SCUBA DIVING IN HIPPIE HEAVEN
As I briefly mentioned in my last email, Carrie and I went to Utila, one of the Bay Islands , to get scuba certified. We were trying to bang out the 3.5 day certification process in less time, as Semana Santa (a week-long party across Central America leading up to Easter Sunday…and a time when all tourist places are mobbed and double the price) was quickly approaching. Based on a recommendation from people we met, we chose Alton’s Dive Shop, which turned out to be the best decision ever. Both Carrie and I were a bit nervous about the whole scuba diving thing, but the staff there was super nice and helped alleviate all our fears. In fact, we liked it so much that after quickly doing the basic “Open Water” certification we chose to stay a few more days and get “Advanced” certified.
In the end, we went from zero experience to advanced certification by doing 13 dives in six days. As I’m sure you can imagine, this completely wore us out every day…good thing our room was actually in the dive shop and about a 30 second walk from where we took classes. Best part, the room was free while getting certified and $4 each other times…for a waterfront room. Granted it had communal shower and bathroom, but still! As for diving, it is quite possibly one of the most amazing things ever. The aquatic life you see that far down is beautiful and the wrecks we swam around and through are so cool to just stare at. Our night dive was one of the best dives we did, and at one point I looked down and saw that we were 120 feet below the water. Awesome!
While the scuba diving was an amazing experience and we can’t wait to go again, the real fun was the Utila atmosphere. It was literally, hippie heaven, complete with drum circles breaking out on decks over the ocean and people spinning fire. The fire was the coolest part…some people had flaming balls attached to ropes, others had the flames on the end of a stick. The coolest one was this woman who had a flaming hula hoop. Basically, they soak their devices in kerosene, light them and then spin the fire around fast enough for it to appear to merge together while not actually burning themselves. A very cool and tranquil atmosphere…you have to check out the photos and the YouTube videos!
In addition to the crazy drums and fire, every bar had a deck/patio over the ocean where you could just chill out and talk to the myriad of other travellers from around the world. There was also this one bar/restaurant called Treetanic, which was basically an Alice in Wonderland or Swiss Family Robinson playground for adults. There was a bar up in the trees, crazy artwork made completely of glass items including bottles, marbles and more, ladders and places to climb and a rooftop hangout spot that looked out across the island. Check out the photos for more of an idea…it’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before. The best part was that at night the entire place had all sorts of multicolored lights all over coming out of the glass sculptures. Be sure to check out the photos and if you’re still interested, here is their Web site.
On our last morning on Utila we finally found the caves we had heard rumors about since arriving. After following our detailed instructions on getting there (“follow the power lines until you hear the power plant and look for some steps”) we came to the cave. You first had to crawl on your hands and knees through mud, often with little more than a foot or so of space to make your way through and only a flashlight to guide you. Upon arriving at the end of the landed area, we found an underground lake, stalactites and stalagmites and the sounds of bats flying by and rats scooting around. You could actually swim underwater and pop your head up in another cavern if you had a flashlight in a sealed bag, but Carrie and I opted to wait until next time for that one. After just soaking in the ambiance for a little while we headed out and to our boat to, sadly, leave Utila.
SEMANA SANTA AND THE COPAN RUINS
After leaving Utila, Carrie and I tried to spend a day avoiding Semana Santa by taking a rafting tour down a river close to the islands. However, we quickly found that our tour was shorter than usual and the service was not up to their usual standards, as Semana Santa had given them more tourists than they could handle. Still, the river rafting (my first time) was very cool and got me ready for more in the future. After that, we hiked around and swam under some waterfalls before heading back.
Our next stop was the Copan Ruins, my first (hopefully of many) visits to Mayan ruins. We were originally going to just go there for a day trip, but after arriving in the town of Copan Ruinas and finding both a cheap hotel room and a friend we had met in El Salvador we decided to extend our stay a few more days. Our first day there we went horseback riding (ouch!) to a small Mayan village up in the mountains where we were bombarded by kids trying to sell us little handicrafts. They had all kinds of stories like “my parents are dead and I have no money,” but the funniest part was when Carrie saw one of these kids with dead parents hanging out with her parents the next day at a Semana Santa parade. And of course, none of the money we paid the tour company for the horseback ride went to the village we visited and took advantage of…but that’s a completely different story.
The next day I finally made it to the awesome Copan Ruins. This was like unfinished business for me, as I had originally planned on visiting them last January but Carrie got sent to Panama and it turned into a whole other kind of adventure. Carrie, not a ruin-fan, decided to stay behind and hang out with our friend Christina, while I headed out. I quickly found a group of American volunteers beginning a tour, which I tagged along on (with permission). While the tour guide was not the best, the ruins were beautiful and I had a blast alternating between listening to the guide and wandering off and snapping photos.
After later meeting up with Carrie and Christina back in town, we headed off to some hot springs in the car of a friend of a Peace Corps volunteer working in Copan Ruinas whom we had met the night before. Our time there was very relaxing, if not a bit weird for me as it was my first hot springs experience. The craziest part was that the area we went to cost $10, while the river right below cost about $1 to enter. Needless to say, we were hanging out in the hot springs above while the locals splashed around below in a classic example of haves and have-nots.
As for actual Semana Santa events in Copan Ruinas, the coolest thing we saw was an entire street covered in wood-shaving art. The street was lined with bags of shavings of all different colors and artists spent the night packing them down to form giant Jesus murals that would only exist for around 18 hours. By the time the parade came through the next night, they were gone. Fortunately, I have some photos. Oh, and by parade I mean a ton of people slowly walking down the street all day carrying floats of the Virgin Mary and Jesus on the cross while reading parts of the bible over a loudspeaker and playing terrible music…not quite the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
WHATS NEXT AND COMING HOME
Carrie and I have spent the past day in Santa Rosa de Copan, hanging out with Peace Corps volunteers in a communal “get-away” house and relaxing watching TV and laying on couches. It’s a nice break from the break-neck pace of backpacking. After I finish this e-mail there may well be some Frisbee involved and more hanging out before we begin our day-long trek to Belize early tomorrow morning. As for returning, we just booked our flight back to the USA on May 22 from Cancun. That’s right, after both managing to avoid it throughout spring breaks, we will finally be spending a day or so in Cancun.
THIS AND THAT
Honduras is an amazing country that I wish I had far more time in. The national food is a balieada…which is a tortilla with refried beans, cream and cheese and is delicious! We took a bus that was nicer than any airplane I’ve ever been in…don’t ask how much it cost…we had no other choice. We stayed in a hotel that looked like a prison, right down to the block-letters spelling out the hotel name on all towels and sheets. We met this group that called themselves the “extreme club” and had to take a shot of some local booze through a plastic lawn flamingo to join. However, after joining they took us to some awesome volunteer parties and we travelled with them the next day to the beach at Tela for a free and fun day…nothing like hanging out with expats. We constantly meet the most interesting people and often see them again weeks later, as everyone is following the same general path.
SCUBA DIVING IN HIPPIE HEAVEN