By Aaron Smith, Contributing Reporter
HONDURAS – Marooned on a Caribbean island, once the hideaway of pirate Henry Morgan, may seem implausible in this day and age. Yet that’s essentially our current situation on Utila, one of three of Honduras’s Bay Islands.
A world famous diving Mecca, we came to explore Davies’s Locker and possibly find Nemo. However, it’s not the pristine waters or the relaxed island vibe that has us stuck, but rather the political turmoil unfolding on the mainland.
Due to corruption accusations, President Manuel Zelaya was forced by the military to Costa Rica wearing nothing but his pajamas. Although Zelaya has the support of the UN, talk of his return has caused disgruntled citizens to riot in the major cities. Consequently, road closures are preventing us from onward travel.
It’s been a tumultuous week in paradise, and with Michael Jackson’s death dominating the news, the Honduran coup has gone largely unnoticed. That, and a recent small plane crash on the island caught smuggling cocaine, resulted in us only becoming aware of the situation when the police enforced a 9PM curfew on this normally boisterous party town.
None of this has stopped Vivi, I or the rest of the island from diving. As a poster in our dive shop said, “If you have never dived, you haven’t seen most of the world, as seventy percent of the earth is covered by oceans.” This challenge appealed to us committed globetrotters.
Vivi was a bit hesitant at first, but completed her certification course nonetheless and is now a born-again mermaid. We have since dived with pilot whales, stingrays, turtles and through kaleidoscopic coral gardens. We even dived during a small earthquake, which sounded like the QE2 berthing above us.
Although part of Honduras, The Bay Islands were British territory until 1859 and English is still the primary language here. With their strong Caribbean accent, laid back attitude and carefree island life, the 6,000 odd locals are not going to revolt anytime soon. And why would they? The steady stream of tourists drives a healthy trade for all the businesses on the island.
Our dive-boat skipper Seth, who’s lived on the island his whole life, told us how he started captaining boats as a kid and now at 28 years-old docks the cruise ships – a lazy US$300 for ten minutes work.
But now the streets are quiet at night, restaurants empty and bars shut down. Any stragglers after curfew are cuffed and locked for the night by heavy handed police. Hopefully things will improve soon or the numbers of visitors may drop and dry up the island’s income. This political unrest could be a tipping point for Central America’s poorest country, still recovering from Hurricane Mitch eleven years ago as well as a recent earthquake.
As for Viv and I, we continue to kill time under the sea and wonder how long it will be till we can continue northwards. Maybe we’ll go look for Henry Morgan’s lost treasure…
Senhor and Senhora Smith are from different worlds; he, Aaron Smith, an Australian travel writer, still idolizes his childhood idol, Indiana Jones, and she, Viviane Silva, is a sassy Carioca ‘Sex in the City’ girl. They have decided to embark upon a trans-continental four-month honeymoon BEFORE they get married, from Bogota to New York, the Far East and Australia by bus, boat and donkey. Follow them along the Gringo Trail – it’s an epic Clash of the Titans journey to (hopefully) marital bliss at the end of the road.