Stability amid transience

I can’t believe I have been in Utila for a month. Things started out slowly, but now I am living an oddly stable existence that is remarkably similar to real life. That is, if your job was diving/snorkeling 2-4 times a day, you lived on a tropical island (I’ve buffed up my beach wardrobe a second time) where rum is cheap, and all your friends were with a two minute walk away and always up for fun. This is Utila. People are learning and experiencing new things every day. For instance, yesterday Nico speared a lionfish; I can’t wait to cook the next one up! I love being a part of the daily rhythm of people I care about; never needing to really catch up because you’re all there together. This is the stuff I miss from college.

Tuesday is for trivia (which we won last week, winner take all pot of 700 Lmps, what what!) and tequila, Thursday is UDC bbq and music, Friday movie night (depending on the cinema schedule), there are snorkel tests often for new DMs, parties on the weekends, and so on. We have a rotating ad hoc dinner party virtually every night amongst my favorite people that I would kill for back in the states. Our cups, silverware, and Doug’s speakers flow from one house to the other. I was going to write a blog post on the food scene here, but for the past two weeks I have barely eaten a meal out. Home cooking for the win.

Pretending I’m back in Belize with a stew chicken, rice n beans, and coleslaw dinner.
Catching a wink from the cook at Spagh Bash 2013.

Homemade cc’ers at Spagh Bash 2013. Who needs measuring cups?
Another delicious bbq, and my men the way I like them: at the grill.

To make things even more normal, I’m about to do some remote work on behalf of my old employer. It feels great to make a little extra pocket money (enough to make a good dent in my diving costs!) and also help out my past colleagues during the busy time leading up to the festival. Everyone wins!

Sometimes it feels like pretend, like this can’t be real life, it can’t last. And yet it is for right now. Eventually the ephemerality will catch up to me as I and my friends move on, but I try not to think about it. When that time comes it may break my heart but there will also be more adventures ahead.

Rosé on the beach at dusk before a private dinner at Chez Lola. Ok, so I do make it out to a restaurant occasionally, and when I do it feels special and fabulous! Especially when it coincides with an epic lightening storm.
Well, I’m on my way
I don’t know where I’m goin’
I’m on my way
I’m takin’ my time
But I don’t know where…

Adding injury to injury

Why don’t cuts, scrapes, bruises, and maladies heal in Utila? My feet are still torn up from using the dive shop fins. Every time they get close to blistering over, I forget my socks and bust them up again. I’ve got a stuffy nose that just won’t quit. (In moments of self-denial I tell myself this is the reason I have been slacking on diving. In reality it is because I’m cheap and distracted.) My hands are torn up from tossing BCDs into the water in Rescue two weeks ago, carrying tanks, and surely other blunders since. I’m still recovering from a crap bikini wax from last week. I’m a mix of sunburnt (complete with a white handprint on my stomach, oi) and the most tan I’ve been in my entire life. I’ve got a huge scrape on my right knee from a late night out that hurts and is turning purple.

WTF Utila? Why won’t you let me get better? Well, it’s humid, hotter than hell (100+ daily now), I’m in salt water often, and I’m betting all the rum doesn’t help. Luckily, I’m surrounded by people with first aid training… time for another gauze tune up.

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?!

Where has all the rum cake gone?

Just add rum!
Source: Google Images

Since leaving Belize I have missed rum cake. The Utilan bakeries don’t carry it, and no other sweets will do. But I still have a big bottle of rum left over from Roatan… too bad the hotel doesn’t have a kitchen.

I didn’t let that stop me. All you really need is cake and rum, right? I bought Bimbo panquecitos–premade vanilla pound cake–in hopes of easy poor man’s rum cake. Back at the hotel, my friends Nico and Doug invited me for poolside rum and I decided it was the perfect time for an experiment.

The guys were up to be guinea pigs. I split open the mini pound cakes and drizzled them with rum. Simple as that. A little stronger than a rum syrup but turns out it works pretty well, and I think is a WAY better way to imbibe rum than with Coke or pineapple. While munching, we about talked intense diving, Nico educated the old people about the latest in social media apps, and the boys sang Disney songs which was kind of awesome.

I still have proper baking ambitions though–you know, the kind that involve an actual oven–and suddenly opportunity as well. So, there are lots of guys staying for a month or longer doing their divemaster certification who rent apartments instead of staying in the dorms. And it turns out, shockingly enough, that every last one of them is up for me coming over to cook in their kitchen. I’m already kicking around dinner ideas for three different bachelor pad dinner parties… and rum cake is most definitely on the menu. Think I should start a catering service or become the Cake Lady of Utila!!

Say what you mean, mean what you say. I’m a woman of my word, especially when it comes to food. Tonight: baking a chocolate oreo and a red velvet cake for a birthday party.

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.

Searching for Robinson Crusoe and a good read

I got excited when I thought the parrot was named Friday… a few of you will know why!

Local legend and signage has it that Utila is the site where the fictional Robinson Crusoe was shipwrecked. (Of course this is widely believed to not be the case, but sometimes it is more fun to just go along.) I thought it should be a no-brainer: every shop in town should sell the book right next to the cash register like gum. But no. Guess not too many people come to Utila to read.

Then I discovered a FABULOUS book shop called Funkytown Library. Tucked behind the Reef Cinema with little publicity, I expected just another stack of random books piled in a corner. Instead I found a real used book shop with proper sections based on genre and an awesome selection. I asked after Robinson Crusoe (rather than the official original title: The Life and Strage Surprizing Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, of York, Mariner: Who lived Eight and Twenty Years, all alone in an un-inhabited Island on the Coast of America, near the Mouth of the Great River Oroonoque; Having been cast on Shore by Shipwreck, wherein all the Men perished but himself. With An Account how he was at last as stragely deliver’d by Pirates) and was directed with confidence to the Classics shelf (!). After purusing their selection, I wanted to buy every book they had. But they were expensive–some an high as $10USD for a Penguin Classic edition. Yikes!

Here’s the punchine: you can rent any book in the shop for $1 for an unlimited time as long as you return it. So back into my pack go all of the books I currently have. After all my Robinson Crusoe talk, I ended up renting Fever Pitch by Nick Hornby. I just couldn’t resist. So far, virtually all of the English football history and references are going over my head, but it still got me giggling over dinner. After that, maybe I’ll get ambitious and go for travel classics: Robinson Crusoe, On the Road, The Oddessey… or more likely other novels I get tempted by. I may be in Utila for a while. 🙂

Unfolding Utila

I spent four days in Utila getting settled, choosing a dive shop, taking care of some life admin, and getting a few more fun dives under my belt before starting my Advanced Open Water course. My energy and inspiration level was low and I wasn’t digging what Utila was selling.

If you haven’t read it, I suggest you improve your life and do so.
Source: Google Images

Sometimes you need someone else’s love of a place to open your eyes. Like how Bill Bryson’s deeply affectionate account In a Sunburned Country *completely* turned around my interest in Australia 180 degrees.

My guide in Utila became my fellow diver (and, though not made official with a log book autograph, I counted him as my buddy), Edwin. A native of Honduras’ capital city Tegucigalpa visiting from his now-home in Miami to surprise his family for Mother’s Day, he was a bright ray of sunshine. Utila was his place. A place he had been coming for years, first learned to dive, knew people, had some of his fondest memories, and deeply loved. He was purely happy to be back and it showed. And he was kind enough to share his island and his company with me. When experiencing it through his enthusiastic eyes it was impossible to not be affected.

I like piña liquados…

My regular readers may have noticed a pattern in my travels: the way to this girl’s heart is through her stomach. After our second day of diving together, we grabbed lunch of super baleadas and fried plantains covered with ground pork, cabbage, and other typical taco toppings. When I asked him about must-eats around the island the day quickly snowballed. First, we went to Reef Cinema (also the site of a kick ass book shop!) for the best smoothies in town. Even though we just finished eating, we then had get some sopa de caracol (conch soup), *the* dish he emphatically said I must try. Diving is hungry work!

He tracked some down and I learned that sopa de caracol is also the name of a breakout hit 90s Honduran punta/pop song akin to the Macarena, the video of which is FANTASTIC! Look at those outfits… Our soup was cooked fresh especially for us for by a Garifuna woman, who left her restaurant to purchase the conch immediately after we ordered it. Laced with curry, lime, cilantro, and hot sauce with huge hunks of conch, plantains, carrot, and mazapan fruit, it was incredible.

Sopa de caracol, wow!

Over all the tastiness of the day, we talked non-stop about careers, management, family, environmentalism, education, San Francisco and Miami, food, diving, and his dreams to improve Honduras. His bright and optimistic, yet realistic and grounded, outlook was inspiring.

On tap for the evening was a triple header at the soccer field, a community fundraiser and all around happening good time. Travel pro tip: If there are handwritten fliers plastered all over town advertising any special local event, GO! The posters said festivities went from 4-9pm, which apparently meant 6-11pm. We showed up just after 5pm (even when I’m late I’m early!) and while waiting outside the field (we beat the players there!) nibbled on mangoes dressed with chili, salt, and vinegar purchased from the basket of a woman’s bike.

Sour and sweet mangos!

The game was a gathering event for the whole town; the stands were full and it was a super fun localesque experience. There were three matches: two teenage exhibition matches (one girls, one boys), and the equivalent of a minor league Honduran team, the Utila Pirates taking on a rival from the mainland.

I kept accidentally cheering for the wrong team…

We met up with some other friends there and enjoyed the lovely spectacle of the match together. The teenage teams ran about semi-chaotically the pitch. A DJ played dance music. Over the far fence, spectators without tickets–who were later scolded publicly by the DJ–watched, cheered, and threw fireworks onto the field. The announcer for the professional match called the opposing goalie names and said with gusto all sorts of other ridiculousness, as a minor league announcer always should. A travel show/documentary team filmed the scene for a pilot project they are putting together on the Bay Islands. (If they cut it right, you should be able to see me in the stands!) Small children were everywhere climbing over and under spectators. One cutie gave her mom/aunt/grandma a particularly focused and forceful hair brushing right in front of us; I couldn’t stop laughing. We ate–you knew this was coming!–a dinner of bbq chicken, tortillas, beans, and coleslaw, then topped it off with a helping of tres leches. Mmm… The Pirates won and everyone left happy.

Happy fans. Go Pirates!

From there, we took to the town. First Tranquilo, which has become my favorite night spot on the island, where I drank the coldest beer of my life on the second story of their dock and we left minus one pair of sunglasses. Next we hit the iconic Treetanic where Edwin reconnected with old Utila buddies and I took in the unusually bedazzled and beautiful atmosphere. And what late night would be complete without a post-midnight snack at the baleada stand smack in the center of town off the main the dock? Up far too late for a morning dive.

A detail of steps leading into Treetanic during the daytime, only a glimpse of the art that covers this enormous bar.

Since that lovely day, I have more whole-heartedly embraced the Utila spirit (minus the drug culture). I have opened my eyes to the emerald green hummingbirds that inhabit the island (and actually LAND on branches and perches!), let go of my frustrations about street traffic, thrown myself into diving, built more social connections with cool people, ran into old friends from previous stops on my trip, discovered a rockin’ book shop, and been happy giving the food scene a closer look. Expect blog posts on all of these topics soon. Now, when the dive boat is headed back to shore and the coastline of Utila town comes into sight, I smile.

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.

Unexpectedly luxurious Roatan

*Heart* Roatan!

WARNING: this post may come across as braggy and contains a far too many pictures of sunsets, tasty food, and me smiling in a bikini. I blame Roatan, because it is pretty awesome.

Roatan, the largest of the Honduran Bay Islands, felt like a holiday from my trip. Serious tourist vibe here, in a good way! I detoured there for a few days before heading to the more backpacking-diver-centric island of Utila. It was sooo nice! Roatan was immediately classy. Walking off the ferry dock, tourists are greeted by manicured palm trees and a fleet of brand new sparkling white taxis. I was surprised how much it reminded me of Hawaii. English is so widely spoken and I never knew whether to attempt my crap Spanish (a month in Belize has made me regress) or not.

Roatan is 37 miles long and filled with resorts and vacation properties. I spent my entire time there on the western tip between the friendly Roatan Backpackers Hostel in Sandy Bay, town in West End, and beach sunsets in West Bay. Transport on the island was easy; taxis can either be hired privately or on a collectivo basis (20 Lm from Sandy Bay to West End) and water taxis are a pleasure to ride to West Bay (60 Lm).

I was accompanied by the perpetually nomadic bibliophile and linguist, Doron. A pleasure to chat with about virtually everything from the get-go, I now have far too many book recommendations (not that there really is such a thing!) to take with me. His literary addiction was infectious. I dropped three books from my pack (Wizard’s First Rule, Alice in Wonderland/Through the Looking Glass, and The Short Stories of Vladamir Nabokov) but picked up four (Hocus Pocus by Kurt Vonnegut, The More Than Complete Hitchhikers Guide by Douglas Adams, After Dark by Haruki Murakami, and The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver). So many stories ahead of me!

We both had a penchant towards fine dining and splurged on fantastic food. Even though it seemed at times like “hemorrhaging money”, it actually wasn’t that bad: a three course meal with drinks, tax, and tip consistently came in at $20-25USD per person. Totally doable every now and then. Or every day on Roatan. 😛 I just learned a new term for the type of traveler I may be: a flashpacker!

The first night, a search for sushi (which sadly never did come to fruition) instead led to Entre Pisco & Nazc, a Peruvian restaurant where we dined on seafood salad with real green (no iceberg to be found here!), creamy lobster lasagna, and chocolate cheesecake topped with mint and a blackberry. It set the tone for four days of top notch food.

On the first full day we ventured into town and discovered the peacefully perfect Half Moon Bay in West End. We happily split the day between snorkeling the reef, finding the sunken mini-submarine, lounging and reading, eating lobster and shrimp at the Crazy Mango, and playing on the water slide. I had absolutely no hang time and truly attempted not to flash anyone but despite my best efforts cannot claim success.

Lunching decadently and loving it. *
Lobster slathered in garlic butter. *

After a day of playing in the water and reading on the beach, I was ready to find some night life. And there were rumors flying around about crab races happening that very night. I got the scoop: Bananarama in West Bay was THE place to be. Done and done! We popped on a water taxi and went hunting for action.

The water taxi pulled right up to the shore and let us off. West Bay is an long resorty and relaxed beach; it is land of the sandy boulevard, waterfront lounges, wealthy families on vacation, and the most playful bulldog puppy ever.

Beautiful West End shore near sunset.

I love how on this trip, especially in beachy locals, attending to the sunset becomes an imperative. Back in the states, I rarely ever left my house simply to go view a sunset. In the Caribbean it is a must do event every day. And life is more beautiful for the habit.

Beauty to end the day. *

Bananarama actually was in fact the place to be. It was filled with white people excited about crab races, myself included. Unfortunately, they did little to publicize how to buy a crab because they didn’t need to; they sold out before I could get my hands on one. For the race, they dumped a bucket of tiny crabs in the center of a circle drawn in the sand and the first crab to reach the edge won. It was over remarkably quickly. After, we ate pizza, drank beer, talked, and laughed. We never did hear “Do You Like Pina Coladas?” from the house band… I really should have made that happen. Ah, regrets.

Crab race! And me kissing one plucked from the winner’s circle.

Earlier in the day I had been disappointed when the one ice cream stand in West End was closed, but this was about to be rectified with avengence. So much about this ice cream experience blew my mind. From the square (!!!) ice cream scroop to the confusing pricing structure to the deliciousness, all made it rather mystical. We ended up with six scoops of three flavors in a waffle cone for $2.50. What’s that? I think it’s a cone full of awesome.

Ice cream astonishment!
It’s my birthday and anniversary!

On day two I encountered the biggest bummer of the trip: dealing with identity theft. I spent a downer morning on the phone with multiple financial institutions listening to crappy hold music trying to get everything straight. In the end, it all got sorted but it was unpleasant to feel violated like that.

After that sucky morning, I was walking down the main drag looking for my friends who were already out and about and I passed numerous dive shops. I stepped into one to check the time and instead got the skinny on how easy it was to sign up to dive that day: $40 and I’d be out in the reef within the hour. It is so bizarre to me that now I can, on a whim, say hmm, yes, I believe I would like to spend an hour breathing underwater this afternoon. Diving is so amazing! After finding my peeps (including the newly arrived Hunter and Nikki who I would really enjoy hanging with later), I ditched them for an hour and dove Moonlight. Only 3 minutes by boat from shore, the site was beautiful, a turtle swam right up to my face, and I had my picture taken for the first time underwater.

Checking out the Moonlight reef. Photo courtesy of a My Little Pony riding a Carebear.
Sunset off of West Bay, post my afternoon under the sea. *

I linked back up with the group for dinner and we were deliciously responsible. You may not know this, but the gorgeous and deadly lionfish are a scourge on the reef and there is a effort by environmentalists to encourage local people here to catch and eat them to decrease the population. Let me say, this is a tasty way to help the reef. My lionfish tacos at the Cannibal Cafe were KILLER.

I’ll help take the lionfish down a notch any day.

After discussions of favorite trivia questions with Doron the night before at Bananarama, I had made finding a pub quiz a priority. They really are my favorite! And find one I did: Music trivia Mondays with Scott C at La Buena Vida. All the cool kids in town were there including friends from the hostel and my dive buddies. They formed rival teams and I threatened them all with big talk of our trivia prowess. I found the trivia format very very fun. Our very chill (I’m going to guess Hawaiian) quiz master led us through 42 pop song name and artist identifications. Unfortunately there was no classical music for me to impress everyone with my knowledge of! There were a mix of good songs I knew and could sing along to, puzzlers that drew controversy within the team, and new-to-me stuff I liked including Everclear’s AM Radio which I was still bopping to the next morning. Oh, and did I mention the rum? I did a LOT of sit-dancing.

Never Trust a Lyin’ Fish, #3 in trivia but #1 in fun. *
My contribution to the team was to trash talk and sit-dance lots. It added to the fun factor. *
The boys’ singing made Nikki plug her ears and me giggle. (jk, we were both doing each of those things anyways!)

On day three, the last day, we went used book shopping, got my diving log book signed and stamped (documentation is very important!), and then out to West Bay for snorkeling. It was a beautiful day for a swim and out in the reef there were glorious things to see: large chum right at the shore, a gorgeous reef with tons of fish, a pink sea anemone, a spotted eel, and the biggest lobster I have ever seen.

Happily heading back to West End. *
Finding our perfect snorkel spot. *
My final lovely, lovely Roatan sunset.

To me, there is no better way to cap a trip off than a splendid last meal. This we had in spades: fantastic bruschetta (pronounced with a sharp “sch”, naturally), brie and caramelized onion crepes, Indian shrimp curry, Thai beef noodles, a multitude of desserts, and a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon at Nice n’ Spicy, a place Doron and I had walked by before and been intoxicated by the smell. It lived up to everything we hoped — an amazing meal and end to the visit to Roatan!

Mmm, curry! I got distracted by condiments.
Delectable and ready to dive in. *
After already eating three desserts, the owner sent us free pistachio ice cream crepes. Excellent friends and food–who could ask for more? *

* Photos courtesy of Doron Klemer.