After working in New York City advertising agencies for 17 years, Ann Woodward began travelling full-time in October 2011. She believes travel can be a powerful educational tool. Therefore she enjoys sharing her photos and stories in order to inspire others to travel as well as to help change common perceptions about places. She prefers to visit less-touristed areas, and by travelling slowly, she has more opportunities to learn about local cultures. Here’s a week-in-the-life of Ann in Guatemala and Honduras.
Day 1 – Tuesday
7:15am Eat breakfast at my hostel in Antigua, Guatemala and pack to leave for Rio Dulce in eastern Guatemala, best known as a ‘hurricane hole’ where sailors dock their boats during the Atlantic hurricane season.
8:40am Skype with my mom.
9:10am The shuttle service picks me up at my hostel.
11:30am The shuttle driver drops me off at a private bus station in Guatemala City and hands me an envelope of cash to buy a bus ticket. This is a surprise, since I expected the shuttle to take me directly to Rio Dulce.
12noon Call a guesthouse in Rio Dulce to enquire about available rooms and prices. The conversation is in Spanish. When I ask how long the bus ride will take, the woman on the phone switches to English. “Oh honey,” she drawls. “I have no idea.”
12:15pm Eat lunch at the bus station snack stall.
1pm Bus leaves Guatemala City. Entertainment for the ride is Dr. Dolittle films 1, 2, 3, and Tail to the Chief, dubbed in Spanish and shown in succession.
4:30pm The elderly Guatemalan woman seated beside me has fielded several calls on her mobile phone, presumably from her family. From what I can gather, she has severely miscalculated the duration of her trip. She ends most conversations by screaming “I am arriving!” in Spanish. Also, she is completely hogging the arm rest.
7:45pm Arrive in Rio Dulce and walk to the guesthouse I called earlier in the day. It looks abandoned. A large ‘closed’ sign contributes to this vibe. When I call them again from the street, they tell me to kick the gate open and come in. Five sailors are drinking in the bar, which doubles as the reception area. I wonder what I’ve gotten myself into.
I’m shown a private room that costs 60 quetzales (less than $8), about 1/3 the price I was quoted on the phone. The sheets look clean. I check the mattress for bed bugs; thankfully, it is also clean.
8pm Return to the bar to order dinner. Patrons/guests are playing guitar and singing bluesy songs. A light rain is falling on the roof. It all feels very Southern. I envision myself staying here at least a couple of days.
9pm Bond with the guesthouse manager, who happens to be from New Orleans. He cautions, “Don’t let the concrete fool you, we’re in the jungle right now.” Apparently scorpion and tarantula bites only feel like a bee sting, but some snakes here may kill me. Excellent bedtime story.
9:45pm Take a photo of the Christmas tree on the town’s main road. It looks like a Corona ad.
Day 2 – Wednesday
8:15am The guesthouse is located directly on the river, with a lovely view of the water and sailboats. I’m happy to be here.
9:30am Realize I forgot to sign a health insurance claim I submitted a week ago. Call the insurance company, then walk into town to find a place to print the document.
11am Email revised paperwork to insurance company.
12:30pm Shower. The water is cold and seems to spray everywhere in the bathroom except inside the shower stall.
1pm Lunch at a nearby café, which is packed with sailors. Everyone seems to be drinking a beer or a cocktail, so apparently this is also happy hour.
2pm Take a serious nap.
4pm Chat with the guesthouse managers.
6pm Share a beer with a Guatemalan hang-glider. Seriously.
7:30pm Eat dinner and do some online research/planning for my next destination, Honduras.
9pm I’m in my room and done for the night.
Day 3 – Thursday
7:30am My plan is to take a boat ride down the river. However, according to the daily radio call between all the area boat and business owners, the forecast is 100% rain.
8:15am Rain is coming down, and I put on more layers of clothing because the temperature is dropping.
10am A French family with a car is driving to some nearby attractions, and I invite myself.
11am We drive past a Guatemalan man in a cowboy hat who’s herding cattle. The French mother exclaims, “This is just like Texas!”
Our first stop is El Boqueron, where we take a small paddleboat tour through a canyon with rock formations. It’s beautiful, but rain starts falling again as soon as we get into the boat. In better weather, you can explore caves in the canyon, but the rain makes the rocks incredibly slippery. I’m content staying in the boat underneath my umbrella.
Next stop is a serene swimming hole near a hotel called El Finca Paraiso. It has hot waterfalls, but the surrounding pools are cold, making for a strange sensation. It’s possible to stand underneath the falls for a massage from the water, and you can also duck into a sauna-like cave. The experience reminds me of an outdoor version of NYC’s Russian & Turkish baths.
2:30pm Return to town for lunch and sit with a group of travelers from Spain.
6pm Create a rough itinerary and budget for a trip to Cuba.
8:30pm When the guesthouse bar closes for the evening, I retire to my room to do some Kindle reading.
Day 4 – Friday
8:45am Decide to take speedboat ride to Livingston, a town on Guatemala’s Caribbean coast that’s one of only a few enclaves of Garifuna people.
9:30am Boat picks me up at the guesthouse.
10:30am After collecting other passengers, getting gas and cruising around a castle, we’re on our way.
10:32am It starts raining.
10:40am Everyone in the boat is soaking wet.
11:40am We arrive in Livingston. I change into a dry T-shirt and walk around town.
12:30pm Eat lunch at the only place that seems to have any customers (or staff). The house band plays a few songs, then the members use their tip money to buy beers at the market directly across the street from the restaurant.
3pm Head back to Rio Dulce. The return boat ride is much more enjoyable without rain! The trip to Livingston has satisfied my curiosity, although I didn’t witness as much distinct Garifuna culture as I expected. I’m glad I covered Livingston as a day trip vs. spending more time there.
4:45pm Arrive in Rio Dulce and talk to a bus company about departure times to Honduras. On the way back to my guesthouse, I pass the town’s volunteer firefighters who are setting up for a fundraising party that involves raffling off a cow.
6:30pm Eat dinner with two documentary filmmakers also staying at my guesthouse.
8:30pm Look online for hotels in Copan, Honduras; the whole town seems to be sold out.
Day 5 – Saturday
6:45am Wake up early, shower, have breakfast.
7:30am Call a hostel in Copan; they have room.
8:30am Since I have a place to stay in Copan, I settle up my tab at the guesthouse, say goodbye to the managers, and walk to the bus station.
9:20am Bus leaves. It’s an overcrowded, un-airconditioned coach. I’m one of several people standing in the aisle.
9:24am Someone’s bag bounces out of the overhead bin onto my head. Ow.
10:30am I get a seat.
12noon Buy some cashews from a lady on the side of the road during a pit stop.
1:30pm Bus empties out except for me and a honeymooning Italian couple also going to Copan.
2:30pm Change from a full-size bus into a buseta.
3:45pm Arrive at the Honduras border.
4:30pm After border formalities, share a pick-up truck to town with the Italians.
5pm Check into my hostel, where I discover only four lockers for the entire property, and they’re already taken. This is a problem, but I don’t feel like looking for another place to stay. I’m tired and hungry, and it’s getting dark.
Debate whether it’s better to leave my valuables (passport, laptop, $) at the hostel or walk around with them at night in a new setting. I give them — in a messenger bag secured with a combination lock — to the receptionist at the front desk for safekeeping.
5:30pm Order a local beer in a restaurant and eat my first meal in about 11 hours.
I’m relieved to be in Honduras, but I’m having a hard time relaxing because I’m worried about my things at the hostel.
6:30pm My concerns aren’t unfounded; I return to the hostel to find my bag sitting out for anyone to grab. After I complain about lack of security, the owner offers to put my stuff in a lock box behind the front desk. I decide to just sleep with my bag.
7:30pm Crash early.
Day 6 – Sunday
8am Have a painfully tedious conversation with the receptionist about putting my stuff in the hostel lock box.
8:30am Visit another guesthouse that has lockers for each guest and even provides locks.
8:45am Check out of last night’s hostel.
9am Eat breakfast at my new place. It’s much more tranquil, with an excellent view of the valley.
10:30am Happily discover the shower is the best I’ve encountered in the past 9 months in Latin America: sparkling clean, true hot water, strong water pressure, brightly-colored mosaic tile work.
11am Skype with my mom.
12:30pm Chat with other folks in my guesthouse.
2pm Drop off laundry at Casa de Todo (Spanish for ‘house of everything’).
2:15pm Walk to the town’s cemetery. I find cemeteries interesting, and I visit one in most cities to which I travel. As in Guatemala, the tombs here are painted bright colors. However this cemetery is surrounded by a chain link fence, and I can’t find an entrance. In some areas it seems the fence has been pushed down to enable climbing over, though I’m not feeling that adventurous. I’m willing to get into trouble for a lot of things, but trespassing in a Honduran cemetery is not one of them.
3pm Late lunch.
4:30pm Stroll through the town’s central plaza.
6pm Answer emails and do some research on Mexico.
Day 7 – Monday
7am I like the new guesthouse, but nearby noisy roosters and dogs formed a strange symphony throughout the night and into the morning. I give up on trying to sleep and get going early (for me) yet again.
7:30am Crazy mosquitos attack me during breakfast.
9am Copan is home to an important Mayan archaeological site, and that’s the reason I’m in town. Head out for the ruins on foot.
9:10am It starts to rain.
9:30am Arrive at the park and wait in the visitor’s center for the rain to stop.
10am Enter the park once the rain slows to a drizzle. I practically have the place to myself. Most of the other people I see are groundskeepers.
Copan is known for its stelae (stone pillars/monuments) and intricate, well-preserved carvings.
I feel fortunate to be able to marvel at this site without the usual crowds or hot weather.
12noon Walk back into town, pick up my laundry, and then return to my guesthouse to shower off all the mud from hiking around in the wet weather.
2pm Eat tamales for lunch.
5:30pm Take advantage of happy hour specials.
Ann spent the past year in Latin America, exploring new places and learning Spanish. Currently, she is visiting her family and friends in the US before returning to Bogota, Colombia. She blogs at East Village Nomad.