Border days are usually fraught with anxiety and tend to occupy an entire day. This was an unusual day for us in that we actually managed to squeeze in several other events on either side of the border, the crossing of which was one of the most uneventful in our experience. This is how it should always be.
We still had unfinished business at the Copan Ruins in that a nature trail outside the park fee area beckoned. As expected it was a wooded trail that kept out the sun for the most part and was well appointed with signs identifying the various trees on the way. Also dotting the trail were several beautifully painted displays of Mayan history and culture that made for a pleasant walk. We also encountered another Ball Court which allowed V to practice his batting stance to keep in good nick.
Video: Agoutis at Copan Ruins
Photo Album: Copan Nature Walk
Our shuttle to Antigua Guatemala was scheduled for a noon departure which still allowed us enough time to pop into a local bank for completing our souvenir collection of Honduran notes and coins. Our modus operandi in every country we visit is to start accumulating pristine notes and coins as soon as we start transacting with them. We only collect low value money (typically less than USD 5) and keep track of the missing denominations during our stay. We quickly learn to ask the question "Do you have a new/clean note/coin to replace this one?" in the local language. The key words for this in Spanish speaking countries are limpio (clean) and nuevo (new). V struggled with limpio and would keep saying Lempira, which is the actual name of the Honduran currency, usually resulting in much confusion and mirth.
The other aspect to leaving country is to avoid wastage due to reverse conversion. Individuals are always at the losing end of conversion transactions - just look at the spread between buy and sell rates posted by financial institutions. In order to minimize this reverse loss, we always endeavor to budget with minute precision the expenses for the last few hours before exiting. This attitude had resulted in a hilarious episode in Fukuoka on our last night in Japan, where we carefully scanned the menu and ordered one sake between the two of us that cost the last bit of spending money we had left on us. We had already stored away the cash required for the bus ride to the international ferry station.
We never encountered any centavos (coins) during our week-long stay in Honduras as most products and services never went into the subdivisions of the Lempira. We almost assumed that coins were not in circulation until we went into the bank. Our objective was to exchange the few notes which were not in pristine condition with something that was. To our surprise, the cashier (we had to wait 15 minutes before our turn due to the fact that it was pay day on Dec. 31) not only understood our purpose but actually went out of her way to exchange 2 Lempira notes for their equivalent value in centavos. And even packed them nicely in clear plastic bags. And in the process ended up giving us an extra 10 centavos which error we only discovered later when we had entered Guatemala. We hoped that this would not have inconvenienced her too much in the form of a stern reprimand from her supervisor.
On a rainy afternoon, we (or rather the driver of the minivan) made quick work of the short 5 km distance to the border where the passports were stamped and a small fee collected on both sides. A few painless minutes later, we were in Guatemala. We did have a few anxious moments on the Honduran side when we saw a sign that stated that the exit fee had to be paid in local currency, which would have meant the conversion of non-spending money to spending money. Fortunately, this officials paid no heed to the sign and accepted US dollars.
International borders are mostly artificial (unless a river or ocean or mountain range or desert is involved) and it was particularly true in this case. But the man-made differences eventually dominate. There was much more traffic on the Guatemalan side and a lot of it was commercial. More gas stations and more sophisticated traffic markings. The chicken buses that had been left in their natural yellow color in Honduras, had evolved into more resplendent colors on the Guatemalan side, thereby betraying not only a whimsical side but also the availability of surplus money that could be thrown for an ostentatious purpose.
We stopped for coffee and were suddenly short of cash as we had no local currency, Quetzals. We could not locate any ATMs in the immediate vicinity. However, the establishment offered to convert a few US dollars at a reasonable rate and so we had our coffee and two 1 Quetzal currency notes which we examined in great detail much to the amusement of the women who served us the coffee. Since we could not succeed in viewing their avian cousin, we were making up for it with the plastic counterpart. The resplendent bird itself was portrayed on the note (and in all other denominations as we later discovered).
A couple of hours of winding multi-lane highway driving later, we passed through the capital on our way to the well preserved colonial city of Antigua Guatemala, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in its entirety. Guatemala City was a world apart from Tegucigalpa which was clearly several levels behind in terms of development and sophistication. Flashy malls, car dealerships, sprawling suburbs, precariously perched shanty houses on hilltops and residential communities that seemed to stretch endlessly on. Most visitors to the country prefer to rush straight from the airport to Antigua (or from the border as in our case) and give the capital a miss owing to its reputation for petty crime, but the guidebooks do have a kind word for its energy and buzz and its nightlife.
We had a very dramatic welcome to the country when we reached Antigua at dusk. As soon as we shouted our hotel name to the driver, a European couple seated in front of us mentioned to us that they had booked that very hotel just 3 days ago (and using the same internet hotel booking site as we later discovered) and were denied on arrival. While this could have been a one time bad experience, they felt that we should be prepared for something similar. And as luck would have it, it was, as the hotel told us they were full and completely denied the legitimacy of our reservation (in full printout) or even the internet booking site that arranged it. It was New Year's eve and hotel rooms were going at premium.
The couple actually walked with us to a nearby hotel to see if they had rooms but we found their rates unreasonably high. A local couple were standing outside and offered to host us at their home for a very low price but we bolted from there on seeing a bug crawl from under the bedcover. Fortunately, we did not have to walk very far and found a guesthouse that had room for the 2 nights that we wished to spend there for something reasonable.
We headed out into the famous colonial city with its cobbled streets and painted walls which was now filled with parked cars on every street and revelers wearing their best. The Parque central was also teeming with people, mostly families with kids enjoying the attention of bearded Santa Clauses. Brass bands were playing bouncy Latin favorites to appreciative crowds. We found a quick falafel meal in an Israeli restaurant (after finding an ATM that dispensed some local currency) and then walked a few blocks around the central park. For the first time on this trip, we actually felt safe after dark as Antigua has a better reputation than the capital. Still, we only stuck to the few blocks around the center that were full of people. We are not the partying kind and really do not care too much for waiting till midnight on Dec. 31st and opted to retire early to face the new day and year in broad daylight.
Video: Parque Central
Video: Street Band
Photo Album : To Guatemala
Mmmm. A collage of events in the day.
Firstly, much disappointed at the smooth border crossing; its always much more interesting to read crossing like you had in Central Asia !!!!
Had something similar as a tactic in currency conversions , with the last few coins going to the British Airways Save the Children Fund on the flight out.
Falafel dinner on New Year's Eve in Antigua !!! That must be a first :)
@V - Methinks the right shoulder should drop a bit. With batting powers now paraded, a ticket to Sydney is on the post. Be ready to play in the first one dayer as an all rounder. From , on Jan 8, 2015 at 06:15AM
The band playing is a lovely video ! From, on Jan 26, 2015 at 05:00AM
@Kishore - Well, we wished for better lighting but the darkness made it more intimate. The trademark decadent brass of Latin American music is very much there From, on Jan 26, 2015 at 05:18AM