Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

The sun rises just after five and peeks through my window. Slowly opening my eyes, I become aware of the fan’s breeze on my legs and the sound of the roosters outside my window.  I sit up, ever so slowly, avoiding sudden movements. Tactfully and with precision, I peel back the curtain of my window to see the branch outside my tree.

He’s there!

I freeze.

Minutes pass, in absolute stillness. Eyes locked with those of Craig McDuff the Elusive, I can’t risk batting an eyelash, lest I scare him back into his hole. His head turns slowly to the right, so I can see one of his eyes now fixed on me. I’ve been spotted. The spikes on his back prick up. Not wanting to make the first move, he mimics my rigid demeanor. At some point, one of us will have to move. It’s a matter of when.

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As I gaze at Craig, the iguana who I spend most of my free time with, I peacefully gather my thoughts and center my bearings for the day. After usually 15 minutes of this stoic charade, Craig darts into his hole–but the staring contest can last up to 30 minutes. It’s my morning meditation, and also the first thing I do when I return to my room each day: try to catch Craig in the act of acting like a tree, on the tree outside my window.

Utila is…

Hmm. Well, people say that Utila is a drinking island with a diving problem. It’s a half truth.

As with any place, your experience can be whatever you make of it. If you’d like to develop alcoholism, a cocaine addition, and fall in love with a new man each night, then look no further: Utila has it all! But on the other hand, if you want to meet eccentric and unique individuals, wander through magical herb gardens and drink coffee that puts Starbucks to shame, Utila has that too. I have chosen to go with the latter of the two options, and can confidently say that I think this island is a little slice of heaven.

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You know one thing that I love about this place? Walking down one of the three streets on this island, you’ll see a diverse mix of locals speaking different languages with all different accents; some have dark skin and speak the strangest English I’ve ever heard, while others have blonde hair and blue eyes and descend from Pirates. I must say, there is plenty of culture here, despite the criticism from many backpackers that Utila has none.  The island is very much still running it’s own program.  As the backpackers come and go, the heartbeat of this island doesn’t skip it’s rythm.  It’s a matter of perspective, whether you chose to see the culture or not is really up to you.

Some things I’ve learned about this place have me wondering how anyone can’t see the layers of Utila stratified like a cross section of sedimentary rock.  Recently, the mayor of Utila stole money allocated from the mainland government for the development of public schools here, and instead built his own private school where families have to pay to send their kids.  Campanado, where foreigners can’t go, is a place behind my house where the drug lords make the laws.  Rumor has it that when the island experiences a power outage, which happens maybe once a week, it’s because the drug plane is landing in Utila to refuel.  When something is stolen, you go to the local wizard, Web, who can mysteriously make your items reappear within days by venturing into Campanado. So you see, Utila is not just an island of drunken tourists  between the ages of 20 and 35 who dive from time to time.  In fact, there is much more to this place than that, and I’ve quite enjoyed the process of learning about those subtle intricacies.

But let’s get back to the drinking problem. If you have a minute, watch this video, and perhaps you’ll understand a bit more about the other face of Utila.

Yes, yes, this is where I’m living right now. But, take your fingers and close your jaw for me, and then remember that this is just the other option of the many experiences you can have here on Utila.  If you’re not so interested in the Skid Row challenge or the medical advice of Dr. John, I’ll tell you that I’ve never been to Skid Row, and that Dr. John’s ear drops have saved me from imminent ear infections. I’ve found my niche on this island, and it certainly doesn’t involve any (well, I’d say most) of what’s in that video.

When I arrived here, I spent the first 3 days adjusting to the heat and humidity. For the first week, I battled dehydration and extreme fatigue, simply unable to stop sweating and start feeling normal. But after drinking a couple litres of agua de coco and homemade rehydration juice (lime, sea salt, and honey) per day, my body adjusted in time for me to take my Instructor Development Course (IDC), which is why I came here in the first place. There’s not much to say about the IDC besides that it was intense and educational, and it ended with me becoming a PADI Open Water Scuba Instructor (OWSI) and a Specialty Instructor in a various fields (Deep Diving, Wreck Diving, Gas Blending, Equipment, Oxygen Providing, and Enriched Air Diving).  The diving here is magnificent.  Sea turtles, spotted eagle rays and dolphins make frequent appearances, but I’ll dedicate a whole post to diving later…

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Since the IDC ended, I’ve simply been enjoying each day for the little rewards it brings me. Just being able to live each day in the moment is something I’ve missed dreadfully.  I’ll highlight some of the amazing, less talked about gems of Utila, the ones that have taken my heart and established a sense of place for me…

Let’s start with Babalu.  This place, envisioned and built by an Italian ex-pat, breaks every building code you can imagine but somehow manages to create a supremely chill atmosphere for sunsets and fish viewing in their live aquarium (a square cut out in the dock, where fish come to be fed).

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Then there’s Rio Coco, where I go every morning after my meeting with Craig the iguana, to drink my coffee and chat with early risers.

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Rio Coco is a lovely little non-profit coffee shop, run by a family from Virginia.  They’ve dedicated their lives to helping fund a school in the region of the Rio Coco where the Miskito natives live.  Sharing mornings with these ladies and other lovely people who frequent the shop is usually the second best part of my day (Craig, of course, being the first).

Now there are certain individuals, as I mentioned in the beginning of this post, who are eccentric and unique–people who I am so happy to talk to whenever I can, so I can pick their brains and absorb whatever it is they have to say.  One such person is Gunter.  Gunter has been on Utila for 42 years, so I guess there’s some truth to the Utila music video about not being able to leave.  He is the self-proclaimed “Evil-Kineval of Diving,” as he presses limits that make any PADI professional simultaneously cringe and gawk in amazement.  One hundred and 30 meters for 1 hour, on one tank?  If you aren’t a diver, you might not understand how incredible, if not impossible, this is, but I can tell you, this is insane.  He has been accused by locals of stealing pirate treasure under there, and even confronted by local law enforcement and searched because of his mysterious life underwater.  I asked him if he’s afraid of dying, since the way he dives makes it very likely that that will be his fate one day, and he said “I’m at home under there, and you know, when it’s my time, it’s my time.  I’d rather be down there than anywhere else.”  Gunter sips air underwater at a meager rate of four breaths per minute.  He says he treats the air like a fine wine…sipping it into his mouth, tossing it around his mouth before slowly inhaling it and using every bit of oxygen there is.

Gunter and I at the Utilaween party

Gunter and I at the Utilaween party

He’s quite an interesting fellow, that’s for sure.  He’s up there on the list of my favorite, middle-aged legends of Utila, which includes many other characters that I’ve come to adore.

Shelby, the botanist who is said to have cured his own cancer with herbs, took me through his garden one day and had me sample various fruits and berries, each with their own medicinal purpose.  One smelled so distinctly of blue cheese, I could hardly stand to hold it.  It even looked like a tumor.  He sent my roommate Emma and I home with bags of leaves and fruits, intended to cure our various skin and intestinal ailments, after sharing hours of stories about healing.

Finally, the last thing that I love about Utila is the crabs.

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The crabs are just wonderful.  They come out of their little ground holes each day, but never venture very far from the entrance of their holes.  I spend a lot of time hanging out my window, dropping bits of food down and watching them drag it into their holes.  But those are just the blueish orange crabs.  Then there are what I call the sewer crabs.

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These guys come out at night, and are the ugliest things you’ve ever seen.  They go right out into the middle of the street at night, and are often too slow to escape the speeding tuk-tuks or drunken tourists.  I spend quite a fair amount of energy trying to rescue them from their fate by redirecting them back into the sewers from which they came.  But usually, they end in a curiously orangeish blackish pile of mush, like this:

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So this is Utila.

It’s really a wonderful place.  Though it isn’t the picturesque Carribbean dream island you might have imagined, it comes with a whole package of vivid culture, incredible diving, and stories worth digging for.  Sometimes the sunsets are so breathtaking it makes me terribly nostalgic for the people I love at home who aren’t here to see the clouds and the sun come together to form such beauty.

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With my many quiet nights in my jungle hammock outside my house, I can’t complain about the drinking culture or even the unrelenting sand-flies–it’s all part of the experience that I’m loving.  This place has invigorated and restored my sense of adventure, love of learning, and quiet reflection that I so fundamentally need in my life.  For that, Utila has a chunk of my heart.

*     *     *

Photos for mom:

Our washing machine…broken, of course.

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My bike, purchased for $25…it’s the rusty one with no basket:

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The road to my house:

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The road to Campanado, which I pass every day but would never venture down…

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Emma (my housemate from Scotland) and a little puppy who visits us from time to time.  One day I spent an hour picking ticks off her.  We’ve named her Baliada:

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And, finally, a store on the main road, selling…well…

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6 Responses to Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras

  1. web site

    “Utila, Bay Islands, Honduras | Everything Was Beautiful” was in fact a
    remarkable blog post and also I actually ended up being extremely joyful
    to locate it. Thanks a lot,Vaughn

    • Anoush

      Thank you Vaughn! I’m very glad you enjoyed it. Don’t hesitate to contact me if you have any questions you want answered about Utila :)

  2. Jen Strano

    So happy you are on the road again. Enjoy the sea and keep the blog posts coming!

  3. robert

    Hey ! Great blog! Thank you for all the wonderful information! I will be coming down there in the middle of October. I have only heard the most amazing words about the place.

  4. Robb

    Thank you for the most excellent read about Utila. My wife and I are seriously thinking of leaving the cold and relocating to paradise. Would love to talk to you and get the real jist of the island life there in Utila. Please feel free to contact me if you’d like. My wife and I would have tons of questions. IF that doesn’t scare you. Lol. Thanks again.
    Robb and Shelley

  5. Marie @mariestravels.com

    Oh, I loove Utila! :-) And the video as well. It describes Utila perfectly! When I look at all your pictures, I start missing this place so much.

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