Welcome to Honduras, often ranked as the most dangerous country on the planet with one of the highest murder rates in the world. It's funny that we see countries like Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria on the news daily, but many people have never even heard of Honduras.
Spoiler alert: we were not murdered while we travelled through Honduras.
Would I recommend Honduras? I think if you are not stupid, don't join a gang or try to traffic drugs, you should be fine.
The border crossing, although straightforward, took forever. Maybe they didn't get many Australian tourists coming through, as both sides inspected my passport for the longest time. The officer I dealt with would call over another officer, who would call over another officer, and so on, apparently trying to figure out how my passport worked. I even had time to fill out a tourism questionnaire while I waited. On the plus side, the exchange rate for our currency (from the random man on the street) was fantastic.
From the border it was a van, minibus, half hour wait chatting to a Mormon woman volunteering in Honduras for 18 months, and another minibus before we finally arrived in Gracias. One thing we learnt quickly: Honduras was nowhere near as cheap as El Salvador. But it did offer great scenery, with endless green mountains and colourful towns built into the hillside. The roads were wider and infrastructure appeared more developed. I guess that was where our money was going.
We stayed in a proper hotel in Gracias (it was the cheapest accommodation we could find). It had a foyer, multiple levels, interior walkways, TVs in the room and a daily cleaning service. This was what counted as luxury to us these days. The town was in many ways similar to Suchitoto, where we had just come from, but with atmosphere (i.e. people). Market stalls lined the centre square and places were open late at night. A large wedding took place in the main church and fireworks were let off to celebrate the union. At one point we stopped at a small hotel to see if they carried a map of the town. We were given an entire Honduran directory, like a Yellow Pages but for tourists. There were restaurants everywhere covering every cuisine. We stopped for the cheap and local option of enchiladas (for me) and the Western-sounding but very Honduran chicken and chips (for Danny). Bars served wine. It was like we were in another world compared to earlier that day.
Reminiscent of Suchitoto, El Salvador.
We caught a mototaxi out to Celaque National Park, just outside of Gracias. The plan was to hike out to Cascade Mirador, about a one hour walk uphill. While the trek was nice, the main reason for the trek was to see a waterfall. It wasn't worth the money (a whole $3). The falls were so far away we could barely see them through the small gap in the trees. I think a more appropriate name would be "Minusculo Mirador". As it was such a big let down we decided to keep going and complete a loop around the park, passing by another marked mirador. This one was possibly even worse, with no clearing at all to see anything. They really needed to change their advertising campaign.
The park was beautiful and forever changing, walking through tall pine trees at one stage followed by dense cloud forest, where everything was dark and wet. At one stage we lost the path completely and ended up on a steep, slippery slope. It didn't take long before both of us lost our footing and went sliding 50 metres down the mountain, only stopping because we hit a tree. It was a tough climb on all fours back up to the top, reaching out for rocks and branches to stop us shooting back down the hill again. Talk about a full body workout.
We were on the path...
... and then suddenly we weren't.
When we did make it to the top we hiked aimlessly for a while before eventually finding the correct path again. Now that we didn't have to panic about spending the night out here, we could enjoy the scenery. We saw many butterflies, spiders and two snakes - that was when we stopped looking at the scenery at started staring at sticks on the ground to see if they would move. The first snake Danny almost stood on, oblivious to its presence. The second one took me five full minutes to jump over, as I was positive he was watching me. At one stage some sort of large rodent/small mammal came barreling past us, as though it was being chased. He didn't care about us, which was good news as far as I was concerned. It was also a relief that it wasn't being chased by a larger, more dangerous creature. All up it ended up being a six hour hike. Only a little longer than anticipated.
This was the little guy I was petrified of.
A tip when ordering breakfast at a cafe: unless you like your Cornflakes hot and soggy, maybe skip the cereal. The traditional baleada though - delicious. A giant, thick tortilla, folded in half, stuffed with refried beans, cheese and Mexican-style sour cream (plus scrambled eggs if you're hungry). Now that is a great way to start the day.