Well we set off on Friday just to get to the start. You can never say anything is ‘close’ or ‘just around the corner’ from Melvaig, unless it is the lighthouse.
Open Water Canoe safely secured to the van roof, tent and enough food for an epic across Canada safely packed and off we headed to Braemar. 7 hours later and a food stop in Inverness and we were at the ‘how much did they charge’ campsite. Removed canoe, assembled tent, stowed supplies and back in car for another 1.5 hour journey to the granite city to leave the car.
The plan is to paddle doon the Dee for two days ending up at Aberdeen, just before the Dee reaches the big ships and we get lifted or mowed down by a vessel which didn’t see the little gnat of a open river canoe tickling it’s toes.
Naturally I awoke at the crack of dawn after another round from the security ducks who had been roaming the campsite all night, searching for lost crumbs. Some posh porridge down our neck and a cup-o-tea and we balanced the canoe onto it’s little two wheeled trolley. Oops should have pumped up the tires. Fancy taking the boat for a walk?
So after various attempts at repacking the canoe to get the balance just right, we took the canoe for a walk down Braemar high street. Thankfully after a wild night in Braemar the streets were pretty empty, although one cheery chappy who had been out to get his early morning paper asked if we were expecting rain!
A third of a mile later and we were at the ingress point, except we had to get over a narrow bridge to the other side to get down to the bank. So now canoe is on shoulders as we did the headless canoe carrier walk and finally the canoe is in water.
Off we go!!!!
We soon realized however that the Dee is a rocky river, full of unseen as well as seen manatees, some sticking their noses out and easy to avoid, others however, lurking just under the shallow river, their backs invisible to the human eye, until scrape, bash and crash we battered off it’s back and get grounded on pebbles or shingle, or jammed between two other unseen heftier manatees!
What a day, we ended taking the canoe for a walk down the river Dee.
Haul, jump in, paddle, scrape, bash, crash, stuck….
That was the day, perhaps a nice 200 meter stretch where paddling was permissible and then sentinel manatees guarding the way down the river. Usually it is easy to tell how fast you are going down the river. On the Tweed, Spey and Tay we ticked off bridges and other features and could work out our speed. Not on the Dee, simply because we were making no progress.
We saw heron, osprey, dippers and roe deer in dappled light at the river bank. Just as we got close to Balmoral we were greeted by a friendly hello for the special police on bicycle. We were just recovering from the latest backward decent down the river as the manatees had played frisbee with the canoe, and I am sure they had their CCTV on us watching the incompetents revolve down the river. Friendly copper greeted us and didn’t seem to be visibly killing himself laughing and we proceeded to have a police escort for this part of the river. He pedaled down the bank and we happily revolved down, or canoe walked doon the Dee. We missed our police man when he went.
Eventually the body was aching, the will to live had departed us and the long hoped for point where River Cairn and River Muick join and swell the river, simply never came. I started hauling the canoe as the reality hit that I wasn’t an Indian princess or Egyptian queen, however little progress was made.
We headed for shore and pitched the tent in a shady glade with a mossy soft blanket.
Starving. We were starving. It appears pulling a 60kg canoe with kit and princess or prince is quite a workout.
The supper surprise was tescos finest sausages secretted at the bottom of the food bag to be whisked out to raise moral. I could have eaten them raw however somehow I managed to watch them sizzle and ooze, sing and simmer for 20 minutes as they cooked, then it was spaghetti, pesto and sweetcorn. Not a word was spoken at the feast, no silver salver required, simply to sooty trangia pots overflowing with good honest grub.
Belly swollen, river burbling, bottom too maybe after the sweetcorn, tucked up in downy sleeping bag, night night at 7:30pm. I didn’t stir again until 6am in the morning.
Another day another feast. Orkney Black Pudding fresh from the Isles, beans and bagel feast to break the fast. Quick body check and despite aches and pains we would live. Reluctantly we packed the canoe and took it for a wee walk further doon the Dee to pass the worst of the boulders and then we get in again.
Paddle paddle scrape and then about 3km down water, what is that coming in from the left…yeah ha it is the River Gairn. The water level did rise. The paddle became more of a paddle. The River Muick didn’t make too much of a different but the river was perceptibly faster and deeper. We started to see salmon and then a frolicking otter. All tail and backward rolls and somersaults. Then he sensed us, looked up and over all whiskers and wide eyed and we saw the light bulb come on in his head as we went ‘oh flip! humans!’ and then plop gone.
We got to Ballater after 2 hours and stopped for coffee and scones. Then the debate started about getting the car, lack of time and catching the bus. We found out the bus was leaving in 5 minutes, we ran squelching down the road, back to the canoe, kags and water shoes on, scaring the locals in the personalized number plate range rovers. I dumped the contents of the bag on the grass, located the money handed the money baton over and we ran back to the bus stop. No luck. Bus gone. Next bus 2 hours or 2 hours down the river. Surely we could cover that distance in 2 hours.
Back in boat. More paddle than scrape. A few rapids and full frontal soaks. The river was certainly getting more fun. Then the Grade 2/3 at Dinnet Bridge. Big spikey rocks and lots of white water…wheeee.
Dinnet bridge out we get and try to find the bus stop. Just missed the bus. Next bus. Yes you guessed it, in 2 hours. We headed back to the canoe had a leisurely lunch. Packed up and stowed canoe and gear and headed back to bus stop.
I got out my appealing thumb and started to hitch. The Audi and Mercedes accelerated past us, personalized number plates a blur in the passing. It is a test of endurance holding up your left arm and thumb for more than 5 minutes. 15 minutes later a wee blue car stopped. Had it stopped for us? We tentatively walk towards it . It didn’t screech away, we pick up speed and start to jog towards it, still it doesn’t pull away, we are in. Yeah. They are off to Banchory to shop but it is a step closer to Aberdeen.
After a pleasant chat we are deposited in Banchory, visit the coop and stock up on Bourbon biscuits (me), 5 pack of cadbury dairy milk (not me) and sit at the bus stop awaiting the bus (with wee fee!). One and a half hours later we are in Aberdeen, we walk to the ABC-Dee, Aberdeen Boat Club on the Dee where we had left the van and finally the trip doon the Dee is over.
Days spent abroad…184
Countries visited…8….Guatemala, Mexico, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica…via England and USA
Amount of items lost or stolen… 6… 2 umbrellas, Incredible Hulk Tshirt, 2 Hankies, Blow up doll…oh I mean pillow
Amount of illnesses….3…2 x amoebic dysentery and 1 labýrinthitis…dizzy rascal
Amount of bites…1000s of mosquito bites…‘skin so soft’ just does not work with malaria carrying mosquitos….
Amount of stings….1000s…jellyfish and sea lice
Chinche….bed bugs infestation….1
Races ….3 half marathons in Guatemala…runguate.com
Countries ran in….6
Amount of money spent…including flight GBP5500
Near death experiences…0
Possible axe murderer encounters….1
Horrid people…..less than 5
Times when I would have liked to call the police…2
Amount of times I exposed my bum….3…the 10 year younger vitamin bum boosts prescribed by quack doctor
Amount of time swam with sharks….2
Amount of time swam with sting rays….2
Amount of sting rays which have flapped up my body and over my mask….2
Active volcanoes climbed…1
Swam in hot springs….4
Dances learned…..1 ….salsa and not the hot tangy sauce
New sports….1.…surf babe
Monkeys on lap….1
Most I paid for a room….San Jose, capital of Costa Rica…$30
Least I paid for a room….San Pedro, Guatemala….$4
Most expensive….Costa a Lotta…prices advertised in $ is never a good sign
Amount of turtle eggs rescued…..100+
Amount of baby turtles released into the ocean ….again 100+
Amount of turtles seen laying eggs…2
Amount of turtles swam with…1
Amount of times travel affected by landslides…3
Amount of times was ripped off by< dodgy immigration officials…1
Amount of times outsmarted dodgy immigration officials …1
Favourite food…Elena’s Pepian, tortillas and frijolles
Most expensive meal…seafood kebab in Caye Caulker…GBP20
Amount of items I didn’t need…..30+
Amount of flipflops I went through…3
Amount of trainers I ran through….2
Amount of Arks launched…1
Amount of times skinny dipping…1
Warmest water swam in…1…Rio Dulce
Things I missed most…Timmy…my family …my friends…drinkable wonderful water fresh from the tap…putting the toilet paper down the toilet and not the minging over flowing bacteria infested bin beside it….hot water for bathing….fresh towels….fresh bedding….nice smelling clean clothes…new music….privacy…speaking Scottish…the national health service…road signs…things that run on time (it is the German in´me)
Things I missed least…the news…nothings has changed…the weather…the 9 to 5 grind
Things you can’t live without while travelling….ear plugs, knife, spoon, toilet paper, torch, bug spray, lighter and water bottle….iPhone… …oh and para mi una Secadora…y weefee tambien…travel padlock
What I loved…pulling on shorts everyday, no wondering what to wear, ever!
Tamargringo….the rip offs started immediately…I got off the bus and wondered where I was in relation to the Ochils…the point I usually use for orientation…although this was unlikely to help….1000s of miles from home. I had chosen a hostel from the Bible Lonely Planet and had no idea where I was in relation to the moon either…so I got in a taxi…asked how much to the Coral Reef Hostel…$2 was the reply…wow that seemed very reasonable…doh….It was only 300metres away!!!! Ker ching rip off one!!!
The hostel was a reasonable price…the most expensive I had paid for but at $15 it seemed cheap for Costa Lotta…next, to get my surf chick lesson booked…I walked along the strip marvelling at the plush hotels and dollar prices…at the end of the strip I walked into a surf shop and asked the Californian Surfer Dude about lessons….$35 for two hours…best time at 8am in the morning. I wondered about a two hour lesson since I had only lasted an hour with my last lesson but this was the way things were done in Tamargingo…Tamarindo….Ker ching rip off two!!!
Hungry I went for a burger…I figured I would avoid the air conned…con the tourist places and opted for a road side shack…hamburger and sweet potato fries…$10..I would cost $2 in Guatemala…Ker ching rip off three!!!
The next morning bright and breezy I was down at the Surf Shop at ten minutes to 8 and it was a Tico Surfer Dude who was going to be my instructor…and it was great!! My bikini is on its last legs, I am no Pamela Anderson Beach Babe…‘saggy elastic gone in the bottom of the pants’ bikini bottoms…so I had pulled on my little beach shorts and Rash top…I was ready…He talked conditions with me (??) wind better coming from the land, the right tides, the right wave….sorry didn’t I explain this is lesson number two for me and standing upright on a piece of foam hurtling along a frothy churning wave was going to be a challenge for me??? I was much better, I stood up about 4 times…4 real and true surfing moves…awesome! After an hour and twenty minutes though I was a floundering fish on my board and didn’t have the strength to haul my body up…we had a break and after ten minutes we tried again…but no my surf legs and arms had turned into blades of grass which crumpled under the weight of my body…
I was thrilled after my lesson and now I wondered about Tortugas…
Back at the Hostel I asked their Agencia about the turtle tour….yes one tonight…don’t worry myself about their being no turtles…no te pre culpas…$45 for four hours…Ker ching rip off four!!!
Ah but yes they had me captive, the thought of seeing the miracle that is a turtle, the huge creature, pulling itself ashore and digging a hole with only flippers was too much of a lure to me…
At six I got picked up and along with a young family we set off to the most glorious little cove. No torches aloud and there was a turtle on the beach already! We couldn’t go too close as it was deciding whether it liked the look of the land….their was another tour and when the turtle made it’s decision to retreat he signalled us and we raced over to see the turtle dashing quickly back to the water…Yes Dash!!! I would never have thought a turtle could move so fast out of water.. She was swallowed with the waves within seconds. …maybe Santa should use turtles instead of reindeers for their Dash-ing like qualities?
Then we sat in the moonlight, with a billions stars blinking over head, the waves crashing into the beach and waited…guide number two. Hector, was patrolling the beach of the small cove…guide one, Michael showed us photos on his iPhone of an Arribada…Arrival…only two weeks before 100s of Tortugas had come ashore during the day…they were like huge boulders as far as the eye could see…you couldn’t have walked along the beach without tripping over a Tortuga!!! It was like the Wildebeest migration…
Then Michael saw a huge boulder moving up the sand…I could just make it out in the moon light.. He radioed Hector …it is right before my eyes he said…
3 hours, from start to finish, this is how long it took Prancer (I got her cell phone number for when I recommend her to Santa for next years round the world in one night dash) to pull herself up the beach, create her crater like hole, lay 55 eggs and fill it in again.
The Green Pacific turtle is quite different from all other turtles. Recently returned from Lunar expeditions they prefer to dig a crater into which they dig a deep hole, into which they lay their eggs. The crater was huge, she was submerged 50 cm in the sand and then she began to dig the well for the eggs themselves. The dexterity in her flippers was amazing… Prancer was definitely ‘right flippered’ as she managed to get much more sand out with her right flipper than her left…she reached deeply into the hole….curled over the bottom of her flipper and carefully cradled out the sand…
After Tamagringo I headed to Arenal where Í saw lava the last time I visited Costa Rica but oh oh… they haven’t seen lava there for 1 year and 22 days!!! Thus no point in booking tour with Mr Lava Lava Man…unless an eruption was imminent in which case I didn’t really want to be within the 2 mile radius of the volcano…
I got to be Jane to no-ones Tarzan. Our guide took us on a tour of the rainforest where we spotted 3 toed sloth and toucans and then he threw down the gauntlet…who would swing on the liana out over the cliff ? All the Tarzans slunk away…I said I will if you will first…he touché-d me with ‘I bet you won’t after I do‘…hold my bag…. Aa..aarghhhhh…..aargghh! No need to pretend to be Jane as my hands started slipping down the liana as I swung out over the ravine… After that did he do it…did he become the Tarzan to my Jane? No he cheetahed out but another dutch girl gave it a go…
Next Jeep-Boat-Jeep to the Monteverde Cloud Forest….the night tour of the jungle….covered with Eau d’ Bug Spray and with a glowing beacon attached to my forehead I set out in search of things which go bump in the night. Oh did I mention the hat and gloves? It was freezing here, tropical cloud forests at night can be brrrrr-acing! Johnny the Gia got a stick, and I don’t recommend this at home kids, but he prodded around in the hole until mama tarantula came out to say hello, how do we know it was mama? Because mama lives in holes and eats dads for sustenance!
Chewbacca was there too, the guides all had walkie-talkies and we would run around the forest in the dark to find the sloth or the green poisonous viper…the alert came in …Chewbacca had been spotted but he was moving fast…lightsabers at the ready…we stumbled along the trails as the Ents stretched out their toes and tried to trip us up….quick Chewbacca is on the move….we got there just in time…Chewie was making a run for it, at a very sloth like speed and he climbed right over my head, as not one for being on the periphery I was right at the front…If I had stretched out my hand I could have touched Chewie…I didn’t however as Johnny had already warned us they were moving with ticks and fleas…but I looked into the beautiful brown eyes of a sloth!
Back at the hostel the Star Wars theme continued…no I didn’t tie my hair into bunches, pleat them and put on my Princess Lea Bikini…I wanted to take a shower. Now an altitude similar to Ben Nevis, as mentioned, it was a little bit Baltic in Monteverde at night…I wanted Agua Caliente…Tony the owner had assured me the live wires hanging out of the shower was a sure sign of ‘hot water’… I gratefully stripped off turned on the shower and argh!!! Skywalker…..Luke Skywalker…bloody luke warm water…not hot, not warm but just above Agua Fria!! I fiddled with the knob, oh er Matron, maybe if I just turned the water on and no more, no, still Skywalker…what if I turned it on full, argh Super Skywalker…so then I played the Hokey Cokey…I put my left arm in, my left arm out…do the Hokey cokey and shake it all about….
Thankfully I crawled into a bed with warm fluffy blankets…picked up my book and started reading …then I really got disorientated….it was pouring with rain, their was a gale howling outside…and my hands began to turn blue and I lost all sensation….was I 10 years old, back in Carbrook drive, no central heating and frost in the inside of the window? I gave in…switched off the light and snuggled my body under the fluffy blankets upto my nose…let my hands tháw and dreamed of Hans Solo….
Hummingbirds and more animals followed and then it was time to get to the next BigBadCity to try and arrange to get to the wonder land that is Tortugero…
Got up early for breakfast and chicken bus…handed in my key and awaited the return of my $5 deposit…the boss hadn’t left any money and was off into San Jose..Can’t you phone him? Can’t you phone his daughter? Ker ching rip off number 5!!!!!
Got off bus in BBC dodgy end of town…into taxi…metered taxi so no need to haggle or hustle…got to Sleep Inn Hostel and in true Christmas tradition there was no room at the Inn…and ker ching ´rip off number 5!!!! 5 hour bus journey to San Jose only 2500 colones… 10 minute taxi journey 7000 colones…next 10 minute taxi journey 7000.…oh well guess I can only afford a dormitorio tonight!!! And oh no Helen and Morven it was the top bunk !
And was the queen coming to town?….or was it the first day at the sales in Harrods?…or maybe there were centre court tickets at Wimbledon available? It was 11:30 in the morning and the roads were blocked off and families and blankets and chairs lined the street, all were munching away on their picnics.
Festival De La Luz…something like a switching on of the Christmas lights but basically a marching band and parade with lots of floats and shining lights and fireworks…the fireworks exploded from a tall building every 500 metres apart… the city was on fire …but at 6pm…people were waiting forever….
Now to find an Agencia to get me to Tortugero…you’d think it would be easy`? Hostel attendant circle the area where I would find Agencias, however when I got there, there were none. Paseo Coloneo was like Sauchiehall street on a Saturday and you couldn’t move for people selling flashing santa hats and dodgy DVDs….the city was palpitating with excitement because of the Festival De la Luz… I asked some police men and they pointed me in the general direction, heard two Americans who looked like Tico Gringos and at last someone really knew where there was an Agencia.
Bought a 2 nights and 3 days tour to Tortugero…as I headed off with my new mate Joe to get some pizza the Agent came running after me…tour might not happen as I was the only one booked…did I have a telephone number? What hotel was I staying at? What room number? Haha…I could barely remember the Hostel number…room number?
Eventually got back to my Hostel after some posh pizza…many phone calls later…ker ching rip off 6!!!!!!
He had me on another tour, 2 days and 1 night and not to worry, as it was for the same price, I didn’t have to pay anything extra???? Gandolf may have put an invisible mark on my forehead in the manner of Bilbo Baggins front door, which said ‘Tonto’ (stupid) but I had had enough…I could just catch the chicken bus by myself and pay a 6th of the price but now Senior Agent had my big wad of Benjamins…I didn’t have a cent!
Disgruntled and furiously rubbing my forehead to remove the invisible Tonto mark….I explained I was not happy with the arrangement where I paid the same money for a shorter trip. He said it is much better quality…I explained that I didn’t care….I wanted to stay for 3 days…
Woo hooo by 5 at night I was confirmed….luxury 3 day package for the original price I paid…little did I know it would involve a chalet which doubled as an ark, with quick release catches, life vests and dinghies…we got 1.5 metres rain in 3 days (60 inches in old money)….everything got wet…clothes I hadn’t had on got wet, my bedding was wet, my money was wet…the hotel handed out umbrellas to everyone, with rubber ponchos and Wellington boots!!!
Oh but it was luxury…in the middle of the tropical rainforest, howler monkeys swinging through the trees, a chalet perched on 4 metre high stilts with little poison dart frogs trying to break into my abode…scaling the walls with their mission impossible sucker feet…
The boat trips were hilarious…we all sat under our one man tents…water pouring in ….water creeping up and up and up over our ankles´… our feet bare….
Chewbacca was back, white faced monkeys, iguanas, Jesus lizards (they walk on water…hehe…perfect conditions for practising) and lots of bird life…it was amazing….magical….
And my room had about 10 fluffy towels and not warm water but HOT water and if I sat in the left corner of one my beds I had weefee reception…. And the food was amazing…especially the Pastel de Yucca…which was the closest I had had to shepherds pie in 6 months…and the people were great….I was with a bus load of very elderly rich Americans and the token young English couple and the young Spanish couple on their Luna De Miel (honeymoon)…I was official translator as I was the only person fluent in Spanglish….hehe!! And then one of the Americans wanted to speak German as he never got a chance and my German switch was a wee bit rusty…es war schon schwierig es einzuschalten!!!
I took the Tica bus for the next border crossing after the fat cowboy fiasco I thought this might be safer and more reliable and it was…our passports got to cross the border without us, seems there is no need to check the face matches the passport, just pay some money and cross…we had to accompany our bags only. I was concerned about this as apparently the Nicaraguans like to examine the contents of all bags, apparently on the hunt for apples and other contraband. It seems apples are expensive in Nicaragua and people try to sneakily smuggle them across the border and everyone thinks Centro America is a haven for NarcoTraffickers! It is the Fruit Traffickers who are on the most wanted lists!!!
I was concerned about the big bag examination and not because I have found my new ‘calling’ and have perfected the art of apple smuggling…no, it is my rucksack, I think it has been reading too much Harry Potter and it too has ideas of grandeur…it explodes the second it’s buckles are popped and the contents become strewn within a 2 metre radius, in fact further a-field if I happen to be in a room larger than a prison cell!
I joined the snake like queue and started sweating in a guilty fashion or perhaps due to the thermometer hitting 30 degrees plus in the shade…I felt suspiciously like an outlawed apple smuggler…clearly my bulky baggage could only be due to my illegal trade in overpriced apples???
As I got closer to the customs officer, a new worry, the smelly running gear which hadn’t been washed for days, my dirty laundry bag which had been festering away in the tropical heat….could I be charged for some form of chemical warfare or air pollution? Were they signatories of the Kyoto Agreement?
Buenos Tardes as I smiled guiltily at the officer. I thumped the exploding rucksack filled with rosy red apples and festering laundry on his desk…drip drip sweat…..
My Officer took one look at the bag…and waved me on!!!! Woo Hooo…I would have danced a little Highland Fling if the Apple Rucksack with Eau d’ Underwear hadn’t been so heavy.
I arrived in the capital Managua…aka Mugger-a in the dark, the trusty Lonely Planet Bible assured me it was the dodgy area of town but there were cheap hostels a few buildings down from the station. I was bombarded by touts when I left the station but I knew I was headed for the Dulce Sueno Hostel (sweet dreams), a tout nonetheless escorted me the 200metres down the road and I was grateful.
A room, with ensuite, fan and a tv…I watched BBC world news for the first time in 5 months and it was depressing…better watching some subtitled Law and Order….I asked the hostel attendant about running in Mugger-a, in fact I had asked a few people on the bus about the safety of Mugger-a and they thought running was too dangerous. A Guatemalan tour guide told me he had walked a few blocks from the Tica Bus station and said the drug dealers had appeared out of the dark like extras in Michael Jacksons Thriller video (well he didn’t exactly say that but that is what I visualised!)….so of course since no-one had said it was safe to run, I thought I’d get a 6th opinion…the hostel attendant said ‘yes’…then the conditionals started ‘run with nothing…take off your watch, your ring, your earrings’…should I take the key? ‘yes’ the key was ok….but nothing else.
I decided daybreak would be the best time as usually the bad guys have just gone to bed at 6am…so I pulled on the running shoes and set out to run around the blocks, repeating the same circuit at least 4 times I thought, I didn’t want to get lost. Circuit one was fine, I applied the usual ‘Buenos dias’ rule…always smile and greet people as unfailingly people usually stop frowning and give you a big grin and ‘Buenos Dias’ in return…now I know I was an oddity… a giant blonde haired pony tailed tomato in shorts but I hadn’t arrived from Mars or Venus or Pluto…although by the third circuit I began to wonder If there was a wanted poster up somewhere’ International Apple Smuggler – Nicaraguas Most Wanted’ because by the third circuit the extras from Michael Jackson’s Thriller had started to surface and it appears zombies don’t smile and have lost the social graces of saying ‘Buenos Dias’…of course I got a lot of nice greetings but by the third circuit, I noticed the hostel lady was watching every time I passed the hostel, I thought the old phrases are always based on fact ‘ better safe than a zombie without running shoes’ and retreated to the gated key security of the hostel.
I didn’t like Mugger-a and couldn’t wait to get to the Corn Islands…long last land of buccaneers…I had my Swiss Army Knife at the ready which of course had a Metal Detector as one of its 27 tools at the ready. Now the flight to the Corn Islands wasn’t cheap, it was $170 dollars-ish return and when we got there they had the cheek to say that our luggage mighty not make it due to weight restrictions. Now there was a fellow getting on our flight, and I hate to be a fatt-ist, but he was huge, he weighed three of me and he had huge bags too…anyway we were told to take out what we would need for the night and our luggage ‘might’ make it on the flight the next day.
The boarding cards were hilarious huge plastic boards with the C scratched out…we decided to improvise and the new name was born…the Porn Islands…
Turns out the bags made it and we arrived in the tropical paradise that is the Porn Islands…except it wasn’t that great…obviously my bench mark was now Caye Caulker and like Utila this was beautiful but it just wasn’t nice enough. The room we got was right on the beach but we were like the hens in a Chicken Run…there was wire all over the sandy patio, a chicken wire view of the Caribbean Sea and sky! Maybe Little Porn would be the treasure map dream…
The next morning we caught the ferry and I shut my eyes the entire trip, there were three men at the front of the boat, holding onto strong ropes, scouting the way for the captain, it was a bump, bump, bumpy ride, up, thump down, up, thump down…eyes closed and an hour later we landed on the little tropical islands! No cars only bicycles…and speed bumps?
We swam in the glorious warm Caribbean Sea after a walk through the ‘village’ and it was lovely…little did we suspect that there were Stinging Medusas (jelly fish) lurking in the water waiting to awaken us from the Caribbean Bliss.
We booked a snorkel trip for the next day and wondered if it would take place at it appeared to us that a force 9 gale was roughing up the waters…seemed money was money and Captain Willy …I pictured white beard and at least 65 years old…but no 18 years old and probably not shaving yet…assured us that beside the reef it was really sheltered. Foolishly we trusted Captain Willy the modern day Pirate and hopped in the boat….again…thump, up, down, bump…eyes closed…we made it to the reef…nope the force 9 was still raging…wouldn’t my snorkel be submerged and I would drown and become fish fodder in Davy Jones’ Locker, fish swimming through my empty eye sockets as long blonde hair swirled around my skeleton ? Nonetheless we bravely jumped to our death and tried to swim in any direction was challenging unless you gave in and went with the current, no matter how hard I flipped my flippers I was busy staying in the same spot…it was exhausting in the water, the current was so strong and the reef was pretty dead, so after an hour we got fished out and hung up to dry.
We returned to Big Porn after 3 days on little Porn and went to the other side of the island which was supposed to have lovelier beaches…It did have lovely beaches …but…duh duh..duh duh…duh duh…there were beasts lurking in the water….tentacled…invisible and ready to pounce…Medusas…the sting of a jellyfish is so so so sore…where the trailing tentacles touched my skin it erupted in nasty welts….after repeated brushes with the evil headed ones, I retreated to the safety of the sandy beach.
We returned to Mugger-a and like millionaires we hired a taxi to take us to the Colonial Town of Granada…it has the feel of San Cristobal des Casas (Mexico) and Antigua…beautiful coloured houses and the colonial layout…street cafes on its pedestrian street. It is a beautiful place to relax for a few days.
The boat tour of the lake…the only fresh water lake in the world with sharks!!! (It was once open to the Ocean and was nearly the sight of the ‘panama’ canal except it would have had a name make over ‘Nicara’ Canal?) was the highlight for me….I got to hack to death a coconut with a big machete…the same coconut which was used to entice the spider (with very sharp teeth) monkey into the boat and then…anyone want to drive the coach back into town? Me, me, pick me!!! You have to be firm with the horses, turns out they don’t speak English or German very well???You’d have thought in this country where the dollar is readily accepts along with Cordobas and it seems everyone has a smattering of English, the horses would have spent some time at evening classes too to maximise their potential in harnessing the tourist buck….I loved it…got a bit of stage-coach fright when there was a car coming towards us, which had right of way, and was turning the same direction as us, my ‘teacher’ wasn’t worried a bit and totally cut of the nose of the turning car!! Santa Maria, Maria y Josepi, I muttered!!!
By now dusk was falling and the fruits bats were starting to swirl away from their roosts and swoop over my head and mesmerized I forgot I was the ‘responsible’ adult in charge of the carriage and gazed fascinated at the bats as they swirled and swooped.
Alone again and time to move on to San Juan Del Sur…I was going to get the local bus as I couldn’t afford the rip off taxi prices so I headed down to the ‘well shady’ end of town, over-laden with my too heavy rucksacks…I had my red shorts on which are much more tasteful than my short shorts. I was appropriately attired for temperatures of plus 30 degrees in the shade….and this scum ball…somehow…managed to get his hand up my bottom and squeeze it. I was so So SO outraged, I whirled around on him and started hollering in broad scots ‘ you f**king w**ker, what are you f**king doing, you d**k’ not language I knew I was capable off but there you go, obviously if someone presses the right button, which apparently is my right buttock cheek….the torrent is let loose. I was so upset, angry, embarrassed…the plonker turned around but kept walking with a smirk on his face…I would have loved to have got him and given him a good kick in his ass!!!! Suitably worked up I got on the bus and headed for the first destination Rivas.
I awoke to find I was 5 minutes from destination and knew I would have to find the next bus to San Juan…then the touts appeared…You need a taxi, next bus not for a very long time, not safe…blah blah blah…they wanted $10 each…there was a Surf Dude from Bermuda who was willing to pay but I thought I would rather pay $1.…long story short $7 both of us and the surfboard squeezed into a sedan and made a half an hour dash to San Juan Del Sur…
It was the pacific coast…It had a beach…and it was a surf town…I booked my lesson for the next day.
I ran in the morning to Senior Jesus on the Cerro, Now how can you be charged to see Jesus? But there was a fee to visit the statue, it was closed at 6:30am anyway but the principle of it..I know December is a busy month for el Senior but no need for him to turn all commercial.
The surfing was great and exhausting. You get a top to stop scuffs and scratches and bashes to your body as you haul yourself onto the board. We practised on the beach first of all, yet its amazingly difficult to jump onto the board, my surfer dude assured me it would be easier in the water…and It was…lie flat on board, surfer dude gives signal, paddle paddle paddle, up! Well that is the theory but it is flippin difficult, I stood up twice and it was awesome, I loved it!
After an hour lesson I was exhausted and lay in a hammock to recover. After an hour or two, I heard the surf calling me, so I strapped on the leash and went back out, I only lasted half an hour, turns out the salt, sea and sun had taken more out of me than I thought…didn’t help that one girl claimed she had got stung by a sting ray either!
Next stop Costa Rica…got a rip off taxi to the border, again it seemed like a lot less hassle than a two bus fiasco…the Lonely Planet Bible warned me about the border crossing fiasco from Nicaragua into Costa Rica…they weren’t wrong… the taxi was bombarded the second we pulled up… You need our assistance mam to get through immigration? Well did I? I buzzed up the windows on the clapped out cab and asked me cabby, he said some Touristas do and some don’t…well there is a straight answer, hehe!!! All they wanted was a propina, a tip!!
What the heck, I got Bill and Ben and off we set…there is about 2 km between both immigrations and it is extremely confusing…you even have to pay to enter the town where the border crossing is!!! You cant cross the border unless you enter the town, you have no choice but they charge you for the privilege of entering it??? It seems there was a $12 bribe involved in getting my passport stamped as it again disappeared, I wasn’t allowed to follow, I waited with Ben and My Bag, and after a few minutes Bill returned with a satisfactory exit stamp in my passport…then I needed to change my funny money to Colones…they called over their dodgy del boy mate and after they decided their voluntary tip should be 300 Colones…about $15…I got the rest of my Cordobas changed into Colones…at no man’s land they bid me farewell and I walked across the border into Costa Rica…now where was their immigration??
A few preguntas later and finally I found the immigration office, a 10th of the size of the restaurant…no bribe required…all very official and for the first time ever I was asked how long would I be staying..I said two weeks so she gave me only 15 days….boom went my chance of staying longer and opening up a surf joint of my own!!!!
Next where is the bus to Liberia??? Ok? Where do I buy the ticket??? Ok??? 2.5 hours later I awoke to find I had arrived in Liberia….where is the bus to Amarillo…oops Tamarindo??? Tamagringo….I Had been warned that Costa Rica was expensive…but this was little USA with similar prices too and all conveniently in dollars….Bienvenidos in Cost-a-Lota-Rica!!!
Then more people piled in the taxi. Apparently this is how the taxi driver maximises the fare. We are all ‘roughly’ going in the same direction…so all in the same car…. the fat man was in a good mood…so then he put on his 80’s disco tunes and you couldn’t help but want to sing along….’oh yeah it’s ladies night…’ but really it didn’t feel right, La Ceiba was as the Canadians like to say, my new word of the week ‘sketchy’!!!! Slowly everyone else is dropped off except for the ‘doesn’t have a clue where she is ‘ Scot! Then he drives to a hotel all boarded up and says this is mine but it has closed down now! Out of business! But he knows another!!! I bet he does! Then a hooker comes up to the car, how much for her destination, you know it is 30Lempera he says, I only have 10 she says, it is 30 he responds, come-on she says, this is a bad area of town, Yo tengo medio (I am scared), she is scared what about me!! He says but we aren’t alone and indicated the white Scot in the back of the cab, apparently a ‘transaction’ was agreed and she hops in the front, then we all discuss how dangerous this end of town is, she tells me I have to be careful of taxi drivers…etc etc etc…
I get to the other hostel, obviously the one the taxi driver has an arrangement with and they have a dorm bed available…grand I will take it!
This was La Ceiba and yet Copan had been so lovely…Honduras was marked by dodgy car journeys and really lovely friendly places and extremely dodgy sketchy cities!
The boarder crossing in Honduras was very sketchy…I had paid to travel from Flores Guatemala all the way to Copan Honduras…I know that any estimated journey time should have a minimum of 3 hours added on to it but what I didn’t anticipated was no bus waiting for me at la Frontera!!!!
The bus dropped me at the Guatemalan Border…after the shady money changers at the border had worked their magic on my dollars and Quetzales.. a tuk tuk took me to the Guatemalan immigration, he thought the last bus hadn’t left, raced through immigration, the tuk tuk raced to the Honduras border and again through immigration….then I found out the last bus had left!!! How to get the 10km to Copan it was 8 o’clock at night and it is no place to hang around!!! Young tuk tuk driver was very concerned for me and he had a fat and surly security guard who would take me the 10km into town but the fat man wanted 400 colones!!! that Is $20 more than it cost for the whole 15 hour journey….cowboy thief…but I was a captive market…got him down to $15…and we were off and then surly fatman tried to be my friend and I realised that surly fatman could be an axe murder with pickup so I should be n ice to the fatman until I got to the safety of a hotel…he dropped me off at a cheap hotel, in fact he wanted to drop me off at the bottom of the hill and pointed in the general direction of the cheap hotel but I wasn’t having that…so got dropped off at the door of the San Jose and got a room for a night…no toilet in the room which is fine but then she said there is no shower for those without a toilet…stinky sweaty Scot settled into spartan room and planed her morning manoeuvres….
I awoke for morning run but the mission was find a nice hostel with wee fee…Lonely Planet bible in hand and the cocks still crowing at 6:15 I set out on my bible bashing mission…I trawled the LP recommended hostels and I knew I wanted a private room with wee fee….after my crusade around town the Iguana Azul thought they would have a private room around 10 am… delighted I went off to the LP recommended Commodore for Desayuno Tipico Honduras style…thing was even the Commodore didn’t open until 7am and this early bird was looking for a seat at ten to seven….nevertheless the hunger must have been apparent in my sunken eyes and the waitress let me take a seat until she was ready…after breakfast I naturally packed my gear and set off early to the hostel…oh no…no room at the Inn for Mary oops Mandy…Dormitorio???? Oh Mandy doesn’t do Dormitorio but they were sure they would have a room for tomorrow…so Mandy did dormitorio. I got a bottom bunk and lucked out as there was only one other bunk occupied with the German guy…wee fee, hot showers, towels and free agua pura….
Let the day begin…
Turns out I still had the capacity look at more ruins…not yet ‘ruined by ruins’ and it is true what you read, all the Mayan ruins are different, the Copan Ruinas are all about the Stellae, totem pole like amazing carvings…The Copan Ruinas are only a few safe kilometres out of town…just follow the yellow brick road…no the white sandstone path maybe…hehe…then onto the quieter part of the ruins…where there were no tourists The Sepultura …where the Mariposas danced in the dappled shade…it was beautiful….
The next day was macaw mountain, the Copan Ruinas had wild macaws at the entrance of the park, these birds had been reintroduced by the Macaw Mountain people and they had a feeding station their to ensure the birds got sufficient food until they get reestablished. They are amazing birds…a child couldn’t invent such unlikely colours thrown together! I had seen the sign for Macaw Mountain while walking to the Ruinas the day before..it said 2.5km…well that is nothing I thought….others at the hostel had taken a tuk tuk….but really???? So I set off with my travelling water and the sustenance of a bag of monkey nuts bought from the wheelbarrow monkey nut seller….it was NOT 2.5kms…the road was up and it was dusty and there was no shade…but it was a nice walk…about 1.5km into the UP and after a few cars and pickups had passed me by…one pickup stopped…no words spoken…he signalled did I want to come in, I signalled yes, climbed in… and I offered him some monkey nuts ….so we snapped the nuts and threw the shells out the window…not a word was spoken and the road went on and on and on…e v e n t u a l l y….he stopped outside a bilingual school now we spoke I said thanks and have more nuts, hehe!!! Then a wee bit more walking and I was there!!!
What you walked they said!!!! Get a tuk tuk back they advised and there is another route…no problem I said…Macaw Mountain was wonderful. The birds have all been handed in, rescued, and you get a free tour, or at least a tour included in the entry free…their were owls and other raptors and lots of parrots too and a beautiful injured barn owl….after the tour I got to hold a couple of birds….but I had read the Tripadvisor reviews about how the birds take a fancy to buttons and clothing and believe a little bit of fashion designing is what they are put on this earth to do…and they artistically rip holes into unsuspecting tourists clothing….he placed the bird on my hand…I eyed it warily awaiting the appraising eye and follow up beak manoeuvre…then he started hopping up my arm…the look of terror fills my face….and then Long John Silver style he perches ever so gently on my shoulder…phew!!!! Clearly I have more style than other tourists and didn’t need to be made-over!!
Naturally for the return journey I didn’t get a tuk tuk but I asked the locals the quickest way back to Copan….and checked every now and again to ensure I was on route…using my pigeon Spanglish and hand signals… munching on monkey nuts and sharing along the route with the kids…. I made it back in half the time and this time there was a room at the Inn for Mary…oops Mandy!
I had missed my run on the first morning while doing my ‘find a decent room’ crusade so I needed to pull on my trainers at the crack of dawn and find a running route…German Boy had (falsely) informed me of a potential circular route…so off I headed in the direction of Hacienda San Juan….I passed a donkey…grazing along the road…a horse… a man with machete, Buenos Dias, another man with machete, Buenos Dias, cowboys herding cattle, Buenos Dias (jump out the way of those horned beasts), man with machete….so there were a lot of men with machetes…it was a good route…earth not tarmac and the Machete Men were all friendly…I got broad grins and Buenos Dias responses from them all…but when I started asking about the second bridge to get back over the river I had crossed I got no-s and shakes of the head, I would have to turn back. Hmmm maybe they didn’t understand my Spanglish????? So I ran on and checked with subsequent Machete Men…is there a bridge soon?? Eventually by the time I looked like I had been standing in a shower for half an hour I decided that indeed there wasn’t a second bridge and I retraced my route back into town and peeled off my sodden with sweat clothes and gratefully stood in the hot!! Darn hot when you don’t need it shower…ah that’s better cooool shower…bliss…over heating engine back down to normal….
After Copan where else could I visit in Honduras? I missed Belize and its tropical paradise…what about Honduras’ tropical islands…Utila and Roatan?? This is where I headed on the plush breaking down buses and ended up with the 80’s revival taxi driver and his hooker….
My bunkmate at the Hostel was Veronica from Canada, she was lovely so I had a pal for the Utila part of the trip, we shared the 8km cab journey to the ferry with 80’s revival taxi drover sin hooker, I had told him not to come and pick me up as he was too expensive, he had naturally ignored me and between the two of us the price was fine….yes the vomit comet is rightfully christened…we were fine despite out fine breakfast but others didn’t fare so well….
We got picked up by a dive company and shown to the swimming pool hostel and ugh another dorm, still more nice people..thing was we thought…based on all the women’s underwear in the dorm that it was a women’s dorm….that was until Foley walked in as I lounged around in my bikini (yes thankfully I had kept my bikini on as the room was stifling)!!! I reckoned all the ladies undies were Foley’s trophies but he sniggeringly denied this claim.
Veronica arranged her Padi course and then we had confusing and baffling ordering of 2 for 1 pizzas with eyes bigger than belly we took half of our pizzas back to the dorm. I headed for the beach at the end of town and had my Gulliver’s Travel experience…
All was well I lay unsuspecting on my towel reading my swapped book…it was gorgeous the sun was out, the sea was blue and the sands were white…I cooled off in the warm seas and toasted nicely….around 4 in the afternoon the sun went behind the clouds and this is when they attacked….I was lying on my belly when the Lilliputians attacked…they threw ropes over me…pegged them down in the sand and got their little arrows and spears out and started piercing my skin…..aargh sand flies!!!!!! The beasts of the devil….I am still itching and scratching 5 days later….they had an orgy on my back…my back looks like the Himalayan mountain range….itch ….scratch…..
The next day I had arranged a snorkel trip with Michaela and using a dive school…we were taken to Pigeon Key…a tiny tiny island completely covered with houses, 700 inhabitants and 10 churches…we had snorkels and the reef was all around the other uninhabited tiny island the size of half a football pitch…it was amazing…the water was so warm…the sea so blue and the sea life amazing….we lounged some more in the sun….then back in again and this time we encountered the electric shock treatment of sea lice…Michaela knew what was happening as she had encountered them while trying out surfing….we swam through a bloom of them…they are actually the tiny larvae of jellyfish and they pack a electric shock sting….ouch ….you didn’t know where to rub…and oh if they hit a sensitive area like the lips….ouch….then you were out of the bloom again….ahhhhhh!!!!
On returning to Utila we had to try Roses famous Baleadas…the traditional Honduran dish….large flour tortillas filled with avocado and beans and the filling of the choice with cheese too and then toasted….I didn’t know how big they were..I thought if they are so cheap they must be small…eyes bigger than bell day 2, I ordered 2.…oh oh…can I have one to go? Para llevar?? Ok so Baleada for dinner? Well not exactly….we went out again at night and Veronica tried the local passion potion from the kindly old bar tender and we had shrimps and barracuda while staring out to sea and watching the Canadian guy try dancing with fire and setting a girl on fire….never a dull moment…..
I needed to get to Managua Nicaragua…however the obvious route would take me through the capital city Teguclpa which the LP bible said ‘ was palpable with crime’….how many lives did I have??? So I decided to go west back to San Juan del Sur…surely less ‘palpable’….needed to buy my ticket on arrival…ticket office was closed at 1pm on a Saturday???? Kindly locals said the Tamarindo Hostel could sell tickets for Tica bus…so my new friendly taxi driver took me there…yes they could sell tickets but she wouldn’t be there until half an hours time…did I want a room, how much, 800 Lemperas for a single room, $40 dollars??? EEck no, that’s four nights accommodation, oh she could do it for 500, no….so I said I would just wait and get my ticket…Jose Taxi driver left me his number and I settled in…sponging their weefee awaiting the ticket seller and proprietor’s arrival….then she phoned again, ok, I could have a room for 300.…result!!!!
I needed to run! I checked with the guy at the hostel where could I run…up 5 blocks and then as long to the left as you want….so I pulled on my trainers and stepped out into the scorching afternoon sun….nobody was walking the streets…oh no….not sketchy again….yes everyone was in cars…lots of American fast food restaurants…customers arriving and departing by car…nobody walking…only armed security guards at every second establishment….yes sketchy…..I had been counting the blocks..I thought…I hit a big roundabout and decided it was time to retrace…..yes I lost count of the blocks…wisely I had written the address and hostel name on the palm of my hand….so when I knew I was officially off course I started asking directions….two down and four along…phew made it…and the guy at the hostel laughed as he had foretold it…don’t get lost…hehe!!!
So I settled down for the night…ticket bought and paid for…SMS sent to Jose Taxi Driver for 4am pick up….all set ….next stop Nicaragua….
I had to go via Flores, again, and over night there so managed to run around the island 4 times, 2 of each way in the tropical hot sun. Another 4 am rise and I was on another bus but this time bound for paradise found. Only 3 people on the bus too, space for sprawling and potential sleep catch up…if we hadn’t chatted all the way.
At immigration the Guatemalan official pulled a fast one, there is no fee for leaving Guatemala and travelling to Belize or Mexico is the way Gringos have to go to zero the counter on there 90 days ‘permission to stay’… the Lonely Planet Bible says that if you are asked for a
‘fee‘, call their bluff and ask for a Factura (receipt)….I dutifully called the bluff and was double bluffed…I didn’t have to pay but he wouldn’t stamp my passport to show I had departed the country…darn and blast and worse…I paid up!
Then the second we stood in Belizean immigration I had entered the word of ‘your welcome mam’ English and it was a sing-song delight to my Spanish beaten ears.
Safely through immigration, some shifty ´money changing at the border and the additional local Swiss/Belizean/ French passport holder extra we set off on the long straight road to the den that is Belize City. So the first rule of the fight club is…you don’t stay in Belize City…the second rule is …get out of the city fast…
The merry bad of three again set out to the other boat terminal having received a possibly suspect discount voucher for one of the two ferries but gratefully the voucher proved valid and saved us all a nice bit of a cash. Service with a Smile, Mam, that wat you get here, Service wid a Smile….By now the foreigners had banded together and we were 7 and one girl had been on the island already and she became the Belize Tourist Information Representative.
We were soon passing over crystal clear blue waters and it was stunning..bounce…bounce of the waves and the captains mate duly emptied his over indulgence of beer and who knows what stomach, which had been fermenting in his gut over the back of the boat and unfortunately all over the captain and his pristine polo shirt!!! Thankfully I was tucked up inside the boat cabin an observer of said ‘hurling spray’ but thankfully not a victim.
Then I arrived in paradise…
Shepherded along by the Canadian branch of the Belize tourist information we made for Bellas hostel…only one room…another couple had checked out Tina’s, full…the ‘tout’ on bicycle who had been circling us, then took me to Miramar and all was well as there was room at the Inn for Mandy.
The island is all sand, the roads are sand the beach is sand, it is all sand. Mode of transport is foot, bicycle or golf cart…so quiet, no bustling vehicles! The frigate birds silently fly over head, pelicans crash into the sea and cormorants bob along and then dry themselves, bat like on the piers…
How you doing beautiful? Good Morning Holland! That’s me…don’t know why but since Anna was German they somehow decided I was Dutch…and eventually you just have to go along with it! I am gonna love you til the day I die Holland!! You want to go an smok’ something with me Holland? You girls out dancing tonight?
Despite the blatant flirting and propositions I never felt safer!!! They were shooting the shit and taking as good as they gave!!!!
Even the morning run was full of ‘Good Mornings’ but imagine a sing-song afro-Caribbean lilt and smile along with it…no other tourists are up at 6am in the morning …sweating in the hot morning sun…out past the airfield…the sign says ‘Go Slow! We have 2 cemeteries on the island but no Hospital!’…priceless…I ran on past the airfield and through the mangroves until the road went no further and back I came…dripping with sweat…this wasn’t the Guatemalan Highlands anymore…it was the Caribbean Coast at sea level and it was Hot N Steamy!!!
I decided immediately to book a snorkel trip and see what the waters had to offer….so I set out along ‘front street’ and immediately encountered Andrew the Cake Man…Not to be confused with Cake Lady who has equally gorgeous cakes…they ride along Front Street…peddling their wares of homebaking…hmmmm coconut cake….a Canadian couple were discussing the merits of the goods on offer…on noticing my accent I was invited in for a beer to wash down my cake….a few hours later I thought I would try and walk further down the sandy street than the few hundred yards I had managed….and what about booking the trip?
Then I bumped into Anna again and we went to the split. This is where the island was divided by a hurricane…’split’ and where people go to swim…so we stripped off and plunged into the warm wonderful blue salty waters…bliss….now what about a tour…
Eventually we got a tour booked…all day for BZ $ 90…
I decided to go to The Little Kitchen as recommended by Andrew Cake Man…out of the way and hidden, tucked behind houses and up rickety wooden stairs…and who was there but Kevin the Canadian and Devon, Olivia the photographer and more lovely people, come over join in!!!
The food was sublime! I had Lobster for BZ $20 which is US$10 for Lobster tails…messy but so worth the finger licking mess I was a making!!!
Next day? So after my early morning mangrove run.. I found the bakery and had a 3 course feast of bread and butter pie, cinnamon bun with icing and sausage roll!!! Bulge!
I showed up at the Snorkel shack in goodtime to hear that there had been cancellations due to the threat of rain and only a half day trip would be offered, disappointed Anna and I agreed because what if the weather turned worse tomorrow and there wasn’t even a half day on offer. Last minute the grown kids of my Canadian friends appeared to join the trip so we were four. The half day trip doesn’t go out far into the sea but it doesn’t have too, everything is there ….the reef was alive and teaming with fish….the captain and his assistant get in the water with you and point out things as you snorkel along…it was amazing and exhausting. After an hour we got out the water and were shivering as it had started to rain!!! We got some snacks of orange and banana and huddled until the next snorkel site and what a sight it was…
Shark and sting ray alley…this is where the fishermen had formerly cleared out the conch shells and this had always attracted the reef sharks and sting rays who cleaned up what they didn’t want, after the area was turned into a national park the snorkel trips took over the feeding….the water was absolutely teeming with sharks and sting rays…Get in the Water? Are you mad? Get in the water with 6 feet sharks writhing and sting rays flapping and twirling?????? Ok…of course we got in the water and it was thrilling and scary and amazing and mad and insane!!!!
We got taken to another sight but nothing could compare with the melee we had just been enveloped within.
A great half day and exhausting…. But I wanted more…
Anna and I found the Budget Man… a chef on the beach front…hat and all…he gets whatever the local fishermen have caught that day and bases the dish around it for the meal of the day…served up right there on the sands…we got Conch and walked out onto the pier and dangled our feet in the ocean and ate the feast in our waterside paradise.
I had been told about the Fish Whisperer the night before… Juni… the man who decides if the likes your karma before he decides if he has ‘space’ on his tour…the man who doesn’t use bate to attract the f ish but knows them and loves them and is a fish in water… a 72 year old legend …who built his own boat by hand… Trinity…
I set out that night to find the legend…a couple of promenades along Front Street and there he was on his porch…. I should pop by the next morning at 9am to see if he had anz more people signed up…as 2 was a minimum…so at 6:30 the next morning as I ran past, he was out breakfasting and we were on!!!! Wooo Hooo!!
I returned at 10 to find that Anna had been there asking if I was signed up and she was coming too.
It was amazing! Another lovely American couple joined us and we set out to the distant reef where the fish are BIG! Juni doesn’t talk while in the sea, he is a dolphin and he frolicks and turns and twists and rubs his hands and makes clicking noises and he gets followed by shoals of fish…no enticing fishy morsels, they just follow him, shoals of fish follow him! It was amazing we saw so many beautiful things and he ‘talks’ with sting rays. They flap into his hand like fluttering butterflies and they let him pick them up and we lay on our backs and Sting Rays flapped up our bodies and over our faces!!!! We were out for over an hour and it was a different world…
After refreshments and some chat we set out for the other part of the reef…and the second we got in the water we saw a turtle…moseying along the bottom of the white sandy sea bottom and then flap flap up it went for air and the blup blup sank again!!!!!! Wow!!!!
Then more amazing fish including a giant puffer fish, huge reef sharks, an eagle sting ray, disco fish and and and….
We were all thrilled and chilled when we got out of the water… and then he produced creamy sugary warm coffee! Was he married`? We huddled and chatted and laughed and ate buns and drank coffee and then he said we were sailing home. He let down the sail and the beach boys started playing in my head as we slowly set sail for Caye Caulker…then there were dolphins…three of them bobbing by the boat…could the day be more perfect?
At night I went to The Little Kitchen and had shrimps and Kevin and Devon were there with some others so the chat was good.
Returning from my morning run I meet Anna at the Juice stall and she suggests a canoe ride? I had thought I would go to San Pedro on the other island to have more than one memory of Belize…so I asked a few people about visiting the other island??? It is fast and loud, so many carts and bikes and motorbikes and it is all built up….since I had turned into a laid back positively horizontal tourist is sounded like hell….so after my two breakfasts…first at Taco Man…two delicious mouth watering wheat tacos and orchata, ‘pay me tomorrow mam coz I don’t have no change’ and the most expensive breakfast in creation at Amor y Café…I went to Bellas to find a woman with a canoe…
It was hilarious we went in circles at first and then Anna got up the back and did the steering and slave like ordering and then there was some semblance of direction…we were in danger of heading to Cuba a few times but thankfully Anna had the navigation covered at we made it past the split to a pontoon where we tied up the canoe after scaring away all the cormorants who showed their disapproval but squirting guano all over the platform and we jumped into the Caribbean…paradise…
Then we got back in and navigated for home…turns out what had taken us an hour to achieve took 15 minutes to retrace as the prevailing wind was now in our favour! What fun…then another afternoon of lounging on a pier and cooling off in the sea and eating cake and conch…heavenly….
19 days ago the famous Dizzy rascal paid me a visit and ensured I was dozy dizzy and dotty and fit for nowt’ ever since…. I had planned to run, skip and jump as normal while back in San Pedro at least try horse riding for the first time and climb the volcano San Pedro instead I became acquainted with the cowboy doctor who rides a motorbike and enjoys injecting rejuvenating injections into white bums while asking if I had any dollars to pay the bill (as the banks give such a bad rate!) and then after I complain about cost of ‘ten year younger bum jabs’ he gives me a discount!
Doctor Cowboy was wrong I didn’t have vitamin deficiency and anaemia as my continual inability to walk in a straight line and avoid stationery hedges proved….in tears I went off to Teach’ Mildred one morning and asked for help….where is the English Speaking doctor? Hand in Hand, very truly as I couldn’t walk, she took me to efficient, professional doctor #2, Dr Alfredo….lots of wonderful glorious English later and lots of tests…for sure I have high BP and Amoebic Dysentery!!! Well that might make me dizzy….more pills and bills…but with hope included….a few days little that rapper dude is still around playing his dodgy tunes and making me walk into walls. Doctor and I conclude I need a specialist which means moving back to Antigua to be close to the BBC!!! And no 10k run in San Lucas as it turns out if you can’t walk you actually can’t run….
I did manage to lounge about in the hot tubs in San Pedro, get a Massage from Pedro, aka Hans Peter from Eltersdorf….which was lovely as it confirmed my German is still there tucked away in the cobwebbed recesses of my brain….and so relaxing….just don’t move the head or Dizzy will be back singing his dodgy tunes making the floor bounce all by itself.
San Pedro is so lovely, there were lots of Gremlins there, aka Israelis, now this isn’t my name for the people, this is what the local bar and restaurant keepers call them and if you had been there you would know why! Did mean I could speak lots of English and had great falafels, you can eat at the restaurants down at the lake shore and enjoy the absolute beauty of the location, butterflies, hummingbirds and oranges and avocados growing on the trees! This place is lovely…if you are going to be sick and sustain yourself on a diet of pancakes, strawberries and pina with freshly squeezed orange juice every morning this is the place to do it!!!!
So I left paradise…which makes it sound like it was easy…but.. my Mochilla all packed and waiting for shuttle bus at 8am in the morning, one of my Gremlin friends walks passed, I explain where and why I am going and ask how he was as he had had dickey tummy for a while and had accused me of infections powers!! He wasn’t too good, he had been out on a motorbike the day before heading for Santiago Atitlan and then just after the tarmac road runs out and the Velocidad of the motorbike had to be reduced to a crawl, two men came out of the trees, heads covered, one with a machete and the other with his pistol, the poor guy lost everything, money, phone, camera (all his photos) and rucksack!!!! He was off to cancel his phone contract….
I waited and waited for the bus, after 45 minutes, something had to be wrong, unwillingly with my over-heavy bag I bang off the walls and people on the way down to the Agencia…where is my bus? The lady was just returning she had been searching for me, San Pedro was locked down…landslide …only way out …by boat!!
I could have cried! Dizzy was delighted though as he knew his volume would be turned up!!!! Do you have any idea how long the boat journey is from San Pedro to Pana? L-O-N-G!!! Ever tried to walk along a narrow gangplank and pier with a too-heavy-bag and Dizzy on your back? Hellish!!!
2 hrs later bus back to Antigua up and over the windy mountain roads…yuck!!!! Great to be home…now just have to wait for doctor to give me details of specialist…lots of emails later I have his details…Golden! So Thursday morning I try to call Dr #3, Dr Alf…just a super rapid answer machine message!!!! So I get the 8 o’clock bus to Dodge, Taxi to clinica… and there is a queue at 9:30 in the morning and they don’t open until 10!!!! So 4th in the queue I talk to the receptionista, Dr Alf doesn’t normally come in until 11:30, I have to leave BBC by 12 to get to another appointment at 2 in Antigua!! If I am 4th in the queue…I have no possibility of seeing the doctor…however she says I won’t be 4th in the queue, I will be first??? Is this ‘White Person Effect’… where you jump to the front of the queue just because you are white???? If it is I am not complaining so I sit for hours reading 5 year old American Good Housekeeping magazines ( and enjoying them!!!) and Dr Alf comes in…by now the waiting room is a standing room and there are people slumped on the wall…perhaps there are two doctors in this practice? Nope, seems to be Dr Alf and Gracias a Dios….he takes me first!!!!
I start to explain my Dizzy rascal Vertigo problema and praise the lord Dr Alf speaks English!!!! And he knows what he is talking about…. He checks and shines and pokes and prods and gazes into me ears and eyes and questions…then I have to do some experiments. Hold out both hands and point my fingers and close my eyes…I have bouncy left hand syndrome? Stand up straight and feet together and close my eyes…I have leaning left tower of Pisa syndrome! Eyes closed and try and walk in a straight line…. I have the wildebeest parasite that will make me walk and walk in circles until the day I die!!!!
My Travel Insurance calls while I am with Dr Alf and manage to upset me with comments like ‘ we need a report from the Dr to ensure he isn’t sending you for unnecessary tests’, ‘why are you a ENT expert too?’ ‘no but we have a medical team here’ ‘why did they just examine me?’ grrrrrrrrrrrr
Dr Alf wants to send me for more tests…he suspects I have Labyrinthitis…an infection of the inner ear, not a Mad David Bowie Movie although I do think both are related although what came first is debateable… my madness or David Bowie Movie? Chicken or Egg?
Dr Alf emails me that the next appointment at clinic is in two weeks time…can’t wait ….it is driving me mad being in the maze with mad hatters and grinning Cheshire cats and Dizzy constantly craving attention…so he calls me in to have BPPV treatment…just looked it up to get it right… Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo!!!
Basically my left ear thinks it is a snow globe and the little shiny silver particles ( this is how I see them so don’t knock it!) have escaped into the Labyrinth without my permission due to my infection and are running amok!! The little sparkly giddy hyper particles need to be ‘put somewhere where they can do less damage’!!
I saw stars!!! Basically Dr Alf manipulates my head in such a manner that my little silver crystal snow globe particles are repositioned to the back of my ear!!!! My head explodes, I have to keep my eyes open but my brain is screaming ‘close the eyes, sensory over load’ I can’t close my eyes Dr Alf needs to watch them have their spasm so he knows with my episode of Dizzy rascal Vertigo is over and then he can start counting for the two minutes necessary!!! I have to white knuckle hold the medical bed as I fear I will fall off….then we have to repeat the manoeuvre 3 times!!!!
Doctor Alf calls me a cab, escorts me to cab and makes sure I have enough money to pay it and there is an email waiting for me to make sure I got home safely! We like Dr Alf!!!
Two days later and I have been doing the Snow Glove Manoeuvre twice a day as instructed and I feel so so so so much better….for the first time for weeks I was well enough to run ….and I managed up Cerro de La Cruz and out to Jocotenango…I know it is too soon to be sure but I think the rehoming of the Sparkly Silver Snow Crystals by Dr Alf might have done the trick….how do go about getting someone sainted?