Monday, January 27, 2014

Currently

Drinking >> a pineapple smoothie ("Un licuado piƱa con leche, por favor"). Eating >> watermelon and cantaloupe with yogurt and honey. Seeing >> I'm sitting on a restaurant patio overlooking the main street filled with people bustling by. In front of me, a man is pushing a bicycle buggy cart loaded with bags of rice. The ocean is not too far in the distance, maybe about 40 m ahead. Thinking >> about two books I binged read from the same author in the past two days, Gone Girl and Sharp Objects. They’re fast-paced, captivating adult murder mysteries that aren’t as cheesy as they sound, though they are a little dark and twisted.

Relaxing in Utila, Honduras
Reading spot #1, overlooking the back deck
Reading in the afternoon in Utila Honduras
Reading spot #2, spending the afternoon at a quiet restaurant
Smelling >> the vaguely fishy smell that comes with life close to the ocean… or the sweet smell of honey from the mound I drizzled over my homemade and slightly sour yogurt. Depends on how deeply I inhale.
Feeling >> relaxed, itchy, full, and a gentle breeze cooling off the morning. Planning >> to go kayaking this afternoon. Snorkelling and diving are great activities but neither of them are particularly exhausting and I’m craving a bit more activity today.

Diving with Altons Dive Center Utila
Heading out on my first dive. I'm in the blue jacket
Hoping >> I will wake up tomorrow magically being able to speak Spanish fluently. That would be nice.
Laughing >> at the mini-traffic jam that just occurred. A total of about 10 vehicles, two cyclists, and four pedestrians were involved, all because a golf cart and pick up truck played chicken with parked motorcycles on the side of the street. The group had to wait for literally three minutes for someone to come and wheel a motorbike out of the way so they could pass, yet drivers were already so impatient they were out of their vehicles, honking and swearing up ahead. With the local accent, I’m hearing a lot of “What the FOCK!” (rhymes with knock). I think these drivers would have a mental breakdown if they had to experience Toronto traffic. What’re you currently up to?

Utila sunset

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Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bienvenido a Honduras

“Bienvenido a Honduras!” the flight attendant greeted me as I stepped off the plane into San Pedro Sula Airport. A much warmer welcome than the last country I entered, I thought.

My husband and I made our way through customs and baggage claim without any issues, then as I picked up my backpack, I could feel the nerves start dancing in my stomach. I remembered what it was like every other time that I landed in a foreign country without family or friends to pick me up -- as soon as those automatic doors opened up, I’d been barraged my taxi drivers and money changers touting their services in my face. They could sense my innocence and see the overwhelmed expression on my face, and I felt like prey being pounced on.

I braced myself and put on an “I know where I’m going” type of expression as we approached the arrivals gate, but this time it was decidedly (fortunately) very different. Families lined up waiting to greet their loved ones and the hawkers stayed at bay. Matthew and I made our way to the food area to grab a bite to eat and something to drink, changed our currency at the airport bank, then went on a hunt for the Hedman Alas bus terminal that was attached somewhere to the building (for the record, there aren’t any signs directing you but go all the way to the left, past the car rental stands, and the HA office is tucked around the corner). I was sweating by the time we got there due to a combination of hauling my bags, nerves, lack of air conditioning, and the pressure of suddenly having to speak Spanish, and dropped in a satisfied heap once our tickets were finally in hand.

“Everything is going according to schedule,” I said with relief. “Now all we have to do is wait.” Within a half hour our bus arrived, and by that time we’d started chatting with a Canadian girl who’d just flown in from Roatan (one of the Bay Islands next to Utila, our final destination).

“I’ve been trying to get off the island for three days!” she said. “The weather has been so bad here the ferries have been cancelled. Eventually I just paid $70 for a flight.” 

I hope that’s not the case for us too, I thought. That’s $100 more than we planned on spending, and a hundred bucks takes you pretty far in Honduras. 

By this point it was about 1.45 pm, we hadn’t slept the night before, but we were excited and happy to be en route. We stared out the bus window during our short trip through the city of San Pedro Sula. Lots of stray dogs and trash lined the streets. There were no lines painted on the roads and cars, busses, and motorbikes alike weaved in and out of lanes. In the distance we saw hills covered in lush greenery with palm trees everywhere. The countryside reminded me of Trinidad and Jamaica, the Caribbean countries we'd recently visited.

tired-and-sick-travelling-on-bus
On our way to La Ceiba via Instagram 
We pulled into the city’s main bus terminal, then after an hour’s wait boarded another bus that would take us to La Ceiba, where the next morning we hoped to take the ferry onwards to the island of Utila.  

We stayed at Hotel El Estadio in La Ceiba, and I was less than impressed with our surroundings and accommodations. On the taxi ride from the bus station we passed shops and restaurants that all had guards stationed out front, M14 rifles in hand. Don’t be stuck up, I chided myself. Things are obviously going to be at a different standard here. Just go with the flow. 

rifles-in-la-ceiba
Matthew's a lot happier when he's the one holding the gun
It was about 7 pm and by that time the cold that I had picked up in Tennessee was at full force and all I wanted was a quick bite to eat and a full night’s sleep. “Finally we’re here!” M said with relief, crawling onto the bed. Not two seconds later… CRACK! He'd fallen into the corner and the bed was lodged at a precarious angle. 

“You did not just break the bed,” I sighed with exasperation. We looked at each other and smiled a what-can-you-do-smile, then I lifted the mattress while he crawled on the floor and attempted to put an undersized peg back into place. 

After waiting a very long time for overpriced food at Expatriates, we finally made our way back to the hotel around 10 pm. Matthew mildly electrocuted himself in the shower due to the exposed wire that (used to) attach the hot water heater to the shower head, but hey -- sometimes you need to live dangerously, right? :P

Wary of bed bugs, we pulled out our silk sleep liner and snuggled inside. 

“Buenas noches,” I whispered sleepily. “Buenos nachos,” my husband replied.

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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Welcome to the USA

“Mohammed, you and your family are good to go. Enjoy your trip to the United States,” the customs official said as he handed over a bundle of passports.

“How about those two?” a desk agent inquired, gesturing in our direction.

“No, not them. They are not good,” he answered sternly while giving us the stare down. I picked at my not-so-fresh-manicure while trying to look as innocent and unbothered as possible.


***

After a hectic weekend of final exams and moving out of our apartment in the midst of an ice storm, Matthew and I were so relieved to finally be reunited with my family in Toronto for the Christmas holidays. We chilled, we slept, we ate, we drank, and most importantly, we truly got to enjoy some quality down time with our family and friends.

A couple days into 2014, we repacked little Peppy LePepster (our car, in case you were wondering) with our backpacks, a couple of suitcases, and belated Christmas presents for our American side of the family, then drove south towards Tennessee. The plan was to spend a few days in the States with my in-laws before flying to Honduras and beginning our Central American adventure. We planned to eventually return to the States for a couple of months then drive back up to Canada in the late summer. 


Welcome-to-USA-Canada-border-crossing
All packed up
Unfortunately I didn’t think ahead to print my airline ticket out of the country and, as I learned through some very gruff U.S. border security officials, the fact that I was travelling to the US with my American husband with no job or lease to show my ties to Canada made my trip seem very dubious. 

“How do we know you’re not going to try to illegally immigrate into the United States? What if you take away an employment opportunity from an American citizen?” the agent questioned me.

“I don’t have any proof on paper, but if you let me sign into my email I can show you the e-ticket confirmation,” I offered. “Out of curiosity,” I added in my best attempt at a patient and non-threatening tone, “How come my privilege as a Canadian citizen to travel freely in and out of the States without a visa has been suddenly withdrawn? Just two weeks ago I took a day trip to New York for some shopping and didn’t have any issues.”

I don’t recall ever getting a clear answer to that one, but after lots of questioning, fingerprinting, retina scanning, searching, and threatening (on their part) interspersed by questioning, pleading, promising, and compliance (on my part), I was eventually allowed to enter America for seven days.

“Make sure you give this ticket to immigration on your way out of the country,” the official warned me. “By the way, your passport has been red-flagged. Welcome to the USA.”


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