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Honduras Jeep Adventure Week-Part 2

Posted in Events on April 15, 2019
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Last month we began telling you the story of Roco Adventure Week (RAW), an eight-day, Jeep-powered journey across Honduras. We winched through mud, jumped off waterfalls, and picked coffee beans on lush mountainsides. When we left off, the group from Roco 4x4 was enjoying a timed tough truck–style course on Gaspar Pineda’s property along the shores of Lago Yojoa. Now we’ll find out how much they enjoyed fixing the carnage from running that course and learn more about the the discoveries and challenges encountered on the rest of the journey.

Day 3 of RAW ended with a timed tough truck–style event on the shores of Lago Yojoa. Dar Holdsworth spotted Tyrone Jones through the rock garden relatively unscathed, with the only casualty being a damaged rear driveline. Fortunately, they carried a spare for the Sprintex Jeep.

Day 5: Lago Yojoa to Gracias

Damage from the tough truck–style course was limited to a damaged driveline and a bent tie rod, which were quickly replaced with spare parts at Gaspar Pineda’s repair shop. You don’t go wheeling for a week in a foreign country without bringing some spare parts or without making friends with the right people. The next morning, we enjoyed breakfast on Lago Yojoa, the largest lake in Honduras. Spanning over 30 square miles, it is an important ecosystem for migratory birds and provides commercial and recreational fishing opportunities for residents of the villages dotting its shores.

With full bellies we headed to Las Vegas, but not the neon Nevada variety. The Honduran version of Las Vegas is a town of 25,000 people nestled in the mountains. There we visited the Escuela Para Angeles, a school for children with special needs. This stop provided a glimpse into Honduras that few tourists ever see, and our group made generous donations to the school.

Donations were gathered from the group and given to Angel’s School for special needs children. The local news broadcast was on hand to document Roco Adventure Week and the group’s generosity. A little bit of money goes a long way in Honduras, and the faculty was grateful for the funds.
The tough truck–style course resulted in a few bent tie rods and dinged drivelines, but it was nothing that couldn’t be fixed. Gaspar Pineda not only constructed the obstacle course, he also has his own service and repair station down the road.

Leaving Las Vegas, we wound our way up through the Cordillera de Celaque mountain range along sparsely traveled dirt roads. The rain had subsided, which was a blessing, as it would have taken days to traverse what we were able to cover in a matter of hours once the route had dried out. Along the way we passed Toyota pickups packed with 20 people and coffee plantations on hillsides so steep we don’t know how you could even stand on them, much less cultivate them. Needless to say, there isn’t much demand for tractors in the mountains of Honduras. We stopped for the night in the city of Gracias, which sits in the shadow of Cerro Las Minas, the tallest peak in Honduras at 9,420 feet.

Day 6: Gracias to Copán

After the previous day on the road, we started the morning with some technical rockcrawling outside Gracias that required low range and lockers. Everyone had fun trying to work their way out of a steep, loose gully while the rest of the group shouted encouragement and driving advice. We were really impressed by how all of the Jeeps from Roco 4x4 could take a beating on the trail, air up the tires, and then drive for hundreds of miles down pothole-strewn roads.

It comes in handy to have a doctor along on any off-road trip, but particularly one to the remote corners of Honduras. Abel Sandoval kept the entire group healthy and had a lot of fun doing it from behind the wheel of his two-door JK. The Jeep has a 3.5-inch BDS suspension that makes room for 35-inch BFGoodrich KM2 tires.

We traveled from Gracias to the village of Copán along the Lenca Route. Now a popular overland trip, the Lenca Route is named for the indigenous people of the region. The Lenca descended from Chibcha-speaking Indians who came from Colombia and Venezuela to Central America more than 3,000 years ago. They number around 100,000 in Honduras and 40,000 or so in El Salvador, known throughout the world for their earthenware pottery.

Day 7: Copán Ruins

Day 7 of the trip fell on Thanksgiving, but that didn’t matter in Honduras. Rather than wheeling, we visited the Mayan ruins at Copán. At the peak of its power around A.D. 600, the kingdom of Copán had a population of at least 20,000 and covered an area of over 100 square miles. The ruins we visited were the capital city of this kingdom, renowned for their distinctive sculptural style.

Our guide Marvin was a wealth of information, explaining the ancient Mayan civilization in detail—their writing system, art styles, architecture, mathematics, and astronomy—and how they changed throughout the centuries of Mayan rule. At the end of the day, the staff of Hotel Marina Copán made us a Thanksgiving dinner complete with turkey and all the trimmings. We had not felt homesick during our trip to Honduras up to this point, but after a week of travel we really appreciated the traditional meal.

Rebeca Olavarrieta shared driving duties of her built JK with Sergio Pinillos from SpiderWebShade. The topless Wrangler was a popular choice on sunny days on the trail, but less so during rainy road days when passengers were scrambling for the hardtop Jeeps.

Day 8: Copán to San Pedro Sula

On Day 8 we had to drive all the way back to where we had started—San Pedro Sula. Rebeca Olavarrieta of Roco 4x4 told us we had to get an early start in order to make our afternoon flight, but if we got back early enough we could play in the rocks. This was all the motivation the group needed to wake up early and hit the pavement back to San Pedro Sula. We passed through the mountain villages of La Campa, Belén Gualcho, San Manuel de Colohete, and Mohaga. These rural towns are full of charming adobe houses, corn and bean fields, colonial churches, and beautiful mountain views.

With two hours to spare before our flight left, Guillermo Hepburn felt that we had plenty of time to conquer the boulder-strewn wash he had discovered along the fringes of San Pedro Sula. “It will only take half an hour,” he assured us. But like the infamous “three-hour tour” on Gilligan’s Island, vehicles were still stuck on the trail when we were supposed to be at the airport. Half of the group had decided against attempting the challenging boulder field and were already at the airport, doing their best to hold the flight. In the end, one vehicle (not a Jeep, it should be noted) had to be left and rescued later by friends of Guillermo’s, while we rushed to make our flight. Our group had almost all of the seats for the flight to the nearby island oasis of Roatán, so the airline was nice enough to hold the flight until we arrived. Thankfully, long TSA security lines are not an issue in Honduras.

We don’t know for certain that this is the first JL in Honduras, but we definitely did not see any other ones. Carlos Flores set the route for RAW in his JL and was often leading the way on the trip, so the ARB Intensity lights and Warn Zeon winch were both regularly put to use.

Day 9: Roatán

After the adventures of the prior week (and particularly the adventure getting to the airport the prior day), we were grateful for the opportunity to relax on the beach. Roatán is a popular destination for cruise ships, scuba diving, and ecotourism. While Spanish is the predominant language in mainland Honduras, the Caracol people of the Bay Islands speak a Creole version of English, a reminder of the island’s history as a British outpost. RAW organizer Carlos Flores had investigated taking a ferry to Roatán instead of flying, but the colonial roads of the island are narrow, and there are no wheeling opportunities to make the ferry ride worthwhile.

Instead of wheeling, we visited Little French Key, where we had the opportunity to go snorkeling and kayaking when we got bored with lounging on the beach holding drinks with little umbrellas in them. The true mark of success on a trip is when it both seems to have flown by yet also is so rich with experiences and memories that it seems like you set off on it ages ago. Roco Adventure Week was just that, and watching the sun set on a white sand beach with our new group of friends was the perfect finale to an amazing adventure.

Heavy rains before our arrival meant that roads that were normally easily passable turned to slick mud bogs. That made progress slow, but it also gave us the opportunity to understand the conditions that the Mayans had to travel by foot hundreds of years ago. By comparison, we had it pretty easy.
Cherokees can be used for everything from hauling the family to desert racing to rockcrawling, but this is the first time we have seen an XJ used as a boat! Jota Mauco saw this pond and just had to drive across it (or at least halfway across it).
All of the rain swelled up creeks and rivers that were normally just a trickle, but at least the riverbeds were rocky and firmer than the mud we found in the jungle. Tyrone Jones was pushing water with the front bumper on his JK, but it was well below the air intake on the supercharged Jeep.
We could have spent an entire week in the village of Copán. This charming town not only plays home to a Unesco World Heritage Site, but it also has wonderful coffee plantations, hot springs, and bird reserves. Jaguar Hot Springs was our favorite spot in Copán.
While not as big as Tikal or Chichen Itza, Copán has excellent stelae. These are intricately carved sculptures of Mayan rulers that provide a wealth of information about what life was like hundreds of years ago in the Americas. Our guide Marvin was very knowledgeable about the details and history found in Copán.
San Pedro Sula has a reputation as a dangerous city, but we found a rocky oasis in the shantytown bordering the city. Even with 42-inch BFGoodrich Krawlers, Jose Gayoso bent the lower links on his JK getting through this trail!
We are skeptical of running 40-inch tires on Jeep axles, but Jose Maza proved to us that they can stand up to the abuse. Of course, they have to be built right, and Jose’s have RCV axleshafts, trusses, and ARB Air Lockers to make them live.
Guillermo Hepburn found this boulder-strewn gem in the heart of the metropolis of San Pedro Sula. He told us it would only take half an hour to turn the trail, but three hours later we were still there!
Urban wheeling usually involved concrete and steel, not trash. This rocky ravine serves as a waterway during flash floods, but it also serves as a dumping ground for the surrounding area. Poorer regions of Honduras don’t have any trash service, so garbage on the ground was pervasive.
Ending the trip in Roatán was a great way to relax after a long week of wheeling, winching, and wrenching across Honduras for the Roco Adventure Week. Plans are already underway for RAW 2019, but Roco is being tight-lipped about where they are headed next.
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