're being accosted and solicited every step of the way, and it's too bad that what you are seeing of the locals reflects so poorly on them. There are definitely parts of Thailand like that (*cough* Phuket) too. Anyway, I hope things turn around from here and that you have a great time and meet great people in Nicaragua!

    1. Thanks, Jade! Luckily, most travel isn't like this, otherwise none of us would ever do it! I too have high hopes for Nicaragua...

  2. Wow. Sounds like a crappy couple of days. Hope things get better soon. Although if you wanted to come see me sooner I wouldn't complain :-)

  3. Oh, so Honduras is Spanish for "ShitHole"?
    It was good talking to ya Kiddo, chin up, keep in mind that you're doing something that many of us (myself included) couldn't do!
    I'm proud of you,

    1. Oh, I don't know. I'm sure some people really love it and had a completely different experience. Thanks for being proud of me, Dad. It actually helps a lot!

  4. Wow! What a story. I'm glad you're doing well. It is just another example of your capability and resiliance. Well done. :)

    1. I gotta keep you around just so you can keep saying nice things about me, V! :)