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The Honduran island of Utila is the Central American home of divers. Whether they are learning to dive, training to be instructors, or looking to learn to free dive, they are here. This Caribbean paradise is the place to learn to SCUBA. It’s cheap, the water is warm, the sea is perfectly crystal clear when you’re in it, and an incredible aqua blue when you’re not. We had quite literally risked our lives (by visiting the murder capital of the world) to get there, so this had better be worth it!
I never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to SCUBA dive. There always seemed to be a reason not to do it: we’re not here for long enough, I don’t want to spend time in a classroom when I could be on the beach, it’s too expensive… A few years earlier when in Costa Rica, Utila had been described to me as “an island paradise that you won’t want to leave, with the cheapest PADI courses in the world – you have to go”.
Sometimes when you travel, the words of a complete stranger, somebody that you don’t even spend any time with, stick in your head. This is exactly what happened with me and Utila. Like when everybody in South America raved about Colombia as I travelled in the opposite direction, I knew I would have to visit one day. Colombia had more than lived up to expectations and now it was Utila’s turn.
Throughout Central America, everybody seemed to have been to Utila. Everybody had been diving, and everybody recommended a different dive shop. The island is dotted with them and so rather than visit them all, we thought we would go with one that had been recommended a few times: Utila Dive Centre, which also had the best record for safety. When we arrived and were greeted with smiles and a complimentary beer, we knew we had made the right choice!
For the next 5 days, diving was our life. Days one and two consisted of two mornings in the classroom, studying, watching videos, taking tests and reading textbooks – in other words, the most boring hours I had experienced in weeks. I mean, sure it was all important, necessary stuff that we were learning that would come in really useful when 18m under water but this was not why we were here.
The afternoons were better, as we were actually in the water! We’re breathing underwater, this was awesome! I thought to myself. We learned the necessary skills like filling up your mask with water and clearing it, swimming without breathing, and how to signal that your air had run out. Our tanks actually got turned off very briefly before we insanely signalled with our hands that we were about to die (although we of course were only without air for about 0.1 seconds).
Day three was when it started to get interesting: we went on to a boat and headed out in to the open water. We went down to 12 metres on our first dive! After some more “skills” we went for our first dive along Utila’s reef – this is when I saw the coolest thing. A huge eagle ray floated right by us, slowing gliding along, flapping it’s “wings” with it’s long tail trailing through the water. This thing was massive, and it got me excited to see more! Shortly after, we saw a massive fish called a tarpon, lurking in the darker water away from the coral, it was quite hard to get perspective on its but it was certainly very cool to see it.
The following day we went down to 18 metres, and with that were certified as Open Water divers!!! I can now dive anywhere in the world, which is going to be extremely useful when I arrive in Australia in December 2014!
On our final day we went out on the boats again for our final two dives before leaving the island. We saw all sorts of cool little fish as well as a huge, creepy looking, bright green moray eel. Lurking in a cave, it was hard to get a feel for just how big it was but it looked huge, and it didn’t look like it wanted to be our friend. We left it to it.
If I’m honest I was expecting to see a little bit more life in the underwater world of Utila, but I still really enjoyed my first diving experience. Everything was new, so the feeling of being able to float in the water, looking up at the light shining through the surface of the water way above, watching the air bubbles rise up to the surface like flying saucers and feel completely weightless was amazing!
I know that this is just the start of my SCUBA experience, and that there is much much more to come…I can’t wait to get back down there!
Have you ever been SCUBA diving? Where is your favourite spot to dive?