French Angel Fish @ Neptune’s, Utila
We arrived on the little island of Utila after a very, very rocky hour on the ferry. Within 5 minutes of the engine being switched on, we were offered plastic bags. It took us a minute to work out why, but then there was no turning back. We scrambled for our travel sick tablets but it was too late. The boat was rocking so hard that practically everyone was extremely unwell.
Luckily, we managed to keep all of our food in the top of our throats, unlike the majority off the passengers and even the poor cat we could hear crying before we saw it being pulled out of the luggage in its soiled cat cage.
We grabbed our bags and managed to spot someone wearing a shirt for our hostel. We didn’t realise there was a shuttle, great! Turned out that the roads here are barely big enough for a motorbike let alone a van, it would have been quicker to walk.
We were staying at the Mango Inn, as we had five nights free accomodation with our open water course. We were meant to start the course that day but as we couldn’t get to the island the day before we thought we would have to reschedule onto a later course. We checked in, threw our bags into our dorm and headed straight to UDC where we met our instructor Hope. Hope (from Somerset in the UK) got us to fill out our forms, explained the process to us (we had only missed a couple of movies that we could watch on some tablets she gave us) and that was that. Now one of these forms was a medical form that asked every question possible, and before I ticked “yes” to “have you ever lost consciousness” I didn’t realise that it meant I would then need to go to the doctors and get signed off. Turned out that because I pass out in hospitals I now need a doctor to sign off saying I was able to dive, not in a hospital, but in an ocean. Great! It didn’t matter that much as Alice needed an appointment, we all know why.
Hope was fantastic from the start, made us feel really comfortable with catching up and got us sorted out. We went to the cash machine (we had tried to get some money out in La Cieba but the machine didn’t work) turned out my bank had blocked my card. That was a pain in the ass as we didn’t have any of the local currency. We ate at the restaurant attached to the hostel (had to pay 4% fee for paying on card) rang my bank and got my card cleared.
The following day we tried the cards again with no luck, we tried a couple of our other cards, no luck. This machine was being a real dick.
We got to the doctors (which we could luckily pay by card for) and Alice spent the best part of half hour trying to get the doctor to sign her off. The doctor didn’t like the word “seizures” as it was on her black list to immediately dismiss but somehow Alice managed to talk her round to signing her off. She’s a real sales woman.
Next I was up, I thought it would be a simple explanation but it turned out that I had to go through a full physical. At the end the doctor checked my ears and cleaned them out as one was completely blocked and would have caused a lot of issues when trying to equalised. I was pretty happy about that, no matter how gross it was having my ears washed out.
There were another couple waiting at the doctors who turned out to be on the same course as us, Danny and Rona. We had heard these guys the night before at the bar of the hostel and thought we had overheard Rona saying she worked at a “topless bar, a really classy one”. Rona soon cleared that up to a “tapas bar”, lost in translation in American accents. We all became fast friends over conversations of topless bars and ear wax.
We headed to UDC and explained to Hope that we couldn’t get any cash out, she was so nice to us and opened her tab at the cafe inside UDC to us so we could grab some coffees and food. We sat through a day of theory, caught up very quickly on the stuff we had missed the day before and that was that. We were joined on our course (along with Danny and Rona) by a lovely Dutch couple Mel and Ingrid and a slightly less lovely couple from the States who we fondly called Crepes and Grumpo. Poor Ingrid wasn’t able to dive as she had ticked there could be a possibility she was pregnant on the medical form so she had to wait for blood tests that had to go off to the mainland to be verified and that was apparently going to take ages. She didn’t think she was pregnant but the question was “is there any chance you could be pregnant?” So she ticked yes. Such a shame and such waste for them. It turns out she was not pregnant after all but the blood tests took four days and she didn’t get to do anything other than the theory. Being Dutch she didn’t seem to show any sign of real frustration or upset. She said she was a bit annoyed but she never stopped smiling.
Just before lunch we jumped into the water and had to do a swim and float for 10 minutes (yeah I panicked but turns out the water is so salty here that even I could float, I’m pretty sure a bag of cement could floated in this water). Of course Alice remained oddly buoyant with her whole head above the water for the full 10 minutes with no effort. We don’t quite understand how she floats so easily.
At lunch we ran home, tried another time at the atm but nothing, this was starting to get stressful. We also managed to run into a dive shop “The Dive Shack” and started the conversation about a prescription mask for Alice.
After lunch we tried on all of our gear, had a briefing and then jumped into the water to complete our first “Confined Water Dives”. This was harder than it seemed as we were in about 3 meters of water and trying to stay balanced with all the gear on and packed in like sardines with no visibility was interesting.
Hopefully The Best Instructor Ever @ UDC, Utila
That night we finally managed to get some money out on another card attached to the exact same blocked account, it was literally a duplicate(?!?!). That was a massive stress, although only one of our 100 cards would bloody work. We also managed to speak with Chris again at the Dive Shack about a prescription mask. He closed his shop for ten minutes to run to his house and grab his mask, which was the perfect prescription for Alice. He lent it to Alice for her to try and see if she liked the style. He ended up lending it to her until her own one arrived. He was so nice and so helpful! (I also purchased a neoprene head band for my mask so that I stopped ripping my hair out).
That night we got chatting further with Danny and Rona and ended up having dinner and a few drinks with them. During the day we had gotten to know the others in our class and got along really well with (mostly) all of them. Everyone that was nice was staying at the Mango Inn so we all hung out a lot during the week.
The next day we completed some more exams, theory and more confined dives. The coffee was back to normal, strong and tasty, the food was about average. As we had just spent three weeks and a bit of money learning Spanish, we were desperate to practice, but as Utila was British ruled until too recently (the British were forced to give Utila to Honduras in the 19th century) so practically everyone spoke English or Creol as a first language. Great. When we tried to order or speak Spanish to those those who did speak Spanish, we had responses like “So ya want two coffees then?”. We persisted in Spanish but t only was really necessary twice in the whole two weeks.
Once we had completed our five confined dives we were in the open water. For the first four dives we were still doing skills, but at least we got to go for a swim at the end. We had become close with Hope and the other dive masters/instructors that worked for UDC and were helping us in our course, as well as, of course, Danny and Rona, who we now spent pretty much all our free time with.
During our open water dives, Al and I would stay close to show each other cool fish and coral we would see. We would often hold hands so we didn’t drift off plus in the beginning I think we were a bit nervous. Hope thought this was very cute and funny. At one point we were holding hands and I turned to show Alice something and I saw Hope holding onto Al’s other hand, she was super sweet and apparently “lonely”. Bless her. We spent most of our open water dives (when we weren’t doing skills) mucking around with the dive masters including our favourite DM Monica and of course Hope, playing with the bubbles from our regulators, spinning upside down and of course Rock Paper Scissors whenever we were waiting for peopl. it was a lot of fun. The coral and nature underwater here was incredible, we had fallen in love. The water was crystal clear.
Qualified! W/ Mara (assisting instructor) and Hope @ Open Water, Utila
Friday afternoon we completed our last open water skills and became certified open water divers! We celebrated with a few beers, then a few more.
The next morning we did our two free dun dives that they offered after completing any course with UDC. The four of us were guided by Mattieu an awesome, funny French man. It was brilliant to dive without having to demonstrate skills and we could just see the underwater life and enjoy it! Underwater conversation is hilarious but Al and I actually understand each other very well using just signals. It was really fun to make her laugh so much so that her mask filled up and she had to keep clearing it.
That afternoon was spent playing monopoly deal with Rona and Danny for about eight hours straight due to torrential rain. We went to a local place called Gordo’s for dinner with a few other divers, it was the best food we had had on the island so far!
The day after qualifying we wanted a nice chilled day so we headed out with Danny and Rona to “Neptune’s” which was apparently a really nice private beach. After a tuk tuk and a free ferry we arrived in paradise. We were early enough to snatch up some lounge chairs and then spent the day reading, snorkelling, drinking, eating and chatting. It was incredible! The water was so clear and the snorkelling was excellent! Towards the end of the day, Danny and Rona told us this trip was their nine year wedding anniversary. We had no idea we had been crashing their wedding anniversary the whole week!
Paradise @ Neptune’s, Utila
Hiding French Angel Fish @ Neptune’s, Utila
We booked a few more “fun dives” with Danny and Rona. As we had done our certificates with UDC we were able to go out on their boats with a great discount plus it meant we also got our accomodation that night free!! We were able to just dive and enjoy the reef, and that’s exactly what we did. We were shown around some of the most beautiful reef by instructor Mary another English woman. Mary was awesome, very straight forward and very chilled. We still knew she was looking after us and Safety was her priority but she wasn’t worried about us drifting off a little to follow a cool fish because she knew we would be back. She was such a nice woman and had been on the island for over four years and we can see why!
We managed to spot some moray eels, angel fish, file fish, squirrel fish, puffer fish, trunk fish, cow fish, trumpet fish, shrimp, crabs and many many more plus a whole heap of some of the most beautiful coral either of us had ever encountered.
There was a diver on our boat hunting Lion Fish, they are an invading species that damage the reef and eat other native animals. There are free hunting laws for lion fish.
We “worked hard” so we spent the rest of the day relaxing by the pool at Mango inn. Getting free nights at this place with our fun dives was a pretty sweet deal and we had had no idea when we actually booked our course until we booked on to our paid dives!
Sunset From UDC Dock @ UDC, Utila
The whole time we had been at Mango inn in our four bed dorm, we had been the only ones in there aside from about 3 nights in total, despite then being practically at full capacity. We felt a little special, or smelly. Not sure.
One morning we went out with Hope and some of the team at UDC to do a beach clean up on the northern side of the island. We ended up picking up over 200lbs of rubbish. It was disgusting and eye opening to see the amount of straws, toothbrushes, ear buds, plastic razor handles and so many water bottles/caps. It was a very educational experience if anything.
We went to a couple of social nights at UDC, one beer pong night and a couple BBQ nights. We got to know the team really well and managed to make some really amazing friends. One of the nights we were hanging out and drinking on the dock, we watched as a spotted eagle ray swam under our feet and around the dock. It was incredible.
Old Tom @ UDC, Utila
We spent another day with awesome Danny and Rona, we were all pretty attached by now. We are unsure whether they were more attached to us or our monopoly deal as they had become super competitive sharks, well maybe not Danny as he took about a week to grasp the basic rules. We had heard great things about kayaking through the canal that split the island in half and having a pic Nic on the northern beaches. So with pic-nic packed (from Camilla’s Bakery which was amazing) we grabbed a tuk tuk from UDC to a place called the Venue and rented some double kayaks. We set off with an esky full of icy beers and high hopes. Thanks to Danny we found the canal and started paddling through. It was really narrow through the mangroves and it STANK. It smelt rotten as you would expect wetlands to smell like but you never really think about that stuff of hen you imagine kayaking through a lovely canal. The water was brown with the mangrove life and there were so many mosquitos. The upside to our very arduous and smelly journey was that we did see iguanas (including a pair fighting!), cool crabs, herons, limkins and a massive dead puffer fish. The puffer fish was all blown up and smelt putrid but Alice loved it. Alice kept make us stop to make films of the crabs and the birds.
Big Dead Puffer Fish @ The Canal, Utila
We slogged on and finally after about an hour or so we reached an opening. We were all delighted and relieved. That was of course until we saw the filthy beach and the shallow water filled with only sea grass. It was covered in rubbish, what a disappointment. It was low tide which didn’t help but no one told us that! Danny had to drag us out of getting beached, more than once.
The trip was meant to be amazing, “kayak through the natural canal to the northern beaches” they said, “take some beers and have a pic nic!” they said, was not quite the beautiful day out we had planned and really put the FU in fun, as Danny colourfully put it.
We gave up and didn’t have our lovely pic-nic on the filthy beach and decided to head back. I was really tired and am not the best at kayaking anyway and at one point I called the paddle and ore. I was really exhausted and when Danny tried to explain that it was not an ore and in fact was a paddle and went into why they are different he was met by “No one gives a fuck Danny!”. It just fell out of my mouth. That was the end of us, we all burst into tears laughing and spent the rest of the smelly kayak trip singing stupid songs and yelling at Danny.
We dropped the kayaks off and I walked straight across the street and, fully clothed, walked straight into the sea. I was desperate to get the stank off me. The public beach was pretty great and had wooden tables tops with palm frond umbrellas actually in the water. We hung out in the beach for a while, a random dog swam over to us and used us to keep him up right for a while as he watched the fish. It was quite odd, like he couldn’t swim properly.
Jess And Random Dog @ Public Beach, Utila
That afternoon a few games of monopoly deal and a few well earnt beers on the deck of a local bar, we all watched another spotted eagle ray swim beneath us. Honestly, this place is magical, it’s so beautiful. We couldn’t work out how we were ever going to leave.
That night Hannah (a freelance translator from Germany) whom we met on our Acatenango hike arrived at Mango Inn to do her open water course with UDC! A great coincidence, we all went for dinner at Gordo’s.
The next morning, Danny, Rona, Alice and I all had fun dives booked for the next morning and Hannah was starting her first day of theory. It would be our last dives on Utila, we had our fingers crossed for a whale shark sighting. About 10 minutes into our boat trip (with Mary) to our first dive site, we were told to get ready and believe it or not; we jumped in with whale sharks! Three dives and on the third we swam next to a 30ft whale shark for about two minutes. The experience of a lifetime. The Whale Shark was so beautiful and peacefully swam slowly as if we weren’t all floating above watching it.
Whale Shark! @ North Side, Utila
Then we managed to jump in with 12 Pilot whales, including 5 babies! We had been so lucky! We went off on our first actual dive and in between, before our second dive we went swimming with spinner dolphins! Words cannot express the experience we had on this dive boat that day. We had done a hat-trick and had the most amazing dives either side! Thanks to our captain Chucksy and our amazing instructor, Mary!
Pilot Whales And Calves @ North Side, Utila
Spinner Dolphin @ North Side, Utila
That night, our favourite dive master intern that we had become good friends with, Monica, had her graduation at the UDC BBQ. We had become close with Monica as she had been on our course helping us get through, then when we certified we got to watch her complete her dive master course. It was a big night for most and also a 90s themed night. We said our very sad farewells to the UDC team, who had some extremely lovely things to say to us, and some great promises of future catch ups and diving opportunities.
Monica And Us At Her 90s Themed Graduation Party @ UDC, Utila
We had our last breakfast (and game of monopoly deal) in the morning with Rona and Danny then they walked us to the ferry. These two turned out to be some of the nicest people on earth that we would genuinely miss, we promised to head to Wyoming ASAP to hang out with them in their home town. Plus we would have to celebrate our ten year wedding anniversary next year.
We LOVE Utila! w/ Rona and Danny @ Public Beach, Utila.
Utila, you stole our time, you stole a lot of our budget, but mostly you stole our hearts. Kicking and screaming we dragged ourselves off your island, away from your impecable reef and your beautiful people. Without a single doubt in our minds, we could have stayed here for months. We will be back.
We got a nice calm ferry over to the island of Roatán. We had decided that given the current unstable political situation in Honduras we were going to fly to El Salvador. The flights cost more than our flights from the UK to Mexico which was a bit difficult to swallow but we had decided better safe than caught up in a situation where just the week before 1200 refugees from Honduras had tried to get across the Mexican border into the US. Trump had turned them away and even later referred to them (and all other Central Americans) as “animals”. We had encountered a lot of Honduran refugees including a lot of children in the other countries we had been to which was really sad.
Roatan was relatively uneventful. Mainly because we were still sad about leaving Utila. We stayed at a place called Georphie’s which other than being completely empty and having a filthy bathroom was pretty good. We hung out at a beach, ate some amazing dinner and then the next morning headed for the airport to our next country, El Salvador.