May 17, 2011

Omega Tours - White Water Rafting I

So, back at the lodge a well deserved celebration was in store. After all, we were all intact (except for a few scrapes) and proud of our triumphant achievement. A get together around the pool with plenty of drinks, and nacho and bean dip was an appropriate ending to day one of our jungle adventure. However, as much as we wanted to extend the party we only mustered enough strength to sip a couple of beers, grab dinner and call it a night. We were dead tired and knew we had to save energy for extreme sports day number two. The following morning we were up and ready for early breakfast at 7 am and prepped and geared for another ultimate activity by 8:30... this time, it was WHITE WATER RAFTING time!

WHITE WATER RAFTINGthrills and spills
Prior to our departure, Omega Tours provided everyone with the corresponding safety gear, this included a helmet and life jacket. After making sure everything fit properly we were ready to head out, but first, we proceeded to strike the pose for the "hey... look at me, I went white water rafting" group shot. After forever storing that collective Kodak moment, we were almost ready for our half day trip. There was still one last, but very important instruction to follow and that was to put on sun protection, (no need to remind you that the sun shines pretty high during April and almost year round in Honduras - no shade in the river either). Looking like rock climbers/coast guards/and buttered up surfers, we pitched in by carrying some light gear as we proceeded Indian file down to the river. We were all set and ready to set sail... now, let's not forget it was everyone's first time white water rafting, so no one in our crew knew what to expect considering hiking turned out to be one very exhilarating experience. I remembered Udo's explanation that we would be doing a lot of jumping and swimming, swimming and walking, and jumping and rafting but who knew. They did their best in trying to explain the activity in words and I will try my best here as well, but again, this is something you need to experience firsthand as the written word just does not live up to the real deal. I can confidently include white water rafting as one of the most memorable experiences of my life, together with diving; in fact, it was so much fun, after it ended we all wished we had gone for the full day experience, instead of only a half day trip.

I do hope the pictures do a good job of showing how awesome this adventure was for all of us!

a scene from Planet of the Apes revisited in theCANGREJAL RIVER
ROCK-JUMPINGin the pool - cannonball style
is this what CCR meant byROLLING DOWN THE RIVER?

May 16, 2011

Omega Tours / Trail Hiking II

Prior to embarking on our little trek up the mountain they loaded us onto what appeared to be very battered but sturdy looking yellow rides, similar to those jeeps and trucks that go on safari on the African Savannah. After a very short drive down the same road we came in (about five minutes) we made it to the entrance of the park only to realize that the fence was locked. We ended up having to jump over a tall and uneven fence because as it turns out the park caretaker was busy taking a dip in the river! That was a little embarrassing but definitely no surprise for us Latinos as those odd types of situations tend to happen here every once in a while. No one else in our crew seemed to mind either, as it certainly became our first taste of adventure in this here trip - and there would be plenty more to come on the other side of those chained wooden planks.

Once all 16 of us plus the two guides from Omega Tours made it over the barbed wire fence we walked for a few minutes until we reached the slippery and rock filled river bed all the way to the water's edge. That's when I realized the crocs were to be an epic fail, nevertheless we kept going, crossing the river in knee deep water with no apparent problems (with crocs in hand). Now, although the current felt calm, the uneven rocks below it made it difficult to maintain your balance so you had to be careful and avoid leaning low enough to have the current lift you and take you away. That meant, watch your step, no crouching, and absolutely no falling!

take a dip in a natural SWIMMING POOL

After safely crossing the river we started up the mountain. It was a winding trail that would take us to the highest point of the tour. The walk was a long one, about 4 hours and the terrain was unfriendly to say the least. You seriously need to be in shape to do this. At some points the trail ended and you had to make your way up steep rocks to continue. 3 point stance is the rule, that means always moving while having three of your extremities touching any surface at all times. Fortunately for us trekkers, the hot sun did not slow us down as we were covered most of the time by the dense foliage from the forest above. Humidity however, did become a factor as one of our friends suffered the consequences of dehydration. Be prepared to drink plenty of fluids prior, while on the trail, and afterwards. On a curious note, one of the local guides turned out to be 70 years old. I am not sure if he was telling the truth but you could tell on his face he had been around for a while, yet he was probably in far better shape than all of us combined! Proof of this was that he was carrying more than a dozen bottles of cold water on his back which we gladly welcomed as we made it to our first stop. This was a natural swimming pool halfway up the trail with a small waterfall for a backdrop. After a short dip in the freezing cold water and some more photo opportunities we kept going up, across logs, over large boulders, and sometimes right on the edge of some pretty high cliffs.

the ascent to theBEJUCO WATERFALL
Although I have described this as a pretty demanding hike, it was all worth while once we made it to that beautiful place mentioned in the previous entry. I am talking about the Bejuco Waterfall, where the water falls from a height of 60 meters/197 feet, seen from the road below. At 450 meters/1,476 feet above sea level the view was simply amazing and the waterfall up close was just breathtaking. Big time photo ops here, NatGeo style - also a great spot for a picnic to enjoy the scenery. The guides brought with them the option of chicken, bacon, or veggie sandwiches and delicious pineapple for dessert. After replenishing lost fluids and vitamins we made our way back downhill to the finish line which was represented by a suspension bridge hanging over the Cangrejal River.

nice views from theSUSPENSION BRIDGE

I forgot to mention that all this fun came at a price of 39.00 US Dollars p/p!

great photo op at theBEJUCO WATERFALL

May 07, 2011

Omega Tours / Trail Hiking I

the luscious foliage ofPICO BONITO
a picturesqueCANGREJAL RIVERduring the dry season
After leaving the airport we made our way through the busy streets of La Ceiba onto a less traveled dirt road and we started up the mountain with the river bank to our right. As we gradually moved upstream we started to see the initial stages of the tropical rain forest which makes up part of a mountain range that goes by the name of Nombre de Dios. Pico Bonito is the name of its highest peak at over 2,430 m./almost 8,000 ft. above sea level. This was our group's final destination and brand new territory for us as we had never visited this famous landmark before. This national park is located in the north coast of Honduras, adjacent to the city of La Ceiba, and widely known for the sport of white water rafting which takes place in the Cangrejal River, as well as nature hikes that run through a maze of mountain trails.

As the bus took us closer to the lodge (which turns out is very close to the base of the park and not up the the mountain as I had expected), the Cangrejal River seemed calm - no doubt, considering it was April during the dry season. We could see the rock-filled, river bed winding through a sloping green backdrop, hiding the trails where we would be hiking in a couple of hours. In the distance there was a minute waterfall protruding through the dense, green foliage, which we were told becomes very visible and impressive once the rainy season arrives and there is a heavier down pour. We got to see this beautiful natural spectacle up close soon enough, and realized it was not as small as we had anticipated!

Once at the lodge we were greeted by the Eco Lodge owner, Udo, and some of his staff. As soon as we were all settled in, drank some water and got into "proper gear" we were ready for a small pep talk of what to expect on our first activity. You see, Omega Tours is the tour operating part of the company offering all kinds of tours, from white water rafting and kayaking, jungle hiking, bicycling, and horse back riding to other types of excursions in more remote locations of Honduras such as the Platano River - but that's another entry! They have a great team of multi-lingual, professional guides who have trained and worked in other parts of Central America. They were very friendly and appeared to be very experienced, providing adequate instructions on what to do and focusing on safety at all times. I must say we all felt very comfortable and secure considering some of the extreme activities we ended up doing.

WATCH YOUR STEP,rocky road ahead
I would like to provide some sound advice here. It is highly recommend that you bring proper shoes, otherwise you'll end up with scrapes and bruises all over your feet while trying not to break your neck. There is some rough terrain as the following picture illustrates, including plenty of steep and slippery climbs once you get closer to the Bejuco Waterfall. I have to say that it was quite a challenge, not your basic "lets go jogging" trail some might be expecting. Some on our crew had to learn this the hard way and got a few cuts in the process, including myself. I only brought with me some Crocs for shoes which actually did not fair that bad in the end, specially compared to my sandals and flip flop wearing friends! Water shoes or aqua socks should provide ideal traction on wet surfaces but if you don't have these, just ask the people at the Eco Lodge and they might lend you a pair in your size at no extra charge. Do not forget your bathing suit and camera, nature shots and getting wet are both imminent along the entire way. The guides take impermeable bags to protect the electronic hardware so no worries there either!

So after receiving our initial introduction we were all set to go on our little hike, all 16 honeymooners ready for some mountain adventure in Pico Bonito!

May 02, 2011

Eco Jungle Lodge / Omega Tours

It's been too long since I last posted on my blog! The obvious reason was I had not done any meaningful travels lately. I recently got married so a corresponding honeymoon was in the making; yet, we wanted this to be more than just a romantic trip, we wanted to add some adventure to it, so after a couple of months of careful planning the trip was ready. Of course we knew the destination would be within Honduras; the key this time would be to take advantage of some contacts I had made earlier during my travels and to include a visit to a brand new place involving plenty of new and exciting activities. We ended up visiting some old favorites but we also incorporated one of the most incredible places we've ever been to and in addition managed to do a few action packed activities we can now take off from our "must do list". It made for an unforgettable honeymoon and the trip of a lifetime!!
pool-side at theECO JUNGLE LODGE

We started our voyage in the Goloson International Airport in La Ceiba. We came in by plane from Tegucigalpa and Omega Tours had arranged a bus with a driver to pick us up. It was a group honeymoon (about 16 of us) so they had a large bus to fit us all in. The total cost was of USD 5.00 per person but smaller groups can take a taxi instead for the exact same price. It is just a short ride of about 40 minutes from the airport to the Eco Jungle Lodge which is located near the base of the national park called Pico Bonito!
relaxing at theBARafter a long nature hike

We made the Eco Lodge our home for a couple of nights and we did not need to go anywhere else. The lodge is located close to the access road but far enough to feel isolated from the rest of the world. The color green is everywhere and nature's sounds are heard all around as the cabins seem to be fitted into mother nature itself, creek, jungle, birds and all. They also have a well equipped restaurant and bar and all at very affordable prices. This establishment was created in 1992 by a German kayaker named Udo and his wife Silvia. They are the pioneers in providing eco-tourism related services in Pico Bonito as their touring company Omega Tours offer a wide "gamma" (very fitting word) of nature and adventure tours for those looking for a little excitement. Their operation is a great example of sustainable, responsible, and ecological tourism as they do not do any motor sports, do not offer plastic bottles, or serve grouper as it is an endangered species just to name a few. They also help and support their own staff and a local school with donations.
nature's sights and sounds surround theBAMBOO CABIN

intricate tiling in theBAMBOO CABIN'Sbathroom
A free night's stay in the four room guest house is included if you do a tour but for an additional price the lodge also has three unique luxury cabins which are relatively more upscale. We stayed in the bamboo cabin which is a beautiful wooden cabin farthest from the lobby/entrance with a bamboo filled view, what else! It was very comfy and the sounds of the forest at night were just so soothing and relaxing. The climate there even in April when we were there, is not hot and muggy as I expected, it even got cool at night. Very little bugs too to my surprise as you are in the middle of the bush and I was expecting plenty of mosquitoes. They have an amazing outdoor shower, you must try at night as it has hot running water (until the other guests take it all) but which can be lit by candles with an inside garden... VERY Cool!! There is also a pool filled by water from the river. No chemicals or anything put in here just fresh water from the mountain, you cannot go more ecological than that. Only drawback for me was that the water was freeeezing.

I can definitely say we all had a great time at the Eco Jungle Lodge in Pico Bonito! And I haven't even begun talking about the tours!! CHECK OUT THE NEXT ENTRIES FOR THAT INFO!!!
anOUTDOOR SHOWERin the bush?