A little time in The Bay Islands

October 10, 2016, Trip: Honduras
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October 9th

We left Tela today with on and off rain.

After the rain:  dscn4796

As we drove inland to get to La Ceiba (HND’s third largest city) further along the coast, it cleared up some. We arrived at the 1877 Hostel to see if we could camp there tonight and then leave our vehicle on their secure property while we went to the largest of the Bay Islands, Roatán.

The Hostel was good with our plan (and will not charge for the days we are away!) and we hooked up and went for lunch. The area around us is full of shops and lots of restaurants.

We are trying to arrange a whitewater rafting trip down the local Rio Cangrejal (the best in Central America) for the day after we return to the mainland and Josee & Joe have agreed to join us as they leave the island of Utila same day we leave Roatán.

So Monday morning we finished packing and took a cab to the ferry terminal. The ferry is passenger only and costs $75US return. It was about an hour and ten minute ride and the sky threatened to rain as we approached the island but did not. We took another taxi to our hotel after some haggling.

The Bay Islands are a diver’s meca and one of the cheapest places to get certified. There are actually three islands: Roatán, Utila and Guanaja – the first being the largest and most developed and the last being the least developed and furthest out. The islands have a long history that predates Columbus stopping there in 1502 and includes Mayans, English, Spanish, Black Caribes (hence the Garifuna culture here) and the notorious Captain Henry Morgan. The culture here still has a Caribbean flavour rather than mainland Honduras and the most predominant language is English.

We are staying at the Clarion Hotel – Pineapple Villas. As many of you know, Doug is a member of Choice Hotels and Clarion is one of the offerings. Fran had seen an ad on her El Salvador chipped phone a few weeks back for this resort and Doug checked to see what the points stays were rated at and lo and behold, it was the available and at the lowest point level. So we have three nights for free! Turns out we got a 1400+ square foot two bedroom suite complete with a patio, full kitchen/dining room, two bathrooms and a washer and dryer! The lush jungle surroundings resort has about eight four story buildings, four pools, a spa, restaurant and bar as well as free access to French Key off the coast (as the hotel is not on the beach) which we plan to check out while here.

our hotel

 

dscn4830-our-hotel-pool

Pineapple Villas is near the little island town of French Harbor so not right in the action – it’s actually almost midway up the island. Roatán is about 50km/30m long and about 2-4 km wide. The reef is almost the same length and is a continuation of the reef we explored in Mexico and Belize. We have to take cabs everywhere but if you are willing to take “collectivo” cabs, they are cheaper as you are not always the only fare in the taxi.

After checking in before noon, we decided to head to West Bay/West End at the more built up end of the island where the best beach is supposed to be and see about snorkeling options and to see the town. The weather got worse as we approached West End and it really rained hard. We have now learned that the rainy season on the islands is October thru February; not the summer months like inland. It stopped after we had some lunch in a little waterfront bar and cleared up for the most part.

lunch in the rain on the beach

dscn4815-pouring-rain-while-we-had-lunch

There is snorkeling available right off the beach at Half Moon Bay near West End but we wanted to go out to more pristine reef sections so after checking out a few prices, we settled on Alfred, who wanted $30 pp and will take us out for a couple of hours to three spots. He also runs a little water taxi operation so he took us by boat that day to West Bay where we walked around for about an hour on the beach and after talking to a few more tour operators, figured we got the best deal and also arranged a snuba trip for after snorkeling on Tuesday. We’ve never done this so it should be interesting.

We called Alfred to come take us back to West End and he helped us get another collectivo (and cheaper) to get us back to French Harbor to get a few groceries for our “suite” for tonight’s dinner and our breakfasts while here.

We had a quiet evening in our temporary home and slept well.

Tuesday was a busy day for us, relatively speaking. We had arranged for the taxi driver that took us to the hotel on Monday from the ferry to pick us up at 8:20 to get to West End for our snorkel trip. He didn’t show up so we flagged another taxi who called for her friend to pick us up. So our 9am snorkel turned out to leave at 9:30 – luckily it was just us on this excursion so we didn’t “miss the boat”. Alfred took us out to three snorkeling sites: the Blue Channel, Spooky Channel and Starfish Bank.

The day began with heavy rain even before we left but it seemed to want to clear but throughout the course of the day, it rained on and off and the sun did try to come out in the afternoon but never quite made it. It didn’t really matter as it’s still very warm and we were in the water most of the time and the fish weren’t bothered.

dscf5184-fish-24 angel fish dscf5101-fish-2The Blue Channel had quite a variety of fish and Fran even had a glimpse of a turtle. There is a lot of coral but a lot of it is damaged. Alfred had a “guide” that took us through the reef but he wasn’t a lot of help. Enroute to Spooky Channel, we stopped by the dolphin pen at Anthony’s Key but the cruise ship people had just arrived and the “show” had not started. Spooky Channel had a deep section/wall that we obviously could not get of a view in but we did see some small schools of fish and some new ones we’d not seem before.

We passed the dolphins again heading to the starfish site but they were not that active and when we got to the “bank” area, we only saw one starfish which we got to hold. Our two hour tour turned into over three and we had fun despite the weather.

the sky that dayAlfred dropped us off in West Bay for our snuba adventure and that was an amazing experience. Lucas set us up while teaching us the ins and outs and rules of the adventure. We were able to use our own snorkel masks and fins. Lucas put the regulators and weights on us and off into the water we walked from shore and he adjusted the weights as needed – you want to be heavy enough to go down but not so heavy that you cannot easily get back up. The reef is not that far out from the shore here.

Our regulators were attached by hose to a small raft that floated on the surface and slowly down, down, down we went into the reef. You must go down and up slowly in order to equalize yourself. Now there were fish but not in the numbers we’d seen earlier but it was so cool to be down in the reef (between the coral in tunnels and holes) and actually sit on the ocean floor. The deepest water was maybe 25 feet but that was good enough for us. We did encounter some much larger fish than you see on the top of the reef. We took pictures with our little waterproof camera of course, but it turns out that it works best to depths of only about 3 metres so the pics lower that than are not so great; colours are not as vivid and there is a blue tinge on many of them that cannot always be edited out.

 

Doug stirring up the sandWe really enjoyed this experience and would certainly do it again. Lucas did us offer us a practically half price deal to do it again while we’re here but since we only have one more full day here, and we don’t think we’ll head back to West Bay during that time, we sadly passed on it. Have to admit, it was tempting and we did look into staying longer and could have but although the hotel is free with Doug’s points, it’s not a cheap place to stay; it costs us $30-40 round trip at least for a cab to the West End/Bay and you need to eat/drink. Prices here on Roatán are in USD but you can pay in Lempira. It’s just pricier than we’re used to since it’s a tourist spot so a bit out of our comfortable budget range for too long.

pretty

We had expected to be back at the hotel before 2 but it was more like 3:30 when we returned; we had arranged with our morning driver to pick us up at 1 but had to call him at 12 to delay that an hour. It’s about a 45 minute drive from West Bay to our hotel and we stopped enroute as the driver wanted to pick up his laundry (!) and we spotted a fruit stand where we got a couple of items. This route takes you past one of the cruise ship terminals and traffic was slow there. There were 3 cruise ships on the island today but for the most part it did not feel like there were that many people as the weather was not great, so fewer people left the ship. Two of the ships (Carnival) dock at their own private beach and so people just stay there at Mahogany Bay and enjoy the beach there.

By the time we rinsed off our gear, showered and changed it was after 4 so we went to the hotel’s sports bar for a late lunch/early supper.

Wednesday we awoke to a clear sky and a forecast of late day clouds but no rain. We decided to use the hotel’s free shuttle to French Key and spend the day on the beach. It was about a 5 minute drive and a 3 minute boat ride. It’s a lovely tropical white sandy little island with lots of little beaches, bars/restaurants, a small zoo, some boardwalks and activities like SUP, kayak and boat trips out to the small nearby reef to snorkel. We did not participate in any of these but just found some nice beach chairs under a tree and stayed about five hours until the clouds set in. The good majority of the rest of the folks on the key with us were from the cruise ships but there were not so many as to be annoying. We did talk to a few couples including Chuck & Leeann from Texas who were considering retiring to travel in an RV in the next few years.  The cruise ship people all left before 2pm.

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another beach

Around 2:15 we saw black clouds rolling in and decided to walk back to the hotel before the rain came and didn’t quite make it but it only sprinkled after all. We enjoyed another “lupper” in the sports bar at the hotel that day too.

Doug arranged for a late check on Thursday, did laundry and spent some time at the pool before we took the hotel shuttle for free back to the ferry terminal to go back to La Ceiba.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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