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Diving, Rafting and Ruins in Honduras

sunny 34 °C
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We reached the Bay Islands via a ferry from the mainland, after a punishing series of bus rides from Nicaragua. Including one in which a small boy (not a baby), screamed like a banshee for several hours, setting a number of new world records for the greatest amount of noise produced by human being in the process.

The Bay Islands are made up of three main islands, all of which are known for their amazing diving. We headed to Roatan, as we had heard that out of the three islands it had the best beaches. The ferry itself was the first sign that Roatan was a little flasher than the typical Central American tourist destination. Rather than a rickety old pile of driftwood and planks, which we now expect as a matter of course, it was a sleek looking 150ft catamaran capable of travelling at 34 knots with 450 people on board. We arrived at our hotel in Roatan's West End around lunchtime and lay around on the beach waiting for Carly and Ben's flight from the UK to arrive.

Roatan, Honduras - Lounging on the beach

Roatan, Honduras - Lounging on the beach


Roatan, Honduras - The four of us on the beach

Roatan, Honduras - The four of us on the beach


Roatan, Honduras - View down West End beach

Roatan, Honduras - View down West End beach

The beach at West End is not quite as nice as neighbouring West Bay but the pro is that the beach front is not dominated by time shares and condominiums. Instead the little township stretches out beside the beach, the main road remains unpaved and the entire place has a very laid back vibe. The only negative were the sand flies, which although preferable to mosquitoes, absolutely smashed us over the course of the week.

Roatan, Honduras - Main street

Roatan, Honduras - Main street


Roatan, Honduras - Smoothy stand

Roatan, Honduras - Smoothy stand

We had booked a two bedroom apartment for the four of us and had our own kitchen facilities where we could cook some of our own meals. We were able to buy fish and vegetables directly from fishermen at the beach or out of the back of utes parked on the street. Tuna, lobster, conch and prawns all featured on our apartments menu over the course of the week.

Although the four of us were intending to find a dive outfit as soon as possible, this mammoth task proved too much for us on the first day and we were unable to move far from our sun loungers outside our hotel.

When we finally organised ourselves, we decided to start out with an easy refresher dive to make sure we could all still control our buoyancy and breathing. Then we did a deepish dive down through a hole in the coral wall, a night dive with heaps of lobsters and luminescent fish, a nice drift dive and then finished the week off with a wreck dive. The wreck dive in particular was amazing, and we saw huge grouper, which would come right up to your face as well as plenty of sea turtles.

Roatan, Honduras - Our dive boat

Roatan, Honduras - Our dive boat


Roatan, Honduras - Jess and Carly

Roatan, Honduras - Jess and Carly


Roatan, Honduras - Briefing from our instructor

Roatan, Honduras - Briefing from our instructor

We spread the 5 dives over 4 days, a very lazy schedule, and took things pretty easy. The pace was actually perfect, as we were able to do a little bit of diving each day and also fit in some swimming, snorkelling in the bay and plenty of eating and drinking each afternoon. By the end of the week we had fallen in love with the place and it was a bit sad to leave.

The next destination in Honduras was La Ceiba, where we were planning to do some white water rafting at a jungle lodge where Jess and Carly's brother had worked. The river runs through a beautiful valley filled with massive rocks and surrounded by steep jungle slopes on both sides. The water level was pretty low, so the rafting wasn't that intense but we were able to supplement it with some swimming and rock jumping. All in all it was pretty good fun, there was a lot of wildlife and not many mosquitoes, which was a relief after the damage done the previous week by the Roatan sand flies.

La Ceiba, Honduras - Jess jumping

La Ceiba, Honduras - Jess jumping


La Ceiba, Honduras - Jess and Mike Rafting

La Ceiba, Honduras - Jess and Mike Rafting

After the rafting we jumped on a bus to Copan, near the Guatemalan border. We thought we had booked a reasonably decent coach (rather than a chicken bus) so were surprised when we boarded and found that all the seats were full. Not to worry however, as the bus company had a plan in place, for just such an occurrence and the four of us, along with 6 or 7 others, were able to spend the next three hours sitting in the aisle on small plastic preschool style stools.

Copan is the site of some fairly significant Mayan ruins which are a must see if you are heading across the border. Jess and I had found southern Central America to have limited history before Spanish Colonialism and were excited to be nearing countries such as Guatemala and southern Mexico, where indigenous culture and traditions are still strong. The ruins are filled with amazingly detailed statues of powerful Mayan kings, considered to be the best examples of this type of stone work in the Mayan world.

Copan, Honduras - Mayan statues

Copan, Honduras - Mayan statues


Copan, Honduras - Intricate Mayan carving

Copan, Honduras - Intricate Mayan carving


Copan, Honduras - Mayan Statues

Copan, Honduras - Mayan Statues

As well as the statues there are a number of impressive ruined buildings serviced by steep stairways rising out of the jungle. There were also plenty of huge resident red Macaws flying around who were would happily pose for photos.

Copan, Honduras - Jess and Carly

Copan, Honduras - Jess and Carly


Copan, Honduras - Walking to the east Plaza

Copan, Honduras - Walking to the east Plaza


Copan, Honduras - Cool giant stone head

Copan, Honduras - Cool giant stone head


Copan, Honduras - Macaw eating melon

Copan, Honduras - Macaw eating melon


Copan, Honduras - Messy eater

Copan, Honduras - Messy eater

After Copan we all headed across the border to Guatemala. Semana Santa (Easter) was just a couple of days away and apparently if you are in this part of the world the annual celebrations in Antigua can not be beaten.

Posted by mwalmsle 16:45 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

Nicaragua

Surfin' Safari

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The first stop in Nicaragua was a little beach town called San Juan del Sur, only 45 minutes from the Costa Rican border. The place was full of backpackers but very relaxed and the tour bus crowd was pleasantly absent.

San Juan - Palm trees at dusk

San Juan - Palm trees at dusk

Surfing is the name of the game in San Juan and while there are no waves at the beach in town, there are a number of other beaches north and south which are easily accessible. The beaches are pretty wild and untouched (one of them was the set for Survivor Nicaragua) although most (including the Survivor Beach) have a few little shacks which sell the necessities – cold beers and great food and we can highly recommend the chicken nachos at Playa Maderas.

San Juan - Beers and Nachos at Maderas

San Juan - Beers and Nachos at Maderas


San Juan - Jess on the set of Survivor Nicaragua (Hermosa)

San Juan - Jess on the set of Survivor Nicaragua (Hermosa)

As Jess, our Polish friends and I were all complete beginners, we signed up for a short surfing lesson in an attempt to nail the basics. Our instructor was excellent and had all of us standing up, surfing massive walls of white water on our first or second try. After a few hours he cast us adrift, leaving as with the old adage “practice makes perfect”. We spent the next few days practising, which involved waking each morning with an assortment of strange bruises, going to one of the beaches, receiving an absolute pummelling from mother nature and heading home to collapse. Jess and I absolutely loved it and ended up staying for four nights and would have stayed even longer if we could have extended our accommodation.

San Juan - Jess and Mike at Playa Maderas

San Juan - Jess and Mike at Playa Maderas


San Juan - Loving it!

San Juan - Loving it!


San Juan - Mike killing it

San Juan - Mike killing it


San Juan - Things got a little tough

San Juan - Things got a little tough


San Juan - The waves were huge, honestly

San Juan - The waves were huge, honestly

Our next stop was Isla de Ometepe, an island in the middle of nearby Lake Nicaragua formed by two conical volcanos – Volcan Maderas and Concepcion. The island is inhabited and is part plantations, part national park. It's all very fertile, picturesque and tranquil and some people just love the serenity.

Ometepe - Volcan Concepcion (front) and Maderas (back)

Ometepe - Volcan Concepcion (front) and Maderas (back)


Ometepe - View from our Hacienda

Ometepe - View from our Hacienda

Perhaps because it is so peaceful there isn't a lot to do on the island other than feeling the vibe in a variety of different environments. We were staying in a hacienda run by a collective of coffee growers set on the side of Volcan Maderas, the smaller of the two volcanos. There was a jungle trail from our hacienda up to the crater and we began our assault early on the first morning, hoping for some great views of the lake and the other volcano Concepcion.

Ometepe - Steep descent to the crater lake

Ometepe - Steep descent to the crater lake


Ometepe - Racoon passengers

Ometepe - Racoon passengers

Alas, after battling for 4 hours we discovered that the particular trail we had chosen to walk up Madieras has no real outlooks of the other volcano at all and we would have to trek back down the way we had come, through some seriously muddy and slippery jungle without having seen a thing. That night, completely buggered and somewhat disillusioned from the walk, we kicked back on the verandah of the hacienda and contemplated what to do next.

Our general view was that the sites in Central America while nice, were not on the same scale as what we had seen in South America and we felt that we would enjoy Central more by simply relaxing at the beach, rather than flogging ourselves on a merciless timetable to see all the potential items of interest listed in the guidebooks. After much soul searching, Jess and I decided to head back to San Juan del Sur rather than seek a new tropical paradise in the Corn Islands. While we had heard the Corn Islands were a slice of paradise, we had really been enjoying he surfing and were unlikely to get the chance to surf again on this trip.

The only other event of note that night, was a Swiss, Belgian and two French Canadians trying to throw an impromptu psi-trance party on the verandah of the hacienda. Picture yourself, its about 9pm, you are sitting on a wide verandah, gazing out over a lush tropical garden and sucking back a cold beer after a hard day. Suddenly, from nowhere the stereo is turned up 1000%, and the music changes from the local Mariachi band to pounding psi-trance and the four guys mentioned above have stripped off their shirts and are dancing like it is their last night in Ibiza.

Back in San Juan del Sur we tried to get straight back into the old routine, surfing and eating. Unfortunately, after the first day Michael developed a nasty eye infection, perhaps related to his contact lenses, was given an eye patch (again!!!) for three days and ordered to steer clear, of sand, sun and surf. With those activities excluded, SJDS lost some of its appeal and we decided to head to Granada immediately and possibly return again for more surfing when the eye had healed.

Granada, Eyepatch, again!!!

Granada, Eyepatch, again!!!

Granada is a small, restored colonial city on the edge of Lake Nicaragua. Exploring the city itself doesn't take more than an afternoon and we hired a car and did all the major sites around the city the next day in one fell swoop – Volcan Masaya, Laguna de Apoyo, and some nearby villages and markets. The volcano in particular was good as it is quite active and you could look directly down into the steaming crater. Still the four of us would probably have preferred to be at the beach.

Granada - Main cathedral

Granada - Main cathedral


Granada - Ghandi chillin

Granada - Ghandi chillin


Granada - Iglesia de La Merced

Granada - Iglesia de La Merced


Granada - Jess and I at Volcan Masaya

Granada - Jess and I at Volcan Masaya


Granada - Hammock weavers at work

Granada - Hammock weavers at work

On the third day Kuba and Marzena left us for Honduras while Jess and I decided to head back to San Juan del Sur to attempt to surf again! Although Michael was still under strict orders to avoid contacts for another couple of weeks, at least the eye patch was gone.

San Juan - Michael at the end of the trip

San Juan - Michael at the end of the trip


San Juan - Cold Cerveza at Hermosa

San Juan - Cold Cerveza at Hermosa


San Juan - This guy was killing it

San Juan - This guy was killing it


San Juan - Sunset at Hermosa

San Juan - Sunset at Hermosa

Although Michael didn't find blind surfing that enjoyable and spent significantly more time on the beach, Jess was able to further her professional career and after another six days we felt ready to leave Nicaragua for the Bay Islands in Honduras. Mode of transport, a 3 day, 4 bus, 1 boat marathon. The Bay Islands better be worth it!

Granada - Chicken buses!!

Granada - Chicken buses!!

Also credit to Kuba for some of the photos I have posted - it ended up being a bit of a collaborative effort at the beach.

Posted by mwalmsle 06:33 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (3)

Costa Rica

sunny 34 °C
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Reminiscent of our Bolivia Peru border crossing, we arrived at the Costa Rican border to find that it had been blockaded by protesters. However, foot traffic was still permitted and the four of us were able to walk past the long lines of waiting vehicles without any fuss and get our passports stamped.

While in Panama we had given thought to our itinerary in Costa Rica and Nicaragua, as we have a couple of deadlines coming up. We need to be in the Bay Islands in Honduras by 10 April to meet Jess's sister for diving and then in Guatemala by 21 April to meet Michael's sister.

We decided that with limited time we would visit only a couple of places in Costa Rica, which we had heard was relatively more expensive and overly touristy, and would then try to do Nicaragua properly, seeing most of the key sites.

Our first Costa Rican stop was Puerto Viajo, a gringo beach mecca on the Carribbean coast. It was a total change from Bocas del Toro, the atmosphere was more tropical, the people more laid back, the tour operators less pushy and the food significantly better. All in all Costa Rica was certainly shaping up pretty well.

It was also not as expensive as we had been dreading, at least if you avoid the organised tours which seemed overpriced relative to elsewhere. On our first day we hired four push bikes and slowly meandered down a 14km coastal road, past a succession of beaches and reefs, swimming, sun-bathing or snorkeling at our leisure - the sun was shining and the weather was sweeeeet, yeeeah.

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However, the highlight of the day was probably the discovery of an extremely photogenic sloth, who, in what I suppose is typical fashion for a sloth, was happy to remain motionless, only centimeters away and let us take photos galore.

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The hostel had an outside charcoal grill that guests could use and we bought prawns, fresh tuna and sea bass, wrapped it all in tin foil and had a huge cook-up. It was one of the few home cooked meals we have had on our trip and so delicious that we cooked the same thing again the next night.

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After a couple of days of relaxing repetition, our Polish friends decided to head up the coast to Tortugero, a well known nesting site for Sea Turtles ,while Jess and I decided to stay another day in Puerto Viajo before moving into the Costa Rican interior. Unfortunately, the weather didn't co-operate for our final day and forced us to spend it inside sheltering from the rain.

Early the next morning we jumped on the first bus to San Jose. Destination, La Fortuna, a touristy town in central Costa Rica at the foot of a large, conical and sometimes active volcano. However, a spanner was thrown in the works when we arrived in San Jose to find that the last connecting bus had left at 11:45am and we would need to stay a night before catching another bus the following morning.

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The following day we arrived in La Fortuna to find the Volcan Arenal covered in clouds, apparently a typical situation and one that would persist for our entire time here. However, volcano gazing isn't the only thing to do in town, as all the thermal activity in the area means there are hot springs galore, many of which have been developed into high end thermal resorts for visiting tourists – think swim-up bars and water slides. Although expensive, it was something to do and Jess and I headed off to check out one of the resorts for the afternoon. On arrival it turned out that a thermal resort in Costa Rica bears striking resemblance to an American Retirement home and it felt like we were stepping onto the set of Cocoon. Still, it was a good afternoon and I was able to soak in the thermal pools while Jess got a blue rinse.

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The next day we woke up and found that our Polish friends Kuba and Marzena had also arrived in La Fortuna and unwittingly booked into the same hostel, just a couple of rooms down the corridor. Tortugero had apparently been somewhat of a flop, as the turtle conservation group running the tours had failed to or not yet obtained the required permissions to visit the beach this year and so it was not possible to see the turtles.

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That evening, after spending the day at a nearby waterfall and swimming hole, the general consensus among the four of us was that we should head straight to Nicaragua, a five to six hour bus ride away. This meant that we would miss pacific coast of Costa Rica which is apparently excellent, however, we thought that the pacific beaches in Nicaragua would probably be equally as nice and have the plus of being cheaper and less developed. The next update will be from there.

Posted by mwalmsle 16:44 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

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