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So we spent a very long time here – just under 4 months. It’s kind of difficult to write a blog about it as in essence not a real lot went on, well not for me anyhow. We came for Mark to dive and do dive courses, I was just to hang about, hopefully make some money and get some sun. Well, in the end, despite powercuts, and often dodgy internet I did manage to get some work, which was cool as without that I think I should have gone mad. I didn’t get much sun, as apart from diving, there isn’t really anywhere much to go to get the sun on this little island. It’s all about the diving. It’s full of dive shops and pretty much every visitor is there to dive. It’s all anyone talks about too which could also get a tad tedious, so I would say to anyone who might like to come-along with a diver, think long and hard about that.
There’s lots of not so great things I could say about this small, often frustrating island but in these months I have had some good times and met some fab people. I’ve also met some not so fab people, but I’ll let that go.
First up – our trip here was fraught with problems, out 7 hours stopover in Miami turned into about 30 minutes due to delays in San Francisco – this meant we were unable to get any US dollar to bring to the island – our brief stopover in Grand Cayman didn’t help as the airport ATM was out of order. We had just enough dollars to pay the guy who gave us a lift from La Ceiba airport to the ferry dock. Not a taxi I might add – the tourist info guy came out of his booth to get us a taxi but ended up sending us off with some random guy – oh well, we made it, we may have not been convinced we would, but we did.
So, I’ll start with the bad stuff – get it all out in a theraputic styleee.
The bad and the ugly….
We ended up staying in the same apartment block for the whole time. Not the greatest but it was kind of a case of better the devil you know and it was at least central. When we turned up we got a room rather than an apartment for 2 nights which after 3 days on the road from Tokyo to Utila, we were did not need. This turned out to be typical Utila. Someone hadn’t left, she wasn’t going to turf them out, so it was tough. After about 5 weeks in the first apartment we moved next door to the better situated one which had more light, more windows and less noise. This made a huge difference and probably prevented me going completely and utterly beserk – only just though.
There are 2 ATMs on the island and no other way of changing money. The ATMs were often out of service and sometimes just out of money. They didn’t allow you to get much money out at a time and the costs for each transaction were high. One of the ATMs, near the rotisserie chicken shack was only in Spanish, but was kind of easy to work out. The dodgy thing about this ATM though was that you had to exit/essentially log out. We’ve been in behind people who hadn’t done this – we didn’t of course take advantage of this, but there would of course be plenty of people who would so if anyone’s going to Utila, be aware of this! This ATM was also more tempramental and you sometimes had to try a few times to get it to work. Unfortunately this could flag up with your bank at home so I ended up having my card cancelled to make life even more complicated. You basically had to make sure you never let yourself run out of money before getting some more. That wasn’t always possible, for instance during the dive festival it was out of money for quite a few days due to the extra number of people on the island. Having a stash of dollars for backup would have really helped us as they will accept them a lot of places.
Visiting costs – there’s an entry and exit fee to Honduras and if you stay for longer than 3 months, as we did, you pay extra too. However, it is a really easy process in Utila to extend – just go to the Immigration office down by the ferry pier. It’s all in Spanish but fairly easy to work out.
Unless you go out to the towns edges, Utila town is noisy. Really noisy. Someone is always shouting. There are virtually no cars but the quad bikes, tuk tuks (I know – v wierd having just left south east asia) and motorbikes driving down the narrow road somehow bounce a wall of noise off all the wooden buildings. Everything being wood, the vibrations cut right through you from any traffic, drilling, loud music etc that you have been blessed with that day.
The absolute worst was our neighbour across the road, who pretty much every other day, entertained us all with his electronic 80s organ – at an unspeakable volume as he sung (badly) along to terrible country and western – the bass shaking our floorboards. The ant-social (ie rudeness) of this probably drove us the most mad but seemed not to bother the other neighbours though I think it’s because they were all related anyhow. If I was ever going to have a Falling Down, go crazy moment – this guy would have been the final straw.
Everyone here shouts. They don’t walk over to the person they want to speak to, they shout. You get used to it, but as none of the buildings have any insulation it’s generally like you have a few people in the room with you shouting at each other.
We also had parrots. Their chattering and singing of happy birthday and old mcdonald was cute and amusing at first. Not 4 months on when you’ve got kids running around the place shouting and screaming and setting them off and you think if you don’t get some peace soon you really will lose what’s left of your mind.
Mark didn’t really ‘get’ this until the last month or so when he was home more. Before he was out for much of the day diving/doing courses. When he spent long periods at home in the daytime, trying to concentrate on things – he realised why I’d been going slowly mad all those weeks. I guess that’s the thing – if you’re here to dive, this wouldn’t affect you so much as you’re out for chunks of the day and the night time wasn’t generally quite so bad. I know it did drive other people in the building crazy too. When they were painting the building you’d often have someone shouting, banging singing, right outside your open window. I particularly enjoyed this first thing in the morning.
I took to staying up into the early hours as, along with it being cool, this was the most peaceful time.
Our other noise, bizarelly bothered me the least. Our neighbour in the house next door liked to sit on the porch and scream and wail and shout abuse at all hours. To be fair I don’t think he ever went in the house – no idea if it was his or not, he seemed to live on the squalid porch. Our first room overlooked (very closely) his porch so we never opened the window or even the curtains. The house smelt bad as you went past it and when we were in that room we got a heck of a lot of cockroaches. He disappeared for a few weeks at one point and we were a little worried but he came back, possibly a little quieter but sadly, I think, a bit more disturbed. I don’t know if he’d gone to hospital (I doubt it) or jail or what, but he seemed angrier at first that was for sure. The reason he bothered me the least, was even though he would be shouting abuse at real or imagined people at all hours of the day and night, he was properly mentally ill, so he couldn’t help it. I used to hear him have full on shouting matches with a wife, kids and mother in law that I gradually realised weren’t actually there. Sometimes during his rants you realised that he was actually quite an eloquent guy which made it all the sadder. The strangest thing of all was that if someone spoke to him mid rant, he’d nearly always quietly, politely answer back. This softly spoken response was so strange – he literally snapped straight out of whatever world he was in before. I always made the effort to smile and say hello. I figured this would save me if he ever did go on the rampage but my friend Cheryl was convinced this was wrong and that he’d remember and therefore single me out with his machete!! He did have a machete – I saw him carrying it quietly through the dark streets on one of our first nights here, though bless him, as far as I knew he just used it to cut fruit down. He is called May-heey by us because we always called him ‘matey’ and our friend Cheryl, from St Louis, didn’t get our bad english, with us dropping the T, so that’s what she heard us saying and since then this is what he’s known as. They’ve opened up a little shop next door to him and so someone’s cleaned up the yard. I think they might be giving him money/food to stay out of the way from time to time as now sometimes I hear his rants coming from somewhere out the back. Sometimes it sounds right next to me and I wonder if he has indeed come to get me!!
OK, so we’d come from Japan, which is the politest place in the world, but before that, having been in south east asia, we found people could be off sometimes but where generally friendly and pleasant. It was a big, big, shock our first weeks on the island. We’re kind of used to it now, but it’s never going to be something that sits that well with me. People in shops will literally serve you without even acknowledging you. They’ll carry on phone or face to face conversations without so much as look in your direction. They won’t say hello or thank you. This is very common. It’s a real treat when someone’s a bit friendly and I always tended to try to go back to those places as it was such a nice place. This isn’t true for restaurants etc as 95% of the time the people working in them are not locals but people their for the diving. They get paid pittance wages, but survive on tips and being fed. But this is weird I think – there’s so much this separation on the island that I don’t think this helps. Babalu had local staff and is all the better for it – Buccaneers and Mango Inn also do & really nice people too.
There’s kind of differences between the islanders and the mainland hondurans as well – and it certainly doesn’t cover everyone, there is lots of lovely people – just lot’s of everyday exchanges can be blunt and unfriendly. It’s such a funny place, and I know it wasn’t just us that found the place, verging on hostile. I don’t know if it rubs off on the the dive schools or they are just run a particular way, but people generally seem to lacking in some basic social graces. It’s like the manners are dropped off at the ferry port. I’ve seen certain dive staff being downright rude, churlish and aggressive. In turn, they perhaps teach those learning from them that this is ok and it just snowballs into a few too many people with bad attitudes.
There is a lot of youngish people here but I’ve been in other places with lots of younger travelers before and you always get the odd bad seed, but I’ve never known such a bunch of bad mannered, loud, arrogant and selfish little toads as I’ve come across here. To quote a friend – they had been ‘brought up by wolves’. It’s a shame as they overshadow the decent on such a small island and sadly, the most dysfunctional folk seem to stay long term, as it’s clearly a good fit for them. Without doubt there are lots of nice people, but even some of the nice people display moodiness – in the dive-schools case, to paying customers. I can’t imagine anywhere else where you could kind of get away with it. So, it was a mixture of things – culture, circumstance but it didn’t make the island my favourite place. Having left the island I certainly noticed a difference – Grand Cayman, Cuba and Canada – all very different places, but a lot more courtesy all round.
It’s easy to say the food on the island is bad but it’s not so much that it’s that it’s all the same. It’s generally fried, there is that grim processed cheese and there’s just not really much choice – chicken, fish – rice, fries, burgers. The ultimate accolade of a restaurant seems to be ‘they do a good burger’. There isn’t really any high end or even mid-range dining to be honest.
The cooking options aren’t great either. Fresh veg etc and new stocks comes in twice a week and so there’s long periods where you can’t get anything remotely healthy and the range isn’t great anyhow. The veg then sits about until it’s far from fresh – especially our local shop that leaves it out in the sun. You could get a fair range of dried goods but overpriced and often had been sat around for a long time, if not years so never quite how it should be. I had a nic stash of Japanese things to begin with so that got me through a few weeks – some cold soba with sesame oil and soy sauce was a real treat.
The thing that struck as time went on was we felt so unhealthy. Even the water was laser treated so had no minerals in it. Mix the heat and bad nutrition and we felt drained all the time and I started to get ill those last few weeks and couldn’t bounce back from any of it. I know the long termers go over to the mainland and stock up on things, but even then I couldn’t imagine living with this kind of food forever. I so wished we’d had an oven – there’s a lot more you can do with limited ingredients and when all that was available was fried I sure as well wasn’t keen on frying at home. I tended to poach chicken but anything that took cooking more than 20-30 minutes heated up the apartment so much it just got unpleasant.
I can’t work out for me why more isn’t grown on the island – it’s a tropical island for goodness sake – very green. Other than some fruit, there doesn’t seem to be anything home grown – seems crazy to me.
Anything good to eat?
My recommendations for anyone who might visit Utila, food wise, are – Babalu – you get the food separate to the bar and it’s really good. Driftwoods is a lot more expensive but the better quality is worth it. Their burger really is good! RJs is only open a couple of times a week and like the stuff at Driftwood they cook a lot on the grill so is pricier but healthier/nicer.
Pizza Nut, which is open in the evenings in Camilla’s bakery – the pizza base is really, really thin, so is probably the healthiest thing on the island
Camilla’s bakery during the day does nice bagels and bits and pieces and is very friendly and nice – on the pricier side for Utila.
The pizza at the Mango Inn is also good. We never ate at rehab but their menu had some slightly different choices and it always smelt good.
Shopping – the store next to Mermaids is a good little place for decent quality veg – there’s also a place on the left as you head to rehab that’s friendly and got good veg – somehow they seem to have veg at times other than when the boat has come in. It was always a bit too far from us to shop at regularly though.
Mermaids restaurant itself does amazing ice-cream. Not sure if it’s home-made, sure tastes like it. The rum and raison and coconut are lush!
And the guy who runs the restaurant is very friendly and nice.
This affected me way less, but all the divers ended up looking a right mess!! The sand flies are tiny, you can’t see them but they nip you a blinder and leave a lump as bad as the worst mosquito bite. They seem to like decking, so all the divers hanging out at the dive shop piers get pickled. I was always pretty careful to spray up in the evening and without the other bits and pieces like coral burns, I got away with it pretty much. Mark however and so many other divers, are tanned to high heaven with pale pink patches all over the place with all those scars.
Electrics, Dodgy showers & Power cuts
Electrocution fun in the showers is something you hear about all over the island. We had this in both apartments – my favourite was when the shower tap was kind of ‘live’ so having turned it off it was vibrating so vigorously you could barely switch it off. After various fixes, the wall was kind of live despite the fact there was supposedly a shower off switch and the water heated up so much it would steam and burst the shower head. In the end we just took the fuse out of the shower and stuck with the cold water. Along with the electric issues, they would burst so the overflow would fall out. Trying to stick that back on so many times and in the end just settling to standing under a cold, weak drip. Suffice to say, feeling clean was an achievement hard to achieve.
Power cuts were fairly frequent, not unsurprising on a small island, but they could be frustrating none the less. You always think a fan does nothing until it’s not on. Half a day or more without electricity, especially for non-divers was a total drag. The internet could be dire as well, so you couldn’t ever count on anything.
Oddly the price of electricity for such a poor island is extortionate. Aircon was barely used as the bills racked up so quickly. It’s surprising that solar power has not been made more use of due to these crazy prices.
A place of our own
This was the first time we’d had a proper apartment with a bedroom and a front room. It wasn’t fancy in any way, shape or form, but just being able to have the space from being in 2 different rooms was a treat!
I kinda decorated it with left over xmas decs, kewpies and odds and ends I’d picked up in japan – as well as putting photos up on the fridge.
One thing I could always make as it kind of requires things to be overripe was guacamole. I picked up a simple recipe from a guy from South America and it became a bit of a weekly treat – for me at least. Mark tended to find it to avacadoey or too limey. Mark is lucky he didn’t end up wearing the guacamole incredible hulk stylee.
This is where you could find us more often than not, of an evening. Just a little down the road, we stumbled across it my accident in the first day or so and were always happiest here – often more so than at home. It was a large ramshackle bar with a pier to sit out on over the sea. A simple place but with lots of oddity and curiosity.
A large area in the centre – a hole cut into the deck so you could watch the fish. Left over food was thrown in there so you’d get a frenzy of fish polishing it off.
One time we were there and while Mark was at the bar, one of the sides of the place kind of collapsed. It felt like the whole place would fall down, but it never did. Over time, the floorboards were more worn and occasionally you’d get a bit of a patch up job. But that was so part of it’s charm. It was always funny to see someone going there for the first time, tentatively making their way over the holey floorboards.
It has the coolest glasses
vintage flowers and fruit and jam jars!!
It has the coolest sunset views
It has luminous plankton
Little neon plankton photo-somethings that appeared after a full moon. Some kind of mating thing – they swirl around like mini glow sticks at a 90s rave. The sea could be full of them and you got to watch it off the end of the Babalu pier.
]I fell in love…
..with Lula – who stayed next door to us briefly on the island. She was an Aztec hairless breed. Stroking her was kind of like stroking an elephant.
She had the most lovely nature and I was totally smitten and wished I had kidnapped her.
There were a few diamonds in the rough and I met some lovely people who restored my faith in humanity. A special shout out to Danielle and Cheryl my girlie buddies, both of whom I bonded with over common thoughts and findings. We had walks, laughs, watched bad and good tv (Danielle introduced me to Game of Thrones and painstakingly explained the entire first series!) and most of all they saved my soul – thank you ladies! There were others Mark met through diving who were great and made us smile. Not forgetting Michelle, the best yoga/fitness teacher I’ve ever encountered and who stopped me from vegetating.
We had the most amazing storms here. There was often lightening out at sea even when there wasn’t storms. When the big storms did hit, they’d go on for hours and the buildings would shake at the strength of the thunder rolls. I love storms so I always enjoyed it even if it did seem like the apartment and possibly the whole island would collapse.
Our second favourite bar, which was a bit of a walk to get to but we did like to watch the sun go down there, particularly when our friend Nadim, who always made us laugh and was often Mark’s dive partner in crime, started working there.
And of course everytime we went we could make the same jokes about ‘they tried to make me go to rehab’.
This of course was the point of us being here and Mark had an amazing time, qualified as an instructor and often bored the pants off of me.
There was a ‘dive festival’ while we were there. A few bits and pieces going on, most notably the Boat parade (I’m a sucker for fairylights
and Mark becoming a Record Breaker as part of the worlds biggest underwater pyramid!!!
I tried Float Utila out towards the end of my stay and wished I’d gone sooner. I’d seen the advert and had assumed it was a flotation pod, as I’d used back in London, but although I’d loved it wasn’t sure in the Honduran heat, if I’d fancy it here. Then one day we followed the path down to check it out and discovered a huge specially build floation chamber. I floated in there twice and it was absolutely bliss, both mentally and physically. It was large enough so even someone 6 foot something could stretch out I’m sure. There was a dim light which you could switch off for full sensory deprivation. The noise and the chaos that we lived amongst seemed a million miles away and so many aches and pains dissipated.
Random island things…
There are coral fossils everywhere you go – mainly brain coral which makes a cool fossil!
There are tons of hummingbirds on the island – various varieties and you never get tired of them – they are amazing.
They are also, I have learned – aggressive little buggers – always picking on each other.
After the hummingbirds, in the evenings we’d then get bats stealing all the sugar water out by our apartment.
There are crabs inland everywhere along the sides of the roads. Massive ones too and they can often be found wandering into bars.
My favourite are the ones with one massive claw, totally disproportionate to the rest of their bodies. They are comedy gold!
Tons of ignuanas on the island and you don’t have to go far to see them sunning themselves. They’d potter around our apartments. And on a nearby abandoned building there was a family of them where the daddy was huge!!!
Munchies restaurant has an area out the back where there’s lots of iguana holes though I must say I never saw any.
I missed out on a lot of the wildlife, not ever going out on the boats but I did a fair few times, have the pleasure of eagle rays floating about on the piers when I was sat in either Babalu or Rehab. Gorgeous they are too!
A bar set in the grounds ‘built’ over the years by a local artist. It’s an amazing place. In fact, the most interesting place on the island, shame it doesn’t open until 7pm when it’s dark so you can’t really see it. The bar does do the best Bloody Marys.
There is a restaurant attached ‘Jade Seahorse’ but that never seemed to be open the whole time we were there. The area behind the bar/restaurant is where the most amazing things are and there are a few cabins that you can stay it which are cool.
This place has a little bar which is another haven from the craziness, a pier with swinging chairs and great views.
I’m not a big fan of people owning ‘wild’ animals as pets but this monkeys life seemed a pretty good one – he’s basically free to roam about up by his home and you can see him swinging around the trees up there as well as sitting on his owners shoulders as they drive through the streets on a moped.
All in all…
It was definitely an experience. It’s difficult for me, as I had a very different experience to most who go there. I don’t think I met anyone else who wasn’t there to dive and I did often get a look of bewilderment when I told people I didn’t dive as they would wonder what on earth I did with my time.
In a way the timing was bad – I would have liked to have dived a bit and maybe take a few trips to nearby islands, but being so close to the end of our travels I was all too aware of cost and saving money was higher on the priorities than spending. Earning money in particular seemed important as to me the time I was spending there felt rather pointless. My work picked up well towards the end, though it could be incredibly frustrating when external factors scuppered me being able to work as well and efficiently as I would have liked.
It definitely backed up my feelings about living on as small island. As I suspected, I found it quite stifling and frankly boring. There is just so little diversity (if you’re not going under the ocean surface) and everyone knowing everyone’s business and never quite getting away from it all – had the feel of a small village which, as a private person, I’ve never been to fond of. If anything happened on the island or in the diving community the gossip and rumours spread pretty quickly.
It’s all good though, part of knowing what you want to do/where you want to be, is knowing what you don’t want to do and where you don’t want to be. It’s all valuable experience and at times the place was a lot of fun and the sea was beautiful on the few occasions I went in. There were blue sky days. There was interesting wildlife. And Mark left a dive instructor and record breaker!