Saturday, February 23, 2013

A Family trip to Honduras !

For the original post & pictures, please click here!

Honduras might not be the first country you think of when you’re planning a family holiday, but having just spent 2 weeks there with my four-year-old daughter, Casey, and her grandmother, Bonnie, proved that it can be a really great place for the whole clan. We travelled to Honduras partly because we always go somewhere fun in January and partly because of my job. I love to meet new people, visit new places, and stay ahead of the curve

What I discovered was that Honduras is an incredibly easy place to travel with family...

It’s one of the most economical destinations in Central America and you really only need eight (maybe 12 days) to see the main sights. It’s also incredibly diverse. You’ll find colonial towns, beautiful scenery, ancient Maya ruins, incredible wildlife, rainforests, and some gorgeous Caribbean islands. There aren’t many places where you can experience so much at such a great price.
Of course, Honduras is a developing nation, but the tourism infrastructure is surprisingly good and I was pleasantly surprised by how nice the hotels in more remote areas were. There were quite a few boutique accommodations, particularly around the colonial mountain town of Gracias in western Honduras, I really liked Hotel Don Juan.

Hacienda San Lucas, overlooking the Copán valley and ruins,

will likely always be my favourite place to stay and is like going home. Flavia Cueva, who is like a second mother to me is the owner and painstakingly restored the place a few years ago, turning it into an incredible eco-lodge. Casey loved running around, exploring the gardens. Bonnie, who was really into meeting new characters enjoyed the dinner we had there one night with David Sedat, a renowned local archaeologist. In the evenings we sat sipping chilled white wine while watching the sunset over the valley and the tops of Copan temples fade into the dark.

I love the Copán area, too. In addition to the ruins (which are a UNESCO World Heritage site), there are coffee farms, Macaw Mountain, a reserve for rescued birds (and plenty of wild ones flying around, too) and great local villages to visit. It’s really authentic. We toured the Finca Cisne, a coffee and cardamom  farm with cattle ranching, on horseback along with Carlos the finca owner’s son. Afterwards, we went to  the Finca’s Hacienda and ate an incredible lunch his mum had prepared. 

It seems like every spot in Honduras offers a ton of things to do. 

There really is something for everyone. At Pico Bonito Lodge (located in Pico Bonito National Park), our residing memory was the extraordinary sound of frogs and Casey holding  a live snake! You can also go whitewater rafting, horseback riding and hiking, as well as tons of wildlife opportunities. If you want to scuba dive or snorkel the coast is close by, so it’s easy to do that too. Plus, the staff at Pico Bonito really loves kids; they showered Casey with attention - which she loved, of course.

Even on the Bay Island of Roatán, it’d be hard to get bored - you can zipline, hunt for iguanas, snorkel, fish, scuba dive, or read a book on the beach. We played on our own private beach just feet from our door at Barefoot caye. One of the most  surprising Roatán discoveries for me was the dolphin encounter experience at Anthony’s Key. Casey had been so excited about doing this we had to count down the ‘sleeps’ since leaving the UK! I was expecting a real tourist trap and only went for my daughter but it’s really well done. You’re with a guide, groups are small, and they don’t rush you through. You get a lot of time to touch and play with the dolphins. It doesn’t feel too touristy or cheesy. We all loved it.

In terms of food, it really seemed like hotels go out of their way to please; they try to take a weight off parents. There were plenty of kids' menus, and so long as you ask, most places will do their best to accommodate special requests. Hacienda San Lucas has a 5 course set menu for dinner; which the kids can dip in and out, but parents will love it - it’s really fresh, authentic food. One of our most fun meals was totally unplanned. We had tilapia and fried plantains in this tiny comedor (local eatery) called La Bendición just outside of La Chompa village near Gracias, and we only found it because our guide asked around.

And actually, that’s a good rule of thumb for getting off the beaten track and finding new adventures in Honduras. Talk to locals. It’s the best way to get the inside scoop on things and create fun family memories. What I also discovered was how amazing kids are, their ability to make friends and make fun is endless – one doesn’t have to provide lavish, expensive, specifically designed kid-type activities necessarily… often it’s the most memorable to just hang out in a beautiful place with great people and see what they come up with for themselves. Just having 2 full weeks to enjoy with my daughter and her American Grandma and share everything together was priceless.

For more information on setting off on your own family holiday to Honduras please contact our Honduras specialist on 01285 880 980 for firsthand information and advice.

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Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Tranquility in the Shadow of the Ancient Mayan Ruins at Copán

Here is another lovely post by a lovely past guest at San Lucas, Fran Feldman ...

Sometimes, doing nothing is exhausting.  I’m talking about the kind of tired where nothing will interrupt a sudden nap.  The kind if tired where nothing will interfere with the lazy thoughts that come creeping in from nowhere when what you need is silence.  And the kind of tired where there is nothing to blemish the lack of stressful thoughts that usually clutter the wheels spinning in the mind.
Some of this may have been the Dramamine needed to keep the motion sickness at bay during the ride down to Copán.  But most of it was the tranquility, the peace and quiet of a very special place in the verdant Copán river valley — Hacienda San Lucas.  Yes, this brief interlude from the hectic scene of life was the perfect antidote to the stresses of daily life.
It was time for a weekend getaway, so I buckled myself in and hunkered down for the long ride to Copán Ruinas and a piece of paradise in western Honduras..  It’s a 3 hour drive and there are not only a countless number of speed bumps in varying sizes as we ply our way through towns and villages, but traversing the Sierra del Espíritu Santo mountain range on the way is a challenge, especially when I’m in the backseat being a diligent passenger, never squealing or uttering a word as we wind our way around hairpin turns up and down the mountain range and zip past cars and trucks, busses and horse carts to a little piece of paradise in western Honduras, near the border of Guatemala.
As soon as we arrived in town, the most gracious of weekend hosts, Flavia, came out to greet me. With a warm smile and a kind welcome, I immediately felt the stresses of the past weeks float right off my shoulders.  But with that, I felt her stress and although I’d only known Flavia for a few minutes, I wanted to help her and hoped my brief stay would offer comfort in some small way.
“Times are tough with this crisis,” Flavia said, with sadness in her eyes, and, “I am so happy you have come to stay with us.  My assistant, Argi will take care of you.  You have no worries, you are safe here.”
I spend my days in the world of customer service delivery and in one brief moment the perfect example of extraordinary service was showered upon me.
“Our house is your house and after a light lunch, you’ll be able to relax and explore and just do whatever makes you comfortable for the next day and a half,” was basically what I heard.  “I’m sorry our yoga instructor and masseuse is away, but I understand you would like to see a coffee plantation.  We’ll try to arrange a tour for you for tomorrow, but there are not many people coming now, so it may not be possible, especially if it’s only you.”
I understood completely, and there will be more opportunities during my time in Honduras, it’s just a shame there is such trouble in this small, beautiful country these days.
But all of these problems feel far removed from here.  I feel safe and secure in the hands of the San Lucas team and sent Jorge on his way with that look he gives me when I attempt to shoo him off.  It’s a look of independent indignation I don’t mean to throw his way.  I’ve gotten used to having Jorge around and watching out for me, for all of us, but my need to be alone and to be able to just go and do and see and not be cooped without any concerns for security overcomes me at times and admittedly, that look just comes out.  I need to work on it.
Off he goes back on the long drive north to the “big city” of San Pedro Sula while I slowly wind my way up the cobblestone path with Flavia’s trusted assistant ,to the most charming hideaway among the trees.
There are only 8 rooms here in white stucco buildings with curved tile roofs and narrow wooden doors at the entrance to the rooms.  The floors are red tile and the bathroom surrounds are stone.  This is an ecolodge and as such, has limited electricity.  There is just enough for me to keep my digital lifeline(s) charged and candle holders are everywhere to softly light  the rooms at night.  There are two small solar powered LED lamps by the beds.  There is a ceiling fan and a bathroom light, but that’s it for drawing power off the grid.  It’s just so quaint and charming.
What welcome quiet it is here.  It’s magical.
A thunderstorm rolled in after lunch and it continued for hours, but the rain cooled things off and I quickly realized I forgot two important items;
  • A sweater
  • Bug repellant
I survived.  The former neighbors of the land this Hacienda sits on, the ancient Maya, didn’t have Deet to keep the monster mosquitoes away and they managed to get by for almost 2000 years without it.  Of course, the average lifespan was probably a bit shorter and I’m not sure Dengue Fever or Malaria were written in the hieroglyphs on the wall around these parts, but I’m not worried.
I enjoyed the sound of rain that was all around me here on the terrace and that little nap in the hammock with thunder and a few flashes of daytime lightening were a welcome respite from the hot sun after lunch.
During my day and a half at the hacienda I could hear cows and birds, rooster crows and dogs and other strange sounds from animals I can’t identify.  Sometimes there was the sound of rushing water from the river below and always, in the background, is the chatter of Spanish that I try to make out, but the strain of the confusing words is too much of a burden to understand and I let the words roll over me without understanding.  And in the morning, as I devour my breakfast, I hear a distant drumbeat.  Perhaps it’s a ghostly ritual of millennia gone by, or more likely, an event going on in town in the valley this Sunday morning.
Whatever it is, there is nothing disturbing about it or annoying.  It is just the sounds of daily life in a place so far removed from my daily life that I welcome it all.
It’s incredibly, beautifully, romantically dark here.  The soot of the candles is a reminder that while this feels like my home, many have enjoyed the wonders of Hacienda San Lucas.
I loved that when I got back to my room after dinner, the only thing lighting the way in my room were these candles.  It
In the way to lunch, I am intrigued by this guy looking over the main house along with vintage-looking saddles that I know are not just for show.
The fire is always burning in the old kitchen and when I walk in to see what might be in store for the afternoon meal, the aroma of a wood burning stove is  welcome and I hear the familiar patting of hands against corn flour and know small corn tortillas are in my future.
The years of cooking that the fire-stone has imprinted on the wall makes me eager to sit down to lunch and even more curious about what’s in store.  I spend a lot of time sitting near that kitchen, wishing I could run in and help and know that the planning of my next trip will include a spending time, hands-on, in that space.
Although almost every meal here in Honduras has included beans, these “cowboy beans” (how American of me) were the best I’ve had.  Simple.  Beans, Tomatoes, Onions, Peppers … but the rustic, smoky, vibrantly fresh flavor set these beans apart from the ordinary.
I ate like a queen, not just because I was treated like one, but the food was just that good.
There were only three guests this weekend.  The other room was booked by a mother daughter team from Chicago and seeing me seated alone at dinner, they quickly invited me to join them.  Monica and her mom were visiting Honduras for a couple of weeks and we spent the evening chatting about our travels in Honduras and elsewhere.  Strangers with a common bond — seeing the world, experiencing a beautiful little corner of the Honduras and sharing a great meal.
One thing that appeared at all 3 meals I enjoyed at San Lucas was the Adobo sauce.  Argi explained to us that in Mexico they have Mole.  In Guatemala, Pepian.  And in Honduras, Adobo.  They are all similar, but the Mole has chocolate while their Adobo does not.
It’s made with pumpkin and sesame seeds and … well, that’s the problem.  I can’t find a recipe for this delicious sauce that went perfectly with the tamales I had at lunch, the fire roasted chicken we made our way through at dinner and these beautifully cooked eggs at Desayuno (breakfast).
I’ve spent a few hours searching for a recipe, but it looks like I’ll be recreating it from the memory of those three dreamy meals.  When I get back to Hacienda San Lucas you can bet I am going to ask to spend a little time in the kitchen learning exactly how to recreate this thick and complex sauce, layered with flavors.
I’m no coffee expert, but yes, the coffee really is that smooth.  Something to be experienced here.
And finally, Flavia, Argi and team … thank you all for your hospitality.  I’ll be back.  Probably very soon — with the big wooden room key that accidentally made it home with me.  Sorry!!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Ending the Year Stress-Free!

Making-TortillasThere is a place in Honduras I keep returning to — Copán.  But more than that, there is a special place in the shadows of the Ancient Mayan ruins called Hacienda San Lucas.  It is here that I am so easily able to shed the skin of stress that weighs heavily on my shoulders and no matter the price or the time it takes to get there, I wish to keep returning.
It was another last minute decision, but one I am so happy I made.  It had been months since I traveled to Copán and this visit was long overdue.
When Flavia (Cueva), the owner and fabulous host of San Lucas called to tell me they’d reserved a room for me I felt so bad I could not stay for more than one night, but I was happy to have just that one day to do nothing more than relax, meet nice people and eat four fabulous meals.
There was one problem along the way.  The transmission in that car of ours was not going to cooperate.  As we sped our way down highways CA5 and CA11, the little green wrench icon decided to light up at about the same time as I began to hear a squeal.  Then there was the smell of burning rubber.  But it took me a little while to convince Carlos to pull over and stop the car.  I know I was backseat driving — literally, but we had to stop and see what was going on.  I suspect he was worried we’d never get it started again, but if we were about to drop the transmission — a guess I made when he had a tough time getting the car into park or any other gear because it seemed to slip — not get traction — is the best way I can explain it.
We finally stopped when that sound of panic came over my screeching voice.  Carlos found a couple of mechanics who happened to be on the side of the road where we pulled off and they brought back three bottles of Power Steering Fluid.  At least. that’s what it said on the packaging.
As I once again found myself in a panic, Carlos assured me that it was transmission fluid and not power steering fluid that was poured into the spent bottles.  I was skeptical, but the guys found a loose hose which they pointed out to me, filled up the reservoir, went back for two more unopened bottles of transmission fluid and like that, the car was working again.  While all this was going on, Flavia kept me calm and kept in touch by phone.  The good news was that it was not a hot, sunny day, so while stranded by the side of the road for a couple of hours, there was no human melting going on.  Whew!
Once on the road again we agreed that the San Lucas driver would pick me up in his little, Smart car sized truck and drive me and some supplies up the hill.  It’s a dirt road and with rainy weather and use, there was no way that big Ford was going to make it without resulting in a variety of issues.  I’m sure Carlos was happy about that as he headed back to San Pedro Sula to change cars and prepare to do it all over again the following day so I could head back into the city and go to work on New Year’s Eve.
But that was 24 hours away and I had some major relaxing to do, thank you very much.  There was a comfortable bed and a rocking chair with my name on it that needed my attention — right after lunch.
When we pulled in, Leah was waiting for us and quickly showed me to my room.  It was in the main house.  As displayed on the key fob, the room is called Cocina.  How perfect for me!  I assume the name come from the location to the kitchen.  It was just right.  Although a little noisier than the rooms up on the path, the sounds of kitchen staff talking and giggling, the rustling of dishes and utensils was not annoying at all.  It only made me wish I could go in and watch was was going on and to help as lunch service was being prepared.  There are two kitchens at San Lucas — the one which I am mesmerized by and the one that is used to do the bulk of the cooking.  This was the kitchen of heavy lifting and delicious meals.
I unpacked the couple of things I brought with me and headed to lunch.  On top of a lovely chicken tamale was that sublime adobo sauce I’ve been missing, but not before a salad that was so bright and perky it was sure to lift anyone’s spirits.
It’s never one course at San Lucas.  Did I mention there was a carrot soup course?  A nice, broth-y, full of flavor soup.  Next came a corn husk with chicken inside.  At first bite I thought I was eating something Asian, but quickly realized it was the coconut cream that gave me that impression.  The chicken was tender and full of flavor and accompanied by crispy green beans, rice and carrots that tasted like they spent time playing with a ripe orange.  Delicioso!
After lunch I made my way to the couch outside the “old” kitchen and hung out until it was time to get acquainted with the rocking chair.  I know, I sound like some old lady bore, but it’s been a crazy few months and my mind and body were telling me to CHILL OUT fool!  So I listened.  There was nothing for me to do in town … no need to make the bumpy ride back just to walk around and see what I could purchase for the sake of something to do.  No need to spend money “just because.”
The weather was cool and I was happy to have remembered to bring a sweater.  Who would have thought I’d need a sweater in a country that was always so swelteringly hot?  What a welcome respite from the relentless heat.  I was thrilled to be a little chilly.
I headed to the room for a while and the next thing I knew dinner time wasn’t far off.  But I wasn’t hungry so I headed to the sitting area in the main building and met a few people who had come to San Lucas on a return visit. We talked about the wonders of the place and even had a little conversation about Hondurans and the concept of empathy in this culture and while I did not get away to think about work, the brief 30 minute cultural discussion opened my eyes to something I’ve been wanting to get the answer to for 12 months — how is empathy expressed in in Honduras?  Jugo, Honduran born, but living in the US most of his life told me that Hondurans don’t express sorrow for something they can’t relate to.  For instance, if you were to tell someone your great aunt was in the hospital and was not doing well at all, they would not say, “I’m sorry,” because they can’t say they are sorry for someone they don’t know. He said that because they don’t know the story and what your relationship with that person is and what if it was never a good relationship, so maybe sorrow is not the emotion you are feeling and without knowing the whole story, saying they are sorry would be fake and possibly patronizing.
Wow!  I never expected to learn something so important to what I do everyday during my brief stay in Copán!
After they left to go for their massages, Flavia plunked herself down and we had an equally as enlightening conversation.  I began to feel as though I’d come on some kind of spiritual retreat someone signed me up for without me knowing.
And we began to talk about the new art hanging on the property which is created by Flavia’s Daughter-in-Law, Frida.  I’d read a bit about her on the website and have liked the pieces I’ve seen around the hacienda and on her own site and let Flavia know I was interested in buying a piece.  What I didn’t expect was to find out Frida was on site and would love to chat with me.  She was having something of an impromptu gallery showing that night.  Other guests were approaching her to ask about purchasing her art and there was a brief moment of panic, as she realized most of her art was bring sold and worried about what Flavia would do to fill the void while she worked to create replacements.
But that is what I’d call a really happy problem for all involved.  I learned that Flavia’s son Tyler is also an artist.  He makes photographs and they are transfered to wood with Frida’s graphics as a backdrop.  My empty walls in San Pedro would soon have beautiful, colorful, insightful art hanging from them.  The two pieces I chose are hanging in a showing in a museum in Tegulcigalpa and Frida will be packing them up and sending them my way.  I can’t wait!  What life they will add to my living space.  They will surely put a smile on my face and look so good with my own photos of Honduras.
I began to work up and appetite and had a seat for dinner among newlyweds and travelers and holiday vacation seekers.  The night was cool and the dinner delicious.  The main course was crispy breaded Tilapia, roasted potatoes, steamed snow peas and brussels sprouts.  Simple, but flavorful food.  Just what I was looking for, especially after the lunch extravaganza!
San Lucas is an “eco lodge,” and as such, there are no lights with the exception of a soft light in the bathroom and a solar powered reading lamp by the bed.  It’s so peaceful to walk around in the dark with just the glow of candles.  They are off the grid for the most part with these exceptions and the kitchen, of course.  It’s a wonderful experience to have no “blinking” green or red lights for any kind of electronics around, although I have to admit I kept my phone charged in the bathroom.  I have abandoned my DSLR, that big, clunky Nikon for the past few months and while my photos tend to be grainy in available light and are not the sharpest at all times, it’s such a sense of freedom not to have a heavy camera around my neck every time I head out on a day off.
Breakfast the next morning was a treat.  I’ve made the Israeli dish Shakshuka which is similar to the breakfast I ordered at San Lucas. I ordered the Huevos Rancheros and this is what came to the table.  The tomatoes, while tasking like San Marzanos were the perfect taste of sweet and tart and the egg was done just how I like it — with a very runny yolk.  The Queso Blanco and beans made me swoon.  The difference between this and the TexMex style Huevos Rancheros we are used to in the US is the absence of spice.  I wasn’t missing it this morning though.  This hit the spot.
Next up was a trip to the “Bird Park,” or Macaw Mountain.  It was about 20 minutes away.  I spent an hour walking the path and while I’ve seen Macaws out flying around at the site of the ruins — the coffee trees?  bushes?  plants? really caught my attention.  I’ve wanted to get to one of the coffee plantations in the area, but haven’t planned far enough in advance.
While walking I spotted the green and red berries and knew what they were right away.  I am going to need to get to one of the Fincas and take a tour.  One of them grows cacao, coffee and cardamom!  I’ve got to experience that.
It was time to get back to San Lucas to have lunch and check out before heading home.  One more tamale meal with pickled vegetables and more queso blanco.  The right amount of food for a long ride home and a late night at the office.
The ride home was much easier than the day before and while there were countless checkpoints, they clearly weren’t interested in us this time.  Not sure what they were looking for, but maybe drunk drivers on the holiday?  Not sure, but not getting stopped saved us a few minutes.
In all, it was a very brief, but relaxing overnight and once again I am promising myself to go back.  If you get the chance, come to Honduras and experience Copán and Hacienda San Lucas.  You won’t regret it.  I know most like to come for the ocean, but you can easily plan that in your trip.  The people I’ve chatted with during my stays have all worked Roatan in their itinerary.
I hope you can make it.  I promise, if you like good people, good scenery, history and incredible food, you won’t be disappointed!


  1. Jane MNo Gravatar says:
    Sounds like a very nice time indeedy.