Next stop, Tela

02/28/09
Still trying to get used to the constant shifting between chaos and lulls of this new travel life. Roatan, while admittedly touristy, was fabulous. Our stay on the West End, despite a few days of rain was pretty much perfect. To offset the inflated costs that came with staying on an island for a week and a half, we opted to make extra good use of the rental’s kitchenette, and the local produce trucks and mini-mart. We had our daily menu of fresh fruit and eggs for breakfast, Cup O’Noodle or ramen for lunch, and pasta or quesadillas for dinner. Not bad, actually…we were feeling pretty resourceful.
From Roatan, we took the ferry back to the mainland of Honduras, and stayed overnight in La Ceiba with a friend of a friend. Then back on a bus the next day to the city of Tela, which has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It wasn’t ever on our initial itinerary (as are many of the places we are going or have already been), but we found an airy, clean, well decorated hostel purely by chance, and it has worked out. When we initially arrived a bit after sundown, the first man we asked, an older armed guard, pointed us to a Chinese restaurant across the street. After trying to politely decline his help and explain that was not what we were looking for, we found this hostel half a block later. Took a trip out to the Lantecilla Botanical Garden (the second largest tropical garden in the world) and then spent the rest of the day at the beach, just a couple of blocks from our hostel. So far, in my opinion, the best beach yet. Clear, warm water, no large crowds, and soft smooth sand, free of those nasty sand flies! Perfect. Dinner was, embarrassingly enough, at the same Chinese restaurant that we had been directed towards last night, due to my growing craving of Asian cuisine, which we haven’t had in nearly two months. Chinese food in Honduras is a little different from Chinese food in San Francisco. The two dishes we ordered, in Spanish no less, were chicken chop suey and fried rice (hey, options were pretty limited). They were preceded with a basket of white bread and butter, and the dishes themselves were enough to feed a party of 10. Despite the size, both dishes were mediocre and did not curb my craving. Tomorrow, it’s back on the road. We are headed to Puerto Cortez, where we hope to catch a ferry to Belize.

Posted: March 6th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Honduras | Tags: , , | No Comments »

Trials and Triumph in SCUBA certification

02/19/09
The last three days have been something else. We arrived in the West End of Roatan Island, and settled into our comfy new digs which are clean and cute and absolutely lovely here at The Mariposa (not to be confused with La Mariposa, our past digs-something about that word, “butterfly” in Spanish, has become a running theme so far on this trip, but I digress). We spent the afternoon, walking around this beachfront town with the surf a few meters to our right and the shops and restaurants to our left, and watched the sunset from the docks.

Monday morning we wake up early and head down the beach strip to Coconut Tree Divers to begin our first day of SCUBA lessons with our very cute and very charming instructor Adam. He has our group of four (me, Jeff, and two other guys) watch some videos and go over some basics, and for a brief moment I have a thought that this is going to be a piece of cake. Sometimes I can be so wrong. After an hour or so of videos and knowledge reviews, we get suited up to prepare for our Confined Dive. However, as we are on a tiny island and there are no swimming pools (that I know of) we head straight into the ocean for this “confined dive”. Maybe this was the start of the nerves, I don’t know. Anyway, I get through all of the basic skills, with lots of instruction and minimal anxiety. However, breathing underwater just feels weird. I can hear the hiss of the regulator and feel the oxygen coming in and see the bubbles coming out, but none of this is natural to me. From the surface we practice our descent and our instructor takes us down to a sand patch to practice some new skills. I just keep reminding myself that we are only submerged under 10 feet of water. Everything is marginally fine until it comes time to flood and clear our mask after which we are to completely remove our mask and put it back on. I watch as Adam demonstrates, and then as each student performs both skills. Then it’s my turn. Let me just say, I have no fear of water or getting my face wet or anything like that. There is just something about having to purposely fill your mask with water, not to mention take the whole thing off, and then clear it by breathing out your nose, all while continuously mouth-breathing through a regulator with your eyes closed that is a little too much multi-tasking for me…and fine, just plain scary. Somehow I get through the flood and clear decently enough, but run into a mess of trouble when I have to remove the mask. At one point, as I begin flailing about, snorting, and hyperventilating, I give the sign for “Go UP”. But instead, I feel a firm tug down! Since I apparently have no choice, I somehow regain control of my breathing and get it together. By the time I cautiously take a slow breath and peek my eyes open, Adam is in my face giving me the “OK” sign. After we surface, he says he was tempted to let me ascend, as I was clearly having some issues, but knew that if he did, I would likely never get back in the water again, and I have to say he was right.

Day Two starts with me significantly more anxious than the day before, due to the mask incident and my newfound irrational fear of taking it off. However, I am determined to get past it and move on….until during our morning videos, our instructor announces that we will be demonstrating the same skill and then some under 30 feet of water. Noooooooo! I think about it all morning, all through lunch, and during the boat ride out, during which I purge the contents of my stomach overboard three times. I don’t usually get seasick, so I’m attributing that whole embarrassing event to nerves. Anyway, while everyone else in the class is performing each task with little to no trouble, I have now clearly become the weakest link. I have a difficult time controlling my buoyancy, either floating upwards into the blue yonder or hitting rock bottom, and Rinaldo (dive master in training) at this point has pretty much become my personal safety assistant, pulling me down, finding my lost fin, putting on and removing my weights, and giving me all kinds of underwater reminder signals. Mask flooding time approaches, and again I have what I feel to be a near drowing panic-filled experience. Adam later tells me that this time he really was going to let me up when I started choking and sputtering, but by some force of nature I was able to regain control. We had time to swim around the reef and check out some cool stuff, but I was too wound up and frustrated with myself to fully enjoy it.

Day Three – It’s our final day!! Swim test, float test, written test. I was dead last by a mile with the swim, but no problem. Then we learn the last few skills that lie ahead. This includes mask removal. Of course. My heart sinks. On our lunch break, I go out to about 2 feet of water and practice and practice until I think I’ve got it. After lunch we get on the boat to take us out to the dive site. We practice putting our gear on in the water (little tricky), switching between our regulators and our snorkel (more tricky), free diving with our snorkels, and then swimming to the surface on one continuous exhalation. I run into some trouble with this one. During my first ascent, I run out of air about two-thirds of the way up. We break the surface and I decide to try my luck. “Did I do it?” I ask. Adam gives me a weird look and says, “No. Let’s try again”. After my third try, I do it. I perform my mask removal with high anxiety but no trouble. Yay!!! I can see Adam beaming at me around his regulator as he gives me underwater applause and a high 10. We have time to swim around the reef and it is nothing short of awesome. I feel myself finally start to relax and take it all in. When it’s time to go back up, I realize that I don’t want to. I think I’m going to love scuba diving. Finally.

Posted: February 21st, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Honduras, Itinerary | Tags: , , , | 6 Comments »

All’s Well That…

Our last night in Nicaragua was spent with our fellow travel mates attending a performance at a Nicaraguan artist’s restaurant whose music was associated with the Sandinista Revolution. It was a good time, but is relevant now because this was the launching point for the proverbial zoo monkey crap slung our way the last few days.
Because of the late night, we got back to our hostel dorm in Managua with only about 3-4 hours before we would have to wake up again. We tried to sleep, but the sounds of flatulence and mosquitoes decided otherwise. About two hours in, we gave up on sleep and sat in the hostel common area until it was time to get to the bus station at 4:30 am.
We were going to Honduras and according to our research would be traveling for about 9 hours. Our first bus ride across the border was pretty good, I’m not going to lie. We even watched a bootleg version of Yes Man in Spanish. The only thing was the ride took 8 hours. Maybe our research was a little faulty. Our second bus continued the journey. It was a little hotter, a little mustier, and a little more cramped. And it was 8 and a half hours too long. We tried switching seats midway through the trip, but the cockroaches chased us back to our originals. At 10:30 pm our bus pulled into La Ceiba’s terminal and the weary few of us remaining warily made our way to the 3 taxis still working. We asked one of them to take us to a hotel, mid-range. He muttered something about most being full, but he’d find us a place.
What we found was a small building, bars on the windows, a bench with its seat long worn through was the only furniture visible as I looked down the barely lit main corridor. We weighed our options, but the taxi was long gone. So, the manager showed us to our room. I went from relief of ending the days travels to disappointment of the present. The bed filled the room completely and was a foot from the toilet and shower, both of which were in a state that matched the rest of our space. Mari continuously referred to it as a “shit-hole.” I started to comfort her by saying, “It’s actually not that bad. At least I haven’t seen any…” My sentence was cut off when out of the corner came what I thought was a mouse. Instead it was only a cockroach the size of one.
I escaped to the street to collect myself, but two prostitutes followed me out of the hotel arguing about where to catch a taxi. The commotion shooed me back in. Mari and I decided to forgo brushing our teeth, or changing out of our clothing in a real fear we would end up dirtier—something we wouldn’t have thought was possible ten minutes prior. Instead, we pulled out our sleep sac liners and got in. We covered ourselves as completely as possible, clutching any openings close to our bodies in efforts to shut out our temporary reality. Mari sat up, only her mouth visibly exposed, and told me, “Happy Valentine’s Day babe.” We both laughed a sad, quick laugh and returned to our mummy-like forms, counting down till morning.
We escaped early the next morning and made our way to the ferry which would take us to our destination: Roatan. As we looked past the eighty minutes separating us from beaches, rum and scuba-ing, we were jolted back to the present when a man walked around and handed everyone a plastic bag. We didn’t know what to make of it until about five minutes later when the ferry began to sway and claimed it’s first victim. A passenger made the first deposit into his bag, followed by another…and another. Each person triggering the urge to blow chunks for the next person till a cacophony of belches, gagging, and dry-heaves filled the ferry. I kept my eyes closed to fight becoming the next victim.

Eventually though, the ferry docked, the green in people’s faces subsided and we joined the ranks of those living the beach life. We’re hoping that the drinks will taste stronger, the sand will look whiter, and the sunsets more vibrant because of what it took to get here.

Posted: February 15th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: Honduras | Tags: , , | 6 Comments »