Monday, 7 January 2008

Just hanging around, with Dolphins!

Utila could be seen as the backpacker’s paradise of the Bay islands, a cheap option for the Caribbean. It is small, with little in the way of modern development, that doesn’t mean it isn’t completely taken over by tourism. For the local people this is a great economic boom, it does have it’s price though; as anyone who lives in an area heavy tourism will know. There is only one main road going most the length of the Island, it isn’t wide enough for two cars to pass; yet there is a constant flow of golf carts and quads. These are the tourist mobiles, combined with the numerous small motorcycles, ridden at breakneck speed, it makes for a very busy thoroughfare.

All the useful land has already been developed, the houses aren’t quite stacked on top of each other; the main drag leaves no space for anything other than the occasional dog kennel though. Now new building projects are generally extensions into the sea, reclamation of the sea bed. You’ll see an area staked out with wooden stakes, the next stage is filling it in with coral waste, then a concreted border and sand or gravel to level off the interior. Hey presto, a new building plot. You can see in the photos the transformation from one to the other.

I thought I was coming for gorgeous beaches and a tranquil paradise; it is generally tranquil, but quiet it most certainly is not. It isn’t every bar that is banging music and loud, pissed up westerners, but you can never quite be sure which ones will go that way any given night. There are the certainties, many would be glad to know, but wanting a quiet night out, to have a drink and write my journal, can’t be a surety. There is a plentiful choice of hotels, from the over priced to the squalid. In fairness though, the cheaper price bracket are better value than most places I’ve visited. However the beaches are few and far between, though I am discovering a way of finding a couple that are out of the way.

So what is it that makes Utila a bustling, backpackers paradise? Probably those things I've noted in a negative way, they ain't my cup of tea, but it's what so many of the younger backpacker types want. And of course, there are plenty who are trying to maintain their apparent youthfulness, by hanging around the same places as the cool, young travellers. I'm getting older, and glad to admit it; if I still had the attitude of a young loud mouthed piss-head me and Cai would never had started on this journey together. So is that good or bad? Ain't life strange, just when you want it to make sense!

One of the biggest attractions here is the diving, it's cheaper than most places in the world and there are more dive schools per capita than anywhere else I've seen. There has to be at least fifteen of them, and the population is tiny. Of course, it is exclusively western instructors and divemasters working in the centres. The diving is good quality on most sites, their attitude to the marine environment is exceptional; buoyed mooring only. As with the rest of the Caribbean though, large Groupers and Conch are fished almost out of existence. But there is a good diversification of species, and I've been swimming with Dolphins again. How could I have forgotten about that the other day? Just before New Year, just getting out from a dive, the Captain informed us there was a pod of Dolphins heading our way. Luckily he was as quick to tell everyone not to jump in, and scare them away! I counted five, one surfacing right next to me and another passing close enough to touch, but of course I didn't. Both those close to me had scars along their backs, which I'm not sure how they get these, whether its from boats or other marine creatures. Whatever, they were obviously in good health! They were purely cruising past, all they done was to briefly check us out as they passed. A lovely end to a dive though, much nicer to have only snorkel gear on as well.

That was on my last dive trip out from Jewel Cay, on new years eve. It made for a good celebration that night; hey it's only the second time I've managed to be in the water that close to Dolphins. It really is a magnificent experience, and one that I doubt I would have shared with Cai; he couldn't be bothered about diving over here, but we'll never know now eh? He'd surely of appreciated the sunsets from Jewel Cay, so many excellent examples. No matter how hard I tried, my fire breathing paled into insignificance!

Lastly, for all those who constantly accuse me of having a wonderful tan, a photo of yours truly. I took this myself the night I got ridiculously drunk, but while I was still fairly sober. I confess, it was a matter of seeking solace in the bottle! Reading the poem Kris read out at the funeral tore me to bits, ripped out my heart and shredded it; it was the worst day I've had for a long time. Its also brought it all back closer to the surface again. I don't agree with holding back the tears, but I think I should be able to hold it together in public; its different on the Internet! And now it feels like it only happened yesterday! Isn't it reassuring our love meant so much? Maybe, but if that is the case I don't ever want to move on; and I know I must!

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