Shark Dives & Natural Disasters

We left Utila on Monday on the ‘Lady Julia’, a private boat owned by Captain Willard. After waking up at 6am to catch our boat and realising we hadn’t gotten our passports back from our hostel the night night before, there was slight panic, as we were supposed to be at the meeting place for the boat at 7am. Kelsey decided to head to the boat while I waited for the first worker to arrive to the hostel, grabbed our passports from her, and headed to the boat. The eventful morning got even more eventful once on the boat… First, we spotted some dolphins swimming along side our boat. Unfortunately it was a ‘blink and you miss it’ type of event but a cool experience nonetheless. Shortly after, we were continuing motoring along with Roatan visible in the distance when suddenly, the boat just stopped. The captain and his assistant pulled open the door to the motor room, did some fiddling around, and then we were off again (I think it was a leak in the fuel line or something like that). Anyway, we were only running for another 2 minutes or so before the motor stopped again. This time, there was a lot more  swearing by both the crew members and a longer repair time as the boat swayed powerlessly in the open water. After about Good thing it was was  calm day at sea or the whole event would have been a lot more scary.

Finally arriving safely back in Roatan, we checked back into our old stomping grounds, Splash Inn, and signed up to do an afternoon dive for later in the day. Unfortunately, we were both ‘underweighted’ for this dive (despite having told the shop how much weight we dive with) which meant that we had to spend almost the whole dive blowing out to empty our lungs and then were floating up to the surface as our O2 tanks emptied and we became more boyant towards the end of the dive. Needless to say, it was not an enjoyable dive and we both came out of it feeling confident about the weight we need and knowing not to let people talk us into lower weight in the future.

Kelsey had signed up for a “shark dive” the following morning. I was conflicted over whether to participate or not, not because I was afraid of the sharks but moreso because of potential ethical dilemmas and the cost. I ended up feeling comfortable enough to do it, knowing that I’d be annoyed if Kelsey came back with raving reviews and I had missed out. We were transported to another part of the island, provided with a briefing of how the dive would go and then headed down 21 metres deep to meet the sharks. The sharks have become habituated to know that when the boats come, they are going to be getting a little treat so when you go down there are already some sharks swimming about. We sat on a sandy patch at the bottom of the ocean and watched the sharks swim around, we were then invited to swim with them for a while, and then returned to the sandy patch before watching the sharks feed. After which most of them disappear and we are invited to search for shark teeth that may have fallen out during the feeding. I actually found one! (well one of the staff members found it and pointed it out to me). Unfortunately, I put it in my mask to disassemble my dive equipment and then someone else handed me my mask from the boat and the tooth was lost in the kerfuffle.

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Diving with the reef sharks

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We spent the rest of the day taking it easy, buying some souvenirs and duty-free alcohol, and preparing to leave the next day however, it wasn’t long before a storm starting approaching. The locals all seemed to think that we might not be able to leave as scheduled the following day and sure enough, that evening Kelsey got an alert from the airline that Tropical Storm Earl may be causing flight delays and cancellations. We woke up the next day to a confirmation that our flight was indeed cancelled so we headed to airport to try to reschedule something, made new arrangements and spent the rest of the day reading, napping, drinking, eating, and watching TLC (one of the only channels airing TV shows in English).

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Tropical Storm Earl

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Waiting out the storm in our room

The next morning we woke up with fingers crossed that we’d be able to leave as scheduled, negotiated an affordable cab ride to the airport and our journey home finally began.

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Beginning the journey home 😦

 

Life in Utila

I knew as soon as we arrived on the small island of Utila that I was going to like it. There are only 2 intersections on the island and you mainly follow the one road that runs along the south coast. Many of the houses are built on stilts and painted brightly with lovely wrap around porches. This island seems to cater to all people-there are many expats lounging on their porches each morning-young and old. Divers from around the world have become dive masters or instructors here and have been living and working on the island for a few months or many years. Many dive masters we met had planned to continue travelling but never left after finishing their dive courses here.

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The boats of Utila-view from our dive center.

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Sun sets in Honduras.

As usual, when we walked off the ferry, there were tuk tuks lined up and ready to give us a ride. Being such a small island we were just going to walk but sometimes this is also a good chance to ask about accommodations and find a good deal without having to go ask everyone separately. We ended up agreeing to visit Altons Dive Center and just stayed there. It was certainly not much compared to our 5 star lodge but it was only $11 each a night and free on days we dove. We didn’t have AC however, so we both struggled to get enough sleep.

We spent much of our days laying out in hammocks by the ocean, walking around, kayaking and people watching from the restaurants. My favourite restaurant was in this beautiful yellow beach house right on the ocean. We watched the sun go down while eating pasta they make in house. We decided to spend our last dinner there and even splurged on wine instead of beer.

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Lazy hammock days.

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We only partly flooded trying to get back into the kayak after our snorkel. Making our way to the public beach.

We also did 4 dives total. It’s mostly reef walls here where the reef drops off and you spend most of the dive swimming beside a wall of coral reef. We saw many stingrays, pufferfish, green and moray eels, barracuda, parrot fish, squid, lobster, crab, groupers, lion fish (which are not native to Honduras and have become a huge problem for the reef-divers are encouraged to spear and eat them!) and lots more. On our first dive I kept hearing a high pitch squeaking noise. I was worried it was my air, slowing draining out of my tank… but I found out as I boarded the boat that it was dolphins! Our captain then attempted to follow them so we could snorkel with them but they had disappeared before we got there. On our final dive I got so excited when the dive master showed me the sign for ‘shark’-and this wasn’t even a site where they expect shark. I swam a bit further and sure enough, a nurse shark! She made her way to a patch of sand and relaxed on the bottom of the ocean floor for awhile. It was the end of our dive so we took our 3 minute safety stop right above her. We didn’t see any whale sharks unfortunately but it seems like your average person needs to stay longer than 5 days for this special privilege.

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Cute little yellow guy

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Nurse shark! I will guess she was 3 meters long.

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Spotted eel

We have now arrived back in Roatan because we were unable to find a boat to bring us back tomorrow. However, I can’t complain when you leave one paradise for another. Two days here and we will begin the journey back to Winnipeg!

 

Luxury Living in Pico Bonito

Today, Kelsey and I moved onto our third and final destination of this trip but we spent the last two nights staying at The Lodge & Spa at Pico Bonito, a marvellous little placed deemed to be “one of the best small luxury resorts in the world.”

Pico Bonito is a national park on the mainland of Honduras. The lodge we were staying at owns 200 acres just outside of the national park. It’s popular among “birders” due the immense amount of wildlife that can be seen on the lodges grounds.

After taking a ferry from Roatan to the mainland and finding a lovely gentleman holding a sign saying “Mr. Kelsey Ilg,” we made our way up to the lodge. We were greeted with a welcome drink (with Rum!) and then provided with a tour of the facility including the restaurant, conference centre, pool, spa, yoga area, and finally our cabin. We had arrived fairly early in the morning so, after eating a delicious breakfast, we decided to spend the first day hiking The Loop trail, a ‘medium difficulty’ trail that is said to take approximately 2-4 hours. Needless to say, it was a lot of uphill and downhill and our calves are still aching today.

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One of the lookout points on our hike

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Gorgeous views hiking up into the clouds

Our second day we decided to check out one of the natural swimming holes that we were too tired to walk to the previous day. The swimming hole was at the bottom of a small waterfall, part of a rushing river. It was beautiful, with butterflies flying around and vines hanging from the trees; really one of those times you think you might be in a movie scene. The rest of the day we spent laying by the pool and then using our included spa service, which consisted of sitting in a steam room and rubbing Honduran mud on our bodies.

Overall, our stay at the lodge was glorious. The food was delicious, the beds were the most comfortable, you are surrounded by wildlife and birds chirping, and the overall environment can best be described as “tranquil” and “peaceful.” It is the type of place where they are acutely aware of your every move in order to anticipate your needs which is both slightly eerie and oddly appreciated.

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Our lodge – one of 22 that are part of the resort

 

Tonight we’ve  moved into more ‘rustic’ and ‘charming’ accommodations (real estate adjectives!) and are planning to head out for another dive tomorrow.

First Stop – Roatan

We have arrived! (Actually we arrived many days ago and have since moved on…) We arrived on the island of Roatan and quickly found a taxi to bring us to our first hotel, Splash Inn. We were greeted with a lovely ‘Welcome Drink’ and quickly made ourselves comfortable. Roatan is quite a big island but most tourists seem to stay either on West End (where we were) or West Bay. We easily walked the length of West End in 15 minutes which is splattered with restaurants and dive shops. Many restaurants have decks overlooking the ocean where we would attempt to catch spectacular sunsets but there always seemed to be clouds blocking our view.

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The boats of West End, Roatan

We spent the second day on West Bay. For $3 a person you could get a speedboat to take you to the next beach which is the more desirable beach. It’s wide enough to find a secluded spot and long enough to feel like you worked off those beers and fajitas from earlier. Katie and I made sure to lather up with sunscreen and find shade but we still found ourselves looking like typical naive tourists with much of our bodies burnt. We are still suffering from this day. We found ourselves a good snorkelling spot at the end of the beach and went out quite a ways, seeing many bright fish and testing out Katie’s go-pro. I was searching for sharks… but none were found.

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Relaxing on the beach in West Bay

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Sights of snorkelling in West Bay

The following day we took a dive refresher course since I haven’t been diving in 3 years. It’s always a bit stressful doing the skills (such as filling and emptying the mask with water, or losing your BCD and finding it again) but we survived! We did two dives and I would say this was some of the best corral I have seen so far. We swam along many corral walls, through a tunnel, and saw some impressive fish. We saw lots of rainbow fish, lion fish (which are hunted in Honduras), a Southern stingray, moray eels, huge groupers, shrimps, anenomes, etc. I for one loved getting back into the ocean… it’s been too long!

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Prepping to head under water

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21 metres below surface

After 3 full days on the island, we took off by ferry to the mainland for some rainforest time!

 

We’re off! …again!

George Bush Intercontinental Airport – Houston, Texas      11:28 a.m. local time

Well, we’re off on another adventure and this time I have my travel buddy back! We’re going on a shorter – but equally as exciting trip to Honduras!

After (not) sleeping in the Calgary airport, we’re now waiting in Houston to board our final flight that will take us to Roatan. The plan for this trip is to enjoy some beaches, beers, and babe time with a few dives thrown in there too.

My dad insisted that we revive the blog so we’re going to try our darndest and if anyone else cares to follow along as well, welcome!

Oh, and Kelsey bought a fancy new camera and I just bought a GoPro so expect some just-above-amateur level photography!

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Mocked up beds in YYC

 

-Katie

Sea to Snow

Denver International Airport – Denver, Colorado      4:51pm local time

Well, it is officially over. I am writing from Denver which means I’m back in snow land (there’s currently a blizzard happening outside with barely any visibility) and officially on my way back home. Even now I can’t believe that just 48 hours ago I was swimming in turquoise waters on white sand beaches and snorkelling with the starfish and just 12 hours ago I was still in a tropical climate where shorts and t-shirts were daily wear and +32º was the normal daytime temperature. But alas, we can reminisce together while I get everyone caught up on my final 5 days.

From Bocas del Toro my plan was to catch an overnight bus to Panama City and then proceed straight to Guna Yala a.k.a. Kuna Yala (previously known as the San Blas Islands) – complicated, I know. All of our travels worked out as planned and even though it was a long journey, thanks to comfortable buses, some naps along the way, and multiple changes of travel modalities, it didn’t seem too long before we arrived in the tropical island paradise located in the Caribbean Gulf of San Blas, Panama. A 4×4 vehicle is necessary to reach the boat port and then it’s just a wet boat ride to paradise.

The islands are all small and local laws prohibit foreigners from owning land in the territory. Though accommodations are not luxurious by any standards, the outside scenery is why anyone comes to the San Blas Islands. Crystal clear turquoise waters, palm trees, white sand beaches, and hot sunny skies are abundant across the islands and days are spent soaking up the rays, taking dips in the temperate sea waters, and playing with the starfish (responsibly).

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After two nights on the islands, I returned to Panama City for my final two nights abroad. Panama City is much more cosmopolitan than any other city in Central America and I wish I had actually have more time to explore but I had decided that I was going to spend my final day visiting the Panama Canal. Though it wasn’t something I thought I would find particularly interesting, I likened the idea of not going to see the canal similar to that of going to Rome and not seeing the Coliseum…possible but unacceptable. Also, the canal had a drastic effect on Winnipeg’s own growth and economy when it was built (http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/opinion/analysis/the-panama-canal-and-the-decline-of-winnipeg-272262601.html) so I felt a bit of a personal connection to it. Needless to say, watching the mechanics and process of ships passing through was actually a lot more interesting than I thought it would be and I’m glad I checked it out.

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A ship passing through the Panama Canal. This ship had to pay $120 000 to pass through the canal and all payments must be made in cash.

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Panama City skyline

Last night I reunited with my Israeli friend who I had met in Bocas del Toro and travelled to San Blas with. We had a beautiful dinner, shared a bottle of wine, and good conversation and then said our goodbyes and with that, my journey came to a close. Travelling alone has been interesting. I did not learn anything monumental about myself (the way the blogs make you believe you will) and I actually rarely actually felt alone. That being said, I actually was looking forward to going home more so than I have on other trips however, that didn’t lessen the sinking feeling in my stomach as I approached the Tocumen Airport in Panama City this morning to begin my journey home. So, with that being said, here is a list of things I am looking forward to seeing/doing when I get home as well as a list of the things I will miss most about life on the road (and yes, I realize some of them contradict themselves).

Things I am looking forward to at home:

  • Seeing my family and friends
  • All of my animals (especially GC!)
  • 2-ply toilet paper
  • Drying off with a normal towel (not microfibre)
  • My bed
  • No longer having to handwash underwear
  • Warm showers
  • Not living out of a backpack
  • Painting my fingernails
  • Doing my hair & makeup properly

Things I will miss about travelling:

  • Hot & sunny weather
  • The simplification of living with minimal things/stuff
  • Beautiful beaches
  • Meeting new people and hearing their stories
  • Experiencing something new everyday
  • Cheap beers!!
  • Not doing my hair & makeup
  • The boats – all the boats.
  • The accents
  • Sunsets over the water

And with that, another journey is wrapped and over, as is this blog until either Kelsey or I embark on another adventure. Thanks to those of you who kept up with me along the way. Can’t wait to see you all!

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Final night dinner at Tantola

Crossing Borders

Hostel Heiki – Bocas Town, Panama     12:36pm local time

The journey across the country from Montezuma to Puerto Viejo was a long one that involved three buses and a ferry. I left Montezuma at 6am and finally arrived at my hostel in Puerto Viejo by 8pm. The hostel was out of dorm beds by the time I arrived but, luckily, they have a cute little tent community. I was able to snatch up the last tent and spent the next three nights in there.

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Tents at Rocking J’s in Puerto Viejo, Costa Rica

I had avoided coming to this side of the country a little longer than I had planned because the weather was gloomy and rainy. Sure enough, my entire first 36 hours in Puerto Viejo the rain poured out of the sky in mass, seemingly impossible amounts. I kept thinking that surely, the sky had to run out of rain soon. Eventually the rain did stop and the next day was nice enough to at least wander out of the hostel. I rented a bike (a comfortable one with a wide seat AND a basket!) and had a nice day of riding around the town, checking out the beaches, and browsing the local shops.

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Suzy the sloth

After three nights in Puerto Viejo it was time to cross my final border into Panama. The border crossing was fairly straight forward but crossing the ‘infamous’ old/rotten railroad bridge definitely adds character to the experience.

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Walking into Panama

Bocas Town is bright and colourful and the Afro/Caribbean influence is definitely noticeable on this coast. Bocas celebrates Carnaval and I arrived on the last day of it. This meant I got to experience a little bit of what Carnaval looks like here but also that all the hostels are more expensive/busy and that the one and only ATM in town ran out of money and caused a bit of panic among travellers. I ended up spending one night in the worst hostel that I’ve ever been to. There were bedbugs and panty liners in the showers and it provided an overall puke-worthy experience. Thank God the next morning I was able to switch to another hostel that I had read about online and have spent a much more comfortable two nights here.

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Not even half of the people waiting in line for the ATM to be filled after two days of being empty

I also got in a couple scuba dives while I was here. Though the dive sites weren’t the best I’ve been to I was glad I took the opportunity to get underwater while I could. The rest of my time has been spent on some of the surrounding beaches. Bocas is a neat little town but a bus or water taxi is necessary to access most of the beaches and I’m eager to get to a place where the beach is just outside the doorstep. I’m leaving here tonight on an overnight bus to Panama City and then going straight to the San Blas Islands. They are beautiful but slightly pricey to get to so I’m hoping they are worth it and that I end my trip on a high note. I can’t believe I only have 5 nights left!

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Diving equipment set up and ready to go

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Mama and Baby sloth

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Starfish Beach, Isla Colon, Bocas del Toro