For the first time in decades Nancy returns to Central America, but this time with a brand new plan.
The difference between last year and next is separated by that cold season. Some of us have the privilege of saving for a plane ticket and flying south for a week or two. Some ride there for the entire winter—often a trip of a lifetime.
I did that once. I was reminded of it recently when I skipped out of the deep freeze to Honduras, a place I once rode through back in 1998.
Honduras was not the murder capital of the world back then, though it discretely housed the US military discretely invading Nicaragua. But that didn’t affect the tourists. I never had any real trouble from police, military or drug cartels anywhere.
I flew direct to Honduras to dive and soak up some vitamin D and saw motorcycles the moment I hit the ground. While wandering around the Honduran mainland port of La Ceiba I came upon a Serpento Moto dealer. They ranged in size between 125 and 250cc, were four stroke, and beautiful!
I looked about for other marques, and saw a Honda owned by a Canadian who was wintering there. When he bought it new it came in a box that said ‘Made in China.’ Did I know there are Hondas made in China? Everywhere I looked I saw small bikes: Serpento, HJ, Genesis and AHM; all small bikes. No wonder people looked at me with big eyes when I rode my 800 BMW.
On the mainland people wore helmets, or at least the rider did. Passengers, sometimes the other parent and two kids, went lidless. Sometimes Mom was the rider with the kids. On the island, many local women rode. There I never saw a helmet. Once off the busy main street of Utila—which is the smallest of Honduras’s Bay Islands—the roads were so rough you wouldn’t want to go fast.
I thought of renting a motorcycle but with so little distance to travel and so much winter fat to wear off, I chose the pedal kind and it really was enough to get me on every rough and rocky road on my side of the island. I can only imagine them in the rainy season. I was afraid I’d burst a tire because the secondary roads I found were more like dirt bike trails, made of mud and hunks of very sharp volcanic rock. Because I didn’t know the way to the north side I followed directions across the small, rough airport tarmac and then through jungle on paths that started out big enough for an ATV but quickly narrowed down.
The diving and snorkeling were spectacular. I highly recommend Alton’s Dive Centre. Stay elsewhere or in their dormitory style rooms and pay $6US when you don’t dive. Tourism-based businesses charge in US dollars. I bought a five-day, 10-dive package ($350 US including gear) and stayed nine days. I nearly stayed my entire two-week vacation: 30C during the day, 25 at night; that breezy island lifestyle was hard to leave.
Besides, I was enjoying a flashback to when I first rode through Central America. I had headed off by motorcycle with no more than a road map. I had no support vehicle, no professional photographers, no guidebook and no idea that anyone had ever done such a thing before. I’m sure I met five or six riders on the first leg of my trip in Central America. Generally speaking, they were male and German. Most travelers were German, almost none Canadian. This time round, most were from the US and all over Canada and many were getting certified to dive.
When I left Utila, I went up the mountain range Cordillera Nombre de Dios, outside La Ceiba to a national park called Pico Bonito—where there is a beautiful peak, 2,500 metres high, a waterfall and a lovely jungle hike to get to it. The entrance is a cable bridge over the Rio Cangrejal that must rage in the rainy season. A number of companies offer guided Class Five river rafting. That called me out. And the place I went to stay was listed as a bit upscale for the backpacker budget. I am so glad I went!
Omega Tours and Eco-Jungle Lodge is home to a German couple that began operating the paradise in 1992. There’s quality accommodation, a restaurant with food that is exceptional, and all made with local ingredients. A mountain stream feeds their pool. They offer professionally guided river rafting and kayaking in warm waters with enormous boulders to steer around. Their bicycle rides turned out to be much more fun that I imagined. You’re driven up the mountain, and then for the next 25 km you ride slowly downhill—slowly because the dirt and rock road is so rough. The guide narrates the journey as you pass through small villages at a speed you can take it all in. It’s an amazing place to spend time, and very green. I hiked alone in the jungle and sat in the sun by a waterfall. I swam in the river. It was a tropical paradise full of houseplants.
Back at the lodge I found myself staring at a pickup truck and the words Maya Moto Tours. My current life does not allow me to ride south for the winter. But it could allow me to fly south long enough to enjoy a guided motorcycle tour company run by, surprise, Germans, who have been doing this since 1994. Prices include a Yamaha XT600 (the 34-inch seat height excludes most women), guided tour, lodging and more. I’d pick the 14-day Mayan Ruins tour for $3,480 or the 20-day Pan American run for $4,450 because, why not? Prices sound high. But if you want to have a real adventure and can’t afford to waste time getting sorted (they rent bikes by the day) or have time restrictions due to employment, it’s worth considering. And you can return with a new understanding of why this is called the First World and what Fair Trade really means.
These days you can do a trip around the world in increments; keep your job, your home and your relationships. Got cash? I’ve got an idea!