Bus Rides, Bumpy Roads and Breathtaking Views

So I was on a bus the other day, setting off on our three months of travelling that will contain more buses than I care to think about and I realised that while Honduran buses are now extremely normal to me, nobody at home has any idea what they’re like. So here’s hoping I manage to write a blog post about buses that proves to be more interesting than it sounds…

Timing

  • Despite the relaxed Honduran sense of time buses do actually leave fairly promptly.
  • Every trip we have ever taken begins the same way – waiting at the esquina (the corner) for either the 4am or 6am bus to Gracias. 
  • It has taken us three months but we have finally accepted that the bus does not come at 6 and is not supposed to come at 6 but instead 6.30. 
  • It’s rare that we get the 4am bus (which likewise also comes at 4.30) though this does give you a stunning view of the sunrise as you drive through the mountains.

The Roads

  • All this time I’ve been talking about bus rides. A much more accurate way to describe them would be roller coaster rides. It is extremely possible and highly likely that you will get some airtime while speeding over a bump.
  • The roads in our part of Lempira are not brilliant, I won’t lie to you. They’re not paved, most of the time they’re barely flat and occasionally if you’re really lucky you’ll wonder if you’re on a road or driving through a mudslide. (One of the reasons I’m trying and failing to dissuade el padre from renting a car when he visits… Don’t listen to me the buses aren’t actually this bad!)
  • To give you an example, our regular bus ride to Gracias takes 4 hours and it is 3 hours 20 minutes until we get to paved road in San Juan. San Juan is 65km away. If the road was paved it would take an hour and a half to get there. Let that sink in.
  • In general the roads don’t affect either of us that badly, neither of us get bus sick, though I can tell you going home on the bus with the flu and an especially enthusiastic and speedy driver was not the most enjoyable experience. 
  • As we travel more around Honduras I can see the range of quality. There are both roads like ours between Candelaria and Gracias but also beautifully smooth dual carriageways like the one we took to Tegucigalpa recently. 

The Buses

  • The buses themselves are not what you’d expect. There are no fancy Citylink or Megabus monsters here. It’s an old American school bus or nothing. Before you ask, no the novelty still hasn’t worn off yet.
  • They are surprisingly comfortable, except when there are three people squeezed onto a bench that really only has room for two bottoms.
  • There is also the Honduran version of a conductor who is always ready to stuff any size or shape of bag into the luggage racks and will collect the 110 lempira (just under £4) for the four hour journey ahead.

Cold/dust

  • A welcome and unusual sensation in some bus rides, especially those through the mountains, is the cold. It gives us the opportunity to actually wear the massive Project Trust hoodies we lugged all the way over here but never have need for in Candelaria.
  • A decidedly unpleasant sensation on the unpaved roads is the invasion a dust through the open windows. The dust can be so thick that the banks at the side of the roads can be grey due to the continual onslaught. It gets in your eyes, it gets in your hair and it makes constant cleaning of phone and kindle screens a necessity. 

Vendors

  • Something that would never happen in Britain – at certain stops, usually in bustling towns but occasionally just at the side of the road, the bus will be invaded by a swarm of vendors marketing their wares. 
  • San Juan, on the way to Gracias is an especially busy one; anything from baleadas to empanadas to cena tipicatajadas and popcorn, sweets, ice cream, oranges, lychees, jewellery, medicine, all without leaving your seat. 
  • My favourite is the fresh granadillas (passion fruit). We are physically unable to resist buying a bag as they go past and I have to fight Amy off to make sure I get my fair share!
  • The one thing about the bus vendors is that there are a lot of children, especially the granadilla sellers. It means they’re not in school and are probably extremely poor if selling bags for 20 lempira is more lucrative than receiving an education.

The Views 

  • These by far make up for any unpleasant aspect of the bus rides in Honduras. They are absolutely stunning, breathtaking, whatever adjective you prefer. They are the kind of views that you are used to seeing in long swooping shots in David Attenborough documentaries or on the front of a glossy photography books but never expect to see in real life. 
  • Around Candelaria you’ll find rolling patchwork hills painted in green and brown and adorned with patterns of trees and the occasional house that tweak at my heart and remind me of home to more distant, craggy mountains shrouded in clouds in the early morning, seen over vast flat expanses of lush forest. 
  • My favourite bus ride that we do is the one between Gracias and Santa Rosa. A short 50 minute drive, the hills, right next to the road, are so dramatic that they demand attention. 

Glimpses of Honduras

  • I’m a big reader and at home there’s nothing I like more on a long car journey than to bring a book along. I still read on the bus journeys here but I actually prefer to stick in a pair of headphones, block Amy out and watch the world (or Honduras at least) go by on the other side of the window (when I’m not catching up on my beauty sleep!).
  • The time we spend going from one place to another gives us the opportunity to get a glimpse at other parts of Honduras, if only for a second. This can range from passing incredibly rural houses to passing by great big cities. 
  • On the road from Candelaria to Gracias, we see houses littered along the road that can barely be considered a town, churches that are the only building in sight for miles and crops climbing up the hillside alongside the house of the farmer. We think we’re rural in Candelaria but these sights make it seem like a bustling town centre full of everything you could ever need.
  • And then there’s the other side of things. Passing by, or through, large cities like Comayagua and Tegucigalpa, like we have in the past few days, is a very surreal experience. We are so immersed in the towns that we live in that I think we sometimes forget that Honduras isn’t all corrugated iron roofs and tiny corner-store pulperías but does actually have shopping malls and skyscrapers. 
  • These are the times when the poverty and wealth inequalities are put into the harshest light. We live in areas where many of the children we teach are poor but there aren’t that many wealthy familes to compare them with so there’s no contrast. It begins to become normal, as bad as that sounds. Then when you go into the cities and suddenly everything we’re used to falls way down in comparison with the glossy buildings, bustling shops and mix of people. 

Hopefully this has given you an insight into what has become a very normal part of our lives in Honduras. It’s something that I keep forgetting, things that have just become normal for us were strange for us when we first arrived and would still be unusual for everyone at home.

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