The Undiscovered Country in 1997
By John Kobak
Peggy & I like to do independent adventure travel. We had traveled to Costa Rica, Belize, Guatemala and Mexico. This year we chose Honduras. It had better diving than Costa Rica, better kayaking then Belize and a relatively undeveloped tourist infrastructure. (Prices are low)
We spent the first week on Roatan. One on the three large islands on the Caribbean coast (a divers paradise). The 40 mile long island has several large all-inclusive resorts plus many small hotels and cabins. We elected to stay on the West End at Half Moon Bay Cabins. It was near all the good restaurants on the island and 6 dive operations. The resort also supplies free sea kayaks & snorkel equipment.
The dive certification programs are PADI approved and the least expensive in the Caribbean. My daughter, Meg, was on her Winter break and decided to come down for the week to get her dive certification. The 3 1/2 day course including all classes, equipment and 5 open water dives was only $175. I now have a new dive buddy.
Roatan is more expensive than the mainland but cheap by Caribbean standards. Also, most of the people speak English. The only downside to our island stay was the weather. January is at the end of the rainy season and the islands are dryer than the mainland. However, we only had a few sunny days. OK for diving but not good for snorkeling or sea kayaking. My daughter left sans tan and Peggy and I flew to La Ceiba on the mainland.
I did most of the trip planning using the Internet. I contacted Dick Eustis of Rios Honduras, who runs a excellent whitewater raft and kayak company. They have plenty of the latest model Perception and Dagger boats but you need to bring your own gear. The water is 80o so you don't even need a paddling jacket unless you want to stay out of the sun.
It turned out that the rains were even heavier on the mainland and most of the rivers were near flood. They also had two other large groups scheduled. Dick suggested that I come back next week when both water level and less paddlers would be around. We had planned two weeks on the mainland so we canceled our room and instead rented a vehicle for our tour of the country.
The roads from the airport to town were awful, they suggested we rent a four wheel drive truck rather then a car. Good suggestion, a car would have been lost in some of the road craters. It turns out that the road had been washed out from the heavy rains they received in last fall's flood.
We drove to Tela, a small ocean resort town, about 60 miles west of La Ceiba. The rains finally ended and our week of traveling would be dry. The beach front hotels were about $20-30/night. The beaches were much cleaner then in La Ceiba, but still not like the beaches of Roatan. Tela used to be a banana port but Chiquita moved its operation to Puerto Cortes leaving Tela to become just a tourist destination. We toured the Lancetilla Gardens outside Tela. It was Chiquita's experimental tropical garden with many exotic trees and plants.
The best thing was that the roads west of Tela were great. No washouts, wide berms for all the bicyclists and even freeways near the large city of San Pedro Sula. The roads in the rest of the country were much better then Mexico, Belize or Costa Rica.
We visited the mountain towns of Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa and Gracias on our way to visit the Mayan ruins of Copan. The towns were very small and had some good crafts (Baskets & Pottery). Honduras is a very mountainous country except for a narrow strip of land along the coast. Hundreds of large rivers plunge down from the mountains to the ocean and many of the roads are along these large river valleys. The cities were unlike the colonial towns in Mexico. No large ornate churches, big markets or big city parks. We did enjoy the good low priced hotels and excellent inexpensive dinners.
Copan has a brand new museum that just opened last summer. They moved many of the artifacts under cover here to prevent further deterioration from the elements. It is so large that they even reconstructed a full size replica of a Mayan temple decorated with stucco and paint used by the Mayans 1000 years ago. The best part of the museum is that all the explanations are in both English & Spanish. Unlike the ruins themselves which only have Spanish signs.
The ruins are much smaller then Mayan sites in the Yucatan. However the stone carving and art work are the most elaborate of any of the other restored ruins. Guides are recommended and inexpensive. A day and a half here is plenty. The adjoining town and hotels are more expensive than the rest of the country.
We finally got back to La Ceiba, the base for the whitewater paddling. The rivers were now at optimum levels, and the late afternoon rains in the mountains kept them up for optimum enjoyment.
I joined two interns from NC who were also doing an independent trip. We started out the first day accompanying a raft trip on the lower Cangrejal. The water was sparkling clean and the rapids and river was similar to, but slightly easier then section IV of the Chattooga or the Tygart gorge.
We were joined the next day by a few more paddlers and we moved upstream to add the middle Cangrejal to the lower run. Most of us walked a bad undercut rapid aptly named Subway for the boater who was pinned and then sucked through the undercut. No need to try this, although the few that ran it stayed on the tight line and had no problem. We ran the lower section twice.
The heavy nighttime rain brought the river up, the guides agreed that we could now run the Upper Cangrejal. This was the most beautiful section. The river flows through a steep walled canyon with 3 miles of steep continuous rapids. Two of the rapids were class V difficulty and we did much more scouting. The water level provided large holes to punch and very tight maneuvering in good size drops.
One large hole back-endered me and tossed me upside down in a boat size recirculating eddy against a stone wall. I discovered that I was free of the hole but couldn't roll because of the wall. I was able to self rescue by reaching for the rocks and pulling myself away from the hole between two rocks and up on shore.
The last few rapids in this section were very interesting. Large crowds of natives appeared on shore cheering us on through the class IV drops. It looked like the whole village must have been perched on the rocks awaiting our arrival. I provided some extra crowd thrills by flipping. I again found myself shoved against the shore rocks but realized I was still moving nicely downstream. I waited until I cleared the rocks and rolled to the cheers of the crowd.
The three days of continuous paddling was starting to tire me out so I opted to spend our last day in Honduras with Peggy buying a few more crafts and gifts. It was a great trip and I hope to lead a trip there next year.