Travelogue Honduras 2002
This trip is
somewhat different for me, in that it is an all-inclusive tour arranged by a
local dive shop, and I am traveling with a group. Usually I have to plan
everything myself, but this time I am entirely in their hands. It certainly is
easier this way, though Iím not thrilled with the scheduling of the flights. I
met my friend Dave at his house a little after . From there we further consolidated cars by meeting up
with Gary and Jackie to commute to
Checkin at Continental Airlines in
Using my American Express Platinum card I was able to use the Continental Airlines Presidents Club, which was nice, though not as big as the United Airlines Red Carpet Club. It appears that to save money Continental shares its Presidents Club with British Airways Ė it was probably once a very big club. With United facing Chapter 11 bankruptcy, perhaps they should consider such moves.
The flight to
concourse C at IAH (
Because we had so many people in our group it took two trips for the Ramada shuttle to take us all to the hotel. Each shuttle trip takes 25 minutes, so I was standing out on the street for nearly an hour, which was a drag. In retrospect I wish I had just taken a cab. Hi ho. The shuttle was being refrigerated to arctic levels, even though it was only about 60 degrees out. When I asked the driver to make it warmer, he didnít change it at all. When I asked him again, he made it even colder. I shoved my backpack up into the aircon vent to block it.
The Airport Ramada Inn is serviceable but ignorable. A couple of planes almost landed in my room as I was getting to sleep, but otherwise it was comfortable and reasonably quiet.
The flight this morning is at . Continental Airlines told me that officially they recommend getting to the airport 3 hours early for an international flight, but that practically 2 to 2.5 hours should be fine. This meant getting up around to be ready for the airport shuttle. Ugh. Worse yet, Houston is 1 hour ahead of Denver, so that felt like a 5am rising for me. I got the shuttle with no trouble and was at the airport by . Using my complimentary Elite Platinum card (why they gave me one is a whole other story,) I got right to an Elite checkin counter, and was issued a free complimentary upgrade to first class. I got a free first class upgrade even though I am traveling on a group fare, which I was told on the phone was non-upgradeable.
This is an area where United Airlines and Continental have completely different philosophies. With United you canít get into first class unless you either pay money or use miles or a coupon to upgrade - it doesnít matter how many seats might be empty. Basically free upgrades are non-existent, no matter how much frequent flyer status you have. If there is an empty seat in first class on a United flight, that seat will go empty unless you pay for it. Continental takes exactly the opposite approach. If there is an empty first class seat and a premier member shows up, they put the frequent flyer in first, free, no questions asked.
It is an interesting business question as to which philosophy might work best. With United I know that if I want to fly first class I have to pay for it, either with miles or money. Thus, they always get revenue from me, and Iím never going to buy a cheap-o seat and hope to upgrade. On the other hand, they do give me free coupons that are good for upgrades as a reward for frequent travel. But, the coupons are subject to restrictions and have expiration dates, and so on. Continental, on the other hand, just upgrades people with no fuss, no coupons, no bother. Thus, I am more likely to fly Continental because I feel more like they care, like they are willing to reward me with free upgrades. However, I am also more likely to buy the cheapest possible seat on Continental and hope for the free upgrade. Thus, they donít get as much revenue from me as they might otherwise. Hmmm. I think if I were to design a business approach to attract the most loyalty and revenue from me personally, it would be somewhere between the two, taking Unitedís approach of handing out coupons for upgrades, and generally favoring those who pay or use points for upgrades, but then occasionally granting free upgrades to frequent flyers with a wink and a smile. As it currently stands, asking for a free upgrade on United practically generates a laugh in the face, and the stern warning that the agent could lose their job if they did that. It always feels kind of overbearing. I prefer the feeling that they might grant me a free upgrade given the right circumstances, even if it isnít going to happen today.
Anyway, the Presidents Club in
The flight out of
The Marina Copan hotel is perfectly situated in the center of town just off the main plaza. Itís really beautiful with a swimming pool and lovely gardens in the large wandering inner courtyard. The rooms all enter off of the courtyard, but most rooms back onto the street. The rooms were attractive and spacious if a bit sparse. After unpacking I went out and wandered around the cute little town. I was amazed at how low-key the vendors were. I am used to places where touts push souvenirs and trinkets on me, and beggars endlessly demanding alms. Here there appear to be no beggars at all, and vendors are silent. If you want to buy something, they will cheerfully sell to you. If not, they donít say a word. I got a great espresso at the cafť next to the hotel, then met up with the group. They were showing a tape of the PBS NOVA special on the Copan Ruins. I had already seen it on TV a few months ago, so I decided to take a nap instead.
Luis made two recommendation to us for dinner; Tunkul and Llama del Bosque. The former he said was more fun and picturesque, the latter was said to have more local authentic food. The group was then faced with trying to come to an agreement as to which place to go to. In the end we went to Tunkul for beer and appetizers, then half of us went across the street to Llama del Bosque for dinner while the other half remained and finished eating at Tunkul. The appetizer at Tunkul was a wonderful hot pot of bubbling beans and melting chunks of cheese with home made tortilla chips. I accompanied it with a very good Salva Vida beer. Those that ate at Tunkul reportedly had a variety of meats and kabobs cooked on an open grill. They all said it was good. At Llama del Bosque we collectively ordered the ďmenu typicalĒ, selection for six. It was amazing. More of the beans and cheese hot pot appetizer, plus a platter of various cooked meats (the steak was the best), bowls of avocados, different kinds of salsas, tortillas, sour cream, cheeses, vegetables, and on and on. It was outstanding. I suspect we made the better choice.
Afterwards, my friend Dave (who ate at Tunkul) and I regrouped, bought some Honduran cigars, and went for coffee flan and cigars at the cafť next to the hotel.
Well, it turns out that this is a really noisy hotel. Even though this is a small, quiet town, there is a car, motorcycle or truck that travels the cobblestone roads every minute or two. Since most rooms back onto one road or another, the noise in the rooms is surprisingly bad. Then, around the roosters started crowing Ė it sounded like one of them was right in the room with me. Finally, in the morning tour buses start amassing on the road, preparing to pick up their passengers for the day. The drivers of these vehicles feel compelled to blast their radios while waiting, so any hope of sleeping is dashed. It is a shame because this is a really nice hotel. The rooms are big, the landscaping beautiful, the location is phenomenal, but Iíll never stay here again, because it fails on this one vital point. There appear to be a few rooms that are entirely inside the courtyard Ė other than those this place is way too noisy. Everyone else on the trip commented on it as well; we had a heated debate over breakfast over who had the loudest rooster.
The breakfast, which was very good, was included in the room rate. The coffee was great.
We took our tour bus for the 3 minute drive to the
Luis lead us around much of the
ruins site for the next several hours. They are certainly interesting, though I
am really not much of an archeology buff. Honestly, I wasnít as impressed as I
expected to be. Iím sure a phenomenal amount of grandeur has been lost through
the ages. Still, I was expecting something more on the order of Angkor Wat in
At the hotel I showered up and took a nap, then went out to wander around the tiny town some more, stopping at the ATM on the plaza. The ATM is rather amusing; it asks you all the usual questions, all in Spanish. Then, at the very end, the last thing it asks is if you want your receipt in Spanish or English. Of course, the receipt has all of 5 words on it, so the choice of language at that point is pretty irrelevant.
After filling up on cash I found an internet cafť where I
paid 10L for 15 minutes and caught up on my email. Making my way back towards
the hotel I had another excellent espresso, then
waited for the group to get together for the journey to tonightís dinner. While
waiting I tried the other local beer,
The tour bus took us on a short drive up a dirt road somewhere outside of town to Hacienda San Lucas (504-651-4106, www.haciendasanlucas.com) (Note: we had a choice of riding horses or taking the tour bus Ė several people in the group rode, I took the bus.) Wow. What a beautiful spot. Hacienda San Lucas is a terrific old hacienda turned B&B with only two bedrooms and no electricity. The owner told us that it had been in her family for generations, but she had only come to appreciate it when she got older. The place is quiet, serene, wonderful. If I ever come back to Copan Ruinas, I want to stay here.
Before dinner we were lead on a hike to a site on the property where ritual birthing stones have been found. Apparently this is a special place where pregnant Maya women would come to give birth. It was pretty cool, though mostly I just enjoyed the hike.
Dinner was fantastic; all hand made from home grown ingredients. We had fresh tamales which were light and delicious, served with pickled green papaya salad. Apparently this takes two days to make. Then followed chicken with adobo sauce, rice, beans, homemade queso fresco, squashes, cabbage, and the tortillas that we watched them making in the open kitchen before dinner. For desert we were served a lovely papaya in miele (which isnít actually in honey, it just tastes that way.) It was basically a lightly candied papaya that was astounding.
Back at the hotel I turned on the air-conditioning simply to cover the street noises and fell fast asleep.
It was another early morning for our group. We all breakfasted at the hotel; I had a very nice huevos marinara that really hit the spot. We all assembled then walked over to the small museum on the plaza. All the signs there were in Spanish Ė there were no English translations anywhere, so Luisí commentary was key. Honestly, I didnít find it very interesting, though many others in the group did.
Travelers tip: The most important/significant artifacts are in the last room Ė donít dawdle in the rest of the museum.
Finally we packed up and loaded the bus for the long ride back to the airport.† When we were just about a half hour from the airport our bus blew a tire heading down a long steep road.† Luis and the driver worked diligently to get the tire replaced, but there was a series of problems. After a little while another tour bus pulled over and give us all a ride. It was astonishingly nice of them, and we got to the airport with plenty of time.
There werenít many food options at the airport, so I grabbed a Wendyís burger for my lunch.
Note, there is a 20L departure tax for domestic flights.
Our flight to Roatan was on Atlantic Airlines in an ancient L410 UVP-E Russian plane which carries up to 21 people. I noticed with interest that all the controls are labeled in Cyrillic, and wondered if the pilots spoke Russian as well as Spanish. Unfortunately, not all of the luggage could fit on the tiny plane. Ugh. Only one of my bags made it.
Other than the bag issue, the flight was otherwise uneventful. We were met at the Roatan airport by a shuttle which took us to Anthonyís Key Resort. My room was up on the hill, not on the key. The key rooms looked better, sitting right on the water (on stilts) with nice views. The hill rooms were OK. My room was big, but very basic. It wasnít rustic enough to be charming, just basic. There were two double beds Ė very few rooms at AKR have kings or queens. One of the people in my group was upset because they specifically reserved a king bed, but none was available. Hi ho. In my room several lights were burnt out, the curtain rod was broken, and the cleaning people couldnít be bothered to put the toilet paper roll on the dispenser. If they donít get the little things like that right, you have to wonder about the big things. There was also no shampoo in rooms, no telephones (not even room-to-room), and no TVs. Furthermore, there were no beach towels, closets, drawers or shelves. Hmmm.
Several hours later my second bag showed up having made it on the next flight.
I woke up to find the wind blowing like crazy with huge surf. I was up early for a 7am dive orientation it didnít actually take place till almost 8am. I did manage to get my dive gear rented. It turned out all diving was cancelled for the day due to the weather.† They couldnít get the boats out of the bay. It looks like being in a room on the hill is better. One cabin on the key had its deck knocked off by waves, another couple was moved up onto the hill because water was coming up through the floorboards. Hmmm.
I ordered the French toast for breakfast. Evidently someone forgot to tell the chef that French toast traditionally entails breaking an egg or two.
The group hired a couple of taxis to take us to the town of
Back at AKR some of us went in for a second lunch of conch soup and salad.
Since there really wasnít anything to do in the dreadful weather I just hung out, read, wrote, drank a beer, and had dinner.
That night the resort offered a fish identification talk.† It was OK, but the presenter had such a thick accent that I wouldnít have gotten any value if I hadnít been seated next to another guest who was an expert!
Got up early again this morning, and fortunately the weather had diminished a bit so that the dives were on. Due to the weather we were diving the ďfar sideĒ of the island. That meant putting our equipment on the boat by 8am. The boat fought its way through the waves and around the island without us, then we got on a bus at 9am for the 15 minute ride to meet the boat. A good solution. We didnít have to get exhausted before the first dive just getting over there. I really appreciated them doing this.
I put my equipment on the boat, checked out two Nitrox tanks and loaded them, then headed up for breakfast. (Note: Nitrox fills are an additional $5 per tank.)
The first dive,
Itís a bit disheartening to note that like the rooms, there are no amenities on the boats Ė no head, no box of Kleenex, ear drops, toothpaste for your mask, nothing. The best boats have lots of convenient niceties, plus such things as coffee and cookies, extra towels, etc. This boat has nothing. It really seems like it is built to have people spend 10 minutes on it at a time. Also, the tank holders, while very secure, are really hard to get your tank in and out of, especially when you are attached to it. I needed help to get out every time.
The afternoon dive was scheduled for , but I was way too tired. I went to bed and slept until dinner time.
Woke up this morning to a world of wet. Rain was pounding down, and had been for most of the night. Thick rivers of mud were running down the mountain. I put on my rain gear and headed down to the dock. The dive scheduled for this morning was a wreck dive. Iím not very interested in wrecks, especially recent ones, so I decided that given the torrential rain I would pass on the first dive and wait for the second. The boat was supposed to go out at , but at 8 they announced that instead they were going to take the boats around to the back side and do two dives there like yesterday. Apparently the boats that had gone out to the reef in front of Anthonyís Key were having a really bad time due to the waves. I did not want to do a repeat of yesterdayís exhausting trip, so I figured Iíd pass on both morning dives and hope for an afternoon dive. The rain continued to hammer down.
Itís very frustrating that you have to get up before to be down on the dock at to find out what the dive status is. Usually you would then not dive until 9. I wish they could set up a system of flags, or an in-room TV with an info channel, or something, so that you could find out without having to get up, get dressed, and go down there.† I mean, if thereís no diving, why not just stay in bed?
There are a lot of things you can do at AKR if you donít dive: thereís horseback riding, kayaking, a botanic gardens, †butterfly gardens, etc., etc. However, 100% of the activities involve being out of doors. If it is raining there is absolutely nothing to do. Nada. There isnít even television. Thereís backgammon, monopoly, checkers and chess. Thatís it. I read, I wrote, I chatted with people, I ate. Oh well.
Around the folks that went out on the boat came back. Apparently one of the two dives was quite good, but otherwise it was a pretty miserable experience. Everyone was smiling, so I asked them if they were smiling because the dives were so great or because they were back. They said it was the latter.
Frittered away the rest of the day, had dinner, then went to bed.
The rain stopped sometime during the night, but it was still dark, overcast, and blowing. We had to get the boats loaded up by , then the bus took us back to the far side of the island at . This time most of us brought rain ponchos, so we were all bundled up against the wind, occasional rain, and ocean spray as we hammered our way through the waves.
Our first dive was a really nice at a site called 40 Foot Point. There I saw my first seahorse in the wild. There was also a huge crab. For some reason Dennis, the seriously mediocre dive master, told us we would go to 70 feet for 40 minutes. When I questioned the short dive, I managed to get into a fight with Laura, the bitchy dive instructor who was along to do the Nitrox certification of a couple other divers. Later I overheard that the divers who were being certified felt that Laura was a terrible instructor. It also turns out that she had had a run in with another member of our group who is himself a certified dive instructor. Sigh. In the end we went down to 90 feet and spent 60 minutes, so clearly Dennis says one thing and does another. [His dive briefings Ė such as they were Ė were really worthless. He might as well have said ďweíre gonna get wetĒ and left it at that.] I started out the dive rather discombobulated because I was pissed off, but after about 10 minutes I was really into it. Itís a very nice site. I have heard that the really good diving is on the side of the island that Anthonyís Key is on, so itís a real shame that we arenít going to see any of it, cause this is good, so that must be great.
We came up and motored in to a resort called
We headed back out after about 15 minutes on land. We cruised for a long time through nasty waves, finally stopping at a sight called Missing Link. Dennis told us that it was a wall, and we should decide when we got to the bottom which way we would go. He didnít care, but he wanted us to tell him which way we were going to go. I asked Dennis what criteria we were supposed to base our decision on. Laura snapped at me that we would just go into the current. I said that if we were simply supposed to swim into the current (the standard thing to do anyway), that he should have just said that. It sounded like he expected us to get together and have a vote at 70 feet. Oh well. It was another really good dive site. All the people on this trip are such good divers that no one was running out of air. Finally after about an hour we headed up, even though we all had plenty of air left.
The ride back on the boat was really unpleasant, even with my rain poncho on. I was cold and tired, and it was a long trip back. We tied up at the place where the bus was, rather than returning to AKR on the boat. We were told that the weather on the AKR side of the island had gotten worse, and the boats couldnít make it back, so they were going to stay there overnight. Ouch.
When we got back it wasnít raining, but the wind was very strong. I hung out in my room reading and writing, had dinner, then went to bed. This place is really getting tired in the rain. My room is totally clammy, the sheets, blankets and pillows are all damp and the bathroom is developing a mildewy smell. Blech.
It was blowing and raining all night long with occasional branches falling from trees onto my roof. Some time in the middle of the night I heard a huge crack and crunch. It appears that a big tree came down and landed on the walkway in front of my room! Around 6am I was awakened by the sound of chopping and went out to find that there was a crew of guys with machetes clearing the tree off the path. Yikes. I assumed that the dives would be canceled, but when I went down to the dock they said they were going out. They were going to bus the dive gear over at 7:45, then the people would go at 8:45. The dive sites were going to be very similar to what we had been seeing, and they expected that the boats were going to go even further east to find calmer seas. There was also an implication that they werenít going to spots where the diving was best, but rather to places where diving was possible. After thinking about it for Ĺ hour and recalling how miserable I was on the boat yesterday, I decided that I couldnít face even longer boat rides and blew it off.
Carambola botanic gardens, virtually across the street from AKR. Admission US$5. Legion leaf-cutter ants. Really nice climb through trees to a great view. Some slippery points coming back down.
For dinner some of us decided to head to Half Moon Bay (near
November 22, 2002
Scheduled for dolphin dive. No dive. Another example of poor information.
>> Story of Dennis not recognizing me.
Two dives, sites with no name.
Learn that gardener told us this is the rainy season. All the excuses Iíve been making to myself on behalf of AKR go out the window.
Dinner at AKR. Lobster Ė terrible, inedible. Sent it back. The only bad meal during the week.
November 23, 2002
No wakeup call (promised.) Up at , bags out by , on bus by , but it doesnít actually leave till . Breakfast was promised for , but isnít ready till . I complain at front desk about room problems. Woman at reception looks at me blankly and says ďheres a comment form.Ē Yeah? Well I got her comment right here!
Beautiful sunny day, just like its
supposed to be. To the airport, there is an extra bag in with our bags. Geesh. 20L departure tax. Apparently we are island hopping, we will
be stopping on another island before continuing on to
Flight from Roatan goes to La Cieba <?> instead of SPS! Yuck. There they move us to another plane and fly us back north to SPS. What a pain. Met a couple on the plane who had been on the Aggressor live-aboard boat. Sounds like it would have been a great itinerary if the weather had allowed, and even with the bad weather they had a much better time than we did. More proof that I should never do land-based dive trips.
Insane check in at SPS. $20 departure fee, plus another $2 departure fee. Interaction with security people. Restaurant. Money changing adventure.
Finally boarding a Continental flight,
upgraded free to first class. Sign over departure gate says ď
Change planes in
I would not give AKR a rating of ďavoidĒ, but I am not going
back there. They get the little things wrong and they do it without a smile. The
exception is the wait staff in the dining room, who
always have these odd little smiles like they are letting you in on a joke. When
I come back from a horrible boat ride and go into the dining room, I instantly
feel better. I had been lead to believe that AKR was a very high-end place, but
it really isnít. Also, it is so very boring there if the weather is bad. Similarly,
if one were ill or injured, this place would be a painful place to be stuck. Also,
I donít think I really like combining the hotel with the dive operation. With
this setup, Iíve paid for 18 dives whether I get them or not. In this case only
10 dives were actually offered due to the weather, and I only chose to do 4 of
those, but I pre-paid for 18. If I were staying at a hotel in
Of course, if I was having a great sun-filled holiday I might be completely overlooking the little things that bothered me there. Also, AKRís big selling point is that there are great dive sites that are just a 10 minute boat ride out. If we were getting on the boat in calm seas, going out 10 minutes, diving, coming back 10 minutes and resting on land between dives, Iím sure Iíd feel very differently. Also, Iím sure the dive staff was very stressed out and hating the weather, so they were having a hard time putting a happy face on.
Thereís one other negative consequence to AKRís setup. They arrange things so that only one boat goes to any given site, and the boat you are assigned to for the week doesnít visit the same place twice. However, that means that if you have a great dive at a great location, you canít go back. My boat when to Maryís Reef on Tuesday, when I didnít go. Maryís is supposed to be one of the very best sites there is. Since I missed it, thatís it. We canít tell our boat captain to go back.
>> No amenities in room: no clock, no hair dryer. Front desk wont make change for large bills.
>> Nothing on boat: no mask de-fog, no ear drops, no Kleenex, no toothpaste, no soft scrub, no cookies, no coffee, no head.
Note: no amenities on
Given the weather, it would have been better to be at
Gardener tells us that Oct/Nov is always the rainy month
Other person tells us of another
My friends all got fresh flowers every day and multiple changes of towels. I was lucky to get my towels every day.