We crossed the border from Guatemala to Honduras at the small town of Copan Ruins and even before we arrived into town I began to notice the old timers with cowboy hats & boots. This was cowboy country. But people don’t come here to look at cowboys. They come here for the Mayan ruins that the town derives its name from, the incredible Copan Ruins.
Unlike sites in Mexico, we received nothing but cooperation and help from the local tourism office located at the site of the ruins. They gave us written permission to film and hooked us up with an excellent, English speaking guide for our tour. The ruins are huge (still only about 20% uncovered) and feature the most complete and amazing hieroglyphics found in the Americas.
The town itself is lovely, and except for the security guards armed with sawed off shotguns at every bank, ATM or government building, has a mostly tranquil air to it. Locals and tourists mix seamlessly and you can easily get around the cobblestone streets by catching a cheap ride on one of the countless tri-moto taxis buzzing around.
San Pedro Sula
From there we headed to San Pedro Sula where we met up with 2 local friends, Miriam and Etel, who graciously guided us around town. We visited the local market where we had Baleadas, which many Hondurans have for breakfast. Except for waaay too much butter on mine (I don’t generally eat raw butter) it was delicious.
Later we visited a really cool, company named Techos Verde (Green Roofs), an award winning and forward thinking company spearheading the “green” architecture movement in Central America. They combine the practical with the environmental. This isn’t pie in the sky, utopian thinking, this is real stuff happening now. It makes so much sense (economically and environmentally) that I can’t foresee that buildings and homes will be built via any other way within 20 years. What they are able to make from old metal shipping containers is absolutely amazing and could be a game changer for broad based, energy efficient and economical housing in Latin America.
The highlight of SPS was perhaps the moment Etel’s car overheated on a busy freeway creating some very tense minutes. I ended up flagging down and warning high speed drivers to please slow down as there was no shoulder for us to completely get off the road safely. The SPS police passed by a couple of times and whistled and laughed at us. Lovely… very civic minded fellas those guys.
Finally a small truckload of 4 Honduran National Military Soldiers rolled up and offered to tow us to a gas station in town with a chain they happened to have in the bed of their 4WD truck. We spent the next ½ hour or so being towed at a slow speed by this truckload of good Samaritan Honduran soldiers who were nice, polite and eager to be of service. My hats off and another round of thanks to these good guys who put the local SPS Police to shame.
From San Pedro Sula it was off to the coastal town of Telaon the way to La Ceiba. Tela is a small beach town where Honduran’s have been vacationing for years. It’s a perfect day trip from either San Pedro Sula or La Ceiba. The beaches aren’t particularly lovely and you have a feeling the town is a little past its heyday. But the people are very nice and we serendipitously ran into one of the local musicians who made his living playing local Honduran music on the beach. He treated us to his original rendition of the appropriate song “Tela”.
Rightly so, Tela has a reputation for being dangerous these days. While I didn’t experience it personally (I ran on the desolate beach and city streets at night and nary a problem), one of the old timers we ran into on the straight put it this way, “This used to be paradise, but now it is a hell”. The local director of tourism for Tela, Ferdinand, offered to us that some banks and the government had pledged some pretty big bucks to fix Tela up and restore it to its former glory, so time will tell if maybe paradise can come yet again.
La Ceiba & Sambo Creek
First it was off to Sambo Creek, a beautiful Garifuna fishing village just a few kilometers outside of La Ceiba. We headed straight to the beautiful, natural beach to capture some b-roll & photos as we waited for the President (essentially the mayor) of the village to show up. We were immediately greeted by 4 or 5 of the happiest (and completely naked) little kids I’ve ever seen. They had been happily bathing in the warm sea water. The boys, too young to care about their complete nakedness, came bouncing up to us shouting “hola” and extending their hands for handshakes like somber young men to welcome us and then it was all smiles as they began breaking into singing and dancing.
Their enthusiasm was contagious and for a moment I was jealous of their freedom (but not enough to shed my clothes).
We spent the next few minutes entertaining each other. We’d teach them a few basic words in English and video tape them and then playing back their images to their utter delight.
The cool ocean breeze, the swaying palm trees and these cute, innocent and completely happy kids put me in a great almost euphoric mood. I was suddenly very happy to be doing what I was doing and finally stopped worrying about producing the show and started enjoying the moment. Kids are truly a tonic and I am amazed at the happiness of the poorest of them if they are simply provided the basics of food, health and love. However, I then noticed a couple of f them had distended bellies, which can be a sign of a lack of protein and I was brought back down to the harsh reality these kids are dealing with.
Sambo Creek has television and access to internet, but it is a bit off the beaten path and many people live pretty basic. A small but burgeoning travel & tourism industry has helped provide some much needed income to some of the villagers.
We finally hooked up with Omar, the President of the village, who was a very likable and intelligent man who looked to be in his 30s. Omar had spent some time in the U.S. and had returned home to give back to his community. Like any leader of a small town, he knew everyone and everyone knew him.
After a brief tour of Sambo Creek where he filled us in on the villages history, he then guided us to a family on the outskirts of town that did not have access to the potable drinking water. The rest of the town has been getting clean drinking water for the last 5 or so years thanks to an NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) from Spain who helped the town install a water tower and filtration system.
I had been toting around a couple of water filtration devices form Sawyer Products,an excellent water filtration, insect repellent and sunscreen company, that has helped thousands of families all over the world get access to clean, drinkable water thanks to their cutting edge water filtration technology.
All we needed was a bucket, and to follow the filtration installation instructions Sawyerprovides via video, and within 20 minutes or so we were able to help this family get access to drinkable water like most of the rest of their town. Installation was a success and the crew and I all breathed a big sigh of relief.
We all have our different talents, but putting things together is not one of them. Luckily the video instructions provided by Sawyer are pretty much dummy proof and if you can put together a bookshelf from Ikea then you can put together this water filtration system, which is also very affordable by U.S. standards.
I invite other travelers to think about carrying a water filtration kit when they travel, either for personal use (to cut down on plastic bottle consumption) and/or as a gift to a family that may live in an area without potable water.
Then it was off by ferry to the island of Roatan. Roatan is gorgeous and has some of the best and most economical scuba diving in the Americas, which is why it’s jam-packed full of travelers. Most of them English speakers.
We spent almost all our time on the West End which is where most of the action occurs. I’m not a diver but we did talk to plenty, including the famous dive shop Coconut Tree Divers. They filled us in on the growth of Roatan,which was evident in the 3 or so years since I’d last visited.
I was able to finally do something I’d been longing to do for some time, stand up paddle-board, which surprisingly and for a change, is actually easier than it looks. Steve at Steve’s Paddle Shackwas right when he guaranteed I’d be upright and paddling within 10 minutes. I think I was upright within 3 minutes and the entire time I didn’t even get wet! It was a great work out and was so tranquil out on the water. I’m afraid I’m hooked for life.
Another way to enjoy Roatan’s West End without getting wet is to hook up with Captain Karl Stanley at Stanley Submarine. I really enjoyed chatting with Karl and getting to know his story. Karl is an ex-pat from New Jersey but has been on the island for a while. He is a genius, semi-celebrity and pioneer in submarine building, having built his first one when he was just a teen.
This particular submarine was completely hand built by Karl and regularly takes tourists onboard and the occasional professional marine biologists or (as was the case while we were there) documentary film crew, which sadly for us, meant we couldn’t go down. I’m not sure that I would have wanted to, because while Karl obviously knows his stuff and has been on hundreds of successful dives, he has had a few hairy moments during his submarine career which he regaled us with.
When you consider what can happen (your eyes pop out and your head basically explodes from the pressure) if the submarine’s integrity were to go… it is a sobering thought. Yet every day tourists from all over the world pay the $400-$500 to go down and have one of the most unique experiences in the world. Judging from the footage & photos Karl shared with us I can understand why.
As much as I fully enjoyed paddle-boarding, chatting with Captain Karl and the coolest dive shop on the planet at Coconut Tree Divers, my favorite moment while visiting Roatan was definitely stumbling upon the Rusty Fish – founded and run by Adam Hunt a U.K. ex-pat, artist, designer and all around good guy.
Before Adam founded Rusty Fish the souvenirs in Roatan were all manufactured elsewhere. Adam wanted to create jobs for local families in Roatan by simply recycling everyday items picked from the local garbage dump to create locally made souvenirs. The Rusty Fish’s slogan is “Recycled With Love” and after visiting both the workshop and the dump where Adam is well known and received enthusiastically, I 100% believe it. The guy has a heart a mile wide and who wouldn’t be touched by the way the garbage pickers reacted when he showed up.
The stench at the dump was overwhelming, yet all day, every day, dozens of poor Hondurans with no other source of income risks their health to find things of value that the rest of the island has thrown away or discarded. In addition to the poor souls scraping a living by scouring the dump, Rusty Fish’s workshop employs almost a dozen other families and they also sell artwork made by other Honduran artisans.
Dive if you like, but if you visit Roatan, you absolutely must pass by the Rusty Fish and grab an authentic souvenir “recycled with love” and authentically made in Roatan (not China, Taiwan or the U.S.) where your money will go directly to support local artisans who depend on the shop for a living.
After all this positive energy, I was saddened that when we returned our rental car to the Dollar Rental Car office we were almost the victims of an attempted scam. Had we not been producing a travel show, chances are we would have had to pay a fee to “fix” things. After this attempted