Monday, 24 November 2008

... Central America: Home Sweet Home!

I got back home all safe n' sound just after midnight, greeted by a huge pile of mail (bills & junk mainly) and an even bigger pile of laundry when I eventually open my backpack. The only thing that is currently missing is my little girl Gracie whom I will go & pick up from her boarding later today, and some food in my fridge. I really hope my cat doesn't have long term memory and hates me for sending her away for 3 weeks!

My trip was truly fantastic and I hope that my posts reflected that? I thoroughly recommend you all go and get some itchy feet like I did! Because you never know where they might take you. Possibly on a 3 week whirlwind tour of 4 beautiful countries!?! Traveling kicks some serious arse! This trip rocked and I shall be posting many many many pictures from my travels onto crackbook for those who can to peruse... eventually... once I get some sleep & get back to Vancouver life - at least for a little while before I go travelling again. I guess I could start on that by actually going to bed....

Sunday, 23 November 2008

... Central America: Security That Never Ends!

You know that song... the one that never ends?... I felt like singing that this afternoon whilst trying to get off my incoming flight to get to my gate for my outgoing one. Interestingly both flights were only a couple of gates apart! Passport control and then 3 security check points later I was finally back where I started!

We landed about 35 minutes late but that's no biggie because I had almost a 5 hour layover anyway. So, with time on my side I am going to check out the seafood restaurant that I have spied. I have already managed to satiate my Starbucks craving....

... Central America: Best Laid Plans...

... need to actually be successfully executed and I kind of failed with that one when it came to my final night in Central America and more specifically Guatemala City. I didn't actually leave my hostel from the minute I arrived here basically because I had no desire to!

This isn't because I was scared of venturing out into the dark streets of Guate City but because my fellow guests & myself were too engaged chatting with Joe, the American who owns what is really more a lovely guest house than your typical hostel, and his lovely Guatemalan wife Anna for about 4 hours. Not to mention eating his wonderful homecooked food & desserts!

So as far as being able to tell you anything about the city....erm.... STAY HERE if you do come and you won't be disappointed. Plus it is super close to the airport too - I am literally a minute away but the airport isn't actually all that busy for it to be an issue noise-wise and meant I got to stay in bed longer this morning.

The multi level house is in Zona 13, one of the nice neighbourhoods in Guatemala City. I have a huge room and bathroom to myself gorgeously decorated with Guatemalan prints & weavings. I feel like I have known these two gracious hosts forever, not a couple hours.

And so my trip is almost at an end. I fly home to Vancouver early this afternoon via Houston with hopefully a little less excitement than my flight down here. I am actually very happy to be going home: it's time and the duration of my trip was just about right.

What I will miss: Ursula's laugh, helping Aoife find her earrings, John's impromptu guitar playing and the shared looks when we endured yet another one of JP's 'sad FM' romantic CD's, Maurice's random classic quips, Zarah's passion for volcanoes, Cuong's daring to try weird food products & then share it with the rest of us, Ken's miracle itch cream that we all ended up borrowing, Maren's candies stashed at the bottom of her bag, Liz's singing on those loooooong bus rides, Belinda's understanding for the need for java, Heidi's bright positive attitude, Juan-Pablo's shiny white perfect teeth (we all need Guatemalan dental plans!), the chicken bus experience, volcano hikes, diving in tropical waters, cloud forests, ignoring my fear of heights, swimming in water rapids, papaya, awesome porridge made even better than the way I like it, paradise by the lake, wonderful colonial towns, diving in water with temperatures vastly greater than 50 degrees, exploring mystical Maya ruins, great food, playing 'what is your porno name?' and other wacky games on long travel days, the Central American pace of doing things, waking up to the sound of tropical birds & waves crashing, lush fish dishes, getting a fit of giggles whilst on the back of a galloping horse, attempting to speak Spanish, great tasting coffee, Pura Vida!... blogging!

What I won't miss: the toilet sanitary system, cold showers (although nice when it was hot), Carribean ferry crossings, garbage dumped in the street, the same garbage set on fire (that's recycling for ya!), chicken buses (you love to hate them), Tegucigalpa, big guns everywhere you look, long bum-numbing bus rides, not being able to use tap water to drink/brush my teeth, mosquitos and other 'I like the taste of you so I'm going to bite you' bugs, scorpions, the terrible roads, rain on my Island paradise, heated powdered milk (it's just so wrong), beans cooked in pork fat (it ain't vegetarian!), ants crawling on the walls of your room, anti-malarial tablets (although I have another 4 weeks to go), wearing DEET (it makes me feel like my skin is going to melt off), convincing myself that a packet of wild berry skittles is a meal and 5 hour layovers at Houston when all I want to do is get home...

Saturday, 22 November 2008

... Central America: Oh Maya!

The island of Flores on Lake Petén Itzá and it's suburb of Santa Elena have been my base whilst I have visited Tikal. It's a very pretty little place with its cobbled stoned streets and brightly coloured buildings. It also has some rather awesome views, like the sunset I watched last night before I went for a well deserved dinner after my temple cardio workout.

Flores is believed to be the last major functioning Maya ceremonial centre and it was covered in pyramids and temples, with idols everywhere. Alas Spanish soldiers destroyed everything and no trace remains. Still it has been very relaxing to wander around the streets in my short time here at an atypical-Nic slow pace as my trip begins to wind itself down.

I had a very lush seabass dish last night at La Luna before I headed back to my cute little hotel to finally get some sleep. The walk back saw me trying to fend off pimped out tuk-tuks offering me a ride. May be I looked really travel weary or something because there isn't anywhere around here that you cannot walk to! I have basically explored the entire island without breaking out into a sweat. That is not a complaint though either.

Interestingly the bingo hall across the road from my hotel has a guard that stands outside 24/7 with a huge semi. Damn those pesky Bingo bandits!

I catch my flight back to Guate City later this afternoon for my final night in Central America!

Friday, 21 November 2008

... Central America: In Search of the Rebel Base Camp

At 4am this morning I still hadn't been to bed since I got out of one in Copán at 6am the previous day. At 4am this morning I was riding in a minivan headed for Guatemala International Airport to catch a short flight to Santa Elena International Airport, which serves the city of Flores, for the final leg of my Central American Adventure. I was in search of the mother of all Maya ruins amidst a jungle canopy. I was in search of the rebel base camp on Yavin 4! I was in search of the wonder that is Tikal. Sleep was not important at this point.

The flight to Flores took less than an hour. I was met by the tour group that I would be spending the day with and with a bus full we drove for about an hour to reach the entrance to the national park, still another 17km south of the ruins. As we drove along the road, we headed deeper & deeper into the jungle amongst the weird & wonderful sounds of brightly coloured parrots & toucans and the 'roar' of the howler monkeys.

The national park encompasses 550 sq. km and contains thousands of structures. Many of them have still to be excavated & uncovered of their dense blanket of rainforest that has grown over them. The central area of the city occupied approx. 16 sq. km and is believed to have had more than 4000 structures. To walk all the major building complexes (lets face it, even for me 4000 are a bit much) one must walk at least 10km. I was glad I was wearing a). comfortable shoes and b). lots of mozzie repellant!

Exploration of the site was done with an English-speaking guide for our small group that consisted of a Canadian, an American family - one of whom was born in Guatemala and myself. As we followed the signs to reach the great plaza, we walked with spider monkeys swinging in the trees and weird coloured turkeys running around us on the ground. Gigantic Ceiba trees towered over us. It was pretty magical.

The path began to widen and the Temple of the Grand Jaguar (Temple I), built for King Moon Double Comb aka Lord Chocolate (I kid you not), came into view. If I was left speechless by Copán then here I would possibly have some far worse infliction occur. The view was... I really am stuck for words here (rare, I know!) and so hope that that alone gives you an indication of the 'wow factor' here? Since two people have stumbled to their deaths (silly buggers, what did they have to go and do that for?), the stairs up Temple I have been closed. But I wasn't fretting for long because my thigh burning workout was still going to happen courtesy of Temple II that was just across the way. A precarious climb up some very ricketty wooden staircases and I was stood admiring the views from Temple II, which was once almost as high as Temple I but is now at a still impressive 38 metres.

As well as the two towers, I spent a good hour & a half exploring the rest of the Great Plaza, the North Acropolis, the Central Acropolis and the West Plaza running up & down lots of huge stone steps. The West Plaza is home to Temple III, 55 meters high, which still has to be uncovered. This allows for you to see a temple the way the first explorers found them. That in itself was really quite cool.

From the West Plaza there is the causeway that leads to Temple IV, the big daddy of the site! At 64 metres, it is Tikal's highest building and is believed to have been completed in the reign of the King's son. A series of steep wooden steps & ladders took me to the top. The views were quite simply breathtaking!

It is still not entirely understood why Tikal's greatness waned as part of the mysterious general collapse of lowland Maya civilization. But as I sit here with my thighs that feel like they're on fire (that'll teach me for running up steps that were built for Maya with long legs!) I can safely say that, whilst the civilization may have collapsed, Tikal certainly hasn't lost any of it's greatness. I spent almost 6 hours there and felt like it STILL wasn't enough!

Thursday, 20 November 2008

... Central America: Goodbye GAP

Our journey into Guatemala was yet another long travel day. Some of you are possibly sat here reading this post and thinking 'Crikey all she seems to have done in the last few days is sit on a bus'. Trust me, my buttocks agree with you and I have a severe case of numb-bum-itis.

The border crossing was uneventful aside from the fact we all got out and took photos. I can't say I have been to any other region in the world where they happily (well except for the one bloke at the Honduran-Nicaraguan border) let you take photos. I am also the proud owner of another stamp to my passport - we were all gutted when we didn't get them going into Honduras so made sure that wasn't the case here.

The scenery, like the previous three countries I have just whizzed through (wow it's a bit of a shock to the system seeing it in writing what I have achieved in such a short space of time), was breathtaking, beautiful, strange & shocking all in one. We got caught in rush hour traffic in Guatemala City and as a result quickly realised why it is an hour drive to Antigua from there. Sat stuck in traffic sat next to delapidated buses belching out toxic fumes ain't my idea of a good time. I return to the city tomorrow morning to catch a flight to Flores and then back again Saturday afternoon for one night before I return home on Sunday. I am hoping it will be a painless & perhaps interesting visit. Not many people have much to say about 'Guate City' that paints it in a positive light.

However, if you're into the Maya, mountains or markets, just to name a few of a million & one things that Guatemala has to offer then it's said that you will possibly come here and stay... or you leave and return. Within a mere few minutes of arriving in Antigua I knew that I would be returning.

Unfortunately, for me, all I can say is that Antigua looks great in the dark. I arrived in the dark and I depart in the wee hours of the morning, 4 am to be precise, when I am pretty certain it will still be dark. That's a real shame too because Antigua just oozes a sense of captivation. I suspect that I am a fool to be missing it and will no doubt long rue the fact that I didn't set aside an extra day to explore. As I sit here typing I am going over the possibility of doing a quick return before I fly home on Sunday but I suspect that'd be pushing it with the rest of my itinerary. Oh well.... I'll just have to come back another time.

Even in the dark Antigua's setting seems gorgeous.... a photo op at every street corner. Add to that the fact that it is surrounded by three volcanoes; Agua, Acatenango & Fuego, although I didn't get to see them. As we drove by Parque Central to our hotel I am pretty certain I heard a mariachi or marimba band playing. The latter has kind of a sentimental value for me as I played one during my teens back in Ol' Blighty!

Tonight is our last night together as a group before we all go our various ways. We're headed out shortly for one last night on the town hitting Rainbow Cafe for some good food and then onto Monoloco for some dancing to a live band (salsa I think?). The latter is apparently a place that everyone goes to until they can't stand it any more. Our leader happens to be Antiguan and so both of these haunts come highly recommended. There is, however, a nationwide law that states all bars must close at 1am but knowing the gang they'll continue to party long into the night....

And of course there was going to be photographic evidence!

... Central America: Paying Homage to Mah K'ina Yax K'uk' Mo'

... aka Great Sun Lord Quetzal Macaw!

As you can probably gather from that little mouthful we FINALLY got off the Island thanks to a chicken-chaser plane from Utila to La Ceiba. It seated 9 of us including the one person who got to sit next to the pilot. Once we actually got in the air it was actually pretty sweet! A little bit of a cross wind coming into La Ceiba but I have to say that the landing was the smoothest landing I have EVER had in any aircraft. I was happy to be on solid ground mind you. Unfortunately there were more than 9 of us who needed to fly and so it took two trips to get us all where we needed to be. This meant it took us around 4 hours to get off the Island. Still, way better than waiting Lord knows how many days for a ferry.....

I'm not sure how he spawned it but our group leader managed to do some 'wheeling & dealing, ducking & diving' and arrange a private mini van to take us all the way to Antigua! Score!  But we still had to get to Copán Ruinas first.... and that was still quite a way off. We trundled through the Honduran countryside yet again and struggled with several traffic jams. The Honduran National Football team were playing at the big stadium in San Pedro Sula... and we just happened to drive by it. The Hondurans are NUTS about their football. So much so that in 1969 there was a 'football war' between Honduras & El Salvador, although it is said that it actually wasn't started over a game of football.

We finally rolled into Copán Ruinas after 11pm last night thoroughly exhausted. So after a quick shower (yay for warm water again) I literally fell into bed.

I was up early this morning because we only had a few hours to spare before we were on the road again! Copán Ruinas is famous for the Copán archaeological site, where one of the most important of all Maya civilizations lived and then mysteriously crumbled. Even though Tikal (where I head to tomorrow) in Guatemala is supposed to be much grander, it is said that these ruins are well worth a look because the culture was so developed.

After a 1km tuk-tuk ride to the site it was soon very apparant that this was well worth a trip. Greeted by a bunch of wild macaws, we headed down through the forest and I for one wasn't sure about what I was going to discover.... then all of a sudden it opened into a clearing and there was a pyramid. I was awe-struck. The whole site was fascinating and the architecture unbelievable. I spent almost two hours there and still felt like it wasn't enough. Unfortunately I had to head back into town because we're back on the road very very shortly...

And this is where I must leave you for now. Antigua, Guatemala here I come!

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

... Central America: Sink or Swim?

For the third day in a row the ferry isn't running between here and the Mainland. This is not a good thing. We're supposed to be on a bus right now headed for Copán Ruinas and we're obviously not.

The rumour mill is as follows:
1). The weather around La Ceiba sucks and so the waves just out of the harbour are too big for the Utila Princess to handle (thinking back to my dingy/QE2 analogy that wouldn't be so hard to believe).
2). The engine that was dying on us during our crossing is now well n' truly dead and the Utilans in their infinite wisdom decided to sell their other ferry because they are getting a new one. Unfortunately the sold it before the new one arrived and the new one still isn't ready. If this rumour is true then it will be Monday before it is fixed. Unfortunately this is not at all good for me.

'As this goes to press' our tour leader is waiting for the airline office to open. The one thing that could be our saviour (and not screw up the rest of my trip) is that Utila does have an airport and there are flights between here and La Ceiba. It'll be about an extra US$27 on top of what I would've paid for the ferry. A small price to pay me thinks.

Other than that may be I should be getting back into my scuba gear and swimming back to La Ceiba? Or hop onto the Banana boat (there really was a boat that brought a load of bananas!) that is currently docked at the port.

The rest of my diving yesterday was absolutely fantastic! I saw a Hawksbill turtle, a sting ray, huge sea slugs, a very large dogtooth snapper that lives underneath a wreck, a King crab, conch and an octopus moving across the sand. On the night dive I aslo saw bioluminescence and was nibbled at by these fish that glow in the dark. Add to that little list lots of coral & brightly coloured fish. I guess if I am stuck here another day or two of diving wouldn't necessarily be such a bad thing....

Tuesday, 18 November 2008

... Central America: Leaving Only Bubbles

Thanks to all of you who prayed to the Mayan Weather Gods!  It worked!

I was so excited about today that I have been awake since 5am. Today was my Christmas Day. It had FINALLY stopped raining, the wind had dropped and even the Sun is trying to put in a guest appearance.  It is hard to believe that the day before we arrived on this Island that they had had over 2 weeks of glorious sunshine. I really would like it to come back even if only until I step off that return ferry boat ride in La Ceiba early tomorrow morning.

I now have dives logged into my diving computer that are at temperatures of more than 50ºF! A water temperature of 82ºF at 90 ft will probably continue to blow my mind for the next few days. And I didn't have to wear a super thick wetsuit/drysuit, gloves or a hood either. This was all quite a shock to the system let me tell you. Then you add to that little lot the fact that I had 30-40 ft of viz! WELCOME TO WARM WATER DIVING NIC!

I am sat here still in a bit of a ecstatic daze at what I have seen so far (and I still have a dive this afternoon and then a night dive!).  I don't know the names for hardly any of what I have seen so will describe it as thus follows: lots of very bright coloured fish and lots of weird & wonderful coral!  Oh but I did see a golden spotted moray eel I can tell you that much. If you were here with me now in person you might describe me as effervescent although I assure you there ain't no gas escaping from me. I am just literally bubbling over with excitement, although I do this every time I dive! Today was just extra special because it was the first time I've ever been diving in a tropical destination - it has already been logged into my Diving Logbook. I have got some great underwater shots thanks to the use of Maurice's camera which I can't wait to upload. Unfortunately I did notice that wetsuits still aren't sexy no matter where you dive!?!

Utila is back in my good books...  and I'm heading back to the water...

Monday, 17 November 2008

... Central America: Rain Rain Go Away!

I was up before 7am and drenched to the bone not long after 7am. It's still raining and a wind has picked up to boot. All ferries have been cancelled for today and La Ceiba has closed both its Port & Airport. It may all reopen tomorrow, weather dependant of course, although my primary concern is will everything be running come Wednesday when we are supposed to leave!?

After a quick breakfast I began scoping out the dive shops. I already kind of knew where I was going to go having had one recommended to me back home. It's also mentioned in the Bible that is the Lonely Planet's Central America on a shoestring book! So who can argue with two glowing reports!?!
Utila Dive Centre was created in 1991 as an adventure diving outpost. It is now, for those of you who like to know these things, a PADI Career Development Centre, of which there are only 2 in Central America. It is the highest rating a PADI facility can achieve. What appeals to me more is that they are also big advocates of Project Aware, a non profit organzation dedicated to underwater conservation in 175 countries & territories around the World. Even as a non-diver I'd say that was pretty important, wouldn't you?

I was greeted by Lawrence, a Brit who seemed awfully confused by my accent. After a few minutes of chatting though it was pretty obvious that I was from 'up t'North Lad' - you can take the girl out of Lancashire but you can't take the Lancashire out of the girl. Eagerly, I told him what I was looking to do and waited for his response. I was soon grinning like a kid in a candy shop as he told me all about the diving around Utila & his love of sea turtles whilst I told him how I still got excited about seeing plumose sea anemones... it's a diver thing.

Unfortunately, due to the conditions mentioned above, there were going to be no dive shops taking anyone out today. A bunch of us were told that another dive shop would take us out for two dives this afternoon but right at the last minute the Captain of the boat pulled the plug - the conditions were too crap on the surface. All shops I have spoken to however have all stated tomorrow is looking pretty good to go.

At first I was all keen & eager and tentatively signed up for FIVE dives with UDC but whilst walking back to the hotel it kind of hit me that that might be setting my sights a little too high! So, when I went back later to pay & give my diver number I signed up for two morning dives, the night dive and then I am going to see how I feel in the afternoon and may be do one dive then too. You'll have to forgive my enthusiasm & excitement about all of this but it's because I have only ever done cold water diving and this is going to, hopefully, be my first warm water diving experience! Please pray to the Mayan Weather Gods on my behalf!

Alas there ain't much more to do around here. You either dive, dive or dive... oh and did I mention you can dive here? So, I've just filled up with some lunch (I actually had a nice big bowl of porridge which was lush!) and am going to drag my prune-wrinkled body back to the hotel for a hot shower. May be I should wear a mask & snorkel in there to make me feel better? Then I guess I should try to dry off all my clothing. Hmmm. Good luck with that one Nic.

Sunday, 16 November 2008

... Central America: Sitting On The Dock Of The Bay Islands

At 630am we were back on the road enroute the bus station to catch our bus to La Ceiba, on the northern coast of Honduras. This would be where we would catch our ferry to Utila, the 3rd largest of the Bay Islands. I was pleased to see that we weren't going to be riding on a chicken bus for our long journey and even happier to find out that we had managed to score one that went directly to La Ceiba. I was rather amused to find that every time we got onto the bus they would wave one of those security wands over us & our carry-on. A little bizarre considering that coming across the Nicaraguan-Honduran border the most I saw in terms of security was when I got yelled at for standing too close to what was the border (a chain in the middle of the road) despite having had my passport stamped. They seemingly couldn't care less about my luggage.

The bus ride was uneventful and pretty comfy except when it started raining and leaked in through the roof and unfortunately both the windows I was sat next to. Actually it was bubbling & spitting on me so making me even wetter than had it been just a mere 'leak'.  Oh well, I don't travel well on buses but marginally better by having a window seat so it was a small sacrifice to pay.  The Honduran countryside whizzed past as we sped along what were pretty good roads for most part, only the occasional bumpy one or one that had half of it 100 metres down the hillside in a ravine due to the recent flooding from the 'wet season'. With a 30min break around 930am for breakfast and another quick bathroom break a few hours later we arrived in La Ceiba just after 2pm.

We had an hour to wait for our ferry and I was pretty impressed when I saw a boat coming in. That was until I realised that that one was headed for Roatan and ours was in fact the little seacat next to it. Despite the fact our boat was called the 'Utila Princess', it was more like comparing a dingy to the QE2!

I figured I should probably take a travel sick pill 'just to be on the safe side'. It looked pretty calm out there but it was raining heavily. Within 5 minutes of leaving the dock I realised very very quickly that looks ARE deceiving. I wasn't sailing across the Gulf of Honduras in the Caribbean Sea, I was sailing across the SEA OF HELL! Ken & I were sat right near the front where the Captain was and believe me I rode every single wave. Some people were screaming so one woman would then shout out 'Shut the f*ck up' every time there was a scream. Both were very annoying when you are trying to disguise your own fear/keep your stomach contents where they belong.

One girl, right in my line of sight, filled at least 6 bags with vomit and then there were a few others puking too. It is also rather disconcerting when a bunch of crew go running to the back of the boat to do 'something' with one of the engines which was making an awful noise. I was holding on for dear life and looking around for where the life jackets were 'just in case'. We were thrown around like rag dolls. When I finally stood up to get off the boat, it looked like I had wet myself. For the briefest of moments I did wonder if it was seawater or urine but promise you it WAS the former!

What should've been a 45-60 minute ferry crossing took us 90 minutes! I found out later, once safely on land, that for part of the way we could only run on one engine. I make the return journey on Wednesday......

Saturday, 15 November 2008

... Central America: Teg-huh what?

Well today started off with a bang that's for sure! At around 420am I happened to be awake when I heard Aoife shouting 'fire'. It took about a nanosecond to register before I was throwing on my pants & money belt (has $ and passport in it of course) and running to her.

What greeted my eyes was a huge flame engulfing the fan in the corner of the two girls room. I began yelling 'Get out! Get out! Get out!' at them both until it registered. They grabbed a few items, ran out and I closed the door immediately.

'Get everyone out, get everyone out and DO NOT GO BACK IN THERE'.

In the darkness I ran to my room and told Zarah to grab her passport whilst I threw all my bags on my back. Thankfully we had both packed the day before and our stuff was right near the door. We fled our room and tried to make our way to the exit - unfortunately past the room on fire. As I stumbled through the darkness I went into my smaller backpack and grabbed my trusty Fox 40 whistle then I blew that thing like there was no tomorrow. The electricity had gone out, there were no smoke/fire alarms and people were still in their rooms. It was a total gong show. None of the staff appeared to know what to do and kept wanting to open the door to the room!?!

'Get everyone out, get everyone out' as I continued to blow my whistle because quite frankly my life DID depend on it. There was no 'like' here.

The smoke was acrid burning my throat and someone still kept trying to open the door to the room. I will admit to you all that I was crapping my pants because I didn't know how we would be able to deal with the locking system on the door and I also knew there was a gate then on the outside of that. What if it was locked? All crazy thoughts running through my head whilst I am trying to multi-task. Thankfully Liz & Aoife were on it and quickly had the doors open. Someone (staff) back in the darkness was trying to use a fire extinguisher and it either didn't work or they didn't have a clue.

We got everyone out and waited across the street for the fire brigade. It took them 20 minutes! By that time the hotel staff had put out the fire. I don't know how nor do I care - we were all safe and breathing fresh air again. The girls think it was an electrical fault though state the fan hadn't be left on although had been left plugged in the wall. Ursula unfortunately lost a bunch of stuff; the hotel lost it's room and everything in it. The room went up in flames and much later on when the girls were allowed back in to try and salvage stuff left in there, most of it had melted - that is how hot it got. I am still blowing black stuff out of my nose. No-one went back to bed after that. We basically sat around waiting for the Waffle House to open for breakfast before we left for our roadtrip.

I will openly admit that, despite the calm exterior everyone has commended me for and the actions I took this morning, I was scared. But I am OK. Everyone else is OK. Please do not worry about me and I promise this will be my one & only non-typical Nic-style humour-filled post of this entire trip.

So onto what this post should REALLY be about ... after a 13 hr journey (coupled with the 'obscenely early start' described above) through Nicaragua across the border into Honduras we finally arrived in Tegucigalpa, the capital. Our tour leader had actually told a bunch of us that it was 'the murder capital of the world'. Before that sends various members of my family & friends into a panic-induced coronary (although c'mon after this morning's events I don't really think I can top that), I would be actually more inclined to think it's probably on a smaller scale... say Central America. That probably still doesn't do much to calm the nerves. So, I will quickly follow that with how I read that 'if you believe the papers' then you'll expect to be a victim of crime as soon as you step foot into the city. I'm sure the city, like any other in most developing world cities, can be a tad dodgy. But, like anywhere in the world, 'exercise common sense and you should be able to enjoy it without putting oneself at any undue risk'. There! Better? OK, how does 'we're only here merely as a overnight stop to break up two 12+ hr travel days!' sound instead? Considering this will lead me to my tropical diving heaven of Utila (one of the reasons I chose this trip), it really is a small sacrifice if the generalizations are to be believed and they shoudn't be. I actually figure you probably stand more chance of dying at the airport anyway after I read that it is classed as one of the most dangerous in the world! Good job I wasn't flying in or out.

First thoughts upon arrival is that this is like any other large Central American city. However, if you stop for a minute to take a good look around beyond the huge traffc jams, urbanization and shantytowns you see that Tegus (for short) is surrounded by a ring of mountains, a setting which is rather amazing. Then you'll notice an old church or three, the cathedral, museums, parks & plazas. Almost makes me wish I wasn't here for just a night.... OK, a very distant 'almost' especially when being stuck in fume-belching traffic does not make me the happiest of campers. We also got lost - 'we' being the driver of the minivan we rented. We had to flag down a taxi and get him to lead the way. They drive worse here than they do in Vancouver, I know shocking huh! I saw umpteen fender benders. Rules of the road? What are they? The police also all walk around carrying very large guns!?! Hmm... on second thoughts the 'almost makes me wish...' has become an 'I do not wish...'.

Tomorrow sees a 630am start to head by public transit to Utila! Nic will be a happy camper again I promise, I got two days of scuba diving planned in what is described as a Diver's paradise. Sounds bloody good to me!