Category Archives: Honduras

Getting To Leon, Nicaragua: Another Muggy (But Not So Buggy) Location

Some trips probably seem long before they even start!  (Leon, Nicaragua)

Some trips probably seem long before they even start! (Leon, Nicaragua)

We left Utila at the end of September and took the early ferry to the La Ceiba dock where we met Omar who would transport us on our journey from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific.  Omar was an enterprising and entertaining young Honduran who spoke fluent English. However,  he was still working the bugs out of the direct shuttle company he had launched a couple of months before which filled a transportation niche on the gringo trail between the northern coast of Honduras and the colonial city of Leon in north-western Nicaragua. A late start was occasioned by a wait for additional passengers and a heated discussion over the wisdom of lashing backpacks and suitcases to the roof of the van with no luggage carrier or tie downs. This resulted in another delay while we waited for a second vehicle and driver to accommodate the extra passengers and luggage. Once underway the ride went smoothly. 

Until … we were stopped at a military checkpoint in Honduras and Omar realized he’d left his driver’s license at home.  A gratuity of about $10 USD resulted in the okay to proceed but we spent the rest of our time in Honduras dodging military checkpoints and roadblocks. Omar picked up a friend along the way with a driver’s license who drove the van across the Honduras-Nicaraguan border. Finally, after our nineteen hour journey, we arrived safely in Leon in the dead of night.

Pedicab - another form of transportation

Pedicab – another form of transportation

The largest Cathedral in Central America

La Catedral

The original city of Leon was established in 1523 and, after Managua, is the second largest city in Nicaragua.  It’s an important industrial and agricultural hub with a picturesque, traditional city at its historic heart that is easy to traverse by foot. Most visitors come to Leon to see the colonial architecture which includes the 18th century cathedral, the largest in Central America. Additionally, it‘s the intellectual center of the nation; a fact bolstered by the presence of the national university.

This time of the year is known as “muggy and buggy” and one thing the guidebooks emphasized  was the oppressive heat in Leon.  We, of course, figured that the heat and humidity couldn’t be any worse than Utila but, in that, we were wrong.  Each day we arose, showered and then sweated through our clothing in a matter of minutes while walking around the city. Even when sitting in our B&B with the fans whirring, we would feel a trickle of sweat running down our backs.

Reminiscent of Ghost Busters - the fumigator's equipment

Ghost Busters flashback – the fumigator’s equipment

As for the bugs, we witnessed the Leon bug eradication program in action – weirdly reminiscent of  a scene from the old movie Ghost Busters.  First thing one morning, and later that day throughout the city, a couple of young men with gas masks and backpacks carrying the gas-powered, insecticide applicators appeared to fumigate our premises. We stood in the front courtyard while they walked from room to room spraying each area and, soon enough, clouds of noxious  fumes began roiling from the building.  Out of the fog appeared our fumigators wielding their strange weapons and promising that the premises were bug free for another few months.

The fumigator (in uniform)

The fumigator (in uniform)

By Anita and Richard, October, 2013

 

Tourist Trees, Jesus Lizards, Chirping Geckos And Other Island Oddities

A view from Pumpkin Hill

A view from Pumpkin Hill

the "Tourist Tree"

the “Tourist Tree”

A few days ago we donned long pants – very difficult to do when it feels like 300% humidity and 200 degree heat – and set off with our guide on a horseback ride to Pumpkin Hill, the highest point on the island of Utila at 243 feet.   Sterling, whose ancestors emigrated from Arkansas to Utila in the late nineteenth century, was a fount of information on the flora and fauna of the island.  He pointed out the blue land crabs as they scurried across our path, the numerous reddish-hued trees called “tourist trees” by the locals (because they are red and always peeling) and the Jesus lizards, which run upright on two legs and can sprint across water, hence the name. 

Happy trails

Happy trails

 It was a quiet morning, riding through the dense, green growth of the island’s interior with the creaking of saddle leather providing the accompanying sound to the clopping of our horses’ unshod hoofs, culminating in a panoramic view of the island and the turquoise waters of the Caribbean.

Mini-golf balancing act

Mini-golf balancing act

Now, horseback riding is only one of many activities in which we’ve engaged during our stay on the island.  There’s Ed’s Reptile Gardens Mini Golf, an original and very quirky exercise in chasing one’s golf ball across rocks, holes (intended and not), next to sculptures complete with swim fins and reposing dummies, into caves and onto balancing-act greens.   On many of the holes, the assigned par score seemed merely a suggestion as we’d add up scores of eight, nine and ten strokes, search for our balls in the ground’s nooks and crannies all the while hoping we wouldn’t encounter a scorpion or tarantula and laughing with evil glee when we came in with the low score on a hole. 

Our guide on the way to Pumpkin Beach

Our guide on the way to Pumpkin Beach

Another day we amused ourselves by borrowing a friend’s ATV and, with a couple of adventurous cohorts, explored the deeply rutted paths through mud and deep puddles while trying to find Pumpkin Beach (coincidentally next to Pumpkin Hill).   A local boy on a bike answered our question of “which way to Pumpkin Beach?” and, with a brilliant and genuinely friendly smile, rode his bike as fast as he could to lead us back to the meandering track on the way to a rocky and coral strewn shoreline with the far off smudge of Honduras on the horizon.

We’ve spent many mornings snorkeling and afternoons lying in hammocks reading as well as sitting on deeply shaded porches waiting for a stray puff of wind with new friends talking, trading histories, funny tales and sharing laughs.  The conclusion to many days is a ritual of doing “sunset”  which takes place at the watering holes with names like Tranquila, Driftwood and Babalu’s located on the bay front. Here the locals, divers, expats and tourists gather to watch the sun descend prior to heading out to the numerous restaurants or home.

Sunset view reflected in the  water from Tranquila

Sunset view reflected in the water from Tranquila

A chirping gecko clinging to the ceiling

A chirping gecko traipsing across the ceiling upside down

Some evenings we’ll return to our third floor apartment and sit on the deck while the night brings a little relief to the day’s sweltering humidity and watch the bats swoop by the trees and eaves eating their fill of the little biting varmints (mosquitoes and sand flies).  Inside our home there are little geckos ranging in size from one to three or four inches clinging to our walls and vaulted ceilings or scampering across our shelves as self-appointed house pets, also doing their share of controlling the biting hordes.  Many nights we drift off to sleep or awaken during the night to hear them chirping and clicking to each other as another island day ends.

By Anita and Richard, September, 2013

Honduran Independence Day on Utila

A rainy beginning to Independence Day celebrations

A rainy beginning to Independence Day ceremonies

Everyone has a part in the celebration

Everyone has a part in the festivities

Exuberance – that’s the word that came to mind watching the young people as they practiced in the school yards and lanes, as they waited for their chance to strut their stuff before the packed bleachers at the soccer stadium, as they played before the crowd of applauding parents, relatives and friends. Independence Day on Utila was indeed an occasion for celebration.

Independence Day in Honduras - Marching bands with drums and glockenspiels

Independence Day in Honduras – Marching bands with drums and glockenspiels

The school bands, and each school possesses its own band, practiced  in earnest for several weeks before Flag Day on September 6 and Independence Day on September 15. The bands began practice before the school day, sometimes well before 7:00 AM and continued with unflagging energy after school and well into the evening, often until 10:00 PM.

Waiting their turn to perform

Waiting their turn to perform

These marching bands, consisting exclusively of percussion instruments – snare drums, base drums, glockenspiels, cymbals, shakers – epitomize the economic reality of the nation. The instruments are relatively low-cost and low maintenance; they can be mastered in a reasonable amount of time by enthusiastic students of various ages, can be carried individually in marching bands and do not require auditoriums for practice or public performances.

Preparing to present the colors

Preparing to present the colors

Much like in the US, there was a passing nod to history during the day’s parades, picnics, boxing matches and the greased pole climbing competition. The context for Independence Day, September 15th, is rather convoluted and in addition to Honduras, includes El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua. On this day in 1821 these four colonies of Spain declared independence in their Congress of Central America. Reading between the lines, it appears that these countries piggy-backed off the success of the twenty plus years of freedom fighting that was just concluding at the time in Mexico. Following independence, there was a brief alliance with Mexico, under the Federal Republic of Central America, which ended in mutual rancor in 1838.

Bird's eye view of the festivities

Bird’s eye view of the parades & hoopla

At the end of a long day of festivities, when all the Independence Day marchers had gone home and all the instruments were put away, the night was quiet.  What was surprising to us was the extent to which we missed the sound of the percussion instruments that same evening when we retired. We were accustomed to dropping off to sleep to the sound of the rhythms. Nothing like a soothing glockenspiel to bring on the nods…

Parade Rest

Parade Rest

By Richard and Anita, September, 2013

 

A Place For Dr. Seuss

Shade and respite for Seuss lovers

Shade and respite for Seuss lovers

Okay, here’s the question?  Who isn’t a big Dr. Seuss fan?  Who doesn’t have his thirty life-changing quotes as their computer screen saver?  Hey, this guy’s a home-grown philosophizer!

The Jade Seahorse

Entering The Jade Seahorse

Our usual inquiry about places to visit brought several responses, one of which was to visit The Jade Seahorse, a short ten minute walk from our apartment. It was recommended that we visit it at least twice, once during the day and once at night, to fully appreciate its uniqueness. In other words, to paraphrase Dr. Seuss, “…this place is Fun and Fun is Good”.

A conglomeration

Art using old circuit boards, computer discs, broken glass, you name it!

As we walked through the gates onto the grounds our smiles stretched wide.  Everywhere we looked was a  colorful assortment of mosaics forming underwater corals, marine life flashing and shining; broken mirrors, tiles, marbles, glass bottles arranged into new and ever more pleasing walkways and walls representative of, well, anything you wanted!

Mosaic designs

Colorful whimsy – mosaic designs with tiles, marbles, glass and conch shells

Color and light shifted, refracted and reflected from amazing conglomerations and hanging art as we walked into little spaces and gazebos, climbed onto platforms, ascended and descended winding stairways and bridges into the artist’s vision, laughing and pointing out various discoveries to each other along the way.

An arch inviting us to make more discoveries

An arch inviting us to make more discoveries

A whatchamacallit

A whatchamacallit !

The Jade Seahorse is the ever-evolving design begun at least twenty years ago by a former LA school teacher and artist, Neil, and his chef wife, Julia.   Neil worked on it part-time during winter and summer vacations using flea market finds, other people’s rejects and recyclables from LA and other objects from trips to Guatemala and Honduras. Julia tended to the restaurant and growing the business on Utila on a full time basis.

Elevated walkways, sitting areas and views

Elevated walkways, sitting areas and views

following the path

Meandering paths and beckoning archways

The grounds are occupied by Neil and Julia’s home, the Treetanic Bar, built as a shipwreck high off the ground in three mango trees, the restaurant and a few independently standing little bungalows which are for rent.   And the space in between the buildings, above and below too, is a fantastic carnival celebrating life and the pursuit of happiness.

Habitats for rents too!

Habitats for rent, too!

P.S. If the original guest register existed, I’m rather certain you would find a familiar signature: Theodore Geisel.

By Anita and Richard, September, 2013

The Utopian Island Of Utila

Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

Main Street - Airport Road

Main Street – the “business loop”

Before we boarded the ferry from La Ceiba, Honduras to the Bay Island of Utila we knew who Darrell was. The tall, very tan and very blond man in his forties or fifties walked into the sheltered area that served as the ferry station and we heard, “Hey, Darrell”, “Good to see you Darrell” and “Where ya’ been, Darrell?” with handshakes dispensed all around. When we arrived on the island, after a rough fifty minute crossing, we heard an English couple asking “Where’s Darrell?” So, we were able to establish our bona fides as friendly newcomers right away by turning around and gesturing towards Darrell. This seems to have set the tone for our visit to Utila as the island is an incredibly friendly community with few pretensions and a large, open and welcoming community of both locals and expats. Utila is a kick off your shoes and set-a-spell kind of place!

Our third floor apartment

Our third floor apartment

We’ve rented a quaint little apartment for a few weeks on the third floor of a clapboard residence (kind of like being in a tree house) named Jericho Gardens. We’d planned on practicing our Spanish but, once again, our sloth has been rewarded because, even though Spanish is the official language of Honduras, English seems to be the preferred language on Utila which was once a British colony.

Airport Road

Airport Road

The island itself seems like a small American town from the 1950’s (think Mayberry) with very narrow streets, many paved but some dirt, most suitable for pedestrians or various forms of transportation such as bikes, scooters, ATVs, and golf carts. There are few cars or trucks on the island which is easily explained once you see how difficult it can be for them to maneuver around the narrow streets. The houses that line the winding roads vary from large and picturesque two and three-story wood frame homes (many divided into apartments or housing businesses) to smaller, more modest dwellings. The lanes and paths that branch off the roads are, for the most part, trash and garbage free. Vacant land is readily filled to capacity with native growth in this moist and humid tropical climate.

Utila businesses along the shoreline

Utila businesses along the shoreline

Surrounding Utila are the warm, inviting crystal clear waters of the Caribbean and many smaller cays, some occupied but many uninhabited (although they may be privately owned). The island is known internationally as one of the best and cheapest places to learn how to SCUBA dive as well as possessing many easily accessible places for amazing snorkeling among the coral reefs that are part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef System, the second-largest in the world.

View from Water Cay- an uninhabited island

View from Water Cay- an uninhabited island

Now admittedly, utopian may be a bit of a stretch as a label for Utila but it’s an awesomely beautiful island that has quickly claimed a space on our list of favorite places. And, once visited, it might beckon as a safe haven to which one returns.

Paradise by any definition...

Paradise by any definition…

By Anita and Richard, September, 2013

 

The Mayan Ruins in Copan, Honduras

Scarlet MacawsStanding on the edge of the green expanse which is the Gran Plaza it was impossible not to witness the scarlet macaws as they flew overhead. If their colors, the brilliant reds with patches of vibrant blue, were not enough, the raucous calls forced them to the fore-front of our attention. The scarlet macaw, recently reintroduced to the area, was a sacred bird for the ancient Maya and images of the macaw are found throughout the Copan ruins.

Birds NestsIn the background we could hear the howler monkeys roar occasionally and, as we walked about the plaza, we saw the unusual and very bizarre nests of the Montezuma Oropendola (thanks Google for helping us identify this Dr. Seuss-like bird!).

A Stelae in the Gran Plaza

A Stelae in the Gran Plaza

The ruins of Copan, in far western Honduras near the Guatemalan border, have been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1980. The expansive ruins offer an impressive number of stelae (tall columns carved on all four sides), altars, relief statuary and hieroglyphic writings. While the ruins are compact in size we spent several hours walking and climbing the groupings at the Gran Plaza and the East and West Courts of the Acropolis, with the ball court and hieroglyphic staircase in between.

Mayan Ballcourt at CopanThe ball court was unique in that the hoops we had seen displayed at other Mayan ruins (such as Chichen-Itza) were replaced by macaw heads.  It is believed that the stone heads were the targets to be struck by the rubber ball. Site archeologists have discovered several iterations of the macaw heads from the successive ball courts at the Copan site.Macaw head

Copan also has the most impressive on site museum that we’ve seen with numerous artifacts from the site preserved for site visitors rather than being housed in the national museums. The center piece was a full-scale reproduction of a sixth century temple, La Rosalila, which had been buried intact  within the Acropolis. Because we had spent so long wandering the actual ruins we were forced to move post-haste through the final portion of the museum as the guards began locking the outside doors and giving us polite hints that the museum was about to close.Parque Central

The city of Copan Ruinas is a very small colonial city, roughly a four block square surrounding a pretty little cathedral and a very picturesque parque central, perfect for sitting and people watching.Street Scene The streets extend out on all sides and are inclined or declined sharply on the steep hillsides that surround the city. It was the first colonial city we had visited where there was no visible evidence of the traditional Mayan native dress that we had become accustomed to seeing in both Mexico and Guatemala:  the rural setting made this distinction even more noticeable.Uphill or downhill in Copan

Tourism is the primary business in this charming little city and the people were smiling and friendly. We found a basic but clean, budget hotel at $25 per night with a fan instead of air conditioning and a little mosquito eating gecko at no extra charge on the bathroom wall.  However, we weren’t prepared for the cold water only shower that had us dancing the hokey-pokey! Next time we’ll remember that that might be an important question to ask!

By Anita and Richard, June, 2013