Homeward Bound

5 20 11

Turns out nothing lasts forever and time was winding down, just look at our small amount of clothes, you’ll quickly realize they are ready for the incinerator. As are the little jungle bracelets and necklaces bought from street vendors in different countries, which are now all faded from the sun, and salt water.  We spent our last week in one of the upper class suites on the second floor that provided an amazing view and breathtaking sunsets.  It was hard to get anything done on our last week but laze around the pool and lie in the hammocks all day talking about how fast time has gone by.  But we did manage to accomplish a few chores out and about town ripping around like locals.  Life in Mexico was now familiar to us, streets that seemed so dangerous and alien only six short months prior were now the norm and we felt comfortable, we almost felt like it was now our home.  But before we knew what hit us, we were north bound with the truck loaded and Hannah watching guard from the back seat.

Even though we did travel with a load of anxiety about the border areas of Mexico we forged forward with the goal in mind. Just three solid days of driving had us out of the country but not after having to talk our way out of a BS traffic ticket outside of Tampico, and having to stomach the intensity of traveling yet another dangerous road. Highway 101 north of Victoria to the border is riddled with a history of car-jackings, murders and mass graves. Security was tight and the military checkpoints were many. We talked to every one of them about the road ahead. Mas Seguro! Muy Tranquillo! They all said.

It turns out the only threat we would have was towards Hannah when a US boarder patrol, who was obviously dog-aphoebic cried out “Shut that door cause if that dog comes near me I WILL SHOOT IT!”  Maybe she was trigger happy, I don’t know but it was just plane disgusting to hear!  Hannah was sleeping in the back seat of the 4Funner as the other border agents searched our bags and the vehicle.   Once that was complete we were off into Texas delighted by our accomplishment but saddened that we were leaving Mexico behind us.

It’s true we are heading for home as quickly as we can to conserve what little money we have left. And now back in the US the 1st world has hit us like a ton of bricks.  It’s the little things; like putting the TP in the toilet-strange! And the highways! Oh the highways are amazing! Everywhere Americans are speaking and we hear every conversation and it’s difficult to tune it out after always trying so hard to tune in a conversation and understand in Spanish.  I fear the food is harder on us here and my belly is always rumbling in only 9 short days we fear we’ve put on half the weight we lost living on rice beans and fish back in Latin America.

But back to the South. After Joining Saskia and Eric once again in Corpus Cristy we traveled north together towards Austin, Texas to visit some friends we made in San Marcos Guatemala. We made our own long weekend with Abby and Colin who lived quite coincidently in San Marcos, Texas.  We had a fantastic time, partied most of it and I even managed to have another mountain bike incident. Yep cracked rib for the ride home.  (No bear hugs guys when I back to Moncton)  Abby and Colin took us swimming, biking, and partying with their friends. They were amazingly generous hosts, and we simply had a blast.  Viva la 78666!!!

Then we blasted east past the plains of Arkansas, the hills and confederate flags of Tennessee to arrive outside Richmond Virginia to spend some time with my Fathers side of the family.  These guys also treated us like royalty.  They took us out for dinner and the dog park but the stay was much to short due to the commitments back home.  Thanks so much for the hospitality, we hope to be seeing Ya’ll soon!

Crossing into Canada at the Woodstock/Houlton border was quick but riddled with black flies. Black flies so big they made me want to turn around.  After some confusion surrounding our importation of home made Mezcal and a quick peek at the truck we were off and running for home.  A little stressed and very tired, we pushed on smiling with every mile with thoughts of home, our friends and families.  Anticipating an epic summer, the moving back into our house, and the making of new life’s plans, hopefully a new puppy. Whatever happens and whatever we do together, we’ll always have this trip of a lifetime to remind us that no matter what the circumstances, obstacle, dangers or the opinions of others we can accomplish anything we set our minds to.

Fin, Finito, The End… for now.

Posted in Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Los Buenos Tiempos

5 11 11

Our planned month increased by an extra week in Puerto.  We decided to extend simply because leaving seemed incomprehensible.  Leaving meant heading north, leaving the tropics and making for a much cooler and not so lush environment.  It was hard to imagine not having the beach so close, a pool at our doorstep, an outdoor kitchen and living space in the shade.  It was all too good to walk away from although inevitable.  Of course we did much more than just sit around the pool high on life and overdosing on vitamin D.

Between odd nights of drinking Mezcal and Coronas we found the time to play in the waves on many occasions. We took a trip out to a beach called Carrazalillo with our Alberta friends, who also had friends of theirs stop in for a week.  Everyone had a blast and most of us went out in the waves to do some surfing.  The newcomers from Alberta tried it out and loved every moment.  While Curt and Ginny soaked up the sun and took photos from the sand we crashed and bobbled out in the little bay. Although we never managed to buy a board, our host Chris had a collection of old boards at least a dozen or so different shapes and sizes.  He always insisted I used one of them so I did.  I never did get the dimensions of my favorite Baltierra. (Board brand)

We made some friends with a young American couple Greg and Daphne, who were in the process of getting settled down in Oaxaca State.  They had met there at Sunset Point, and she was about to start a job as a teacher at a local university.  Greg had been to Mexico on many different occasions and knew a lot about the area.  He was always giving us tips on were to buy food and were to go for the best of the best. Sometimes we just had to wait and the vendors would show up at our doorstep.

Eventually our old buddies Saskia and Erik caught up to us after turning around in Panama. They stuck around for about a week and we had a number of great outings with them.  We also took them to Carrazalillo for some surfing and fun on the beach. On one particular day we loaded Saskia, Erik, Greg, Daphne, and ourselves including Hannah into the 4Funner and headed into hills in search of some waterfalls.  The overloaded car was nothing but ordinary in Mexico.  Greg was well aware of the route but it was an adventure nonetheless. We even picked up an old Mexican dude along the way. He hopped on the bumper and held on to the roof rack as we zigged down the dusty mountain road.  Shortly after dropping off our hitchhiker we arrived at our destination and parked.  A five-minute walk up the river and we came upon a beautiful waterfall that had to be a hundred feet high.  It plunged into a nice cool pond and we had it all to ourselves for the better part of the day.While Saskia and Erik were in town we had to take advantage of our newly acquired Scuba certificates and made plans for a dive.  Although the Pacific coast didn’t provide the beauty of the Caribbean reefs it did give us a new experience and we were able to enjoy it together.  Unfortunately, due to some wind and rain that we had the day before we were cursed with poor visibility and a surge that pushed us back and forth by about 5 feet.  We managed to see plenty of fish, a few rays, a octopus and a sea turtle. One of us was a little sea sick but for the most part we had fun.

There was a troop of Aussie surfers using Sunset Point as base camp for there wave hunting adventures.  The entire month they were back and forth from a little spot called Chacauhua. They called it their playground.  Fonze one of the Aussies guided us out there one day.  This wasn’t an easy spot to get to.  We ended up driving about an hour away from Sunset Point and then had to park the car in a little town along side of a lagoon were we jumped in a little boat and were transported across the mangroves. Once on the other side it was a 30 min ride down a dusty shoreline road in the back of a pickup.  What we found was a tiny little fishing village along the delta of this lagoon.  One river ran out see and had huge rock seawalls running about a few hundred yards into the Pacific.   This point created a very consistent swell that the Aussies loved.  It looked like a lot of fun but the waves were bigger than what I was used to so I opted to watch from shore.

We had with us an external hard drive with music movies and photos on it. We also had the Karaoke collection on board and since our host Chris’s wife Rosella was a musical performer she had the equipment necessary for a fun night of tone deaf whaling and shouting.  Chris made pizza for everyone in his newly installed wood-fire oven and once everyone was fed and a little tipsy the hits started coming. Just about everyone at Sunset Point was there to witness the fun and most participated in more than a few songs.  The night was a hit and even yours truly, who never sings, got up and sung a half dozen tunes.  A couple days after the party we hooked up Sunset Point with the player and the files to set up there own karaoke parties any time. I would have to say, we will go down in Sunset History as the Karaoke couple from Canada.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Viva Puerto Escondido

4 1 11

On April 1st we chugged into Puerto Escondido not 100% sure were to find Sunset Point. We had some directions from our host that originally seemed comprehensive, but when followed we found ourselves lost in the back roads on the edge of town. Not too far into our dirt road adventure I noticed the air bags in the rear suspension had failed once again. With the back end of the truck inches from dragging on the rough dirt road Janelle went off to explore on foot while I inspected the airbag issue.  The fix was quick; the pressure fittings from the fix back in Chetumal had simply backed out and let go. A quick tightening and a little application of air via the mini compressor and the job was done just as Janelle was returning from her little walk.

In La Punta (the point on Zicatela beach) the sand just keeps going up the dry dusty hillside from the beach between all the shanty homes and luxury vacation rentals. It really is a tranquil laid back setting with nothing much going on but barefoot kids walking to and from the surf break and a few beachfront restaurants with few customers.  But I must say nowhere else we’ve been have we witnessed such an obvious income gap so apparent and meshed all together.  Homes that literally cost over a half million dollars loom 3 and 4 stories high over cramped lots with dirt floor, tin roof, concrete bunker style homes enclosed by barbwire fencing holding in goats, chickens and a few mangey dogs.  How everyone gets along I don’t know, but it seems to work.

Sooner or later we ended up at the beach and we decided to get some food and ask some of the locals for directions.  We had a great lunch at a little Aussie run place called El Lugar (That’s Spanish for “The Place”). Not only did we eat great, we left there armed with directional options that should get us to Sunset Point.  In doing so we also made friends with the girls running El Lugar and a Canadian customer named Chris who would later on become one of our pretty good travel amigos in the area.  Sure enough after putting our newfound directions to good use we found Sunset point.

As we drove up we were extremely pleased with our first impression.  Well laid out with massive amounts of beautiful garden space, common area and two rows of rental bungalows flanking an amazing pool.  When we walked up the steps from the driveway to the pool we were greeted by a group of people enjoying some beers up to their shoulders in water.  They were a great bunch excited to see us as Chris, the owner, had to go to town and they directed us to our room # 3 in the lower bungalows.

Before we knew it our new friends who happen to have just arrived from Alberta had beers in our hands and were laying on the peer pressure pretty thick to get down to business and party with our fellow countrymen.  After becoming acquainted we checked out the new temporary dwelling. Just down a few steps from the edge of the pool, between lush tropical gardens dividing the pool and the building we emerged in our semi-private outdoor kitchen, complete with hamacha, fridge, stove and dinning area with a door leading into the bedroom.  Everything was extremely well kept and clean.  We were very well shaded as the outdoor kitchen was covered by a thatched roof that came down as far as our private little jungle.

Our goal for the day was to get our stuff out of the truck get situated and get in contact with our old amigo Miguel so we could hit the surf as soon as possible. But peer pressure availed and we ended up in the pool until the sun set with distinction over the deep blue Pacific.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

(Fast Forward) Cancun to Puerto Escondido

3 18 11

After getting Amanda to the airport we had to figure out how to find our way west towards Merida. It took some zigging and zagging through the old side of Cancun but sooner or later we found our way. Our first stop was planned to be Valladolide, a small colonial town about half way across the Yucatan. We stayed at a campground that had an amazing pool and a huge underground cenote to boot. Imagine a huge cave with a natural spring pond for a floor and a 10 foot hole on the roof (that was at least 80 feet high) providing a spooky beam of sunlight down to the water. Little black catfish slithered through the milky mineral saturated waters. We got to enjoy our fist visit to the cenote all to our selves and then the next day we caught a little Mayan ceremony with a few bus tourists that arrived that morning. Then it was off to Merida. We arrived in the city of Merida late to find that the campground we expected to use was closed down for good. We quickly decided to head north to the coastal town of Progresso were we found a hotel that would let us camp in the parking lot. Unfortunatly it was Karaoke night at the bar next door and it kept going until 4 am.

3 20 11
The next day we were out of there and headed for Campeche were we balked at an over inflated camping fee at what was known to be the best RV camp ground in Mexico. We opted for the small gulf side town of Isla Aguada it was going to be a long day in the car but we were disgusted so far with the Yucatan region’s prices so it would have to do. On our way just around super time and about an hour from our destination we passed by a desperate looking man waving on the side of the highway. I caught a glimpse of his car behind a sand dune with it’s front end all but buried in the sand. We felt we could and should help so we turned around. For about an hour we tried to get this little Dodge Neon out of the sand but it wasn’t happening. So we drove our new friend to the next town to try and score a tow truck. We arrived at the campground just before dark and got settled in. Back in Cancun I managed to contact a rental for our last big stop on the trip in Puerto Escondido back on the West coast. Here in Isla Aguada I would finally get online to confirm our reservations at Sunset Point.

3 22 11

We spent a couple days in Isla Aguada and made a couple new friends. One particular fellow was a friendly American man traveling alone with his Chihuahua Tito. Tito was rescued from some pretty terrible people from what we were told, but had been cursed sadly by a man who thought it was important to draw eyebrows on the little dog. I made the mistake of asking about the eyebrows and apparently offended Tito. After that embarrassing evening we woke up and headed out for our second stop in Palenque. The drive was pretty easy, no major hassles happened along the way and we arrived in the Chiapas town well before dark. We would stay almost a week here, just chilling out and killing time we had made up with the quick tour of the Yucatan.

3 25 11

Left Palenque for San Cristobal De Las Casas but didn’t get far. Only an hour into the drive we found ourselves stopped sitting on the highway with an old indigenous woman holding a rope across the road and her children at Janelle’s window hollering about their bags of fruit for sale. We didn’t want any, nor did we have the change to buy the 5 peso treats. The woman was relentless and figured if we weren’t going to buy fruit that we had to pay a toll to pass. We only had a bill for 500 Pesos and we knew she didn’t have the 495 change we required so we argued at a stand still for a few minutes until she finally let us go by. Frustrated we pushed on towards Agua Azul (blue water). Agua Azul is waterfall turned tourist trap that we had to stop at to check out. It was impressive and beautiful however all the fun parts were roped off and the locals who worked there seemed a little bitter. So off we went for San Cristobal after a short look around. We got another hour and a half down the twisting highway and just outside the city of Ocosingo we hit another roadblock. This time a few kilometers of traffic was at a stand still and there was no way around it, we had to go into Ocosingo and then come out the otherside to get to San Cristobal. After hearing ten different accounts to what was going on we finally heard that at 4:00 the road would be open again. But it was only 1:00 and we didn’t want to wait around for 3 hours so we turned around and headed back to Palenque to try again another day.

3 28 11

We opted to wait a few days to insure the craziness in Ocosingo had subsided but we finally made it to San Cristobal. We spent a couple cool nights in what many would say is one of the most culturally rich cities in Mexico. We did a little shopping in their market and had a few great meals in the heart of the city. Hannah enjoyed some long days out walking around with us as we did some sight seeing. It’s really great to see how chill she has become with other dogs on and off leash. Again Internet wasn’t working at the campground so we struggled to get online and make contact with people. We did find a nice restaurant were we could hang out and update the blog and let everyone know we were still alive witch we thought was especially important after the drive between Palenque and San Cristobal. This highway takes you right through Zapatista territory and has been known to travelers as one of those take your chances kind of highways. Many people get held up (as we did) for little tolls along the way and sometimes things get ugly. Next stop (our last) Puerto Escondido!

3 29 11

We left San Cristobal and headed for Tuxtla. On the way we would stop at the Canyon del Sumidero. This is a national park that houses a river canyon that has walls over 900 meters above sea level. The river flows through Chiapas and to the Gulf of Mexico after passing through the state of Tabasco and is pushed through a huge hydroelectric dam supplying power to many Mexican Families. We took a 2 hours boat ride that turned into almost 4 hours after it was all said and done. We saw lots of birds and a few Crocs along the riverbanks but sadly we saw tons of pollution. I was shocked that a few boats were busy picking up any driftwood they could find but nobody was cleaning up the millions of bottles and other trash floating in the river. At many parts of the river we found ourselves dodging plums of trash. Once we got out of there, we headed for Tuxtla Gutierrez only 40km down the road. Here we would be gouged once again for a camping spot in the parking lot of a hotel. We had access to a nice pool and ordered some pizza to quell our disappointment in our costly accommodations. The next day we woke up and made our way to the Pacific South coast of Mexico.

3 30 11

The last 2 days in March were spent in Puerto Angel near Zipolite beach. We got a cheap campground a stones through from the beach and we hung out there parked next to a similar rig as ours from Ontario. We spent some time on the beach here and hung out. We got aquanted with a delicious icecream sandwich called a Krock! But other than that nothing major went on, we just passed the time before we were expected at Sunset Point on the first of April. Oh, did I mention the beach was a nude beach?

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

(Fast Forward) Honduras To Mexican Border.

03 01 11

Today we woke up in La Ceiba loaded up the car and made for Guatemala.  It was a beautiful day, the border crossing was pretty simple and we made it all the way back to one of our favorite places, Finca Ixobel. We stayed a few days here and did some hiking. Hannah received a startling warning shot from an eight-foot Boa Constrictor on the trail and we all got infested with ticks.  We spent a few days here and each night we spent hours removing ticks from Hannah and ourselves.

03 04 11

We left Guatemala today after passing Tikal and sadly not stopping thanks to their “no dogs” policy. Again no problems at this border crossing, what was once a huge anxiety, is now becoming quite routine.  We stopped just inside the Belize border at Trek Stop for a night. Not much happened there we just hung out made a few new friends and passed out early.

03 05 11

Caught up with the old crew in Belize. We stopped in first to see Michelle. Unfortunately Frank was gone to the states for a week and we didn’t see him. We stopped in to see Nikki and the bird sanctuary.  She had a package that Janelle’s mom mailed down back in January.  We then ended up staying with our friends Frankie and Graham who live out in the bush on a self-sustaining little piece of paradise along side the Belize River. There they rehabilitate abused and abandoned dogs as well as just about any jungle creature that needs there help from being injured or poached.

We missed out on a couple howler monkeys and an otter that they had been caring for only a week or so before we arrived.  Frankie and Graham took us on little hikes in and around their property in search of wild life sightings. We saw lots of birds and Graham introduced us to many interesting varieties of trees like the “horse balls” tree. We managed to catch sightings of a few different troops of howlers. It was amazing to see them in the wild.  We caught up with Hippy Jeff who was hosting a Sunday barbeque out on his homestead.  We enjoyed some great times there hanging with our Belize buddies including our old apartment hosts Kevin and Crystal.   Belize was starting to redeem itself from the previous disastrous visit.

03 07 11

Off to visit the coast of Belize, something we didn’t get to do back in January.  We first hit up Hopkins and camped on the beach behind a little hotel. It was a great little setting however the waters were disappointing. Plastic bottles and other garbage was floating in the water and piling up along the shoreline. It was a real wake-up call as to how poorly the Central American countries are dealing with their garbage.  The locals are blaming Guatemala and Honduras for the garbage and have literally given up on cleaning it up.  I spoke to a hotel owner about the situation and he begrudgingly he admitted that he had given up but he was willing to let people camp on his property for free if they put in a few hours clean up each day on the beach.  I posted on Lonely Planet for him, hopefully he got some help the beach needs it.

03 08 11

Placencia was the next stop but it didn’t last. The place was too expensive and nobody was willing to let us camp for a reasonable fee.  We walked around the little town ate and played on the beach with Hannah. We were able to get in the water here. It seemed there was more effort to keep the beach and water clean, but we did see a small amount of garbage.  We got ourselves some soy ice-cream (soy is very big and Belize, and delicious!) and hit the road back towards Hopkins but didn’t quite make it before we stumbled upon Glover’s Camp Ground on the Sittee River. These guys had a catamaran that took guests out to a private island 3 hours out into the Caribbean. We wanted to take the trip but only for a few nights. We enjoyed a pretty chill night in the jungle along side the murky river in hopes we would hear from the owner to give word on a short visit price.

03 09 11

The next morning on Sittee River we waited for the owner of Glovers to call us back but the wait was getting to long.  If the price wasn’t what we were willing to pay, we wanted to be sure to make it back to Graham and Frankie’s by dark. By noon we still had not heard from the owner so we decided to hit the road.  We made two stops, one in Dangriga to simply get on the internet and have some lunch. Second it was to hit up Marie Sharp’s Hot Sauce plant. We found a really nice resort-like place in Dangriga to have lunch. They had internet (two birds, one stone) and they let Hannah run around on the beach in front of the hotel while we checked our email and got word to Frankie and Graham that we were on our way.  At Marie Sharps we talked to some of the workers there and got a short history of the place. We also talked about minimum wage in the country and how people are just getting poorer as the years go on.  After that we hit the Hummingbird Highway for the last time. It’s named that way for a reason. It’s a zippy twisty little road filled with abrupt stops and lots of beautiful flora to see.

03 10 11

One last morning with Frankie, Graham and their 10 wild family dogs.  We had a quick breakfast some coffee and hit the highway for Mexico.  Border crossing anxieties are now next to nil, or maybe it’s just the shear excitement of returning to Mexico.  It felt like we’ve been waiting for this moment since we exited the country back in December.  But as luck would have it, as we got to the end of the 5km dirt road (5km from our hosts house) I noticed the exhaust getting louder.  I quick look revealed that the tail pipe broke off the muffler. I tried to pull it out so we wouldn’t lose it but its bends wouldn’t come out from the rear axle. I slung it up to the frame and we were north bound.  Not long after that I started to notice the back end of the 4Funner was sagging badly. Another stop and a quick look to find out we flattened the air bags. Not good, suddenly we didn’t feel so relaxed.  We finally made it to the border and crossed with very little trouble at all.  Once across we decided that we would hit up Yax-Ha outside Chetumal again. Just a quick 30 min drive from the border and we were “making the bead” and steeling for some rest Mexican style. But then the skies opened up we were privy to an intense thunderstorm.

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Utila, 10 Days in Paradise

2 26 11

Another jaw drooping sunset – Another get-together with the motley crew of worldly classmates – Yet another slightly hung over early morning boat ride out to the north side of the island for some diving.  We skimmed over the smooth cool morning waters in search of coral, dolphins, turtles or the elusive whale shark.   This was the first time Janelle and I would dive together, both our courses were complete now and I was joining her group for the last fun dive of the curriculum.  The captain and Janelle’s instructor had a great idea to visit some of the keys along the island since it was Sunday and the boat wasn’t scheduled to be out in the afternoon.  The school was pretty much closed down in preparation for a party Parrot’s was throwing on the beach on the other side of town.

The season for whale shark was just about to begin and unfortunately we were too early and missed out. But on this beautiful February morning the dolphins were out to play.  As we turned east into the sunrise and across the north side of the island a pod of over 50 little dolphins came swimming towards the boat.  The playful little sea creatures were so small and fast. A few times we tried to get into the water with them. It took skill and timing to get 14 people off such a little boat quickly. 3 times we were off the boat as the dolphins swam away.   We finally got a little time with them but it was for the most part watching them from behind disappearing into the deep blue.  One actually turned around at one moment and came right at me with what looked like a big grin. It got within 10 feet of me, I heard a chirp and then it turned around quickly and caught up with the pod.  It was pretty exhilarating even if they didn’t stay and play.

We could probably write pages and pages about each dive and how amazing it was, so heres the short version.  Every dive we saw fish of all sorts of colors, shapes and sizes including lobster, shrimp, rays, sea turtles and even underwater worms. (I didn’t know worms could be so beautiful.) I got to see a ship wreck at 30 meters and we even had on 2 occasions a camera around to capture all the beauty.  (Be sure to check out the pictures by clicking our travel pics on the top right) I did a night dive were I saw phosphorescence for the first time. What is phosphorescence? It’s some sort of energy charge that happens that quantum mechanics (and not I) can explain.  All I know is that when the water is disturbed and becomes turbulent it creates some pretty cool glowing specs of light everywhere. I’m told on a dark moonless night you can see it in the waves along the coast.  On almost every dive we saw something new and breathtaking. We really fell in love with this activity and we know we are going to make sure we do it again soon.

So today after a spectacular dive as buddies we made our way to Diamond key.  Here we stopped for drinks and a short walk around to see the small island sights.  This is where the first inhabitants of Utila landed and made it there home. That was until they were to find themselves out growing the little speck on the map and it wasn’t long before they moved to the main island of Utila.  After a quick tour it was back on the boat for a short ride over to Water Key, a deserted little island surrounded by clear shallow water just great for swimming.  We hung out there with a few drinks for some fun in the sea and sun reflecting on our last dive and watching the crystal clear waters for rays and other fish.

It was pretty special to us that we arrived on party day and were leaving the day after another big party. It was like a big personal welcome and then a big send off.  It was coincidently fitting, as this would mark the turnaround point of our trip.  So we partied the night away under the tropical stars bare foot on the beach with a hundred or so drunken dive junkies.

It was difficult packing up the next morning and getting ready for the 2PM ride back to the mainland on the old vomit comet.  We were almost willing to stay a little longer and continue learning more about diving.  A little investment in more training would lead down roads unknown in future travels.  To be a dive instructor or dive master is to travel all over diving in different and exotic places in the world. We dreamt of the possibilities but decided it would be for future consideration and maybe a reason to return the little island.  We said good buy to all our worldly friends and the amazing staff at Parrots. These guys loved Hannah so much I didn’t think they were going to let us leave with her, but finally the fearless trio found ourselves with our packs and belongings waiting for the Utila Princess to take us back to our 4Funner waiting for us in La Ceiba.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Diving and Disaster Aversion

2 18 11

The week in Utila started off with a bang!  We were privy to a Full Moon Party on the eastern beach on the island.  It should be noted that with absolutely no planning or calendar watching we’ve so far arrived at every major stop accompanied by a Full Moon lighting our first night’s activities; Vancouver, the Baja, Belize, Lago Atitlan and now here in Honduras.  We opted out of a Full Moon Party in Guatemala so we made sure not to miss it this time, and it was well worth I, these guys really know how to party down here.

Our arrival was at the end of a rainy week and we only had to tolerate one afternoon of the wet stuff.  We took that day to do the first part of our dive course in a pool.  This was our first exposure to the SCUBA systems and we got some of our first skills down in 5 feet of water.  It was challenging, the water was cold and cloudy but we got through it excited about a trip out on the boat to find a reef the next day.

Utila had little to offer for grocery or produce so we opted on eating at the local restaurants and cafés the entire stay.  Luckily the food was great and affordable, it wasn’t uncommon to both be fed with a beer or other drink for less than $10Can.  We got introduced to an amazing piece of local produce called the breadfruit.  This is a huge spiny fruit that when cut looks like a dry pineapple but tastes like potato.  This sucker get’s sliced up and deep-fried and out comes the most delicious alternative to home fries you’ve ever tasted.  There are many other uses but that was my favorite.

The days started to mash together within our busy routine of waking, diving, studying, walking Hannah and partying.  Within a few days Janelle started to get sick and her routine was interrupted.  A head cold was keeping her from diving so she had to stay back on the dock while I went on with the rest of the class.  Diving is difficult if your sinus isn’t perfectly open to the task of equalizing as the pressure builds during your decent to even just a few feet.  The cold lasted a few days and then she started up again with another class.  Parrots was incredibly accommodating and made sure she was set up for success as soon as she felt better.

Hannah had a huge fan club on the island. Everywhere we went people would call her by her name or mistake her for the Male boxer Chaka that resided on the tight streets of Utila.  When we were gone diving there was never a shortage of people willing to take care of Hannah, but this didn’t happen often. For the most part since Janelle and I were on offsetting schedules Hannah always had one of us around.  This was cool for Hannah but it made for very little dives together for Janelle and I over the 10-day period.

After one great day in the water I stepped off the boat to some frantic and disturbing news.  A lion fish at the beach stung Hannah in the foot, and Janelle was out looking for a vet with little luck.   In the Caribbean and Atlantic Oceans, the lionfish is an invasive, non-native fish that has no local predators and is disrupting the natural ecosystem and decimating stocks of overfished species. There have been campaigns by scuba divers to kill lionfish often supported by NOAA and other government agencies. It wasn’t rare to hear of people coming back with speared lion fish.  They do make a tasty treat but they are deadly to most of the other sea life out there and their stingers carry some nasty venom.

I caught up with Janelle not far from Parrots and we went directly to the local hospital to see what they give people when they get stung.  They couldn’t really help but they gave us a prescription for the pain. At this point it looked like Hannah was almost paralyzed from at the hips. She was dragging herself around by her forelegs and panting and whimpering heavily.  We arrived at the dive center after a long impatient wait for a tuk-tuk to take us back to town from the hospital.  There at Parrot’s everyone that had any experience with the Lion Fish said all it would take is some boiling water on the wound for a few hours and that she would be fine. This would help break down the venom and completely relieve the pain.  Janelle was at the risk of missing yet another dive, so I told her to go and I stayed to soak the leg.  Hannah realized pretty quickly that keeping her leg in the water was southing even though it was hot at first she settled in, I put a movie on and watched the time go by while friends of ours at the dive center fetched clean hot water every half hour or so.

A few hours passed and Janelle arrived a little later from her dive.  I made sure to be there when the boat pulled up and I could see the worry in her eyes as she disembarked.  That all went away pretty quickly as Hannah had made a full recovery (beside a little swelling) and Hannah ran over to her with her usual excited little dance and I could feel the warmth of Janelle’s relief from 50 feet away. Yes disaster averted once again!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Utila Princess

2 16 11

After an impressive trip along great highways through the northeastern portion of Honduras we arrived only a few hours later in La Ceiba.  The Lonely Planet suggests a Hostel and potential car storage called The Banana Republic Rooming House.  First we located the Utila Princess ferry doc and then went into the city to find the Hostel. The map in LP was less then stellar and we had quite a time finding the place.

Eventual we did, and the welcome we received was warm and generous.  These guys had a great room for us, had no problem with Hannah, and they had only one parking space available. Luckily it was open for us to leave our car while we ventured off to Utila. We really felt lucky with this find as we had little daylight left to search around. And to top it off we even scored a little discount.  As we got settled it started to rain and heavy doesn’t seem to describe it, we’re talking rain like a real monsoon season downpour. We stayed in and talked to some of the other travelers in the hostel about life on the road and the islands. Some were quite bitter about spending a week on the island cursed with nothing but said weather, wishing us luck with a bitter tone.  We got our stuff organized, hoping for better weather as made ready the 4Funner for her little break from her current abuse ridden existence.

The next morning we hopped a cab, that the hostel manager had waiting for us, and made for the Princess dock passing one of the biggest trees we’ve ever seen. (The La Ceiba Tree to wich the city was named after.)  Filled with anticipation and anxiety about the ride that has been coined “the vomit comet” by so many travelers we got our tickets and waited.  Eventually an overly confident Aussie dude in tank top and thong flip-flops struck up a conversation with us as we waited on the dock to board the boat. Steve-O (as he insisted) was a dive instructor at a pretty reputable dive school and started to convince us to look there first before going with the company we had already mildly committed to.  He was friendly and convincing without coming right out and defaming the other company, so we felt like we could trust him.  We boarded the boat with the thought in mind that we would check his school out first and then go to Parrot’s Dive Center to compare.

We made our way to the seats at the farthest rear of the boat, where the captain said we had to be with the dog.  Shortly after sitting down El Capitan came and told me that he meant the outside back of the boat next to the motor with all the cargo.  Hannah was considered cargo and he was worried she would be sick inside the tin can of a ferry.  I was a little bitter about the idea but happy to have fresh air and enjoy the view of the mainland shrinking away.  When we sat down and the boat fired up to set out of birth Hannah started to vibrate uncontrollably. I can only imagine what was going on in her mind as we hit the open sea and the boat started rocking back and forth as it rode adjacent to the current’s massive swells.  The boat ride was an hour plus, and Hannah spent the entire time on my lap digging her claws into my legs.  The view was amazing but I paid for it in blood. Once the boat came to a stop in the islands beautiful turquoise shoreline I rejoined Janelle and Steve-O in the main cabin to find that Janelle didn’t quite enjoy the rough ride either. Looking a little green she led the way off the boat while Hannah yanked hard on the leash so anxious to kiss land.

When we disembarked we found Tatiana, our contact at Parrots, standing there with a sign with our names on it.  So we took one look at Steve-O and shrugged our shoulders goodbye. Off we went to Parrot’s were we were greeted with so much warmth and enthusiasm.  We got a little tour then went off to eat some lunch.  Well that’s what we told them we were doing but we headed off to find Steve-O at his dive school.  Tatiana insisted we leave our bags in there care and we went off.  This is when we realized competition was extremely fierce on the island between dive schools.  In the end we opted for our first choice Parrot’s. It was known as the only locally owned dive school, it wasn’t the fanciest place, it wasn’t the cozier of the options but the people there seemed really amped just to be alive, everyone loved Hannah right from the get go and we really felt like we belonged. We locked down our decision and got ready to get back to school SCUBA style.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Next we take Honduras

02 10 11

We reluctantly packed up and left Lago Atitlan on Feb 10.  We decided to ditch the bicycles and leave them for the workers on our little resort. My hope was that they would use them to go back and forth to town or give them to their families.  I’ve since heard from some our cabin neighbors, Len and Gerry from Idaho, that they saw one of our favorite workers Domingo riding around on one of them.  Success!  Len and Gerry were retired and previously worked for the Peace Core. Belize was one of their stations and we were always passing along jokes about the corruption there.  They were very interesting and knowledgeable travelers, great neighbors to have in a strange land. We hope to meet them back in Utah when we get back to the States ,they are supposed to be visiting that area of the US around the same time we should be there.

We had decided at the last minute that we would make one more boarder crossing south to Honduras for one reason only – to get SCUBA certified on the Island of Utila!

Utila is part of what’s known as the Bay Islands of the coast of Honduras. It’s interesting to note that they were first discovered by Christopher Columbus himself and that was actually on his 4th voyage across the sea.  At the time he reported the island was inhabited by cannibalistic indigenous peoples, the Spanish captured and enslaved the inhabitants and shipped them to Cuba to work on cane farms.

The ownership of the islands changed hands over the years until the British were forced to give the Bay Islands to the Honduran government in the mid 19th century. It was at this time that the nearly uninhabited islands were being populated by its now Caymanian roots. The Bay Islands remain rich in Caymanian culture and dialect. Although today Utila is riddled with ex-pats and tourists seeking to get there dive certificates in one of the cheapest and most beautiful places to do so in the entire world.

In anticipation of our next chapter we stayed a couple nights back in Antigua where we made a few new great friends and got a feel for being mobile again.  It took a few days to adjust to the routine of living out of the car but we enjoyed it. We were graced by the miracle of puppies on this visit. A street dog mothered a litter of 5 puppies right in the campground and seemingly abandoned them.  They turned out to be quite the attraction for the campers and we spent a lot of time trying to keep them warm at night picking off ticks and making sure they had water.

Eventually one couple from the US purchased some puppy chow and handed over to Janelle as they were leaving bound for Peru in the morning.  Janelle took lots of care preparing the food by warming up some milk and softening the kibble before feeding them in a big saucer. It was pretty damn cute to see them practically rolling around in the food fighting to get the best share.  One particular little guy was having a hard time walking and getting around, the apparent runt of the litter struck a cord in Janelle’s heart and it was difficult to leave them behind to cope on their own.

Next day we made the dreaded transit of Guatemala City. It turned out to be much easier than the way in and we managed to get through when traffic was at a minimum. We felt like travelers again!  The next few hours were great rolling along down hill towards the Caribbean coast saving lots of gas while gravity did the trucks work for her. We made the stop at Pizza Burger Dinner and reminisced about our traveling Dutch friends now in Nicaragua.  After lunch it wasn’t long before we found ourselves back in Rio Dulce scrounging to find out if the boarder crossing was still open to Honduras.

It turns out that the hurricane’s run off took out a bridge at this boarder and no one could give a definitive answer as to its current state.  We had the workers at Tijax call the local bus company and they seemed to think it was open and we figured that was good enough so we were off the next morning for Honduras. So we relaxed and got our paper work in line for the next day.

The boarder crossing wasn’t busy and was pretty straight forward except for one little surprise.  Getting the car into the country was going to cost us $35 and this was the first we heard of such a tax.  We thought for sure we were being had and being fresh out of Spanish class we tried to call bluff on it. We walked around and talked to a couple other boarder officials one who was actually English and it turned out we missed something in our research. The tax was real and nobody was bending on it.  So we paid our dues, passports stamped and car permit in hand we made for La Ceiba with no real clue what we would do there.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Guatemala Holla!

01 16 11

After spending a good wad of money on clothing and souvenirs in Antigua it was time to venture to Lago Attitlan, and if being in the vicinity of 3 volcanoes makes you feel uneasy, how about being on the inner banks of the mouth of a super volcano. That’s right the lake is volcanic in origin, filling an enormous caldera formed in an eruption 84,000 years ago. It is renowned as one of the most beautiful places in the world, and is also surrounded by three volcanos on its southern flank. Here we would stay for 25 days at a little cabin and condo resort called Pasaj-Cap. (“Sweet like Honey” in the local Mayan dialect)

We arrived with Saskia and Erik in tow. They were going to stay a couple days there before heading to Honduras. Once again they would be paving the way forward while the lazy Canadians hunkered down for more easy living.  Although the arrival of 4 instead of 2 people came as a shock to our host Pierre we quickly got over the misunderstanding and settled in to our little vacation from the road with delight. The tranquil, picturesque setting provided tons of worry-free relaxation.  We had one of the cheapest spots on the grounds but were stationed right at the top of the slop enjoying what most of our friends and other guests attested to being the best view anywhere on the lake.  It couldn’t be beat.

Atitlan was dotted with many wonderful little towns that we frequented often for supplies and more souvenirs. One of our favorite haunts was San Pedro. There Janelle would do Yoga and we would attend Spanish School.  San Pedro was also where we found most of our supplies at the cheapest prices all the while enjoying a boat ride back and forth.  But Hannah wasn’t a fan of the Lanchas (ferry boat) at all. Eventually she got used to it when it was calm but when it was windy she got a bit stressed out.  The Lancha pilots and their helpers got to know us well and Hannah was always a favorite passenger.  It wasn’t long before we were feeling pretty local but that didn’t mean we got local prices on the ride.  Locals paid less than half what gringos did. What a strange feeling to be so discriminated upon, but what were we to do?
Now that we were settled for a good long time it was urgent that we get the truck looked at.  Our host Pierre recommended a mechanic in nearby Panajachel.  (In Spanish the J is pronounced with an H) We ventured that way a 2.5 hour drive (30 min boat ride) to get it fixed and had to leave it with the mechanic after he quickly diagnosed the problem as a bad flywheel. (Why couldn’t mechanics in Belize figure that out?)  When I asked him how much it was going to cost he wrote down his quite on a piece of paper.  1800-Oh Shit! But then he said Quetzales.  That’s like $225, CAD! Amazing!

This job was going to require the removal of the transmission, the 4X4 transfer case and then to change the flywheel, pay for the part and put it all back together. This was what cost us at least $2300 in labor to have the transmission rebuild back in Cali and a good portion of that time was the removal and replacement of those large components.  I was very happy with the quote and hoped he would stick to his word and not sabotage the truck so I would be back to spend another $225 later in the week.  I had heard some horror stories from other travelers how they had problem after problem with Guatemalan mechanics, but these guys seemed honest and understanding of our plight.

After 3 days with the car far away in the hands of total tico strangers I called and got the word that it would be ready to go Saturday afternoon.  We arrived to pick it up that afternoon and after a few little minor adjustments and some forgotten skid plates it was good to go. They even removed all our effects from the car and put them in there office for safekeeping.  When he handed me the broken flywheel a chill went down my spine. It was cracked around its hub 270 degrees around only being held together by a small metal tab about 2 inches across. Had this thing come completely apart between the engine and transmission I surely would have had some major problems.  And to boot the car would be incapable of starting itself, as the starter spindle connects to the flywheel to get the motor turning.  The truck ran perfectly and we made our way back to Pasaj-Cap delighted with the price and the service.

Back on relax mode we quickly realized that ferrying Hannah back and forth to San Pedro was getting to stressful. And to boot, the price of the lancha rides every day was starting to add up. We had to do something different with Spanish School if we were going to continue.  Our lovely teacher Clarita, a local Mayan woman, went to the manager of the school to see what they could do. Clarita enjoyed our company so much that she offered to start traveling to us each day for a week.  This was perfect; we could sleep in a bit and not have to stress Hannah out each day riding the boat. So we continued with our friend bringing her coffee each morning down to our dockside palapa-style classroom.

During the rest of our time we spent lounging on the dock, swimming almost every morning in the lake and visiting San Pedro and Panajachel one more time for Janelle’s birthday.  She didn’t want much for her day except for a little shopping spree in the town with the biggest market so off we went on Feb 7th to grab some goods for her and to bring home as gifts.  Janelle has really flourished as a street-side bargainer. She goes in with her price in mind, which is usually half of what they want, and she sticks to it and walks away if she has too.  So many of them crack it’s incredible.  Janelle really enjoys this little battle of the wits while myself can’t bargain worth a damn!  I’m the one behind her saying “it’s still a good deal!” “we’re talking $2 CAN here” but to her credit she get’s what she wants for the price she wants to pay and that I think is awesome!

As part of our Spanish School’s package we were invited to go zip lining. Janelle opted out and I went along with some of our schoolmates for a day of fun back up on the top of the caldera. I met the group in nearby San Pablo were I jumped into the back of a pick up with them and took a bumpy ride to the top of the mountain in the cool mountain morning air.  I had never zipped before and I was a bit nervous but I hid it well and let the others go on about how freaked they were.  We did 2 zips with a rappel in between.  The first was pretty quick and easy brushing over top of the forest trees.  The rappel was a bit of a joke but it was fun to watch some of the others get all worked up about it.  I have had some experience doing plenty rappels back when I used to rock climb so it wasn’t a big deal but fun nonetheless.  Then the second zip was a monster.  It was a couple hundred feet over a chasm.  I watched many of my friends take off slung from behind “superman style” and had to go it the same way. So when my turn came up I didn’t flinch I said let’s go and away I went. Here’s the video to prove it.  Sorry Dad, I screamed like a little girl….

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment