30 January 2012

Into the unknown

Ok so now halfway through our trip, Mike and I had done the city thing, the beach thing, the nice hotel thing, the first class flight thing, the puddle jumper plane thing....but the second half of the trip had a bunch of new things...the biggest one was that we were now traveling without reservations most places, so we could be more flexible. The giant unknown....exciting, yet unnerving.


We landed in San Pedro Sula in the late evening. For this portion of the trip, I had booked us at a homestay, basically just spending the night at a Honduran family's house for one night before we headed out overland towards Guatemala.

Our host, Luis, picked us up at the airport...in his van.

Get in the van!
 Luis spoke good enough English, but like anyone else, he switched to Spanish once we showed we had a little and were interested to learn. Once again, we had someone rattling out info in Spanish while Mike and I scrambled to figure stuff out and coordinate with each other

Luis: (In Spanish) Blah blah blah blah blah blah blahdey blah
Mike: (whispering to me) ...something about a festival?
Chris: (whispering) Yes I think tomorrow? (looking up word in Spanish dictionary)
Luis: (In Spanish) Blah blah blah blah blah blah blahdey blah
Mike: I think he said he can take us to get some local food..
Chris: Oh, I thought he said they have good local food
Luis: (In Spanish) Blah blah blah blah blah blah blahdey blah
Mike: (whispering) Is he talking about his house?
Chris: (whispering) I thought he was talking about the Zoo?
Luis: Si?
Mike: Si!
Chris: You got it Amigo! (big thumbs up)

After a 20 minute ride in the back of the van through the dark deserted streets of San Pedro Sula, we got to Luis's home. Its the only Honduran home I have ever been in, so I have nothing to compare it too, but it was nice. They were very hospitable and pleasant.

Luis's son (cant remember his name) absolutely blew Mike's socks off with his knowledge of soccer. He knew EVERYTHING about Ireland's team, upcoming rankings, players, coaches etc...incredible.

We were starved, so Luis said we should walk down the street to find a place to eat. Turns out, he meant Mike and I...not all of us. So Mike and I go walking down a dark deserted street in the direction he pointed...mentally mapping our way home. Its about 9pm...its dark...we have no idea where we are....just then, we turn a  corner...and BAM!

A shopping mall. (insert dissappointed noise)

Ok we werent that disappointed....there was a full blown, two level shopping mall. Not what I came to Honduras for exactly...but I was famished.

Then we saw the place we had to go eat...man, we had a good laugh over this one.

Waiter: Buenos Noches, Bienvenido a Applebee's. Mi nombre es Juan. Algo de beber?
Chris: Hola Juan...I'll have an Applebee's Golden Margarita please
Juan: Rocks or Frozen Senor?
Chris: Rocks, Thanks
Mike: I'll have a beer, whats your soup of the day?
Juan: Baked Potato
Mike: Great Thanks.
Juan: I'll be right back with your drinks

Mike: Man, Honduras is so different
Chris: Yeah, the food here is weeeiiiirrrrddd.

It was surreal. Now, of course, I have been to American restaurants abroad, but this one caught me by surprise...Applebee's in Honduras? C'mon!

To top off the surreal experience, one of the people at the only other group in the place was having a birthday....so they all sang happy brithday...including the waiters...fantastic.

After dinner, we went back to Luis's house and crashed. Our plan was to take a series of buses throughout the next day to get from San Pedro Sula to the Caribbean coast, then across the border into Guatemala, then to the port city of Puerto Barrios...but earlier Luis had told us, he knew where to get a bus directly to Puerto Barrios! Planning a bus trip in Central America online is impossible, as there in no central resource for timetables, so we were happy to find a direct bus.....except that it leaves early in the morning.

At 5am, Luis took us to a crappy, rinky dink bus terminal, talked to some people, negotiated a price and put us on a bus. I love it when a plan comes together!

So like thieves in the night, we arrived and left Honduras, never having seen the daytime. Mike would later joke that if anyone asked what Honduras was like he would say "Dark...all the time...perpetual night"...i added "...and they only eat Applebee's"


Guatemala was the destination I was looking forward to most. We had tentatively mapped out a crazy itinerary, and planned to do some cool stuff...but it was all shooting from the hip from here on out.

After a 6 hour bus ride, including an hour long stop at the border, our bus dropped us off about 15 miles from Puerto Barrios at a crossroads. Luckily, there was a cab hanging around, who offered to take us the rest of the way for just a few bucks. By midday, we were in Puerto Barrios and well ahead of schedule.

We were not done though. Our destination was Livingston, a small town up the coast at the mouth of the Rio Dulce river...it can only be reached by boat, so we paid for seats on a local boat that was leaving shortly.

It was gray and windy...and the seas were choppy.

After taking a 40 minute beating in the bumpy boat ride, we arrived in Livingston ready for action. Unfortunately, sleepy little town doesnt really describe Livingston accurately enough. Its actually a depressed area, that relies on tourists...and this wasn't tourist season so it was deeeeeeeeaaaaaaaadddddd. It is mainly populated by Garifuna (also known as Black Caribs...descendants of Caribs, Arawaks and West Africans) so the whole place has a more Caribbean feeling then Guatemalan.

We had made tentative reservations 2 days earlier at a place about a mile outside of town on the beach. The directions were to walk up the hill from the dock and keep going until you hit the beach, then head north on the beach for about 1.5km. We double checked with someone at a local shop and they said to make a left at the street at the top of the hill and follow that until you see a sign.

We should have gone straight to the beach. It was the same distance, but we walked smack dab through the ghetto underbelly of Livingston. No touristy stuff, no shops, just run down Carib shanty town. We got a lot of looks, and at one point three dudes walked out and blocked the road we were walking on (on purpose). Mike pulled out his knife and stabbed them all to death, so noone screwed with us after that.

Ok, actually we just walked around them...but Mike COULD have stabbed them.....although he was only carrying a swiss army knife, so it might have been with a corkscrew or a can opener.

Finally...after buses, cabs, boats and walking, we reached our first destination in Guatemala.

Flowas Bungalows

...5 or 6 raised Bungalows right on the waters edge.

...and as it was not tourist season, we had the whole place to ourselves.

Maria, the owner, couldn't find the key to the bungalow (I dont think she was actually expecting us to show up), so Mike and I both climbed up like monkeys and let ourselves in.

One bed and one hammock....perfect.

Mike and I sat down at the common area bungalow/cafe'/bar and relaxed after a long trip. We asked about food and Maria said we could order from the menu OR if we could wait an hour or so, one of the girls who works there could make us the local specialty, Tapado. She said it takes a while because the cook has to crack coconuts and who knows what else, but that it was worth the wait...and then added that the cook is VERY talented in the kitchen.

Of course, we said YES! We drank some beers and just hung out...with our new dog Carlos.

An hour later, dinner was served....I can honestly say, with no uncertainty, that this was one of the top 5 meals of my lifetime. It was so delicious. The picture does not do it justice.

I know what you are thinking..."huh? looks yucky!". Normally I don't choose fish on the bone with the skin etc, but I am usually pleased with it, regardless of the work to get to the meat.

First, Mike adeptly lead the way and de-boned his fish in 4-5 seconds. I followed suit. The meat really just fell off the bone. No problem. The sauce....I dont even know what the hell was in it besides coconut milk, herbs...maybe some broth? It was unbelievable. The plantains were semi-ripe so they were firm and just a hint of sweet...and then there were a load of shrimps and some potatoes. Garnished with cilantro...and boom! Delicious.

Freakin' fantastic.....best meal of the trip, hands down. No question.

Mikes bowl after dinner.
After we ate, we walked along the beach back into town to see what was going on...nothing apparently, so we walked back before dark...it was after all sketchy, even on the beach.

We sat back down at our table and just hung out...all night. It was very relaxing.

It could have been the rum that relaxed us...I honestly don't remember. :)

That night, Mike took the bed and I bundled up and slept in the hammock. Cool breeze, gently swaying hammock, belly full of coconut fish stew...and rum....life is good.

That night was the only night on our whole trip that it rained....it was nice in the hammock...until the rain started blowing in sideways at about 4am....

When Mike woke up at 7, I was sleeping next to him in the bed. He said "Hey!" I said "Good morning Warthog. I hope you don't mind, the Peacock was getting rained on in the hammock"

...stay tuned for day 2 in Guatemala.

P.S. I found someone else online who fell in love with Tapado in Livingston, and she posted a recipe!

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