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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Savant

Copán, Honduras

Updated: Dec 7, 2020


There was heavy rain all night in Zacapa, and it continued until almost 11 the next morning. I retrieved the bike from the parking area between downpours and packed up. The hotel was decent, costing 110 quetzals which is about 15 USD, but it was a fourth floor walkup. People were friendly and they definitely don't see many gringos here!

I rode up the streets, the water having been so strong it blew the concrete manhole covers off and people had piled up trash or sticks around the holes to ward off drivers. Several men carried customized pistols on their belt, as I'd seen in many of the towns in Guatemala. Open carry is obviously okay here. I read somewhere that over 60% of the population is armed. They do like 12 gauge pump shotguns that's for sure.

Once again, Copán Ruinas was my destination and I suited up in rain gear for the inevitable. I topped off at a Shell station (they take credit cards in Guatemala btw as to cash only in Mexico) and was on my way up into the mountains. Evidence of massive rain was everywhere, with lots of mud and debris in patches along the way, roaring red rivers watched by locals from old bridges, and mountains covered in mist and rain clouds. Over the ranges, the skies were black and foreboding.

The tropical storm forming off Nicaragua and Honduras made me nervous about proceeding, to a degree, and I considered going back to Antigua for a couple more days, but the idea of 5 -7 hours in the mud and trucks on the highway back was more than I could stand.

Along the way man after man and boy after boy walked along the highway, well used machetes in hand, silent symbols of difficult lives. Bundles of firewood testified to life in the little villages, where the basics of fire and water consumed their daily existence. Withered crops of corn covered the clearcut hillsides, which expose the land to rain and the subsequent mud slides. No wonder the cartel culture is attractive to locals when it offers the lure of money and a way out of hard poverty.

There is no missing the fact this is a poor country, where one does anything and everything to live, and yet they are friendly and helpful each place I stop and each place I go.

The constant rain and difficult roads have dulled my senses and I'm taking very few photos, almost feeling the need to just race through Central America. The rain, relentless potholes and dangerous traffic occupy your mind and when the photo opportunity arises there is no place to stop. No shoulders or place to get out of the way of big trucks. Your gear is wet at night and still wet in the mornings, your clothes are damp and smelly and your boots never dry. The gods of stink must be considering me for the Hall of Fame.

Having read up on the process of an "easy" border crossing at El Florido (Copán), it seemed simple enough. The rush of excitement and concern hit as the town crossing finally appeared. There were no vehicles to speak of, but the process went wonky early on. It wasn't exactly clear just where the line of the border was despite the gate, and the buildings didn't seem to match what I'd read about on someone's blog. The gate guard on the Guatemalan side told me (in Spanish) to park there and I'd need 2 copies of title, driver's license, Guatemalan papers, passport, registration and maybe something else. He checked my VIN and paperwork then pointed to a building across the street for "copias". As I dug out and readied my papers, he came back and pointed to a different building. Off I went into that office, only to be told no copies could be made, despite the presence of a large copier. He then pointed down the street and began ignoring me.

I wandered further down asking people "copias?" until one pointed further away to another building. In I went and saw "fotocopias" scrawled on a piece of paper pointing upstairs. Up I went to find two locked doors and no one there. Back downstairs, a man appeared eating a piece of fruit with the juice dripping off his chin and fingers. I said "copias?" and he pushed past me and went upstairs. I followed, he opened an office and proceeded to start copying my documents. He indicated that I only needed one but I insisted on two of each.

Now, I'm sweating in all my gear, and carried the docs back to the gate where I was surrounded by guys wanting to look at the bike and talk for a while. After sweating a few more minutes, the gate guard lifted the bar and pointed to a parking lot ahead. I pulled up and parked, then asked a money changer for "Aduana" and he pointed to a large building further ahead. I walked up first, then walked back to ride the bike to the building.

Usually you cancel the bike permit, then yourself when exiting a country. The nice looking building appeared to be a joint Inmigracion/Aduana for both Guatemala and Honduras. I carried my things in and went to the immigration window, where I was then sent to another window. The girl was eating lunch but spoke a tiny bit of English and had a sweet nature. She took my Guatemala papers, went to the bike and checked the VIN, then peeled off the Guatemalan windshield sticker and affixed it to her form. She then took several of my copies and told me to go back to the immigration window to get my visa work done and a stamp on the copy of my passport. Halfway through the process, after having my fingerprints scanned and a photo taken, the officer stopped the proceedings and indicated there was no exit stamp in my passport from Guatemala.

I had no idea I was actually on the Honduran side of things, since the Guatemalan guard had sent me to the building and when the lady removed the sticker and did the VIN check I assumed the office was for Guatemala. Back down the street to the tiny Guatemalan immigration building and in ten minutes had my stamp. Back up the street and into the Honduran Aduana/Immigration, I found the friendly immigration agent on lunch leave and a surly replacement instead. He was grouchy and unfriendly, taking a long time to redo my prints and passport. He then quoted me the price for entry in lempira, but I only had 315 quetzals and a $100 bill. As I started to go outside for a money changer, he suddenly mentioned quetzal and said "trescientos". Amazingly I had the 300 q and then he sent me back to the sweet girl, who asked for my stamped copy of the passport. The guy hadn't stamped the copy, but then came over to her to discuss. Now, instead, I needed a copy of the stamped passport, rather than a stamped copy of my passport. The dude felt sorry for me and made the copy himself.

All in order, she handed me back my remaining copies and originals, and said "You are free to go into Honduras!" I asked about a decal or something for the bike and she turned over the paperwork copy, showed me some stamps on the back and said "This is all you need."

Okay, but it seemed odd. Nevertheless I geared up and rode past the guard hut in Honduras, only to be stopped by the gate guy. He asked for papers, then said "No" and pointed back to the building. Back inside, the nice girl was gone and Mr. Surly was my only point of contact. I said something about the moto and he said "aduana" and pointed to a lady in the far corner.

I went and disturbed her, asking about the moto and she wasn't happy, saying "aduana" and pointing out the door, then looking at me like I was an idiot. I was, but I still resented it.

Out the door and onto the porch, there were three glass doors, all which said "Authorized personnel only" and nothing about Aduana. I walked past them and out of the building, finding a policemen who pointed me back to the same building. Back on the porch, the guy who'd done my very first copies sat pointing to one of the glass doors. I went in and found several desks but no one there. After a while, a man came out, perturbed at my presence and grouchy because I didn't speak Spanish. He looked at my copies and then said he needed two of everything. Dammit! I had one of everything left. Back outside and after asking around found a snack store across the street, the owner who didn't want to be bothered firing up his computer and scanning the copies, printing one of each.

As I walked back towards the Aduana, Mr. Surly had come outside and was walking past the bike. He came up to wish me "Buen viaje" then warned me to cross into Nicaragua at Las Manos, indicating it was the only safe crossing. I thanked him and he shook my hand.

Back inside with Mr. Grouchy, we muddled through the process - eventually. He said he needed 735 lempiras. When I stood to go get the 100 USD changed, a man with him said he'd change the money. I'm sure he made a bit on the deal but I was ready to get going. Then Mr. Grouchy indicated he had no change, so his friend swapped out the large bills.

Back out to look at the moto and finally my yellow form to show the gate guard. Mr. Grouchy became less grouchy and indicated I was to turn in the paperwork in Honduras before Nicaragua. I was soaked with sweat in my gear and it wasn't even hot at the crossing. On the bike and off to the gate, where the guard smiled at the document for the bike and I was on my way. Finally Honduras! And only two hours at the border! Yeeeeeeeeha!!!

In short order I was in Copán just as the weather hit hard. I found a hotel in the rain that had decent reviews and sloshed my way upstairs. The hostess said they had no room for 2 nights and all the town was booked solid due to this being the main vacation week in Honduras. Dambit! I'd planned to stay a couple of nights. When I asked if I could stay one night, she thought a while and disappeared for about 15 minutes. She returned and said they had a "unique" room for me for one night, which was a dark stone grotto with a huge stone hot tub. Dry of course. But I was happy to get it.

After finally getting the gear in the room and some fresh clothes on, the rain stopped and I wandered out into Copán. It's a small, quaint village with steep and seriously rough cobblestones. There are some funky spots and it seems like a cool little town.


Tons of dirt bikes here and in Guatemala for good reason

At the main square they'd set up vendors cooking food and a dance event was firing up for later. The massive speakers and thumping rap, mixed with traditional music for the dances was a bit of a flop, but the US culture is alive and well in every country I've hit.

Breakfast had worn off hours before and I dined on some salty grilled chicken while the cook kept chasing a dog out from under my table with a stick. She finally connected with canine tush and with a yelp he was gone. I then wandered a bit in the dark to collect a few more souls with the camera.

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