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Utila, Vingt mille lieues sous les mers...

Utila, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea...


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AS I mentioned before my main aim by going to Honduras was to dive! Indeed all along the Caribbean coasts of Mexico and Belize, there is some amazing reef which I couldn't wait to explore in other ways than with a snorkel, this time not by going twenty thousand leagues under the sea (I wish...) but only at a maximum depth of 30 meters.

For a bit of geography, Utila is one of the Bay Islands, off the coast of Honduras, with the other ones being Roatan (bigger, better reef but also more expensive) and Guanaja (smaller but a bit far to reach). Utila is also home to more than 20 dive schools and a lot of tourists are going there to dive. Actually if you do not dive, there is little point to go to Utila, Roatan is a better option though more expensive. This was actually one of the point which I didn't like too much about the island, that there are definitely too many "gringos" and that you lose the local feeling that you can have in other places in Central America.



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After making my way to Utila, going through hectic towns like San Pedro Sula or La Ceiba in Honduras, I had to choose a diving school in order to pass the PADI Advanced Open Water certification. 15 years ago, when I was in high school in France (my god it's already that far away....) I had passed the french level 1 diving certification, although it was only in a swimming pool so I was hoping that they would accept this as a valid certification and that they would allow me to try straight away the Advanced Open Water without having to do first the Open Water one which is more for beginners.

Diving spots around the island

Diving spots around the island

So lying a little bit about the number of dives I had done in the sea (actually they never asked to see my French license), I registered in the Utila Dive Center, not the cheapest place to dive in Utila but one of the most serious with lots of instructors and students instructors (dive masters). The whole course was about 300$ for the certification (7 dives) + 30$ for a refreshment course (which I really needed anyway). And there we were, after practising again the basics, I was taken for my first dive to a ship wreck, down to 30 meters (100 feet)!

Actually this was a bit scary because it was my first dive ever in sea, and we were going to the maximum depth you can reach when diving for "fun" (once down at 30 meters, you cannot go up when you want if there is a problem, you first have to do a safety stop at 5 meters for 3 minutes, to eliminate the excess of nitrogen in your blood. Taking a deep breath, I then jumped into the water, only to find out that my mask did not fit and that it was impossible to clear the water out of it. Of course the others had more experience and were already going down so I was starting to think "ok, this doesn't start that well"... Fortunately the instructor realised what the problem was and going up to the surface (we were only a few meters down at that point), we exchanged our mask and I made another attempt to go down. Second issue though, I had not taken enough weights on my belt to allow for a smooth descent (I found out later that I needed 4.5 kilos of weight to compensate for the wetsuit and gear which always make you float) and I was getting stuck at a few meters below the surface, incapable of going down by myself. Once again the instructor helped me (nice guy from New Zealand btw) by pulling me down to the bottom and a few minutes later I could reach the bottom of the sea where the others were waiting, 30 meters down, near the base of the wreck. Phew!!

My camera not being water-proof, I could not take any footage which would have been really nice, but instead I have found this video of the same wreck on Youtube. This is actually exactly how I saw it, very impressive...

The rest of the dive was totally fine and we could do a few tests to see what are the consequences of the pressure when you are at this depth. For example the colours start to look different (well I am colourblind anyway so not a lot of change for me...), or we even took some eggs with us, broke them and we were playing with the yolk (the yellow part) like a ball with no gravity!

One of the other dives you need to complete as part of this course is a night dive, when you jump into the water armed with a light torch because it is completely pitch black! The wildlife at night is also very different and this was an amazing experience.

And after 7 dives in total (5 are required to be certified), I was officially an Advanced Open Water diver, which means that I can now dive in any dive spot around the world! I had definitely a great time and I am now looking forward to dive more in South America or Asia later on, if my bank account allows it...

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Captain Cookie, the coolest captain...

Captain Cookie, the coolest captain...


Everybody is quite tired after diving

Everybody is quite tired after diving


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My diving equipment

My diving equipment

Posted by manolo84 14:59 Archived in Honduras Tagged islands diving Comments (1)

Copán Ruinas


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After spending then a week in the wonderful and quiet environment of the lake Attitlán, I was happy and relaxed but was really looking forward to come back to civilisation. I had seen most of the places and things I wanted to see in Guatemala and time had now come to carry on down south, to Honduras.

During my travels in Mexico and in Belize, I had had several opportunities to go scuba diving but the high prices for the certifications had discouraged me slightly. Besides everyone was saying that Honduras and the Bay Islands are one of the best places in the world to dive (thanks to the coral reef) and probably one of the cheapest as well. So it is with this intention that I was leaving lake Atitlán and the very nice people I had met there, to head off straight to the Caribbean coast of Honduras, to resume my scuba diving practice that I had stopped 14 years ago.

Unfortunately even though it looks quite close on the map, I had to go back and stay in Antigua for a few nights (and recover from a food poisoning I had experienced when leaving Atitlán) then make a stop in Copán Ruinas in Honduras near the border, before eventually reaching Utila, one of the Bay Islands in Honduras.

But whilst the bus journeys are most of the time long and boring, they are also a fantastic opportunity to meet people. In Antigua, I could meet again a couple of friends I had met in Mexico a month and a half earlier (by the way Maël and Suna, we didn't even take a picture together!), which is always fun and nice, and in the bus journey to Copán, I would meet my companions for the next week to go (same thing, Thomas, Patty, Roscio and Chris, who forgot to take the group picture !? ;) )

And as I had to stop for the night in Copán, I took the opportunity to visit its famous Maya ruins, which are not the biggest ones ever, but the ones with the most preserved carvings, which actually look quite impressive. When looking at the pictures below, you also need to realise that all these statues and stelae were full of colours, which over the time faded away...

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Another field to play the famous "Juego de pelota" (Ball game)

Another field to play the famous "Juego de pelota" (Ball game)


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Chris, I'm sure you are trying to say something very important here... Roscio seems captivated as well... <img class='img' src='http://www.travellerspoint.com/Emoticons/icon_smile.gif' width='15' height='15' alt=':)' title='' />

Chris, I'm sure you are trying to say something very important here... Roscio seems captivated as well... :)


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Three macaws posing for posterity near the ruins...

Three macaws posing for posterity near the ruins...

Posted by manolo84 09:48 Archived in Honduras Tagged ruins pyramids mayas Comments (0)

Lago de Atitlán


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The next step of my travels took me to the Lake Atitlán, one of the most beautiful lake in the world, according to Aldous Huxley. I had several purposes for going there, the first of course was to admire the lake and its wonderful scenery (the lake, located at an altitude of 1500m, is surrounded by 4 volcanoes which give a surreal atmosphere to the lake), to relax and spend a week in a quiet place to try to do a bit of yoga, and also to take a week of spanish classes.

Guatemala is one of the cheapest places to learn Spanish (20h = 80$ with an individual teacher) and Santa Cruz de la Laguna, around the Lake Atitlán seemed to be the perfect location. Besides I had the opportunity to stay the entire week with a local Maya family, living and eating with them every day.

The whole experience was indeed really interesting, the family I stayed with was really nice and I now feel that my spanish has improved a lot, which is definitely going to help me for the next months when I will be travelling in the rest of Central and South America.

There is not much else to say as it a very quiet week so I will just let you admire the different photos I have taken that week, including a bonus video, lucky you! :)

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The morning were dedicated to study spanish, with an healthy breakfast and amazing view

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A little puppy which crossed my road one morning as I was hiking around the lake

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Making tortillas with the family I was staying with

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A part of the family which offered me shelter that week

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Posted by manolo84 16:25 Archived in Guatemala Tagged lakes nature volcanoes Comments (3)

Antigua


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Après avoir passé donc 2 jours in Semuc Champey, ce qui était suffisant je pense, je décidai de continuer ma route vers le sud en direction d'Antigua, l'ancienne capitale historique du Guatemala, avant que de nombreux tremblements de terre ne décident les autorités à changer la capitale pour ce qui est maintenant Guatemala City (que je ne fis que traverser).

Antigua est apparemment très prisée des touristes, pour son architecture coloniale de style baroque et de Renaissance espagnole ainsi que pour ses ruines causées donc par les deux tremblements de terre de 1773. Pour se repérer dans la ville, c'est simple, les rues sont à angles droits et à chaque fois que vous demandez la direction pour telle ou telle endroit, les habitants se réfèrent au blocs de rues plutôt qu'à leur nom: "là vous continuez pendant deux blocs tout droit puis un bloc à gauche et vous y êtes"... Ce qui est aussi vrai pour la plupart des villes coloniales espagnoles (au Mexique aussi) construites après donc les années 1500.

Beaucoup de touristes viennent aussi à Antigua pour son atmosphère très "relax", ses nombreuses auberges de jeunesse, sa vie nocturne avec bars et clubs, ainsi que les nombreuses écoles qui proposent des cours d'espagnol à un bon prix. La ville a conservé aussi son influence Maya et on peut y trouver des magasins d'arts Maya à tous les coins de rue ou presque.

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Personnellement, j'ai bien aimé la ville mais la présence de nombreux "gringos" (comprendre: anglophones ne parlant pas un mot d'espagnol et ne désirant pas faire d'efforts) fait perdre un peu de charme à la ville je trouve (encore plus que San Cristobal au Mexique) donc je n'ai pas souhaité trop m'y attarder, mais juste le temps de flâner un peu dans les rues et les marchés, prendre quelques photos, boire quelques coups avec des amis rencontrés en auberge de jeunesse et aussi en profiter pour grimper un des volcans qui entoure la ville.

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Les Gens d'R à Antigua... :)

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Dégustation de café Guatémaltèque

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Une machine à café authentique

En effet, la ville est entourée de 3 grands volcans (ce qui rend les tremblements de terres logiques car c'est une zone sismique assez active). Le plus imposant, au sud de la ville, est le Volcán de Agua (Volcan d'Eau), dont le sommet est à 3766 mètres de haut. Quand les espagnols arrivèrent pour la première fois, les habitants de l'endroit (les Mayas Kakchikel), l'appelaient Hunapú (et certains l'appellent encore ainsi). Cependant, il devint connu comme Volcán de Agua après que de la lave provenant de du volcan enterra le deuxième site de la capitale, ce qui décida les autorités espagnoles de déplacer la capitale là où se trouve maintenant Antigua. Le site original fait maintenant place à un petit village appelé San Migual Escobar.

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A l'ouest de la ville se trouve une autre paire de volcans, l'Acatenango, qui entra en éruption pour la dernière fois en 1972 (3976 mètres) et le Volcán de Fuego (à 3763 mètres de haut). "Fuego" est connu pour être quasi-constamment actif à un bas niveau. Des jets de vapeur et des gaz sont rejetés chaque jour, et la dernière grande éruption date de Septembre 2012.

Mais le volcan que je décidais de grimper (via un tour organisé) est le volcan Pacaya, volcan aussi toujours actif. Il entra en éruption il y a approximativement 23 000 années et entra en éruption au moins 23 fois depuis l'invasion espagnole au Guatemala. Le sommet se trouve à 2552 mètres et après s'être "endormi" pendant plus d'un siècle, il décida de se réveiller brutalement en 1965 et de fréquentes éruptions se produisent constamment depuis. La dernière grande éruption se produisit en Mai 2010, causant des pluies de cendres sur Guatemala City, Antigua et Escuintla. Personnellement je pensais que nous pourrions voir de la lave active mais cela en fait dépend vraiment des jours et le jour où nous y sommes allés, nous pouvions voir de la fumée s’échapper du volcan mais malheureusement point de lave...

Cependant notre guide avait apporté des marshmallows et nous avons pu les "rôtir" au sommet, car des poches d'air brulant s’échappent du volcan constamment. Bon, les marshmallows rôtis par un volcan, c'est pas très bon, mais c'est quand même assez cool... ;)
D'ailleurs j'avais profité de la randonnée pour prendre une petite vidéo et vous montrer en direct la vue à laquelle j'ai pu assister:

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Notre petit groupe de randonnée

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Vue panoramique des autres volcans, depuis le Pacaya

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Erik, Lieke et moi-même, mes companions Antiguans

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Un des trous sur le volcan desquels sorte constamment de la fumée

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Un paysage lunaire....

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Nos marshmallows rôtis!

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Un chien, en haut d'un volcan... rien de plus normal...

Posted by manolo84 21:43 Archived in Guatemala Tagged cities volcanoes french Comments (2)

Semuc Champey


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Next on the list of the places to visit in Guatemala was Antigua (I had no particular interest in visiting Guatemala city) but in Flores everybody was talking about a place called Semuc Champey which apparently was wonderful. As this stop was on my way to Antigua, I told myself "why not?" and hopped on a bus (8 hours journey) to Lanquin, a small Maya town where Semuc Champey is.

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The river and the ferry our bus had to taken to cross over

Semuc Champey actually consists of a natural 300m limestone bridge, under which passes the Cahabón River. Atop the bridge is a series of stepped, turquoise pools, a popular swimming attraction according to the different reviews I got.

And indeed, there is definitely an "air de paradis" there:

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The view from the window of my hostel...

The view from the window of my hostel...

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A good way to clean your tuktuk...

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Me jumping of a swing directly in the river. A very academic jump... :)

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A bit squeezed no?

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Posted by manolo84 23:11 Archived in Guatemala Tagged rivers nature Comments (0)

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