It's the start of a new year, and the start of a new adventure. In January I added a new hobby to my list. If you have heard of Utila, Honduras before, maybe you could make a guess that my new hobby is scuba diving, and you would be correct!
My best friend Jessica and I went down to Honduras for a week to get our scuba diving certification at the Utila Dive Center (UDC) and to also celebrate her birthday! It has been something that has been on both of our bucket lists, and while we were both nervous about it at first, it turned out to be one of the best experiences we will have for life even if there was a little bump or two in the road and maybe water in this case.
For starters, we had to fly into San Pedro, catch a bus to the ferry dock which is three hours by bus and take the 45 minute ferry to the island of Utila. Sounds pretty easy and planned out, right? Well, we land in San Pedro thinking the bus station would be right outside the airport terminal. WRONG! Turns out you had to take a taxi to the bus station. Luckily we had met a lovely couple at the airport in Atlanta, traveling to Utila too. They found us in the terminal in Honduras and told us we had to take a taxi to the bus station, and the bus ride wouldn't get us to the ferry in time to make it to Utila as the last ferry left about 4:30 pm. We had landed around 12:30/1:00 pm. We were then set up with a taxi driver, who spoke only Spanish, who took us straight from San Pedro to the ferry dock in about 2.5 hours. If you have ever been in a NYC taxi cab, let's just say they got nothing on this guy!
Our driver was zipping around cars on a one lane road (at one point he had to pass a bus AND a semi truck TOGETHER). I kept tilting my head to the side as he did to see if he could make the pass, thinking "he's not gonna make this! He's not going to make it," but he did! We were making great timing until about 20 minutes away from the dock and a half hour until the last ferry departed, I heard a "pop." The car slowed to a stop, and the driver kept throwing his hands up in the air and saying a four letter word that started with "F," which that I understood. He had popped a tire! Jess and I thought "Oh no, we're going to miss the last ferry." The guy basically threw our suitcases out of the car and told us to get out. I thought he was going to leave us there, but the dude whipped out the spare tire and changed that thing - I kid you not - within five minutes! We got back in the car and ended up making it to the ferry dock in time!
Talk about a horrible boat ride! The ocean was super choppy that day. I'm pretty sure more bags of people throwing up were collected than good memories, to put it bluntly. To help with "sea sickness" we were told to close our eyes and go to sleep or focus on one point of the boat or the landscape. I chose to listen to my music with my headset and sing along in my head with my eyes closed. Even after arriving in Utila, we still felt a little dizzy. We then arrived at our accommodations at the Mango Inn - which is included with the scuba diving course. Jess and I upgraded to a cabin for just $40 a night which included our own water cooler, a fridge, air conditioning, two double beds and our own private bathroom. Outside the front door we had our own little hammock! The name of our cabin was Coconut Cabana #1, very fitting for the little tropical oasis it felt like we were in.
We settled into our cozy little cabin and later had dinner and drinks at the hotel bar. We were so tired from the adventure of getting to the island we stayed in. The next day we went to a private beach called "Bando Beach" to soak up the sun and enjoyed a cocktail before class started at 2:00 pm, which was just textbook work. We met two guys in our class (so there was four of us in total). One guy was from the Netherlands and the other was from India. It's so cool how people from all over the world come to this Dive School to learn how to Scuba Dive. Our instructor was Nico, who is from Chile, Zach (who was interning, and is from Bali), and two assistants Mia, from Austin, Texas and Christoph from Canada! A few of the other instructors were from the U.K.
Later that night the Dive Center was throwing a BBQ, which Jess and I attended. They cooked chicken, rice, veggies, mac & cheese and served drinks. People were playing beer pong, dancing and just having a good time! We met a few more people and later all went to a bar called Vinyl for the after party. We didn't stay out too late as the next day we were getting into the water for our first experience scuba diving at 8:00 am, which came way too early. We got to the dive center and went over the book work from the previous day. Then we were fitted for our gear (wet suits, fins, masks) and taught about the different parts of our gear and how to put it all together. After a lunch break, we were ready to get into the water.
The first day we had to swim from one dock to another dock, four times and tread water for 10 minutes. Then we suited up and stayed in shallow water, about one meter deep in order to learn basic skills. The bottom had a tarp for us to kneel down on so that we didn't kick up sand to reduce our visibility underwater and to protect any marine life. We then moved over to a little deeper water about five meters in depth, with another tarp laid on the bottom to learn more skills. Everything you learned on the surface of the water you basically had to perform underwater too. At first being underwater, not to mention breathing underwater was a little nerve-wracking for me. Growing up with asthma I was a little apprehensive about it, but with my doctor's approval and putting my fears aside I was able to do it!
Over the course of the next four days we learned more skills i.e. how to share air with your buddy (as you never dive alone), how to take off your gear and put it back on - as if something were to happen like getting tangled in a mass of kelp or seaweed to get unstuck. We also learned how to clear your regulator (the name of the device you breathe from underwater) if it got knocked out of your mouth and became full of water, how to clear your snorkel and mask, both in and out of water, how to properly clean your gear after use, all the signals for communicating underwater, how to relive cramps, how to descend and ascend properly when scuba diving to avoid any injuries to your ears or lungs. For example, when you are slowly descending (going underwater) you want to equalize - which is similar to plugging your nose and gently blowing as if you were on an airplane getting ready to land and you need to "pop" your ears. We were instructed to do this before you feel any pain or discomfort and to equalize often and early. If you can't equalize, ascend a little bit, try it then, then start descending again. If you can't equalize at all, you shouldn't dive i.e. if your congested or have a cold.
The last two days of our Open Water Course we went on a boat out to sea and did our skills we had learned out in open water, then we had two fun dives where we got to dive for fun. We were taken to different areas where we could see sea life such as coral and fish and aquatic life. It was a surreal feeling being underwater and taking it all in. You almost forget you're underwater and just enjoy the "scenery" so to speak. We saw lots of beautiful coral, angel fish, trumpet fish, a manta-ray, parrot fish (my favorite for their beautiful color scheme) and a couple of Dori's 🙂 The four dive sites we went on were called Black Coral, Little Bight, Moon Hole and Ted's Point. We did ride around on the boat our second day of dives to try and find whale sharks to dive with, but sadly we never came across any. We thought for a second we found them, but turned out to be a floating log in the sea - bummer.
Probably the coolest part about our open dives (we had to complete four), was after our last and final dive to complete the course (which was on Jessica's birthday!!) - Zach wrote on a white board underwater that we were now Certified Scuba Divers! Awe!! We all high fived each other underwater, and you could see we were smiling through our masks but the way our eyes lit up! It was an incredible feeling! Some of us got cramps, some of us swallowed salt water (me), some of us had trouble with our ears, or our masks. Some of us took more than one-three times to master a skill, which can be frustrating at times as it's harder to control everything underwater, but we did it! Someone told me that as a certified scuba diver we now have access to 71% of the world that we did not have access to before, and just that statement alone is very exciting to me!
After that dive we went out for Jessica's birthday at this amazing Crepe restaurant where we each got a different type of crepe with a bottle of wine and later ordered dessert crepes. The college championship game was playing that day as well, so we ended up at a sports bar called Buccaneer's on the island and watched UGA and Bama duke it out. Unfortunately UGA didn't pull through, but the dawgs put up a damn good fight.
The next day we were going to do our fun dives, but it rained all morning and Jessica and I ended up going to the private beach again and just chilled the whole day. That night everyone went to a bar called Tranquila, for Tequila Tuesdays. It was also our last day on the island. Everyone just had a good time dancing to music and letting loose. It was a good ending to a relaxing day and solidified the end to an amazing trip! The coolest part about the bar was they had an outside dock area, and if you went to the upper deck and looked up, you saw a sky full of stars. It was incredible. A photo wouldn't do it justice.
It was sad to leave our little coconut cabana cabin, but we had to get up early at like 6:00 am to catch the ferry at 7:00 am. This time the ride was a lot smoother than day one. We had no issues with our cab, and made our flight on time back to the U.S. We definitely want to come back to the beautiful island of Utila to get our advanced scuba certification which means we would be able to dive at a deeper depth, explore ship wrecks and also dive at night! I really want to bring my twin sister to get certified. It is easy to say, that we WILL be back and make new memories with more of our best friends!
For now, I can officially say I am scuba certified. I can't wait to see what the ocean has in store to explore (didn't mean to rhyme there, but hey it works I guess). I'm currently in Salt Lake City, missing the warm weather and sun of the island as well as the beach and the water! I'll be dreaming of my return. In the meantime, I am excited to plan a future dive with my bestie Jessica! How cool is it we got to experience and try something new such as scuba diving together! At the dive center there was a quote painted on the building that read:
"Kill only time. Take only memories. Leave only bubbles."
*Check out some of our favorite places we ate/explored on the island, below: