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HONDURAS | Tuesday, 23 July 2013 | Views [7362] | Comments [1]

So I'm on a ferry now (known as the vomit comet), leaving the paradise of Utila early for a 40 hour marathon of ferries, taxis, 4 aeroplanes, and a two hour car ride to get home to my family in preparation for my grandfather's funeral. I didn't know this is what I would choose to do and as much as I hate to be leaving I feel like it's a choice I had to make for my family. I feel like my mum needs me. (What? Mummies girl? Me? No...)

Utila has been a crazy whirlwind experience and an introduction to a totally different way of life. It's an island that for the most part, time forgot. Technology is quite far behind, presumably due to the economy and high levels of poverty. Most phones are prehistoric by Western standards, few locals have computers and while you can get wifi, I thinks it is mostly restricted to houses or businesses inhabited by foreigners and tourists.

For transport, chances are if you don't just walk, you ride a bike (most likely one that has obviously seen many owners and is now about to fall apart or disintegrate into a pile of rust). You also see various modifications to bicycles, to allow for the owner to carry items for sale or delivery (think a ute equivalent for a bike), some of them look really weird but they do the job. Next step up is a scooter or small motorbike, then a four wheeler (quad bike) often piled up with whole families or groups of friends. I always feel like any second one will fall off and get squashed but luckily never witnessed that. Then you get your golf buggies, some of which are so pimped out they're like a sports/all terrain equivalent with massive, deep tread tires. You can also get one of the many three wheeler tuk tuks, that really should only fit about 3 people but squish in as many as seven. I should mention too it’s very common for dogs to jump on the motorbike/quad/tuk tuk/golf buggy or whatever other vehicle with their owners, they’ll stand or sit there, precariously balancing as the owner zooms along the streets, zigzagging between the other vehicles.  I only ever saw one actual car on the island. It looked REALLY out of place amongst the other vehicles, it was a new, big, white fancy looking thing (no I don't know what it was) and made me think it must have been a local drug dealer driving around in it. The other vehicles are generally utes and trucks carrying around goods for the island. They are usually so old and dilapidated they look like they've been pulled out of the ocean after 10 years and somehow made to drive again, broken windows and all.

The houses are mostly quite old with a handful of more expensive mansions for the rich folk. Lots of people have guard dogs barking behind the fences (mostly pit bulls if you're curious) but there are also dogs wandering the streets all the time. A lot of them have owners but roam around exploring and  trying to get food from tourists and locals. A lot of the dogs including those with owners are fairly underfed so lots of visitors take pity on them, seeing the ribs, limping and other injuries and feed them with whatever they can.

You see all kinds of interesting animals crossing the roads too. 'Gutter crabs' live, unsurprisingly, in the gutters by the roads, and make their way across the roads slowly, hoping not to get hid. Alas, many do, so now I have a real understanding of the term 'face like a smashed crab'. Can't say the smell is great either. You also see various lizards crossing, from little geckos and skinks right up to big iguanas. There are chickens breeding by the roads at various points, so they often cross with their babies or rooster boyfriends who are more than happy to wake me up at ridiculous hours. You see many cats and dogs of course and lots of locals and tourists in the mix, and at one point I even had someone’s pet monkey come and jump on me, all fighting for a piece of road.

The main part of town flows down one street, housing most of the dive shops, restaurants, bars and comadors (small, family run restaurants), a handful of retail stores and supermarkets. There are two beaches, one at each end of the island, neither of which would really class as a beach in Australia. The public one has little sand or space, very shallow water and is next to a road. Each week there are two parties held at a bar there though, and people get into the 'beach' spirit (as well as other spirits) and decide it's a good idea to go for a dip, quite often naked in the well illuminated water across the road. At the other end of the island is a private beach you pay $3 entry to. It's nicer, but ultimately more like a lagoon, no surf, minimal sand and shallow water. There are other beaches on the northern side of the island but apart from being far from where tourists stay, they currents wash a LOT of rubbish onto that side of the island, originally from islands like Jamaica. I actually helped on two beach clean ups there, finding all kinds of things but mostly LOTS of bottles, bottle caps, random shoes, plastic cutlery, tooth brushes, foam and broken up bits of plastic. Despite us managing to remove about 100 bags of rubbish over the time unfortunately we hardly made a dent. Especially sad because three kinds of endangered turtles nest there.

The supermarkets have an odd assortment of common items but loads of things are very hard to find and are very expensive. Milk is only long life or this gross powdered fake milk stuff. Eggs are generally bought individually and really fresh fruit and veg is only available on 2 days when it arrives via ferry from the mainland. Lots of things are really hard (or impossible) to find, random stuff like bobby pins for girls hair, beauty products are almost obsolete (though it's possibly because the heat means any makeup or whatever runs of your face in minutes) and if you think for a second you'll get health foods like Quinoa you'd be sadly disappointed. Food options beyond the basics are veeeery limited.  Shops for clothes have very limited options too, either very odd fashions or imported stuff that costs easily as much as in Australia.

The main food people eat for a quick meal is called a Baleada, essentially a wheat tortilla with beans, cheese, salad and choice of eggs, meats and avocado. You can even get a lobster and avocado one for about $2.50. Otherwise, breakfast dishes are similar to those in other parts of central america, usually focusing on tortillas, eggs, beans, cheese and cream. Personally I've also been eating a lot of mangoes. At about 60 cents each I can't pass them up. There are various nicer restaurants around too, but even there the most expensive item on a menu is still not usually more than about $12.

It's such a small island that within two weeks you know heaps of people and run into someone you know every few metres. It’s also absolutely bizarre how many people you run into on Utila that you’ve met in other countries, it’s like a big melting pot where everyone comes back together. Diving is of course the main focus of  the island. There are 12 competing dive shops and all conversations revolve around diving, what you've seen lately and which course you're doing. A tradition in Utila when you finish your dive master course is to do a 'snorkel test'. This basically involves wearing a diving mask full of beer while drinking alcohol forcibly through a snorkel that has been turned into a beer bong. Once you've cleared the mask you can officially be inaugurated as a DiveMaster. While I'm disappointed to be leaving, I was NOT looking forward to that part where they pour a horrible mix of drinks including beer, rum, chilli, eggs and other revolting or alcoholic additions down my gullet.  Needless to say there is usually a lot of mess and vomit involved, so that's one thing I'm happy to be skipping.

Aside from diving (and swimming/snorkelling) the only real thing to do is party, which people do a lot of. Most people frequenting different bars according to the special that day, eg Tequila Tuesdays at Tranquila bar where you can get Tequila shots for about 50 cents. Dangerous. Some bars have other shots as little as 25 cents, but they're usually very dangerous for the head the following morning. Along with the copious amounts of alcohol, people are smoking pot ALL the time, they smoke openly and at all hours. Yes, some people even do it before diving. On many nights out and in various states of inebriation, a lot of people jump off the 8 metre high dock at Tranquila bar. Afterwards, they return to the main bar, dripping wet, possibly in wet clothes or underwear, but nude has happened on more than one occasion. Problem with jumping being that if you don't have someone who can pull you back onto the lower dock, chances are you have to do a big walk around to the entry of the bar through the crowds of people to get back to where you left your clothes. Very funny.

You also get to know (or at least recognise) the local crazies, like the guy with half an arm missing who wears dirty clothes all the time and rants at you, mostly with a big grin on his face and no particular language he's speaking. Then there is Web, an abrasive and questionable local who knows everyone and acts like he owns the island. He almost always walks around shirtless, but usually with his t shirt wrapped around his head like a bandana. He's older, maybe 55 and when he sees tourists in a bar he yells out a toast to them and growls "Welcome to hell" He's so well known in fact that Skid Row bar who offers a drinking challenge (4 shots of a herbal infused moonshine called Giffidy, followed by spinning and running around a pool table to win a free t-shirt) has made a shirt in his likeness, along with his 'Welcome to hell' slogan.

While Utila isn’t somewhere I could see myself living long-term, it’s certainly somewhere I could spend more time and is a long way from the hell Web sees. I sincerely hope I can return one day to complete my Dive Master course, hopefully not too far down the track. Either way I will remember Utila as a crazy island with incredible diving, great partying, and most importantly, lots of fun and amazing people, many of whom I will miss, but not forget.


Tags: baleada, beaches, diving, dogs, gutter crabs, jumping, party, skid row, skinny-dipping, utila



Web is a trip!

  Ashley Jul 28, 2015 5:44 AM

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