Sunday, August 17, 2008

Life on Utila

Hello from Utila! We have really enjoyed our time here but are starting to look forward to seeing home and our beloveds. It will feel good, I think, to get back into a routine though I may have a different feeling about that in 2 weeks when things really get busy at school!

We flew from Guanaja to La Ceiba, with beautiful views of the reef below (PHOTO 1) and the mountains on the mainland. We took a really wild ride on a cheap colectivo taxi (they stop to pick up others as needed so each passenger pays less) - PHOTO 2 shows a motorcycle passing between 2 weaving trucks, taken through the front windshield of the taxi on the way to the ferry dock.

The ferry ride was unbelievably rough and my stomach, even with dramamine and sea band support, was not happy about that, infact violently unhappy. I was very relieved to finally see Utila coming into view (slowly, much too slowly) and as we made our way down along Utila's street to our hotel the owner caught up to us in a golf cart and helped us along (suddenly a voice in the dark was saying, "You wouldn't happen to be Mike and Stacey, would you?"). Our over-the-water hotel is very nice - clean, air conditioned, small kitchen, hot water, cable tv (go Olympics!), and a wonderful view over the bay.

Town is as we remembered it, a bit rough around the edges with an odd assortment of stores catering to locals and divers and around 15 dive shops. I selected Alton's, the closest one to our hotel (PHOTO 3) which has been nice. PHOTOS 4, 5, and 6 are street scenes (6 is a heated dominoes game with money on the table). PHOTOS 7 and 8 are evening pictures from the balcony outside our room; I decided I shouldn't have to make hard decisions while on vacation so didn't force myself to choose between them.

PHOTO 9 shows the flats Mike fishes every day for bonefish and their various friends (taken from the dive boat). He hasn't seen permit there this year but headed out this afternoon with barracuda gear. In PHOTO 10 Mike is taking one last look over the flats before heading home to dinner.

I'm seeing really amazing things underwater but it is certainly different diving from a full boat rather than by myself with just the divemaster. I've added half a dozen new ones to the fish list I started on Guanaja which now numbers more than 80 species. Although the quantity of fish and the diversity of color here isn't quite up to the Guanaja standard (much less pressure on those reefs) I've seen some amazing places and every dive has been a joy. Among other things today we saw a tiny juvenile spotted drum (one of the greatest things ever to see underwater imo) and a 5' barracuda at a cleaning station, patiently having it's mouth and gills cleaned by remoras and shrimp. So many times I catch myself staring at a scene and wishing I could remember every detail forever.

PHOTO 11 was also taken from the dive boat, of a local fisherman pulling up snapper using hand lines. Our boat driver had pulled over to ask how deep the water was and if he'd seen any "water boils" caused by birds and fish feeding, a sign a whale shark may be near. The driver gets paid more if we see a whale shark (common around Utila but difficult to spot this time of year) and I for one had a tip handy - no luck so far so just another excuse to come back.

PHOTO 12 shows our hotel, The Lighthouse, from the dive boat (the white building on the right) and PHOTO 13 shows Mike inside the room getting ready to go fishing.

We've eaten well here, a combination of eating out (some dinners) and eating in (everything else). It's great to be able to prepare our own food after a month of eating someone else's ideas, though I have usually loved those, too. PHOTO 14 shows RJ at RJs Barbecue; when you order his wife shouts out what you want (so far we've tried amber jack, mahi mahi, wahoo, and snapper - all fabulous) and he reaches into the cooler, pulls out a fish, cuts off a large helping, and grills it up. It's served with potatoes, rice, salad, and corn on the cob for $5. PHOTO 15 shows a typical lunch - Mike has it ready when I get home from diving around noon mmmmmmm.

My schedule here goes sleep, eat, dive, eat, nap, explore, eat, lay around reading or watching the Olympics with Mike, and start again. Mike's is similar but he naps in the morning and fishes in the afternoon. That's all going to change in a few days - we're milking the last few days for all they're worth and will look forward to being home and settling into the real world again. HAPPY TRAILS!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Fishing and relaxing at Graham´s Place, Guanaja

Hi, all - it´s nice to have the option of regular internet service again. Here are some photos from our time at Graham´s Place which occupies a 6 acre island about a mile south of the island of Guanaja. We chose this place specifically for its reputation for offering a lot of fishing flats and big bonefish and they really were huge - I hadn´t realized bonefish got so big (10 pounds?!). Mike got to fish most of every day there and managed to hook and land a few. The fish were experienced and smart and apparently very picky about what they took into their mouths. The snorkeling wasn´t stellar, especially compared to the north side, so I spent several relaxing, wonderful days reading, taking naps, and watching Mike fish.

PHOTO 1 shows our first view of Graham´s Place from the boat; just minutes later Mike was spotting bonefish from the bar. PHOTOS 2 and 3 show Mike on the flats and some of the surrounding beauty. PHOTO 4 shows the waves striking the reef crest on the south side of the island and I took the lizard picture (PHOTO 5) from the deck of our cabin.
PHOTOS 6 and 7 show our wonderful little beach cabin, outside and in, and I took PHOTO 8 from the porch. PHOTO 9 is Mike walking near the open air bar/restaurant where we ate our meals - it´s dwarfed by the size of the anchors. The last picture is a shot of both of us just before we boarded the boat to head to the airstrip and away from Guanaja. It´s been a really wonderful 10 days here but we´re also looking forward to a week on Utila. We´re missing everyone and missing home so we´ll be ready when the time comes. HAPPY TRAILS!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008 at Island House on Guanaja

Hello all!! Mike arrived in San Pedro Sula a few hours late but we had plenty of time to make our flights to La Ceiba and on to Guanaja. We waited at the airport for our ride from Island House, which wasn't forthcoming even though I'd confirmed 2 days ahead; we managed to find a ride with someone near the dock, so no big deal. I think they knew we were arriving on Monday but thought it was still Sunday - welcome to island time!

Island House (PHOTO 1 from the water) is lovely. For meals we walk across a grassy area that's used for soccer on the week-ends, across a patch of sand and onto the dock on which the kitchen and dining area are housed (PHOTO 2). Our little cabin (PHOTO 3) is surrounded by tropical flowers and has 2 beds and a private bath with hot water - what luxury!

Tuesday we rode in a boat (no roads here, no cars) to "town" - Bonacco, an island with a series of canals and sidewalks and houses and stores crammed into every square inch. Most of the population of Guanaja resides there (PHOTOS 4 and 5).

PHOTO 6 is a view of our screened room and the screened porch beyond (it posted sideways - sorry). In between meals (mostly delicious fish or conch with typical accompaniments like rice and beans and fried bananas) and naps Mike has been fishing, I've been diving and snorkeling; Mike joins me sometimes when he can tear himself away from fishing. Bonefish and permit have been few and far between but Mike managed to land 3 bonefish (see PHOTO BELOW) plus an odd assortment of other fish, among them a small barracuda, a needlefish or 2, and a trunk fish.

The diving is PHENOMENAL - every site offers something different, caves filled with swirling schools of thousands of small silver and blue fish, ledges hiding queen angels, trigger fish, rock beauties and cleaning shrimp, huge cuts in the reef with turtles, sea stars, and dozens of types of colorful reef fish. The coral and sponge and gorgonia colors are astounding. The snorkeling from shore offers much of the above so I'm pretty happy being wet here. A few itchy bugs and sunburned backs of legs (me - even with great sun block snorkeling for 2 or 3 hours at a time you get burned) are small prices to pay (PHOTOS 7, 8, and 9 were taken while snorkeling and PHOTO 10 is me on the dive boat with Bo, the owner and divemaster here. He has many thousands of dives under his belt and practically has gills).

Today we took Mike(by boat, of course) to our next stop, Graham's Place, and I'll join him tomorrow. Sitting in the bar there with a Salva Vida in his hand ("Life Saver" - the local beer) he could see big bonefish swimming by so he'll be a really happy camper there. I'm not sure when I'll have internet access again but I'll publish a Graham's Place post when I can. Hope this finds everyone happy and well. Happy trails!