Getting three emails in 24 hours from both parents and your grandmother asking if you’re still alive is usually a pretty good indication it’s time to update your blog.
This post is going to be very photo heavy. Apologies in advance.
My last post left off while waiting for the boat from Rio Dulce, Guatemala to Livingston, Guatemala. Since that time I’ve been to Livingston, the island of Utila (Honduras), and Leon, Nicaragua. A distance of more than 1,000km, and many, many hours.
The boat from Rio Dulce was actually really great. The captain first took us past an old fort located at a narrow point in the river. There used to be a massive chain that they could stretch across the water, blocking all naval passage.
The river, which I had expected to be heavily populated and dirty, was in reality totally undeveloped and incredibly beautiful. Lush jungle right up to the water, with giant egrets, herons and pelicans swooping in an out. I expected dinosaurs to appear at any moment.
After about 2 hours, we arrived in Livingston. The Wikipedia entry on Livingston is worth the read to learn about it’s unique Garifuna culture. A port town with no roads leading to it, Livingston is a super interesting mix of Guatemala and Caribbean culture, with a large black population and a strong Rasta vibe.
This parrot was just chillin’ in the kitchen of the B’n’B I brought my laundry to on the first day.
Out on the street I ran into a fish drying operation. Or, rather, my nose ran into the fish drying operation, and about 3 minutes later I walked by. They were laying out thousands of fish on metal racks to dry in the sun, before tossing them into wheelbarrows to bring them in at night. The stench was absolutely foul, and lingered all day and all night within 50 meters of the ‘factory.’
I spent my first day day just getting the lay of the town and trying to get some pictures.
These boys approached me while down at the beach taking the above photo of the bird, and explained (from what I understood of their Spanish), that they wanted to play traditional Garifuna music and dance for me. I explained I didn’t have much time, and they agreed to play for just 3 or 4 minutes for Q5(~$0.80) for all 7 of them. (I made sure to ask if the Q5 price was total or for each kid, because you never really know!)
In the end I gave them a 100% tip and still got a hilarious dance performance for just over $1. They seemed thrilled with the price and that I’d agreed to watch.
Day two, I took a trip to the Seven Waterfalls (7 Altares) and White Beach (Playa Blanca) by boat.
Because rainy season is over, the waterfalls were more like tricklefalls, but the scenery was still amazing. After paying our Q20 entry fee, we walked about 20 minutes along the cascades until we reached the highest waterfall.
Reportedly this area is totally submerged in a torrent of raging water during the rainy season, but when we were there it was completely dry, with the water running underneath the rock and emerging in the pool below. Still, the water was deep enough for some pretty good jumps.
After 45 minutes at the falls, we took the boat another 25 minutes along the coast to Playa Blanca, the closest ‘tropical’ beach to Livingston.
I bought a coconut that they very liberally filled with rum, and then attempted to play volleyball. We had a great 5×5 game going for about an hour and a half before the rain came, and I wasn’t even the worst player! (I was probably tied for worst with the old Canadian guy and the girl from Argentina who thought she had a broken toe.)
In Livingston, I stayed in Casa de la Iguana where I was entertained by kittens while the rest of the hostel played drinking games that involved, among other things, mayonnaise and hot sauce body shots.
For my last night, I moved to a much nicer hotel right on the water. They had an amazing, unadvertised dorm room on their second floor looking right out to the water, and it was one of the cleanest hostels I’ve ever stayed in (maybe tied with the one on Otres Beach in Cambodia). Definitely somewhere I could spend a week.
After some debates about the best way to leave Livingston, I caught a boat to Puerto Barrios, a shuttle across the border into Honduras, two different taxis to take me to San Pedro Sula, where I then got on a bus to La Ceiba, where I needed another taxi to get to the port, and then a ‘vomit comet’ boat (though I think only a few people actually puked) to the island of Utila. All in about 11 hours.
Utila, one of the Bay Islands, is the place in Central America to go diving. Cheap and beautiful, with little else to do besides dive, it’s the equivalent of the Thai island of Koh Tao – which, coincidentally enough, is where I got my PADI Open Water certification.
Unfortunately our first day and a half were a total wash because of the rain, but I did manage some exploring despite that.
My second day, after taking a scuba refresher class in the morning (it had been 2 years since my last dive), I spent the afternoon exploring the island.
On the island is a bizarre hotel/restaurant called Jade Seahorse that the owner’s spent 15 years decorating as some sort of enormous art sculpture. It’s actually really impressive, with multiple levels, a treetop bar, walkways through the trees, and all sorts of unexpected decorations on every available surface. They have a vegetarian restaurant, but it was closed both times I tried to go. 😦
The Bent Elbow is the local bar where I got dinner our first night. It wasn’t very good, but I liked their sign.
The island has a number of unique bars. Rehab Bar is on the water, and themed exactly as you would expect. The red stairs in this photo read “One Step At A Time,” their t-shirts say “Recovery is not an option,” and they encourage hard partying. I feel overly PC saying this, but I wasn’t exactly comfortable with that.
The competing bar is Skid Row Bar, which is as dumpy as it sounds, but in a very lovable way. Their shtick is a 4 shot challenge of the local Gifidy alcohol (basically rum flavored with all sorts of herbs and spices and sticks of wood and leaves and shit). Do 3 shots, spin around 10 times, run around the pool table 10 times without touching it, do the 4th shot, and then pay 200 Limpiras (~$10) to pick one of their many skull-fronted t-shirts. I got a shirt, but it’s not appropriate to post on this blog.
Lots of large pelicans on Utila.
The afternoon after my dive refresher, my friend Nadja and I rented a kayak to explore the island (map).
We rented the kayak from a pier in the ocean and paddled it over to the beach where we carried it (kayaks are really f***ing heavy!) across the beach, road, and property on the other side into a lagoon in the middle of the island.
Once in the lagoon, things got weird.
There is a hand-dug canal from the 1800s that connects the lagoon to the ocean on the north side of the island, but being ~200 years old it no longer looks like a canal. There are lots of outlets from the lagoon through the mangrove trees, and we spent over an hour trying to find the one that was the canal. After exhausting all options, we decided the first one we had tried (and abandoned) was actually the right one. But by that point our bodies were exhausted as well, and the day was getting darker along with the clouds, so we turned around and went back to the beach.
Back on the beach, we needed a break before hauling ass back to the pier. These local kids were dive-tackling each other into the water the whole time.
I hadn’t realized that the kayaks had drainage holes in the seat areas, so I kayaked in my underwater in order to protect my shorts and all the stuff I had in them (like Nadja’s cellphone).
The following day I finally got to dive.
Unfortunately, I had significant issues equalizing my right ear on the first dive (all trips out in the boat do two dives), so I spent the second dive above the water talking to a fellow diver who had similar issues. Oh, and I forgot my contacts so I couldn’t really see anything anyway.
After we got back I took another picture of a cat.
I ended up doing 3 dives in two days, and remembered my contacts on the second day (and had no ear issues) so I had a really great time. Our last night on the island, one of the students at the dive school was earning his Dive Master certification (after a month long program) so the dive shop went out to dinner and partied afterward to celebrate.
After 6:20am the next day we took the vomit comet back to La Ceiba, before beginning a 16.5 hour drive to Leon, Nicaragua. We were a caravan of 4 cars – one shuttle, two pickup trucks, and a mini suv. I was in the back seat of an extended-cab pickup truck for the entire 16.5 hours. Fortunately we stopped numerous times, and our driver was really friendly. Unfortunately, the truck had one CD, and it was a compilation of American love songs from the 80s. If I never hear “I Want To Know What Love Is” again… it will be too soon.
After clearing the Honduras border in about 30 seconds, we spent nearly an hour at the Nicaraguan side. Besides being a totally inefficient system (that doesn’t even stamp your passport!), they ultimately denied entry to a girl in our group from Hong Kong.
We finally arrived in central Leon at 12:30am, after catching the first boat at 6:20 that morning. Hyped up from a day of doing nothing, I finally fell asleep around two.
This morning I explored Leon a bit. A reasonably safe city, it has some of the colonial feel of Antigua, while being much more interesting and actually feeling lived in.
For example, you won’t see this in Antigua.
Tomorrow I’ll probably do volcano boarding (which yes, is exactly what it sounds like), and then find something to kill some time on Saturday before this show:
I found this poster while walking around today. It’s been months since I’ve been to a show, and you have no idea how excited I am to check out a metal show in Leon, Nicaragua!
Apologies again, family, for going so long without an update and making you worry! I’ll try to be a bit more regular – if for no other reason than writing these long posts takes a long time! For now, I’m off to pick up my laundry and try to find some fruit for a snack. Oh, and sweat a lot. It’s 93°F here!
Can you get me one of those rehab t shirts? lol
Also, thanks for the update I have been missing my Ben’s travels update. P.S. Tamara’s wife Kate had their Daughter about a week ago in case you didn’t know. Born 1/16/14 @ 3:28am, 6 lbs 13oz.
I hadn’t heard – thanks for letting me know! I’ll have to shoot her a message.
Also, no luck on thst rehab shirt – the boat to Utila is $27 each way! so I won’t be headed back anytime soon. Sorry!
Maybe the reason for your poor volleyball skills was all the “rum in the coconut”. Isn’t that a song? Great post hon. Thanks.
It’s definitely a song, and that’s all I was singing all afternoon! Alas, while I wish I could blame my unathleticism on the alcohol, it’s definitely a recurring theme in my life regardless of inebriation. 😦
Thanks for the updates. And don’t worry about not being competitive with volleyballers – challenge them (a) to a 150 mile bike ride, or (b) to climb the nearest rock face. You’ll quickly see who’s more ‘athletic’! (just do me a favor and leave the rum out!)
I’m pretty sure our family growing up played the mayonnaise and hot sauce body shots game. Your mom was pretty good.
Well that mental image is gonna leave a scar. For life. Thanks Pete
I can see the email address, and that wasn’t pete, for the record!