Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Honduras - Fin

We are getting an early start at the ruins this morning. First a fantastic breakfast of assorted fruit, scones, waffles, spiced compote, coffee and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
We are one of the first groups to arrive. There are 5 members for this guided portion. Jim, a retired educator living in Quebec, was with us yesterday. Dave and Nancy join us this morning. Coincidentally, they were just at the Cocoview in Roatan. I recall briefly seeing them, though they dove from a different boat.
The ruins of the religious area are unreal. They dwarf the dwellings of the upper caste that we saw yesterday. Again, sensitive areas are roped off, but I am impressed with how much we are able to touch and climb. Midway through our walk, Brad and I even get to scramble down into an empty tomb.
View from within a tomb
As much as I like to wander, I am struck by how much a good guide adds to the experience. Miguel is well studied in the Mayan culture and his knowledge of their culture and glyphs reveals a wealth of information about the countless statues and engravings that we see.
Fangs of the Serpent. The entrance to the underworld of Xibalba.
Afterwards, we go through the adjacent museum. It has some replica pieces in addition to many large pieces of stonework that were moved in to protect them from further erosion. What is there is nice, but the museum is sparse and lacks anything beyond stone. There is no pottery, no obsidian tools or jade-work --nothing to help contextualize what we are seeing.
Replica of Rosalilia - built atop 5 previous shrines and in turn covered by a step pyramid
I spend the afternoon with my feet kicked up on our hotel balcony drinking fine local coffee and watching the world as it seems to stand still.
Yes, I meant that literally!
In the late afternoon, we go for a walk outside the tourist-laden area that dominates the center of Copan. I won't say we got lost. The roads just didn't lead where I thought they would. We make it back to our hotel just as it's becoming uncomfortably dark. This day is a perfect combination of things I love to add an exclamation to my last full day in Honduras.
I fall asleep early watching The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus (with Spanish subtitles). I get up at first light to take last walk through the hotel. Even though we are running a bit late after breakfast, Miguel indulges us with a road-side stop at a local coffee producer. Brad is elated when they are willing to sell him unroasted beans (they think he's a bit crazy).
I'm sleeping over (sleep, if only) in the Atlanta airport again. I'm facing North this time and tomorrow afternoon should see me back in Saskatoon. The weather forecast indicates that I have missed the absolutely horrific temperatures you suffered during my sojourn. Mission accomplished.
Police Escort?!?
The photo album for this trip is finished. My counter indicates I took over 4000 exposures during this 1 1/2 weeks (if I include a score of iPhone snaps). I'll be tweaking the album in weeks to come, but these 503 pictures are a pretty good survey of the trip. I apologize for the hundreds of pictures of the Mayan ruins and sculpture. In the long run I won't keep them all, but for now, I just can't part with them.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Happy Birthday, Anwyn!

Anwyn always accurately aces anything attempted.

Nobly noting nuance, never naughty--needs niceness.

Wistful Warrior, wishes wonderful warm wrapping... whomever... whenever

Yes, yearning yearly, you're yet youthful.

Newly number nevele (negatively now). Notoriously nice.

Honduras8--the ruins of Copan

Last night was our last in Roatan. There was all you can drink rum punch and a fire dancer. I'm not sure those should be mixed, and yet they were. We avoided the rum, but enjoyed the flames.

This morning I woke at 4:30am. Does that count as morning? I suppose. Everyone else is still sleeping since they are all taking an international flight at a more reasonable 11am. Brad and I are going to the main-land. Our flight departs at 6:40am and we have a quick boat trip and 20 minutes on the road first.

The airport is sluggish, but they still manage to insist on searching Brad's luggage and opening a box he has a highly breakable object stashed within. I think everyone at the airport feels safer now.
That's a smaller plane than I am used to. This is going to be... interesting. I know, it's no Twin Otter or anything, but still... the pilot's controls are labeled in Russian.
Two planes later we have been picked up by a guide who will escort us during our 3hr drive to the city of Copan Ruinas in Copan District where we will begin our tour of the Copan Ruins. Yeah, I know, it sounds kind of flaky when you string them together like that, but that's how the guide did it...

Anyone who looks at all the photos on Picasa Web may notice poor quality photos through this section. I submit that they are pretty good when you consider that I am taking them while being driven 60km/h through dirty tinted glass on very bad roads (and that is by northern Saskatchewan standards). The ride is fascinating. Our guide really seems to know his stuff. He throws in interesting facts about coffee production, Mayan civilization and Honduran politics to help pass the time. Speaking of time. If you have any questions about public bathrooms in Honduras... don't ask. Even in the international airport... yeah, don't ask.

We have a tense moment when we are stopped by the police. Another passenger in our van does not produce his passport on demand and a tense argument takes place. He maintains (and rightly so) that he only needs to provide ID (his driver's license in this case) and not a passport since the officer is not an immigration official. For an brief moment I believe our entourage is going to be reduced by one individual. We are allowed to proceed only after Brad and I produce our passports to prevent the officer from losing face.
There is coffee drying everywhere!
Part of a "house" and a burial chamber below
Today we get to visit the part of the ruins where the noble cast lived with their families. Among others, the site is strewn with acacia trees, mahogany and yucca. This is the kind of forest I've been waiting for. Woody vines and roots hang from the trees and spiny plants growing up in the canopy. I want to start climbing the trees, but I want to be respectful of the site and I fear Miguel (our guide) would be displeased. He also gently reminds me that the piece of obsidian that I've just picked up --the area was once volcanic-- can be admired and then replaced. This park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site (911 and counting). Taking that into consideration, it was nice that I am allowed to climb on anything without a prohibitive sign. I feel a twinge of disappointment because the only alter in this area is roped off. You may infer, as did I, that Brad will not be taking the picture of me being offered to Ah Muzencab, god of bees.
The head is missing. I think it's at our hotel. No, REALLY!
Tomorrow, I get to see the main site. The religious hub. Temples, sacrifices... can't wait.

Hotel Marina Copan. I can't believe I'm staying at this place. I've told Wendy that it is certainly the nicest hotel I will ever stay in during my entire life. Seriously, I don't know how we wound up here. The internet reviews are polite but completely understated.

 It is out of this world beautiful. And not in a polished chrome and braided-jacket-bellhop sort of way. It has a refined class mixed with well aged construction that can't be faked. A half-dozen or more court-yards and dozens of open-air rooms are to dying to be visited in this maze of hallways, staircases and nooks arranged with antique instruments. It was the first hotel in Copan. A converted house, originally, but what a house it must have been. I have a ton of pictures of this place, but I'm likely to take more tomorrow.
I can't turn down a good sunset. I just can't.
Anyone who missed my clever insertion of the link earlier may click this link to view the entire album. It's getting juicy-big now.

Friday, March 04, 2011

Honduras - Last Day at Cocoview, a.k.a. D7

The thumbnail down there is the link to the ever-growing album. New ones at the end...
Falling, the dark, getting lost and drowning. What are things that mankind is terrified of? Correct. Bonus points would have been awarded if you had also mentioned that they were things associated with night diving. Tonight we are going for a night dive. Let me tell you, it takes a bit of nerve. I'm glad we have already dived this area during the daylight or I might be totally petrified.

It was really fun bombing around The Prince Albert (an intentional ship-"wreck") with a pair of high-powered flashlights. At the same time, I had frequent visions of running into a rogue lion-fish and having to be flown to hospital. We all have our demons. For the record, Brad was responsible for making us late for supper. No, really, it WAS him.

Our Dive-master preps us for todays dive
There needs to be a buffer between diving and flying. We leave tomorrow morning, so this morning is our last dive. As a bonus, we are the only ones from our boat going out. It's quite a luxury and we can really take our time poking around looking for stuff without feeling crowded or pressed for time.

Back at Cocoview. It's time to pay our bar tab of $15 for 1 beer for Brad and 5 Cokes. I'm pretty sure that is less than anyone else's, except maybe Tommy the 10-yr-old. Then the hard stuff: the volun-manditory tipping of the resort staff. They 'suggest' amounts on a handy cheat-sheet that was given us the first day we arrived. After we've paid all our fees we are free to collect our passports which have been held for safe keeping. Am I broke now? Let just say, you can look forward to me being online during another long airport night. Currently I can still afford the $2 in-country travel tax and the $37.50 exit tax. I pray they don't alter the deal any further.

To escape my money woes, I preped for our 5:30am departure tomorrow and then went on resort safari and took a bunch of pictures. You will now be subjected to my favourites.
For Vin. Caves of Chaos?

Honduras - Days 5-6

Wednesday, March 2

Here is an instructive map of the immediate Coco View area from a dive perspective. Sorry about the lack of pictures on this post. Brad has a lot of pictures and video, but, the dive pictures are hard to deal with (too many to sort through on this tiny machine) and I've not been in the water too much to use my camera.

I'm a bit gun-shy. I've been violently ill to my stomach two days in a row and I don't want to make it three. That said, I'm not known for knowing when to say when. I'm here to dive, and dive I will. In my favour: new anti-nausea meds on loan from Brad, calm seas, the brashness of (near)youth, the desperation of (near)age, and a very light breakfast (just in case).

Betrayal! They are taking our boat on the longest ride of any of the dives I'll do while here--23 minutes. Doesn't sound like much, but the trip that laid me out on 'V-Day' was barely 8. I work hard to distract myself and am rewarded with a event free, dare I say pleasant, ride.

Alehandra and I take care of the last few skills that I need to display for her and then she takes me on a guided dive of the area. I thought that having a guide would be unnecessary, but it makes a huge difference to a novice. The level of distraction under the water is phenomenal. There is so much life on these reefs that inexperienced eyes don't stand a chance of picking out any particular detail. With Alehandra's help, I get to see a black seahorse about 4-inches long and a couple grisly looking toad-fish. The dive-masters and instructors are great about finding and showing us the hard to find and rare elements on these dives but to be honest, everywhere I look it is spectacular.

We are scheduled to do another dive in the afternoon. My mask has been bothering me. It is pressing up against my nose and making it really sore. It is a big problem because to equalize the pressure in your head as you dive, you pinch your nose and gently blow. This process is repeated frequently as you change depth. You do not want a sore nose. I get a new rental mask from the dive shop.

There are many, many fish on this dive. We pass through several schools of them. It's like watching a ship in Star-Trek enter warp speed, only with fish :) Although it fit well in the shop, the pressures of the deep reveal that my new mask leaks... badly. I have to clear my mask every minute or two of the 40 minute dive.

Brad and I do the “drop off” dive on the way back to Cocoview. This is when the boat returns most of the way and you get off in one of several nearby reef walls and swim back. I accept his offer to switch masks. His is a perfect fit for me and doesn't leak a drop. My mask still leaks on him, but at a manageable level and he offers to extend the arrangement for my benefit. He has been an essential asset on this trip. I'll have to keep him around for future endeavours. I doubt that I would have overcome the barriers to diving that I've experienced without his patient help.

We keep Cocoview wall on our right as we explore around the 15m depth. We see several of the deadly lion-fish that are becoming too common in the area. They are an invasive species here, with no natural predators. Dive-masters are trained to safely kill and dispose of them. I do not get to witness any of these events.

More cards and pool in the evening.

Thursday, March 3

I'm finally feeling great and looking forward to the dives. Things are falling into a real rhythm. I go for a
run around the island, play some basket ball, eat light and dive.

1st morning dive was at a location called Mary's Place. There is a 1-3m wide trench dropping from 10m down to 25m. The entrance is right around 18m. It was beautiful (and a little unnerving) to be surrounded on 3 sides with only a narrow saw-tooth gap above you letting in enough light to read your gauges and see the wildlife. Our boat did a trench yesterday, as well, but I wasn't certified until lunch time, so I wasn't allowed to go in. Very happy to have the opportunity this time round. On the way back we do the drop-off dive along Newman's wall.

After lunch, you guessed it, more diving. I'm really enjoying myself now. Sad that the first couple of days were tough, but that makes these dives all the sweeter. The afternoon is a shallow dive over a golden carpeted reef. With the sunlight streaming in from above, it is ethereal in it's beauty. Along the wall, where the reef drops off into the deep, we explore some nooks and crannies. Our dive-master points out the tail of an eel, sleeping on a recessed shelf of coral. A bit further on, I find another. It is even larger (perhaps 2m), it's spear point of a head laid in peaceful repose. Our dive-master is nervous to get too close, having had some very close encounters in the past.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Honduras - Day 4

I know I said I was going to take the day off. Well... I didn't do any diving.

After my morning activities (last post), I played some basket ball...

hunted down some hummers

went down an awesome 10-run zip line
one of the vistas from our zip-line tour
and went horseback riding.

A relaxing day.

This exemplifies how I saw Roatan today
The best part of the day was that I started to get a real sense of what Roatan is like. It's easy to get stuck in the resort mentality. Everything is easy and you're the king of the world. They try to provide everything you need. But, it's not a real place. Roatan is earthy. The people swear with equal facility in English and Spanish and they are friendly. Sadly, its a bit forced. There is a real need to be friendly with people who are responsible for virtually your entire economy. I'd rather be visiting as an equal.

As it turns out, this entire island is much like I first observed on the ride from the airport to the resort. Nothing is close together. It is an endless stream of villages that have their own names, but islanders treat it all like one city. They are proud of their identity, protect the tourists and are apprehensive of the mainland. We have been warned repeatedly to be careful. The mainland doesn't see remotely the tourist dollars that the islands do. It will be interesting to see if their warnings are warranted.

Something I've learned about myself is that I don't need my vacation to be easy and I don't need it to be far off. Both of those things are nice, to a degree, but I just need time to not be responsible for anything.

Honduras - somewhere in the middle

Flower for my girls at home :)
Mostly going to take the day off from everything: diving, writing, whatever.

Log entry for yesterday (day 3) ... Seasick ALL DAY!

I went on the boat (with gravol) and lost it. There were 6ft seas, but I didn't see anyone else fighting with breakfast. I felt pretty wretched and slept a lot until evening. I admit to being a bit embarrassed, but everyone has been really great about it.

Trying for the mainland ;)

So today is sun, sun, sun. Maybe I'll take pity on the hummingbirds who are having all their food stolen every night and take a few photos. There was a playful sunrise this morning. I felt great. Went for a short run and played with some shore life.

Oh, and I've just been adding to the photo album.