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Central America Chronicles

Day 1, 6/30

AA Flight was delayed.We hopped on earlier US Airways flight.Barely made the flight.I parked the car while Amy checked us in.

 Arrived in Dallas.Last flight of the day for Belize.Good thing we caught the US Air flight or we would have been stuck in Dallas for a day.

 Arrived in Belize.Tiny airport.Exits from front and rear of plane outside.Took a 15 minute cab ride to the port in Belize city.Purchased tickets for Ferry to Caye Caulker.The first boat filled up.We had to go on the overfill boat.It was a small open boat that seated about 15 people.We got pretty wet on the ride over.

 Arrived in Caye Caulker.Beautiful but tiny island.The main road in town is sand wide enough for about two golf carts which is all they drive on the island.We walked to our hotel from the port passing a cemetery by the water.The hotel was a nice place on the water.AC, television, friendly girl at the front desk situated in a small room upstairs.

 

Downtown Caye Caulker

 

 

Went swimming off the pier in front of the room.The water was murky from the tropical storm that passed through.Amy jumped in and almost landed on a stingray.We got cleaned up and walked down for dinner.We ate lobster for dinner while watching sand crabs walk around the sand streets.

 

My future plot to the right so I can float away with the next hurricane

 

Day 2, 7/1

We ate lobster and Fry Jacks for breakfast.Fry jacks are deep-fried pieces of dough, with beans and eggs, or jam and honey.

Went snorkeling most of the day.Had drinks at a beach side bar.We met some children that were selling food their mother made.I bought a coconut bar from a cute 9 year old girl and popcorn from her 7 year old brother.

 

Coconut bar salesgirl

 

 

Day 3, 7/2

Caught a ferry back to Belize City.This time it was a larger ferry and we didnít get soaked.Took cab back to airport and rented a SUV.We drove down Belizeís western highway to get to the Guatemala n border so we could visit Tikal.On the way we ate a roadside restaurant named Cheers that was run by some Canadians.The food was pretty good and the setting was nice.It was an outdoor place surrounded by mostly jungle with one patch of clearing.While we were eating a military helicopter landed in the clearing, they walked up to the restaurant and grabbed a table.It turns out the British still have a military presence in Belize.

 

Cheers

 

We drove a little farther down and turned down a dirt road that we thought was the jaguar reserve.It was a really rough road even for the SUV I was driving.We got to a river that was not going to be traversed.I stopped and tried to turn around.I proceeded to get us stuck in the mud.Fortunately some locals were swimming and decided to lend a hand.3 teenage boys helped me push the vehicle out.I gave them $5 apiece for the help.Nice kids.

 

We were searching for some cave in the jungle.Instead we ended up at this nice jungle lodge.A lady with a British accent served us a drink.It was her lodge.We walked around the surrounding jungle for a bit.We found this giant termite nest.I threw stuff at it to try to get them to come out.It didnít work.

 

We had trouble finding San Ignacio but finally arrived.We went to the Cahal Pech ruins just outside of town.Amazing ruins.Some dude was sitting on top of the ruins with a couple friends playing the guitar and singing some pretty off key music.

 

We had a challenge finding a hotel due to an Archeology convention taking place.We found a room at this tree resort place.We had our own free standing unit with two hammocks.Really nice place.I compare it to having a really nice cabin in the woods.

 

Went out for dinner in downtown San Ignacio.Ate at a place named Serendibs.Excellent middle eastern food.Amy liked it so much she considered buying one of their cookbooks.

 

Day 4, 7/3

Drove to the Guatemalan border.Very easy.A cab driver named Franklin kept hounding us for our business.He wanted $80 to drive us.I told him 40.We finally agreed to 45.Franklin turned out to be a really good guy.He drove us to Tikal.Waited for over 3 hours while we toured the temples.

 

No idea what sort of Apocolypto Sťance these people are trying to start but they interfere with my picture taking and are there for hours!

 

 

Above the tree line on top of one of the temples

 

Anteaters like Tikal, who knew?

 

On the ride back we stopped by at a roadside resort and had dinner overlooking one of the most beautiful lakes I've ever seen.I bought Franklin a hamburger and fries.

 

It was dark when we left.Most of the road was dirt.We saw a pickup truck that had run off the side of the road and was in a ditch.It was stuck at a 60 degree angle with a driver and a passenger.Amy tried to run up to the cab but Franklin told her to stay back.Apparently gun fire between vehicles is not completely uncommon.He was afraid that someone had run them off the road while shooting at them and that they might mistake us for them and shoot us.While we were checking them out the driver started to throw up.At first we thought it was blood but it looked like they were both just really drunk.Some other passer-byes stopped and the police were called.

It was pretty late at this point and Franklin drove us directly to the border before it closed at 9.I gave Franklin $60 for being such a good guy.

 

Franklin

We drove back to San Ignacio without a room to stay at.We were looking for this one hotel that had pretty good reviews in Lonely Planet.For some reason we couldn't seem to locate it.We decided to sit at this bar and have a drink to discuss our lodging prospects for the night when I looked up and saw the name of the hotel across the street from where we were sitting.I walked up the stairs to the place and got a room for the night.I came back to get Amy and had a drink.We met Grady the bartender.A white guy in his mid 20s that was born and raised in Belize.I learned a bit about the country and his view of international politics in the region.It turns out Belize and Guatemala don't care for each other too much.6 months prior Guatemalan troops made a move toward the Belizean border.The next day British and US troops arrived.The Guatemalans retreated.Belize likes Honduras.They supplied a lot of aid to the country during the last hurricane.However, Belizeans believe they have a better reef than Honduras.Belize likes Mexico.Mexico likes them even more, so much so that Mexico would like to annex Belize.Belize has resisted but it is tempting due to the amount of money and infrastructure Mexico has as compared to little Belize.

Day 5, 7/4

We left San Ignacio and headed to the northern border.I wanted to experience Mexico's southern border.

We stopped off for cave tubing.  This was a new phenomena for me.  You pay a local guide, rent some tubes, put on a hard hat equipped with a light, and float down the river through pitch dark caves.  It turns out to be pretty incredible.  There are stalagmites and stalactites, amazing rock formations, and waterfalls.  We rounded one bend and there is light seeping into the cave.  In front us appears a peninsula of rocks with multiple waterfalls. 

 

The ominous cave awaits

 

We passed by the Belize Zoo next and stopped.  Fun zoo.  You can go right up to the animals who are behind a chain link fence.  These animals like to interact with the guests.  There was a a little Toucan that kept squawking at us.  Wherever I move my had he hops around his cage towards it.  I grab my sunglasses and stick one of the stems in the cage.  He grabs onto it and wont let go.  Strong for a little guy.  I finally get it away from him.  He put some pretty good bite marks into it. 

 

Our Toucan friend

 

 

There was a Harpy Eagle that followed us around and talked to us too.  He was pretty big.  Apparently these eagles' wing spans can reach 7 feet and their talons are large as a grizzly bear's claws.

At first the jaguar was scared of me but I baited him into chasing me. 

 

We found a hotel in this little dumpy town name Carazol and ate Chinese food for dinner at our hotel.We decided to drive to Chetamul, Mexico for a drink.It was a very simple crossing into the country.There was a free zone between the two countries with a nice looking casino.As soon as we crossed into Mexico, the difference in infrastructure was stark.We came from tiny two lane roads with no traffic lights, sidewalks, street lights, or paint to having well lit 4 lane highways.It took us 15 minutes to get to Chetamul.Perhaps the nicest city I've visited in Mexico.We drove the Governor's mansion and the state buildings along the water.We stopped for drinks at this cantina named El Pirata.The whole place was in the shape of a wooden pirate ship.We went to the top deck outside and had drink.It was one of the patronís birthdays.They had bought a bottle of tequila and were telling the bartender to walk around and give free shots to anyone that wanted them.I took one for myself.Fun people.Not a bad way to celebrate Independence Day.Begrudgingly we had to leave and go back to nasty little Corozal.

 

La Pirata

Day 6, 7/5

We hunted around for some ruins in Corozal before we left.It was behind some automotive store with no signs to locate it.They were interesting but it was a little difficult to be overly impressed after what we had already seen.Ruins in this country are like Circle Ks in Phoenix.They are everywhere.

 

The Corozal coast

 

We headed south with the intentions of trying to make it to Honduras.We got sidetracked on the way.We drove to the peninsula of Plancencia which has a lot of huge custom homes that were built for Americans. There were giant speed bumps along the way and it took us quite a bit longer to get there than we expected.Once we arrived at the end it was really nice.We had a couple drinks at the bar and got some ideas from the locals as to how to get to Honduras.

 

We drove to Punta Gorda and stayed at a nice hotel just outside of town across the street from the water for the night.We drove back into town and had a drink at a dumpy bar.This was the first place that the people were not overly friendly.We didn't stay long.We went over to the port of entry and talked to a security guard on the grounds.He told us what to do to take the ferry to Guatemala in the morning.

 

Day  7, 7/6

Our hotel provided breakfast.We were the only guests staying in the hotel portion of the property and we were the only ones eating breakfast in their dining room.It was a strange sensation having this whole place to ourselves.  We told the hotel that we were leaving our car and asked them to watch it for us while we were gone.They called a cab for us who took us to the port.

Hotel in Punta Gorda

Punta Gorda Pier

The ferry we were hoping to take to Puerto Barrios had left earlier.We had been told the wrong information.The next ferry to Guatemala wasn't scheduled to leave 'til much later.We took a ferry to Livingston, Guatemala instead hoping to catch the Livingston to Puerto Barrios ferry once we arrived.It took us about an hour through the Gulf of Honduras to get to Livingston and what was a pretty calm weather day.We caught the next ferry about 30 minutes later to Puerto Barrios after some confusion as to where we were supposed to pick it up.An Australian couple walked up to us and told us that their ferry was leaving as soon as they got 2 more passengers.We were told that we had to go to the Guatemalan immigration office first, however.A local walked us up the street to the office.We paid our money and got our passports stamped.I gave the guy some money for helping us out.The next ferry was shorter and uneventful.

 

When we arrived in Puerto Barrios, it was chaotic.We were approached by lots of people trying to sell us something or take us on a cab ride.There were a lot of markets in the area and there was a place to buy bus tickets.Unfortunately, it was closed.We were having a difficult time trying to get to the Honduran border.Finally, we broke down and got a cab.He took us there for $30.We got a little shafted by the money changers at the border, but otherwise we got to Honduras with little fanfare.Once we were across, there were a few roadside stands and a hoard of cabs trying to gin up a fare.We wanted to make it La Ceiba that night which is the city you take the ferry to the Island of Utilla.The cab driver wanted $300 for that fare.Instead we decide to try our hand at the chicken bus in front of us.They would take us to the next town for $2 but it was a 2 hour ride.We went to roadside stand to discuss our prospects and elected to go with the chicken bus.While we were waiting for the bus we both had a beer and ordered some fried chicken.The bus started to leave while we were waiting for our food.They packed up our food to go and we made it for our ride.The meal consisted of fried chicken, grilled plantains, and beans and rice.It was the best fried chicken I've ever had.The bus ride was hot, long, and uncomfortable.And I would not have traded the experience for most anything.Amy and I had a great time hanging out with the locals.We met a younger Honduran couple that spoke a little English.Very friendly.There was a family with 3 young daughters that were dressed up in nice dresses.We tried to talk to them but they moved closer to their parents each time we did.The parents glanced at us the first couple times we said something to them.We figured they were taught a little stranger danger.We spoke mostly to this guy of English descent who was born and raised in Honduras.It was another interesting story.He owns his own business and travels around the country as a courier of sorts.He told us what our path would be to get to Le Ceiba.He was really helpful.

 

On our Honduran journey

 

After 45 miles and 2 hours, we departed the chicken bus.We caught a connection to San Pedro Sula.The connection was basically a big van where they crammed 2 dozen people in.They had fold down seats for the aisles which is where I was located.

 

After an hour in the van we arrived in San Pedro.We got dumped in the middle of the city without a clue as to what our next move was going to be.We started walking while being rained on.

I was regretting not brushing up on my Spanish at this moment.Here we were in the middle of a strange city with no idea where we were going to spend the night and I couldn't find a Honduran anywhere near us that habla'd ingles.After some searching some guy in a suit overheard us.He spoke enough English for me to understand him. We asked him where there was restaurant where we might be able to sit down.He directed us up the current street we were standing on and told us the hotels were in that direction as well.After about 15 minutes of walking through a busy street without luggage and not much of a sidewalk to speak of, we came across a nice shopping plaza with a Pizza Hut.We decided to eat some pizza and study our lonely planet guide as to where we were going to stay that evening.We were trying to find something close to the bus terminal because we had to take a 6:00 AM bus to La Cieba the next morning.We were having a hard time getting our bearings so I asked for help from the employees.Sadly, none of them spoke any English.Fortunately, I had enough Spanish locked in my long term memory to get meaning across.I ended up using their phone to call a hotel and got them to ask the hotel questions for me.It worked out and we were only short walk from the hotel, so we hoofed it there.

 The hotel was incredibly nice.By the far the nicest place of the trip.The service was excellent as well.We got a room and the guy at the front desk filled us in on how we were going to get to La Ceiba in the morning.He even gave us a book detailing things to do in Honduras containing fairly detailed bus schedules and terminals.  We ended up getting some drinks from the bar downstairs and staying on for the rest of the night.

 

View from hotel room of church in the middle of San Pedro Sula

 

 

Day  8, 7/7

In the morning, the hotel had called us a cab for a ride to the bus terminal.We rode on a bus line named Hedman Alas to La Ceiba.It was the nicest bus I've ever been on.It was a 3 hour ride and we were trying to catch the 9:30 AM ferry to Utilla that morning.We knew it was going to be close.

 

We met arguably the most interesting person on the trip on our ride.Stephen was leaving San Pedro to go home to Roatan which is the largest of the Honduran Bay islands.He convinced us to go to his island over Utilla stating that there was much more to do and that the island was much more beautiful.

 

Stephen was 24, half Mayan, Half English.His English was impeccable due to his English mother.It turns out his father left when he was very young and he hardly knew him.His mother must have done something right raising him because he is one of the most successful, intelligent, enterprising 24 year old guys I've met.Stephen owned 3 businesses and had an amazing grasp of international politics.He educated me quite a bit on Central American politics.†† In quite a departure from Belize, it turns out that most people from Honduras do not like President Obama.The previous Honduran president, Josť Manuel Zelaya, wanted to take it upon himself to change their constitution in order to lift presidential term limits.Congress warned him that if he did so, he would be removed from office.He didn't listen and did it anyway.In the middle of the night, the military cut off the electricity forcibly removed him from the premises, stuck him on a plane while he was still in his pajamas, and dumped in Costa Rica.Obama and Hugo Chavez wanted Zelaya returned to power against the people's wishes.Honduras resisted.The state department responded by placing heavy sanctions on Honduras and they were kicked out of the U.N.

 

Honduran Scenery

 

The ferry ride over was a bit rough.It reminded me a lot of the ride from Long Beach to Catalina.It was very choppy water with a lot of people losing their lunch.The crew provided barf bags.Plenty people were using them.Others lost it over the outside railing.The crew would periodically hose down the deck to remove the puke.Amy and I followed Stephen's lead and sat with him at the back of the boat where it is less bumpy.We fortunately kept our food where it belonged.Otherwise the boat ride was uneventful.Stephen told us a bit about Roatan and his businesses.He also told us to stay on the west end of the island where the best snorkeling and diving was located.When we arrived Stephen waited for us with his driver.He gave us a ride to a mall where we could buy a local cell phone.We ate lunch, hung out at an internet cafe for a bit, and used our new phone.

 

We grabbed a cab to the West end afterward.We instantly noticed how much more affordable Honduras was compared to Belize.Our cab ride cost $5.We had found a hotel in Lonely Planet.After a little assistance from a local, the cab driver found the place.The place was located across a sandy road from the water.There was single and a double bed decorated nicely along with an impromptu Internet cafe located in the office, and free one and two person kayaks.All in all it was a nice place and only $63 a night.We walked next door to a restaurant/bar that was a bit closer to the reef than our hotel was.We had a drink and hit the water.For a hotel we had just found on the cab ride over, the sea life was great.There were tons of varieties of fish, sea turtles, and shrimp.There was a even a sunken submersible in 20 feet of water with an ominous looking green 6 foot eel underneath that I swam down to visit about a dozen times.We snorkeled for quite a while then checked out a kayak.We took them around part of the island and snorkeled for another 3 hours.

 

Roatan Coast

 

Day 9, 7/8

We went scuba diving today.The reef was fantastic and the water had about 60 feet of visibility.We saw a lobster under some coral.I decided to yank at one of his small legs.He got really pissed off when I didn't let go.

That night we ate a taco stand.A 5 year old boy sat down next to us and decided to entertain us.

 

Sand Crab that I caught and tormented for a while until I stuck him on the beach

 

 

Day 10, 7/9

Amy went Scuba diving again while I rented a scooter and tooled around the island.I saw a lot of cool stuff but unfortunately, my scooter broke down about an hour into the ride.All was not lost.I parked it at some condos and the hostess kept a watch on it while I took a $2 cab ride back and returned the keys for a refund.

 

We caught the 2:00 ferry back to La Ceiba.We had a 3 hour wait until our bus was departing for San Pedro.We got picked up by a cab driver named Henry.We learned from Henri that all of the cabs at the ferry parking lot work for the ferry line.The company owns the cars and pays the cab drivers very little.At first I was skeptical.Later we confirmed the story with a security guard at the bus station.Henry took us to this pretty cool restaurant and gift shop while we waited.We met an American couple that was looking to move to Honduras.The food was great.Our cab driver happily ate our dinner scraps.

 

We hopped on our bus to San Pedro.We stayed at El Ejuctivo hotel this time.Not quite as nice as the last place in San Pedro but the service was great.We asked if there was a place for us to get a drink.We were told that there was a Mexican restaurant around the corner.The security watched us to make sure we got there OK.The restaurant was not what we expected.The restaurant turned into a club at night.One of their bars turned into a makeshift dance floor for half a dozen dancers that the restaurant employed.I'm not one for the club scene but this was highly entertaining.We stayed there for a couple hours.It was after midnight when we left and we had to get to be to catch out 5 AM bus ride the next morning.

  

Day 11, 7/10

Hung-over and exhausted we made it to the bus station.I have no idea how Amy found about this bus from San Pedro to Puerto Cortes but it all worked out.We caught another bus to Puerto Barrios and took the ferry back to Punta Gorda, BZ.

 

We got through immigration in Belize and decided to walk to our hotel where the car was parked.As we were walking we stumbled upon a chocolate factory.A woman ex patriot in her late 40s ran the place and gave free tours.We learned a lot about how to make chocolate.I always assumed that chocolate manufacturers had to add oil to the cocoa beans to turn it into chocolate.There is so much cocoa butter that one has to remove about half of it to keep the chocolate from being to oily.This lady also made cappuccinos and lattes.She got her coffee beans from local farmers that only made enough for her and themselves.She sold a bag to Amy and Amy bought $100 worth of chocolate.The lady even shipped it to the Belize City airport for us so it wouldn't melt while in our possession.

We stopped by some more ruins on our journey.

 

Mayan ball court.

 

We left for our next destination that Amy had wanted to see, some place called Monkey River.We drove down the customary 2 lane Belize highway until we got to the road that was to take us there.We drove about 20 miles on a dirt road that was mostly single lane and poor.We were concerned that if it rained we might not be able to get back.

 

We got to the end of the road and found a very small make shift parking lot.The monkey river dumped into the Caribbean sea at this point with a small peninsula across the river from where we standing.A number of boats were parked on the peninsula side and one of the boats came over to give us a lift.We paid $1 and were instantly greeted by the locals.The Village of Monkey River has 150 inhabitants.Everyone knows each other.There was a small walk up bar outside next to a television room.Next door is Alice's restaurant and there are two guesthouses in the village.We went into Alice's place for dinner.Alice was a nice lady in her 70s, but it's hard to categorize her place as restaurant.She hadn't served anyone in a week.We asked to see a menu but she didn't have one.I asked her what dish she made the best.She said chicken so I ordered chicken along with beans and rice.Amy ordered the fish.We asked when things would be ready.She said it would be about an hour.Amy told her that that sounded good and that we'd be back for supper at 6:30.The local guy that had met us at the dock was giving us the tour of the island.He told us that we needed to meet Mrs. Anderson in order to get a room.He walked us throughout the village crossing people's yards to go see Mrs. Anderson.We got keys for two places.The first place had no AC but looked nicer that the other unit that did.Amy and I conferred as to whether or not we were up for roughing it and we both agreed to give it a shot.I paid Mrs. Anderson $20 for the night.The room had two single beds and a bathroom down the hall.It was 2 story unit with about 8 units in all.We were the only guests that night seeing as though we were the only guests in all of the village that night.After we paid her the money, she swept up the floor, changed the linens, gave us clean towels, turned on the water and electricity.We went back across the river to get our luggage checked into our room and headed over to Alice's.We ate dinner with Alice and her nephew.Good company and great food.After dinner we headed over to the bar for a Belikin.The rooftop was flat with no railing or pony walls and had stair leading up to it.We took our beers to the roof, looked at the stars, walked to the rocky beach, and turned in for the night.Everything pretty much shut down at night in Monkey Village.Outside of dealing with the heat, we had a fairly peaceful night's sleep.

 

 

Alice's

 

 

Day  12, 7/11

We had breakfast in Alice's kitchen with hers nephew and a friend of hers.We had instant coffee and fried jacks.We packed up our things and took our tour of the monkey river with her nephew.What a fun tour.Motoring up the river, I felt we were in a Vietnam War film.It was a winding river with lush jungle surrounding it.Our tour guide pointed birds, bats, crocodiles, and iguanas.Whenever there was an iguana or crocodile he would stop the boat and pull up alongside the creatures.I donít know how he saw these things.I would never have spotted them on my own.We hiked through the jungle to find howler Monkeys for about half an hour but found nothing but tens of thousands of mosquitoes.Our guide would occasionally stop to beat on a tree with a machete and yell Howler Monkey noises.The hike itself was pretty amazing.I'd never been in this kind of vegetation before.It was incredibly thick.There were times he'd have to use his machete for us to get through parts of the so called trail.We headed back to the boat and went back downstream.He wanted to stop one more time to try and find some monkeys.After 15 minutes, we heard something that sounding like barking and growling.That would be the monkeys.He called for us to come over to see them.There 4 climbing through the trees.Every time our guide would beat on the trees with his machete and bark at them, they would bark back.He brought us to our car and we departed.

 

 

 

Going up Monkey River 

 

Disturbed reptile

 

We drove back to San Ignacio in the hopes to see the Caracol ruins the next day.We stopped at this place called Blue Hole on the way.It was a little swimming hole that was about 65 degrees.It felt incredibly refreshing.

We stayed in the same hotel as the last time we were there went out for dinner and dancing.We say Grady there.There was a birthday party being celebrated for one of his friends.Amy and I danced for a while before she got her wallet taken out of her purse.It was unfortunate but not a huge loss.We reported it to the police station down the street and called it a night.

 

 

Day  13, 7/12

Last day in Central America.We were wrong on our flight departure time so we had to scrap going to the ruins.We headed back to Belize City and checked out their museum by the harbor.It wasn't fancy but we were able to get lunch and buy a few gifts before we went back to the airport.Amy's chocolate was waiting for her when we got there.We were able to spend most of our remaining Belize dollars at the airport gift shops before we departed.I bought a bottle of the Belizeís One Barrel Rum to take home.Somehow it didnít make it.The two of us polished it off on the flight to Dallas.