Archive for May, 2009

Terremotos & Tales from the Islands

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

What a great sounding word, “terremoto” – it means earthquake and we had one. A big one, magnitude 7.1.


At the time (2am) we were staying some 200km+ away in Livingston, Guatemala, and the two storey wooden structure we were sleeping in swayed in a reasonably terrifying manner. A few mild aftershocks meant we ceartainly didn’t get any more sleep from then until our 5am wakeup to continue onto Honduras and the Bay Islands.

That was a hellish day actually – primarily because of the lack of information available in the afternath of the quake. In hindsight I find it fascinating just how much misinformation people are prepared to create and spread when they’re excited about something.

We heard wild tales of collapsed bridges, canceled ferry services, devastated towns, cities, islands, and that the epicentre of the quake was in fact our intended destination; the island of Utila.

In some respects these turned out to be semi-accurate. There was indeed a collapsed bridge, although the other, primary bridge next to it was intact. We were held at the Honduran border for over an hour while they “inspected the next bridge”; i.e. waited for a bribe to get things moving again.

The epicentre was in fact quite close to Utila; around 50km off the coast. But Utila looks completely undamaged – I cannot find any trace of it at all.


Needless to say, despite all protestations to the contrary, the ferry was running as scheduled and in spite of all the delays from bad roads and bueracracy we arrived in time to catch it and arrived on the tropical paradise of Utila around 13 hours after we left that morning. Like I said; killer day.

After checking into a place with aircon and a pool, we’re in much better shape this morning. This place is wealthy, touristy and comparatively expensive, but the availability of comfort and drinkable coffee has proved too tempting to resist. We will stay a few days at least, and as the group reconvenes will look at getting some time on the private island.

Finca El Paraiso


One other highlight from Guatemala was the hot spring waterfall, Finca El Paraiso. After an hour of hellish, hot cramped-ness on the chicken bus we arrived and bathed in the scalding waters from the waterfall which emptied into a (comparatively) cool river. Definitely an amazing and unique experience.

A truly beautiful setting, we managed to enter what we call the “spa zone”, which is where after an hour or so, you come to the conclusion that you need never leave, such is the level of comfort and relaxation.

We did spend a few hours there, and would certainly have stayed another six had we not needed to relive the chicken bus nightmare (this time with heavy duty roadworks, sorry, road creation) to get back to Rio Dulce that evening. The juxtaposition of paraiso and the chicken bus probably contributes to the vividness of the memory.


In Guatemala

Monday, May 25th, 2009


Big difference once you cross the border from Belize. The road becomes gravel, for starters. They burn stuff, lots of it. People are, on average, about a foot shorter. Still lots of reggae music though.

It was my turn for gastro about 3 hours into the bus trip, and I offered quite a spectacle out the side window from my seat. Much like Jess’ bout it took me out for almost 24 hours, which consequently meant we didn’t get much done here until today.

Today was Mayan ruins; Tikal. My first ruins, actually. 2700 years ago they were lugging stone up a hill in some truly incredible sunshine. You have to respect the Maya for that reason alone.


We stumped up the extra cash for lake views & aircon as the afternoon heat here on the island of Flores is intense. At AUD$32 for the double we’re happy that it’s not breaking the bank.

We split with the other four crew members because our lost day(s) to sickness have broken the schedule a little. We will probably catch them when they return from down south and head up the coast in Honduras.

Now we’re in Rio Dulce, and from our bungalow we can row up the stream and it looks a bit like this:

Verrrry nice. Fearsome mosquitos, though. For the geo-nerds, we are right here.

Belize Karaoke

Saturday, May 23rd, 2009


Ripped out “My Sharona” and “Mustang Sally” at the local Belizean karaoke bar last night. Ace. Juxtaposted against the power ballads that were otherwise on offer.

Jess is better today after being laid out for 24 hours yesterday, so we’re boating back to Belize City and bussing down to Guatemala. First “proper” Central America bus trip, should be interesting. And bumpy.


Will be away from the beach for a while, I guess until we reach Honduras. Wonder if it might get a bit cold up in the hills; and hopefully not to mosquito-ey. Given how heavy my pack is, surely there are some warm clothes in there somewhere…

Belize by the beach

Friday, May 22nd, 2009

We’ve spent a few days on Ambergris Caye and Caye Caulker now, for the most part doing very little. We did a tour out to the Blue Hole with all the scuba divers, but the 6 of us, not being PADI certified, just snorkeled.

To be honest, without diving it, the Blue Hole could have been just about any other tropical coral reef snorkel spot, and I’ve confirmed that we really are spoilt with the Great Barrier Reef. I’ve never seen anything that comes close.

A good day out despite my proper seasickness on outward boat trip, and the hole really is one of those things that you can’t traipse this far out of the way without ticking off the list.

The whole area is called Lighthouse Reef, and includes some really Gilligan’s Island type atolls to stop at along the way. One gave me a fairly surreal sense being absolutely in the middle of nowhere. Which is kinda what I’m here for I guess.

Of course, I noted the GPS co-ordinates and when I look at the photos on Google Earth will no doubt discover just how many thousands of people plod the same footsteps each month.

The two cayes we’ve stayed on (think little tropical islands) are quite delightful, with our current spot (Caulker) the pick of the two. Not a lot to do here of course (at least not without a dive license), but we’re not really after a lot to do.

Our primary leisure activity though (eating) appears to have come at some cost with Jess still in bed at 3pm with what we think (certainly hope) is a nasty case of gastro from the cold seafood & salad she ate last night. Which has put a bit of a dampener on things.

We’re quite partial to our beachfront apartment which for $11/each per night is helping undo the budgetary damage done in the USA.

More from Belize (BTL blocks Skype)

Tuesday, May 19th, 2009

Trying to blog shorter and more often (those 600 word+ entries are killers).

Belize Telecom (“BTL”, the monopoly telephony provider in this country) block Skype among other things. I verified it using proxied and non-proxied connections.

To any Belizians who are annoyed at this and other VPN blocking that BTL are doing, if possible run your VPN server on port 443 (i.e HTTPS). They cannot block this. The subject line of this post is aimed to assist those Googling for info on circumventing it.

In unrelated news:
What a day of sitting in the hammock reading trashy novels (John Grisham for now, and soon “The Ice Station”). This is what relaxing should be.

The money bleed has been mostly stemmed, also – it’s good to be out of the USA.

That said, Belize seems to have some strange economic forces at work. I’m convinced that pegging your currency (in this, as most other cases, the US dollar) largely serves only to inflate prices for everyone. We are on the super-tourist island, though, so tomorrow when we step it down a notch it will be telling.

Assuming, of course, this tropical storm abates so we can get on the boat.

I’m sure it’s not a taxation issue, given all the offshore banking services on offer.