February 21, 2005

For those of you who do not know this already, we really do not like to get up early in the morning.  But, since the ferry terminal was 30 minutes away,  we had to wake up at 5am in order to make sure we got a seat on the 7am ferry back to La Ceiba in mainland Honduras.  Otherwise, we were going to have to fly again, a
considerably more expensive alternative to the $15 ferry ride, albeit it would only have taken 30 minutes to fly verses the three hours it took by boat. 

Having gotten very little sleep the night before, we were not in the best of moods and we were exhausted. We decided to sit on the upper deck, in the sun, and try to get some sleep.  Of course, just as we were drifting off, this older woman from Belgium, decked out from head to toe in indigenous clothing from Guatemala, sat down right next to us and started to chat.   When our feigned sleep and stony silence did not deter her, we had no choice but to respond to her incessant chatter.  It turned out that she needed help planning the rest of her trip, as she did not have a guidebook with her, nor did she speak any Spanish.  Although we were not happy about it, we could not refuse to help her, so we spent the rest of our ferry ride planning where she was going to go, how she was going to get there, and where she was going to sleep once she was there.   

When we arrived in La Ceiba, we thought we would go our separate ways, but alas, we were mistaken.  Our new found friend attached herself to us, deciding to accompany us as far as Puerto Cortes, where she was going to catch a ferry to Belize.  She insisted on splitting a cab with us to the bus station and sat down next to us on the bus to San Pedro Sula, chatting all the while about various miscellanous things.  Any thought of sleeping on this four hour bus ride evaporated as she continued to talk aimlessly, bouncing from one topic to another.

Then, once we were in San Pedro Sula, still talking, she followed us down the street to the stop for the shuttle to Puerto Cortes.  As luck would have it - or maybe not have it since it was now about 1pm and we were starving and had to use the bathroom - the shuttle was just pulling out as we arrived.  Notwithstanding our hunger and need for the bathroom, we pushed, pulled, and  piled into the shuttle, with about 15 other people.  We were so wedged in that we were definitely violating all sorts of US safety standards.

After 45 minutes of a not so comfortable ride, we arrived in Puerto Cortes.  The minivan dropped our new found friend off at the ferry terminal, where she was to catch the ferry to Punta Gorda in Belize.  Then, it took us to the bus station - dirt parking lot with buses, some stands selling chips and cokes, which we gladly purchased and devoured, and a (and we use the term very loosely here) bathroom, which we also took advantage of despite its appearance and smeel.  Then, we got on the chicken bus  - an old elementary school bus that no longer carries school children but now carries as many locals, backpackers, animals and supplies that fit - to La Frontera, the border town straddling the Honduran/Guatemala border.  

Just as our bus was about to pull away from the station, who should show up but our Belgian friend, flustered, speaking loudly, in English, and looking for us. Needless to say, between her indigenous Guatemalan attire, her bleach blond hair, and her loud English, she did not blend in.  Apparently, the ferry from Puerto Cortes to Punto Gorda only runs twice a week, and she had just missed it, whereupon she had decided to accompany us to Rio Dulce, Guatemala, rather than wait for the next ferry. 

Two hours later, we arrived at the border town, got our exit stamp from the Honduran immigration officials, and started our supposed one kilometer walk across the border to Guatemala.  As we passed by another check point on the Honduran side, we noticed that several of the other passengers who had traveled from San Pedro Sula with us took a slightly different route on this leg of our journey across the border. They disappeared just out of ssight and just before the immigration check point and reappeared just out of sight and just on the other side of it.  We thought this slightly odd, but speculated that some of them did not have the proper papers to get accross the border.  Turns out, we were right, as they explained to us during our thirty minute (not ten as the guards told us) walk across the border.  Although this walk was a bit long considering how tired and hungry we were, it was really beautiful, along a dirt road, in the middle of nowhere, through rich green farm land, with gorgeous mountains in the background and a clear blue sky overhead.  In fact, it was so pretty and peaceful that we stopped a few times to take some pictures along the way. 

Finally, just when we thought we could walk no further, a white minivan pulled up, and we all piled in.  If we thought the earlier minivan was packed as full as a minivan could be, we were wrong. We managed to get 22 people in this one - well almost in.  Mike and two other guys stood in the door way, hanging on to the roof rack for dear life.  Ruthie, who did not have a seat, was wedged in between Mikes knees, the side of the van and four other people.  We traveled in this entirely unsafe fashion for approximately 30 minutes at about 70 miles an hour, with Ruthie praying that Mike was not going to get hurled off the side of the van as we sped around corners.  Thankfully, we arrived in tact at the Guatemalan immigration office, where we paid our 10 quetzales (we had to pay the entry fee for our Belgian friend because, on top of everything else, she did not have any Quetzales with her) and got our passport stamps.  Out of the 22 people in the minivan, the three of us were literally the only ones with valid documents. Everyone else got in to Guatemala by paying - alright, bribing - the immigration official 200 quetzales each.

After these illicit transactions were completed, we all piled back into the minivan for another 10 minute drive.  At a crossroads, the minivan stopped, the 19 people who had crossed the border illegally, jumped out, bid us a quick farewell, ran to two parked cars waiting on the side of the road, literally with their doors open, piled in, and sped off into the sunset.  As for us, we were told to get out of the van, cross the street, wait for a bus that would take us to another crossroads, where we would find another bus to take us to Rio Dulce.  The aforementioned bus pulled up shortly thereafter and carried us to the aforementioned crossroads about 45 minutes away.  Here, we got into a minivan waiting on the side of the road, which took us the last 30 minutes to Rio Dulce, where we arrived exhausted, hungry and dirty, after traveling for about 14 hours straight.  Somehow, despite a grumpy start and the unwanted aggravationof having another person to look out for, we really enjoyed our day and were  both in very good moods!
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