In the morning we went through Tegucigalpa and a couple of the old mining villages south of the capital. There was the Feria Centroamericana de Turism y Artisania (Fecatai) going on during the week and artisans had their goods on display. We wanted to get to the Nicaragua border, so they were fleeting visitors. On the 2.5 hour journey we drove through forest covered mountains, with clouds circling their peaks. It's the best way to end this beautiful country.
Waking up to Hotel Ville Telamar FREE facilities is a backpackers dream. Clean toilets and showers; swimming pools complete with slides; and powdery sand beaches just in front of the complex. After we used and abused, we made our way to Lago de Yojoa . We went to the Pulhapanzak waterfalls first, which are a 20km diversion from the main highway. There was a massive Christmas village gathering when we were there, so the place was busy and atmosphere buzzing. Drinks flowing at 10am...why not?!
Another 12km south is the D&D brewery. Put Los Naranjos into the Sat-nav and look for the sign. This place has loads to offer eg hikes, fishing, tubing along the river, etc, BUT more importantly it has 8 beers it brews in its own micro brewery. We liked everyone of them, and the burgers were nothing short of amazing too. If you have time on your side, then this place is worth staying at for a couple of days (but you could fill up a week doing stuff here if you did everything though).
We then made our way to Comayagua, stopping at several fish restaurants along the way for drinks in front of the lake.
Like Gracias, Comayagua didn't have loads to offer the tourist, but it did have a picturesque cathedral and is well developed if you want some home comforts eg franchise take-aways, modern clothing branded shops, cinema, etc. We parked up, watching the world go by, whilst Gwyn attempted to sort the brakes out on Dougal. Unfortunately, he only managed one side, but regardless, we plodded on to Tegucigalpa.
The final practical skills of all the possible rescue scenarios were tested out at sea, which resulted in passing the course. Finally, it's over. It's been physically exhausting course, no thanks to the enthusiastic fake victims (we love you guys), but enjoyable and we'd recommend it (especially for bargain course prices Utila offers). UDC is a little 'get them in, get them out' and we were initially annoyed at the change of duration of the course, but it's organised, professional, and the rental equipment is good if you don't have your own gear (plus it's included in the price).
Exhausted, we got the afternoon ferry back to La Ceiba at 2pm, picked up the van and headed to Tela and blagged a secure parking patch for the night in Hotel Ville Telamar because we had a 'reservation'. Works every time ;-).
A 7:30am start meant we boxed off two 'fun dives' by 10am, then we spent the rest of the day out at sea, re-capping on all the skills we had learnt. We also found out PADI approved our First Aid Level 2, so we didn't have to do the top-up, relieving us of $160. Finally, saving money :-).
The dives were okay. It's not whale season, so there wasn't going to be much chance of seeing whale sharks anyway and there's less marine life in Utila than its island neighbours. The coral formations were beautiful though and the weather provided perfect conditions, unlike some of our travel friends who were stuck last week in the 5 day storm here, with no boat departures/arrivals. That's a word of warning if you're travelling in the coast's wet season.
We spent the night chatting about doing 'Aqua Poos' (it really is what you think it is) with people we met in Sambo Creek. You had to be there...
Gwyn recovered after his sleep and we were back in the UDC doing a similar timetable to yesterday - we spent the morning going through chapters 4-5 in the classroom and then demonstrating our skills off the dock.
We also did our final theory exam and Gwyn beat me by one tiny point. I let him have the glory for once.
Today on the course consisted of going through the first 3 chapters of theory and then putting it all into practice off the dive centre's dock. It was physically draining, but we all had a good laugh with rescuing each other. This centre is strict on the 'no peeing in the wetsuits' rule, even threatening a 'penalty' (on what method do they collect evidence?!). You haven't got your monies worth until you've marked your territory, so of course, everyone choose to ignore that. Happy wetsuit renting all.
We went for a few drinks later and to the greasy spoon Big Mamas. At best, the food is aright. Unfortunately, we never got to blow all our Lempiras on Tequila Tuesday as Gwyn was suffering from man-flu.
Apparently the course takes 4.5 days and not the 4 days as stated on the emails, which is a bit annoying as day 5 of island life was meant to be in Roatan. Gwyn wants the free dives, so he's not fussed about Roatan, plus we are going Corn Islands next week for the nice beaches, which Utila doesn't really have.
We just did theory today, which consisted of a 90-minute trapped in the 1980s video and then some worksheets. I pretty much copied from Gwyn. It took us a few hours and then we had to do this pointless emergency contact list ie going along to 10 dive shops asking for contact details and stamps. Waste of our time.
In the afternoon we went to the Iguna Research Station. It's a 15 minute walk from Mango Inn. We have no idea why this is in the travel guides as all the iguanas are caged, you can't take any pictures because of the netting and holding them is out of the question. The 'tour' has a lot to be desired, but the young guy did tell us the story of Swampy, who was teamed up with 8 females to increase this endangered species and his two penises literally fell off from over-use. The moral of the story: don't sleep around if you're an iguana. It definitely puts the 'if you don't use, you lose it' phrase out of the water!
We'd definitely recommend mosaic mad Jade Seahorse bar/restaurant in the evening, if only to see how quirky it is and get a drink in Treetanic.
Sambo Creek is home to Garifuna villages and the hyped canopy tour. For $45 we got to whiz through the jungle for 90 minutes, then soak up the atmosphere in the natural hot springs. There's not as many pools as the ones near La Ceiba, but you get a delicious tray of fruits and a 30 minute full body massage included. The massage in the jungle would've been what dreams are made of IF I was being bitten alive by mossies. I swear the lotion she put on actually attracted them even more. Maybe there's a market for deet massages in these infested areas?!
We then made our way to the Bay of Islands port (east of La Ceiba, turning left at Uno fuel station). The parking is 100 lempiras a day (£3 ish), which you pay when you get back from the islands. Dougal is secure, so we are happy with that. The cheapest boat to go with is Utila Princess and it leaves twice a day at 9:30am and 4pm. It takes an hour to reach Utila.
Once we got to Utila the Mango Inn/Utila Dive Centre (UDC) was there to meet us and take us to the accommodation. For $299 you get either a PADI Open Water Course, Advanced PADI course or Rescue Diver course, PLUS 4 nights free at Mango Inn in a dorm. We blagged an additional night, by being cheeky asking via email before we came. To upgrade to a private room for the 4 nights, it's an additional $60pp. We think the dorms are adequate and have a maximum of 4 people in it, so we couldn't justify the price (which can go towards dive goodies). AND lucky for us, there was no-one to share our room with anyway, so we essentially got a private room for free. We did the paper work with Utila and then ate the best pizzas since we were in Italy at Mango Inn. There's a reason everyone bangs on about them...
Good morning Honduras...well almost. At 7am, we checked ourselves/car out of Gautemala. That was a quick process. NB The border inspector may try to charge a departure tax (Gringo tax), which is NOT legit. As soon as I uttered the words CA-4, the fee was no longer a problem. Surprise, surprise.
For the Honduras side, there is a entry tourist fee of $3usd pp. We paid 30 quetzals for both of us, which worked out better for us (30 quetzals is about $4). There's a common theme that we have noticed on border crossings is that officers tend to have poor maths skills, so do the calculations yourself first and see which works out in your favour. There's no car spray, permit sticker or insurance required for Dougal in Honduras. The whole process took 90 minutes.
Again, like most border crossings we couldn't pre-order the currency for entering the country, so we asked a few exchange touts, haggled for the best deal and then hoped that we weren't too far off the bank rate. We only changed up the minimum needed for the day.
As it turns out, we got a good deal as the rate was marginally better in the banks. However, we were only allowed to change-up a maximum of $300usd each. If you have more than that you'll have to bank hop.
First on that agenda was the Copan Ruins, and again due to our early start was completely quiet. Only a handful of tourists were there. Although the temples or setting aren't as 'wow' as other better known rivals, the sculptures win hands down and it's impressive just how well preserved they still are. There's a lot of wildlife in the surrounding countryside eg loads of colourful macaws and cheeky squirrels. We didn't get a guide as they were pricer than other ruins (and we find they all say the same things about the Mayans, sacrifices, temples, ball court, etc). We got the chance to go inside a huge tunnel in one of the temples. We were meant to pay for this, but no-one was about, so we just 'accidentally' walked in. It was interesting to see what lies beneath, but we're glad we didn't pay for it.
Next stop was Santa Rosa de Copan. We went to this developed town to find the cigar factory, but we just couldn't follow the local's conflicting directions, so gave up and headed to Gracias. Gracias is classed as highlight in Honduras, but we were underwhelmed. It has some attractive churches and view point, but in comparison to Mexico's colonial towns and Antigua in Gautemala, it fails to impress. The town is quiet in the evening and has a couple of tasty cheap eateries, but apart from the hot springs nearby, there's little to do. Unless you are going through this town, we wouldn't recommend going out of your way.
Our first impression of Honduras is that it's surprisingly mountainous with vast greenery and an almost English countryside appearance (but grander). Unfortunately, it seems that Mexico's famous topes (speed bumps) are back and there's a hidden pot holes to boot. Hoping these are just the conditions of the road on western side of Honduras.