Archive for April, 2014

First stop in Honduras was the famous Utila! I remember this place very well from my first trip as my first open water dive instructor did his instructor course here (and he almost let me drawn). Also, Richard’s instructor Diego spoke very highly about UDC (Utila Dive Centre) so once the ferry docked I went straight to UDC. If you happen to be on this island and have no idea where to dive or stay don’t despair, there are plenty of people waiting by the dock selling their dive shop/hostel.

So at UDC I met Sarah (English lady, super nice), who gave me a brief intro about the dive shop and facilities. I was mainly interested in doing my Rescue Course here and she explained the structure. There were already 2 fellow divers just starting the course, Alex and Lisa, so I joined in the next day. In medias res! I like it! I got free accommodation during the course in the Mango Inn, official hostel of UDC which I very much liked..who wouldn’t like this?

Mango Inn

Just a bit more about Sarah..and there is a reason why I dedicate a separate paragraph to her. I think we were meant to meet as she fulfilled a big dream of mine..She and her husband were living in London having fantastic jobs, and a great lifestyle..but something was missing. And what is the rare thing..that for both of them the same thing! They were both freedom lovers. They realised that life is too short to live in a crowded big city that however offers so much to someone who is in great financial situation, it doesn’t offer sunshine, warm climate or freedom to keep a healthy balance between work and these two. They were both beach and sun lovers, so one day in their 40s they decided to pack their bags and move to Utila and dedicate their lives to their passion..diving!

As I am writing this Sarah just posted the most amazing thing on Facebook that I have to quote..

20 years ago today, I stood on a beach overlooking the ocean, with my soul mate beside me. In front of dear friends and family, I promised to love him forever…

Today I stand in our beach front house in the Caribbean, overlooking the ocean with my soul mate still beside me. 

To my darling D.D I love you more today than ever. We have had an amazing life together so far. We have lived, laughed and loved….here’s to many more years of that.

I love you forever…….’

She is an example for me ..and even if for now I made my decision to go back to London to the person I love, the dream of one day living on a beach and having enough sunshine that a human being needs in order to live a happy life with the person I love has not been forgotten…

The rescue course started with a one day EFR (Emergency First Response course). I did this for my driving license 13 years ago but it had to be within 2 years so I repeated it in English this time. During the rescue course the people doing their dive master courses are ‘helping’ by being victims. So during the 4 days we have about 2 hours theory and 3 hours in the water doing skills.

The 3rd day was the toughest but in the end I completed the course and I was very happy that I did it! The biggest challenge was not the course though but to resist the temptation of not continuing to next level. There would have been no point though if I wouldn’t work with it..so I made my decisions. After my 2 fun dives I got a flu so couldn’t dive anymore..

Few words about Utila. If you are looking for a quiet island don’t go to Utila. It’s a party island where there is nothing else to do but diving. There are several people doing their zero to hero courses (Open water to dive master) in one go while getting hammered in the evenings.. It’s expensive, locals are not very friendly and all conversations are about diving. If you see the whale shark you are lucky! I was there in the right time but sadly did not see it..but there was always somebody coming back to the hostel super excited about seeing one or two. There are some good bars and restaurants like Munchie’s or an absolute must near Mango Inn: The Jade Seahorse. It took the owner 25 years to build the place (you can stay here but obviously prices are not on backpacker levels.

Few pics:

Jade Seahorse JadeJadeUtila highest point Utila public beach shower with beer- Utila style UDC!

After Utila I went to Copan. This was my favourite place in Honduras, lovely town, great variety of things to do. The ruins were not that great as I have seen so many by this time that I couldn’t appreciate anymore, but I went one day to the hot springs and one day horseback riding. I met some great people here too and stayed in a superb hostel called La Iguana Azul. Oh and by the ruins there are a lot of macaws. They are bright red and loud. Awesome birds!

Copan horse riding Honduran children San Lucas finca Chanti Chanti View over Copan Aguas Calientes Hot springs macaw

After Copan I went for a day to Gracias- recommended by Lonely Planet..well..it’s a nice little town but unless you have a lot of time and want to see everything it’s not a must. There is a cute little jar shop though that is worth a visit (called Lorendiana), and some nice churches and a fort. There are no hostels, only slightly or very expensive hotels. (for a backpacker)

 

san marcos fort jar shop

After Gracias I chicken bussed it to Lago de Yojoa which I very much loved! I stayed in a microbrewery called D&D which had a pool, excellent beers, great tourist information and a bonfire every night. I met my friend Alex here (we did the rescue course together in Utila), we did a walk up to the view point over the lake, took a Flor de Cana bottle of rum and celebrated our efforts in 40 degrees!

Lake Yojoa rum team

I met a super nice girl here Nikky, we wanted to have an overnight jungle trip (Santa Barbara cloud forest) to check out this famous quetzal bird (official bird of Guatemala but can be spotted here too) but D&D was crap in organising tours..great info source but not great action behind.

I met Kelly and Wayne here too. I enjoyed their deep psychological conversations and debates by the bonfire every evening so one day we visited a national park together to watch birds.

Bird watching Kelly and Wayne

Just before the last night the brewery ran out of beer …so we were drinking wine…5 of us..8 bottle..NOT GOOD!

wine night in the brewery

that evil night after a few days just when I got to Nicaragua triggered my acid reflux so…next time I’ll think twice.

I also did an excellent trip to the Pulhapanzak waterfall. If you get the chance go behind the waterfall..it’s an adrenaline rush!! Walter, the tour guide took me there with his motorbike (unofficial tour lol)

Pulhapanzak Waterfalls Pulhapanzak Waterfalls with Walter

 

One day Wayne and I went to the coffee farm next door, it was a nice afternoon with some great scenery. Same day we saw a Mot Mot bird in the brewery!! Such great wild life here!

pink banana view over the lake coffee bird watching

Mot Mot

So a few words about Wayne. He is an English guy, very clever but a little bit of a lost soul. This hasn’t turned out just yet..he will be in my next blog too. Anyway he used to work as an IT consultant in England and had some hotel points accumulated. He kindly invited me to spend a weekend with him in the Intercontinental hotel in Tegucigalpa (with no bad intentions, purely because he needed company I guess) and I was thinking  why not splurge a bit for free and refresh in a nice hotel, dye my hair, have a proper shower etc.

We got a direct bus at 6am to the capital of Honduras (2nd highest murder rate in central america) ..and cause we couldn’t occupy the room yet we went across the street to a shopping centre. Wow..what a rush I had going through those amazing shops! too much time in basic places gives me back that genuine enthusiasm and appreciation for things we take for granted in the first world.

View Intercontinental Tegus Pool Intercontinental Tegus Sunset view

So after I did the ‘beauty session’ we went out with Wayne to the centre to check out a few bars and we ended up going with 2 locals to a Cuban salsa bar…I LOVED IT! Was dancing the whole evening. Wayne didn’t have this enthusiasm for dancing so he opted for drinking. We closed the night in a very fancy roof terrace.

Cuban bar Tegus

The next day I left Tegus and took the bus to Nicaragua. Next time I’ll continue from here.

In the previous post I already started talking about Guatemala. Flores, Tikal were amazing, Antigua..super rich city with many fancy cars, lots of foreign people studying Spanish etc. After Antigua I went to one of my favourite places in Guatemala to Lake Atitlan.

In Guatemala the majority of tourists are travelling with shuttles (you don’t see locals in these) just because it does not cost much more than chicken buses and long destinations can be reached much easier with a direct shuttle rather than having to change 2-3 times. This is what I took for 80 quetzales (about £6) for a 3.5 hour journey. The shuttle took me to Panajachel which is the main town around the lake, then I took a ‘lancha’ (boat) to San Pedro which was meant to be the most lively part of the lake with the most backpackers on it.  I found a hotel (Hotel Helen) with stunning views over the lake for about £3 a night..quite rare finding a place like this on these rates.

Hotel Helen View from Helen

In San Pedro there are some cool restaurants and bars to hang out, there is always a party somewhere and it’s easy to meet people. One day I bumped into 4 Canadian girls with whom we were doing a free Salsa lesson when Richard was still with me. It was a great surprise to see them again so we started chatting and we bonded in the evening during one of the ‘Ladies’ nights’ parties!

Crazy Canadians

One day I went to Chichi market..in Guatemala for some reason buses always broke down…this is what happened on this day as well, and one other thing topped the experience..there was a Swedish lady on the shuttle who like hearing her voice..so she was singing along the great 80’s songs during the 3 hour journey…NOT COOL!

The market itself was a little disappointing after the Bolivian La Paz market…and it was expensive..so i ended up buying almost nothing.

Chichi market

Chichi

On the way back I took some nice pics of the lake:

Lake Atitlan

Atitlan DSC_1574

After San Pedro and the parties we moved to a way more chilled place called Santa Cruz where we stayed in a home-style hostel called La Iguana Perdida. I did a dive here with ATI Divers (part of TrekCats- Association of Central and South American Divers)..you could see houses, swimming pools, saunas under water and volcanic sand where we poached an egg. The lake is growing due to past earth moves this is why some houses are already under water. The Iguana was nice, dinner together, activities. It’s a tab based system. I had a hair cut here too:) Was a great experience. A travel buddy cut it for me.

After the Iguana I was done with the lake. My Canadian friends went to Guatemala City to catch their flight home so I carried on alone. Next destination was Semuc Champey but I had to break the journey in Antigua, where I spent a lovely afternoon, stayed in the same hostel I stayed with Richard at (Hostel Jacarnda, lovely people and great place!), and had a nice pancake dinner in the ‘Luna de Miel’.(http://www.lunademielantigua.com/ )

Next morning I took the shuttle to Semuc Champey. The road is fine from Antigua until the last hour which is an 11 km dirt road…hence it takes an hour to get to the village of Lanquin. I decided to stay in El Retiro in Lanquin (http://www.elretirolanquin.com/ ), where I met a very nice group of people with whom we did the Semuc Champey tour the next day…well…it’s a beautiful place..

Semuc Champey SC

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The tour was pretty hard core, we went to a cave first where all you need is a bikini and a candle and some courage:)

We climbed walls, swam through the cave, jumped off cliffs within the cave..so..it was a miracle if somebody finished the adventure without any injury. Then we hiked to the terrace pools, and spent the afternoon sliding down, diving in, having fun.

The day after I took it easy, just did some tubing on the river where i managed to hit a branch and go under my tube lol.

That evening I met an American man who was running a local NGO and explained me that he is recruiting volunteers who would be willing to donate 100 quetzal (around £8) meaning the volunteer would go to a pharmacy with a local doctor to buy medicine for people living in the mountains and walk with the local doctor to visit these families. I was very keen on doing something like this on my trip..well…I did it and i don’t regret it but it was a tough experience seeing some of those houses and generations living together along with the little pig…It put things in perspective and all of a sudden it won’t matter which brand of sunglasses shall i pick up next time when I’m in a department store..

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After Semuc another 7 hour trip was coming up (originally 4 but because of the road closures it got extended:) to Rio Dulce. There is nothing in Rio Dulce just a river and a lovely hostel called Casa Perico where I made a new friend, a pet honey bear:)

rio dulce DSC_2080

Toto

 

Sadly During Semuc and Rio Dulce I was sick..(usual acid reflux) but after a few days I recovered and could continue to the last town in Guatemala to Livingston.

Livingston is influenced by Belize as it’s by the border and the people living there are much more Caribbean than the conservative Guatemalans. By the way in Guatemala I had to watch out for what I was wearing because sometimes I got some looks when I was wearing shorts..Very religious country, hence Easter (Or as they call it Semana Santa starting this year on the  14th April finishing on the 20th April) is the biggest celebration in Guatemala especially in Antigua.

The boat ride between Rio Dulce and Livingston is very nice..that was the reason I visited these places:

Rio Dulce, Livingston DSC_2117 DSC_2130 DSC_2136

 

I stayed only one night in Livingston because I couldn’t wait to get to Utila and dive! The epic journey from Livingston to Utila in one day has already been posted previously, in my next post I’ll share my adventures in Honduras.

As an overall closing line I was expecting a little bit more from Guatemala. I heard many good things about it but the level of development in certain areas was surprising. Still liked it though and would go back at some point.

 

So back to one post before the previous one..I am in Mexico..it’ s the 21st February. I took a flight from Mexico D.F to Cancun to meet Richard. I was super excited! I arrived at Terminal 1, he did Terminal 3 and the waiting time was only 1 hour for me. Dressed up as a Mexican cowgirl I was waiting for my cowboy in boots, denim shorts and sombrero. Just as in the movies..very emotional and happy meeting at the airport, then we took a bus to Playa del Carmen around 9pm. Upon arrival I couldn’t hide my disappointment..I totally thought that PDC was less touristy and it’s a perfect escape from Cancun but no..bazaar style main street with silver shops, souvenir shops, agencies etc. We got to our wonderful hotel which was booked by Richie as  a post-Valentine treat and roses allover..proper romantic. Again..as in the movies:)

roses on bed

1st full day in PDC we decided that on our route together there will be plenty of dive opportunities so Richard should do his open water certificate to be able to dive without limitations. After a tiring shopping around dive shops (which was quite off-putting for him) we found a very nice freelance instuctor, Diego (Argentina), and agreed he would start diving in a couple of days’ time, which then allowed us to have a mega night in Coco Bongo, the best nightclub in town (similar to cirque du soleil , crammed with shows) where you buy a fairly expensive entrance and have unlimited drinks throughout the night..fantastic night..super drunk:)

Video will be up soon. in the meantime so pics:

coco bongo spiderman coco bongo

Next day..absolutely dying of hangover we booked a tour to Chitzen Itza..7.50 am start..needless to say we did not find funny the Mexican guide’s forced jokes on the 4 hour minibus ride:) Once we were at the site we felt better. Had a stop at a little rather commercial Mayan village, then a guided and free tour on the archaeological site.

Chitzen Itza CI

On the way back to PDC we stopped in a ‘Gruta’ and swam in the natural pool …sadly it was packed with tourists but still was fun.

Gruta

 

Richard did his open water in 2 days which is pretty impressive..i was concerned if he would like it etc. but he did!

 

diego and ingrid

We made friends with Diego and his girlfriend Ingrid and we went together after the course to the world famous dive destination Isla de Cozumel and did 2 dives where we saw Eagle Rays, turtles, Nurse sharks, lobsters, sting rays, trigger fish, cow fish, angle fishes and many more..It was an insane dive! Just to name them, the first one was Colombia deep dive and the second La francesa. If you guys get the chance, this is the place to go! Also very big surprise at Cozumel..Hagar, a friend with whom I dived in 2012 in Cambodia was sitting in the Blue Magic dive shop!!! What a small world..

Reunited:

Hagar

 

We stayed only one night as we had a total of 17 days together and we had to move. Next stop was Tulum. This is an incredibly romantic place on the Caribbean coast..We stayed in Playa condesa in lovely little bungalow, visited the ruins, did some cave diving (Dos Ojos), and just hang out in the hammock sipping great cocktails. I truly loved this place..so did Richard.

Tulum IMG_2522

Next destination was Belize for us. We crossed from Mexico in a town called Chetumel by ferry to Caye Caulker. At least this was the plan, until someone told us how great the carnival is in San Pedro (neighbour island where the only transport method is by gold carts) Well..San Pedro was not my favourite place, because it took us ages to find accommodation and it was super expensive (all booked up because of the carnival..) not only booked we pricey accommodation which was about 15 minutes walk from the centre but there was no sign of the carnival…So next day we did a trip to Hol Chan and Shark Ray Alley. In Hol Chan we dived and Shark Ray we snorkelled with sharks and a big rays..you could so easily touch them ..it was an adrenaline rush! Loved it! The only thing that I was not quite happy with was that the locals were feeding the sharks..but otherwise they would not be approachable ..meh..this is one of those things you can either refuse to go because of the ethics or..you just say whatever..I won’t miss this experience.

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After the half day dive we took the ferry to Caye Caulker. I preferred it so much more! Smaller island and a bit less touristy and developed. Saying that..there was a Starbucks on the island where the only road available was dirt road. We booked a dive trip to the famous Blue Hole..

IMG_2644 blue hole

It’s a full day trip, as it takes 2 hours on a speedboat to get there..the journey is fairly rough, so consider taking pills if you are sea sick.  On the first dive we dropped down to 40 meter..sadly the visibility was not the greatest..you could just about see the wall but I managed to see 3 sharks as well so I was still impressed. The other 2 shallow dives were pretty good with turtles, eagle rays sting rays, schools of  jacks and snappers and lots of fun in the water with Richie. Truly amazing day!

I have to stop here for a second and share a fairly funny story that happened just before we left Caye Caulker on the boat. A lady in her early 40s had to go to the loo after breakfast (6am) but the dive shop (Frenchie’s) did not have a toilet. I was in similar shoes and I was told to return to my guesthouse, the boat will wait. As I was on my way to our guest house this lady was running and said, come with me, this local man said there is a hotel where you can ‘borrow’ the loo. This hotel was very close to the dive shop so I joined her. It was too early, so we literally broke into this hotel but there was no toilet. So this lady decided that she will use the garden..she also added that she needed to do a number 2. I only had to do a number one but was not considering using the garden of a hotel. Especially after I bumped into a few staff members of the dive shop and turned out it was the official hotel of the dive shop! 🙂 I was offered a lift though to my guest house so i could go to my own bathroom. As we left the shore with the boat this lady came up to me and said how bad she feels about having to do a number 2 in the garden and she was considering going back and confess her ‘crime’ just in case she would be arrested..I was entertained by this story along with Richard for the rest of the day..

I miss those stunning sunsets of Caye Calulker..

Sunset Caye Caulker

The following morning we left Caye Caulker and headed to Flores, Guatemala. We arrived well in the afternoon and we did not want to rush around to organise our trip to Tikal the next day and given that Flores was a lovely little town with a huge lake we decided to stay there next day. Great decision! We hired kayaks, visited a museum and a viewpoint, met some locals who offered us beers in the heat. First surprise in Guatemala for us was a super developed shopping centre by the bridge between Santa Elena and Flores..western standards..western prices.

Flores DSC_0851

We decided not to do Tikal in the sunrise and what a great decision! There was no sunrise the next morning. We left Flores at 8am and returned at 4pm. Tikal was wonderful..a bit like Angkor Wat in Cambodia but with less tourists. Loved it.

DSC_0949 tikal

We took the night bus to Guatemala..it was very smooth…we pretty much slept through the journey. From Guat we took a shuttle to Antigua which took less than an hour so we were there by 7am.

Antigua was the second surprise for us…I totally thought that Guatemala is still fairly undeveloped but Flores, Antigua and later on Lake Atitlan proved the opposite. We found some amazing bars and restaurants in Antigua but experiencing that our order at a place is taken by iPad…well..I can’t deny my disappointment. Antigua is expensive. A fantastic place to stay though is: Casa Jacaranda. Cheap and you get a choice of 5 different brekkies included. Has a superb garden with hammocks, and the owners when they are there love chatting to tourists.

Antigua

One day we climbed Pacaya Volcano, which is a still active volcano and you can burn your feet on the volcanic rocks if you stand there too long but you can easily get lost in the fun of melting marshmallows above the heat of the lava. On the way back you get to pick avocados from the tree.  It’s a half day trip..not demanding at all. The rest of our time in Antigua we watched the Sunday preparation for the Semana Santa (Easter), walked around, visited markets ,went to Pastores the little leather town nearby where you can buy cheap leather boots, belts, bags etc.

If you like eco-lodges, pay a visit to the Earth Lodge, fantastic hideaway from the touristy Antigua.

The morning of the 11th March was sad for both of us as the dream travelling together came to an end. I was tempted to go home with him but I thought I might not have another opportunity like this to travel and to be honest I kinda had enough of travelling alone. Now that I experienced how great is to travel with the one you love and share all these adventures, feelings, moments, I don’t really want to travel alone anymore. I am really grateful to Richard that he made such an effort to take almost all his holidays of the year off to be able to travel with me and that he let me share with him such an amazing experience !

In the next post I am going to continue with Guatemala as after the 2 most touristy and developed places we visited with Richard I got a good insight into the ‘real life’ in Guatemala.