Because that's where our first stop was: Copán. A small town near the Guatemalan border, the edge of the Mayan World. The final of the ruins we were planning on visiting. The next weeks of our trip will be anything but exploring that ancient culture. I think I've learned a lot about them. And I got told, more than once, that we should watch Apocalypto. Because it's all about the Mayas, in their language, and takes a rough four hours that you won't even notice.
Copán consisted of temples like Chichen Itza's and Tikal's, but with one main difference. The ruins had hieroglyphics and carvings none of the others have. There were statues and pillars strewn along the plaza, fascinatingly detailled, and delicately destroyed.
We took some interesting pictures, but were done fairly quickly, said goodbye to Jeff and went to get a smoothie to make use of the wifi. We noticed something on the menu of the cafe: hagelslag (Chocolate sprinkles). We squealed and pointed and I even took a picture, but we didn't make the connection straight away. Our Lonely Planet told us it was run partly by a dutchie, which made sense. That's when we decided to also have our (really good) dinner there.
At the hostel, where we only stayed one night, I got tips from some lovely travellers in the other way: two Australians, a Frenchman and a Czech. What to do with jellyfish (vaseline), looking for places worth their price in Costa Rica, and to never shine flashlights directly at turtles laying their eggs.
The next morning we made our way to our final destination in Honduras: Utila. The busride took a good 8 hours, a taxi to the boat and the boat ride a good 2 hours, so when we finally arrived we were, once again, quite exhausted.
We checked in, got welcomed warmly, and got a tour around the Dive Centre, about a twelve minute walk from our accommodation: the Mango Inn. Anouk and I ended up sharing it with two others, and our entire group consists of eight cool peeps: Andy, Mike, Mike, Noel, Sandra, Mark, Anouk and I. Even better, our instructor, Frankie, is a wonderfully bubbly person, and Bryn, our dive master, is just (no other word for her) awesomely cool.
Also cool: Tim, Stacey and Inge (our classmates) were doing the same course, staying in the same hotel, so we got to hang with them for a couple of nights before they left. Beds were awesome. After dinner at Babelu, a restaurant with an open sea aquarium in its middle. And us trying every cafe till it closed. Best arrival evening ever. :)
First day was simple: laze about and do whatever you want till 16.00, then come watch some videos and answer some questions. And like with everything: the theory is good and interesting to know, but you learn a lot of more actually doing it and trying it out. Anouk went snorkling with Mike and Andy, but I couldn't gather the energy to join in.
Day two we had to start slightly earlier: be at the dive center at 09.00, to go through the assignments, was the command. After that, we watched the rest of the videos (there are five in total), then we had lunch. After that, the most interesting part so far: actually learning to get your gear ready to use. We got to mantle and dismantle our gear a couple of times, and then we got all the information we needed for when we were going in the water.
And then, the moment was there. Everybody had been waiting for it. Not everyone was reacting the same way they expected. One by one, we practiced all the skills that were asked. Drop your regulator (breathing mouth piece), and keep breathing (out). Drop your regulator and find it again. Share your air with your buddy when they are out of air. Fill your mask halfway with water, then use your nose to blow the water out. Fill your mask all the way and blow it it. Take off the mask completely and put it on again, empty it. (I was mostly worried about these.
I feel comfortable enough in water, as long as I'm ensured there is no water up my nose or in my eyes. Specifically nose with water makes me panic).
It was surreal. We were under water. For an hour. We all sounded like a bunch of Darth Vaders. And we didn't have to go up for air. Not even once. We just sat there, looking around at the others, or concentrating on doing our skills the right way. It was shallow. It was 'boring'. But it was crazy as hell awesome. We even managed to see a fish or two. Can't wait for tomorrow! We go 2 meters deep and practice more.
A slight hitch, as some of you might've already read. I felt a tad nauseous in the morning, and simply blamed the stress and my hormones. I shrugged it off and went to the Dive Center. We had swapped the morning and afternoon programs so that we would start out with the practice under water, and the theory after lunch.
We got our gear ready, went through a briefing in which was explained what skills we were going to do, and then literally strode into the water. We practiced fin pivoting, and got used to the bouyancy: the more air you breathed in, the more you floated upward, what you breathed out made you sink slightly. We were teamed up and had to pretend being out of air, so that we could share one tank. We swam blowing bubbles all the way to one end, then swam back without our goggles on.
Practice was fine. Everything went flawlessly. Only when I came up did I notice I was more than a little exhausted. A dive master helped me out of my gear, and I took a moment to sit on the floor to rest... and I couldn't get up. Apparently all the colour drained from my face, the heat hit me hard and though I was conscious at all times, I felt paralyzed by sheer fatigue. I could hear people, but do little more than nod or murmur. Nauseousness had doubled, and my instructor, Frankie, helped me to the bathroom. Vomiting was only a little release, though. I pleaded with her to leave me for a bit, so I could be sick violently without being too embarrassed, whilst she, Anouk and others got me Gatorade, chocolate, a van to the hotel, cool water to drink...
So we didn't have our theory. There was a football match on where Germany played, and two of our group being German they opted to postpone theory to the next day. I was brought home, and Anouk was a real angel. She got me food, she checked up on me regularly, let me use her bed because mine was topbunk, and would've been more dificult to get down from should I feel the need to make a dash for the bathroom.. I slept. A lot.
And the next day I was feeling better. Drowsy though, but I linked that to the being sick part. Only later did I realize I'd taken anti histamines both days because my leg had swollen up to twice its size thanks to a horsefly. Only later did it click, that anti histamines "may include side effects" like drowsiness, dizziness, nausea, etc. So I stopped taking them. As it were, though, I was still exhausted, so Frankie thought it was better to send me home after the theory. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself, not to mention quite bummed that the others went on their first dives without me. I had an ice cream and quite an amount of chocolate before I felt anywhere near cheerful. I met up with Anouk, Noel en Mike for dinner, and heard their stories of how cool it was.
Andy had stopped taking the course after freaking out repeatedly, Mike got sick the day afer I did, and apparently Noel got seasick on his dive, so he couldn't finish his. The upside to that was that this morning, I had a buddy: Noel. Mike was still feeling too sick to join in, so Chris gave the two of us two seasickness pills before we left, took us apart for our own briefing before we joined the rest of our group on the boat.
And it went flawlessly! The only thing I really had trouble with was equalizing fast enough: my ears have always been sensitive, especially with pressure. Caves, mountains, planes, even tunnels make them hurt. Visibility was great, the water was warm, we went around 12 meters deep max on both dives, saw loads of fish (parrot fish, lobster, jellyfish, and hundreds of tiny colourful "aquarium" fish), and swam around without any "mistakes".
It was just the four of us, with Chris in the lead, Noel as my buddy and Tim hovering behind us in case we needed help. The first dive was mostly about getting used to it all, the second we also had to demonstrate some skills. Goggles, pivoting, but also surface tricks of getting out and into your gear in the water, relieving yourselfor others of cramps, and towing them to safety. It was easier than I expected, though I definitely have problems getting my ears equalized with the pressure. Second dive wasn't as bad as the first, though.
It was in between both dives when the epicness happened, however: dolphins! Lots of them! Ad it wasn't planned, and certainly not within the captain's job description, but he got the boat to encircle them so that when we had our flippers and snorkels on, all we had to do was wait for the "Go!" To jump in the water. The first time, I caught sight of one immediately. It was swimming away, though, so after about a minute of rushing behind it, I lost sight of it. We climbed up on the boat, repeated, but this time the "Go!" came whilst the boat was still fully in movement. I slid off the boat, and the first thing I thought was "Crap! My flipper!". The speed of the water had tugged one of my feet. I poked my head above the water to see only Noel near me, the rest hadn't dared to jump, and then when I put my face under water again, let out a gasp of surprise. At least six dolphins were swimming so close to us, that if I had reached out my hand, I would have been able to touch them. I didn't, but I watched in amazement how they circled us. I was commanded back on the boat as soon as they found out I'd lost a flipper, so I was happy I hadn't let them know as soon as I had gotten in, or I might've missed all that.. All in all, today made up for what yesterday lacked in action!
Four dives today! And I'm not even that tired! I had to get up around 06.00 to be at the dive center in time for a treat: Frankie had sorta already told me it'd be good. :) I was really excited and had no idea what to expect, but we left early enough and it was quite the boat ride. Noel, one girl of another group and myself were the only ones wrapping up their courses, the rest were all certified divers or instructors/dive masters.
Maya as our instructor, and Bryn (yay!) as our dive master to accompany us and test our final skills. I was first teamed up with Noel, but underwater he was quite some distance from me, and as I was tested by Bryn we ended up diving together: the coolest buddy on the coolest dive.
The ocean, deep turquoise, on one side, with so many fish (hundreds of blue tang) I asked myself if they hadn't been bribed to show up, or forced. If you turned your head, there was a wall of coral. Small purple and orange fish, parrot fish, lobsters, pretty (and harmless!) Jellyfish, and even a Spotted Eagle (sting)Ray. It was by far the most interesting dive of the day.. or week.
Dive two was good as well, though a lot closer to "home". Better than the first dive, comparing in how much the pressure hurt my ears. We saw plenty, and it just felt good to be finalizing the course. Doing the skills required without feeling the panic of what to do, and again being buddied up with Bryn, who, like all experienced divers, has an eye for things underwater.
We went back to shore, got lunch and met up with Anouk, and Mike, who were joining us for the fun dives in the afternoon. Mark and Frankie would accompany us for his Advanced course he'd decided to follow, and with our captain Tina we left just after the start of the finals of the European cup: Spain- Italy.
Dive three was nice: For the first time I finally buddied up with Anouk, something I'd been trying to do ever since we started the course (things just kept popping up). I was slightly tired, but the dive was totally worth it. Every dive brought along new sights, and one thing I noticed was that you see a lot of more creatures under water when you start looking than when you walk around in a forest of jungle. They're not keen on your presence, but definitely less shy.
Dive four, due to our limitations of depth (because Noel and I had already done two dives in the morning of 18 meters/100 feet) had to be kept shallow. We couldn't get near enough to the coral or the fish to do much exploring, but it was a new experience: It was a drift dive, which meant we could swim along with the current and have the boat pick us up where we stranded. Bryn, who didn't join the fourth dive, did lend us her underwater camera, and we had the time of our lives experimenting with summersaults, twirls, back flips, pulling faces and blowing kisses underwater, and held an entire photoshoot.
At the end of the day, we got a free t shirt from the center, hugged Frankie and Bryn goodbye and actually felt quite sad to leave them. Then Anouk and I, being budget tied, decided to stick with noodles and a quiet last night on Utila. Noel thought differently, and took Mike and us two out for dinner to celebrate all of us having achieved our Certification of Open Water Diving.
Tomorrow morning, the ferry will leave early. We'll rush through Honduras and Nicaragua to keep within our schedule. It was good to stay in one place for a while longer than two days, but both Anouk and I are really excited for our next adventure!