Editor’s note: Stuart was in such vacation mode that he couldn’t even be bothered to take his camera out of his backpack. Thankfully, Rose did and even let us use some photos for this post.
Roatan, Honduras – To get from San Salvador to the Bay Island of Roatan in Honduras we had to first take a bus to San Pedro Sula, Honduras. It was a long (8 1/2 hours) and expensive ($35) bus ride, but they served us breakfast (that the bus pulled over to pick up), drinks and snacks. Crossing the boarder was smooth. The El Salvador boarder agents boarded our bus and checked our passports there. On the Nicaraguan side we had to get off and wait in a short line to go through immigration.
We got to San Pedro Sula (aka the most dangerous city in the world) around 3:15pm and bought tickets for the town of La Ceiba – where the ferry departs for Roatan. We had to wait for the 4:30pm bus that was rescheduled to 5pm and didn’t actually end up leaving until 5:15pm. The ride was supposed to take three hours, but it took over four so we didn’t end up checking into our hotel in La Ceiba until 10pm.
It was Sunday and everything was closed so we settled for a dinner of Luna Bars and went to bed. The room smelled liked bathroom and we realized the next day that our air conditioner pulled in air from the bathroom next door. Gross! This discovery raised a few questions. First – why would you build your hotel so that the A/C pulled air from the bathroom? Second, why did the clerk, at 10pm at night, choose to give us that room in a nearly empty hotel?
In the morning, after hitting up the Dunken Donuts for breakfast, we took a 1 1/2 hour ferry ride to Roatan, and then took a a taxi to the airport to meet my sister, Rose. We were super excited to see her and so happy that she decided to spend her spring break with us (psst.. we always welcome guests visitors on our trips). Rose had arranged a pick-up for us from the airport, but the guy never showed up, so we hopped in a taxi to Turtle Beach.
Turtle beach is handfull of little cabins built on a hill overlooking the beach buy some guys who moved to Roatan from Detroit. The location is great – on a quiet beach between the most touristed spots of West End and West Bay. The guys who rent it out also live there. They’re good builders, but not so great at running a hotel. They were a little disorganized and still getting used to running the place, but aside from a few power and water outages (and the mess-up with the pick up) we really enjoyed staying there.
Roatan is a world apart from the rest of Honduras. It was settled by both the English, Spanish and former African slaves. Historically the island has had more English speakers than Spanish speakers, though that is starting to change as mainland Hondurans migrate to the island for work. The island is fairly touristy with lots of hotels and restaurants, ex-pats, tourists and cruise ship passengers, but it doesn’t feel overrun and the beaches are just plan awesome. The second largest reef in the world, the Mesoamerican Reef System, is right off shore, making for some great snorkeling and diving.
We spent our first few days doing some fantastic snorkeling and checking out West Bay (beautiful beach, great snorkeling, but more expensive hotels and gets crowded with cruise ship passengers) and West End (beach isn’t as nice, cheaper lodging and food, more nightlife). We picked up some groceries at the American-style grocery store (with American prices) and were super excited to cook our own meals for a change.
A few of Rose’s friends and friend’s-of-friends arrived a few days later and we had fun hanging out in a bigger group. Rose and Stuart were really interested getting SCUBA diving certifications, and Roatan is one of the cheaper places to do it. I didn’t really want to do it, admittedly because I was scared. But, after a couple days on the beach and eight more days ahead of us, I thought I’d need to do something to keep from getting bored – plus I didn’t want to let fear stop me from doing it (and also I didn’t want Stuart to have something I didn’t!). That and because the snorkeling right off the beach was so amazing, I wanted to see more. So, Stuart and I decided to sign up.
We did our course in two and a half days. Our instructor, Edwin, was a hunky local who seemed to care more about his abs then our lessons – but we still had a good time (and I hope I learned all that we needed). We completed a marathon of reading the manual in just two days and spent the rest of our days learning underwater skills in both shallow water and open water. I was surprised that after just a half day of instruction we did our first 40 foot dive. I was really scared at first, but soon I was amazed at this whole new, wide open underwater world. Far less scary than I first though, and WAY more awesome.
After three more dives, some more shallow water skills lessons, learning a frustratingly complex dive planner chart and a 50 questions test (for which you could get 12 questions wrong to pass – we both got three wrong) we were certified and we were hooked. We didn’t have anything to compare it to, but the diving in Roatan was great. We saw eagle rays, sting rays, turtles, moray eals, and all kinds of cool fish.
After we bid Rose and her friends goodbye, Stuart and I decided to spend a couple more days on Roatan. The next place we wanted to go in Honduras, Lake Yojoa, didn’t have availability until the 31st, and it was either stay on Roatan or spend three days La Ceiba, which seemed horrible. So the plan was to spend two more nights on Roatan and then take the ferry over to La Cebia and spend one night there and then bus it to Lake Yojoa. That was the plan, but it was the week before Easter, Semana Santa.
Semana Santa is the Tet of Central America. Everyone and their madre is on the move and all of the rich Central Americans were vacationing on Roatan. That meant finding a place to stay for two nights would be nearly impossible. But, we totally lucked out. I emailed a place called Roatan Backpackers Hostel, and the owner offered us a room in her house for $50 a night. Super expensive, and her house was kind of a dump, but it was that or La Ceiba.
The house was on Sandy Bay, which is not as nice as Turtle Beach or West Bay, but we decided to spend our extra days diving anyway. Our plans were foiled again on Good Friday when we had planned to leave. There were rumors that the ferry to La Ceiba didn’t run on Good Friday, but no one knew for sure. There was nothing on the ferry’s website and when we tried to book a ticket online for that day, they wrote back and said the credit card system was down, but didn’t mention that the ferry wasn’t running. We couldn’t really figure out if it was running not.
Turns out it wasn’t. The information that no one really knew the day before, everyone was sure about on Friday morning. No ferries on Good Friday. It worked out though. The woman who rented us the room said it was no problem to stay one more day, and oh shoot: we’d have to stay one more day on a beautiful island and go diving. Though we did start to feel a little bit like Jack and Kate.