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Scuba Diving in Utila - Vacation Report

Scuba Diving In Utila with Captain Morgan's Dive Centre

Vacation Date 1 February 2006 to 8 February 2006

Report Date: 17th February 2006

Author: Mark Sommer (Email: [email protected])

February 1: Amanda and Olivia took me to the airport. The flight left as scheduled from Missoula to Seattle at 7:55 p.m. Arrived in Seattle and tried to sleep on airport floor with no luck until my next flight at 12:20 a.m. to Houston.

February 2: Flew to Houston and dozed off here and there for maybe a total of 1-2 hours of sleep. Arrived in Houston a little after 6:00 a.m. Got on 9:20 a.m. flight to San Pedro Sula and arrived about noon. Went through immigration, and then grabbed bag and went through customs. Exchanged money. Honduran money is called Lempira and you get 18.9 Lempira for $1 US Dollar.

San Pedro Sula is on the mainland of Honduras, and I was going to be spending most of my time on one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras. There are three Bay Islands – Utila, Roatan and Guanaja. Roatan is more touristy and Americanized to some extent. Utila is real basic and more set up for European hippie backpacker types. Guanaja is locals with a few very high class resorts. I chose Utila. See their website at www.aboututila.com. So I bought my plane ticket from San Pedro Sula to the city of La Ceiba which is on the coast of Honduras. Ticket was $59. As I waited in terminal, “Somewhere My Love” was playing on radio.

As it turns out, most people on plane were going to Roatan, so unbeknownst to me, they decided to fly out to Roatan first and then back to La Ceiba. So after about 20 minutes we started flying over the ocean, and we flew over Utila and landed in Roatan. There we had to switch planes. Got in an old Russian plane where all the signs were in Russian. Flew back to La Ceiba, but we almost convinced the pilot to land in Utila first.

Because we flew to Roatan first, I got to La Ceiba too late to catch the 4:00 p.m. ferry. However, four Americans who have homes on Utila had chartered a Cessna plane to take them out to Utila on two trips. They figured they had enough room for me. So I got on first trip with two gals. $40 for my share. We were packed to the max. Plane proceeded down runway, got off the ground, but didn’t have enough gumption, so plane went down and bounced off runway which gave it enough boost to get airborne. As we flew I looked in the seat pocket behind the pilot. There was the safety manual for the plane. It was called “El Neuvo Testamento”. For those who don’t know Spanish, that means The New Testament. Landed at Utila. The airport terminal was a few boards and a tin roof. The welcoming committee was about 6 people on scooters and ATVs.

Got a ride into town and went to Captain Morgan’s Dive Centre, who I had arranged with ahead of time. They recommended a few hotels, and I checked in at Rubi’s Inn by 6:00 p.m. $15 for the night. Private bathroom and hot water shower, and on ocean, but no beach or anything like that. Utila streets are narrow, with pedestrians, motorcycles, ATVs, and trucks all competing for the limited pathway. I ate at Mermaid’s restaurant. Buffet style and I had beans and rice, beef and veggies and quinoa and water for $6. Bought three beers at store, drank two at hotel and was in bed by 8:00 as so little sleep the night before.

February 3: Got up at 7:00 a.m., took shower and took pictures of Utila. Got on internet and sent out some messages. Ate carrot cake and brownie for breakfast. Went to Captain Morgan’s at 10:00 a.m. and got all signed up, and then waited until 11:30 before catching a little boat that was going out to the Cays. Captain Morgan’s runs their main operation out of the Cays, which are about a dozen small islands about five miles from the main town in Utila, but only a ¼ mile off the coast of Utila on the far end. They are the only dive shop that runs out of the Cays. They have a hotel on Cays called Hotel Kayla. The hotel is on Jewel and Pigeon Cays which are about 5-10 acres each and are connected by a wooden boardwalk. The main street is a cement sidewalk, and no vehicles on the Cays, just boats. Mostly just locals on the Cays, predominantly people who fish for a living. Not very touristy at all. In fact, Hotel Kayla is only hotel.

I picked a room. It had two beds, private bathroom, and room temperature shower. Pretty nice hotel. Cost of room per night was $5. Went and ate lunch which was fresh baked fish, rice, deep friend plantain, a salad and a Coke for $3. Food was very good and cheap on Cays. In fact, that is one point of advertising that Captain Morgan’s uses. There are also little problems with mosquitoes and sand flies because of ocean breezes and fewer wet areas.

I did a SCUBA tune up with Scott the Dive Master since I had not dove in awhile. It involved a paper quiz and then a test dive. Everything went fine. Went snorkeling for 1.25 hours later in afternoon. Saw tarpon, barracuda and a lot of other fish. For dinner went to the Cay View Restaurant, a really basic modest place. Had lobster, which they prepared in a tomato based type stew, some side dishes, and three beers for $6. The only other person staying at hotel was Maya, a retired lady from Switzerland, so we had dinner together along with two of the diving instructors. I talked to a guy at restaurant, sitting out on the dock. His name was Herman, and turns out he was the owner of the restaurant. He has lived in different places, including U.S., but he was born and raised on the Cays and always ends up coming back.

February 4: Got up at 6:00 a.m. Saw tarpon feeding by dock in shallows. Pelicans and frigate birds were feeding. Took a few pictures. The dive boat showed up at about 8:00. Maya, I, and Scott the dive instructor grouped up. A father and his son, and two gals from Europe came out on the dive boat, and they grouped up with some other dive instructors. We did two dives. One called Spotted Bay and the other Stingray Point. Lots of fish and coral. Lunch of Baleadas, which are kind of like burritos, and a coke for $1.50. Snorkeled from 4:00-5:30. Had supper at Cay View Restaurant with two diver instructors and Maya. BBQ chicken dinner and 4 beers for $6. Talked to a local fisherman named Norm, who hunts birds on Utila island with a New England Firearms 410 shotgun. Watches elk hunting shows on cable TV. He invited me to hunt with him the next day, but I decided I better dive instead. He said 410 shells are so expensive, so he buys 20 gauge shells and used the powder, shot and primer to reload his 410 shells. In bed by 8:30. A T-storm and high winds passed during the night.

February 5: Got up at 7:00 a.m. Cloudy and breezy. Had bread, bananas, Baleada and OJ for breakfast. Maya did not feel like diving, so just I and the dive instructor Scott went. We went to Big Rock and the Cabanas. Saw lots of fish, and also a turtle, spotted eagle ray and a lobster. Lunch was the fish plate again. Snorkeled in p.m. with Sasha and Tiffany, a couple who came in that afternoon. For supper, went to Cay View with Maya, two dive instructors, Sasha and Tiffany and another couple from Czech Republic. Had ceviche which is marinated fish dish. I had special ordered the day before from Herman as he usually does not make it. It with two beers was $4.

February 6: Got up about 6:00. Dive folks asked a neighbor lady to make cinnamon rolls for breakfast, so bought three of them for 25 cents each, and bought some milk and OJ and had breakfast. Decided to take kayak to another cay, called Water Cay to do some snorkeling elsewhere. I had just started paddling when Norm came out of boat dock with his boat to go to Utila. So he said to load up kayak and he took me to Water Kay. Did snorkeling which was really good there. Saw a stingray for a new one to add to my list. Kayaked back to hotel, which was about 20 minutes. For lunch I had fish plate again – so good I had it three days in row. I snorkeled from 1:15 to 2:45. Saw goldentail moray eel, chain moray eel and green moray eel and lots of fish. At 3:30 left hotel and Cays and headed back to Utila on dive boat. Paid up dive bill which was $121 for three nights hotel, four dives, SCUBA tune-up and $3 reef cleanup fee/day.

Stayed at Rose’s Inn. Two beds, private bath with hot water for $10. Ate at Tranquilla. Had tuna/shrimp kabobs with green beans and red potatoes, and three beers for $9. Had to catch 6:20 a.m. ferry next day so went to bed a little after 8:00.

February 7: Caught ferry at 6:20 a.m. Ferry ticket was $22. Ferry went to La Ceiba. While on ferry, a guy and gal from Guatemala, who work for a tourism company, convinced me to hitch a ride with them for $10, instead of messing around with taking the bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula. A gal from New York, a couple from Italy, and a gal from Denmark were also convinced. So we all hopped in van and headed towards San Pedro Sula. Marijuana is very prevalently used on Utila as well as Honduras. I was asked about a half dozen times on Utila if I wanted to buy any. Anyway, most people in the van were toking it up on the drive up to San Pedro Sula. We drove off the main road to a beach that the Guatemalan couple wanted to check out for future reference. Later on we stopped for lunch. I had steak, chorizo sausage, homemade cheese, rice, salad and a beer for $3.50.

Finally made it to San Pedro Sula. San Pedro Sula has a lot of crime and dangerous place, so I decided to pay a little more and get a more secure hotel which I had reserved ahead of time. It was the Microtel Hotel which is a U.S chain as well. To get in, we had to go through a gate which had armed guards, and the hotel was all fenced in with armed guards on patrol. Guess I didn’t have to worry about safety there. Ate at restaurant next door and had BBQ chicken and some beers. It was about $9, so more expensive. Went to bed about 10:00.

February 8: Got up about 8:00. Plane was leaving at 12:55 p.m. so no rush. Took taxi to airport about 10:00. Checked in. Paid $32 departure tax. By the way, total cost of plane ticket was $486. There were heavy clouds and rain, so plane I was to fly out on had trouble getting in, but finally landed about 30 minutes late. That means we took off 30 minutes late and I did not get to Houston in time to catch flight to Minneapolis. So they rerouted me to Seattle, but didn’t get there in time to catch flight to Missoula, so they put me up in hotel in Seattle. Got to hotel about 1:00 a.m. Seattle time, which was 3:00 a.m. for what I was used to, so long day.

February 9: Got up about 7:00 and took shower. My bags of course were wherever, so I wore the same clothes from day before. Flew to Missoula and landed at 12:10. My bags were already there. Can’t figure out how they can get my bags home before me. My boss picked me up and I went to work to finish out day.

Summary: Total cost of trip including plane ticket, food, lodging, diving, etc. was about $900. Saw lots of fish and other sea creatures diving, but probably not quite as good as Belize. Lots of great seafood and beers at cheap prices. Glad I didn’t go to Roatan as in talking to people it is definitely more touristy. Also glad I stayed on Cays most of time as I liked it better than Utila.