Sunday, September 21, 2008

SCUBA Diving and Útila

A few days ago I got back from a short vacation to the Bay Island of Útila. I went there with some friends to get certified as a PADI Open Water Diver.

The certification takes 3 and 1/2 days, with 1 day of classwork and the rest diving. First we practiced in a shallow area at the dive shop, then we moved on to actual open water dives.

Útila is the most inexpensive place in the world to get your dive certification. We stayed and took the course at Alton's Dive Shop, a really nice, happening place right on the water. It's filled with international travelers and has a very energetic, friendly vibe. If you want to go diving in Útila, I highly recommend it.

Diving itself was a fantastic new experience. Everything about it is fascinatingly different: from breathing underwater, to exploring the bizarre and beautiful plant and animal life of a coral reef, to having complete freedom of motion and virtual weightlessness underwater.

Our last dive of the trip took us to site called Ron's Wreck. There's a sunken sailboat about 17.5 meters underwater. The boat had been taken over by the reef, and was covered in aquatic plants and filled with ocean life. Our instructor told us that there was a giant moray eel living in the stern of the boat, but we didn't see it.

Here are some pictures (not mine) of things we saw diving the reefs of Útila

Flamingo Tongue.

Christmas Tree Worms.

Barrel Sponge.

Ron's Wreck.

A Long Jalón

I'm in Siguatepeque. I need to get to La Ceiba, 4 and 1/2 hours away, by 3pm. I have a ticket for the 9am bus. But now it's 10:30am and the bus hasn't showed. The guy at the ticket counter walks over and explains that the bus has been delayed by strikers in Comayagua who have put up a roadblock on the main highway.

"But the bus will be here soon," he says.

"Are you sure? Do you know when the strike will end?" I ask.

"Well, no, but I'm sure it'll be here soon."


I relay the information to my travel companions, and we decide to try our luck buscando jalón - hitchhiking. We figure that jaloning (as it's referred to in PCV spanglish) will get us to Ceiba, but probably not in time to make connections to our respective destinations. We know people we can crash with in La Ceiba, so it's no big deal. Strikes, roadblocks and travel delays are so common in Honduras that you just deal with it and don't get too upset.

A half hour later, roasting in the sun, choking on exhaust fumes from dirty trucks whizzing past us, the plan doesn't seem so great. Maybe we should just stay in Siguatepeque and hope the buses can get through tomorrow.

Just then, a tricked-out electric blue extended-cab pickup truck with chrome rims pulls up to us. "Where you goin'?" says the catracho in english with a half-honduran, half-NYC accent.


"We're going to Ceiba! Get in!"

"Is there space in the cab for us?"

There is space, but only for two. And we are three. Being a gentleman, I take the bed of the truck (paila), sitting with our backpacks on the hot black plastic that lines the bed of the truck. We take off, careening through the curves of the mountain highway at breakneck speeds. I slather on sunscreen, don my wide-brimmed hat, and hope for the best.

Riding in the back of a truck is pretty fun for short distances over smooth roads. You get a wide view of the countryside, and are frequently gestured at by honduran drivers amused by seeing a gringo in a paila.

Riding in the back of a truck for nearly 5 hours is exhausting. It's like sitting in a tanning bed during and earthquake while getting blasted by a 200-horsepower blowdryer. But despite the sunburn and dehydration, this was a fantastic jalón. We stopped for a sit-down lunch and still made it to La Ceiba by 3pm.

The guys dropped us off at the mall, and I felt waves of relief as I entered the air-conditioned sanctuary. Two soft-serve ice creams later, the echoes of roaring wind had mostly stopped ringing in my ears and I began to feel human again. That night, I slept for almost 12 hours.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Hot Hot Hot

I took a vacation to the states a couple weeks ago and one of the best things about the vacation (aside from seeing people I love) was the absolutely perfect weather. Always clear, never too hot, never too cold.

It's been somewhat shocking, to say the least, to return to Honduras and the endless 95 degree days and 90 degree nights with 85% humidity. This year as a whole has been a lot hotter than the last.

The heat really impacts my quality of life. I never stop sweating, and if I forget to drink water constantly then I become dehydrated in no time. I'm going through about 3 liters a day, more when I do a lot of walking around town. I take two cold showers a day but feel dirty and sweaty minutes after toweling dry. It's hard to fall asleep at night, but I still wake up early because my apartment heats up as soon as the sun hits it.

The rainy season comes in a month or two, and I can't wait. In the short term, I leave for a Peace Corps meeting in the much-cooler town of Siguatepeque next Wednesday, and after that I'm going diving off the Bay Island of Útila (hopefully it won't be as hot underwater).