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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Whale Shark in Utila

My first stop was Utila, a small island in the Carribean Sea, famous for its Whale Shark sightings. Getting to Utila took two days, first flying to San Pedro Sula through Madrid and Miami, which was easier than anticipated, getting through immigration took only a couple of minutes and I didn't even need to pick up my bag, as is normal in the US, because it got processed directly, unfortunately, no one told me this so I only found out when my bag didn't show up and an official asked to see our bag tags. The next morning I took a bus, with Hedman Alas, to La Ceiba and there the Utila Princess to Utila.

I quickly got settled at Pirates Bay Inn, the brand new hotel belonging to Captain Morgan's dive shop, and started diving. The best sites of Utila are on the North side of the island, which is on the other side, and on the first site we went to CJ's Drop Off, an amazing cliff where you can "free fall" to 30 meters (or beyond). But from the second day on, I was the only customer left, which had the advantage that I had a private dive master and boat, but unfortunately meant that diving had to be limited to the closer sites in the South. I did this for two days and saw some very cool things, such as the Halliburton Wreck, a boat which was sunk on purpose in 1991 to form a natural reef, and Airport Caves which offered dozens of sometimes very tight swimmthroughs and small caves.

Since no other guests arrived, I figured this the perfect opportunity to do the Wreck Diver Specialty. Over the next three days I learned what has to be considered when diving on and penetrating into wrecks and practiced those skills in four dives. In the last dive I could pick a spot to penetrate the ship using a line and reel. I picked the cabins on the ground floor and so I could explore three rooms and see down into the cargo hold, before we had to turn back. I really enjoyed this experience and look forward to exploring other wrecks :).

Almost every day we heard tales that other people spotted Whale Sharks while they were north side, and since it didn't seem likely that I'd be diving there with Captain Morgan's, I jumped at the opportunity when the Whale Shark and Oceanic Research Center offered a Whale Shark trip Wednesday afternoon. We were eight people on the boat and got extremely lucky, only 15 minutes after reaching the north side, the captain spotted a boil, which is a turbulence in the water caused from many fish being chased by a Whale Shark. We got to jump into the water 6 times and saw the Whale Shark every time. The last time the Whale Shark swam directly towards me and after taking a quick picture, I quickly got out of the way! That was a truly incredible experience! :)

One day I decided to dive with Parrots Dive Center, because they advertised to go north side that day, unfortunately there was some problem with the boat which delayed us and thus we only went to the East side, however, we dove there at Black Hills, wich is one of the best diving spots in Utila and we saw lots of fish, a turtle and a Stingray and during the surface interval we could even snorkel with dolphins! So I was quite happy with the outcome :)

By that time business at Captain Morgan's has finally picked up again, there were a couple of Open Water Students and another fundiver, so I signed up for one last trip going to the North side. We went all the way around the island diving at Blackish Point and Spotted Bay, two very nice dive sites.

After nine days it was time for a change of scenery, so I booked a ticket on Captain Vernon's Catamaran which took me to Roatan.

I might go back to Utila one day, but then it would be April which is the bigger Whale Shark season than September and also part of high season, so there should be more people there. I would definitely stay at Captain Morgan's again, because everyone was very friendly and I found them the most relaxed dive shop on the islands (in other places you had to sign a paper stating that you would not go deeper than 30 metres without a Deep Specialty...).

More pictures can  be found in my web album.

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