The fun folks from Manta Divers took a trip to Utila, one of the bay islands of Honduras in Central America. Of the tree bay islands, Utila is the flattest and smallest. It is also an island that has been known for frequent whale shark visits. We were able to make it to the island in three hops, Chicago to Atlanta, Atlanta to Roatan, and finally Roatan to Utila in a very tiny plane. As this was the first time diving in Utila for our group, we were very happy to discover that Utila does not have nearly the no-see-um population that we have come to dread when on Roatan or Guanaja.
Utila Lodge, an all inclusive dive resort, has 8 double occupancy rooms that are literally over the water. Each night we were lulled to sleep with the gentle splashing of water at the shore. Each morning, fresh brewed coffee was brought to our rooms so before heading to breakfast we would sit and gaze out at the beautiful ocean, sunrise bouncing off the waves, inviting us to jump in and commune with her denizens. The lodge offered a varied menu, including omelets to order each morning and a selection of native and American favorites for lunch and dinner. Water and iced tea were available 24/7. The bar, ably (wo)manned by Queen Ann, was fully stocked and offered daily drink specials. On Friday night the lodge hosted karaoke night, drawing in a talented group of local singers. Team Manta was well represented by Phil Hardin, Neal Skrenes, Kathryn Elliott and Boomer Bain. We learned that country music is quite popular on the island!
We had exclusive use of Utila Lodge’s spacious dive boat and our divemaster, Josh and boat captain, Willie were very accommodating to the divers in our group who need extra help with gear and getting in and out of the boat. The dives were usually 50-60ft max depth, but divers were able to go deeper, or shallower as was their preference on the sloping reef. The boat was usually moored in 30-40ft of water, allowing us to make extra long and interesting safety stops. Air allowing, we were able to make each dive up to one hour. I especially liked to see some of the more unusual or uncommon creatures and fish, such as sea horse, cryptic teardrop crab, leopard toadfish, upside down jellyfish, and some especially beautiful (if not all that uncommon) blue bell tunicates. One morning, our dive boat was accompanied by a large pod of spinner dolphins. They swam right up to the boat, drafted off the bow and then swam out a ways to wow us by leaping out to the water in synchronized groups. Two night dives were included in our package, the second one, to “Moon Hole” was spectacular. This site was a 40ft sand bottom surrounded by a ring of coral. Josh pointed out many nocturnal fish, such a small mushroom scorpoinfish and a very photogenic octopus. We felt very safe an well cared for. In fact, Utila has its own hyperbaric chamber on the Utila Lodge property.
A representative of WSOC, or Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center gave a presentation about whale sharks, but alas, we were not able to go out to look for them this trip due to poor weather. When expeditions are looking for whale sharks, they try to spot a “boil” or churning turbulence at the surface. This is caused by huge schools of fish balled up to protect from predators. They do this when whale sharks are around trying to suck in as much plankton as they can. As January usually brings more rain and wind to Utila, the weather was just not allowing the water surface to be flat enough to see the “boils.” While January is not exactly peak whale shark sighting time, there had been some sighted the week before we were there. In fact because the water is very deep around Utila it is believed that many of the whale sharks live in the vicinity year round. A better time to visit if you want to see these enormous creatures is in April or May.
Some in our group took advantage of an afternoon off to do some island touring on horseback. The guide, Sterling, was a first rate naturalist, identifying many of the native fauna and explaining their medicinal uses. A sidebar to this trip was a cave tour, with added commentary by Team Manta’s own geologist, Boomer Bain. The cave had many examples of a formation called “dragon’s teeth.” We even got to swim in an underground pool.
It is also fun to stroll along the streets and visit the various merchants and soak in some of the local culture. Most of the island residents speak English, but are very patient if you want to practice your Spanish with them. The island is very safe, but as you walk you always need to be on the look out for zooming scooters, bicycles and ATV’s.
If you are looking for a casual, friendly place to spend a week relaxing and diving, Utila Lodge is your ticket. We packed many adventures into our week at Utila Lodge, yet managed to return to the frozen tundra renewed and refreshed. Besides, we have a lot of great memories to sustain us until our next adventure.