On a small Caribbean island off the coast of Honduras, where ex-pats, hippies, and backpackers flock, the main rule for scuba diving is if you’re going to vomit underwater, it’s best to do it in your alternate regulator.
Welcome to Utila, an island full of alcoholics with a diving problem.
Due to 300 years of British Influence, the Bay Island of Utila is much different than mainland Honduras. The 6,000 inhabitants’ main language is English rather than Spanish. The locals are outgoing and love to welcome visitors to the island.
Their friendliness might stem from how difficult it is to actually get to Utila. Options include a rickety Cessna flight from the mainland or a 45 minute ferry ride on the Utila Princess – fondly nicknamed the Vomit Comet by locals and seasoned backpackers alike.
While many would avoid this harrowing journey, those who are brave enough to risk their guts, are rewarded with some of the best, and most inexpensive, scuba diving in the world.
During spring and fall, the waters surrounding Utila are home to whale sharks, one of the most magnificent and sought after aquatic sights by scuba and snorkel buffs.
This is what brought me and my travel companions to the tiny island this past April, to obtain our PADI open water diving certification and with hopes of glimpsing the elusive whale shark.
Getting off the Vomit Comet, and disposing of the puke bags that crew members handed out mid-voyage, we found ourselves on the main dock of Utila’s port, surrounded by an endless expanse of ocean to one side and the hustle and bustle of the 2 street town on the other. My queasiness began to dissipate as I took in the pastel coloured buildings, home to hostels, oceanfront bars, and the numerous dive shops that operate on the island.
A majority of Utila days are spent lounging around in the steamy Caribbean climate. Whether it be tanning on the white sandy beaches or exploring below the surface of the crystalline waters, you develop a sense of inertia. No one wears a watch unless it’s a dive computer. No one is in a rush because no one feels the need to go anywhere.
I caught myself being absorbed into the ebb and flow of island life, settling into the relaxed routine of wake up, dive, eat, siesta, drink, sleep, repeat. And yes, drink.
As with any backpacker hangout, there is a fair amount of alcohol consumption. With very little else to do at night, when you aren’t diving, you’re drinking.
Utila bars are located right on the water, with docks jetting out overtop. Since salt water amplifies sound, finding which bar is popular that night is easy. One literally has to follow the music.
Shots of rum, tequila, and vodka are sold for 10 lempira, or 50 cents. There were many nights where I found myself drunk on a dock, swaying along to the rhythmic beats of Latin music.
With the heat and humidity, I definitely felt the effects of 50 cent tequila shots waking up those mornings. I was worried about having to refer to the rule about alternate regulators. That is, until I realized there were no hot showers.
Sometimes, where even the blasting cold water of our hostel didn’t jolt me into consciousness, I could always rely on nature’s hangover cure – diving – something the entire island seemed to fall back on. Abundant coral reefs and bountiful marine life do wonders for the hungover diver.
Although I didn’t get the chance to dive with whale sharks, this small Honduran island managed to enthrall me. Leaving was not an easy decision.
A word of warning: if travelling to Utila, you might find yourself stuck, joining the ranks of the perpetual backpackers and dive addicts before you who fell for this island’s charm.