Honduras: From Guatemala to Guatepeor

(For our non-Spanish-speaking readers, that title is a little joke: mala means bad, peor means worse.)

We never expected to spend a week in Copan Ruinas, a small town in western Honduras that has sprung up about a kilometer from the ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Copan.

Don’t get me wrong; it’s a nice enough place for a few days. The ruins are fascinating, a world-class archaeological site. And there is a terrific bird sanctuary nearby, where you can see beautiful macaws, toucans, parrots, and other indigenous species rescued from the illegal wildlife trade.

Beyond that, though, there isn’t a lot to do here. The climate is too hot and humid for us to feel like hiking in the surrounding hills. The excursions on offer are beyond a backpacker’s budget (spending $70 for the two of us to ride on zip lines through the treetops seems silly in a country where we can get a decent hotel room with a hot shower and cable TV for $16).

And although Copan is a pretty enough little town, it feels no more exotic than a Hispanic neighborhood in Washington, D.C. More than 90 percent of Honduras’s population is Latino. There are none of the interesting indigenous faces or colorful traditional dress that we found so fascinating in Guatemala. This is just an ordinary Central American town that happens to be in a historical place.

After we felt a bit better, we took a couple days to visit an isolated coffee farm.

The reason we’ve tarried here for a week, when three or four days would have been enough, is that most banal of travelers’ complaints: gastrointestinal distress. The evening of the day we visited the ruins, Chris came down with a case of food poisoning that lasted about 36 hours. Barely had she progressed from dull-as-sawdust bread sticks back to the usual local diet (eggs, beans, and tortillas) than Melissa came down with the same thing.

We’ve been eating street food throughout Central America for two months now, so it’s not as though our systems are experiencing culture shock. We think we’ve traced the problem to a cafe where we stopped for orange juice on the mornings of the days we each got sick.

With lots of rest and bad Spanish-dubbed versions of U.S. TV shows, Melissa is slowly mending. As soon as she feels up to a bus ride, we’ll do some more exploring around southwestern Honduras. (Our next stop is the colonial town of Gracias.) Maybe this part of the country will look a little better once our stomachs settle. But for the moment, Honduras is firmly at the bottom of the list of our favorite places in Central America.

Ruins of the ancient Mayan city of Copan

Whatever else we encounter in the next 10 days, at least by the last week of March we’ll be back in the beautiful town of Antigua, Guatemala. We’ve arranged to spend a week there house- and cat-sitting for an American expatriate who is going on vacation. We’re eager to return to Guatemala for a while. And once there, we have our eyes on a little Indian restaurant we know where there are absolutely no refried beans (or orange juice) on the menu.

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