The funny thing about Utila, is that its a bit of a black hole. Time just seems to disappear into it. So whilst I remember arriving, and I remember leaving, I’m not entirely sure what happened to all the bits in between. Caye Caulker was taking it easy with Tim and Stu, but Utila brought doing nothing to a whole new level. I’m really selling this aren’t I?
Matt, Max and I arrived at the port a few kilometers from La Ceiba with just 10 minutes to go. It was a little tight getting there since our taxi very inopportunely decided to fill up on the way there. The driver was quite anxious to get us there on time as well which meant a little pushing in at the pumps, not that there really was a queue anyway. Nevertheless we got our tickets and got on board, taking a place at the back of the Utila Princess II since the covered and air conditioned seats had all been snapped up by passengers with a little more foresight than ourselves.
The journey started well enough, despite being gassed as by the thick rising plumes of diesel fumes as we left port. However, it was as we left the shelter of La Ceiba’s port that we got a real taste for a boat journey on the open seas. Many westerners had taken up seats on the boxes of vegetables and other goods that were kept on the outside of the boat, and some were leaning against the back railings. Bad move. The waves got rough and the sea spray started coming in. Everyone was getting soaked. Max and I scrambled behind the benches that bolted to half of the outside platform. From there we could just about escape the worst of the spray apart from that which clipped my head (a bit too tall you see) and that which formed pools on the deck which soaked our arses as the ship pitched from front to back and rolled from side to side.
From our vantage point Max and I started to commentate on the various suffering passengers to pass the time and distract us from the violent passage of the ship. Matt was getting the worst of it. He’d taken up a position against the back railing of the boat to have a smoke, but wave after wave drenched him and left the dieing remnants of his cigarette his only solace. There was a group of teens from the US that had invaded the Jungle River Lodge the same day and had since followed us to the port. Like kids of that age they were completely unawares of their own mortality and many went to the back railing to join Matt and skid around in an oil patch. It was only after Matt had taken a more solid place in the centre of the boat that they realised the lack of a side railing which could have meant the end of them given a particularly large wave and lack of a good grip.
The journey had taken two more casualties by half way. One of the aforementioned teens broke down in front of us in a heap suffering from a panic attack. She was quickly joined by a number of concerned girlies who offered such gems of advice as “when you’re older you’ll be so glad of this trip”. The second casualty was a Swedish guy who had slumped further down into the now soggy boxes of vegetables. His high cheek bones and slender frame just added to the gaunt ill look he was currently sporting. Its often caricatured on television and in cartoons, but I can honestly say this guy did look green. He quickly became a marked man as a couple of the ship’s stewards came round handing out plastic bags.
After about an hour and half we made it to Utila, in one piece and with the contents of our stomachs intact. Our first night we spent at Under Water Vision dive centre just because they were offering the dorm for $3 (introductory offer only), but if you weren’t diving with them it went up to $8. Max went to find his friend Billy, a Divemaster on the island, returned successfully and even told us there was a pub quiz on that night. The first round was famous deaths, I was rubbish throughout (no surprises there), although I did do quite well on the spot the difference round.
The following day we moved down to Sea Side apartments opposite Ecomarine dive centre where Billy worked as a Divemaster, and also opportunely next to Skidrow bar, the venue of the previous night’s quiz. It wasn’t until the end of my stay at Sea Side that I found at that owner Carlos had in fact spent a year living and working in Derby doing some missionary work with former drug addicts and convicts. He showed me his photos of trips to Scotland, where he lived on Burton Road, Breedon on the Hill Church, and the inevitable Robin Hood shots from nearby Nottingham. Small world eh?
The rest of time on Utila all merges into one. I spent a lot of time on the beach working on my tan – yes I know, vain, but after 8 weeks in Central America I’ll only be mocked for coming back as white as before. On which note: audio books, they are the essential tool for tanning. Especially when they are neatly cut up into half hour episodes. Its not like reading a normal book which can usually induce neck/back/arm ache; just pop on you headphones, make sure the wire isn’t going to leave an embarrassing tan mark and off you go! You can be kept both entertained and have regular intervals with to remind yourself to turn over. Genius.
I did go diving, I think on the Wednesday, but there were complications. I had trouble equalizing on the way down on my first dive. I did manage to descend to about 20 meters after some trouble, but I was aware that my sinuses weren’t quite right. I skipped out the second dive (opting for more sun bathing instead), but by teh time we had reached shore things had gotten a lot worse. My right ear had become inflamed and was blocked leaving my hearing slightly impaired. I rinsed it out with fresh water, then fresh water and vinegar (as advised by the guys at ecomarine), took some drugs and then got some rest. The inflammation cleared up the following day (along with the pain), but a ringing in my right ear still remains and it sounds/feels like there is water in my tubes (not the technical term). Subsequent investigation (google and wikipedia) lead me to the self diagnosis of barotrauma for which I plan of visiting the hospital in Antigua to get it checked out.
Another place worthy of a mention is Tree-tanic, a bar built in the trees and decorated with mosaics of shells and glass and walls of wine bottles. This was also where I saw the infamous snorkel test – a recently graduated divemaster would have to drink a litre or so of cocktail via a funnel into their snorkel. A shot and a bottle of beer was usually added into the mix as well; almost always it would end messily. If the recent graduate was feeling particularly brave or their friends particularly mean they’d also have to clear their mask using the appropriate 5 point procedure – the only difference here being that it was beer that was cleared via the nose. Nasty.
I left Utila on Sunday (20th July) on the 6.20am boat, the ride this time being a lot smoother in the early morning surf. I was able to catch a Hedman Alas bus (luxury) from La Ceiba through to Copan Ruinas via San Pedro Sula. It is here I plan to stay for a few days, maybe until Thursday. I’m well ahead of schedule, at this rate I have a whole month in which to do Guatemala and Chiapas before flying home! I’m only halfway, whoops.
Until the next time.