The next morning was another early start and we got the ferry from the dock at Livingston over to Puerto Barrios and from there we were picked up in a shuttle that took us directly to the border. The crossing was really straightforward and there wasn’t that many people there which was great. At one point, a biker couple, fully kitted out in their leathers with ‘Guatemalan Pirates’ emblazoned across the back, roared up on their motorcycle, blaring Bonnie Tyler’s Total Eclipse of the Heart, hilarious!
After our passports had been stamped and entrance fee paid, we transferred to another bus that took us to San Pedro de Sula, the second largest city in Honduras (and the most dangerous city in the world apparently…eek!). It was so strange when we got there as I really felt like we could have been in an American city, the streets were lined with Applebees, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Burger King and Pizza Hut. Since the beginning of the 20th century, the United States has had more influence on Honduras than any other nation, dating back to when US banana companies began expanding their presence on the northern coast.
In San Pedro de Sula (which as well as being one of the most dangerous cities in the world, also has the highest rate of AIDS in Central America too), we were dropped off at a bus terminal/shopping mall where we were able to withdraw some local currency (Honduran lempira) and get the bus to La Ceiba where we could catch a taxi to the ferry for the Bay Islands.
I was really in two minds as to whether to go to Utila or Roatán. I read in my Lonely Planet that there wasn’t much else to do on Utila other than dive and I wasn’t planning on diving, nor did I really want to. However, Roatán was supposedly more expensive and so the cheaper option won out in the end. I met a few others at the ferry port to Utila, including a girl I had met in Flores, so we took off on the ferry aka the Vomit Comet, and made our way to the island! The cost of getting to the islands isn’t cheap, to get to Utila it cost about 448 lempira (about $24) each way and the ferry to Roatán is only slightly more expensive (and MUCH fancier!). The ferry to Utila isn’t called the Vomit Comet for nothing, it was seriously rocky and there were plenty of very sick looking people! Thankfully I didn’t feel too bad and after about an hour, we had arrived.
Upon arrival in Utila, you’re accosted by lots of people calling out to you to stay at their hostel or dive centre, but having read up about the Mango Inn, the group of five of us who had met on the ferry decided to check that place out. The Mango Inn is the hostel associated with Utila Dive Centre and so they cater for divers primarily. As I wasn’t planning on diving, I was told that I could stay there for a night (which was free!) but I would have to find another place to stay after this as they took on divers as priority – usually the dive courses include your accommodation in the fee. I have to say I felt that this was a little unfair but decided to just go with it and see what my options were the next day. The manager Sarah showed us around and brought us down to the dive centre, it was actually really nice to get a tour around the place (which is very easy to do as Utila is pretty much just one main street!) and get some recommendations on places to eat. However, I was told in no uncertain terms that if I wasn’t diving, there was pretty much nothing else to do. I think lie in a hammock was a suggestion..!
At the dive centre, Sarah showed us around and explained what each course would entail (a few of the group were beginners so would be doing the Open Water PADI course and one of the others was planning on doing the advanced course). I have to say, I began to wonder whether I should just do it as I was there, and there was a certain element of peer pressure too! Not one to give in to that sort of thing, I decided to find out more information and then make an informed decision the next day. We were invited later that night to the barbeque at the dive centre, and after a few beers I was pretty much talked into it! When in Rome, etc etc.
The night continued on from the Dive Centre to Treetanic, a really cool bar connected to the Jade Seahorse guesthouse. The bar is fashioned after a shipwreck that has sunk in a patch of mango trees and covered in mixed media mosaic. Open since 1998, the bar has been continuously decorated since then by the artist. Later on we made our way to Coco Loco, a bar built on a wooden dock just over the water. I definitely began to understand that there were really were only two things to do in Utila: dive and PARTY.
The next day, after a slight panic attack at sight of my bank balance, I decided to go with my gut and that I really didn’t want to dive and I wasn’t crazy about Utila, it wasn’t worth my while to stay there for the week. The Open Water course here is supposedly the cheapest place in the world to do it, costing $299 for 3.5/4 days which includes introductory videos, first day of theory and test dive in shallow water, then a full dive practicing skills you’ve learned and then finally the last day is a fun dive. This is with the Utila Dive Centre and if you’re doing the course you can stay in the Mango Inn free of charge and two breakfasts (toast and coffee!) are included.
I was very unsure of what to do and feeling quite indecisive but I decided to just go with my instincts and spend my money more wisely on activities I actually wanted to do. I celebrated St Patrick’s Day on Utila as well, which was an experience! At Underwater Vision (another big dive centre and hostel) there was a huge Paddy’s Day party which included a ‘Beer Olympics’ with volleyball tournament, drinking games, a chicken fight (which wasn’t with actual chickens thankfully, just people hopping around on one leg in a circle trying to push one another over). I have to say, it was fun but it also confirmed it for me that I didn’t want to spend much time here, the place was what I imagine a big American frat-house would be like, just lots of parties and also quite ‘cliquey’. Everyone only hung out with the others in their dive centre, and diving was always pretty much the only topic of conversation. I just knew that it was not for me!
There was also the ‘three lies that you tell in Utila’ which I thought was ridiculous…so the first lie, “I’m leaving tomorrow”, the second lie is “I’m not drinking tonight” and the third lie is “I love you”. In that case, “I love you, Utila!”.
After three nights there, I said “I’m leaving tomorrow” and meant it!