We woke refreshed, after a peaceful night and were ready to leave our nice free spot by around 8am (Not something we do very often!). After nearly getting stuck on the loose rocks by the river, we bumped our way back into town on the dirt road. The ferry to Utila was due to leave at 9am, but we needed to buy tickets and wanted to give ourselves plenty of time. The system was a little backwards and we definitely needed that hour, bouncing back and forth between multiple places.
Firstly, we sorted the van. There is a large guarded parking space in the centre of the port where you can leave your car. You can’t go in until you’ve bought a ticket from a different office though. With that sorted we packed the cats and bought our ferry tickets. There was no extra charge for pets, which was nice and we headed into the waiting room to enjoy the air condition for the remaining 20 minutes before departure. Apparently, to sit in the waiting room, you have to pay an extra fee. To do that you need to go out to a random building in the car park and get a separate ticket. While a little illogical and a bit pricey, it was simple enough. Before long we were underway. The ferry is a modern looking catamaran type and takes an hour to reach the island.
We sat back an enjoyed the breeze, while Lizzy screamed from within her new backpack. Soon, Utila was in sight. We arrived at the dock and made our way down the little streets towards the dive centre. We were welcomed by Andy, who was in charge of bookings and the person we had been in communication with to arrange our stay. It was a straightforward thing, especially considering he was Irish. We paid for our course, laid out a plan for the day and headed to our room to get the cats settled in.
We were keen to keep the costs as low as possible and stick to the 4 nights that came included with the course. The room was a pit on the pricey side, a luxury of being private with air conditioning. This meant we needed to get started straight away, so after a couple of hours break we headed back downstairs and met Charley, our instructor from the US.
We got stuck into the practical straight away. Charley showed us how all the equipment worked and needed to be set up. We practised this a few times before heading out into some shallow water by the pier to start our training. For a beginner it’s a lot to remember at first, but I was starting to get the hang of it. Lee on the other hand was not so happy. Not being quite so comfortable in the water anyway, he had what we could describe as some kind of a complete freak out. We left the sea to regroup. Charley handled the situation brilliantly and was patient with us, and when we returned after an hour we managed to complete the basic training exercises. Now a bit later in the day that had been planned, we had a shower, grabbed some food and went straight to bed, exhausted. Who knew diving in shallow water could be so tiring?
The open water course takes around 4 days to complete and also includes two free fun dives at the end. As we had taken a little longer on the basics, the second day was spent practising. We learned how to clear our masks underwater, share air and what to do in an emergency, a horrible but necessary task. We also took all our equipment off underwater and put it back on again, I never realised just how heavy scuba diving equipment is! By the end of the second day, we were ready to try our first real dive. We headed out on the dive boat, with a few others. Our first dive was down to around 12m for about 40 minutes. We saw beautiful corals, hundreds of exotic fish and just missed a shark. Unfortunately, as we were training we weren’t allowed to bring a camera. Before we knew it, we had completed the four required dives and were signed off as certified divers. Now we just had two fun dives left and we could still make our ferry on Saturday afternoon.
As we sat at the bar having a celebratory beer, Andy mentioned yet again the next course. It’s called Advanced Adventurer and it sounded pretty fun. Charley had talked us through it already. We had another beer and contemplated. We were really enjoying ourselves now and the next course sounded fun. It also had the benefit of getting us certified to 30m rather than 18m, meaning we had more freedom if we wanted to dive elsewhere. This was after all, the cheapest place to learn. What started off as a joke, turned into a negotiation. Andy passed around free tequila and we discussed terms. In the end, we decided that if we could get the accommodation for free, we would stay the additional two days needed. There was one final hurdle to secure our extended stay… Charley had to drink a shot of tequila off of Andy’s belly. Charley was clearly passionate about us continuing our development and drank that tequila don like an 18 year old girl at her first university house party. With that transaction complete, there was no going back. You can’t ask him to do that for nothing.
The next day we had our two fun dives and then had a free afternoon before starting the next course. Up till then, we had been so busy, we had barely seen the island, but we did fit it a bit of a wander that afternoon, we needed to go and change our ferry ticket anyway. We headed to the local beach.
On our return, Lee went to refill the cat litter tray. We had used a giant disposable foil tray as a temporary measure but it had vanished. It was discovered, being used to by the chef to put his prepared fish in, we wouldn’t be tasting that anytime soon! As a few people arrived at the bar for Saturday night drinks, it was time for us to head out for the dive of the advanced course. This was the night dive. As you might imagine it was completely different to the day. The fish hid away and the crabs and lobsters were out. I saw a lobster that was bigger than I thought was possible, and a huge king crab stuffed its face on the sea bed as we hovered above. Little jellyfish pulsated different colours in the torchlight while giant parrot fish attempted to hide in coral that was way too small to disguise them.
The other remaining dives include; deep diving, buoyancy, navigation and wreck diving. The buoyancy was a chance to practice maintaining a neutral position in the water, something that is surprisingly hard to do and relies solely on how you breathe. The navigation was merely having a go with a compass. My favourite was the wreck, this was also a deep dive. Shoals of thousands of tiny fish swam around the coral covered decks and a giant grouper darted under the hull. The life here was a little different to that on sea bed. It was a long dive, fitting in four different dives, but at the end we had already completed our second course.
We arrived back tired, but happy. The equipment was rinsed off while we all danced around trying to avoid being eaten alive by the sandflies and mosquitoes. They were vicious here and it was time for our own dinner. One of the things about staying in a hotel is that we can’t cook, despite making ourselves some kind of sandwiches at one point we really had to eat out every night. We enjoyed a rather hearty meal at Buccaneers.
For our final day night on the island (for real this time) we headed to La Cuerva bar. Playing some rather good music, we had frequented it before to watch the traditional celebration when someone completes their dive master certification. This involves a lot of alcohol administered by a snorkel, normally followed by throwing it up again straight after. We had a few drinks with Charley before calling it a night. Not only was diving surprisingly tiring, but diving while hangover sounded very unappealing.
Then it arrived, the final day. We headed out for our fun dives. Andy accompanied us for some lion fish killing. While they are beautiful fish, they are not native and cause damage to the reef. By the end our dive though, thanks to Andy the deadly vegetarian, there was several less in the waters. We saw giant rays on the sea floor, a shoal of barracuda and much to my delight, a boxfish. We nearly had a chance to swim with some whales right by the boat but they were a bit shy unfortunately It was a great dive to finish our week and we were now both happy to leave and have a break. We thanked Charley, who had been a great instructor and packed our things before walking to the ferry.
In a time where Covid is still very much an issue, Utila had been a welcome break. This little island is a bit of an escape from reality anyway and I had barely seen a facemask all week, most people not wanting to use them. As we queued for the ferry we were told to put them on again. Once boarded, we were on of the few people sat on the open air deck. The same guy came and shouted that he would get me thrown off the boat if I took my mask off again, despite the fact that most other people up here weren’t wearing them either. With that, island life came to a halt and we headed back to collect Ruby in the pouring rain.
It had been nice to have a change from life on the road, but we were still happen to start driving again. It would have been nice to relax at our river spot that evening, but as we had stayed an extra two nights we had put quite a lot of pressure on ourselves to get moving for the visa. We has less than two weeks left and a whole other country to get through. So instead, we left La Ceiba in the dark and pouring rain. Not something we would normally choose to do, the roads being somewhat dangerous due to the terrible driving of others. This is even worse in Ruby with her notoriously steamy windscreen and terrible headlights. For the second time since we left Mexico, we saw a roadside fatality and we continued painfully slowed onwards, tailing a lorry for safety, towards San Pedro Sula.Another reminder about how dangerous nighttime driving can be!