– After spending a week as a island bum on the island of Utila, I figured I should be productive and finally start my advanced scuba dive course. The course was a small group of four people. First there was Adam, a 31 year old dentist from Rochester, NY. I actually met him the day earlier as he and his fiance Lindsey were my roommates for two nights and Adam and I started talking while Lindsey started her dive course. The other two people in our class were young Dutch kids, and yes Adam and I kept referring to them as “the kids” as they were so young and really looked it and were really shy. They also just finished their open water dive course and lacked any diving experience. Many times they ran into us or over us in the water, which really gets annoying so Adam and I just tried to swim away from them as much as possible since we were a buddy team.
Day One of the Course
– The first day of dives were not the most exciting. We started off with a buoyancy dive which was a series of tricks under the water swimming through hoops, knocking over weights with our regulator and then hovering upside down. It was good practice to get better at my underwater breathing control.
– Next was an underwater naturalist course. Out of water, we had to learn about different types of coral, sponges, animals and such and then start to spot them underwater and point them out to our instructor. I actually like this as all the rest of my dives meant more as I was able to know what I was looking at
Day Two of the Course
– The following day was a long one as we had three dives, but two of them were my favorite. Our first dive was the Haliburton Wreck (yes Dick Cheney`s old company). A large cargo ship was sunk there 12 years ago and now is a training site. It was great as it was a deep dive (at 30 meters) and also a wreck. This was the deepest I have dove yet and I was excited. I we entered the water, it was so dark and you really couldn`t see the wreck below. we had to trust our dive instructor as we went down. Since it was so deep, we only had 22 minutes to stay down that deep with our air supply so we had to be on the ball. Once at the bottom, we got to swim around the wreck and even penetrate the wreck a little. A very simple swim through with lots of openings so we couldn`t get trapped. Then we even had an assignment…we had to circle the front of it and map out all the entry and exit points and create our own map. Only problem was at one point, I got knocked into a sharp edge on the wreck and got a big cut and now have a wound on my ankle. I guess that is my battle scar! On the way back to the surface, we were surrounded by many tiny, pink jellyfish and that was very cool!
– The next dive was our navigation. We got to perfect our use of a compass underwater. Only problem was Adam and i didn`t do it that well. We were supposed to lead our buddy in a square using only the compass and I ended up making a 3 sided something and Adam ended up on the wall…so we both didn`t do too well, but we got better so that`s the main point. the second part of this dive was natural navigation where we are supposed to remember what we saw and how to get our way back to the boat by underwater landmarks. Sounds easy, but it wasn`t. After our guide lead out around and pointed our some landmarks, he sent Adam and me to go on our own back and took “the kids” further. Adam and I assume the instructor wanted to stay with the kids in case they did something dumb he would be with them and even if Adam and I didn`t make it back, we were more experienced divers and would be ok. This ended up being the case. “The kids” made it back fine with the instructor and Adam and I got lost and finally surfaced as we couldn`t find our way back. We felt bad and it sucked, but at least we were safe and it was nicer that the instructor had the faith in us. It was a long swim back to the boat thought…
– Last dive of the day was by far the best. It was the night dive. All I wanted to see what an octopus as they are rare and normally only out at night. At 6:30pm, we headed out with our underwater torches and started to descend. All the fishes we saw were different colors and the coral we saw earlier changed as well with little hairs that come out at night. At one point we sat on the bottom on the sea and turned out lights out. Kinda scary, but fun as we started to wave our hands around and all these electric blue animals started to appear. We could have stayed there for a while playing. As we turned our lights back on, I spotted an octopus and this was the most fun. We watched the octopus move on the open sand, change colors from translucent to purple to pink and then he would hop to little underwater plants and surround himself and start to suck any fish out of it. When that tree was done, he would hop or float to the next one and suck fish up. Watching this octopus was amazing and I could have stayed all night, but alas…we had to move on to find more red shrimp, lobsters and other fun stuff. I loved the night dive and can`t wait for another one!
Third day of Course – Special Trip to Cayos Cochinos
– I had heard of this special dive trip that was two hours away, but some of the best diving in all of Honduras as it`s a protected marine reserve. I was hoping to go, but the weather conditions had to be just right with no wind. I also knew if the timing was right, I could get a discount on the trip and two of the dives would count as my advanced scuba class…so it was really multi tasking and smart economically so I was on board. This whole day turned out to be one of the highlights!
– Only bad part was we had to be at the dock ready to leave at 5:00am. Yes I am having to wake up this early on my holiday. But we were in the water on our first dive around 7:30am and Adam and I have rented an underwater camera to try to get some photos. Immediately upon our descend…we saw our first nurse shark. It was a small one, but still a shark and we were quite close to it. This dive was going to be considered our deep dive, and since I did the NAUI Scuba course, I was allowed to dive to 40 meters, which is really deep. I wanted to do this in a course so I would have an instructor with me the first time I went this deep. All in all, the deep part was fine and I had no issues. On this first dive, we got up close with a large southern ray and Adam even got a picture of me as close as I could get safely. We also saw a total of four nurse sharks and I got a few good pics of the largest one! The best way to describe this dive is all the fish were super big as if they have never dieted nor had to worry about fisherman (as fishing here is illegal and highly patrolled by police).
– While we were sailing to the next dive spot, our captain started to do lone line fishing to see what he could catch. After about 30 minutes of driving, he got a big bite and pulled in a huge king fish. This was large and really fighting to get free to the point that we all had to move to the front of the boat while the fish was taken off the line and killed. I got a picture of it in the cooler as they needed to put it somewhere while we were diving.
– At this point, we headed down for our next dive and this was just a fun time to swim around and see all the fish. This was just great diving and a thrill to see so much
– At 10:30am, we were done with our diving and were allowed to start drinking. As it ended up, I was the first to start with the beers and soon after everyone started to join me. We had an hour drive to our secluded island for lunch. This island was great as only 50 people live on it and they were looking forward to us coming and cooking a fresh fish lunch. Plus since the island doesn`t see visitors often, everyone was out to meet up and talk, the kids wanted to play and the locals were singing and dancing for us during lunch. So a great afternoon on this island. I was able to walk around the whole island in about 6 minutes. It was nice to visit, but I can`t imagine living there day to day.
– Our dive group of 20 was the biggest drinking group ever as we finished all the beers and a 2 liter bottle of rum before we left the island at 2pm and this has never happened. It was fine as we all had a nice ride back and got a little sleep too…
Last day of diving
– I decided I wanted to take one more day of diving as it was one of the cheapest places in the world to dive and I heard the north part of the island was the great, but I hadn`t been there yet. So off I went. First dive was deep and the main attraction was we got to swim around in mazes underwater and there was a huge wall. Just sitting at the bottom of the sea and looking up 25 meters of this wall was outstanding. Plus we found two mori eels and one with the entire body exposed which is also rare. Such a great dive!
Swimming with a Whale Shark
– While waiting on the surface and heading on to the second dive site, we heard out captain say he spotted a whale shark when we were down and we were on the hunt to try to find him. This got everyone excited as it`s very rare to find a whale shark.
– Once our captain was great at finding these whale sharks as he can spot the swirling schools of tuna on the surface, we started our hunt. This meant we were all sitting on the floor of the boat with our knees around the person in front of us and just waited. We had our fins and masks on and when we were given the word to go, we had to scoot out fast and start to swim towards the shark. When in your life would I expect to say “hurry to swim towards the shark?”. Sounds kinda nuts, but the shark swims so fast and you have to be quick to see it. We had four attempts to see it and on the third and fourth try, I saw it. It was huge with spots and just amazing. Whale sharks are really one of the most rare things to see, so I feel pretty privileged to have seen it.
– One of the guys on my trip was lucky enough to get this video of the whale shark. As I saw this, I wanted to share the video as well as it was one of the coolest things ever!
Whale Shark video – Click on left you may have to copy and paste this link into you tube to view
– The end of the day was a huge party. We had another booze cruise and then a hog roast. The owner of the dive shop went out and got over 100 pounds of pork and the staff started to boil all the fat in an huge vat, then cut the meat, created special sauces and side dishes and after many hours of preparing this, we got to enjoy the feast. Of course nothing goes without problems and part way through, the entire island lost power and we were trying to cook in the dark with flashlights and then eat in the dark. After an hour, the power did resume…and it all was good.
– All in all, an amazing last week in Utila. Saw some of the most beautiful fish, sharks, rays and got to party and make more new friends. It was sad to say goodbye to Utila, but after 14 days in one place, and this was the longest I have stayed in one place, I was ready to move on.