On beds, rice milk and a town called Juayúa

We have slept in at least 40 different beds since the beginning of June. According to the unofficial algorithm of backpackers, the relationship between a.) the price you pay for the bed, b.) the location of the bed, and c.) the amount of beds in one room is equal to, but not limited to the overall sleeping experience of the backpacker. We dealt with bed bugs, too small bed linen that pulls up at the sides (resulting in you waking up and discovering you’re laying on a dirty mattress) and other people’s stinky feet. But for every crappy hostel bed, there’s one good hostel bed. This is the story of one such bed. But we first have to start with the crappy bed before we can go on to the good bed.

The Bates Motel bed
We said goodbye to El Tunco and decided to go to Santa Ana just to see what the town is all about. We travelled for about 5 hours and arrived at dusk. There wasn’t any space available in our hostel of choice, so we had to settle for a hotel around the corner. But don’t let the word ‘hotel’ fool you. The concierge was not only the cleaner but also the nightwatchman who you can buy beer from. There were about 50 rooms, but only 5 were occupied (4 of them probably by the hour) and our door was very similar to the doors they use in jail. It also had that metal-on-metal echo when you shut it.

We were starving by then, just to discover that every food stand already packed up. There wasn’t a single pupusa or torta* in sight, and the neighborhood was about to put on its sketchy cloak. We found one local eatery, but a beggar in a wheelchair ordered the last torta. The only other thing the owner could offer us was leftover reheated chicken with cold tortillas and rice. We took our chances and ordered one plate, but got two.

After eating a reheated chicken drumstick one tends to sleep with one eye open. In this case, the hotel bed was really horrible so we had to force ourselves to keep both eyes closed. The night went by without any major event (like the squirtsies or the silhouette of Norman Bates standing with an axe outside the window), but we were happy to check out and hop on to the first bus to Juayúa.

The bed that was better than the one we have at home
If you want to pronounce ‘Juayúa’ correctly, just imagine having a mouthguard in your mouth. It must sound like something along the lines of ‘Why-jooh-aah’ (after spending almost a week in this little town, we were pros in Salvadorian pronunciation).

We had some of our best Central American memories in Juayúa. It’s a town small enough to fit into your pocket, but big enough to keep you busy and easy-going at the same time.

The hostel we stayed at was one of the best so far. Every room is decorated by a Salvadorian artist, the garden is humming with happiness and the people are super nice. The linen is white and crisp, the ensuite shower is nice and toasty and the towels are white and fluffy. For a stinky backpacker who just spend the night at the Bates Motel, this was something to write home about (as I’m doing now.)

Our first Juayúan experience saw us taking on the Seven Waterfalls hike with Douglas, our very charming guide (with a smile big enough to put behind his ears), his puppy dog Bonita (all legs and one very long tail) and Michael (a very friendly New Yorker with an uncanny ability to take the most amazing photos). The company was good, but the hike even better. We walked through coffee plantations, carefully shuffled past small waterfalls and went down big waterfalls with a rope, a strong hand and a will not slip and make a fool of yourself. We’ve done a couple of hikes since our arrival in Central America, but this was by far my favourite.

With post-hike lazy legs and waterfall hair, we decided to take a peak at the neighboring towns. Apaneca, the town next door, is the second highest town in El Salvador according to our trusty Lonely Planet. Apparently they also produce really good coffee due to the altitude. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a barista or something that resembles a coffee shop insight. So we had ice cream instead.

Ataco, the town next to Apaneca was a real treat. We arrived at 5pm, and got to see the town going home after a long day at work. The sun was lazy, the church choir sang and the town square was humming with the soul of a Friday afternoon. We saw a whole crowd of people dancing with gym clothes in one of the halls opposite the park. We saw a brass band practicing in one of the streets on the other side of the park. We saw nuns, children and happy street dogs. What I saw, made me happy – I wanted that moment to never end.

On our bus ride back to Juayúa, I also noticed for the first time in Central America, a man getting up from his seat and offering it to a woman. At that moment I was so in love with El Salvador I was actually blushing.

The day of the food festival
The actual reason for our stay in Juayúa was to eat our weight in local food during the town’s weekly gastronomy festival. We heard you can sample iguana, frogs and things. I wasn’t really up for the iguana or the frog, but I was first in line for all the things. Our friends Kristina and Saskia came from El Tunco to visit, and brought a happy Canadian called Kenneth with them. I was beyond myself with excitement.

90% of the food on offer was different types of barbecued meat/fish/prawns/chicken with rice, tortillas, salad, potatoes and onions. It wasn’t as exotic as we thought it would be, but we did see a frog on a stick. Here’s a list of things we devoured:

Tortilla soup: A smokey bean version of its crunchy cousin. A neatly souped up version of everything that you would expect in a big plate of nachos – tomatoes, cilantro, runny avo, cheese and thick tortilla chips.

Nahotes: Unfortunately, I cannot decipher my own handwriting, but I’m sure it’s called nahotes – deep-fried yucca with cane-sugar syrup. It’s almost like mini donuts with a more rooty, vegetable flavour. Yum.

Riguas con coco: My goodness, did I enjoy these little pockets of heaven. It tasted like sweet corn bread with coconut, fried in banana leaves and served with a salty, chewy cheese.

Horchata: Horchata is as delicious as rice milk with cinnamon can get. It’s really delicious, and I had liters of it.

Michelada: I’m not too sure about Michelada – it’s just like a Bloody Mary, but with beer. I love a Mary in the morning, but I’m not really a fan of its zingy Latin American cousin.

We weighed ourselves yesterday – the Bearded Wonder lost 10kg, and I gained 3kg. Now I know why…

On how we couldn’t leave El Tunco
We planned to cross the border to Guatemala the following day, but 5min after we woke up, we discovered that some clever (but rude) bloke cloned the Husband’s bank card and stole around $2400. So we had 2 admin days from hell – trying to explain to the policeman in our broken Spanish that the internet robbed us and not a gun swinging coyote, was impossible.
So the policeman phoned our hostel and asked the lovely Sala to explain to him what happened to the two flustered gringos sitting in his office. After 40 minutes of us trying to string 2 Spanish sentences together, the matter was cleared up in 2 minutes.

We left El Salvador a week later than planned. But we left with new friends, a better understanding of Salvadorian history and the prospect of visiting the most colourful country in the whole of Central America: Guatemala.

Picture time:

20140928-134429-49469006.jpg
This gothic church in Santa Ana came as a surprise, as we haven’t really seen a lot of this type of architecture.

20140928-134707-49627243.jpg
Exhibit A: The dodgy hotel bed. Exhibit B: The Husband in our new room.

20140928-134839-49719113.jpg
There was an old guy selling all types of antiques in Ataco. He even had an armadillo. But I don’t think it was for sale.

20140928-134940-49780868.jpg
One of the many little churches in Ataco.

20140928-135127-49887749.jpg
Life is simple and beautiful. That’s really it.

20140928-135230-49950754.jpg
Poor frog. Having two toothpicks stuck in your bum mid can-can can’t be fun. The picture below señor frog is of my riguas de coco. Yum yum.

20140928-135539-50139695.jpg
Meaty goodness and the Husband tucking into a plate of fried yucca.

20140929-220045-79245533.jpg
The beginning of our Seven Waterfall hike.

20140929-220232-79352981.jpg
Bonita – The Ultimate Hiking Puppy

20140929-220308-79388008.jpg
Saying goodbye to our favourite Salvadorians, Douglas and Maria. Sala was still fast asleep, hence him missing out on this photo op.

Advertisements

Surf’s up. Or down. It depends on who you talk to.

I’m pretty sure about a lot of things: I know that the sun comes up in the east, that ginger, honey, chili and whisky boiled with some water can cure even the most demonic flu known to man and that The Bearded Wonder has more sea animal DNA than human DNA. So it didn’t come as a surprise that our next destination was a little beach town called El Tunco.

Our road trip from San Salvador to El Tunco was initially quite frantic because we couldn’t find the bus, but luckily the bus always manages to find you. And if it does find you sweating and cursing at the side of the road, it’s usually packed with a crowd of people that can easily fill an olympic stadium. It’s during those moments that you wish you’re travelling with a single toothbrush and not a 50l backpack, because just like you, the backpack also has to fit in. What made up for the awkward backpack yoga poses was the smell or grilled corn passing through the windows of the bus and the guy who tried to sell us dripping ice cream. That and the fact that the old man next to me was sleeping throughout the trip and couldn’t partake in the pleasure of seeing me balancing my bag and sanity on my big toe while trying to refuse an ice cream.

Just like when the bus picked us up at the side of the road, it also left us at the side of the road next to the mango lady and right opposite the watermelon lady. Now I’m definitely a fruity kinda gal, but the ocean waits for no traveller and we descended down the only road to El Tunco.

The road to El Tunco
It’s a short road, say 20m at most, but I really like the enthusiastic spirit the heading captures. Moving along, we managed to find a really nice hostel that also happened to be the setting of a really nice and unplanned travellers’ reunion. We met up with the girl from Canary Islands we crossed the Honduras – Guatemala border with, we met up with the super-friendly couple from Austria who we met in Copán and we also met up with Kristina from Germany, who we met in Esteli (Nicaragua) on a cigar tour. Staying at the hostel was like opening up a lucky packet – you never know who you’re going to meet next.

Besides meeting up with old friends, the Bearded Wonder also took on the Salvadorian waves with the spirit of a seal. I thought he did pretty fine – getting onto the board and managing to stay on – but the seal spirit soon evaporated into a mist of disappointment. The combination of big waves, reef sharks and brownish water (due to the rain) was a bit too much for the Bearded Surfer. So instead of catching some waves, we caught a bus to the neighboring town because we heard they have great ceviche.

The town next to El Tunco
La Libertad is a short chicken bus ride from El Tunco, and really just another seaside town with a fish market, food market, supermarket and loads of very friendly Salvadorians. The ceviche was good, but the sweet bread at the bakery even better. We wandered the streets and ended up at the supermarket for longer than necessary – it was just too hot to go outside. So I looked at every single box of cereal and compared the prices of shampoo. Yes, we are having the adventure of our lives, but sometimes you do end up comparing bottles of shampoo because during that specific moment, there isn’t anything else to do.

Back in El Tunco, we also had Salvadorian craft beer with friends (it was crafty), met up with strangers (who happened to own a Spanish language school in Barcelona), shared a meal of 50c pupusas with even more strangers, and left as friends. Nice, isn’t it?

Here’s some more out of focus photos of our adventures. Don’t worry, the snaps will get better – a Canadian science teacher changed a setting on my camera in Guatemala and now everything is in focus again. Thank goodness for science.

20140925-144717-53237783.jpg
The Bearded Surfer and the Surfettes, starring Saskia and Kristina.

20140925-144857-53337134.jpg
El Tunco doesn’t really have a beach. It’s more a place where things end up, like driftwood, rocks and surfers from Johannesburg.

20140925-145041-53441659.jpg
The La Libertad fish market. One fisherman was so excited that we are from South Africa, he told the whole market. The rest of the market folks weren’t as excited about out foreignness. That’s okay. We aren’t that excited about being South African either.

20140925-145354-53634157.jpg
When life gives you lemons (and raw fish), make ceviche. It’s way better than lemonade.

20140925-145554-53754791.jpg
A happy market chap. I love the Salvadorians, they are such a friendly bunch.

20140925-145722-53842118.jpg
Market Marc and Ma Baker – I went back to buy more sweet bread buns from her.

20140925-145903-53943231.jpg
El Tunco has the best sunsets. Ever.

Whatever you do, don’t skip El Salvador

Whenever we discuss the route through Central America with our fellow travellers, most of them say they’re going to skip El Salvador. Mostly it’s because the country is so small, and that there are other bigger and more exciting countries to explore. To be brutally honest, we also considered to head straight into Guatemala and hop over El Salvador. Luckily, we are very competitive when it comes to the number of stamps in our passports, so we decided to give it a bash for a week. As always, we ended up staying for longer.

I won’t bore you with the story of how we crossed the border from Honduras to El Salvador (our border crossings are always the same – click here for details), but I can tell you that El Salvador’s migration officials are the friendliest we’ve come across – ever. Even when I went back to ask why our passports weren’t stamped*, they happily explained the reason without growling at me for pushing through the line of people with my gigantic backpack and slight musty odor. I even growled at myself for trying to jump the queue.

Dear El Salvador, I think I like you
This little country, wedged between Honduras and Guatemala is perfect for a city-slicking-surf-catching-countryside-cruising kinda traveller. We travelled all they way by chicken bus, and they were even more colourful than the ones we’ve encountered in Nicaragua. For less than $2, you don’t just get to San Salvador, you also get a free demonstration for an ointment promising to cure everything from cracked heels to baldness, a free sermon from a very spirited preacher, another demonstration of more miraculous medicines and a boy selling candied nuts for a quarter. But that’s not all – you also get to enjoy the soothing Latino dance tracks of DJ Burrito Mix played at full volume. Now, if that’s not value for money, I don’t know what is.

We ended up staying for three nights in San Salvador. To many it’s just another pollution filled Central American city with way too many cars and fast food chains. After travelling through small towns and beaches for just over two months, I was beyond myself when I saw a Zara in one of the shopping streets. Sometimes, a bit of familiarity can do wonders to an over-travelled pair of eyes.

To us, the capitol of El Salvador felt just like our hometown Johannesburg. When you stop your car at a traffic light, someone jumps out behind a tree and wash your window with a squeegee and dirty water. Or they try to sell you roses. There are also more potholes than actual street, and every building (including the hairdresser) is decorated with barb wire and a guard armed with a M16 rifle. However, in Johannesburg, we don’t have heavily armed men standing in front of beauty parlours. And we only have one Burger King.

Our walkabout through the city was more or less what we’ve grown accustomed to – beautiful old churches, busy markets selling everything from earbuds to peaches, and an oddly placed Art Deco surprise around every corner. But the biggest surprise, and certainly one of the most beautiful churches I’ve been in, was the Iglesia El Rosario. Designed by the Salvadorian sculptor Ruben Martinez, El Rosario beautifully captures the spirit of devotion without any frills or fuss. This brutalist structure was completed in 1971 and almost looks like a giant concrete turtle. But when you peek inside its unassuming shell it’s quite impossible not to go “Oh wow.” A steady rhythm of stained glass and thin slabs of concrete make up this barrel-vaulted structure and fill the entire church with light and colour. The Bearded Wonder, who used to be an architect before he swapped his desk for the open road, also pointed out that the exaggerated overlapping of concrete elements provides passive ventilation and reflected lighting. To us mere mortals, this basically means that the church is always cool and always filled with light. Beautiful.

San Salvador by night
Wearing my Sunday best (i.e. a clean pair of pants and earrings), we hopped on a chicken bus for a night out in Santa Tecla – a going-out-for-beer-and-a-boogie kinda town that’s located about 15km from San Salvador. Just as we were about to get off the bus, a rainstorm of Biblical proportions broke loose. Drenched and mouldy, we were very far removed from the Salvadorian chic that reigns this neighborhood. So we ordered the second cheapest beer (suitably called ‘Golden’), to lift the spirits a bit. It was nice. A bit on the light side, but nice. So we had another one and another one. Feeling a bit lightheaded, we went for a bite to eat. And what we’ve encountered was as comforting as the arms of an Italian grandmother.

Move over mac & cheese, there’s a new comfort food in town
I know I can get quite lyrical about food, but I really found a friend in pupusas. Take a nice handful of maize meal, stuff it with cheese and zucchini (ór chicken ór pork ór jalapeño ór garlic ór all of the ingredients mentioned) and roll it into a ball of goodness. Flatten said ball with the palm of a well-trained hand, and cook it on a grill until crispy. Serve with salsa and cabbage and eat until your belly resembles the shape of the pupusa before it was flattened. The biggest danger in eating pupusas is not stuffing yourself like a turkey, but burning your fingers to shreds. Every pupusa is freshly-made, so you have to wait a while for the good stuff. The moment the Pupusa Goddess presents this gift to mankind on a plate, one tends to go at it like an unsupervised child at a carnival. Piping hot and oozing with a wild-tasting cheese, I’ll happily lose my fingers to the art of eating a hot pupusa. They are yum.

But wait, there’s more. We also managed to stuff our bellies with dessert: freshly deep-fried churros, dusted with a blush of sugar and drenched in condensed milk. As you can see, heart palpitations and frizzy hair are just some of the perks of being a hungry, curious and beer-loving traveller.

With sticky fingers and condensed milk in my hair, I was ready to go home. While the snappy dressers of San Salvador were doing the salsa, we were drunk on food, sugar and the idea of another brand new country at our feet.

*It turns out that your passport doesn’t get stamped when you enter or exit El Salvador. It’s okay, we’ll go stampless again and again.

20140921-140356-50636042.jpg
The Iglesia El Rosario – it’s impossible to capture the presence of the building with a camera.

20140921-140900-50940092.jpg
The belly of the church – such a simple shape, but with such a grand effect.

20140921-141246-51166390.jpg
The streets of San Salvador.

20140921-141334-51214644.jpg
Two warm, inviting and delicious little pupusas laying side by side, just waiting to be ripped apart with my bare hands.

20140921-141502-51302082.jpg
Cholesterol county – plantain chips, corn on a grill and the twirly twirl of freshly-fried churros.

Things Copán has up its sleeve

Our next adventure takes us to Copán Ruinas – a sleepy town, surrounded by the hilly hilltops of western Honduras and the home to just over 8 000 inhabitants. In comparison to Utila, Copán is like a nice Sunday afternoon nap. Getting there however, took us longer than the usual 8 hours of Central American travelling, because we broke down twice. Not in tears though, but due to mechanical errors. Our first breakdown saw our ferry returning to Utila just as we left the harbor. Our second breakdown was not as exciting though – we were stuck next to a good-for-nothing bus on the side of the road in the blistering heat. Other things that broke down during that breakdown was our spirit of adventure and sense of humour.

Driving through Honduras. Music: Queen Bitch - David Bowie.

When we finally approached Copán 13 hours later, I was not only starving, but also amazed at how beautiful it was. There isn’t a symphony of adjectives in this world that would do the landscape I saw any justice. The town lies smack bang in the middle of the mountains, and it’s an easy breezy kinda place. Just the way I like it.

We decided to go to Copán for two reasons. Reason number one is the obvious one – we wanted to explore its world-famous Mayan ruins. The second reason was actually a bit more fun – I enrolled in a Spanish school to master the verbal art of Spanish.

No, I don’t have 30 anuses
I learned a lot of really important things during my five 4-hour lessons – things that will without a doubt save me from embarrassment and harassment. We started every lesson with basic pleasantries – where are you from, what do you do, how old are you, what did you do yesterday etc. Every time I answered “Yo tengo 30 anos” (meaning I have 30 years)to the ‘how old are you’ question, my teacher would politely stress that it’s important to pronounce it “años” not “anos”. Later on, I read that “anos” actually refers to one’s, ahem…anus.

Another mistake us gringos make is to say “Yo soy caliente” for when you’re hot. The correct way of expressing your current feeling towards the temperature is to say “Yo tengo calore”. The difference? Well, the first phrase means that you are, in fact, horny and would like to jump inside the pants of somebody else – pronto. When you use the second phrase however, someone will just turn the aircon on (instead of turning you on).

It is impossible to learn the ins and outs of a language in just a week. But just knowing how to put a sentence together in the present tense can save a life’s worth of frustration. Armed with a whole wack of verbs, I felt (and still feel) invincible. It also proved pretty handy when the Bearded Wonder and I had a bad case of food poisoning and had to get medicine from the pharmacy. Mind you, it wasn’t due to our street food consumption habits – we got sick from the food we made for dinner.

While we’re on the subject of food…
Even though Copán is really tiny, it has loads of yummy things to eat. On our first night, I had the best gringa el pastorof my life (I also think it was the first one I had in my life). A gringa is a similar to a quesidilla – mind you, everybody makes the same thing and calls it something different. A burrito in Utila is a baleada with extra lettuce, and a taco in Flores (Guatemala) is not a maize tortilla stacked with meat and tomatoes, but a deep-fried rolled-up maize tortilla served with guacamole and parmesan. But I digress. Back to the gringa – it’s almost like a tortilla sandwich. Two flour tortillas are filled with cheese and el pastor, then cooked on a grill until the cheese gets all gooey. As for the el pastor – I still have no idea why they call it el pastor and just not ‘pork’. I think the difference lies in the marinade or something.

We also went to a German microbrewery called ‘Sol de Copán’. The beer was delicious, the background music was awesome (old-school Honduran heavy rock) and the German-Honduran food was yummy. Another highlight was Café San Rafael where I had the most amazing cheese platter (pretty fancy for a backpacker on a budget, but we needed a reward after that horrible stomach bug). Way better than the cheese we had in Monteverde, and every single cheese is made by the owner. Delicious.

When the sun sets, everybody gathers around the town square for a sundowner chat. Old men with cowboy hats, young lovers and their friends and moms with teeny tiny babies. Around the square, fires are lit and starchy white corn is grilled next to tortillas and meat. Grilled corn is served with lime juice and salt, and raspados with lime juice and condensed milk. It would be impossible for me not to be reminded of our Central American days whenever I smell the zesty vigor of a lime.

And then we went to explore some ruins
Ahh, the ruins! They are old, crumbling and really interesting. They aren’t always that mind-blowing to look at (except if you’re an archeologist or Indiana Jones), but the stories they tell are literally the stuff that legends are made of. One of the Mayan rulers, Waxaklajuun Ub’aah K’awiil (but his friends and fellow countrymen used to called him 18th Rabbit), was an important patron of the arts during the Mayan times. During his rule, Copán became famous for its sculptures and hieroglyphics – the most famous being the Hieroglyphic Stairway. The stairway is almost like a giant scroll depicting their history and achievements.

What I enjoyed most about the Mayans is the mystery that still surrounds them. Archeologists are still figuring out what happened to them during the end of the Classic Period – the whole community just left for some mysterious reason. I, on the other hand, are still trying to figure out why the steps to their temples are so leg-breakingly high and steep. I could barely manage to climb all the way to the top with my shortish legs and hiking shoes. And as far as I know, the Mayans used to be really short, so I have no idea how they managed to get to the top with their offerings of human hearts and other interesting things. Oh yes, and that’s another reason why this post is so way overdue – the Mayans are such an interesting bunch. Once you start with some light research on their everyday life and human offerings, you just can’t stop. My favourite Mayan fact is that they believed humans were created out of corn. Darwin must have choked on his corn flakes when he read this interesting titbit in the morning newspaper.

Enough blah blah, let’s do photos!

20140918-181817-65897373.jpg
Stuck at the side of the road with some Germans, Hondurans and zero sense of humor.

20140918-182011-66011518.jpg
Meep-meep! Tuk-tuks rule the cobbled streets.

20140918-182129-66089216.jpg
Them ladies having a nice afternoon chit-chat.

20140918-182218-66138088.jpg
And them hombres having their own chit-chat in the town square. On Saturday nights the church ladies sell delicious foodie things in front of the church.

20140918-182420-66260415.jpg
A detail shot of a macaw’s head at Copán. The Mayans loved their feathered friends. This specific macaw carving acted as a goal post during their ball games – if you managed to hit the macaw with the ball, you score! But you are not allowed to use your hands, only your hips or head. Some historians say that the loser used to be sacrificed to the gods. And other historians say that the winner got the chop, because it was an honour to be sacrificed. On the right is a close up of the Hieroglyphic stairway.

20140918-182717-66437038.jpg
Stelae depicting the stories and achievements of their rulers. I forgot who this was, but I’m sure it’s 18th Rabbit – he was quite popular.

20140921-111141-40301809.jpg
King Big Man Little Word looking over his Mayan kingdom.

20140921-111316-40396592.jpg
There are loads of macaws at the ruins. It almost looks like someone threw a bucket of paint at the sky.

20140921-111853-40733792.jpg
Them birds just love a man with a beard. Even Toucan Sam wanted to share his berries with this bearded man from Africa.

The island of yellow submarines and golf carts

To many a Beatles-loving-19th-hole-cruising individual, the island of Utila in Honduras might just be heaven on earth. Although I haven’t seen any golf courses on the island, I did see, and was almost run over on a daily basis by, a million golf carts. In Utila, you don’t walk to where you want to be. Oh no. You navigate the narrow streets with a very wide golf cart. Or a scooter, four-wheeler or tuk-tuk. When you do decide to walk, and you find yourself in the unfortunate position of having to cross the road, one tends to stay on the same side of the road. It’s just not worth it, risking your life to get a smoothie.

We arrived late in the afternoon, after travelling 10 odd hours on various buses and one very choppy ferry. Walking down the main street from the ferry dock was such a crazy experience – everything was new, wild and frantic. Bunting spun across the street flapped like mad in the wind, while the golf cart traffic was hooting and uprooting a would-be lazy afternoon. I really just wanted to stick my head in a soundless white box for 5 seconds. But as the saying goes, no man’s an island and this was our home for a week. So we had a beer and immersed ourselves in the craziness. And it was fun.

As far as Caribbean islands go (and this is only my second one), Utila is as colourful as the inside of a piñata. Brightly painted wooden clapboard houses are almost as cheery and bold as its inhabitants and the language they speak. Utila carries its heritage of British colonialism, African ancestry, Jamaican soul and Central American influences with the swagger of a child wearing a pair of shiny new shoes. Eavesdropping on conversations spoken in a Caribbean Creole-English was my favourite pastime. I could barely understand a word (The Husband said it’s like listening to drunk people having a conversation while you are in fact, stone cold sober – some words sound familiar, but for the rest, you just nod your head and pretend you know what they’re talking about).

For most of the time, I hanged around on my own, trying to blend in (and staying on the same side of the road). The Husband did his open water diving course at Utila Dive Centre, so while he was learning to breathe under water (*shudder*), I blogged, wrote an article and eavesdropped. At night, we would drink beer and eat baleadas – another highlight on my list of Central American culinary delights.

An ode to baleadas
There are more ways to eat a baleada than to skin a cat. Horrible expression, I know, but it’s the only one I could think of now. Baleadas are flour tortillas stuffed with beans and spice and everything nice. The standard baleada features mashed up black beans, boiled eggs, fried onion and if you’re lucky, a slice of avo. We also had baleadas with lion fish – these spiky little fellows aren’t welcome in Utila, as they bully and eat the other fish. So in turn, we eat them. And they are yum! The best baleadas we had was at Big Mama’s Restaurant. They are known as Super Baleadas and they feature everything mentioned above, with extra lettuce, tomato and fried chicken. They are also nice and cheap, so we had our fair share.

On how I stumbled upon the world’s biggest spider nest and a cheerful carnival
We’ve been in Central America for 3 months now, and I still haven’t seen a scary looking spider >touch wood<. So the one fateful day I was walking through the hostel’s gardens on my way to buy peanutbutter. What I initially thought was the smokey haze of the restaurant next door’s pizza oven, turned out to be a spider nest the size of a small car, housing a whole population of archaic looking creatures with stripy yellow legs. Needless to say, I took a detour back to our room. When The Bearded Diver came back from his morning session, he counted at least 50 big ones, with bunches of little ones hanging about while they followed me with their eight beady eyes. So in total, about 600 eyes were observing me every single day as I passed the hazy web. *Gulp*

But life always rewards you after pulling a nasty like that on an unsuspecting arachnophobe. In this case, my reward was being able to witness a Caribbean carnival! It wasn’t as big as Rio, considering that Utila is only 13km long, 5km wide and with one main street. But it had pirates, loads of dancing women dressed in feathers, a Garifuna ensemble with drums and a group of cyclists merrily protesting the use of golf carts on an island that small. They also handed out strings of colourful beads and sweets. What more could anyone ask for?

On our way back from the carnival, a crazy guy with a slur said the Bearded Wonder looks like Abraham Lincoln. In Utila, anything is possible…

And then we ended up doing the Macarena
After the carnival, we had baleadas (of course), and then went to a party at the dive centre. Oh what fun we had, dancing on the docks with our hands in the air and the cool Caribbean breeze messing up my already messed up hair. We told one of the dive instructors that if you combine our first names (Marc and Carina), you get the Macarena. Within 5 minutes the whole party was doing the Macarena while holding on to cups of cheap rum for dear life.
I also realised then that the Macarena is in fact a very lengthy track. It felt like forever, and after a while it felt a bit awkward. Not that the other people minded – everyone was dancing away like it was 1995.

Photo time!

20140902-221628-80188913.jpg
The main street at night and a Golf Carter carting around.

20140902-221952-80392926.jpg
Okay fine, it’s not exactly a submarine, but it is yellow and perky. As a non-diver and non-swimmer, I was beyond myself and super excited to see loads of fish swimming next to the pier every day.

20140902-222716-80836896.jpg
The Bearded Diver doing all types of diving things – like checking his gear and going out with his fellow divers to check out some fish, coral and Caribbean treasures.

20140902-222950-80990923.jpg
Isn’t it pretty?

20140902-223209-81129807.jpg
See those little specs on the right? It’s spiders. They were EVERYWHERE.

20140902-223502-81302327.jpg
No one can escape the carnival spirit. No man, nor dog.

20140902-223703-81423367.jpg
Some snaps of kids handing our sweets, a Garifuna drummer and a marching band. That’s also one of the many things I love about Central America – there’s always a marching band playing in somewhere.

20140902-224140-81700608.jpg

20140902-224345-81825255.jpg
Birds of a feather.

20140902-224700-82020166.jpg
More carnival snaps – the cyclists happily protesting the use of golf carts and scooters and a tourist dressed as Superwoman.

20140902-224943-82183799.jpg
The real Pirates of the Caribbean.