Charging up on some Caribbean atmosphere

Itai is taking his diving course on Utila, one of the Bay Islands on the Honduran Caribbean coast. Since I am not planning on diving (explanations inside), we found a school that could offer me a relaxing surrounding for the 4 days Itai will be studying. This school is Captain Morgan’s; they run the course and offer lodging on a small, isolated little cay off of Utila.

We planned on driving from the Pulhapanzak falls to a small coastal town called Tela, and from there to a Garifuna village nearby, Tornabe, to spend the night. The Garifuna villages we see here in Honduras are somewhat different from we’ve seen in Belize. The Garifuna are descendants from black slaves who were shipwrecked during the 17th century, and mixed with the locals on the Caribbean islands, creating Black Caribs, a new ethnic group. Here they also speak a language that is somehow based on English (Caribbean English, so fun to listen to, impossible to understand sometimes), but they also speak Spanish (not so in Belize), though the music of their Spanish is audiable different than the “regular” Spanish we hear around. It’s the Caribbean vibe.. In Belize, their homes were mostly wooden houses on stilts, but here they live in small thatched hut-houses. The Garifuna, whenever we encounter them, are lively and funny and warm, generally speaking.
In Honduras there’s another special, recently created and similar ethnic group – the Miskitos. They are also a mix between African shipwrecked slaves and locals from the Caribbean islands as well as the mainland, and they are concentrated on the eastern coast of Honduras and a little on the western coast of Nicaragua (they don’t recognize the border). They were allies to the British, when the latter pirated the Spanish fleet, and fought against the Spaniards with English-supplied mustkets (one possible explanation to their name; although seems more reasonable it came from ‘mosquitoes’, that are all over the area where they live).

We arrived at Tornabe after a beautiful drive on the coast, and tried to find someone who, according to our book, offers accommodation. Itai asked a nice lady sitting outside with her kids, and she quickly ordered her older son to accompany us (this is common with the Garifuna, we’ve noticed; you ask for directions, and they offer to come along and show the way!).
We saw some rooms, but they weren’t to our liking. The boy continued with us to the next village, Miami, but we decided to return to Tela for the night. We paid him a little something for showing us around, and returned to Tela.
The area where Miami is reminded us of Punta Allen in Mexico or Placencia Peninsula in Belize – a very narrow strip of land, of only a few dozen meters; one side is a lagoon and the other is the sea. Like the sign said in Placencia – ‘your home here, ocean to lagoon’…

In Tela we saw some small hotels, but they were so disappointingly unfitting, and we don’t have too high standards! Just before dark we found a place that was ok, and we decided to spend the night there. Tela isn’t a big attraction, and we left early the next morning.
We drove right to La Ceiba, the coastal town where ferries leave from to the Bay Islands. If in Mexico we drove carefully along the coast, so as not to run over any great lizards heating on the road, here we found that we had to watch out for the huge crabs, running on the road.
The ferry we wanted to catch to Utila was scheduled for the afternoon, and we had most of the day freww for making some important phone calls.We drove back downtown, and found a restaurant with wireless internet. Ok, the only one we could find was Pizza Hut, but we stayed there for a couple of hours with the wi-fi and the air-con, and it was worth it..
It was the big day of Maya’s Bat Mitzva, and we called and talked with the family.

In the afternoon we arranged the car, and stocked our backpacks with a change of clothes, and enough food for the days on the island (islands are ALWAYS more expensive..). We left Don Pedro, our truck, at a guarded parking lot near the dock, hoping he’d be ok all alone for the rest of the week.

When the ferry arrived at Utila, there were lots of young, tanned people hanging around the dock, waiting to reel in fresh catches for the many dive shops on the island. Utila is THE place to learn how to dive – cheap, friendly and packed with party-kids. Almost everyone’s here to dive or learn how to dive; it’s the only thing people here talk about.
We checked out Utila Dive Center, where Itai’s brother Gil took a course a few years ago, but decided on something a little more mellow. Captain Morgan’s offers lodging for course participants, as all other dive schools; only their lodging and the place where the courses are held is not on Utila, but on a small little cay just off Utila. There’s a small community of fishermen mostly, no motorized vehicles, five churches, a few stores, a school for kids, and the diving school… Total number of residents on Cay – 500. Sounds good to me, since I’m not going to learn how to dive.

There are two main reasons why I don’t want to learn how to dive. First, I’ve only been snorkelling for a few years, and it took me so long to muster up the courage to really start enjoying it (I freaked out on Itai in Thailand over some sea-cucumbers once; they’re freaky). I don’t think people have any business being so deep under water – it’s not for us, we’re not built for it. Too much pressure, too many things might go wrong, and the animals – they’re not our kind… It’s too beautiful and therefore too dangerous. Swimming and snorkeling is quite enough.
All of this, I might have been able to overcome, but my second reason – it seems SO BORING to me. I can stand about ten minutes of snorkeling, no more. I could never survive being on a boat for a scuba diving excursion… It’s usually at least 30 minutes to the site, then about 45 minutes under water (45 minutes!! That’s SO long…), followed by about 40 minutes on the boat, relaxing (yeah, on a boat, out at sea; sounds like fun..), and another 45 minutes diving, and the ride back… Not for me.

We were scheduled to leave Utila for the Cay the next morning, and spent the night on Utila. In the small hours of the night we realized we made the right choice, not staying on the island. We could hear music from a few different parties, and people partying around everywhere. It must be nice, but not quite our thing..

We arrived at the Cay the next morning. There’s a small dock and right next to it, on the edge of the Cay, the Kayla hotel, where the divers from Captain Morgan’s stay. It’s a very basic place, but adequate. We got a corner room, with two windows – one with views of the dock, and one overlooking the sea. Looking out this window we feel as if we were on a boat – all we see is sea.

This is the sunrise on 1 July, as seen from our east-facing window. No, we didn’t watch it; it’s too slow. We just got up really early to set the camera. It’s much better in 20 seconds:

I was prepared to hang out around the tiny little Cay for the duration of Itai’s course. He got a nice and super qualified instructor, who happens to be an Israeli (small world..), and a dive buddy from Australia, Shaun.
Their first dive, after some basic explanations, was a confined dive, right in the water near the rooms (I could see them from one of the windows). Afternoons and evenings are for studying theoretical stuff – there’s a manual and some movies. Being smart (and a smart-ass), Itai barely had to study for the quizes, and passed them all with flying colors (he could have explained everything the manual teaches to everyone anyways, even before he got his manual…).

I spent the first day walking around the little Cay, hiding in our room from the heat, and lounging around. It was my birthday, after all!
For dinner, we went to a small, local restaurant, that has a barbecue dinner every Saturday night. It was delicious, and the lovely Caribbean atmosphere seems to sit well with us.
The Cay is very nice, and is over-crowded with wooden stilt houses. Walking from one end to the other takes about five minutes, and all around are the rest of the Utila Cays – just a bunch of tiny little islands, quite close to one another and to the main Island, Utila.

The next day they already left for a real dive, going down to 12 meters. It was a long day and they only came back at around 14, and had some reviews until 15.
In the morning I walked around the island. It was Sunday, and most everyone were going to church, dressed in their best clothes. The Cay was quieter than usual, except for loud singing from the churches; it was like religious/country music – ‘what would I do without Jesus, what would I do?’. This Cay is so calm, and everyone seems nice and friendly.
There are some big crabs around, prowling the narrow streets; they’re easily mistaken for cats – so big. There’s a weekly routine that the divers fit right into – the Cay View restaurant has Saturday night barbecues; the green store has freshly baked cinnamon roles on Monday mornings… It’s hard not to relax into this Caribbean atmosphere.

On their last day of the course, our third day on the island, they went diving again, reaching their limit of 18 meters. Itai said they saw an eel, and a sting ray, and they also snorkeled with dolphins playing around them! Itai and Shaun had completed their final exam and are now qualified Open Water Divers! We celebrated with a shakshuka lunch on the dock.

For dinner one night, Itai and Shaun bought some fresh fish; there’s a fish factory on the island and they got the fish all cleaned out and ready to be grilled. Itai quickly mastered the art of grilling fish, and it was a royal meal. We repeated the success the next evening.

On our last day on the Cay, after Itai finished his course and the extra fun-dives he was entitled to, we took one of the kayaks from the hotel and kayaked to Water Cay. It took us almost 30 minutes to get there. It wasn’t even 0830 in the morning, and the sun was SO hot.. The Cay is nice, but not too interesting; it’s smaller (a few dozen meters) and more deserted than our Cay (no houses/residents), but the excitement over the emptiness of it soon blows over, and there isn’t even interesting snorkeling around it. After a short while, we cayaked our way back to the hotel, and snorkeled around the dock. Much better…
It’s the Caribbean – the water’s clear blue with shades of green, the sun is strong but there’s a nice breeze to keep us cool.. A typical Caribbean morning. Itai chased some fishes around the dock and deep underwater, and once again reminded me why it was best that I didn’t go diving (my mask fills with water and I freak out – better near the surface than 18 meters below!).

SOON TO COME – underwater pictures!
We finally cracked open the underwater disposable camera we’ve been carrying with us since Texas. Now we just have to finish the film, and get it developed.
Wow, the old-school non-digital cameras are complicated; the film needs winding, and we must conserve pictures.. We gotta get an underwater DIGITAL camera asap.

One Comments

  1. I’m also afraid of deep water, ( and swimming creatures) but I did snorkel in Australia AND ENJOY IT!!!

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