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Posted on 29 Apr 2013, 4:38 - Categories: Honduras


Taking a cab in Central America, the good the bad and the ugly

The good
Cabbies can be surprisingly honest. Often when I forgot to ask the price beforehand, they did not end up overcharging me. In San Jose, the only place in Central America where cab drivers use a meter, some used theirs without any argument and drove as far as I could tell straight to the destination.
I also met quite a lot awfully nice cab drivers, who ended up telling me their life stories, giving me advice about what to do in the places I was. I found this especially to be true in Panama City, maybe it was due to my Spanish improving to the point that I actually could have a conversation, though.
When I visited the Causeway in Panama City one cab driver that had driven me earlier that day waved at me merrily when he was passing in the opposite direction, which was nice.

The bad
Although some cabbies give a fair price overcharging is quite common, so it does make sense to ask a local before hand.
Another thing in Central America is that addresses are strange. Knowing a street name and the house number does not mean the cabbie will understand where you are going, street signs and signs in general are absent (if I ever have a lot of money I will donate it to Central American countries to put signs up) and addresses are referred to as "100m from that grocery store" or the like.
It does not help that the Lonely Planet sometimes finds it unnecessary to give the Spanish names of Tourist attractions or even streets and landmarks.
I had to convince one cabbie who tried to drive me to a place, but did not really know where it was to accept payment for the ride, as this was more LPs than his fault.

The ugly
When my bike broke down in Ometepe and I was walking by myself in the dark the cabbie asked three times the normal price, clearly taking advantage of my situation.
In San Jose cabbies regularly tell their passengers that the hotel they want to go to does not exist or is closed down and even go so far as to drive you to the wrong address to then hassle you to a hotel they get commission from.
One cabbie did that with us and when we pointed out that we know it did exist he pretended to call someone and then drove us to the real place, saying there are to hotels with the name (BS!) and charged us extra for the "longer" drive.



Borders

just after I wrote about losing things, I lost something again. This time it was my wash-bag and at first I thought losing my toothbrush is not so wild. Then I remembered that this where I hid my spare credit card. Still, I thought I can notify the bank, not worth going back to Costa Rica for. I laid back on my bed, having retired early as I wanted to hike the volcano Baru the next day, just to sit up again.
My jewelry case was in that bag. And in that case the silver cross that used to belong to my mom. It was pretty much the only piece of jewelry she wore every day and there was no question that I would let it be lost, if I can go back to get it.
I crossed back into Costa Ricathe next day, and crossing the border I thought I could give a little insight about border crossing in Central America.

Going by foot over the border always follows the same system, one finds the immigration office of the country one comes from, gets an exit stamp, pays exit fees if applicable, crosses the border on foot, find the immigration on the other side and gets an entry stamp, again paying for tourist cards, or entry fees.
Having small dollar notes with you is handy, the money changers use a rate far from what is said on the net, but are often the only way to change currency from the country you are coming from(I was stuck with pesos all through Guatemala and finally changed then on the border to Honduras). Make sure you change after you have paid the exit fee...

Here are the borders I crossed.

Mexico to Guatemala over Rio Usumacinta
Mexico immigration is on one side of the river, Guatemala on the other. Get your passport stamped before going on the boat. As I described before the bus driver and border official extorted money from us. Slightly scary and frustrating.

Guatemala to Honduras in El Florido
Nothing special happened here, walkover border as described above. Fines were all the official fines, we got a receipt and everything. I think it was 2 dollar to leave and 3 to enter.

Honduras to Nicaragua at Las Manos
The border itself was the same as Guatemala to Honduras, nothing out of the ordinary. There was a 2 dollar exit fee from Honduras (if you go by plane this becomes 35!) and the tourist card to Nicaragua was staggering 10 dollars. I guess they need the money. We got a receipt, so it was legit.
I did meet the slowest border official in the world, instead of giving us the entrance forms to fill out (like at every other border) he filled them out himself, checking every entry three times. He even managed to stamp slowly. For some reason one does not get a stamp in the passport, but a bunch of papers.
The annoying thing about this border were the two British girls I crossed with. They complained about everything, having to wait, having to pay ("they should pay us for coming here" they said.).
When we got on the bus to Esteli I sat myself away from them, before I could say something rude.

Nicaragua to Costa Rica
This was the most stressful border, not because it is fuller than the others, but because everyone kept hassling me. As soon as I got out of the bus a tourist guide jumped on me, pulling me to the immigration, talking excitingly and pressing the exit form in my hand. Meanwhile money changers were waving wads of money at me.
After I got my exit stamp, I tipped the guide, hopeing to get rid of him, but he was replaced by a lady from the bus company, pulling me towards the bus. I was busy putting the money away I had exchanged, trying to follow her at the same time, missed a step and fell flat on my face.
Everything fell out of my hand, I was afraid for my passport for a second, but Nicaraguans are nice, everyone helped me up and was concerned I had hurt myself, passport and money all staying with me.
When I arrived at the bus I had to wait 15 min for it to leave.

On the Costa Rica side I had to buy a bus ticket back to Nicaragua to be allowed to enter, which I disgruntled me even more. The nice American lady sitting next to me on the bus told me to roll with it after all I was on holiday in a beautiful country and I can't change it anyway. I noticed I was turning into the English girls, which shut me up quickly.

Costa Rica to Panama
This is the border I will be crossing for the third time today, as just retrieved my wash-bag. And lucky it is. This border is fun, it is a free zone, which means it is riddled with malls, little shops and food stalls. The whole atmosphere has something of an amusement park, Costa Ricans and Panamians coming here to shop. And migration is quick and hassle free on both sides, border officials being used to people coming over for a day.
The ticket I had to buy in Costa Rica has been useful, to enter again into Costa Rica and also to enter into Panama, as I need a return ticket for that as well, and for some reason a ticket from San Jose (CR) to Managua (Nic) seems sufficient.



Lake Yojoa

I spend three days in a micro-brewery on the lake Yojoa in central Honduras. The beer was better than the usual Port Royal and Salva Vida, nowhere near Icelandic quality, but there were lots of nice people to drink it with, amongst them two traumatised English teachers (they were volunteering in a village controled by the drug mafia) and two English guys who managed to become the stars of an advertisement of Pollo Campera (the Guatemalan KFC) as one of them represents the typical gringo, which being blond and very British is quite true.
Despite all the beer, I did manage to hike through the nature reserve close to it and the adjacent coffee plantation, taking quite a few pictures I´m rather proud of.

I also went on a boat ride with Malcolm, a ornithologist from England with whom I had a rather interesting discussion about Tibet. We saw lots of birds, but taking pictures without a zoom was rather difficult, but I got one of this little fellow:



a bird so light and with such big feet that he can walk on the smallest of plants, making it look as if he can walk on water.

I also went to the waterfalls close by, with two girls I had met at the guest house. We were told we can walk behind the falls, but wondered a bit how this should be done when we saw them.
The trick is to swim/walk through the falls directly as it turned out. It was a lot of fun!

Posted on 27 Apr 2013, 23:48 - Categories: Honduras


the best hostel in CA

There was a strike going on in Honduras, so I had to spend the night unexpectedly in San Pedro de Sula. I ended up in the nicest hostel I have stayed in during my whole trip, La Hamaca. It was rather like visiting the nice home of a friend. There is a big kitchen one can use, a yard with tables and hammocks, pictures the owner took everyhere and as the place does not have a lot of rooms it is quite intamate. I also met the my Israeli diving partner again, this is one of the positive aspects of travelling in Central America, one always meets the same people, making travelling alone easier. We hung out and drank a lot of Cubra Libres in the garden, I really like the rum here, usually I do not like Cuba Libres that much, but Flor de Caña is great.
The 6 beds in the spacious and lofty dorm room are really comfy, though they werte not appreciated by the Swiss guy who went partying out with his friend, as he passed out naked between his bed, my bed and the bathroom, presenting me with a lovely sight when I woke up and a challange to make it to the bathromm for all of us. Unfortunatly I had to go to the bus station before he woke up, so I missed the opportunity to make fun of him, but I was promised others will :)

Posted on 27 Apr 2013, 23:49 - Categories: Honduras
Comments: »
correction   Posted on 16 Sep 2012, 7:38 by me
It is Flor del Caa, not Caa de Flora, maybe one should not write a blog entry after drinking the former :)



The other side of the island

I had an afternoon off from diving classes and decided to hike to the other side of the island, a 2 km walk. I thought that would be an easy and pleasant walk, but I encountered the other side of the island, far from idyllic white beaches. I waded through mud and swatted mosquitoes in the afternoon heat. There was an unbelievable amount of garbage, I could hear the big crabs rustling through it. Of course, some people find creative ways to recycle on the island



but most people are shockingly unconcerned about environmental issues, while living in the middle of an oceanic reserve. The dive shops try to protect the reef, but the high amount of divers in the high season shows on the reef, especially with beginners bumping into it when they can not control their buoyoncy yet. I also saw a couple coming back from the beach holding a coral. The locals still hunt iguanas, despite them officially being protected on the island (there is even a breeding station, I helped feeding them once, poor little crabbys... )and collect turtle eggs, that breed in an also protected area on the north side.

Once when I came back from diner, I was reminded that, despite Utila seeming like a richer place than the rest of Honduras, there is still poverty. I women holding a baby asked me for food, making me who had just splurged on the awesome fish they serve on the island feel very humble indeed. But not as humble as I felt three days later when I met this friendly fellow when taking pictures on the dock:



He asked me to take a picture of him, I had encountered that in Ghana as well as Mongolia, locals who do not own cameras asking to have their pictures taken and then send via mail or email.
So I asked him for his email address, but noticed that I did not have pen and paper. I went to the dock office to get it and came back handing it to him. He draw a map of the island and I assumed there was a misunderstanding, as he only spoke Spanish. To clarify I wrote my email address down and handed the paper back to him. He wrote down some symbols, mimicking writing and in dawned on me that he could not write. And I had spend the last 10 minutes pressing him to write something down for me. I simply had not expected to see illiteracy in Utila.

Posted on 27 Apr 2013, 23:52 - Categories: Honduras


Utila



I went to the island of Utila on the north coast of Honduras to learn how to dive. It is a proper carribean island, white sand, palm trees, blue water and being there is like not being in Central America anymore, everyone speaks English and one can walk around at night alone without fear of getting robbed, which is sadly not true in Honduras proper.



Island life is pretty laid back and there is a lot of mingeling between locals and visitors, with visitors becoming locals quite often, especially when they are connected to diving.

Diving is the main activity in Utila, it is so hot that one wants to be in the water constantly anyway, plus it is the only way to escape the millions of sandflies eating you alive. And I thought the moskitos in Alaska were bad. And the underwater wildlife is impressive!



this is a sting ray visiting the diving boat and here is the same ray checking out our scuba equipment (tank, BCD, snorkels, mask and flippers)



It is quite amazing diving directly down into a school of fish and swimming through basically a big aquarium. I had chosen my diveschool by asking in every shop and chosing the one which took the most time explaining everything. I actually got a reduced price, because I had come in with a Israeli guy who had stayed in the same hostel as me the night before, and it seemed he had bargained down the price, or his friends who were waiting for him had, anyway, I was an honorary Israeli for the week. Considering half the island seem to consist of Israelis, that was probably a good thing.



Posted on 27 Apr 2013, 24:00 - Categories: Honduras


Honduras misc

As expected, this sounds even better than Guatemala, at least activity wise, the national park and diving sounds especially like fun. A lot of places in Honduras have high incidences of Malaria, which means I have to look into medication. I guess it is possible to buy there? I cannot imagine that it is a good idea to carry medication in the backpack for two months in summertime unless unavoidable.

Posted on 15 May 2012, 4:13 - Categories: Honduras


Itinerary (1-2 weeks)

Copán Ruinas (2 days)
the first town from Guatemala I will arrive in there are Maya ruins close to the town (700m) famous for it's statues and otherworldly sounding
from there to I go to San Pedro Sula


Cusuco National Park (3 days)
a cloud-forest park, 45km away from San Pedro Sula, by Buenas Aires (not the Argentinian capital)
Lots of birds, monkeys, waterfalls and swimmig holes and marked trails, which probably means not having to follow a group!


La Ceiba (1 day)
to go to the Bay Islands I have to go via La Ceiba to catch a boat. The town sounds a bit like a caribian version of the Ballerman, so I'm not very inclined to spend much time there, but if I have to wait for a boat or a bus back to San Pedro Sula, there is the Pico Bonito National Park, which is worth a day trip to see the waterfalls

Utila (6 days)
one of the Bay Islands and where I plan to learn how to dive. When I'm there, the sharks will be as well! There are lots of (certified) diving schools there and a course takes about 5 days and 600$. The second largest coral reef is right next to it, so it will be awesome!

Lago de Yojoa /Pulhpanzak Falls (2 days)
on the way back from the Bay Islands to Tegucigalpa and Nicaragua I will pass the Lago de Yojoa and the Pulhpanzak Falls which sounds like a worthwhile place to stop with lots of birdlife if I have to break up the journey


Posted on 27 Apr 2013, 23:53 - Categories: Honduras