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Published: September 14th 2007
After the amazing first couple of weeks of my tour, things have slowed down a little, which is probably just as well as I think I would have suffered from burn-out had the excitement levels continued!
We spent last Friday and Saturday in Leon, Nicaragua, which is one of the ugliest cities I´ve been to, although culturally it´s quite interesting, and it´s home to the country´s only university. I did a guided tour of the city, which was very informative and went into some of the history of the place, which has had a very violent past. Some of the buildings had bullet holes in the walls, and the cathedral, which is the biggest in Central America, has certainly seen better days, although the view from the top was pretty stunning, giving a great view of the surrounding volcanos. But compared to Granada, there was little to see and do in my opinion.
On Friday evening, we watched an electrical storm approaching from the distance and we were treated to a spectacular light show, as lightning seemed to hop from one cloud to another, with the occasional fork spreading out across the sky. It lasted about an hour and was quite amazing, especially as half the sky was completely clear and the stars were out. Typically, the rain came down just as we were due to go out for dinner, but after it cleared up we ended up having a night out at a local bar with some live music, and then moving on to a club. The hangover the following morning gave me a timely reminder as to why I don´t go clubbing often! Luckily, our group is very like-minded, happy to have a few drinks with a meal but not mad clubbers - apart from our guide, Chimi, who´s a bit of an alcoholic! It´s certainly becoming pretty obvious why he´s doing this job, as his little black book has more phone numbers in than the yellow pages. Still, I´m only jealous!
Despite my hangover, I managed to watch England beat Israel, and spent the rest of Saturday trying to avoid the incredible humidity.
We had a 4.30am start on Sunday, and didn´t arrive at our destination until around 6pm. The trip involved a long ride in a private van (so far we´ve managed to use private transport throughout the whole trip rather than crowded local buses, so that´s been a bonus), crossing the border into Honduras, which was a breeze as we were pretty much the only people there (apart from the beggars) as it was so early (there have been lots of beggars in Nicaragua, mainly very young kids, and the people here didn´t seem as friendly as in Costa Rica). This was followed by an hour´s flight in a small 20-seater plane which was a lot smoother than it could have been (although I stupidly forgot to take my penknife out of my hand luggage, so that was confiscated. Still, I have gone 3 weeks without losing anything!). Then there was a short taxi ride to the port, and an hour´s boat trip across the Caribbean sea to Utila, which is one of the Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras. Thank god for travel sickness pills, as the crossing was quite rough and I stupidly sat at the front of the boat and got abolutely soaked! It was quite refreshing in the heat though.
Utila is a small island in the Caribbean whose main town is completely centred around diving - every other building is a dive school. I already have my PADI open water licence, but wanted to wait a bit further into the trip before I go diving as I don´t want to blow all my budget just yet. There were opportunities to snorkel, but we could see a lot of fish from our hotel balcony, including a stingray, and also the weather was incredibly humid, so we spent a lot of time chilling on hammocks at the hotel or lazing around in the town.
Considering the beautiful setting, the island was actually filled with diesel fumes, as almost everyone there either rides a motorbike, or a motorised golf cart, despite the fact that there only seemed to be about 3 or 4 roads. Our hotel was probably the best I´ll stay in all year, run by an eccentric American lady called Thelma, whose philosophy seemed to be ´why take one sentence to say something when 15 sentences would do´. She was quite a character, and we tended to hide whenever we saw her approaching! The air conditioning in the room was a godsend, like walking into a fridge.
The highlights of Utila were a visit to an iguana rescue centre, which looks after a type of iguana that´s only found on the island and has been hunted to near-extinction, and this bizarre bar called Treetanic, which according to Chimi is known throughout the world, although that could be a teeny bit of an exaggeration! The place took 12 years to build, and I think the guy was on acid the whole time as it´s a rambling concoction of weird sculptures made of shells, marbles, bottles, coral, etc. Hard to describe really but worth the hype surrounding it.
We left Utila by boat on Wed, and had another long van journey almost as far as the Guatemala border to Copan, famous for its Mayan ruins. We must have passed through 4 separate thunderstorms on the way, with some amazing lightning, and finally arrived at the hotel, tired and uncomfortable, at 11pm. We were up at 7am on Thu to visit the ruins, which were the first of many Mayan ruins we´ll be visiting on this trip, and they were quite spectacular. We had a very good guide who explained that what is visible today is only the top layer of several cities that were built one on top of the other every 50-odd years.
Unfortunately, we didn´t get to spend any time in Copan itself, which was a shame as it looked very quaint. Instead we had another long, hot, cramped van journey into Guatemala. The journey took around 6 hours, although 2 of those was spent driving through the capital, Guatemala city, in rush hour, which was an experience. It´s one of the roughest cities in the world, and the shanty towns on the outskirts seemed to go on for miles. It´s certainly not somewhere you would chose to visit, and luckily we didn´t stop there.
We arrived in Antigua, a lovely old colonial town in the western highlands of Guatemala, where I am now, just in time for dinner.
The first leg of the tour ends today, which means we lose the two Canadian girls, Jenn and Katie. This is a shame, as they are great fun, and all six of us in the group are getting on really well. In their place we have been joined by, would you believe, four couples, three of whom are at least in their 60s! So, there will be no romance for the next 2 weeks either!
Sorry about the lack of pics in this entry, but the internet cafe here doesn´t have a card reader, so I´ll post some next time. I´ll try not to include any ones of me lying half-naked in a hammock, though, as I know they have disturbed some people!
That´s me for now, hope all is well back home.
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