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Trip Report: Carnitas, Copan, Coffee—my first trip to Honduras

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Trip Report: Carnitas, Copan, Coffee—my first trip to Honduras

Old Dec 16th, 2007, 09:48 AM
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Trip Report: Carnitas, Copan, Coffee—my first trip to Honduras

First, thanks to everyone who helped with the planning! My cousin and I (two women in our late 20s/mid 30s) spent ten days in Honduras, most of which was at Spanish school in Copan. Below are details; I’m happy to answer any specific questions if someone is planning a similar trip!

Tegucigalpa:
Not my favorite place, but I didn’t expect it to be. I was there to conduct a couple interviews before heading to Copan. We spent two nights at Humuya Inn. I’ve reviewed it on tripadvisor, but in brief, it was a safe, clean, charming small inn with an incredibly friendly staff that went out of their way to assist us (arranging transit, helping us find a local ATM, changing a 500 lempira note by running to a nearby shop). The included breakfast was adequate (bread, fruit, coffee, juice), but we splurged on the full Honduran breakfast (eggs, tortillas, beans, cheese, the works) for a couple bucks on the day we left, knowing our next real meal wouldn’t come until evening.

We spent our last afternoon relaxing in Valle de Angeles. We had pinchos de cerdo (pork shish kabobs) and Imperial at a café fronting the square, where we watched local families (and stray dogs) stroll. There wasn’t much to see, other than some small shops and artisans, but it was relaxing to get away from the traffic and din of Tegus. We hired a driver arranged by the inn.

Tegus to Copan:
We took Hedman Alas to San Pedro Sula (4 hours) to Copan Ruinas (3 more hours), which was $35 or so. We definitely felt it was worth the money (for more hilarious details on why, see “Copan to San Pedro” below). Hedman had more security than O’Hare Airport, and overall it was a very professional, safe, pleasant experience. The bus itself had a courteous attendant, a clean bathroom, snacks, movies, climate control. The transfer in San Pedro was also orderly and pleasant, and the station had a great snack bar (can you tell yet that I’m all about the food?)

Copan (Ixbalanque School):
The bulk of our trip was in and around Copan, where we lived with a family and attended Ixbalanque School. For $210 we got three meals a day and four hours of one-on-one Spanish.

I’m happy to talk about the school if folks have questions. It was a really nice new building with small, airy classrooms surrounding a courtyard full of flowers and sunshine. The teachers—almost all young women—were friendly and open. We had a fun (included in the price) excursion to the hot springs (more below) and a really fun empanada-making lesson. The bottom line is that my advanced beginner/early intermediate Spanish definitely improved over the course of just one week.

There were some things that took some getting used to, though. My only other experience with Spanish school was at CPI in San Joaquin, Costa Rica, and it was a much more academically rigorous experience and was a much more well-funded place. I loved the one-on-one aspect of Ixbalanque, but my very young teacher (under 22) didn’t have a lot of teaching experience and was less adept at explaining things in multiple ways than my older teacher at CPI. Also, I had to ask for homework and a workbook, and there was no explanatory materials in the workbook; all of the teachers had a text and students had to copy long passages of grammar rules and verb forms into their notebooks.

I don’t at all mean to complain about this, but it took me a few hours on the first day to adjust my expectations. When I gave my teacher feedback, she responded well, giving me homework and pulling old textbooks out of their library so I could review alternate explanations. And we had fun conversations about different aspects of women’s lives in Honduras and the U.S., and that was really interesting.

Copan (Excursions):
We covered a lot of ground in a week!
-we did a 3-hour hike in the hills, passing Chorti villages and a Mayan stela and ended up along the river. We set it up at basecamp tours, an operation run by a couple of Belgian guys who also run a bar in town called Via Via. ($8 a person, I think)

-there are a few sites of ruins and you could spend a couple afternoons exploring them, depending on how into it you are. We hired a guide at the main site (split it between 4 folks so it was affordable, I think it was $25 total for two hours) and I think we got a lot more out of it because of the guide. He spoke Spanish and English. There's also a hiking path we didn't have a chance to do. The place was peaceful and empty when we were there, and we loved the resident macaws and saw agoutis and other wildlife.

-the hot springs, aguas termales, were really fun. You can wade right into the river where it meets the springs, and it's gorgeous. There also are two pools with spring water piped in. For a splurge, you can go up the hill to the "spa," three man-made, rock-lined pools that are Jacuzzi-sized and surrounded by thick forest. There are also massages available at a pavillion by the spa, but we didn't get them and I'm not sure of the price. Entry to the spa was $10, entry to just the river/pools was $1 or $2. The drive to the springs has gorgeous mountain views.

-the bird park is a nice stroll from the town, has bilingual guides, and was interesting. ($6 a ticket with a student discount)

-we did a one-day trip to Finca El Cisne, a coffee and cardamom farm near the hot springs. For about $60 a person we got transportation to the farm, 3-4 of horseback riding through the coffee fields and to the coffee processing area, a huge and fantastic lunch at the main house, a walking tour of fruit groves (with lots of tasting of local fruits), and then a stop at the hot springs on the way home. It wasn't cheap, but it was really informative and fun. Carlos leads the tours, he's the son of the farm's owner, and he gave the tour in english.More at http://www.fincaelcisne.com/

-Hacienda San Lucas is an inn/restaurant with gorgeous views (and also Los Sapos, another Mayan ruin area reputed to be where women came to give birth.) We did a zipline canopy tour ($35) where you zip from tree to tree (or forest to forest) on cables. There are 14 in all, a couple that are nearly a kilometer in length, and it was a big thrill. (Almost too thrilling for me in points, but the views were gorgeous and it felt like a top-notch, well-run outfit.)

-there also were plenty of opportunities to shop for local items like pottery, leather, and coffee; to enjoy tres leches cake and coffee at cafe welchez near the main square, to sit in the square and people watch; to enjoy the great local food and beer with a view of the hills at Carnitas Lola or other places. Copan was charming, the people were warm and friendly and patient as we practiced our spanish, and we felt generally quite safe.


Copan to San Pedro:
This part of our journey was quite an adventure. We'd bought tickets on Hedman for the 5:15 am departure so we could catch a 12:45 pm flight out of San Pedro Sula, then missed it when our mototaxi didn't show at 4:45 am as arranged. When we finally flagged down a ride and got to the station, the next Hedman was at 10. (I know, bad planning, live and learn.)
All this to say that the nice Hedman lady said Casasola buses left at 6 and 7, and that was our only way to get quickly to San Pedro. Much hilarity ensued as the Hedman security guard took the lead. He was a slight little man who was so eager to help us catch the bus that he hoisted my cousin's suitcase over his head and jogged through the cobblestone streets with us in tow. We made the 6 am bus entirely because of him and his kindness. He stopped the bus just as it was about to leave, got our bags in the belly and pushed us on. It was a couple bucks compared to $20 on Hedman, and it was a nice coach with a bathroom. The downside was that it stopped about 15 times (though it only took about 20-30 minutes longer than Hedman), there was no security to speak of, it was standing-room only (meaning full aisles of people) for long stretches, and we were dropped off at the central bus terminal instead of the nice Hedman one. (The other downside was lots of folks with motion sickness throwing up into bags, something that I didn't notice on Hedman even though they take the same route.)
The school I studied at in Copan recommended Casasola, so I felt pretty comfortable on it. But if I come back to Copan, I'd probably still make Hedman my first choice and Casasola my second.

We made our flight, made it home, and can't stop thinking about what a great trip we had.

I know this got long, but hope it's detailed enough to help folks who might be thinking of a similar trip.

Melissa
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Old Dec 16th, 2007, 10:59 AM
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Welcome back to the real world, Melissa! Sounds like you had an interesting trip culturally and linguistically with a little humor thrown in. Would you be willing to share more about your homestay and the names of homestay and teachers? Happy trails!
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Old Dec 16th, 2007, 12:10 PM
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I'd love to share details about the school, thanks for asking!

Since I was only there for a week of classes, I had one teacher, Iliana. As I mentioned in my trip report, once we talked about my goals and that I wanted homework in order to make the most out of my short stay, she gave me what I needed. She was very sweet and open and willing to talk about anything. My cousin studied with Julia, and she said Julia was great. I don't think Julia teaches at the school all the time; she teaches young children full time, but the schools had all quit for their 3-month break and she was picking up hours at the school. We played pictionary together (with a few other students/teachers) one day, and that was a great group activity that I would request!

My cousin and I stayed together at Rubenia's house, which was very close to the school across from the cemetery. She has a great set up for two people: 2 double beds, a desk, and a bathroom right outside the bedroom. There was a great hammock out front and we sometimes studied there.

We spent more time with Santos, the maid, than we did with Rubenia and her teenage son. Partly it might have been because we were out and about most afternoons after class/lunch, and she was out most evenings. (Her son, just having started his vacation, was out most of the time as well.) We ate our meals on our own, but they were great cooks and we got to try lots of local specialties. We didn't ask to spend time with them, and they didn't ask us to do anything with them. Again, it was different than our experience in Costa Rica where we ate with the mom and/or dad every night. We talked to a couple of the other students who had morning classes with us, and they had a variety of experiences with their families and meal times, conversation, etc. I would probably ask for a family that wanted to be a little more engaged, though I realize we were limiting our options by asking to be housed together. We also probably could have asked to spend time with her, but it felt a little awkward and in the end we just kind of did our own thing.

Let me know if there's more I can tell you...that all I can think of off the top of my head!
Melissa

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Old Dec 16th, 2007, 12:24 PM
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Thanks, Melissa - that's a help. I'll be traveling with a group of teachers from my area to study there in July and appreciate the input. I found it hard, too, to feel comfortable enough to ask for more involvement with my host family. I stayed with them 2 weeks and by the 2nd week it felt much different and I was able to be more involved with their daily activities.
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Old Dec 16th, 2007, 01:10 PM
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It sounds like you have a great return trip coming up! What fun to plan that during the long cold winter! (Well, it's long and cold where I'm at.)

I really want to shoot for two weeks the next time, and your experience makes me think there's a lot of benefit of staying longer when you can.

I look forward to hearing about your trip next summer! Any trips planned in the interim?
Melissa
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Old Dec 16th, 2007, 02:48 PM
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I CAN'T WAIT to head back to Honduras. The 2 trips we've had there have totaled about 6 weeks and even in the small areas we've visited there's so much we haven't seen. I'll be flying down with a group on July 20th for 2 weeks at Ixbalanque, then the group will head home and I'll meet up with my family for 2 weeks on the Bay Islands; where we stay will depend on whether it's just my husband and I or 1 or both of our sons.

Just rafting, hiking, etc. around Oregon until then and family visits. The only down side about visiting Honduras for the 3rd time in 4 years is that there's very little research or planning to do. I'm already thinking about the summer of '09: Nicaragua? Back to Guatemala with a group?

Happy trails!
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Old Dec 17th, 2007, 04:04 AM
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Also meant to say that I have a special place in my heart for Carnita Nia Lola's. My host family's place was the orange house attached on the right. My little room had been built on the roof and was attached to the top parts of Nia Lola's. When the power went off on Saturday night (which it regularly did in the evenings) I could hear the music stop and the groans from next door. When the power came back on (often less than a minute later) the music would pick up where it left off and everyone would cheer.
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Old Dec 17th, 2007, 04:09 AM
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Melissa -- thanks for your trip report. It brought back wonderful memories of our trip to Copan. We took the Hedman Alas bus from San Pedro Sula to Copan and vice versa before going to Roatan. Not too many people go to Honduras

Noticed from other threads that you are in the Chgo area too! When I returned to work and people asked where we went, they looked at us strangely when we said Honduras. But I will say, of all the travels that we've done, the food in Copan was some of the best.

I still look for the platos typicos aqui!
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Old Dec 17th, 2007, 05:07 AM
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Hopefulist, thanks for sharing the Nia Lola story! What a fun memory. One night when we were at Nia Lola, in the upstairs part, it was just us and a table of about 20 exuberant Honduran Harley riders chowing down on huge plates of meat. I felt like we'd landed in the middle of a very local and fun celebration!

BKK, I am from Chicago, and am glad the report brought back good memories for you! I was seated next to a Honduran man on the plane from Houston to Chicago, and we started talking about food, and he lamented the fact that there aren't any Honduran restaurants in Chicago (that he knew of). I told him he should start one!

I have to say that I think Honduras, at least Copan, is kind of a hidden treasure. Everyone who found out I was going said, "where? how come?", including folks at airport security at O'Hare! I think this is one of the great things about these forums; you get great firsthand advice from fellow travelers from all over. I truly can't thank hopefulist and the others enough for pointing me in the direction of Copan, patiently answering my questions, and providing me with great tips.
Happy travels to you both!
Melissa
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Old Dec 17th, 2007, 12:42 PM
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Hi Melissa --

Thanks for the report. Do you know if the museum has reopened at Copan Ruinas? We've had Honduras on our list for a while but have held off because the museum was closed "temporarily" a few years back for restoration. I've heard the finest artifacts are housed within and wouldn't want to miss them.

Enjoyed your stories.


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Old Dec 17th, 2007, 08:52 PM
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Melissa..

Thanks for some great tips about Ixbalanque..I will keep Pictionary in mind. This will be my first Spanish school so I have nothing to compare it to. Only 7 weeks to go!

Interesting about the homestay - I just assumed that the families would be friendly and helpful. I guess some students prefer privacy and some families prefer privacy. I remember Shillmac commenting that the whole experience of immersion can be quite draining and that a little "down" time is a good thing, but I certainly hope I am included in some family meals during my stay in Copan. Lucky you had your cousin with you.

I wonder which family I'm going to be with? I want to send an email right now and find out. But I guess that's part of the fun. Everyone on this forum seems to have found Copan very charming and I know I'm going to like it a whole lot better than -30 in Calgary in February.

Hopefulist - I like your suggestion in a previous post about calendars and I'm collecting a few to take along ...you know how many come to the mailbox this time of year. BTW, after reviewing your "hopefulist", I decided to really try packing light this trip so I bought a Rick Steves backpack, which is carry-on size. Will try to remember to comment on the backpack when I write my trip report. Of course I will have two huge duffles of medical gear on the way downm to Honduras. Hedman Alas allows two 50 pounders per person plus carry-on. I think I'll get my money's worth!

Melissa, did you book your Hedman Alas ticket over the Internet? Did you book a return ticket or each way separately? I've heard the Hedman Alas busses do not fill up. What was your experience? It was good to hear your story of finding a last minute bus back to San Pedro, even if the trip back was not ideal.


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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 05:13 PM
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I am embarrassed to admit that we didn't visit the museum, so I don't know if it's open again! We were so into outdoors stuff, and the week flew by so quickly, that we didn't get there. (Of course, that's a good reason to go back!)

Here's our experience with Hedman: at the inn in Tegucigalpa, they told us not to worry, just to arrive 30 minutes before the bus was set to leave and we could get tickets. We were skeptical but our schedule was so packed that we couldn't get to the station the day before. We arrived 60 minutes before the bus left and had no problem getting a one-way ticket all the way to Copan.

There are fewer buses from Copan, I think, so we went the day before and bought the ticket. (The people at the school and our family recommended that, partly because we had a tight connection with our flight in San Pedro.)

Tripinink, have a wonderful time! I've only done two Spanish schools/family stays, but they were both great and I can't wait to do another. (I'm thinking about Peru next, but have only just started my research.)

Hopefulist, have you posted on how Guatemala compares to Copan? I'd love to hear more on that subject but don't want to make you repost if you've already addressed it...

Melissa
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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 05:27 PM
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My photos and travelogues are here:

http://flickr.com/photos/staceyholeman/collections

and you can probably discern a lot from them.

I wouldn't recommend studying in Antigua - more English speakers than Spanish speakers and because of the tourists many of the restaurant and shop people speak English. I wouldn't choose Xela (Quetzaltenango) either; I didn't find it a very appealing place to visit though the surrounding area is lovely.

I studied for a week in Nebaj (fairly new school, my teacher was EXCELLENT, my friend's not so great. Our homestays were a bit rough. Overall we had a wonderful, enriching, cultural experience there but I wouldn't recommend it to everyone.

We also studied a week at the Cooperativa school in San Pedro La Laguna which I HIGHLY recommend - can't wait to go back there.

http://cooperativeschoolsanpedro.com/

The school is beautiful, teachers outstanding, great homestays, interesting town, gorgeous lake.

Both of my Guatemala schools cost about $115/week for 1-on-1 tutoring 4 hours/day and homestays; in Nebaj they provided 2 meals/day, in San Pedro 3 meals a day 6 days/week (not on Sunday). Activities and other perks included.

I'm taking a group (as many of you know) to Copán next summer but am considering heading with a group to Guatemala in 2009.

Let me know if you have specific questions I can answer. Happy trails!

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Old Dec 18th, 2007, 05:55 PM
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Wow, the travelogue from your recent trip is really detailed and interesting; what a great trip! I will definitely reach out on the Guatemala boards if I have questions as I research.

Your comment on the earplugs cracked me up because there was a rooster/chicken pen right under our bedroom window in Copan, and neither of us had thought to bring earplugs! The main offender, who we nicknamed "Paco," crowed and howled all night long. (A local said the streetlights, which tend to go on and off through the night, mess up the roosters' sense of sunrise.) We ended up sleeping with the pillows on top of our head to try to keep out the sound!

Melissa
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Old Dec 19th, 2007, 05:57 AM
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Above I basically just compared the schools, but Honduras and Guatemala feel different to me. It's easy to shuttle around from place to place in Guatemala and surprisingly traditional villages are easily accessible. The culture seems more "colorful" - the gorgeous textiles Guatemala is famous for are everywhere and in many places the women still wear the traditional huipiles (woven and embroidered blouses) that are unique from village to village. It's less common for men to wear traditional clothes but some of the villages around Atitlán that's still the case. I really love both countries (asnd Belize!) but if someone is only going to see 1 country in CA it should be Guatemala IMO. Happy trails!
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 09:38 AM
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Wow, what a big endorsement for Guatemala! I'll have to put it on the research list, too.

Another question: Not to be hung up on safety, but since my CA travel has been pretty limited (and my family gets into a lather every time I head south), I'm wondering how general safety issues felt in Honduras vs. Guatemala? (Again, if you've posted on this subject, I apologize! Point me in the right direction and I won't ask you to retype everything!) I know there's been a lot of chatter on the boards on Guatemala safety, but since my only other frames of reference are small-town Costa Rica and Copan (and Tegucigalpa), and you've been to Copan, I'm wondering if you have any comparisons.

Thanks again for sharing all your experience!
melissa

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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 10:53 AM
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In terms of safety Tegus and San Pedro Sula are the worst Honduras has to offer. In general I avoid the big cities, including Guatemala City except for passing through. Copán is a very safe-feeling place but we felt safe in the towns in Guatemala where we studied, too, Nebaj and San Pedro La Laguna.

My friend and I (2 small 50-something women) felt safe every where we traveled in Guatemala. People were always friendly and we never felt threatened in any way except by WILD chicken bus drivers careening around mountain corners in the wrong lane - not for the faint of heart! Here, in a nut shell, is what I do to feel safe in CA, no matter which country I've selected:

:: I avoid the big cities as much as possible
:: Where recommended I take specific transportation (Hedman Alas in Honduras, for example)
:: I know where I am and where I'm headed
:: I don't wear jewelry (not even my wedding band) and try not to flash camera equipment or money around
:: I keep important documents and cash under my clothes (except what I need for shopping, buses, etc. for that time period)
:: I ask locals about safety in an area - evenings, hiking, etc.
:: I travel really light so I don't feel vulnerable getting my bag off and on buses, shuttles, etc.
:: I continue to build skills in Spanish

I did not feel more or less safe in Guatemala than Honduras - just careful both places. If you decide to make a trip to Guatemala I have opinions about where to go and what not to miss. In general it's much cheaper than Honduras, too.

Happy trails!
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Old Dec 20th, 2007, 06:12 PM
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Hopefulist, you are the best CA ambassador! I'm so glad to benefit from all your experience. I checked out your links/blog and am getting very interested in Guatemala. Unfortunately, lots of changes at work mean I won't be able to travel again until next fall, mostly likely, but that gives me plenty of time to plan and get excited. I'm going to lurk on the Guatemala board and will start a thread there as needed.
take care,
melissa
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