So after long bus and ferry rides I docked in Utila, one of the 3 Islands that make up the Bay Islands, off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. The Bay Islands exist mainly for scuba diving. EVERYONE who comes to the islands goes diving; even if you don't dive when you arrive it's inevitable that you will before you leave. Arriving off the boat was overwhelming, as I was instantly bombarded by dive schools trying to sign me up. This is where I met Andrea, who worked for Deep Blue Divers and we hit it off instantly. She was really nice and offered to let me stay for free at DB for a night, while I decided which school I wanted to do my lessons with. Almost every dive school will give you free accommodation if you enrol in a course with them, but I wanted to shop around a bit before choosing, so this suited me perfectly. I was put into a room with 3 other girls. Debbie (Holland), Chessy and Romy (both from England and yes, that is honestly their real names). After the first night I almost left and went to another dive school because the room (which was more like a shack on the dock) was so hot and humid that it was almost unbearable. However, I met a lot of really nice people who were staying or working there, my "would be" instructor was really nice and the rates were pretty much the same all over the island, so I decided just to stick it out in my little sweat box on the dock.
Utila is a weird little Island with a population of only 2500 people, only 2 main roads and there are barely any cars (Although, there are thousands of motor bikes and quads). There are always more tourists on the island then there are locals (at all times). Lots of people come to dive for a week and then end up getting stuck there for months, like some weird Bermuda Triangle for tourists. There were lots of people at my dive school that this happened to (Becka, Manu, John, Kirsty, Freddie etc.). Most of them worked at one of the local bars, rented a house with about 10 other divers and then they would just dive all day and drink all night, which was a pretty good deal I thought. Most of them were doing their Dive Master Training (DMT), so when they were done they would either leave the island or find a job at one of the dive schools as an instructor and never leave. At first I really didn't like Utila. I thought it was kind of dirty, infested with sand flies, crabs and cockroaches and the beaches sucked. Also the local creole accent is INSANE and makes everyone sound like they're crazy drunk and yelling at you! I read somewhere (on the back of a bathroom door in a bar actually) that "Utila is the trailer park of the Caribbean" and to this day I've never heard a more fitting description of this Island. However, once you spend a bit of time there and get to know people (the long term tourists, not the locals…never the locals!), you start to feel like an odd little family. The Island may be a bit of a train wreck, but it has its own kind of charm that draws you in and makes you want to be a part of it.
I started my "open water" course with my instructor, Christian the German. He was a really good instructor and he let you do everything at your own pace, which made it really easy. I didn't really have any problems with the skills part of the course, but I was really not a fan of taking my mask off underwater. Clearing it wasn't a problem, but I just hated having to swim without it in the salt water. Christian made me take it off, swim for a bit then replace the mask and clear it of water about a million times (until I stopped complaining about it). Other than that scuba diving was a breeze and I really enjoyed it. We were diving in the second biggest coral reef in the world (which starts in Mexico and finishes somewhere near Venezuela). The water was crystal clear and really warm, so it was just perfect for diving. The boat went out twice a day and everyone who was diving would pile in with their gear and we would cruise out until we hit our dive location. I really love being out on the water, so I quickly got use to diving every day and just being out on the boat, it was pretty close to perfect!
Of course I passed my "Open water" course with flying colours and I was enjoying myself so much I decided to stay and do my "advanced open water". In your advanced you get to pick specific skills to learn as well as a few basic (navigation & deep diving). I choose to do night diving, wreck diving and peak performance buoyancy. During every dive we saw an abundance of different sea creatures like drummer, angel & damsel fish, seahorses, sting rays, moray eels, trumpet fish etc. my favourites were actually the jelly fish and the white spotted eagle rays. The rays would just glide through the water, so effortlessly. All the different types of coral and plants were pretty mind blowing as well. The shipwreck diving was a lot of fun, but the best was my first night dive. It's was really eerie at first because it was pitch black down there and I didn't know what to expect. Once my torch was on and I got used to the darkness, it was actually very relaxing. We went night diving at the perfect time because we got to see the coral spawning, which is the craziest thing I've ever seen. Christian took us about 20m down, next to a coral wall and it didn't look all that special. Then we all turned our lights off and everything changed. It was like that scene from the "Matrix"; there were all these bright, glow in the dark, green lines all around us. It was as if the coral was shooting up drops of liquid and they would then drip down in a straight line, leaving behind a pulsing, green glow. It was definitely one of the highlights of my diving….but not the best.
The absolute best day I ever had on Utila, happened by accident. It was a quiet day on the boat and there were only 5 of us and the Captain, Oscar on board. We were heading out to "Black Coral Gardens" to do some navigation skills when Oscar heard over the radio that there was a huge school of wild dolphins about 20 mins away. Christian decided we should go check it out and when we came up on them there were at least 30 to 40 dolphins. For some reason you shouldn't scuba dive with dolphins (I don't know why?), we were told just to put on our snorkel gear and slip in the water, off the back of the boat. It was amazing, they were all around us and they stuck around the boat and let us swim with them for ages. When they started to head off, we all jumped back in the boat and followed after them. For some reason, dolphins love boats and they will swim up in front of the bow and jump through the water, racing with the boat. They seem to think it's a game or something and they did this for a while with us. We all laid flat on the bow watching them, they were just inches away from us and it was amazing. We eventually had to break off and go do a quick navigation dive, as we had to get the boat back in time for the afternoon dive session. I would say this was the best day I had on Utila; it was so exciting to be so close to so many wild dolphins, they were just amazing to watch. I will never forget that day as long as I live.
Besides all the diving and snorkelling, Utila is pretty well known for its party atmosphere and nightlife. You're out drinking almost every night and depending on the night, everyone will go to one place to party (i.e. Tequila Tuesday's @ "Tranquilla's", daytime drinking @ "Skid row", Fridays @ Coco's etc.). Everyone at my dive school would go out together at night and there was always a party somewhere. We had many drunken nights out, but it was always a treat when John (South Africa) would come out. Once he was right in the middle of telling us some long story when he blinked and actually fell over, flat out, on the floor. After a few seconds he got up and carried on telling the rest of the story like nothing had happened, it was hilarious. This sort of thing seemed to happen to him a lot.
At "skid row" they have this really disgusting drink and if you can keep 4 shots of it down you get a free T-shirt. No one really knows what it is, but the bottle is brown and has a whole bunch of twigs and herbs and stuff in it and it taste like the worst thing in the world. After 4 shots you're lucky if you can still walk. It is some potent stuff, but everyone goes there to try it and everyone is walking around the island wearing their free t-shirts, like some sort of medal of honour.
While I was there John, Kirsty, Manu & Freddie all passed their DMT, so to celebrate they have a little tradition on Utila called the snorkel test. Every dive school in Utila has its own bar or "local" and ours was "Rehab", so this is where their snorkel test took place. Basically, they make the newly qualified dive masters dress up like idiots, take them to their local, make then wear a snorkel mask and then their instructor pours a vile concoction of booze down their throats through the snorkel. It is literally a bucket load of booze and a lot of it ends up coming back up, but these nights are always a good laugh.
Another great thing about this island was the food. Each country I go to has its own local specialities and they are not always good (i.e. Guatemala and its revolting tamales). Utila has an abundance of great food, like their pastilitos and Baliadas. There was this "restaurant" and I use the term loosely, where they made the cheapest and the best food on the island. Everyone would eat there and it was amazing grub. However, with the good comes the bad and there were a lot of bad things happening in Utila. As it's a tiny island in the Caribbean, it gets its fair share of storms. They usually roll in very fast, out of nowhere and the rain is torrential and fierce. The lightning on the water was amazing, but the storms would always knock the power out. These were the worst nights because no power meant no fans in our shack on the dock. This meant you would be drowning in your own sweat and you couldn't sleep because of the heat. Also the rain always brought the cockroaches out and we had a serious infestation problem in our little shack! There aren't many things that I am scared of, but I seriously hate cockroaches and the ones on this island can fly!!! Only short distances, but my god, were they fast. There were many times when I would walk into our room only to see a few of them in there and then I would have to stay outside until A) they crawled out of their own accord or B) I could find the night security guard (Old Joe) and get him to get them out for me. It was seriously terrifying and very annoying!
After finishing my "advanced open water" I had to decide what to do next. I was offered a job at Rehab, as a few staff members were leaving the island (as I said, there is a constant turnover of people on this island). Becky & Manu were getting ready to leave as well, so there was a room available in there house, which they said I could have if I decided to stay. I really considered it, but in the end I decided it was too soon to stop travelling and I couldn't take much more of the sand flies anyways. I'm not joking when I say this island is infested with them, they are ferocious and everyone was just covered in bites and scars from old bites. It seemed like everyone who had been at Deep Blue for a while was starting to go their separate ways. It was weird, but it was like a little family was breaking up and everyone was a bit down. I hadn't been there as long as most of them, but it was really weird thinking that we wouldn't all see each other every day anymore. Kirsty and I were leaving on the same day, so we had a big night out before we left. It involved a lot of tequila, dancing on tables, riding around on motorbikes with locals and the loss of my favourite (and last) pair of flip flops. It was a wild one and after that night I was happy to leave the island before the fear took over! Utila was brilliant!