A Travellerspoint blog

San Pedro Sula, Honduras

To go or not to go…

sunny 98 °F

Here is the description of San Pedro Sula from the USA state government website:

“…crime and violence are serious problems throughout the country. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world. San Pedro Sula is considered to be the world’s most violent city, with 159 murders for every 100,000 residents in 2011.”

A trip to Honduras is almost impossible without a stop in San Pedro Sula as it is the hub for all bus connections to the places we wanted to go - Bay Islands, Copan, and the ferry to Belize. So we planned ahead, made arrangements to be picked up at the bus terminal and spent two different one night stop overs and traveled to/from the city 6 times! Lucky for us, our hotel room had a TV with a music channel that played Gusttavo Lima’s Balada (Tchê tcherere tchê tchê) video a few times an hour!
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Many people we met were shocked and ask “Did you feel safe in Honduras?” The answer is, yes, mostly. Every one’s hometown city has its dangerous spots, even ours. If we had not been prepared by making prior arrangements for accommodation and transport, our answer may have been different. Had we selected countries to travel based on the state.gov’s warnings, we wouldn’t have been able to visit half the places on our route. That being said, we didn’t actually walk around through the neighborhoods freely. When we took a local bus, we had a fairly substantial drive through of the streets and saw a recently (as in that morning) torched minibus… while we were all asked out of the van to be searched by the military we were told that it was an early morning message from one of the gangs.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 20:31 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

Utila, Honduras

Scuba Lessons!

Utila is one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras and is known for its PADI (party and dive in-between) certifications. It is a backpackers paradise as the certifications are relatively cheap and the diving is spectacular. Hands down this was the clearest water we have ever seen. We went down 40ft and had visibility all the way to the top and way further down!
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We had fun enjoying the local staple foods, one of our favorites were the Baleados (kind of like a stuffed quesadilla).
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Island life was just as you’d expect, we snorkeled just steps from our door step, people never showed up on time, and there were amazing sunsets!
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The only downside to Utila Island is that people drive recklessly through the one street town in golf carts, scooters, motorbikes, and quad bikes. Way to kill the serenity of an island getaway Utila! Luckily it’s easy to escape the small downtown and get to nice beaches and forests in just minutes. We took advantage of the quiet mornings to catch up on our exercises.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 17:32 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

Copán Ruinas, Honduras

The first of many Mayan Ruins

rain 91 °F

Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, and San Pedro Sula is considered the world’s most violent city… that being said, we survived our stay in Honduras without any problems. Luckily, the little town of Copan Ruinas is a pleasant town that is quiet and safe for tourists. On our first morning, we decided to go on a reckie (reconnaissance run) to the entrance of the ruins to get an idea of logistics for our visit the following day… we ended up on a very nice interpretative nature trail with the loudest scarlet macaws hanging out in an ancient Ceiba tree.
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We then headed to the interactive Casa K’inich Children’s Museum. It’s designed to teach young children about the Mayan Culture. Now THIS is the type of museum that we enjoy! It was interactive and had great displays explaining the ancient Mesoamerican ball game that was played by the Mayans. We tried out new skills at the real ruin site the following day:
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We arrived early in the morning to avoid the heat and the crowds, and can now take pride in the fact that we were the FIRST people to enter the site on that day. What probably most impressed us was how many temples are still hidden under mounds of dirt and trees. It really gives you an appreciation for how old they really are.
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To finish off our first Mayan cultural experience, we went to a tea and chocolate café for a few traditional Mayan made snacks and hot chocolate over sunset. We hope the ancients don’t mind that we spiked their raw chocolate drink with some local rum.
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Nearby Copan is a 375-acre jungle shade grown coffee farm for Welchez coffee. We didn’t have high expectations for Finca Santa Isabel but were blown away by the tour. First of all, we had our own private tour with a really knowledgeable guide. Secondly, we didn’t know that we would be served a three-course lunch in the heart of forest next to a babbling brook! We had a lovely walk through the mountain farm and were amazed by how the coffee integrated with the forest. The comparison of this large scale farm to the small one we saw in Panama was immense. Beans were washed through huge machines and sorted through several mechanical processes before then sorted by a lineup of real life old lady hands!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 19:23 Archived in Honduras Comments (0)

León, Nicaragua

Volcanoes as far as the eye can see!

sunny 104 °F

Leon is surrounded by a string of active volcanoes. We climbed Telica on the evening of a full moon and could see seven volcanoes including two of them venting smoke against the setting sun.
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After the sunset we peered over the ridge of Telica and down into the bubbling lava 200 meters below. The volcano made an airplane like sound that was indescribable! Standing on a sheer cliff looking down into the cycle of earth regeneration was one of the top awe inspiring events of our trip.
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We also climbed Sierra Negro to give its infamous volcano boarding (aka rock sledding) a try… it made for an exhilarating way to avoid the normal knee crushing mountain descents.

Leon itself is a nice little city filled with markets and churches and is easy to walk around. We visited in Leon’s hottest month of the year (April) and the city hadn’t seen rain for almost 8 months! Needless to say, the hiking was dusty and dry with about 2-3 inches of fine dirt on all the trails.
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To beat the heat and dust we took a day trip to the coast to a deserted beach. The highlights of our beach trip included watching some cows stranded on an island trying to cross through rushing water, and drinking beer from a bag. Since bottles are for deposit, the locals drink their soda out of a bag with a straw… but since we don’t drink soda, the bartender had quite a laugh when we requested a roadie (cervesa para llevar).
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 20:05 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Granada, Nicaragua

It’s getting hot in here…

sunny 103 °F

Nicaragua has been a true test of our ability to withstand the heat, but while wondering the market we stumbled into a lady making tortillas over a wooden fire who put us to shame. It was quite inspiring to watch her working by the fire making tortillas in triple digit heat.
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After our trip through the markets of Asia we would only end up with little pink plastic bags, however here we randomly ended up with an assortment of items in a full R.O.Y.G.B.I.V. rainbow of plastic bags!
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We stopped in and tasted some cacao tea and cacao liquor at the Museo de Cacao where we learned how the ancient Mayans used cacao beans for currency! It was a nice complement to our hands-on chocolate making experience in Costa Rica.

We felt very comfortable in Granada and enjoyed walking around the old colonial city. The architecture inside the buildings was impressive and beautiful. Hotels, hostels, museums and restaurants all had big open ceilings and central gardens right inside the house! These open courtyards made for a great outdoorsy feeling when you were actually inside a home!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 20:04 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (0)

Ometepe Island, Nicaragua

Living the lake life

sunny 101 °F

Lake Nicaragua is the largest fresh water lake in Central America. It is so large that it gives the feeling of an ocean, especially when on the little lancha (passenger boat) that we had to ride over the big waves in. Ometepe was formed by two volcanoes that were then joined together by an isthmus and when we stood on the connecting beach we could see both on the horizon.

We hiked the larger of the two volcanoes, Conception, which happens to be considered the most symmetrically formed volcano in all of Central America. To say this was a hard hike is true, but more than the strenuous scrambling on all fours, is the mental stress to not think about slipping down the loose rock incline as it became steeper and steeper towards the top.
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We celebrated our victory against earth wind and fire with the local beer, and some fabulous sunsets over the lake.
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On one evening when we returned home, the whole town was without electricity. Our local restaurant that we had planned to eat at was shut, so we wandered through little shops with candles and gathered up as many vegetables as we could. Our hostel only had one pot, so we had to be a little creative in what we would make in the dark. We basically ended up with veggie/lentil stew seasoned with salad sprinkles. This invention has since been our favorite quick meal to make even when the lights are on!
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The island is small enough that it can be explored in just one day by dirt bike. We finally got to use our motor biking skills to weave in and out of cattle and over rocky dirt roads.
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One of the local legends claims to make you younger after bathing in the mineral-rich water of Ojo de Agua. The water was cool and clear and if you look hard enough, we think you’ll see the shimmer of youth in our eyes!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 14:56 Archived in Nicaragua Comments (1)

Liberia, Costa Rica

Exploring Costa Rica outside of the rainforest

Liberia is the perfect home base for many different activities because it’s located between the mountains and the beaches of Guanacaste. Although zip lining through the gorge was beautiful, the highlight of our adventures in this area was something that we had never done before: white water tubing down Rio Negro in Rincón de la Vieja National Park. The river gorged an adventure park style rapid suitable for individual tubing in an amazing forest setting. We stitched together a few clips to give you a feel:

We were wishing we had a naturalist with us walking through Tenorio National Park when we reached the magnificent blue waters of Rio Celeste. Apparently a result of sulfur and calcium carbonate mixing together, there is the most amazing place in the park where two crystal clear rivers meet and form this shimmering blue color:
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Most people know the Nicoya Peninsula for its surfing and turtle sanctuaries. We would also like to highlight that there is an awesome cave network in Barra Honda National Park. There is one cave with four or five thousand bats that come flying out after sunset, and another that you can repel into and explore. Unfortunately they are still working out a way to offer tours to see the bats without disrupting them, so we settled for spelunking to the eerie sounds of howler monkey growls.
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As if we didn’t get dirty enough spelunking, we also paid a visit to the volcanic thermal waters and mud spa at Rincón. The hot springs were in an incredible natural setting next to a flowing cool river. The perfect spot to ‘cleanse’ after all the hiking we had done.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 18:15 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Santa Elena (Monteverde), Costa Rica

Superman for a day!

sunny 80 °F

Driving to Monteverde from the luscious coast was is a little weird since all our lives we’ve been bombarded by little green red eyed frog advertisements for Costa Rica, so naturally we expected lush green scenery. Although there are abundant forests, it turns out most of the midlands are dusty and dry like a long California drought.
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Monteverde is the zip line capital of Central America, so of course, we looked for the most death defying tour operator and headed for the longest zip line in Latin America (1590 meters flying like superman) and the biggest Tarzan swing in Monteverde. It was an exciting day packed with adrenalin that we’ve tried to highlight in this short video:

The forests here include a type of parasite Strangler Fig Tree that start growing from a seed dropped on top of a host tree by a bird. The Strangler Fig grows down the trunk of the host tree using the host tree for nutrients and eventually suffocating out the host tree. In this particular case, the original host tree had completely dissolved away leaving a 130 foot natural spiral staircase up to the canopy.
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This made for an easy climb all the way to the top where we could watch a Toucan going in and out of his nest!
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As we were walking passed a few guides in the Monteverde Cloud Forest, we over heard one guide say cheerfully “I’ve never seen so many Quetzels at one time!” After they walked off we investigated the area and actually found one! We were so excited to end the game of ‘where’s waldo’ for what seemed like ages of chasing chirping birds through the forest!
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Another of our favorite adventures was exploring the forest at night. We saw sleeping birds, and all sorts of nocturnal creatures including poisonous snakes and tarantulas!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 06:34 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (1)

Mastatal, Costa Rica

Chocolate straight from the bean

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We found a family farm called La Iguana Chocolate tucked in the mountains between Monteverde and Quepos. Lucky for us, our micro-machine rental 4x4 dominated the long and bumpy road with only one minor issue… when we got out of the car, the passenger side panel was hanging on by a thread!
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Juan and his family have been living and working on the farm for over 40 years, and is one of the last farms in the area that didn’t switch his cacao for other standard cash crops. They have a small operation that focused on providing enough sustenance for the family and their equipment is all handmade… for example, their cacao butter press is an adapted car jack!
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We spent the morning learning about the entire cacao process turning the harvest into edible chocolate. We probably ate more chocolate before noon than we have ever have in one day! Along with the delicious chocolates we made, we also ate chocolate cake, chocolate milk, and roasted cacao beans (cacao nibs)!
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For those interested, here is a short summary of the process we went through to create our very own chocolate:

1. Harvesting - Pods are harvested from the trees and the cacao beans are taken out of the pods with the sticky fruit still surrounding the seeds.
2. Fermenting - Beans with the fruit are fermented over about 3-4 days so the sticky fruit comes off of the beans.
3. Drying - Beans are dried in the sun.
4. Roasting - Beans are pan roasted or stored for future roasting.
5. De-shelling - After roasting, a fine shell is removed from the beans.
6. Grinding - Beans are then put through a grinder and crushed into “cacao liquor”
7. Pressing - Cacao liquor is pressed to separate the cacao butter
8. Grinding again – the pressed stuff is then put through a fine grind and turned into what we usually call “cocao powder”
9. Making Chocolate - Chocolate is made from three ingredients: cacao powder, cacao butter, and sugar!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 19:03 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

Manual Antonio, Costa Rica

Where the rainforest meets the ocean

sunny 92 °F

Manual Antonio National Park may be the smallest National Park in Costa Rica, but it really packs in the beauty with jungle facades creeping all the way down to stunning beaches. We saw numerous sloths, monkeys, and birds all within easy viewing along the trails. On the main beach there are capuchin monkeys looking to rummage through tourist backpacks, so it was quite the site for people watching.
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For a real adventure, we rented Stand Up Paddleboards from a local and after telling him the route we planned, he was a bit worried about the epic scale of our paddle and decided to come out with us. Turns out, we paddled about 10km, down the coast through all sorts of waves and water terrains, yet the only monster wipe out was trying to ride these puppies through the waves to the beach!
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This was our first stop in Costa Rica and we learned two important things:
1. The refried black beans in a bag are perfect for picnic lunches!
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2. Everything in Costa Rica is open air and there are tons of butterflies (even in the grocery store)!
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 19:34 Archived in Costa Rica Comments (0)

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