Honduras, October 2008

So, Heidi had some vacation time, and we went to Honduras. It's right next to Mexico, and seemed to have plenty of interesting action going on. We stayed on Roatan, which is one of the 'bay islands.' It's kind of like Belize, in that tropical island sense of things (bananas, dust, boats, manta rays, caribbean food, stray dogs, jungles, sea turtles). Also, it turns out that the native language on the islands is (creole) English, just like Belize. So much for our Spanish, which of course I felt compelled to use whererever I could, even when speaking with other native English speakers. But it did turn out to be useful for taxi drivers and plenty of Hispanic immigrants.

We spent most of a week on Roatan itself, doing various thing like diving and feeding iguanas. Then we took a day at the end and went to Copan, one of the amazing Mayan ruins of the area. It's in the mainland of Honduras, a few hour drive away through terrain that looked suspiciously like Guatemala (which turned out to be about 10 miles away).

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The beach and our island, etc.

So, this is Honduras.  We just went to two places, which were Roatan (island up
top), and Copan (which is unlabeled, but it's down there next to Guatemala). We snorkeled around some.  Here's a boat that sank (intentionally).  It's a yacht of some
sort. Piper and Heidi walking around the beach. Heidi snorkeling.  The region in front of our little cabana had several acres
of this 2'-deep seagrass stuff.  Heidi got up super-early every morning.
Several morning, there were spotted eagle rays chomping breakfast in this
2'-deep water.  They were big -- 10' long with tail?  I snorkeled out with them
one morning which was really really cool. Piper (age 6.2) was very good at snorkeling.  Heidi was pretty good at a
snorkel guide too. Here's a sea cucumber (<i>pepino del mar</i> in the not-quite-local vernacular,
and something crazier in creole, I'm sure.  I tried to look it up post-facto,
but all Google showed me was recipes for sea cucumber and bamboo creole
soups.). Two-fisted cucumberances. We paddled some. This is our island. Piper (in the pool) likes swimming with her eyes wide open. I float on some noodles. Piper gets ready for her crab race.  Woo-hoo!  This was pretty entertaining --
I mean, it kept me entertained for an hour at least (and Piper for several
more). I drew the circles and Piper collected the crabs.  We then used natural
soy-based inks (*) to gently mark the crabs' teams.  I'm on team H. My crabs totally won!  Well, Piper's did too, and a few more times than mine
did. Piper gets her crab crown. This is the place where we were staying.  It was an operation called Barefoot
Cay, which is a small place with about 6 little cabanas on the beach, plus a
pool etc.  This was the off-season... so they actually had a staff of 28 (!)
with only us as the actual paying clientele.  The very nice people in the
kitchen were mostly kept busy cooking for themselves, since we mostly bought
mangoes and pasta at the supermarket.


Things around Roatan

One of Roatan's main attractions (for me) was the iguana farm.  It's
essentially a cinder-block house on the ocean with a big driveway and a bunch
of trees and a garage or two, and some chickenwire buildings.  And 4000
iguanas roaming around free.  Here, one of the guys who feeds them is handing out bananas. This is a chicken with a predilection for reptiles. These iguanas both <i>love</i> bananas. There are two kinds of iguanas here: red, and green.  The green ones are more
common.  Someone told me (probably just before I bought a $2 ticket to the
iguana farm) that iguanas were rare and endangered across the
island.  We saw a lot (and not just here), so I'm not sure if that's true or
not.  The big ones are easy to find, since they're often just hanging out in
tall branches of trees, 75' off the ground. This is one of the iguana ranchers.  No, they don't eat them.  
<p> Piper loves iguanas just as much as I do! One iguana died when we were there.  It was old -- 16 years or so according to
the guy who runs the place.  It was lying in the shade when we arrived, moving
just a little.  Then it was dead by the time we left.  Piper wanted to take it
home to sleep with it and love it. There are a bunch of zip cord thingies on the island.  Here is Piper getting
ready for one of them. This zip cord is particularly unique because it is the site of a well-known fatal
accident in the zip-cording industry.  As our guides told us on the way down,
about six months earlier they were giving rides to a bunch of cruise ship
clients.  The guide (not ours, but one who was quickly terminated) went tandem
with one client, and clipped her in but didn't clip in the backup line.  The
cable broke (how?), and the woman fell about 60' and died a few days later.
Various chatter of <a href=http://boards.cruisecritic.com/showthread.php?t=739409>
mis-information</a> is <a href=http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23730206/>online</a>. The zip cord industry gets a good deal of their revenue from cruise ships, so
this put a natural dent in their operations, since they've now been banned from 
taking any more cruisers.  Plus they're out $12M in lawsuit settlements.
But, a by-product is that this particular operation is probably among the
safest -- we went with <i>two</i> safety backups (three steel cables total).
Also, the place is empty (wonder why!) and guides are pretty talkative and
entertaining, especially when it get to the subject of zip-cording mishaps. At the bottom of the zip line is an over-priced and boring zoo with some
animals in cages.  Here's a cute monkey-like-creature named Peter, though. Some birds. Elsewhere on the island, Piper and I are waiting to say hi to some dolphins. This is a dolphin trainer (David?) with his dolphin.  This is in a little
penned-off area of the ocean.  We hiked up the hillock behind it the afternoon
before. The dolphin gets some food for doing tricks well.  It was cool talking with him
afterwards about how one trains dolphins (he grew this one from a baby).  We
also got to snorkel around with them for half an hour or so -- 20 people and 10
dolphins in an acre or two of water. Here's a toucan!  It really looks like this -- no joke!  It's a whole ton
cooler in person than on the front of a Froot Loop box, for sure.  It also has
a cute little tongue that darts out like a snake's tongue: it's long and narrow
like a blade of grass, but white.
<p>This was outside a walk-through butterfly park / botanical garden on Roatan. The main tourist city on Roatan is West End, which is a little Honduran hippie
commune type place.  It's all on a dirt road, which makes it pretty cute.  We
didn't stay there, but we did wander around one evening.  Lots of dive shops,
youth hostels, and at least one Thai restaurant, which is where this was taken
from.  There were spotted eagle rays flying underneath the pier at the time
too.


Mangroves on Roatan

We went to an organic froot farm (no toucans) where this guy harvested
pineapples, guavas, and some weird Honduran tree grapes.  These are hibiscus
flowers, the main ingredient in all those Celestial Seasonings ____ Zinger
teas. We went to Coxen Hole, a non-tourist town, and hired a guy to drive us around
in his boat.  Coxen Hole is mostly on the open ocean, with houses on pontoons
or stilts. The 'gas station' may have been one of these buildings.  It was staffed by a
13-year old boy, who unrolled a garden hose, stuck one end in our boat's tank,
and put a funnel on the other.  Then he unscrewed the lid to glass bottles of
rum which had been re-filled with gasoline, and poured them in, while standing
on the suspended thin wood floor of his wooden hut.  If only he was smoking
too! There are lots of tricked-out speedboats piloted by the youth of Honduras, such
as this one here.  We saw one guy doing fancy wheelies in his boat solo, then
coming back 10 minutes later with a hot chick aboard. Going thru the mangroves.  Lots of bright red crabs which you can't see here
(but I did).  The channels have been here for a few hundred years, at least. This is a place we stopped at for lunch -- Joe's Hole in the Wall.  (It sounds
like an inauthentic name, but keep in mind that English is the original
language of the bay islands.  That being said, it was run by a guy who was a
commuter pilot in the US, then quit his job 25 years ago to run a restaurant on
stilts instead.) Piper tries on some Ray-Bans. Our boat pilot Bee-Nut.  He told the story (more than once!) about how he got
stung at age 4 in the... so thus his family always called him Bee-Nut. Coxen Hole, on the return.  The city (this isn't on a river -- it's the open ocean!) is
damaged by hurricanes from time to time, though being on the south shore it's a
little more protected here than the north.


Some scuba diving

We did some scuba diving.  Two days of 2-tanks, and then a third single tank
which Piper came out for too. This is the dive boat.  Angel is driving it. The schedule at Barefoot Divers was not heavily booked this week!  Check out
that 2 PM 'Staff Dive' to keep them on their toes. Here's some stuff we saw. They're not pictured here, but we did see some great creatures.  A large
sunfish, some lobsters, a king crab, a handful of nudibranchs (Heidi's
favorite -- flamenco tongue), a few barracuda, some sea worms, a pair of puffer
fishes, a spinefish (don't step on it), cow fishes (cute), and more.  All the
books told me that Roatan was famous for whale sharks, but none of our guides
had ever seen one. Being a not very experienced diver, I'd say that Honduras was pretty good.  It
wasn't quite as clear as what I remembered in Cozumel.  The water was super
warm though -- 90 deg or more.  In many places there was coral on long shallow 
plateaus, which I like more than the deep diving. Heidi found a jellyfish! On the right: Chaz, who is an ER nurse in Toronto.  He came to Honduras to get
his Divemaster certification, which is dirt cheap: $750 for 3 weeks of diving
in beautiful 90 degree water?! That's a barracuda.  Piper's really scared of them.  I think in <i>The Little
Mermaid</i>, the barracuda is really evil. Minne (our divemaster) and Doug (the main dive instructor).  She lived in
Holland and was in Honduras for a year or so; Doug quit his IT job in Texas to
dive.


Mayan ruins of Copan

After leaving Roatan, we got to indulge my recent interest in Mayan ruins.
This is Copan, which is a mid-period Mayan ruin in Honduras.  It's a few-hour
drive from the airport at San Pedro Sula, along a road which is 99% paved and
99% free of pack animals.  And you probably have a 99% chance of driving
without crashing too (we saw one crashed tour bus and one crashed pickup). Copan is profiled in Jared Diamond's cool book 'Collapse.'  He alleges there
that the Mayans here died off largely by over-farming: the hills were not
terraced when corn was planted there, so agricultural topsoil filled up the
valley instead.  That, coupled with population growth and war and the Mayan's
surprising lack of large animals (cows, horses, llamas, etc.) for either food
or work, made it hard to survive. Piper went off on a horseride, while I cruised the ruins for a bit longer. This is amazing!  The archaeologists have made pretty spectacular progress in
deciphering the writings, and putting unbelievable piles of rocks back
together.  This is one pile that still awaits work. Our very knowledgeable (really!) guide. Inside some tunnels, which were dug in the last century by archaeologists.  The
deal is that the Mayans built pyramids-on-top-of-pyramids, building higher for
each successive ruler.  So, there are a lot of layers to see, and it's just
like geology in terms of descending through the strata. Copan is well-funded: with the guide, it cost us about $100 to get in.  This is
compared to the $5 it cost to get into most ruins in Mexico.  It's a foreigner
tax and Mexico should adopt the same strategy.  Because of this, the Honduran ruins are in a
much better state of preservation and reconstruction -- Copan has a staff of
something like 200 people assisting 5 full-time archaeologists. Steps up the side of the ball court.  It's incredible: these steps have been
buried in the jungle for more than 1000 years.  Frederick Catherwood was an
English architect / draftsman / explorer who did some cool drawing of Copan c.
1835; he was essentially the first English-speaker to explore and document the ruins.
He visited ith his friend John Stephens, who was a fellow explorer who talked
himself into being the US Ambassador to Mexico at the time.  He bought the
entire Copan ruins for $50, with the intention of shipping the whole city north
to New York where it'd be put on display.  His contract was found later to be
void (he should have bought the proper title insurance!), since the people
selling it never owned it in the first place.  More stories and lithographs
from the trips are in a book by Fabio Bourbon (<i>The Lost Cities of the
Maya</i>), and in Catherwood and Stephens' individual journals, which are
available in cheap and unabridged form (<i>Incidents of Travel in Central America,
Chiapas, and Yucatan</i>). Some of the most recent (and intricate) writing and sculpture at Copan.  You
can really see the differences between the earlier and later reigns at Copan in
the intricacy of their writing. Part of the GOK ('God Only Knows') formation, according to our guide.  Many
rock fragments can be traced back and re-assembled, and others are hopeless. An as-yet unclaimed foot. Ants on the trail out are doing their own reconstruction.


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Henry Throop

Last modified Fri Dec 5 22:19:27 2008