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June 05, 2006

Not the Last Post...

Monday, June 5, 2006

Utila, Honduras:

This isn't the last post I will make here on the blog but it is probably THE LAST POST I WILL MAKE ON IT WHILE TRAVELLING. On Friday the 9th, four days from now, I will finally, after numerous postponements, fly back home and --- what is more --- stay there (at least until the work situation gels up, possible brief trips back to Buenos Aires notwithstanding (note my inclusion of out-clauses already)). I won't add much more to that for the time being. Reflections, thoughts, introspective commentary? Haven't really got any right now. "It's been great, pass me a beer," is about the best I could really sum it up with at this point.

In the last month I've wrapped up my PADI dive master course and then, without ever having considered doing it before, decided to complete an assistant instructor course as well. I finished a few days ago and have been diving for fun and hanging out ever since --- with all of the dives I've logged on Utila, I'll be leaving with more than 150 in total, since starting to dive here in late September, 2004. As for the time in between diving and studying diving, most of that has been spent between bars and beaches. Utila is tiny but the nightlife is good. The problem is that you need to be up at 6 AM the next day if you want to be on the morning boat.

After four dives on Saturday, I spent yesterday (Sunday) on Water Caye with a group of friends, lying on the sandy beach of this tiny palm and coconut tree-covered island, picnicking and occasionally splashing into the turquoise waters to swim and snorkel. Later in the afternoon the staff and students of another dive shop invaded the island in droves, blasting trance music, cooking barbeque, stringing up hammocks and, in the words of one of my friends, turning the caye into a "miniature Thai beach." Fortunately we were ready to leave at that point anyway.

This morning I made my way down to the shop at 6.30 to help load the boat (something that has become fairly routine). For the first time I can recall, I witnessed a cloudless distant horizon that permitted perfect views of the Honduran mainland some 20-odd miles to the south. Jagged mountain-peaks punctuated the length of the coast. Those peaks drop off into the sea where the same range continues underwater. The few points that stick up above the surface constitute Utila and the other Bay Islands.

I used the trip out to complete my "Deep Dive" course, a PADI specialization that focuses on making dives up to 40 meters/130 feet, the limit for recreational diving (whereas commerical, military and so-called technical divers use different equipment and techniques to make deeper and longer dives, most frequently requiring decompression stops prior to surfacing). Two of my four dives were to the maximum depth, a point at which light and color fade-out almost all-but-completely and the surface seems remote and foreign. I had the impression of being between two worlds --- the relatively shallower realm of the continental shelf and the abyss that drops away into the deep, black-blue beneath. For example, the first dive I did to approximately 130 feet (at which point you may only remain for several minutes before needing to ascend to a significantly lower depth in order to stay within accepted recreational/no-decompression diving limits) involved swimming down the side of an underwater mountain-peak (a "sea-mount") known as "Black Hills." Looking behind you as you descend from the summit, some 38 feet down, you can see it rising up above you. Meanwhile the slope ahead of you continues to drop down, seemingly endlessly. Colors mute and fade away and the amount of aquatic life surrounding you greatly diminishes, lending an eerily silent, surreal quality to the experience. My instructor on that trip (it was only the two of us) decided to kneel on a patch of sand and place his dive computer, which read 125 feet while at the level of his wrist, on the sea-floor, to get a precise depth reading. In dropping his head down an extra foot or so he experienced a squeeze in a cavity in his tooth and shot his head up again with a look of agony (later he told me he felt that tooth was about to explode, so intense was the pain). With the surrounding pressure at this depth five times greater than that on the surface, somebody taking an empty plastic Coca-Cola bottle along with them would observe that it would become "crushed," with the sides touching one another and only a small pocket of non-compressed space remaining near the very top and bottom of the bottle. The label would appear muddy-brown rather than red.

Today's first dive at "Duppy Waters" involved plunging to 130 feet along the side of a sheer, craggy, coral-covered wall that descends into seemingly infinite depths. After several minutes hovering in the blue, feeling tiny, we ascended for a more normal dive at about 50 feet. Along the way I found a 4-5 foot-long green moray eel sprawled out in the green and purple corals, remaining virtually still but for its endlessly opening-and-closing jaws (revealing rows of razor sharp teeth). (See photo here: It seemed to eye me menacingly from where I hovered about it, a few feet away. In fact, eels continuously open and close their jaws as part of their "breathing" process. This one had left the security of its cave to be "cleaned." Tiny yellow gobies and blue-striped Peterson cleaning shrimp flitted across the head and body, feeding off of bacteria and microorganisms harmful to the eel and tasty to the cleaners (symbiosis in action). While on Utila I've also seen a 4-foot great barracuda receive similar treatment, its jaws wide open while gobies fed blissfully on the build-up inside the barracuda's mouth. While the barracuda could have snapped its teeth down on the gobies at any moment, it didn't. Go figure. (It looks something like this, by the way:

Briefly, here are a few more comments on my time here:

Best Dive: I've done nearly 60 since returning but my best dive was undoubtedly the one I went on on the morning of my birthday, May 29th, along with my instructor (Peter, one of the Course Directors at BICD) and a couple of other dive masters and instructors. Using nitrox (air enriched with extra oxygen, which reduces nitrogen intake into the body, permitting longer bottom times within no decompression limits) we drifted along a dark rock and coral-lined wall, laced with caverns (known as "Blackish Point"), between 50 and 70 feet below the surface. Encountering stingrays, an eagle ray, immense midnight parrotfish and equally immense and rare rainbow parrotfish, spotted moray eels, cleaning shrimp, arrow crabs, and a massive black grouper would have been more than enough, but we had the luck to encounter 6 or 7 immense tarpon, cruising slowly in and out of the mouth of a cave in the side of the wall. For the most part unpurturbed by our approach, they let us get within 10 feet or so before finally retreating back into the cave or propelling themselves out into the blue. One of the fish must have been approximately 7 feet in length, the others between 4.5 and 6. (See photo here: For the rest of the dive we would catch frequent views of one or two tarpon as they followed us along the wall. By hovering perfectly still I was able to allow one to pass within not much more than a foot away from me.

Drunkest Night: The night of my birthday was also the night of my "snorkel test," a tradition in which recently-made dive masters are taken to a bar and forced to chug shots of rum, tequila and everything else under the sun through a snorkel with a funnel at the top, all which wearing a taped-over scuba mask that prevents them from seeing anything. At the end of this ridiculousness, somebody fills the eye and nose compartments of the mask with beer and the new dive master "demonstrates" how you clear a mask while under water. This results in (1) plenty of beer going on the dive master's lap and (2) a slight amount of beer going up the dive master's nose. This was all very stupid but I did it anyway and managed to keep from being sick. Drunk and vocal is another matter. I had to collect some information on exactly what I said that night from other people the next morning.

Strangest Suggestion: More than one person has told me that because I was born in Honduras I can rather effortlessly obtain an ID card and passport, permitting me a wide range of buesiness opportunities a lot of foreigners here can only dream about (as they are prohibited by law). The consensus among these people was that an "honest lawyer" on Utila could make $50,000 US per year or more --- an absolute fortune here. I don't have any current plans to set up a law practice on Utila, however. Besides, I suspect the not-so-honest lawyers here would not be beyond having my apartment machine-gunned to smithereens in the middle of the night.

Clearest Realization: If I had unlimited money and time I would strongly consider becoming a full-time scuba bum, perhaps teaching it. It's a great activity, I love it, and you meet all kinds of people from all over, most of them actually worth meeting. Adam, one of the instructors at BICD (and an exceptional underwater photographer), was once a highly successful hedge fund operations manager in London. When he had enough money and had had enough of business and finance, he became an instructor. I can understand that decision.

Most Dubious Achievement: When I'm not cavorting with scuba nerds at waterfront bars, I try to make sure I tune into MTV every night at 10 PM. I don't do it just because I relish being able to receive MTV Argentina here in Utila --- complete with shots of Buenos Aires and slushy-slurry-accented Argentine program hosts announcing videos and music news --- although I do, but because South Park comes on. In Spanish. Apart from a new dirty word here or there (diligently noted and researched later on), I understand 99% of it with little effort. Sadly, you have no idea as to just how proud of myself this really makes me.

Plans for the Future: Future? Oh crap, that thing. Well, I've been in touch with New York headhunters and New York headhunters have been in touch with me. Each time it's a lot like two dogs meeting for the first time and sniffing each others' asses. Only slightly less poetic than that. We'll see what happens.

Immediate Plans for the Next Several Days:

1) Dive, dive and dive (Tues and Weds)
2) Lie on beach and think happy thoughts (Tues and Weds)
3) Drink beer like my life depends on it (Tues and Weds)
4) Bus down to Tegucigalpa with three lovely Scottish lasses (Thurs)
5) Experience a weird sense of deja vu on Thursday night. Treat said deja vu with more beer.
6) Fly into Newark on Friday, arriving at 10:25 PM. Spend flight time thinking of something appropriately sardonic to say to my father, meeting me at the airport.
7) Head upstate to my parents' house.
8) Sleep
10) Work on resume

That's about it. If it's been a while since we've talked, I'll be calling you soon or at least writing to ask for your number. Once I have settled myself in a little bit I will get around to actually filling in some back stories and anything worth relating that might have occurred during the final few days.

Posted by Joshua on June 5, 2006 06:47 PM
Category: Utila Again

Hey "espressoman," haven't even looked on here in ages but will talk to you soon enough. Look forward to a coffee/beer or both with you within a week or two.

Posted by: Josh on June 6, 2006 06:12 PM

In La Ceiba on the north coast of Honduras, having decided to stay here for the night before flying to Teguc Friday morning and connecting to Houston and New Jersey. Not much more than 27 hours left until I land in Newark.

Posted by: Josh on June 8, 2006 08:02 PM
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