|You write very positively
about this Central
American country without sounding like a tourism cheerleader.
What draws you to Honduras?
So many things! It's hard to know where to begin. Honduras
has got all the attractions you could possibly want in a Central
American travel destination -- Caribbean beaches, coral reef,
ancient Mayan sites, colonial villages, and an amazing quantity
of jungle and cloud forests stocked with wildlife. But to me,
what really makes Honduras unusual is how undiscovered the country
is, how many opportunities remain for an independent traveler
to explore, away from the tourist crowd populating the "gringo
trail" elsewhere in the region.
The country is filled with all sorts of hidden treasures,
often known only by the people who live nearby. For example,
just south of Yoro I learned about a little known colonial mission
church named Luquigue, a lovely chapel tucked away in a hidden
valley. And a Peace Corps worker in Olancho told me of some
impressive sites of unknown origin outside of Juticalpa called
Dos Quebradas, where several sizeable mounds, elevated walkways,
and a large stone monolith are all visible.
In fact, all over Honduras, but in particular in the northeast,
are dozens of sites which have received practically no attention
by professional archeologists -- no one even knows who built
them. Honduras has wonders like these all over: churches, hidden
waterfalls, hot springs, cave paintings, or little known patches
of cloud forest. It seems like every time I start to ask around,
someone tells me something new. I've spent five months in the
country for each edition, and my list of places I still want
to explore just keeps growing.
As well, because so much of Honduras has yet to be inundated
by foreign visitors, as Guatemala and Costa Rica have, people
are less prone to objectifying you as a tourist, especially
in rural areas. As you wander the back roads and footpaths through
the country, the people you meet might be a bit baffled by you
and what you're doing out in their corner of the world, but
mostly they'll want to talk to you, hear about where you're
from and what you're doing. This is particularly true when you
hit the trail and go hiking -- most Honduran campesinos are
hospitable to a fault, and poor though they may be, they will
often invite you stop for a cup of strong black coffee and a
chat about the weather, the state of the crops, or whatever.
On this trip, I visited the colonial mining town of Cedros,
just north of Tegucigalpa, for the first time. As I wandered
into the town church, I struck up a chat with a group of workers
who were in the process of restoring the church's damaged roof.
Without even mentioning that I worked for a travel guide, one
of the workers dropped his tools and insisted on taking me for
a tour around the town and surrounding hillsides, motivated
by nothing more than his pleasure on showing off his home town
to a foreign visitor. I've had countless experiences like this
during my travels in Honduras.
But you bring up a good point with your comment about not
being a cheerleader. One thing I try very hard to pay attention
to in writing this guide is being realistic. Honduras is an
extremely poor country, and crime and violence do exist, as
with anywhere in Central America. Rather than try to ignore
this, I've done my best to warn travelers whenever I think it's
appropriate. I give details about places that should be avoided
or places where certain risks exist, but at the same time I
try not to freak people out unnecessarily. For example, at last
report the rural highway in Olancho leading to Parque Nacional
La Muralla was renowned for robberies, while other parts of
Olancho are perfectly safe for travel. I consider writing about
these dangers part of my job -- I would hate the thought of
leading an unsuspecting traveler into trouble out of some misguided
desire to pretend these problems don't exist.
Is Honduras ready to receive tourists?
To be honest, it depends on what kind of tourists you're talking
about. If you mean tourists who are expecting five-star service
and want all the amenities, they won't get very far in Honduras.
It's no different from Guatemala in this respect -- an independent
traveler can get whatever they need, in terms of food, transportation,
and lodging, but it might not be of the best quality. The main
exception to this is the Bay Islands and Copan, which are used
to catering to foreign visitors, and the two largest cities
of Tegucigalpa and San Pedro Sula, where you can pretty much
find any kind of food or lodging you might want.
My favorite parts of the country are out in the small towns
in the mountainous interior of the country, like in departments
Yoro or Olancho or Lempira. To visit these areas, be prepared
to sit in the back of a pickup truck for a couple of hours,
eat unexceptional but usually hearty meals of beef, chicken
or eggs, and sleep in a simple hotel room. Trust me, the lack
of amenities are more than compensated by the spectacular scenery
and wonderful travel experiences.
The introduction of the book reads "In memory of all those
who did not make it through Hurricane Mitch..." Just how devastating
was this particular storm?
This was a major, major catastrophe. First and foremost, over
11,000 people were killed directly by the storm in Central America,
and over 7,000 in Honduras alone. Almost all of those killed
did not die as a result of high winds, but rather from the days
of incredibly torrential rains that lashed Honduras for several
days. These rains raised the level of rivers with a scary suddenness
throughout Honduras, sweeping many people away in their path.
As well, Honduras is a particularly mountainous country, and
many steep hillsides simply collapsed and slid away after the
soil filled with water. This was particularly tragic in some
of the shanty towns clinging to hillsides around the capital
city, Tegucigalpa -- entire neighborhoods literally washed away
in the middle of the night.
In terms of the economy and infrastructure, President Carlos
Flores Facusse said the country had been set back 50 years by
Hurricane Mitch. Likely as not, Flores picked a dramatic number
to boost the flow of aid money for reconstruction, but there
is no doubt that the storm caused severe damage, destroying
the banana and coffee crops for the year, sweeping away dozens
of important bridges and highways, and deforesting great swaths
of steep hillside. And unfortunately foreign countries and organizations
willing to donate resources for reconstruction have been very
wary due to fears of corruption and mismanagement.
That said, it clearly won't take 50 years for Honduras to
recover. When I was there this past winter, almost all roads
and bridges were open to vehicle traffic, and when the work
that I saw underway is completed, the transportation situation
will be almost back to its pre-Mitch state. And people thinking
about visiting Honduras will be glad to know that tourist infrastructure,
like hotels and restaurants, was essentially untouched by the