Guatemala:done, El Salvador: done, next: Honduras!

Trip Start Oct 01, 2008
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of Honduras  , Bay Islands,
Monday, December 22, 2008

Hello all you beautiful things, it's Miss Becca here. Mark says hello, but he's having a lie down right now as he's tired from a morning's diving (likely story, I think he just wants to go and watch wifeswap USA (his new favourite show joke) on our cable...little does he know the cable isn't working right now! ah ha! I don't know who the winner/loser is there, but there we go)

Right, so I've just looked at the date for when I supposedly "started" this particular blog, and it is December 22nd, 2008. Now, it being over a month from then, I feel it is high time to write the bloody thing!! I have to write a small disclaimer though: I may not remember all the details, seeing as these things happened a while ago. So apologies if this is shorter then you may have expected!

So, all those days ago, where Mark left off, I think we were just leaving Xela, where we had just finished our three weeks of studying Spanish. We were then due to move on to our last place in Guatemala before heading for the border and El Salvador.
San Pedro La Laguna, in Lago Atitlan was our last port of call and it was just gorrrgeous! I can't wax lyrical enough about the place. The town itself was a small cobble streeted hilly place, with tiny winding paths through gardens and houses that would lead you from one side of town to another. On one of our explorations through the town we stumbled upon an English pub... a perfect discovery! Being close to Christmas it meant that we could have our official christmas meal of a traditional sunday roast, and have a fry up in the morning too...with baked beans!!! Our stomachs were very happy. They also played all the premiership football, so you can imagine that with a fry up, roast dinner, beer on tap and footy on the tv, Mark was pretty much in heaven.
The actual lake itself was stunning, as you will see from the pictures, although they don't do it justice. The lake is bordered by volcanos, some active, some not. A lot of people hike them and the surrounding area, but we used our time in San Pedro La Laguna to feed our gluttonous selves and relax for a bit. Great stuff.

Then, we were on to El Salvador! This involved getting up at 5am to take a 5 hour bus to Guatemala city, then wait a few hours to take another 5 hour bus from there to Santa Ana, in El Salvador. This is the closest city to the border and is a pretty colonial city. With the greatest sorbets EVER. I was most pleased and endeavoured to have a blackberry sorbet every evening after some pupusas. The currency in El Salvador is the US dollar, which is good for us and it's much easier to work out and everything is bloody cheap. But not so good for the Salvadorians who say that everything has gone up in price at least 10 fold since the currency was introduced.
However, for us, a filling meal of pupusas (tortillas cooked with cheese and beans inside) and a beer was about $1.50 and then a huge sorbet was 60 cents. So we were happy!
From Santa Ana we went on to San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador. We stayed in the area that the lonely planet book told us to, which was a mistake as this turned out to be an American stripmall road with fast food galore and then only way you would know you were in El Salvador is by talking to someone and realising you would have to speak Spanish. Not our favourite place in the world. But, they did have a very good cinema with reclining seats, so we spent our time in our room watching films or going there and watching films.

We could only afford a small amount of time in El Salvador as we knew we had to be in Utila for the 23rd December in order to get there for christmas and to start our respective dive courses. It was also going to take a couple of days to get from the border of El Salvador to La Ceiba - the ferry port town in Northern Honduras from which we would go to Utila. So, our next and last port of call in El Salvador was to go to a town close to the border of Honduras called Perquin. This town was strongly involved in the civil war and as a consequence still has many relics, bombs, mines, hideouts etc that the Guerillas had either used or run from.
The town itself was very small and could be walked around in about 5 minutes. We quickly realised the only food we would be able to get was pupusas, but at only 20cents each we were happy with that!
The day after we arrived we got up early to go to the Guerilla museum, and were shown around by an ex-guerilla who was really friendly and had amazing stories to tell that to be honest made me feel incredibly useless and sheltered. This war was going on when Mark and I were alive, but we were only just born and so it had no affect on us whatsoever. But, to go to this town and see the remnents of such a bloody war and hear such horrifying yet amazing stories of bravery, was incredibly sobering and really put our lives into perspective. We are all incredibly lucky to live where we do.
After the museum, we went on a tour of the camp where some local guerillas lived, we saw the makeshift huts they lived in and the bombshelters they had dug out. And then we were shown unexploded mines that were fenced off  - a bit worrying! We were also shown various bombs that had been dropped there and were told that both the weapons they used and those that were used against them were all sold to the parties by the USA. Another success there!

We moved on the next day and started our long trek up La Ceiba. In Honduras the buses start running at about 3am and stop running at 11am. So, starting early was definitely the key. However, it doesn't matter how early you start, because when it gets to about 6am the bus driver will always stop with the bus left running and go and have a 45 minute long breakfast. If he sees any friends on the way he'll stop the bus and  have a 20 minute chat with them, if a nice looking dog crosses the buses path he'll stop the bus and try and befriend it, before giving up and looking for something else to stop the bus for. So after leaving Perquin at 5:30am, we finally got to the border town of Honduras at 10:30am. The last bus to the town we wanted to go to had already left and so we had to change our route to go to a town called Comayagua. We eventually found the bus after walking around for about 20 minutes looking for it - it was already leaving so we had to do an action film type entrance by running along next to it, and jumping on. Great stuff. Although, we didn't think that until after we were on the bus. This bus trip was much the same as the one earlier in the day, although the distance was much shorter so the bus drivers "stops for any reason possible" were much less. I feel there is a direct correlation between the length of the bus trip and how many times the bus driver deems it necessary to stop - whether for passengers or not.

We arrived in Comayagua, tired and ready for bed - even though it was before 4pm. We decided to treat ourselves and head for the most expensive hotel, that being $12pn. It had a nice dirty swimming pool and rooms that looked out onto the noisey street below. The town itself was very nice with lovely architecture in the old town and a huge cathedral. My favourite bit, I have to say, were all the christmas decorations and the fact that they were playing christmas music through speakers in the central park. When we got there they were playing Mariah Carey's "All I want for Christmas is You" (Only the BEST Christmas song EVER) So this made my day and I'm sure you can imagine that Mark was very pleased too..

The next day we were off early again to get a bus to La Ceiba. The journey was reasonably easy and didn't take too long. It was here that we discovered Honduras' version of El Salvador's Pupusas...Baleadas. Possible the second greatest central american food next to pupusas. Baleadas are huge pancake style tortillas (more like the ones you can get in England, although much thicker) That are folded in half and stuffed with egg, cheese, beans and whatever else is around. Meat, advocado, salad etc. (I am aware that most of this blog centres around food..a girls gotta eat!) And cheap! Another currency change, this time to the Lempira meant that a baleada cost about 15 lempiras, which is around 40p.
The next day we went to a supermarket and bought our christmas food, including such essentials as mixed nuts (but no nut cracker...d'oh..these are still sitting in a bowl uneaten now), pink wafers, snickers and a bottle of rum and vodka. Don't worry parentals, we also stocked up on lots of fruit and veg, but that's just not as interesting as pink wafers really is it?
La Ceiba was baking hot and full of those nasty mosquitos, that nicely decided to try and bite off my leg overnight and leave me with large purple marks all up my legs. Disgusting enough to provoke "Euuurgh what happened to your leg?!" Reactions from strangers as they passed us on the street. I don't know what I've done to mosquitos in a past life, but they really don't like me.

We got the ferry to Utila the next day, which was a bumpy 1 1/2 ride. Dolphins followed the ferry for part of the way which really set us up in a good mood for christmas and Utila itself.

So here we are, still in Utila a month later. We've been told there's a curse of Utila, where people come and they just can't seem to leave. We intended on leaving before New year's after having done one dive course each, but then we intended on leaving after new year, and then it was after we'd done another course...and then it was "maybe we could do our divemasters" and then it was "let's get an appartment". So we're still here and loving it!

Christmas was great. On christmas eve Alton's (the dive centre we're now working for) put on a booze cruise, which is a simple, yet very effective way to create fun, where everyone gets on a boat, a makeshift bar is set up, music starts blaring and we drive around the bay being loud and obnoxious to the other dive schools. This lasted for about an hour before someone fell in, a potential life threatening disaster, but as everyone was feeling rather merry it was met with cheers and calls for a "taxi!" instead of much else. Don't worry, he got rescued and got a free beer out of it too.
After the booze cruise a free Utilan style hog fry was done by the staff and we all tucked in, and then went out on the town to bring in christmas day. Christmas day was a much quieter affair; Mark and I ate a pizza for lunch and then went back to bed nursing hangovers. Very traditional. We both missed home alot that day and have realised that Christmas is definitely a time to spend with family.

NYE was a spectacular day! Alton's had set up a trip to go to some tiny islands nearby called Cayos Cochinos. We left early in the morning and had done three amazing dives by 10:30. We saw nurse sharks and eagle rays among other things and the last dive was on a plane wreck, which was really cool. After the dives the beers were cracked open and a (long) day of drinking the free bar dry and sitting on the Cayos Cochinos beach ensued. The island was a tiny little sandbar that could be walked around in less then 5 minutes. The inhabitants cooked us lunch of fish, rice and plaintains and then played music for us and sold us fresh coconut with rum. I have a video up of the music - it was just such an amazing day, to be sitting on a gorgeous tiny island, supping on free beer, sunning ourselves and listening to garifuna music. Best NYE ever I say!
We got back at about 5pm, where we all decided we needed a nap before heading out for food and a NYE night out.

Another thing that has made us love this place is the Whale Sharks. The normal Whale Shark season is from February to May (I think) and so to have them in the waters from around Christmas time was amazing. to get to swim with them our captain searches for them whilst we're diving and basically chases them from a distance until we're close enough to all quietly slide in the water and swim with them for a little bit (no splashing as this cares them off). It's an amazing feeling to be sharing the sea with such a huge fish (the ones I've swum with have been about 30 feet according to my sources). When I first got in I saw one feeding vertically at the surface, then it turned round and faced me for a split second before turning round again and swimming away. I think it's possibly the best thing I've done since coming away. Other people have also seen Pilot Whales, so I'm crossing my fingers I'll be lucky enough to swim with them too one day.

A general day as a divemaster trainee (which is what both Mark and I are doing now) starts with us getting up at 6:30am (if we're on the morning boat) and heading off to Alton's to start setting up the boat and the equipment. We spend most of our time assisting instructors with their courses, so this means setting up the student's gear, helping them put it together and generally trying to get them excited about the dive/calm nerves/sort out problems etc. Once diving we generally have to hang out at the back of the group, but slightly above them to make sure you can stop someone if they decide to shoot up or head off in their own direction. The very technical diving term for this is "directing the puppet show" as so many students go up and down throughout the dive, as they are still getting used to getting their buoyancy correct.
Then we'll arrive back to the dock at about 11:30am, with a lunch already cooked waiting for us. We unload the boat, check in all the gear, eat lunch and then depending if we're on the second boat or not, we do it all again and finish between 5 and 6pm dependent on the amount of divers. If we're not on the second boat we'll generally hang around at the bar at Alton's, have a nap or do some of the large amounts of theory that we have to do for our divemaster qualification. This includes exams in dive phsyics, physiology, equipment and decompression and divetables. It's not too difficult, but it definitely put's your mind to work when you haven't done algebra since you were 16!
There are alot of great restaurants and bars here, my favourite being Treetanic, which is a bar in a treehouse with loads of amazing glass decorations and murals. It's really an amazing place to have a drink!
The classic dish here is fish (snapper, wahoo, king fish, tuna, barracuda), with rice (curried, coconut or plain), potatos (boiled, mashed or salad), veges or salad. And the portions are HUUUUUGE. My favourite dish so far is shrimp (yes, I'm eating shrimp) in a curried coconut sauce with rice and beans. yummy!

We share our apartment with a guy called Bernard, a really nice guy in his 50's who is from Quebec and is looking for work at a dive school. Our appartment is small, but has everything we need, that mainly being a nice hot shower at the end of the day! It looks right out on to the sea and we have a balcony where we can watch the sunset - what more could you want?

Today another booze cruise is taking place, but as we are now staff at Alton's we now have to act as security instead of just drinking and having a wee boogey (although, this I'm sure will still take place!)
And now, I feel I have written quite enough.

Lots of love to you all and stay in touch!

PS.. SHOUT OUT FOR JOHN (we're trying to look fat in photos I promise)

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