Woken by explosions at 5 am in Honduras

First, let us admit that we are late risers. We often wake up so late that we miss the free breakfast at our hostel. Sometimes our blogging or Ryan’s work from the road requires him to contact people on the other side of the world at awkward times. After midnight is a normal sleeping time, and as late as 3 am is not rare. This is also the reason why we have a vast collection of sunset photos, but just 1 lonely photo of the sunrise, from 9 years ago in Mount Fuji, Japan, and that was because we didn’t sleep that night. So yeah, we’re not going to wake up at 5 am unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Armed security guard in front of a clothing store in Copan Ruinas, Honduras
Armed security guard in front of a clothing store

If you are not familiar with Honduras, in short, I can tell you that while it is a wonderful place and we are having an amazing time, it’s not the safest country in the world. The homicide rate here is ranked as #2 in the world, after El Savador. The streets are full of heavily armed people. Security guards are everywhere, even inside the shopping malls. Most of them wield a pistol, but for some, the shotgun is the way to go, even for guarding a clothing stores or cinema. In the most cities walking on the street after dark is not recommended. A fellow travel blogger that had been in that city mentioned they heard gunshots during in the night, followed by wailing sirens.

Mayan ruin Copan in Honduras
Mayan ruin Copán

Last week we were in Copán Ruinas village. A small town not far from the famous Mayan ruins of Copán. The village is quite rustic and touristy, even though locals also live there. Because it’s a major tourism site of Honduras, the government pays a lot of attention to keeping the place very safe for the tourists, and indeed even though we still see armed security guards (or because of that), we felt entirely safe there. You can walk the streets comfortably, even at night. It’s a very friendly, and welcoming place. At least we thought so until we were woken up by something shocking.

That was our second morning in the village. We were enjoying our beauty sleep, when a loud noise startled us.

Bang.. bang… – quiet – bang bang bang…. – quiet – bang…

Gunshots?

My eyes opened wide with fear, and I was instantly awake, without my usual long period of grogginess. I nudged Ryan, “Did you hear that?”

The bangs started again, and now Ryan’s eyes flew open. We were startled.

“Gun shots?”

“So early in the morning.”

Bang.. bang… We could hear the report of the explosions echoing across the valley, and though it was hard to be sure, it sounded like they were coming from the street outside our B&B.

“Holy shit!”

“What on earth..?”

“Isn’t Copan supposed to be safe?”

“You’d think so…”

“Do you think it’s the drug traffickers?”

“What time is it?”

“It’s 5 in the morning.”

“Gunshots at 5 in the morning?”

We were frightened, especially after the warnings the we’ve read about Honduras.

Army with rifles guarding the Mayan ruin Copan, Honduras
Soldiers with rifles guarding the Mayan ruins of Copan

Then we heard from far away, a booming voice shouting in Spanish, incomprehensible with the echoing and our poor command of the language. And then music from a brass band starting to play…

“This is really weird. Gun shots and nobody cares, just playing music?”

“Hmm… Maybe it’s hunting?”

“Fireworks?”

“At 5 am? Why?”

“Hmmm…”

We waited for more noises, but after a while there was no more sounds. And somehow we fell back into a fitful sleep.

Later in the morning, we asked the owner of our B&B about the frightening noises. Her answer surprised us.
“Yeah, that’s how people here celebrate. Today is the start of the town’s annual festival, and in the morning they love to wake people up by making noise with firecrackers and music.”

Ryan and I: “Ahh!”

She: “Yes, they love fire crackers in the morning, and blasting music and announcements from loudspeakers.”

Ryan and I: “Music?”

She: “Yes, and it’s not only for town celebrations. They also do this when it’s your birthday. They’ll wake you up with firecrackers, music, banging pots and pans, and anything else to wake you up at 4 in the morning.”

Ryan and I: “4AM!!”

She: “Yes, sometimes it’s better, no fire crackers, but a mariachi band instead. But very very loud. You might want to sleep in late on your birthday, but you can’t do that here.”

Whew, so this is the reason for the noise in the morning. Not scary gun shots, but the start of a festival. What a way to start a special day!

Ferris wheel in Copan Ruinas town fair. Honduras
Ferris wheel of the town fair

That was the first morning we got startled by the firecrackers. Do you remember that the B&B owner mentioned it’s a week-long fair? Well, that’s how we were woken up each morning when we were there. Only, the following mornings, we only startled for a few seconds but then remember it’s still the celebration week. In our second day, did that knowledge allow me to go back to sleep with the noises still going on? Absolutely not. It was way too loud. The announcement van was passing by our B&B, and the wake up invitation was too loud to ignore. The music was hilariously loud too. The third day though, it didn’t even wake Ryan up, he was immune to it already. Good for him!

Even though this kinda annoying especially for late risers like us, we felt lucky that we experienced something that is really local and unique like this. A guy we met mentioned they also do this for birthdays in Guatemala. We wonder where else they do this. The whole of Central America, or an even wider area?

Copan Ruinas town fair: Mayan themed kids beauty pageant. Honduras
Town fair: Mayan themed kids beauty pageant

Copan Ruinas is more than just a touristy village. Real local people live there and areas around it. They live here, and they don’t speak English even at the most basic level, unlike most of other touristy spots we’ve visited. We felt lucky to be in a village when the locals are having their annual celebration like this. We enjoyed the rest of the fair. Mayan style kids beauty pageant, dancing performances in the town’s plaza, the evening food bazaar around the town with super loud music, and of course the fire cracker wake up calls in the morning.

Even without this, we already love Copan Ruinas for the Mayan ruins, for the local people’s friendliness, for the pretty looking village with cobblestone roads and colorful houses, for the peaceful air with armed security guards in the same time, and for the super delicious traditional food. With the town fair, our Copan Ruinas experience was one of our best travelling experiences!

Friendly army man with rifles that guarded Copan Ruinas museum, Honduras
Friendly soldier guarding Copán Ruinas. They’re not scary after all!

Have you been in Central America and experienced something like this? Ever been scared and realised later you were frightened of nothing?

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28 Responses to “Woken by explosions at 5 am in Honduras”

  1. Matt | ExpertVagabond
    22 March 2011 at 11:18 am #

    Haha. I was woken up by fireworks countless times in both Guatemala & Honduras. Towns will often shoot them off on Sundays to wake people up for church too. In San Pedro la Laguna, they fired off what sounded like a cannon! I thought the town was under attack…

    As for Honduras being scary, I once saw a guy on the street hiding a handgun in his waistband. But that was it.

    I spent 3 weeks there.

    While spending only one week in New York City, I saw a guy pull out a handgun and fire it into the air while walking home from a club.

    Murder statistics sound really scary, until you take into account that it’s all local gang & drug related. Tourists have nothing to fear! :)
    Matt | ExpertVagabond´s last post…Daily Travel Photo- Armed Policemen in Underwear

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 2:47 pm #

      Cannon too?! Haha!!
      Yes, I hope one day they don’t have gang/drug related issues anymore. The locals that we met or even just passed by along the road are very nice. I just hope we will not get caught in between drug traffickers fight.

  2. jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World
    22 March 2011 at 12:14 pm #

    Sounds like u guys are having a blast there! I think it would take me awhile to get used to seeing people walking around with guns. Btw, love the smile on that soldier dude. I think he was smitten!
    jill- Jack and Jill Travel The World´s last post…Why Did The Grizzly Cross the Street

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 2:51 pm #

      Ha! Smitten, eh! That’s what Ryan said too, but I think it was the picture taking, not me… My smile was super huge too because I couldn’t believe he let the photo to be taken. Previous security guard that I asked was so unhappy with my request.

  3. Dalene - Hecktic Travels
    22 March 2011 at 2:31 pm #

    Well, I can definitely attest to you being night owls – that’s for sure!

    Look at that wee security guard – he’s shorter than you! Nothing to be scared about there, except for the big gun, maybe! :)
    Dalene – Hecktic Travels´s last post…Dear Uncle Calvin

    • Dina
      22 March 2011 at 2:53 pm #

      Thanks for confirming our owlness! Hey, I don’t realize that I was taller! He will be taller though, is he put his long gun straight up on his head (does that count?)

  4. Andrea
    22 March 2011 at 7:42 pm #

    That’s a pretty interesting experience for sure, though it would annoy us too! Like you, we often miss the free breakfast because we get up so late =)

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 12:52 pm #

      Glad to know that we are not the only late risers :D

  5. Erica
    24 March 2011 at 5:35 am #

    You guys sound like you keep the same hours we do. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a single sunrise photo in my life. Mornings and me do NOT get along. I can do without honestly…

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 12:55 pm #

      Glad to know another couple of late risers! Wake up for sunset is really challenging isn’t it!

  6. Dani | Globetrottergirls
    24 March 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Haha, thank God it was only fireworks! I was prepared for the worst. We were in Copan Ruinas over the Christmas Holidays – OMG! Never in my life have I heard so much noise – they were setting off the fireworks right in the Parque Central, our hotel was just around the corner. It was like being in the midst of a war zone. We were so scared that we didn’t leave the hotel all day on Christmas Day ;-) The next day Parque Central really looked as if there had been a war (I tried to catch some of the aftermath here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/globetrottergirls/5465725834/in/set-72157625978263909/)

    Central Americans really love their fireworks – but not the ones we enjoy, pretty and colorful in the sky… instead: the louder, the better! Like Matt already said in his comment, in Guatemala they are even louder :D

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:01 pm #

      Haha, too bad you spent the Christmas Day inside the hotel only =D I can imagine if you stayed right near the Parque Central, it must have been awfully loud and noisy! At least ours were stop after 6, and the B&B owners told us the story of it, haha.

      The louder the better, it seems like how they like it indeed. Cannon, that’s crazy!

      Hey, I tried to open the photo, but the link is not working somehow! Would love to see it!

  7. Nancie
    24 March 2011 at 7:38 pm #

    My eyes would have flown open too. Always nerve wracking to hear strange (and not so nice noises) when your in a strange place. As you know, firecrackers seem to be common all over SEA. I hate them. They’re also bad in Taiwan. My friends dogs go mad at Chinese New Year when they go off everyday for days.
    Nancie´s last post…Travel Photo Thursday- March 24- 2010- Spring Time In Rural Korea

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:03 pm #

      SEA too, eh! My dog (if I had one) will go bonkers too. I wonder what happen if we bring this firecrackers type of celebration to North America, I don’t think our neighbour will be happy about it =D

  8. Sabina
    25 March 2011 at 8:25 am #

    The last time you guys saw a sunrise was NINE years ago? You should stay up all night long more often, I guess ;) Your ability to fall so easily back to sleep after having been awakened in a panic by what you thought were gunshots is hilarious. I’m in Israel right now, Jerusalem was bombed yesterday for the first time in like seven years and I’m not worried for myself at all. I think you can still have a really peaceful, nice time in countries that are experiencing strife. I’m looking forward to seeing if you and Ryan run into any more interesting episodes in Honduras. And Dina, that photo of you with the solider is great!

    • Dina
      25 March 2011 at 1:10 pm #

      Yep, sunrise was when we were still dating =)
      About the fall back to sleep: well, it was so early in the morning, haha! The gunshot had stopped, so the problem must have been resolved, right?
      Hey, it’s awful to hear that Jerusalem got bombed, 1st time in 7 years. I hope people there are fine… I hope you will have a safe (and great) journey
      there.
      About the photo with soldier: I was super happy when he was willing to be photographed! I was rejected before in different place.

  9. Jen Laceda
    30 March 2011 at 4:07 pm #

    I’m just glad you guys are safe! Firecrackers at 5 in the morning? Priceless!
    Jen Laceda´s last post…My Most Memorable Restaurant Dishes of 2010

  10. Maria Pavel
    30 March 2011 at 8:45 pm #

    Party at 5AM? Now i’m jealous i don’t live in a place like that.
    Maybe if i did, i would actually manage to wake up earlier than 11AM, like i do every day. Some variation is needed…
    Maria Pavel´s last post…CNA Training In Hawaii

    • Dina
      31 March 2011 at 5:57 pm #

      Hahaha, great point! We are late risers too though, and the 5 am fire crackers only woke us up for those minutes, then we went to sleep again :D

  11. Deb
    31 March 2011 at 4:00 am #

    Haha, very funny. I was waiting for some street fight to have broken out, but very happy that is was just the firecrackers. I had forgotten about all the guns in Honduras. They really have more there than anywhere we have been. Even in parts of Africa. I remember always feeling safe going to the bank because hey, nobody was going to rob me with an armed guard right out front.
    Deb´s last post…Glowworm Caves- a Dazzling Display of Light

  12. Suzy
    2 April 2011 at 12:55 pm #

    I hate waking up early too. I don’t think I have seen a sunrise in some time as well ha. How strange that they like to be woken up early on their birthdays?! I’m glad it wasn’t gun shots though that you were hearing.
    Suzy´s last post…Just One Please

  13. Katrina
    10 April 2011 at 3:20 pm #

    Nice! In Naples, Italy, there are firecrackers and other explosions *every night* if you’re in the right area. And if you go to a place with some altitude, you can see that there are fireworks every night, too.

    Glad you’re safe and that it was just some good fun! :)
    Katrina´s last post…Video- chewing camel

  14. Anthony
    18 April 2011 at 2:12 am #

    If I were in your position, I think that I might have a heart attack. I do admit that I heard stories like that in my country but I never encounter one near me. I hope that it would never happen to me.

  15. WILD BILL
    27 May 2011 at 4:54 pm #

    Was in Copan Ruinas area the last week in April and first week in May. 2011.

    Had a super time…lots to do. People are very warm and friendly. Thanks to all the locals for help and info.

    Sincerely:

    Wild Bill

    61 so far !

    Hope to run into some day?
    Home is in Florida…

  16. Sarah Marshall
    5 October 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Hey Guys, your trip sounds fantastic. The fireworks thing is really cool, it amazes me how some of the poorest countries house the happiest people. I am planning to travel to the Honduras to stay at the Usha Village. Do you know of this village and the infamous Dr Sebi. My concern is not with the guns as i believe the armed guards actually deter street crime and funny enough feel safer in their presence. I will need to travel 202km via taxi from San Pedro Sula to La Cieba. Do you know if the roads between the two cities are safe. I must confess by biggest concern is being sexually assaulted, is this really as common as smart traveler etc claim it to be. I will be traveling with two male companions. One is short and defenseless however speaks fluent spanish and the other is an elderly gentleman. Any or all advice you could give me would be greatly appreciated. Thanks again for the already great info. x

  17. Sarah
    5 October 2011 at 11:31 am #

    Hi, thanks for the great post. The fireworks thing is awesome, although i must also confess to being a late sleeper. LOL. It amazes me how some of the poorest countries house some of the happiest people. I am currently making arrangements to travel to the Honduras to visit Dr Sebi’s Usha Village for medical treatment. I am a 32 meek and mild Australian blonde female. I will be traveling with 2 male companions, one although he speaks fluent spanish is meeker than i LOL and the other is a fit elderly gentleman. My concern isn’t necessarily the guns as i believe this actually deters crime and strangely enough feel safer in their presence, or the locals as i am an experienced traveler. My biggest concern is being raped as i hear this is common. My concern is i am forced to travel 202km from San Pedro Sula to La Cieba. I am aware not to travel at night however am unsure if the road from San Pedro Sula to La Cieba is safe? Could anyone please advise if they know of anyone who has been attacked traveling from San Pedro Sula to the Usha Village. Are the roads between the two cities safe to travel on? It is such a beautiful country and Dr Sebi has the potential to cure me from my illness. Thanks again! x

    • Ryan
      6 October 2011 at 7:53 pm #

      Hi Sarah,

      Sounds like you’ve got a great trip coming up. I haven’t heard of this doctor, but I hope you find what you’re looking for.

      I wouldn’t worry about the drive from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba. You can take the Hedman Alas bus which is very comfortable and safe. It’s one of the nicer buses we’ve taken anywhere.

      Keep in mind though that San Pedro Sula is a pretty rough town, and it’s much better to arrive there during the daytime. If you are getting in late, I’d recommend having a hotel and a pickup from the airport prearranged.
      Outside of the touristy areas Honduras is a relatively dangerous place, but that just means you need to be careful. Take the necessary precautions, and please don’t let those travel warnings scare you away from one of our favourite countries to visit.

      And if you’re going to La Ceiba, definitely take the ferry over to Roatan at least for a few days. It’s a beautiful island and the diving there is amazing!

  18. Amer @TendToTravel
    15 November 2011 at 12:19 pm #

    How bizarre! I’m not sure whether I should be annoyed and excited if I know this was going to happen. Probably more on the annoying side. I hate to have a disturbed sleep!
    Amer @TendToTravel´s last post…A brand new canvas for a new beginning

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