Central America trip CliffsNotes

As I meet people now who are curious about my adventures in Central America, I want to share this blog with them but my prolific 100+ entries from the trip are a daunting pile to sift through. So to help I have put together a collection of entries that to me represent the essential narrative, the most important/meaningful/highlight moments of my trip. It’s not the whole story, but they are my favorites. It’s still a good chunk of reading (it was a crazy six months ok? There are a lot of stories!), but hopefully it is more a digestible guided tour. Enjoy!

Let’s get this fun in the sun started!

Origins story
Safety concerns for a solo woman traveler
What’s in my backpack
Mexico: Day 1, arrival in Merida
Mexico: My first cenote, the beginning of a water love story
Mexico: Tulum ruins
Mexico: Tulum cenotes
Mexico: San Crisobal de las Casas
Guatemala: Border crossing and arrival
Guatemala: Hiking Santa Maria volcano
Guatemala: Colored chicks, the first sign of Semana Santa
Guatemala: Lake Atitlan
Guatemala: Bugs
Guatemala: Chichi market
Guatemala: On traveling solo
Guatemala: Semana Santa in Antigua
Guatemala: Alfombras
Guatemala: Semuc Champey
Belize: I decide to get SCUBA certified
Belize: Open Water course, day 1
Belize: Open Water course, days 2 and 3
Belize: Caye Caulker, sunset at the split
Belize: Cat calls and drug dealers
Belize: Erin’s Caye Caulker food manifesto
Belize: Just say yes
Belize: Crystal Cave
Belize: Iguana photo shoot
Belize: I heart stew chicken
Honduras: Epic transit to the Bay Islands
Honduras: Roatan
Honduras: Deciding to extend the trip
Honduras: Settling in to Utila
Honduras: Advanced Open Water
Honduras: Le sigh roommates
Honduras: Makeshift rum cake
Honduras: Rescue Diver
Honduras: Falling in love with Utila
Honduras: Perpetual illness
Honduras: Snorkel vanity shots
Honduras: Stability in Utila
Honduras: Thunderstorms
Honduras: A birthday party
Honduras: Photo dive
Honduras: Nico’s 100th dive day
Honduras: Last Utila dive
Honduras: Leaving Utila
Nicaragua: Erin gets a travel buddy
Nicaragua: Lady at a cock fight
Nicaragua: The Fourth of July
Nicaragua: Granada
Belize: Epic three-day transit to Long Caye
Belize: The Blue Hole
Mexico: Diving cenotes
Mexico: Swimming with whale sharks
Mexico: Isla Mujeres
Utila throwback
Erin’s top 5 Central American hostels
Gratitude

Utila throwback and warning

There’s a video about Utila making the rounds on Facebook, but I thought I’d share it here as well. To everyone who has not experienced Utila: BEWARE! All so classic. This is where I got stuck for seven weeks… insane Utila, steals your soul, actually. Good god I love that place! 😛 Miss my Utila crew and our crazy times desperately! ♥

So many truisms, I couldn’t stop laughing because they’re all so crazy but also spot on:

“…another week won’t hurt…” Love that finding Dr. John in the bar is *actually* the official emergency response plan (true story). We rode a bike into the water too, but it was off a freakin’ boat into open ocean instead of a dock! Notice the eyewear of choice; this is where my douche bans habit began, along with so many other bad ideas… Oh Tranquila Tequila Tuesday, the most dangerous day of the week. Going diving at Black Coral Wall, of course they are because it’s crazy overdived and everyone is sick of it. And the lies… “not drinking tonight” but in a Flor de Caña singlet. Yeah, it’s a healthy place, riiiight…

Get me to the boat on time: five countries in 56 hours by land, air, and sea

With one more month left in Central America and having reached my southern-most destination, it was time to turn around and head north towards my exit in Cancun. I would be revisiting Belize and Mexico to meet up with friends I had met along the way and dive Lighthouse Reef in Belize and cenotes in Mexico.

First stop: Long Caye in Belize to visit some lovely people I met three months ago in Caye Caulker who run a guest house out in the Lighthouse Reef that I would describe as a diving retreat. Long Caye is a small island with a permanent population of only about twenty people and is without regular transport; there was one boat I *must* make if I wanted to make it there. My deadline was set: Wednesday at 2pm I had to be on a dock in Belize City. To get there from Granada, Nicaragua would be a three-day travel blitz through five countries; I was under no illusions that I would have time for sight seeing along the way. It was another epic journey, this time executed on my own without a buddy, and surprisingly enjoyable despite the serial early mornings.

Three days, five countries, over 700 miles via bus, plane, taxi, and boat.

My original plan was to fly directly from Managua, Nicaragua to Belize City, Belize. But this plan was thwarted by a malfunctioning airline website resulting in a sudden drastic price increase. I decided to go by land instead, purchased a bus ticket, but then–unconfident with the Guatemalan bus system’s ability to get me from Guatemala City to Belize City in under 24 hours–I opted to shill out some extra cash for a short plane flight to insure I reached my destination on time. More expensive, but hey, it worked.

Thus it began:

DAY ONE, Monday
  • 3:30 am: Woke after a fitful sleep; I was up every hour because I don’t have a reliable alarm clock and did not trust the hostel night watchman to wake me at the appropriate time. My taxi reservation had been lost just hours before and there was doubt whether or not it would actually arrive. Had more bizarre lucid dreams–a habit of mine on this trip–which weren’t helped by a dormmate with a strong stutter who approached my top bunk in the middle of the night and started talking to me. (He was already on my bad side: earlier that evening when I lost my bus ticket and was frantically going through my stuff, he lectured me on not getting stressed out, saying all the things a stressed out person does NOT want to hear. I’m sure he meant well, but good god his attempt at late-night conversation was disorienting!)
  • 3:45 am: Taxi did arrive on time (yay!) and drove me one hour to Managua, Nicaragua.
  • 5:30 am: Caught my TICA bus from Managua to Guatemala City. This bus ride would take two days. TICA bus is the way to travel; they execute travel so smoothly. With comfortable space and provisions, the ride was pleasant. I alternated between sleeping, reading/writing, and enjoying the view of the countryside. I had two seats to myself, my travel pillow, blanket, loungey clothes, snacks, and a huge stack of books mostly procured from Lucha Libro in Granada, including:
    • For Whom the Bell Tolls, Hemingway
    • Me Talk Pretty One Day, Sedaris
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude, García Márquez
    • Anna Karenina, Tolstoy
    • The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Doyle
    • A Wrinkle in Time, L’Engle
    • Pride and Prejudice, Austin
    • The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin, Franklin
    • The Trial and Death of Socrates, Plato
    • I, Claudius, Graves
    • Common Sense, Paine
Oh, TICA bus, you need some english speaking proof-readers…
  • Over the next twelve hours on the bus, we left Nicaragua, crossed into Honduras, then into El Salvador. I had a whole different emotional reaction to travel this trip. The first times I entered both Guatemala and Honduras I felt an element of fear. I didn’t know what it would be like and had images of potential danger dancing in my head. This time, I felt safe on the TICA bus (they know how to seamlessly do a border crossing) and nostalgic for my time already spent in Honduras. I was happy to return, even just passing through for a short period. El Salvador was new, but I still felt secure; I know how to make these transits now.
  • 2:00 pm: Rest stop. Discovered El Salvador uses US dollars as their primary currency. Sweet! This makes things easier: instead of different currencies here and there, I can use USD the whole way to Belize!
  • 6:00 pm: Arrived in San Salvador, El Salvador. Driving through downtown, I was surprised how lame San Salvador is; it reminded me of San Pedro Sula in that it is FILLED with shiny plastic American chain fast food (what I hesitate to call) restaurants. Nothing special whatsoever that I saw. No charm, all neon.
  • 8:00 pm: I had designs for a papusa dinner, but those went out the window fast with a late night arrival in an unfamiliar neighborhood. Instead, after some internet time sorting out logistics for the following day, I ended up eating pizza and drinking cool red wine out of a champagne flute at an over-air conditioned Italian restaurant just across the street from my hostel.
DAY TWO, Tuesday
  • 4:15 am: Awoke after another night of dreaming people were in my empty dorm talking to me. (WTF crazy brain? Just let me sleep already!!) Took a taxi to the TICA bus station for leg number two.
  • 6:00 am: Caught the TICA bus to Guatemala City. Still had two seats to myself, so comfyness continued. Read a little, slept LOTS.
  • 10:00 am: Crossed the border into Guatemala and found papusas! Just a few cents apiece, I got myself a small plate for second breakfast.
Papusas in Guatemala, just over the border.
  • I was immediately happy to be back in Guatemala. On my first run through back in April, I didn’t fully appreciate the vibrancy of the culture and people. Instead of plastic lawn ornaments like in El Salvador, bunches of flowers are sold on the side of the highway. The landscape feels lush and green and friendly. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it.
  • 12:30 pm: Arrived in Guatemala City and immediately took a taxi to my hostel. I actually *liked* driving through Guatemala City, which you are not supposed to as it is notoriously dangerous and charmless. Even though most tienda business is conducted behind iron grates for safety, that Guatemalan flare was still there. I picked up four bottles of Quetzalteca, my favorite cheap Guatemalan spirit, then hunkered in at the hostel for the night, eating a dinner of pan fried english muffins with peanut butter and bananas.
That didn’t last long…
DAY THREE, Wednesday
  • 4:30 am: Woke early once more and took a shuttle to the airport, arriving the recommended 1.5 hours before departure. I was the first person at the minuscule domestic terminal, it took two seconds to check me in, and then I slept on a bench for an hour and twenty minutes. Ugh. There is nothing I hate more than getting to the airport way too early. Don’t get me wrong, I never arrive late enough to miss flights, but being there so early is an unnecessary waste of time that drives me nuts.
  • 6:30 am: On a backdrop of beautiful Guatemalan volcanoes and rolling hills, finally departed on TAG flight to Flores, Guatemala.
That beautiful Guatemalan landscape.
  • 7:15 am: Arrived in Flores. During customs inspection discover that my stuffed-to-the-max backpack had busted open at the seams in three places. D’oh! Luckily my rain cover kept things mostly in place for the rest of this trip. I was super amused to see the Belikin beer ad printed on the back of my Tropic Air boarding pass. Can’t wait to get me a bottle of stout!
Belikin pride!

  • 9:00 am: Departed on Tropic Air flight to Belize City. It was a teeny tiny propeller plane with room only for six passengers. Being the only single, they asked if I wanted to sit up front in the copilot’s spot. Um, how about yes absolutely?!
Our little propeller plane.
They should have given me a co-pilot hat!
All the stuff I could have touched and totally screwed us all over.
  • 9:45 am: Landed at Belize City airport, gathered my luggage, and went out to the curb to find a transfer to downtown. All taxis charged $25–outrageous!! I figured there must be a better way, but apparently no buses go to the airport (really? I still find this hard to believe…) I did discover a shuttle to the Princess Hotel, where my boat was departing from. I hitched a ride. The driver told me he is waiting for another flight and we will leave in 10-15 minutes.
  • 11:30 am: Shuttle FINALLY leaves the airport after over an hour of collecting 7 other people on 3 different flights. All but the last passengers were peeved.
  • 11:45 am: Arrived in Belize City proper. Acquired stewed pork plate for lunch, patching material for imminent backpack repair, and special request items for peeps on Long Caye. Searched for a Belikin singlet that did NOT say “You better Belize it!” on the back. Was unsuccessful.
  • 1:00 pm: Stormy weather hit. The seas looked rough and you could not see past the edge of dock. Looking out at the water made me think about how two weeks ago some people I knew got lost at sea in Honduras between Roatan and Utila. They were miraculously found after four day adrift, but after hearing that story I was a smidge leery of boat travel, even though my situation and theirs was absolutely nothing alike. I was in the good hands of capable crew who knew the conditions and area.
Not my ideal vessel for inclement weather…
  • 2:00 pm: The weather leveled off, rain mostly subsided, and the small uncovered boat left on schedule. I huddled in the back, sharing a giant yellow raincoat with another guest as we road into a light rain. After just a few minutes, the rain stopped and the ride became much more pleasant. We crossed the open blue, the mangroves of Turneffe Atoll, and the last leg of ocean until we entered Lighthouse Reef.
  • 4:00 pm: I arrived on Long Caye, safe and sound and on schedule! I happily took a welcome coconut caipirinha from my hostess Ruth. An excellent beginning to a week of chilling out.
Hello Long Caye. Nice to meet you. 🙂
Woohoo! Made it. Time to kick back and enjoy the island lifestyle.
It was a long trip, but I actually really enjoyed it. I covered a lot of ground over those three days and got to see hours of beautiful scenery during transit. I also felt very confident and secure the whole time, and am happy to have the travel scene of Central America down. I enjoyed feeling independent and capable. Sometimes it is all about the journey, no? It does feel weird to be making my final moves towards departure in three weeks. Trying not to think about it!!

Leaving Utila

On the road again, but I still ❤ Utila.

It had to happen eventually. Especially after seven weeks. The family had to break up, the party had to stop, the bubble had to burst. A little bit ago there was a tragedy that struck the dive shop and then a baby hurricane hit; it was grey overcast with an odd mood cast over my corner of this island. Even though the rain poured down, the heat and humidity never cut. It’s like the island started rejecting us. The sunshine good times were over and it was time to start getting the hell out. That was two weeks ago, and I feel like I have been saying goodbyes ever since.

I will miss being so connected to this tight-knit community. I’ve made so many friends here who I adore. I love how long it takes me to walk the 100m from the dive shop to my house because I am stopped over and over by my friends–sharing news, giving a dinner invitation, or just saying hi. You can’t help but be keyed in to what’s happening with everyone, and it is a beautiful beautiful thing.

Some say Utila will steal your soul. Perhaps it does. The last days have been an especially crazy mix of celebration, goodbyes, and large quantities of rum. Mad fun, bittersweet, weird. The crew is all shipping out in all separate directions. DMTs are graduating, new instructors are being minted; everyone is finishing what they came here to do. It’s getting dangerously close to the Bitter End.

I have loved this time in my life and will miss these brilliant moments dearly.

As we gathered up our posse on another “last night”, this one for Rich and Brian, walking down the street from La Cueva to Skid Row we called out for a final “Roll call!!”. Won’t be many more nights all together now. Just a few last family dinners and farewells. Oh, plus a naked dive and a fancy dive to cap things off.  It’s been a blast, and I love so many of you. Hope to catch each and every one elsewhere in the world, another place another time, where we can reminisce about when we called insane Utila “home”.

But Nicaragua and Mexico beckon. I actually booked a hostel in San Pedro Sula and Leon the other day, so I know the departure is happening. After doing some travel research, suddenly I’m not just “leaving Utila” but headed towards new adventure, and it looks like it’s going to be awesome. Packing up my bag for the first time in a month, it is time. I’m getting excited.

On my last day, I walked about settling up my business. (I don’t skip town without paying my tabs, unlike *some* people!) I said farewell to my laundry lady, happy birthday to Denny Bush, scheduled a haircut, said bye to the ladies at La Casita, waved to Sophia passing by on the back of an ATV, got more compliments on my fancy dive outfit the day before, picked up a pack of cookies for the afternoon fun dive at BICD, said what up to Tom, had a super mega baleada at Seven Seas, and was reminded by Doug and Vero about my going away party that night. That night at Vero’s place we all gathered and DJ Jeff started off the party with MJ’s “Thriller”, because my Utila family knows my jam. Doug and I danced the night away. My last morning I spent with joking and laughing Beau and Ben at Rio Coco, then one last liquado and sausage sandwich at my favorite spot, Che Pancho, with Nick. When I closed out my bill at UDC for the third time, Rusty eyed me sceptically. No! I’m leaving this time. Really! I left the island feeling so happy.

Mic spike, smoke bomb, I’m going to get my harmonica… in Nicaragua. I’m out!

Sunset dockside beers with friends, is there a better way to end the day?
…perhaps by throwing in a few dead baby jokes! Oh, we are wonderful people…
A little bike-towing mischief en route.
Just hanging on a boat with a bunch of hot half-naked men, how I do.
Tying up on the beautiful south side of Utila, per usual for an afternoon boat.

Tea-quila shots! Can’t let the photo dive boat props go to waste…
Wouldn’t be a party without a cute me+Nico photo. BEFORE he ditches us to go to sleep. 😛

Running to Treetanic in the rain. I was so proud I didn’t loose my shoes that night. Photo courtesy of  Courtney Ramos.

The gang, rockin’ it down the street. Photo courtesy of Courtney Ramos.

The real Aussies representing at Treetanic. Photo courtesy of Richard McKenna.
Let’s hear from all the Americans: Aussie aussie aussie! Oi oi oi!! Photo courtesy of Courtney Ramos.
Rich after he survived his divemaster snorkel test, wearing now-my staff t-shirt. 😉 Photo courtesy of  Richard McKenna.

IDC party and the man of the hour: Instructor Doug! With scores that were practically perfect in every way. Gratz again, hon. 😀
Kissie kissie!
Doug and Sophia, peer-pressure cheering me to stay just a few more days. Well, okay… Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.
Surprisingly met up again with the ever-charming Mr. Nick Cooper. Next stop, Nicaragua! Photo courtesy of  Nick Cooper.
Sky over the Utila harbor on the night of the boat light parade, from the back of Denny Bush’s speedboat.
Vero getting the party started after boat light parade when UDC, Cross Creek, and my boat joined together to make a big floating dance floor in the middle of the harbor.

Ross taking over the bbq master mantle.
Gearing up for my *actual* last dive.
Representing UDC as we infiltrate BICD!
No Doug, Plata is never ok. Except when all the Flor is gone. 😛
Last night revelry. Who knew the beach party could actually be good??

The LAST last Utila dive

So Utila. I stuck around an extra few days waiting on a travel buddy, to wrap up my time in Utila with final experiences, and to check out the Dive Festival going on right now. A few festival events sparked my interest: the Guinness Wold Record diver pyramid, the $10 sidemount/rebreather try dive, and the lionfish hunt, for instance. None of these I made it to, but instead: the UDC “fancy” fun dive for $15 (instead of the usual $30). By fancy I thought they meant formal attire, but apparently they meant the British ‘fancy’ meaning ridiculous. Well, I can do that too.

I rummaged through my pack and found a costume I deemed appropriate: a mismatched electric blue and pink bikini combo over hot aqua leggings. My friends Nick and Sophia, who have been housing me for the past few days since my apartment lease ran out, approved. I strutted down the street from my new temporary home at BICD to UDC. Strangely to my mind, I got more cat calls and comments walking down the street than normal (which is none), even though I was wearing more clothes than a normal bathing suit. “Wonder woman!” “I like your new style!” “What you wearin’, girl?!” *whistle* At UDC, Deckland said once I dove that all the parrotfish would flock to me, calling “Mommy!!!!”.

*SMILE*

I rocked up to UDC at 12:45pm, timely enough for my 1pm dive. That’s when I was told I was the ONLY ONE signed up for the fancy dress dive. WHAT?! Seriously people? Where is the sense of fun!? We were switched from the Old Tom to a small motor boat, Reefer Madness, that only accommodates six tanks. My guide congratulated me and told me I had won the dive. My prize? An unheard of golden egg: I got to pick my dive site. Any site on the south side of the island. All other dive boat go to someplace the captain picks; divers have no say unless it’s a special site suitable for a course. Picking your own dive site is a big deal.

Me jumping for joy aboard the Reefer Madness.

I chose Labyrinth. As the name implies, the site is a maze of channels and semi-enclosed passageways through the reef just big enough for a diver to explore. One thing I had not done in Utila or ever before was a swim through, and I desperately wanted to. Now was my chance. My guide was keen: “Let’s go see some cool shit!” and we set off.

Taking a little superhero-inspired pose as we approach Labyrinth.

I ticked off another first on the way into the water: the James Bond roll. Entry from all other UDC boats I’ve been on is a giant stride off the back of the boat, but not possible on our little enclosed motorboat. I sat on the rail, held my mask and reg, and threw myself backward off the boat with such force that I did a complete backflip under water. Always going for style points! Pretty awesome way to kick off what would be a totally badass dive.

This dive had it all. The swim throughs were indeed all that. I love needing to tightly control buoyancy and navigating your body through a puzzle course. Neither my guide nor I had dove earlier in the day, so we decided to throw in a little deep dive for kicks and made it all the way to my max depth, 29.5 meters. We ascended along the gravelly bottom; I pretended I was one of the cavern students and did my very best Zoni-inspired hover just above the seabed. Back in the reef, we saw two Hacksbill turtles taking shelter in the reef; one we discovered immediately to our right by only a few feet at the top of a vertical swim through. The visibility was clear, the sun was bright, and sea life was abundant. We also saw a golden spotted eel, a King Crab, and I noticed flamingo tongues (I’ll always think back to my first fun dive when CJ put one of these in my hand).

We came up exhilarated. Wicked dive, probably my favorite fun dive yet. All in all, best $15 I ever spent.

KILLER.

P.S. So… contrary to the title of the post and what I thought at the time, the fancy dive actually turned out to be my second to last dive. The final dive actually happened the next day: a fun dive with Sophia, Nick, and Ross. With newly-minted Advanced and Open Water credentials, Nick and Sophia were on their first fun dives in Utila after their coursework and ready to just go have fun on the last day. A few dock pics capture that post-dive glow.

Aww… couldn’t ask for better people to take me in off the streets. Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.
The team. Wahooo! Photo courtesy of Nick Cooper.

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! ❤

We know how to throw a house party, aka Happy 30th Richard!

Thirty. It’s something I dealt with as a looming shadow the entire time I was twenty-nine. Feeling like “old” was right around the corner. Mourning for the supposedly (although not really for me) care free twenties. Thirty feels like the time you need to get your shit together. There are big life questions that need answers. Or you can attempt to forget, chuck it all, opt out, and ship off like me. 😛 I found that once I turned thirty, the weight lifted and it wasn’t nearly so bad as I had feared. Instead it is an empowering age to be and I absolutely love it.

There are people of all ages in Utila, with plenty right around the thirty mark. One Mr. Richard McKenna in particular was just about to turn 30 and we were determined to celebrate in style. His brother Jamie (who flew in from Australia for the event), his Utila BFF Danielle, and I (all of us 30+) were on it. Rich lamented his upcoming birthday the whole week prior, but we aimed to change his mind about becoming “old”. Come into the light, Rich, because thirty is fuckin’ awesome.

We came up with lots of special touches to make this classier than the typical Utila house party. The plan: catered dinner for our twenty closest mates at 7pm, cocktails at 8pm, more people arrive for music/rum/fun, cake around 10pm followed by tequila shots, then anything goes. We pulled it all together in about 24 hours. I sweet talked Utila Food Company (who were awesome to work with, totally did us a solid by taking on the party at the last minute, and delivered great food!) into bringing the eats. Danielle provided the venue: her beautiful apartment overlooking the ocean. Jamie got some top shelf booze for the VIPs and organized a round of cocktails to be delivered. Danielle and I baked three birthday cakes. I scoured the buy-anything-here stores on the island for decorations. We all spread the word amongst our crew about the big day.

Our big missing piece of the puzzle was a sound system. We wanted something more than a small set of portable speakers, but where to find one? Jamie tried to get one from a local DJ, I checked electronic stores for possible rentals, and a friend tried her local connections too. We all came up empty handed. When Jamie fell ill on the day of the party and was out of commission, we still had nothing and all looked bleak. Until the birthday boy himself dropped by to help with party set up, because he’s that kind of awesome guy. In a bit of a frenzy, I sent him out to pick up ice. In fifteen minutes, he came back not only with an enormous ice chest but a Bose sound system. What?? Yeah, he’s got the connections (he made friends with the local boat captain who took us to Chez Lola and whose family runs the best grocery store on the island… turns out he’s an awesome dude to know) and swooped in to save the day, solving in minutes something we worked on for days. Getting shit done, ’cause that’s what 30-year-olds do. Party, SAVED.

All came together just in time, and our friends began arriving for one smash of a party. All our favorite people came, had an awesome time, and welcomed Rich into his best decade yet.

Birthday boy and the co-hostesses. Or as Danielle put it, “Rich’s rangas”. 😛
That’s about 10lbs of pineapple guacamole. Or as one guest raved, “the most delicious guac babies ever!”
The gang scarfing on tasty curry dinner. A treat from the usual Utila cuisine. Yum!
When you ask people to bring rum to a party on Utila, they don’t disappoint! And only one bottle of Plata too… plus two bottles of top shelf 18yr and 12yr Flora we snuck in there for VIPs.
Rich solving problems like no one’s business. You need a cooler? BAM, done, biggest one on the island!
Knock knock, special delivery. Margaritas anyone?

Taking the edge off. Thirty’s not so bad, huh? 😀
An uninvited guest, above the paper birthday disco ball.
Me and Doug, heart.
Carrot cake, chocolate snickers cake, and vanilla rum cake. Mmm…

Make a wish!
Serving the birthday boy a cake sampler plate. I actually did turn myself into the cake lady of Utila. That night I baked 2, then another 5 over my six weeks on the island.
Roomies, always having fun!
The face of the new PADI-punch!

Live entertainment provided by our musically talented friends.
Two lovely songbirds.
Someone didn’t read the signs not to touch the laptop… but the urge to DJ was too strong.

Rich had to swoop in again to troubleshoot his own party.

The music-killing culprits were quickly forgiven. Until they poured tequila down Rich’s nose when he dozed off at the bitter end!
I heard from guests all night that they were having a fantastic time, and that it was the best house party on the island. Best and most important of all, Rich had fun. All in all, I’m just going to say, damn fine party. 😀
 
Happy birthday! Welcome to thirty-awesomeness.