Thanks to our fantastic guide Ricardo @ Garifuna Tours we managed to have an extra 2 hours in bed this morning which was a welcome luxury. We had thought the morning ferry to Utila left at 6.30 but it was actually 9.30 and so we awoke refreshed and ready for our final stop, the party island of Utila. When I had been planning the trip probably the hardest decision I made was between Utila and Roatan. They are both Bay Islands off the Caribbean coast of Honduras and while Roatan is much more built up and regularly hosts cruise ships Utila is smaller and quieter and is more focussed on diving. So we opted for Utila, the diving and party capital of Honduras.
It was a quick 1 and a half hour drive down to the ferry port at La Ceiba where we left our car in a safe security guarded car park. We tried to ascertain how much this was going to cost but didn’t get to far so instead got our tickets for the Utila Princess and even had time to get a small street food breakfast before jumping aboard. This ferry was much more tourist friendly than the one in Ometepe but without the charm. Everyone was kept inside an air conditioned room with 4 tv’s each playing different Paul Walker films. The authenticity of mainland Honduras was already being diluted.
As we left the ferry there were a lot of hotel people shouting the name of their establishments to try and get new business. We heard the name of the dive centre we had booked – Underwater Vision, on a friend Dave’s recommendation – and jumped into a free tuk tuk up the road to the place. I should at this point explain that because we only had 3 days on the island and wanted to get 2 specialty certifications as well as a few fun dives I had emailed to work out a pre-planned schedule of diving with the dive centre to enable us to maximise our time on the island and get the most out of the diving while also having a relaxing last few days. Unfortunately, when we arrived no-one seemed to know anything about the ‘plan’ and the instructor we had made it with was out on the morning dive boat. We left our bags in the storage facility and after explaining to the girl were told to come back at 1 and we could work out a diving plan. It was only just after 10.30 at this point and we had been planning to dive that day but instead sat just behind the little beach area in the sun waiting for someone to tell us what was going on.
We quickly learned the ‘chill’ aspect of the island. While this is fantastic if you have a week or so here and can wait a few days for people to sort out a course for you, if you are on a tight time schedule it can be rather frustrating. Our instructor Dave, finally came over to introduce himself just after 12 and he seemed really excited about teaching the 2 specialities we were doing, wreck and enriched air nitrox. This gave us some confidence and we sat down to lunch to enjoy a burger and chips. After all the authentic rice and beans food we had been eating it was nice for some good old western style comfort food, what Underwater Vision specialises in. It was clear at this point that no diving would be taking place that afternoon either, which was frustrating but just the way and so we sat down to watch the dvds and start the theory sections of the courses we were taking. It was clear there was not much too the theory and after some careful consideration we approached our instructor to ask if we could do the theory for both Wreck and Nitrox the next morning to allow us to fun dive on our final morning rather than spending another morning in the classroom. He was more than accommodating for us and even though it meant he would have to do more work said he would fix it up for us. Thank you Dave!!! We enjoyed some great sushi for dinner with our course mate Nick and his friend who was doing his Openwater Course, what Underwater Vision is most famous for. It was a great chilled night and when they all left to head to the first bar of the night we retired to read our course materials in preparation for the next morning.
After a tasty breakfast burrito we did the knowledge reviews for the wreck course and then the nitrox course followed by our exam. It didn’t end up taking too long and we had plenty of time to grab a sandwich before heading out on the afternoon boat to the Haliburton Wreck. The wreck specialty consists of 4 dives. One where you swim around the wreck and just kind of check it out. The second where you map if using underwater slates to enable you to do a dive plan for entry and exit of the wreck. The third where you practice using a reel on the outside of the wreck and the final where you penetrate and go inside. We did our first 2 dives which were pretty relaxed as there wasn’t too much too them. The wreck was in perfect condition having been sunk for divers and so made a perfect training opportunity for us. We saw a fair few fish and some absolutely massive groupers but unfortunately on training dives no cameras are allowed and so I have no pictures. By the time we got back to the island it was 5.30 and we were so hungry. We de-kitted then after a quick dive log headed straight out to RJ’s for dinner. It was one of Dave’s recommendations and was just down the road from the dive centre. We both had a different barbecued fish, Barracuda and Kingfish. Having had so much Kingfish in India I just had to try it again and it did not disappoint. The portions were huge with lots of different sides and both of the fishes were fantastic. We headed down to Samantha’s supermarket to get some quick breakfast bars for the next day before getting a nice early night.
The next day was going to be mammoth. We had 2 fun dives in the morning. The boat left at 7.00 and you had to kit up before going so we had a quick breakfast in bed from the night before and then headed over. We were the first ones there and so had a chance to chat to Lover, who was one of the dive-masters leading the fun divers that day. Unfortunately, we were put in a huge group of ‘just qualified’ Openwater divers and so the air consumption was not good. They all had a tonne of problems before we even went down and then after about 15-20 mins they were out of air. This was quite annoying for us as this was the only fun diving we could do and so on the second dive Lover took the offending air consumers to the surface while we continued on. We even managed to spot an Eagle Ray which was really cool. After we got back to shore we had to order lunch then run about a mile down the road to personally verify our nitrox tanks then carry 2 of them each back the mile to the dive shop. It was pretty awful as the tanks are very heavy and we had just come back from a morning of diving so were already tired. We had time to quickly eat lunch before we set off on the boat again for our reel and penetration dives. I had been feeling quite nervous about the penetration but it was actually completely fine and although we bumped off the ship a tiny a bit thanks to our Buoyancy training in Corn Islands we were able to control ourselves pretty well. It was fascinating to be wandering up the stairs inside a ship, underwater and imagining all the people that had done that while the ship was afloat all those years ago. I will definitely be checking out some more wrecks now that I have the wreck penetration license. We headed back to shore and ordered dinner, Chicken and pork barbecue at Underwater Vision tonight before saying our goodbyes to everyone and packing up. Although our time on Utila had not been as planned we had managed to get 2 specialties and hang out with some really cool people. The dive centre are probably one of the most professional I have used and were really thorough making sure you understood everything. It’s a great place, especially if you want to get your Openwater license which they regularly churn out.
It was so surreal to think this was our final day of the holiday. It felt so long ago that we had touched down in Managua and because we had been constantly on the go the whole time we never really thought about the end, but here it was, as horrible as ever. We headed to bed and set our alarms for the disgustingly early times of 5.00a.m to catch the early 6.30 ferry back to La Ceiba. We picked up some street food breakfast at the same place at the ferry port as before and then settled in for our final drive back to San Pedro Sula. We made pretty good time and after dropping the car Carolyn had to run off through security to catch her flight. I, meanwhile was told my flight was full and would therefore have to wait until 6pm (7 hours) for the next flight to El Salvador. I was given some food vouchers and used these to get some fried chicken since this was the only place in the airport with wifi. After eating up I managed to still stay connected to the wifi while sitting on the floor next to a power socket to charge up my laptop and phone, this was my best achievement of the day! The time actually passed really quickly and I had the surreal experience of sitting in the middle of a baggage handler’s daily meeting which was conducted in Spanish. They were clearly not used to having British imposters and I caused quite the distraction to the staff who were all looking at me and trying to converse in broken English. I left with 2 of their numbers, I wasn’t quite sure how to ask in Spanish what they wanted me to do with these but smiled politely and put them in my document folder.
It was a quick 40 minute flight to San Salvador where I had time for a jalapeno steak dinner and to buy some of the local rum before heading back to Managua. I stayed in a very interesting ‘love hotel’ which I was assured had nothing to do with making love at all. It was really close to the airport and was convenient as you had a parking space right next to the room door so you literally stepped right in and after my busy day of travelling this was exactly what I needed. A few hours later I had another mad dash to the airport, I was the last person to check in for my flight but on the plus side there was no queue at check-in. I did a frantic last minute present buying spree and then sad a fond farewell to Central America. What a trip! I had some pretty great sushi again in Houston and a great view of the Chicago skyline before another mad dash through O’Hare to make my final connection back to Edinburgh. There was a phenomenal sunset over the Atlantic and I awoke the next day so some gorgeous views over Scotland as we came in to land. Until next time…