From Guatemala to Honduras and Utila

Published: March 7th 2011
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As ready as I'll ever be
It was Saturday morning when I left Casa Guatemala. I caught the 8am boat (which didn't turn up until about 8.30) and knew I had a long day ahead of me, trying to get as close to the Bay Islands (in Honduras) as possible. My plan was to get the boat from Rio Dulce to Livingston and see the sights along the way. By that point I had been told by several people that I would see really beautiful scenery including a castle and some waterfalls, but my guide book stated that not all boats did the “tourist” version of the trip and I wasn't quite sure how to know which boat to take. I got to the pier at about 9.15 and bought my ticket (Q125) for the 9.30 boat, There I met a girl, Larissa, who was stopping half way down the river and a guy called Louis who was also trying to get to the Bay Islands, so we were going to be travel buddies for the day.
The boat trip took us past the castle but didn't stop there (apparently some boats do) and then to some hot water place where we had a 20 minutes break but the access was closed so we didn't enjoy anything. As to the waterfalls... I must have blinked. So ours was definitely not the tourist version of the cruise. It was pleasant and pretty but nothing to write home about...
An hour or 2 later we made it to Livingston, where we found out there was another boat due to leave for Puerto Barrios (our second stop of the day) so we hopped on and departed after paying the Q35 fare. This was a short ride and as we came off the boat we were told to walk 4 blocks to the bus station to catch a bus to the border. We managed to catch one before even making it to the station, so we were doing OK for transit time so far. For Q30, we got to and through the border (Guatemalan side) in a cramped minibus. I wasn't too convinced when the guy on the bus asked me to give him my passport and ran out of the bus into the Immigration office to get my exit stamp. Thankfully Louis had followed him with his own passport, so I thought “he keeps an eye on my passport, I keep an eye on his bag, we'll be OK”. In the end I think it was just because it was raining and the nice bloke didn't want a lady to get soaked... So I got my passport back with exit stamp and we drove on, up to the Honduras side (which was quite a way away and I wondered who the in-between land belonged to). Once there, we jumped off the bus and changed our last few Quetzales for Lempiras with the money changers. As always, I had a bare Q15 left in my pocket, having managed to spend just about everything (I don't like using the money changers and prefer to withdraw cash when I get to the other side). The only problem this time was when I found out that there was no cash point in Honduras until Puerto Cortes – another bus ride away. Thankfully, the immigration office allowed me to pay my $3/L60 entry fee in dollars and Louis offered to pay my bus fare if I didn't have enough (but I was just about OK), so we got the 2pm bus without any issues.
As we arrived in Puerto Cortes, the bus stopped and the driver shouted at us “Are you going to San Pedro Sula?”- which we were - and we got ushered off and straight onto another bus (with air-con this time) going to San Pedro. By the time we arrived in San Pedro, we had agreed to try and push on to la Ceiba (the port town from where the ferry went to the Bay Islands) if we could still catch a bus. We got to San Pedro's station at 5.40pm and when we asked which way to go we got shouted at: “Run! This way! The last bus is at 5.30!” (which probably hadn't left yet knowing the Central American usual timekeeping). Running in the station with the backpacks while asking for directions, I was almost feeling like I was taking part in “Treasure Hunt”. But then Louis stopped and said “I can't find my wallet”. That was the end of the bus hunt and the start of the wallet hunt, as he ran back out to try and find it (but didn't, even though the bus was still there – there was no wallet to be seen). A little while and a thorough search of his bags later, it became

my diving kit
apparent that the wallet had forever disappeared, along with what cash he had and his only card... On the bright side, in the meantime I had found out that there was in fact no bus at 5.30 so we hadn't missed anything.
I obviously couldn't ditch Louis like that so I just told him I'd lend him whatever was necessary until he could get some money from home sorted. By that point, it wasn't far from 6.30pm and time to head to a hostel. I had the address of one from the book and as we got out of the station to ask where the colectivos were, the taxi drivers started saying they could take us for L100 (roughly L30=£1). When we said we couldn't afford a taxi, some guy started saying the colectivos were not safe, they were going to drop us off really far from where we were going, that it was a dodgy area of the city and we were going to get robbed. To which I replied sarcastically “yeah, already done that!” and walked away. The colectivo guy told us we'd be fine with him and he would drop us off 4 blocks from the hostel, so we went along. In the end, I didn't even pay our fare as I had no change and the guy didn't like my big L500 note!
When we jumped off, someone pointed us in the direction we had to go and we started walking. It looked a bit like a dodgy industrial estate and smelt of wee, but we pushed on for the 4 blocks. Then I spotted a street number. In many cities, the streets are numbered, with streets running one way and avenues the other – I love this as it makes it very easy to know where you need to go and how far you are. Very far is where we were. I wasn't laughing anymore... Then a taxi stopped and I asked him which way we had to go. He said it was too far to walk (which I kind of knew) and he could take us for L80/100. I was in the process of telling him where to go when another taxi stopped, Now, we had a bit of competition going, just what I like to see. So in the end, taxi man number 2 took us there for L40 and it was indeed far away!
The hostel was nice but expensive by local standards (L230 for a dorm bed). I took us out for dinner as it was too late to go shopping for food and I had very nice tacos for L50 (less than £2), so I was quite pleased. After that, I had an early night as we had agreed to go to La Ceiba early the next day in order to catch the morning ferry. There are 2 ferries a day from La Ceiba to Utila (our final destination on the Bay Islands), one at 9.30am and one at 4pm.. With San Pedro over 3 hours away, we had to catch the first bus at 5.30am to have a chance to make it in time.
So once again, I dragged myself out of bed before 5am. We had to get a taxi to the bus station and the hostel owner informed us that we would have to pay the night rate of L180 for the taxi. I was almost wishing we'd opted for the afternoon ferry after all, but never mind. We paid our taxi fare without moaning and got on the bus to La Ceiba (L90 each) which ended up leaving at about 5.50am. I slept most of the way, so it was an easy (and comfy) ride. I only started worrying when it got to 9am and we hadn't arrived yet. I knew we had to get another taxi from the bus stop to the pier, but I also knew that the urgency (which the driver would know about) might hinder the haggling. In the end, I got the fare down to L60 (we started at L100 and I knew the normal price was L50) and we made it to the pier for 9.20. Shortly after buying our tickets (L425 each) we boarded the boat for the 1 hour sailing trip to Utila. According to the Lonely Planet, the sea is often rough, so I was prepared for the worst. But in the end, even though it was a bit wobbly at times, nobody got sick and we made it to our final destination on time.
Utila is supposedly the cheapest of the Bay Islands, which is why all backpackers go there. The Islands are apparently the cheapest place on earth to go diving, with a wonderful reef, the second best after that of Australia I was told. The principle with regards to accommodation is that most hotels are associated with a Dive Centre and you get a free hotel bed while you're diving. As I only wanted to do a taster dive (most people go for a 4 days course to become a qualified diver, but I wasn't so keen as I wasn't sure I was going to like it), I was interested to see how many free nights I could manage...
As we hopped off the boat, a hoard of hotel/dive centre staff was waiting to try and get some customers. We spoke to a few of them and got their flyers before setting off towards one called “Parrot” which had told me the magic words: “you get the first night free to check it out, it doesn't matter if you dive with us or not.” I was starting to wonder if one could work their way through each hotel on the island like this and stay for free for a couple of weeks (not that I wanted to stay for that long myself!). We dropped our bags and each had a chat with diving instructors (Louis about the 4 days course and me about what they called the “DSD” - Discover Scuba Diving). They seemed friendly enough and their price was reasonable ($70 – they all talk in US Dollars on the island), but we wanted to do a bit of shopping around. After a long while chatting and haggling (there wasn't a lot of space for that), I decided to go for the Utila Dive Centre option. Even though they were not the cheapest (yes! You read it right!) at $83, I really liked what they had to say and I got sold on the 2 nights accommodation for $3 with swimming pool. Louis went for a different company called Deep Blue Diving, a cheaper option with a more hippy feel to it, so we agreed to meet later at the beach party everyone had been telling us about and I returned to my lovely hotel with pool.
I made it to the party at about 6pm but there wasn't a lot going on (maybe I was too early) and I didn't bump into Louis, so I headed back to the village centre for a stroll around and some food. I was on a saving spree after splashing out on the DSD. The cheapest option I could find was that of rice and beans, so as I ate my dinner, I had memories of Casa Guatemala and their customary rice and beans flooding back. After that, with not much else to do, I headed back to the hotel for an early night.
The next morning, as always, I was up early. I didn't have to go to the diving school until 11.30, so I jumped in the pool for a bit and then chilled and had a big brunch. Just before time, I went to meet my diving instructor, with a mixture of fear and excitement. The DSD was to last about 3 to 4 hours, starting with just over an hour of introduction to the kit and practising basics in shallow water. First, Mary talked me through a flip chart explaining a few things about the kit, the under water sign language and equalising (making sure the pressure is right as you go up and down).
Then we got our kit on and went in the water. We took it one step at a time and I can't really say I enjoyed any of it! Breathing through the mouthpiece wasn't the best experience of my life, but practising filling up your mask with water and then emptying it (by blowing through your nose while facing up) was definitely the least pleasant task I had to do. But by 1pm, we had managed to run through everything and were ready to get on the boat and go diving for real. She'd explained that we would go no further down than 12 metres deep (that sounded like a lot to me, but apparently it isn't) and that she would be with me at all times and I was free to hold on to her if I felt like it.
The boat we were on went out at 2pm and before long, we had reached our diving spot. While the qualified divers all hopped off as if it was nothing, I was dreading the fact I had to basically stand on the edge and then take one more step as if I was going to walk on the water. I'm not sure why I held my breath as I did so (I had the breathing device in place so I could have just kept breathing) but I went in anyway. From there, we went down and at first I was not a happy bunny, the prettiness of my surroundings not having as much impact on me as the fear of drowning... I wondered if Mary thought at any point I was going to break her arm because I was holding on so tight. But soon enough, I calmed down sufficiently (ie, I was still really scared but a bit less) to let go and enjoy the view. Despite a few equalising issues (as you go down, you have to pinch your nose and blow so the air comes out of your ears, if you don't do it properly, your ears hurt and you have to go back up a bit and try again) the dive went well and I was amazed by the bright colours I encountered. For some reason, I was expecting things under water to be quite dull and I was shocked by how colourful everything was. I saw tons of little and big fish (none of which I would be able to name) in a multitude of shapes and shades, from bright purple to fluorescent yellow. It wasn't just the fish that were amazing: everything around was stunningly beautiful and seemed unreal. I felt a little bit like I was in a cartoon. The other strange thing was to do with space awareness: I have no idea whether we did go down to 12 metres or not and everything felt closer than it really was. It's important not to touch anything because it might damage the reef and I kept thinking I was too close even though I never was...
The dive must have lasted 45 minutes to an hour and at the end I was really glad to have done it for 2 reasons: first of all because of all the wonderful things I saw (if only I'd had a waterproof camera!) but also because of the personal challenge (for those who don't know me and haven't worked it out by now, I don't like being in the water too much!). But saying I enjoyed it wouldn't be quite accurate and I was definitely relieved I hadn't signed up for a 4 days course! We got back to the dock at about 3.30pm and I was feeling exhausted so I headed back to the hotel for a snooze. When I woke up an hour or two later, it was time to head back out to meet Louis, who was hoping to have some money for me by then (he had agreed with a guy who banked with the same company that he would transfer money into his account and then the guy would withdraw it and gave him the cash.)
I hung around his hostel for a couple of hours while he was trying to sort things out and in the end went back to mine for some food before eventually returning and getting my money back. I spent the evening with him and a few other people from his hostel, before heading back for a good night's sleep. I had decided to leave the island the next day as I didn't intend on doing anymore diving and felt there was very little on offer other than that. So after 2 interesting days, it was time to head to Copan for some more Mayan ruins (and hopefully less mosquitoes)...


8th March 2011

coucou, c'est magnifique! tu vas ds des beaux endroits. TU me donnes envie... enfin, le dive pas trop, je suis un peu claustro! tu es belle ds ton wet suit. Fel;icitations: un blog a day!! bises
8th March 2011

ahhhhh vacances
8th March 2011

oui, tu vois, je me rattrape un peu! Le blog suivant est pret a poster mais pas de wifi aujourd´hui alors il faudra attendre

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