13/12/2013 - 21/12/2013 32 °C
Next stop was Honduras. There’s not a whole lot on the tourist trail that enticed us, so we were here solely for one reason – to learn to scuba dive and get our Open Water PADI certifications. We were headed to a small Caribbean island off the east coast called Utila (part of the Bay Islands) as it’s one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive. It’s very highly regarded, PADI certified, and there are loads of different dive schools & instructors to choose from. To get your Open Water Dive certification costs US$299 which includes 5 nights of accommodation in a dorm room at a nice-ish hotel with a pool & 6 dives – compared with say the Great Barrier Reef where it’ll set you back around $500 just for the course.
Coming from Guatemala which felt so culturally rich & traditional, particularly with the way the people dressed, it was instantly clear as we crossed the border that we were in a different country. The women all dressed in regular clothes – jeans, tops, sandals - and in general they seemed thinner too as the Guatemalan women were certainly a bit tight around the girth.
It was about a 12 hour journey to our next destination from Antigua, Guatemala. We decided to take the slightly more expensive option (which was a big comfy 40 seater greyhound-style bus with all the comfort features including a hostess!) as we’d heard & read that Honduras was not exactly the safest country in the world – note that in 2012 the UN announced Honduras had become the murder-rate capital of the world. The Hondurans then joked that at last their country had won something! The border crossing was all fairly straightforward though with no hassles, and we then overnighted in a small town just across the border called Copan to break up the trip.
Early the following morning while boarding a local bus to continue our journey to Utila we were to meet the 3 people of whom we would become inseparable with for the coming week - a super spritely & fun Aussie couple from Sydney, and a young, very suave Dutchman with a ‘Koole’ surname.
The crew - me, Hayley & Lee (Aussie couple) and Thomas
I was pretty apprehensive about scuba diving. My phobia of sharks and generally any other kind of dark patch that lurks beneath the depths, coupled with having ridiculously small ear canals which every doctor I’ve ever seen has commented on, I wasn’t completely sure how I’d cope down there. And thankfully it was incredible. Who knew it would be such a novelty breathing under water. I giggled rather uncontrollably on our first (2m!) dive & wanted to come up immediately to start talking. Brendan being the keen attentive student in all the theory classes remembered all the hand signs straightaway, whereas if I spotted say a huge moray eel I’d start screaming in order to get people’s attention – aka not what we had been taught.
Prepping for a dive
Dive centre boat heading off for a night dive
We had a great instructor, a French Canadian named Marc, and then 3 others who were completing their Dive Master course who would come on all the dives with us, making sure we didn’t float to the surface & generally keeping an eye on us. In general we would be underwater for about 40 minutes at a time. There’s loads of different reefs & dive spots all around the island, and we spotted a heap of gorgeous colourful fish & coral, moray eels, stingrays, crabs, lobster, and even a scorpion fish (apparently quite hard to spot). Scuba is something I would definitely recommend to everyone. It opens up a completely new world, is super calming down there, and in general is just super fun.
The crew with Marc our instructor after our graduation
Sunset beers at the dive centre
As for Utila the island, it’s certainly not the most beautiful place in the world. There’s one main road that crosses the South Eastern side of the island, and dotted along are various dive shops, restaurants and bars. There weren’t really any activities to do during the day except dive, no nice beaches, lots of rubbish everywhere, and a ZILLION sand flies that proceeded to attack all of us. You notice everyone out of the water looks a bit lubed & greasy – this is because baby oil is the best defense against the little buggers as they get stuck in the oil. Nice.
It’s basically an island where you go to party and learn to dive. Most mornings there would be a few sore heads, but after a good dose of compressed air and a swim the hangovers would be cleared!
Storm approaching Utila
An hilarious xmas wonderland
One of the many bars we frequented during our stay
Utila & the Bay Islands do have an interesting history though – Colombus discovered the islands in 1502 and enslaved many of the islanders. Later on in the 1600’s, pirates including Henry Morgan used the Bay Islands as a base to raid gold-laden Spanish vessels. Many of these pirates then decided to stay and make Utila their home, which is why now as you wander around you see loads of Caucasian Utileans. Many of the locals also have surnames like Morgan, Jackson & Cooper. Everyone either speaks English or Creole (picture an old white guy with a hardcore rasta accent, seems totally fake but cool) – we tried practicing our Spanish as we were feeling super confident post our schooling but all the replies were often in English.
After 8 nights we were ready to move on and head down to Nicaragua. We all passed the course with flying colours and even got halfway to attaining our advanced certificates by completing a deep water dive to 30m, a wreck dive, and a drift dive (where you let the current take you as you swim and the instead the boat comes to pick you up from where you end).