Thanksgiving on Utila – I’m thankful this year for charter planes

sGetting through Honduras on chicken buses was relatively easy, we spent the night in San Pedro after asking the bus drivers where they were staying and following a suit. It turns out that the city is not a place you want to be on the streets late at night it has one of the highest homicide rates in the world, so asking the drivers for advice is always a good tip, they will always know cheap places to stay near the bus terminals. We hitched a ride really early in the morning to the bus station to head for La Ceiba and managed to get on the second bus of the day which put us a mere 30 minutes late for the morning ferry to Utila the next one wasn’t until 4pm so we ditched our bags in the pouring rain at the terminal and sought entertainment in town in the pouring rain. The only indoor rescue was a shopping mall, with kids riding around inside on motorised stuffed animals, so surreal. This time it was Seb’s turn to get his cards blocked and none of the banks were open in the mall on a Sunday. We amused ourselves by writing our diaries in the western fast food court listening to pan pipe interpretations of Bryan Adams played by an old Honduran DJ. Some personal favourite finds during these 6 never ending hours were…an interestingly named cologne
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and a horrifcly named burger joint, where I come from a ‘lady burger’ means something entirely different.
The boat crossing is a bit of a horror show at the best of times, the old boat is accustomed to bouncing about all over the shop, but add some bad weather and its a real adventure. We made it to the island in one piece and dodged the hoards of dive shop touts who wait at the pier for new arrivals. Picking a dive shop is a tricky business, we wanted small dive groups and a decent divemaster to accompany us back in the water after a long absence. People will say anything to sell you some fun dives and even barefaced lie to you to get your business which makes the process all the more difficult. Luckily we found one we liked on only our second attempt. We chose Captain Morgans to dive with, they turned out to be fantastic and ended up with a five bed dorm to ourselves.

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We had five dives in total all on the northside of the island except the nightdive in the bay. The nightdive was absolutely incredible, the sunset was perfect and there were no other boats at our dive site so no light pollution. The luminescent plankton were beautiful, we spent a chunk of the dive without torches just to enjoy the green glow but this meant that thousands of fish were swarming around and bumping in to us. The highlight of all the dives was the dolphins, there was a huge pod of at least 30 swimming alongside the boat and spinning in the air, so we stopped and got in to snorkel with them, the noise was amazing whilst they were chattering away to each other.
The only major thing that put a downer on our time on Utila (besides the savage sandflies) was the week long storm that flooded the island. Most houses without stilts were bailing out water and crates were in place to navigate the deep rising waters by the time we were up to catch the morning ferry off the island. We were told that ‘some weather’ was on its way but we were not expecting rains of such epic proportions. There were to be no ferries in and out of the port indefinitely and we were advised to check back regularly to see if there was any change. There wasn’t!
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Whatsmore the food on the island is absolutely abhorrent, the small restaurants are expensive and cater to American clientele so lots of mayonaise and kraft cheese. The only estabilshment that redeemed the reputation of Honduran cuisine was a tiny place called King. It had the most delicious baleadas and we literally ate there at every possible opportunity. They knew us on first name basis and only managed to disappoint when we would turn up and they had shut up shop from the rain, at which point we had a breakdown trying to find alternative food. The saving grace was a collective effort to cook a full Thanksgiving meal. We had a full on spread with 4 types of potatoes, we were the health police and brought the only vegetables to the show, whilst others brought swedish desserts, we even had proper gravy! The chickens were cooked in several ovens around the island but sadly 2 didn’t make it in delivery. They were piping hot freshly cooked and en route down the road when the quadbike skidded and careered into a ditch knocking them into the mud. A tragic waste but luckily there were several others also on their way. It was the only time I had celebrated the festivities and it was a really nice way to overcome the tragedies of being trapped. For those people who vehemently believe that it would be paradise to be stranded on a tropical island, they should think again. When islands flood and there is no way on or off and you have played enough rounds of Tichu to fry your brain, you start losing the plot a bit. Besides we had left a really angry note with the lady who charged us five bucks to poorly wash our laundry (she rinsed half the bag without soap and didn’t touch the rest leaving it all smelling of wet dog) so we were dodging her house in fear that she would do us in. In the end we resorted to chartering a plane to get us out, I couldn’t take another day with intermittent power supplies and sand bags. So we waited at the airport for a break in the crosswinds and took a tiny 5 seater single propeller plane back to the mainland. The pilot told us it would be the last flight of the day because the winds got too strong whilst we were in the sky and he couldn’t fly back to the island, so we had seriously good luck in timing.
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We then took a chicken bus to the capital to get close to the border. Tegucialpa was absolutely freezing, we’re talking full on winter clothing and blankets for bed cold. The hotel we stayed in was hilarious, it sold comdoms in reception and rented rooms by the hour which was a dead giveaway, but the hotel manager gave us a room with a double bed and only one pillow. So we went to one of the several unoccupied rooms on our floor and found a spare pillow. Five minutes later there was a knock at the door from the manager and a couple who were not in the room previously and they requested there pillow back. We were politely informed that we had only paid for one pillow, so that was our slap on the wrist. Another five minutes later the manager knocked again, this time with an extra pillow in his hands, I was cracking up after overcoming the confusion. In the morning we asked another guest where we could catch the bus to the border, he kindly offered to drive us there but only after he showered, at his house. So we drove round the corner, a mere 300m, why he was staying at the hotel I am still uncertain and his family entertained us whilst he smartened up and gave us drinks. Turns out he was a local polotical figure on his way to a post electoral victory meeting. We grabbed delicious breakfast baleadas and he delivered us to the bus we needed. We changed only once in a small town near the border and the journey was painless. But then we met another traveller who made us truly question our faith in humanity. We were quitely eating a delicious chicken dinner in a tiny comedor on the border when a distressed Canadian girl bowled in, in floods of tears rejoicing at the very sight of us. She had run out of money and was unable to pay the entrance fee for a Nicaraguan passport stamp. We of course offered to help, we already had some cordobas and always carry some spare US dollars so it was no problem to escort her over the border with us and get her on the bus to the next town. We asked why she had encountered such problems and we were dumbfounded by here answer. She had arrived from San Pedro de Sula and told us that the buses were fully booked and she had to get to the Corn Islands within 3 days to start her new job. She instead paid for a private taxi all the way to the border, at a grand total of $350 leaving her penniles. We were baffled as to why she didn’t take public buses but asked no more questions, we just got her to a taxi, collected the money she owed us and got her on the next bus she needed. You cannot install common sense in people tragically born without it, sometimes you feel urged to help travelers who are down on there luck, but in this example you just have to hope that they have enough survival instincts and cash on Daddy’s credit card to get by.
So that was the first of many hours on our journey across the border, I’ll explain the other side in post all about Nicaragua.

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