10 April 2006

Paradise Lost


UTILA--The morning light was pink-tinged grey and the moon that had been full a few nights before still hung half-lit in the sky. We walked down the island´s main street, quiet still at this early hour, free of the bikes and scooters, ATVs and pedestrians that would fill it later. We walked to the dock to join the other exiles, feeling vaguely like Adam and Eve being cast out from paradise, sent back to the rough, dusty world on the other side of the water.
I paid $44 to the bored looking female Charon for our tickets and Katy bought coffee from a man festooned with crawling macaws. The outgoing crowd was silent, keeping to their seats, holding on to their memories of island life, underwater gardens, parties, romance and the slow, easy pace that one way or another was changing with this departure. In a few hours the Utila Princess would disgorge us and take on a new load of fresh-faced travelers, island-bound, making new friends, anticipating new adventures both above and below the waves
Utila, along with Roatan and Guanaja, make up the three major Honduran Bay Islands. All are meccas for divers and the conversations invariably circle back down to where one is diving, what fantastic sea creatures one saw that day and what dives one has planned for the coming days and nights. Everywhere you see people with their dive manuals, studying for their courses. I had done several dives on the island the year before and over the last months all I could think about was letting the air from my BCD and slipping beneath the waves.
Perversely, the moment we arrived and found rooms at Rubi´s Guesthouse, I lost all motivation. The idea of leaving my hammock, of deciding which shop to dive with, of strapping on all that gear, seemed suddenly, unbearably, odious in its complexity.
Each day, when I would see Katy in the morning, she would ask me if I was diving that day and each morning I would reply, "Possible manana." And after a few mananas I knew that manana would never come. Intead, when not napping off the trauma of thinking about diving, we explored the island by foot and bicycle. Trails, some more hidden than others, cut through the jungle interior, leading to deserted beaches where waves crash against volcanic rock and palms wave against the golden sun. Deep in the humid forest are caves rumored (of course) to contain pirate treasure. There are beaches to snorkle off of where the reef and all its life begin mere feet from shore and I reaquainted myself with the pleasure of gently gliding over the surface and observing the aquatic world unencumbered by tanks and weights and time tables. Free diving I would propell myself down then shoot the fantastic scenes with my Nikonos as I slowly ascended. I would swim underwater, rolling onto my back to watch Katy swim overhead through schools of fish.
In the evenings we would watch the setting sun over the peaks of the Honduran mainland while sitting at the end of our dock, feeling the wind that once drove pirate ships, watching the stars appear in all their profusion.
Life back in the Western Highlands, amongst the people the English speaking island Hondurans call Spaniards, seemed very far away with its constant clouds of dust, the only water being the pool on top of Hotel Elvir.

But the Utila Princess did finally dock in La Ceiba and the world seemed to speed up, take on a certain reality that the soft-edged island life had lacked. We grabbed a cab driver before one could grab us and tossed our packs in the back of his dented chariot. He grinned at us, wide and gold-rimmed, turned up the radio and skidded out of the parking lot in a shower of gravel.
"Donde?" he asked.
"Home, Juan," I replied.

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