Alex and I have wanted to do a diving course for years, but something always seemed to crop up. Besides having a reputation for being pristine and spectacularly beautiful, Honduras’ Bay Islands, on the Caribbean coast, are also reknowned for having the cheapest world recognised diving courses. So, this was going to be as good a time as any to indulge! I should add that the reefs here, which are a continuation of the Belize reefs, are the second largest barrier reef in the world , after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is said that that both the snorkelling and diving here is spectacular. We soon found this out for ourselves.
The three main Bay Islands are Roatan, Utila and Guanaja. We chose to go to Utila. The ferry ride over was a little over an hour, and I quickly acquainted myself with the front, and open part of the boat. It was tearing through the water, which may I say was not exactly still. Air and water splashing in my face, I soon forgot that my stomach was in turmoil, and we seemed to arrive in no time at all. Being distracted by the phenomenal views was particularly helpful too.
As we neared the dock, I half-looked and half-prayed that we would not be confronted with what we had seen when we arrived in Bocas del Toro in Panama, which was trash, trash and more trash. I sighed with relief, as we came into the turquoise waters of the dock……without rubbish!
There are quite a number of diving schools on the island, some good and some not so good, and upon arrival, there are a throng of people with options on both where you can dive and where you can sleep. It’s hard to gauge sometimes, but in my humble opinion, it’s about gut feeling. We took several pamphlets and brochures, but our amble started with Laura, a young and friendly Canadian from the Bay Islands College of Diving. First things first, a place to sleep. She handed us over to Topher, who showed us some sleeping options. I want to add here, that everyone at this diving school was super friendly and helpful, and nothing seemed too hard or a bother. Topher walked around with me for ages (whilst Alex sat at the dock with all the backpacks), and I finally decided on a comfy little room, with bathroom and small kitchen. Country Side Apartments was run by the cordial Woodie, and his daughter Rachel. There too, nothing seemed too hard or difficult, and our hosts were both friendly and helpful.
Hot and sweaty, but finally settled into a room, our quest was to find a diving school. As Topher and Laura had been so helpful and friendly, and not pushy (a sure way to make me run a mile in the other direction!), we decided to check out the diving school where they worked, and we were extremely impressed with what we saw (please check out their web site, http://www.dive-utila.com/ ). Besides having a good reputation, to begin with, we liked the vibe of the place, and Michel, the manager, was also helpful and professional. All these factors thrown in together made us feel like this was the place we wanted to do our PADI (Professional Association of Diving Instructors) open water diving course. Remember that name, The Bay Islands College of Diving!
That very afternoon, we began, with Laura as our instructor! This little powerhouse of a woman, was a diving marvel! Looking much younger than her already young 26 years, she had more than 600 dives already under her belt. So, we were off!
We had a comfortable group of four. The other two being Lesley and Kristin, from the USA, who were also lots of fun. The course comprised of various components, which were undertaken in a variety of locations; the classroom, the pool and the ocean. Despite the fact that I was literally raised in the water, and have been a like a fish all my life, there was something about breathing all that way under water that felt a little freaky. The first time we practiced in the pool, my breathing felt so loud that I felt likeI was doing a Darth Vader impersonation! Having said that, I cannot evin begin to explain the surge of emotions I felt on my first ocean dive, and on a coral reef too! Wow, it was a burst of colour, and I felt like I had entered another world! I had entered another world! And all I could think of was, “Why has it taken me so long to do this?”. Over the next few days, there were several more dives, and many more feelings of euphoria. We saw coral, a plethora of fish ( which would take up a blog in itself if I described them all) and a small wreck, just to name a few. It was breathtaking. But more so than visual, it was a sensory explosion! The water really is the Earth’s balance!
Beleive it or not, diving is really tiring, and at the end of each day, we were totally fatigued. We did manage to walk around, interact with the locals, and do a bit of sightseeing however. The island’s food speciality were the super cheap and yummy “baleadas” – a tortilla spread with refried bean paste, some tasty local cheese and some onions. There were a few different people on various street corners selling them, but we decided that Carolina’s were the best! And she made enchiladas too!
I should explain that Utila is really a tiny island, measuring 13 kilometres long by 5 kilometres wide, and that the “main drag” is really only a section of paved road that runs along the shoreline for about 5 kilometres. There are then two arteries that run off that, and that is it! Those “roads” are shared by very few cars, a few more simple motor cycles, a greater number of golf cars and mostly by people! A few times, the things with wheels came rather close to those of us with feet! I wondered how much longer this could last. My guess, as the island’s population increases, is not long! The population is still relatively small and varied. Depending on who you speak to, the estimates are anywhere between 2000 and 7000, and the majority live in the settlement around the dock area. Most of the houses are wooden, and on stilts (it is in a hurricane zone!), and painted in pastel colours, so they have a real Caribbean feel.
I feel that the most interesting facet of the Bay Islands is how diverse the people are, and the fact that English is the prominent language , and not Spanish! Besides “Island English” of course, which is, to the untrained ear, a fusion of English, Spanish, and I am not sure what else. Speaking English does not mean that you will be able to decipher it either. There are whites, there are blacks, and there are all their mixes! Some people are of Caribbean extraction, and some are of English descent. I must say, I was a little taken aback to meet a white, blue eyed “Honduran”, called Glenda Bodden! And then there was Woodie, owner of our guest house, whose first language was English. His accent seemed British with a Caribbean lilt.
Before we knew it, a week had flown by! I should add here that on the day that we arrived, the internet and most telecommunications on the island went down. That meant no contact with the outside world. Normally that would not be a problem, except that my last e-mail to my Dad stated that I was leaving Nicaragua and only passing through Honduras to go to El Salvador! I knew that Dad would be sick with worry, especially thinking that we were actually in El Salvador! Sorry Dad! We do not realise just HOW many things we take for granted sometimes!
We had a 7.15am ferry to catch back to the mainland….and I once again familiarised myself with the front and open end of the boat! It is amazing what a breath of fresh air and amazing scenery can actually do!
“There are two ways to have enough. One is to aquire more and more, and the other is to desire less.” – G.K. Chesterton
(Photos: 1.- Utila, West End, Honduras. 2.- Alex with Laura , our instructor, on the boat, after coming up from “down under”. 3.- All the girls – Ombi, Laura, Kristin & Lesley. 4.- Lagoon on Utila. 5.- Life support down under. 6.- Utila Beach.)