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February 14, 2008

update

Yesterday was a day of heavy travel, involving catching 4 busses, one ferry and one launch, starting at 6:20 AM on the Utila Princess leaving Utila for La Ceiba and ending with the launch from Puerto Barrios to Livingston, Guatemala.

I went for the regular public bus transportation instead of a 1st class bus and actually enjoyed it more. I was really able to take in the incredibly lush scenery which just went on and on for miles. Quite a bit of it was on farms, coconut, banana and other fruits. However, there was a tremendous variety of plants and trees in other areas. It actually made me wish I knew more about horticulture so I could figure out what they all were and what fruits they were bearing. Sometimes, you would only see greenery for miles except for a couple of cows or horses grazing or bathing and then a small hut with a corrugated metal roof would pass by. Corrugated metal roofs were on every building 100 miles either side of the border area between Guatemala and Honduras. Even multistoried buildings used them but painted them red so they resembled more expensive shingles. Thankfully I saw most of them were latched fast to the walls. In poorer areas, they are often just weighted with bricks and can fly off in hurricanes, killing people as they tear through them.

I was very amused when a guy with a sack walked on to the bus at one stop and started selling these legitimate looking medicines. I couldn’t understand everything but he had many different drugs he was selling, good for any ailment. After his schpiel that went on for 10-15 minutes, he walked down the aisle selling to interested passengers. I saw one very professionally packaged medicine was named “Neurobion”. Wonder what he claimed that would do? Whats funny is I witnessed this same thing riding a bus in Quetta, Pakistan on the other side of the globe. I guess brown people everywhere are similar in some respects. At bus stops I was able to get coconut water with chunks of coconut floating in it which made for nice snacks.

Arriving in the dock area at Puerto Barrios, some smart pickpocket relieved me of my camera. I noticed it missing only minutes later but by then it was too late. This is a very shady city, known for lots of prostitution. Even the cop was trying to get me to pay him for what I don’t know. This blind woman wanted a dollar for letting me use the public bathroom. I ended up giving her 2 Quetzals (I’ve seen this paying 2Q for toilet use at bus stations too so it’s legit although a little wierd). Anyway, back to the camera. I suppose I am partly at fault for taking it out so much and then leaving the cord dangling out of my pocket, making it the easiest of snatches. I had used a little over a full GB on the 2GB SD card so hundreds of photos were lost, of new friends, all kinds of fun activities and parties and great scenery including the view from atop Volcan San Pedro which took me 8 hours to get up and down. I just hope some of my new Facebook friends from my travels send me their pictures so I have something.

Livingston, where I am now is an interesting place. I’ve run into a lot of travellers from other towns here again. It is a Garifuna town, which means the people are mainly of African descent. It is on the Atlantic coast and has more of a Carribean look and attitude. No roads go into it and it is only accessible by boat. Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of obvious hard drug addicts roaming the streets, stumbling around or screaming at no one in particular. I’m told they are crackheads. One who greeted me at the dock upon arrival wore no shirt, had dozens of scars and both his nostrils were slit as if someone had filleted them with a knife inside out. He wanted to show me to a hotel on the main road which was actually quite decent so I took it. After that he begged me for money, showing me a scar on his leg that he said was from a dog bite the day before. I don’t know if his idea was to evoke pity but I gave him 5 Quetzals anyway. He came back later that night and I turned him away. Livingston did not strike me as the safest place to be but OK as long as you stick with lots of other people.

The second night in Livingston, I tried the Tapado for dinner. I understood it was a local dish that comprised of seafood in a coconut milk soup. When it was put before me, I realized I should have gone with the shrimp pasta. There were 3 sets of lifeless eyes from 3 different species staring back at me. A tailfin was sticking out at one end, pointed to the sky. Pushing it in caused the fish head to surface on the opposite end of the bowl. After removing the crab carcass and moving the soup around, I discovered a few additional unfortunate sea creatures as well. This was the most unappetizing dish I have ever tried. It truly was a chore going through it, the scales on the fish came off with the meat so I just ate it all until only the tailfin and head were left, just like in the trashcans in Tom & Jerry cartoons. Sopa del muerte is what it should have been called. Here is what I got for Tapado on Google: seafood soup with coconut milk, shrimp, prawns, conch, WHOLE crab, WHOLE fish, and little octopi hiding among Blogroll leaves.

Now I am leaving Livingston for Rio Dulce by taking a launch across the Rio Dulce river/lake. I hear its quite beautiful and in a canyon at points. After that, I travel by bus to Flores where the volunteer group with which I’ll be volunteering will pick me up. I hope to be put on either building the school there, which is under construction, or building ovens into homes there in San Andres, a poor mayan village of ~4000 on lake Peten Itza. I’ll also be taking Spanish lessons so hopefully I’ll be decent in Spanish by the time Colleen gets in to Antigua on Feb 27.

February 13, 2008

Certified!

I am now a PADI certified open water diver. Today I had great luck on my two dives, seeing trumpet fish, cow fish, box fish, a giant green eel, two large groupers, a large puffer fish and a truly massive snapper that was close to 5 feet in length. However, the coolest find of the day was a deadly looking barracuda that was completely still under a coral overhang that I was swimming under.

It was a great time in Utila. I may have been eaten alive by its many insects but Murray and Mike were great instructors along with Graham, Sabrina, Oliver and Becca. Tomorrow morning I leave for La Ceiba from where I have to figure out how to get to Flores so I can start my volunteering and Spanish lessons.

February 11, 2008

Feb 11

Today I had my most fun two dives. I saw a drum fish, a trumpet fish, a really big puffer and swam is some really beautiful reefs. I also descended to my personal best depth of 72 feet.

We also took our final exams tonight for PADI Open Water Diver Certification and I’m pretty sure I’ll pass with flying colors.

Other than that, I have some problem with some water in my ear that isn’t getting out and giving me some discomfort. The insects haven’t let up either so even though I’m looking forward to tomorrows final two dives, I’m also going to be somewhat glad to be off the Island. Next time I come here, I’ll stay in a hotel a little higher. The Sand Flies, which are what are predominantly biting me stay close to the water and the hotels higher up are not only nicer, but don’t have Sand Fly problems.

My plan now is to either leave Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning. I should be in Guatemala City in under 3o hours from where I will catch a flight to Flores from where the director of the volunteering organization will pick me and take me to San Andres, also on Lake Peten Itza. There I will work on building a school and taking Spanish lessons during the week and maybe fishing and seeing the Historic sites on the weekends, especially Tikal.

February 9, 2008

Went diving in the ocean today

This was my first salt water dive. Saw lots of corral as well as many varieties of fish including a burrowing flounder which was cool. But the dive was restricted to under 12 meters. I have a watch capable of diving 300 meters and is even featured in the PADI diving videos but somehow, the helium escape valve on it was open and now it has moisture inside the case and is likely to be something like $400 repair. That has really put a damper on my day but other than that I{m looking forward to tomorrows dives that will be deeper, more technical and in more populated waters meaning more sealife!

February 8, 2008

Feb 8


Last night’s BBQ party was great. It did rain a little but right around dusk, the outline of the clouds against the sky looked as if it had been painted. It was surreal looking. Later though the sky cleared and the stars were remarkable bright.

Today, I started the book/study portion of the open water diver certification. It is pretty technical and there are numerous pieces of equipment I need to learn to operate. That being said, the equipment has really evolved over the years and as a result, diving is safer now than ever before. The staff here at Cross Creek divers is great and very knowledgable as well so I’m in good hands. Tomorrow there will be more study and an exam in the morning followed by some equipment familiarization dives in shallow water followed by a 12-15 meter dive. I’m really looking forward to seeing the coral and the fish. Turns out sighting sharks is a rarity and its unlikely I’ll see one in the 3-4 days I’m here.

One of my neighbors in a German chap who has travelled extensively through Pakistan, including Peshawer, Quetta, Multan, literally everywhere but especially in the North. He made his last trip there in 2003 after the Iraq invasion which really surprised me but he said he never feared for his safety. The villagers were always very hospitable (the most he has ever experienced anywhere) and told him the “no go”areas which he would then avoid. Interesting chap.

Anyways, other than that the bugs are eating me alive but everyone else is also getting their blood sucked out. It seems everyone is used to this and just deals with it. It is common to be scratching your leg while talking to someone who is scratching their arm or neck. I have about 20 bites a day every day! Worse yet, the most common blood-sucker is this tiny fly that is not kept away by insect repellant so you have to coat your skin in baby oil so it can’t bite through. Thats all for now. I’ll update you after my first dives.

February 7, 2008

Reached Utila today

I made the 9:30 AM Ferry service on the Utilla Princess from La Ceiba to Utilla. The Island is very small and has a real laid back feel. I’ve decided to do my PADI Open Water Certification with Cross Creek Divers. They also provide accomodation very close and just behind the school for the 4 nights required to pass the course. My instructor is an Aussie named Max and the persons around my room (a single) seem pretty chill and friendly. There is an island BBQ party tonight that I’ll be going to with the Danish couple in the room to the right of mine. I hear the most common lie in Utilla is I’m leaving tomorrow because no one wants to ever leave once they’ve experienced the relaxed atmosphere of the Island. It’s raining just now however. I hope thats a rare occurrence and not an everyday thing.

P.S. – From now on I’m blogging on a day to day basis but will also add on to the first post to bring everyone up to speed with everything thats happened up till now.