Iguanas and Tarantulas in the Caribbean

Trip Start Jul 11, 2008
Trip End Sep 30, 2008

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Flag of Honduras  , Bay Islands,
Sunday, July 20, 2008


I'm writing this from the lovely air-conditioned office at the Iguana Research and Breeding Station on Utila, Honduras. Its 9pm at night here. Just to set the scene... we've just had a delicious dinner of prawns and Scott-and-Claire's-South-American-non-mayonnaisy-coleslaw, I'm covered head to toe in bites from mosquitoes, sandflies, flying ants and whatever type of ant it is that gets in all the iguana food, and I've just seen one ghecko (spelling???) run across the ceiling while another one is eyeing me up through the window from outside. Five minutes ago we were chasing a rat-type thing across the visitor centre where we were eating dinner and attemptiong to feed a cockroach to the tarantula baby. Unfortunately the cockroach escaped. I screamed, obviously.

Yesterday when we got home from Tretanic, a bar in a big treehouse that sells gin and tonics for 75p, Scott stumbled (and I mean stumbled, not walked) into a big rat-mouse animal that didn't look - in his inebriated state - totally like either a rat or a mouse. He mentioned it just now, after we'd chased the creature through the visitor centre and it turns out that if it is neither a rat nor a mouse it could be a species that is, as yet, unknown and unrecorded on Utila. If we are right, it is a species either from Panama or Belize that has emigrated here. Scott's spider research may never see the light of day but he can sleep easy knowing that he discovered a new mammal on Utila within 7 days of getting there.

Ok. So, we got to La Paz FINALLY after 2 days of hanging around Puno not really knowing what to do. We came into La Paz from the roads in the moutains and our first sight of the city was from above, next to a statue of Jesus (who else??). We spent a vey busy afternoon haggling for alpaca goods and trying to remember where our hostel was so we could get a taxi back. We also went to the post office and sent all the crap we'd bought back to the UK. It should be on a ship somewhere in the Atlantic on its way to Auntie Elaine. The whole process was completely confusing and I don't know how anyone manages it without knowing at least a tiny bit of Spanish. We couldnt afford a box so its all gone just wrapped up in some raffia type stuff. Who knows what state it will be in when it gets home. As long as the Xmas decorations are safe, it'll be fine.

We took our three flights to get from La Paz to San pedro Sula the next day. Not much to report on that, except for the relief we felt when we got off the last plane in San Pedro and it was HOT not cold. Soooo welcome! I'd had enough of altitude too.

We spent the weekend in San Pedro, which is a rather weird (scott says I should exchnge the word 'weird' for 'shit') city. What it lacks in culture, nice people and understandable Spanish, it makes up for in American imports, fast food restaurants and nice leafy avenues. We spent a lot of money (including 2 whole englsh pounds for a 30 second taxi ride up a hill - the driver knew he could charge what he wanted because it was dark and we were gringos and there was no way I was walking. On the bright side, we did find time to see Hancock as there was little else to do. On the negative side, someone in the cinema stole my cardigan. Not that I need it out here. Scott's just told me its 29 degrees in this office. This air conditioned office. And its 9pm.

We went to the airport to meet Hana on Sunday night. We were taken by a guy called Carlos who is a friend of the owners of our hostel. The plane was, of course, late so I slept over 4 chairs (like I've seen so many travellers do and have always wanted to be one of them .Turns out its not that great) while Carlos told Scott all about English football including how Osama Bin Laden owns one of the teams. Can someone fill us in on this???

Han got in at about 1:30am, she was pretty tired but had had an awesome time in NYC - think museums, bars, lack of sleep in the city-that-never-sleeps and Central Park and I think that pretty much sums up her time there. The next day we took a bus to La Ceiba, the port city in the north of Honduras, and then took the Utila Princess II over to Utila. It was a nice day so we thought we'd sit outside. As soon as the boat left port we realised that when the Londely Planet said that those who sit outside should prepare to get wet, it didn't mean the odd bit of splishsplash. It was like those bad movies where you can tell that the 'rain' or 'waves' come from two poor internsw heaving bucket-fulls of water onto the set. With every wave that the little boat pounded into, we were covered with cold salty water. After about 5 minutes we contemplated going inside but there was just no point. We were already wet to the skin by that point so we just sat it out for the next hour and a half.

We got to the port at Utila look more than a little bedraggled, but there were two people there to meet us and they even took our bags.

The iguana station is up a little dirt track away from the main town on Utila. The volunteer house is a big wooden building on stilts, with the visitor centre, kitchen and offices downstairs and all the bedrooms, bathrooms and a big balcony with tables and hammocks upstairs. There are 11 other volunteers (all girls) and also one of the co-directors of the foundation stay here. he is from Tegucigalpa and is finishing his biology degree while carrying out resaearch here. Our days start at 8am (give or take) and they begin with breakfast on the balcony. Then two of us go and pick a bucket full of hibiscus flowers and leaves, dice them up into a pulp and feed them to all the iguanas. The green iguanas also get bananas. There are 12 iguana enclosures, with iguanas of varying ages. They will all eventually be released into the wild but they are kept here until they are past breeding age or until they have bred a certain number of young, as the population is critically endangered and by releasing them back to the wild they will likely be poached (for meat) or die due to habitat loss before they can reproduce a significant amount of young. When they lay eggs they are brought into the special trays where we can look after them to ensure that more make it to hatchling stage and then to adult stage than they normally would in the wild.

On Monday we are having a visit from the Honduran Secretary of Education, he will be deciding whether to grant the foundation NGOstatus. By having NGo status, we would be able to buy a huge chunk of Utila and turn it into a protected area. So a lot of time this week has been spent sprucing the place up like we're waiting for an Ofsted inspection or something. They read that I was in marketing so I was called in to change the signs and make the language more communicative of what they are doing. This involved painting and laminating so I was very happy. They also found out that Hannah was an artist so she's been commissioned to decorate the terrarium (where we keep the tarantulas and fish and whatnot) with pictures of orchids, humming birds and a mammal that I don't know the name of). Unfortunately, due to a communication error, they thought Scott was a geologist until last night so his zoology skills havent been made the most of yet.

We took a trip to Water Caye on Thursday, and uninhabited tiny little island (about the size of Middleton Hall only stretched thinner) where we went snorkling and sunbathed. Felt like we were cooking. Scott went so red it still hurts to wear a tshirt apparently.

Today we went to the beach on the island but found the ground to hard and the Bob Marley music too cliched so we came back. Scott doesnt know yet but some of the guys went and bought ingedients for a cake for his birthday which Han and I are goin to try to somehow cook in secret for him tomorrow. We also went to Stuarts Hill to watch the sunset, climbing a bit water tower to do so. Was very pretty, maybe the best any of us had seen.

its pretty hard to not relax on this island. Pace of life is very slow, the weather is very hot (and the storms, when they arrive are freakin awwwwesome - they make the whole house shake) and even the spiders I swear dont scuttle around as fast as they do at home.

Scott says he hopes there are enough blogs to satisfy Uncle Ray. I say I'm sure you're all hearing more than enouh from us. 

Also, Scott says 'Ozzy if you ever read this, kitchen roll is essential. I think he's missing it. I also think even if Ozzy did read this blog there's no way he'd make it to the end of this mammoth entry. The man has things to do.

Sorry this has been such a long one, there seemed to be a lot to tell you plus I've had half a bottle of savignon blanc and t always makes me talk. And on top of that we're all reading Stephen Fry books and they seem to prattle on a bit and it kind of overspills into real life sometimes.

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