Beach hopping

After spending a few days in Tegucigalpa shopping for a replacement watch (a “Casio” watch for only $5), a new digital camera, contact lenses and other essential traveller items whilst avoiding being robbed again walking around the dodgy parts of town, I was picked up by members of the local World Vision office and taken to the steamy town of Choluteca, where my sponsor child Danny lives.

Danny is 7 years old and lives with his parents and 3 brothers in a house that World Vision sponsorship money helped to build.  I was taken around his community and shown the amazing work that they have been doing – building wells for drinking water, building a community centre,  installing water pipes to take away grey water, building more secure housing for the people, planting trees to stop erosion in the area, and promoting young people as mentors to encourage leadership in the community.  I definitely felt that my sponsorship money has made a world of difference already to the lives of the people in the area, so peeps, if you don’t already sponsor a child through World Vision…do it!

Leaving Honduras, I headed to the colonial town of Leon in Nicaragua.  After spending so much time in Tegucigalpa, it was such a relief to actually be in a traveller town where there are more eating options than just eggs, chicken, beans and rice!  Just to have fruit, yoghurt and granola for a healthy breakfast was like heaven!

I signed up for an afternoon of volcano boarding, which I thought wouldn’t be that daunting having had snowboarded a bit and also sandboarded in Peru.  With much excitement and a wee bit of trepidation, our group were dropped off at the bottom of the active volcano, Cerro Negro, and we had to hike about 45 minutes up gravelly volcanic rock and sand to the top.  It was only from the top looking down towards the foot of the volcano that the steepness really hit me, along with the images of having my skin sandpapered away by the abrasive volcanic sand if I wiped out. Ugh!

In the end, I managed to make it all the way down the mountain with all my limbs intact through some wise use of braking.  Much better result than the girl I had seen wandering around my hostel with a cast from a broken wrist!

From one colonial town to another, I bussed to the gorgeous town of Granada, which suits on the shores of Lake Nicaragua.  All the planets were aligned clearly because there just happened to be an Irish pub, O’Shea’s, in town in time for St Patrick’s Day!

From Granada, I made a few little excursions such as to the Laguna de Apoyo – a beautiful crater lake, Isla de Ometepe – where the largest volcano Concepcion erupted and spewed ash everywhere before my eyes, and the little islands just outside of Granada on the lake – where we saw spider monkeys.

Ed sadly left to go back to Australia, but I was not to be alone still – I went to Managua to pick up my mate Cheryl-Lee from the airport and also met up with our friend Jakkii.  We then headed to the beachside town of San Juan del Sur, not far from the Costa Rican border.  This place is well known for its surfing, and with that laid back vibe, it unsurprisingly was quite a good little party town too.  Jakkii and I got a ride to one of the local surf beaches, Playa El Remanso, but the surf wasn’t really happening and the sun was scorching hot, so we just retreated to the shade and cooled off with swims and cheap beer!  Still, it was nice to be reunited with the Pacific Ocean for the first time in over a year.  The beaches are still nicer in Australia though!

We sampled the San Juan del Sur night life at the local bar, Iguanas, which was packed with both locals, surfers and backpackers.  Cuba Libres for only $1 – you can imagine how that night turned out.  However it much worse for some – Blain was chased down the road by the bouncers of the club, tripped over and had a fight with the ground.  Sadly the ground won and he was nursing some nasty looking cuts the next day!

The border crossing into Costa Rica the next day was painful, which was not made any better by the searing heat and the lack of sleep.  It took us three hours to cross the border, then the bus driver from the border tried to rip us off, but after 14 hours of travelling we finally made it to the beachside town of Montezuma.

Everyone had warned us about how expensive Costa Rica was, and after 4 and a half months of cheap travelling, it was still a shock.  I kept converting everything from Costa Rican colones back to Nicaraguan cordobas and then back to Guatemalan quetzales and continually being outraged at how extortionately expensive things were!  Still, Montezuma is a really nice laid back place with a beautiful beach and a nice waterfall.  I climbed up some rocks on the side of the waterfall to make a 4m high jump into the pool below, but was so focussed on trying to jump out far enough so that I wouldn’t break my neck on the rocks that I didn’t actually pull my legs in enough and landed with a very ungraceful and painful slap on my thighs.  Oops!

We spent the Easter weekend chilling out on the Caribbean beach of Puerto Viejo, which had a nice vibe, even with the abundance of cliche reggae music blaring out everywhere.  There is a black sand beach here, creatively named Playa Negra.

The beach hopping has been quite a welcome way to deal with the intense heat here in Central America.  It’s so hot that I’m actually half looking forward to returning back to London and basking in some cold!

And then there were three…

For a fiercely independent traveller who likes her own space, I have done pretty well over the last four weeks or so not to have strangled my travelling companions Ed and Steve.  And I’ve even been sober most of the time too!

I picked up Ed from Guatemala City airport and we met up with Steve in Antigua, Guatemala.  It’s a beautiful colonial town heaving with tourists.  One of the best touristy things to do here is to hike the nearby Pacaya volcano and we were in luck – lava was flowing!  Hiking through the lava field, it felt like I was Frodo plumbing the depths of Mordor.  When we finally reached the red hot flowing lava, it was so hot that you couldn’t get too close without feeling like all the hairs on your body were going to be singed off.  It was a really amazing experience – we even roasted marshmallows in the flowing lava!

We then headed up to Lanquín to visit the beautiful limestone pools of Semuc Champey.  Swimming in the pools was quite refreshing – really clear blue water – and there were some little fish in the pools that reminded me of those fish spas that I saw in Malaysia (they like to nibble on your dead skin!).

After another long bus ride, I was back in the lakeside town of Flores, where I had previously volunteered at the animal shelter.  The next morning, we awoke before the crack of dawn to visit the mighty Mayan ruins of Tikal.  We saw spider monkeys swinging through the trees and heard the roar of howler monkeys from miles around.  There were amazing views from the top of the famous Temple IV across the jungle canopy, where you can see the tops of other temples and pyramids poking out.  Apparently the Tikal ruins were the setting for one of the scenes from Return of the Jedi – anyone recognise it??

Leaving Flores for the steamy heat of Livingston, I didn’t even mind here that I hadn’t had a proper hot shower for something like 5 weeks.  We kicked back for a few days, chilling out by the pool and catching up on some holiday reading.  I even slept in a hammock for the first time!  Not entirely comfortable but if you were tired or drunk enough, I’m sure it would be more than adequate!

Finally, I said a sad goodbye to Guatemala and headed to the Bay Islands in Honduras for a week of scuba diving.  We picked up a trio of Swedes along the way and with our group negotiating power, I managed to get myself a really good deal for diving on the island of Utila – 10 fun dives, including all gear hire, and 8 nights accommodation for only US$200!!  The diving here in the Bay Islands is quite good and visibility ranged from 15-25 metres, although there was nowhere as much fish life in Utila as Cozumel, Mexico.  The highlight of the week was definitely coming face to face with a baby whale shark for the very first time.  The shark was around 5 metres long and a dusky blue grey colour, and it just looked so calm and serene.  Absolutely magic!

The lowlight of the whole trip so far was having our hotel room broken into in Utila.  Steve and I had literally just ducked out of the room for 15 minutes to grab some dinner when the thieves broke in through the window.  They nicked off with my iPhone, iPod, camera (with 4 months worth of photos!), my Suunto dive computer and all my spare contact lenses.  They even broke the lock on my backpack and found my passport but, strangely enough, just left it on my bed!  Unfortunately for me, I only bought travel insurance for medical expenses, so only my phone is insured through my UK bank account, but the most devastating thing is really the loss of my photos.  I guess I should’ve been more diligent in posting my photos to Facebook regularly!  Ed was probably more unlucky, with the thieves taking his passport and a credit card.

After leaving Utila, Ed headed to the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa whilst Steve and I headed to Lake Yojoa.  The region is apparently well known for the vast number of bird species that congregate here, but we were just here to stay at the D&D microbrewery.  My favourite brew was the Pale Ale over the Amber Ale, Raspberry Ale and the Porter, and the blueberry pancakes here are of epic proportions! And yes, I did finish them.

I am now in Tegucigalpa for a few days to shop for a replacement camera before I meet my World Vision sponsor child, Danny.  It will be interesting to see where my money goes!

Thanks to Ed for letting me borrow his photos for this post!  As for those bastard thieves, get a real job.

Dive 239: The Labyrinth, Utila (Honduras)

Dive time: 00:42:00
Max depth: 14 metres
Temperature: 26 C
Visibility: 15 metres
Buddy: Ed
Surface interval: 01:14:00

After spending the surface interval chilling out back at the dock, we motored back out to this site. It is a pretty cool site with lots of channels going in and out of the reef, which no doubt gives the site its name.

We saw a big crab sitting under some rocks and at the top of the reef we saw a couple of squid, and we also saw a massive stingray sitting on a sand patch. One of the guys in the group swam over to it and it took off over the reef. Magnificent creature!

Got a bit lost at the top of the reef (no wonder it’s called the Labyrinth!) so it was a short swim back to the boat.

Dive 238: Haliburton, Utila (Honduras)

Dive time: 00:31:00
Max depth: 30 metres
Temperature: 26 C
Visibility: 15 metres
Buddy: Ed
Surface interval: 03:25:00

Ed had somehow signed me up to these dives to be his buddy so another two dives this afternoon on top of the two I did this morning. Felt a bit lost without my dive computer to calculate my NDL on these repetitive dives but I figured that I would try to dive a lot more conservatively than the others.

The wreck of the Haliburton is just outside the Utila harbour on sand at about 30m. The wreck had a bit of growth on it but hardly any fish at all. The only thing of note was a massive green moray in the cargo hold. Swam through the bridge, and laughed a lot at our DM Alan on the safety stop, who was demonstrating his poledancing moves on the buoy line. Hilarious!

Dive 237: Rocky Point, Utila (Honduras)

Dive time: 00:40:00
Max depth: 19 metres
Temperature: 26 C
Visibility: 15 metres
Buddy: Peter
Surface interval: 01:00:00

We had an AMAZING surface interval – I swam with a baby whale shark!!! It was probably about 5m and it was only after two unsuccessful sightings (jumping in the water, madly finning, then nothing and having to fin back to the boat) that on the third try, we pretty much jumped on top of it! It was so graceful, a spotted dusky grey colour. Magnificent!!

The dive was a nice chilled out “drift dive” with no current. The site was a gently sloping reef, which was a garden of soft corals. Saw a green moray swimming about and a big cowfish floating about in midwater.