Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Day in the Jungle

Arriving back on the mainland I headed straight for the closest jungle.  My jungle dream for Honduras involved an area called La Moskita, a large track of jungle up against the border to Nicaragua full of dangerous creatures and devoid of basic infrastructure, my kind of hangout.  Unfortunately though I was having trouble organizing a tour as operators were slow to respond to my emails and my limited time was slipping away. 
I made my way to just outside of Pico Bonito Park, only about a half hour out of La Ceiba and set myself up at the Jungle River Lodge.  The guy at the check in told me he would see if he could help me find my Moskita adventure and gave me some tips for the day, mainly a hike into the cloud forest to a waterfall. 
After a short walk along a dirt road I arrived at a small, very basic visitor’s centre and purchased a pass along with a few id cards for local fauna.  I enquired about Jaguar and the warden reluctantly told me there were lots in the area.   I don’t think he expected or understood why I started to smile at that.

I crossed a swing bridge and entered the jungle, paused to give thanks, set my intentions, and fine tune my senses, a routine I do often when entering my local forest.   The jungle was hot, dark, humid and surprisingly quiet.   Within the first 20 metres of following the hiking trail I found an animal trail forking off to the left.  I tracked along it for awhile but found no distinct tracks.  The rain had pounded down hard the day before wiping the slate clean.  I did however find some leaf cutter ants making their way along their highway and I spent some quality time with them before returning to the main trail.

It didn’t take long before I was again distracted from my agenda to make it to the waterfall and back before dark.  A very faint sound caught my attention.  It sounded like something feeding in a distant tree.  I dropped down into a thicket with my senses trained in on where I thought I heard the sound coming from and stalked closer, even belly crawling through the jungle at one point to get a good vantage point.  I was almost certain it was a monkey of sorts but a few moments later I was pretty sure I was hearing and seeing movement of some sort of bird.  The canopy was too thick to get a really good visual.  What was being eaten, or better said, what wasn’t being eaten was falling down to the forest floor.  I picked up a shell, the nut having been extracted by what looked like a beak, judging by the way it was cracked. 

My interest didn’t waiver for the rest of the hike, checking out plants, birds, loads more ants and the few washed tracks of undeterminable beasts.  It was interesting to perceive the various strategies of plants.  One in particular looked like a dart, the seed having a pointed tip and hair like fletching so after it was released from the flower it would fall down and stab its way into the soil.  I also observed a small lizard. There were 3 waterfalls along the trail, the last being really impressive at about a 60 metre drop.

During my walk out an internal battle was growing in my mind between my jungle dream that I had spent many a night thinking about and another voice telling me that for that trip I needed more time and besides I couldn’t dive in the jungle.  Another affair calling me back to the ocean was a book I had found in a used bookstore on Routan.  The book being the classic novel ‘Robinson Crusoe’ by Daniel Defoe was the perfect island read and very well written.  I was unsure what to do when I arrived back to the lodge.  The man back at the desk had found out nothing so I took the cue that I should return to the Bay Islands, Utilla this time, the following day, and let the jungle dream rest for another voyage.

The next morning I caught an early morning chicken bus out of the jungle and back to the ferry port in La Ceiba.  The ferry however was a no show and no one could give us any answers on its whereabouts until later that morning.  The sea was too rough for the morning ferry and if the weather didn’t break the afternoon ferry would be cancelled too.  So a small group of us spent the day bonding under the cover of the ferry terminal until finally the ferry showed up.  Three Aussies in the group decided it would be a good idea to get into some rum at around 10am.  By the time the ferry arrived they were blind drunk and a handful on the boat, messing around with controls and being very obnoxious.  The sea was still very rough and I thought certain one or all of them would fall overboard as the ship pitched and rolled in the swells and we were all sent flying out of our seats.  The Aussies didn’t have the sense to get themselves into a safe position and it was making me nervous and more nauseous than the rough ride.  I was uncertain how to handle the situation but after much consideration resolved myself to that it was not my business and if they go into the drink, as it were, than I should just let nature play itself out.  To make it worse the female of the trio made it clear that diving was not why she was heading to Utila.  She was looking for cocaine and general party.  I started to question whether this Island was for me.

I found Utila to be a very interesting place indeed.  My first impression of it was kind of seedy.  People were  flying around on scooters, four wheelers, golf carts and dirt bikes.  It was a scary scene to watch drivers weave around each other, bikes and pedestrians.  Not a helmet to be seen either and lots of wasted tourists who probably had never driven machines of the like before.  I was offered to buy some cocaine within the first hour.  I told the guy “maybe latter” so that he wouldn’t think of me to be too different.  I noticed a lot of rough looking characters with tombstones in their eyes roaming around.  I felt like I didn’t fit in and was exceedingly grateful for that.

The next morning brought a new day however.  I got up early to sort myself out before grabbing a 7:30 dive boat.  Utila has the cheapest diving in the world at less than $20 per dive which includes all equipment, the boat, and free accommodation at the dive shop.  The moment I descended towards the corral,  took a breath of compressed air, and watched the ocean close above me, my whole outlook changed and I knew without a doubt that I had made the right decision after all.  On the first 2 dives I saw loads of impressive wildlife, including a hawks bill sea turtle, another giant green moray and 2 spotted eagle rays.

I realized that day too, that there were a large number of people on the island who, like myself, were not there for a party but to dive as much and as frequently as they possibly could.  Or I guess you could say that they were not there to get wasted but were there to party under the sea. Cue the music.

Over the next 3 days I did 5 more amazing dives, one being another night dive and 2 of them involving some ship wrecks.  The current was interesting near Utila and I had to learn to work with it.  It would wash hard back requiring a breaking action with my flippers, than it would wash hard forward and I would kick, moving very fast, then repeat and so on.  On the second to last dive we encountered a remora eel.  Remora eels travel stuck to the side of sharks.  I wondered where his ride was.  The remora was swimming around a girl’s leg and then onto the leg of my dive buddy.  I pulled in behind him to see if I could get the eel onto me.  As I was doing this my dive buddy quickly spun around and came straight at me.  It took a second but I clued into that he was in trouble.  More precisely he was having an air issue.  I gave way for him to get my alternative air source, a spare regulator attached to my vest, while covering my own just in case in panic he took it out of my mouth.  Everything was so calm though, just as we practise in training.  In a brief moment he was breathing off my tank, I took hold of his arm so we wouldn’t separate and signalled to him if he was ok.  He signalled back that he was.  Another dive master came to us and took over.  I was buddied up with a different diver and we continued the dive as my old buddy and the other diver swam off.  It turned out that dirt had gotten into the top of the tank and blocked it.  Good training for everyone though.  Just after that we had a neat encounter with a sting ray.  It was lying in the sand.  When we arrived on the scene it slowly ascended off the bottom and then turned and swam just off to our left.

My final dive was one of my favourites.  It was in an area called the labyrinth.  It consisted of winding routes through the coral and some tight swim throughs.  I tried as hard as I could to soak it all in, knowing very well that it would be awhile before my next dive.  Although as I write this I am back in Canada, looking out at the falling snow and thinking about looking into an ice diving course!
In the end I really liked Utila and enjoyed my dives with Paradise Divers.  They were friendly and helpful.  I had a problem with using a lot of air which they all helped me to slowly reduce so that I could enjoy longer dives.  The next morning I was back on the ferry.

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