This post is about possibly the finest week of my trip so far. It’s about finding a new love. It’s about meeting some amazing people. It’s about getting seduced by a way of life. It’s about potentially finding a new direction of career. It’s about nine days of near perfection. It’s also nigh on to be impossible to write about and convey just how great my time in Utila was but I’ll try anyway!
It almost never happened.
When planning my trip I always intended to go to Utila in order to learn how to Scuba Dive and thus had started trying to learn how to swim properly, unfortunately I ended up deciding it maybe wasn’t the sport for me as I couldn’t fathom the technique. However, as I’ve been travelling I’ve slowly been improving my swimming skills, first learning to snorkel in the Galapagos, skin dive in Bocas Del Toro and then swim through waves in San Juan Del Sur. I’d become much more comfortable in the water and whilst still a terrible swimmer, started to wonder about the possibility of diving. The decision was made after talking to an Ozzie girl I’d met in the dorm in Leon who explained why I would be able to Scuba rather than simply saying “it’s easy”. I was sold. Diving it was.
From Somoto I made the arduous, two day, journey through to Utila with Laura and Cornel and whilst waiting for the ferry started talking to the other passengers and collectively we went to Parrots Dive Center. In the group was Sam and Tyler, Sloan and Carmen, Luis and Sarah (Duff), Laura, Cornel and I.
Thus starts the adventure that almost never happened.
My new love
With some theory to go through (watching a movie, reading a book, answering some questions before finally a quiz) we entered the water for the confined sections putting into practice the skills we had studied. Sitting under a metre or so of water we did things like clearing water from your mask, removing your regulator and replacing it, taking off your weight belt and sharing your alternate air source with a buddy. It was a bit boring at the time but proved its worth after I made a bit of a boo-boo in the first dive – I accidently swam too close to Duff and pulled her regulator out by mistake. Since we had practiced the routine, she had time to stare at me with evil intent before she popped it back into her mouth! To my mind, this just confirmed the confined section was worth it, although I wonder if she saw it the same way!
From the very first time I popped the regulator into my mouth and stuck my head under the water I felt at home. It just felt “right”. If the confined section wetted my appetite, the first 12m dive confirmed my suspicions. I have never done anything which compares to the feeling of looking up at the surface of the water many metres above you with the sunshine glistening on the ripples, the shafts of light piercing through to the depths slowly dissipating to a gentle glow all whilst hundreds of bubbles rise from the divers slowly grouping together to form mushroom shapes. Then of course you can look to your right and left and you’re surrounded by friends, coral of all shapes and colours and hundreds of fish each more extraordinary than the last. You can move around easily in any direction and with simple flicks of your legs propel through the water effortlessly. You can do front and back flips. You can swim on your back, straight up or straight down. You can gently bob up and down in the same place or simply float along with the current. The first few dives on the Open Water course were possibly the most amazing experience of my life so far!
Of course the fun didn’t stop there! The initial group of seven divers (Duff, Luis, Carmen, Sloan, Cornel, Laura and I) signed up for our advanced course and learned some new skills such as improved buoyancy (PPB), Wreck diving, navigation with a compass and diving to 30m instead of just 18m. With a smaller group, more experience and getting to know our instructors better (Momo and Ian), the diving was even better! The various dives really helped improve my skills immensely and we even got the opportunity to dive onto a ship wreck, descending into the cargo bay and the bridge.
Then came the fun dives which took the whole experience to another level. We had more freedom to explore and do what we wanted without anyone insisting on this or that. We followed dive-masters for the first two, but for the last four our Instructors (Momo, Alan, Ian and Susan) led the dives and were pointing everything out for us, spearing lion fish, messing about, applauding when we showed off our new found skills and were as happy as we were just to be diving. Combine all of the excitement of diving for the first time and add in doing it with new, awesome, friends and it was, for the want of a better word, perfection.
It wasn’t all diving!
Diving was great fun but you only do this for 4 hours or so a day – you get to have loads more fun on the island. We went snorkelling at the beach for hours and I improved my skin diving ability no end before Carmen and I ran the 2km or so back to avoid the bugs (and to get a beer earlier). We drank copious amounts of beer and Rum. There was drinks promotions every night so we had loads of parties and regularly danced the night away. We ate great food – the fresh fish and Tuna steaks were divine. We went to the managers house for a BBQ and then onto a club. We sat on the dock drinking Rum whilst the boat captains and locals cooked us fresh fish (Barracuda is lovely). We went for runs. We sunbathed. We dived off the dock. We pushed each other into the sea after dives. We stopped on a quiet beach and collected sea grapes from the trees. We teased the boat captains for not going fast enough. We drank more Rum. We befriended the locals, spent time with our instructors and became one huge group of friends. We even spent a night on our own island and watched baby turtles hatch…
Should I expand on that last one? The one about our own island and hatching baby turtles? I mean, it was an impressive, somewhat unique experience and was the highlight of my week, so I guess I should.
One of the perks we were given for diving with Parrots was to stay on one of the Keys – an island with a mansion on it and no-one but ourselves for company. After the mornings diving we all jumped onto the boat and had a few beers. We all lounged about trying to open a coconut, played with the hermit crabs, listened to good music and generally goofed about chatting as we did, all whilst John Wayne (our boat captain) and the key owner (Adrian) cooked us tea. To break things up, I decided to go Plodging to cool off (the act of rolling ones trousers up and walking through the water), no-one knew what I was talking about but Sloan joined me anyway. It wasn’t real plodging given we were in bathing gear, but meh, no-one there knew what it was anyway so I wasn’t going to argue! We plodged to the dock at the other end of the island and just sat watching the flashy things in the water, the jelly fish, the crabs, the lightening, starred at the skies when the clouds allowed (we saw loads of shooting stars) and chatted. We ended up missing tea and when we finally headed back to the house everyone had gone to sleep leaving loads of turtles all over the kitchen. Shocked, we rushed around popping as many as we could find into a bowl before running down to the sea to set them free. The next morning I woke early to find John Wayne, Momo and Adrian rescuing more from the nest just outside the house and counted something like 115 hatched eggs!
The only bad thing that happened on the island? Having to leave. As I say, it was a brilliant experience and I’m so glad that the Ozzie girl (whose name I cannot remember) told me to go!
So, Utila and learning to dive
As I said at the top, it’s impossible to sum up my experience of Utila in words. It sits easily at the top anything I’ve done on the trip so far, if not in my life.
Not only was the diving amazing, but the people I got to share it all were equally special. One without the other would still be great, but collectively, well, they do say the “The whole is better than the sum of its parts”. Never has a truer word been written than when reflecting about my time in Utila.
Pictures paint a thousand words…
The rest of the album can be found in the Digitalery Central America – Honduras – Utila
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