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Published: April 26th 2016
This wonderful beach is unfortunately over-commercialised, what with its hotel resorts behind the beach.
From Granada, I took the short one-hour chicken bus ride to Nicaragua's capital - Managua.
The place has a bit of a reputation for being dangerous and the stories I had heard about the place from other travellers I have met didn't really fill me with confidence either.
It was however, a necessary stop as I needed to catch an international bus from here over the border to Honduras - there wasn't really anything else between here and Caribbean coast of Honduras that I was interested in seeing so I was making a beeline for the water and this was the quickest way to do it.
Also, I had still to find the elusive replacement camera battery charger that I had lost somewhere in Costa Rica. It was now approaching three weeks without the use of my DSLR camera which without a charger, has basically been rendered a black brick that I was lugging around with me.
It was a gutting moment when I realised I had lost the charger but not having it has proved more of a nuisance rather than a severe handicap; every photo you see on this blog since I have left Costa Rica has been
Great for white water rafting.
taken on my iPhone, which doesn't take bad photos at all - but it does lack the wide angle lens, the zoom, decent night-time photos and the other settings you have available to you on a DSLR. I miss it so much.
The moment I eventually get my hands on a new charger will perhaps be one of the happiest moments I will have on this trip.
And that moment will have to wait a bit longer yet.
I had arrived in Managua on Good Friday - the first day of the four-day Semana Santa. A well-deserved break for those working, but it was really screwing with my programme.
I have mainly been travelling to small towns in my time in Central America and even the big cities aren't really that big. This made finding a fairly specific Sony battery charger hard to find so my best shot was to search for it in the biggest cities, with Managua being the biggest one in Nicaragua. Only to discover that the shop I needed to visit was closed for the entire duration of Semana Santa. But there was still hope - there was a Sony Center in another mall just
Sunset Over Roatan
The sun sets over Half Moon Bay.
down the road from where I was staying. But alas, in another heartbreaking moment, they didn't have the charger required for my battery.
My only other option is to order from Amazon - but they charge you a fortune for shipping to Central America and even then it would still take up to two weeks to arrive. And besides, given the vague nature of Nicaraguan and Honduran street addresses, I didn't exactly have much hope that an Amazon order would arrive where it should.
So I will now have to wait until I get to Guatemala City before I can try again with any reasonable confidence.
It wasn't just my camera battery that Semana Santa was screwing me over with; arriving at the Tica Bus terminal for buses to Honduras, I was then told that the next one was not tomorrow (Easter Sunday) but on Tuesday.
Now by all accounts, Managua is a shithole - there is nothing really here worth lingering around for and in any case, anything there was to see around here would be closed for Semana Santa. Indeed I was only passing through as well, just staying long enough to see if I could find
Three lads who were walking with me decide to cool off under the waterfall.
my camera charger. So there was no way I wanted to stay another two days in Managua if I could help it. But it looked like I might not have a choice - Nica Bus didn't even go to Honduras any more.
Which left me with TransNica - which thank God, had a departure for Tegucigalpa the next day at 11:30am.
Crisis averted and I was on my way out of Managua - which to be honest, didn't seem as dangerous as it was made out to be. The area I was staying in was relatively nice and suburban and near a shopping mall, which for some reason always fills me with a sense of security and assurance. Walking around the area was fine, whether it was to the mall or the supermarket. It was nothing worse than other cities I have visited in South America.
While not as dodgy as the border crossing I made from Costa Rica to Nicaragua
, the crossing from Nicaragua to Honduras was definitely the slowest. Three hours, I spent there, waiting around for payments to be made, passenger manifestos checked and passports verified. The fingerprint machine was working properly either but it wasn't as if the
Half Moon Bay
One of the bays that make up the beachside town of West End, Roatan Island.
border workers had much interest in getting us on our way as quickly as they could. And like a lot of Central America, there didn't seem to be any effort to inform passengers what exactly was going on and what you had to do - there is always this assumption that you
what to do. Harrumph.
I was also a bit nervous about arriving in Tegucigalpa at night.
If Managua had a reputation for being dangerous, then Tegus
, the capital of Honduras - which has the highest national homicide rate in the world - was another level. I had no Honduran lempiras
- in fact I had no cash at all - so I would have to cruise around the streets of Tegus once I arrive to find an ATM. So you could imagine why I was just a little nervous.
I knew that the TransNica stop was at a hotel so I was hoping that it'd be big enough to have a cash machine inside it - as it turned out, it proved a useful place to store my luggage while I conducted my search for an ATM - which involved simply going over the road
View from almost underneath the Cascada del Bejuco.
to the gas station, which had three of them.
The taxi called by the hotel didn't look in the best of shape and despite the friendliness of the driver, also ripped me off a little, but it got me to my hostel no problem, which was in a safe area of the city, near where all the national embassies are situated. In fact, Palmira Hostel had just moved into a fairly modern building that was the former embassy of Ecuador.
So in the end, everything worked out perfectly.
I didn't bother with dinner that night - I was hungry but more knackered - being on a bus all day and waiting around at borders really wears you out.
While the outskirts of Tegus reminded me of La Paz on the way in with its shitty, incomplete buildings and hills - the area I was staying in, like Managua, didn't feel or look as ropey as I thought it might be. Seeing American fast food chains everywhere was weirdly reassuring.
I noticed that I wasn't getting stared at a lot here either - in fact, I found this the case in the majority of Central America so far, which wasn't
Linking the hiking trails in the Pico Bonito National Park to the park's entrance.
really the case in South America.
But I wasn't finding Honduras particularly cheap, although I felt ripped off on a couple of occasions (I just do not trust taxi drivers any more but they are a necessary evil in dangerous Honduras). For example at the restaurant we stopped en route from Tegus to La Ceiba, there was no indication of price anywhere at the buffet and the staff behind the counter wouldn't tell me any prices either. I ended up paying US$8 but I was hungry and there was nowhere else to go.
And so after two nights in two dangerous Central American capital cities, I had finally made it to La Ceiba, on the Caribbean coast and the gateway to my ultimate destination, Roatan Island.
But there were interesting things to do in La Ceiba first.
The Rio Cangrejal, about 30 minutes out of town is home to the best river rafting in Central America.
Coming from New Zealand, somewhat of a river rafting mecca, perhaps you might be surprised to find out that I had never done rafting before - so it was time to put this straight.
I went with a company called La Moskitia because
This River Is Wild
Looking downstream on the Rio Cangrejal.
I got a free ride out to the river lodge which I got to stay at for free as part of the rafting tour.
The owner Jorge, then showed tremendous patience as I went through one of my more frustrating mornings.
There are a few shopping malls in La Ceiba - the fourth biggest city in Honduras - and in one of them was an electronics store with a good chance of stocking my camera charger. There were also a few ATMs inside, which I needed to use to pay Jorge.
First of all, none of the ATMs worked for me which was when I realised that my card had been blocked and I needed to phone my bank in the UK to get it unblocked. That was when I realised that there was a 25-minute wait on the phone - I just did not have the phone credit to wait that long. Luckily Jorge's office was just around the corner and he had wifi - but how do you make a free call with wifi? HSBC aren't on WhatsApp or FaceTime. So you don't - instead you pay £4 for some Skype credit and finally I managed to sort
Rafting on the Rio Cangrejal. Umm, we gotta bit of a bump ahead...
it out. Then it was back to the mall, and after another couple of failed attempts, finally I had money again.
On top of all that, the electronics shop didn't have my charger.
Luckily I was the only person on the rafting tour and could pretty much do the tour at any time I wanted - meaning that I had the time to sort out the whole fiasco that morning. You have to be philosophical about things like this - when travelling, you will have ups and you have downs. Like life really, its inevitable.
The rafting itself was fun although I was expecting bigger rapids. It was my first time so I figured the Class II & III rapids on offer would be a gentle introduction - but I reckon that next time will definitely take on the Class IV & V ones if they are on offer.
I admit that I was a little nervous about falling out of the raft and getting chewed up by rocks but in the end I didn't even come close. Nevertheless there were a couple of exciting drops but most of the time we were simply floating down the river. A
First sighting of the Cascada del Bejuco as you come to the end of the hike.
rapid called "Washing Machine #2" was probably the most fun one.
I had a free afternoon out by the river so I decided to do a two-and-a-half hour hike to a nearby waterfall within the limits of the Pico Bonito National Park. Unlike the waterfall hike I did on Ometepe
, this one by the Cangrejal was totally worth it.
Minus the searing heat on Ometepe, this hike - as if I haven't had enough of hiking already - although tough, was nowhere near as steep and was manageable.
As for the actual waterfall, it was took a small breath away. It would have been around the same height as the one in Ometepe - perhaps even taller - at about 50-60 metres high, but with way more water. Me and three other guys who were doing the hike at the same time all decided to have a shower underneath it to cool off, where the water - as very accurately described by the Irish bloke - "felt like nails" when it hit you. It was quite the impressive sight, perhaps unexpectedly so. It was certainly the first time that I had been underneath a waterfall this high. An afternoon well spent.
Where you can enjoy a meal right alongside the Rio Cangrejal.
The river lodge I was staying at however was markedly below expectation. I suspect that the place might once have been very nice but it had the look of a place left to fall into if not total, then partial disrepair. Some of things in the kitchen looked like it hadn't been touched in years.
I did feel for Jorge though.
Talking to him on the way out to the lodge, he lamented how business has been slow ever since the 2009 coup, and the resulting rise in crime to the unbelievable levels that it is at today. He lamented how Honduras suffers from the perception by outsiders that this is a dangerous place to be avoided. And he is right - Honduras was in fact, one of the countries I had feared the most about travelling through, what with its title of the world's most murderous country. Yes, there are "hits" in Honduras on a far too frequent basis and yes, you need to take precautions - but the violence is limited to the inter-gang turf wars and tourist are rarely if ever, targeted or killed. As long as you take the same precautions as you would anywhere else
Congratulating ourselves after completing the river raft run on the Rio Cangrejal.
in the world and don't do anything stupid, you will more than likely encounter no problems whatsoever. It didn't feel as ropey here as other places I have already visited on this trip, such as Bolivia and Ecuador.
Hopefully, like Colombia has emerged after the narco wars as a top tourist destination, more people will eventually head to Honduras to experience what the country has to offer.
As mentioned already however, the place isn't as cheap as you might think. Yes, I've been ripped off on a couple of occasions but Honduras does seem to be more expensive than Nicaragua, which on the face of it, is a little surprising given the crime rates here in Honduras. Nicaragua is however, the poorest country in Central America and perhaps the prices merely reflect the fact that Hondurans are better off than their Nicaraguan neighbours.
I had another early start the next day as I caught a chicken bus back into La Ceiba, a taxi to the ferry terminal, and then the ferry over to Roatan Island.
Wow, it was a f*cking rough ride. There were some big swells that the boat was jumping over and people were screaming with
Creedence Clearwater Revival
Some of the clearest water I have ever seen in West End, Roatan Island.
each big drop. The jumps got your heart jumping and were slightly exhilarating at first, but after a while, they just started making you sick. Soon enough, the sound of people screaming was replaced by the smell of people vomiting. I managed to get through it OK but I had to concentrate pretty hard on the waves outside to do so. Put it this way, I was glad when it was over and it' not something that I'd like to do again!
A haven of sorts away from the crime on the mainland, Roatan Island is Honduras' biggest tourist draw.
Walking ten minutes from my hostel to the beachside town of West End revealed why. Wow. Golden sand, beachside bars, coconut trees and the clearest water that I have ever seen.
According to Lonely Planet, West End is supposed to be where all the backpackers hang out but they seemed to be in short supply. Instead, there were loads of American families in their place, what with their direct flights to the island from the US. And things were even more expensive here than on the mainland. I managed to find a place selling baleadas
- the national dish
Cabanas By The Beach
In West End, Roatan Island. Rather reflective of the kind of people that holiday on Roatan Island.
of Honduras, which is their own take on a burrito that is folded in half rather than into a roll - for just US$1.50 that I could afford for lunch, but otherwise there was nothing under US$5 and a lot more over US$7. And like Taganga
and San Juan del Sur
there was that feeling of a place being completely overrun by tourism and local resentment towards it. I really wasn't digging the vibe here.
However, my mood at the time probably played a part.
Situated right next to a still river, the hostel had a really bad mosquito problem. I mean, I know that I've probably overused the word "infestation" many times in my blog but this really was an infestation. They were swarms of them literally everywhere - in the lounge, the kitchen, the toilets, the showers and the dorm. Every time I walked out of the dorm, I would walk right into a few, as they queued up outside for the chance to get inside and join the human feast. It may be a Honduran problem too - there have been noticeably more here than in other countries I have been in.
I also had other things on my
I love acai. This one also came with kiwifruit, pineapple, granola, honey and coconut. At US$9 however, this was definitely a treat.
mind - I hadn't really met or hung out with anyone for about seven days now and I was starting to feel a bit...lonely. The places I have stayed in over the last week have all been quiet - in the case of the river lodge, I was the only one there. The hostel here was much the same - hardly anyone around. I thought that there might be people up for a few drinks here on the island but it wasn't the case.
In Managua and Tegus I had dorms to myself and although it's nice, I must say that I do like having people to talk to at the same time. I have though, been moving pretty quickly in the last week and having been moving on almost every day. The places I have been staying at were all pretty transient in nature - towns and cities where people don't really hang around and are mainly just passing through - much like I was.
On top of my loneliness, I had money issues to contend with, someone managed to hack into my email and I was still yearning after my camera battery charger. I wasn't feeling relaxed and
West End, Roatan Island
The town's main 'high street' that runs along the beach.
now these f*cking mosquitoes were pushing me over the edge.
For the first time on this trip, I was wondering if this was what I really wanted. It was certainly a down moment. But I have to carry on for at least two more months as I've already put money down for two flights.
It's a fact that the longer you travel for, the more chance there is for things to go wrong and I have had my share of ill fortune, from getting yellow fever,
multiple food poisonings, losing a phone
, breaking a camera
, losing my camera charger, having a credit cancelled and having minor yet annoying items stolen. Nothing really
bad has happened to me however - thank God and touch wood that it will stay that way - but the last few words of the last sentence are pertinent; "minor yet annoying". When these "minor yet annoying" things all add up like they have here in Roatan, you end up getting really frustrated. This place is supposed to be paradise, I'm supposed to be relaxed and enjoying myself. The circumstances that I found myself in at the time however, ensured that this wasn't happening.
The next day, I headed to West
Hotel Beach Chairs
In West Bay, Roatan Island, which had been totally over-commercialised.
Bay, which is a beautiful beach - a long stretch of gold sand and clear water with easy access to the coral reef just off the shore.
There is one significant downside though.
If I thought that West End was a bit overrun by tourists, then West Bay was even worse - much, much worse.
There were four cruise ships in port that day, meaning the ships' passengers had completely overtaken the beach. As a backpacker, cruise-ship tourists are my total opposite in almost every way, which makes them natural enemies of the worst kind.
And to add the final piece of the jigsaw to this over-commercialised nightmare, the whole beach is backed by hotel resorts. At one point, I was asked to abandon a tree I was using for shade because it was on the hotel's property - and I had to move two metres forward into the searing heat of the sun, on the other side of the flags marking the hotel's territory. Fuck that, man.
Despite all this and all my frustrations from the previous day, I did manage to find some form of relaxation on my beach day out. Hard not to in such an idyllic
Other than the main Cascada del Bejuco, there are a number of other waterfalls also in the Pico Bonito National Park.
setting. Minus all the cruise ships passengers and the hotel resorts, this would have been the Caribbean paradise I have been looking for.
Argh, I had a terrible night's sleep that night too, thanks to the mosquitoes. I was getting bitten every two minutes. They stung like f*ck too. I couldn't cover myself with my sheet because it was too hot and even then some of them were biting me through the sheet. Around 7am I had to escape my room and sleep a couple of hours in hammock on the terrace. Not great, but at least I wasn't getting bitten.
On my last day on the island, I finally set about exploring Roatan's famed coral reef with my snorkel. Accessing it for free from a couple of points in West End, you could see that much of the reef has been damaged but there is still a lot left of it to see. There were loads of vibrantly multi-coloured tropical fish in various shades of purple, aquamarine, orange, red, dark blue and yellow - sometimes, all on the one fish! Cool! Sadly, I didn't see any stingrays, eels or turtles which the guy working at the hostel
Rafting on the Rio Cangrejal, we turn the wrong way down a huge rapid...
said he has seen while snorkelling off West End.
I tried my best not to touch the coral but unfortunately I ended up stranded in really shallow water a few times and ran aground on the reef. Snorkelling is also tiring, particularly on your legs and your jaw - your biting down the whole time to keep your snorkel in place - and I was meant to hit West Bay again for some paddle-boarding and more snorkelling, but after two hours in the water, I was done. The reef at West Bay requires a little swimming to get to and there will be more opportunities to paddle board in the near future, when I get to Belize and Mexico.
I have to say that when I eventually left the island, that I felt it was the right time to go. The place is beautiful - as evidenced by my taxi ride to the ferry terminal the next morning - but I just didn't dig the vibe. It isn't really backpacker-friendly and is more a place for short-term holidays, which is reflected in the prices for everything. Maybe I'll bring my wife and kids back on a cruise ship one
Watch Out For The Rocks
Close call rafting on the Rio Cangrejal.
The only thing I'll miss is my routine of coming back from the beach after watching the sunset there, having a shower, cracking open a beer and then cooking and eating my dinner. So I did manage to create some positives from the experience after all.
Most of my experience in Central America so far has involved natural sights, activities and drinking - now it was time to finally see a bit of culture again in the form of the Copan Ruins, which is what you'll read about in my next blog entry. So until then...
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