Some places are disconcerting, and it’s hard to pinpoint why.
I guess Utila is one of them.
From San Pedro de Sula, we took a bus to La Ceiba, three hours away. Ah, San Pedro… Great place but for the fact it’s boiling hot and that it’s not safe at all at night. When we woke up, before going to the bus station, we looked for some food because we were starving. No luck. Not a panadería in sight. We bought a few cookies and a Coke at the bus station.
When we arrived in La Ceiba at 1:00 p.m., we realized the bus terminal wasn’t much of a terminal—there wasn’t even a bathroom, much less some food around. We took a taxi to the boat terminal. There, same story: it was in the middle of nowhere and there was no food but for a small convenience store.
It was 2:00 p.m. and the boat to Utila wasn’t until 4:00 p.m. Trust me on that one, not the most interesting wait. It was extremely hot and we just sat around outside with our backpacks. Hungry, on top of that.
The Princess II, the boat that travels twice a day between La Ceiba and Utila, is dubbed the “vomit comet”—no need to explain why. We were the last ones to board and I ended up seating outside, at the back of the boat.
I’m lucky to be very comfortable on boats and in the water in general but I can see why so many people get seasick. It was a tough hour-long ride, against the wind and against the waves and the boat, despite its size, wasn’t steady at all.
Before boarding, we were a bit worried because accommodation is quite limited in Utila and that there seemed to be quite a few gringos going to the island. But we quickly understood that except for a handful of backpackers, the rest were foreigners living in Utila. In fact, in the boat, people all seemed to know each other. We even left 30 minutes late because a family called the captain to delay the departure until they arrived.
We found a hotel easily on the Main Street and quickly realized that Utila may not be our paradise. For a start, it was much more developed than we thought it’d be. I guess in my mind, Utila was going to be like Caye Calker (a small island in Belize) or Ko Muk. Scratch that. Although not big in size, Main Street was jammed with golf carts and motorbikes and a stroll turned into a “watch behind you” game. The number of dive shops and the somewhat aggressive marketing reminded me of Ko Phi Phi. Finally, it didn’t feel like being in Honduras—or anywhere in Central America for that matter. Spanish isn’t the first language but English is by default. I had expected a mix population of Latin and Black Caribbean—it turned out that Utila was mostly gringos owning businesses.
It felt strange. It felt like stepping into a dorm where everyone has been living there for months. People weren’t exactly warm and welcoming. In a way, it reminded me of the movie “The Beach”: a bunch of gringos building their community and preventing other people from joining it. To add to the impression, a lot of women looked like the crazy British girl in said movie.
On our first day, we decided to go to one of the two beaches—a logical and not-so-innovative idea on an island. We picked a side and started walking until we found the beach. “Apparently you have to pay,” I told Feng when I read the sign at the entrance. We were confused and stepped in to have a look. Two minutes later, a big fat guy called us out. “I need some money from you. 120 lempiras.” “Sorry, I’m confused,” I said. “Is that a private beach?” He didn’t even bother replying and gestured us to get out. Which we did. I’m certainly not paying 120 lempiras ($6 but also the price of a good meal here) to go to the beach.
So we walked to the other side of the island, where we found a public beach. Well, kind of. A metre-width strip of sand, infested with sand flies. If you haven’t had the pleasure to meet these little bastards, let me introduce you to them: sand flies are tiny creatures, barely bigger than a grain of salt, but they bite like mosquitoes and leave red itchy marks on the skin.
So we ran to the sea to avoid sand flies. Forget about lying on the beach! The water was shallow and amazingly clear, and all kinds of fishes swam around us right at the shore. “It’s like being in a fish spa!” I joked.
Because there are a few upsides to Utila. I don’t want to be so negative. While it’s not the paradise I had expected, the sea is great and the water is very clear. You can spot all kinds of creatures, including huge crabs right by the sidewalk at night. The sunsets are amazing. The guesthouse where we are staying has a small pier with a bench and a couple of hammocks and I could spend my days there. I like the weather: it’s very hot but still breezy. Like in most islands, the dress code is lax and I just bum around in a light dress, sweat tricking from my forehand, my hair messy and tangled because of the humidity.
So Utila isn’t what we expected. It’s certainly not the place where I’d overstay—I don’t like the vibe and I don’t like feeling like I’m an intruder (an impression we’ve never felt in places like San Pedro for instance).
But we are travelers. I don’t regret coming here because that’s what traveling is all about: seeing places first-hand, past the hype.
Utila isn’t paradise. But maybe the next stop will. Who knows?