Tora Adventure

Two people exploring the world, seeking adventure & unique experiences.

Gracias and nearly climbing the highest peak of Honduras [Day 124]

Lost in translation

Before I forget; I’d like to mention how we have embarrassed ourselves numerous times by saying the wrong words in Spanish. For example I asked my teacher for a “pene” thinking this meant pen. This is definitely not the translation. Apparently I said, in the words of my teacher, “juevos y plantano”-eggs and a banana. Also we went to market to buy chuchitos (corn similar to sticky rice, wrapped in a corn leaf with chicken inside) and asked for “chichi” and unfortunately asked for boobs instead in the local mayan language.

Copan Ruins to Gracias

We decided it was time to find the “real Honduras”. So far we’d found the tourist trail places and they were great, don’t get us wrong. We just wanted to find something a little more out there. We chose Gracias and since it is off the tourist trail, this meant we needed local transport to get us there. We took a shuttle from Copan to La Entrada (1.5hrs; 70L/$3.50ea); a bus to Santa Rosa de Copan (1hr; 40L/$2ea) and a final bus to Gracias (1.5hrs; 50L/$2.50ea) for a total of $8 each and 4 hours. It was fairly seamless in connections with no waiting times. The shuttle from Copan was very busy and at one point had 23 adults, 1 infant 6 month old and a 2 year old on parent’s laps. This was the typical shuttle we’d used in Guatemala with a seating capacity of a squishy 15 or so people. The bus to Santa Rosa was more spacious but busy with people needing to stand. At one point I had a 3 year old resting his head against my leg to sleep. This transport is pretty cheap for the time and distance, but they cram people in to make the money. You need to have a lot of patience and not care at all about your personal space being invaded.

Gracias

Gracias is a peaceful mountain town with cobblestone streets, colonial churches and a rural feel. There are also next to no foreign tourists to speak of. We arrived into a busy bus terminal with a hunger for food. There is a huge array of local food stalls known as Comedor’s all lined up next to each other. We have continued to be lucky with our food choices and not yet had to battle any food poisoning so we again chose where some others were eating. We ordered fried chicken which came with rice, beans, cheese, tortillas and what we suspect was canned spaghetti. All this for 30L ($1.50) per dish. It was one of the best meals we’ve had on the trip.

Food at Comedor in Gracias Bus Station

Food at Comedor in Gracias Bus Station

Gracias bus station - so many Comedor's to choose from

Gracias bus station – so many Comedor’s to choose from

We then walked to our hotel. The walk was a little longer than expected and uphill most of the way. Maybe a tuk tuk would have been a better idea. We chose Hotel Guancascos as it was recommended by Via Via hostel in Copan Ruins and we’d seen it the Lonely Planet. The hotel is not the cheapest in town at $22.50 per night. You can find other similar rooms in other hotels without hot water or view for as little as 200L/$10 per night. The 3 rooms (12, 13 & 14) all have a nice view out over the town and we were lucky to get room 12. It was fairly spacious inside and had a small TV with cable and genuine hot water in the shower. The people running the place speak great English and are very helpful on organising things to do.

View from our room in the Hotel Guancascos, Gracias

View from our room in the Hotel Guancascos, Gracias

Rodora took a nap and Toby went out to find a local Barber for a $2.50 haircut. We then used the remainder of the daylight hours to visit Fort San Cristobal on the hill (50L/$2.50ea). It’s a nice place with some good views and quite well maintained. I suggest it’s worth a look and you probably only need a total of an hour there. Take a snack or a cold drink up there to watch the world go by.

Fort San Cristobal

Fort San Cristobal

After this we continued with a small walking tour of town to see the colonial streets and buildings. The police station is a fairly spectacular spot right on the central park. There are also a couple of really nicely kept churches but didn’t seem open as we went past.

Police Station in Gracias

Police Station in Gracias

Central Park in Gracias

Central Park in Gracias

La Merced Church

La Merced Church

After this, we set out for dinner. We had difficulty finding any local Comedor’s and were too tired to look around much further. We ended up at a place listed in the lonely planet called Rinconcito Graciano. The place had a homestay feel to it. We were the only customers there and it was run by a mother with her 4 year old daughter. The daughter was dancing around singing the drummers Christmas song (par rump a pum pum) while the mother made our dinner. She explained to us that she hand made everything including the bread and learnt how to cook from her grandmother, who learnt from her grandmother. She was really proud of her cooking and how it has been passed on from generation to generation. While we were eating our dinner, she sat down and spoke to us asking where we came from and what we wanted to do. It really did feel like a homestay as she was absolutely lovely and treated us like family. I’ve never been to a restaurant that was this hospitable before. When we finished our dinner, she asked if we could write in her guest book where we were from and comments in Spanish on the food. If you ever go to Gracias, we strongly recommend this place. Not only is the food delicious and has a home made feel to it, but the owner is so welcoming you won’t want to leave.

Food at Rinconcito Graciano in Gracias

Food at Rinconcito Graciano in Gracias

Montana Celaque National Park

The purpose of visiting Gracias was to see and climb Montana Celaque National Park. This mountain has the highest point in Honduras called El Cerro de las Minas (2849m). We opted not to do the full mountain hike, because of the reviews in Lonely Planet and online stating that there weren’t any nice look outs or viewpoints. We also decided not to do this hike because it was a two day hike and we didn’t have a tent. It was also fairly cold in town at night, so we could only imagine how cold it would be on the mountain. We took a tuk tuk from town (200L/$10 total one way), which I recommend doing if you’re going to the park as it’s a long walk uphill of about 6km to get to the park entrance. We also prepaid for our national park tickets from our hotel, saving time at the park entrance. The person at the front of the park suggested we do the Cascada Mirador hike (Waterfall viewpoint) and part of the main mountain hike. Again, there were very few other people around. We were walked all the way to the Cascada mirador, which took about 2 hours without seeing one other person.

Waterfall lookout at Montana Celaque National Park

Waterfall lookout at Montana Celaque National Park

The park as stated in Lonely Planet isn’t well known for its spectacular views. However it is famous for its plants and cloud forest. We inadvertently missed the sign that said no trail beyond this point, and kept walking toward the cascada (waterfall) on a really tiny slippery trail that went downhill. Unfortunately I slipped and fell down a bit. Since it was getting dangerous, we stopped and took a photo, as the view was better here than at the top, then turned around and went on the other trail. We followed the second trail for about an hour until we reached the small rivers as advised by the ranger at the front of the park. When we reached a small waterfall we decided it was time to turn and go back as we didn’t want to walk for 2 days.

Small waterfall on hike in Montana Celaque National Park

Small waterfall on hike in Montana Celaque National Park

On our way back we passed one couple hiking alone and another group of maybe 10 that we assume were locals that looked like they were camping overnight and going to attempt to make it to the top. At the end of the hike, the park entrance can arrange a return tuk tuk or if you pre-arranged a time with your earlier tuk tuk, then you meet at that time. We chose to walk back to town as it is downhill the whole way and it’s really pretty walking through the farmlands and seeing how people live day to day.

Countryside on access road to Montana Celaque National Park

Countryside on access road to Montana Celaque National Park

Gracias to El Salvador

In the morning we caught the 8.30am chicken bus to Santa Rosa de Copan (1.5hrs – 50L/$2.50). We then had to find a bus to the border town of Nueva Ocotepeque on the Honduras side. It took us a few minutes and we were guided by someone to the right spot. I think it was a slightly more deluxe/express bus as we had reclining seats and not required to share it with anyone else. This took about 1.5hrs and cost 90L/$4.50. From here we got on a small shuttle to the actual border (15 minutes – 20L/$1).

Where we got dropped off, it wasn’t all that clear where we needed to go. There were trucks and cars parked along the road blocking the view of buildings on the side. There were these little immigration offices all along this same road. We were finally directed to the Honduras immigration office that was maybe the same size as a small food court McDonalds. We easily could have walked past without anyone caring.

A little mixed up at El Salvador immigration

The departure from Honduras went smoothly, however the entry into El Salvador wasn’t as easy. We had our first hold up in immigration. As our Spanish isn’t good, it was even more difficult as no-one spoke English and we didn’t know what was going on exactly. They were flicking through our passports in search of a stamp I thought we had missed. They asked us to join them in the back room, though they still seemed happy about everything, just more so confused. Rodora was getting worried though. The officer was really friendly and explained the dates didn’t tie up for entry and departure. The reason they needed to know this is you get three months in Guatemala, Honduras, El Salvador, and Nicaragua. These countries are all counted on the same visa and have a time limit total of 90 days. We went to Belize for a week between Guatemala and Honduras so our visas should have been reset. However, the immigration guy in Belize wrote November instead of December for the departure date which was earlier than our arrival date, so the dates didn’t tie up. We explained the situation and they understood what was going on. Even though they had big machine guns and looked intimidating they were really friendly and gave us some advice on the nice places to visit in their country. They were very proud and happy to have tourists in their country. From the border crossing it because obvious, El Salvador wasn’t really on the tourist trail. It seems that lots of people seem to skip El Salvador opting to go straight to Nicaragua instead.

Finding local food and Pupuserias

After all the excitement on the border and with it being lunch time, we were starving and decided to have a rest break and lunch in a local Comedor on the border town of El Poy. This was one of the best meals we’ve had. The chicken was so tender and moist and the vegetables and rice had a delicious creamy taste. We also bought two pupusa’s, the local speciality in El Salvador, which is a thick tortilla stuffed with your choice of cheese, beans, pork and others. It just melts in your mouth as you take a bite into it. Mmmm! These are always made on the spot as you order, so they’re always fresh and hot. I was stuffed after the meal and all this cost US$4.25 in total for everything – bargain! Yes everything is in US dollars now. El Salvador adopted the US currency in January 2001. At this Comedor, one of the customers saw Toby try to order food and came up and helped us instantly – she was originally from El Salvador but was living in New York. It’s so much easier to order when you have a local translating for you. However, we have been able to get by and if it wasn’t for our one month Spanish school I don’t think we would of got this far.

Food at Comedor at the El Salvador border town of El Poy

Food at Comedor at the El Salvador border town of El Poy

Plenty more to explore. Keep following the blog and our Flickr account for updates. http://www.flickr.com/photos/toraadventure/

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