In order to get to León, Nicaragua, which is on the Pacific coast, I needed to make it alllllll the way over from the east coast of Honduras. I had spent a night at the Jungle Lodge in La Ceiba and early the next morning I took a chicken bus with the two Canadian girls I had met back into town. I knew there was a trek ahead of me and I was prepared…sort of!
The chicken bus was about 20 lempira and dropped me off right at the bus station in La Ceiba. I went to the Kalmady bus station and booked the 9.30am bus which cost 274 lempira to take me to Tegucigalpa (the capital, known as Tegus for short) where I would have to spend the night. A necessary evil. Having heard about how dangerous and dodgy it was there, I was a bit apprehensive but there was no other option.
I got some coffee and hung out at the bus station for an hour or so before my bus, where I was befriended by two young Honduran boys who were working selling jewellery and pirate DVDs. They were sweet but it was so sad to see that they were working on a school day and apparently only went to school once or twice a week to learn English (they couldn’t really speak any so our conversation was in broken Spanish, peppered with the lyrics to Phil Collins’ ‘In The Air Tonight’, which was one of their favourite songs). One of them tried to add me on Facebook (!) but I had to tell him that my privacy settings meant I couldn’t be found…well it’s true!
Finally the bus arrived and it was pretty stuffy, non air conditioned and full of locals making their way over to Tegucigalpa. It was a HOT day and unfortunately on the way out of La Ceiba, there was a protest blocking the road which meant we had to wait over an hour in the heat until the traffic cleared. A lovely older Honduran lady, who was part of a Mennonite group travelling to just outside the capital, explained to me that the protest was organised by a group of people who needed dialysis urgently but the government was not supporting them or providing any funding for them to get the help they needed. I didn’t feel so bad about the wait then, and hopefully they were successful in their protest.
The bus ride took about 8 or 9 hours in total (including the time spent waiting for the protest to finish) and we stopped off at a point just outside the capital where my older lady friend left, giving me a huge hug and telling me to travel safely. Just as she left, I started chatting to another lady who was on my bus, Chichi was from the north of Honduras and was travelling to the capital city with her friend for a health worker meeting. Chichi works with men who have TB and her friend Maria works as a volunteer with prostitutes and women living on the street. They were really nice and very concerned that I didn’t have any plans of where I would stay for the night (just a few hotel/hostel names in the Lonely Planet that I was depending on!) and they insisted that they bring me to the hotel that they were staying at.
We arrived into Comayagüela which is just outside Tegucigalpa and where all the buses arrive into. It’s the sister city and actually more dangerous than the capital so you can’t walk around it, day or night! I heard a few backpackers saying that when they were looking for a hotel and walking around with their backpacks, a lot of policecars pulled up to them asking them where they were going and then escorting them to the nearest hotel!
Chichi and Maria brought me to Hotel Fenix which was just around the corner from where the bus dropped us off. First impressions of the area were definitely true to the stories I had heard, dodgy and dirty. I was so glad to have made some Honduran friends who wanted to help!
The hotel was 200 lempira for the night (non aircon) and the room was up the top of this concrete building that was covered in dust due to ongoing building work/renovations. The room was just a huge double bed (with plastic cover under the sheets, nice!) and a TV in a cage in the corner. The ensuite was a toilet and shower, with no sink, which was interesting!
After we had checked in, Chichi and Maria brought me to a street food place with plastic seats just on the corner of the street our hotel was on, and I ordered some delicious baleadas. A typical Honduran dish which originated in La Ceiba, baleadas are wheat flour tortillas, which are folded in half and filled with various ingredients. In Utila, I had a mixed baleada that came with chicken, beans, onion and avocado. That evening I sampled the simpler scrambled egg and cheese version which was also quite delicious and pretty cheap at just 30 lempiras.
After dinner, Chichi suggested we go straight back to the hotel and turn in for the night. Even though it was only 7pm, it was important that we got off the dodgy streets into the safety of our hotel! Before bed, she also organised a taxi pick up for me in the morning to bring me to the bus station where I could get my bus directly over the border to Nicaragua. So, so sweet. Even though I hadn’t spent that much time in Honduras, I was so grateful to have met such lovely people on this bus journey. And I was also thankful I could speak a few words of Spanish which helped immensely too!
The next morning, Chichi helped me get my bags to the reception and saw me off in the taxi, which cost 70 lempira to take me to the nearby Tica bus station. The bus worked out at about $20 and the cost of entry to Nicaragua was about 309 lempiras ($15). Unfortunately, it was the longest border crossing to date, as we all had to leave the bus, take our bags out from underneath and then queue up for them to be inspected by the border security. All was well though and they showed a few movies on the bus too, including the Bourne Legacy which I had never seen and was actually quite entertaining!
After a few hours, the bus arrived in León! As its final destination was Managua (the capital of Nicaragua) the bus dropped a few of us off basically on the side of the highway at a petrol station but there were lots of taxis waiting to take us to the centre of León for a few córdobas (another new currency!). I decided to do business with some of the border money exchange folks, although I knew that I wouldn’t get the best price, I was still carrying around Mexican pesos and Guatemalan quetzals at the Nicaraguan border so I just bit the bullet. After Guatemala I have gotten a lot better at judging how much money I need in my final days in a country to get me to the bus and across the border so I’m stuck with shedloads of currency I can’t use. You live and learn!