Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Trip Report

Warning that this may be a pretty long, wall of text.
We went to Honduras last week and I fully intended to write each day of our trip, you know, in blog form. It started off as just wanting to get away for a bit, go to the beach and sightsee. It turned into us riding on every other bus from here to Honduras to Guatemala and back again plus a day at the beach and a day at the ruins. This is not the way to travel. We spent way more money than we planned (because we didn’t plan at all) and spent way too much time on buses (again with the not planning). Last Monday we decided to head off to Honduras for our “Great Traveling Adventure”. We were so ready to get out of here, we quickly packed our things and hopped in the back of a passing pickup on our way to Chalate. This time, I sat on the edge, holding on for dear life but enjoying the dusty breeze and 360° view of the countryside. In the truck with us was an abuelita, in a skirt, standing up and nonchalantly holding on with one hand while talking on her cell phone with the other. As we were arriving into the city, stopped at a 4-way, we were rear ended by a silver car. So we all hopped out and walked to our bus while the poor guy dealt with his pickup. Most of this trip is uneventful but we transferred buses at Amayo and two backpackers got off and then got on the same bus we were getting on that goes to the border. I made a bet with M that they would get off in La Palma and he thought they would ride all the way to the border. I won so he owes me $1,000,000. When you get off the bus in El Poy, you can walk to the border and cross. They have money changers with big wads of cash and I said we should get some lempiras. I wanted to get like $100 worth. When he came back, he had only changed $20. How far do you think $20 is going to take us??
You get stamped out of El Salvador and get stamped into Honduras. We got the usual ‘where are you going? What are you doing?’ questions, and then M starts to chat the guy up about how he was born in Honduras and blah blah blah and I nearly fell over. One, because anytime I bring up that he’s technically Honduran he gets all huffy and puffy that’s he’s 100% SalvadoreƱo, and two, because his Salvadoran passport says he was born in El Salvador and I just knew the immigration guy was going to detain us and question us and search our bags and it’s getting dark and there won’t be any more buses and WHAT WILL WE DO?! Well none of that happened. The guy was really nice and was just like yeah, you should get your Honduran identity card and blah blah blah right back. I paid my $3 and we were in. We hopped in a minibus to Ocotepeque where we would take another bus to La Entrada and then change to another to go to Copan Ruinas.
When we got to Ocotepeque, we bought our bus tickets to La Entrada and then went looking for an ATM because we were of course nearly out of lempiras. We ate the best baleadas ever from a stand on the street. Baleadas are handmade flour tortillas smeared with refried beans and grated white cheese and crema and sometimes you can get them with scrambled eggs, avocado, or chicken. Simple, cheap, and delicious. I pretty much ate baleadas everyday in Honduras and the meals where we ate in restaurants, I would’ve just been better off with baleadas.
The bus arrived at about 7pm and by this time it was dark and I was thinking we weren’t going to make it to Copan tonight. So we’re discussing whether we should get a room in La Entrada or keep going to San Pedro Sula and go to the beach first. Well apparently all this time, M thought we were on our way to the beach. We got into you said/I said argument on the bus. I’ll leave out the boring details but we were able to pay the difference on the bus and we went all the way to San Pedro Sula where we got a room.
We were going to get up early and catch the 6am bus to La Ceiba, which would get us to La Ceiba in time to catch the 930 ferry to Roatan, but we didn’t get up. Instead, we caught the noon bus and caught the 430 ferry. I truly believe that “they” purposely put things on opposite sides of town to create jobs for taxi drivers. And when taxi drivers see your bags the price increases. Anyway, the ferry was big. It was over an hour to get to Roatan and the boat was bouncing hard on the waves. We were all feeling a little green. I had read on the guidebook that there were no buses to West End, where we were staying but that we could try for a colectivo. So we hurried off the boat and were swarmed by taxi drivers. It’s $20 to West End but the driver said if we wanted to wait to see if two more people wanted to share, no problem. So instead of us paying $10 each, we’d pay $5 each. Many people passed us and our driver by. They either already had 4 people or weren’t going to West End. Finally these two girls are exiting the ferry and our driver is trying to ask them if they want to join our colectivo, 2 for $10. They were also going to West End, which was obvious by their ginormous backpacks. The one girl deferred to the other girl who was just exclaiming that 2 for 10 was the same thing as she was walking off. Then she said 2 for 8. 2 for $8 she kept repeating as our driver kept trying to explain to her that $20 was the standard fare and if she shared with us it would be $5 each. This went on for a good 15 minutes as we sat there with our bags waiting for them to give up so we could get on to our hotel. Finally they agreed to 2 for $10, thank you Jesus. We stayed at the Mariposa Lodge, recommended by the Lonely Planet and it was great. We were debating on whether we should try for a room with a/c or be cheap, but there were none available so cheap won out. We had a room with a shared bathroom and kitchen for $26 a night, a short walk from the water and the strip. There were three rooms but only one other was occupied by a couple from New Zealand who were doing a year and half long trip. I tried googling around for food recs because I don’t always trust Lonely Planet to recommend restaurants. I read somewhere that they don’t always eat in the places they review nor are all of them foodies. I didn’t find anything promising on chowhound, basically the food here was alright, we wouldn’t starve, but there was nothing spectacular that we must try. We ate at the Argentinean restaurant which was ok but expensive.
Our main plan for Roatan was enjoy the beach and possibly snorkel, kayak, or take a boat tour. So we got up early (for us) and walked along the beach to West Bay which has a very pretty beach. It was an hour long walk but the beach was beautiful. The water was crystal clear see your feet and a beautiful turquoise color. It was calm and there were no waves. I almost wished the water was cooler. Now, the Lonely Bible Planet says don’t take anything to the beach or it will get stolen while you’re swimming. So all we brought was water to drink. I applied sunscreen before we left but by the time we got to the beach we had been walking in the sun for over an hour and I could feel myself burning. And of course I didn’t bring my camera so I have no proof pictures of the beautiful beach or us on it. We swam for a bit before taking a water taxi back to the hotel so I could get more sunscreen. We decided to eat lunch at The Worst Restaurant In West End, also known as the Lighthouse Restaurant. I have a new rule that basically if someone doesn’t acknowledge you within at least five minutes of entering the restaurant, it’s probably going to be a bad experience. We waited FOREVER for our food. Not just us, but everyone in the place around us. We waited well over an hour. One couple got up and canceled their order. Another girl who had come in after us got up and headed towards the bathroom and then said, “I’m going to black out” and then fell to the floor. Of course that stirred up a frenzy and I knew we were never going to eat. And then of course the food was sub-par and overpriced. At least the person taking our money apologized and was friendly.
After that, we grabbed the sunscreen and a towel and headed back to the beach. I was in the water not more than a minute before I felt something sting me. The water wasn’t deep and there were other people around so I moved to another area….where I was stung again…and again. I was being attacked by invisible water creatures! Now I had a huge red welt on my leg and red line on my back. Of course they didn’t bother M, who had gone off to investigate renting a kayak. We walked along the beach to another place looking for a kayak. While he went to ask, I went over and sat on the dock. This was away from the beach and people and it was nice. There were some stairs that went down into the water where there were some rocks. I figured I’d go rinse the sand off my feet. I took two steps down when, boom, I slipped and fell down the rest of the steps into the water. I was fine; there was no one around to witness my clumsiness. M. came back and started to do the same thing and I warned him and he’s like yeah, if there’s green stuff it’s slippery. Thanks. He couldn’t find the kayaks so we just sat there and waited for a water taxi to come by. Eventually one did, it had people already in it but it came over and picked us up. We hopped in and who should be sitting right in front of us all crispy? The girls from the taxi! They sorta said hello after M was like HI! How you doing? I’m pretty sure this is what they mean when they talk about the gringo trail. I don’t think we would’ve noticed them if we hadn’t shared that initial taxi with them. On the way back to the hotel we tried to guess where they were from by their accent. I thought they were Australian, M guessed English. We got to the hotel and I had a nasty burn on my shoulders. After awhile we went back out in search of one of those aloe gels for sunburns and to grab some baleadas. We saw the girls again, this time from a distance carrying gallon jugs of water. Our hotel provided us with water so we could refill our water bottles. And did I mention it had free wifi? The Nice New Zealanders had left and left us a note saying we were welcome to the half a watermelon they had left in fridge. It was cold and sweet and delicious.
After being burned on Wednesday, I knew I shouldn’t go back out in the sun but we (I) really wanted to do at least one activity while we were here and Roatan is known for diving and its reef so we went snorkeling. Let me preface this with, I’ve decided that I’m probably never going snorkeling again. I’ve never been interested in diving because the thought of being underwater like that scares me and I’m scared of sharks. But snorkeling seemed like it would be ok, you can just pop your head back up and breathe if you need to and you’ll get to see all kinds of brightly colored fish and coral and sea stuff. So we paid a guy with a boat and the mask and flippers to take us snorkeling. He took us a bit away from the shore where there were other snorkelers and we hopped out of the boat into the water. So far, so good. Looking around underwater, it’s not even that deep, maybe like 8 or 9 feet. The guide was swimming around, he dove down and brought up a big conch shell to show us. And he kept swimming farther out. So I swam back to the boat. And M followed me because his mask was bothering him. So we switched masks and the guide came back and was like, why aren’t you following me? Um, maybe because you didn’t tell us to. So we started following him and my mask kept filling up with water. The guy was like you have to seal it to your face. Um, I know that, I think there’s a small hole in it. He grudgingly, switched masks with me and we followed him on to the reef. Now, maybe I had high expectations. I did see some pretty bright blue fish and some yellow striped ones. The sea fans were kinda cool too. But the reef is just a bunch of rocks and they come up nearly to the surface of the water so it’s hard to swim over them without touching them and my feet would fall down and I just knew I was damaging nature, like a bull in a china shop. I was so over this. I like swimming and I like the ocean but I don’t like feeling like I’m in the water with the sea animals. I felt like a shark could come along at any time and there’s not enough math or logic in the world that would keep me from having a heart attack. The worst was yet to come. We swam back to the boat. I’m pretty sure the guide was annoyed with us because we (I) weren’t (wasn’t) ooohing and aahhing over everything. Now this was like a little rowboat with a motor on the back. He put out a ladder to climb back into the boat but I just couldn’t. There was nothing to push off of and I just couldn’t pull myself up into the boat or onto the ladder. Can’t you just drag me back to the shore? I’ll just hold on to the ladder. Give me your hand, he said. NO. NO. NO. Him and M each grabbed an arm and heaved me into the boat. Like a beached whale I kinda flopped in and we headed back to shore. I have no shame, that’s why I’m willing to share all these embarrassing moments with you all.
After that, I was pretty ready to go. Roatan, I’m done with you! I haven’t mentioned thus far that it was of course hot and humid and as accommodating as our hotel was in every other way, with no a/c there was no relief from the sweating. I wasted away the rest of the day on the internet and we paid our bill and arranged for a taxi to the ferry in the morning. We then spend a considerable amount of time trying to decide where to go next. We knew we wanted to go to Tikal and Semuc Champey in Guatemala but I also had a strong desire to go to Belize. It was unfortunate though cause we were all beached out and the main places we wanted to go were either Placencia (beach) and/or Caye Caulker (water activities). So we debated back and forth about whether we should travel through Guatemala up to Tikal or up through Belize to Tikal. The LP we had was not clear on what days there was a ferry to Belize so we figured we try and see about the ferry and if not, we’d figure it out when we got there.
We got up at 5am. At 6, the very nice hotel owner shuttled us to the 7am ferry to La Ceiba. We got seasick pills this time. They’re free with your ticket if you ask for them, but how would you know? We then taxied to the bus terminal on the other side of town and backtracked to San Pedro Sula, then bused to Puerto Cortes. It seems so short writing it but it was a lot of time traveling! We got to Pto. Cortes at 3pm to find out there was only one ferry to Belize a week and it was on Monday morning. Not wanting to stick around Pto. Cortes or deal with a local bus that could take two or three times as long, we decided to take a taxi to the border (Corinto). It was about an hour away and we would get there in time to catch a bus to Puerto Barrios, Guatemala, where ferries left daily for Belize. The road to Corinto runs along the shore and the coastline is beautiful. As I was admiring the beautiful Caribbean Sea we got pulled over by the police. They checked our passports and asked us what we were doing, where we were going and then searched our bags. It was uneventful but unnerving nonetheless! Since all of our paperwork was in order they let us go but apparently if we hadn’t been properly stamped into Honduras we would’ve had to pay a fine. We got to Corinto, got stamped out of Honduras and stamped into Guatemala while M changed money for some quetzales. Now at this point, I hadn’t had time to go online and check what the exchange rate was and the Lonely Planet I had was just for Honduras. On my computer I had old pdf copies for the other central American countries. Once again, M only changed $20 to quetzales!!!! We paid for our colectivo to Pto. Barrios and then proceeded to get ripped off for the rest of our time in Guatemala. We tried to get quetzales from an atm but it didn’t work so nearly everything else we had to pay in dollars. Which means the rate was jacked way up. We found a hotel near the dock, dropped our stuff, and went back out to grab some food and check on getting stamped out of Guatemala. The immigration office told us we could just come back in the morning and I noted the sign which said there was a US $10 exit fee when leaving Guatemala. I paid $10 to enter El Salvador and $3 to enter Honduras, so this didn’t seem too weird or anything. We ate overpriced food at a restaurant recommended to us by the hotel. When will we learn??? Then we headed back to the hotel. We laid there talking about what we wanted to do and how much money we had spent and how much more money we would spend and we kinda came to the conclusion that we hadn’t planned very well and had spent way more than we wanted to and maybe we should just go home. It had only been five days and we were burnt out. I’m not sure how people travel for a year. My bag felt heavier everyday and I didn’t bring any extraneous stuff and we didn’t buy anything. So we changed our plans and decided to cut down through Guatemala and cross back over to Honduras and visit Copan Ruinas and then go home. I wasn’t looking forward to all the bus riding again so soon and I definitely felt like I was missing my only opportunity to visit Belize and Tikal. I know they’re not going anywhere but when you’re right there and it’s so close it feels like I’m never coming back.
We got up and headed for the bus station. We knew we needed to take a bus to Chiquimula and as we were walking there was one headed our way. We asked if the bus went to Chiquimula, si si si they respond. NO NO NO. The bus dropped us off an hour or two later and told us we would transfer to another bus here. And we weren’t the only ones who thought the bus went all the way to Chiquimula. There were Guatemalans who were duped too. Shortly, the bus to Chiquimula came and we hopped on. This was an old greyhound type bus and we ended up in the very last row, where there are three seats instead of two and it’s next to the bathroom. These turned out to be the worst seats ever and not because of the bathroom which was locked up and out of service. These seats are right over the engine and so hot it felt like heated seats. We would periodically have to stand up and let us and the seats cool off. Hot air would blow onto our feet from some kind of vent and whenever we would stop, we would lift the bar and swing open the emergency exit window. We were on this bus for a long long time because at one point there was road construction and it was single lane only. FINALLY we arrived in Chiquimula to transfer to another bus to the border town of Florido. Of course it didn’t actually take us to Florido. We got to somewhere where we had to take another bus, this time we traded some lempiras with someone on the bus for enough quetzales for the bus ride so we wouldn’t get ripped off. Didn’t matter cause the guy didn’t give us the right change and then tried to tell us to take it up with the bus office. It’s only a dollar but it’s still irritating. We got to the border and M went to spend the rest of the quetzales he had while I went to get stamped out of Guatemala. The guy charged me 10 quetzales to leave Guatemala. M had just spent them all on cokes and chips so I gave him 7 plus a dollar and he was fine with that. I didn’t ask him about the US$10 exit fee. Maybe that’s only if you’re leaving by boat. Who knows. We had plenty of lempiras so we jumped in a colectivo to Copan Ruinas and arrived shortly. Copan Ruinas is the name of the town near the Mayan ruins called Copan. It is a very cute colonial town and there were tons of tourists. It felt vibrant and alive and there was just this nice bustling energy of people enjoying life. After checking several that were full, we found a hotel for $20 a night and we went to get some dinner. The taxis in Copan Ruinas were like these little red tuk tuks and our driver recommended Comedor Mary’s. It was inexpensive and good! Then we walked around a bit before heading back to the hotel.
We had arranged for the tuk tuk driver to pick us up at 745 to go to the ruins. We wanted to get there early not so much to avoid the tourists but to avoid the midday sun. There was one big school group but other than that, there was hardly anyone there. We roamed around and of course the camera battery died. We were walking up to one area and M was like, Oh Hi! How you doing? It was the girls again! They said hello and kept on their way. They’re not unfriendly but not friendly if you know what I mean.
We thought about going to the thermal pools that in the area but at $60 we thought it was kinda pricey. We went back to the hotel and relaxed for a bit, then walked around the town some more. In the evening we chatted with the hotel owner and told her we planned to go to Santa Rosa de Copan the next day to see if we could get a copy of M’s Honduran birth certificate. She told us that right down the street was an Oficina de Registro and we could get it there tomorrow. Overall we had a nice, relaxing time in Copan Ruinas and I would definitely recommend visiting if it’s not too out of the way.
We had planned to get up early to take the only direct bus to Santa Rosa de Copan but since we could check into it right here in Copan, we slept til 830 and then M went to check it out while I took a shower and packed us up. He was only gone like 15 minutes when he came back with the news that his name didn’t show up in the computer and we would have to go to Santa Rosa to see if he was listed in a special book. Santa Rosa is on the way to the border so no big deal. We headed off to find the bus a few blocks from the hotel. As we were approaching the minibus, I shouldn’t be surprised but I could see in the bus, the Australian/English girls. Hello again. Hello. We were sitting right behind them and yes, they were also going to Santa Rosa de Copan. During our 4 hour ride together, M managed to awkwardly interrogate them on where they were from (England), who was their favorite soccer team (don’t have one), did they like Manchester or Chelsea (literally responded, I don’t care), would they send him an original Manchester jersey, (no, you can get them on the internet), would they like to share a hotel with us (thank god I don’t think they heard him say this in Spanish case I was like no way), and would they like to get lunch with us ( luckily they said no). He did not get the hint that they didn’t want to talk to him and I think he was driven to be friendly to them because they were so unfriendly. I couldn’t wait to get off that bus!
I dragged us away and quickly ushered us into a taxi to find the Oficina de Registro and see about his birth certificate. We got there and as it was lunchtime no one was there but we waited a few minutes and someone came. It was a small room with a wall of books with months and years written on the spines in marker. She pulled the book down for 1983 and after looking through every page she still didn’t find M’s birth certificate. His brothers that were born there too also weren’t in the computer so we asked if we brought the brother’s birth certificate if it might help locate M’s and she said possibly. So when we get back we’re going to see if we can’t find it.
By the time we left Santa Rosa we knew we weren’t going to make it home today. We decided to get to El Salvador and try and stay in La Palma, not far from the border. BY the time we got to La Palma it was dark and we had missed the last bus. But we got a taxi to La Palma for just $6 and found a hotel for $14.
We’re home! We were so happy to get home and then we remembered why we were so excited to leave. Our next trip will be better planned. We are tentatively going to Costa Rica in early September when a friend comes to visit. I’m going to spend August vegging out and not spending any money.

Saturday, July 9, 2011


I took a little video tour of the house for you guys but it's so big that I can't get it uploaded without the internet disconnecting. We have what is essentially cell phone internet, like an aircard, where we plug this little usb modem into the computer and it has a sim card in it. It will lose the signal and then you have to reconnect. It's mostly annoying for uploading, otherwise it's sufficient. I mostly get 3g speeds, it's just not consistent.

We sent M's police certificate off to the lawyer (DHL $53!) and we should hear about his appointment in about 2 months. Fingers crossed we get the appointment in early September. Or at least notice of it. I don't know if I mentioned it before but when I went to pick up my visa at the Spanish Consulate before we left, it had been denied. Luckily it was just a mistake and I should get that soon and then we can apply for M's visa here.

Considering how inexpensive it is here, we sure have spent a TON of money. Stuff adds up quickly and I'm now hesitant to do too much traveling because I don't want to blow through our savings before we even get to Spain. BUT, I would like to visit Copan Ruinas and Roatan in Honduras and maybe Corn Island in Nicaragua. A trip to Costa Rica might be necessary too because my 90 day tourist visa will expire September 12 and I have to leave the CA-4 (Guatemala, El Salv, Honduras, and Nicaragua) for 3 days before I can come back in for another 90 days. There are places in El Salvador I want to see too but after the trip to San Salvador, I feel a little burnt out. The buses here are old school buses. I'm just too tall for these buses I guess, my knees literally DO NOT FIT behind the seat in front of me and I'm not anxious to repeat the 3 hour trip again.

So Fresa....

Fresa means strawberry but it also means something along the lines of bouzhy (No, I don't know how to spell booshie/bourgey...the shortened form of bourgeoisie or bourgeois). So last week I was sick. Wikipedia say travelers diarrhea takes about 2 weeks before it sets in. Well at just about the two week mark it hit me all at once. Me running to the bathroom every 20-30 minutes, nothing by water comes out. Headaches, general weakness. M. went to buy me some suero, which is a generic word for what is essentially pedialyte.

Now, the position of our room in the house means it gets the most direct sun and is therefore 110 degrees during the day. It was at that moment when I couldn't lift my head off the pillow that was soaked in my sweat that we decided we would buy an air conditioner. At home this means you buy the unit, stick it in your window, seal it up and you're done. But no, here no.

First, we bought the unit. It is nearly identical to the one we had in our room at home and was priced similarly, so far so good. Well then we had to hire someone to cut a hole in the concrete wall. And an electrician to install an outlet and what I think is a breaker box above it. I don't even think it was necessary since the a/c unit is a 110 plug but whatever, I just go along with it. And then we have to install a ceiling so all our precious cool air doesn't escape through the gap between the walls and the roof. Drop ceilings are the thing here so that's what we're getting. And we need caulk to fill in the gaps and cracks like you can see around the window in the photo below.

I'm hoping (FINGERS CROSSED), that all this sealing up will mean less bugs and mosquitoes in our room. I'm tired of marinating myself in deet everyday, it can't be healthy.

So, all of this was last week. I'm not sure what happened, but at some point someone was working on the roof to fix a very small leak and now it rains in our room. And the room next to us. Right at the peak, in a straight line across the room, the water just falls in there. So hopefully they're fixing that today and then we'll get our ceiling installed so we can test out our a/c. We are soooooo fresa.

Pickup Ride

We were waiting for the bus when a pickup stopped and M. said vamonos and we hopped on. I was not exactly at my most graceful as I was too scared to sit on the edge and I was kind of sprawled on the floor and trying to brace myself so I didn't bounce over the side. You can see they're doing construction to improve the road which is great because this road was awful last time I was here. The downside is that all these temporary construction workers has caused an increase in prostitution among some locals.

pickup ride from ordinary life on Vimeo.

Tropical Storm

This is during our first week at the house. You can't tell from the video but it was raining really hard and trees were swaying and I may have heard someone say huracan. Also, that static-y sound is the rain.

tropical storm from ordinary life on Vimeo.
The river you see in this one is actually the "road".

road from ordinary life on Vimeo.

A Bug's Life

There's a lot of bugs here. Last night, I was laying in bed while M. used the internet when out of nowhere zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzZZZZZZZZZZPPPPPP!! What the....."M!! There's a bug in my ear, it flew at my ear!! I hear it buzzing IN MY EAR!!!" Imagine me frantic and slapping furiously at my head. "M!!!! Can you check PLEASE??"

M: I don't see anything.
M: No, a q-tip will only push it further in.
M: No, I know, we'll pour hot water in your ear and flush it out.
me:...........ok, HURRY! I can hear it buzzing!!

M. runs to the kitchen and returns with a bottle of water.

M: here, put some water in your mouth to warm it up.

me: ?????

this results in about 2 tablespoons of water mixed with saliva.


Miraculously, this works and the little mosquito spills out. Crisis avoided.