Thursday, September 18, 2008

Honduras: La Ceiba (Also, snorkeling in Belize)

Whew!  Today was an adventure!  I traveled from Puerto Barrios (a super dodgy port town in Guatemala) to La Ceiba, Honduras.  I left at 5:30am, changed buses four times, crossed one international border, took two taxies, and located a hostel that was identified incorrectly on the map -- all before 5pm, and all by myself.  That¨s right - for whatever reason I didn¨t see a single other nonlocal traveler the entire way.  It¨s the first time I¨ve traveled so far on totally public transportation and it¨s the first time I¨ve done it all by mynlonesome (it did feel a little lonesome trecking through the no-man¨s land on the border by myself at the crack of dawn...).  I¨m tired now, but happy with the trip.  La Ceiba and this hostel are SO much better than the places I¨ve been the past couple of days...

Speaking of which, I should give you a quick update.  I was chatting with Mom and Ashley last night, so they know a bit, but here¨s more for the rest of you.  After my last email, I took the bus into Belize.   It was fun to see how, immediately upon crossing the border from Guatemala, the entire feel of the place changed -- it was very obvious that this had been a British colony.  The houses were not the spanish-influenced stucco houses that centered on a courtyard, but rather wooden bungalows with verandas. Also, there were a lot more black people here, having descended from slaves.  And of course everyone spoke English.

The bus dropped me at Belize City, and I immediately jumped on the ferry to Caye Caulker.  There I stashed my backpack in a hostel and headed for the beach.  The first day I just hung around the beach, alternating between paddling about with some rented snorkel gear and readingon the pier.  It was very nice, and I thought it was a good idea to try to get a bit more of a tan before heading out for longer snorkeling expeditions at the barrier reef.  Belize has the second largest barrier reef in the world (after the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), and its snorkeling and diving are world-renowned.  I did two excursions to the reef.  The first was an all-day affair, and it was amazing!  We started out at the ¨shark and ray alley¨ were we got to swim surrounded by nurse sharks (not dangerous to humans, but still about as big as me) and sting rays (also generally not dangerous to humans, but also about as big as me).  It was so cool to be there with these creatures and to feel totally safe!  Then we headed out to a coral garden¨ where we got to see a dense thicket of corals with all the profusion of colorful fish you can imagine.  There were giant ugly black fish, dainty angelfish, tiny little fish of brilliant red, blue, yellow, or orange, and so many more.  I even saw an eel pretending to be invisible as it waited for tasty morsels to swim by...  I felt like I was swimming in the middle of a National Geographic documentary -- kept expecting to have some generic British accent start narrating in my head about the life cycle.  Finally, we went to another location where we saw more corals, but before the corals, we went into a deeper channel and saw sea turtles and manatees!!  Those were by far the highlights.  Sea turtles are very pretty and graceful - you just want to go up and play with them (but you can¨t because they¨re SUPER protected).  And the manatees (which I hadn¨t been expeting at all - there were three of them) were huge!  We were about 25 feet away, and they were so large and slow moving.  I could also see how, from a distance, they could give rise to the mermaid legends (at least, one theory says that¨s where the mermaid legend came from).  After that first day, I was so excited I just wanted to do more.  I couldn't afford the time or money for another full day excursion, so I just did a half-day excursion the next day.  This was to a younger section of the reef, so we didn¨t have the big sharks and manatees, but there were still tons of fish and even more ra ys.  It started pouring rain while we were out at our third location on this day, which was cool because you could watch from underneath the surface as the drops hit the water (and feel them on your back, too), but otherwise the underwater life remained entirely unaffected by the rain!  As the guide said, the fish are already wet...

After the second excursion began my two and a half day trek to Honduras.  The first leg was to leave the islands and stay the night in Belize City on the mainland.  Then I had to get from Belize City to a place called Punta Gorda, where I could take a little boat to Guatemala.  (During that ferry ride we saw dolphins!  So beautiful!)

I stayed the night in Guatemala and finished the journey today, as I described above.  These long travel legs are very tiring and I usually end up in pretty crappy lodgings because I have to stay in places far from the ordinary tourist track.  That¨s also when I feel the lonliest.  In the big tourist spots it's easy to find people to hang out with.  For example, I spent most of my time in Belize with a Belgian couple speaking French of course!).  But on these long trips, unless you happen to run into someone who's going the same way you are, you¨re stuck going by yourself.  Fortunately I have Gone with the Wind (which I've nearly finished) and my iPod to keep me occupied.

I¨ll be in La Ceiba for a day or two probably.  I need to do some housekeeping (laundry, send postcards, etc.), and I¨m waiting to meet up with Kim, a friend from law school (whom you met, and who was also qt the school in Xela with me).  We may do some day trips from here, but the main goal is to get out to the Bay Islands.  These are supposed to be incredibly beautiful and some of the best snorkeling and diving in the world.  I¨m planning on getting my diving certification here and doing some dives!  Should be fun.  (The islands and this part of the mainland coast were also the heart of pirate territory back in the day -- I keep thinking of Pirates of the Caribbean...).

That's it for now.  I¨ll write more soon.  

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