Saturday, November 30, 2019




From Leon we all piled in the trusty VW, and headed south. Princess Fluffy, Adventure Dog, literally sat on top of us in the back. Or over us. Or behind us. She basically took over the van. lol.


We cruised past volcanos and rivers and the Wal Mart. (Yep. In the capital, they indeed have a Wal Mart.  Not going to lie… I kinda wanted to stop just to see how it was the same or different). There were Black Friday ads everywhere. After all… today is


And I am tremendously thankful to be on a trip like this, with great friends, seeing all the amazing things the world has to offer. I’m grateful. I’m humbled. I’m happy. Thank you life and the world for all of this.

We head up and over the rim of Laguna De Apoyo… a magical crater lake. We went to the camping area on the shores, as rain came in. We got our suits on and ran down to the water to swim with beer in hand. (I am with German’s remember! lol)  It was really incredible to be there. It was maybe 3-5 kilometers across. You could see the mountains all around, and a volcano in the distance. We swam, cooked lunch, played with the local dogs that all came to say hi.


And we played NINJA.  Which is this hilarious game were everyone is a Ninja trying to chop of the arms of everyone else. But you can only make single moves, and they can make single moves in defense. It’s easier to show, but it’s really really funny.

Then head to Hostel Paridiso
And for $9/night had a dorm bed on the shores of the lake at a place with kayaks, a floating dock, beach chairs, amazing food. Sweet.

As we were walking over to the hostel I said “I give it about a 65% chance we’ll see some travelers we’ve met before on this trip.”  We walk to check in, and literally EVERYONE from the shuttle and the party last night was there. Like 10 of them or more. lol.  Ahhh traveling! Awesome! And everyone of them is a solo traveler and they’ve all just teamed up fora little while on their journeys.

So our crew (Officially called the International Ninjas, by the way).
We met 2 more Germans (lol) and played Cards against Humanity. (As you do in Nicaragua).
And since it was Thanksgiving I naturally ordered… Chicken Cordon Bleu.
(They don’t have any turkey). It was hand made and really really good.

Trivia night fun! We teamed up with everyone there and had some trivia fun. My team won! A bottle of RUM! As you do down here.
The trivia also was to help raise money for students at the school. An extra $20 can help them with supplies or uniforms. It’s crazy, but a lot of them can’t even afford the pennies a day to get to school. I thought I might be able to help some, so I donated enough for a full years tuition for a student. I’d love for all this travel to have a positive impact on the places I go, and not just be about having a great adventure in a great place with great people. Hopefully that helps. I like to think it will. :)


Originally we were going to push on to other places and other cities and I just suggested that we don’t. Let’s stay here. Let’s enjoy this lake and the swimming and everything, and the Ninja’s whole heartedly agreed. See, they are on a MUCH longer trip (2-3 months for Franzi and Stefi, and who the hell knows how long for Hannah and Fabian), so the pace they move is significantly slower normally than what they have been doing because I’ve been here. It is true, on the trips where I’ve had 6 weeks instead of 2, it is easier to dive into a place a little deeper. Spend an extra day or three. It’s nice.

So that’s what we did here.

A day of morning swims, kayak out into the lake, picking up floating rocks (?). Yep.
Why not? lol.
We floated on inter tubes.
Had great food.
Kayak races.
Great conversation.
Slack lining.
We tried to do volleyball, but the ball was so flat it was hard.
Still, we hit it around in the water and random folks joined us.
The temp was perfect.
The water was perfect.
The place was perfect.

(A reminder, this was $9 a night. Or $25 for a double…. and it’s as bad ass and wonderful a place as you can find. The food was $4-$8 a meal… and wonderfully tasty. And the drinks were $1.50. So the next time the thought “man, travel is expensive” crosses your mind… it doesn’t have to be. There are ways to go places, amazing places, that don’t cost much at all :)


Franzi, Stuff and I took a shuttle with some other folks to Volcan Masaya… an active Volcano about 10km away. It’s a national park. You go in at sunset. You go through the museum in a whirlwind with the guide who explains all the volcanos in the area (almost 30). All in a straight line from Mexico through Nicaragua. The newest started erupting 150 years ago. You can volcano board down it.
This particular volcano is one of 6 in the entire world where you can see a BOILING, ROILING LAKE OF FIRE!

HELL YEAH! (Irony noted! lol)

So we go up to the crater rim and you have 20 minutes to look down 200 meters (600 feet) to the boiling heart of the earth. And with my zoom camera, I could really zoom in close and see the lave and magma just roaring and churrning. It was 200 meters down… but still amazing. If you were really quiet you could hear it too. Roaring. Rumbling.

That's 200 meters (600 feet) down down down


It still blows my mind that this is happening under our feet (sometimes WAY under our feet) everywhere. It’s the planet we live on. It’s alive. Not just on the surface, but deep inside. Churning. Building up. Sometimes blowing up. I’ve seen lava before, and am so happy I have. It’s amazing! And to think a lake of lava like this can only be seen in 6 places on the planet… wow. And it just started here 3 years ago. Seriously. The lake wasn’t visible until 3 years ago! The planet is changing and building and breaking down. Fascinating.

The planet is alive.
Inside and out.
All we have to do is look around, breathe it in, and remember what a blessing and gift this wonderful, amazing, magical planet is. Let’s take care of it. It’s everything we have. If it goes away… so do we.

You don’t have to travel to the ends of the earth. Just step outside. Look at the trees. Check out that amazing sunrise or sunset. Hear the ocean waves. Climb a mountain. Get close to the sky. See those birds flying… there is magic all around us.

And I’m thankful everyday for all of it.

This is Craig Ouellette,
last surviving member of the Nostromo
Signing off. (until the next one!)

****Unfortunately I couldn't get the video to upload here. So for now, no video. But maybe in the future.
Here's a video of the lake of fire! Hopefully it looks cool on the blog. Keep in mind it was handheld at 200 meters zoomed in 72x. Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 26, 2019


So at this point our crew of 5 split into 2 groups.
Not because of any animosity, but because we were honoring the rules of group travel:

1. Everybody agrees to do their own thing
2. Communication is key
3. Have fun

So Stefi, Franzi and I really wanted to goto the Copan ruins in far western Honduras. And Hannah and Fabian, since they’ve been driving through Mexico, Guatemala and more have seen a LOT of ruins so they wanted to check out this lake. (Amazingly Hannah and Fabian didn’t have any plants grow under their skin and devour them, even though they went to Coba. Happy they survived!  (That reference will make sense to a few of you who have seen THE RUINS… those who haven’t. What are you waiting for? :)

So after an 8 hour shuttle ride on some crazy roads, with crazy traffic, and crazy random speedbumps in the middle of nowhere — with no warning. (You gotta pay attention), Franzi, Stefi and I made it to Copay Ruinas Town. A cool colonial town 10 miles from the border of Guatemala. I won’t lie, my safety meter was tuned in about where we might be able to walk after dark. When I was in Antigua, Guatemala 13 years ago, a place much like this one, there were some scary incidents just off the square (READ HERE), but this place… was a-ok. So that’s great!

The next day we went to the Copan Ruins.
This is one of the great Mayan cities.
The ball court where prisoners would play a game like volleyball and soccer combined. They couldn’t use hands and arms or feet, but could use every thing else to knock balls up slopes and hit target. The winner: glory. The loser: Death. Yep. Welcome to the Mayan World!

Truth is the Mayan’s down here were more about art and agriculture than sacrifice. That was more for the Aztecs up in what is now Mexico. But they still had their times were they needed to appease the gods, and they did.

We took an English guided tour around the ruins, and they really are spectacular. Copan is the only place in the mayan world where they had full 3 D art and carving. Out of stone. And they did it with stone tools! Not sure how they got things that elaborate, but they did. It’s cool.

Another Indiana Jones place to be!

And it was filled with Macaws. These gorgeous red birds with blue and yellow tails that are important for the Mayans, and really lovely. They feed them at 1:30 and you could walk right up to these big birds, and be like 2 feet away and they were cool with it.

The day ended with a sunset on the roof of our hostel. Nice!


The next day began at 4:50am.
The shuttle van picked us up at 5:30. And it was the same driver who drove us 8 hours from Jungle River two days ago! (Man I wish I spoke Spanish. He seemed like such a nice guy).
We drive about 15 minutes to the Guatemala border… pulled to the front of the line of semi’s that was waiting all night for it to open.


We race into the passport control. Get stamped.
And drive on through a GORGEOUS mountain sunrise valley jungle awesome-sauce.
It was absolutely lovely.
We were in Guatemala for about 3 hours.

Now, on the shuttle, we heard some good jams.
Africa by Toto.
The Gambler by Kenny Rogers.
Gloria by Laura Branigan.
Bettie Davis Eyes,
The Driver would check with me for approval, lol. Was funny.

Now the thing is… we heard all those songs on the 1st shuttle we were on.
Makes sense. Same driver.

And the real thing is… we heard a lot of those songs on the 3rd shuttle too! Different driver!
Not some streaming radio. It must be what the shuttle drivers jam too in Central America! lol.

El Salvador here we come!
Another border.
No stamp.
But in we go!

Now, I won’t lie, I never really thought I’d end up in El Salvador.
It has an even more nefarious reputation in the USA than Honduras or Nicaragua.
I mean, it’s completely overrun with GANGS!  People exiles from the USA who were part of the 18th street gang and the Pico Union gang in LA. And they took over the country. They run drugs. They “Tax” drivers. They cause a lot of problems for a lot of people. (These are the same gangs that have drifted into the cities of Honduras too). There was  big article in National Geographic about it.

So we stopped at a gas station that served breakfast and ordered from a super friendly gal.
And then were dropped off at El Turco, one of the “best surfing beaches in the world”, where everyone was… super friendly.

(Are you noticing a pattern?)

Now, to be honest, we walked down to the “beach”, and I use that term because it’s actually completely covered in round stones about 3-6 inches across. No sand at all. Sort of odd.
But on those stones there were 3 soldiers, fully decked out (and checking their cell phones). And there was a building with a COPIOUS amount of police in it. I mean, like 30. So it is a reminder that all the friendly is real… and likely so is the danger that might exist if you get too far out of the little towns.

El Tunco -- The PIG!

Self portrait.... lol

Still, it was a nice stop over. We had lunch. Watched some surfers. Took pics. Bought magnets and waited for the next shuttle to pick us up to take us the next 10 hours plus to Leon Nicaragua.

And on that drive we had no AC.
Oh boy.

Fortunately the sun sets early, so the air got cooler and with the windows open, it was actually really nice. Minus the crazy traffic, dirt construction road madness and all that good stuff. :)

And we cross another border…

Back to Honduras.

Yep, El Salvador does not border Nicaragua, so it was back to Honduras.
Another stamp, another border pass.

Drive another 30 minutes and
We made it!!!

At the most apocalyptic border. Just construction. Dirt roads. Hand painted signs. Guards sleeping in hammocks. A 25 cent bathroom. We waited by the shuttle for 30 minutes till the driver came back with our passports and we were in.

Another 2 1/2 hours and we pull into Leon.
Former colonial capital.
One of the great Spanish cities of the “new world”.

And there’s Hannah, Fabian and Fluffy at the hostel.



We spent the next day in Leon.
Had some breakfast.
Walked around the square.
Enjoyed the markets.

Volcanoes are everywhere in Nicaragua

We went to the

Which was about… some revolution in Nicaragua.
I’m not lying, our guide spoke spanish, and the translator, bless her heart, had such a heavy accent that none of us could understand what the events were. (Again, I need to know Spanish!).
The guide was VERY passionate about the Sandista’s and taking over and this and that.
About Bazookas and guns and killing the enemy. Turns out, later in the museum there is a picture of a group of revolutionaries in 1979… and he was one of them.
Man I REALLY wish I knew Spanish, to hear some of his stories.

We had lunch, and there were some really poor folks, who you could tell have a hard life and a hard struggle. This one teenager asked me for food, and I gave him some of my lunch. The folks at the restaurant chased him off… but still let him have the food. Wish I could do more.

Art museums. Beer on a rooftop at sunset.
Chatting with other travelers.
Eating at street food markets (wow it was good!)
Enjoying the square at night solo.

And then there was a parade! Yep! Why not! Music bumping off the back of semi trailers driving down these narrow colonial streets. And I thought “Pickpocket safeguards on high!”
So backpack in front, Camera in front. All stuff secure and I plunge into the crowd. Dancing along. I didn’t know any of the words, but it was a blast to see everyone singing and dancing and celebrating!
What? Not sure.
Doesn’t matter. :)
Guys selling beer out of coolers on dollies as they walked with the crowd.
what’s that?
A tug at my pocket!
I slap my hand down and know there is no reason to even look for the person. I’ll never spot them.
Good thing I was prepared!
Nothing stolen.

As the parade ended, I went back to the hostel, past the band in the house practicing their death metal (lol). And I gathered Hannah and Franzi and we headed to this street party. Music. Beer Pong. And TONS of the travelers from:  Utila, Copan, the Shuttles. lol. Was fun to hang and salsa dance and other dance. Good times indeed!


Sunday, November 24, 2019


After 6 days it was time to Ramble on and we headed to the mainland. 8000 foot peaks rising from the sea. The largest untamed rainforest in central America loomed off the bow of the speed ferry that flew across the water. Flying fish zipping across the water. I prepared for pickpockets at the terminal. And for all the people that would hassle us…

And instead was met by nice folks. Friendly smiles.

So Hannah and Fabian have a dog, Fluffy (who isn’t actually fluffy at all, lol), whom they adopted from a rescue place in Mexico. The guards said they had to pay some tax for the dog. So Fabian went to the office, said he didn’t have any money, and the lady ended up letting him leave and he just waved at the guards and walked out. It’s common, or so it’s said, for cops to do this kind of hustle to tourists in countries down here. But honestly, this was the only time I saw it happen. Not saying it doesn’t, it’s just not as common as I was expecting.
Sweet Ride!

Which one might Fluffy be?
We hop in their VW, it’s rad! And stop at a techno dancing grocery store, and head up the Rio Cangrejal valley to find the Jungle River Lodge.
The sun set.
We were on a dirt road.
I was jokingly saying “This is how horror movies start.” and going through a whole scenario as we drove.

Well horror movie it was not, instead it was absolutely AMAZING.
A hand made lodge with a deck over looking natural pools. A clear river flowing around HUGE house size boulders that you could cliff jump off of. The sounds of the river outside the treehouse like rooms. Huge jungle covered mountains towering up both sides of the river. Hand carved wood tables and furniture to play games on (Guillotine made it to yet another country! It’s been to almost as many as me. And of course FARKLE!  (Thank you Uncle Kev and Jordan for that one!).  We loved that. 
And the cost: $10 per person per night.

The next day and half were what travel is all about.

It began with a jungle hike in the Parc de Bonito national park. (Beautiful National Park).
The hike was just up from the lodge, and involved crossing a bad ass, Indiana Jones suspension bridge across the boulder strewn river.

Then up into the thick jungle and steep trails all on the way to a big waterfall.

 It was hundreds of feet high, thin and free. The climb down to the bottom was crazy steep, and eventually was just over big slippery boulders… so we stopped on the top of them rather than try to figure out how to get to the bottom. It was awesome to just stand under the falls and let them crash down on me. There’s something magical about waterfalls in the jungle. Not sure what it is, but I can’t get enough.

The hike out ended with a really friendly man and his daughter selling hand made souvenirs, and I got a little canoe keychain that I’ll turn into a magnet. It says Rio Congrejal!


So Hannah and I went for an afternoon rafting trip. It was $25. And worth every penny.
Our guide, Juan Carlos, who’s been rafting the river for 24 years, picked us up at the lodge. He put the raft on his head and carried it up to this old school Toyota 4x4, which just happened to have a 222 on the license plate. (For those who know the 222, or have heard me talk about it. There were so many 222’s on this trip it was almost comical. Phone numbers. Receipts. Gas prices. License plates. On and on and on. That’s good sign… it means I’m on the right path.  And for today that was Definitely true!)

Ride up the river, and Juan Carlos carried the raft solo down the slope. And with our life jackets on, we left the raft behind and did some Canyoning. Which consisted of going up river, swimming in the current, jumping off rocks, sliding down other rocks. Drinking water trickling out of the rocks: 2000 meters of limestone purifying the rainwater in this one spot. Yummy. There was a HUGE spider (okay, the side of hand) that he picked up by it’s legs and then set it on the water (they can hop). Well, it hopped onto his neck and crawled up onto his face! So he ducked under water, and then it comically hopped away on 6 legs, with it’s front ones way up in the air.

There were these red flowers that you could crush up and make soap with! Juan Carlos said that his mom is a healer and there are all sorts of roots and flowers and plants they use to treat illness in the jungle. He’s originally from the Moskito Coast (Eastern Honduras… and a movie starring Harrison Ford (to keep the Indiana Jones thing going). Anyway, they have lots of medicine hidden in the jungle waiting to be discovered (or already known by the locals. ). I’m fascinated by what’s out there.

Back to the river. Locals were fishing off the top of a house size boulder for fish that were swimming up stream like salmon. They were leaping up this small waterfall… most of them failing spectacularly. Bouncing off rocks. Sucked down stream. But every once in awhile some made it. When we watched for 5 minutes, hundreds of fish went for it. It was crazy.

JC and I jumped off that rock to cross the stream to the 11 meter (34 foot) jump. We had to overhand climb out of the river for the first 2 meters. I won’t lie. It was out of my strength zone. So he attached his rafting safety rope to me and LIFTED ME OUT OF THE RIVER. Man! For a thin guy this guy is strong!
We climb up to about 7 meters (21 feet) and I think this is good. He says “nah! we go to 11!”
So we did.
He jumped right off… I might’ve hesitated a little.
Truth is I felt like I was taking forever, but on the video Hannah shot it was only like 20 seconds. lol.
That was fun!

Then we float, swim down the river to our raft and begin one of the wildest, most technical rafting trips I’ve ever been on (and I’ve been on a fair number.) The boulders are the size of cars, buses, houses, and the water snakes through them barely wider than the 3 person raft.

And sure enough, 3rd rapid… I fall right out.
Under the water.
Raft over my head.
Head hits a boulder (go helmet!)
And push out from under the raft.
JC grabs my paddle and Hannah does the river rescue and pulls me in…

… and then my paddle falls out and we have to chase it down the river!
We got it and hit more rapids.
Some, a good 10-15 foot drop around a rock.
It was wild and fun and exhilarating.
I thought “They’d never raft a river like this in the USA!”

Apparently 7 days ago, after a lot of rain, the water was 25 feet higher.
25 FEET HIGHER (That’s 8 meters for everyone not in the USA!)
So most of the boulders we were going around would be under water.
That’s crazy.
(They don’t raft when it’s like that).

Finally we came to the amazing boulders and cliffs by the jungle river lodge, where Fabian, Franzi and Stefi were hanging by the natural pools up above. And Fabian jumped off the cliff right behind us!

What a ride! So fun! Amazing!

The 5 of us sat on the rocks as the sun set, cracking a beer. (not the “Healthy Life” brand, but the almost as good, but much cheaper one! lol). That my friends… was a great day.

Of course there was one more jump off the cliff!

Then tasty dinner, and Farkle to the sounds of the jungle river.


The next morning we woke early, and Fabian and I went to the cliffs and started our day with some cliff jumping! We even brought snorkels into the water for some snorkeling and peering around. It’s spooky down there. All the overhangs and in some places you can’t see the bottom.
We floated around this island boulder, jumped off others, and eventually Hannah joined us.
Not a bad way to start the day!

After breakfast, Fabian, Fluffy and I went for a walk down to a river crossing, where a path leads up into the jungle. We hiked up in search of one more waterfall… one more pool… one more paradise before we Rambled on…

And we found it!

An amazing 30 foot. It was so lovely. Perfect temperature to swim in and stand under the bottom of the falls. Sunlight piercing the canopy of shady trees. And just… AWESOME.

Fun fact:
Rio Cangrejal, to the astute reader (or spanish speaker) means
Apparently it used to be FILLED with thousands of crabs. But the spiders (what?!?!) and some other animal eventually ate most of them so there are very few.
So that means, Hannah and Fabian and I have had yet ANOTHER great crab adventure!

So Many 222s!

Friday, November 22, 2019


Hi Team!

So I’m in Honduras… okay. I’m really back in LA.
But Craig… why don’t you write these emails on the the trips anymore?
The answer:  there’s no internet cafes. Or at least, I didn’t see any on my 15 day journey through Honduras, Nicaragua (and for a day in El Salvador!)
Since Wi-fi has taken over the backpacker experience, they just don’t exist.
And I miss them.
I miss going out a couple times during the trip, checking in, and sharing adventures while there.
So next time I’m going to bring a blue tooth keyboard and type it up on my phone and share it that way…

At this point you might say:
“Craig, you went to Honduras? Nicaragua? WTF?!?!”
And honestly, that was a bit of my thought too when this trip first showed up. I checked out the US State Department travel advisories. There are 4 levels of advisors.
1:  Generally safe. Common caution.
2:  Upgraded caution. Be more aware.
3:  Rethink travel due to safety concerns
4:  DO NOT GO.   (Think Iraq or Afghanistan).

Well, Nicaragua, was surprisingly a 2. That’s cool. Just like Cuba, or India.
Honduras was a 3.  “Rethink Travel”.
Warnings consisted of DO NOT TRAVEL AT NIGHT. And lots of warnings about the capital city and other major cities and the entire eastern part of the country.

I’m not going to lie. It was a bit intimidating. I love adventure, but going to war zones or places of high human conflict or danger — no thanks.

So again, you ask: “Why did you go?”

Well, faithful readers, you might recall a certain adventure involving millions of crabs from the Cuba emails earlier this year. And you might recall Hannah and Fabian, the two totally awesome German’s I shared that with, whom I also rock climbed and scuba dived with. Some of my favorite people I’ve ever met traveling. Well those two have been traveling since I met them back in March. They went from Cuba to Mexico, bought a VW Camper van and have been driving south ever since. Months in Mexico. Climbing volcanoes and sailing and exploring caves with huge underground waterfalls in Guatemala. And they were headed into Honduras for diving and beyond. So I thought: Let’s have some more adventures together and joined them for a couple of weeks.  In addition, they had two friends from Germany with them, Stefi and Franzi (Twin sisters), who joined a a couple weeks before me and were doing 2-3 months.

Me, Hannah, Franzi, Fabian, Steffi
So the stage is set, I’ve got pickpocket proof travel wallets, belts with hidden money compartments, and a plane ticket to Roatan, Honduras. I land on a short runway in the rain of this lovely island. Then hop the ferry for the 1 hour ride to Utila. A smaller island nearby. Well, the ferry crossing was one of the wildest boat rides I’ve ever been on. The waves were BIG. Like 10 foot at times big, and rolling into the boat side to side. The horizon was grey. Sheets of rain came down. I loved it! I was on the top deck, enjoying the fresh air and the wind. At one point the crew told everyone to sit down and looked genuinely concerned… hmmm….

In the end we landed in Utila and Hannah and Fabian were there to greet me on the dock with giant hugs and smiles and frankly it felt like we’d seen each other a week ago. And it’s been 6 months. It’s one of the amazing thing about travel. I spent a total of 5 days with them in Cuba, but it’s like 5 weeks of normal time. And as a result, we just clicked back in to stories and jokes and good times. It was awesome.


So the main thing to do in Utila is Scuba dive. It’s one of the cheapest places in the world to learn. So I did my Advanced open water with Fabian and Franzi. (Hannah and Steffi had already done it). Doing the class meant 7 dives in 3 days, and some book and class work. We did our book work on a pier overlooking the Caribbean sea. Now that’s a classroom!

Our first day was actually snorkeling and hanging out on piers and enjoying the island. Because, for whatever reason they decided to do the classes the next day. We’re on island time now!

Well, at 3 am I woke… and did NOT feel good. Nausea. Headache. Really?!?!? I just got here. That’s gotta be a record. My best guess was the Poke I ate at the beach wasn’t so good. So my first morning was sleeping while they started diving. It was the right call as I felt better 12 hours later, but still. Whew.

The diving here is AWESOME. We were at Parrot’s dive shop. This rag tag, lovable place with great instructors and a real family fun feel to it. Arjen, our teacher, who’s from Holland, was great, and we dove down to 100 feet multiple times. We did an awesome wreck dive, on the USS Haliburton (yep, that company). It was purposely sunk a number of years ago, and was a really cool cargo ship to float around. It took me all of 2 minutes to get used to diving again, and after the 7 dives I really felt like I had improved a lot.

Highlights included the wreck, a night dive with some bioluminescence and tons of fish (more came out at night!). I loved the deep dive egg trick, where Arjen cracked an egg at 30 meters (100 feet) and it stays together. We could push on it and toss it around like mercury on the surface. And on the birthday dive, there was a free swimming eel that followed us for 12 minutes or more. It came up next to me, like 5 feet away, then swam up the sea mount… then came back. The dive master had skewered a lion fish and fed it to the eel, and then the eel spit it out and got really sassy. It swam up underneath some of us, and even went right up to the dive master, who shooed it away with a harpoon. I’ve never seen a free swimming eel before. Arjen’s passion for the undersea life makes me want to learn more about what I’m seeing down there. It’s another world I recommend to anyone.


So November 21st was my birthday…. and Stefi and Franzi’s bday too!
Yep! Triple birthday fun!
It started with cake and candles and sweet gifts that Hannah and Fabian had made or got for all of us. Cool stickers with nice notes on them. Then we did our two great dives. And after we came up from the 2nd one: Champagne on the boat! The dive shop got us a bottle and we all celebrated on the ride back.
Then back at the shop:  More cake! The DIVE SHOP had a cake made for us! What?!?! How nice! Then later on the bar gave us one bottle of champagne each! It was pretty great! A fun special day indeed.

So there is a really funny video about Utila. This island where people come for a week and stay forever. It’s apparently pretty common. I loved the island, but I don’t think I’d get stuck there. (Supposedly it’s Robinson Crusoe’s island. There are signs and maps up all over by someone claiming this was the spot. So they sure got stuck! lol).

So the video has 3 lies:
1.  “I think I love you.”  and the response “No, you don’t.”
2. “I’m leaving tomorrow” — “No you’re not.”
3. “I’m not drinking tonight.”  — “Yes you will.”  “Cause the truth, not the lies, you’re in Utila still”.

It’s a great place. With great people, and a great vibe. And it’s super safe, and super friendly, and really… it is amazing. And if you love diving: buy that ticket to Utila and enjoy!

Monday, April 15, 2019


The Bay of Pigs.

Famous for scuba diving and, oh yeah, a botched CIA supported invasion of Cuba in the 60s.
The only real reminder of that was a museum that I was really interested in seeing in the town of Playa Giron.
A museum that was closed for the few days I was there because it is the 58th anniversary of the invasion on April 15 and they were spiffing it up!
So there were tanks and planes out front we could see.
(In fact there are a lot of places in Cuba where there are tanks and planes to see if you'd like to.
Also a lot of bloody uniforms, and hats supposedly worn by Che or Cienfuegos or Fidel himself!
What's interesting is some of these hats and other items look like they are brand new and have never been worn.
Maybe the guys didn't sweat much back in the 50s? In Cuba... where it's really hot and humid.)

So the fabulous Fabian and Hannah and I came to the Bay of Pigs to do some scuba diving and to snorkel a sink hole.
"The fabulous who?" you ask.

Well, Fabian and Hannah are two totally awesome German's I met while rock climbing in Vinales. They are some of the most fun folks I have ever met backpacking and I hope to see them again somewhere in this amazing world of ours. (Currently they are in Mexico working in a commune, adopting baby possums and playing in drum circles. :)

In a classic bit of traveling I had set up a climbing day for 9am on Monday, the day I returned my scooter. There's one Casa in Vinales that knows the rock climbing, so I stopped by there on Saturday to set up the climb. (One thing I learned about Cuba is you have to be 1 or 2 steps ahead of where you are currently at, planning for what you are doing in the future. Cause if you don't... odds are it won't work out how you planned...
which sometimes is just as it should be.)

So Monday rolls around, and I go to return my scooter at 8:30.
Well, it's Cuba.
It takes a little while to get it taken care of.

Then I had to book a bus ticket to leave the next day to head to the bay of pigs.
There's two options of places to book a bus ticket. Both of them were helping other people.
I waited patiently, but at this point it was 9:10, and I was late for climbing. So I asked if I could come back later,
she said If I was back by 3:30 or 4:00 I should be fine to book for tomorrow, but she can't reserve without making phone calls and collecting money.
Well that will work out. I'll come back...

So off to climbing. Meet my awesome guide, Yaroby, gear up in a shed full of quite a lot of rock climbing gear. All donated from travelers because officially climbing is not legal in Cuba. Even though there are hundreds of bolted sport climbing routes in the Vinales area and they have competitions and it is a favorite place to climb for people from all over the world. But for some reason the Cuban government doesn't see how it can make money?  Or maybe there is something else going on?

Then we pick up Fabian and Hannah from a random outdoorsy restaurant on someone's ranch.
Originally I was by myself, but they had called in last night around 9pm. (Right about the time I was writing in my journal how it would be really nice to meet some cool travel friends to travel with... I'm not kidding. It was at almost the exact same time.)

We spend the day climbing in this AWESOME almost cave.  It was really a crevase between the rocks of the Magote near town. Walls 30 meters tall (that's 99 feet for all us Americans. ).   It was shaded almost the entire day, but for about 15 minutes when the sun shot straight down on us. Fabian did all the leads, and I went up the routes afterwards. I was really happy with myself. As some of you know I used to rock climb all the time, but have drifted out of it and haven't been climbing in 10 years... 12 years... maybe more. Likely more.  It was SO FUN!  I was really happy how quickly the techniques came back. And sure, my forearm strength eventually gave out on the 4th of 5 routes. But it was awesome to be on the rock again.

Yep, I'm way up there!

Meanwhile making friends!

Afterwards we all sat on the guides porch. Talked about climbing, and they invited me for lunch... and as one of my travel guidelines (stolen from "the Beach") is to "Never refuse an invitation". I said yes and off we went...

which means I was not going to get back in time to get the bus ticket.
Which means I would likely stay another day in Vinales.
And that seems like the perfect plan. :)

We ate, we explored caves, walked into this hidden valley inside a Magote that was like Jurassic Park (minus the T-Rex). Though there were PIGS! One mama and 3 or 4 little ones that kept coming up to us as the night fell and we told stories in the dark. We were "attacked" by a strange insect that looks like a cicada with glowing eyes. We thought it was a lightning bug until it flew into my headlamp and landed on the ground next to us. Don't know what it is. But we made up stories about it.

A grand day with some great people.
Traveling done right...


So after that day and another exploring caves and riding in the rain, we rode a taxi collectivo to Havana... The car was a beat up old Cadillac with a Jesus gear shifter and eyelids on the lights.  It dropped us in some field next to the highway along with a bunch of other travelers on the south side of Havana. Somehow everyone ended up in other Taxis, cars and these classic old ford buses to get to where they are going. It's amazing that any of this works and that anyone gets paid. But it does... and I guess they do.

Bus Stop, Cuban Style

As our bus rolled down the 2 lane road along the east side of the bay of pigs I noted to Hannah that "It smells like death."
She said "The bus driver just said its the dead crabs on the bus tires."

Apparently the crabs live on the swamp side of the road, and in April they cross from the swamp to the sea to bathe...
then back across the road to get the naughty-naughty on.
Then BACK across the road to lay their eggs.
Then return to the swamp side to live out the rest of the year.
Two months later the babies cross.

And strangely the next month the BIG crabs cross to do the same thing.

It smells pretty bad, but when we got into Playa Giron, a one horse town if there ever was one, the smell had passed.

But the whole place felt like the apocalypse had come.
It was grey, overcast and there was almost NO ONE AROUND.
So Strange.
We even walked to the "resort" to check about diving and there was almost no one there.
Peeling paint on the "bungalows" (which are just cinder block buildings painted in bright colors").
They are building a lot more... but they are almost all empty.
As was the pool area and the lobby.

Well the next morning we go DIVE!
And man... it is GREAT DIVING!
And only $25/dive!
Hannah and I did 2. Fabian isn't certified (yet!) so he snorkeled. And of course there were other folks there...
almost all German or Swiss. (I'm noticing a pattern in Cuba. :)
I haven't gone diving in 4 1/2 years, so I was a little nervous to get a refresher and make sure it was all safe.
Talk about "riding a bike" It all came back really quickly. And the nice thing is, you just climb down a 4 rung ladder into the ocean with all your gear on, and start scuba diving right there. The reef wall is about 30 meters (100 feet) off the shore. So you don't even get in a boat.
You just take a bus... that smells like death cause it is running over crabs.

On the second dive we saw this HUGE soft coral the size of a person that looked like a giant Horn. It was bright purple and swaying in the current.
And also there as a shipwreck! Which you could swim through. So beautiful and amazing. I love it!

Back in town, we enjoy lunch, then rent bikes to ride the 19km to the flooded Cenote to go snorkeling. Because that is what one does.
The bikes were actually pretty good, brought by some random person the Casa owner called up. They cost 5CUC a day I think.
So we mount up, Fabian starts singing "Push it to the Limit" by Survivor (from the movie Scarface) and I laughed out loud. I sing that song regularly!


So we pushed it to the limit and rode north out of town.
Along the 2 lane road that few cars drive on.
Past the occasional smashed crab. Or maimed crab. Or crab flipped over cooking in the sun.
There were a number of them, but not toooo crazy.

We stopped to swim at a little beach resort cove. It was a pretty hot day, so it felt great.
And I took some pictures of the lines of dead crabs in the "yard" of the place. I figured I might as well get some pics to remember. I mean, dozens of dead crabs. It's pretty gross and weird.

So I put Survivor playing on my iPhone and we're riding free and fast. The road is flat and clear. It's a pretty great day!
Fabian and Hannah were about 100 meters in front of me.
This crab had crossed 3/4's of the road in front of me... safe from harm... good job Crab!

Then the little ass hole turns around and runs right back in front of my bike!
Not wanting to kill him I slammed on both breaks....
The bike stopped...
I did not.

I flew right over the handlebars going pretty fast. Cursing as I went and thinking "Protect your head!"
So I slammed into the ground hands first and rolled over... popping back up to my feet and stumbling back a few feet.

My wrists and palms were all cut up. My knee. My shoulder. My finger.
ANd my ribs...

The crab lived and wandered back into the grass.

Hannah and Fabian eventually rode back as I was bent over.
Now conveniently Hannah is a doctor!
So she checked my wrist (that was bruising pretty badly) and my ribs and said that she thinks its just bruised.
"Do you want to keep going? Or head back?"

Oh, if nothing is broken, we keep going. There is a Cenote to snorkel.

At this point you might say: "Craig. Why did you hit BOTH brakes??"
Great question. And it occured to me that the scooter that I'd ridden for 2 days, the back break is on the left hand... and on a bike the left brake is the FRONT brake.
So habit of two days.

Well, the sink hold wasn't much further. Maybe 3 or 4km.
I did NOT hit the brakes if a crab ran in front of the bike.
I did try to avoid them, but if they charged, I will say a few crabs might likely have crunched under the back tire. In fact I guarantee it. It was a nasty sound, but I'm not wiping out again.

We get to the Cenote around 4:45 or so. And the path in has crabs in the rocks all around us.
We get to the largest flooded Cenote in Cuba and jump in. We snorkel.
And collect trash, because there was a bit of trash around. Not India level of trash. But there was some ,and figured we would leave it better than we found it. With Fabian leading the charge to collect bottles and cans.

And on the far side of the Cenote, all along the rocks, coating the otherside in fact... were crabs.
I'm talking hundreds.
Probably thousands of crabs.
Lined up next to the edge of the cenote. I don't think they swim, so they just stop there... thwarted on their way to the sea.

We swam back into the darker passages of the Cenote. Where the water was only 3 feet wide. With this rock wall of crabs next to us. Climbing over each other. Squirming around. It's pretty creepy and gross. And really surreal.

Around 6 we figured it was time to head back. About 2 hours ride and the sun sets at 7:45.
We put shoes on and I notice we are the last people there besides the two people who had closed up the snack shop hours ago and were watching some Spanish language action flick on the tube tv.

As we walk out, we notice the path has quite a bit more crabs on it than on the way in...

Now the silly thing about the crabs is if they feel threatened (or want to be intimidating) they PUT THEIR HANDS UP IN THE AIR!
And they can't walk forward. So they walk sideways really slow, or stumble backwards like a strange child's wind up toy.
Now if YOU put YOUR HANDS UP IN THE AIR... they will respond in kind.
It's pretty hilarious.
So we started singing the Trance song "Put your hands up in the air!" and would put our hands up and the crabs would put their hands up and stumble back...

We reach the road, walk out onto it, and look left towards Playa Giron...



Look right... and the same sight.

Fabian asked the two workers how long the crabs would be there. An hour or two.
Manana. Tomorrow.

So that means we have to right up to 19km down a road covered in creepy, crawly, skittering crabs.

Yes it does.

Oh boy.

So we start... and when they are in mass, the crabs will slowly part if you ride slow and steady.
Sort of.
Because some of the little suckers would charge you. They would attack you.
They would try to claw the bike tires (with their wind up toy precision).
Sometimes they would grab hold and get rolled up and over and down.
Sometimes they would somehow make it THROUGH the spinning spokes of the bike tires safely...
and sometimes they wouldn't.

The CRUNCH of a crab under the tire happened quite a number of times.
It's a nasty sound.

More than one got hit by the pedals and rolled along.
Often I would just lift my feet up in the air and roll straight and hope I didn't hit any.

Seriously, WTF???

Now both Hannah and Fabian are vegetarians... and even they didn't like these crabs by the end of this.
I mean, they are really dumb. They attack bikes... and TRUCKS.

Every 10 or 15 minutes we would hear the sound of an oncoming truck or car or bus...
and here it would come...
SQUISH SQUISH SQUISH, CRUNCH CRUNCH CRUCH just obliterating crabs by the thousands.
And then we would race after it in the wake, trying to cover as much ground as possible before the tide of crabs closed on the road again.

One car creeped past us, everyone inside videotaping the silly gringos bike riding through the crabs.
It was pretty funny.
In truth I shot quite a lot of video too, because the whole thing seems out of this world.

In some sections of the road there were dead and maimed crabs everywhere. One with only one claw and no legs dragging itself across the road.
Others with broken legs.
Some we ran over... and they were fine.
Some crabs were eating their crushed or maimed kin.
And every once in awhile a turkey vulture would enjoy the dead crab buffet.

Now you might ask: do people eat them?
Nope. They are toxic to people. (The big ones next month aren't thought! So feast up!)
In fact these crabs have no natural predators in the area.
And even though they must die by the tens or hundreds of thousands.
Maybe even millions.
The locals say there are WAY more crabs now than 5 or 10 years ago.

Eventually they started to thin out, and then it was just the flattened crabs killed the day before or whenever.
So we could stop and take a breath.
And Fabian looked down and said "Did you notice what the red sand is?"
Because red sand lined both side of the road.
But on closer inspection it was clear it was not sand...
it was pulverized crab shells.

Kilometers of pulverized crab shells lining the side of the road.
Did they die yesterday?
Last week?
Last year?

Who knows?

The sun set before we reached town, and we watched it from this old reef coastline... surrounded by crabs crawling around the old rocks. It was lovely.
The crabs were hanging off the edge by the ocean. We contemplated what it must be like, to just live going back and forth across a road that wasn't always there (But likely has been since before the CIA tried to take the bay of Pigs.).

We did make it back in one piece... mostly.
There was a field in town, dotted with crabs about every 3 feet (1 meter). It reminded me of the shot from the Walking Dead where the zombie wanders through the
grass field. Only there were hundreds of these.

We rode to the beach and met with our diving friends.
We drank beer. Ate. And toasted one mans new grand child he just found out he was going to have.
Life goes on.
For us and for the crabs...

So the apocalypse we felt when we arrived wasn't for humans... it was for crabs.
And yet still they live and grow and spread....
Maybe someday they will spread beyond this little corner of the world...


PS:  As I finished writing this, PUSH IT TO THE LIMIT just kicked on. I'm not kidding. :)

PPS:  It's almost 4 weeks later and my ribs still hurt a little bit. I've had it checked after I got back and it is just a bruise. I guess they take 4 weeks or more to heal so I'm right on track.
Everything else was good in like a week. Though it looks like I might have some small scars on my knee. Was it worth it?  Well, I'd double check the brakes before riding ANYTHING again. But otherwise, hell yeah!