Whale sharks, Utila

whale shark utila

Very hot in Utila which is an island off the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Being Caribbean it has it’s own culture and English is widely spoken along with a form of creole twang going back to African heritage. Unfortunately, not much Spanish so Spanish lessons may soon be wasted. We also hung out the hope of completing our PADI course and getting up close with some whale sharks.

Utila though is one of the cheapest places in the world to learn to dive. Not that you really want to combine ‘cheap’ with the risky pursuit of being deep underwater and relying on a mechanical device to stay alive. But beggars can’t be choosers.

But first things first. Our accommodation last night we chose hastily was terrible and we plan to be here a while so some new digs are on the cards. Many dive schools include accommodation however we eventually locate Rudi’s Inn, a great little place with our own balcony overlooking the water and a fridge to store essentials like milk for breakfast, and beer!

We also settle on Utila water sports where our instructor Suzie makes us feel the most comfortable from the many diving outfits along the strip in Utila. Plus, we will commence our dive course first thing on New Years Day, which is perfect for us as we are likely the only people, along with Suzie, who will be sober that morning. We get some reading material, complete some quizzes and watch a 3 hour video to complete our theory component of the course.

New Year’s Eve

New Year’s Eve. We have breakfast on our dock. Go out with our dive crew for some snorkelling just off the beach which has some decent coral formations. Saw plenty of fish and a Moray Eel. Then laze in the sun while all the divers finish up.

We grab some supplies and have a few beers on our balcony for New Years and team up with our neighbours, a Swiss couple, and grab some dinner before returning for a final drink on our balcony knowing we need to be fighting fit and sober for our first dive in the morning. So we are in bed by 10pm as 2005 comes to a close and 2006 arrives.

New Years Eve Utila

New Years Eve Utila

First Dive of 2006

Happy New Year! Sadly, the best we’ve felt on New Year’s Day for some time. We have a great breakfast and Utila is dead quiet. Off to scuba school. Some brief theory and tests, then off to setup our gear.

Out on the dive boat we go to a beach and are in standing depth water to complete a series of basic drills, including falling backwards off the boat. We take a 30 minute dive to about 12 meters and see some cool coral formations and plenty of fish. All went well and we seem to have coped with the whole scuba thing quite well. One of the first dives of 2006!

Complete dive theory test

Continue our PADI course and complete and pass theory test. A 96% score each! We head to the dock for a swim test. Basically a 10 minute tread water test. Passed.

In the afternoon we do our regular set of skills then another dive down to a moon hole around a patch of sand surrounded by coral. See a large stingray in the sand, obviously upset by our presence as he ruffled his wings of sand and sailed away.

We are getting used to breathing underwater which is a strange feeling to get used to. Also the process of surfacing, cleaning and stowing gear and filling in our log books of dive statistics. 2 dives in 2 days of 2006. Not bad!

We meet up with our other neighbours who are two English guys. One whose been travelling a while and his mate who has just joined him, each night losing all his stuff due to being exceedingly drunk. Quite funny stories though and it entertains us for the evening as we check into our regular haunts for some drinks and food.

Whale Sharks search

Early start of 6:30am this morning! Into the first dive of the day. A few regular skills first then swim through a channel and down a wall of coral. We go to 18m this time, our deepest yet. All goes well.

We stop for lunch on a nearby island which is a regular of the dive school as they rang ahead on the radio for burgers! Then we head out for the afternoon in search of whale sharks!

Our dive school owner has his parents over for the holidays and looking to impress. So we have the benefit of spending the day cruising for whale sharks! We circle around in radio contact with other boats and watching the birds who dive down to collect the fish that are chased to the surface by the whale shark, ahh the food chain at work…

So we see a circle of birds pecking at the bubbling water and cruise over. We are positioned on the edge of the boat, snorkelling gear on. The boat pulls up right next to the bubbling water and the dive master shouts ‘Go, go go go!! we all fall into the water. Focusing downwards, the immense shape of the world’s largest fish is beneath us.  (A whale shark is a shark not a whale). Situated just above its tail we were warned not to get too close as one swipe of the tail could knock you out.

The view is brief but awe inspiring. The spotted green, grey skin wrapped tightly around the enormous cartilage frame of the whale shark set amongst the backdrop of the endless blue of the deep ocean. One majestic wave of its tail and the shark dived and just as quickly disappeared into the ocean depths.

Looking up to the surface we notice the boat some 50 metres away. Being a long way offshore we soon realised whale sharks may not be the only version of their species out here. So we swim one of the fastest olympic laps of our lives to the back of the boat and are soon puffing and panting on deck.

Still looking to impress our dive master attempts at locating another whale shark. Again we are lined up on the edge of the boat and the familiar “Go go go go” is voiced. At the same time a rapid “Stop, stop, stop, stop” is yelled. Turns out there was a ‘real’ shark in the water instead at this time. The kind with razor sharp teeth! So we take that as a sign that one whale shark is enough and we start to get out of our wetsuits and snorkel gear.

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Ever since venturing out the back gate into the bush as a kid, I've had a curiosity to escape and explore as often as I could. It's fair to say that my curiosity has continued to grow instead of fade as the years go on. It eventually came time to turn a few scribbled notes into some legible stories and travel tips for anyone with a similar curiosity as me.

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