The Caribbean Jewel
The Meso American Barrier Reef, also known as the Great Mayan Reef, stretches along the tip of the Yucatan Peninsula down to the Bay Islands of Honduras in the Caribbean Ocean, covering a distance of 1000 kilometres making it the second largest barrier reef in the world. Not only its size, but also its occupants make this reef extraordinary beautiful: besides numerous species of fish, sharks, and stony coral, you can find crocodiles, Nassau groupers, 4 species of sea turtles, manatees (one of the world’s largest populations), and…last but not least: whale sharks. Obviously, this makes for a mermaid’s paradise, and I obeyed the sirens’ calling.
But getting there – if you are travelling on a budget that is – requires an overland crossing through Honduras that, at times, seems bordering on suicidal.
A history of corruption, crime, military rule and poverty has rendered the country one of the most unstable in the region, if not the world. Because of countless armed hijackings by rebels (reminiscent of Colombian gangsters and Mexican cartels) even the standard local buses have guards on board carrying AK’s and do not stop anywhere until they reach their destination.
Seeing a burning car wreck on the side of the road in broad daylight, flanked by two body bags lying underneath a billboard promoting the local beer brand ironically named ‘ Salva Vida’ (meaning Lifesaver in Spanish) was an apt symbolization of the lawlessness of this country. Hearing gun shots outside your hostel was a common occurrence in some places, not to mention stories of travellers being kidnapped, robbed and raped. Why on earth expose yourself to such danger? World class diving in a pristine piece of paradise, at a ridiculously low cost.
When you make it onto the ferry crossing from the mainland to the Caribbean Islands – Roatan and Utila – a whole different world awaits you. Imagine palm trees, turquoise warm water, the sound of steel drums and more rum than even a pirate could drink. Welcome to the Caribbean, man. The island still remains a modern day pirate hideout, providing a licentious lifestyle of diving, drinking, dancing and (skinny) dipping. The only drawback? Not a surfable wave in sight.
Diving with sea turtles every day, chasing eagle rays, being surrounded by huge schools of Dory’s or having a pod of wild dolphins swim by so close you could touch them are unforgettable experiences you can have here, and at cut-rate prices. And, for the bold ones out there, numerous sunken shipwrecks still sit on the sea floor, possibly hiding treasure chests full of pirate gold. What is the reason so many treasures have remained hidden? Well, who needs gold when you have sunshine, coconuts, good music, sexy dancing and gallons of rum? Seems like people here have life figured out.
For any avid diver looking for some stunning diving, I recommend you make the journey: the reward will be worth more than gold. And even if this reef has endured the ‘common’ threats of bleaching, agricultural runoffs, pollution, over-fishing, fleshy micro-algae and the arrival of the lion fish, its resilience is astounding. Suffering immensely from the global bleaching event in 1996, a huge portion of the reef has bounced back surprisingly, partly due to grassroots movements trying to unite fishermen, scientists, environmentalists and local people to restore and conserve the reef.
Go and see for yourself, but be careful: a pirate’s hideout is hard to escape.
**All the pics were taken in Honduras by Dominic D’Urso,