Exchange rate at the time of travel: 1 dollar to roughly 19 lempiras
That day I got up very early in the morning (6 am) to leave towards the town of Copan Ruinas in Honduras. For that I took a bus to El Frederico on the border of Guatemala. The bus journey was actually really quite interesting. It went through some beautiful towns. Unfortunately, I did not have the time to explore them. The border was quite weird. You could just walk through without getting stamps if you wanted to (however I, as a gringo, would have gotten into a lot of problems). From there on, I took a bus to the town of Copan Ruinas, near which the ruins of Copan are. After brief searching, I found an aggreable hotel and set off towards Copan Ruinas, where I first had to pay 15 dollars to get in and see the ruins (a fortune for me, seeing that I live on that for a day). The ruins were quite spectacular. The only way to convey the extroardinarity of those ruins is to look at the photos I have made. I will not describe them here, because it would simply take too long.
In the evening, I checked my email and my account, just to find out that somehow someone had booked round about 100 pounds of my account, leaving me in the minus. This was especially horrible since my bank in England charges 20 £ a day that is spent in the minus. I had to call my bank and would have done it right away apart from that the internet place where I was in was closing and no other internet cafes all over the town were open. I was majorly annoyed.
I left the town of Copan Ruinas very early, at 6 in the morning. I wanted to travel the whole day so that I would still make the last ferry to the island of Utila at 4 in the afternoon. I was very apprehensive about this travel at first knowing that the one hour ferry travel to the island cost 25 dollars, which is more than my daily budget. However, I decided to overspend for a bit and offer myself this luxury.
The bus that I took at first was one of those chicken buses, however it was not as full as ordinary chicken buses. It was called a "directo" meaning that it did not, like "ordinario", stop every couple of minutes to pick up or set down passengers. It was also a bit more expensive, however I had already calculated this slightly higher travel into my daily budget. At the end of the day, it was only 120 Lempiras (6 dollars) to travel the 3 and a half hours to San Pedro de la Sula, the second biggest city in Honduras apart from Tegucipalpa.
From San Pedro de la Sula, I took a direct bus to La Ceiba. Weirdly enough, this bus trip, done in a luxury coach with enough leg room for me to sit comfortably, only cost 90 lempiras for four hours (4.5 dollars) which is a very good price.
Once arrived in La Ceiba, I shared a collectivo with a couple of other travellers. Although at first the taxi driver told us that it would cost 50 lempiras to the harbor, the simple mention of us taking the bus that I knew ran to the harbor as well let him agree to our price. Bargaining can be so easy once one knows the tricks...
From the harbor, I had to pay that awfully high price of 425 lempiras for one hour ferry ride (the most expensive ferry I have ever taken) to the island of Utila.
After arriving, I spent a short time looking for a cheap hotel (because I have learnt by now how to ferret out cheap places). That day I was simply to tired to go out and after a chat with the other residents (the couple Maria (Danish) and Daniel (Honduran) and the long term travellers Julie (French) and Natalie (Belgium) as well as a couple of other shy Hondurans) I went to bed. The beds in this hostel are simply superb...
I spent the morning sorting out the problem that I had gotten in the bank. Luckily I have free WIFI here at the place where I am staying. I therefore was able to phone the bank using skype and that was when the next problem was encountered. I had to fill out a form to confirm that money had indeed by stolen from my account and to sign it. Problem was I had forgotten to change the home address that I had given to the bank to for example the house of my brother and to give my brother a written authorisation to sign papers instead of me.
Instead, I got the bank person to agree to send the form by fax. It took a further call to the bank to get them to send the fax. When I checked the next morning if the fax had arrived, it still hadnt come. Upon another call to the bank, I found out that they had sent it at 12 their time, meaning that it was 6 here. Obviously it had not arrived here because the fax machine here was off. Lets hope it works today (on the 21st).
In the afternoon, I went to the public beach. it turned out to be a very small and non-sandy beach. This island is not the best for beaches... Furthermore, only two people were at the beach... After chatting to them for while, I went back and worked rather a long time on the journal.
In the evening, I decided to go out party. Maria, Daniel and me pre-warmed at the hostel and then went to see some of Maria's danish friends who just happened to be on the island at the same time. It was at a dive center called Underwater Vision, where, after long debating with myself I decided to offer myself the advanced diving course. Although it goes against my relatively strict rules to stay on a tight budget, a dive course, free accomodation and two free dives for 250 dollars was too much for me to resist (especially seeing that in three days on the island, I had nearly made up the 25 dollars of the ferry here: The cost of living here is a lot less than I expected, me being able to spend only 15 dollars a day, including three or four possible drinks per day, not saying that I did drink every night).
In the morning, I had to sort out again the banking problem that I thought I had solved the previous day.
Afte lunch, I decided to explore the island a little bit. Inland, it is a very beautiful island. Barely any tourists venture into the island and I was able to see how the farmers lived on the island of Utila before tourism started. The paths that I was walking along came past some isolated farms and led me to the top of the highest hill of the island (a stunning 74 meters!) which allowed a look over the whole island. The path led further to an isolated strip of sand that only the blind could have called a beach. However it was remote and perfect for a spell of reading. Unlike what the guide book Lonely Planet keeps on indicating in its book, the fruits here are not actually more expensive than on the mainland. One orange only costs 2 lempira (about 10 US cents), which is dead cheap. A perfect way to keep up the vitamin C consumption.
In the evening, I checked out a couple of other dive schools just to find out that the one I was in actually offers the best and cheapest deal (very importantly, I had also checked out their material and found it looked OK). In the evening, nothing much happened. I tried going out but nothing much was going on so I just went to bed (I was dead tired because I did not get enough sleep lately...).
At the party two nights previously, the Dive Master in Training students (DMTs) had wet my appetite for enhancing my training in diving. I had done the first Open Water training (OW) ten years previously in Switzerland. Since then, I have been diving a lot, and very often beyond the 18 meters that are authorised under the OW (the OW only insures divers up to 18 meters. The diver is not insured if anything happens at depth beyond that). I had pushed off doing the continued training (Advanced Open Diver or AOW) far too long because of the rather high costs. However, it is possible to do the AOW in Utila for just 255 dollars (including two free dives as well as 3 free nights accomodation). This did seem like quite a good deal, considering that the AOW consists of 5 dives, including the 2 free dives bringing the total up to 7 dives. Considering that two dives cost 53 dollars in Utila (which is very cheap), it seemed a reasonable price. It should be noted that I decided to buy myself this course as a slightly belated birthday presented and did not include it in my budget of 20 dollars a day...
I had checked out several different diving schools beforehand (and got rejected from one diving school because I had filled out the form wrong... no idea why they did not just give me another form...) and came to the conclusion that indeed the cheapest and best deal was in the diving school where Maria's Danish friends were, that we, Maria, Daniel and me, had visited two days previously.
The free accomodation was directly on site next to the diving school, therefore I checked out of my current accomodation and checked in at the diving school. I shared a room there with a German DMT. Although he was rather of the quiet type, he was a cool roommate.
Until five, I did not really do anything apart from chilling out at the school and going for a swim and getting to know the people of the school.
In the evening, I went onto a night dive. I had done some of them previously, however those lie a long way in the past (about 7 years). On the dive, we did not see very many nocturnal animals at first, although we did see a yellow spotted ray as well as an octopus. That one was rather cool. At first, I did not recognise it as what it was. It did not move but rather was sitting on a rock and did look part of the rock, however was colored brightly green-blue. It was then disturbed by the light that we were shining at it and started to move. Awesome!
However the biggeest attraction of the whole day was the fluorescence of the water as soon as we switched off the light. The fluorescence comes from tiny plankton that fluoresce as soon as the water in which they swim is disturbed. This means as soon as you swim through the water, the turbulence created make the water fluoresce. However, on the night dive, we saw another phenomene as well. The whole sea was full of strings of fluorescence so that the whole sea looked like a luminous forest. After admiring the magnificient panorama from the bottom; it looked as if we were surrounded by mountains on which luminous grass was growing; we ascended for the safety stop to 5 meters. After grabbing our buddy, we started to swim around, through the luminescence. It cannot be described in words. I wished I had had my underwater camera with me!! One of the most impressive dives I have done yet!
In the evening, I wanted to join Rena and Louise (Maria's two Danish friends) at partying, however had to go to bed pretty soon because I was getting up the next morning really early for the next dives.
The morning dives were not really that interesting. At first we visited a ship wreck that was indeed quite boring without many fish being present and then went to the same site as the night before. It really was not that great.
The local speciality are the Baliadas. These are baked flour tortillas (about twice in diameter compared to Guatemalan tortillas) and on it a bean paste, some rather special tasting local cheese as well onions. Several different versions of the basic baliada exist, my preferred one being the baliada with egg. That day I had three of them. They may have been the start of my ordeal or not I do not know.... The word ordeal being maybe a bit too strong for what I had to go through.
While I was playing volleyball with the DMTs at the school, I was feeling the first twinges of sickness. As it was saturday, everyone was talking about the big party that was happening at the house of a friend. At around 6.30, Daniel and Maria came over with a couple of Daniel's friends, we sat at the dock and started talking. After 5 minutes, I had to vomit in the sea, which ended my going out plans right there and then. After assessing my stomach content half an hour later again, this time behind a bush, I went to bed and fell asleep immediatly.
I did not do anything that day. I had had to cancel my dive trips. Although I felt a lot better that morning, the safety risk of being ill while 30 m under sea level was just too high for my liking. In the evening, I watched a movie with two English girls, for whom this was their first solo trip outside of England. For one of them, it was even her first solo trip ever.
This day diving where not really anything special either. They were interesting and worth the dive time, however nothing unusual. The afternoon was spent in the lethargy that seems characteristic of the islands in the Caribbean coast. In the evening, I got involved in a drinking game with Rena, Louise, Maria and Daniel that ressembled the English drinking game " ring of fire". At 1.30, and far more drunk than was responsible since I wanted to go diving in the morning, I went to bed.
I had set my alarm clock for 6.45 and immediatly managed to get out of bed and was feeling surprisingly well in the morning. The first dive was rather bad since it was a drift dive, however during the night, the current had changed by 180 degrees, meaning that we had to battle against the current instead of swimming with it. A visibility rivalling diving in the Geneva Lake did not help either. I guess the dive sight would have been fun to explore without current and good visibility however, like this it was a waste of good underwater time.
The second dive was more interesting with a little bit more visibility. This ended the diving trips for me. All in all, a couple of interesting dives and a couple of uninteresting ones but now I had my Advanced open Water qualification.
At two, I left Utila in direction of La Ceiba. Once in La Ceiba, I took the bus to the centre and then another bus onwards to the local bus station. There I got onto yet another bus down to the tiny town of Corozal just east of the city of La Ceiba.
It is a nearly totally a Garifuna village. As explained beforehand, the Garifuna are Africans that still originated from the slave trade. When the slaves revolted in St Vincent and were bloodily beaten back by the English, the English deported the remaining slaves as punishment to the uninhabited coast of Honduras and Guatemala. The Garifuna, the black population of central america are offsprings of these slaves. The caribbean coast of Guatemala and Honduras are also the only part of the caribbeans where English is still prevalent although Spanish is slowly pushing English into the language spoken by the minority. Most of the black local people spoke Spanish with each other and not all of the black people I spoke to could speak English.
The town is rather spaciously set with each house having a garden. The whole village is green and right from the start I just though it looked absolutely beautiful. Children play everywhere and everyone seems happy. However, the poverty of the village is quite apparent. Most of the houses in the village are extremely ramshackle, some of them already falling to pieces (although the poverty of some cannot have been that complete since I saw big screen plasma TVs in some houses...). The photos I have taken show it very well.
I arrived relatively late in the evening and went immediatly to find a place to stay. I did indeed find something relatively quickly for 4 dollars.
Afterwards, I quickly ate a fried banana and chicken plater which was absolutely awesome. I did not know that thinly cut fried banana could taste like potatoes. On my way back, I met a cute Hondurian girl and started talking to her although the conversation was rather short due to my rather bad Spanish. Like some people, I had found out earlier that speaking a foreign language while being drunk does help. The drink overcomes any inhibition that someone has of making mistakes. Seeing that I speak already four languages (out of which one far from fluent), I thought I did not have such inhibtions anymore but alas, it seems I still do.
Having been tired the whole afternoon from my two dives and my hangover, I was really sleepy. I just worked a bit more on my diary and then went to bed.
Got up pretty late, had breakfast and headed out to explore the town. Corozal is located right next to a pretty white sand beach, at least one that could be pretty were it not for the rubbish that lies around. I had a nice stroll around the beach, until I had to buy water. At the next tienda, I got told that plastic bags of water are sold at nearly 4 x cheaper than bottles of water. Solution: Put water from the bags into the bottle and one saves a lot.
I spent the day exploring the town, however Corozal is relatively small and therefore quite fast to explore. It would be better to visit this town in a day trip from La Ceiba out than actually staying in it because, even though it is beautiful, there is little to actually do in there.
For lunch, I tried out the difference between fried plantains and fried banana (both were actually cheaper than fried potatoes.) and concluded that fried banana were far better tasting than fried plantains, although the fried plantains tasted more calorific than the bananas.
In the evening I went to bed really early (at 9, being tired for an unknown reason. I think I was getting sick...)
The next morning, I went back to La Ceiba where I checked into a hostel and worked the whole afternoon on my computer at the photos and the diary. There was really nothing special that happened that day apart from that it rained quite a lot.
I got up at 6 again so that I could take the 7 oclock bus to San Pedro (90 Lempiras). Meanwhile it continued raining. When I switched over for another bus in San Pedro to a bus that would take me down to the Lago Yojoa, it still was raining. When I left the bus, I realised that I had gotten my wallet stolen/lost on the bus so I was of an appropriate mood...
After another short bus ride along the Lago, I came upon the hostel where I wanted to stay. Although they had recently increased their prices (I knew the prices from someone who had stayed there beforehand) I was pleasantly surprised as to the state of the accomodation. For 150 Lemps, I stayed in a dorm with three other beds (however had the whole room to myself because there was no one staying in the hostel at that point) with hot shower, hammocks, a veranda and free wifi. Seemed reasonable.
Furthermore, the hostel was right at the side of the Lago, which does indeed sport a big number of birds. I am sure that the lake is utterly beautiful, however, I did not get to see much of all of this because of the rain again. The rain, as well as the stealing/losing of my wallet had soured my mood considerably.
The son of the hotel owner, Gelbin (pronounced Kevin), after I had asked him what there was to do there when it rains, had invited me to his aunt for a spell of baleada eating, and true to travellers form, I could not refuse the possibility of free food and an evening in local company. I got to see how local Hondurians live as well as got to taste some homecooked baleadas (which did not taste any different from the baleadas I had eaten on the street... therefore very good).
The baleadas were cooked by Gelbin's aunt. While these were cooking, I chatted to Gelbin and the other friend whose name I have obviously, and after ingesting copious amounts of baleadas, I went to bed. The evening had only slightly been tarnished by my still awful Spanish, although I was making some effort to increase it (and yes I have not worked regularly at my Spanish learning book which was, by the end of the trip, less than a quarter read...).
I left again very early (at 6), in order to catch the first bus to Tegucigalpa (75 Lempira). With some difficulties, I arrived in Tegu and proceded to get the next bus. This is where the fun started. Tegu, apart from being really quite dangerous, does not have a bus station. Rather each different company has its own bus station. This was complicated by the fact that the one bus that went to the Nicaraguan border crossing of Los Manos, the closest one to Tegu, had already left. Luckily, a man working at the bus station that I arrived at was so nice as to help me out with choosing the right connection to get to Nicaragua. He pointed me towards the bus company Ulual and advised me to take a taxi, although it was not too far from where I was at this moment. I heeded that council... For 50 lempiras, I found a collectivo taxi that agreed to take me to the bus station. I had to run to get the bus, which cost me 90 lemps for four hour bus ride, which is the normal price. From San Marco, a beautiful town located 12 km from the border, I took the next shuttle to Nicaragua. As is the custom for border crossings, I had to change all of my Honduran money (of which I unfortunately had quite much since I had to pick up money in Honduras already because I ran out too early). I had looked up the exchange rate beforehand on the internet and therefore knew the exchange rate. I was able to barter the exchange rate loss down to only 4 %, which, considering that I exchanged 200 dollars, is still too much in my book (I payed round about 7 dollars for the exchange).
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