“What about Honduras?” I asked Andy, wrinkling my brow as if we had been in the middle of a conversation when, instead, he had just arrived home after work on an unimportant Tuesday, the door not even closed behind him.  But this is our type of greeting, one that starts when he is in the process of stepping into our apartment, a greeting that begins mid-sentence, mid-thought with me bombarding him of travel destinations and questions, partially formulated plans, thoughts I had been having a mental conversation on all day, ones brimming at my lips so that when I see him, they overflow, surge forth like love.

“Honduras?” he repeated, also wrinkling his brow while taking off his shoes at the door.  He never hesitates to join my mid-conversations.

“Honduras,” I said again, sitting straighter, one pronounced nod in front of him.  I had decided.

“Why Honduras?  What’s in Honduras?”  And this is what we soon found many people asked us.

“Com’ere,” I whispered, captivated by the Honduras I saw as we looked at picture after picture of white sand beaches and clear turquoise water teeming with life so much that it appeared a meticulous posh aquarium.  “Did you know Honduras is surrounded by the second largest coral reef in the world?” I asked him.  “We should go and scuba dive.”

“We should,” he agreed, forgetting he had no intention of going past waist-deep in the ocean, failing to remember he had never been snorkeling, and not recalling that scuba diving frankly scared him.  “We should go,” he said, captivated with Honduras’s beauty too.

So we booked our trip, suddenly and without further questions.  Because this is the life we want to create, where we live in surprise of each other, the world, our future.

So we packed our bags and left . . .

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Located in South America with the neighboring nations of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua, Honduras feels a forgotten destination; and that could be because it is going through rough times.  This is a third-world country after all where many do not have hot water in homes; electricity is unstable; and drinking water, a pricey commodity.  There are no animal shelters here so bony dogs and cats loiter with skeletons so feeble they barely cast shadows onto the streets and sand.  The roadways are crap, but that’s because of the weather, which heats up and causes the pavement to bubble and swell until massive crater-sized potholes pop forth, resembling more teenagers’ acne scars.  At the same time, the rainfall can also be so heavy that it transforms roadways into angry rivers and forms mudslides that create and smooth wide portions of the earth into new property lines.  This is a country that stretches, dotting the Caribbean Sea with small, overlooked islands.  And it is on these islands that tourism prospers, so much that many people here are fluent in English, French, Italian, and more, switching between these languages as easy as they blink.  But that tourism comes with a price because Honduras is also a country that steals from itself, where the mainland pockets the money the bay islands make, leaving those areas overlooked, the people there bursting with energy to break free and become a separate identity.  But these island people are far from weak; they have learned to fend for themselves and thrive, finding profits in the holes of what is not offered so that when tourists utter the words “I wish I could,” the locals are ready, dishing out customized plans for the following day as if it were a massive dessert tray for the taking.

But the real reason Honduras may be forgotten is because of it’s crime rate: It had (and flirts with having) the highest violent crime numbers in the world, making murders, rapes, stabbings, and a slew of other horrors cast a grim and dirty light on the entire country.  Locals know of these statistics, and they will shake their heads, slouch their shoulders, begrudgingly speaking of it when the topic steeps into conversation.  That’s also because the truth is they know more: They know of people killing people for a measly five dollars . . .

But that’s the dark side of Honduras.  And don’t we all have a dark side?  What is the difference in Honduras’s five dollar murders verses America’s Black Friday stampede deaths?  Or America’s child killings over the newest kicks?  Or the US’s steady climb towards the highest rate of gun violence?  Or let’s go back further to America’s gun craze in and of itself, which topples other nations and makes the US known to possess about half of civilian-owned guns worldwide?  I point all this out to show darkness can taint other truths because essentially, the truth about Honduras is that this country is an assortment of things — overlooked, improving, building, starting.  And maybe that’s the point.  There is not one way to describe this nation.  Honduras is a country of differences, contradictions so that in the end, maybe Honduras’s one word is mostly misunderstood.

This is why I want to show you its glimmering side, the one that can blind you with beauty so golden, good, pure.  This is the Honduras I want to show you . . .
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I am getting ahead of myself though.  Let’s go back to when Andy had just arrived home after work on an unimportant Tuesday.  That word: home.  Home as in what was once my little apartment is now ours because Andy’s visa got accepted in March so he has now officially immigrated to America.  Yet, home is also not a physical address, a place on a map, but a feeling one can only find in someone else, a feeling I have found in him so that the moment his plane landed in the States, we were finally able to announce our secret engagement proposal.  He — we are home.

This is why we jokingly call this Honduras trip our “engagement-moon” because for months we had been engaged but unable to tell anyone for fear the government would find out, see his visa application, and pull his one shot at moving and working here.  So we kept quiet until his visa was in hand.  Now, we have much to celebrate and yearned to do that in a place somewhere new — not his home of England where he had left or mine in America where I had wished the days be controlled by a light switch, disappearing and passing in seconds until he could arrive.  Instead, we wanted a place of new beginnings, a place to start our story even though our story is a hodgepodge of starts . . .

So back to that original conversation when Andy came home from work and found me on the sofa in front of my computer, asking, “What about Honduras?”

“What about Honduras?” he had said, smiling in a fashion that made there be only one answer: Let’s go.

Alright, so now we packed our bags, got another Passport stamp . . .

and arrived to this tiny island of Roatan, which is off the coast from the mainland.

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I say tiny because Roatan is thirty-seven miles long and five miles wide at its widest point.

Here, we stayed at Las Rocas Resort and Dive Center, where there are picturesque beaches and ocean waters, amazing people I will miss, some of the most delicious food I have ever eaten, and a place so safe that we may or may not have left our key in the door multiple times without once being disturbed.

We lucked out on having the best bungalow, the one used to advertise to tourists, which was feet from the soft sand and had amazing views of the ocean.
IMG_0011IMG_0010.JPGIMG_0350.JPGIMG_0029There are numerous resorts dotting the island and all that we came across had their own restaurants and bars, like ours.
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The view of our restaurant and pool from the beach

Las Rocas was wonderful, serving a variety of Spanish breakfasts . . .
IMG_0570.JPGand fresh local dishes with yummy drinks in the afternoon and evening.IMG_0081

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This is Roatan’s specialty frozen drink, a Monkey La-La, which is a blend of Kahlua, Bailey’s Irish Cream, coconut milk, vodka, dark rum, pineapple juice, a banana, and chocolate syrup.

Our resort was tucked away from the more bustling locations, like West End, but water taxis were available to send you there.  However on Day One, we ventured a short distance on foot to the more populated West Bay area.  Strolling along the coast before dinner, we followed a winding wooden platform over the ocean then walked in the warm water and breathed in sea air.
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That night, we ate on the shore, watching the sun melt into the sea.
IMG_0077.JPGWe were here, our first place somewhere new, so after fourteen and a half hours of non-stop travel, sleep found us at an early 6:30 p.m.

 

Day Two: A Day of Somehows
I awoke to this, which somehow was how my hair looked the entire trip.
20171120_062455-2But we were on vacation and short of tranquilizing the beast of my own hair or buzzing it off, there was nothing I could do which meant Andrew, my hair, and I moseyed our way to a scrumptious Spanish breakfast.  Meanwhile, everyone was very accepting of my odd mohawk, mainly the frail homeless kittens who didn’t hesitate to come over, twist around our legs, rub against our ankles.

We had seen these kittens the first day and slowly began to give them names, such as Alli, the more friendly feline who was highly intelligent and could be seen nightly climbing palm trees onto our resort’s restaurant’s roof where she then catapulted herself off in an effort to successfully catch bats, which she would then eat every morsel — bones and all — in joyful glory; Rummy was a terribly shy grey-stripped kitten, often scared away by people, other cats, heck even the wind;  Bones, an emaciated black kitten who I’m positive will have perished by now without a tender heart to help him; Jasper, the bolder and larger-breed that had scars to prove his many rough battles; and Sebastian (not pictured), who we nicknamed “the resort’s cat” because he was the only privileged one fed by the employees and therefore, allowed to slumber day and night on chairs in the dive shop’s entryway.
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Speaking of that dive shop, my wild hair (or clearly, many hairs) were evident as I was hellbent and determined to scuba dive.  That was what lead us to Roatan after all.  With the dive center located next to the main office, I had snuck a peek inside when we first arrived and found a small mention of Roatan’s well-known shark dive.

“Andrew!” I told him.  “Let’s go on the shark dive!”  I said the words ‘shark dive’ with wonder and enthusiasm dripping from each syllable.

“L.  We don’t even know how to dive, never-the-less dive with sharks.”  He needed convincing I could see.  I wasn’t to be put-off.

“I know . . . sooo,” I said nuzzling into him, “let’s find out more information!”

The only problem was when we arrived at the dive center, no one was inside.

“Excuse me,” I stopped a random man walking by.  He could have been a tourist or the CEO of the resort for all I knew.  “Do you know when the divers are coming back?”

“Two hours,” he said.

“Two hours?” I repeated.

“Two hours.”

I didn’t believe him.  Something about him seemed to say he was left behind for a reason.  My hope and excitement exploded.  “Andrew, we are NEVER going to shark dive!” I cried after we moved from earshot of the stranger.  “That’s why we are HERE!  What are we going to DO?!”

“Calm down,” he said exasperated because as you know, telling an irrational person to calm down is a good idea.

“CALM DOWN?!  What are we DOING?!  We should have booked this BEFORE!  What were we THINKING?!”

“Okay, listen.”  This must be important.  “We are here because we wanted to get away and enjoy ourselves and celebrate and spend time together.”  Suddenly, I didn’t agree.  “There is a beautiful beach here and water — ” he spanned his hands in front of us.  “Let’s go on a walk and explore!”

My sense of exploring was bending down and spotting dead coral.
IMG_0108.JPG“I don’t want to explore” I signed.  I knew I was being childish, but I was also beyond a point of caring.  The one activity that centered around our flying hours from home was a shark dive.  And that one said-activity was gone our first full day.

“Bloody hell.  You’re a nightmare,” Andy told me.  “Great.  This is just great.  We are at the most beautiful place on earth and you’re miserable.  Now I’m miserable.  Are you happy?”  I was.  But I didn’t confess that.

Somehow, Andy convinced me to go on that walk, which I know he regretted because it was the most depressing, sullen walk we had yet been on.  And somehow we also found a dock to sit on, which provided me with time to recuperate.
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Somehow this man still loves me . . . even though I do not make his life easy at times.

It was around this time we saw a motorboat speeding towards our resort’s dock.

“Hey.  L.  That’s them.  I think that’s them . . . ”

There was only one person aboard.

“Andrew.  That’s not them.  How can you have a dive class without divers?  Or instructors?  Or anyone besides the person operating the boat?”

Yet, in that moment — that moment of sheer glory — two other people appeared, just like that — *poof* out of the air.  Seriously.  And we ran — literally ran to the dock.

“THEY’RE HERE!!!!” I screamed as we bounded over sharp rocks in an area not fit for walking.  “CAN YOU BELIEVVVE THEY’RE HEEERE!!!”  Joy, happiness, laughter, everything holy and good was shooting out of my body.

“Hi!” I told a woman who appeared to be in charge with barely enough time to get off the boat.  “We want to shark dive.”  Except what made me a “we” was just arriving, slow and hesitant.  He didn’t seem to want to shark dive.  And I think she sensed this.

“Hi.  First, my name is Anja,” she said in a mixture of accents.

“Oh,” I hesitated, knowing I probably didn’t make the best first impression.  “Hello.  My name is L.  This is my fiance Andy.”  I hesitated.  What more did she want me to say to gain approval to go on this dive?  I have never been good with small talk; this is one of my weaknesses.  So we waited.  And waited longer.  Nothing happened.  I couldn’t stand it anymore.  “And we want to shark dive.”  There I said it.  Again.

“Okay.  Second, are you certified divers?”  She peered around me at Andy, who seemed to be — well, behind me.

I barely whispered a “no.”

“Alright.  Have you ever been diving?”  Her look pivoted from Andrew to me, Andrew to me.

“Yes!  I mean, no.  Well, I have but he has not.”

“You have to be certified to go on that dive” and with that, she turned around, moving and unattaching and arranging her diving thing-a-majigs around her.  This was not the answer I was settling for.  I may have screamed, “Wait!” at her.  I don’t remember.  I seem to forget things in my ecstatic states.

“Yes?” she asked, turning towards us again.  Him, me, him, me.

“We want to go on the shark dive.  If you say we need to get certified, we will be certified.”  People say that I am indecisive.  People say that I take forever to make decisions.  But daggon it, the moment I make decisions, it never fails someone has a problem with it.

“Wait, wait, wait!”  That was Andy.  “I don’t know if I want to be certified!  I don’t even know if I want to go diving!”  Anja laughed and resumed moving her thing-a-ma-bobers.  I wasn’t laughing.

“What do you mean?” I whispered.  “That’s why we are here!”

“Nooo — That’s why maybe you are here.  That’s not why I am here.”

“Andrew.  I remember a day of sunshine and rainbows where we were sitting on our couch, looking at pictures of Roatan, and you said the words, ‘Yes, let’s go and dive.'”

“Okay.  Maybe I did.”  I knew he did.  “But I thought you were joking.  Diving with sharks?!  Who does that?!  Maybe I changed my mind.”  And keep this in mind too — The whole time we were talking, or debating, it was in front of this Anja-woman, who we just met, who I really wanted to butter up in an effort to teach us how to be certified.  We were not making a good impression.  Again.

In the end, I . . . or Anja . . . or we somehow managed to convince Andrew to give diving a try.  “Listen,” she said with a strong accent I still couldn’t pick up.  “We will do a little dive, you can see how you like it, and if you do, we can continue towards certification.  No big deal.”

“Deal!” I said, unable to contain myself.  This was an opportunity of a lifetime!  I wanted him to take it.

“Deal,” he said after me, sort of huffing, sort of happy, sort of confused-at-how-he-gets-into-these-situations.

“When do you want to start?”

“What’s the earliest you can do it?” Andy and I asked in unison.

“How about right now?”  She shrugged her shoulders, ignoring the doohickeys scattered at her feet.  We had her.  We almost had her.

“Right now?” we repeated.

“Right now,” she said again.

I was elated, Andrew nervous, as we raced back to our bungalow to change into our swimwear . . .
20171124_165959-1then we were off . . . filling out forms that signed our life away . . . before following a woman we knew nothing about . . . into the ocean . . . to go diving.

“We will get in here.”  She pointed by the dock and boat.  “This is where we will go over basics.”
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After a few minutes of information — “This is your regulator.  You breathe with this in your mouth.  Take a full, deep breath in followed by a full, deep breath out.  I will model first, you will watch me, then you will try and I will watch you” type-of-thing — we loaded into the boat and set off from the shore, cutting across the calm water.

I turned to Andrew — full of excitement — only to see him appear the complete opposite.  “You okay?” I asked.

“Whatever we do, I just don’t want to go first.  I’m scared to go first,” Andy confessed and that’s when it dawned on me that I was dragging him far out of his comfort zone.  Year one: Surprise sky diving.  Year two: Surprise scuba diving.  Poor chap doesn’t know what to expect from me.

“Hey,” I tried to comfort him.  “It’s okay.  I’ll go first.  It’s not a big deal.”  He appeared calmer . . . until the boat’s motor was shut off and we arrived at our spot.

“Who wants to go first?” Anja asked.

“Him.”  I pointed at Andrew, forgetting what he had told me minutes ago.

“What?!” he gasped.

“I’m scared!  There could be sharks or something, Andy!”

“WOT!!!  Bloody hell, L!  Sharks?!?!  That’s what you wanted!!!” and without another word, he puffed and waddled in his fins, under the weight of his air canister, towards the ladder.

“Good luck!  You can do it!” I yelled from my seat before he cast a horrid glare at me.

(Let me say here while I am writing this, I realize Day Two was not filled with my most shining moments.  I know now I essentially forced one scared Englishman to go scuba diving . . . and then made him go first . . . after I had frightened him about sharks below.  Andrew, chap, I realize my errors and I sincerely apologize!)

“Whenever you’re ready, take one big step into the water,” Anja told him from his side.

“Unnn ssshhhep . . . ” he repeated, or at least I think repeated because he was biting down on his regulator so hard he could not be understood.

“One step.  Look straight ahead, one hand against your weights, one hand against your goggles and regulator.  Then one step into the water,” Anja directed him again.

“Un shep.  Righ.  Un shep . . . ”  I was scared to glance at him for fear of another evil look but I took the risk only to see his flippered foot shaking in the air above the water before he’d return both flippered feet to be side-by-side.  “Un shep . . . ” and he moved his foot back over the water, flipper quivering.

“Chap?  You okay?” I asked.  I was nervous for him.  I did care.  I also did feel really bad because it was right around here I realized he had said he didn’t want to go first.  “Want me to go first?”  Again, a nasty gaze.

“Just one step — look straight,” Anja repeated calmly.

“Unnn shhhep . . . Shish hs harer shn skhi ivin!!!” he declared, which I took to be “This is harder than sky diving!!!” which also made me laugh because he was maybe three feet above crystal clear water on a smooth ocean and, let’s be honest, didn’t have a Navy Seal strapped to his back throwing him into the air.  “Righ!” he suddenly shouted, appearing to be regaining confidence, exciting himself and doing — what was that? — miniature squats because he couldn’t jump up and down with the weight of the air canister.  “Righ!  Un a cowt uhf shree!”

“Okay,” Anja said.

“Okay!” I said.

“Unnn!” he whispered, mini-squatting again, shaking his fists in front of his chest at the water.  I wondered if he was about to fist-pump his chest, American-style.

“ONE!” Anja and I yelled.

” . . . shhhuuu . . . !”

“TWO!”

“Righ . . . ” I heard the deepest inhale I have ever heard then a more guttural, deep growl of “SSSHHHREEE!!!”  Then, with a quick one-step, he fell into the ocean.

“ANDREW?!” I yelled after him, worried some unseen horrible event would happen to him and I would have to live the rest of my life knowing I forced him to go first on an extreme sport he did not even want to be a part of.  How would I explain this to his parents?!  But then — as I was going through answers in my mind — I saw his head pop back up.   “Andrew!  Are you okay?!”

“Your turn,” Anja called to me, waving her hand in my direction.

“Right,” I told her and waddling to where Andrew dropped into the ocean.  “On three — One, two, three” and in the water I fell without a moment of hesitation, which I think is the reason why I prefer him to go first.  When I see him fall to his potential death, I have this massive guilty feeling that I should not have allowed the activity and the only way to rectify the situation is if I follow him, suicide-mission, into the air or out the boat.

“Hey!” I said to him the moment we were in the water beside each other.  “You okay?!”

“HAVE YOU LOOKED INTO THE WATER YET?!  Through your goggles!  LOOK INTO THE WATER!” and face-first he let his head drop in again before popping back up.  “IT’S BEAUTIFUL!!!” and down his head went once more.

Thank God, I thought, feeling my heart relax.  He actually likes it!  So without another word, we waited for Anja before dropping under the water.

Our first dive left us speechless.  The water was calm and clear, undisturbed.  Not only that, but we saw a host of animals: lion fish, barracuda, lobster, and a massive snapper that stayed a couple feet away to swim beside us due to the fact that some divers bring bits of food down for them.  Overall, it was incredible to say the least.  Andrew thoroughly enjoyed himself too.  “It was like swimming in a gigantic aquarium!” he — the-guy-that-loves-aquariums — gushed.  “It was absolutely amazing!”  You’re welcome, Englishman.

Anyway, that solidified it — Once we were out of the water and able to talk, we were going to become fully certified divers.  We were going on that shark dive.

“To be certified, you need a total of at least four dives,” Anja told us.  That cut it close to the shark-dive date, which was Friday, six days away.  That meant if the weather was bad or the waters worse, we couldn’t afford to miss days.

“Right,” we said in unison, on the same page now.

“Let’s start on the paperwork” and with that, Anja passed us forms to complete.  “Know if you say ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, you cannot dive.”  She said this simply, honestly, then disappeared inside the shop.

“Pst,” I whispered to Andrew after spotting a question further down.  Do you take daily medication? it asked.  “What do I do about the medication question?”  I knew if I checked the ‘Yes’ box due to my multiple sclerosis medication, it would cancel me out of diving; but I also knew if I said no and lied, it was my own health I was gambling with.

“I was just wondering that myself . . . ”  His look was one of concern so we called to Anja.

“It is because some medications react to the pressure change,” she told us then peered at me and grabbed the first form we completed.  “How did you get away with this for your first dive?” she said more to herself.  That was because the first form asked something about medication for a specific illness.

“I don’t have that,” I told her.  “But I do take medication daily.”  Her shoulders slouched as if the forms let her down.  “Listen, it is your health.  I would contact your doctor.”  And she was right — I wanted to be certain Aubagio would not negatively affect me if I went diving.  We wanted to enjoy our time here, not return with more health issues.

Needless to say, we were stuck — stuck between paying a-dollar-a-minute for long-distance calls to my neurologist and stuck because my doctor didn’t pick up whenever I called.  I even enlisted the help of my family, pleading in emails for them to obtain a letter of approval.  Until I got that letter, it was a waiting game.

Not knowing if I’d get a written statement during our trip, we left the office and walked down the beach, enjoying more scrumptious food and drink until the sun exploded in color then slipped into the sea.
20171121_170022-2.jpgFull physically and mentally, we headed back to our cabana in the dark, attempting to dodge massive crabs that jittered over our toes.
20171124_170107.jpgTo me, crabs are essentially enormous spiders, harder to kill due to their shells so in terror, I flung myself onto Andrew, leaping on his back and forcing him to shuffle our way back to the resort while we laughed the entire way.

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Fun fact: We didn’t mean to take this picture.  Andy meant to get a shot of the crab but, because it was so dark, he didn’t realize the camera direction was wrong until the burst of light illuminated us.  I secretly love this image because it isn’t posed so it captures how happy we truly are.

 

Day Three: Waiting Game
The moment we woke and the office opened, I checked my email . . . without luck, which meant we were left exploring the island.  This wasn’t bad news though — Unlike earlier, we had no control over future dives so this gave us an opportunity to explore.
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Several of these little lizards were seen leaping from one leaf to another.  Andrew said, “He’s a shifty looking character.  He’s asking, ‘Pst.  Wanna buy some bugs?'”

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An amazing treehouse that even had a toilet!

Roatan has many massive almond trees that scatter almonds over the ground.IMG_0478IMG_0477IMG_0480.JPGWe also found these little (what I will call) berries, which appeared as festive Christmas ornaments dangling off the middle of palm trees’ trunks.  I asked locals if they eat the berries, but they said they did not know what they were.IMG_0506IMG_0507IMG_0505IMG_0495

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Many Americans immigrate to Roatan and buy enormous homes.  This one was near our resort.

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After exploring, we returned for scrumptious drinks and food . . .
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After, we ambled back to the office to check (again) for my doctor’s letter, which amazingly came:
I am one of the treating neurologists for the above-referenced patient.  She suffers from multiple sclerosis for which she takes Aubagio.  I have found no contra-indictation to scuba diving either from this neurological condition generally or from this medication specifically.

With that golden email attachment, our window of opportunity opened.

“ANJA!!!” I screamed, running towards her boat as it was pulling into the dock from a dive.  “I GOT MY LETTER!!!  I GOT MY LETTER!!!”

She smiled and soon we were following her into the dive shop where she handed us two thick books.  “Here.  Read Chapters One, Two, and Three.  Then we can take quizzes, do more theory, then complete Dive Two tomorrow.”  It was settled.  Our destiny.

Let me say here learning to scuba dive is not as glamorous as it may sound.  Diving is considered an extreme sport so with that comes extreme risk, which means a large — and I do mean large — amount of reading, watching informative videos, studying, and training.  Learning to dive is an all-engrossing affair.  Needless to say, the rest of our days in Roatan were filled to the brim with studying and training for our dive certifications.
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Day Four: All Learning, All the Time
We woke to choppy waves, making Anja greet us by saying, “Today we will learn our theory in confined water.  This means a pool.”

We also had another surprise: Initially, we were the only ones in our Learning to be Certified Divers class until two females from Colorado arrived.  Shay and Michelle were about our age and set their sights on certification too, which was awesome because that meant Andy and I now weren’t the only ones fumbling on answers Anja asked and we could all have a good laugh through the training.  Speaking of training, our first main task to master seemed a simple one: putting on a wetsuit and, thanks to Andrew, we had a visual.

“I’d recommend wetsuits if going in the pool,” Anja told us, removing rubbery suits off hangers before handing them to Michelle, me, Shay, then Andy.

“Anja?  You sure this will fit me?” I heard Andy ask.  He seemed worried so I looked his way.  Holding his wetsuit in front of his body, he examined it as if he was purchasing an outfit.  It did appear small though, but no smaller than mine or anyone else’s in comparison to our bodies.

“It will stretch when you put it on,” she said.  “You’ll be fine.”  Then to everyone: “Try them on, see if they fit” and with a flourish of her hand we were squeezing into neoprene.

“I think I’m in,” that was Shay.  Or Michelle.  Or maybe even me as we zipped up around the same time.  Don’t get me wrong — Getting into a wetsuit is not the easiest challenge in the world.  It did take us several minutes — You have to hike your legs up and move in such positions you’d be better off in a Lamaze class.  And don’t even get me started on squashing body rolls you didn’t know existed into a wetsuit while inhaling then zipping those rolls inside in a way that makes you pray Please don’t explode out.  Please let the zipper contain all of me.  But in the end, after some trying, we were all in — zipped, ready to go.

Well, I say “all.”  Instead, I should say “all but Andrew.”  Bless his heart, he was huffing and panting and gasping for breath as he pulled and stretched and bent and leaned until his face turned such a deep color of red, it appeared more purple.  He looked bruised.  I didn’t want to hurt his self-confidence, but to say I was concerned is putting it lightly.  I was down-right worried.  Someone needed to help him.

“Anja?” I asked.  “Can you help . . . um, assist him into . . . into . . . whatever it is he is getting in?”  I pointed towards him in a fashion that must have shown how I had forgotten he received an adult wetsuit, like us.  That’s because he appeared more a maniac trying to stuff himself into a child’s wetsuit, size extra small.  Anja gave me a look as if to say, I’m not touching that with a fifteen-foot pole and quickly side-stepped him as if he were contaminated.  Okay, I thought, I’ll just have to approach this lightly.  “Hey, love.  Hey, you’re doing gr — really great.”  I knew I was lying but sometimes lies are needed to further hope.  This was a time.  “Andrew.  Listen, just pause for a second, okay?”

He wheeled towards me with such force I thought he would knock me over.  His look was rabid, seething at the mouth, sweat flowing from every pore in his face.  “WOOOOT?!” he shouted, out of breath, wheezing, about to collapse from exhaustion.

“Hey, you’re doing a really great job but — ”  He let his arms fall to his sides, dropping his XS baby wetsuit, which snapped like elastic back down to his thighs.  One thing was certain: While his wetsuit seemed to shrink with embarrassment, he did not.  He appeared swelling, positively pissed off.    “Shut up.  Okay?  Just shut up.”

“No, no.  Seriously, you’re doing a great jo — ”

“Does it REALLY look like I’m doing a great job?  Hum?!  Does it!”  Sarcasm was spewing from his lips and onto my face.  Or maybe that was his spit.  Or sweat.  At this point, everything seemed to be spewing from him.  I think he needed to sit down.  And I told him that.  Which also didn’t help.

“Okay, you’re right.” I said, calm, because sometimes it doesn’t matter who is right.  What mattered then was keeping him alive and I was positive he was going to give himself an aneurysm.  “I um, well . . . ”  I didn’t want to offend him in front of the ladies but it needed to be said, it did.  “I think you need a larger size.”  I whispered this in Andrew’s ear, feeling the heat radiate from his face.  I stepped back.  He was making me sweat.

“No!  Nooo chance!  It-tt’sss f-FFF-IIINnn-eEE!” and he continued, laboriously, squeezing into a suit clearly too small for him.  “I’m going to DIE of HE-EEE-AT EXHAUUU-STION but IT’S FIIINE!  IT’SFINE!”

“Please.  Just ask Anja,” I begged.  He clearly knew no bounds.

“Anja says it FITS!  I’m GET-TTT-ING in-t-o it!  I’m not fucking ’bout anymore!”  Hell-bent and determined, he then contorted his body into a position I had never seen done (nor want to see again) and that wetsuit, let’s just say it didn’t resemble a wetsuit anymore.  Hyperventilating and going from light purple to an extraordinary deep shade of plum, he finally managed to get his shoulder in the suit next to his left kneecap.  “THERE!”  He screamed, full of distorted pride.  “ANJA!!!  I’M IN!  I’MIN!”  (Though it was clear that he wasn’t.  I think he was delusional at this point.) “HOW DOES MY SUIT LOOK!!!”

Anja turned from talking to Shay and Michelle.  “No, that suit is too small,” she flatly told him then returned to throw another suit his way, which I might have caught because both of his hands were by his ankles.

“Andrew,” I was whispering again.  “You need to get out of it.  See?  It was too small.  So it’s okay now.  Just get out of it.”  He was cutting off circulation to his head, arms, his legs, frankly from every bit of him.  “Get out of it.  Get out right now.”

Needless to say, he did get out of that baby wetsuit.  With the help of me.  Then Anja.  Then the both of us.  His skin was clammy and burning by the time the deed was done.

“Now you need to get into that,” she reminded him pointing at the new suit and bless it, the look on his face was mixed of panic and confidence.  But he got into it.  Gradually and finally due to his sweaty skin made it harder to pull on the neoprene.  But he did it.

“Great.  Now take them off,” Anja said with another flourish of her hand.

I’m positive you must have heard his exhale countries away but did not know what that sound was at the time.  “TAKE IT OFF!?” he yelled back.

“Yes, take it off.  We are going to drive to the pool now.”

“Hell no,” he told her.  “This bad boy is staying on.  It’s not going anywhere.”  And it didn’t.  He stayed in that suit the rest of the day, refusing to get out of it due to the fact that he — at all costs — did not want to get back into it.  Honestly, if he had paid for it, he probably would have slept in the damn thing.
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Alright so we finally were all in our suits and driving to the pool . . . then arriving to the pool where we had to prove basic skills, such as swimming and floating.

“I need you to swim 200 yards,” Anja told us.  “You have as much time as you need to do this, but it has to be continual — no stopping or standing.  You may use whatever swimming stroke you chose.  I do not care.”

“Okay,” we all agreed.

The only problem was we didn’t know how many yards the pool was.

“Let’s say three laps,” she said.  “That should be enough.”

I didn’t want to settle for ‘should.’  If I was going to be certified, I wanted to ensure what I was doing would not be questioned later.  Hell, if anything, I didn’t want to have to witness Andrew getting into a wetsuit again if we were wrong.  “Why don’t we just do four laps?  We have to swim back to you regardless so we might as well.”

“Fine.  Four,” she told me before announcing it to everyone else.

But it was fine.  Because we all knew how to swim.  Or so I thought.  Andrew and I got in, and we immediately had a secret competition to see who would finish first so we set off at full speed.  That’s when I realized — in the middle of our swim — that we had not swam a lap in a pool since we were teenagers and we were not nearly fit enough to do it now.  This made us swim more slowly, barely moving it felt, then backstroking the heck out of those final laps at such a pace it probably appeared we were more floating.  But we did it.  Everyone did it.  Not that they were happy with me about adding an extra lap, but we made it through . . . and tried to get out of the water to rest.

“Nope.  Stay in.  Now you have to tread water for ten minutes.”

“TEN MINUTES?!”  We all said.  We were exhausted.

“Ten minutes,” Anja repeated.  “You can float or tread, but you cannot touch the bottom and have to do this for ten full minutes.  Ready?”

We had no other choice.  “Ready,” we said panting.

“Start” and her timer was set and we were off.

Ten minutes doesn’t sound too extreme . . . unless you have just swam four long laps . . . which you haven’t done since you were a child . . . and then tread immediately after . . . for several minutes that seemed to expand and elongate.

“How much longer?” Andy asked.  Or was it me?  Or us?  The only thing that mattered was that the answer was nine and a half minutes.  Then another was five.  And both times I’m pretty sure we should have had only one minute left.

“Last minute!” Anja finally told us before counting down the remaining seconds.

“Done!  Now you can get out of the pool.”

Thank God, I thought because I was debating my love for the water even though we had a long, long journey ahead.

“Here’s what we need to accomplish today . . . ” and from there, we had a list of techniques so extensive, they included but weren’t limited to mask partial and fully flood with clearance, regulator and alternate air source recovery, regulator exchange, buoyancy control based on hover and fin pivots, air tank closure, Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent and oral surface inflation of BCD, BCD and weight don underwater, cramp removal, tired diver tows — and do you understand any of this because I felt as if I was choking on all the techniques and I hadn’t a clue what she said and . . . we were off in the water a second time.

Essentially what I learned was plenty: In layman terms, I learned how to clear water from my mask (fancy word for goggles) underwater in case water comes in naturally or the mask (in really unlucky situations) comes off entirely; I learned how to locate the thing I breathe out of (called a regulator) underwater in case it comes from my mouth and I learned how to share my alternate regulator with another person in case he or she ran out of air; I learned two ways to inflate my super-cool life jacket (or Buyouncy Control Device); I kinda learned how to control my buoyancy (so that I don’t float up or sink but hover perfectly in the middle) except this is a really — really really — hard skill and every time I tried it, my belly was smacking the bottom of the pool or I was falling forward while Anja was sitting — a sight of perfection — in the middle of the water watching ; and I learned what it felt like to be out of air due to Anja closing my tank (which isn’t as scary as it sounds — It would be equivalent to blowing up a balloon and feeling those last seconds of exhale, knowing you won’t have more air to give . . . except the air is coming from a tank and you feel it emptying so you should notify your buddy pronto and use his or her air to get to the surface).

Exhausted?  We were too after several hours in the pool with constant drills.

And it wasn’t over — We had to learn how to take apart our scuba gear because, up until now, Anja had taken apart and set up all of ours.

“Remember to close your air tank then release all air from your hoses and BCD” and so forth until her gear was in pieces around her.  “Now your turn,” she told us before stepping back to observe.  Slowly but surely, we all disassembled our gear.  “Great.  Now put it back together.”

This is where it got tricky.  I was confused, so full of information that I had no idea which way was up or down.  “Andrew?  Can we do it together?” I whispered.

“Sure,” he said so that at a snail’s pace we put our gear back together.

“Okay, that was great,” I told him.  “But you still heavily lead and I had no idea what I was doing.  Can we take it apart again and you let me start each step?”

“Sure,” he repeated and so we did . . . or tried to do.

“Stop!” he cried to me.

“What?!” I stepped back in alarm, dropping my hand which was opening my air canister.

“What did Anja just say?  What are you supposed to do to prevent glass from shattering into you or into me?”

I had no idea.  Suddenly my diving equipment seemed like a bomb.  I was scared to touch it.  And I told him this.

“Jesus, L.  Protect your gauge by covering it against your BCD!”

“Right,” I told him, moving to do as he ordered.  “I remember now.  Okay, so I protect myself by covering my gauge against my BCD.  Done.  Now . . . I am going to test the air in my canister . . . ”  SSSHHH-hhhuuurrr-SSSSHHHH-hhhhuuuurrrr-SSHH-hhuurr (That’s me breathing into my regulator.)  “Yep, it works!” I proudly proclaimed . . . only to see Andy’s hand hit his forehead.

“You’re a hazard to take out.  You know that, right?  You’re a hazard.  You’re going to get yourself killed.  I don’t know why you wanted to do this.  I don’t know why I let you learn to dive knowing you are going to get yourself killed.”  Clearly I screwed something up.  Again.

“L.  What did Anja just say?!”  I think he wanted me to fail because he kept asking me this question, which obviously if I knew, I would have done the step right the first time.  “LOOK at your pressure gauge while you are breathing to make sure the needle doesn’t move significantly because if it moves, that means something’s wrong with your air tank!”

“Oh.  Right, right.  I remember now.”  SSSHHH-hhhuuurrr-SSSSHHHH-hhhhuuuurrrr-SSHH-hhuurr.  “It’s fine!”  Andrew rolled his eyes.  And this went on and on until we finally set up our gear.

“Now check each other’s,” Anja told us, pointing at our gears.  “This is the Buddy Check.  Always do this.”

“Most definitely!”  I told her, knowing how much I screwed up the steps beforehand.  I was happy Andrew would check my gear.

“Wot?!” he questioned Anja with this heartbroken look in his eyes.  “She has to check me?!”  He was looking at me as if I was infected with a deadly virus.  “Can’t you just check me,” he pleaded with Anja before she, laughing, stepped away.

“Wait — Andy, why can’t I check you?  I’m your partner, I’m your buddy!” and I puffed myself up proudly, hands on hips.

“I know . . . ” he slumped.  “That’s what I’m scared of.  Now I have to help you set up your gear, then do mine, then check yours, allow you to mess up mine.  Then I have to recheck my gear because you’ll have messed it up!  Great, that’s just bloody great,” he huffed and moved to step up to my air tank.

“Andy!  I’m getting better at this!  We’ll be diving partners for life!  We can rely on each other!  We can — ”

“L.  You were already going to kill yourself.  Now you’re going to kill me too.  This is just bloody great.”

And that was the end of our pool training.

 

Day Five: First Debt Paid
Bright and early, we woke to the most calm seas I’ve ever witnessed.  The ocean appeared more an undisturbed lake of pastels.
IMG_0186This was welcomed news because I get seasick easily and today Andrew was going fishing.  Andy is a huge fisherman so at this point in the trip, I was paying my dues — dues as in the ones I had promised him when he was either not interested, terrified, or pressured into scuba diving with me.  “We can go fishing!” I begged.  “And we can see the sloths!  You wanted to see the sloths!”  I was desperate to get him diving so I threw out every trick in my bag, when in reality I tiptoe along the line of fishing being ethically wrong and the only animal in the world I am beyond-disgusted to look at is a sloth.  Yet, it worked — He went diving (and happened to love it) so now I was stuck on a three-hour fishing venture with plans of sloth-holding in the near future.  But people say relationships are about sacrifices, and this is what I remind myself as we stepped into the boat and glided across the water . . .
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In truth though, I was happy I went.  The view from the boat was incredible.  Because the sky was clear, we were able to see mainland Honduras in the distance, which Chris and Banks (the guys in charge) said was a way to judge if it will be a day of boating — that equates to an amazing day.

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The island of Roatan is about forty miles off the coast of the mainland.

All felt magical, as if we had stepped into one of van Gogh’s swirling paintings.

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Those pops of light turquoise would be be the sole ocean color were it not for lush seaweed growing in the sand, making the waters appear much darker.

IMG_0202IMG_0242IMG_0217When we first got into the boat, Chris and Banks asked if we wanted to keep any catch we pulled in.  Earlier, Andrew and I had talked about this, and if I remember correctly, that may have been the night we were having a pleasant sunset dinner by the ocean when I couldn’t stop sobbing about the amount of poor fish killed here, which translated into the poor skinny kittens that weren’t allowed to eat any fish, which then morphed into a massive ball of depression on how I did not know the rules on being able to fly the five kittens back to America to live with us.  Yes, I believe it was that night . . .  Anyway, while crying and hyperventilating, I somehow agreed that if we caught a fish, we should keep one because we would not have opportunities like this where we can literally catch-and-eat in a matter of hours.  So when Chris and Banks asked if we wanted to keep our catch, Andrew proudly told them yes, while I nodded full of sorrow.  “All I’m asking is for you to please dispatch of the fish quickly,” I had told Chris and Banks, “or I’ll be doomed to sit on the boat crying the rest of the time.”

“She’s being honest,” Andrew said with a heavy sighing.  “Trust me, we would all rather avoid that.”

And luckily we did.  Andrew did catch a fish, a barracuda . . .
IMG_0232and Chris did promptly take care of it.  (Thank you, Chris!)
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While we were on our way back to the resort, we saw this horrible scene: a boat billowing massive amounts of black smoke into the air.
IMG_0258IMG_0260IMG_0264Enter rant: I learned this is a Mayan Princess boat and that this is a normal scene.  What is frustrating (to say the least) is that Mayan Princess is one of the more successful resorts in Roatan, which equates to more money.  However, I’m told they never fix their boats, despite the fact that they take divers, fisherman, and others out more than daily.  If a resort is successful, yet doing nothing to correct a problem as apparent as this — that’s absurd.  Locals told me other boats owned by — surprise, another large resort named Infinity Bay — even leak oil into the water!
I originally posted this rant on TripAdvisor (and may do it again), but I pulled it after I got word that people were questioning those at Las Rocas, as if people there were trying to decrease Las Rocas’s business or whatever other stupid accusation.  Therefore, let me make this clear: This is my view captured on my camera, making it blatant that these two resorts are not environmentally-friendly.  What isn’t obvious is why they would be so foolish and irresponsible.  Harming the environment in such a way not only hurts locals’ businesses and livelihood, but it ruins the sole reason tourists come to the island or people move or stay there at all.
In conclusion, readers, if you plan to go to Roatan, do not support Mayan Princess or Infinity Bay.  They should be pushed to correct this issue.  Without rules governing boats in Honduras, tourists can take a stand and decrease booking at these two resorts.  In conclusion, thank you for being my sounding board.

Back to the end of our boating venture, once we returned Chris filleted the barracuda.
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Barracuda can be tricky when it comes to eating in certain months.  Locals say if the months end in “–ber,” do not eat the barracuda . . . unless it passes the edible test so we waited anxiously to see what would happen.

The edible test is when a small piece of the barracuda is placed in an area of ants.  If the ants swarm the fin, it is good.  However, if the ants steer clear of it, you shouldn’t eat the fish.  Apparently, the barracuda (and other large reef fish) contains ciguatoxin, which is produced from certain types of algae.  Little fish eat that algae then bigger fish eat those little ones so that once they are digested, the ciguatoxin-poison has seeped throughout the large fish’s body.  Harmless to fish, it is poisonous to people and can cause severe problems from prolonged nausea to paresthesia (tingling and numbness in nerves).  One person even told us of dogs dying after eating bad barracuda due to people leaving the fish on the ground after the edible test failed.  Looking back, maybe eating our catch wasn’t the smartest thing we’ve done in our lives . . . buuut we lived to tell the tale so no harm done, right?

In truth though, it rarely causes deaths in people and our barracuda was small (meaning it had not had a chance to consume several of the smaller ciguatoxin-filled fish).  Plus, the ants came out in droves, clinging to the fin, which meant — decision decided — we were going to eat it too.
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People told us the best way to have barracuda is to cover it in lime juice for a few hours then cook it simply with lime, salt, and pepper so while we were asking our resort’s chefs if they would do that, Chris reappeared by our side, urging us to return to the water because this fellow slid out from under the dock.
IMG_0321IMG_0307.JPGIMG_0308The beautiful moray eel was several feet long and apparently smelled the blood from our just-filleted fish.  Moray hesitatingly came out and wound itself around the boat’s idle propeller, hoping for scraps.
IMG_0303Anja later told us people are more prone to get too close to animals like turtles while scuba diving; however, they normally stay further back from eels.  While all wildlife shouldn’t be disturbed when diving, she admitted the turtle can cause more injury to people because its jaws are incredibly strong so it could bite through fingers if it felt provoked or trapped.  While eels are dangerous too, people mostly leave them alone because they are perceived as ugly creatures.
IMG_0315Andrew had his underwater camera with him and would pop it into the water, but Moray thought the camera was food so it would come from under the dock, ready to eat.
IMG_0318Soon though, Moray lost interest and, as quickly as he slid out from under the dock, he hid once more . . .
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Moray wasn’t the only one with plans though; we were to take on our second dive after our boating trek.  This meant completing another quiz before we were in the boat once more.  Shay and Michelle had previously scheduled an all-day boating trip so, like the first time we went out, Andy and I were the only ones diving with Anja.

Unlike the first trip though, Andrew was excited to get back in his diving gear to go underwater and for good reason — This dive was the best dive we would go on while in Roatan.  It had slightly better visibility at around eight-five percent, and we saw even more amazing aquatic life, such as a large sea turtle that was on the ocean floor before it gracefully swam towards the surface where the light was streaming in just right.  We also saw more lion fish in addition to barracuda and another large snapper that followed us.  The dive couldn’t have lasted long enough but, running lower on air, we returned to the surface, making Dive Two completed.

Loading back into the boat, we headed towards Roatan where Andrew and I strolled around the island until our most anticipated meal — our barracuda.
20171122_170931Soon, night was upon us so, while our barracuda was grilled, we watched as another vibrant sunset turned the ocean a deep plum.
20171122_173709.jpgAnd that barracuda?  It was the most delicious fish dish either of us has ever had.  Honest.
20171122_184639.jpgWe weren’t the only ones to enjoy it either.  Stuffed on the sizeable barracuda, we had one fillet left so we snuck portions of it under the table to the kittens who generously gobbled it up.  That night, it felt everyone went to sleep full, happy.

 

Day Six: Rain or Shine
The next day, we were greeted by our kittens, who seemed to thank us for their feast the night before.
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It’s safe to say by this time, Andrew and I had developed strong feelings for them as most of our conversations over food revolved around not how to transport them out of Honduras now but how our cat and dog would respond to the strays we flew home.

As if by a fated sign though, during our serious discussion the sky turned dark with an approaching storm.  Up until this point, we had lucked out because this was Honduras’s rainy season, however, we saw little rain (mostly early in the morning before we got out of bed so that the effects of the storm passed as the sun went up).  This was a different day though.  This was a day of typical rainy season weather.
2017_1119_091139_001.JPGLarge droplets fell as cold rain rushed in, but we needed to complete two more dives in order to make our certification for the shark dive the following day.  Michelle and Shay wanted that dive too so we all doned our wetsuits again (Andrew this time getting into his with ease).  This time, several divers joined us, though they were certified.

As the boat roared out to the Blue Cave, we hunkered down but found no reprieve from the rain.  Droplets felt like ice pelting against our skin so much so that it got to a point where I was comparing it to water torture in my head.  Not only that, but the waves were increasing and seemed angry, making the boat rock up before slapping down.  The combination of boat movement and my shivering made me feel seasick so I had to battle the urge to vomit in front of all on board.  It was a miserable ride out.  Miserable.  And these two pictures sum that up wonderfully.
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Anja quickly gathered the four of us in a huddle and explained what final techniques we needed to prove underwater.  Andrew and I had a total of four left, which seemed simple enough . . . except for the fact that nothing was simple in the cold . . . in the rain . . . while nauseous.

“Andy, L — You will get in and put on our BCD and weights in the water.”  That was Anja who told us the welcomed news of essentially getting into the water as quickly as possible.  True, this decreased the hazard of slipping on the boat in the rain, but it also meant the water was much warmer and we could get in faster.  “Once that is on, you’ll practice compass navigation first on top of the water.  Then you will do the drill again under the water.  Now is the time to focus,” she ended, warning that floating at the surface was dangerous and where we needed to be was underwater as soon as possible for protection.

“Right,” we said in unison before stepping into the water, no hesitation, with our compasses.

“L, I want you to go ten kicks to 120 degrees.  Andy, you will go ten kicks to 240 degrees.”  Off we went.  Anja had showed us how to use the compasses on land earlier so I felt confident in my skills.  Putting our snorkels in our mouths then placing our heads and compasses underwater, we began.

Okay, okay, I silently told myself.  You can do this.  Take it slow.  What I had learned earlier was to not rush compass navigation — one slight inaccurate degree could morph into a problem, mainly when diving for an extended time in unknown territory.  Keeping the compass as level as possible, I moved the lubber line, found North, set my compass, and began counting my kicks.  One, two, three until finally I reached ten.  Keeping my head underwater, I fixed my attention on my compass before rotating began to kick again, counting as I went.  . . . eight, nine, ten.  There, I should be at the boat! I told myself, proud I had seamlessly completed my first solo compass navigation . . . except when I looked up, the boat was a good twenty kicks away and I was at a strange diagonal off the bow.  Basically, I was not where I started and not where I should have been.  Great, just great, I told myself, angry that I failed and failed so visibly.  Meanwhile, Andrew was waiting at the boat ladder.

“How do you think you did?” Anja yelled against the rain and distance.

How was I supposed to answer that?  Clearly I messed up.  “Well.”  I hesitated unsure of how to answer.  “I mean, I’m not remotely where I should be.”

“Come back,” she shouted.  “Try again.”

Damn, damn, damn, I said to myself with each kick of my fin until I reached Anja.

“Now try twelve kicks to 220 degrees” and I was off a second time, hearing the divers hollering at me to hurry as they were about to freeze to death.

But I made it.  Not perfectly back to the same spot but within a kick or two.  “That was good enough.  Maybe not exact but that could be because of the waves and the boat moving,” Anja said before turning to Shay and Michelle and directing them into the water.  “Once everyone gets into their gear, gives the all-clear, and I am in the water, we will go under.  Do not wait on the surface for an extended time.  We are above a clearing where it is just sand below so if you reach the bottom before me, stay there and do not move.”  Anja’s voice was stern so we were quick to follow her directions.
24796521_10105062251788939_8716480917511965439_nDeflating my BCD, I sank with the others into the turquoise water.
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We were excited because both Shay and Andy brought their cameras!

Settling on the sand, I looked around.  We were about forty feet under and, while our visibility wasn’t as clear as our other dives (now about fifty-five percent due to the storm churning the water), it was still stunning.  Looking up, the rain  splattered on the surface of the water creating this sound of little chimes.  One aspect I love about diving is how quiet it is — All you hear is your breathing, deep and calm but what I found I loved more was hearing the rain underwater.  I could have stayed in that one spot for hours.

We had to move on though so Andrew and I navigated with a compass again (this time, we aced it) then we had to remove fully flood our masks (Better worded: We had to take our masks off to emulate them accidentally coming off underwater).   This drill was the one we least looked forward to as it required mind-games with yourself, telling yourself that you are okay and can still breathe even though you can feel water around your eyes and under your nose.

Next, Shay (on the left) and Michelle (on the right) were up completing their Dive One and Two techniques.
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With these out of the way, the four of us relaxed and swam after Anja, enjoying our dive.

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It appears darker in many of these pictures due to the fact that the sun was nowhere to be seen.

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Whether it was because we were underwater longer (completing the last two of separate dives) or because we saw numerous sea animals, this dive was incredible.  There were various fish . . .
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There are three blues in the middle.  Fun fact: Objects underwater not only appear closer than they really are, but they also lose their color.  The colors get lost, disappear in the same order they appear in the color spectrum with red going first.

a shrimp seeking protection inside a coral . . .NOVATEK CAMERAa large crab, a moray eel, and again more lion fish.  (Lion fish are not native to the area and are considered an invasive species because they have no predators.  Because of this, some locations [such as Honduras] hold lion fish competitions certain times of the year.  The competitions span from largest lion fish to smallest ones and so on.)

As we continued, the reef suddenly stopped, as if the edge of a cliff, before plummeting into deep blue.
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Anja motioned us on, despite the fact that — if we could talk — Andrew and I both would have probably preferred a pep talk before swimming over the edge of the reef and into deep, dark water.  But onward we went, moving both beside a reef and nothingness.NOVATEK CAMERANOVATEK CAMERA
Too soon though it was time to pass over the reef again and return to our sandy bit to finish the last of Andrew’s and my techniques.
NOVATEK CAMERAThat meant surface marker buoy deployment, or inflating a buoy underwater so that your boat can locate you if you end up farther than planned.  We also had to do our Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent (essentially where we pretend we no longer have air, no longer have a buddy to use his or her air, and have to get to the top of the water on one breath where we then have to inflate our BCDs manually to stay afloat at the surface).  I was excited about the last drill due to the fact that when we practiced in the pool, I aced it; Andrew used the air in his tank to inflate his BCD, causing Anja to immediately pull a release valve to let out all the air and yell at him about how he forgot the purpose of the drill was to show what he would do in a no-air situation.

Back to this dive: Andrew went first, inflating his vibrant buoy manually before releasing it to the surface.  It shot up into the air, making both him and I feel he had puffed enough air into it for the sucker to look like the image below and basically stand erect and noticeable.
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Then came his Controlled Emergency Swimming Ascent.  Shay, Michelle, and I were told to wait underwater until Anja returned so I watched him go up, one breath of air, releasing little bubbles the entire way, and I thought, Amazing job!  You’re doing great! only now to learn, bless his heart, he didn’t do so well.

Me: “Hey, Andrew.  Was your buoy fully inflated when you reached the surface?”

Him: “Nope.  It was limp, flaccid.  I had a poorly erected buoy.”  What he means is that while his buoy shot out of the water, once it reached the surface, its air disappeared and it lay flat, floating on the water.

Me: “Andrew, did you remember to manually inflate your BCD when you got to the top?”

Him: “You know I didn’t.  You fucking know I didn’t.”  Clearly, he’s still a little upset with himself and his errors.  But he survived — Anja pulled a release valve (again), letting out his BCD’s air, leaving him to manually blow it up.

Certification training done!  Amazing job, Andrew!
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Then it was my turn . . .
NOVATEK CAMERANOVATEK CAMERASad to say, I made the same daggon mistakes Andy did.  I started strong — puffing a massive amount of air into the surface marker buoy . . . only to have it fizzle out and be airless on the surface.  Then I screwed up the number one drill I was so happy at acing earlier — I forgot my no-air situation and inflated my BCD using the air from my tank.  “Nope,” Anja said, immediately releasing the air, causing me to sink again before realizing I needed to manually inflate it.  “Good,” she told me before setting back under the water for Shay and Michelle.

In the end though, we finally made it.  We, new fully certified divers!
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With our remarkable dive master, Anja

Full of excitement, Andrew and I went out for drinks and food to celebrate over lunch.
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Then, feeling beyond drained, we returned to our cabana as light rain fell once more.  There, we squeezed into our hammock, letting the warm breeze brush our skin until we were both asleep.
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Once we woke, we discussed the anticipated shark dive, scheduled for the next day,  and — in an anticlimactic decision realized we were exhausted from diving almost every day of our vacation.  So we changed our minds.  Just like that — No sharks, no reason to get certified, no reason to have worked tirelessly our entire trip.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go?” Andrew kept asking me, concern evident on his face.  I think he was worried I would regret our decision.

But in the end, it felt right.  True, I would have loved for us to have dived with sharks; that was the plan after all.  However, I feel we did something larger — We went on our first trip together somewhere new.  We not only learned how to scuba dive but also became certified divers.  That’s why, to us, missing this shark dive meant one thing: an opportunity for us to dive with sharks somewhere new in the future.

“Every trip we go on, let’s do something big,” I told him.  “Something challenging and new that is unique to the area.  Let’s do it together, each time, something new.”

So that’s what we plan on doing and, in a massively more relaxed state of mind, we settled back on the hammock and closed our eyes again.

 

Day Seven: Done, Debts Paid
Without the shark dive, an extra day opened before us and one last debt to be paid.  Hours-long fishing venture, check.  Now was the one he was really testing me on: Petting a sloth.

Anyone that knows me probably just did a deep inhale at the aspect of me petting a sloth.  For those that don’t, let me say here that I don’t care for the animal.  They are actually the only animal in this world I have no desire to pet, touch, look at, even get near.  They have Little Head Disease and these uber creepy smiles that never move with their unblinking piercing little black eyes.  Oh and their legs are even worse!  DOUBLE their body lengths and they stretch-streeetch-stretch their limbs out as if with a desire to slow-murder you due to their disgustingly long, thick nails.  Maybe they should have ears?  Or a tail?  Or something because they just seem this wiry slow-moving mass, which by the way, on principal you shouldn’t trust them: Never trust something without knees.  Mainly one that moves that slow.  I’m positive it is just faking and will absolutely rip faces off of living things.  And who, by the way, thought it would be a cool marketing ploy to make sloths the latest “thing”?  I imagine a group of people, determining what the Animal of the Year will be and Ed or someone over in the corner, nibbling his pencil’s eraser says, “You know what?  Sloths.  Sloths are our Animal of the Year” and then the rest of the group pauses, really thinks before saying, “Gosh darn it, Ed!  You’re brilliant!  Sloths it is!”  You cannot go into a store now without having sloth smiles on canvas bags or sloth faces on aprons or stuffed sloths because, well hell, I don’t know — just because.  I don’t get it.  First it was sheep then llamas if I remember correctly, though there were owls somewhere in there too, but now sloths?  I cannot imagine items selling fast with a sloth on the front.  Moral of the story: Don’t risk it.  There’s nothing redeeming about a sloth.

And I say all of this to return to the issue at hand: Andrew wanted to go to this animal sanctuary where you can pet and actually hold sloths.  Have I said already fishing and now this did not seem near equal to diving, a sport he ended up enjoying?  I think I got the crap-end of the bargain.  But again, relationships are about compromise and I was doing one heck of a compromise this day.

Alright, so we arrive at Sloth Land (which wasn’t actually called Sloth Land but Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Hangout).  The story goes it is owned by this guy who rescued animals, such as sloths.  He started taking in more and more and before he knew it, he needed additional help and money to support his cause so he opened his Sloth Land to the public, charging a small entry fee, and people can come in to cuddle the little beasts, among other things.  Good story.

The first beastie to see was the South American raccoon, a large animal only seen in this part of the world.  It enjoys digging in the sand to eat crabs and climbing trees.
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Next up were the dreaded sloths, which Andrew was so excited to see and hold.  “It was a life goal, genuine life goal!  Definitely Bucket List item!” he told me multiple times in excitement.
IMG_0400IMG_0408IMG_0410IMG_0407And then it was my turn . . .
IMG_0431IMG_0428IMG_0427In the end, it wasn’t that bad.  I’m an animal lover through and through . . . buuut I’m not going to go as far as to say sloths are actually cute because, be honest with yourself, they aren’t.  However, they were squishy and helpless and delicate and that it made it hard to not cuddle them and smile.  This female sloth absolutely loved holding onto me too — I think she could feel my heart pounding against her and that made her feel comfortable.

Facts about sloths: Sloths have super long, strong nails, as you see below.  They use these to hang off of branches (or in this case, off of people’s shoulders or necks).
IMG_0432IMG_0419In sad news though, we were told people actually cut sloths’ nails, whether because they want to have the sloths as pets or because the people are simply cruel.   Either way, when sloths’ nails are cut, this essentially kills them because they cannot climb for protection or food.  They end up being forced to stay in one spot, on the ground, unable to fend for themselves until they die.  That really upset me that people can be so callous and ignorant . . . so we should talk about other sloth facts, such sloths’ favorite food.  They absolutely adore hibiscus flowers.  Next crazy fact: Sloths’ food digestion is extremely slow (surprise, surprise) so much so that they pee once a week!

Right, on that happy note, let’s move to the monkeys!  There were two different types of monkeys: capuchin and spider monkeys.  Let’s start with the capuchins, which are common pets in Honduras, equal to owning a dog in America.
IMG_0386IMG_0385There were a few in this enclosure, all of which fly onto your head then leap off as quickly as they arrive.
20171124_170449IMG_0369IMG_037120171124_11193020171124_112207-1When they jump onto you, they give no warning so it is quite a surprise to not only feel them land but feel how they secure themselves, as Andrew found.
IMG_0392IMG_0381Their attention was also diverted within seconds.  One millisecond, they are focusing on eating sunflower seeds . . . the next, flying to your head . . . a second later, investigating your camera.

All in all, the best word to describe them is “bouncing” as that is what they did physically and, it seemed, mentally too.  Beside them were other monkeys, the spiders monkeys. . .20171124_113608

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Spider monkeys are known to imprint, or form strong bonds.  This particular monkey, named Tony, imprinted on the owner of the sanctuary.  No one is allowed to go into the spider monkey enclosure because Tony will get extremely upset . . . well, no one except the owner.  The owner also has to go into Tony’s home alone or else Tony gets highly jealous and won’t let the owner go.

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Fun fact: Spider monkeys have four fingers and that’s because their fifth finger, their thumb, is located on the bottom of their tail!

Next were the birds, which I was over-the-moon to see!  I adore birds and have wanted a green cheek conure.  Birds are highly intelligent.  In fact, green cheeks can taught loads of tricks.
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Speaking of being super intelligent, enter the macaws.
IMG_0455They know how to take off the lock on their enclosure.  The only thing is they didn’t seem to have a desire to leave but instead wanted to prove they could go.  Those that worked there said the sanctuary provides protection and a steady food and water supply so, even if the animals get out, they mostly always return.

IMG_0453These guys were obviously larger and therefore more heavy so when landing on you, you feel it.20171124_114425-1IMG_0447IMG_044920171124_114238
Overall, I was happy I went.  True, it didn’t equate to a shark dive but to see Andrew elated at the mere opportunity to hold the animals — that was worth it to me.

Sometimes life is about compromises.  And sometimes those compromises aren’t so bad.

 

Day Eight: A Day of Goodbyes
Our flight was set to take off in the afternoon, which meant we had time to eat one final Spanish breakfast and embrace our last few hours.  Walking to the dock, we watched as the gentle waves moved towards the shore and soon, hours passed within minutes and it was time to go.
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Just like that, it was time to load our bags into the resort’s transfer vehicle and head to the airport.  Dodging massive potholes, we wound around the roadway into the bustling heart of Roatan.
IMG_0574IMG_0579IMG_0573IMG_0575There are no speed limits in Roatan so vehicles and motorcycles whip around so fast it makes it feel others are standing still.
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Soon, we were boarding our plane to Miami and, before we knew it, Roatan disappeared under us.
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I am so proud of this image: Not only are there whisps of white from motorboats swirling around Florida’s border, but seeing the tip of the East Coast all the way up until it vanishes into the horizon both made me feel both small and strong.

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So our first travel-somewhere-new-for-the-first-time ends here when we left Roatan feeling the same way we arrived: surprised at the pure beauty and magic the small island possesses.  In truth I feel enchanted, still finding myself waking weeks later with a sort of loss for the simple but not simple things: starting our day with a Spanish breakfast, seeing Anja, or witnessing the secrets inside our oceans.  This loss is a feeling I haven’t had anywhere before.

And I think that says something.

Andrew and I only saw a glimmer of what Roatan has to offer, of what Honduras has to offer.  That’s why this country is many things — mysterious, mystical, overlooked, improving, building, starting.   And maybe that’s the point.  There is not one way to describe this nation.  Honduras is multitudes of whatever it is you want to see.  So that in the end, the way I believe Honduras’s one word is mostly misunderstood.

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