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Honduras and Diving Utila

HONDURAS | Friday, 2 October 2009 | Views [4378] | Comments [3]

Hola? Digame!

Hola? Digame!

For months we’ve been looking forward to diving on Utila. Utila is one of the Bay Islands, in the Caribbean Sea, off the northern coast of Honduras. Also for months we have had our doubts about cycling in Honduras, because of political instability after president Zelaya had been removed from the country by the army in june. And because of not so positive stories from fellow travelers.

Next follows a story about our time off and in the saddle in Honduras. Under water photos courtesy of Bogdan Stadniciuc.

Entering Honduras

Like at every border crossing in Central America, at the Guatemala-Honduras border money changers walk up to us with a big pile of notes in their hands, to help us get rid of dollars and Quetzales and get Lempiras in return. It’s a really handy thing since we can only get money out in big towns, usually a day or two cycling from the border. 

Whilst changing money I suddenly see Ali’s and the moneychanger’s face turn grim. Ali says “oh my God”. I look over my shoulder. A big dog has just been hit by a truck and is being dragged by its front wheels. I see how he then gets thrown upwards, yelps, and then the rear wheels crush him. Everyone around us continues their daily routine. We have to ride past him. I feel sick. A sign next to him says ‘welcome to Honduras’.

The North West of Honduras is gorgeous; we ride along the foothills of big mountains, green and misty. Once in a while we hear the call of a toucan ‘krakkrakkrak’. 

We stay in some towns that don’t get a lot of foreign tourism. In Choloma the people in the street stare at us. We are ‘different’, it feels really weird. They look away when we look back at them, or they keep on staring, and often don’t reply to our ‘buenas tardes’. 

We shop in the Dispensa Familiar, a supermarket chain in Central America, always busy and with loud music. I sing along to Bon Jovi’s ‘Bed of Roses’ but suddenly don’t recognise the text. It’s in Spanish!? ‘Cama de Rosas’. We had been told by Tim that a lot of American artists record their most famous song in Spanish and sell it to the Latin American market, with the rest of their album in English. Apparently they make millions this way. We have also heard Bryan Adams ‘Everything I do’ (todo lo que hago), some Beach Boys and Elton John!

Riding past San Pedro Sula, Honduras second city and biggest agricultural hub, is an adrenalin rush. Lots of traffic, seedy guys on the side of the road calling me ‘mi amor’ and sometimes making obscene gestures. We ride past fields and fields of pineapple, banana plantations and factories producing fruit into pulp and juice.

The next day whilst we are having a short break on the side of the road, an old man walks up to us, introduces himself and then asks for money. He says “if you give me half of what you have, we can both continue our life happily”. 

We are being asked for money daily since entering Central America, by children, old people, men and women. By many people we are seen as a bag of money. That doesn’t feel pleasant. But these people are really really poor. It’s hard to find some sort of balance where we don’t feel bad about not giving money, not get irritated, and respect people regardless.

For us Honduras feels strange. The landscape is beautiful, but it seems a lot of people are discontent and wary of us. Would part of this feeling be caused by our own preconceived idea of Honduras, or is it really there? 

Utila

Arriving at the jetty in Utila we get inundated by men trying to lure us into their dive centre. “dive with us, with us it’s cheaper, better, longer, deeper, funner etc”. We walk into Captain Morgan’s office, a dive school recommended by our friends Steve and Nicole (cheers guys). We are welcomed enthusiastically by David Kreysa, a young German instructor. Captain Morgan’s dive school is on a Caye (small island) off Utila, away from the busy streets of Utila  and closer to good diving on the north side of the island. 

The contrast to the mainland couldn’t be greater. Jewel Caye is connected to Pigeon Caye by a small bridge, and has about 500 inhabitants, mostly descendants of British/ Dutch pirates, Garifuna and Creole people. There are only paths, no cars. The atmosphere is relaxed, the pace of life slow.

In fact there isn’t much to do, except for eating ‘Baleadas’, sunbathing, studying dive books, swimming, snorkeling and in the mornings: diving!

David’s instruction is good and a lot of fun, and in our class is also Mike, a great guy from Seattle. The underwater world is magnificent: small forests of sea fans swaying from one side to the other, hundreds of small colourful fishes and vertical rockwalls. I find it’s actually really relaxing, diving, once you get the hang of it. You hear your breath going in, and then bubbles coming out, and you just hang as if you’re flying, weightless. 

Ali, Mike and Anna ready for the first dive

Mike and a school of atlantic spade fish

Part of the course is a wreck dive to the ‘Haliburton’ which involves going deep to 30 metres. It’s bizarre how suddenly the wreck looms from the blue depths. So much life has formed on the rusty railing, everything has been overgrown with coral, sponge or algae.

On our other dives we find the most amazing moments are when we see animals close-up . One time I see a hawksbill turtle right underneath me. I sign to the other divers, and together we observe how the turtle rips a sponge off the reef and devours it entirely. We watch him for maybe 10 minutes hovering metres away from him. Just before we leave he swims up from the reef and past Ali’s face. They share a moment of ‘contact’, and Ali looks back at me double ‘ok’ signs and a huge grin on his face.

Hawksbill turtle

On another dive we observe two spotted eagle rays slowly ‘flying’ past, what graceful ancient creatures. 

We also do a night dive. There’s a lightning storm and we can see flashes while underwater. We sit at the bottom, turn off our lights, see the bioluminescence (small light emitting creatures disturbed by our waving hands) and then stare into the black nothing.

After a week on the caye we find it difficult to say goodbye to our newly made friends and the relaxing pace of life. We talk with David and David, the instructors, about doing a dive master course, potentially another month or two of underwater adventures.

Bogdan, David, Mike, Solidea, Ali, Anna, David, Madeleine,            back on the Miss Kary after a morning of diving

Mike, Pedro, David, Anna, Ali and Bogdan

Maybe part of my wish to stay is that it feels really good to have a base and feel ‘at home’ with a relaxed and fun crowd of people, whereas due to the nature of cycle touring, we are always ‘on the go’. It’s a good thing that Ali sometimes gently ‘pushes’ me to stick close to our goal and not to venture to far off the track. I don’t think I could ever do this trip without him.....

Zelaya returns....

Back on the mainland we catch a bus back to El Progreso, in order to not cycle the same stretch a second time, but start anew towards the capital. Little do we know.... That same afternoon ousted president Zelaya has secretly re-entered Honduras. The government calls for a curfew. We are thus stuck in our hotel, one of those good old ‘love-hotels’, where one can rent a room by the hour. Our room has a long mirror along the side of the bed. Apparently curfew doesn’t completely go for some businesses, and during the next day we see couples enter and go. A friendly hotel cleaner gets food in for us prepared by his cousin. 

We are first told the curfew is going to last at least three consecutive days. It’s hard to understand the news on television, fast speaking Hondurenan newsreaders and mostly disgraceful images of some boys who got killed breaking the curfew in San Pedro. The minister of tourism of Honduras advises against traveling through the country.

Just as we have made a little ‘plan to stay sane inside our cell’ and do some website and photo sorting hours, the curfew gets lifted from 10 am till 4 pm. We make a quick decision, pack up our things and get a bus to Tegucigalpa. From there another bus leaves for Choluteca, close to the Nicaraguan border. On the way we get checked by the army a number of times, everybody has to disembark the bus and show passports. The men get searched. A friendly army officer says: “So you are on vacation in Honduras?”, Ali wants to say “Yeah, we heard it would be nice this time of year and with the curfew and everything...and we got very cheap flights here!” but refrains. The same army officer then says, “it’s no problem to cycle outside curfew hours”. But we don’t feel like getting stuck somewhere again, and riding between 10 and 4 is the hottest time of the day. 

Tegucigalpa from behind bus windows seems calm, the walls along the streets are covered in pro- and contra Zelaya graffiti. We arrive in Choluteca hours after curfew. It’s pouring with rain, the streets are flooding and deserted. We wheel into a hotel and feel relieved we have made it ‘to the other side’. 

The next morning we ride our last day in Honduras. The south has a much friendlier feel. People are going about their daily chores, the kids yell ‘Gringo, gringo’ when we pass and the traffic is light. 

Honduras has given us a wonderful time in the Caribbean north. And also a reminder that riding every single kilometer between Prudhoe Bay and Ushuaia is not our primary goal, but enjoying the ride is.

We are now in Nicaragua, a land dotted with volcanoes, off which we are eager to climb some. See you next time!

Love 

Anna and Alister 

Tags: cycling, diving, honduras, utila

Comments

1

beautiful writing, you guys are very inspirational!

  mike (seattle) Oct 3, 2009 4:50 AM

2

Fantastic, wonderfull,count yourself lucky you can do these things. I admire your efforts, it is not always smooth sailing but you persevere. Congratulations Robert.

  ROBERT RUTTEN Oct 4, 2009 8:48 PM

3

Hey thefuegoproject,

We liked your story and decided to feature it this week so that others can enjoy it too.

Happy travels!

World Nomads

  World Nomads Oct 12, 2009 10:31 AM

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