When you are in a country where you do not speak the language, everything is just a little bit off. It’s hard to get into a comfort zone, because you really don’t have a good idea of what is going on around you.
After I took an afternoon to go see the Copan Ruins in Honduras, I decided to make the long haul all the way to Roatan Island in the Caribbean. I bought my bus ticket from Copan to La Ceiba (the port town where I would have to catch a ferry to the island) the night before – the person selling the ticket to me spoke a little bit of English. I thought they told me that the bus made two stops on the way to La Ceiba and that I would have to change buses one time. Since the ferry from La Ceiba to the island left at 4 p.m., I had to take a bus leaving at 5 a.m. to make it to the ferry.
I was getting used to early buses, but waking up at 4 a.m. is a tough one for me.
Got up early, walked down to the bus stop (I had learned by this point to fully pack the backpack the night before) and when I got there, I asked again about the stops and changing buses. I thought I got the same answer as the night before, when I bought the ticket. The actual printed ticket seemed to indicate the same thing: a stop in San Pedro at 8:30 or so, another stop in Tela and then arrival in La Ceiba at 11:30. I was pretty sure the bus change was in San Pedro.
The bus was one of the nice, big autobuses that I had mostly ridden on up to that point. After reading the guidebooks, I’m still nervous about checking my backpack onto these buses (and after hearing that my friend, Scott Luack, had his computer stolen out of his backpack at a border crossing in Africa out of checked luggage), but you have no real choice other than to check a bag that big.
The bus stopped at San Pedro and we got off it, as I expected. There was enough time to get some coffee and some breakfast before the next bus got there to take us to La Ceiba. I was moderately nervous about where my backpack was being stored for the hour or so that we waited, but again, there wasn’t anything I could do about it.
A couple buses came and went. Every time the loudspeaker came on and people got in the queue (one of the many British terms that I really love), I would walk up to the person taking the tickets and ask “La Ceiba?” A shake of the head no and I was confident neither of the buses was mine.
Eventually, a bus pulled in and I understood it was going to my destination. I got in line and when I walked out there were two buses parked next to each other. Although one bus had a sign saying “Ceiba” on the front and the other had a sign saying “Tegucigalpa,” I wasn’t sure I was getting on the right bus until I showed the ticket taker my ticket and asked “La Ceiba?” When I got the nod and overheard another couple asking the same thing in English, I finally felt confident.
As to my backpack. . . who knows? There was a pile of luggage up against the wall of the station that someone was putting on the bus, but I didn’t see my pack in the large pile. I crossed my fingers and just hoped it made it.
The buses I’ve been on in Latin America (the nice ones, not the chicken buses) almost universally have their air conditioning cranked on as high as possible. Although for the most part you cannot find any buildings down here with air conditioning, and most of the people living down here go without it almost 100% of the time, it is as if the one time that its available – they’ve got to get as much of it as they can. You board a bus at your own peril, unless you are wearing long pants, socks and shoes, and some sort of sweater of fleece handy. It might be 95 degrees outside, but it’s likely to be 60 degrees inside.
And don’t get me started on the movies and/or music that is cranked up during the whole ride also. Bring earplugs or an iPod. Unless you really enjoy Jean-Claude Van Damme movies in Spanish, in which case will be in heaven.
In any case, the bus took off east, following the Caribbean coast. I was enjoying my book and my iPod. Time passed. I started looking at my watch. 10:30. 10:45. No stop in Tela. 11:00. 11:15. 11:30. Hmmmmm. Not only no stop in Tela, but now we were supposed to be at the final destination of La Ceiba. Noon. 12:30. 12:45.
Although I was almost 100% confident I was on the right bus, I started to have doubts. Mountains to the right? Check. Although I couldn’t see the ocean from the road, that meant that we were still likely driving down the coast, and not somehow back into the interior. Anyone else looking nervous on the bus? Didn’t look like it. Could I read any signs on the road, showing we might going the right way? Nope. My mind floated back to my backpack. Was it on the right bus, while I was on the wrong one?
At least I had my passport, some cash, a credit card and my ATM card on me. I could survive any small mishap with those.
Shortly after my mind wandered around the myriad of possibilities of how I’d somehow screwed this whole thing up, the bus pulls into the tiny bus station at La Ceiba. Apparently, there wasn’t some intermediate stop. Or we just skipped it. Who the hell knows.
I hopped a cab to the dock where the ferry was departing from. Got on the 4:00 ferry. Hit the island at 5:30 or so on New Year’s Eve. Took a cab to the far eastern part of the island to meet my friends Ian and Heidi at the hotel they had been at for the past few days.
As usual, I hadn’t booked a place to stay before I got there. Heidi had emailed me the day before and said there might have been a cancellation at the hotel they were staying at. When I got there, I met the owner and asked if she had a room for a few days. She looked at me incredulously and said, “you came to the island over New Year’s without a room?”
“Well, lucky for you, a couple was supposed to fly down yesterday for their honeymoon. The wife’s passport was due to expire in about three months or so, and after they flew down to Honduras, got off the plane, and tried to go through immigration, they got turned back and had to fly home (your passport has to be valid for at least six months after your arrival). So, they had to cancel their room yesterday. I don’t think there is another empty hotel room on the entire eastern side of the island – everything has been booked for weeks. You must be the luckiest guy in the world.”
Couldn’t say I disagreed.
It was a long, long day of traveling, but a heck of an ending. Traveling outside of your comfort zone is disconcerting. You never feel fully comfortable with what is going on around you. Am I safe here? Is this money changer ripping me off? Am I on the right bus? Will I be able to find a place to stay? Am I allowed to take pictures of the locals here? And so on.
But the disconcerting nature of it all is a good thing. It makes you much more aware of your surroundings. The things that you routinely pass by in your ‘normal life’ are things that you are forced to notice on the road. It can be extremely tiring, because you can rarely let your mind go on auto-pilot like you can at home. At home, I can drive home from work and not even consciously think of the route that I am on. Out here, you can’t walk three blocks to find a place to get a cup of coffee without marking landmarks on the way, to assure you can find your way back.
Why do I love travel? Because my senses are never more open and exposed as they are out here. The overload is amazing. Give me more. Lots more.
|From Roatan Island|
|From Roatan Island|
|From Copan Ruins|
|From Copan Ruins|
|From Copan Ruins|