February, 1977

Idyllic beach, cool people, laidback lifestyle…West End on the Island of Roatan was an undiscovered paradise.

February, 1976. Flew from Roatan to Tegucigalpa. Hitched south along the Panamericana. Copped a great ride to Panama City with two Canadian dudes driving a 1963 Chevy Impala. Cruised in style!

1 February, Tuesday, West End: My last day here at West End. Went fishing again with Dorado. I must be bad luck ‘cuz we didn’t even get a nibble. Lots of paddling.

Ate an absolutely delicious meal for supper at Dorado’s: Fried fish, platinos, rice, beets, homemade bread and butter, lemonade and for dessert the best lime pie in the world. Puts Mac’s in Marathon to shame. I can say that my stay in West End was one of the best weeks I’ve spent so far. A nice place.

All my new-found friends around West End had copious amounts of dope and kept me well supplied with big fat reefers. Michael showed me his family’s pot plot. Click here for the full story.

2 February, Wednesday, Coxen Hole:  Well, back to Coxen Hole. Packed up early and hit the road. A big cruise ship was anchored off Sandy Bay. Won’t be long before this place takes off. Rode over the hills and into town.

Got a a room at Maude’s, changed money, bought a bit of food and just relaxed. I figure I’ve got to figure out a plan of action pretty soon. Perhaps down the coast. Just relaxed, ate a good 1 Lemp supper.    Kilometers:  10   To Date: 1455

3 February, Thursday:  A very slow day. I’m trying to sell my bike. Think the best I can do is $75. Ate lots of munchies plus my usual 50 cent supper. I’m getting restless again.

4 February, Friday, French Harbour: Up early. Hit the correos and mailed a package with excess weight to the US along with seven letters. Ran into a friend and we decided to go down to French Harbour. Had a good time.  Kilometers:  10   To Date: 1465

5 February, Saturday, Coxen Hole: Took it easy, not doing much. Enjoying myself, though. Might head east to explore the island a little more tomorrow.

6 February, Sunday, Diamond Rock:  Woke up early, packed all my stuff and rode towards French Harbour. Only here in Roatán do they try to do road repairs with coconuts. Stopped back in French Harbour for a few hours to eat and check out the docks. Looked promising but I headed up the road toward Oak Ridge. The road started out fine, but soon got hilly. Hard pedalling but making for very fine vistas: clear blue water, different shades over the barrier reef.

Just before Oak Ridge I met a kid, Junior, who was riding his beat-up bike home to Diamond Rock. He said I could camp out near his house. So we rode up past Oak Ridge and Punta Gorda to Diamond Rock, reaching Junior’s place about sundown. I set up my camp and ate a bit of real good pumpkin bread. Crashed out soon after.   Kilometers: 25   To Date 1490

7 February, Monday, Diamond Rock: Up real early as the bugs in Junior’s yard are utterly terrible. Junior’s family is very nice, giving me a nice breakfast.

Junior had a couple of horses so after a few chores we saddled them up and rode up over Port Royal Hill to Port Royal. The road, once used for cars, was washed out in a few places, making it impassable to large vehicles, motor bikes being the largest. A nice pine forest atop Puerto Real Cerro.

Once a bustling port town with two massive store fortresses protecting the harbor, today Port Royal is pretty low-key, just one loud generator and a few houses.  Tried to find any relics of the old settlement, but to no avail. There was a derelict cannon on the waterfront, but couldn’t see any old walls or depressions. It was all overgrown.

After a look around headed the horses for home. Just a real pretty ride. Got back to Junior’s and – no no! – found out I was covered head-to-toe with tiny ticks. There must have been literally over a hundred of them. My clothes and sleeping bag were also infested. Ugh. So I washed up by the well, but that didn’t do much good. Those guys are tough. I guess manana I’ll retreat to French Harbour to de-tick.

Relaxed a bit then walked down the road to Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge is a bustling fishing town. Lots of boats leave from here to Mosquitia and Nicaragua. I learned that this is the season right now. Asked around for a berth, but no dice. Looked around a bit, ate a bit of ice cream and started the long walk home. Nice sunset.

Got back and talked with Junior’s ma and pa for a spell. Mistress Novia told me last month her brother sold 4 acres of beachfront property for USD$200. Sounds like a good deal. Americans are buying (and subdividing) lots of land here in Roatán. I give it two years til it gets to boomtown. We’ll see. Crashed out to an itchy sleep.

8 February, Tuesday, French Harbour: Awoke early and packed my vermin-infested gear on my bike. Said goodbye to Junior and his family and started the long, hot, itchy trip back to French Harbour. I like to take my time and relax while I ride.

About two kms from Oak Ridge I was riding along and – snap – my chain fell off. Closer investigation showed a broken link. No big deal for the well-prepared bike tourer. I had a spare. As long as I was stopped I greased and oiled the bearings as well. All-in-all, this trip has been pretty much trouble-free. So far. Except for these rotten ticks!

Half-way between Oak Ridge there is a little refresco stand. How convenient. Hit French Harbour about 2pm. Rented a pleasant room in a small house for five Lemps. It has lights, a shower and privacy. A real good deal.

First things first. Hit the shower. Got most of the ticks off afterwards by picking them out. I had them everywhere – face, belly button, legs – all over. Went to the store and bought some poison and food. Later on I washed some clothes, trying to reduce their tick population. A long process.

The longer the ticks feed on your blood, the easier to pick them off. At first they are tiny, you can hardly see them. Then they start to swell up as the gorge themselves. Soon they are large enough to easily pull off and pop. But they leave an ugly red pin prick which turns into a nasty rash. Lasts about a week or two.

Ticks are everywhere. Nobody walks into the bush uncovered. The most miserable creatures anywhere are the mongrel dogs wandering around. They are covered in ticks and incessantly scratching. With no hope of relief.

But I was recovering…spent a nice relaxing evening and slept soundly between clean, white sheets. Ah, luxury.   Kilometers: 15   To Date: 1505

9 February, Wednesday, French Harbour: Hated to get up this morning it felt so good lounging in the sheets. But I forced myself. Rode to the store for breakfast of a refresco and a packet of galletas wafers, my favourite cookies. Then I took a quick jaunt to the docks to put up a ‘crew position wanted’ notice and look around.

I returned to my nice house and set to work de-ticking. First I washed my sleeping bag. It was totally filthy. I mean it was so sleezy I didn’t want to sleep on it, much in it. Don’t know how it will turn out. I continued on doing all my clothes, towels and poncho. I probably won’t wash my clothes again until Panama.

Took it easy the rest of the day, eating a real good 65 cent dinner of chicken, rice, beans, platinos, onions, tomatoes and a couple of icy refrescos. Tried to sell my bike, but to no avail. Another beautiful sunset, par for the course. Caught ‘The Three Stooges in Outer Space’ at the local cinema. The audience loved it!

10 February, Thursday, Coxen Hole: Awoke to the sound of rain striking the tin roof. Looks like a damp ride back to Coxen Hole. Packed my gear very leisurely. My sleeping bag hasn’t dried out yet, hope I didn’t ruin it by washing. Sure needed it, though. Pulled out about 25 fat juicy ticks out of my body. Boy, I was covered in those little bloodsuckers.

I set out from my little house through the misty rain out of French Harbour, down the road. Past the wreck of the ‘Hawthorn Trader’, a ship washed up during last year’s Hurricane Fifi. Just buzzed right along. I’m getting to know this road pretty well. Arrived at Coxen Hole where I ran into my friend Alstead Woods, who said I could stay at his house.

Went to the Correos. No mail. That settles it. I’m leaving as soon as I sell my bike. Down towards Nicaragua. Bought 20 cigars to send to Pop. Mostly relaxed for the rest of the day.

11 February, Friday, Coxen Hole: What a day! Got up early and mailed a couple of packages, maps, books, souvenirs and cigars for Pop back to the USA. 10 Lemps and it will take two months. We’ll see. Packed my remaining gear on the old ‘Silver Dawn’ and took off for French Harbour. I really zipped up the road. I’ve got riding down to second nature.

I pedalled first to the shrimp dock to see about a boat to Nicaragua. Nope, nothing there. Checked out a few other wharfs, but I’d picked a bad time. We’ll see.

I met some people who saw me pedalling through the mud this side of Palenque after Agua Azul. They were camping out. Had a nice chat. Stopped off at a small cocina for lunch and got to talking with the owner. He liked the bike. Offered me 50 Lemps and free food. What the heck. Sold!

I’d ridden a total of 1525 kilometers from Cozumel. I’d spent a total of $541 dollars in those 114 days, about $4.75 a day. I had $346 left.

Hung around French Harbour for the rest of the afternoon. Unpacked the bike and gave the guy all the spare parts and the tools. All I had left were two compact canvas backpacks with the rest of my stuff.

Met some cool people and bought the South American Guidebook for $10. Relaxed a bit then ate a great grilled chicken dinner at the Cocina. Even got free beers. So long, el biko!

Ran into some friends of Alstead’s and it turned out he would be driving over later on. Small world on Roatán…everyone knows everyone. And everyone’s business. Caught up with Alstead and we spent the rest of the evening cruising around French Harbour visiting his friends. Mucho relaxo. Fun being part of the local scene. Drove back to Coxen Hole real late. Might be a boat to San Andreas soon.

12 February, Saturday, Coxen Hole: Bad luck day. Woke to find I’d lost 90 Lemps and my jacknife. Must have been last night stumbling around French Harbor. On top of that I couldn’t get an exit stamp on my passport so I couldn’t go to San Andreas on the shrimp boat. Double bummer.Spent the rest of the day in a daze, trying to figure out what’s going on. At least I’m plenty relaxed.

13 February, Sunday, Coxen Hole: Another relaxing day at Alstead’s. His family owns a large compound with four or five houses and outbuildings. His mama lives in the back house, on the harbor, with all his brothers and sisters, Alstead lives in the smaller front house, facing the street. Chickens, boats of all sizes, rusted machinery, small garden, tropical fruit trees out back. Neat and tidy. His papa was a tugboat captain on the mainland but died a few years ago.

Alstead’s house was a popular hang-out with the local guys. Those he wasn’t related to he grew up with. We’d sit around on the porch, listen to reggae, play dominos and get high. Laugh and sing loudly. People would drift in and out all day or night. Total party.

Every once in a while a tourist couple would walk by, glance over, look away and hurry by. I often wondered what they thought of the mangy white dude dressed and acting like the local ne’er-do-wells.

14 February, Monday, Coxen Hole: Checked flights to Tegucigalpa. Looks like I’ll be flying out tomorrow and continue by thumb down the Panamericana, should make much better time, hopefully all the way to Panama. 80 Lemps for the ticket. Bought a pair of sneakers to protect my feet. They are just starting to heal.

After dark went to see a local band, friends of Alstead’s (of course), play at a harborside bar. Dynamite reggae spiced with a Roatán lilt. Great night to cap off an amazing stay in Roatán.

15 February, Tuesday , Outside of Tegucigalpa, Honduras: I was planning to leave on the 6.30am flight but I slept too late. Finally got up and packed my gear. Ate a hearty breakfast at Alstead’s mom’s house. Very fine people on Roatán, the best I’ve met.

Relaxed in the AM then walked over to the airfield. My plane arrived, said ‘so long for now’ to Alstead and Roatán and hopped aboard. Looked out the window and saw the forested hills disappear from sight. Sure is a nice place. Landed in La Cieba for 20 minutes and changed planes in San Pedro Sula. I didn’t arrive in Tegucigalpa ‘til 4.30pm.

I’d consolidated all of my gear into two packs, awkward but small enough to carry when I had to hoof it. And now I had to hoof it. Picked up my gear at the side door, shouldered my pack and hit the Carretera del Sur towards Jicaro Galen, 80 or so kms away.

Two hours later I was still waiting for my first ride. At the end of the third hour I decided to camp out in a conveniently placed cowfield. Rolled out my sleeping bag and was real comfortable. My feet are healing up slowly and surely, thanks to my new Honduaran Sneakers.  Dollars left: $240        Lemps left: 16

16 February, Wednesday, Corinto, Nicaragua: Up early as it rained just a tad. I was able to get a good view of the surrounding countryside in the morning light. Dry, pine-covered hills, cut by erosion, rose up above the red-tiled capital city. Very pretty.

Packed my gear and walked out to the Carretera Del Sur. About 15 minutes later I copped my first ride three kms out of town. I was on my way. As always in thumbing, the first ride is the toughest. I got left off and flagged a truck almost immediately. I was San Lorenzo bound, about 120 kms away.

We drove through spectacular mountain scenery down from the crisp mountain air of Tegucigalpa to the warm Pacific Coast. A few volcanoes stick up out of the coastal plain, some with steam emanating from their craters. I was let off but immediately got a lift to Choluteca. Across the flat plain only took a few minutes and in no time I was standing on the road to Guasaule and the Frontera Nicaragua.

I stood there for an hour in the warm sunlight, but, alas, not much traffic so when a bus to the border stopped I hopped on. A rather pleasant ride to the border.

Not only was crossing the border a breeze but I met three guys from California in a VW van who said they’d give me a ride to Chinandega. Great.

We drove across the parched plains, past a few steaming volcanos, into the town of Chinandega. We went first to a bank where I cashed $20 dollars for 140 Cordobas, the local currency. Then we went to a good restaurant where I had an excellent roast pork dinner with all the trimmings for $2. Very good.

In town, my new friends decided to go to Corinto, a major Nicaraguan port, to camp out for a day or so. They had no objection so I rode down with them. We found a nice place to camp, right on the beach. At some point in time Corinto had been more prosperous with fancy beach front villas. That was then this is now. Most of the big houses were overgrown with peeling paint. Mangey dogs. A few were still well-kept. Musta been nice back then.

Spent the night playing cards and dominos by the beach.

17 February, Thursday, Corinto: A nice, easy day. Spent the AM playing cards and dominos, writing, looking at maps, generally taking it easy. Drove into Corinto around 1pm to hit el mercado. Bought lots of fruit and pastries. Kind of a typical Central American port town. Lots of beautiful chairs of mahogany and cane, though. Just vacationed for the afternoon, eating a great fruit salad for supper. Manana, Managua.

18 February, Friday, San Juan Del Sur, Nicaragua: Up early. Packed our gear, loaded the van and left our nice beach-side campsite. I rode with my friends as far as Leon, where they were stopping. I said ‘so long’ and hit the road.

Immediately I got a ride into Managua. The English-speaking driver, a black creole from Bluefields, had many interesting insights into Nicaraguan life. He drove me to a cheap pensione right beside the bus terminal. Time: 9.30am. I stashed my gear and set off to explore Managua.

Evidence of the massive 1972 earthquake was everywhere. The 6.7 magnitude quake levelled the city, killed up to 10,000 people and left 300,000 homeless. It was eerie walking down what once was the main street. Ruined buildings still stood, but for the most part whole blocks contained nothing but grass.

I couldn’t find ‘centro’ Managua much less an airline office or the Colombian consulate. But luck was with me. I stumbled upon the Tourist Office where I found some excellent maps of both Nicaragua and Managua. Then it was fairly easy. I walked straight to a travel agency and bought a plane ticket from San Jose to Panama, a necessary requisite for entering Costa Rica. I should be able to cash it in and get my $46 dollars back. I decided not to mess with Colombia, maybe in Panama.

I returned to my pensione, packed my gear and tried in vain to get my money back, oh well. Took a bus to the outskirts of town and started to thumb. Picked up a quick ride with a dump truck about 30 kms down the road, to Diriamba. By then a real strong wind had picked up.

I stood out for about 15 minutes until two guys from Manitoba stopped. They were travelling to San Jose in a beat-up 1962 Impala. Great. So off down the road I rode, listening to country music on their tape player. We drove south to San Juan Del Sur, then over to a nice secluded cove at Marsella where we camped out on the windy, pure white sand beach.

19 February, Saturday, Tres Rios, San Jose, Costa Rica: Got up early and shook the sand from my hair, eyes, ears, belly button and everywhere else. Packed up and drove straight to the Costa Rican border. All my papers were straight, should be no problem.

I walked into the Migracion Office and presented my passport. The officer handed it right back and said there was no way he’d let me into Costa Rica with my long hair. So I made a decision to cut. Took about six inches off. Handed my passport back, the guy smiled and stamped my passport. I was in Costa Rica.

We piled back into the car and drove towards San Jose. The countryside is beautiful. Hills, clear rivers, good fertile land, a nice place. Good, but expensive beer. We drove into the Central Valley on a brand new super highway.

Hit San Jose. A big city, very cosmopolitan. We drove to a campground at Tres Rios on the other side of town and checked in for a few days. A little carnival was going on at the plaza, mucho fun.

Gorgeous ‘Cinco Colones’ note from Costa Rica, 1976.

20 February, Sunday, Tres Rios: All right, I’ve been south of the border now for four months. Took a nice tour of the countryside with my Canadian friends. Drove up to Volcan Poas, an active volcano complete with bubbling fumaroles, sulphur clouds and a large steaming crater. Quite a view from the road on the way up. Bought some very good sausage for .50 cents per pound. A good deal.

Toured the National Museum, a surprisingly good display of Pre-Columbian artifacts. Walked around town for a while. A real live city with a thousand pastry shops, ice cream parlours and neon signs. Went back to the carnival at Tres Rios.

21 February, Monday: Went into town to look around a bit. Tried to get my Colombian tourist card, but to no avail. Again, they said I needed a ticket. I’ll try again in Panama. Mostly walked around, ate a superb banana split, mailed a few post cards, etc. Had pizza for supper, expensive.

22 February, Tuesday: Pretty easy day. Stayed at the trailer park in Tres Rios and hung out with Lindsey and Alan. They both grew up in Hamiota, Manitoba and were taking the winter off. Lindsey  was a powerline engineer in the far north and Alan managed the family farm. Great guys. Alan is capable mechanic and kept the car purring in spite of the rust and rattles.

They invited me to ride with them all the way to Panama. Outtasite! My Spanish is better than theirs and I have a good guide book. Wrote a bit, relaxed a bit. Walked into town and ate three excellent ice cream cones. Relaxed a bit more.

23 February, Wednesday: Another slow day. More car repair and ice cream. Went to a big futbol game at the big stadium in Tibas. Lots of fun.

24 February, Thursday: Tres Rios: Last day in San Jose. Went into town for some last-minute shopping. Later on caught the new King Kong movie at Tres Rios, the crowd loved it. Hoots and hollers. Lots of fun.

25 February, Friday, Finca Iris, Boquete, Panama: Said goodbye to Tres Rios and set out over the Cordillera Talamanca for the frontier Panama. Hit Cerro de la Muerte and the 11,000 foot summit. Much cooler with stunted cloud forests. Alan’s car handled the uphill with ease. All downhill from here.

Arrived at the border at five pm but it was closed, not opening for one and a half hours. So we sat around and drank sodas and ice cream. The office opened up and it was the usual border crossing hassles. Cleared by 7.30pm, no problema.

Drove down to David, then up to Boquete in the misty dark and slept by the side of the road.

26 February, Saturday, Outside Santiago, Panama: Real nice scenery when we woke up in front of the Finca Iris. Flowers, pine trees and craggy volcanic peaks surrounded us. Didn’t see much last night in the dark. I never expected Panama to be so pretty.

We drove around a bit, checking out Boquete and the surrounding countryside, then back to the Carretera Panamericana. The highway ran through dry, rugged hills. Just outside of Santiago, around 4.30, we found a dirt side road and drove up to look for a camping place. Found a beautiful spot on the tip of a small cerro, covered with volcanic rocks. Great sunset, brilliant reds.

27 February, Sunday, La Chorrera, Panama: Woke up to a flat tire. No problem, though. Left our nice spot with the terrific view and hit the road. Stopped at Nata to see the old church-fort. Nice having a guide book. Then on to El Valle where we bought some molas at the Sunday market. High quality, many designs. Bought a soapstone carving of a stylized bird for $10.

Panama sure has a lot of US influence. Grass shacks with TV antennas, big cars, Kraft  Cheese, lots of cops, the whole deal. No wonder they don’t like us. Camped out on the riverside side just outside of La Chorrera.

28 February, Monday, Panama City, Panama: Up early, packed and hit El Camino to Panama. Drove by houses that looked increasingly more like the USA than indigenous Panamanian architecture. Pretty soon we passed that invisible line and we were in the Canal Zone. Back in the USA.

Real pretty in the Zone, lots of jungle and orchids. We passed a few military installations and then over the Puente Del Americas to Panama City. From the bridge we could see all the boats in the Balboa Yacht Club and the big ships headed for the Canal. Pretty impressive.

We drove around Panama City for a while, just getting the feel for it. Quite a city, certainly not one to visit and leave in two day’s time feeling that you’ve seen it. The undercurrents encompass Africa, Asia, Latin and North America. Truly the ‘Puente del Mundo’.

Hit the Canal Zone where we tried to rent a room at the YMCA but due to Treaty Provisions, only people with ‘Official’ Zone status are allowed to stay there. Walked down to the Balboa Yacht Club and posted my card and ‘Crew Position Wanted’ ad. Hope it pays off, but I have my doubts. If not, I’m going to have to do some fast shuffling.

We had heard rumors of a hotel campground out near the Tocumen Airport so we drove out that way. Finally, after driving all through the city, we came to La Siesta International Airport Hotel, a real fancy joint. $5.00 a night for us to camp with complete use of all the facilities, including the swimming pool. Not a bad deal at all.

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