Diving on Utila (Roatán’s cheap little cousin)
After Neil’s bout with “baleada belly” had passed, we hit the road again. This time, we were bound for the coast—the Caribbean coast. With more than a week away, I began to experiences twinges of longing for Red Thread. At the same time, I relished the opportunity to gallivant around cities without checking the position of the sun (we don’t wear watches) to see how long until we needed to return to the boat to check on her. Neil savored having days on end in which boat repairs were too far away to demand his attention. Inland exploration was truly recharging our batteries.We caught a 5:30 am bus from Copán Ruinas to San Pedro Sula, a city burdened with the unfortunate distinction of “highest murder rate in the world.” Despite the city’s poor reputation, we passed through without issue and would have been none the wiser had its notorious reputation not made its way into the pages of our guide book. We transferred buses in the heavily guarded station and couldn’t resist the temptation of Burger King, an unexpected and disgustingly appealing lunch option. Three more hours on a bus, a 15-minute taxi ride, and an hour wait for a ferry later, and we were afloat on the Caribbean Sea!
Sailing thousands of miles had apparently not cured me of my propensity toward seasickness, and I spent an hour on that speed catamaran trying not to throw up the giant donut I couldn’t resist from the street peddler at the ferry stand. We dispensed from the boat with a hoard of other backpack-toting tourists, most of whom were at least 10 years our junior. Other than being on the verge of puking, I felt almost “cool”, and we were elated to have at last reached Utila.At less than 7 miles long and just under 2.5 miles wide, the speck of land is a diver’s fantasy. The town is comprised of a single main street, with smaller roads branching inward. Unlike its fancy cousin 50 miles to the northeast, Utila is a budget island-lover’s dreamland.
Dying to dive
During our stay in Copán Ruinas, we had spent several hours reading Trip Advisor reviews on dive shops in Utila. Many of the dive shops are also hostels or modest hotels, and booking joint lodging and diving is a bargain. We were torn between a couple options, and ultimately decided to dive with Underwater Vision. When we arrived, however, we were not particularly impressed. The staff who helped us weren’t able to tell us much about what to expect during the following day’s dives, and the level of professionalism rivaled that of a college house party. The person who checked us in clearly knew the “owner of the house”, but she wasn’t sure about the house rules and seemed to be distracted by the montage of inebriated 18- to 21-year-olds who were wandering the premises. While Trip Advisor reviews indicate that it is a quality dive shop, our first impression was less than great.
We spent our first night in one of Underwater Vision’s dorms but awoke plotting to abscond. Neither of us felt comfortable there, and it made no sense to go 40 feet underwater without feeling confident in the shop or our instructors. We woke around 7:30 am, found a coffee stand, and rambled down the town’s only major street, a narrow paved path, hopeful that we would soon find a dive shop whose style was better suited to us.
Captain Morgan…more than just a rum
By 8 am, we’d crossed the threshold into Captain Morgan’s Dive Centre. We felt confident in the staff at Captain Morgan’s almost immediately and reserved beds in their hostel dorm, scheduled a 9:30 am dive refresher course for me, and committed to two afternoon dives on the spot. John, a giant jolly Brit, would be our Dive Master.
Our dives were spectacular! Neil, a skilled and confident diver, seemed to feel as relaxed below the water as he did above. Admittedly, I’m a novice and our Utila dives were my first since getting open-water certified before we left Seattle. I was nervous, but I did alright! I spent almost as much time fidgeting with my ever-leaking mask as I did worrying about striking the coral with my fins (which can destroy as many as 10 years of growth), but I was able clear my ears successfully, and I never panicked. We marveled at the expansive visibility (more than 40 feet) and saw fish neither of us had ever seen before. At Lighthouse Reef and Laguna Beach, we saw trumpet fish, queen angelfish, damselfish, tang, and feather dusters.Decompressing and deliberating
It was already mid-April. We had less than two months to make some very important decisions about our future. You might recall that we’d posed three possibilities for what to do next when we decided not to cross the Pacific this season:
- Settle somewhere in Central America, find jobs.
- Get jobs on a mega-yacht and leave The Red Thread in a marina in Central America.
- Return to Seattle from July to December and find work.
As we sat at Rehab, overlooking a sugary beach staring into clear, warm water, option 2 became a particularly hot topic of conversation. If we were to crew on a mega-yacht, we’d most likely wind up spending more time in the Caribbean. Neil, my handsome sea-loving husband, had longed for seascapes like this one. We had been surprised at how far south chilly seas had persisted in the Pacific and how rarely we were treated to clear water for swimming or diving. On Utila, the tiniest of Honduras’ bay Islands, we found a piece of paradise. Touristy paradise, but paradise nonetheless. Perhaps working on a mega-yacht would afford us more of exactly this…The following morning only piqued our interest further. We raced around the small island and dove Spotted Bay on the north side, where we spied a sea turtle, an eagle ray, a variety of fish, and our very first nurse shark! Our second dive at Black Coral Wall continued to add to the magic, in the form of a gigantic stingray, spadefish, flamingo tongue snails, and the most beautiful reef we’d ever seen. Back at the Captain Morgan’s, we took pleasure in recapping our experiences with new friends: Becky, Dave, Sarah, and Rad. Prying ourselves from the sweet clutches of Utila’s charm was not easy, but The Red Thread beckoned and it was time to continue on. We rose at dawn to catch the 6:20 am ferry.
By the end of the day, we’d survived the most terrifying mountain bus ride of our lives. Imagine careening around corners (at times on two wheels) in a derelict van missing a few key elements (i.e., one door, several windows – I shit you not), while the driver is counting cash or texting. As an injury researcher, scenes like this are the stuff my nightmares are made of.
Two days of travel later, including overnight stops in drab Ocotepeque (Honduras) and chaotic San Salvador (El Salvador), and we were back on the grounds of Puerto Barillas and snug as a bug in our home sweet boat.
8 thoughts on “Diving on Utila (Roatán’s cheap little cousin)”
I just love your stories! You are quite gifted as a writer, and it makes me want to travel…. 🙂
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Travel to visit us, I hope 😉
Your scubba diving picture is still one of my very favorite. Such an amazing journey you two embarked upon and I am sure it will continue soon.
Love you, Mom
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It’s one of my favorites, too! Thanks to the selfie stick! Love you, too! ~Jessie
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