Leon to Utila and a birthday surprise
A short 3 hour bus ride north of Granada lies the city of Leon. After the capital it is the second largest city in Nicaragua and intellectual and political centre where the countries oldest and most prestigious university lies. The streets buzz with energy, and we relished strolling the busy streets, taking in the gorgeous crumbling colonial buildings, astonishing mammoth churches and cosmopolitan cafés.
The food scene is thriving here as it caters to students, travellers and ex pats with varied cuisines from local Nicaraguan, Cuban and Argentinian to upscale modern Mediterrean. Our favourite spots to eat were:
Pan & Paz – a great French bakery that make delicious sandwiches on house made baguettes, chocolate croissants amongst other decadent cakes and freshly squeezed juices. Set in a quiet semi outdoor courtyard, it’s the perfect getaway from the hustle and bustle of Leon.
BBQ ladies – located on the street behind the cathedral a row of street vendors grill meats from chicken wings, pork ribs, steak and sausages complete with various sides, a huge plate of food for under 70 Cordobas ($3)
After Leon we would leave on a journey to get to Utila Island off the Caribbean coast of Honduras, where we would obtain our diving certification in one of the cheapest and most beautiful dive spots in the world. From Leon there are 2 main options of getting there other than flying which is expensive and not safe airlines.
1. Take an overnight 12 hour shuttle to La Ceiba port in order to get a ferry across to Utila or
2. Take a daytime luxury bus to San Pedro Sula (The worlds most dangerous city) staying overnight and taking a 5 hour bus to the port the next morning.
Sorry Mums but we chose option 2, we felt this was safer than driving overnight through a country with the worlds highest murder rate. We chose to stay overnight in a safe hotel – where the peace corps stay and recommend. San Pedro Sula hold the title of most deaths a year with 189 per 100,000 people – what a crazy statistic, but we did lots of research and learnt that the murders were due to 2 of the worlds most dangerous drug cartels vying for supremacy in the city, they do not target tourists and most violence is gang related.
Leon to San Pedro Sula
We awoke in Leon at 530am to catch the12 hour TICA bus to San Pedro Sula in Honduras. The bus journey was up there with one of the worst of the trip, even though TICA buses are the best quality coaches in Central America. As we boarded the bus we were hit with arctic temperatures that were contained inside, walking down the aisle everyone who had already been on the bus since leaving the capital was wearing blankets, wooly jumpers and beanies. But that wasn’t the end of our woes, our seats were directly opposite the toilet and as soon as anyone opened the door the stench of urine filled the air. This wasn’t just any kind of urine smell, it was the strongest kind, it would burn our noses and throats as we breathed in, make our eyes water and locals surrounding us would dry heave from the powerful smell. And sure enough the toilet was extremely popular with a steady stream of people using it for hours on end, by the time the smell would subside another person would come and let the beastly smell out. So we held our breath and wrapped clothes around our faces to mask some of the smell while we froze to death for 4 hours in 12degree temperatures that constantly pumped out of the air conditioner until we reached the Honduran border.
The bus company took everyone’s passports at the border in order to get us all stamped out of Nicaragua together, fast and efficient. We were so happy to be able to get out of the bus and thaw out in the heat, but after standing around in the sweltering dusty cowboy town that is Somotillo for over 1.5 hours with no word on what was going on we were almost wishing we were back on the bus. We boarded shortly after and continued through the Honduran immigration where disembarked again and for the first time ever we needed to have our temperature taken in order to get in. 2 stamps and 3 sneaky tourist “fees” later we got back onto the bus, which was now at a regular temperature but still stinky as ever.
After another stop in Tegucigalpa, the Honduran capital and 8 hours we made it to San Pedro Sula, the worlds most dangerous city. First impressions were of a big modern city with huge extravagant malls, American chain restaurants and nice infrastructure, we saw no signs of violence or hardship. At the bus terminal we arranged pick up from our hotel, Dos Molinos, which made things easy. We were starving and not wanting to venture far we had dinner a few houses down from our hotel where a lady cooked delicious Honduran food on a BBQ in her front yard. We ate some pastelitos (fried empanadas) and baleadas (tortilla filled with beans, cheese and meat) on plastic chairs and tables in the yard.
My Birthday – San Pedro Sula to Utila
The next morning we had our included breakfast at the hotel where we met 2 men from England, Vik and Graham who were also travelling the same route to Utila and planning on diving. We travelled together on the 4 hour bus to La Ceiba and caught the ferry across to Utila at 4pm. As we disembarked our dive company whisked us away to their office to start signing us up for our course, they were not aware that we didn’t start until 2 days later and Ben had booked a restaurant for my birthday dinner that we needed to be at by 6pm. After informing them that we needed to check in to our hotel to get ready for dinner they dropped us to the Mango Inn. It was now 5:45pm, and our key didn’t work, I was devastated as Ben told me I didn’t have time to get changed or do my make up, another 10mins later we got into our room. I insisted that I at least put on a nice outfit for my birthday and tie my hair.
The restaurant was on the other side of the island and so had arranged for a boat to pick us up, by the time we got to the wharf it was 630pm. We stood in the dark at the wharf with nothing else around us but mangroves and Mosquitos it only got worse when it started to rain. My nice birthday outfit and hair was getting ruined as we had nowhere to stand undercover. We were starting to think we missed the boat as we were so late, then finally boat arrived at 7pm, we hopped into the tin boat with no cover and as we sped into the night the rains worsened and we were drenched head to toe by the time we got to the restaurant.
As we dragged our soaking selves into the beautiful Neptunes Restaurant set on a gorgeous white sand beach, I realised it was empty except for a few staff. This is when I’m told they don’t usually have dinner service and stayed opened just for my birthday dinner! It was so special to have the entire restaurant to ourselves. The waitress/restaurant manager who served us was so polite and friendly, and even though they stayed open for us and we were 1.5 hours late she was very understanding.
We shared buffalo wings to start, each had a fillet of wahu for main, mine with coconut curry and Bens with chipotle sauce. They were huge, tasty and perfectly cooked, some of the best fish I’ve ever tasted.
For dessert they bought out a piece of rum cake with a candle for me, it was the first time we had tried rum cake, a Caribbean specialty and it was soooo good, a delicious moist cake soaked in sweet rum, each bite excreting the sweet syrup creating a sticky delicious mess on the plate.
It turned out to be the best birthday ever, a real surprise to be eating in the Islands best restaurant which we had all to ourselves, enjoying delicious food together.