Utila: Scuba-ing with the Fishes

Published: May 1st 2015
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Utila Bound

Beach Cillin'Beach Cillin'Beach Cillin'

Sunday Funday out at Neptune's. Good food, good drink.
We finally had to leave Utopia and it only took 2 days to get to Utila by boat and shuttle. We were traveling with Jenny and Cindy who we met at Utopia. We had to stop overnight in Livingston on the way. It didn't seem like there was a lot to do in Livingston itself but the boat ride from Rio Dulce to Livingston was gorgeously green and lush. The second day of travel saw us taking a boat to Puerto Barrios at 6:30am to catch the shuttle to La Ceiba where we would take the ferry to Utila. That ferry was the rockiest boat we've ever been on so much so that Ashley now understands the true meaning of motion sickness.

We didn't have a place to stay booked ahead of time but luckily for us, we met the owner of a dive centre on the dock while we were waiting for our bags. She runs the Bay Island College of Diving (which shall from heretoforthwith be referred to as BICD) which offers all sorts of dive certification courses and dorm rooms. She offered us a free nights stay in a dorm for our first night while we acquainted ourselves with the island and researched the dive centres. How could we pass that up? Lucky for us, there was a mix-up with the dorm beds so we got to stay in a private room for free that night.

We hadn't booked our course ahead of time because we'd read that it is a good idea to talk to a few dive centres in person before making any decisions. From the guidebook and online descriptions, all the dive centres blurred together and it seems next to impossible to decide. When you visit in person, you can ask some important questions and see the equipment for yourself. Some things to ask when considering your options are: how big are the classes (PADI allows for 8 per class but I would suggest no more than 6); does the boat have shade; are you able to meet the instructor so you can get a sense of your rapport; is the equipment old or new; does the dive centre feel professional; what is the cost of the course and are there any additional taxes or fees; is accommodation included in the price (accommodation is included in most if not all of the dive
Hawks Bill TurtleHawks Bill TurtleHawks Bill Turtle

Saw this guy cruising around on our fun dive. Pretty sure he was saying things like 'knarly' and 'tubular'.
centres on Utila). We asked these questions in 6 different dive centres. All tolled, there was only one place that we really didn't like the looks of. We ultimately decided to stay at BICD; there were a couple of centres we really liked but BICD had a pool (the only one on the island) for our first confined dive and all our stuff was already there (yup, they got us hook, line and sinker with that first nights free accommodation).

So, thus began our short 4 1/2 day journey of becoming certified open water divers. The first part of the course is not really what I would call fun but it is necessary. We watched 5 videos and answered questions on our knowledge review sheets. On the second day of the videos, we went over the answers and took a quiz at the end of each section. Finally, we got to prepare our kit and go in the pool for our first confined dive. We only practiced some skills but it was fun nonetheless. Our second confined dive was on a tarp laid out just off the dock. We were about 2m under water practicing more skills. We also
Nurse SharkNurse SharkNurse Shark

This guy snuck up on Dan. The dive master with us had to motion to Dan several times before Dan turned to look and almost inked himself at how close to his leg it was.
had to prove we would not drown by swimming 200m and floating for 10 minutes. We realized after our second confined dive that it is really nice to have the use of a pool for the first dive so we didn't have to contend with the waves and salt water during our first attempt at skills like the mask flood. The day of our second confined dive was also 'Sunday Funday' which meant a large group from BICD and beyond piled (and I do literally mean piled; there was barely room for a mouse on board) onto a boat and went to a secluded beach called Neptune's. At least the restaurant is called Neptune's. The afternoon felt luxurious since all we did was laze about on the beach, jump of the dock, eat delicious food, and drink delicious blended mojitos and rum punches. It was just the break we needed from our oh so stressful lives.

Monday morning was the day of reckoning; we had to pass our final written exam with 75% or more in order to continue the course. It turned out, the exam wasn't so difficult and we easily passed. That meant in the afternoon, we got to do our first actual dive. We did two dives to 12m. We were amazed and in awe. After practising more skills on the bottom, we saw a Spotted Eagle Ray, which our student instructor said he didn't see for a month of being on Utila. The next day we did our two 18m dives. On one of the dives, we went to a site called Ron's Hole which as the story goes came to be submerged because a fellow (by the surprising name of Ron) went to dock his boat in Utila and was asked to pay a docking fee. He had apparently docked his boat for years without having to pay. He was enraged that he drove his boat out to the reef and burned it to send a message and avoid the fee. It seems to me that it probably would've been less expensive to just pay the dock fees but I suppose it's the principle of the matter that Ron was putting on a stand for. Under the boat was hiding a Green Moray Eel. It was electric green and it looked like it was going after Jenny until a Divemaster in Training pulled her out of the way. After that dive, we were officially certified. That's one goal down, only a few more to go on this round the world trip.

Our last day on Utila was reserved for our 2 free fundives which were included with our course. The boat was going to the north side of the island in search of whale sharks. Unfortunately, we didn't see any but we did see some other cool marine life. When we jumped in the water on our first dive, there was a stingray gliding below us. We also saw a Hawksbill Sea Turtle which swam in Dan's direction and a a few Nurse Sharks; one of which got very close to Dan's fin.

Utila is a very tourist oriented town with many prices advertized in USD, and I'm sure everyone would take USD even if not priced in such; albeit at a slightly unfavorable rate.

Some of the not SCUBA related things that we think are worth noting are (in no particular order, but not surprisingly all food and drink related):

• Getting cinnamon buns from Thompson's Bakery
• Scarfing down crepes from a the tiny crepe shop on Main Street (owned and operated by a genuine Frenchish person)
• We had an amazing threesome with a Banana Chocolate Calzone at the Mango Inn (next time, no sharing)
• Drinks were cheap at the only place we went out; 'Skid Row'. Canadians are reputed to hang out there (they show loads of hockey) but not necessarily work there; Dan got quite the strange response when asking for a Rye & Ginger.

More pictures are available here.


1st May 2015

It was just the break we needed from our oh so stressful lives.
1st May 2015

All those knowledge reviews and a test. I tell you, my word...

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