February 7 - 11, 2005

After a good night's sleep at Casa Gigante in Perquin, we took the 7am local bus across the border into Marcala, Honduras.  Like our other El Salvadorean and Honduran border rossing, this one was cheap ($3.00 each) and entirely painless. The local bus simply stopped at the top of this mountain ridge, at the border between El Salvador and Honduras, and the one immigration guard on duty processed our paperwork.  Then, it was on to Marcala. 

Now, there is not much in Marcala except a lot of cafe processing plants (apparently, Marcala is a big coffee growing region).   It was one of the few towns where people were just not that helpful. It wasn't that they were unfriendly, they just were not very helpful.  Everyone else  But, after asking a number of people, it seemed like the only way we were going to get to La Esperanza was by heading to the gas station on the road out of town and hitch hiking in the back of a pick up truck.  So, we walked ourselves and our packs 10 minutes out of town to the Dipsa Gas Station, ate lunch at the little restaurant right next door. 

As luck would have it, when we came out of the restaurant feeling refreshed, we found a pick up truck filling up with petrol at the aforementioned gas station before it headed to La Esperanza.  Two other backpackers rolled up just as we were about to leave, along with two locals and we all hopped in to the back.  For 20 lempiras each (just over $1.00), we made the 1 1/2 hour bumpy and dusty, but really beautiful, jorney from Marcala to La Esperanza.  The flatbed of the pick truck, while not comfortable, provided excellent views of the pine forests and mountains surrounding us on all sides.  In La Esperanza, we got another chicken bus to San Juan, which dropped us off at the next pick up truck that took us the rest of the way to Gracias - again on another bumpy and dusty, but truly spectacular drive -  for another 25 lempiras (about $1.50). 

We arrived in Gracias at sundown and decided to stay at Guanascascos, perched on the hillside overlooking the town, just below the beautiful castillo or fort. This hotel was recommended by our guide book, as well by the two other backpackers that rode with us in the pick up truck from Marcala to La Esperanza, and we soon realized why.  Not only did the room cost less than $14 a night, but it had a private bathroom, hot water, a big bed, cable television, and it took credit cards.  It also had Walter and Fronnie who knew the area very well and who organized tours to the local hot springs, Mt. Celaque, and several local Lenca villages.   What is more, they had several computers, which guests could use for the internet free of charge, plus there was an internet cafe just down the hill from the hotel. 

Gracias is a gorgeous little colonial town that is undergoing quite a bit of restoration and re-development. In 3 to 5 years, it will likely be as nice of a tourist destination as Copan Ruinas.  Apparently, the Spanish government has put some money into restoring the 4 colonial churches in town.  They are re-doing the cobblestone streets (right now, most of them are dirt), as well as the facilities at the aquas termales (the local hot springs), the botanical gardens, and more.  We ended up liking it and our room so much that we spent five days there.

Unfortunately, on our first night in town, Mike caught whatever Ruthie had, or finally got hit with the food poisoning.  He developed a terrible fever, the shakes, and was in bed for the next 24 hours, throwing up every few hours or any time he ate or drank anything.  It was a good thing we had nice accommodations, because while Mike slept his illness away, Ruthie checked out the town of Gracias and got some additional information on the hot springs and Mt. Celaque.  The following day, since Mike was feeling a bit better, we went on an easy hour walk through the countryside to the hot springs.  You can drive there or take a horseback tour too, but we chose to walk, just to get some fresh air.  The hot springs must have worked their healing magic, because the next day Mike felt better.  We took a day trip to Mt. Celaque National Park - you can camp in the park and the hotel we were staying at rents camping gear too -, where we went on a fabulous four hour hike up to the Cascada (waterfall).  Although it was really steep, it was a gorgeous hike. It was so nice to be back in the great outdoors, breathing the clean fresh air. 

Since we finished our hike at about 2:30 pm and since Walter was not picking us up until 4pm to take us back to Gracias, we took Walter's advice, and stopped in for a snack and some home grown, home made, home brewed organic coffee from Dona Angelina.  At first glance, the comedor (her home) does not look like a place one might want to dine.  However, she and her son fed us some delicious rice and beans, home made flour tortillas, home made chili and salsa, and the aforesaid coffee (which was very good, but very strong; since neither of us our coffee drinkers, we had to put lots of sugar in it to drink it).  Our total meal cost us less than $3 with tip, was very good, and neither of us got sick.  And, Dona Angelina and her son were so nice and sweet, that we hope everyone who visits this national park stops in to visit them too!

The following morning, we headed out on the bus to Santa Rosa de Copan, which apparently runs every hour on the hour and is only about an hour and a half from Gracias. 
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