We’d read on the World Nomads website that the public buses in Honduras were unsafe at this point in time with theft, gun crime and rape all having taken place on board these yellow retired school buses in the last year. We had also met a guy in Nicaragua who’d been robbed at gunpoint three times in Honduras, two of those travelling on buses. So not wanting to repeat our experience in Panama, we needed to find a better way to get to the Honduran diving haven of Utila.
Ticabus is supposed to be the safest option as far as first class travel in Central America goes, but the passage looked complicated. From Somoto we would have to go backwards to Managua, Managua to Tegucigalpa, Tegucigalpa to San Pedro Sula, SPS to La Cieba on a public bus, then La Cieba to Utila on a ferry. Two days $77usd. This was sounding waaaay to convoluted so when we heard about a direct shuttle from Leon to La Ceiba we got in contact. Turned out that for $65usd + $30 for the ferry, they would pick us up from Somoto at 4am arriving in La Ceiba in time for the last ferry at 4pm. Sounded Perfect!
The van arrived at Somoto Canyon Tours to pick us up right on 4am, the border was only a further 30 minutes from there and the supposedly “hairy” crossing was smooth and uneventful. The drivers swapped not long after so we had a fresh driver from 6.30am to take us through the final stretch. The roads and traffic in all of Central America are pretty dicey, and Honduras is right up there with the best. We were all thrown around in the backseats as we wove in and out of traffic in the longest game of chicken I’ve ever endured. There were numerous police check points and other miscellaneous traffic to slow us down including horses and carts, cows, people wheeling wagons of goods and the roadside fruit sellers to dodge. Usually the fruit sellers jump in the buses when ever they get the chance but our van had dark tinted windows, so nobody could see we were a passenger van which was great. Even though we’d not had any problems in buses ourselves, we knew from others how easily things can happen when your attention is elsewhere. So the tints made me feel a bit safer.
In spite of our race car driver we unfortunately didn’t arrive into La Ceiba until 5pm and the last ferry had gone. Luckily (?) our shuttle company had organised a private lancha for us instead and even offered to pay the difference in cost which was about $10usd each. This all sounded great from the van, especially as we drove around La Cieba and saw how dodgy the place looked, we did not want to be stuck there the night. Unfortunately, as we pulled up to the lancha the reality hit. Dark rain clouds were rolling in and the sun was beginning to set. For those not familiar with a Central American lancha, its a fibre-glass boat, about 16 foot, with a small outboard motor. At this stage our options were limited to either getting on the boat with the other four people from the shuttle, or wandering around Crack-ville by ourselves to find a place to stay… we all reluctantly hopped on the boat.
45 minutes is all they said it would take, but after the longest 45 minutes I’ve ever endured, (which in reality was 1 1/2 hours), the sky was getting much darker and the mainland was but a soft glow in the distance. The only thing leading us to Utila was a smokey outline that looked like a small turtle on the horizon. I could also make out a flashing light on a lighthouse that looked like a lone Christmas tree light showing us the way home. A further 10 minutes passed and our Christmas beacon of hope was enveloped by dark clouds and a wall of rain. It felt like the two amateur captains were veering off to the left and like maybe they didn’t actually know their way. Then the unthinkable, they slowed the engine letting the boat pitch and roll in the growing swell to gather their bearings. I was having visions of being tipped overboard into the inky black water. Scrambling for breath and searching for Steve. Exit strategies all racing through my mind and plans on how to navigate my way from under a capsized boat should I be trapped underneath it, I asked the french guy next to me who was nervously puffing on a cigarette if he thought we might be lost. “No no” he replied quickly, then in spite of the rain he pulled out his cellphone to consult his GPS. It looked like we were close to the southern end of the island. He showed the cowboy pirates and they looked intently, then acted as though they knew this all along.
When the flashing light of the island finally re-emerged from behind the dark curtain of rain I felt my heart start beating again. We weren’t out of the danger zone yet. One rogue wave would have flipped us out and it was still much too far to swim, but the hope beacon was back. As we slowly made our way closer I focused my attention to the phosphorescent plankton that were occasionally appearing in the spray of the boat. Anything to keep my mind from playing out the scenes of our demise. Finally the one flashing light started to turn into an orange glow, then a line, until it eventually became the distinctive lights of houses and restaurants. When we pulled up to the dock at 7.30pm I was shaking like a leaf but the relief and overwhelming gratitude that our 15+ hour journey was over was palpable. We could finally relax and enjoy our time in Utila and Honduras.
As we walked up the pier a couple of guys emerged from Parrots Dive School. “Where on earth did you just pull up from?” They seemed very shocked to see us and even more shocked to hear we’d just arrived in that weather on a lancha. We later heard that boats are not allowed to cross from La Cieba to Utila after the last ferry has sailed. They are supposed to call for a boat to come from Utila as they apparently have more experience and don’t have to go back the other way after dark. If I could offer any word of advice it would be, find a place in La Cieba over taking the lancha in the dark and the rain. No one on Utila could believe the risk these guys had taken with us and we passed this feedback on to the company.
Aside from that, the service was good and I would recommend Roneeys shuttle service. They were nice when we passed the feedback on about the boat passage and we also used them to hire a motorbike and then again to get to Copan with no issues.