Utila Travel Report May 2006

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The Chatham's grand 2006 expedition to Utila began on April 23rd with our arrival in Roatan. There we boarded an Atlantic Air flight to Utila for the long (15 minute) flight to Utila. Arrival was at the nice paved airstrip (no buildings) and all baggage was sitting there on the ramp where it had arrived on an earlier flight. Atlantic Air provides transport to match the Continental's Saturday flights from the states, but don't believe the scheduled departure times. They apparently schedule flights according to the number of reservations and your actual departure time may vary several hours from any published numbers. We arrived in Roatan with a large group of folks bound for some of the resorts on the island and Atlantic sent several flights to haul us all over. We went on a later flight and apparently our baggage preceded us.

Click on Pictures for a Larger Image

Transport was waiting for us upon arrival and we quickly learned about the transportation around the island. For the 10 days we were there I never saw a car. Small pickups, 4 wheelers, golf carts, motorcycles, scooters, and bicycles rule on Utila.
You might hear a terrible racket and see a motor scooter or a small pickup truck going down the street with a number of 20 foot pieces of rebar tied to the rear and dragging along behind. I even observed this method used to haul 20' pieces of PVC pipe behind a bicycle!
There are two main streets, the one going about 2 miles through the center of town and the one going across the island to the "new" airport. They are paved, but very narrow. We learned you best be careful when walking down the street for you never know when walking down the street when you might meet a couple local kids doing wheelies on their bicycles.

Motor scooters are a favorite form of transportation on the island and we saw up to four people riding on one at the same time!! Dad driving with junior in front of him, mom on back with the baby sandwiched between parents.

Looked pretty unusual for us, but it seemed to work down there. Bicycles, scooters, and others are available for rent, but we chose walking as our preferred means of transportation. Taxi service is available if you need it and the prices are quite reasonable.

One of the greatest things we found on Utila was the friendliness of the locals. Everyone there was very friendly to us, and I hope they thought we had reciprocated in kind.

There was a domino game going on in the street in front of our hotel where we saw a variety of folk gathered every evening. This was a popular and fun attraction. I didn't participate, but I did enjoy watching the fun quite a bit.

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Accommodations

We chose to stay at Cross Creek Dive Center and thoroughly enjoyed our stay. The entire staff worked hard to try to make us comfortable. We stayed in a "cabana" on the creek. It was accessible by a raised walk over the tidal area at the rear of the resort area where we could watch the boats coming and going from our back porch. Our comfortable air conditioned accommodations were $28 per night and included private bath, small fridge, two queen sized beds, and TV. Other regular rooms for divers run from $4 per person (non-A/C) to $16 per room (A/C) - Rooms for non-divers were slightly more.
Regardless of the water surrounding our cabana, there were few problems with bugs here. Probably had something to do with the thousands of little fiddler crabs that covered the ground when the tide was out, or perhaps it was a fortunate wind direction while we were there.

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Cross Creek Dive Center

I enjoyed diving with Cross Creek and Utila Dive Center. Their boats "Tristan" and "Ulysses" are 36' - 40' inboard diesel powered boats that are comfortable and safe and are used for the trips to the north reef. The "Octopussy" shown here is a smaller boat used for closer dives to the southern reef. It is also well equipped, but certainly not of the same capability as the other two. On the trips I took on it we returned to the dive center between dives.
Although there were up to twenty people on my dive trips, this was certainly not a "cattle boat" operation. They used several dive leaders and split the divers up into smaller groups so you were never crowded into a huge bunch. I actually dove with the same divemaster the whole trip and got to know Jon pretty well. He was great. For many of my dives I ended up with just myself and Jon, and never had over four persons with a divemaster. Divers were carefully logged on and off the boat each time before the boat moved. Made you feel secure knowing these folks were not going to leave you to have to swim to shore when you returned a few minutes later than the others from a dive.
There were a number of divemaster students here that helped out with everyday chores around the center. Here's a couple hard working advanced students relaxing in front of the "Divemaster House"

I was only there for fun diving, but it appeared from what I saw that this would be a great place for someone to study for anything from open water to their divemaster certifications. Prices are reasonable, the surroundings are great, and the school is a good, safe and professionally run operation.

You saw a lot of smiles around here, and that was even when the power for Utila was going off daily. Cross Creek has it's own emergency generator which is more that most folks had, but that too went off once while we were there.

The dive boats were setup very conveniently with benches all around and storage beneath for gear. Tank holders built into the seats made it easy to set up and get into gear with water entry platforms at the rear and for the sun worshipers there is a deck on top of the cabin. These are really nicely arranged dive boats that are very comfortable to use!
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Food and Shopping

No trip would be enjoyable without good food, and we found plenty of it in Utila. There are a number of small restaurants and sidewalk cafe's throughout Utila town and the prices are very reasonable. We found the food to be quite good. Menu's tended to vary from day to day depending on the local catch and what had arrived today on the ferry.
Just a couple minutes walk down from Cross Creek is the Mermaid Buffet. Actually it is a cafeteria style restaurant and has an air conditioned dining room in the rear that we found to be a very welcome addition. It offers quick selections including some oriental dishes. We ate there several times. Sort of like fast food Caribbean style.

Big Mama's Cafe was located right across the street from Cross Creek and next door was the 7 Seas Restaurant. As you can see from this menu selection a sandwich runs from 30 to 50 Emporia ($1.75 to $3.00 US) and other food was comparable. Most of the restaurants were small cafe's or "sidewalk restaurants" and had limited menus of quite good food. A full breakfast was about $4.00 US. These two were popular spots with the folks staying at Cross Creek, and for good reason.
In the evenings there were other dining options including Dave's restaurant right at Cross creek and RJ's just down the street. Dave's was open 5 evenings a week and seemed to specialize in pork and chicken while RJ's specialty was grilled seafood. We especially enjoyed that as you can see below.
On the first visit we discovered RJ had lobster. These were not just lobster, but huge 12oz lobster tails that he grilled to perfection on that charcoal grill. While I had a delicious grouper filet, Carol enjoyed more lobster than she could eat. The price was 220 L (about $12 US) for her and 90 L (about $5) for me. They were both delicious!! We went back every night he was open and never had anything that was less than great.

Look at the size of that lobster tail! This was really great food in a unique setting. Nothing fancy, just really good food and pleasant people to share it with and that's what I really enjoy.

My wife hardly know where to begin with that big lobster. Ate part here and took the rest back and kept it in the fridge in the room to enjoy the next day.

If your primary interest is shopping, then Utila might not be your favorite Caribbean dive location. There are some souvenir shops, but they are a bit scarce. However, there are some lovely places for charm that you will find are really neat. The Jade Seahorse is one of these. It is a whimsical cafe/bar that includes quaint cabins and the grounds are something you should not miss. Decorated with glass and bottles of every kind you can imagine it is a lovely place.
While I was there I got a chance to tour the Utila Aggressor. We dove near it several times on this trip and so it was very nice to get to go aboard and actually see it. Appeared to be very well set up for great diving vacations. Wish I had time to go out with them as the crew was great to us and it sure looked like a lot of fun to me.
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