Scuba dooba dooo!
Trip Start Aug 09, 2009
28Trip End Mar 16, 2010
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Where I stayed
Altonīs Dive Shop
The situation was that we were still dying to learn how to dive and didnt want to do it in Belize due to hearing worrying stories from other travellers that Belize has not got the best name for dive centers and that they donīt adhere to safety standards as much as the dive shops on Utila or Roatan. Being nervous first time divers this didnt sit well with us and we made the unanimous decision to head to Honduras anyway
The first shuttle picked us up at 4.30am outside our hostel, those first few hours were passed in a sleepy daze until we hit the breakfast stop which was only about an hour and a half away from the border. The scenery was very hilly and beautiful to look at. We got to the border crossing and were very pleased to see that it was the quietest and most pleasant border crossing we had had on the trip! Another half hour or so and we had arrived in Copan Ruinas, home of the famous Copan mayan ruins and our rest stop for half an hour before boarding the Hedman Alas bus to La Ceiba.
We were very pleased with Hedman Alas, the seats on the bus were better than what you get on an airline, reclining at a very comfortable angle. We got served a cooldrink and a pack of crisps each and we watched a movie through our headphones (10,000 BC nothing to write home about) whilst the bus negotiated winding roads and narrow paths. It was the single most relaxing journey I have had and it was not long before we were stopping at our next rest point - San Pedro Sula
La Ceiba is a port city that doesnt really have much going for it except for the fact that it has a nice shopping mall. The hostel we stayed in, Banana Republic, had received good reviews in the Lonely Planet and were described as the new 2 year old addition to Jungle River Lodge, a hostel just outside of La Ceiba. Maybe the Lonely Planet meant that it had not been cleaned for 2 years as it was a filthy hole of a place with gross bathrooms with water stains everywhere and very useless staff. The area had experienced a water cut that day leaving the toilets unflushed and us not being able to shower. I also found that what the website described as "Wake up to fresh coffee and some tasty granola, yogurt or good ole oatmeal with brown sugar" was nothing more than a glass cabinet filled with packets of sugar and some noodles. I never saw any coffee the next morning either! If you want to have a look at what the hostel does not offer then look up http://www.jungleriverlodge.com/accomodation_BR.html
The one good thing about the hostel was that we met a dive instructor heading to Utila to finish off his apprenticeship and he raved about the quality of the diving, the professionalism of the instroctors and dive shops and also approved our choice of going with Altonīs Dive Shop. Ever since arriving in Panama we had met travellers who had recommended Altonīs to us and I have to say that our email correspondence with them before arriving on the island answering our questions about prices, availability and the safety regarding the coup were always answered efficiently and comprehensivelyhttp://www.altonsdiveshop.com/
Ryan, the dive instructor, also mentioned that it was lucky that we had arrived in La Ceiba when we had as they had had bad rains for 3 days prior and the ferry had not been able to sail to Utila due to bad seas leaving some people stranded. As I could think of no place worse to be stranded than Banana Republic I was quite glad how it had worked out! Luckily the rains had stopped and when we got to the port the next morning the ferry was leaving as per usual. It was very strange to see these salty seamen waiting to board the ferry - they sounded just like extras from Pirates of the Caribbean and we could barely make out what they were saying to each other so thick were their Caribbean accents. Apparently Utila has a large population that is derived from the pirates that were in the area in the days of Columbus and Henry Morgan, all very exciting to us!
I had heard before that the ferry to Utila could be rough and it was, the boat pitched up and down at an alarming rate causing most people to remain standing so as to be able to see out of the portholes to view the horizon and grip the rails of the boat so as not to go flying
Still, we were glad to be on dry land by the time we docked at Utila as an hour at sea in rough waters is more than enough! True to their word Altonīs were waiting for us and an Australian couple Stu and Sal that we had met on the ferry. Stu and Sal were biologists who had just done some work in Nicaragua and we had a conversation with them about the volcano boarding in Leon, only to find out that their friends owned Bigfoot Hostel, the place that runs the boarding! Very small world.
I loved Altonīs from the moment we arrived, being greeted by a big licky labador called Zoey and shown to our rooms which were, as described on their website, RIGHT ON THE WATER! We couldnt have asked for better views with a nice circular dock at the end and in prime position for good sunsets.
After filling out all the mandatory forms (do you suffer from claustrophobia, do you have any nervous dispositions etc) and paying our ridiculously cheap course price which included accommodation, breakfast and two free fun dives, we were officially PADI Open Water students
The videos were quite funny in a very cheesy kind of way but we managed to get through them and trotted across the road for dinner at RJīs, a bbq shack right opposite Altonīs where a few of the divemasters work shifts for extra cash. Al and I ordered the baracuda and the marlin both of which were great but we agreed that the baracuda was a bit more tender and thus won our vote. We got talking with Sal and Stu and some other Aussies and drinking a bottle of rum that Jules had snuck in - not very secretively however as the one waitress came over and said that they were not being paid to sit and watch us drink our own alchohol so would we please move out of hte restaurant! Ouch. We hotfooted it back to Altonīs and spent the evening chatting on the round deck until sleep caught up with us.
Breakfast the next morning was a slow moving affair. Christina, the owner of the snack shack had her hands full with her three kids and her black lab, Bingo plus the new addition to the family, a three week old puppy whose name kept changing every day
We finished off our theory and after lunch, met up with Steph again to be kitted out with our gear, learn how to use the apparatus and set our equipment up and after a run through, get in the water for our first confined dive. We were all really excited but a bit nervous at the same time as no one knew how they would react breathing under water for the first time. I had some bad luck with my regulator and my tank as they were both leaking air and I had to get my gear changed three times, but we got there in the end and before long we were all strapped in and ready for action. We did a giant stride jump off the dock into the water, after changing from my snorkel to my regulator I put my head in the water and lo and behold, was breathing! It was a weird sensation and the sound of your breath sounds not unlike Darth Vadar in his "Luke, I am your father" moment but you soon get used to that. Our first task was to fill our mask with water whilst still at surface and remove the water by blowing through your nose to push the water out. This took me a few goes but I eventually managed to do it after a bit of water swallowing and caughing. Then it was the big moment, going under completely for the first time!
It was... silty.
The bad weather the few days before we had arrived had moved a lot of silt into the confined dive area and over the mat they use so when we all settled on the ground to start our underwater tasks we could barely see our hands in front of our faces
That night we made ourselves some rolls for dinner and Lynda and I spent a quiet evening at the dorms whilst Al and Jules went out on the town for a few drinks, scuba really wipes you out
We managed to do our confined dives the next morning after two of the divemasters did some more sweeping of the mat and this time around we not only had Andy assisting Steph (as he had done the day before as part of his completion of his divemaster course), but we also had Bel, a very bubble Brazilian girl that was also doing her divemaster. Steph paired Lynda up with Bel and they clicked immediately. Bel would help Lynda out as she was still having concerns about losing her regulator and her mask and Andy would help the rest of us out if we needed it. We spent the morning doing controlled emergency swimming ascents (CESAīs), taking off and putting on our BCDīs and flippers and masks, practising buoyancy techniques, practising losing and replacing our regulators and swimming without our masks and also using the two different methods of towing our buddy. After a quick lunch we were putting our stuff onto the boat to go out for our very first open water dive!
I think we were all a bit nervous, but none more so than Lynda, she had still not taken a liking to losing her reg and mask and was concerned that she would not be able to do the dives. Bel was going to help her and Andy was going to pair up as my buddy.
My first descent was unlike any other experience I have ever had before, it felt like I was entering space with this whoosing sound as the air escaped from my BCD and the sounds of the underwater world filling my ears. We got down to about 3m and started doing some of the tasks that we had done in confined dives. As we went a bit deeper after that my ears starting giving me a little trouble and I tried to equalise regularly but sometimes it wouldnt work
The second dive down was very painful for me. My ears would not equalise and were actually so painful that I was crying out under water. We were supposed to go down to 12m again but I couldnt even make 7m and had to keep at 5m for the entire dive. Andy and I went over the reef while the boys and Steph went further. This time around I had more opportunity to look around at my surroundings and watched in delight as we were surrounded by large schools of big fish, dashing in and out of the coral
That night I suffered badly with my ears. I lay on my bed with one ear down to try and get the water out, Jules was sent to the chemist to find some kind of sinus tablets to (hopefully) try and unblock the ears, people offered up their own ear horror stories and bits of advice but all I could really do was lie there and wait it out. Eventually the boredom got to me and I staggered outside to join the rest of the gang at the rehabilitation pool for some dinner and dive talk. Jules and I also spotted a scorpion fish in the rehab pool and the gang spent a good 40 mins trying to pry it out of its hiding place between two rocks. Along with the green moray eel also living in the rehab pool, it made for very good entertainment.
The next morning was spent cramming for our Open Water test, a 50 question multiple choice quiz that needs a pass rate of 75%. But if you fail you just get to do the test again and again until you pass it. No worries there. We sat down and started the test with Jules providing us with entertainment the whole way, luckily we all passed first time round and were now all that one step closer to completing the Open Water.
Unluckily, my usual bout of dodgy stomach came back to haunt me that day and shortly after lunch I had to make the first toilet dash
I spent the rest of the afternoon sleeping and waiting for the guys to return from their dives. The boys came back very proud that they had now finished the Open Water and could just do their fun dives the next day. Lynda had also done much better and had managed to overcome her fears on both her dives.
Saturday night at Altonīs was booze cruise and hog fry night. We hopped on the boat and Christina ran the bar whilst reggea hits boomed out of the boat stereo. About an hour later we were back at the dive shop and being served up massive portions of fried pork with coleslaw, breadfruit and other bits. Did I mention that this was all for free? There must have been enough food to feed an army!
Sunday morning arrived and the dive shop was very quiet due to a large group going out to Cayos Cochinos, a marine reserve area about two hours away by boat
We did however get to go diving that day, with me and Lynda still doing our Open Water and the boys doing their fun dives. The first dive took us down to 12m and my ears complained a little in the beginning but evened out after a while. We had to do some skills which were completed in no time. Overall the dives went much better than the first day and I was looking forward to finishing up the next day and becoming qualified.
That evening we ended up at Munchies Cafe for food. We had wanted pizza but the place that was serving up the pies had sold out and didnt have any ingredients left... so we settled for veggie burgers and plates of delicious garlic shrimp at Munchies. Very good value for money and very sated appetites!
Lynda and I had a morning dive on Monday and the boys were starting their Advanced course with Chris. These were probably my two favorite dives of the whole course. I completed my Open Water on my first dive with the CESA and also getting in and out of my BCD in the water as well as the navigation tasks underwater. The first dive took us down to 18m and surprise surprise, we passed a little shipwreck
The second dive was even better, now that I had qualified this was my fun dive and it was! Steph was taking us to a cave system and our dive finished with us swimming through the caves - some parts were quite narrow and low but we all managed with big grins on our faces! I might have even whooped into my regulator so excited was I!
Lynda and I spent the rest of that day having lunch at Munchies and spotting some iguanas that reside at the restaurant, walking around town and checking out masks and snorkels for Lynda as she now wanted her own set. We also picked up some groceries from the store to make our own pasta meal in the kitchen that night, saving money and ensuring there was enough food for the boys after their advanced dives.
The next day Lynda and I spent a few hours on the dock reading and generally just being lazy cats
The place was deserted. We tentatively walked down to the beach area and, realising that the place was closed and that we were in effect trespassing, we quickly took some snaps of the location and skedaddled before we could be charged with loitering. We did bump into some workmen who confirmed that the club was indeed closed but that cleanup would start the following day to reopen and we could come back in a week. We didnt have the heart to say that we wouldnt be there in a week so politely thanked them and walked off back to Altons, where we spent the rest of the afternoon lazing in hammocks, swimming off the dock and chatting with various other divers.
That night we went to a cool little restaurant to hear a talk about crustaceans and amoebic creatures from a very nerdy-but-in-a-cool-way Brit diver who has lived on the island for many years. Only he can made a talk on the five different types of sponges interesting and the evening passed in hilarity with bursts of laughter punctuated by calls for more beer and sighs of content over the divine food: roast pork on a homemade garlic roll with homemade fries. Delish!
The boys were being kept quite busy with their advanced training so Lynda and I headed out the following day to explore the rest of the island. We wanted to check out the plane wreck that had happened a while before... apparently some Columbian drug smugglers had crash landed in the jungle on the one side of the island
It didnt work. It was hot hot HOT! We were melting by the time we had walked to the edge of the town. Being tourists, we expected to see signs for the caves and Pumpkin Hill, another sight on the island, but this was not the case. Various people along the way would just point randomly up the long road we were walking on saying it wasnt much further. Lynda and I spent abuot 15 mins on the side of the road at a fork waiting for another passer by to shed some light on which fork to take to Pumpkin Hill. Apparently it was the right fork, although 40 mins in and we werenīt finding anything but shed loads of mosquitos ready to suck us dry. I was literally swinging my hat around me to wave the mossies away and we had both sprayed ourselves liberally with OFF! the local insect repellant. We reluctantly turned back after bundu bashing for a while longer and headed back to the town, eager for a cool drink and cool air to soothe our heated bodies.
We had earmarked our cool off to be at a place called The Jade Seahorse, a very eccentric looking restaurant and hotel with a bar aptly called Tree Tanic due to the fact that it resembled a tree house
That night was our last night on the island and we headed back to RJīs the BBQ shack across the road from Altonīs. The food was great as usual and had it been any other night we would have probably partied the evening away... but our very early ferry ride back to La Ceiba the next morning had Al, Lynda and I heading back early to pack and get some sleep.
Not so for Julian. He stumbled into the dorm about an hour before our alarms went off. We gave him half an hour to sleep before waking him, a task which proved no mean feat. He grumbled and mumbled and generally ignored us as time ticked on. Aware of this fact I took matters into my own hands and poured a little bit of cold water onto his stomach to give him a wake up call. He retaliated by jumpėng up and using his own water bottle to spray me and half of his own body with water before settling back into bed. By this stage Al was quite fed up with his brother so we decided to leave him there
The sight of Julian running down the road to meet us at the ferry terminal made me smile. Apparently he had woken up about 20 mins after we had left with the sun streaming into the room. He had realised that he needed to be on a ferry and hurriedly left the room with his backpack half zipped and his clothes haphazardly spilling out of it on the dock. Stu, the Aussie guy was up and informed Jules that his bag was open and his contents all over the dock. Jules also realised that Bertie (his beloved bag) was still in the dorm along with the very necessary items of passports and bank cards so had to dash back to get it. He was therefore not amused when the ferry office was late opening up and spent the rest of the ferry trip sleeping with his back to us!
The ferry ride back was rougher than the one we had arrived on, with people using the sickie bags more frequently resulting in the very nasty scent of eau de puke hanging in the air. The 45 min ride took ages and it was with great relief when we were on dry land again and in a taxi heading to the Hedman Alas bus terminal to get our connection to Copan, home of the famous Copan Ruins.
But more about those later...