Roatan – La Ceiba 

All I had to do this morning was get up, have breakfast and check out of the hostel. Oh, and also cash up! Of course that wasn’t going to be straight forward… The ATM at the service station next to the hostel did a dodgy, so I decided to go have breakfast same place as yesterday where they had awesome bacon and egg sandwiches and proper coffee! Whilst there, I asked the owner, Vincent, where a reliable ATM would be. He reckoned they were all dodgy and that it would be best to go into Coxen Hole to one of the banks. Bugger! By now it was nearly 10 am and I didn’t have a lot of time up my sleeve.  
I managed to negotiate a bargain basement taxi fare into town, but had to pay double to get back. As I was short on time and the driver took me straight to the ATM and waited, I was prepared to pay. Back at the hostel, I grabbed my pack, paid the bill and bid adios to West End.


The trip back across to the mainland was much calmer so less vomit action by the punters which was pleasant. At the dock on the other side, I bumped into the two German girls I had crossed over with. It turned out we were heading for the same hostel, so we shared a taxi there.


When we got to the hostel, there was no one there. The taxi driver kindly rang for us and we found out the owner would be at least another half an hour. The girls had a craving for Pizza Hut, so I went with them for a meal while we were waiting. When we returned, the owner, Jorge, was back with his two sons. An energetic and most affable hombre, Jorge sorted us out with accommodation. I also booked to go rafting with him the following morning. A quiet night trying once again to get iPad update to download…

Roatan

Boxing Day and this boxing kangaroo decided to have another joust with that mortal of all enemies…..a decent wifi connection! Went back to the place from last night, but realised I was just wasting my time. Another place was recommended to me across the road, so thought I’d give it a burl. As far as bars to wile away a couple of hours over a couple of cervezas, this place couldn’t be beaten. Situated on the edge of the bay with stunning views, I tried my luck again. Downside: wifi connection still not strong enough for download. Upside: met a lovely Canadian expat who was playing in a band later that night in West Bay.  
Determined not to waste another day, I dumped my now detested iPad at the hostel and caught a local bus to start exploring the island. Roatan has an fascinating history of foreign parties doing the dirty on its inhabitants. From Christopher Columbus touching down and enslaving many of the local people, to pirates using the island for their own nefarious needs, and then the Brits dumping thousands of black Carib slaves on its shiny shores, because they wouldn’t play nicely as slaves in St. Vincent. Fortunately, the latter survived and is now a strong, vibrant community both on the island and also the mainland. The Brits had a large influence on the island in the early days due to settling timber merchants, hence, such whimsical names as Flowers Bay, French Harbour and Oak Ridge.


I had a short wander around Sandy Bay, before walking along the road again waiting for another bus to go past to take me to the main town on the island, Coxen Hole. There, a lovely local family walked me to where the buses left to go to the eastern end of the island. I’m sure the outfitter of the minibus I caught forgot that people have legs and that they like to have sensation in such appendages to be able to use them afterwards…


The ride east was glorious. Roatan truly is a glittering Caribbean gem. Pretty wooden houses perch on stilts to take full advantage of a variety of vistas: verdant jungle, emerald fields and sparkling ocean glimpses. The bus crossed the island from its eastern edges and dropped into the vibrant Garifuna community of Punta Gorda on the western coast. There in the Main Street, backdropped by a glorious ocean, were two Garifuna men wearing animal masks and dancing to a pulsating beat, surrounded by local onlookers. I would have loved to have joined them, but it was getting late in the day and I wanted to get all the way to Oak Ridge.


It was dusk by the time I reached my final destination, but was keen to wander around and explore the town a little before I left. Oak Ridge is a ramshackle little town clinging to the edge of a protected harbour. Many of the houses were perched on stilts over the water. I crossed a little bridge and went to the far end of the spit of land that denotes the end of town before returning.


It was nearly dark by the time I returned to where the minibus had dropped me off. Alas, I had missed the last bus back by ten minutes! I had thought they ran later, but evidently not. I was directed a few hundred metres down a dark, curving stretch of road to where I could catch a colectivo taxi back. Although I could clearly see the bright lights of my destination, there was the problem of ‘Muggers Mile’ to traverse. I walked as quickly as would not arouse too much suspicion and hoped for the best. Fortunately, close to the end, a vehicle came past and accompanied me to the waiting taxi.


My driver was most affable and eventually agreed to drive me all the way back to Coxen Hole for L100. En route, we were stopped for a routine police check and my driver earned himself a ticket for a broken light. When he went to plead his case, he was dismayed to discover that the officer in question was the exact same one that the local taxi drivers are taking a case up against for alleged police brutality (tasering a driver to the ground, then kicking the bejesus out of him). I felt sorry for him as it ended up being an expensive evening for him.


In Coxen Hole, I caught another collectivo back to West End. By this stage it was getting late and I tossed up whether to go see the band of the expat I had met earlier in the day. Decided to anyway and was glad I did! Brian, the lead singer, was a 60 year old coloured man with long blonde dreadlocks and teeth whiter than a Colgate commercial. He sure knew how to work the crowd with his crazy energy and it was a fun night. Managed to get a lift back to my hostel afterwards for which I was extremely grateful as I wasn’t keen to take a dodgy, overpriced cab back.

Roatan

Christmas Day loomed hot and humid. I went upstairs early to the Hostel deck to see if I could get a wifi connection as I wanted to fix problems with the blog amongst other things. Alas, it seemed Santa didn’t get my extremely small list (ie. working wifi). Either that or he took great pleasure in messing with me and passed by chuckling into his great white beard. You’ll keep, Santa!!

After several attempts, I was about to give up when one of the other hostel guests came up and mentioned that they had found working wifi at the service station down the road. I packed up my things and moved on down there. One of the problems I had was trying to update the software on my iPad to download the latest version of WordPress as the previous version kept crashing. I tried and tried but the Travel God of Technology would not humour me.


Frustration prevailed and the iPad battery failed so I tried my luck in the main part of town. There I found an upstairs bar open that I was assured had a good internet connection. I set up shop and several cervezas later, was back to square one. The heavens opened and monsoonal like rain livened up the scene. The guys at the bar were lovely and looked after me, even when I was the last person; curled up on the couch, watching a HBO movie and trying to stay awake waiting for the damn upgrade to download!! Eventually gave up and wandered back to the hostel. Not so much of a Feliz (nor eventful) Navidad for this little black duck.

Tela – Roatan 

Up at 7 and out at 7.30 am. Finally caught up on the sleep denied to me during my gruelling start to the trip. I visited my little beachside restaurant for another tasty breakfast before grabbing my pack and heading to the bus terminal.

 The trip to La Ceiba took far longer than anticipated, partly due to the en route tyre change for a flat tyre I’m assuming we encountered during the trip. The bus pulled off the side of the road and looked as if it was going to turn around, but then reversed back towards a little roadside repair stall. We all stayed on the bus, except the conductor, a roving food vendor and a couple of other blokes who thought they would like to give their two cents worth. Tyre changed, and the bus roared off again.

 At the bus terminal in La Ceiba, I had to catch another taxi as there are no buses that go to the boat terminal. I decided to head over to the island of Roatan for Christmas and was hoping I could get a seat on the ferry without a prior booking. That was easy done and I had three hours to kill before the ferry left. I found a place that sold beer and took them back to the little cafeteria within the terminal compound. The affable señor provided me with a wifi password, whilst his wife prepared me a delicious local lunch.
 Security at the boat terminal was no laughing matter. It was the same stringent requirements as traveling on a plane, complete with scanning of personal items and a body scanning screen and wand. One would think you were leaving the country, not going over to one of the country’s islands! The terminal itself was quite luxurious for this part of the world, with a modern cafe in one corner selling decent coffee. At a price, of course.
 I got a seat out the back on the second deck and was pleasantly surprised to find the ferry nowhere near as full as I was expecting. The sleek catamaran started its motors and powered out of the little bay we were docked in. As we left mainland Honduras, we passed tiny jungle clad islets punctuating the aquamarine Caribbean Sea. Eventually, the aquamarine darkened to indigo as the sun set on a balmy tropical evening. The catamaran powered on through swell that got to two meters which clearly wasn’t to some peoples liking as the vomit bags began being in hot demand, but the catamaran handled conditions with aplomb.
 On arrival at Coxen Hole, Roatan, an English guy who had been travelling with the two German girls I was sitting next to asked if we wanted to share a taxi to West Bay where all four of us were staying. I had planned on taking a collectivo, but agreed to go in on the taxi. It wasn’t long before I was regretting this decision as the English guy turned out to be a bit of a hothead who clearly hadn’t watched enough episodes of ‘Banged Up Abroad’. When the taxi driver decided to do a shifty, instead if quietly negotiating, El Hothead decided to give the driver both barrels blazing; yelling abuse at him and refusing to hand over the money regrettably we had all given him. I went to quickly check exactly where we were and when I returned a couple of minutes later, the taxi driver was about to take off with our packs still inside! I eventually managed to talk El Hothead into giving the driver the money but was stunned by his naivety. Honduras is not the sort of place you want to start trouble. Especially over a couple of dollars!!

 Having extracted both the packs and the English guy from the scene, it turned out that the hostel we were looking for was only a five minute walk up the road. We checked in and started chatting to the other travellers over beers. Eventually, it was decided to take the party to the nightlife on the Main Street, so we hit the karaoke at one of the bars, then moved on to another bar when that one closed. Roatan certainly was rocking that night!

Tela

A banging on my door at 6.15 am turned out to be the stout señora from last night wanting the L30 she gave the taxi driver last night on my behalf as I had no change. I still couldn’t understand a word she said, but somehow managed to arrange another night. Not needing to be up quite so early, I staggered back to bed for another couple of hours kip.  
Feeling much more refreshed, I wandered down to find a restaurant with wifi as there was none at the hotel. Most such places were on the beachfront so a bit on the pricey side, but I managed to find one that wasn’t too expensive. Tela is a Honduran resort town and certainly has that resort town feel on the beachfront. Behind the upmarket hotels and restaurants, though, lies a fairly ordinary Honduran town, complete with markets and mayhem. I whiled away a couple of hours soaking up the scenery over a typical Honduran breakfast of baleado (flatbread filled with refried beans, cheese, ham and salad) and fresh juice.


I decided to visit Lancetilla Jardín Botánico, the second largest botanical garden in the world. I caught a taxi there as there are no buses and arranged for the driver to pick me up again at 4 pm when the park closed. I organised a guide and had a very pleasant couple of hours wandering this vast park. I wasn’t sure how much I would be able to understand as I am having problems with the Honduran accent, but was pleasantly surprised to find I could hold my own in conversation with my guide.


The Botanical Gardens were established in 1926 by the United Fruit Company, who were one of the American powerhouses of the first half of the last century in Central America. The site was originally a scientific research centre established to investigate pest and diseases in tropical fruit. The botanical gardens grew from this research and still continues to contribute to tropical horticultural research today.


After my guided tour, I spent another hour wandering around taking photos. By this stage, I was drenched due to the extreme humidity and was quite glad I hadn’t decided to spend any longer in the park. In the taxi back to the hotel, I concocted a lovely plan of a nice refreshing shower and washing my hair before changing into clean, dry clothes and heading back to the beach for sunset cervezas. Alas, the Travel God of Hygiene decided none of that was necessary, and turned the water off. I did what I could with wet wipes, but that longed for freshen up was denied to me.


I cashed up at the third ATM that happened to have money and which accepted my card, and wandered down to the beachfront. The sun was beginning to set by this stage and it was a particularly pleasant stroll along the beach back to where I had breakfast. This time I tried the local delicacy, a fish soup cooked in coconut milk. Muy delicioso! Especially when washed down with a chilled Salva Vida.

Omeo – Tela

Omeo: a place where despite the searing heat, you would choose insect repellent over sunscreen. Every time. Some of the nastiest mosquito borne diseases lurk here (not ones likely to kill you, but ones that make you wish they would) and it would appear that every mozzie in Honduras got the memo that you’re in town.


Despite this, Omeo is a pretty little village clinging for dear life on the edge of Bahía de Omeo. The beach has all but been reclaimed and the tide is now turning its attention further inland. Sumptuous rainforest meets the tides on either ends of the village and hazy mountains rise up in the distance. A clutch of local boys were hand fishing at the far end of a jetty that had seen better days.


After exploring the beach, I wandered up to the Fortaleza de San Fernando de Omeo. A potted history… The Spanish decided it would be a good idea to build a fort to protect all the loot they had nicked out of the land in the way of precious metals, etc. but they weren’t prepared to put in the hard yards. The local Mayan told them quite firmly to sod off so the Spanish jumped in their boats and sailed over to Africa. There they managed to (forcefully) coerce a band of merry Garifuna men to help with the cause. With toil on behalf of the new recruits, the fort gradually started taking shape with solid foundations of mountain stone and bricks.


However, the pesky British were lurking around and it was decided to finish said fort ASAP. Thus, the new recruits were sent to harvest the bountiful supply of coral from the offshore reef to use as building materials and hence hasten the job at hand. Soon enough the Brits came knocking (with cannons, not knuckles) and decided the fort and all its treasure would be theirs. The Spanish, not at all happy with this decision, decided to take the fort back some time later. To their dismay, they discovered that the Brits had nicked all their loot on the way out. Now there was no way to complete the fort with an alligator infested moat, forever denying it Theme Park status.


After an extremely informative tour of the area, I cashed up at the local ATM and headed back to Roli’s to gather my pack. The bus went straight past the front gate, so no lugging of said pack was required. In Puerto Cortes, I caught another bus to San Pedro Sula, the second largest city in Honduras. There is nothing pretty about San Pedro, unless you’re a fan of polluted, congested roads.


At the bus terminal, I eventually found where to catch a bus to Tela, my next destination. It turned out I had to wait until 5.30 pm and that the bus wouldn’t get into Tela until 8.30 pm. Unfortunately I was stuck. There wasn’t any nearby accomodation and San Pedro was not somewhere I particularly wanted to spend any time in anyway. I decided to go on to Tela and chance finding accommodation later at night.


The guidebook recommends not venturing the streets of Tela late at night due to soaring crime rates, however, I caught a taxi to a place recommended in the Lonely Planet where fortunately they had a room available. The stout señora behind the desk had a camp coordinator no-nonsense look about here and spoke with a thick Honduran accent I couldn’t understand. Arrangements were nevertheless made and I gratefully had a (cold) shower and sunk into bed.

Punta Gorda – Omoa

7 am was far too early to be greeting the day after more than two days on the go, but I had a boat to catch and needed to be at the boat terminal by 8 am. To my dismay, that boat was full and the next one wasn’t until 1 pm. I could have had a much needed sleep in after all! Trudging off after purchasing my ticket for the later boat, I could have sworn I heard the Travel gods sniggering….


I was directed to a place which sold good local food and had WiFi and immediately recognised it as my ‘mini date place’ from two years ago when the incredibly handsome Garifuna man I was sitting next to on the boat from Puerta Barrios took me for a beer after a sumptuous seafood lunch at a local comedor. No such luck this time, but I did manage to have my first proper meal since leaving home.


Customs cleared and I was pleasantly surprised with the size and caliber of the boat taking me south. Last trip was made in an oversized, overcrowded dinghy which wavered perilously in only one metre swell. Today’s vessel was about four times the size and we didn’t need tarps covering us to keep dry! It was like a Playboy yacht in comparison.


Back on Guatemalan soil, I got directions from the friendly customs officer as to where the local buses left for the Honduran border. Unfortunately, I was one of the last to get on said minibus. In this part of the world, the problem of popping windows out by cramming too many people in a small vehicle is easily solved by keeping all doors and windows open. Fortunately, I wasn’t the last few so wasn’t precariously hanging out the side of the door, but still needed to adopt positions that would make even the most hardened yoga aficionado cringe in order not stay semi upright.


To the relief of nearly every part of my body, the bus eventually cleared enough for me to sit down. At the Guatemalan border post, the conductor wanted to take my passport to get stamped. It will be much quicker, he says. Travelling Overseas 101 teaches you NEVER to hand over your passport to some random Guatemalan dude on a dodgy minibus, but it seemed kosher enough and I checked for reassurance from my fellow passengers, including one woman I had earlier struck up conversation with. A semi-anxious few minutes passed before I was handed back my passport duly stamped.


The bus sped on and soon reached the actual border where the Honduran Immigration office was situated. I waited in queue for my turn then handed over my passport to the Immigration official. The señor asked where I was heading and I replied Omoa. All good. Or so I thought. El Señor then decided to take another look at my passport. A very close look. By this stage, I was perspiring a river due to the intense level of humidity and was hoping to sweet hell El Señor wouldn’t mistake that and assume I was sweating coz I had drugs up my never regions. A remote border post like Corinto is not the place you want an Honduran official questioning your paperwork. Eventually he asked me about my rapid succession of border crossings from Mexico. I explained I was travelling down to Honduras where I planned to spend several weeks visiting the country. Several more minutes passed before he stamped my passport, charged me 30 quetzals (about$2) and gave me a receipt for ‘administration charges’. I was free to go.


At the border I soon discovered there was no little town attached and hence no ATM. No ATM meant I had no Honduran lempira. My only option was to go to one of the many money changers and change my Guatemalan quetzals into limpira. I felt sure I would get shafted. Severely. But to my surprise the rate he charged was the exact same rate as the official rate. I quickly gave him all my quetzals for exchange when I realised that.


The bus lumbered on through verdant rainforest backdropped by misty hills. The humidity was intense and only relieved when the bus was moving. Once in Omeo, I got directions on how to get to a place I found in the Lonely Planet. Roli’s Place is owned by a hippy like Swiss man and his Honduran wife. Very basic but cheap. I dumped my things, then went down to a restaurant by the beach for a very tasty seafood meal washed down with my first Honduran beer of the trip.