There 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!