Sunday, April 3, 2011
Adventures Getting to Utila
I want to write about my trip down in detail, many people have questions as I had before heading down and want the most convenient method without troubles. I know it may not be concise, but I will include as much detail as possible. Questions feel free to post and I will respond even 10 years from now. This is what I gathered.
Traveling from they Cayes in Belize to Utila. This seems to be a relatively highly traveled route for backpackers and divers alike. First and foremost, gathering information for the trip can be misleading and outdated. I gathered my most reliable information from either Frommer’s or the Lonely Planet series. They seem to keep up with the changing times best. Random forums have been helpful too gathering information for locations to be, cities to travel through, general times of day, but nothing definite. Even the site that updates the boat schedules from Belize are incorrect, having missed the day to take the water taxi direct to Porte Cortez. So that said, here is what I gathered to be relatively a lengthy but sure way of getting down here, possible in one day.
If you want to catch the water taxi from Belize to Honduras direct. From what I gather, there are 2 boats. The one I know for sure leaves Dangriga at 0930 to Porte Cortez and may make one stop, in Placencia on the way. It should take you roughly 5 hours to make the trip arriving some where around 1400. This is relatively painless, aside from sea sickness and has you down avoiding Guatemala all in all. The down side is the cost and the schedule, its about $50US just for ride one way, and the day, I know for sure it goes on, is friday. There are other days listed but having been told by the locals in Dangriga at the station, it seems that the only day it leaves Belize is on Friday morning.
This method is a little more intense, time consuming, confusing but like always, cheaper. Due to the difference of bus types and schedules it can be a little hard figuring out which is yours and when you need to take it, in addition to the fact that there are no information centers or ticket counters in many areas. The bus I took was the James Line Express; it leaves the main terminal schedule at said 0530, but the morning I took it, left at 0515. The concept of express is not what you think. They will still stop and pick up random people from all over the entire way down, but don’t worry its not a complete stop; consider it a tuck and roll in reverse. I made it to Punta Gorda in about 5 hours its supposed to be a 7+ hours trip by regular bus. I think this bus runs daily. As well as other “expresses” that run through out the day as well.
Apparently there are a few options, cheap prop options and expensive jet options, these usually fly to the states and back down though so I would recommend against that. The prop options are various, almost as much as their schedules and prices. I found a company that flies to Belize from Utila but doesn’t advertise it at all in Belize. It isn’t in the LP books either. Going to talk to them about my return; saves me travel time. which creates more dive or exploration time. [never ended up finding any information once in Utila, simply forgot and got distracted by all the great diving]
My plan was to catch the ferry from Dangriga, per information posted on their schedule site online, direct to Porte Cortez. that did not happen. I knew that I needed to be at least in Dangriga by 0800 for immigrations and what not. The travel time from Belize City to Dangriga is about 2 hours +. The earliest water taxi from Cayes Caulker is 7am, so I took the last taxi to the mainland on friday night and stayed downtown getting up stupid early on saturday morning. Due to the many different types of buses running I knew I needed the express, a bus that doesn’t stop at every waving hand on the way down but only 25% of them and the only one I found left at 0520. This was perfect. I arrived at Dangriga 0745 with time to spare and the cabbie stated the they water taxies discontinued service on saturdays over a year ago. Luckily the bus terminal was small with zero security and just turned around back onto the bus. The cost of the bus from Belize City to Dangriga was about $6US. The second leg of the journey took an additional 2.5 hours +, cost about $9US and arrived just at 1030, exactly when the 1030 boat left. So I got to wait till 1300 for the next taxi. Immigrations and border crossings seem pretty relaxed here, zero security, guards, guns or even a proper gate. Just a counter with a lady and a stamp, asking for $37.50BL from all foreign passports as an exit charge (ends up being about $18.75US).
The boat was a single prop that could carry about 12 people comfortably, more and it would be a vomit commit. I enjoyed the ride at least. Full trip took about an hour, I think, this is where time starts to get a little fuzzy. The boat dropped a few people off in Livingston, a small port town at the opening of Rio Dulcet. Then continued on to Porte Barios. I got lucky here, very lucky. The cost of a taxi from the port to the border is about $25-30US, which in retrospect is not that much, but not knowing the currency conversion I was wary to get one by myself and fork out the cost. The lucky part was the 3 other people, Joe, Catrina and god knows her name but save her soul she was a handful, for simplicity sake I’ll call her crazy, were heading to San Pedro Sula same as me, so we all split the cost of the ride, ended up only paying about $7US instead, much better. Border crossing here is a joke compared to the shit you have to put up with in major countries and ports. no major dividers, no huge electro scanning devices, no personal invasion of privacy; hell the cops don’t even wake up. Stamp, stamp and were through. Immigrations is about 6 miles from the border so HAVING THE TAXI COMMIT TO THE BORDER AND NOT JUST IMMIGRATIONS IS A MUST. At the border they drop you off about 100m out and make you walk through, pay the fees, change currency if need be, the start negotiating for another taxi ride 100m on the other side.
This is the reason why Taxi’s are best – it took us about 30 minutes to get the border as opposed to 1.5 hours by bus and still having to deal with immigrations. This is where crazy started showing her true colors. It was quite obvious she came from little education in the ghetto of Belize City, even though all of the city is pretty much a ghetto shithole. But for the most part you really couldn’t help but ask yourself for the 20th time, ARE YOU F’ing SERIOUS! We would discuss best plans for execution, say ok, then start to grab bags, followed by a question of what we are doing, serious drag, that one. Either way finally making it through the second and final border for the trip we cram into a taxi and head to Porte Cortez. This was a long ride, filled with dumb questions, stupid statements and even worse ideas. A true test of our patience, but finally making it.
There is no way to get from Porte Barios to San Pedro Sula directly, one must go through Porte Cortez the town that you originally would have gotten into via the water taxi. We got in around 430 or so if we had arrived any earlier we could have made it to San Pedro Sula early enough to catch the last express to Le Ceiba, but alas we did not. Instead, we got to cram ourselves and our gear into a chicken bus and stop at every person waving their hands in the air on the side of the road. Didn’t get in to SPS till about 1900. Tired of travel, hungry and concerned about making the ferry in the morning we hunted for a hotel since none existed near the station, we were was forced to get a taxi back into downtown, the way we come from. This wasn’t all that bad, really.
When I left Cayes Caulker, I left with some of the coolest german girls I have met in a long time. Leaving with them was a blessing. One of them saved my life, by passing me their copy of Central America’s Lonely Planet. This gift alone has made this trip most successful and has been priceless. Since we were stuck at the station and unaware of a place to stay I referenced a random hotel they suggested and headed to it. It was nice. I had my own room, with a tv that had working cable, a bathroom with hot running water, a towel, shampoo and a queen sized bed. All for about $12US. Downstairs was a restaurant were we had dinner, I don’t even know what I ordered, cause what I originally wanted they were out. The server suggested something, so sure, why not . It was great. Finally full, a place to stay, about to be clean, we all headed to our rooms to pass the F out. Oh yeah, this was also when Crazy asked us randomly the question if we had ever been in jail, since she decided to continue and share with us that she was last in jail for attempted murder.
Later I talked to Joe, on the boat to Utila and finally separated from Crazy, he told me some very interesting things. For one that she came on to him, and not just a little, it was a full on half naked show me your junk, coming on. To make things clear, let me put things into perspective. How do I put this without being too mean. Extremely over weight, highly uneducated, apparently familiar with the corrective system, 3x. 20 years old with a 5 year old daughter, and apparently a twin (not that thats a bad thing, other than she was also incarcerated). To think, there really is a thing 1 and thing 2. If you could bottle and sell cluelessness, audacity, and dumb this would be the well of never-ending fortune. Fraternities creating stupider college guys across the country would have some serious competition from this one product alone. I’m getting dumber just thinking about it. Yet I digress.
Ok on to more dumb. Needing to wake at 0445ish to catch the bus, crazy woke Joe at around 230 saying that her little flip phone was connected to satellites and that it was 0400 and it was and we had to leave. Knowing really what time it was and quite honestly fed up with her, his reply was something along the lines of I’ll be right down, just give me a few moments, which led to the continuation of more sleep. At 0400 for real, she came to my room and woke me saying the cab was downstairs waiting. I asked the time and told her that we decided to WAKE at 430 then head down and try to find a cab. Her response was pretty much the same but stated differently, no one home. So I decided since I was already awake I got ready slowly and headed down. Poor Joe was ready to kill her and it wasn’t even 0500 yet. Finally on the bus ready to leave she made friends with some poor Honduran guy and we took seats somewhere near. From that moment on we finally had some free space and since we had pretty much arrived at Le Ceiba, it was a quick taxi ride to the pier for a ride to the island.
Got to the island around 1045 or so, and immediately was bombarded by hagglers trying to talk up their shops. Luckily I knew where I was heading, just needed to get proper directions, but the dive center was about a rocks throw from the pier so I was there in about a minute, settled in and already locked into a killer deal for advanced open water dive training that started today in about 10 minutes. Below is a picture from my room of the dock the ferry comes in on. Honduras is amazing in may ways so far, but that will have to wait till next time ladies and gentleman, I have to wake up at 7 am to prepare for a deep water dive, 33m down to be exact, which I am super excited for.
Wednesday, April 6, 2011
My second dive today was called peak performance buoyancy, basically a bunch of games (underwater frisbee and a torpedo), coordination, floatation testing, and a race to the death. Ok not really, but we did race barefoot on the bottom of the ocean. I also got to ride a bike. At the site we chose, someone decided to chuck one down there, I put it to good use, till the handlebars came off. You can probably guess the first thing that came to mind when that happened. That was a lot of fun.The last and final dive of the course is the night dive tonight. Been looking forward to that for over a week now. Apparently the night dives here are supposed to be incomparable. Since I finished my training in 2 days and have 4 more left here to do whatever, I am purchasing 2 more packages: the first is a 10 dive funpack for like #230US and the second is Nitrox training. I mean why not, who wouldn’t want to stay under longer for little to no difference in cost.
A few other things I have learned while being here about diving here compared to other places, like Thailand. If the dive shops demand that you have to use a wetsuit, thats complete bollocks. You don’t, its probably them just wanting to make a few extra bucks, since you have to rent the equipment. Honestly its really up to you though, some people run hot and others just can’t maintain their own body heat if it was 40˚c and they were in an induction oven…on bake…at 450˚. Making my way around the tangent, I’m just saying if your more comfortable, skip it if you don’t need it. Even in the deep dive, I was quite comfortable wearing just the dive shirt, and some trunks. By the way my dive shirt is simply a tight adidas runners wicking shirt I purchased from an Adidas outlet store in Texas last year. It was cheap and a great alternative to what dive shops offer. Serves the same purpose anyways. I got a long sleeve for dives and a short sleeve one snorkeling.
Not that this is important at all but some british girl knocked my laptop off of a railing this morning at breakfast and it dropped 6 feet into the gravel below. Didn’t realize until now that all the USB ports now don’t work and backing up photos to my external is impossible now. I also cant watch any movies and that sucks, too. Thats the second time its been knocked around, I was quite scared this time, but after a reboot it started right up. This little thing is quite durable, scarred but holding strong. Since I’m not diving again till late tonight, I think i will explore the island a little bit, spend some money, buy some stuff, and maybe lounge in a hammock a little more. There really isn’t much to do on the island otherwise. I did find out that one of the top 10 coolest bars in the world is here, and yes, it stands up to the call. It takes a lot to make the cut, and this bar is like alice in wonderland meets hippy victory garden on a giant scale. Lets see what else I can find. Here are a couple of shots from the bar.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Diving Utila 2
Today was only two dives, most of the people that were here left yesterday and its been fairly quiet. Nothing really special to note about the dives, saw a few lobsters, really big ones too, a bunch of fish and shrimps. No sharks yet, but they are in season for whale sharks and there have been some sightings from the people at the dive shop, but that was last week. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. A few new people came in today, so we may be able to schedule more dives throughout the next 2 days. Most of my day today was spent either napping or training for Nitrox. The content is easy enough, just need to be thorough about it, since its my life and all. We all chipped in for ingredients and one of the guys at the shop made a risotto with shrimps for everyone today, that was really good. I honestly can say if I had to spend a decent amount of time here I would probably become a pescatarian. The pork and beef is scary beyond all reason, and the chicken is fine, but gets old really quick. Fortunately we are surrounded by endless options of deliciousness. A guy named Zoro sells fish he catches daily from the dock at the shop. On monday I purchased an entire Tuna, 2 very large filets, for i think $2.5US. Sunday I had a barracuda steak that was amazing for about $5US. I tell you, this is the cheapest travel destination I have ever been too.
Since the trip is such a pain in the ass to get back up north, my plan may be to buy an airline ticket from Le Ceiba direct to Belize city on sunday, from there I will take a bus up to Tulum and stay there for 2 days. I may just botch the flight and deal with the busses to porte cortez and catch the boat over. Not sure what to do, save money or time. There just is simple way of getting anywhere from this park of the world within a single afternoon or even a day, it takes about 2 days on the cheap, and maybe a little shorter if you splurge a little. After tuesday night will head back up to either Playa de Carmon or Cancun for one last night and then head back home on wednesday. I can tell you this trip was no where nearly long enough. I met so many cool people that had so many good things to say about so many places around here. I can not wait to come back, but next time I can tell you will be for much longer a period of time. And I can tell you one more thing, my spanish will be much better as well.
Thursday, April 7, 2011
Diving Utila 3
On the night dive tonight we heard what sounded like the muffled vibration of a cell phone. At first I thought it was Jon’s dive computer telling him something important, but since he made no action, I continued to think it a cell phone. I noticed we were directly under the boat, so my next thought was perhaps a device to let us know where the boat was incase our torches went out. Once back on the boat we asked the captain what it was, he explained it to be the bullfrog fish I found 30 minutes into the dive. Apparently they can get so loud you can hear them from the surface. That was really cool. I really wanted to spend most of the dive with the lights off, but that would have gotten kinda old quick for Jon, so we turned the lamps off for about 10- 15 minutes near the end of the dive. Although the bioluminescence aren’t out completely at that time, it is still amazing to do flips and see green trails run everywhere. Or watch your buddy breath and see the flashes of green and blue swirl with the bubbles. Since we dive the walls of the reef, you can look out into the deep ocean and see little explosions of light, quick enough for you to be able to see, almost focus on them, and then they are gone. Apparently they are type of jelly fish, very delicate to the touch. If you can see them closely enough, they go off like a chain of bulbs one after another. If you wash your hand through, it just dissipates, and disappears. I could have played with them for the whole dive. We starting the dive at sunset and exited about an hour after daylight. Personally, I would have started the dive at midnight; thats a real night dive, but theres some dumb law about starting night dives after sundown.
A new guy showed up yesterday and he brought a bunch of underwater video equipment and gear to shoot HD video footage. He joined us today on the second set of dives and did a test run of the HD cam. First thing back we went with him to check out some of the footage he took and compared it to the SD content he shot last year. Wow, I want an underwater Camera, with a 3k housing to shoot HD video with, is that too much to ask for? Ok, maybe a little.
Tomorrow we are doing a Nitrox dive, since we have to consummate the certification anyways. If I heard the instructor correctly, it will be almost a 2 hour dive starting at 30m and gradually stepping up to 10m. Honestly though, it really comes down to the consumption. In the end we still have to breath and the tank only holds so much. I really wish could show you pictures of some of the things I have been seeing. I did bring my camera with me, but since it is not meant for underwater I wont even bring it on the boat. My favorite place to sit on the boat is the bow. Literally sitting on the bow, with my feet dangling into the air in front of the boat. Our dive boat is a complete piece of shit too, but I love it. Its slow and ghetto, but it takes care of us, and is quite spacious. Its big and easy to notice from under water as well. We don’t need a new fancy boat since most of the good dive are all on the south side of the island, basically a 10-15 minute ride from our dock.
Ok I’m tired as hell and going to bed way earlier than I though I would have. Let us hope I don’t wake up at 3 in the morning and not be able to get back to sleep, the internet absolutely blows here and if that happens, I would shoot myself.
Saturday, April 9, 2011
Utila’s Final Day
- Dispite what some people think, I still have my kidneys, both of em, but they may not be in the best of condition from the amount of booze consumed.
- Headaches endured from hangovers – I think 6, which actuality is not all that bad considering.
- Countries visited thus far – 4 aside from the US but I don’t think that counts.
- Mosquito bites, not sure, honestly lost count after 274, but even still that was a poor guestimation.
- Sunsets mesmerized by – 8, that I actually stopped and enjoyed. One posted from Belize with the sailboat.
- Dives completed – 21, all but 4 in the last 6 days.
So the trip is finally coming to an end. If I can say one thing about this trip, its this. I am definitely coming back here. I have been inspired to see so many different things and places around this region of the world, that I am somewhat disappointed that I have not been here any sooner. My budget has gone a lot further than expected as well. I want to say that when I plan another trip back here it will be for no less then 6 months. I also plan on not having much of an itinerary either. I have truly enjoyed having a single true destination and simply winging it from there. I appreciate the countries being so close together, the transport around here is rather efficient and the people have been quite pleasant.
This is the plan – and I was able to stick to it even better than I thought I would be able to.
My last few days on holiday will be in transit from Utila to Cancun international airport. Tomorrow morning, leave the island on the 620am ferry back to the main land. From the dock, catch a cab to La Ceiba, which will get me into an express bus, that really isn’t an express cause it stops at every waving hand on the side of the road (again), back to San Pedro Sula. From there transfer to another not so express, express up to the port city of Puerto Cortez. There, stay the night till monday morning to catch the 9am water taxi from Honduras to Dangriga, Belize. Once there, get on another bus up to Belize City. Again transfer to another bus that will take me directly to Chetumal, Mexico. I really want to go back to Cayes Caulker, but i just don’t have the time for it. Technically I could make my way back through there but I would have to leave the island at 7am to catch the only daily water taxi to mexico, making the trip kind of pointless. It would also be twice as expensive. Once in Mexico, transfer again to another bus back to Tullum. My goal is to be there by monday night, giving me basically all day tuesday and wednesday morning there. I want to stay there and dive one more cenotes and eat some bomb ceviche. You know it has to be good if I’m making an intentional layover there for it. The bus ride back to Cancun passes through the airport, I belize ; ), so I don’t have to go all the way up, then back down again. Figuring correctly, I can leave Tullum around 8am and get to the airport with time to spare before the flight home.
I am sad to be leaving here but at the same time am excited to be coming home to see my friends, get back to the bar, print my portfolio and start the hunt for a real job. Since we partied last night and barhopped 4 different bars till about 4am today is simply a relaxing lazy day. Tonight, I may head back to a bar called Babalu, easily my favorite.
It basically is built on a makeshift pier with makeshift wood and scraps, and has a very large cut hole in the center. The pier is only 4 feet above the water, in it the owner created a small aquarium that attracts a variety of marine life. The funny thing about the shoddy place is the owner is a retired french architect! The past few nights, a couple of guys and I have gone there had a beer or two and sat on the edge of the aquarium watching the fish, crab, an eel and the urchin eat the unwanted leftovers from meals ordered throughout the night. I can easily sit there gazing for hours. That and the food is delicious.
BEWARE – they have these things here on the island stuck to trees and hanging from buildings. If you go near them they call out to you and swoon you with promises of slumber and dream. They try to entice you with their bright colors and beautiful patterns. They are most dangerous and especially taunting around sundown. If you have heard of these things called ‘hammocks’ BEWARE, they will suck you in and you will never get away. I have been writing this to you trying very hard not to let it suck my life out entirely to unconsciousness. I am putting up a good fight but I am not so sure how long I can hold out. Think I may just take this one for the team and save the rest of the shop from getting sucked into this one.