On the day before leaving Matagalpa, we booked our bus ticket from Leon (Nicaragua) to Tegucigalpa, the capital city of Honduras. There were no spaces in the “Tika bus” for three days so we had to spend 3 nights in Leon: a record for us as on average we have only spent 2.3 nights per place since the beginning of our trip and we usually don’t spend more than half a day in most cities we visit! We hence decided to book a nice hotel with swimming pool (Lazy Bones) in order to spend some quality time in hammocks or by the pool. Leon is the second biggest city in Nicaragua but it seemed more like a big slow paced village with some nice buildings and cobblestoned streets. Locals had left the town for the coast to escape the heat during the Easter week-end but the few remaining people were involved in several religious processions for the Easter celebrations.
Over the three days we spent in Leon we haven’t done much else than enjoying very good food in the restaurant in front of our hotel and relaxing by the swimming pool. On the only day when we ventured outside of the hotel we attempted surfing at Las Peñitas, a beach town on the pacific coast, but the currents were too strong and we had to give up before even trying!
There were numerous tours organized from Leon but nothing really new to us e.g. climbing a volcano, kayaking in the mangrove, visit to a coffee plantation, etc… We are starting to be a bit picky about the places we want to visit and the activities we want to do as after almost 7 months of travelling and seeing and doing so many amazing things, we really need something out of the ordinary to get our motivation back. This is why we decided to plan a little bit more the rest of our trip and we booked our flights out of Mexico city on June the 16th to give us a goal between now and then. We are going to spend a week in Vancouver, Canada, and we will be flying to Hong-Kong on June the 22nd where we are yet to decide where we will go in Asia and for how long…
We left Leon at 6am on the Tika bus to San Pedro Sula in Northern Honduras with the intention to get a connecting bus in Tegucigalpa for La Ceiba, the main access point to the Bay islands in the Caribbean Sea. The Tika bus is an expensive bus that does international connections and which is supposed to be fast and to save you the hassle of border crossings. Actually, the border crossing was way longer than usual as we had to wait for everyone in the bus to clear immigration and it turned out that the journey was much longer than with some local bus companies in Honduras. Upon arrival in Tegucigalpa, I was pleased to set my feet on the ground of this town well known from geeks (like me) who like capital of the world quizzes! I wasn’t particularly sad to leave it straight away as the taxi driver took us to the terminal of another bus company that had a 3pm departure to La Ceiba. After an exhausting journey, we finally made it to La Ceiba at 9.30pm, where we found a decent hotel for the night.
The following morning we didn’t really know what to do. Shall we go to the backpacker’s hang-out on Utila island (which was the whole point of going to La Ceiba in the first place) or shall we spend some time on the coast or shall we start moving North towards Guatemala? We decided to go to Utila and we didn’t regret it. At the harbour we met Lucinda, from London, who had been on the tika bus with us the previous day but she had to spend the night in San Pedro Sula and get a 5am bus to La Ceiba to be on time for the boat to Utila. We felt really pleased with our idea to change bus in Tegucigalpa as we had made it to La Ceiba in one day only.
We spent 6 nights in Utila, a new record (previously 5 nights in Pucon, Chile), living on about 500m on the main street of the only settlement on the island. As soon as we arrived in Utila, we were welcome by numerous people selling scuba diving classes; we picked one a bit randomly and ended-up in the dive centre with the most backpackers and party crowds! This is not what we were looking for but we eventually had a great time. In the afternoon we were already in the classroom starting our theory classes. We were back to school and even had homework to do for the following day. Our hotel was very nice and cheap with a private access to the sea and great sunset views.
We didn’t have much free time as our agenda was dictated by Allan our instructor with a mix of classroom theory and open water practice. In the evening, we were usually meeting with Lucinda to share our diving impressions while having a few drinks. Although Utila is full of backpackers, the parties weren’t that wild as most people here were either on diving courses or diving instructors and we had very early starts every day. The place is full of expats blending in rather well with the local crowds, who were often descendants of English or Dutch people mixing with Caribbean people. Here, travellers often get stuck for several months balancing their days between diving (learning or teaching) and rum drinking. For me, life on Utila was a bit like living in a 500m long bubble! Certainly nice for a little while (and we could have stayed a lot longer) but I wonder how long you can live this life without being totally disconnected from the reality.
I didn’t particularly enjoy diving at first and thought about giving up. Why would I carry on inflicting me this as it wasn’t giving me any pleasure and was also making me sick? During the second session in the swimming pool, my stomach started to tell me to stop and I really had enough of all the exercises that we had to do at the bottom of the pool. The acidity in my stomach didn’t stop until the following morning when we had our first session in the sea. This one went okay, but as soon as I got back to the boat I started feeling sick again and told the instructor that I wouldn’t do the second dive. Charlotte encouraged me and I went into the water. I felt a bit better but I was glad that we had our afternoon free and I could forget all about this diving. We just relaxed and enjoyed the scenery before our final 2 days of diving with 2 sessions each time.
Charlotte was going through the lessons like a fish and was praised a few times by the instructor. The last four dives went a lot better and I really started to enjoy it. At the end of the class, we were wondering whether or not to enrol in the advanced diving course straight away or do it later in Belize for instance. Even though the reef was stunning with all the corals, we didn’t see any amazing fishes so we decided to take the advanced course in Belize where the water is teeming with sharks, rays and other colourful fishes.
We left Utila with Lucinda and made it to Copan Ruinas by mid-afternoon. This is a small mountain village at the border with Guatemala, which is famous for its Maya ruins. After weeks of really hot weather, we enjoyed a bit of rain and cooler temperatures. The town was actually very pleasant with a lot of good bars and restaurants but not overly touristic. We stayed there two nights but could have easily stayed here a few more to enjoy the slow pace of life and the nice surrounding country side. The archaeological site was bigger than I thought it would be. It was located on the edge of town in a forested area teeming with birds.
In the afternoon we visited a bird sanctuary where we could get close to toucans and macaws. A bit too close to my taste as a macaw did a hole in my t-shirt and the toucan bit me as I was taking a macro shot!
We left again early morning at 6am with the shuttle bus to Antigua in Guatemala. We had a nice time in Honduras and wouldn’t mind coming back to explore it more as we have only scratched the surface of this country which is the second biggest in Central America after Mexico.
We got to Antigua by 1pm and we had enough of one afternoon to walk around the historical centre with great views on the nearby volcano.
This is probably one of the nicest colonial towns we have seen but half a day there was enough for us.
Guatemala is supposed to be a cheap country but Antigua is definitely not cheap and the place is full of tourists. As described in the lonely planet, the place is a bit like fantasyland and not the real Guatemala. After spending quickly a lot of money for various expensive shuttles between towns we left the next day for San Marcos, on the shore of Lake Atitlan, another big tourist magnet.
The setting was impressive. The lake is surrounded by small lush mountains and towering active volcanoes. There is a strong Maya influence in the local villages and people still wear traditional clothing.
We felt we were back in Peru or Bolivia near Lake Titicaca. Upon arrival in San Marcos, Charlotte initially felt at ease in what seemed like a pretty relaxed and hippie town but after walking around for a few hours and talking to several tourists we both started to laugh about this place, where there seemed to be more meditation centres, yoga centres and massage places than inhabitants.
Many tourists got here while travelling and decided to stay for several months looking for the meaning of life. Charlotte and I talked to a young Maya girl who said she really liked it here as the tourists were providing entertainment to them with their funny behaviours. We saw one guy who was about to swim in the lake shaking his hands and making funny noises. Another guy was obsessed with Maya astrology and was calculating everybody’s Maya sign: Charlotte is a coyote by the way and I was born in the month of the Jaguar! We saw others meditating in group in a fenced area and a women lying on her back under a blanket being massaged on the shore of the lake. People in our hotel consisted of girls playing with hula-hoops or guys trying to juggle. There’s nothing wrong with that but I guess that after months of doing this they could have tried to find different objectives in life. One of them a bit more ambitious did decide to do fruit picking in Canada. As I’m writing this, all the clowns from our hotel came back from the belly dancing performance and are playing with drums just outside our room.
On Sunday we visited the colourful Maya market of Chichicastenago, where tourists were all trying to get sneaky shots of the traditionally dressed locals.
Our Guatemala experience has been a bit disappointing so far. We believe that this country has a lot to offer in terms of culture and scenery but if you don’t want to spend too much time in public transports, which are appalling, you end up following the main tourist trail using expensive tourist shuttles and don’t get to see the real face of the country. We think that we are not going to spend more than a week here as we would like to spend a bit of time diving in Belize and also at least 3-4 weeks in Mexico before flying to Canada.