I *heart* Nico, and the tale of the hundredth dive day

When I first met Nico back in my Advanced course and then at the Mango Inn over a month ago, I talked about my blog probably a little too much and he said back then that he was *determined* to make the blog. Well hon, here you go:

Nico and I have been excellent buddies since the beginning and throughout my time in Utila: Advanced, EFR, Rescue, roommates when he moved on to DMT without me, snorkel buddies, and then final dive buddies. The final dive also just happened to be Nico’s 100th dive. Absolutely perfect. He’s been tearing it up and maxing out on dives this whole time, getting in 90 dives here on the island in addition to all his course work over five weeks. Any day he didn’t have classwork or skills in confined water, he was consistently out doing 4-5 dives a day. Tradition dictates the 100th dive must be performed naked. Like hell I was going to miss that! I signed up for the morning boat as a fun diver, he got special approval to be an extra plus one on the full boat, and we planned on going on one last buddy dive together.
…but then I stayed up way too late at the IDC party the night before, celebrating our friend Doug’s graduation to Instructor status. At 7:30am, I woke to the sound of Nico calling me from outside the apartment. He had gone to the shop, set up the boat, sorted out all sorts of glitches, put together my kit, but when he realized I wasn’t there had come to fetch me via a borrowed bike (Rich’s old bike that we had taken to the bottom of the sea, then stolen by Jeff after his departure) with no brakes… he ditched into a barber shop when making the 90-degree turn into my house in an effort to stop! Upon hearing my name through the window, I frantically threw myself together and ran to the boat just in time. He continued to take care of me as my reg wasn’t working properly and I needed a replacement O-ring.
We schemed on how to execute the naked dive. The UDC staff understood the importance of the ritual, but weren’t super keen. Tough luck! An unexpected hurdle: for the first time, even given the dozens of boats Nico had been on, there were children on this one doing their first Open Water dive. Yikes, awkward… Our fun dive group entered the water first, before the kids, and Nico’s swim trunks were suddenly on his head. Let the naked dive commence.
Before the 100th dive. I solomly swear I am up to no good…
Yeah, this happened. Photo courtesy of Robbie Labanowski (thanks for keeping it “artistic”!).

Sans mask, reg, and shorts, Nico dove in the ultimate au natural. After taking this picture, his first instinct was to put the shorts back on first, but then realized–whoops!–air is probably a better top priority. 😛 It was a super amusing dive. We saw a turtle and Nico’s favorite: the bucktooth parrotfish, played along the reef, and had fun posing for the camera as our snorkeling photographer friend Robbie free dove from the surface and would suddenly appear next to us at depth for a photo. A good chunk of my air was consumed by giggling.

Rockin’ the safety stop. Mischief managed! Photo courtesy of Robbie Labanowski.
No way I would have rather spent my final dive in Utila!
Signing my log book, checking both the boxes “DM” and “buddy”. Woot!!

After the dive, I crashed back to bed. When I awoke my eye was killing me. I started crying, and rushed to the doctor. On the way I found Nico at our friends’ Tom and Ryan’s house. He didn’t hesitate to drop everything, escort me to the clinic, translate on my behalf, guide me through the streets when I couldn’t open my eyes, care for me all afternoon as I lay on the couch in the fetal position sobbing in pain, get me tomatoes to freeze and put on my eyeballs, make me a comfort food dinner of mac ‘n cheese, keep me company all evening, and watch the Heat beat the Spurs in game 7 with me. He literally took care of me from start to finish of my day, in multiple contexts, when I needed it most. Never leave a buddy behind. True dat, and thank you.

Babe, you know I adore you, and that you give me hope for nineteen-year-olds. I’m so happy to have become friends and it has been a delight to live with you this past month. Even though you’re a rolling-stone lone wolf, you’ll always be my Utila BFF. I dearly hope our paths cross again for another adventure elsewhere in the world sometime in our lives. You kick ass! ❤

You’re invited to a tea party under the sea

It was a fun idea: a crazy underwater photoshoot. Take over a boat, bring cool people, bring a bunch of funny props to the bottom of the ocean, and go a little nuts with the camera. Rich and Jamie masterminding the operation, with this as Rich’s first(ish almost, despite the snorkel test; damn that dive map!) official divemaster lead. They spent a day casing town for props, talked the dive shop into getting us a special boat, and made it happen.

The day before our dive, there was a tragedy that closed the dive shop and canceled all dives. We weren’t certain the dive would continue for the next morning at 8am, but things went as scheduled. After weeks of perfectly sunny and clear days, we got the beginning of a tropical depression and the coldest weather I’ve seen since being on Utila. Nevertheless, we were all still psyched.

Not the most ideal light and conditions for an underwater photo shoot.

We loaded the boat with gear and props, then we waited for our captain to arrive. Wet and cold, we waited. Discussions quickly turned to our dive briefing, photo ideas, and underwater logistics. None of us had done a dive like this before.

Who knew the prop umbrellas would come in so useful?
No captain, no problem! Ben’s on the case.
One hour delay waiting for a captain = baleadas and coffee all around.
A skeptical, wet, and cold Erin. We going to make it?

But the rain lessened and the captain arrived, one hour late. Our planned dive site was scrapped in favor of a closer spot due to the weather.

The rain clearing up just in time for our departure. A delightful Vero, as usual.
Me, ready in pink and purple for an under the sea tea party.
We should have known we were in trouble with this dude in charge… 😛
Finally on our way!
We arrived at Moonhole quickly, the closest dive site to the boat house. First up, buddy checks–yep, we’re all lookin’ good! Next order of business: getting all our props down: a table, chairs, bike, costumes, umbrellas, tea set, kettle, cards, beer, rum, shot glasses, sunglasses, a mango, and more. We were all purposefully overweighted to bring everything down. We all cracked up as Ross rode the bike off the back of the boat; other nearby boats must have thought we were mental. Well, maybe we are a little.
The insanity began:
Rich’s bike made it down to the bottom of the sea and back, totally building character (and rust) as well as improving its resale value.
I broke out the stilletos. Who needs fins?
Perfect neutrally bouyant mango.

The mastermind brothers. Cheers!
Dueling Mary Poppins.
Mad man, free-balling it sans all equipment!
Our sea floor dining room. That’s my landlord’s backyard table.
Brian poppin’ a wheelie…
Vero and Kyle, keeping it cool.
Brian’s dreads always look so BADASS underwater!!
Being a lady, I do love a good cuppa.

It was an odd madness under there. As is normal for diving, it is mostly silent and things move in slow motion. Yet this dive, even though it was still slow and silent, had a frantic and random energy as everyone executed ideas of their own. There was a little bit of scrambling towards the end as air began to run low and communication broke down, but all made it up ok.
We learned a lot of lessons. First, we were brought to a deeper site than planned–18m instead of 5m–so this impacted our air usage, ascents, and prop management. Shallower would have been much better; 18m was too deep to be messing around like this. Second, especially with the silt (even worse than sandy!) bottom we were dealing with we all needed to be more careful about our contact with the bottom and instead try to hover to keep visibility as clear as possible. Third, we spent too much time all in the same location, mucking up the visability and each other’s photos. It would have been better to set up two scenes (table and bike) a little further from each other and take turns. A little extra planning on this would have gone a long way. Next time. But for a first, crazy shot it was pretty freakin’ awesome. 🙂

Rescue Diver: It’s a beautiful day to save lives

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One step closer to being an underwater NINJA!

I loved my Advanced Open Water course. So much so that during our final briefing I started asking questions because I didn’t want to stop. Turned out that my instructor Maya was starting a Rescue Diver course the next day, as was my buddy Nico, and she encouraged me to take it. There are many practical reasons to take Rescue; you can never have too many rescue divers in the water. Basic first aid, diving-specific rescue techniques, simple tactics to recognize and prevent problems, self protection, and skills to lead or ably assist in an emergency. Plus, everyone who takes it raves about how much fun the course is. I signed right up.

Rescue day -1 & 0: Emergency First Responder
Before you can start the Rescue course, you must fulfill the prerequisite of Emergency First Responder training. I began the two-day EFR crash course with our five-person Rescue crew: we were a serious bunch with a doctor, a nurse, two DMTs, and me. Everyone else had some prior first aid training, but we went over the basics, including lots of catch phrases: Stop think act! Activate EMS! Hello, my name is Erin, I’m an Emergency Responder, may I help you? We practiced CPR, and I treated for shock by tucking people in under a blanket, offering cake, and saying “there-there” lots. Shock treatment is kind of my bag. With basic skills under our belts, we moved into the water.

Rescue Day 1: confined water, off the UDC dock
Our Rescue course started in earnest as we were all getting kitted up on the UDC dock: about halfway dressed, all of a sudden multiple panicked divers were in the water calling for help. Even simulated, it is easy to freeze before you remember what to do. Two of the guys had their gear on already and jumped in with floats. I tossed a BCD and tank in, splitting my fingers open in the process, then hopped in to deliver it as makeshift flotation to one of the faux-drowning victims. Whew, just in time! SAVED. We missed a few points, were a little slow, but not bad for a first time out.

BCDs are the inflatable vest divers wear attached to their tank and are always plentifully on hand on a dive boat. It’s their purpose to float, so they make a great impromptu rescue buoy! Source: Google Images

Once we properly got into the water, our instructors Maya and Matt demonstrated some basic skills: techniques on how to approach and resolve a tired diver, unresponsive diver, and panicked diver both below water and at the surface. (They made them look so easy!) I learned how to fend off someone who wants to steal my air with my left arm while preparing my backup air source to give them. Simple, yet effective. Calm down, I got you. The tactics for approaching panicked divers at the surface are particularly interesting: give a strong push to spin them around or go underwater beneath them to reach their back, then mount their tank holding it in between your legs, and inflate their BCD to get them buoyant, which usually helps resolve the panic.

For unresponsive non-breathing divers at the surface, we practiced simultaneously giving rescue breaths, removing equipment, towing, and exiting the water on each other. I gave Nico more air than necessary by actually giving rescue breaths through the pocket mask and he hauled me out of the water in a dramatic Baywatch style; we had the whole dock laughing.

This day was intense. We learned so much in a short period of time. I had heard rumors things were only going to get more so when we moved to open water the next day. Bring it on.

Tool of the trade: pocket masks keep water out of the face of victims and easily attach to emergency oxygen pumps.
Source: Google Images

Rescue Day 2: open water, Black Coral Wall
We reached the dive site via boat and as we were putting on our gear, suddenly there were people thrashing in the water. Again. Rings were tossed overboard, rescue divers entered the water. I was partially in my wetsuit already, so grabbed my fins and a life jacket and jumped in. Only after my victim was under control did I hear the laughter from the boat and realize something was off: I still had my sunglasses on instead of a proper mask and snorkel. Whoops… Saving in style! It’s the way I roll.

After performing some skills on sandy bottom—buddy breathing, helping someone scared about their flooded mask—we buddied up, hero and victim-to-be, and went for a dive. I was paired with Devin, who played the part of an overconfident yet under-experienced diver. Apart from our rescue training, we saw a school of colorful reef squid, which are my favorite to watch as they flutter and hover. Every time I turned around, our instructor Matt was totally messing with Nico, at one time grabbing at his regulator while flipped completely upside down. Devin gave me a run for my money, getting himself into trouble and panicking often. At the surface, he freaked again, but I got him under control. “Erin, I almost died!!! You saved my life!” After all the exertion, I gave him a tired diver tow back to the boat. SAVED! Your mother can send me a thank you note.

Nico, ON IT!

The boys, Nico and Devin, looking buff during our surface interval.
Crashed out on the boat roof. Fake dying and fake saving people is hard work!

Rescue Day 3: open water, Pretty Bush
Chaos struck as soon as we arrived at the dive shop in the morning. Devin was ready to “dive dive dive!”, had beer in hand on the boat, and we had to “throw him off” the dive for drinking and diving. A medical “emergency” (ketsup was everywhere!) broke out on the dock and first aid had to be administered. During our predive evaluation we discovered that our boat was improperly stocked with safety gear and had to properly prep it.

Again each of us was paired up with an “inept” buddy with little experience: the buddy checks were a mess as each person had something wrong with them. I remembered my first dive after Open Water where I was buddied with a rescue diver; I realize now he was trained specifically to counteract/prevent mistakes I could have made and that he must have been on the lookout for all sorts of stuff to be wrong with me!

At the dive site, we started off again with victims in the water immediately. Our actions in response and timing were markedly improved from the day before. I went after a thrashing Elle, who rejected the float I offered her and attempted to climb on top of me. I fended her off repeatedly, managing finally to have the float be her only option and getting her to safety without me also drowning in the process.

Into the ocean we went for real and began the dive. After about 10 minutes we reached a sand patch and the “OW” buddies went apeshit. A group of ten, we were in close quarters, and we were treated to thrashing and panicking of every flavor. It was a clusterfuck.

Devin going a little mad, Jonathan coming in from behind to save the day.
Cramp removal in the background, and Alex on the watch.
Being ever vigilant in all directions, keeping an eye out for crazies.

My buddy Elle acted like a three-year-old, causing mischief by grabbing at gear, ascending when she shouldn’t, and playing unsafely. In the video below at about 0:10 you can see me trying to channel her energy into something silly yet not dangerous. The rest of the divers swim around us, in varying degrees of craziness. This was not a normal dive.

Even with all the rescuing, there was still a little bit of time for a little sight-seeing!

At the end of the dive, of course people were missing and we spread out to search. Unresponsive divers were found quickly underwater but not far from the boat and pulled to relative safety aboard the boat. SAVED!

Once back on the boat, ready to head home, all of our ears perked up when we heard a *splash*. For once, it was just people headed into the ocean to pee. But I think from now on each of us won’t hear a splash the same way again. It’s always worth a look to be sure.

At final roll call though, bad news: Maya was missing from the bow. We quickly located her in the water, but she was unresponsive. Jonathan and Alex got her safely into the boat and started her on emergency oxygen. The boys rotated simulated chest compressions in two minute intervals as I performed rescue breaths and gave reassurance in her ear the whole fifteen minutes back to shore. As we approached the dock, we hashed out our next steps to get her to emergency services. In Utila, there is no 911 equivalent; you just yell and then try to locate the doctor in one of the bars. We didn’t need to execute our plan, but man were we ready to!

In the aftermath of saving Maya, all the way back to UDC. Pocket mask and shades, that’s how I roll, biyotch!

I left the course feeling a strong sense of confidence, strength, and excitement. Even though I may not hit every single step perfectly, I am far better equipped to handle an emergency, help someone in need, and protect myself. I am a better diver and person. I am capable. I am a RESCUE DIVER!!

Since the conclusion of my Rescue course, I have been on multiple dive boats where other Rescue courses are being taught. I have to say, we got thrown a LOT more shit that these other courses, partly because we were a bigger group. Every time we started suiting up, someone was in trouble. These other groups don’t get nearly the amount of madness we did and they take a hell of a long time to respond. When you are in the middle of an “emergency”, it can feel like you’re not performing as well as you should, but turns out we were actually a pretty kick ass group. PADI-punch!

All photos courtesy of Arnaud.

Snorkel vanity shots

I may be slacking on my diving, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been in the water. The dive boats still go out twice a day and always have room for a snorkel hitchhiker, especially one who brings cookies for the group. The only challenge is tracking down a snorkel, as they are often all checked out, but somehow I always manage. It’s a chill and cheap (ie, FREE!) way to spend an afternoon, and still be part of my diving community. The other day I had company of a snorkel buddy, Robbie, who graciously took some fabulous mermaid-esque photos of me free diving. Finding the little rainbow reef squid below was such a treat!

Photos courtesy of Robbie Labanowski.

AWOL in Utila

It’s been a little longer than usual between posts. In fact, I just got a ping from my Dad to make sure I’m ok. (It feels nice to have the check in, just in case!) So I thought I’d catch the rest of you up on my radio silence too.

In essence, Utila got me. Everyone said it would, and they were right. Different than most places on the road, many people are in Utila for a month or more to complete their divemaster training so it’s more socially stable and possible to connect on a longer term basis. Habits and friendships form. I’ve been taken in by the lifestyle and relationships I have started here.

So what has actually been up? I finished my Rescue course over a week ago and since have been a Utila bum: hanging out, coming second in pub quizes (1pt off, so close!), eating delectable food with even better company, exploring more of the island via ATV for half price, getting sunburnt snorking for free off dive boats, restarting Mad Men from episode one, doing too much grocery shopping hungry, contemplating a specialty dive course but not getting my act together, defending the honor and reputation of the Great Julia Child, injuring my hands and componentry constantly and mysteriously, drinking my signature rum and ginger, hitching late night rides on golf carts going way too fast, not sleeping enough, and the big news: moving into an apartment with my favorite dive buddy Nico.

Some highlights where a camera was present:

Best dinner in Utila. 🙂
Host/chef with the mostest, tending the grill.
BBQ–can’t get enough!  //  The art of a perfectly poached egg. Respect.
ATV-ing it up, Pumpkin Hill bound!
Dive dive dive! Nico rockin’ out, about to head down.
Ladies chillin’ up top and hanging off the side.

Screw PADI certifications, I think the fact that I now have a proper Utila “address” is what makes me a officially a diver. Nico is here for at least another month doing his divemaster and one day when talking with him about where he was moving it just clicked that we should get a place. Even if I just stayed for a short time more it made sense financially and logistically. I first signed on for one week, then starting admitting the addiction and saying two, and now even as every day passes I still say “about two weeks”. Stay until it feels time to leave, right? It’s nice that even though we’re not dive buddy-married anymore that we still get to chill so much. “So, how was your day?…” 😛

Our house is bright aqua blue, cute, on stilts, in the best part of town, and has a dive weight as a door stop. Amazingly easy to obtain, we talked with the landlord and signed up within minutes, moving in that very night. It’s $450 a month for a two bedroom, about the going rate in Utila. It has been a new element to life figuring out how to buy electricity, gas, and water and take care of other household logistics. Set far back from the street, some who have fancy boardwalks at their apartments might call ours “in the ghetto” as we are above the swamp. 😛 I call it elevated waterfront property where the crabs scuttle in the gutters eating our scraps and if we open the windows just right the breeze makes a wind tunnel perfect for hot Utilan nights. It’s Nico’s first apartment, and I realized that the same could be said for me too in a way–it’s my first time having a room all to myself, unless you count the Waltham house back at Brandeis.

Nico waving from the new pad, plus our 2lb dive weight door stop.
My room and our beautiful kitchen.
Ok, so we might be a *little* swamp ghetto.

Our first order of business? Housewarming party! Two days after moving in, our house was filled with our good friends from the dive shop.

Housemates! 😀

The most repeated pot luck contribution was rum. As our freezer started to fill up, I thought we’d be set later with leftovers. I didn’t give our guests enough credit!!

Pot luck Utila style. Luckily Doug, Richard, and Vero are here to help.

We most definitely had food support too. Set before the gas for our stove was delivered, I made cold apps of mango guacamole and apples with honey-peanut butter. Both went over well and I was surprised the apples apparently gave non-Americans a punch of Americana novelty. Richard’s pasta and curry gave us some much needed substance, and then Danielle topped everything off with a dessert of oreos and m&ms.

Yum! Pot luck spread.
Digging in.

Our Advanced class trio of me, Nico, and Tim gathered together for a photo-op. It was one of Tim’s many “last night”s here in Utila before he finally pried himself away. Miss you lil’ bro!

Advanced team unite! Yeah, I think I’m going to stay out of the nipple pinching though…

So our house is thoroughly warmed and life is good. I have a kitchen, friends, a space of my own, fun to be had, and time. What more can you ask for?

P.S. In preparing this post, I discovered that I am over favoring the “yeah”-mouth-open look in my picture selection and probably need to learn some new camera face poses… I have the same expression in virtually every shot. What is up with that?!

Achievement and passion unlocked: Advanced Open Water

Ecstatic after the wreck dive. AOW is the best!!

My goal in coming to Utila was to gain more experience as a diver. How much? I wasn’t sure. Dives are cheap and at the very least I wanted to increase my dive count up from seven to a respectable double digit. There are many options on who to dive with on Utila; upon arrival, I spent a day scoping out the dive shop scene. I chose Utila Dive Center, the largest diving operation on the island and one with a strong reputation for safety, quality of instruction, being well run, and having a good culture among divers.

I began with a few fun dives; with each dive I felt more in control of my buoyancy and positioning in the water. Then I took the plunge and started a new 3-day course: Advanced Open Water. AOW is the next step in a diver’s education after Open Water and teaches you skills that broaden the situations where you are qualified to go. The course consists of five dives, each with a different focus and special training.

My class was a great group of awesome peeps: my fellow AOW students fun-loving air-burner-and-proud-of-it Tim and my chill-yet-excited perpetual (and, as I discovered in EFR class while practicing the Heimlich maneuverer, ticklish) buddy husband Nico, divemaster-in-training and man of many lives/hidden talents Chris, encouraging instructor-in-training David, and super cool head instructor Maya.

Dive 1: Deep Dive
Regular Open Water divers can dive down to a maximum depth of 18 meters/60 feet; Advanced divers learn how to deal with increased pressure and become certified to 30 meters/100 feet. We descended slowly down a reef wall. When Maya hit 100ft, we stopped; I was surprised by the difference between all of our depth gauges–10ft variation! I didn’t feel physically different under another atmosphere of pressure; nitrogen narcosis tends to set in around this depth, but not for me in this case. Some things did change: perception of color on the short end of the light spectrum, increasingly negative buoyancy, and quicker air consumption.

We returned to the boat just in time to be soothed by the sweet sound of Captain Cookie singing lustily along to Michael Bolton ballads.

Maya and Tim chillin’ up top in between dives.

Dive 2: Wreck
Our next Adventure Dive was down to the wreck of the Halliburton, a 100ft-long cargo vessel purposely sunk as a diving attraction in 1998. Additionally, this was a deep dive, with a max depth of 100ft.

The Halliburton wreck. Source: Google Images

We descended down a line, as there is no reef or other shallow natural features nearby to use for depth reference points. Down at the bottom, the wreck appeared. It was encrusted with life, claimed by the sea, and seemed surrounded by mystery. We swam along the main rail line and penetrated the wreck in two places: the lower deck in front under an overhang but with a large entry/exit and a short swim-through the topmost wheelhouse. I loved peering through portholes out into the ocean beyond. If you’re interested in more detail about diving the site, here’s a beautiful description.

This wreck really struck a chord with me. It was spectacular. It’s a whole new genre to explore beyond the reef. The historical possibilities are endless: sunken remnants of the Japanese WWII fleet in the Pacific, wrecks from the time of the Roman Empire in the Mediterranean, and more of all types and time periods all over the world. Excitement! I think wreck diving may be a Specialty of mine in the making.

Down at the wreck, we cracked open an egg to demonstrate the increased pressure at a depth of 100ft. Check it out, along with a surprise ending! I’m the one in the full wetsuit opposite the camera who can’t stop giggling like a Japanese schoolgirl.

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Dive 3: Peak Performance Buoyancy
This dive was totally one of my favorites. We worked on techniques to better control our positioning underwater, using primarily just our breath to hover, turn upside down, fine tune our movement, and orient ourselves in all directions. Having an improved level of control is both useful and freeing.

For something a little out of the usual, hoops, handstands, and knocking over a weight with my regulator:

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Now, a little upside down action, rather disorienting to actually do without visual references:

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

We sunk to the bottom and removed our fins. After bouncing around a bit–it felt like walking on the moon!–we raced on the bottom of the sea floor, using our breath to bound forward. Any swimming was grounds for immediate disqualification. I’m second from the left. Harder than it looks, I misstepped at the beginning and finished last but loved it. Fist bumps to Nico and his super stride for the win!

Video courtesy of Chris Arial.

Dive 4: Night Dive
Our next Adventure Dive introduced a whole other condition: diving at night. We were all issued hand lights, turned them on, and entered the deep black sea. Using our lights instead of the diffused sunlight, the colors of the reef were more vibrant, especially brilliant red sea sponges. We saw some sleeping nightlife including a ray,  lobster, and parrotfish taking it easy. We sank to a sandy bottom, dimmed the lights by holding the torches to our chests, and waved our hands and fins to activate a bioluminescent life storm all around us.

I found being in the dark a little freaky, especially down at the bottom without our torches lighting the way. It was easier to get disoriented and harder to keep track of who was where. A cool experience with a different energy to be sure, but I prefer the information daytime light affords.

The sun may be going down…
…but we’re all geared up to go diving!

Dive 5: Navigation
In our final dive, on the more strictly practical side, we did some compass work and used underwater topography to track our location. My instructor said that given how I led the group back to the boat I should seriously consider going for Divemaster. A somewhat intriguing thought, perhaps for later…

Whassup boys, ready to go diving!

Many thanks to Chris for taking and sharing his videos from the course with me! It’s a useful thing for any athlete to be able to watch themselves and see how they actually physically perform. I checked out lots more of his footage than is posted here and was pleased with my movement in general; especially given my dive count, I look like a real live scuba diver!

I didn’t expect AOW to impact me so much, but it really did. I loved the course, am THRILLED about diving now, and am so enjoying learning new skills. When the course ended, I really didn’t want it to stop. So I signed up for the next course: Emergency First Responder/Rescue Diver! 😀 I’m excited to keep developing my abilities and broadening the situations in which I am a capable diver.

Initial Impressions of Utila

Why go to Utila? For the vast majority of people there is one reason: to dive lots for cheap. This was my goal, and I hoped it would be worth the effort it took to get there. If you don’t dive, or don’t want to learn, you should probably pick a different island. The tourist economy and experience revolves around diving. Certifications for everything from Open Water to Instructor are churned out in astounding quantities by the dozen or so dive shops in down. All the dive shops are linked with hotels or have dorms on site where students/divers get special rates, so divers are essentially split into “colleges” where they live and work/play together within the diving university of Utila.

My initial impression was not great. The vibe among tourists who were out and about reminded me of San Pedro La Laguna–longterm gringos partying too hard for my taste. The diving is indeed cheap (around $30 per fun dive, courses 40% less than Belize) but on my few fun dives I noticed the reef wasn’t at vibrant and clear as Belize. The town wasn’t aesthetically pleasing to me. The streets are narrow and noisy; mopeds, ATVs, tuktuks, and golf carts buzz pedestrians constantly and traffic jams are common. I found it unpleasant to walk anywhere. I wasn’t blown out of the water by the food scene (aside from OMG non-melty Skittles! :-P). On day 2, my flip flops both burst in two within minutes of each other, like they had the exact same mileage or something, leaving me without footwear. The T-shirt industry is healthy here between branded dive shop-wear and trophy shirts from local bars for completing get-you-utterly-smashed drinking challenges. I wondered if this is what it was like to go to a party school on the beach.

So yeah, not enchanted. Yet anytime I told someone I had no definite departure date they responded with confidence that I would stay for the rest of my trip. Hmm… what was I missing? I would soon find out.