I knew jack shit about Honduras before I got here. I don’t know anyone else who has been here. So I’ve relied heavily on the guidebook and personal research. Almost everyone you meet, who travels for more than a month poo-poos guide books, but you know what: they all have one.
The irony is, it’s these same people who say they want to see the real Guatemalans. Or real Hondurans. As opposed to the fake ones? Yep. Because if you came to Australia – the people who live in the best parts (eg, Sydney, Byron Bay, etc) aren’t real Australians.
This much i know for sure: A lonely planet it ain’t.
I love my LP guidebook. And i’ll tell you why. It makes things easier. Crossing borders, connecting bus routes, etc – all the dirty work done for me. I was contemplating following the coastline from Honduras down to Nicaragua. However there are no proper bus routes or guesthouses or even places to eat. In fact, there is very little infrastructure of any kind (water, electricity). So I’ve reconsidered. I’m down with going out of the way to find something a bit more secluded and special. I don’t need hot water or AC. But I also don’t feel the need to suffer unnecessarily. I guess what I’m saying is the thought of walking for miles along a hot dusty road with 20kg on my back in 70% humidity, trying to hitch a ride on the back of a ute, doesn’t really hold a lot of appeal. That might be other people’s idea of fun, but it ain’t mine.
Fun is when I’m diving. Or drinking. Or dancing. Or doing other cool things beginning with D.
The other great thing about guidebooks is they provide a really nice summary of things like political history and how the culture has developed. And this is how I came to learn about the Banana Republic. … it’s a term I’ve always associated with Queensland but never really given much thought to. It basically refers to a politically unstable country dependent upon a limited primary export (such as bananas). The term was first coined by an exiled American author writing about a very corrupt Honduras. The country has been run much like a commercial enterprise, with various political leaders profiteering. Fierce competition between the three main exporters of bananas for land and labour, and their associations with different political parties led to discontent and even a coup d’état. Honduras has a huge foreign debt for a country of its size – more than $4 billion. And those debts fall on the country (not the political leaders) to repay. This results in all sorts of shit hitting the fan (and stuff I’m clearly not qualified to commentate on) ranging from devalued currency to a distinct lack of much-needed capital investment. All of this reinforces its status as a banana republic.
So after 15 hours on a bus with furry teeth, I arrived in La Ceiba and took a taxi to the Banana Republic Hostel. I was clean, satiated and in bed by 10. The hostel is situated right across the road from a church where they were singing until all hours of the night. I’m positive God was asleep before they were. Seriously.
La Ceiba is a small town which is essentially the jumping point to the Bay of Islands, which includes Utila and Roatan – famous for their diving. Aussie Dave and Kiwi Suze had given me the heads up about a dive outfit who owned a hotel on a remote island called Jewel Caye. I caught the ferry to Utila the next morning and got organised with Captain Morgans. They flagged down a fisherman by the name of Zorro to get me & a couple from Perth (Nick and Clare) across to the Caye. Zorro was a white-ish dude with a crazy Caribbean / Creole accent that kinda sounded like it was mixed with Scottish and Afrikaans to my ear. His boat was filled with big shiny jumping tuna. It was about a 20 min ride across calm seas.
We docked at Hotel Kayla: A very simple wooden house with a verandah and just 8 rooms. The three of us went and had some lunch and when we came back, we were greeted by Bogdan the dive instructor from Canada via Romania.
That afternoon I went for a wee walk about the small town. Jewel Caye is only 11km long x 4km wide and there is basically one bike path through the guts of it, so it doesn’t take long. The Caye is home to about 500 people, who share 7 family names. They are the direct descendants of pirates. They were a real mix of black and white and everything in between. Beautiful coffee coloured kids with wild blonde curls ran around barefoot, making lots of noise. There are 7 churches on the island. And no bars. Quite different to Tobacco Caye in Belize which had 20 people and 2 bars. We were specifically asked not to walk around in just our swimwear (boys to wear shirts at all times). That night, as it poured with rain, I heard the strains of a church choir sing… it was like a cross between gospel and country and was just beautiful.
I woke up in the middle of the night, itching like a bitch. I had been hammered by sandflies in the two hours or so I had been on Utila, the day before and i was having a fairly severe allergic reaction. I had these massive angry red welts covering the best part of the back of my legs and my arms. The level of discomfort was around an 8 or a 9. I knew I couldn’t scratch or it would just get worse… But it was absolutely tortuous.
I still have the red marks and intermittent itching 5 days later, albeit both have subsided substantially. I am a little concerned about scarring and latent infections. I mistakenly did some googling and read about all sorts of nasty things associated with sandfly bites, including larvae – Fuck Me: You Do Not Want To Know.
Think pretty thoughts! Think pretty thoughts!
The next day we were up early to go diving. Silvie, a very serious German lass was anxiously undertaking her Open Water, while Nick and Claire were starting their Advanced Open Water. I was just doing Fun Dives. Or Pleasure Dives as i re-named them. Bogdan thought that was amusing.
Diving in Honduras is ridiculously cheap (I paid just over $50 a day for 2 boat dives, including all gear hire and accommodation). Alot of people come to Utila to get certified as a Dive Master. I had considered it, but to be honest – it just looks like a lot of heavy lifting, washing up and babysitting to me. I’d rather just dive.
My DM, Phil from London was probably one of the best DMs I’ve ever had, taking time to explain what to look out for before each dive. He was super relaxed and really took his time to look out for the little things… which is how I like to dive. Some blokes are only interested in the big boys: SHARKS! RAYS! BIG STUFF! I love all the big stuff but the little things are real cool too.
I saw all sorts of cool little things i’ve never seen before including a completely translucent wormy-like fish (i spotted him while hanging around doing the safety stop and i only I saw him because his spine was suspended from a bright orange nub); sea worms inside a sandy bed who kept popping out, doing a little snake charmer’s dance and retracting back into their holes every time we got too close; and sea-horses shyly curled around little pine cone-shaped plants. My first sea-horses after some 160 odd dives! Have decided they’re right up there with turtles and dolphins for making your day.
Each day started with balleadas (fluffy flour tortilla stuffed with eggs & cheese) and cafe con leche, made by the most lovely Marie. We were in the water by 8am and all washed up by 1230. We’d have some lunch and have an afternoon kip. The others were studying, so i took the opportunity to do a little writing and reading. We’d have dinner at one of the three restaurants and get an early night.
Itching like a motherfucker aside (and it was that bad, it very nearly ruined it for me) – I had a great time. Nick & Clare were good company. And the diving was utterly perfect. Warm seas, great visibility, gorgeous sea gardens, and so many fishies!
I came back to Utila with the dive boat and a pleasant surprise… the dive shop had overcharged me and wanted to give me my money back. How good is that? I treated myself to a super clean hotel with AC and views of the water. Just waiting to see if i can get a ride with Captain Vern direct to Roatan tomorrow to meet my friend Skye, and take it from there.