I’m right now sitting in Miami airport, waiting for my flight to Paris and getting all my mails via a paying wifi zone as I have nothing to do but wait and get up to date with news. This also helps me realize that now some people email me while they know I’m flying and expect an answer before my arrival in Paris. This will teach me to send news when I should not and I fear the day where internet connection will be widely available everywhere including in airplanes at no-charge.
I left Utila with the 6:20AM morning ferry on thursday. I took a taxi (20LPS) with Annelie (Danish) and Rufus (English ?). We took a breakfast in town as the Hedman Alas bus was leaving at 10AM. Annelie was flying the next day in La Ceiba and Rufus was going to Copan through San Pedro Sula and wanted to take the Hedman Alas bus until he realizes it was too expensive for his long-term travel budget (256LPS/$14). When talking to a taxi driver I managed to direct him to take a local bus for 60LPS. I understand people trying to save on money whenever they can, especially as I have been in that position myself 2 years ago when travelling around the world. Time and budget influence a lot travel conditions.
I stayed in San Pedro Sula at Tamarindo Hostel where I found again Nadine (Switzerland) who has been working in a local travel agency for the last 8 months and who I met briefly for a couple of minutes on my way to Utila at the beginning of the month. She wanted me to come with her at a party at the Alliance Francaise which I did briefly as my hosts Angela and Juan Carlos were performing a song there.
I took the morning 8:10AM flight to Miami along with Marie and Lars (Denmark) who had to cope with a 26h stopover at Miami airport before continuing their flight to Calgary via Dallas. As for myself, I only have a mere 7h.
As usual, beautiful day over Utila. A whale shark was spotted during our surface interval but quickly disappeared in the depth. Not even worth a picture. Note, that I have learned recently about ECOCEAN, a not for profit organization that collects information and pictures of whale shark encounter in order to learn more about their migration patterns. In order to identify whale sharks, they use an algorithm adapted from the Hubble Space Telescope (thanks to a member of the team who is a NASA astrophysicist). They perform numerical pattern matching of their natural surface ‘spot’ colourations in a similar way to what astronomers use to map the stars in the night sky. Wicked. People interested in the details can check the paper ‘An astronomical pattern-matching algorithm for computer-aided identification of whale sharks Rhincodon typus (PDF) published in the Journal of Applied Ecology
As strange as it may sounds, little is known about these massive creatures at this time. Projects like this help collect information and improve awareness.
And here we go again. Whale sharks ! And these are my best shots so far !
This time bonite baitballs were raging a few hundred meters from our diving spot when we came back from our first dive, time to scramble, put on mask and fins, remove the strobes from my housing, change the camera settings and we were dropped next to the whale shark when she came up to the surface to get a mouthfill of fishes. While everyone swam next to it, I put myself from a distance as I saw her starting to turn and dive, I positioned around 3-5m deep, ready for a head shot, the whale shark was coming right into me. I took 2 shots and stopped to look and enjoy the moment where it went past me quietly and effortlessly. I could have touch it by extending my right arm as it was gliding barely a meter from me. A stunning moment !
Two whale sharks were eating around, a small (~3m) and a bigger one (~6m) and we were dropped 4 or 5 times around. I could have stayed hours as it was so intense and rewarding !! I would do wonders with a small zodiac, freediving fins and a spotter but for now I’m very happy with the shots I managed to get !
Amazing day ! I finally got to see a whale shark !
Mélisande, Becks, Ben and I decided to get on the WSORC boat and spend the whole morning looking for whale sharks on the north side of the island. After a few hours, morale was decreasing and we more or less thought that was over for the whole day when the skipper spotted one not very far from the boat. In a few seconds, we scrambled, put on the snorkeling gear and he dropped us nearly right on top of the whale shark. Time to recover from the entry and there it was. A MASSIVE whale shark roughly estimated to 7m, gently gliding at a depth of 3-5m, it went inquisitevely looking at the boat, circled around, and gone it was. During this brief but intense encounter, I managed to shoot a few pictures which don’t reflect the intensity of the event, but one of them show the snorkelers on top of the whale shark, it helps to get a sense of the size.
It’s also rewarding to see how such encounter can make people realize the magnificence of the marine life. Case in point with Mel, who is a newly certified Open Water diver (and certainly one of the best I have ever seen with buoyancy after such a short time), it was great to see her eyes shining of marvel after the event (too bad I could not take any picture). I’m glad she decided to stay a bit more to go on this trip, I told her a few days ago, it would be criminal to leave Utila without seeing any whale shark or at least try. I’m not sure I’m for anything about her decision to stay more, but I like the idea of planting the seed for it
As for me, I need to get more opportunities to have decent shots ! This is also encounters like this that make me realize how a DSLR would be useful for continuous shooting, or simply a camera with a faster shutter lag and writing speed.
I arrived in Utila yesterday afternoon. I took the 10:20 bus from San Pedro Sula (lovely service) and arrived in La Ceiba at around 13:15. I took a taxi to the Banana Republic Hostel which was recommended to me as well, thinking that the only ferry was actually in the morning. Fortunately the taxi driver told me there was another ferry (Utila Princess) at 16:00, so, off we go, I went to the port, took the ferry ($21) and I’m here a bit earlier than expected. I managed to squeeze 2 dives already this morning.
I’m staying for now at Backpacker’s Lodge, which is the accommodation affiliated to Ecomarine Gunter’s Shop. It cost $5 a night for a private room and shared bathroom and is pretty much OK. There is no swimming pool, private bar, A/C, wireless internet and other superfluous things but who cares.
Utila is for sure a different beast than Dahab for all I can see. I was very surprised here, that just by walking on the seafront on the evening, I had people passing by me saying “hello”, moreover they were nice girls . In Dahab, there is probably more chance to get rain than someone saying a genuine “hello” to you, so that’s for sure a good change in the overall attitude.
It’s a bit too early as of now to describe Utila, but let’s just say, that it looks like kind of a typical carribean small village. There are quite a few dive centers here and a certain number of restaurants serving inexpensive food. There is only 1 ATM and unfortunately my credit card does not work in it, even though it’s a VISA. Apparently, it happens to other people here as well, especially those who don’t own a US credit card (great!). I hope I will be able to sort it out tomorrow when the bank opens. Utila shops accepts either US dollars or Lempiras ($US1 = 18 HNL). I have got a bit of cash but not that much.
My father should also be arriving a bit earlier than expected due to favorable winds. He left Key West on March 1 with his boat (which name is …bearaway), basically the day I arrived in Miami, and has been sailing down to Utila since then, his original ETA was roughly March 7, but he is now 60 miles off Utila and is expected to arrive during the night.