I wake up with a raging hangover.. No that’s a lie. I’m still relatively drunk. And actually, for once, Cynthia’s alarm clock wakes me up.
It’s 8 a.m. she says, if you wanted to go diving.
Dammit, I say, and roll out of bed, strapping on a wet swimsuit. I silently curse my decision to begin my advanced certification course right away. I’m starting this morning with Monty.
When I get to the dive shop, everyone’s already there, ready and rowdy. I trudge.
We’ve grabbed your gear already, Monty says. Except your fins.
Great, I say, trudging into the store. I feel like pure ass.
When we load onto the boat, John candidly asks me how I am.
Oh Jesus, I say, You were there. How do you think I am?
He laughs. No worries, when you start breathing from the tank, you’ll feel better instantly.
Don’t worry, I say. I had the MOTHER of hangovers in Nicaragua and as soon as I hit the surf with my board, a few splashes of salt water. Kills the hangover.
The dive, I find out, is 110 feet into a ship wreck. The boat had sunk years ago, and in 2002, a hurricane had ripped through, thrashing the boat around. When it landed again, it had been corkscrewed, broken into 3. The stern now lay on its side, separated from the mid section and the bow.
We would dive around the stern, Monty says, for 11 minutes. We have 15 minutes total to be at that depth before our nitrogen levels would max out. We would have to do a multi-level dive and rise up along the naturally upward sloping coral.
I had thought the descent would be scary, but it was slow, smooth and easy. Continually equalizing you didn’t even notice the drop.
John told me there was a possibility that I would get hit with nitrogen narcosis, the martini effect, he said. Every 50 feet you go down, it’s like having 1 dry martini on an empty stomach.
Don’t worry, John, I said. I have martinis all the time and I operate great. I can still kick ass at Word Up completely wasted.
Likely because the water is so warm and clear 108 is a breeze. As we descend, we can even feel air bubbles coming up from below.
The ship wreck is the coolest (and only) that I’ve seen, massive and covered in a rusty, copper color. There is coral now growing out of various parts of it and groupers swim around angrily. It reminds me of a video game I once played depicting a sunken ship, although I don’t know which one. At the top of the helm, there is a huge moray eel living under a makeshift cave.
There are seven of us total in our diving group, a couple, two guys, me and our instructor/trainee team: Monty and John.
When we are down at the100 ft + mark, one of the guys begins to swim away from the group. Monty had warned that because there were many diving groups down there, we should take warning to stay close to our buddies and groups so that we wouldn’t accidentally follow another one. And since everyone pretty much looks like same underwater–covered in black exposure suits–it wouldn’t be difficult to go astray.
John pulls back a little bit, assuming the diver hover–suspended in mid-water with his legs crossed–keeping an eye on the two guys. One of them is slightly more conservative and trails Monty’s lead keeping on eye on his friend.
Behind his mask, John looks irritated. He rubs his two index fingers together to signal that they should swim right next to each other. The guys pay no attention. In fact, the one swims farther away to examine some hole in the floor of the wreck some 20 feet away.
John taps me and takes out his regulator. Assholes! He mouths over.
The 11 minutes we spend down there passes quickly and within the first 20 minutes of our multi-level dive, the two boys and the woman are low on air (at 750 or fewer PSI). John signals for me to join Monty’s group and takes the others up for a 3 minute safety stop.
The remaining three of us swim around the coral, slowly ascending from 80 feet to 60, then to 40. The coral is crawling with incredible life. When we surface, we have hit a bottom time of 52 minutes, and I have 800 PSI still left in my tank.
Unfortunately, when we surface as well, the boat is now gone.
It went to go pick up the other group of divers, Monty says. Dammit, why can’t they be like normal divers and just swim to the boat?
The three of us coast. You can’t complain about the view… a sunny day in Roatan, floating by the buoyancy of your BCD, moving with the Caribbean waves, amid a backdrop of a lush, tropical island.
Monty and his girlfriend have been living here for months, he says, and they pay $300 a month for rent. The hospitals are crap, though, he adds, but otherwise, the island is pretty self-sufficient. The West End/West Bay area can get a bit pricey, but if you do your grocery shopping out in Coxen Hole, it’s much more reasonable.
I contemplate living life out here… on a perfect island less the sand flies and mosquitoes that have eaten my legs alive, and then I feel a familiar warmth followed by a shock.
Oh, shit, I say. I think the swells have brought in jellyfish. I’m pretty sure I just got stung. Dammit, Dammit, Dammit, I hate those things. And all of a sudden, the swells that I had so wonderfully enjoyed are now my enemies, bringing in jellies with the cold water. I curl up into a ball, trying to lie like a dying bug, with limbs facing upward, BCD down. I curse myself for not getting a full exposure suit instead of a shorty.
When the boat arrives, I am the first to thrash out for the ladder. Get me the hell out of the water, I think. When I check out my legs, I see a wavy burn, about 2.5/3 inches long on the back of right leg.
Yep, you got stung, said Monty. There’s vinegar in the shop that you can put on it.
Our boat heads back to shore, where it’s time to change tanks. I run into the shop to ask PJ for some vinegar.
He hands me the bottle, sitting in a basket filled with sunscreen, bug juice and other goodies. Take it outside and put it on though, he says. We don’t want the shop to smell like shit.
We head back to Bikini Bottom now to test out peak performance buoyancies – PPB’s. I’ve been having some trouble with this neutral buoyancy thing. It seemed whenever I hit the water, I was either going up or going down, never just hovering perfectly still.
Monty sets up hula hoops all around the sandy bottom and demonstrates a swim through with perfect grace. There will be underwater caves and such that these hoops are simulating, he explains, and you’ll have to get through without thrashing your arms about.
After we “attain” our neutral buoyancies with fin pivots, I am the first to follow Monty through a hoop. Just as he had, I hover horizontally in front of the hoop, trying to judge how long I should begin my entry. Then I go for the swim through, and when I look back the hoop is nowhere to be seen.
What the hell? I think, looking up and down, and then Monty is next to me, pulling off the hoop that is stuck to my tank. Dammit, I fail, I think to myself, heading to the next hoop.
And it goes like that for half an hour, swimming through hoops, until I figure out to tuck in my gauges closer to my body and trust enough that if I let my arms drop to my sides, I will not sink. I manage to get through one hoop, then two, until I feel more confident that I can actually do this.
Monty checks that we are properly weighted by our diver hover, and then we are free to explore the coral at Bikini Bottom.
I have never seen since brilliant colors underwater in my life, and it feels as though the fish don’t even notice that you are not a natural part of their ecosystem. The swim above, below and all around you. It’s not until you stir the current that they dart–as a group– in another direction. I am wishing that I brought my camera along for the ride.
We are back to shore by 1:30 and the diving is done for the day. I head back to the room and grab a shower, readying myself to meet Jason at the Beach House to grab some lunch. I am catching up with Cynthia and Gemma, who are preparing for their afternoon dive when there is a knock on the door and two young girls peer through the glass.
The one girl had come by yesterday asking if we wanted massages or our hair braided. Remembering the awesome massage I had gotten in Nica, I said maybe to a massage, but no, not today because we are about to go diving. Come back tomorrow, I had said. Who knew that they would actually come back the next day at a time I was home.
Feeling guilty, in particular because they both looked so incredibly young and one was about 7 months pregnant, I felt obligated to honor my word, and let them in.
Are you ready, they asked, except now their rates had changed. Yesterday, they had told me $10 for an hour. Now the going rate seemed to be $30 an hour. No, that’s not what you told me, I said.
Half an hour then, I say. Okay, $10 for half an hour.
Gemma looks at me. How does that bloody make sense? $10 for half an hour and $30 for an hour.
I reluctantly say okay, still feeling my American guilt, and they tell me to strip down.
Awkward, I think, particularly since Cyn and Gemma are still in the room, but here are the girls waiting, so I reluctantly pull off my shorts and shirt.
Sorry girls, I say.
Ah, no worries. Then I look at the girls again. This too, one says, tugging at my sports bra.
Oh crap, I think, and apologize again, pulling that off and plopping facedown into the bed.
What follows thereafter is perhaps the most peculiar massage I have ever received in my life. They squeeze baby oil all over my naked backside. Then, while on girl literally runs her palm up and down my back, a “rub” I suppose, the pregnant girl is behind me, lifting one leg over her pregnant belly and rubbing the backs of my legs. Whoa there, I think, getting a little too close to the crotch.
I half think that when Gemma and Cynthia leave the room, these girls are going to drug me and steal all our valuables. I am thankful that both have another 20 minutes or so before their dive.
I am mostly relieved when the half an hour is up. I have been mostly uncomfortable the entire time and thank God that I didn’t get an hour of this nonsense. I pay them their 200 lempiras and shoo them out. Good riddance.
I quickly redress over my baby oiled body, now starving and walk over to the Beach House to see if Jason is still there. I find him sitting in the hammock, finishing up his book, Drink, Play Fuck. There’s some leftover stirfry there if you want it, he says.
My best friend Doug is outside in a couple of minutes, however. Heeeey! He slurs and I instantly know that he’s drunk again. When he edges closer, the familiar smell of rum and vodka reek from his pores.
What’s good today, my friend, I ask, and Doug describes how he’s just got a fresh order of snapper and lobster from the sea. I can make you a whooole fish and a lobster tail, with some rice and vegetables, he says.
How much will that cost me, I ask.
Hmm, I say. 200 lempiras. I don’t know. Can I just have half of that order?
What, he says, you can’t spend 10 bucks on lunch?
No, I say, I don’t think I can finish an entire fish and lobster.
Doug agrees to share lunch with me and knock off some of the price perhaps. He goes back inside and reappears later, holding up a fresh fish in one hand, and a lobster tail that looks like it’s been freshly ripped off its owner, in the other.
You can tell the fish is fresh because its eyes are clear, he says. If it’s been frozen or kept a long time, the eyes get cloudy. Then pointing at the lobster tail with tufts of bright meat exploding from the red shell, he adds that you can the lobster is fresh because the meat is still bright white.
Daniel, who had been ready to smoke a splif, is sent to the kitchen to cook the meal. Add some rice and vegetables to it, Doug says.
Then he turns to me.
My cooks didn’t show up this morning, he says. I’ve been up since six a.m. I haven’t sat down all day. I’ve had to bring in customers, be a waiter and a cook. I’m only ONE man! I haven’t had any time to sit down or eat.
Apparently he also had found plenty of time to squeeze in a few cocktails in there,
Since food is slow to cook in this country, and particularly on this island, I find time to run back to Coconut Tree Divers to get my dive book filled out. When I am back, I catch a glimpse of Daniel in the kitchen finishing up my fish and lobster.
He calls to Doug, who has long since disappeared, saying that the plate is ready. And it did not disappoint. The entire fish, fried to crispy perfection. The lobster is still gleaming white, presented with a perfectly shaped heap of rice and tropically colored vegetables on platter that is the size of something you would put on a thanksgiving day table.
When I go to snap a picture, Doug stops me. No wait! He says, dashing back into his room, returning with a bright red tropical flower. He places the flower delicately along the rice and gleams proudly. Nooow, go ahead.
When I am finished snapping, he places the flower in my ear and grabs another set of silverware for himself and dousing my rice in some strange ‘multi-spice seasoning fluid.”
It’s soy sauce, his explains.
It sure doesn’t look like soy sauce, but I forgive him because he looks even drunker than before.
Thanks for reminding me to eat, he says, digging into the delicate fish, breaking its bones. I haven’t sat down since 6 o’clock.
I somehow feel as though he has sat down next to me at least three times since I’ve arrived, but I’m too busy eating to care. He eats about three bites, drops his knife and the floor, and then leaves. Oh Jesus, I think.
I call back to Doug, Where’s the vodka in my orange juice? I am almost kidding, but half an hour later he returns with a bottle of what looks like the cheapest bottle of vodka you can pick up at the convenience store. He replaces my goblet of orange juice with his own dangerous liquid concoction. I’ve never known bad vodka to destroy the taste of orange juice quite so delicious. If he’s been drinking these suckers all day, no wonder he’s so hammered all the time.
Even though I had told Doug I wouldn’t be able to eat an entire fish and lobster tail, I destroyed everything on the plate. Literally. Everything. Even the flower looked limp when I was done.
I pull out my computer to write for a bit and before I know it, there is a strange ringing sound emitting from the speakers. What the… I think to myself and suddenly I realize it’s my Skype. Yeye’s calling.
Doug and I try unsuccessfully to communicate with her for a good thirty minutes, but each time that we think that we just maaay have found a connection, the line goes silent and she is gone again. I try four times to tell her about my fish and lobster. Utter failure.
Jason returns to the Beach House several times over the time that I am there. I’m not quite so certain where he wanders back and forth from, but it seems he has still not quite figured out whether the ferry from Roatan to La Ceiba will or will not run.
While I still have somewhat of an internet connection, I call the number the ferry company has listed.
Alo? The voice says over the speakers.
Yes, is there a ferry tomorrow? I ask repeatedly.
There are crackles in the speakers and then the line goes dead. I have no idea what’s going on.
Doug, I call out, is there a ferry tomorrow?
Yea, I think so.
Ok.. Daniel! Is there a ferry tomorrow?
I don’t know. Maybe.
All right, well, I guess it’s settled.
Jason wanders back to our hotel so he can pack up his things, and Doug goes back to playing his three favorite songs on repeat again and again: African Queen, Shaggy “Angel” and you’re so beautiful.
Doug, I think you only like three songs. Can we PLEASE play something else?
Doug goes to change the music and returns with a garifuna who stands in the corridor waiting for something.
Do you want to settle out now, Doug says to me. In the corridor, the rasta looking man looks impatient. 300 lemps, he adds.
Even with my buzz, I’m marginally irritated. He had told me 200 lemps and now the price had gone up because he owed this dude 300 lemps, no doubt. But then you figure in an OJ and 2 screwdrivers.. and yea, even 300 lemps seems like a good deal.
I am writing for two hours when I look up and realize that we have missed yet another opportunity to see our sunset in the West Bay. I look up and start snapping pictures of the sunset to dusk before me at West End.
‘There’s every color of the rainbow here right now” Doug says to me. He had been lying in a hammock for the past hour or two, slapping Daniel and anyone else who dared approaching, screaming at them to “leave me alone for JUST AN HOUR!” He manages to pop up out of his fetal position to lower one of the umbrellas on the porch.
The music from one of his song dwindles and before it can roll into the next one, we listen to the sound of tiny waves lapping at the sand.
Can we play your favorite songs again?
I have a lot of favorite songs, but I know which ones you’re talking about. He runs to the back and suddenly African Queen begins to blast again from the speakers.
I had emailed Omega Tours earlier in the day to reschedule my river walk. I saw now, in the dusk, that they had emailed me back. Sorry, they said, they would love to help but the ferry was not running tomorrow. Enjoy the parties tonight.
Shit, I think, I have to tell Jason. He had planned to take the first ferry back to La Ceiba to catch a bus or taxi to San Pedro Sula. That would undoubtedly crap out his plans.
Ah, but the big goblet of vodka orange sitting in front of me. I couldn’t let that go to waste. Hastily, I take a few gulps.
Settling up, I gather my things and walk back to the cabins to tell Jason that he plans have been shot to hell.
Shit, he says when I tell Jason the news, are you serious? But you told me we were good.
How would I know any better than you? I say. You were there when we asked Doug and Daniel if there was a ferry and they said yes. I just believed what they said.
Christ, I think. Don’t pass the blame to me.
Oh my God, he says. I don’t believe this.
His face, which is already slightly sun bright and glowing red, gets even redder. Well shit, what am I going to do? Can I borrow your computer?
There’s the internet café down the street. You can use it, but go down there. Their internet is really fast. I would just get it sorted out.
Argh, he says, reaching for my computer and charges out the door.
I am irritated. Is it my responsibility to take care of your shit? I say outloud to Cyn and Gemma.
They look at each other and shrug. NOT GETTING INVOLVED.
Ok, I’ll shut up and stop, I say. Just ignore me for me a minute. I need to get over my stupid temper tantrums.
We had all decided to dress up that night. I had tucked a frilly gold and black dress into the bottom of my suitcase where the pressure and weight of all my other belongings would surely act as a Eurovac and push out all the air that hid in the poufs. Cynthia had her black dress, adorned with silver sparkles, and Gemma was rummaging through her things trying to find an adequately dressy outfit to wear with her heels.
Jason returns an hour later saying that he had found out of Roatan to Ceiba with Taca. It’s like $100 though, he adds.
Oh good, we say. Glad you found a way off.
Yea, he says. It just sucks, you know. I planned on taking the ferry.
For the love of God, it’s New Year’s Eve. Just get on with it.
Did you book it? Gemma asks
No, not yet. I have to go back.
No, not yet. I have to go back.
I am irritated again. Jesus, you found a solution. Just get it over with and enjoy the rest of the night. Most of us (myself probably the most..) manage to fuck ourselves over at some point in time while traveling. No need to dwell if it didn’t go exactly your way.
Well, I’d like to lock my computer back up when you’re finished, I say. I can feel myself turning bratty. Ack, Lisa, stop.
But, our little cabin has become the hangout spot for our little group, as well as some of the trainees from Coconut Tree. No need to have computers thrown about or lost in the afterhours of New Year’s debauchery.
Jason leaves again, we assume to finally get his shit sorted, and with Gemma and Cyn dying to eat, we all collectively decide to head out as well.
Sundowners is our first stop, a usual for the diver masters and instructors at Coconut Tree. Monty had mentioned when we had first arrived that “everyone started drinking on the Coconut Tree porch at 4:30 (cheapest beers in town! He said) and then headed to Sundowners. We had been to Sundowners twice before and neither time had we ever seen anyone with a recognizable face. Then again, we had only stopped in for a minute each time because the bar was always full.
Our group, sans Jason, sit around a big round table in the center of the dirt “restaurant” portion of the bar. Port Royal and Salva Vidas all around until in the corner of our eye, we see Bisch and his buddy by the bar. Bisssch! We scream, and then John appears. It is time for the first round of shots of the night.
Someone decides that jagerbombs are the call of the night and everyone seems to be in unison until the bartender informs us that no, there is no Red Bull here. Then Bisch says the unimaginable: just jager then!
Nooo, I retort. Tequila.
Bisch starts counting out shots.. 1..2..3.. Ok.. 8 shots. Half jager, half tequila.
I can still feel the goblets of vodka oj’s that I’ve consumed and the thought of either makes me want to hurl.
No, no, 10 shots. Half jager, half tequila. He begins to throw hundies (of lemps) on the table. Ok, I’ll throw in 3. And then there are a few more hundies thrown out. A 10 dollar US bill. And somewhere in the mish mash, we have the 1000 lempiras on the table for our shots.
I decide that tequila is the lesser of two evils, but my original instinct of being sick is partially correct and I have to take my shot in 2 gos.
There is some more chit chat by the bar, and John informs us, three times it must have been, that he does not date anyone younger than his kids, the youngest of whom is 28.
We sit back down at the table where Gemma’s “chips” and Cynthia’s wrap have now appeared. And bless her heat, she orders an extra order of chicken fingers.
In case you want any, she says, handing me over the basket.
No thanks, I say, I still have a baby fish and lobster swimming in my stomach. Then I take a chicken strip anyway and the spicy buffalo sauce tastes like heaven in my mouth.
The sand flies and mosquitoes are feasting tonight. For days, I had resigned myself to wearing jeans and long sweatpants, but in an effort to celebrate New Year’s, I left my legs exposed. Man, I’m getting killed, I think, and my mind instantly goes to the DEET spray that Jason has in the room.
I’ll be right back, I say, and before anyone can retort, I run back to the hotel.
I get up as well and sneak out the front, promising to return shortly. I find Jason in the room, sitting alone on the bed flipping through channels.
Did you get your shit sorted, I ask cheerily, thinking darn, I was going to steal your DEET and bring it back to the bar.
Yea, he says, but it cost like $120. It’s just money that I didn’t have to spend, you know.
You need to get ovvvver it, I slur.
He hands over my computer and I lock it into my suitcase.
Now come on, I add, it’s New Year’s Eve. Let’s go out and meet the others.
No, just give me a minute, he says, still flipping through the channels. I’ll be fine. I just know myself and I need to be alone for a while. I know I’m going to be in a bad mood if I go out like this. I’ll meet you guys later.
Fine, I say, shrugging it off, and I’m back to the bar again.
Well, Jason’s still brooding, I say when I see the others. But now, everyone looks marginally bored. Jason shows up after a bit, and when I realize that Gemma and Cyn, having finished their dinners, are already back to the room, I get up to the leave as well.
I’ll be right back, I say in usual fashion, and return to our room to find Cyn and Gemma smoking a splif instead. Within 20 minutes, everyone’s back in our room once more, and we regroup with another battle plan.
Someone suggests Blue Marlin, so down our group goes, me in stilettos, along the pothole filled dirt road to our first bar of the evening. The place is packed with jovial people, and in front flame throwers perform bright-lit dances.
Nova is next on the agenda apparently, and we all head over, John now in tow. There is a raunchy stripper pole at the bar, and we all seem to have some sort of sick, magnetic tendency toward the pole. We all take turns jumping and spinning onto the thing, and somewhere along the way, Jason’s shirt manages to unbutton itself (ah-hem.. Or he unbuttoned it) all the way down.
I am in the bathroom when suddenly, I hear, 7…6…5…, oh shit, I think and run out as just as the sparklers are flying and the countdown hits 3..2…and 1. Happy New Year we scream, and I hug random people, duck kisses, and even deliver a few carefully placed on cheeks.
I yell to go to Perry’s and soon we’re with Captain Perry aboard his floating bar, smoking a splif up at the DJ booth and dancing with a few Guatemalans. When I became painfully aware that I am out of a beer, I head down the treacherous ladder to the bar, where both Perry and his sole bartender are busy tending to other clients.
Perrrrry! I slur, through an arm around his neck and stepping behind the bar. Let’s take a picture!
So Perry poses with me for a picture, and I ask him if I can bartend.
I bartended in the States, Perry. Can I help out?
Sure, he says, and I am behind the bar figuring out which bottles of cheap liquor are which and serving up Barenas and Salvas for 50 lemps, 80 lemps and 100 lemps. I’m making up prices as I go along.
Tim and Bisch are sitting at the bar.
Oh, so you’re a bartender now, Tim says.
Shots! I scream and ask Perry if I can line up a round of shots for my friends. I can’t remember if it was whiskey or tequila, but I count 10 people in front of me and Perry lines up 10 shots.
Who’s paying for that? Perry asks me.
Shit, I thought they were free, I thought to myself, but my beers have been paid for all night, so I hand Perry 500 lemps.
Yea, that’ll cover it for you, he says, and we round up the crew to take some nasty shots of Cuervo (to my best guess).
I work for a few more beers before I line up another couple of whiskey shots.
Who’s paying for these, Perry asks.
I will! I say. But then I stop, wait Perry, shouldn’t I get paid something for bartending? I’m not taking tips.
All right, he says, and takes another shot of with us.
By now my friends are bored and starting to head out. Although I want to say, I sadly say goodbye to the good captain and the cute Honduran boy I’ve been dancing with behind the bar.
The Dive is next on this list and by now, it’s somewhere hovering close to 3 o’clock. The crowd has started to somewhat thin, but we dance like assholes.
4 o’clock rolls around, and not ready to go home, I convince a sleepy Cynthia, who is the last remaining soldier, as everyone else as already headed home, to go to Johnny’s for afties.
Johnny’s place is just across from the Beach House, a little house tucked behind a yard and an inconspicuous fence. Ian is nice enough to walk us to the fence, but ditches us at the gate. When we barge in, we see Marco and his girlfriend looking dazed, sitting at the kitchen table.
Johnny! I yell, barging into the place.
Heey! He says, looking up from his computer behind a pair of sunglasses. What do you guys want to drink.
We stay at Johnny’s for another hour. Marco’s all sorts of fucked up and his girlfriend is trying to drag him home.
She is almost successful until we decide that we have to find him on facebook.
Marco, I can’t find you, I say. I’ve looked everywhere. So Marco, unwilling to be unfound on facebook, plops himself in front of the computer and sets out on a mission to find his own profile. For 10 minutes, he is unsuccessful, as his girlfriend impatiently taps her foot, waiting for him to finish up. Come onnn, Marco, she says.
But alas, success if finally reached, and it’s time for us all to drag our tired asses home. It’s 5 a.