Don’t Miss the Boat! Adventures in Catching the Ferry to Utila.


Good Morning! I’m in San Pedro Sula, on my way to the grocery store for some yogurt and fruit (the Snickers is for later). Okay, I know there’s a military base in the neighborhood, but do I really look that suspicious in my faux­ Ray­Bans to warrant stares from the guys in military fatigues?  I get back to the Tamarindo hostel with plenty of time to spare, for my direct ride to the Utila ferry dock (at near noon) to catch the 4 p.m. boat. I verify things with the desk attendant and relax.

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Theo, the friendly guard dog at Tamarindo Hostel
in San Pedro Sula.

The Tamarindo is an average hostel with accommodations in the city of San Pedro Sula.  It has an eclectic decor. Clean rooms. Not much you’d want to visit around there from what I saw; however, there are several male guests staying the week to explore. I am only passing through, on my way back to the Caribbean Sea.

Catching up on current events, the departure time sneaks up on me. I ask if I will be paying the driver or the hostel for this amazing shuttle that is to go direct to the La Ceiba ferry dock.  Unfortunately, it would be neither.  There had been a substantial  communication error between myself and the desk attendant (a young man who spoke little English) from the night before. He had only arranged for a taxi to come get me, and bring me, not to the ferry port, but instead just to the local bus station. I’m frustrated, and already running out of time. Barely four hours until the ferry was due to head out, and the drive from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba is two and a half hours for an average vehicle without any delays, never mind a slow moving bus!

No time to waste. After several days spent in cities (Managua, Nicaragua – before San Pedro Sula), I was looking forward to being on a beach by sundown!  Now it looked like I’d be scrounging for a bed. The cab driver understands the urgency. I have to be on a bus within minutes to even have a slight chance of making it in time. Like something out of a movie, the driver goes Senna, speeding through the busy city streets. Dodging traffic and pedestrians, he eventually throws me and my luggage out of the car in front of the massive bus station in the center of San Pedro Sula.  Actually, that might have just been the way he drives all the time. Either way, where’s my bus!?

Rushing into the station I need to slow myself for a moment, searching the air for direction. So many buses, so many times, so many prices (and ooo look at all the shopping). Good thing I’m wearing that giant tourist beacon that is the traveller’s backpack; a ticket seller spots me with a yell “La Ceiba!?” …Why, Yes Sir! **smiles** What time does it leave!? In only 2 minutes!? $7 usd !? (a third the price of larger coach buses). Sign me up!

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$7 usd — No frill bus from San Pedro Sula to La Ceiba

 

It didn’t matter at all that this bus had no a/c or bathroom. It was heading in my direction and stood a small chance of making it in time for that golden 4 o’clock Utila ferry. I buy some coconut water and a green mango through the vehicle window and get comfy in the cushioned seat, ready!

It takes no time to get out of the city. The drive becomes a scenic wander through the countryside. Hills and mountains, streams, and wildlife. Mature trees, new houses, old shacks. An ever changing view through the open windows, and there was time to enjoy each sight, because this driver was the complete opposite of my good friend pseudo-Senna. I try to sit back and enjoy the ride, taking note that there are several other travellers on board who may be in the same predicament, or might at least have a hotel in La Ceiba to recommend.

Views Along the Way to La Ceiba from San Pedro Sula

Views Along the Way to La Ceiba from San Pedro Sula

 

There aren’t any official stops. Just stops long enough to allow for passengers getting off along the route.

Knowing it won’t help, my phone (aka time telling machine) had been put away during the first half hour into the drive, but a significant amount of time has now passed, and the destination has to be getting close! Are we there yet!? I look down in horror to see there remains only 15 minutes until the Utila Princess ferry is scheduled to pull out.

I sweat it out for another five minutes, while considering my options.

Looking around it doesn’t seem that anyone else is overly concerned about this predicament. Then it comes to me!  The bus station isn’t actually that close to the ferry port. Perhaps, I should just get off now on the side of the road and hail a cab to go direct. That would have to be faster, right?! I need a map to be sure…where’s the WiFi!?

A pro­active approach can’t hurt; jumping from my seat, I waddle down the alley way between seats and ask the young man in charge of collecting fares. He smiles a lot and assures me that the bus station is close. He then says the ferry doesn’t leave until 4:30 p.m. Whaaaat?  I want him to be right.  I look back to the seats to find my fellow travellers hanging on every word.  I ask what time they thought the ferry left?   We all read, and were told, 4 p.m. sharp, which was exactly the time we pulled into the “bus station” (side of the road garage).

My theory, before we even got off the bus, was that this bus guy has an interest in taking us to this “bus stop” just so his buddy, the cab driver, can get the fare. If we miss the ferry, bam! He gets two fares; plus possibly a kick­back from any hotel he may take someone to.  This having been vocally expressed, I now have four other traveling buddies to hop a “communicado” (shared taxi) with, the second we get off the bus. That taxi driver didn’t know what hit him.

Five tourists and a cabby are barreling down the road in a five seater hatchback crammed with bags. Barreling, redefined to mean I think the wheels were made with unequal slats of wood. I missed my previous taxi driver.  All we could do was try not to lean too heavily on each other, for fear of spreading that layer of filth that accumulates after a day on the road. Half way there, our driver informs us that it will be 50lps each for the ride, a complete rip­off! Even though that’s only the equivalent of $2.50 each. There’s grumbling in the back, mostly from me. I say I’ll happily pay it, if we get there in time! All bets are off if that ferry’s not there. I’ll have all evening to negotiate. It is now 4:18pm.

Slower than a 3 legged sloth on vacation, eventually we can see the port in sight! And there goes the ferry….

HONK HONK HONK !!! Suddenly our driver is on our side and is doing all he can to get the attention of the boat. For the last 100 ft he attempts to step on the gas, making for a dramatic stop. All 6 of us leap out of the clown car and begin waving at the ferry. STOP PLEASE! The ferry attendants on the back of the boat are all smiles giving us a wave “bye bye”. It was scheduled to leave at 4pm, and that’s when I notice the sign “The ferry waits for nobody” (It should also include local hotel contacts).

The ferry was afloat, headed off into the the distance. The engines slowly picking up steam, when suddenly, the water beneath changed direction… That sign clearly wasn’t for us ! You can wave goodbye to someone else boys, because your Utila Princess Captain just threw the ship in reverse to come back !!! Crisis averted we’re going to Utila! We as a team high fived with enthusiastic shouts. Had I known them better, there would have been chest­bumps. We paid that barrel master with the killer horn what he wanted and boarded the pleasure cruise to Utila, now laughing at /with the crew members. Bay Islands here we come!


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All aboard ! The Utila Princess ferry is now leaving (again) !

 

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Sunset in Utila, from Gunter’s Ecomarine dock.

The most memorable travel experiences are the ones you never plan for. I will always wonder what made that Captain break the rules to reverse… Maybe we just looked like nice people. Maybe it was the fact that we were 3 lovely girls and two handsome guys. Or maybe it was the $27usd per head. Whatever the reason, if you’re out there reading this Captain, team Communicado­ loves you.

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