Wow it really doesn't seem like 2 weeks since my last post. The past 2 weeks have definitely been a blurr. From Belize, I ventured to the island of Utila, one of the Bay Islands off the northern coast of Honduras, to learn how to SCUBA dive! Of course, the day I decided to make the seabound journey from La Ceiba to Utila was the one day in the last 2 months it decided to storm. And the thing was, the storm blew in only minutes before the ferry left so I had no time to prepare. The last time I got seasick I told myself I’d never let it happen again, but I was reminded of that terrible experience for the following hour as our boat was tossed about like a ragdoll in 10-15 foot swells with no way of focusing on the horizon because the view out the windows changed only from ocean to sky every few seconds. The only thing that saved me was the AC unit, which I stood in front of silent and motionless, pale and sweating profusely for the entire hour as I dreamt about how standing on solid ground would be 10 times better than winning the lottery.
Luckily, it was worth it in the end because the next two weeks were some of the best in my life as I ended up completing both my Basic and Advanced Open Water SCUBA diving certifications! I have no idea why it's taken me this long to pick up this sport - it is honestly one of the most amazing things I have ever done. It's one thing to see pictures, but to actually be swimming down there among all the fish and coral is an unmatched experience. The Bay Islands are well known for their beautiful reefs and cheap SCUBA courses, so I decided it would be worthwhile to stop there and give it a shot. Utila is the smallest of the 3 Bay Islands, but it's much cheaper and less touristy than its neighbor, Roatan.
There are about 10-12 dive shops on the island, all of which offer similar dive packages usually including the dive course, accommodation throughout the course, several meals, and 2 "fun dives" that you can make on your own or with a buddy after completing the course. I dove at the Utila Dive Center (UDC), one of the most reputable dive shops on the island and fairly well known throughout the world.
I had a blast diving there and met some really awesome people that I hung out with over my 2 week stay. Randomly, I ran into Felix, a Dutch guy I had met on one of the buses in Belize, at the ferry from La Ceiba (port on the Honduran mainland) to Utila, and we ended up hanging out for most of the time we were there. I never would have expected to see some random person I met on a bus in one country on a tiny island in another country, but I´ve now come to realize that random re-encounters happen way more often than you´d expect. In fact, I also ran into Will (Canadian guy I stayed with in Placencia) at a bar in Utila, and he literally just walked into the internet café I’m sitting at right now 4 days later in Leon, Nicaragua. I was shocked at first, but I decided I will no longer be surprised if I run into any of the same people during the rest of my trip. Most everyone travels along the same routs more or less, stopping in the same cities, so the likelihood of running into someone multiple times is actually quite high.
Our first night in Utila we met a group of Ozzies and Kiwis (and technically a French guy, although he had spent enough time living in Austraila to have converted his French accent into an Ozzie accent so we just considered him Austrailian) who we also ended up paling around with for the following 2 weeks.
Rick, Owen, Felix, Ed, Ahlem, Me
Ahlem, one of the Ozzies, and I were both doing our Basic Open Water certifications so we became dive buddies and convinced each other to stick around for our Advanced certifications. We couldn´t have asked for a better dive instructor (thanks Maddy!) either.
Me, Laura, Ahlem, Maddy, and Magal
We paid $35 each to have a videographer dive with us and take pitures and video. Javier, the Spanish videographer, did an awesome job and made us a really sweet video which I'll post to Facebook when I'm in a place with a decent internet connection (most likely back home). Although he spoke very little English, we ended up hanging out with Javier for the remainder of the trip, which was great because it gave me an opportunity to practice my Spanish, considering everyone else on the island speaks English.
Essentially, the only things to do on Utila are dive and party, so you can imagine how crazy and exhausting it can become once you stay there for more than a week. That is exactly why I decided I needed to leave; otherwise I think I’d be spending my entire 3 months there, convincing myself more and more each day to scrap my plans to go back to the States and think about beginning my career as a dive instructor. It is also why I've been referring to my 2 weeks on Utila as a vacation within a vacation, because that's exactly what it was. While there are local people that live on the island, the majority of the people are either backpackers or dive instructors (or dive instructors in training), so everyone dives during the day (many times starting as early as 6:30am) and parties at night. Most nights, we either hung out at the Mango (hotel we stayed at) or the dive shop before heading out to the bars. A popular game I had never heard of that is often played at UDC is called Nails. It's one of the simlplest, yet most entertaining games I've ever played. It consists of a wooden plank, nails, and a hammer (and usually beer, despite the obvious concerns). Everyone stands around the plank, gets their own nail and hammers it into the plank just enough so that it stands up on its own. Both the first and the last person whos nails are completely hammered into the plank are responsible for buying beers for half of the participants. This means that you go for nails other than your own at first, and then try to hammer yours in as quickly as possible as soon as the first nail is in (since that person had to buy half the round) and make sure your nail isn't the last to be hammered in (since the last person buys the second half of the round). The catch is that you only get one swing at a time, amd you must begin the swing with the hammer head resting on the plank next to your own nail before you raise it and go for either your own nail or someone elses in one fluid motion. The hammer gets passed around in a circle until the round is over.
Due to my outstanding coordination, I failed to hammer my nail in before everyone else so I lost the first round. However, I started to get the hang of it afterwards so I managed evade responsibility for more rounds of beer.
The 2 most popular places at which we spent most of our evenings are Tranquila Bar and Treetanic (called so because the bar is basically a big treehouse). Treetanic is actually more than just a bar, it´s more like a giant shrine made out of recycled glass and other random odds and ends. I can’t really describe it so I'll let pictures do the work!
Melanie, Michelle, Magnus, Sebastian, Hanna, Me
The other thing I have to mention about Utila is the food, which is absolutely amazing. And super cheap too! There are two main food items that are found everywhere on the island. The first is called a baleada, which consist of beans, rice, eggs, and usually some kind of meat and veggies wrapped in a tortilla. The second is called a pastelito, which is similar to the baleada except the interior ingredients are completely enclosed in some kind of delicious doughy wrap. Both the baleadas and pastelitos usually cost about 10-12 Lempiras (a little over 50 cents). On my second to last night on the island we all ate dinner at Pizza Nut and had some of the best pizza I've ever tasted in my life.
Julian, Me, Ellie, Rachel, Rick, Tom, Alex, Alehm, Javier
Fortunately it wasn't storming when I left the island but it was windy so the swells were still pretty big. This time, however, I prepared and took a motion sickness pill beforehand. It worked like a charm - the combination of the effects of the pill and lack of sleep the night before knocked me out cold after I got on the ferry and I woke up just before we docked feeling great! I can say with confidence I will never forget to take one of those pills before boarding an ocean-going vessel ever again.
From the port at La Ceiba, I hopped on a bus to the Honduran capital city of Tegucigalpa where I spent the night. I arrived at about 11:30pm, took a taxi to a hotel in the downtown area, then woke up at 4:30 the following day to catch a 6am bus to the town of Las Manos, located at the border of Honduras and Nicaragua. Everything was running smoothly until I went to the immigration office to get my passport stamped to leave the country. However, I quickly realized something was wrong when the immigration officer kept flipping through my passport pages mutiple times over. Apparently I somehow managed to skip the immigration office as I entered Honduras, even though I had gotten my passport stamped upon leaving Guatemala. So bascially, I got my stamp in Guatemala, walked over the border, and somehow walked right by the immigration office on the Honduras side. Which technically means I entered the country illegally. OOPS. So I was assessed a fine of $165. Another problem - I had about $50 worth of Lempiras on me and there is no ATM anywhere in Las Manos. After a lengthy wait and discussion with the officers in the immigration office, I was told I could go to the Western Union (of course there's a Western Union and even another bank, but no ATM) to have money sent to me by anyone that would care enough about me to get me out of that situation. Enough said... thanks Mom!!! I definitely owe you for that one :) Two hours later I was over the border WITH a new stamp in my passport (I triple checked) and on a bus to the Nicaraguan town of Leon, where I am now located. I am thinking about staying here and taking an intensive Spanish class for a week or two and taking advantage of all the volcano and nature tours they have nearby. Apparently you can go volcano boarding here, which is exactly what it sounds like: sliding down volcanic ash on a board. I will definitely be checking that out tomorrow!
I think that covers just about everything up until now so I'll update again once I have more adventures to report on!