Posts Tagged With: honduras

Diving Roatan, Honduras (2008)

My last meaningful dive experience has been over a year ago. My spouse offers me the opportunity to spend a week diving what would essentially be redundant with what I had dove over 14 months back. Ordinarily, I’d balk. There are simply too many enchanting, fabulous places I have not ventured into throughout this adventurous world for me to make return engagements.

But this is different.

This is six days in world-class Roatan (I had been at nearby Utila last year).

We arrive at Anthony’s Key Resort. We are greeted by helpful staff and gentle sea breezes. Air that is soothingly balmy — not too hot or too cold day or night. Swaying palm trees. Groomed sand. A simple, rustic cabin on a car-free island surrounded by bath-warm, crystalline waters and reefs. Nearby dolphins playfully leaping out of the water as if in a ballet. Picturesque sunrises and sunsets. Quiet, serene solitude. Loudly chirping tropical birds. A near absence of insects. A short walk to our breakfast/lunch/dinner restaurant. An ice machine 100 feet from our cabin. A cabin that does not have windows – only screens – as the temperature is lovely throughout the year. A bedroom so close to the gentle waves of a coral reef sea that we fall asleep each night to a calming, placid series of waves lapping underneath us (the cabin is elevated). Oh, and a cabin porch with hammocks that we use each day to relax next to glistening water. In case all of the rest is not enough.

If the word “idyllic” was an actual place, Anthony’s Key Resort would be that place.

Near our cabin is a sandy beach with colorful kayaks awaiting us. I cannot resist on my arrival to our cabin, and I am nearly immediately paddling my way across the small bay to greet the 15-20 playful, friendly bottlenose dolphins that are housed by the Roatan Institute of Marine Science, where they are regularly fed, receive health care, are scientifically studied, and put on shows for guests of the Institute and Resort.

As if it were something we ordered, we awake on our first morning to a rainbow over the crashing waves on the horizon. We had spent a relaxing first evening at the resort restaurant the night before, where we were served a delicious red snapper dinner and a photogenic sunset over its projecting deck. (Later in the week we are offered various – and very fresh – shrimp, grouper and other fish, and calamari.)

Anthony’s Key, where the resort is located, is a small island off the larger Roatan Island. It is a stereotypical tropical fantasy island. Finely-groomed sand walkways and a forest of sea grapes and coconut palm. A 45-second water taxi runs 24/7 from the Key to Roatan and back.

Anthony’s Key turns out to be just what the doctor ordered.

Our first dive on this Sunday morning — our first day — is Gibson Bight reef. I am delighted to discover impressive crevasses, which I happily explore and soar through. Along the way, we spot a big Moray eel. Later in the day, at sites such as Pillar Coral, we enjoy swim-throughs with a chimney, barrel coral, and overall healthy coral reefs.

On our second day, we are treated to the Odyssey Wreck. At 110 feet down, I find myself swimming back and forth up a long, winding ship stairway, which was a bit disconcerting. While at the ship, we find Dogtooth Snapper and big Silverfish. Now that my previously misbehaving buoyancy compensator has been corrected by the dive shop, I am no longer wasting energy by fighting to stay at a level surface. No longer bobbing up and down (and beating up my poor ear drums due to changing water pressures), my comfort level has returned and I am blissfully, slowly floating in and out of the ship. Just in time.

On many of our dives, we find ourselves beginning or ending our coral reef explorations within a cluster of enormous goliath grouper engaged in a feeding frenzy (to the point of swimming into us and through our legs, and sometimes following us for our entire 40-minute dive). Looking for treats from divers often happy to feed them fishy snacks.

Other times, we often came upon large schools of iridescent blue fish.

The 8-12 Resort dive boats lined up along the dock throughout the week mimics a line of buses poised to pulse out on their routes. The Resort is geared up for serious diving.

On one afternoon, satiated by outstanding dives, we opt for the free horseback riding offered by the Resort. Unfortunately for Adrenalin-Junkie-Dom, my horse refuses to canter at all for the 30 minutes of riding out along the beach. I am at the rear of a line of several horseback riders, feeling like a little four-year old. Fortunately, though, my horse finds his enthusiasm on the ride back, as he canters happily and briskly on our return.

Late that afternoon, we walk the short distance to the Marine Institute and watch an impressive “presentation” by the dolphins and their trainers. The trainers were torpedo’d at high speeds through the water by the happy dolphins pushing them from behind, and tossed into the air and onto the wooden platform deck where the trainers orchestrate the dolphins.

Twice I engage in night dives, and am astonished to find large populations of lobsters (including a “slippery lobster”) with glowing eyes, and large king crab. In particular, I relish the night dive at Deep Eel Garden, which has deep, narrow crevasses. Crevasses which are delightfully creepy on a night dive. A diver is never quite sure, after all, what lurks around a dark, night-time corner in an underwater canyon. If a diver gets his hand bitten off by a Moray eel at night, does his scream make a sound?

Of particular interest to me was Canyon Reef, which features an amazing number of long tunnel and canyon wall swim-throughs, which I mostly sample on my own, as the dive master oddly by-passes most of them. The reef also features unusually colorful coral, particularly on its top.

On Thursday, the famed El Aguila Wreck is on our agenda. This is my second dive into El Aguila. The first was in 2007.

This time, it is quite special.

On the way down to my ultimate depth of 109 feet, I cleared my ears continuously to desperately ensure that they were equalized for the sharply increasing water pressure. All of the night before, I worried that my often troublesome ear-clearing problem while diving would prevent me from fully enjoying this famous wreck, and I do what I can to avoid the catastrophe of missing it. As I reach the ship, I am more than relieved that my strategy worked wonderfully.

While at the Wreck, a huge grouper greets us, with the Wreck looming behind this giant fish. We are treated to three spectacular swim-through penetrations into the ship – one a long tunnel, another a long passageway twisting into a collection of rooms, and another leading us up a long stairway. On this last one, as we emerge through a small opening, we are greeted face-to-face by a large, jaw-dropping, and menacing green Moray eel, who is a few feet away from the opening and chomping his mouth as he sticks his head out of his own little metal tube home – just daring us to come closer.

Immediately after I emerge from the ship, I shoe away a delicate and pretty shrimp fish at the exit, and we suddenly spot a lovely spotted eagle ray swimming gracefully with us.

At the dive end, I experience what must be the most fantastic “safety stop” in all the world (divers usually need to stop at 15 feet for a few minutes to avoid “decompression sickness” – the “bends”). A narrow, seemingly endless coral-studded swim-through tunnel at 15 feet of depth.

Amazing.

Here is a YouTube video of my El Aguila dive:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwU1X36vdgs

After a relaxing drift dive, our dive boat takes us on a rocking and rolling rollercoaster ride of rough seas to the south side of Roatan Island, where we are let off at a luxurious resort building with colorful landscaping. After enjoying a seafood lunch, we retire to a beach chair on a sparkling, gorgeous beach. Apparently, the only thing that keeps the beach from being rated one of the best in the world is that occasionally, a large jetliner flies over us at treetop level to a nearby airport.

On the beach, we are serenaded by what is evidently a traditional Honduran folk band, dressed in traditional, colorful costumes and playing trunk drums, a seashell for a horn, and the unusual, wailing voices of Honduran women.

Our afternoon dive is at Butcher’s Bank Reef. Here, I find myself swimming past what seems like a highly intriguing, mysterious cave tunnel. The dive master, happily, enters the tunnel. Mysteriously, he does not beckon the divers to join him. So I wait to see if he will emerge at the other end, rather than turning around and coming out. He doesn’t, but by now a large number of divers in my group have followed him in. So I enter – 2nd last in line.

A dreadful mistake. The diver in front of me is tentative, slow and unsure. She seems to panic and exit a chimney that appears to be short of where the other divers in front of her had gone. I see a cloud of sand in the tunnel past her exit channel, so even though I cannot see other divers further into the tunnel, I assume they have gone that way and are just too far ahead to see.

I risk going in deeper, therefore.

The final chimney before the dead end in this clouded tunnel appears to be way too narrow to squeeze through. I try backing up to where I came from in the tunnel, but my tank gets wedged stuck. I have a terrifying moment of panic. “Am I stuck??? Will anyone notice if I cannot get out of this fix where I cannot go forward or backward???”

I make one last-ditch effort to squeeze through the impossibly narrow chimney – my only chance to make it out of this alive. After a few metallic “clunks” of tank hitting coral, I somehow manage to bully my way through. “I will survive!”

On our last day, we dive “Spooky Channel.” It is indeed quite spooky. Huge, deep, white-sand-bottom chasms in a murky, milky, gloomy, seemingly bottomless depth.

We end the day with a few diver diversions. First, a “dolphin encounter”, where we have 30 minutes of petting, stroking, getting a “kiss” from, and cradling a bottlenose dolphin that is so very happy and friendly to enjoy our attentions. Next, it is on to a Roatan rainforest canopy “zipline”, where we are rigged up with a harness and gloves, and cabled down 24 high-speed runs above and through the trees. It is my first-ever chance to experience this odd form of recreation. I liken it to a Honduran version of an amusement ride. Clearly, there are very few ambulance-chasing lawyers in Honduras, as this is a low-tech and surely precarious activity prone to mishap. Indeed, it occurs to me that if I were a 12-year old, I would have LOVED to have thought up the concept and rigged it up in the woodlands where I grew up back in upstate New York (where the danger is more along the lines of an angry woodchuck or cow, rather than a poisonous snake or tarantula).

During our week of diving, we come across quite a few turtles and lobster (and even a golden sea horse or two). But I was disappointed by the notable absence of sharks (not just whale sharks, but even nurse sharks), barracuda, Moray eel, and rays. The reefs in Roatan remain healthy, but the larger marine life seems sparse.

I should admit, though, that on more than one occasion, I found myself playfully chased by a healthy Moray eel or two.

Overall, the diving was joyful. The wrecks are impressive, as are the entertaining swim-through crevasses and canyons. And the colorful reefs.

Each day before or after diving, I would find myself calmly, unhurriedly walking to or from our cabin through a tropical coconut forest without a care in the world. The sand beneath my feet would be combed level as a pool table. The water taxi would be awaiting me, as if it was my own personal service, to ferry me across the water.

So this is what it is like to be a millionaire retired and living on a deserted Caribbean island…

Anthony’s Key Resort is truly a tropical key diver’s paradise.

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Categories: 2001-2010, Caribbean, Diving | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Diving Utila and Roatan, Honduras (April 2007)

From the air as my plane descends into San Pedro Sula — the industrial capital of Honduras — the economy of the country appears to remain largely in the hands of large corporate fruit companies. Indeed, I had read that Standard Fruit (Dole) continues to have an important presence in Honduras. Below me are endless acres of pineapple, banana, and papaya fields. As far as the eye can see.

San Pedro Sula, disappointingly, contains mile after mile of strip commercial development. Dominoes Pizza, Burger King, Pizza Hut, Sunoco, Kentucky Fried Chicken, and Popeye’s makes it immediately apparent that Honduras has not escaped this form of cultural and economic imperialism that the United States has spread throughout the globe.

Our bus ride to the Aggressor SCUBA dive boat we will live on for the next six days provides us with over three hours of travel through the Honduran countryside. We spot a great many men wearing what I presume are traditional cowboy hats. A number of horse-drawn carts along the (surprisingly) paved highway we are on tell us that the old is still mixing with the new, at least with regard to transportation.

The ambience and character of the countryside we see is quite similar to Belize, which of course is not surprising since Belize is a neighbor of Honduras. A great many cattle and horses grazing along the roadside right-of-way, and quite a few chickens, which conveys a third-world, lower-income message. The bus also drives over quite a few river bridges, which is to be expected given the impressive mountain range on one side of our highway. Most homes, like in Belize, are of cinder-block construction.

Much of the Honduran countryside is planted with African Palm, which I am told the country now grows in great numbers as a way to create bio-diesel fuel.

Our bus ride gives us a taste of what appears to be a contrasting highway driving method in Honduras compared to what I’ve experienced in America. Here in this Central American nation, highway motorists appear to have a rather caviler attitude toward passing slower cars on two-lane roads. Little heed seems to be given to a car approaching from the opposing direction when a Honduran decides to pass. It appears to be accepted that the opposing car will simply be obligated to drive onto the shoulder to give way to the passing car. This is done rather calmly.

Indeed, on the bus trip back a week later, slow holiday traffic meant that large herds of cars were passing in such a way. Never in my life have I seen bumper-to-bumper traffic at a standstill sitting in the opposing lane while trying to pass.

Noteworthy as well is the relatively large amounts of litter and rubbish that lie along the roadside shoulders. My speculation is that there is little garbage collection and landfilling in Honduras, and that the roadsides have therefore become a common place to dispose of household trash.

I should point out that despite some of these unfortunate conditions, Honduras will almost surely be better able to survive a future world of, say, peak oil, than a nation such as the United States, as fuel and proximity to the fruits of the land seem to be more at hand to the population than in the US, where so many are so dependent on imports and assistance from those outside the community.

We spend our first night sleeping in our cabin “staterooms” on the docked Aggressor.

Very early the next morning, the Aggressor steams to our first day dive destination. We anchor and plunge into our first two dives at Toon Town, which features large, cartoonish, bulbous coral clusters. Visibility here is about 50 feet. The reefs found in Honduras, we are told, are the second largest reef system in the world. Only the Great Barrier Reef in Australia is larger.

Our third dive is at a place called Pelican Point (Wall?). With a moderate current, this is a drift dive for us, where the current does the work of moving us along the colorful coral — coral that seems to be a fireworks display. Here, we find out-of-this-world vibrancy of colors — blues, purples, yellows, and oranges.

Finally, we anchor at Angel Harbor. This dive site turns out to be relatively confusing, with several coral heads creating a hard-to-follow maze. I would recommend that divers follow a dive master for this dive site.

One of the luxuries of diving from a liveaboard boat is the towel service. After each dive, we take a freshwater shower at the back of the boat, after which a crew member is waiting to drape a warmed towel over our backs. We also enjoy being served three hot meals each day from skilled cooks working in the Aggressor kitchen. A glass of red wine is part of each of my dinners. I can get used to this…

First thing Monday, “Captain Eddy” has the Aggressor heading out at 6 am. With the welcome sight of a calm sea lying down flat, he guides the boat to the Coco Seamount site — a location that is usually unavailable for diving because it requires flat seas. We are able to do two dives here. And the visibility is excellent — over 100 feet.

We spot barracuda, and a school of what appears to be silver spadefish. The school is unfazed by me, and they seem to be unbothered by my swimming into their school to snuggle up to them as we swim together. We also notice schools of yellowtails, triggerfish, and parrotfish amongst the healthy reefs found in this location on the mount.

In one of the dives here, I start my descent and look to the bottom, where I spot a brightly-colored divers weight belt. “Does that diver know he or she has dropped their weight belt,” I wonder? Then I notice I’m having trouble descending. To my horror and embarrassment, I reach down and realize that the belt is MINE!

I struggle to the bottom, and my dive buddy generously gets to it first to hand to me. Unfortunately, doing so is exhausting and I burn a fair amount of air to retrieve my buoyancy equalizing gear.

Water temperature for most of our dives this week is a comfortable 82 degrees.

Taviona’s Wall at Roatan features eye-popping visibility ranging up to 120 feet. Not only is the visibility astonishing here, but gliding through the site adds to the exhilaration because here, one is able to find a great many extremely pleasurably narrow swim-through canyons graced with healthy coral.

Later, I decide to try a night dive at this site to have one more taste of its joys. Divers know, as well, that night dives benefit from the “they only come out at night” principle, in which the coral reefs are a vastly different world with creatures that prefer being active only after dark.

Sure enough, I find an incredible number of large crab within the barrel sponges here. My LED dive light also discovers a great number of sea tiger tail cucumber on the ocean floor. I additionally spot a gorgeous, fire-engine red shrimp within a coral crevasse.

Other creatures I come across on this night and during the various day dives in the Bay Islands include Caribbean Spiny Lobster, Giant Hermit Crab, White-Speckled Hermit Crab, Sand Dollars, Bulb Tunicate coral, Green Tube Tunicate, Donkey Dung Sea Cucumber.

Curiously, given the health of the reefs we find, there are very few eel, barracuda, turtles, sharks or rays in the Honduran reefs compared to other Caribbean dives I’ve experienced.

Our first dive with the Tuesday morning sunrise is the famous El Aguila wreck (see photo above). We descend to the wreck and are IMMEDIATELY greeted by an anxious horde of very hungry giant grouper. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN??,” they cry. “WE’RE STARVING!!!” These are fish that are spoiled by the feedings they enjoy from various diver groups visiting the wreck.

I hold up my hands to one particularly large black grouper to show him I am empty-handed. He swims alongside me for quite a ways, in case I’m trying to trick him. He curls and brushes his body against my arm in a cat-like way.

The Aguila wreck sits at 110 feet and is 200 feet long. I notice that a large collection of garden eel are poking their heads out of the sandy ocean bottom near the wreck. I enjoy two leisurely, pleasant swim-throughs on the conning tower stern. Swimming to the bow, I’m greeted by an even LARGER grouper. He is so anxious to see me that he is happy to let me pet him.

At the bow, an enormously excited and animated green moray eel is happily eating his breakfast from the dive master fish bucket. The dive master hands me his video camera so I can get footage of this marine feeding.

For our second dive, my buddy and I return to the wreck because I want to check out the swim-through at the bow of the ship. Having done that, we head for the nearby (and imposing) coral reef wall. Visibility is about 80 feet. The reefs just off the wreck are spectacular. Healthy coral, fabulous swim-throughs, and colorful tropical fish in what amounts to an underwater slot canyon.

I have all kinds of kid-like fun swimming through tall, narrow walls of colorful reef. Throughout my playful, wide-eyed explorations, my grouper friend, of course, follows along just in case its lunchtime.

The third dive of the day is at Half Moon Bay. Big, narrow, numerous swim-through crevasses (just the way I like them) are found here, as well as a strong current and surge. So strong that I find I am often not making any forward progress at all despite strong split-fin kicking.

On Wednesday, we steam 3.5 hours to Utila. Our first two dives are at “Old House” on the north side of Utila. Here, one finds very steeply dropping walls, and fun swim-through canyons and tunnels. The reefs, as was the case in our previous days, are active, diverse, and home to colorful schools of tropical fish. Here we enjoy spotting marlin, hawksbill turtle (see photo above), banded coral shrimp, and scorpion fish well camouflaged in the coral.

Later, with the Aggressor heading to our afternoon dive site, I’m reading and dozing in my cabin. Suddenly, there is great commotion and shouting above.

“WHALE SHARK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

The holy grail for divers. A whale shark encounter is an extremely rare and much-sought-after diver experience. The whale shark (Rhincodon typus), is largest living fish species in the world. The species is believed to have originated about 60 million years ago. The largest documented whale shark is 41 feet and over 47,000 pounds, but there are undocumented reports of this fish being over 50 feet in length. Despite its intimidating size, the whale shark is harmless animal, however, as they only eat plankton. In many ways, they remind me of the Florida manatee.

The whale shark mouth can be up to five feet wide and can contain up to 300 rows of tiny teeth. It has five large pairs of gills.

The crew has leapt into action and is now shouting rapid-fire instructions to the divers: “Mask, fins, snorkel!! Nothing more!! Get to the back of the boat!!”

The boat storms ahead, looking for the telltale sign of a roiling boil of seawater at the surface, indicating small schools of fish swarming around The Big Guy.

We assemble at the back of the boat, anxiously waiting for the signal.

Waiting.

“NOW!!!!!!!!!” screams a crew member on look-out. “JUMP IN!! HE’S RIGHT THERE!!”

I leap into the fairly rough seas, desperate to witness the awesome fish.

Then, in the distance ahead of me, I see it. The telltale tailfin and dark brown body with white spots.

But the glimpse is fleeting. The creature quickly disappears into the murky blue-gray water.

At least I can say that I saw it while in the water. But then I realize how disappointing that would be. My chance of a lifetime is a brief glimpse.

How little did I know at the time how wrong I was. There would be more. Much more.

The boat dinghy the Aggressor has dragged during our week-long excursions now is plucking us out of the water. The boat speeds ahead in search of Him.

The little craft battles its way over large waves. We finally spot the roiling surface ahead of us. The skipper yells for us to “BACK ROLL INTO THE WATER NOW!!!”

I hit the water.

Suddenly, a few feet below me, I spot him. He is gloriously swimming just below me at a speed that is slow enough for me to easily remain above him for a few triumphant minutes (see photo above). I am close enough to be awed by his 15 feet of length, dwarfing me above him. I feel like a lamprey fish. He swims very gracefully and unconcerned. He is docile an approachable. Intimidating in size, but gentle in behavior.

He vanishes again into the deep.

I’m back on the Aggressor. “WHALE SHARK DEAD AHEAD!!!” I wait for the signal and bound back in. My mask falls off from the impact with the water. The spotter shouts “HE IS RIGHT THERE!!!” Frantically, I lunge for my mask, somehow finding it. I throw it on just in time to see The Big Guy glide three feet below me.

Again, the dinghy is there to pick me up. I’m whisked ahead. “Jump in NOW!!”

I am only a few feet from the monster fish. He is directly in front of me heading right at me. We are face to face, only 18 inches apart. Suddenly, just before his enormous head collides into my face, he elegantly turns away. Close enough that his body nearly wraps around me.

I reach out and slide my hand along his huge tailfin. The whale shark, I find, has a canvass-like skin.

Truly an unforgettable experience. Here is the YouTube video clip of this whale shark encounter:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=udKh6VEmmik

The Aggressor steams on. We spot two more whale sharks cruising near our boat. We have come across a HERD of them.

That afternoon, after all the excitement, we dive Jack Neal Point on the south side of Utila. Legend has it that Jack was a pirate who hid buried treasure here. We didn’t find it, but we did spot a scorpion fish and a winged sand diver.

As I silently glide over the colorful hills, valleys and canyons of coral reef, I feel as if I am an eagle soaring over my territory in search of prey. But the exploding profusion of playful tropical fish below me is oblivious to my presence as I swim through this gigantic underwater jungle aquarium.

Overnight, the Aggressor anchors in a Utila harbor. An armed guard is brought on board to spend the night with us, as modern-day pirates are known to raid dive boats anchored off the harbor town at night.

We awake to a sea that looks like glass. The ocean is lying down flat like a pancake. Our first dive on this calm day is Black Hills Seamount on the west side of Utila. Nice coral, a healthy population of fish, and above-average visibility. We encounter a school of Atlantic Spadefish.

As the Aggressor moves to our second dive site of the day, I again notice a regular occurrence: Large schools of flying fish fly up to 50 or 100 yards just above the waters’ surface as the fish flee the on-coming boat.

This second dive is at Cannery Bank on the eastern side of Utila. Reefs are very healthy on this rarely visited reef. We see big schools of creole wrasse, amongst giant forests of barrel sponge and brain coral.

The Pinnacle and Fish Bowl is our third dive of the day, and here we enjoy diving with a graceful Giant Manta Ray, a chomping spotted eel, and a wriggling green moray.

As I dive these indescribably staggering and magnificent coral reef canyons, I occasionally think to myself: “Am I really doing this? Little old me? This is the sort of thing one sees in TV shows or science fiction thrillers, not real life!”

Blackfish Point on the north side of Utila is our fourth dive. It is a night dive. The dive starts, thrillingly, by my entering a sea cave. It is one way in and one way out. I penetrate deeply and come to the end wall – a sort of “T” intersection inside the cave. The walls are very geometrically sharp and straight-lined, suggesting the cave has somehow been built by humans — which it wasn’t.

Later, we spot a large moray and a menacing barracuda (barracuda are much scarier and intimidating at night, by the way). Larger fish, interestingly, seem to be nestled into little fish nests on the sandy bottom. Their way of sleeping?

Friday morning finds us at Ted’s Point. More stunning slot canyon swim-through’s with steep walls and sugar-white sand bottoms. In the early portion of our dive, we inspect the small Rojan’s Wreck. Our second dive is also here, and I am amused to notice a large fish swims alongside of me the entire way. Clearly, he is expecting me to be his meal ticket. But I’m now wise to this.

Here we find enormous fields of what looks to me like brown coral lettuce. I spot a number of healthy-looking lobster, a gorgeous and graceful spotted drum (see photo above). The reefs, again, appear pristine.

After this Friday morning diving, the Aggressor docks and I spend the afternoon strolling Main Street in Eastern Harbor, Utila. The town is very similar to the tropical ambience one finds in coastal Belize, Bonaire, and the Florida Keys. Very laid back. Everyone seems to be either a beach bum, a tourist, or somehow a part of the dive industry. The town, of course, is chock full of dive shops, Tiki bars, scooters, bicycles, motorcycles, and ATVs. One and all seem to speak a mix of Spanish and English in every sentence.

Off the main drag, one finds rural modest homes of Island residents, cattle pasture, forest, and beaches. Everything exists because of the turquoise waters.

Main Street sees a steady, diverse stream of pedestrians. Very few cars or trucks are on the island. Indeed, I count only two cars in 90 minutes of Main Street walking and sitting.

The Aggressor steams back to the Honduran mainland first thing in the morning under a steady rain — rain that we were fortunate to avoid for our entire week of diving, and which can be safely ignored on this day of travel.

We reach our dock and bid farewell. The group of divers boards the bus back to San Pedro airport and home.

But not me.

I taxi to the Jungle River Adventures office in downtown LaCieba. There, the sole English-speaking staff person I find instructs me to wait. After about 20 minutes, a tall, thin, stern-looking man points to me and in a Spanish accent says, “Jungle River?” “Si,” I respond, hoping this is the man I’m supposed to get a ride from to get to the fearsome Cangrejal River for my scheduled whitewater rafting trip.

After stopping and waiting for several minutes at a number of different hotels without seeming to accomplish anything (like, say, picking up additional Jungle River customers), I find I’m growing increasingly disconcerted. Two Spanish-speaking males who do not speak a word of English are the only ones in the 4-wheel drive with me. Am I supposed to be in this vehicle? Where am I being taken?

We drive through the stereotypically Third-World downtown of LaCeiba, which gradually becomes rural. We are now roughly bouncing up a gravel road puddle by the still-falling rain. To my right is what appears to be the Canjragel.

I observe this with both relief and trepidation. Relieved because it now seems I am not being driven to some remote location to be shot. Worried because the river — which I will apparently soon be screaming down – is loaded with the largest (“mucho grande”) boulders I’ve ever seen.

We arrive at the Jungle River lodge, perched above the roaring Cangrejal. After being given my helmet, paddle and preserver, we board the 4-wheel drive again and are taken upstream.

We walk down a treacherously slick boulder path to the river. Even though it has been several hours since I’ve disembarked the liveaboard Aggressor, I still feel as if I am rocking back and forth to the wave action my brain had gotten used to over the past six continuous days at sea.

At the river, we are given an astonishingly lengthy, thorough, 90-minute “safety training course” by our raft guide.

It turns out to be the most enjoyable, exciting portion of the days’ experience.

We are told we must swim across swift currents, jump into deep water and swim to and from river-side boulders, swim along a stone wall within an eddy, hike across river boulder fields, and demonstrate in-raft, man-overboard rescue skills.

As the four of us are led to our next death-defying “safety training,” our guide then turns to me with a wicked smile and asks, “Are you into EXTREME experiences?” I nod my head and say “absolutely.” But not sure of what I’ve agreed to get myself into. The guide has decided that I seem to be the strongest and most reckless of his “clients.”

He points down to the fiercely boiling whitewater pool 20 feet below us at the base of the enormous granite boulder we stand on. He and I are to leap (to our deaths?) and swim to the rock wall across the storming, roaring whitewater boil (while the other three watch in horror, no doubt, but thankful they have not had the “honor” of being selected).

The guide provides detailed, ghastly instructions about how I am to be obligated to rock climb the opposite sheer wall with my bare hands and feet. I am to alternate between stepping on his thighs and shoulders, and finding various and precarious footholds and handholds on the wall.

I am secretly terrorized, but show outward calmness and confidence, as if it were not the case that I have never engaged in a rock climb of more than 5 feet (no matter how much “fun” he thinks it is). I comfort myself by thinking how I will simply back out by informing him that he had mistakenly thought I had rock-climbing experience and as a climbing virgin, surely he would understand my need to back out.

But I realize it is too late.

Everyone is watching and fully expecting me to show I am eager to experience “extreme fun.” Without flinching, he soars into the angry whitewater pool below and beckons me to follow.

I’m committed. There is no turning back.

I fly toward what will surely be my doom. I emerge from deep below and swim to the guide, who waits for me at the wall. There, he starts me on the impossible task — reminding me at each step and handhold what I am to accomplish with my next precarious reach.

I start the climb — the wall is most steep, slippery and difficult as I emerge out of the whitewater. I pull myself up about eight feet by climbing over the guide and desperately cling to the surprisingly slick wall. I am then told to reach impossible lengths to my left with my hand and to my right with my foot, Spiderman-like. I grasp for the handhold above and exert all the energy in my body to hoist myself to the first ledge. But my sleep deprivation (suffering insomnia, I awoke at 1:30 am this morning) and drain of the dive week doesn’t let it happen. I am now standing (teetering?) on the guide’s shoulders, gasping for air without an ounce of energy.

With the whitewater churning below me.

The guide shouts, “YOU CAN DO IT!!!” Again, I have no choice. He gives me a slight nudge and I somehow manage to lift up to the first ledge. The remainder of the free-wall climb is less demanding, as he shows me the various handholds and footholds along the wall.

Somehow, we make it to the summit. I am now 35 feet above the growling whitewater below. The guide provides strict instructions about how to correctly enter the water from this kind of height — straight in and feet-first, like a missile. No sitting position or leaning back.

He jumps.

I hesitate to follow. I give a thumbs up to the three safely on the other side, and calmly jump. It seems like forever to reach the water. But after the wall climb, this is cake.

The four of us then float on our backs (feet first!) to our rafts to complete our “training.”

I am assigned to the smaller and therefore more exhilarating two-person raft. It will be just me and a guide. The guide informs me that nearly all riders fall out on this river, even though the extreme rapids occur a few months earlier from October through December.

I point out to him that the most fun I’ve had rafting in the past was when I fell out. We head down.

The forest is loud with shrieking tropical birds. The trees above are, at the highest level, a cloud forest. Lower, it is a rainforest.

Our relatively brief ride (anti-climatic after our alleged “training”) features some adrenalin-pumping Class III and IV rapids, and fairly deep, abrupt drops.

Overall, a fantastic day of whitewater thrills. And a worthy finish to an adventurous week in Honduras.

Categories: 2001-2010, Caribbean, Diving | Tags: , , , , | Leave a comment

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