words coming soon!
Traveling again, FINALLY! I’m in Bonaire, a small island off the northern coast of Venezuela, with my mom and sister. Bonaire is the B in the ABC islands (Aruba, Bonaire, Curacao) and is known for its fantastic diving.
We arrived at the Flamingo Airport at 5:30 on Sunday morning, and all I remember is that I had the hiccups so bad people wouldn’t stop saying “boo” to me. Look, I was just thirsty! Thankfully the island has a desalination system that provides excellent drinking water, so no need to bring water purification systems or buy bottled water if you’re visiting.
We’re staying at Villa Makoshi, one of the seven brightly painted homes in the Perla Boneriano complex. The houses are clustered around a pool with sun chairs and short palm trees with the ocean just a 3 minute walk away. Only one other home is occupied right now, so we pretty much have the place to ourselves! We’re renting the lower level of the villa, which has two bedrooms with fans and air conditioners; a full kitchen; three bathrooms; a huge living room and dining room with couches, tables, chairs and a tv; a laundry room and a lovely shaded patio. It’s incredibly nice and costs $1174 per week (low season price).
It is very warm, mostly sunny, and quite windy here, making the air temperature perfect. The wildlife is abundant and photogenic! These 3 foot long iguanas posed for me.
I also had a photoshoot with some funny birds, look for those pics in the next post!
I’ve got the travel bug again! While I don’t have the next destination nailed down quite yet, I thought I’d share some of the tricks I use to get the best deals on travel and to save some extra money in the process. The key is to combine these tips for maximum savings.
• 1: Compare Plane Ticket Prices on Kayak.com and Hipmunk.com
Find the best deals on flights through sites like Kayak and Hipmunk, they aggregate rates from many other sites and you can filter and sort them by price, flight length, and plenty more. This gives you a good idea of what rates should be, but don’t buy just yet, because you should combine the next two tips and save some extra cash on that flight…
• 2: Use Sites like FatWallet to Get Cash Back on Flights
After comparing rates on Kayak, try to find the same deal on a third party site like Hotwire. But you’re not done yet, next you should sign up for a free account on FatWallet.com, which lets you get cash back from purchases from a variety of websites, including travel sites like Hotwire, Expedia, and Travelocity. This can be up to 5% of the price of a plane ticket, for a $1000 flight that’s $50!
• 3: Always Use a Credit Card with Rewards or Cash Back
Remember to always use a credit card that has rewards or a cash back program, if not you’re throwing away money for transactions you’ll be making anyway. Plane tickets, advanced hotel purchases, train passes, there are plenty of opportunities to use a card and you’ll get somewhere between 1% and 3% for using the reward card. Add this to the 3-5% from a cashback website and you’ve got an extra 8% off that plane ticket!
• 4: Take Screen Captures of Good Deals to Negotiate the Best Rates
Taking a screen capture of good deals found on competing websites can help when negotiating rates for rooms, tickets, anything! Send the screen print along with emails and you’ll often find rates matched or beaten. On a PC just click on the Print Screen button and paste it into an email, if you are on a Mac like me then the same as Print Screen on Mac is the key sequence of Command & Shift & 3, kind of weird but you’ll get used to it. Send captures of the cheap deals and bargain through email to get the best rates before showing up!
• 5: Pay Attention to the News for the Region and Plan Accordingly
Pay attention to news for the region you intend to travel to. This is easy to do with sites like Google News , just search for country or area and to see what’s going on. Why does this matter? Local events directly effect prices of things on the ground in either direction. For example, January 23 may seem like a random date for travelers from a western country, but it’s the Chinese New Year this year and will drive up the prices of local hotels in China and other parts of Asia dramatically as locals enjoy their holiday.
• 6: Talk to People on the Ground
• 7: Consider Buying a Roundtrip Ticket… Even If You’re Going One Way
Did you know that roundtrip tickets are often cheaper than one-way tickets? Yup, as nonsensical as that is, it’s often the case, and you can save some serious cash by buying a roundtrip ticket even if you only intend on using it in a single direction. Plus there’s an added benefit, after you’ve made the one-way part of the trip, you can “miss” the return flight and sometimes even get a credit towards a flight elsewhere or on the airline in general.
The island rebounded impressively fast from Tropical Storm Harvey. After just a day and a half, the ocean was calm again and I got started on my PADI Scuba Diver certification at Anemona Divers. To get the preliminary certification you have to read 3 chapters in the Open Water Certification book, watch 3 videos, take 3 short quizzes, complete 3 confined water dives where you demonstrate skills you’ve learned, and go on 2 open water dives (the fun part!). They say you can do it in 2 days, but the book will take longer to read than you think so give yourself more time than that if you’re planning to get certified. Or better yet, do the book and video work online BEFORE your trip so you don’t have to spend precious vacation hours studying!
The PADI Scuba Diver certification allows me to go on dives to a depth of 40 feet as long as I’m accompanied by a divemaster or instructor. The PADI Open Water Diver certification allows you to go to a depth of 60 feet, and you don’t have to go with a divemaster, but you do have to go with a certified buddy. PADI is all about the buddy system. I’m thinking about getting this certification level next time I’m in the tropics, though I don’t plan on diving without a divemaster. I can get horribly lost in a grocery store, so diving without a guide just isn’t a good idea.
Oh, protip for Anemona Divers: if you pay cash, you don’t have to pay the 16% Honduran tax. The PADI Scuba Diver certification cost $210, plus the $40 book.
On our dives we saw puffer fish, big moray eels, a couple of king crabs, barracuda, a school of sardines that react as a group to your movements, yellowhead jawfish which are these funny fish that go in and out of holes on the ocean floor, and a lot of neat coral formations. We didn’t get clear pictures of all that, but here are the pics from our dives that are of posting quality:
Also we did more snorkeling!
This was a fun and relaxing trip. We met some cool people, ate some good food, drank some Salva Vidas (the local beer), had a thrilling encounter with a cockroach named Houdini, spent a lot of time in the water, and heard some reggae songs so many times I fear I will forever be singing them in the shower.
Tropical Storm Harvey passed over us last night, blowing by with 60mph winds and a lot of rain. Didn’t even wake me up.
The storm washed a lot of sea grass onto the beach and walkways…
…and flung a Portuguese Man-o-War onto the beach! This is really rare because these guys are usually found only in the Pacific, Indian, and northern Atlantic oceans. They’re almost never this far south. It’s pretty lewd looking, if you ask me…
Also did some damage to the dock in front of Foster’s
Otherwise, all appears to be well on Roatan. Hopefully the sun comes back soon so I can get my scuba diving certification!
The sand fleas here are vicious. They will bite you while you’re walking on the sand, or even standing in the ocean. There are less of them on the docks, but you’re still not safe there. Bug spray kills the reef but if you don’t use it, they will bite the crap out of you, and the bites itch like crazy. The best thing to do is to use a bug spray without DEET, and wash it off before getting in the ocean.
To treat the sand flea bites, you should take ibuprofen and Benadryl, and apply hydrocortisone cream to the bites. Don’t scratch them, or they will get inflamed and break open, possibly leading to infection. Touch them as little as possible to prevent irritation.
I’m back in Roatan, the largest of the 3 Bay Islands off the north coast of Honduras. I was here with my mom and sister at the end of last March / beginning of April earlier in the year, and now I’m here with Ryan for 2 weeks. We’re staying at Las Rocas, which is on the northwestern end of West Bay Beach, not far from Foster’s, the place I stayed during my last visit. Our ‘Value Bungalow’ room at Las Rocas has a queen bed and a single bed, a mini fridge, wireless internet (for a flat fee of $35 per stay), and a bathroom. The bathroom sucks: the hot water in the shower smells really strongly of sulfur, like overpoweringly strong, and the toilet is constantly running. On the plus side, we have our own porch with a hammock and breakfast is included. Breakfast consists of unlimited coffee and a buffet of cereal, yogurt, pastries, and fresh fruit, plus a hot plate that changes daily (so far we’ve seen scrambled eggs with sausage, ham omelets, baleadas, pancakes with bacon, and the tipico plate – fried plantains + beans + white cheese).
The food at the Las Rocas restaurant is pretty tasty, and they have some good deals, like $7 margarita pizza, $7 fish quesodillas, an $8 chicken sandwich with fries, and a six pack of Salva Vida, the local beer, for $8 during happy hour.
Besides spending a lot of time lounging around Las Rocas and reading in the hammock while Ryan works, I’ve been sunbathing and swimming daily.
We also went snorkeling one afternoon. I’m hoping to get diving certified while I’m here, if possible.
It’s been very hot here. Internet weather sites say there’s a heat index of 105, but I don’t think it’s quite that hot. The evenings have been stormy, with thunder and lightning.
We haven’t seen any super great sunsets yet (I think the sunsets on Gili Air spoiled us), but we got some cool pictures anyway.
We made friends with a derpy momma cat, and have been feeding her daily. She’s very sweet and has the cutest tiny kittens.
There have been some reports of crime while we’ve been here. The other night 3 girls were robbed while walking between West Bay Beach and West End. The next day, a bartender/chef in West End was shot, but we don’t know how that played out.
Oh, also I got baptized. Yep, you read that right. I saw some other people getting baptized in the ocean in front of Foster’s and figured I may as well. Why the hell not, right?
For breakfast on Friday, April 1st (called Town Fools Day here), I had a seasonal fruit plate ($4) from Foster’s, it wasn’t very good, and coffee of course.
At 9:00am Elena and I went to Anemona Divers to go scuba diving! We did the Introductory Dive down to 20 feet for $54 ($60 without the Foster’s discount). First we learned the hand signs, then we took a boat to the beach in front of Infinity Bay Resort and practiced with breathing underwater. When we had that down we swam out to the dive site. It was incredibly beautiful, and so much fun! This is going to be one of my new favorite things for sure. We were under for a total of 40 minutes.
We went to Foster’s for lunch and I had nachos which were mega tasty ($6). The afternoon was filled with swimming and beach lounging. There are no cruise ships on Friday or Saturday, making the beach empty and peaceful. Later in the afternoon we napped. When we woke we went for a walk down the beach and down a road into the “town” of West Bay. We went to some shops and I bought sunglasses cause mine broke ($10), a beautiful beaded bracelet ($9), postcards (2 for $1) and soft serve ice cream ($2). I talked to some local ex-pats about places to stay longer term because I might want to come back soon.
The evening was spent swimming and having dinner and drinks at Foster’s. A little later we walked down to Bananarama to listen to their live music. Unfortunately, this guy also didn’t know Caribbean Queen *sigh*. We listened for a bit and gave him a tip, then headed back to Foster’s and I read in the hammock on the deck before bed.
On Thursday, March 31st, I woke at 7 and a few minutes later a man selling empanadas stopped by, so we bought 3 for breakfast for $5. They were just ok. Went and got coffee at Foster’s after that. I got too hot so I jumped in the ocean. It’s so nice to be able to do that!
Later in the morning we took a water taxi to the town of West End for $3 each. We walked around for about an hour. It was incredibly hot so we kept ducking into souvenir shops for the AC. Eventually we stopped at a restaurant / yoga studio called Earth Mama’s for lunch. I wasn’t hungry but Elena got a coconut curry chicken salad wrap with fried plantain chips ($7.85) and mom had a mimosa and a fiesta shrimp salad ($8.50). I tried mom’s salad and it was delicious! Elena also really liked her food, so definitely stop by this place if you’re in West End.
After that we souvenir shopped a bit. I bought a very cool wooden purse made on the mainland for $15 (down from $20) and a pretty abalone and bead bracelette for $6 (down from $8).
Around 1pm we took the water taxi back to West Bay for 50 limpiras / $3 per person.
We were hot and tired so the rest of the day was spent swimming and sunbathing. Somewhere in there I bought beers again from guy with the cooler from yesterday. I bought 5 for $10 and he told me “pumpkin, you hurt my soul!” I guess I drive a hard bargain.
Foster’s has been building this deck thing for the last 2 days to extend their dining area and they finished it tonight for their live music performance. For dinner we ordered 2 lobster specials which each had 2 lobster tails and 2 sides ($12 per plate). It was very very tasty and more than enough food for 3 people.
After dinner we had happy hour drinks while the band played. They were quite good and we all danced a lot. Towards the end of the night a young Honduran guy with a woman bought drinks for me mom and Elena. We thought it was just because they enjoyed the entertainment of us dancing, but in reality the man wanted to pick up on me and Elena. The woman he was with came over and told us all about it, she was pretty hilarious. Apparently the guy was a Honduran millionaire in the making looking for a gringo girl. I could have had a stake in millions of dollars worth of Honduran cows so I hear… no thanks, I’ll keep my fantastic gringo boyfriend and his cow-sized cat thankyouverymuch.
We had a very fun evening and danced until about 9:30. My feet were hurting by the end. The band didnt know Caribbean Queen, that was the only disappointment, oh well.
Tomorrow we’re going Scuba Diving!