Kristina's Honduras 2000 Journal:
HONDURAS, Copan Ruinas to Roatan$1 US=15 Lempiras
December 18, 2000 ...where flying is a pleasure?
We left Copan at 8:30 and made it back to San Pedro Sula by 11:30 AM. We had a much better drive than on the way to Copan. It was easy and uneventful. We turned in the car and waited for our 2 PM flight. For lunch we had the only food available, Wendy's, and got cash from the ATM.
I had been nervous about flying on very small planes since I began planning this trip and my fears were not disappointed. The plane left at 2:15 and was a 22 seater on the new Honduran airline, Atlantic Airlines. We sat right behind the pilot, so close I could see the Russian writing on the control panel. From San Pedro Sula we flew to la Ceiba and had to get off the plane. We were back on plane at 3:00 PM for our flight to Roatan, complete with free airline T-shirts. One per passenger, the shirt read, " Donde volar es un placer" -Atlantic Airlines, where flying is a pleasure.
Upon arrival, Anthony's Key Resort (AKR) was there to pick us up in their van. Fortunately, our luggage arrived with us. Some people we met later weren't so lucky. We arrived at the resort around 4pm and filled out our paperwork (passport and dive info) and went to our room. The room is ok, but not luxurious by any means. Ours was an A/C room on the key which meant it had sealed windows, air conditioning and was on a little island only accessible by boat from the main island. The rom had 2 double beds and a decent bathroom with shower only. This was a fairly new room, built after Hurricane Mitch in 1998. Our room (room 17) looked out over the dolphin pen and the resort proper. It might have been better to be on other side toward Bailey's key, in order to see the sunsets. Dinner that night was a BBQ on the Key, right outside our room. It felt like the first day in a new school where everybody knows everyone else. We sat alone and no one talked to us. Our fault, I'm sure; we should have been more social.
December 19, 2000 Ever thought you were gonna die?
Have you ever been so frightened you thought you were going to die? Not just a little scared, but the kind of fear that your brain says "oh my God, this is it. This is how I'm going to die!"
I had that kind of terror. Today. Down at sixty feet. I had a wee bit o' panic.
Ok, I had a full blown panic attack and I thought I was going to be another statistic, another page 12, small print headline, "American Woman Drowns Scuba Diving in Honduras".
When we arrived yesterday it was too late to go diving. This morning we went to the dive shop, signed in, got our equipment and went out on the boat we were assigned. The dive master had us do a buoyancy test and I was having problems from the beginning. My fins were too lose and fell off in the water. My new mask was leaking. I couldn't decend and the dive master gave me another weight. Finally he determined all was ok and we were ready to head out.
Usually, the first dive of the day is the deepest and this one was planned to drop down along a reef wall down to about 80 feet. Right away I was nervous; I had really wanted my first dive in 2 years to be a shallow one. We went in and I was breathing kind of heavy and shallow. I was very nervous and had problems descending again. Finally, I was able to go down and had no problems equalizing my ears. David held my hand and I tried to remain calm. We were swimming along, but I wasn't really enjoying myself and was just trying to keep it together, but water kept leaking into the bottom of my mask. Then, it seemed that water was coming in my regulator and I wasn't getting enough air. I tried taking deeper and deeper breaths and it wasn't helping. I could feel the panic starting to set in and I tried (really, I tried) to squash it, but it just took over.
I looked at David and tried to signal to him that I couldn't breathe and that I was having problems. I kept getting lots of salt water in my mouth and I had this overwhelming urge to get to the surface. He tried to calm me down and for a few moments I tried to just stop and breathe, but it wasn't working. I truly believed I was going to drown and that I had to get to the surface. The dive master tried to stop me to do a safety stop, but I wouldn't listen. I was absolutely terrified. All the while there was a small, conscious part of my brain, that was telling me that what I was doing was wrong and dangerous, but the beast called panic overruled.
Once at the surface, the dive master called the boat over and I got out and back onto the boat. I could tell he was angry, but thank god he didn't yell at me. He did tell me it was very dangerous to come to the surface so quickly without a safety stop and that I couldn't dive again without a refresher course. Then he told the captain to give me some oxygen and went back down to join the others.
David had come back up, a little slower than I had, once the dive master was there, and was with me on the boat. I was mortified at myself, horrified that I had put myself, David, and the dive master in danger. At that point I never wanted to dive again.
When we got back to the dock, they insisted that I see the doctor, and when I explained what happened he said I was probably ok since we were only down 10 minutes or so and only down to 60 feet. He told me to take it easy for the rest of the day. So, I went and signed up for a refresher class for the afternoon, which is something I should have done from the beginning.
Later that afternoon...... The Old Man and The Sea
"Well, it looks like you're stuck with the old man", he said. I was standing in the equipment room (David had gone out on a second dive) when Phil walked in. Phil is the head of the scuba program here at AKR and leads the instructor's classes. He's 54 and about my height with a heavily lined face.
He told me he had no instructors available today, so I was stuck with him, but that he'd have me diving better than anyone on the boat and that I'd get a credit toward an advanced open water certificate by doing this dive with him. Essentially, it was a Peak Performance Buoyancy Control class. I tried to explain to him what happened and I was so overwhelmed that I burst into tears, something I had fortunately avoided doing on the boat.
Today is my mother's birthday. Happy Birthday Mom, I'm glad I didn't die today. How much would that suck for her? I thought about calling her, but I won't because I know I'll break down and tell her what happened and she'll freak out.
At 2 PM I met up with Phil at the scuba school and watched a half hour video on buoyancy control. It was fairly straightforward except that it was narrated by Richard Blade, which is only odd if you're from Southern California, since he's a former DJ for the local radio station KROQ. By the time the video was done, a storm had come in and buckets of rain were dropping from the sky. We did the class anyway; once you're in the water, you're wet.
I won't go into the details of the class, but I did learn a few things. First, I had probably been over weighted on my first dive. Second, my new mask doesn't fit properly (too big for my face) and my new fins and booties make my legs too buoyant, making decent difficult. Then, I re-learned how to breathe properly and kick properly. I did have a couple of moments of panic but I managed to control it. And along the way, in the channel where we did the class, I got to see the remains of a sunken plane and larger spiny lobsters than I ever saw in all my time as a chef. By the end, Phil was pleased with my performance and I felt better.
December 20, 2000 Coxen Hole Wanderings
We awoke this morning to find the weather torrential. Sometime in the night the rain had started and by this morning it was blowing sideways and the channel separating our key and the dock had turned into a raging river. Morning dives were canceled and two afternoon dives were planned for the south side of the island which is supposedly sheltered from the storm. After yesterday's experience I wasn't quite yet ready to go back in the water in anything less than optimum conditions. David was, as usual, raring to go, so he left on the bus to go over to the dive sites.
At lunch we met up with three Australians whom we had met on the boat yesterday. They invited me to join them for a trip into "town", Coxen Hole. Because I was the only one with any Spanish language skills I was nominated to negotiate with the cabdriver. We took a taxi from the main road in front of the resort and it cost us about a dollar each. The cabdriver already had one passenger in the front who moved to the back. Two of us squeezed into the front seat and the other two squeezed into the back with the woman. The car was tiny and the windshield was cracked.
The first goal was to find internet access and the taxi dropped us at the "Que Tal? Cafe" which supposedly has good breakfast and lunch (we did not eat) and 2 computers with internet access. Internet access is incredibly expensive and slow here as the server is on the mainland and a long distance phone call away. It cost $1 to send an off line email, $2 to receive, and $15 an hour for internet access. Six minutes to check hotmail (and get disconnected before I could send anything) cost me 20L. From there we walked through the town down to the water where we could see a giant cruise ship docked in the harbor. We went into the town's largest grocery store where we purchased snacks and drinks to help offset the exorbitant rates of the resort.
After the foray into the store, we continued walking along the main street in the direction of what we thought to be the main road back to the resort. Suddenly, we found ourselves in the 'burbs of Coxen Hole and quickly running out of pavement. The homes here are all up on stilts and painted vibrant colors, much like one imagines of the Caribbean. Fortunately we could see the airport close by and knew the road had to be somewhere. With the local residents eying us with interest we kept walking until we found the road. A cab finally stopped and again I put my limited language skills to use. He wanted 100 L ($6.60) to take us back to the resort and we waved him on. Another cab drove up and when I asked him how much, he too said 100L, but then again, we could hear that he had just been on a CB radio with the previous driver. I countered with 15 L each, he accepted, and off we went; with another cracked windshield and blasting American country music the entire way back.
December 21, 2000
I spent the morning spent on our private dock, reading. The weather was too harsh for me to dive so I decided to wait until the afternoon. I was going to brave the last dive of the day which was to be only 45 feet in depth. On the way to the dive site, we encountered harsh waves, and churning water. Still, I got in water, started to go down, and discovered there was virtually no visibility, and came back up. At that point the current was very strong and we were being hurried by Alonso (the dive master) so I decided to get out of the water and get back on the boat with the boat captain Tyrone. I probably could have done the dive, but I really didn't want to be rushed and risk panicking again. It will just have to wait for another time.
The Food at AKR, or,
What is the Pineapple doing in the "Moka" Pie?
The food here is probably one of the reasons I wouldn't come back. They are supposed to have the best food of any of the resorts here, and if so, I may never come back to the island. Some things are done well, like the fresh baked bread rolls, and the soup is usually good, but other things are just sloppy or downright bad. Most of the main course lunches and dinners we've had have been obviously pre-cooked and thus, over cooked beyond recognition and drowned in the same brown sauce. It's absolutely frightening what they do to fish here.
Then there's the issue of dessert. Almost every night it's a variation on the same theme, usually a "pie", which is in reality some sort of yellow cake with a frosting. Tonight, however, "took the cake", if you will pardon the pun. The menu said, "Moka Pie". Sounds like it could be good, no? It was, again, the yellow cake, sliced into layers, filled with whipped cream, and topped with drizzled chocolate sauce and walnuts. Nothing mocha, or for that matter, "moka", about it. And the piece de resistance was a 1/2 inch slice of pineapple sandwiched in between the layers of cream and cake. What is that about anyway?
December 22, 2000 Peter Benchley called it "The Deep"
Finally, the weather broke enough for Tyrone and Alonso to approve the dive I had been longing for: the wreck of a freighter named El Aguila, the eel. It sits at the edge of the reef on the other side of Bailey's Key, where the dolphin enclosure is located, in about 110 feet of water. It used to sit up straight, just as it sunk, but Hurricane Mitch broke it in two pieces and pushed it over on one side so it is more like the Titanic... only not at all like that class of vessel. The morning started out as I should have expected it would. I requested a new regulator that didn't have cracked hose and the dive instructor who was working in the shop dropping the heavy metal fitting from his booth onto the bridge of my nose and bruising it. Ouch. I let it go with a "par for the course" chuckle and moved forward, determined to enjoy my last dive of the vacation.
My dive buddy, Simon (one of our Australian friends), who was just over his bout of gaucho gut, was equally pumped up for the descent into the deep blue. We checked our air, gave each other the OK, and virtually parachute dropped from the surface to the ocean floor. One does not truly free fall through water, but I don't think a human can descend at a much faster rate than we did unless it comes with a push from Lucca Brazzi and a pair of cement shoes. We simply turned ourselves heads down and shot to the bottom. As soon as we hit the sandy sea floor, Simon signaled to me that he was experiencing nitrogen narcosis, or, the rapture of the deep. He did this by unintelligible hand signs and ferocious giggles- which from my point of view was just a fat stream of bubbles and big shit-eating grin. Luckily, he settled down fairly quickly, as we needed total concentration and control in order to navigate the interior of the rusted hull of El Aguila.
We entered the ship's stern through a crack that looked as if had come from the ship's recent encounter with Mitch, and that's when things got a little spooky. I had rented an underwater flashlight from the shop and lit up right away. The ship was empty of course, and showed us little more than her rusted and flaking rib structure. In a way, it was like the rotting skeleton of an old corpse. We were followed into the hull by a rather large grouper who seemed interested in my light, and who would tag along for the duration of the dive. I was fourth in the line of divers and a very inexperienced Canadian woman in second position lost control of her bouyancy (again) and kicked a cloud of silt and sand around me and Simon. forcing us to stop for a moment and ponder the kind of solitude a sunken ship must feel. I didn't want to move at all, fearing the sharp rusty spines of the rotten rib cage around us, but in fact, I probably had more room to move than I thought.
During the dive we encounter a moray eel. This is where I began to flash back to the first time I saw the movie (or read the book, as I can't remember now which I did first) The Deep, by P. Benchley. My imagination being what it is, a filter through which reality and fiction often blend together, there were ampoules of morphine strewn about the bottom of the sea and we were being chased by pirates (or in this case a flailing Canadian), but there were no illicit drugs to be hoarded, and the moray was not a deadly predator at all. I later found out that she has lived in the same rock off the bow of the ship for years, and divers used to feed her by hand, until she bit somebody's hand once (an accident no doubt) and the dive masters concluded that one should refrain from feeding the moray eels in the aquatic zoo.
A Marine Floats-
His name should have been Bob, because he went right to the surface like a rocket. An older, ex-Marine diving with us, lost control during his accent and went straight up without a safety stop (Kristina wonders if he got lectured by the dive master). This caused both Simon and myself to check each other- in case we might be rising like balloons as well- and then burst into hysterical fits of laughter at 75 feet below the surface. I imagine that if you could have heard the bubbles at the top, the sounds of our giggles would have been contagious, but we all know that sound doesn't really travel that way.
December 22, 2000 Swimming with Flipper (A.K.A., "Annie")
Desperate to see some aquatic life during our stay here, I joined the morning snorkel boat. There we only three of us and we went about a mile down the coast from the resort, still staying inside the reef where the water was calm. We were blessed with the first sunshine in days and the water was warm. I took a disposable underwater camera with me and managed to get a couple of good shots, but in general the photos don't do it justice. I saw huge schools of blue fish, giant sea urchins, torpedo fish, and too many others to name here. My snorkeling companions were a women from Alaska who was there with her husband and son who dive (but she doesn't) and a man who dives, but likes to "snorkel every other day because you see different things". He made me feel better about not diving and pointed out lots of interesting fish.
For our last day, we had signed up to do the Dolphin Snorkel. AKR has a Marine Science Research Center that focuses on Dolphins. The have a dolphin pen where there are performances a la Sea World daily, and another enclosure on Bailey's Key where most of the dolphins live and begin their training. The resort offers two options to encounter the dolphins, one a 45 snorkel in the pen with al 8 dolphins who live there, and two, an hour long dive with 2 dolphins out in the open ocean if they choose to show up. We chose the snorkel to give us something to do on the last day there when we knew would not be diving before flying the following day.
The encounter began with a short boat ride out to Bailey's Key and then a 15 minute introduction to the dolphins. We were separated into groups of 3 or 4 and placed with a trainer and a dolphin. Our dolphin was a 2 year old female named Annie. We were shown some simple hand commands, explained a little dolphin physiology, and allowed to pet and kiss her. We were only allowed to take photos during this time, not during the swim time in order to minimize the risk of possibly scratching the dolphins with a camera. After the 15 minutes we were allowed to go into the deep part of the pool and swim around and the dolphins swam around us. Naturally curious, and unafraid of humans, the dolphins would swim right up to us and check us out. There was even one mother dolphin with a 6 week old baby swimming at her side. We were told not to reach for the baby, lest the mother get defensive and possibly attack. All in all, it was a good experience, although a bit contrived. It wasn't the awe inducing feeling I had been expecting, but it was fun.
December 23 and 24, 2000 Longest Travel Time Ever....
I thought our trip from Bangkok to London was our longest trip, but it has now been far outclassed. The trip back to Los Angeles was our longest time in transit, ever. We left AKR at 8 AM 12/23, and arrived home in Los Angeles 2:30 PM 12/24.
We flew from Roatan to La Cieba, at 9 AM, which was delayed at departure due to bad weather. The flight was a comedy of errors. As we were walking out on the tarmac to the plane, David thought he saw our bags still outside on on luggage cart. He called over to an official who told us it couldn't possibly be so. David insisted, and when we went over to look at the bags we discovered that they were indeed not ours. The official, was to say the least, a bit perturbed, and we were almost the last people on the plane. This was not one of Atlantic Airlines new planes, this was on another airline all together, called SOSA, and it was an old plane. To top it off, just when you thought they couldn't stuff anyone else on the plane, two rather large gentleman got on and tried to squeeze into the two seats facing us at the front of the plane. There was luggage crammed into the bathroom, luggage in the aisles, and the door to the luggage compartment swung open with every shift in the plane. And there was plenty of shifting because we flew through a storm to get to La Cieba. Later, David told me he could see water seeping in through cracks in the ceiling during the flight, but didn't want to tell me at the time. Our connecting flight from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula, left on time, but still arrived later than scheduled.
Because we had almost six hours to kill at the airport before our flight home, we had booked a trip into the city to see the market with Maya Tours, the company who had met us on our arrival and given us our plane tickets. Unfortunately, there was no sign of them. We waited, walked around, had lunch, called home, checked in our bags, and got our seats. At 12 PM we called Maya tours, and they said they had been there much earlier in the morning. Finally, they arrived at 1:30, and took us on ok tour. Guamalito Market is very touristy, but has interesting food market section which was mostly closed by the time we arrived. We purchased last minute gifts, were able to bargain, bet prices still seemed high. As part of the tour we stopped at a nice cafe across the street from the market, and had a snack which was included. On the premises was a cigar shop with prices much better than we found in Copan.
Arrived back at the airport at 4 PM, and waited for our flight. The flight was supposed to leave at 5:40 PM but was delayed again due to weather. We had a connection to make in Guatemala City at 7:40 PM. We were then told both airports were closed due to bad weather and rain clouds. They told us that our Guatemala flight was delayed as well but we might still make it. It was not to be....
Around 7:30 PM they told us that even if our flight to Guatemala left, we'd never make the connection so we'd have to stay in San Pedro Sula for the night. We were ushered down to the ticket counter where the same lovely woman who had helped us get our seats in the morning awaited. She gave us vouchers for taxi rides to and fro, vouchers for hotel, meals, and phone calls, and allowed me to make a phone call to the US right there from the ticket counter. And she truly became our Christmas angel, when asked nicely, she upgraded us to Clase Ejecutive (that's their version of business class and first class rolled into one) for the entire trip back. We were placed on new flights for the morning, this time routed through El Salvador to LAX.
The hotel was called the Copantl, and was decent, though probably not as nice as the Inter-Continental across the street. We had dinner with a couple of other people we had met in the airport (a peace corps worker and two professional "futurists").
We had been told to be back at the airport at 6 AM for our flight which meant we had to leave the hotel at 5:30 AM. Of course, once we arrived we learned it had been delayed by 1/2 an hour. Finally we left San Pedro Sula and arrived 1/2 hour later in San Salvador International Airport (which, by the way, was much nicer than Guatemala City Airport). When we arrived, everything seemed fine for our connecting flight, so we took a walk down the concourse, had a snack, and found an International Herald Tribune, our favorite newspaper while on the road. When we returned to our gate we found....oh, the horror...the the flight had been delayed by 2 hours! I guess we shouldn't be surprised by now. I suggested to David that since we were in possession of first class tickets we search out the VIP Lounge and see if we couldn't wait in comfort. Success! It was all but deserted and we were able to have complimentary Bloody Marys, watch an NBA game and make a collect call home with ease. Now that's the way to travel!
February 2, 2001Now home almost a month, I have finally finished all the pages associated with this trip. I had forgotten how much work it is. It didn't seem that bad when we were traveling for a year, but then again, we didn't have jobs and obligations. Not to mention that both of us got horribly sick with a nasty cold the day we arrived home, our home computer crashed, throwing everything into chaos, and we actually had to go to work.
As for the trip, people ask, "did you have fun?" And I answer "yes....but....". But it wasn't what I expected. Then again, most travel isn't, or it wouldn't be fun.
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Last updated on February 2, 2001