Published: May 19th 2012May 19th 2012
Beautiful mosaic bar-cum-maze up trees and under ground in Utila.
It’s been a while since my last blog post, so I’d just like to reassure everyone that a. I am still alive and b. I am still having a brilliant time. In fact, that’s one of the reasons I’ve not written – I’ve not been able to tear myself away from the fun kingdom that is Utila to sit and type a blog post, and the longer I’ve left it, the bigger the task has become!
So. I arrived around a month ago. Adam, one of the volunteers we met in Mexico met us from the ferry. He and I would be volunteering at BICA, the Bay Islands conservation association, whilst Hannah was keen to learn to dive. She went off to find herself a dive school with a boy we had got chatting to on the ferry. I took a tuk-tuk up the hill to the BICA visitors centre where I would be living. The first thing I noticed about Utila was that it wasn’t quite the tropical island paradise I had imagined. The town is pretty densely populated, mucky and whiffy in places, with a few narrow streets filled with roaring quad bikes and mopeds. The island is
Tom, Charlie, James and Alex
full of Dive schools and there is a daily scrum down at the ferry port when the boat comes in as the Dive schools battle it out to convince the new arrivals to come dive with them. With such a young, transitory population, there are also plenty of places to party. Someone is always having a leaving party, or a arriving party, a birthday party or a snorkel test (more of that later), usually on one of the bars built out over the bay. Towards the end of most nights, someone usually jumps off the wooden balconies or skinny dips. It’s usually an Aussie – what is it about them that makes them want to get naked all the time?
During my first two weeks I organised a beach clean up, but being new to the Island and slightly intimidated by the Dive community I put all my posters up on telegraph poles and rather than summoning volunteers from the Dive shops. Consequently the only people to turn up were my fellow BICA volunteers, and three random people, which soon diminished to one by the time we completed the hours walk to the other side of the island where
the beach was. It was important to remove all the plastic that had washed up there as turtle nesting season is coming soon. I was appalled by the amount of waste that had swept in. In an hour we managed to fill 5 rubble sacks with flip flops, plastic bottles and caps, toothbrushes, polystyrene and plastic forks. I also found a plastic knight and a ping-pong ball, both of which I have kept as souvenirs.
Whilst working for BICA I also helped organise the Lionfish derby. Lionfish aren’t indigenous to the reef here. There is a theory that they spread here from Florida after 5 were swept out of an Aquarium following a hurricane, whilst others have made their way here via the bilge tanks of freight ships passing through the Panama canal. Since they’re not indigenous, they have no natural predators, and breed and consume voraciously, killing lots of rare fish. The only thing that can be done is for Divers to take a Hawaiian Spear (which is a little like a slingshot) and kill the fish, but this takes skill since they are highly poisonous. Some of the Dive shops do this fairly frequently, but
Can you beat that for location?
BICA organises a derby day once every few months where the Dive shops do it competitively, drawing lots to allocate dive spots, forming teams and trying to catch the most (and biggest and smallest) in return for a cash prize. It was quite a cool event, and good to hear the town buzzing with excitement for it. A few days after the event there was a cook off. This had been organised to encourage locals to view the lionfish as a viable source of food, and to demonstrate to them how to fillet and cook it.
As part of the preparation for the day, I had to visit the Dive shops with posters and registration forms. Not the most difficult volunteering I’ve ever done – making friends with lots of hot, friendly divers all over the island! Having visited all the Dive shops, I was able to make an informed decision about who I wanted to dive with once I finished my volunteering. I chose Altons, because they were friendly, yet fun. Some of the schools were a little cliquey – you could tell that they didn’t really include their newbie Divers in much of their socialising but this wasn’t the case at Altons.
After a fortnight of volunteering, I’d made some really good friends. Three English boys, Tom, Charlie and James were like honorary brothers and Hannah and I spent many an evening sitting on the porch at BICA playing drinking games before taking the party to one of the local bars. Lots of mild bullying but you knew they’d got your back if you needed them. Which I did at one point, when I became quite ill with an upset stomach and a kidney infection. It took me a few days to see the Doctor for various reasons – he doesn’t have an appointment system, you just sit on his porch and wait – and if he’s hungover, he doesn’t work that day, and if there’s an emergency, you just wait til the following day. So by the time he did see me I was quite sick and required a course of injections in my ‘butt-cheeks’ administered by the nurse-cum-receptionist, and two sorts of tablets lasting 10 days that would greatly increase my chances of sunburn. As if I need any help in that department. So whilst this week was going on, I’d become a little bored of volunteering and keen to start diving. But I couldn’t, I was too poorly. Nor could I go out drinking. Or eat. And if your not drinking, or diving, or eating on Utila, well... it is a pretty miserable time. I managed a few sober nights out, including a party that involved walking en masse to the centre of the island, and climbing into an enormous treehouse with 50 or so others, but my Utilan friends will agree, I was pretty miserable company!
Anyway, I was soon better, and the time I spent on Utila after I´d finished volunteering and started diving turned out to be some of the best weeks of my life.