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Honduras - Great Diving, Stupid Currency. Also, you can stay at a Brewery!

HONDURAS | Thursday, 9 June 2011 | Views [2005]

We'd wondered why the bus took a diversion down side streets. Turns out he had his reasons

We'd wondered why the bus took a diversion down side streets. Turns out he had his reasons

After overspending time in Mexico and Guatemala, we were limited with our time available for Honduras. After 5 Mayan ruins, we figured the Copan ruins weren’t going to show us much we hadn’t seen before, so decided to undertake the epic journey from Livingston, Guatemala to Utila Island, part of the Bay Islands in Honduras. We got up a bit before 5am and walked down to the dock. We took the locals ferry to Puerto Barrios, and transferred onto an overpriced shuttle (damn gringo prices) to the Guatemala-Honduras border, where we had a painless crossing that only cost 3 of our dollars. We jumped onto a chicken bus to Puerto Cortes. Next was a transfer to San Pedro Sula, where the conductor tried to charge us for carrying packs; the joke was on him: we didn’t have enough cash for that, so he only got half an extra seat for our bags. The final overland leg was to La Ceiba, where our bus stopped for every group of gypsy families wanting to try their luck selling fruit or soft drinks to the bus goers.  After nearly 12 hours of travelling and maybe 45 minutes of stops on an otherwise 2.5 hour drive, plus another 15 minute stop to purchase and then later distribute firewood, we weren’t too impressed when we missed the last ferry of the day by around 15 minutes.

We consoled ourselves with a pasta dinner and beer, and caught the morning ferry to Utila instead. Off-shore from Utila is a very nice coral reef; each year whale sharks migrate along the coast but they were out of season when we were there. In Livingston we’d met an Australian guy working at Underwater Vision, so we’d decided to check that out – getting off the boat, we were swamped by some of the most aggressive hawking we’ve seen to date, trying to get us to stay with any number of hostels, hotels and dive companies. To our relief, we saw Dave talking to some people on the corner of the street, and he led us to Underwater Vision. They had cheap rooms, especially if you were diving, and seemed nice so we decided to stay. The first day was a bit of a shambles due to a late check-out and then some confusion regarding the availability of rooms, but by around 10pm we finally got our room key.

Bron was agonising about whether to do an Open Water Course – she wants to learn to dive, but has previously had issues with her ears. In the end, rather than risk losing a heap of cash if she couldn’t dive she settled for a Discover Scuba Dive – a package of one-on-one supervised dives, whilst I signed up for a couple of fun dives. The diving was truly excellent: 28C water meant meant there was no need for more than boardshorts. The coral is in excellent condition, lots of fan and brain coral, and all sorts of interesting growths. In our dives, I got to see a morey eel, leatherback turtle, two big beds of garden eels, lobster, some good sized snapper and trumpet fish. Bron’s dive supervisor was excellent, taking his time with her and making sure she was comfortable. She really enjoyed her dives, got to see some lobster and a giant crab, as well as lots of fish and coral, and was regretting not having enough time to complete her scuba course here. If time and budget permits, we are toying with coming back to the Bay Islands on our way to Los Angeles to leave South America later in the year to do our Open Water Diver and Rescue Diver respectively.

Aside from diving, there isn’t a whole heap to do in Utila, apart from relax, play volleyball and eat/drink. The beaches at Roatan are by all accounts better, but the island is more expensive. One night, we headed out to the Pirate Bar to watch the Canucks win the first game of the Stanley Cup playoffs (go Canucks!)

Sunset on Utila, in the Bay Islands

As soon as we got to La Ceiba, we went out on White Water Rafting at the nearby Rio Cangrejal. The rafting was ok, it included only a single smallish Class 4 rapid, the rest Class 1 – 3, but before the rafting we had a 2 hour walk up the river, spotting tarantulas and water jumping spiders, jumping off rocks into the river and learning about the traditional uses of native flora. This was the real highlight of the tour, although rafting always is fun. Couldn’t help but feel a little upstaged by the local kids going through the rapids holding on tree stumps though.

Our other stop in our abridged tour through Honduras was at Peña Blanca, on Lago de Yojoa, the biggest lake in Honduras. I was pretty excited about this – we were staying at a brewery. After pretty intense travelling for the last few weeks, we were keen for a couple of days to come up for air. This was the perfect place to do this. There was a nice pool, a big garden area, hammocks and chess. The place was managed by an American from St Louis, who was really helpful with regards to the local area, and friendly. An old hippy expat Brit ran bird watching tours and made for interesting company over beers in the evening, watching fireflies buzzing around the garden. They had a few really tasty beers too – some of the only decent ales we’ve seen in a while. The only hiccup was a small gunshot incident with the neighbours on our last night. Near as we could tell though, it was all an accident and a misunderstanding, so that’s all fine. We left feeling recharged and ready to get back on the road.

Honduras is a very different place to Guatemala – much more American for a start, with lots of fast food chains and shopping malls; traffic; and a definite step up in the pace of life. There is one thing that drove me nuts though about Honduras – they may have the most stupid currency system in the world. The local currency is called the Lempira, named after a chief of the Lenca tribe who opposed the Spanish settlers. It comes in notes of currency ranging from 500 lempiras to 1 lempira. This ratio of the largest to the smallest note is the equivalent of Australia or the USA producing a 20 cent note, and the value of a 1 lempira note is around 5 cents. As a result of these ridiculous denominations, you quickly end up with a wallet the size of a novel, and results in all transactions taking a couple of minutes as you search through your gargantuan wad of crumpled and faded Lempira to get the most appropriate change, to which the vender then does the same to try and find the necessary change. There are then centimos coins, which are rarely used, and rightly so, as the value of the metal easily outstrips the value of the currency. With the exception of this annoying bugbear, Honduras was a great place, the Hondurans lovely people, the diving probably the best I’ve ever done, and the country pretty easy to get around.

Tags: beaches, diving, honduras, rafting

 

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