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Central America Caribbean » Honduras » Bay Islands » Utila
September 27th 2013
Published: October 7th 2013
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The main aim of my trip to Honduras was to complete my advanced open water scuba diving in the Bay Islands, supposedly one of the cheapest and best places in the world to do it. One small snag was that I was on the Pacific coast of Nicaragua and needed to get up to the Caribbean coast of Honduras! The first day of the two day journey somewhat improbably involved: a horse and cart, a row boat, a chicken bus, two taxi rides, a microbus, another chicken bus, a cycle rickshaw to the border, crossing the border on foot, a honduran chicken bus and one final honduran bus to get us to the capital! Phew – but luckily all of this only cost about $13 – but it did take 13 hours!!

Finally reaching the Bay Islands the next day, I settled on doing my dive course with one of the biggest and longest established of the dive schools – Utila Dive Centre. The fact they had multiple, spacious dive boats and very modern equipment was a huge step up from what I had experienced in Taganga, and because it was low season I was able to negotiate upgraded accommodation, with private room, air con, breakfast and use of their on-complex swimming pool all thrown in!! (http://www.utiladivecenter.com/ )

We started the course at 100 miles an hour with a navigation and performance buoyancy dive in the morning – the latter of which was a huge amount of fun as we got to do silly things like do 180 degree spins through obstacle gates, and hover in a controlled fashion upside down trying to knock over targets with our regulators!! In the evening we followed this up with my first ever night dive, which was a novel experience – especially when we all covered our lights and were surrounded just by the eerie blackness and the luminescence given off by some of the plankton!

The final day of the course saw a fantastic afternoon of diving as we completed our 30 metre “deep” dive down to a wreck, and while I was busy exploring that – which I personally found a more interesting experience than looking round the coral reefs – a turtle that was chilling out in the cargo hold decided to pop up and go for a swim through all of us! While in the Galapagos I had probably got a bit blasé about swimming with turtles, seeing as they were a daily experience, but after a pause of six months that initial magic that comes with seeing an amazing creature in its natural habitat was definitely back!!

However this was to be surpassed within the hour as our eagle eyed Captain Cookie – I'm sure inspired by the $15 finders fee he gets paid by each person that goes into the water – tracked down some whale sharks for us to go snorkelling with!! I'm not sure exactly what the process is, but I think when the whale sharks are in town the smaller fish that make up their diet get a bit preoccupied and all swim to surface in an attempt to reach safety. This happens in such great numbers that the sea literally boils white with all the movement!! This level of safety is rather like finding yourself in the snake enclosure and successfully climbing out only to drop down in the middle of the crocodile pen, as all of the hunting seabirds are then attracted by the beacon of boiling water and set about tucking in, and the whale shark isn't going anywhere either!!

Luckily the captain was an old hand and was able to pick his way through the maelstrom and position us in the path of the whale shark on three separate occasions. It was a surreal experience, all of us lined up in rows on the back of the boat like paratroopers waiting for the shout of “GO, GO, GO!!” at which point we'd all bundle into the water and swim as fast and for as long as we could before the pace of the whale shark easily outstripped us!! It was a great experience and we were really lucky, as its not something that happens very often out there in Utila!

Obviously in these modern times just as important as having the experience yourself is photographing or videoing it as well!! One of the dive masters in training, James, luckily captured the moment and shared it with me!!







Having completed my course, I was then able to do two free “fun dives”, and while they could never have been as spectacular as the previous day with the whale sharks, they did contain some good highlights: swimming through narrow channels that made up a seamount, viewing eagle rays gliding majestically both above and below us, and happening upon a seahorse. I even got complimented by the divemaster on my buoyancy control – her saying that I must be a natural to dive like that in my 12th and 13th ever dives.... However, despite the compliments (probably fibs to get me to pay for more diving with them!!) and the big highlights of the previous days, after 3 days of diving I had had enough, and it remains a sport that I can do in small bursts (unlike say snowboarding or skiing which I think I could keep doing and doing and doing...).

However, my time in Utila was definitely well spent. I'm really pleased that I got my advanced qualification, and although I feel I'll never become a diving junkie (probably a good thing for the bank balance!) its nice to know that I have the skills and qualifications necessary to do a bit of scuba, if I happen to be somewhere with good diving in the future. The blue hole in Belize does beckon!!

Utila also marked the end of my successful runs in pub quizzes – being beaten into second place by a mere 1.5 points by the team of my inital instructor Doug. His amazing knowledge of Eastern European countries in the geography round, and a music round that contained mainly hip-hop from the last decade (who knew Akon was such a big star these days!!), meant they took a well deserved win!!

All that was left for Honduras was to get back on the road and spend another day and a half travelling south to El Salvador. It meant overnighting in San Pedro Sula – a city I had been trying to avoid as it had a bit of a rough reputation. It was only afterwards that I realised how rough (see article below), and makes me think that the argument I had with the taxi driver about the price he was charging us at 4.30a.m outside the main bus terminal was perhaps not the wisest. I did manage to use my Spanish to get him to stick to the agreed $3.50 per person, rather than bumping the price up to $5 per person. At the time I felt like a real winner but now I'm not so sure....!



(http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/may/15/san-pedro-sula-honduras-most-violent)

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