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The road to Roatan, and the Bay Islands of Honduras



Travels in Central America, Part 4

After nearly four hours on the road the bus rolled into San Pedro Sula and our group of 12 naive gringos headed straight into the depot in search of the washrooms. There weren't any. The locals were lining up across the parking lot where an enterprising entrepreneur had cobbled together three primitive biffies from bits of plywood and corrugated iron roofing. The proprietor, whom we dubbed "Loo", was busy collecting three lempiras (about 20 cents) from each prospective client – no extra charge for a wad of toilet paper.

Thankful that I had drunk only one cup of coffee I queued up at the end of the line. Loo directed people, according to gender and the nature of their need, into the correct queue. One stall contained a makeshift urinal, one had a couple of planks slung over a hole in the ground, and the third sported a toilet bowl bereft of tank, seat, or any visible flushing mechanism. Enter Loo, who, between each client, scooped up a tin of water from a nearby barrel and sluiced down the bowl. Next!

The express bus that delivered us to San Pedro Sula left Copan at six, long before anything was open for breakfast. But coffee and a banana from a roadside kiosk was enough to kick-start the day and we settled back to enjoy the drive. From Copan the road winds through low mountains covered with dense cloud forest and occasional steep fields of corn and beans but little habitation. An hour out of San Pedro Sula we dropped down into a savannah-like valley with broad fields, cattle ranches, and banana plantations.

San Pedro Sula was the planned half-way point in our bus trip from Copan in western Honduras to La Ceiba on the Caribbean Coast, where we expected to catch the ferry to the island of Roatan. But before we were even finished with Loo the news of a general strike spread through the crowd. Protesters had blocked the highway. The only way out was by air and the airport was the other side of the blockade.

An hour later Martin, our resourceful tour leader, had cut a deal with a private bus operator to run the blockade. The old bus lurched through narrow back roads and muddy residential streets where surprised kids ran out to wave at us. But we arrived too late for the scheduled flight to Roatan. Because we were 12, a full load for a Cessna Grand Caravan, Martin was able to negotiate a special flight. But 10 minutes after takeoff the pilot reported that Roatan airport was shut down by torrential rain. He would be dropping us off at La Ceiba, still on the mainland and long after the ferry to Roatan had departed.