Pulpology: Mark & Sonia's Intercontinental Absurdities!

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23 August 2007
Many modes of transport, and a Honduran border clown
Couldn't make this s**t up if I tried
Whew! A long-ass travel day! But fortunately I had three fabulous companions for this journey, as Matt, Helen & Evan were also planning to head to Honduras at the same time. I've been really lucky to meet up with the right people at the right time. It makes crazy travel days such as these a bit easier to take.

The first adventure was trying to find a way to get some cash, so we could all take care of our tabs at the Iguana. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, just hit up one of the ATMs in town. But power was still down from the previous night's storm, and not expected to return until the afternoon. We needed to get an early ferry to get started on our multi-pronged journey. Hm.

We walked into town to see what was shakin', figuring we should be able to at least go into a bank and extract some Quetzales that way. Along the way we checked both of the ATMs on the main road. Both had power, which was great, but both also displayed the "No funciona" message indicating they were outta service. Not so great. Evan and I waited for the bank to open while Helen walked back to get her other card. I've been pretty fortunate in that my debit/Visa card has worked with just about every ATM machine so far, but that's not always the case with cards from other countries. The bank actually opened around 9am, and they must have rebooted something because the ATM started working as well. We had no hope of getting the 9:30 ferry, but at least we'd be able to pay our room/bar tabs and catch the 11am boat. This is progress!

Livingston portAfter settling up and saying some sad goodbyes to the Iguana staff -- gonna miss those guys! this was another fabulous place to stay -- we packed up and headed for the port. We caught the 11am ferry to Puerto Barrios with no trouble, and it was actually a very enjoyable one-hour journey. Traveling by boat is so much more fun than land-based options! When we landed in Puerto Barrios, we were immediately swarmed by touts offering directos to Corinto, our next stop along the way. We still needed to find a bank for Helen, plus we figured we could handle the local buses instead of the tourist shuttles, so we shook 'em off (took a while, they are persistent buggers!) and found our way to a bank. From there, it was a matter of heading in the direction of the market and we soon found a micro heading for Honduras. Crammed into the van with two dozen locals, our bags securely (we hoped) lashed to the roof, we headed for the border.

The first stop was migración in the town of Entre Ríos. We were expecting to have to pay something, but the ayudante merely took our passports (always a little scary to let your passport out of your possession, even for a short while) and we stayed in the car. A few minutes later, we were off again. OK. We drove a bit further and got to the Honduras border. End of the line! It was just a barren stretch of asphalt, like an empty mall parking lot, with a flat concrete building on the other side. We marched across the border, presented our passports and $3, and once again I had to explain the situation with the stamp on the Dreaded Page 11, and then we were off.

this is it???Ehm, OK, now what? According to the book, Corinto, which is the closest town, where we were supposed to catch a bus to Puerto Cortés. As we walked towards a small area with snack vendors and taxis, we noticed a figure heading towards us. He was wearing funny clothes... a strange Honduran fashion statement? And big floppy shoes. What the... Sure enough, as he approached, we noticed we was wearing face paint and carrying a big trash bag full of... well, full of god knows what strange clown accessories one carries over the border between Guatemala and Honduras. Just when you think you've seen it all. A Honduran border clown. Dear me.

Anyway, after gathering our wits (as much as possible in a situation like this) and exchanging some Quetzales for Honduran Lempiras (which I can't help but think of as Lemmywinks) we headed towards the bus. Turns out this particular one was heading all the way to Puerto Cortés. Sweet! We piled our stuff on board, and after grabbing a few snacks, hopped on the bus along with the clown and an albino ayudante. All we needed was a fat lady or a midget, and we'd have ourselves one helluva circus. But I digress. As in Guatemala, the bus was a revamped US school bus, but seemed much much larger than its Guatemalan counterparts. Not only was there a bit of legroom, but we each had our own seats! Oh, the luxury!

At Puerto Cortés we easily caught a bus heading to San Pedro Sula, the next stop on our journey. And this bus, more of a shuttle even though it was public transport, was pretty cushy. Even had air conditioning! Swoon! Unfortunately there was no roof rack so we had to smush our bags in the aisles. But otherwise it was a very swank ride indeed.

Finding the right bus in the sprawling noisy lot at San Pedro Sula proved a bit more challenging. But we employed the tried-and-true method of wandering around looking lost and asking for help, and eventually we got pointed in the direction of the bus to La Ceiba. OK, last vehicle of the day! Whew! It was a 3-hour ride to La Ceiba, and the bus looked like it'd be pretty comfortable, with reclining seats and everything. But it was hot as an oven on that thing. The last leg was a lonnnnnnng one.

We finally arrived in La Ceiba, and after a bit of mucking around, finally found a hotel. We got a basic and fairly clean room for all four of us, and sacked out early. What a day. Tomorrow, the Islands!
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

22 August 2007
Jungle Tour and blackouts
downtown LivingstonThe Iguana offers two local tours, one a beachy/boozy kinda day ending at Siete Altares waterfalls, and the other a tour of town and Garífuna culture also ending at Siete Altares. After my veg day, I decided it was time for a little cul-cha, and chose the second tour. We had a pretty good crew: Matt & Helen, Evan, two Israeli girls named Mor and Tair, and two crazy dentists named Al and Philip who'd spent some time volunteering at a dental clinic elsewhere in Guatemala. Along the way we were joined by an odd French couple -- she was bubbly and chatty, and he said no more than three words the entire day -- and a woman named Marisa from San Francisco. Led by local Garífuna guide Francis, we had a good group.

The term Garífuna refers to both the language and the culture of the local people, who are of African descent. They're found throughout the Caribbean Coast of Central America. I'm not going to give the full history lesson here, but if you want to learn more there's a good site called Garifuna.com (of course!) that explains all about their tumultuous history, culture, and society.

Francis, our, um, like, tour guideWe started the day strolling through the town of Livingston, while Francis gave us some stilted history and cultural notes. He'd lived there all his life and was clearly interested in sharing his knowledge with travelers from all over the world, but he wasn't the most articulate fellow. So it was a little tricky to parse out his, um, you know, like, information about the, like, um, local people, you know? As with the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, the accents here are more Jamaican-sounding. So even when they're speaking English, you have to listen closely to understand what's being said.

creepy saints inside the hybrid churchBut Francis was a fun guy and eventually we became accustomed to his delivery. He showed us the local church, where they have three types of services: standard Catholic, traditional Mayan, and a Garifuna version with a lot of Afro-Caribbean practices that must be really interesting to witness. The church was decorated with the usual creepy-eyed saints along the walls, dressed in local fabrics. This time they took it a step further and even put wigs on some of the statues. Freaky deaky.

festive wreath on a colorful tombNext stop was the cemetery, which looked like a funky blend of Pere Lachaise, New Orleans, and clown college. Each grave was painted a different bright color, and many were festooned with huge plastic leis or flowers. Francis explained that they celebrated Dia de los Muertos here, similar to Mexico, and the belief was that a person's life should be celebrated with a riotous party. Gotta love that. So they basically have a huge block party once a year, right in the graveyard, and relatives bring items that their loved ones would have appreciated during their mortal time on earth. Bottle of rum for Uncle Junior, big plate of tamales for Aunt Maria. Lots of music and food and drinks for the living, as well. Sounds like quite a time.

backyard jacuzzi, Livingston-styleWe trooped through the village, stopping to wave at cute indigenous waifs with big brown eyes who would occasionally pose for pictures. It was getting really hot and incredibly humid, so when we hiked up a small hill to see a mirador that afforded views of Belize and Honduras, it felt as though we'd just climbed a huge mountain. That beachy boozy thing was starting to sound better and better. We walked, and walked, and walked, all the while Francis keeping up a friendly banter with whomever was at the front of the group. Finally we hit the river, where a man in a small canoe was waiting to take us to the next spot. We went in two groups, and although there was little breeze along the river, it was a tranquil trip to skim across the water's surface, passing  mangroves and other lush vegetation.

beauty and the beachWe regrouped at a small restaurant for a quick beverage and to feed bananas to the local spider monkey, tethered to a huge tree by a long rope. A bit cheesy and canned, yes, but still fun! From there we walked over a huge suspension bridge and to a small beach. Finally! We all rushed into the water, only to find it to be the approximate temperature of bathwater. Ehm, refreshing, not! Plus there was some highly nasty slurm on the bottom that squished ickily underfoot. Bleccccch. Still, it was fun for a quick dip and a brief swim without touching the bottom at all. And the breeze on the beach was lovely indeed.

Marisa takes the plungeAfter a brief lunch of ubiquitous ham & cheese sandwiches coated with the requisite mayonnaise (hey, there's a reason they're not known for their cuisine around here!) it was time for the highpoint of the day: Siete Altares waterfalls. We had to sign into the park -- I always wonder what the heck they do with all this "sign in" information -- and then head up a short series of steps. The pools were shallow like at Semuc Champey, with rock formations throughout that made it easy to walk across, and small waterfalls trickling between them. The very last pool had a really cool waterfall that people jumped off. And the water was actually refreshing! It was also fun to hang out behind the waterfall and watch people go plummeting over the side.

The trek back to town was made more interesting when only two taxis showed up instead of the requested three. Two cars for a dozen people? How are we supposed to do that? Why, the Guatemalan way! Stuff a few folks in the open trunk and have them hang on for dear lives over the bumpy roads! Unfortunately I was laughing too hard to get any pics of this adventure, but it was hilarious. Until one of the taxis ran out of gas. Apparently this is a pretty common thing, since gas is so expensive and they can only afford to put in a few eyedroppers of gas at a time. We left that group behind and our driver sent another person to go pick them up, so once again all's well that ends well.

That evening a huge storm ripped through Livingston. Remnants of Hurricane Dean, coming to say hello? Who knows. It knocked out power right in the middle of my shower, which isn't as big a deal when the shower wasn't hot to begin with, but it did make it challenging to finish up in the dark. We spent the rest of the night hanging out at the Iguana by candlelight. I wasn't in the mood for drinking games and hit the sack early, in anticipation of a long and tiring travel day to Honduras.
Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

21 August 2007
A veg day, and some new friends
G'day, Bruce!

A much-needed catchup day, where I did very little of note, and recharged the ol' batteries. The Iguana is a comfy place, indeed, and I can see why people stay here longer than expected. Livingston is also not as seedy-sketchy as I'd thought it would be... or maybe I've just not seen the bad parts of town. Which is fine with me!

It is hot & humid as a MFer around here, and there is some talk of the hurricane coming through. Looks like it will bypass us and go north to Belize or Mexico. A bit of rain wouldn't be so bad, though.

Helen and MattA whole new crop of people came in this afternoon, and I met some cool folks who will also be going on to Honduras from here: Matt & Helen (a couple from Brisbane), and Evan (a Canadian by way of the UK). They seem like good peeps and I'm happy to have some companions on the next leg of my journey. We bonded over some drinking games that night at the Iguana. One was a strange game Rory taught us (G'day Bruce! Say g'day to Bruce, Bruce!). The other was the old standby animal-sounds-and-gestures game, but Matt put a new twist on it by finding a great cow gesture. Moooooooo! 

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments

20 August 2007
Onward to the Coast, again
A trip up the Rio Dulce

A fairly straightforward travel day. I finally got to take one of the funky little tuk-tuks that are so pervasive throughout Guatemala. (Never expected to see those outside SE Asia, but they are a cheap way to get around!) Took a long, hot bus trip to Rio Dulce, and grabbed a boat along with a French foursome for the ride up the river to Livingston.

entrepreneurial fisherkidYou can only get to Livingston, on the Caribbean Coast, by boat. The trip up the Rio Dulce is a nice one, about an hour of scenic travel past green cliff walls and the occasional fishing canoe. Our driver stopped a kid in a canoe who'd just caught a huge fish, and purchased his dinner for about 75Q. Nicely done!

We arrived at the dock and were greeted by a funky Rasta dude who offered to find us a hotel. I had already chosen a place based on a recommendation on the boards at Black Cat Antigua, so the dude walked me over there and we dropped off the French folks along the way. I don't know what this guy'd been smoking, but he kept up all kinds of crazy chatter about being 63 years old and living in New York before it was called that and hanging out with the Beatles. I was worried he was leading me off to someplace sketchy -- I'd heard some sketchy things about Livingston, a key stop on the drug trail -- but he did in fact take me to Casa de la Iguana as I'd requested.

Casa de la Iguana gardensThe place was great. Beautiful gardens, wooden bungalows and dorms with hammocks everywhere. The staff are about as friendly as you could ask, and I got a nice introduction to Iguana and Livingston by the lovely Allie. She gestured to a pile of bodies hanging out in front of the TV and mentioned that folks were still recovering from last night's drinking games. Good times.

Happy hour started around 6pm, and it was a bit mellow due to last night's craziness, but still quite festive. Everyone ate dinner together at 7pm, which was really nice, and very convenient, and then the drinking resumed afterwards. It was something of an early night, but still a nice introduction to what seems to be a great place to spend a few days.

Posted by soniaz at 12:00 AM | Link | 0 comments