TBT - The Trouble With the North Coast Road & The Banana Train

Up until 1973 the only reliable overland transport method on the north coast of Honduras was the railroad operated by the banana company. Construction of a paved highway linking San Pedro Sula in the West to La Ceiba in the East started in 1969 and progressed slowly - always presenting challenges to those who drove that stretch of road.

The first experience for me on the north coast road was in '69 - traveling from Washington State to La Ceiba, Honduras. Most of this treacherous wilderness road in Honduras was just a built up clay berm that had turned into mud from all the rains - and the numerous stream crossings had no bridges, just places for the brave to try fording. Our 4x4 truck handled most of this well - except one night when we got stuck in a jungle stream and I had to repeatedly dive under the water with a hydraulic jack to free the truck from sunken logs.

After we had moved to the Honduran island of Utila in 1970 we kept the truck garaged in La Ceiba, and on several occasions drove to San Pedro Sula while the road was being built. The road was obviously bringing civilization to the native people along that route. As the paving progressed, new commercial enterprises were popping up - small stores for the villagers and restaurants for the travelers. One of the things I looked forward to on those trips was the passing through remote villages and driving through the nearby streams where invariably young native girls would be doing their wash on the big granite rocks - topless. To my great disappointment - whenever the progression of the road paving finally reached a village, there would be a new bridge, and the girls washing clothes in the stream would no longer be topless - they would be wearing a bra. What we sometimes sacrifice for progress!

On one occasion a friend and I were commissioned to take a small Datsun pickup to San Pedro Sula from La Ceiba. I already had one bad experience with that truck trying to ford a stream just outside of La Ceiba. Not being sure of the stream depth, I kept the motor revved up (it was a stick shift) to keep it running as I drove through the water. We only got about 3 miles beyond the stream before the motor overheated. The plastic blades of the radiator fan had been bent forward by the force of the revved motor plowing into the stream's water - cutting a neat circular section in the middle of the radiator!

So the 'Banana Train' was the only sure way to take the Datsun pickup to where the pavement now ended in Tela. Besides bananas and assorted cargo - the train had several passenger cars filled to overflow, with many of the riders on the roof of the train. Being prepared for the trip - we had mortadella sandwiches and a couple cases of Salva Vida beer in a cooler inside the truck's camper shell. As soon as we drove up the load ramp in La Ceiba and secured the truck to the railroad flat car we started on the beer. We were going to be making this trip sitting in the truck, drinking beer and enjoying the scenery. When the train got going it did not take long for some of the passengers to notice our swank accommodations - listening to music on our 8 track tapes and drinking cold beer - we were having a train party! There was at least 5 flat cars loaded with cargo between us and the passenger cars, but a couple dare-devils decided to risk clamoring over it all to reach us while the train lurched on erratically above raging rivers and through the trackless jungle.

Being hospitable gringos - we gave the guys a beer for their effort. But told them they would have to repeat the trip for anymore beer. They seemed to be satisfied with one beer and returned to the passenger car. When we reached Tela there was no loading ramp on the rail spur they backed us into, so we had to find this guy with two boards that he 'rents' for the same purpose. I seem to remember dropping off the boards about two thirds the way down when backing the truck off the flat car. After all that beer - my driving ability was a little impaired. But the truck and us - we all survived the 'Banana Train!