Category Archives: Honduras

Diapers and Laundry and Diapers, Oh My!

Question from my best friend, Lisa: What do you do about laundry and diapers when traveling overseas?

Answer: Always make sure we have easy access to both!

It’s actually somewhat amusing that Lisa asked me this question. Twelve years ago she and I spent a college summer in Germany where, for two months, our clothes did not once see a washing machine. We were too poor and cheap so, for the entire summer, we washed our clothes in the bathroom sink using dishsoap. I think the dishsoap was Lisa’s idea. We smelled lemony fresh and, for the most part, looked pretty clean.

Don’t think Steve and I are laboring over hotel sinks washing out Grace’s grubby t-shirts, at least not most days. Now that we can actually afford to do laundry the modern way, we do. We always first price out the cost of having someone else do our wash for us. In developing countries like Honduras laundry is a non-issue because it is so cheap to have someone local do the wash (a few dollars/ load).  In Buenos Aires this was the case as well, even though our apartment did have a washer. We preferred to spend our time sight-seeing than waiting for a load to finish so frequently utilized the low-cost lavanderia (wash-and-fold) around the corner where the price even included ironing Steve’s shirts!

In more developed countries like Turkey the cost to have someone else do the wash was outrageous. Istanbul surprisingly also didn’t seem to have a single public laundromat. Luckily for us we had rented an apartment from Manzara Apartments and they had a washing machine in their offices they let us use (one of the few good things about this company – more on them in a later post). The washer was tiny though (held about half of what our washer at home holds) and there was no dryer. We just washed the absolute necessities since we then had to trudge a quarter mile home with the wet laundry to line-dry it.

For the most part though, when we travel we are able to do our own laundry because we rent apartments/houses equipped with washers. On our recent escapades in Turkey we rented a house at the coast during our second week. It was equipped with a washing machine and a huge sunny deck for line-drying the clothes. We returned home with suitcases full of clean clothes rather than the usual post-vacation piles of dirty laundry.

One thing we never, ever use are hotel laundry services. Almost always these services are outrageously expensive no matter the country, up to $5/ item. If we’re that desperate we’d rather resort to me and Lisa’s “dishsoap laundry method” than shell out such exorbitant amounts.

As for diapers, we usually try to take enough with us for an entire trip because diapers overseas are almost always imported from the US and therefore very expensive. Diapers aren’t heavy so they don’t add a lot of extra weight to our luggage, and as we use them up they make room for whatever souvenirs we’re collecting along the way.

On our most recent trip to Turkey we found ourselves short on diapers the last day at the WOW Istanbul Airport Hotel. I called down to the front desk to find out where we could buy diapers in the area. I was pleasantly surprised when the kind man on the other end, in very broken English, said they’d send some up.  An hour later no diapers had arrived so I called again. This time no one on their staff knew anything about the phantom concierge’s promise to send up diapers nor did anyone even know what “diapers” were. I tried the British word “nappies.” I tried explaining “you know, the thing babies poop and pee in.” I was transferred to six staff members before the last guy asked me to spell “diapers.” I did and he said he’d call me back. Five minutes later, after what I imagine was a lot of frantic googling and then titters when the staff figured out what I wanted, he called me back triumphant: “We do not have any in the hotel.” OK, that would have been nice to know an hour ago when someone else was promising diaper room service. Sadly we found a local grocery store and bought an entire pack of 36 diapers of which we used one. We left the rest of the package behind in our room so if you happen to go to this hotel and need diapers, just tell them you know some crazy Americans left some behind and they’re probably languishing in the hotel’s lost-and-found.

We have yet to find a country that doesn’t have very easy access to diapers and wipes, despite any language barriers. Though often expensive, every corner pharmacy or drugstore around the world seems to carry Huggies and disposable wipes. Too bad for the landfills but good for traveling parents.

Tegucigalpa’s Offerings For Families

The last week of our trip to Honduras was spent in the capital, Tegucigalpa, or “Tegus” for short.  This was a return visit to Tegus for us, and it seems to have improved with time.  The airport is newly renovated and a much nicer experience.  The streets seem cleaner and better organized, even with political campaigns in full swing.  Truth be told, though, Tegus is probably not somewhere you’d seek out for a vacation as the culture and vibe is not quite the same as you might find in Antigua, Guatemala.  But, if you find yourself with kids in Tegus at some point, here’s our experience.

First, it’s hard to find a decent hotel with enough comfortable space for kids.  We’ve stayed at Leslie’s Place in the past before Grace, and it’s really nice but doesn’t have any suites available.  Fortunately, Humuya Inn is the top ranked hotel on TripAdvisor and deservedly so.  It’s in a quiet residential neighborhood, run by competent and attentive American expats, beautifully appointed and has huge 2 bedroom apartments for a reasonable price (and smaller hotel style rooms are available as well).  The kitchen is decent and flexible too.  Humuya staff also arranged a daily driver with van for us, which was a positive experience and well worth the moderate cost.

Humuya Inn
Humuya Inn

In Tegus itself, the highlights for us included El Mirador del Picacho, a park with huge Christ statue overlooking the city.  The overlook is next to a somewhat-maintained park commemorating the United Nations and some playground equipment.  There’s also a nearby zoo which apparently has seen better days (we gave it a miss).

Grace at the Mirador

Another worthwhile outing with kids is the Chiminike Children’s Museum, a fairly new site with a good variety of hands-on exhibits that appeal to a broad spectrum of ages.  Vacuum tubes, water games, karaoke, and a walk through the human body kept Grace entertained for several hours.

One of the most popular day trips from the city is Valle de Angeles, a small town about 40 minutes drive from Tegucigalpa.  While sometimes touristy, it’s still a pleasant colonial village with a profusion of leather shops, wood handicrafts, traditional pottery, a nice plaza and church, and cool breezes.  The bustling groups of people on the weekend provided an entertaining distraction for Grace.  We were pleasantly surprised to find a unique shop off the main street selling interesting ceramics, iron sculptures, and a plant nursery.  Called Hierro Barro y Verde, we found some beautiful ceramic Christmas tree ornaments, tiles, a cross, and iron hanging card holder to take home.  It’s a new shop, run by mother and daughter, is only open on weekends at this point, and is across the street from the Museo Santa Maria de los Angeles.

Valle shop

While in Valle, we made a return visit to a restaurant we discovered on a previous trip called El Turistico (not as bad as the name might suggest).  It’s on a hill overlooking the town, has great anafre (melted cheese appetizer) and well priced steak.  I would be remiss if I didn’t also put in a plug for the venerable chicken institution in Central America, Pollo Campero, which has several locations around Tegus.

Hopefully this brief overview of Tegus’ possibilities is helpful for your next visit there with kids!  Have you found other good spots for kids in Honduras?  Please share!

Barefoot Cay – Perfect Accomodation For Families Visiting Roatan

download-11-25-2008-271Barefoot Cay is an exquisite piece of paradise in the otherwise rough-around-the-edges island of Roatan. For Thanksgiving our extended family of seven (including our two-year old, Grace) traveled there and had almost the whole cay (tiny island) to ourselves. We took over three of the four bungalows and enjoyed getting to know the handful of other guests who were staying in the fourth bungalow, in several yachts at the marina and in the new lofts the resort has built on the mainland.

Some of the best amenities of this beautiful little cay include the palapa on a dock out over the water, the clear blue water, delicious, well-prepared food in an intimate dining area, and the well-appointed bungalows completely furnished down to the food processor and blender! We felt very comfortable at Barefoot Cay with our 2-year old, Grace. The staff went out of their way to fix special meals for her, entertain her, and suggest outings for the whole family she would also enjoy.img_5183

We were overwhelmed by the wonderful staff at Barefoot Cay. Mel and Fernand at the front desk were there for every little need we had, from taxi service to laundry to ideas for where to go out to dinner. Owners Milesse and John made us feel like personal guests in their home, not as paying guests of a resort. Staff in the dining room, dive shop, housekeeping, and spa were all so friendly but always professional. We have stayed elsewhere in the Caribbean with very little contact with resort staff, but everyone at Barefoot Cay was always happy to see us and so warm.

One highlight for our party was the dive shop. None of us were divers before but three of us did the Discover scuba class and were amazed by the personalized, professional service of the instructors at the dive shop. Most of the time we had a one-on-one ratio instructor to student, and at one point we even had two instructors to one student. They made us feel so safe and comfortable with the new sport.  We were lucky to have grandparents along to watch Grace while we were out diving.

Another daily highlight were meals. We ate about half of our dinners in the resort dining room and they all were deliciously prepared, including the special meals for Grace. The rest of the time we cooked for ourselves in our bungalows after stocking up at a nearby grocery store.

The only downsides of Barefoot Cay are not actually the fault of Barefoot Cay. They are the same downsides we posted previously about all of Roatan. Here they are: 1) garbage floating in the water 2) sand flies and mosquitoes and 3) the ugly shipping dock next door. The reality is, Barefoot Cay is in a developing nation. Garbage-polluted water is a problem in every developing nation. It wasn’t always an issue at the cay but seemed to be worse after heavy rains. We’ve heard it’s not a problem at all in the dry season (first part of the year). As for the bugs, Barefoot Cay staff work tirelessly to keep the bugs down, spraying day and night with non-toxic sprays and handing out complimentary bug repellent to guests. Still I think they’d have to drop a pesticide bomb on Roatan to get rid of them all. The one or two times we forgot bug spray resulted in literally hundreds of sand fly bites on all of us, which are still itching a week later. Finally, there is a ship yard next door but it really isn’t that bad. It never bothered us but you may want to look the other way if it bothers you.

All in all, we LOVED Barefoot Cay and highly recommend it to families traveling to Roatan. Milesse, John and their staff have obviously worked incredibly hard to create a beautiful spot in a harsh environment. It’s a wonderful destination for the whole family if you’re looking for a Caribbean destination off the beaten path, but still comfortable and affordable.

Photo Gallery of Barefoot Cay

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Grace exploring the new garden area, including a tortoise-shaped pond

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The pool area, taken from the resort’s dining room

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Our 2-bedroom bungalow with a patio opening directly onto the water.

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View of the resort as you approach from the mainland.  The cay is separated by narrow canal from the mainland but this small separation makes it completely private.

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Steve and Grace enjoy a quiet moment on one of the cay’s many hammocks.

Relax in Roatan, Honduras

A well-kept secret of the Caribbean is the Honduran island of Roatan. Located just off the northern shore of Honduras,westbaybeach Roatan is part of this affordable Central American country but with the laidback feel of its more expensive Caribbean neighbors.  Spanish is the national language of Honduras and English-speakers are hard to find on the mainland. Not so on Roatan, where English is widely used. In fact we used our Spanish so little  we often forgot we were in a Latin American country.

Roatan is accesible by direct flights from several US gateways including Houston and Atlanta. At present direct flights run only on the weekends, so be sure to look closely at flight itineraries before booking your hotel stay. You can get to Roatan any day of the week via the Honduran mainland or other Central American countries but those flights are notoriously late (think hours and hours) so a “short stop” could add significantly to your travel time. We opted for a Saturday to Saturday trip to minimize travel time. We (Steve, Beth and 22-month old Grace) traveled from Portland, Oregon direct to Houston, where we met up with my husband’s parents (traveled from Ohio) and my husband’s brother and his wife (from Chicago). From Houston we flew together directly to Roatan, less than 3 hours from Houston on Continental. It was a much easier flight with a toddler than the all-day trek last year from Portland to Turks and Caicos (stops in Dallas and Miami made it a 12+ hour day).

fishFirst the pros of Roatan. Roatan is stunning. It’s water is turquoise blue and crystal clear. The fish and coral are brilliant in color and diversity. It’s famed for its scuba diving and snorkeling, in part because both are so good and also because it’s very, very cheap to dive in Roatan compared to just about anywhere else in the world. It’s actually cheaper to become a certified diver in Roatan than in the U.S., although if you’re traveling with little ones keep in mind that someone will have to watch the kids if they’re too young to dive themselves. Travel with non-divers like we did if scuba is on your agenda.

Scubadiving is not the only inexpensive pasttime on the island. Just about everything is affordable including food, hotels and transportation, a real plus for traveling families. The seafood on Roatan is fresh and delicious. There are lots of things for families with little ones to do such as swimming with dolphins, bio-parks with ziplines, interesting animals and flora, glasswater boat trips and of course playing on the beaches with their shallow warm waters and little waves.

It’s easy for families to get around the island as well. Taxis are readily available and affordable, although agree on a hammockprice before you get in. Your hotel should be able to recommend reliable taxi drivers and tell you what it should cost to get to a destination.  Our taxi drivers were always friendly and most spoke at least a little English, although one spoke only Spanish. Their taxis were well-used and worn, and don’t expect seat belts. We rented a van for part of our stay. It was cheaper than taxis for the days we were doing a lot of driving, since we were such a large group (7 people) plus we could use our portable Eddie Bauer car seat for our daughter.  There are several rental agencies on the island and none of them seem to have well-maintained vehicles. One van broke down on us in the middle of nowhere but three different cars stopped to help us, including a taxi driver who took us back to the rental agency for a new, equally decrepit van.  Don’t expect luxury in any kind of island transportation, but since it’s a small place you can’t get lost and there’s always someone driving by to help you out.

Thinking about our broken down van brings me to the downsides of Roatan. First, the beaches. There are some beautiful beaches on the island but they are all plagued by sandflies. Our visit to Roatan in November fell at the end of the rainy season, when the flies (and their friends the mosquitoes) are at their peak. They were horrible. So long as we had insect repellent slathered everywhere we were fine, but the instant we went in the water and washed it off the insects were vicious. As I write this post a few weeks after our return I still am suffering from a few itchy bites. We’ve heard they are not nearly so much of a problem during the dry season (earlier in the year) but don’t go in the rainy season expecting to lounge peacefully in the sand.

Another downside of the rainy season was floating garbage in the crystal blue water. As part of Honduras, Roatan is a developing nation and the garbage was a visible sign of the poverty that exists beyond the luxury resorts.  Garbage is thrown in streams and rivers and, when heavy rains come, that garbage is washed out to sea and into your resort. Some days there was none, other days the water was full of slicks of plastic bottles and plastic bags. Our resort did a great job cleaning up the beaches on a daily basis but they can’t control what’s floating in the water and it did spoil some attempts at swimming. Again, we heard this problem is almost non-existent during the drier part of the year.

Overall our family loved Roatan. It was the right choice for our small family reunion, with the perfect balance of things to do and nothing-to-do. The people both at our resort and throughout the island were laidback and genuinely friendly. It’s a beautiful place but we recommend it for seasoned developing nation travelers, not for those accustomed only to luxury resorts. Even the nicest accomodation on Roatan can’t shelter you from the realities of it being part of a very poor country. For us this was a plus. It meant an authentic experience and the knowledge that our travel was supporting communities that rely on the income from tourism. But it also meant some inconveniences along the way and a few adventures (such as a broken-down rental van).

Watch for subsequent posts reviewing our excellent accomodations at Barefoot Cay as well as our list of things to do and eat on Roatan with kids.

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