It’s a bitch of a trip to get to Utila but while I was here I’d may as well get my advance open water certification. After another bumpy ride out of Semuc Champey which included various stops by the driver to recharge his phone credit, make a few calls, send texts whilst driving on muddy and sketchy and perilous cliff tops as well as stopping to chat to the driver of a broken down truck, we finally made it to Rio Dulce. From there we jumped onto a boat that would ferry us through the River Dulce and into Livingstone where we would stay overnight and try to find the most direct and convenient way to Utila.
It was all peachy until the heavens opened up on the hour long fast ferry trip in an open top boat and were forced to use a tarp to shield ourselves from the rain. Well we finally arrived and was greeted by Rusty from Iguana Hostel and showed us to our rooms. Again, the heavens opened up to what seemed like a hurricane and I spent most of the night preventing the rain from coming in horizontally through the gaps in the wooden huts and onto the bed. After leaving the place I found out this was probably a good thing as apparently the staff there are known for getting guests wasted on drinking games, getting naked and performing leude acts.
There were other some other people who I had met at Zephyr Lodge in Semuc who were on their way to Utila as well so we all 11 of us teamed up and booked a direct trip to La Ceiba via a private shuttle ride and two ferry trips, one involving a bottle of rum and a lot of hurling overboard.
Utila is the smallest of the three islands that make up the Bay Island area off Honduras. Originally used in the 1500’s for slave trading and pirates, the Islands are now used primarily by gringos to holiday and to dive at an extremely cheap rate at the second largest reef structure in the world. Everything is within a central location with only one main road running along the island coast with most of the business on this stretch of road. Walking up and down the road you will without a doubt run into people you have either met on previous cities or the time you’ll spend on the island.
I hadn’t organised a place to stay or a dive school to join up with but the rest of the crew decided to go to Underwater Vision as they had some dive and accomodation packages. Essentially, book your diving through them and you get three nights there. Pretty hard to beat ay? Now I’m not sure if it’s a good or a bad thing but we literally arrived on the opening ight of Dive Week, which is a week of parties and self promotion really for all of the dive schools and the island itself, so there wasn’t any shortage of things to do that week. I think on each day I broke the rule of avoiding alcohol the night before diving.
Getting your advance certification isn’t as hard as getting your initial open water certification. It only involved four dives and completing a few pages of theory. The technical dives we did were: Night dive, wreck dive, 30m deep water dive, peak performance bouyancy and you also got a couple of free fun dives. The wreck dives and peak performance buoyancy dives were fun to do, however in my opinion the diving was better in Caye Caulker. Although all of the locations were pretty accessible, they were overcrowded and lacked marine life.
When we weren’t diving we were pretty much hanging out in hammocks, walking five paces from my room to the ocean for a swim, riding around the island on bikes or playing beach volleyball around the grounds and settling into the evening by enjoying the spectacular sunsets and thunderstorms that would pound the distant coastlines.
Food wise, Utila was actually pretty good. Here, I developed an obsession with Baleadas which are a folded tortilla stuffed with various ingredients beans and cheese and grilled on a hot plate and dirt cheap. I also found myself eating copious amounts of empenadas as well and eating alot of BBQ’d food and seafood. Unfortunately it was just before the lobster season so i didn’t have the opportunity to feast on my favourite shellfish delicacy. I also had probably the best pizza I’ve had outside of Italy from a local bakery.
I originally planned about 5 days in Utila but instead stayed ten days. I probably could have stayed longer like some of the crew I went with but after ten days, the sand flies were just too unbearable. I had used up half a tube of Bushmans Deet so some of us decided to bail and head to Nicaragua.
I’d highly recommend Utila for anybody interested in diving or with a purpose of getting their certification as well taking part in the many drinking challenges around the island bars. One can literally build up a wardrobe of singlets and shirts from the bars by completing their drinking challenges. The staff and instructors at Underwater Vision are super cool and well travelled and experienced. The equipment may be a bit run down but nothing too life threatening. I had a couple of BCD (Bouyancy control device) fail on me but I could still inflate it manually and nothing like a bit of experience handling problems underwater to improve your skills. The locals are super friendly and it’s hard not to run into them everyday when you’re getting your baleada, freshly squeezed orange juice or picking up a tasty empanada snack.
Snorkelling with dolphins