Stelaes, Hieroglyphs and Out of Air Emergencys!

Trip Start Dec 08, 2004
Trip End Dec 07, 2005

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Flag of Honduras  ,
Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Our main destinations in Honduras were to be Copan for the ruins and the Bay Islands for SCUBA diving.

Looking at the map we couldnīt help notice a little town called Gracias which was practically on our route to Copan. The temptation of having the oppurtunity to be able to say "Gracias" in town called Gracias was too much, so of cause we had to go. It was a pretty little mountain town untouched by modernisation and surrounded by beautiful lush mountainous landscape.

Apart from saying "Thankyou" in Spanish a lot to each other and taking walks around the town we didnt really do much else. We considered a hike to the highest peak in Honduras but sadly the weather changed and it wasnīt possible, I was gutted as you can imagine. We had a lovely time just chilling out for a two days opting for a little luxury in a posh hotel at $15 a night for on-suite, two double super-comfy beds and cable TV. Keith was happy as he got to watch West Brom win for a change.

Copan is Hondurasīs Tikal but on a far less grand scale. Itīs the incredibly well preserved stone carvings and sculptures that gives Copan itīs magic.

The original city dates back to 426AD so the condition of the stone work is amazing. In one open square surrounded by ruins of dwellings and temples stand the Stelae. Huge columns of rock carved to depict the kings who once ruled Copan and their stories. The Kings all have mysterious names like King 18 Rabbit, King Smoke Shell, Moon Jaguar and Imix Smoke.

The main attraction in Copan is the hieroglyph staircase. A flight of 63 steps telling the history of Copan in several thousands of glyphs. It is facinating and muy bonito! Unfortunatley the whole story isnīt yet known as the stones were jumbled and damaged during excavation. Typical!

As you all know we havenīt been exactly sticking to our planned travel schedule and our chances of us getting on that flight from Chile in September are getting somewhat slimmer. So needs must, we couldnt let a little thing like my Birthday get in our way. So I spent my birthday (the whole day 5am until 5pm) travelling on a chicken bus to La Ceiba, then on a very bad hour-long ferry crossing to Utila, one of the Bay Islands. It wasnīt all bad though, we arrived just in time to sign up for our PADI Open Water course, a few celebratory Daquaris, a fabulous Mexican meal and a presentaion on Whale Sharks, the biggest fish in the ocean. Bueno!

We signed up with Captain Morgan's Dive School. It had been recommended to us by Will, a guy we had met in Palenque who had worked with them as an instructor. We met Will after we had signed up with Morgans, he is working at Paradise Divers now. Its the cheapest place to learn to dive and looks like a fun place if you want a party atmosphere, and don't mind messing in a bit, say Hi to him from us if you decide to go there!

Our dive school and hotel was not on mainland Utila but on a small island called Jewel Cay, a 30 minute boat trip to the far west end of Utila. This sounded perfect as it was quieter and closer to the best dive sights, meaning an extra 30 minutes in bed. Perfecto!

Jewel Cay was an interesting place to say the least, it is actually two tiny islands joined together by a jetty type bridge. It takes 5 minutes to walk from one side of the Cays to the other and thats at a very relaxed Caribean style amble. It has a population of around 200 people and 7 churches. Everyone on the islands has one of three surnames (Cooper, Diamond and another piratey sounding name) making a very limited gene pool. Ummm not the most attractive bunch!

We had signed up with our school on a quiet day so there was only the two of us in our class, meaning we had an instructor, Martha, all to ourselves.

I wasnīt sure how I would take to this underwater world thing. Surely if I was meant to go that far under water I would have been given gills. Donning a wet suit, cumbersome tanks, various other pieces of complicated equipment and 12 pounds of lead around my waste didnīt seem very sensible to me, but after the first breath under water I stopped worrying. It was an incredible feeling, being a part of that world only experienced from above by poking my head in with a snorkel. The fish were remarkably unfazed by us which is incredible judging how stupid, clumsy and ugly we looked in comparison to them

As it was only the two of us, we flew through our initial instruction and it was time for our first proper dive. All kitted up and excited we did our buddy checks. BCD, weights, releases, air and final check, no probs everything fine. Splash, we rolled backwards off the boat, met with Martha and then descended. At about 15 meters I started to find it difficult to breathe. A few more strained breaths and then nothing! SH** NO AIR!!!! Bordering on complete panic but not wanting to follow my natural instincts of shooting to the surface for air, for the risk of my lungs exploding, i some how managed to stay calm. Martha was just in front of me and she luckily turned around to check on me. Frantically I signalled NO AIR and swam towards her grabbing her alterative air source, what a relief, AIR! Martha was confused and checked my tank.

Having b-d confusion has its problems at the best of times so when it comes to diving and your life depending on you knowing the difference between left and right its not a great help. On the boat I had asked Keith which direction I had to turn the tap on my tank to turn the air on. Being told right I had turned it left, turning my air off! Ummm you learn by your mistakes.

The diving was wonderful. The Bay Islands are in the Carribean Sea so the water was warm and turquoise clear! The reefs are amazing with so many different corals, sponges and beautifully coloured fish. We were really lucky on our first dive as we saw a Hawk Bill Turtle! It swam with us for about 5 minutes which made the whole being unable to breath thing worth while. It was so graceful and seemed completely relaxed with us, we just stayed still and watched in amazement until it got bored, effortlessly gliding away and dissapearing into the big blue.

Although the reefs are still amazing it is obvious that the balance of man and nature has been tipped and the reefs are struggling. There isnīt the diversity of life that you should expect to see on a reef. For example there are no Reef Sharks as they have all been fished out. Fishing and pollution are posing a huge threat to the survival of the reefs.

We were dissapointed not to have seen a Whale Shark but we found out after that this was probably a good thing at least for the sharks. When a Whale Shark is around it is very obvious. They are sift feeders, feeding on clouds of plankton. So when there is a huge cloud of plankton around this also attracts huge shoals of smaller fish, attracting shoals of bigger fish, attracting even bigger fish and so on. So at the surface you get a huge jaccuzzi effect caused by the smaller fish darting out the way of their pray and big fish like Tuna and Baracuda diving out to catch them and a cloud of circling sea birds waiting for there dinner opportunity. This frenzy as you can imagine draws alot of attention and on a calm day can be seen for miles. It has been a problem in the Bay Islands with dive boats and divers overcrowding the sharks. There have been reports of 8 dive boats near a shark and up to 25 divers in the water at once all trying to touch the shark. You can imagine how destressing this is for the animals.

After passing our PADI exam (Keith got 100% I got 98%) we headed back to Utila and went to BICD (Bay Islands College of Diving) bar for a celebratory drink. They had another presentation on Whale Sharks and we were relieved to hear that just that day, the WROSC, a marine conservation organisation working on Utila, had got proper legislation passed to protect the sharks. Now only one dive boat is allowed within a 15 meter radius of a shark and only 8 divers are allowed in the water at one time and only for 10 minutes. Movement and noise must be kept to a minimum, flash photography is banned and anyone reported trying to touch a shark can have there VISA taken away and can be deported. EXCELLENT NEWS! The organisation are also doing a lot of other good work in reef preservation and to control fishing quotas and areas.
Well done guys!

Anyone planning on diving on Utila we highly recommend BICD. They work closely with WROSC and offer educational presentations and courses which are acredited by PADI. The instructors are very professional and are all passionate about marine conservation.

Captain Morgans wasnīt a bad school we really enjoyed it, but if we had known about BICD before we would have definately gone with them. Its important to support a school who is making an active effort to preserve the reefs and educate its students. Plus its nice to know more about the marine life you see when you dive.

After a few days to recover from sea sickness and bad ear trouble (I think I came up to quickly on my last dive) we decided to leave Utila and head south to the capital of Tegucigalpa. We stayed in Tegus for a night and then moved onto Nicaragua the next day.

** Unfortunately we didn't get any photos of our diving antics. This was a concious decision on our part. On our first day underwater we witnessed what amateur underwater photographers are capable of. One of the people on our first dive had a digital underwater camera. He has just passed his PADI open water and was taking pictures of everything he could see. He was so consumed with taking photos that he was completely oblivious as to where his body and fins were. He was hitting the coral and even broke a substantial piece off at one stage. Coral is extremely delicate, and even brushing against it with a misplaced fin can irrepairably damage it. It takes hundreds of years to grow, and only seconds to destroy. We made the decision that we wouldn't attempt to take any photos underwater until we had a lot more experience, and we are interested in doing an underwater photography course. Please be ultra careful if you take a camera underwater, the reefs are under enough threat as it is.
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