Monthly Archives: May 2012

May 12th 2012 – UTILA !

We hung onto our stomachs for an hour while the ferry rode the sea swells for the 18 miles across to Utila Island. Then we waited patiently for our bags, as the guys unloaded everything from dog food to washing powder before considering that the passengers might just want thier stuff. The dock is just off centre to a sealed road, only about a mile long, that curves both ways around the south bay. Except for small clusters of houses following the coastline around to the north side, this is all there is to Utila – one small village – and half of that is dive shops!

Arrival on Utila Island

Arrival at Utila on the Utila Princess Ferry

Hotel Margarita

Our home for the duration

We took a left and headed for our hotel at the quiet end! Its a wooden building with a deep veranda all the way around, and considering the size and quality of our room, really good value for money. The garden is full of humming birds, which have to be the coolest bird on the planet! Our challenge is to get a decent picture of one, which is not going to be easy – they are fast! We can see the sea through the coconut trees to the front, and right across to mainland Honduras and its massive mountains. They do a magic trick and disappear completely some days.

view

View from our hotel… mountains are hidden by the cloud bank most days.

The island is really small, about 3 miles across at its widest point and only 7 miles long. It has two salt water lagoons which are surrounded by mangrove, so its a pretty green place. The wildlife is mainly iguanas, monitor lizards and crabs, crabs and some more crabs. They are everywhere. Most of them are blue, but we’ve seen quite a few types, the hermit crabs being the clear favourite as they cross the road rattling around in an over-sized shell that used to belong to something else. When we walk out after dark we’re always nudging them off the road so they don’t get flattened. Saying that, crab ‘pancakes’ are quite common – but nothing goes to waste as the live crabs pull them off the road and eat them. Lovely.

Lizard

Utila wildlife!

hummingbird

Our hummingbird; we watched him grow up from a whipper snapper

Utila Crab

Utila crabs are the funiiest crabs around. They’re like little nightclub bouncers.

The main street after the dock is pretty lively at night. Newly qualified diving instructors celebrate by drinking “Gifiti” (a Garifuna drink made from Rum, Vodka as well as bark, wood chippings, moss and probably rat droppings and cow pats for all we know… all we know is if you drink 4 straight you get a free t-shirt. Needless to say I don’t need a t-shirt that desperately!

Signs

Signs and signs and signs and signs.

So anyway we’re here! Not much happening at the moment cause I had a cold and so I was unable to dive. I’m coming out the other end of it so in a couple of days I’m booking 10 dives around the island at various sites, mostly at the northside (apparently it’s better round there). I spend my days coping with the heat and walking out for food… and that’s it 🙂  (Jane disappears occasionally to do things slightly more energetic, as is her want) It’s a hard life!


May 11th 2012 – Leaving for La Ceiba, Honduras

True to form in this part of the world, even though we had bought tickets to take us all the way to La Ceiba, the hotel manager Stephanie knocked on our door late the night before to tell us things had changed. Our ‘driver’ would only take us as far as San Pedro Sula – voted the Number One most dangerous city in the world we heard, and about 170 miles short of our expected destination. Great. Everything we had paid good money to avoid. She handed us a very small refund that didn’t seem quite in our favour, and then told us that instead of leaving at 9am, we had to be ready for 6.30am. I was not happy… no lie in 🙂

The first part of the journey was on a boat down to Puerto Barrios. Another couple from the hotel travelled with us all the way to San Pedro Sula and turned out to be great company – they were from Brussels and had a great sense of humour…and one of the guys spoke really good Spanish, which made the process of getting through the border really easy!  This boat ride was fantastic and actually all the better for being so early in the morning, so all is forgiven there. The sea was as still as a mill pond in the early morning light, and we shared the water with diving sea birds and pelicans. It took nearly an hour to get to the Port where we were thrown into a minivan and headed for the border.

Boatman of Livingston

Early morning departure from Livingston dock… with our “rasta” boatman.

Getting out of Guatemala was the easiest Passport Control we have been through. The Official even shook his head when we tried to hand over our exit stamp money and said he didn’t want it. The Hondurans took $3 each of us though when 10 minutes later we passed through their side of the border. The trip to San Pedro went without a hitch and when we got dropped at the bus station we were on another bus (cheapskate Jane had us on another chicken bus which was fine actually) to La Ceiba within an hour. So we got out of the city alive and arrived in La Ceiba four hours later.

La Ceiba –  well, what can I say. “Don’t go there” seems to sum it up for me. What a dump.  The Hondurans need to get their act together and realise that there is a potential thriving tourist industry that has to pass through thier town to get to the Bay Islands. If they just cleaned the place up and made more of the beaches people would stay here a night or two before heading for the ferry. Businesses would thrive, locals would have work, and everyone would benefit – as it is now only the taxi drivers taking the steady stream of people from the bus to the ferry terminal are getting anything out of the tourists. And we are staying here two nights?!!! You can’t get it right every time 🙂

Hotel

Our “Hotel” in La Ceiba… nice guy who owns it, shame about the state of it!!

And the only funny thing in La Ceiba – what Jane calls the fertility tree…

Tree Schlong

Treebeards penis!! Hilarious!


May 9th 2012 – Life in Livingston

This town is a jetty and one main street, which leads off to a handful of smaller streets, or so we thought. On our first day we met ‘Pollo’ a Garifuna Blackman (a small group of abandoned African slaves who originally set up on the Island of Roatan next to Utilla, settled here a long time ago). we got talking, well actually there was no escaping Pollo, but he turned out to be a facinating man and really good company. He was educated by a fund set up by Geri Garcia from the band ‘The Grateful Dead’ who spent time here, and unlike others who took thier money and education and left, he returned to Livingston and works hard to educate and hold together his community. The Garifunans do not get any funding from the Spanish based Guatemalan municipal and have to do everything themselves. He took us on a walk, leaving behind the paved streets of the Spanish community and into an area we would not have gone – or even known existed.  He showed us the destruction of the last hurricane, and leading us down dirt paths took us into the house of two fantastic old Garifuna ‘Grandmas’, then on through the ‘Township’ – segregation is alive and well – and into an area where we met some brilliant kids. The whole time we chatted and laughed and learned to walk at Garifuna pace…reeeeally slow…and felt really privilaged to know this guy. At one point he stopped to talk to a very young girl, who he found had not yet eaten that day. He talked to the mother and it seems they had nothing. But he did say there was a ‘pot fund’ and she would get something from that.  Everyone knew him and seemed to look to him with respect so we felt confident to put a donation into the pot. Its times like this I wish I was loaded and could make a real difference.

Livingston Main Street

Livingston Main Street

But this is not a depressing place! The people are loud, colourful and born survivors, though we do have beef with them for not looking after their dogs properly – we did a few food runs and filled some dogs bellys over the days we were there. Although you can never really change anything when you are just passing through, its good to do what you can when you can.

View of the sea from Livingston

View of the sea from Livingston, granted… not a very good pic sorry 🙂

The food is a bit ‘iffy’ in Livingston. We had the ‘Ganster Breakfast’ at our hotel, and in no way would it sustain you through a mornings gangland activities – it was miniscule! But in the four days we were there we managed to find a couple of places that served half decent portions that were reasonably eatable. A small hotel tucked into one of the back streets has a great view over the sea, and okay food, but the real reason we went back was to see the group of Iguanas living in a big tree next to our table.

Iguana!!!!!

An Iguana!!!!!

I found it very easy to fall into the Garifuna pace of life, and do nothing really slowly for a few days. (No?? Really Doug??). Luckily Jane had picked up a good book (about life in the Alaskan Wilderness, this being the second on the subject I’m getting worried about what travel plans she has next!) back in Rio Dulce or she would have been stir crazy! She still made me go for a walk in the bloomin’ humid 35 degree heat though! We leave tommorrow (Guatemala has been beyond our expectaions and we will be sad to leave) to cross the border into Honduras and head for La Ceiba.


May 6th 2012 – The Journey to Livingston, Guatemala

There are no roads to Livingston, but as our favourite form of transport are river boats, this is not a bad thing! The boat picked us up at the hotel and then started to travel in the wrong direction towards the main lake. It took us west through the small channel we had kayaked through a couple of days earlier, and then we realised the boatman was proudly showing everyone the scenery – a lake so big you can’t see the horizon – and we settled in for a good trip.  We began heading perfect east, leaving Lago De Izabel, and started travelling down the Rio Dulce, a massive river nearly two miles across at its widest point. We had barely left the town behind when the boatsman pulled up next to a bird breeding island in the river – it was chocablock with river birds, including two that looked like vultures, and lots of young white herons with jaunty orange mohicans on thier heads.

birds of Livingston

Birds and birds and birds and birds…

The journey was fantastic. Miles of peaceful river unfolded and now and again the boat would slow to let us take in the native settlements. In quiet parts of the river, where the water slowed, the surface was covered in lilies and the native families were out on the water transporting stuff back and forth – kids as young as 5 or 6 where handling dugout canoes with perfect skill. Amazing.

Rio Dulce river community

A young girl smiles for photos in a Rio Dulce river community

Our next stop was a riverside platform where you could grab a bite to eat, or, our personal favourite a coconut drink, while you soaked your feet in a hot (and I mean HOT!) spring. There was even time to pay a guide to take you up to a limestone cave if you wanted – but we’ve seen enough of them!:) Eventually we passed through a limestone gorge and continued on the last stretch to the mouth of the river at Livingston.

abandoned boat

An abandoned boat on the way to Livingston

Its a different world as you approach the coastal town. It really does feel carribean as you start to see pelicans and other huge sea birds perching on abandoned boats from a bygone era, that sit skew-wiff in the water, and you begin to pass more and more riverside huts and fishing jettys until suddenly the ocean is right in front of you and tall black dudes, standing on the main jetty, are welcoming you to Livingston in a laid back drawl. We had landed at Gutamelas most Southeastern point – don’t quite know what to expect!

Livingston Dockside

A view from Livingston Dockside


May 5th – Rio Dulce, Guatemala

Our month in Guatemala is coming to an end and we must find our way to the Honduran border. Jane studied the map for quite some time as she was determined not to go back the way we came (most people cross the border at Copan near Gutemala City) and I was with her on that one. There is a tiny piece of Guatemalan coast on the East side, sandwiched between Belize and Honduras, and though the guide books didn’t make much of this area we decided to go that way and cross to Honduras from there – it was a shorter route and some more new ground.

We booked bus tickets for a place called Rio Dulce, a town on Guatemalas largest lake. The plan was that we would travel down the river from there, to Livingston on the coast, and cross the border in a few days time. When Jane told me that the road from Flores to Rio Dulce used to be the most dangerous in all of Guatemala (the very wealthy yachting community would travel this road from the coast to see Tikal – rich pickings) for highway robberies, I had to believe her that it was safe now, due to the tourist police, as the tickets were booked! 🙂

Tortugal

Tortugal, Rio Dulce, Guatemala

An early start and 5 hours later we pulled into the town of Rio Dulce. Bedlam. I thought what have we done! I’ll not get a wink of sleep here! But, as soon as we stepped off the bus a guy showed us some options for places to stay, and one was on the lake itself. Result. Within 10 mins we were on a boat and pulled into the jetty of Hotel Tortugal.

Our cabin

Our home for the 3 day stay

Not many of the staff spoke English so again it was down to me to decipher the Spanish code with my pigeon. He’s a bilingual pigeon from yorkshire you know..:).We went for the cheaper option (really??? I hear you ask!) which was basically a very nice tree house with a double and single bed with mozzie nets (a sensible requirement) a fan and a view of the lake at the front, granted, obscured a little by trees, but none the less cool. To get to our room we crossed a small bridge over a pond fed by the lake with lots of fish , ducks and a few Terrapins dotted about it. As soon as Jane saw this, that was it… you couldn’t get her over the bridge without a loooong pause to see the bloomin things EVERY time we crossed… “Helloooooo Terrapins!” nutta 🙂

Western View

Western view up the lake.

Our second day we decided upon a kayak trip. The kayaks at Tortugal are free for anyone who wants to use them. So off we popped out onto Lago de Izabel and comically paddled around the lake (I say comically because these are tandem kayaks and usually Jane goes one way while I go another… ANYWAY…) taking in an enormouse amount of wildlife… hundreds of Cormorants, Herons… there are even crocodiles and manatee here but alas we saw none. The houses around here are pretty cool too, dotted around the lake with well manicured gardens and huge posh motor boats moored outside. This is a place for the wealthy I reckon.

mangrove

Mangrove to the rear of our hotel

There’s quite a large yachting community moored at the Tortugal. We met some nice people in the bar of this little haven too, two of which – from California – now live on thier boat pretty much full time (hello Fred and Robin!). We had some good conversations and even had a movie night showing Master and Commander in the bar (what else in a yachting community hotel?) with free popcorn!

We hung around for three days taking in everything about Tortugal – the resident (and laaazy as hell) cats, perched on each and every step leading to our room, the dogs owned by the yachting crowd… and the hummingbirds darting around the plantlife like giant bees – and to be honest I was quite reluctant to leave and wished I’d booked for a longer stay, but alas we need to move on. Next stop Livingston, Guatemala and the beginning of the Carribean Sea.


May 1st 2012 – Tikal, Guatemala

We were up at 4am for this trip! Two reasons, to try and escape the heat of the afternoon, and also you see more wildlife early in the day. we were in the park by 6am, but its so massive (550 sq km) the bus took another 20 to 30 minutes to get us to the main complex area. First thing was a cup of coffee! Then we headed out on our own (no guide as we wanted to go at our own pace) down one of the outer tracks. Its an amazing place early in the morning. We started to see wildlife almost immediately, and came on a group of coatis (a relative of the racoon)playing in the trees just to the side of the track. We saw a large male a bit later – you could smell him as much as see him as he was scenting everything. Did I say racoon or skunk? 🙂

Coati

Coati – You could smell him a mile away!!

Every track leads to some temple or pyramid, apparently there are thousands over the whole area as it used to be a vast city, but at one point we found a massive one and climbed to the top via some wooden steps. The stone steps are so steep and crumbling that you are not supposed to go up them, (2 people have died by falling down them) (Mick Byrne you need to sort out the H&S immediatley!)… although we did do a couple of temple steps when we found some more remote sites that we had to ourselves. The view from this temple must be the best in the park. You look down over the endless jungle, and the tops of the pryamids in the Grand Plaza, about 1 km away, rise above the canopy. Its pretty cool.

Tikal Temples

The Tikal temples poking through the forest.

More walking! This time a group of spider monkeys passed over our heads and we could hear the Howler monkeys roaring in the distance – what a sound – I half expected the King (Kong) himself to come charging at us through the trees! On our way to the Grand Plaza the sound of the Howlers got louder and louder, then we became aware of lots of crashing sounds as they moved through the trees, before we spotted them. Apparently they shit on your head as a dominance display if they get above you, so I was relieved that they kept to one side of the track! We did get a really good sighting though.

After about 3 to 4 hours of treking down endless jungle tracks, via an enormous corbel-sided pyramid, we found the Grand Plaza. This is the central ceremonial point of the city where two stepped pyramids face each other, with lots of other weird and strangely shaped complexes all around. The late Mayans were so corrupted by thier priest kings that they actually willingly handed over thier children for sacrifice to the ‘gods’. So the vibe around here isn’t that good! You can get a great view of the area by climbing up some very shaky steps onto one of the main pyramids, but getting down again was puting your life at risk!

The Grand Plaza

The Grand Plaza – Tikal

It was an interesting day, and really good to see how well crafted the stone work was and get your head around how they achieved these massive buildings in the middle of a jungle! We also came across some tunnels that led under the main complexes, where Jane pointed out the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen sitting on the roof! Huge. And I mean HUGE!!! Easily as big as my fist!

Tikal Head

An exhibit from the Grand Plaza in the process of being restored.

After over 6 hours, with the heat really kicking in, we headed back to Flores for a cold shower and a nap!