Week 12 -13 Lake Atitlan (Guate) to Utila (Hondur)
Trip Start Aug 01, 2007
67Trip End Dec 19, 2008
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Still feeling rough and dozy from the antibiotics and painkillers (as well as suffering from paying $66 for them) so took it nice and easy today. Very easily done in this rainy but really chilled place. The weathers still crap with permanent cloud cover and rain every 30 minutes. Clothes seem to get muddy even after a short walk to a shop (hardly any paved roads but just mud). Made a feeble effort to walk around the whole town but was too sick and too lost.
On the whole the locals in San Pedro are really friendly here and you always get greeted with a genuine 'Hola' and 'Buanas dias' and the place is small enough to chat to strangers from day to day.
Nearly got run over by a Tuktuk taxi today. Was walking round a sharp corner when it came roaring round the bend (they normally hoot). Luckily I hopped out of the way just in time and there followed 2 minutes of abuse hurled at the driver of the Tuktuk 'Cherry' as he sped off.
Tuktuk (three wheelers with small engines and a little covered seating in front and back) drivers seem to be the cool dudes of San Pedro and always pull the girls. They're forever pulling up next to fit girls and murmuring 'well...helllllloooooooooo' (or something to that effect) followed by the girls giggling. Maybe I should invest in one to make a bit of dough. I'd call it 'London Pride' and have 1000 watt speakers strapped to the back blaring beats and house tunes (I'd probably go bust after a week of getting lost..even though it's such a small place).
Nearly had a heart-attack this evening when I checked my budget online. It’s not looking too healthy after over-staying in Mexico by 3 weeks so cheap food and biscuits for a while now. For dinner I found a stall selling fried chicken and chips for $1 (purrrfeck).
October 19th - San Pedro
Today’s mission was to find a Spanish school, now that I was no longer 'illin'. First stop was my favourite cafe called 'Tintin' where they serve a delicious and healthy breakfast of wholegrain toast and honey, fruit salad, fresh orange juice and strong cuppa all for $2.
I had a list of roughly 6 recommended and decent schools to check including San Pedro Spanish School ($95 for 25 hours...and that was after haggling), Co-operative School of Spanish ($85 after haggling) and some smaller schools. All were pretty pricy...I was told it would be around $55.
After a cheap and cheerful lunch of a Pot Noodle (not really Pot Noodle but an inferior Mexican brand) for 70c (well I am on a tight budget) and a siesta my Spanish School mission continued. Most of them looked the same (cosy table and chairs set in secluded gardens) and had similar prices. By the end of the day and with only one left to check I decided to sleep on it.
For dinner I walked a fair distance in the dark (this is probably the only place in Guatemala I've felt comfortable doing this) to get to the local market for some cheap grub.
Still pouring with rain so went back and to my room and watched a few football repeats of Brazil vs. Columbia and Holland vs. Slovenia. Bit pissed off because I missed the only showing of the England vs. Russia game at 9am this morning. I fear the worst for England at this point and doubt whether they'll qualify for the 2008 Euros in Austria.
October 20th - San Pedro
Today is a national holiday here in Guatemala so allot of places are closed. Today they celebrate the 1944 armed uprising (by popular support) and the subsequent election to president of a teacher called Juan Jose Arevalo. A very popular fella who introduced Social Security to the country as well as some other help for the poorer families.
Of course all of this meant that half the population (nearly every bloke) was out on the lash (very early). Had a quick breakfast then off to see my last Spanish School; Flor de Maiz. Out of all the schools here this one got top reviews online. I immediately liked the place; small (no more than 10 students at one time), very friendly and they have a strong link with a local Mayan school for the poor and after-school activities like tree planting. Signed up to start on Monday (all schools start on Mondays so I was well pissed off I got ill on the Sunday because I could have studied an extra week) and haggled the price down from $95 to $80 for 5 hours a day for 5 days.
Had a celebratory lunch of a Pot Noodle and some biscuits then walked around town. San Pedro's quite a drug and bead wearer hangout so as I walked around I wasn't surprised to hear the ever familiar (growing up in Ladbroke Grove you hear it allot) 'Weed...Charlie...Crack...Speed...' Out of curiosity I did some price checks and everything’s roughly a quarter of UK prices (Sweet Jesus its cheap here). No wonder westerners get stranded here for years and start discovering the joys of beads and an allergy to soap and shampoo.
By night time it was getting well messy around town what with the revolution celebrations. Fellas were passed out in the middle of the road while Tuktuks raced passed them missing their heads by inches. As I walked around the odd lashed up bloke would poke me and accuse me of some kind of wrong-doing in 1944 (course I nearly lamped them for insinuating that I was 65 years old when everyone knows I'm 31). It was all good natured though and I had a few beers while I was looking for dinner. In the end I gave in to 'the Hunger' and got a pizza at Mikes Pizza (only pizza in town apparently) for $4.50.
I suspect tonight isn't going to be the safest place to bowl about in my recovering state (even in this peaceful place) so an early night of watching The Two Towers in Spanish and doing some blog updates.
Oct 21st - San Pedro
Rotten weather again here in San Pedro but a glimmer of sunny hope as the sun pops out every now and then. On the way to breakfast saw allot more sprawled out and drunken bodies lying on the road (not just the side but slap bang in the middle where cars, Tuktuks and bikes all race passed them). A bit odd that nobody tries to move them or even take notice of them.
Today is chill out and chores day so did the usual laundry (have just realised I only have one pair of socks...some desperate gypo nicked my only other unwashed pair in a hostel in San Cristobal), patched some clothes and then walked around the opposite side of town (which takes a mammoth 10 minutes to complete).
It's allot quieter on the east side of town with less hotels and restaurants and also cheaper so lunch was a slap-up meal of chicken pancakes and salad for $2.50.
Noticing quite a few gringo owned premises around town (bars, restaurants, massage parlours, hotels and pools) and I suspect there may be some resentment from the locals (quite a bit of 'Gringos go home' graffiti on the walls around town). Works both ways though because without the tourists there obviously would be less work for locals.
Oct 22nd - San Pedro
First day at Spanish School today and as is always the case with first days at a new school I'm abit nervous about it all (just like starting secondary school for the first day). Early start at 8am which is easy to wake up for because the sun has finally won the battle against the clouds and rain (well...for now anyway).
A short walk to the school and there I was introduced to all the teachers and the only other student (a rather quiet Austrian fella called Jacob who's been waiting for a parcel and some money to be delivered here for the last 4 weeks...the post is extremely bad here it seems). Quite tricky talking to him, because as is always the case at Spanish language schools, everyone wants to speak Spanish (I totally agree with this but when a beginner it doesn't make any sense to me).
My teacher for the week is a friendly Mayan bloke called Lorenzo who unfortunately for me and him has developed the flu and looks pretty rough. The first day of lessons is focussed on basic conversation and introductions. The student area is unlike any I've ever studied in. First a two minute walk through a beautiful wild garden along a narrow path and then short paths lead off on each side to small sheltered gardens with two chairs and a small table. During lessons the only distractions are squirrels, field mice, birds, lizards, insects and ravenous mosquito's (niiiice).
Break time at 10.30 we all get a cuppa and some bread and as usual the rule is everyone speaks Spanish. I have a secret weapon for this kind of situation until my Spanish improves (used quite often during my travels) ...I start talking about football. Apart from when I'm drunk and my Spanish doubles in effectiveness this is the best solution.
At 1pm class finishes and then it’s off to my favourite lunch time cafe; a hidden one that has no name but has quality food and is cheap as chips.
Oct 23 - San Pedro
The next four days are pretty much a blur of sameness but all good stuff:
- Wake up at 7am to bright sunshine and a particularly annoying and noisy puppy barking non-stop next door (in normal circumstance this would drive me absolutely mental but the birds and sunshine cancel it out).
- On the way to school buy a few bananas and a small plastic bag filled with freshly squeezed orange juice (yes, that’s the storage of choice here for fresh take away drinks. Quite a few times I'd arrive at school with just half a bag left from leakages...only 50c for the lot).
- At 8am start classes and sit down with Lorenzo in the magic garden and do 1 hour of conversation practice.
- 10.30 am is a much needed 30 minute break where everyone sits around drinking tea and talking Spanish. For some strange reason football is always the subject of discussion.
- At 1pm school is out and I'd go for a spot of cheap lunch at my local ($2 for pasta and a fresh juice).
- Then siesta time with the background noise of the puppy from hell in the background.
- Spanish homework for 2 hours; some practical conversation to which my unfortunate hotel manager foolishly agreed to do with me and also some theory.
- Some happy hour drinks (beer = $1) and then dinner at my favourite dinner location...'Tintins' (Thai curry, juice and salad for $5).
Oct 24 - San Pedro
A blur of sameness
Oct 25 - San Pedro
A blur of sameness
Oct 26 - San Pedro
A blur of sameness but have now got some kind of stomach bacteria with the symptoms of loss of appetite, vomiting and burps that can kill at 5 feet. Drinking loads of liquids and going easy on the food.
Oct 27 - San Pedro
One of the Spanish teachers is getting married today and has invited me along. Meeting place is the Catholic church at 10am. So at 9am I head off to the local market to get a small wedding present of 4 cups and saucers. Waited at the church for 2 hours (with Jacob and another Swiss guy called Pedro who is stranded here waiting for 5 weeks for a parcel with money...he is totally skint and is attending the wedding for free food and drink).
Nobody showed up in the end so I gave up and went back to my room to chill, recover and enjoy my first day without classes. I really enjoyed the classes but after the last day had a similar feeling of joy that I had when I finished secondary school....joy of joys.
My time in San Pedro is coming to an end now and I've decided to carry what Spanish I have learned on to another place...Honduras. Have bought my bus ticket to Antigua from where I'll get a direct bus to the Copan ruins in Honduras. In Antigua I'll see a doc about my stomach (if I see one here I'll be skint).
Oct 28 - Antigua
Caught the bus to Antigua at 9.30am ($5). Very winding and bumpy journey which turned from 3 hours into 4 because of a 1 hour road block. My gassy and bacterial burps were the cause of much mystery on the bus (course I didn't admit to them) and whenever I burped everyone on the bus would say 'oh, we must have passed by a sewage works' (didn't they wonder why there were so many sewage works on the trip?).
Arrived In Antigua at 1.30pm and the first stop was a cheap hotel and then straight to the docs. After paying a whopping $20 it turns out I still have a throat infection and a very swollen and bacterial gut which is producing killer burps that have only one benefit and that is it keeps the mosquitoes at bay.
Bought tablets at one of the many pharmacies for the usual outrageous price of $34 (really can't afford to get sick in these parts). Next bought my bus ticket to the Copan ruins in Honduras ($10).
Back at the hotel I tried in vain to have a siesta but the owner of the fair Posada la Quinta has decided to keep two talking birds on the premises who repeatedly wolf whistle, say the Spanish alphabet (slowly at first and then really fast), say hola and then giggle. This is repeated by each bird non-stop and exactly the same. It’s very funny hearing it for the first 10 minutes but after a while it’s maddening. Tomorrow morning I'm going to teach them to shout 'shut itttttttttt you tart!' (let's see what the manager thinks of that).
Tomorrow morning I have the usual un-godly 4am bus to catch and if I hear a bird so much as move its beak tonight I'll roast it for breakfast.
Oct 29 - Antigua to Copan
Alarm didn't go off but the bus driver woke me up by hammering on the hotel room door at 4.01am. Lucky I was all packed and ready to go so at 4.03am me and the bus left.
The bus was a small van type thing and packed with like-minded gringos. The unfortunate couple in front of me had to endure 6 hours of gaseous burps and I couldn't blame any sewage works either; so I confessed and apologised.
Am still abit nervous about getting robbed again but am getting more relaxed about it because I'm sure it'll happen again. The border crossing was about as smooth as it gets with both the Guatemala border office and Honduran being right next to each other. A small $1 charge to leave Guatemala (makes me laugh...I asked them what it was for and they just said "$1 please"). There was also a small $3 charge to enter Honduras which I sort of understood but was confused about the Guatemala exit charge.
It’s nice to be on the road again. I always get excited crossing borders because it’s usually the end of one chapter but a new beginning for another. On first impressions the Honduran landscape looks amazingly lush and green with rolling misty covered hills. The people are lighter skinned than the Guatemalans and seem to be bigger and taller (that’s it for my sweeping generalisations of Hondurans). In Guatemala I am considered quite tall (they are pretty short there).
Arrived in Copan at 12 and the bus was met by the usual hotel and tour tout. He persuaded everyone except me to follow him to a pricey hotel. While I was checking my guidebook for cheap hotels he came back and took me to a local family who had a room in the garden for $5 (ok'ish room but no water usage...which was all ok really as the family was really friendly and I had a chance to practice my Spanish).
I didn't get much kip on the bus but this didn't deter me from going to see the ruins. From the town of Copan (very confusingly called Copan Ruinas) it is just a 10 minute scenic walk to the ruins. Entrance was an astonishingly high $15 (I think it’s so high because of Hurricane Mitch damage in 1998 which damaged some of the ruins, tourism and most importantly so many houses in Honduras).
The ruins themselves had some of the best preserved glyphs and ornaments I've seen at Mayan sites so was amazing to see. The gardens around them are beautifully kept making it really nice to walk around. There is the added bonus of the most colourful birds I've ever seen flying around (can't remember their names at moment but huge parrotty types with rainbow colours) and giant rats with deer-like legs hopping around.
After much climbing around the ruins and even having a siesta between two of the pyramids I called it a day and treated myself to a Tuktuk ride back to town ($1).
Copan Ruinas town is really pretty. A tiny cobbled town that can be walked around in 10 minutes. There are loads of activities here like horse riding into the hills, natural hot springs, hiking and cycling trails but I've decided to spend just the day here and continue on to the Bay Islands tomorrow for a 3 day open water diving course (apparently one of the cheapest places in the world).
Starting to get my appetite back now so had a slap up pork chops with rice and salad for dinner and then chilled in my room's gardens reading and doing some blog updates.
Oct 30 - Copan to La Ceiba (Honduras)
After chilling in town and walking around abit I caught the 2pm bus to San Pedro Sula (halfway point to La Ceiba...$3.50). The bus was full of gringo's; Canadian hippy web designer who works while he travels, a clumsy Israeli guy who keeps bumping into people and offering them chocolate, a Swiss guy who walks around the bus giving out biscuits...all good).
Arrived in San Pedro Sula at 6pm and was hoping there was another bus to connect me to La Ceiba. One of the major benefits of travelling light with a small pack is that I can be in and off buses in a flash so I rushed to the bus terminal and just caught the chicken bus to La Ceiba.
As is usual with night time bus journeys I'm abit on edge but it all went smoothly (a few near misses when it started to rain and the driver had broken windscreen wipers). The landscape and climate is getting more tropical now. Am seeing palm trees, feeling the warmth and can smell the sea.
Arrived in La Ceiba at 10pm and after much fiddling about with my guidebook trying to find my choice of hotel I caught a taxi (had to stop clumsy Israeli guy, who was also on the bus from walking to his hotel from the bus terminal...not the sharpest knife in the drawer) and settled for the hotel Rotterdam ($10).
Missed dinner tonight but will make up for it with brekkie tomorrow...or maybe that’s not too good an idea just before a 1 hour boat ride to the Island of Utila.
Oct 31 - Utila (Honduras)
Early'ish rise for the 9.30 ferry to Utila. Taxi took 10 minutes and cost $2.50. The ferry itself was a whopping $15 and was a boat ride from hell. It seems the waters round here in the rainy season are particularly choppy and there was vomit flying all over the place. Even with my preventative measures of sitting right in the centre of the boat, watching the horizon and chewing gum it took loads of willpower to stop from retching (a girl next to me did...to the annoyance of the captain who was sitting in front of here steering the boat). It was so bad they had a fella on standby who walked about regularly dishing out plastic bags and paper towels to victims (am I finally getting my sea legs...or is it just because I had only biscuits for breakfast?).
Really liked Utila on first impression; tropical, small town, Caribbean feel, patois dialect spoken and friendly people. After leaving my pack at the Captain Morgan dive shop (a bonus as its right next to the boat exit) I walked around looking for a cheap hotel for a few days while I decide on a diving school). Finally settled on a $12 a night jobbie but worth it for its access to the sea, garden and nice room (also has a communal kitchen...oh happy Pot Noodle days here I come).
I forgot to take out my weekly money using the ATM in La Ceiba this morning and regretted it dearly. True to laid back Caribbean stylee the only 2 ATM's here in Utila are broken and I had to queue for one and a half hours in the bank waiting for cashiers who counted the customers money in triplicate and as slow as a sloth with flu (but at least there’s a bank here).
Halloween celebrations have started here early at 6pm...not being a great fan of Halloween unless I can watch a few horror films I just chilled and had a few rum and cokes listening to some old local fellas lyrically talk in a funny mix of Spanish, Patois and English (there is always a Yaah mwuannn in there somewhere).
The plan for the next week (if the incessant rain and storms stop) is do my 3 day Padi open water diving licence here (cheapest place to do it) and then move deeper into Honduras. After that Nicaragua beckons. Most importantly I have quashed the mad stomach bacteria I had and am on full form again...beer, pancakes, steaks....many things I've been without for a week.