In honor of Independence Day, school is closed from Monday – Wednesday. Five day weekend = travel! Seven of us decide to venture to Copán Ruinas, the site of Mayan ruins and most popular tourist destination in Honduras.
After a long Friday evening of drinking, most of the volunteers are not ready for travel at the agreed upon time of 8 a.m. Vee and I, two newbies desirous of adventuring as soon as possible and annoyed by our cohorts’ irresponsibility and rudeness, decide to attempt the journey solo. I purchase a stack of corn tortillas to ensure my fortification during the journey. Thus begins my life on the edge, because bus travel is different here.
New public transportation systems make me nervous, even in the States. When I first lived in New York City, for college, I chose to walk 40 blocks rather than try the subway system. What if the ticket machines were complicated? How would I find the right platform or know where to get off? What if I got lost? In Portland, despite many years of experience with the transportation system, when going some place new, and especially at night, I stare out the window, slightly breathless, tracking the street signs just in case my stop isn’t called or following my GPS dot on Google Maps. Now, NYC has large signs announcing each stop and clear maps that explain where each train goes; it’s easy to master. Portland has a comprehensive map and bus/train identification system, street signs, and I can always ask the driver to announce my stop. Here, there are no street signs or marked stops, buses are privately run with unclear, to a neophyte, routes, and there is no consistent payment scale. Some buses are large school buses, the (de)famed chicken buses, while others are small minivans known as busitos. Plus, my Spanish, well, is pretty bad. Such details do not inspire confidence. But, armed with the name, if not location, of the town, my guidebook, rumor of a direct bus, and a vague emergency plan, we set off.
I ask a young woman who runs a small shop, and who for some reason remembers my name, where the bus to Copán stops. She glances at her friend, a little uncertain, and they tell me to go to La Avenida Salida. Okay! That’s one step closer. I assume she means the street corner that is often crowded in the early mornings with bus commuters. We stand. I’m all for hanging out, confident we’ll know the bus. It’ll say “Copan,” right? Vee is less confident and asks at an eatery when the bus stops. Oh, it doesn’t stop there but at the highway. Okay! So now we’re at the highway with a bunch of other potential passengers but still uncertain as to the existence or arrival of this direct bus to Copán. I attempt some Spanish. A cluster follows our interaction closely. My responder, according to Vee, either says we just missed the bus or that there is no direct bus. We sit and consult the guidebook. There are supposedly two bus lines that go to Las Ruinas. A man approaches us. Do we want Las Ruinas? If so, the next direct bus arrives at 11 a.m. I think he also offers to take us there. We’re approached by a young boy. The men at the food stand stare. We’re getting way too much attention. And it’s only 9 a.m. But then we see the Mormon missionaries, from El Salvador and Idaho. They tell us there is no direct bus and that we have to switch in La Entrada. Crap. They board their busito for the next town over and we plan. Again, we consult the guidebook. Buses pass. La Entrada is on the way to and a town called Santa Rosa appears to be close to Las Ruinas. Rather than wait for the possibly nonexistent direct bus, we’ll take the next one to La Entrada or Santa Rosa. Ah ha! Santa Rosa it is.
It’s a chicken bus and we’re standing. We’ll be standing for the next hour and a half as the wrangler stuffs people into the bus. The wrangler insists on putting my backpack on the inside overhead rack. Shit. That was not expected and my passport and extra money are in there. Well, okay, I’ve got a copy of my passport somewhere and the money is just…money. I’ll watch my pack. Despite this surprise, the wrangler puts me at ease. He is quick and attentive. He remembers passengers and their stops. He does his job of shoving us into this tube well.Not only is there standing in the aisle, there is standing butt to butt with people in the aisle. We ride, and we ride, and it’s thrilling that we’re off, by ourselves, and things are going relatively smoothly. And there’s the beautiful, lush, lovely, verdant, untamed countryside passing by. About an hour and a half in, a seat frees. I stare out the window. The view doesn’t get boring. At major stops, vendors approach the windows with soda, candy, fried foods. They crowd the aisle of the bus, shoving these in our faces. It is loud and chaotic. Some stops are quick, others long, but there are many. It is at least three hours until we arrive in Santa Rosa de Copán.
Santa Rosa is the terminus of our current line. We step off and are swarmed by wranglers for other bus lines. They follow us. They shout in our faces. Vee and I surge out of this mass of noise and people. We cross the highway to find a place to breathe and plan. I need to pee; she needs a bandage. Her bandage comes easily; the bathroom…is a fluke. We step into a building that might be a hotel or shopping center. Vee suggests we ask the reception. We stand there, waiting for an attendant to be free, and a man sitting in what we think is the waiting area, in unaccented English asks, “What do you need?” Startled, I say, “The bathroom.” He points to a door. Success!
I won’t detail what happens next in Santa Rosa, but in summary a confusing conversation with an attendant ensues, we leave, a wrangler approaches Vee, and we follow him to a busito to Las Ruinas. Again, the lovely countryside, which truly defies my abilities of description, and also softer seats divert us. But the map was misleading. Actually, Santa Rosa is quite far from Las Ruinas. We really should have switched at La Entrada, but we were too comfortable at the time. This busito stops every few feet, or at least in every tiny village, and there are more switchbacks on this highway than a snake breakdancing. Our asses hurt, we’ve been traveling for several hours, and the blaring music – are we at a disco? – is monotonous. The thrill of adventure is replaced with concern that we will not arrive before dark.
But we do, around 5 p.m., and we are now swarmed with taxi drivers and hotel wranglers. Fortunately, we already know what we want; a co-volunteer recommended Hotel Mar Jenny. A man, coincidentally the wrangler for Mar Jenny (or a wrangler for many hotels), approaches and offers to guide us. We follow him up hilly, multi-colored cobblestone streets. In the twilight, I can tell this is no small town outside of San Pedro Sula. There is money here. He shows us to a room, which surprisingly has its own bathroom, and, did I hear correctly? hot water. It’s clean; we take it. All for USD$11 each a night. (Which we later learn is a rip-off, but more later.)
As we confirm with the front desk that we will take the room, the proprietress asks if we are part of a group. If so, our friends are already here. Yes, those hungover friends caught the direct line and beat us. Vee and I stare at each other. Our pact had been to not mention our long journey, but now we can’t avoid it. They will fuss and give us unrequested “should have dones.” But, you know, I’m really proud of us. I had a blast. This is what my trip is about – diving in, messing up, and finding a way to enjoy it.