I had read on the internet that the best way to choose a dive school in Utila is to show up on the island and visit all the dive shops to get a feel for the place yourself. We are fully loaded with luggage though, and as a couple of Dom’s ex work mates had recommended ‘Bay Islands College’, we went with that.
We arrived on the island on Tuesday morning and were met on the dock by one of the staff and escorted to the dive shop. After a quick tour, brief chat and a free beer, we sat down to fill in all of our forms before being shown to our room. The room resembled an attic and did not have wifi reception as promised. After unpacking we went in search of food. We found a street food vendor but they had shut for the afternoon, even though it was lunch time. You do the math. After wandering around in the heat we decided to buy some groceries and cook lunch ourselves.
The day turned to evening and we headed for some street food. We went back to the vendor with the strange opening hours and were not disappointed. Our dinner was dirt cheap and delicious. The local dish of floutas: corn based tortillas served with some amazing pickled veg. We would be back. On a daily basis.
Done in from the heat and our few days of late nights and early starts, we settled down to watch a documentary, a documentary that due to being exhausted all of the time, would take us three days to watch.
Our first couple of days in dive school was supposed to be broken into two sections. Theory in the classroom and practical in the pool. After four hours of videos, explanations and quizzes, we were told that there was not enough equipment, and so we were to do theory all day and have three whole days of practical. Due to the mix up we were given a free lunch and so there were no complaints from our end. The day was long and even though we are on what is supposed to be a party island, we were in bed by 9pm again. Again we fell asleep within about ten minutes of turning on the documentary.
As we had done almost all of our theory we had the morning in the pool and the afternoon in the sea. First up though, we had to prove we could swim. Our instructor took us to the dock and ordered us to swim 200 metres and then tread water for 10 minutes. That nearly killed me and I was the last to finish the swim, but I just about made it and so the real training began.
We were taught about the equipment and told what skills we would be doing, and then it was time to get our kit on and get wet. We learned things like how to clear our masks, buoyancy control, how to find our breathing gear if it came out of our mouth, and how to take off our masks underwater and put them back on again. I am shit at the last one. I ended up inhaling half the pool up my giant nose. There was only three of us on the course and the other student dropped out at lunch as she was getting freaked out by the breathing water up the nose stuff.
After lunch it was time to get in the salt water where we learned more skills. One of them being swimming without our masks and then putting it on underwater. It felt crazy. It is such a weird sensation to breathe underwater. I felt like I was floating through a field or something. When it was time to put the mask on though I snorted a load of water. At least it had some flavour this time. It was a fun day but again it exhausted us. This time we were too tired to even bother attempting to watch the documentary.
After two days of practicing we were deemed ready to get in deep water. Following a morning of going through some skills we had lunch before heading out to sea in a boat. Dom struggled with deep diving as her ears started hurting as she descends. As it took her a while to descend, I had to kneel at the bottom and wait. We did more skills and had a bit of a swim round the coral before getting back on the boat and heading to the next dive spot. The second dive spot was more of the same. Dom’s ears hurting, me waiting at the bottom, more skills and a little swim. It was ace though and softened the blow of missing Wales batter Belgium in the Euros.
Our final day would be two dives, more theory in the classroom and a final exam. The dives were fun. Well for me at least. Dom was a bit scarred by watching me sink like a stone when we were descending. I was unaware at the time and only learned when we were on dry land, but she saw me going down really fast and out of control. I thought that is what you are supposed to do though so I was unfazed. I truly am like a fish out of water when I am in the sea.
Once back on shore we had time to watch the second half of the Germany V Italy game before a cup of coffee and a bit of revision. Our instructor gave us an hours worth of teaching before we sat the exam. We were shattered and losing the will to live by this point but both of us passed. Me with 90% and Dom with 96%. Even though we had high scores, the thought of us two donning our wetsuits and heading out to sea is not a thought for the faint hearted. Close your eyes and imagine it. You’ll either piss yourself laughing or do some frightened sick in your mouth.