The Bay Islands of Honduras
After making a one night stay in San Pedro Sula, home of the worlds worst murder rate, I headed over to the coast and got a ferry to Utila; one of the Bay Islands of Honduras.
I had gone there with the idea in my head that I wanted to stop and do dive master training, a cheap way to get in a few month of daily diving. I had flights booked to go up to California for a fire spinning festival in 2 weeks time, so this visit was mostly just about shopping around and seeing how the various schools compared.
As soon as I got off the ferry and mentioned I was considering doing my DMT, I had a shop offer me 2 free fun dives with them, even after I made it clear I was shopping around. The offer remained, so I had my first shop locked in!
The diving around Utila was really good. The reefs were healthy looking, some of the walls were fantastic, the there was a good amount of aquatic life around. Big crabs, lobsters, cowfish, drumfish (especially the juveniles), bearded toadfish, free swimming green moray eels... plenty of cool stuff every dive.
During the week on Utila I ended up diving with about 5 or 6 different shops, and got a much better idea about the things that are important to me in picking where I want to do more training. Some had tiny boats and some had fairly big boats. Some went to the better diving on the north side pretty much daily, others only went 1-2 times a week. Some were so relaxed about safety that they weren't even doing a head count, let alone boat roll calls, when diving north side (2 hours from the inhabited part of the island, pretty poor IMO) while others were clearly following good procedures.
One night I was in a bar (ok, nearly every night... often it feels like more people are on Utila for the parties than the diving) and I got talking with some guys who turned out to have a set of fire poi and some kerosene, so we all headed to the beach to spin fire. It was my first time spinning with real flames in about a year, but it was also the first time I know of that I've been videoed, so I can actually show more than just still images for a change.
Looking at the video afterward, I can see a lot of places where I was falling into pretty dull repetitive sequences, but I still think there's some good stuff in there. I feel like I'm a shit load better today, but then again I mostly spin LED poi so I probably cant do everything I can do now if I was using fire poi.
Later that night I went along to a beach party and a couple of other spinners where doing their thing. I asked if I could have a go and the small crowd seemed to really like it. I had a few people come up to me randomly in the bar afterwards and ask about it, if I was a part of the performers. Lots of encouragement and support, pretty damn good for someone who hates being in the spotlight, I think it helped a lot with my fears and anxieties.
I pretty much lived on baleadas the whole time I was on Honduras. A baleada is basically like a big cheesy quesadilla with different fillings, like chicken and avocado, which I would then apply liberal amounts of hot sauce to. A place on the island called Mamma Rosa Baleada had them for just a few bucks and they were so big they hung over the edge of the plate, so I ate there every day, sometimes more than once.
There were a few things I really didn't like about Utila. The first of those is the sand flies. The bastards are everywhere and insect repellent doesn't work for them. One day just before (or maybe just after) rain, they were super intense. Horrible itchy bites all up my legs :( Some people claim that baby oil on your legs will stop them because they cant land or drown in it or something, but I tried it and it didn't seem to do anything. Maybe I needed to shave my legs to make it work. Way worse than mosquitos.
The second pet peeve was the motorbikes and taxis that are ruining Utila. For a tiny little 1 road strip, there's a horrible amount of traffic constantly zipping past, just barely missing people. They nearly always seemed to be full of lazy locals, which makes a nice change from seeing them full of lazy tourists.
In the end my pick of the dive shops for Utila would be Utila Dive Centre, they ran a very professional environment with quality gear, they have a number of boats of different sizes and I just got a good vibe from them. Of course I wasn't ready to commit to anything without having also checked out Utila's neighbouring island, Roatan.
After a week of changing dive shops every day, and not really feeling like I was making much of a connection with many of the people I was diving with, I decided in Roatan I was more interested in just checking out the various dive sites and deciding if the diving was better there or on Utila, so when I arrived I picked a shop and I stuck with them the whole week I stayed.
I stayed the first two nights on the island with two girls I met on the ferry over, Nev and Tandea, since the price of a room for 3 was the same as dorms, and the three of us went with Reef Gliders, the dive shop that offered a discount on the accommodation where were were staying.
Most of the week I was diving with the same divemaster, a guy named Mickey from South Africa who'd come to the island a decade or so ago, just for a week, but never left. Mickey is a guy who never dives without his camera, and I later found out that one of the Caribbean reef life photo books that you find in nearly every dive shop in along the Caribbean Coast is actually entirely by him. You could not get a better DM to dive with for fish ID!
The diving was good at Utila, but it was amazing on Roatan. I can tell you for certain, all those backpackers making claims about how there's no point going to Roatan over Utila and that it's just for rich tourists, are just regurgitating what others have told them because a) the diving is both a lot better and a lot lazier (longest boat ride was 10-15 minutes from the dock) and b) the prices are actually very similar to Utila. I think over the course of 10 dives it was less than $50 difference, although restaurants were admittedly more expensive (street food was cheap though!).
My favourite dive was at a site called Texas. It's a site off the tip of the island which almost always has a lot of current, although there was apparently abnormally little the day I got to dive it so apparently there was less marine life activity than usual but it was still amazing. Since there's current you do the dive as a drift dive, where you get in at one place and let the current take you while the boat follows on the surface; it makes for extremely lazy diving.
The site gets it's name, because like the state, everything is bigger at Texas. The reef you're drifting above is massive, trailing off for hundreds of meters in every direction, one direction sloping down until you couldn't see anything but blue. We dropped down to about 25 metres, probably 2-3 metres above the reef, and floated along at a nice lazy pace for the duration of the dive, eventually popping up on the surface what must have been at least a kilometre from where we started.
During the dive we saw loads of big stuff. Probably a dozen or more really big groupers, some turtles who cruised along with us for a while, a number of squid, and easily the biggest lionfish I've ever seen.
We also made a stop to check out "Jesus", one of the many massive barrel sponges down there. I'm told that some of them are thousands of years old, and Jesus is one of the biggest ones. It's opening would probably be about the size of your average household washing machine, the thing was enormous! Sadly, we found that a big chunk from the top of the sponge had very freshly been sliced by a fisherman's line. It wont kill it, but it's a shame that something thousands of years old can get damaged like that.
Another notably unique dive was a site called the bear's den, when you go down a dark tunnel into a rock (with a flashlight) which opens up into a cave with a "skylight", big enough to have 5 divers in there at once. It really was the sort of cave you'd imagine a bear would live in, except it was some 25-30M underwater.
Loads of the dives were walls of coral, dropping down well below the depths you can go down to on scuba, many with big canyons and swim-throughs zig-zagging back and forth, but one of the coolest ones was at Haller deep. There we dropped down to 41M where the wall went from a slope to a near vertical drop, and you can see nothing but dark blue below you. We saw a pretty sweet turtle down there with a shark sucker cleaning him.
We came up from down there slowly, through a number of long tight swimthroughs, following the reef back towards the island where we saw pipefish, a pipehorse, scorpion fish and a few green eels.eventually we passed through a shallow part of the reef with a max depth of 3M before dropping back down to about 5M to another bit of reef where we had a bunch of snorkellers above us and we saw flounder, yellow line arrow crabs and razor fish. Total bottom time was 63 minutes, pretty amazing to have a dive where we had stuff to look at at both 41M and 3M, and be down there so long.
By the end of my time on the island, I was pretty sure I would want to do my DMT on Roatan over Utila, but actually less certain that I wanted to sign up for it right away. I decided to put it off until at least after Burning Man, and until I'd seen the reefs in Belize and Cozumel, just in case they were even better again.