Current Date:  Tuesday, May 13, 2008  10:30 a.m.  (Utila Island, Honduras)

Current Itinerary:  We’ll be here for the next 3 or 4 days doing some dives and then we’ll head towards Nicaragua.  We’ll probably go to Granada first and but things are up in the air after that.

Note #1:  Well, a combination of things got me off the journals the last couple weeks.  I’ll still keep them coming and keep the website up to date the best I can.  Since it’s been awhile, there are two journals coming today...the one behind this will be pretty short though.

Note #2:  Jodi’s Mom’s visit was great!  Her and her friend Lyne loved it here in Honduras and we had a great time together.  My buddy Gavin will be here in two weeks and we’re looking forward to that as well.

Note #3:  The short videos we’ve made on the trip seem to be popular so I put them all in one place to make them easy to find.  Click here to see them...there are only a few now but I’ll continue to add more.

Note #4:  This has nothing to do with this trip but I did finally post pictures from our trip out to Mt. Zion, Bryce Canyon, and the Grand Canyon last year. A lot of you have seen this picture from the north rim of the Grand Canyon already but it’s one of my all time favorites so I’ll post it here.

grand canyon

The rest of those pictures are pretty amazing so please take a second (or an hour) to browse through them.  Just click here and scroll down to 2007.  Back to the more immediate (but not so recent) present:

Monday, March 10, 2008

It was STILL raining when we woke up that morning in San Pedro...that was almost 60 straight hours!  Oh well, we just need a change in setting and maybe a slightly bigger room to be in if we were going to be trapped inside all day.  Luckily for us, the rain broke just as we headed to catch the water taxi over to Caye Caulker.

We arrived there around noon and we were immediately glad we left San Pedro.  Just from walking down one street we realized that it was more our type of place.  We walked around for a little bit looking for a place to stay...we checked out a couple but didn’t see anything we really liked.  A taxi guy (not a real taxi...it’s just a golf cart) stopped us and told us about a pretty cheap place.  I often ignore these guys as I don’t trust any taxi driver, but it just started to rain again so we hopped on board and off we went to the south part of the island.  It seemed far away at first but then we realized the whole dang island is probably only 2 miles long...nothing can be that far.

We got to the place and it was pretty damp inside...we thought we had been given another place that leaked but it turned out that they had just cleaned and mopped the rooms.  We were a little on edge and sick of being wet I guess...but we felt like fools anyway because we almost didn’t take one of these awesome little cabanas.  We had tons of room, and our own little bathroom that had hot water.  It was actually a great place which I took this video of on our third or fourth day.

Maybe an hour or so later it stopped raining for a bit so we went to walk and explore the town a little.  We ended up walking all the way up to “the split” which is the place where the island was cut in half by a hurricane a few decades ago.  On the way we checked a few dive shops and were happy to find out that in Caye Caulker that the certification was only $300...a full hundred bucks less than what the same classes were (that go to the EXACT same places!) in San Pedro.  After some discussion, we decided to sign up.  You have to watch about 4 hours of DVD’s so the good news for us was that since I have my laptop, we didn’t have to sit at the place to watch them.  We filled out all our paperwork and took the DVD’s with us to watch later.  It turned out that we would not have to go back to do the classroom work until Wednesday so that gave us time for some other stuff...we decided that if it was warm enough, we would go snorkeling the next day.  Cool...it feels good to be able to make some plays again and do stuff after dealing with so much rain for a couple days.

We went for a bite at a cool little restaurant called the Sand Box...it’s a good cheap place to eat for anyone traveling through here.  Both Caye Caulker and San Pedro are relatively pricey, so it’s important to know where to eat if you don’t want to spend too much.  Since it was still pretty wet, we decided to grab some wine and head back to our cabana...most wine was pretty expensive so we decided to go with a blast from the past and get some Boone’s!  Only the best! 

We chilled that night and watched the first section of the diving DVDs...which was actually a bit more interesting than I expected.  It looks like there is going to be quite a bit to learn!

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

I spent most of the morning working on journals and we also watched another section of the diving DVD.  Then we went to sign up for a snorkeling trip which began at 2:00.  We grabbed a quick bit at a cool little place that had swings at the bar.

bar swing

We went to the snorkeling place it turned out there were 8 other people, including 4 really cool guys from Arizona St.  It turns out they were down here for their Spring Break which is a really cool idea I think...a plot masterminded by one of the guys, Austin, who quite possibly had the best pot laugh I’ve heard in my life.  We all had a great time snorkeling...at the first stop, right when we jumped off the boat we saw a huge barracuda.  That is one scary looking fish when you see them up close.  Anyway, we swam around in the reef and it was pretty overwhelming...my only complaint was the guide was moving waaaay too fast (just like the guy at the Cenotes).  I guess it’s easy to forget how fascinating it is if you do it everyday.  The reef itself is so beautiful that there could have been ZERO fish to see and it would have still been awesome just seeing the coral.  There are many different types of coral which made me curious and led to this classic exchange with the guide:

AC: What type of coral is that that looks like a brain?

Guide: Brain coral.

AC: What about the one that sways like a leaf?

Guide: Leaf coral.

AC: And the one that looks like a sponge?

Guide: Sponge coral.

Looks like they didn’t get to sophisticated with the naming process.  I don’t think I have to tell you what the name of the fish with a blue tail was:)

Anyway, we saw tons of beautiful fish, huge lobsters and crabs...including a hermit crab that was the size of a softball!  By the way, what’s the deal with hermit crabs?  Do they breathe air, or water, or what?  It can’t be both, but I see them up on the beach or in town all time?  (note:  I later discussed this with my buddy Dave who sent me this link)

The second stop we made was good too, although we were a little further from the reef.  The ASU dudes had an underwater camera so we they took a picture of us (still waiting for it).  The last stop was “Shark and Ray alley” which was cool but lacked a little at the same time.  I’ll explain...basically every single snorkeling tour makes 3 of 5 different stops...but all of them stop here.  The guides usually bring some chum to feed the sting rays so the rays are now “trained” in a sense.  When the boat pulls up, 20 or 30 of them crowd beneath the boat, waiting for the food they know is coming.  It’s quite a sight to see that many stingrays at once, and it is definitely scary jumping into water that’s teaming with stingrays...especially since the water is only about 4 feet deep.  I was really scared of stepping on one or something.  By the way, is it possible to be in this situation and not think of The Crocidile Hunter?  Luckily, when I jumped in, they just all moved out of the way.  It was something to be among them all, swimming all around you...they even bump into your feet and rub up against you.  I thought it was cool, I have to admit that, but somehow it’s still like a zoo to me.  I far preferred moving through the coral reef and seeing everything that it has to offer with tons of fish and the nice landscape and the occasional ray swimming by.  This area was almost too much.  I got my fill for a couple minutes and while everybody else stood around and watched the rays, I swam off on my own and was able to find a few other cool creatures in a small nearby reef, including a HUGE lobster!  We really enjoyed our tour operator...it was one of the small ones but a nice operation and a touch cheaper than some of the others.  If anybody out there is interested in some snorkeling in Caye Caulker, go to ”French Angel Expedition”.  Just walk straight down the road the main pier is on...it’s between front and middle st.

Later that night for dinner, we found a place called Rose’s where a guy was grilling fresh fish right on the street.  We picked out our fish and sat and had a couple beers while they prepared it...it was delicious, and probably the best meal we’ve had so far.

After we ate we went to find ASU guys at the bar at the split so we could exchange info and get our only picture from the day...when ran into them as they were walking back and they said there wasn’t much happening down there, but we still went anyway.  We only had one beer and the place was about to close and it was probably only around 9:00!  These small little beach towns don’t really keep it going very late in Belize...that’s one HUGE difference between here and Brazil, that’s for sure.  The more places I go, the more I realize that nothing will ever compare to the energy and life of Brazil.

We walked back along the beach to our cabana.  Having lived in a city for most of my life, I often forget how starry the nights are when you get out into remote areas...and there certainly aren’t much better places to see something like that than standing on the beach where it’s quiet and there’s no sound other than the waves.  There is something therapeutic about moments like that really can’t be explained.  It’s interesting...things like snorkeling are really fun and you get to see some amazing things...and I love that part of traveling, but I must say that another aspect is that you start appreciating so many simple things.  I think that life is about that in a sense...certainly I’ve seen plenty of starry nights before and I’ve stood on beaches at night...but it’s easy for to forget how good it feels to do those types of things and to appreciate that they are there.  We really are just loving every minute...

We were supposed to watch our videos when we got back but could only finish one more section before we crashed.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We got up early to head to the diving school, feeling bad about not finishing those videos.  Oh well.  I was also worried because I had developed a cold over the previous 24 hours and one of the first things they tell you in the videos is not to dive if you have any congestion (it can cause problems with air pressure in your ears and sinuses).  I figured I’d be okay for shallow water, especially with a little medicine...but we weren’t even sure if we’d do any dives that day.  When we got to the school, we met our instructor, Pablo and another guy who would be in the class with us, Pierre/France.  We did classroom work all morning, going over the quizzes in the book and learning about the equipment.  We took a small lunch break and then went out that same day to do some confined water dives that would only be to about 10 feet.  We actually ended up doing them in the same area where we had snorkeled the day before, but just slightly away from the reef in the sand.  It was a weird sensation at first, breathing underwater...the regulator (the thing you put in your mouth and breathe through) actually feeds you air on demand and it was easier than I thought to breathe...it felt normal actually, but it was definitely weird after like 10 minutes to think how long we’d been underwater!  Anyway, in the shallow water, you just work on a bunch of different skills that aren’t too tough, but important for safety.  I have to admit, there is a LOT more to this than I thought there would be.  We spent about 3 hours in the water, but stayed in the sandy area and didn’t see that much...which was driving me nuts.  We were so close to the reef and I wanted to check it out pretty bad.  I did manage to find a huge hermit crab to play with for awhile.  The real beauty for us was that most people do this part of the training in a swimming pool.  Wow, that would be boring!  We were lucky to get the experience of atleast being in the ocean.

Anyway, we finished around 4:30 and we were exhausted!  It was a pretty full day of learning and paying attention...a definite change from our normal strenuous activities of trying to figure out where to eat and where to go swimming:)  We headed back to our cabana and got cleaned up...then went out to get something to eat.  We got some Chinese food that sucked, but wanted to hurry to get to the internet place with enough time to get my journal out before it closed.  Ran into some complications that aren’t worth getting into, but I’m getting frustrated with the internet on this island.  We finished up and headed back to our cabana, still exhausted.  We fell asleep, trying to finish off the videos that were supposed to be done the day before.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Got up early to head back to the dive shop and still felt a little tired from the previous day’s activity.  I probably slept more sound than I had in a couple weeks!  We headed out and got some breakfast on the way to the diving school.  I haven’t mentioned this yet, but every single store in this town sells this delicious banana bread that we are becoming addicted to.  I don’t know if one person makes it and then distributes it all around town or what, but the stuff is great.  We picked some up and got to the school about 8:15.  We did a little classroom work quickly and met another girl who would join our group named Harriet.  Wow, just typing that name makes me understand why it went out of style about 50 years ago...although it’s not as bad as my friend from highschool whose name was Phyllis.  Ouch.  Needless to say, she went by her middle name.

We were actually on a boat that had certified divers on it this time...there were probably about 15 of us total.  We were going out to do a dive near St. Georges key, which was about 30 minutes away.  Today, we would be doing a dive to about 40 feet...which is getting pretty deep so we were pumped!  We got out to the dive site but it was very choppy water.  I felt bad for Harriet b/c she was pretty sea sick...she opted not to even get in the water in the end.  I was starting to get a bit queasy as well, but once I got in the water it was no problem.  When we got down to the bottom it was AMAZING!!!  We paused and did a few skills at first but then we swam around for about 20 minutes.  The reef in this area was just as beautiful as we had seen snorkeling, but it was even more amazing as we were in 40 feet of water!! It’s great to be able to get right up close to the reef and the fish.  This area is what is known as a wall dive.  That basically means that there is a reef that goes along at one depth and then it just drops off into the abyss.  When we swam out to the wall, I was absolutely blown away at how beautiful it was.  I’m not sure if it’s the currents or what, but there were hundreds of fish hanging out near the drop off...looking down you could not see where it ended (and it was clear water...we could probably see another 30 or 40 feet down).  All along the wall edge there were tons of beautiful fish and different animals feeding on the coral and swimming in and out of it.  It was so vast and there were so many fish...it must of seemed like the end of the world for those fish!  No wonder Nemo got lost!

We swam around and saw lots of fish as I said and also saw quite a few eels.  I’m telling you, I could have stayed down there FOREVER!!!!!  It was like being part of the Discovery channel or something.  Very cool stuff.  The only downside to the whole thing is that you can’t talk underwater (obviously) and you’re constantly wanting to point stuff out to.  Unfortunately, after about 40 minutes we had to go back to the surface.

The good news was that we still were going to do a second dive and it turned out to be just as awesome.  The only hard part is that you get a little seasick bobbing in the water when you are getting in and out.  I was thinking about my dad on the way back, he definitely was the one who got me into nature shows and stuff like that as a kid, he would LOVE to do something like this...even at the ripe young age of 54, I bet he’d be like a kid down there.  Hopefully he’ll get a chance to do it sometime soon.  I remember on my trip to Brazil, I thought about my folks a lot...at that point they had not even seen the ocean!  I know that’s VERY hard for a lot of you on this list to understand, but it’s not that entirely uncommon for people who are from middle America...I mean, they lived their whole lives over 1000 miles from the nearest ocean/beach.  Anyway, they’ve been to Jamaica now and I think a couple other places...so maybe there will be some diving in their future.  Perhaps if they come down here to visit us! (hint, hint)

When we got back we were totally exhausted!  It was a very long day...and we were starving.  We stopped and got food on the way back and felt better.  After a shower I was determined to get the journal out that I had been trying to send for 3 days now so I headed to the internet place.  It took awhile but I was finally successful.  Afterwards we went to for a very good and cheap dinner at a place called Marin’s.  They had a nice upstairs, outside deck where we were able to eat out in the open air.   By the way, I’d say we’ve had 95% of our meals either sitting outside or in an open air bar.  In Houston, there are quite a few places like this because of the weather, but for the same reason, there are almost no places like this in Boston.  Being down here is definitely making us appreciate how awesome it is to sit outside and eat. 

Anyway, we were exhausted and were almost falling asleep while we were eating so afterwards we just headed back and crashed.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Got up early and grabbed our banana bread once again and headed for the school.  We would be diving to 60 feet today!!  We were pretty excited.  The dive site this time was a marine park called Holchan.  There were only 2 other people besides Jodi, Pierre and I on the boat this time.....a young kid named Elliot (who was doing the certification but was a day behind us) and his Mom, Pat.  She was not doing any diving and was just going to snorkel.  They were from Maine and pretty nice...I couldn’t help to be a little jealous of Elliot though...I guess he was about 11 or 12 and he was already Scuba diving!  I guess I got a late start on a lot of this type of stuff, but atleast I’m still doing it!

Anyway, if we thought yesterday was tough, the waves this time were 10 times worse...we were in VERY choppy waters and I felt pretty seasick from the start so I dove down immediately and did not wait for the others.  Right when I got to the bottom I saw some nurse sharks!  Awesome!  We did a few skills and then swam around.  The terrain was different from yesterday...it was a long sandy trench with coral reefs on both sides.  We saw some really big fish, a couple crabs and any other things.  It’s a whole different world when you get down that deep.  I loved it but I definitely felt a bit queasy and was happy to a little breather during our surface interval when we went back to calmer waters.  Diving day after day takes it’s toll on you and I didn’t feel the greatest and really was tired out, but had one more dive to go before being certified!  Once I got back in I felt pretty good and once I was swimming around I just absolutely LOVED it.  Again, I could have stayed down there for days!

We headed back to Caye Caulker and we were exhausted once again but now we were officially PADI certified divers!  We got a nice lunch of chicken and rice from a little store where locals eat.  Any backpackers that come here, make sure you look around for these places because you’ll spend less than half than you would in a regular restaurant.  As we were eating it out on the beach, we saw Trever and Emma, the couple from Colorado that we had seen on the boat to San Pedro a week before!  They had been to San Ignacio and to Placencia.  They told us about camping in Placencia which we will try to do for sure, and a thing called the ATM tour that the lady from Maine had told us about too!  It’s always good to get suggestions of other travelers...I especially make a note when I hear first hand accounts from a few different people and there are rave reviews.  We’ll be checking that one out when we get to San Ignacio.

As we were walking back to our cabanas, we ran into Pat and Elliot again.  Sitting in the same restaurant was the couple from France that we had helped in the bus station in Chetumal just before heading into Belize (can’t remember if I mentioned them.)  That’s three different sets of people that we already knew that we had run into inside of an hour!  I’m sure it will happen many times as we travel along but it’s always pretty cool.

Later that night, we decided would go for a good dinner so we went to Rasta Pasta, which my buddy Ty had suggested to us.  We took this picture there just for him.

 

rasta pasta

They had something interesting on the menu...ginger beer, which I tried but it was just okay.  As we were eating, Pat and Elliot showed up...they had just returned from snorkeling.  That is a looong day for them!  Anyway, the bad news was that Pat is a photographer and while on the snorkeling trip she lost her $5000 camera!  She said she got distracted and it floated away from her in it’s waterproof casing.  What was amazing was how unstressed she was about the whole thing.  I have to admire that because I’d be freaking out.  We sat and talked to them while they ate dinner, talking about our trip and where we would travel.

After dinner (pricey but pretty good) we went up to the only real non-restaurant bar in town, the Ocean Side Bar.  It was pretty packed and they had a live band playing.  The band was absolutely terrible.  If there are any aspiring musicians out there that are even half decent, you could come down here and make a name for yourself pretty easily!  I kept telling Jodi that I wish my buddy Paul was down here.  I used to go see him play in Boston all the time and he is awesome...here’s his myspace page with a couple songs on it for anyone who likes to see good live music in the Boston area.

We ended up playing darts in the back part of the bar and later on the ASU boys showed up.  By the way, either I’m getting old, or I am out of touch with what happens in college...or both, because these guys were all seniors and not one of them had ever played cricket (the dart game) before!  Maybe it’s a Midwest thing or something but every other dorm room or apartment at ND had a dart board in it and we spent hours of “study” time playing darts.  Maybe nowadays, people spend all their free time on facebook or something.

Anyway, we had a great time playing darts and drank beers all night.

with ASU guys

 

I had a nice talk with Austin that night...we got on the subject of why they came down there for Spring Break.  I was impressed that they had chosen to come here...I mean, most people head to traditional spots like Cancun or Jamaica or something.  Turns out that he had come here a couple times in the last several years and loved it and wanted to share the experience with his boys...a sentiment not so unlike my own with respect to having Jodi her with me.  He even said something like how the typical spring breaks are great (I agree...you should definitely have at least one of those in college) but you basically do the same thing you do at school anyway, just magnified by about 10.  But coming here for him was an experience he knew his boys would hold on to forever and it was a unique thing that few would get the pleasure of doing.  He had a pretty good head on his shoulders for young guy who was probably only 21.

Anyway, we left there around 1 or so but couldn’t find any other place that was open...again, nightlife is not the strong suit of any of these places, but they are still awesome.  We strolled slowly along the beach back to our cabana...once again enjoying the wonderful seabreeze in our faces and the beautiful starry night.

AC

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