Tegucigalpa, Capital of Honduras

My tour group cross the border from Nicaragua into Honduras and continue to the capital, Tegucigalpa (great name). Our guide says of Tegucigalpa: ‘its ideal location must have made it a pleasant respite from the oppressive heat of the coastal regions’. Nevertheless, it’s deemed too dangerous to visit. We're flying out to the Bay Islands.

It’s a small airport and there’s some debate amongst the ground staff, about which plane we will be taking. (Or whether there is actually a plane for us at all.) Eventually, we meander out onto the tarmac and I scramble onto the diminutive prop aircraft that has been pointed out, just after the pilot. ‘Where are we going?’ he asks.

Facts and Factoids

  • The five stars on the Honduran flag represent the five countries of Central America. The middle star represents Honduras, because it’s the only country that touches four of the other countries.
  • More than three-quarters of the land area of Honduras is mountainous; lowlands are found only along the coasts and in the several river valleys
  • There has been ongoing political instability. in Honduras, so this is one of the poorest countries in the Western Hemisphere. More than 50% of the people (known as Catrachos/Catrachas) live below the poverty line.
  • Honduras was the first country to ban smoking in your own home, in 2011. It isn’t actually illegal to smoke in your own home, but if a visitor or a family member complains, it could result in a visit from the police and a US$311 fine.

Roatan

The beautiful Bay Islands are reputed to be home to some of the best diving and snorkelling in the Caribbean. There are three islands, lying some 50 kilometres off the Honduran coast. The blonde haired, blue eyed Hondurans here are direct descendants of the British Pirates, who lived on the islands over 500 years ago. The Bay Islands are covered with palm fringed lanes. Macaws, toucans and parrots lurk in the trees. It’s a little slice of Caribbean paradise.

For the next two nights, we are based on Roatan, the largest of the islands. It’s a perfect haven of colonial shabby chic, with little bars on overwater piers. The offshore reefs, are part of the chain that run up to Mexico, second only in size to the Great Barrier Reef itself. Whilst the snorkelling isn’t exactly ’second to none’ as advertised, it’s definitely worth the time. Guide Pierre is in his element. He can stay horizontal on the beach, or in the bars.

A Brief History of Honduras

  • This is another ex Spanish speaking, ex Spanish colony, Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ Honduras. His first words were: “Thank God we got out of these great depths!” And so the country was named 'Honduras' (Great Depths).
  • It remained in the Spanish Empire, as part of the Captaincy General of Guatemala, with silver mining a key factor. African slaves were brought in to replace indentured labourers, who were prey to disease and not always amenable to their working conditions. Independence, initially came, in 1821, as part of the First Mexican Empire, along with the other Central American countries: Guatemala, Costa Rica, El Salvador and Nicaragua. (That only lasted two years.) This was followed by membership in the Federal Republic of Central America (the same five Central American countries and parts of southern Mexico), from which it formally declared independence in 1821.
  • Wikipedia says:' Although Honduras eventually adopted the name Republic of Honduras, the unionist ideal never waned, and Honduras was one of the Central American countries that pushed the hardest for a policy of regional unity.' There have been almost nearly 300 small internal rebellions and civil wars in the country, including some changes of régime, since independence.
  • In 1904, the American author O'Henry coined the term Banana Republic in his satirical stories, Cabbages and Kings to describe the exploitation of Honduras (and neighbouring countries) by U.S. corporations, such as The United Fruit Company. Every so often the US army dropped in to support them. For a time, the country economy was dependent on just the one export - by 1929, Honduras was the main exporter of bananas in the world.

Copan, Honduras

After two idyllic days we head back to the mainland and the ‘magnificent’ Mayan ruins of Copan. I’m quoting from the guidebooks again. Copan, near the Atlantic coast, is the most informative and biggest of the Mayan sites in Honduras, but the Mayan civilisation was, for the most part, inhabiting the western parts of the country. Copan was the capital city of a major kingdom from the fifth to ninth centuries AD. However, the city was in the extreme southeast of the Mesoamerican cultural region, and was almost surrounded by non-Maya peoples. Caught between two pre Columbian civilisations, once powerful Copan, after 2,000 years of occupation, declined in the early tenth century.

Copan is not huge, like Tikkal in Guatemala, but it’s impressive. The entire UNESCO World Heritage Site (pre UNESCO obviously) was bought from a local farmer, by American explorer, John Stephens for US $50 and excavated in the nineteenth century. He had dreams of floating it down the river and into museums in the United States. It has, supposedly, the greatest collection of Mayan sculpture anywhere in Meso-America. Among the five plazas is the Ceremonial Plaza, an impressive stadium with richly sculptured monoliths and altars. The Hieroglyphic Stairway is composed of 2500 individual glyphs; its sides flanked by serpentine birds and snakes. And there are real birds and snakes peeping out from under the stones.

Copan Ruinas is a lovely village of adobe buildings, adjacent to the ruins themselves and is well equipped for tourists, with some atmospheric pubs and restaurants - griddled steaks are good. The waitresses entertain the punters by balancing pots on their heads. And there’s a butterfly garden too.

Next stop, Guatemala

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