Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras, Central America 2007

Scuba Diving

Utila, Honduras

Roatan, Honduras

Bonaire, Netherlands Antilles

Cozumel, Mexico

Florida Keys, U.S.A.

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My Aquarium

So the Bay Islands became the destination of choice for the 2007 trip. Things were a little different this year as compared to past years. For starters, I traveled with my father on this trip. He wasn't yet SCUBA certified, but I planned to change that on this trip. Secondly, I wasn't only visiting Utila to explore their reefs, I was visiting to explore and digest their culture. I am, after all, looking very closely at making Utila my home for a couple years.

Getting to Utila is half the fun it seemed early on. If you know me well you have a good idea at how much I fear flying. The photo above shows the plane that would carry us from Roatan to Utila. I think it held about 12 people max. I really feared the day I would have to climb upon a propeller driven plane to reach an island. The day arrived, and obviously I feared it for good reason. Our plane had a fuel leak dripping, or more like streaming, from the engine. After the 4 hour wait at the airport for this flight, and the numerous Port Royals consumed, our spirits were in good shape. When my father spotted the fuel-leaking engine he asked me if that was a bad thing. My response set the tone for the up coming week. "Only when it stops leaking," I responded, assuming we would then be out of fuel if the engine was no longer leaking.

As much as the flight scared me shitless, and believe me did it ever, it was also very fun (now that I'm safely back in the states with both feet firmly on ground). The photo above is of Roatan shortly after we left for Utila. I'm disappointed the plane didn't have better windows to get some killer shots of the islands.

The mangrove swamps of Utila can be easily seen in the above photo.

So I had read and read some more about Utila and what I should be expecting upon arrival. No amount of reading could truly prepare a Chicagoan for this, although I was expecting it. The photo above shows the Utila airport at rush hour. Seriously. The ATV's and golf carts are the taxi's to transport us to hotels. Seriously. The little league dugout is the waiting area for out-going flights. Seriously. No employees work here. The runway is not pavement - it is gravel. Seriously.

For a 360 degree view of the airport download this video.

One of the island's six pick-up trucks showed at the airport to help get us to the hotel. My father and I, being of larger stature, were awarded with the truck. Only problem was we had to help load the taxi with all of our gear and the gear of others. Oh, and we had to sit on that gear for the duration of the ride to the hotel.

Right about now I'm laughing my ass off. I was expecting all of this. My father, on the other hand, was not, and he was in pure panic mode. This wasn't how he envisioned a tropical island getaway.

Sitting in the back of the taxi on our way to the hotel. This was what the countryside looked like near the airport.

Our hotel was actually quite adorable. I'd highly recommend it and won't hesitate to return or send friends to this location. The AC worked very well (not always the case for those familiar with Caribbean travel), rooms were clean and insect free, etc. Another view of the hotel -

Check out the log-burning stove used at the hotel... it made some great pizzas I'll say (this coming from a Chicagoan no less).

Once checked in we decided to track down our dive shop to check-in for classes tomorrow. At the very center of town (not hard to find BTW) I spotted a recognizable sign to help me find my way around the island. Although I would later find out you can't possibly get lost on Utila, I still felt comfort in knowing this landmark.

Yes, its true the real Captain Morgan was killed by Utilians (I won't hold that against them tho), but the real sadness developed once I discovered Captain Morgan Rum cannot be located on the island. Geez, holding a grudge against the dude a few centuries later I suppose. Strike One for not living on Utila. How can one possibly live on a Caribbean Island and not have spiced rum? Oh the humanity.

OK, a few more blocks down the way we came across the dive shop I traveled so far to experience.

If I live on Utila I plan to attend this school, so it was only natural to want to attend the school for a bit to get a feeling for how the instruction is taught, classes run, instructors confidence in teaching, etc. I choose to do my Rescue Certification course with them. Both the school and myself received high marks upon completion of the course.

Up until this point my father was still undecided about going through with his SCUBA certification. He was making up excuses faster than I could swat them away. That was, until, he met who his instructor would be.

Meet Kaitlyn, a 22yo Canadian with blonde hair, blue eyes, and an endearing smile. Upon learning that Kaitlyn would be teaching the Open Water Certification course for the following week, my father was dead set on completing the class. My work here was done. Nothing like some cute T -n- A to help convince the old man. And yes, dad is now SCUBA certified.

Unfortunately, I was not able to do any fun diving on Utila, mostly because I was there to receive my Rescue Cert, but also partially because I became ill during my visit. Too bad, too, as the one dive I did the reef looked amazing. I didn't have my underwater camera along for the ride because it was my check-out dive for my class (read: the instructors were too busy ripping my mask off my face, taking my fins off, and turning off my air at 40 feet of depth to really care if I got any photos). No doubt I will return, next time without anyone turning off my air supply. However, I can say the instructors were awesome, the dive boats top notch, and the shop well run.

One of three dive boats above, the pier below...

As far as Utila is concerned,... what an adorable little island. The best way I can describe it was like taking a time machine 50 years into the past. Like I mentioned above, the island has all of 6 cars/trucks. They are all older than 20 years. I honestly do not understand how they still run. Other than those vehicles, everyone either has an ATV, golf cart, moped, or bicycle. The road, as shown below in the next two photos, is very narrow. In most location if 2 cars were to come at each other head-on they would not be able to pass one another. I guess that is a safe way to ensure cars don't take over.

and...

Other than the SCUBA diving or attempting to escape reality there isn't much of a reason to come to Utila. It isn't known for its beaches, although it has two very nice beaches.

I'm not sure why but I found this somewhat comical... the parking lot for the beach was designed for golf carts and ATV's.

Unfortunately five days on Utila does not give you a chance to actually see the island. Besides SCUBA, Europeans love this island for the vast area of unspoiled mangrove swamps they can use for hiking and mountain biking. Maybe the next time I'm there I'll have time to explore these other options. But for now, SCUBA and bar-hopping fit perfectly into my schedule. Naturally the most popular bars were water front, as the next series of photos show.

Front view above, rear view below...

One evening walking into this bar I passed a drunk local who made me bust out in laughter. Here he was, propped up along a wall seated on his bicycle. He turns to me to speak and me, half expecting something worthwhile, I anxiously await his drunken words of wisdom. He says to me, "Jesus Christmas, that Sambuca hits you hard!"

"Yes sir, the flammable black licorice liquor does pack a punch," I concurred.

Besides the waterfront bars, one particular bar stood out. It starts in the tree tops of Mango trees and extends in a LSD-like trip from there. I think it was called the Tree-Top Bar, or something like that, but it was located inside the Jade Seahorse.

I was told this hotel/restaurant/bar is the creation of a retired San Francisco University art professor. Don't quote me on it, but it kind of makes since if you think long and hard about it. The next series of photos show the bar in varies stages. It just wanders from room to room...

Before moving on to the remainder of the vacation there are a few more images I'd like to bring to attention. First, I don't think the only bank on Utila will ever be a concern for a robbery -

The one place divers hope to not have to deal with -

The only gas station on the island (notice the lack of a name).

And finally some artwork on the seawall (they do love their whale sharks down there).

Eventually our 5 days on Utila expired and we had to move along. Dad wasn't so hip on the idea of taking the prop plane back to Roatan. The Navy vet in him felt safer on a ship I suppose. So the ferry it was.

In order to get to Roatan, the ferry had to take us to La Cieba, Honduras (mainland), before catching a connecting ferry back to Roatan. The view coming into Honduran Port was wonderful.

For what its worth, despite being in panic mode upon arrival, dad was truly saddened to leave. Utila found its way into dad's heart. Roatan had some big shoes to fill.

To view all the images from Utila please follow this link.

To follow the vacation to Roatan, please follow this link.

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