Roatan – Trying to get off the island

I think the Malarone I’ve been taking as an anti-malarial has been causing some strange sort of vivid dreams. Each night, likely fatigued by a healthy mixture of hangover and diving, I fall into a deep sleep that is punctuated by the liveliest, most reality resembling dreams I’ve ever experienced. All full of vampires, werewolves, thieves, and other completely weird shit.

I wake up in a frenzy, with all hope lost that we will make our ferry across. Shit, I think, is it even worth trying?! It’s probably already 6 o’clock. There’s no way we’re going to make this ferry. And I’m so tired. Fuck it, let’s just take the afternoon one.

I look outside, noting that it is still rather dark and finally convince myself to get up and grope around from my berry. When I find it, the gleaming numbers on the screen read: 4:30.

Shit, I think, taking it back to bed with me. I reset the alarm for 5:30, but constantly in fear of not setting the alarm correctly, I fall into a fitful sleep for the next 45 minutes, waking up at 10 minute intervals. I finally give up and start to pack. It’s been a full seven days that we’ve been on Roatan, and I have a lot of things to get in order.

Cynthia is soon up as well, and by 6:00, we head out the door, waving goodbye to Jemma to find our taxi.

We bargain a guy to take us down for 200 lemps and when we arrive, the ferry terminal is already buzzing with activity.

sunrise on the way to catching the ferry
sunrise on the way to catching the ferry

At 6:30, we both get in separate lines to buy tickets. By 6:45, Cynthia has her ticket and I am next in line to purchase my ticket.

Without warning, the ticketing agent in front of me says something in Spanish and waves his hands around a bit. Behind me, the line begins to disperse. What the fuck, I think to myself.

What’s going on? I ask the agent.

Closed, he says.

Well, what do I do?

Go to another line.

To the back? I say incredulously.

Yes, he says and leaves.

Dammit, I think. I am sweating in a t-shirt and sweatpants and infuriated. What kind of fucking place…

I step to the back of another and see Cynthia waiting patiently by the gates with her ticket in hand.

They stopped my line, I say angrily.

What do you mean, they stopped it?

I was the first person in line and he just said, nope, I’m closed. Go back to another one.

Oh shit, she says. What are you going to?
Stand in another line, I guess.

What complete bullshit. If I had been sweating bullets before, I was sweating grenades now. And suddenly, within the crowd, I begin to hear murmurs that there are no more tickets.

Dammit, why didn’t we just have one of us buy two. Sooo stupid.

Cyn goes to another line to stand for me, and we can’t figure out if it’s a better idea that she just gets onto this ferry and waits for me on the other side if we should both wait on this side together. When she finally decides to get on the ferry, she walks up to the gate only to find that the ferry is gone.

Well, I guess that answers that, she says. Well shit.

There are only about 30 people left standing in the terminal. We hear jumbled information coming from various sources. There’s word that the ferry will come right back without picking up anyone in Ceiba. Others say it’s just the 2 p.m. ferry. No one really knows what is going on. Behind us, a Canadian fellow with bright hazel eyes, is equally confused, having planned for a trip to the Copan ruins for the day.

We all mill with little else to do, until an hour later, the registers have been closed out and they start selling tickets for the 2 p.m .ferry.

Cyn and I make the executive decision to go back and do more diving and come back for the 2 p.m. Knowing that his plans to go to Copan have been shot for the day, the Canadian makes plans with us to meet at the back of the 2 p.m. ferry and perhaps we can stay at the same hotel and grab drinks that evening. He’s cute, so I’m thrilled.

We head back, tails between our legs to the dive shop, bargaining a taxi to take us for 150 lemps. When we arrive, it is only 8:30, and a group of familiar faces have already gathered on the porch.

We’rreeee back! I yell as Cyn and I unload out of the cab, suitcases and all. You just can’t get rid of us!

We don’t want to get rid of you! Marco yells jovially. You can tell why we love this place. You really feel like part of the family.

Well, tell us what dives we can do today, we say, pulling up to the front desk. What have you guys got going on?

Tree looks back at the chart for reference.

Are you finishing the advanced course today, Lisa? Monty quips up walking by.

I’m not sure, I say. We have to catch the 2 p.m. ferry, so I can do the morning dive.

They’re going to be one after the other, Monty says, you’ll have time to finish both.

Sweet! Sign me up.

So in a twist of events, I’ll get to finish my advanced certification after all. Diving then noodles. That sounds like a decent day.

I borrow Monty’s phone to call Omega Tours to cancel my river hike for a third and final time. Put that on the list of places that never want me to come back.

Our group heads out to sea again, tanks in tow. We have a deep dive to about 110 feet, followed by a navigation course with a compass.
For this dive, we are doing puzzles (made for preschoolers, no doubt) before and during the dive to test what kind of effect nitrogen narcosis has on any of us. One of the games has shapes on corresponding sides of oreo cookies, and the other is a challenge to group all the colored blocks together within a maze. Together, we such for the re-TARD in the group.

The first deep dive is much darker than the shipwreck, and when we reach bottom, we find our knees sinking into something that feels like volcanic silt. As soon as you move and stir things up, visibility goes down close to zero and only by popping up can you see the dark shadows of figures who are only a few feet away.

I apparently operate quite well after two martinis. My time with the puzzle test was 48 seconds at 0 feet and 53 seconds at 110 feet. I personally blame the silt getting in the way of my visibility. Nevermind that a preschooler could probably complete the puzzle in 30 seconds. Booyah! I yell to myself in the air. At least now I feel confident that I can dive the Blue Hole without issue.

We all multilevel, coasting at around 80 feet. In the ground there are reed like shapes floating above the sand. A school of fish coast around them, but when approach closer, row by row, they disappear underneath the sand. I swim closer, trying to examine them, but the reeds never pop back up. How strange, I think.

Swimming on, we see the shadow of a sea turtle paddling 20 feet up in the distance, then even further, between two strips of coral, there is a huge sucker, moving it’s paddle-like arms against the current. We all hover, staring at it waving along the current. It looks as though it’s saying hello.

We ascend up to 40 feet, then finally to 15 for our safety stop. Everyone is still doing fairly well on air, so we surface together.

What was that site called? I ask

Mandy’s Eel Garden, Monty shouts back.

Oh really? I only saw that one tiny little eel that Monty had pointed out, a spotted eel or baby moray perhaps. Why is it called that?

You didn’t see the eels that we passed by in the water? John asks.

No, I say, what are you talking about.

There in the sand, John says.

They were the reeds I had seen ducking back into their sand holes. My “reeds” were actually garden eels, as it turns out. I had wondered how they were so mobile.

They’re rather shy, Monty adds.

As we head down to our next dive site, strapping our gear into place, the sky turns suddenly dark. It’s going to pour.

The waves start getting choppier, and sitting on the bow, we begin to get hit by waves of water and slanted rain.

Damn, it’s cold, I think to myself and when I look up, I see everyone is shivering in their exposure suits.

Although the rain somewhat subsides, we are eager to duck down underwater where the waves, rain and temperature are not so severe. Monty goes through the different procedures of reading a compass and I pat my buddy on the back good luck because I am certain that we are going to be the group of re-TARDs that are going to get lost.

We dive down to a sandy patch about 40 feet under and practice swimming 100 meters. Ever the easily distracted, I never quite figure out–even after 2 turns–how many kicks equals 100 meters. Monty had mentioned most people needed something between 25 to 32 kicks. Let’s just go with that, I think to myself.

My buddy and I begin the navigation exercises, alternating between who was reading the compass and who was counting kicks. On my first navigation, at the west turn, I look down to see a sting ray feeding below me.

MMMMMM! I yell over to my buddy, tapping him along the side. He looks rather bewildered for a moment, wondering likely if I’m all right or if I’m out of air.

MMMMMMM! I try to make a sound again, pointing desperately at the ground, where the small sting ray is floating about, occasionally hovering to feed I assume.

He looks over and signals a thumbs-up back at me.

I turn around to see John hovering somewhere close behind and quickly pull back to the navigation exercise.

When it is my buddy’s turn to navigate, I try with great effort to carefully count my kicks. 1.…1.…2…2.…3…3.…4.…5…6…… Shit. I have stopped counting every set of kicks to counting individual kicks. Clearly I am not good at this.

I try to estimate best I can and five kicks into the first turn, I see a peculiar piece of coral with little flowers breezily waving in the current. When we approach, the flowers on one side, in a split second, pop back into the coral. With another kick, all the flowers on the opposite side pop down through small holes, and now the coral is bare.

MMMMM! I yell at my buddy, tugging his wetsuit. Again, he turns, looking bewildered at me. MMMM! I say again, pointing down to this naked piece of coral, willing the flowers to pop back up so I can make them disappear.

My buddy has a confused look on his face, like–why the hell did you make me stop. Frustrated, I wave go-on at him, and we continue on our way.

Navigation exercises (miraculously) finished, Monty allows us to use our remaining air to explore around a bit at the coral. I swim back a bit to look for my sting ray. Then POP. Something has happened.

There is an explosion that rips through the water, loud, but it’s origin unclear. I feel a vibration behind me, and there is the sound of purging air, like the sound that escapes from a regulator when it is free flowing.

But I don’t understand. My regulator is still in my mouth and I am breathing. My alternate and BCD still look okay.

I look up to see a massive army of bubbles floating to the surface. Reaching behind, I can feel the rush of bubbles. It is coming from my tank.

Oh shit, I think, looking at my buddy, then Monty, still breathing out of my regulator. I grab my gauge to see the pressure dropping fast on my air. 1500 PSI to 1000 then 500.

I search for the nozzle on the back of my tank but can’t find the source of the leak. I can only feel the mad rush of bubbles coming from somewhere behind. In my mind, I prepare for an emergency swimming ascent to the surface.

But, before I can move, Monty is by my side. He pulls out his alternate, signaling for me to dump my regulator. I don’t understand, I think, I’m still breathing from my regulator fine. But, I dump it out, taking his alternate. When I check my gauge, I see the reading on my PSI drop to 0.

Oh shit, I think.

Ok? Monty signals me, deflating my BCD.

Ok. I signal back, taking another breath out of his alternate. How freaky, I think.

Monty signals to me that we’re going to ascent and do a 3 minute safety stop. Up we go together and by 15 feet, I am fully relaxed, relying on Monty to gauge depth, continuing to breath on his alternate.

We ascend to the surface together, and I manually inflate my BCD.

What happened, I ask.

Your high pressure valve must have burst, he said. Just inflate and swim to the boat.

Wow, it looks like you saved my life, Monty, I say.

When we surface and take off my gear, we see there is a huge rip at my low pressure valve connecting the tank to the BCD. Threads of fiber are hanging out of a tear about an inch long.

Wow, it looks like there was a real emergency.

My buddy surfaces minutes later.

Wow, he says. You don’t think that stuff actually happens. I didn’t even realize what was going on. I’m glad that happened to you so I know to be cautious… well, I’m not glad, but I’m glad I’ve seen it.

We head into shore and I am thrilled to fill in my Advanced Certification information to send to PADI. Well, that was unexpected, I say to Cyn. I feel all gooey and proud of myself.

It’s about 1 o’clock when I finish and our ferry leaves at 2 p.m.

Do we still have time for noodles, Cyn, asks.

I think so, I say. Maybe…

I think we’re going to be cutting it close, Cynthia says. And of course she is right, because by the time we’ve gathered our shit and said the proper good byes to the people who might not be there when we come back, it’s 2:15.

She, Gemma and I walk over to the noodle shack. A day before we had tried.. And failed.. To find this mystical creature, and today, we were determined to make it. We would have ONE more noodle shack meal if it killed us.

We start down the dirt road, walking past the Vietnamese place.. And the Thai place. We walk past ova and the dive. Where the hell is this place?

Eventually we have to stop to ask for directions, and a guy sweeping his front porch tells us it’s just around the corner, behind the bushes that lay in front. Talk about hidden. How does everyone know about this place?!

The restaurant, if you could call it that, is more like a one room shack. A woman, blonde and tall with long, thin legs, is frantically running behind the counter. Outside, three boys sit, finishing up an order, and there are another two people inside waiting on something.

I’ll be right with you, she tells us, furiously stirring sauces and noodles into four pots sitting on a small stove. In the sink on the adjacent wall, a large stack of dirty dishes pile up.

We look through the menu, and Cyn and I decide on a chicken udon noodle in thai peanut sauce, remembering the delicousness of the peanut noodles we had at Perry’s the other night.

I’ll be right with you girls, the woman repeats, furiously scribbling now on a notepad, trying to figure out the bill of the others. When he pen runs out of ink, she chucks it across her kitchen floor, grabbing for the pen stuck in her hair.

But soon the air is relaxed. A hippy looking guy–who must be her husband of some sort, we assume–returns with new Styrofoam boxes. He takes over taking orders so that she can concentrate solely on cutting vegetables and stirring sauces.

We order, nervous that we are for sure going to be cutting our ferry awfully close. Although we don’t realize it, it’s already 1:25.

We wait.. And wait.. And now we are getting quite nervous.

I tell Cynthia that I am going to return to the dive shop first to negotiate a good rate with a taxi. They’ll know that we are desperate and they’ll charge us whatever because they know we need to go.

I negotiate with a taxi hanging out at the corner a going rate of 250 lempiras.

It’s 20 dollars, he says.

No it’s not, I say.

That’s the standard rate, he says. $20.

Let me tell you something, I say. I missed the ferry this morning, so I’ve been back and forth to this ferry 4 times now. I have NEVER paid $20. 250 lempiras.

Ok, I’ll take you. Just look for me here. My name is Alberto. That is my cab.

Don’t worry Alberto, I’ll be just next door.

I head back to the deck of Coconut Tree, where I am forced with raucous laughter.

Who wants to bet that we miss TWO ferries today, I say.

You guys are still here? Tim says. You’re going to miss the ferry. The vomit comet.

I know, I say. I feel like an idiot. But we just had to get noodles. Should I even bother going to the ferry station?

No, Tim says with a chuckle. Well, ask the cabbie if he thinks he can make it.

Up the street, I see Cynthia quasi-running over in a jean skirt and two Styrofoam boxes of noodles.

I tried to run, she says, but then I noticed that the sauce was spilling all on the bottom. Don’t worry though, before I left, I squeezed a big squirt of sriracha into each of the boxes.

Niiiiice! I say. Well, I’ve already got your bags so let’s go.

We grab Alberto, who promises he can make it there in the 15 minutes that we now have to get there, at zoom on our way. It’s 1:46 when we take off.

Shit, I think, silently cursing the noodles. Outside, it is intermittently pounding rain to a point that the visibility is nearly zero at the windshield.

But Alberto flies, down the roads he zooms, and around the cars and minibuses. Each time he passes a car, we scream: Alberto! Go! Woo!

But even Alberto’s valiant efforts couldn’t have saved us. Cynthia loses hope halfway through, as the clock tickets to 1:58, he are only at Coxen Hole. By the time we cruise into the harbor, Alberto tell us that we’ve missed it

FUUUUUUUUUUCKKKKKKKKKK! I scream. I am upset that we’ve missed our transport and even more so because the cute boy is sailing away with the ferry. FUCKING NOODLES!

Alberto suggests that we try the airport, and knowing that we’ve booked flights out of San Pedro for the next day, we agree.

Uh oh, Cynthia says. We just dove.

Shit, I say. Decompression sickness– you’re not supposed to fly within 18-24 hours of diving. To make matters worse, we had both dove to over 100 feet that morning.

Well, what can we do. Do we just go back or should we risk it?

We look at each other and silently curse the noodles, All right, fuck it. It’s a 7minute flight. We’ll risk it.

We pay Martin 300 lemps for his troubles and head into the Sosa Airlines ticketing counter where we manage to scrape tickets to La Ceiba for $56 US. Not too shabby, we think, as long as we don’t die.

The flight is at 4 p.m. and we realize our friends, the Weathersbys, are also supposed to be on the flight.

Great, I say. We’ll they’ll get a kick out of this.

There is a café at one end of the short airport, so we settle down with our noodles, which are overcooked, and vow to enjoy the hell out of the them. Based on the flight ticket, extra taxi fare, and ferry tickets that we’ve donated to the Sosa agent who handled our ticketing, these were $70… No $100 noodles. They most fucking expensive noodles we’ve ever consumed in our entire lives. They had better be fucking delicious.

$100 noodles
$100 noodles

I have to quit halfway through, but Cynthia, ever determined, manages to shovel the entire box in, almost in an act of vengeance and defiance. When we are done, we need to be rolled in with wheelbarrows.

We pay our departure task and mill around the gift shops for a bit, looking for an adequate post card to mail back to our colleague Vera. But there is nothing, so we chill until we see the Weathersbys to fill them in on our stupidity.

The only thing we’re nervous about is decompression sickness, Cynthia tells Daniel and Reid. But it should be ok. It’s only a 7-minute flight and i don’t think small planes like this can get to those altitudes.

You know small planes are actually worse because they’re not pressurized as well, right? Daniel says.

Well, thanks Grim Reaper. Please watch out if i pass out.

Roatan – Jan 1

The room is dark when we return. Gemma and Jason are both snoring in their respective beds, and I think I see the outline of a splif hanging out of her mouth.

Cyn and I dump ourselves into bed. I toss and turn for what seems like an hour, still jittery from the booze and everything in between.

I hear Jason’s iphone alarm go off and he hits snooze.

Come on, don’t miss your flight, I whisper over. Get up.

He does eventually and I hear him go out. Then I toss and turn into a fitful sleep until sometime mid-morning.

The hangover is horrid and I wander outside to get water. I walk past Reid and Daniel’s parents’ cabin and see them outside enjoying their breakfast. They had gone home at 3. Assholes.

I raise my right hand and with one eye open, give a grunted ‘ahoy’. I try not to make eye contact. They don’t need to see me like this.

I go back to bed and in a few hours Cynthia is up with me. We trudge around aimlessly looking for the fabled Noodle Shop, but finding ourselves unable to locate the golden chest, we return to the small chicken shop across from Coconut Tree and order their almuerzos.

Lunch seems to take forever to make and we realize that it is something that resembles pork chops. Cynthia, who doesn’t eat beef or pork, takes one look and is too tired to care. “Whatever,” she says. “I’ll eat it.”

We drag our tired asses back to the cabin and poke at the food until we’re both passed out again until 4.

If we once had an intention to make it to West Bay that day to catch the sunset, we had failed yet again.

Gemma had gotten up by then and came back with a phenomenal looking plate of chicken. The warm smell of food filled the room. At least we had food and HBO, I thought.

But knowing that we had to finally make it off the island the following day–we had already overstayed our plans by 2 days–Cyn and I trudged over to the one internet café on the strip nearby. We managed to find flights to Belize from Maya Airways (the airline we had thought went out of business) for $90 out of San Pedro Sula.

It’ll have to be on the 3rd, I say to her. There’s no way we can make it to SAP by 9:47 a.m. tomorrow. So we resolve to make the first ferry off the island at 7 the next day and head back up to the mountains for the night.

When we return to the room, not in the mood for company, we lock the door and close all the blinds in an effort to hide. But, within seconds of jumping back on my bed, I heard a knock on the door. Hey! I heard from the outside.

Fuck! Gemma said in a long, drawn out blow of a splif. I popped up to go to the door and found Reid, large smile on his face, outside pulling at the handle.

Wait, I signaled, unlocking the door.

The boys came in to chill and I faded in an out of sleep. I went to bed for good around 7 p.m., two minutes into watching Bolt.