I left Selva Negra with my sights on Guatemala and Mexico. I was unsure how much longer I’d be traveling, but wanted to get through Honduras and El Salvador quickly. Refurbished American school busses are the ubiquitous mode of transport here, and they’re predictably inefficient. Overcrowded and slow, these “chicken busses” cover short distances and depart sporadically. So uncomfortable are they, that I’ve actually caught myself missing the overnighters that plagued me in South America. But sleeper busses are unsafe here; when a large metal box full of sleeping tourists rolls gift-wrapped along drug trafficking routes in the middle of the night, bad things sometimes happen.
So, speed was always pipe dream, and I had to short-hop my way north. First was Somoto, a charming but ordinary Nicaraguan border town. The next morning I crossed into Honduras, where a quick survey pointed me towards San Lorenzo. After a short ride, the bus driver hurried me onto the gravel shoulder and sped off, leaving me in a cloud of exhaust and confusion. A police officer flagged me down and asked what I was doing, and if I had entered the country legally. The truth was, I had no idea what I was doing, or how afraid to be of a country that most tourists avoid. But I assured the officer I didn’t need help nor warrant suspicion, and walked into town. Navigating the main drag with a large backpack and sun-bleached hair, I stood out, and the incredulous eyes that fixed onto me weren’t always welcoming. I quickened my pace until I reached the far side of town, where I sat on the steps in front of an unhappy looking Chinese restaurant and took stock. An unsightly mix of stray dogs, rundown streets, rectangular buildings, cheap department stores, and grungy but overpriced hotels had left me disappointed.
As I weighed my options, a family passed and invited me to join them on their walk to the beach. I obliged, happy to have an escort, but quickly realized I’d misjudged my company. The woman I’d mistaken for the mother was more haggard than I’d realized, and she was uncomfortably friendly. The daughter, 20 something and cute, suddenly disappeared; a prostitute looking for work. The boy was sweet, but strikingly nonchalant about his mother’s shenanigans, and seemed to be a practiced wingman. He wandered off to swim and skip rocks, and I found myself alone on the beach with a strange and somewhat disgusting woman massaging my shoulders, trying to hand feed me Doritos, and begging for sex. I dismissed myself awkwardly and resolved to catch the first bus out of town.
Tegucigalpa, Honduras’ sprawling capital, was the only place worth going that could be reached in an afternoon, and it was well off the road to El Salvador and Guatemala. It was a hasty and impulsive decision that would likely affect weeks or months of travel. So it goes. The bus ride was slow and I got stranded in a downpour on arrival, but when I settled into a friendly hostel, a plate of home-cooked lasagna, and a cold beer, I immediately felt I’d made the right decision. It had taken me two days to reach a non-destination, but I was happy to be there.