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Bay Islands, Honduras
We flew with Taca out of Miami, which was surprisingly good (and direct on Sundays), to Roatan, Honduras. The island off the north coast by about 60 kilometers is (very) roughly banana-shaped and has some wonderful diving – which is our main reason for going almost anywhere (other than the “it’s not covered in snow” reason). We arrived to delicious weather (well, it was July) and had an average wait at small and steamy airport. Leaving the airport, there was the usual crush of getting luggage through taxi drivers offering drives, but we had arranged a ride with a guy named Daryl over the internet who was there waiting. He worked for Paradise Computers which was later convenient for us because we used their gear to burn our diving pictures onto cd (they have a shop in Coxen Hole and West End that can do this for you). It turned out he was charging more than the cab drivers for driving us around, but whatever, we had lots of stuff, he had a truck and he spoke English. Strangely Daryl didn’t actually do the driving himself—he brought a shy guy named Silvan (who looked like he was about 12 and a half but were assured was 19) who drove slowly barefoot with hands ’10 and 2’.
The drive took about 30-45 minutes from the airport to our hotel, Cabana Roatana, on a winding ascending and descending well-paved, pot-hole free road. It looked to be too narrow sometimes when it had to be shared with pedestrians, dogs, mini-buses, and the occasional sauntering cow, but our driver was comparatively cautious and we enjoyed the ride. We stopped at one point shortly before we were to arrive at our hotel at the high point of the island for a good look at the 360º view. From that high point, it felt like we could see most of the island. However, Daryl assured us that the island wasn’t small—after all, he had been living there for 7 years and there were still some people he didn’t know. While we admired our dramatic wind-blown surroundings, Daryl phoned his wife: “Reception’s better from up here”.
Our rooms are in 2-story blocks, each floor with 2 rooms and we inhabit the ground floor. As usual for tropical digs, the rooms smell kind of funky but you can’t blame the keepers—it’s just all muggy all the time. Not that we really cared, the place had everything we needed: fridge, microwave, generous amounts of plates, mugs, utensils, toaster, coffee-maker, non-cooled water cooler, and so on to keep us in bachelor-meal heaven. (Note: bring your own Vegemite and coffee). We were in Roatan with a kitchenette and wood-paneled rooms! What do we care for a little bit of elf-breath smell? We savoured it. (Okay, we just didn’t notice it after a while).
We went diving on the first real day there to a site called Divemaster’s Choice - not our divemaster’s choice - but the name of the place used mostly, we suspect, to check out how fit people are for better diving. We dove with Bananarama and the shop is close to the water and well-equipped with decent gear.
It was an overcast morning and we motored up the coast from West Bay Beach through a little bit of rain and jumped in. We were a group of four plus our Cuban guide Liber. We also met Nacho, from Spain, this day and he was testing his new Olympus housing sans camera – of course I hadn’t thought to do it that way. Brand new camera and housing and I just checked and greased my o-ring, sealed it up and brought it along. Luckily it was fine. One thing I realized quickly after looking at my first photos was that I forgot completely to turn macro on and off, and part way through the dive I turned the forced flash setting off forgetting to turn it back on several times. Those photos came out blurry. We also met the driver of our boat today – local guy, huge feet, named Luther. Luther started out pretty quiet, but turned out to be a very friendly talkative guy, fun to have a laugh with, and a pro at positioning the boat taking good care of us. I borrowed a dive computer for this trip, and I have never been so carefree on a dive – it told me everything I needed to know – I want one. About 10 minutes into the dive we saw an octopus. I had been trailing the others taking pictures so I was nowhere near being in the right position to get a picture of him or her swimming. But, I did manage a picture of it behind a rock, tentacles curled back around its head. One of the more memorable parts of this dive were the large and beautiful stands of pillar coral. Sometimes they were solitary, sometimes bunching, but impressive all around. I think the tallest group was about 15’ tall. I’ve never seen them like this before - anywhere. First outing with the new camera was fun although I think I spent too much time fiddling and fumbling with it, deciding whether to try macro or not, flash or not etc. We didn’t dive deeper than 65’ and we were in about 45 mins. After a safety stop, we came up, Luther had the boat ready and helped us in.
Liber, our guide, decided we’d go into West End for our surface interval for about an hour – and that sounded good to us as we hadn’t been anywhere yet. We tied up on this wooden dock and sat around for a bit. There was a rickety looking mini-sub sitting on the dock as well, so we checked it out – turns out it was made by a company in Vancouver, but it didn’t look like it had seen use in some time.
Our next dive was at a place called Blue Channel. It wasn’t particularly blue, nor was it particularly channel-like from the onset. Before long the formations became larger, and there were numerous small channels through the reef that was reaching up to within a few feet of the surface. I tried a few more close-ups and got a few more shots of pillar coral. I got a nice shot of a decorator crab hiding in a sponge, but completely dorked the two shots of the only large moray we’d see this week. I had everything going for me, Nacho had a dive light pointed at it, all I had to do was remember to switch to macro mode – doh, fuzzy. Oh well, still learning. We saw this nice large open brain, a school of silversides or similar, and I tried my luck at chistmas tree worms, a brittle star and got a nice pose from a trunkfish.
Our next day’s dive started at Hole in the Wall. Four of us were on this dive, guided again by Liber. Hole in the Wall is a channel that starts at about 50’ and opens at the face of the wall at about 105’. There were some interesting things along the way. I got a nice shot of an arrow crab in a sponge, a trumpet fish, a lobster, boring sponge, and some black coral at 105’. I also took my first picture of a lettuce nudibranch, and many others, and never really got results worth showing. We did our surface interval at another part of West End on the dock again. Nacho had brought his camera on this dive and spent much of the time focused on the little things – can’t wait to see his shots.
We ended up doing about 15 dives over the week and one of the most interesting and closest to West Bay Beach is Mandy's Eel Garden -- this was my first time seeing a field of garden eels -- very cool. On the way you will likely see many upside-down jellyfish in the shallows. While most of our dives were on the north and west coast of the island, we made one trip to the south coast to see Mary’s Place and go on the shark dive. Definitely worth the drive. Mary’s Place seemed quite similar to West End Wall with more dramatic structure in a slightly less healthy condition. However, the shark dive was spectacular. It is run by an outfit called Waihuka Diving. They've been baiting sharks in the area for years and they have the system working obviously well. After a 15 minute boat ride we tied up and descended down the line. At the bottom, about 65’, you back up against a small wall for cover. Then the fun begins. Caribbean reef sharks – about a dozen of them start appearing and cruising around enticed by the bait in buckets. And the melee lasts for a good half-hour. There are dozens of large groupers and jacks as well and the sharks keep coming – highly recommended. You can judge by the above photo how close the encounter was.
After spending a week in Roatan I pine to go back. The hustle and bustle on the island has been increasing since cruise ships started arriving. But, the diving remains some of the best in the Caribbean.
©2004 Itchyfeet Online Travel