The week on Utila, once I got the accommodations changed, went well. Each morning, my tutor and I would meet for 4 hours on a shady little porch near the beach. In the afternoon, he and his girlfriend would head off on an island adventure and I’d hop on the dive boat. To his credit, the tutor managed to pack about 2 years of college-level Spanish grammar (yech!) into 5 days. My brain is simply overwhelmed. And do I know preterite from subjunctive imperfect? Well, let’s just say, not so much.
The reefs here are pretty fished out and there’s quite a bit of evidence of coral bleaching. But, there’s still a lot of color and lots of little critters to see. Today I spotted an arrow crab with luminescent blue claws and a colorful little anemone crab (hiding away in the tentacles of its host anemone). I also saw a golden-tailed eel–about 1 foot long, looking like a little ribbon swirling around the coral. The dive master pointed out a juvenile spotted drum–the smallest I’ve ever seen! I didn’t know they had the long fins (top and bottom) when they were that young.
Tonight, when I got back to my little inn, the owner cut a fresh coconut off a tree and gave it to me. He said it was a Phillipine palm, and had the sweetest water. I can say it was the yummiest coconut water I’ve ever had–and I usually can’t stand coconut water. Turns out, it’s especially good for washing away the taste of saltwater from diving. Of course, most divers I know would say that beer and margaritas have the same effect. But this really gets to one of the central things I enjoy about being in the Caribbean. These random, small moments of generosity and friendliness. A brief chat with an interesting stranger. Someone who gives you something because they just want to share this thing they love with a new person.
It would be a gross exaggeration to say that everyone in the Caribbean is friendly and giving. It’s also a gross exaggeration to say that all Americans are fat, greedy, ignorant travelers. But, hey, sweeping generalizations sometimes contain an iota of truth. My basic travel philosophy is “Don’t be a jerk.” I try to be open to these random moments and cherish them, knowing they’re fleeting, rare, and can’t be planned or expected. I try not to be taken advantage of by the shills and grifters who prey on tourists (I am specifically looking at you, Kingston and Bangkok). I try not to take advantage of the hospitality of people who have, for the most part, so much less than I, simply because of where they live.
As I wandered around the town on my last night, searching for a place to have dinner, I had a feeling I don’t usually get when I’m traveling. I realized it was loneliness. It felt strange to be on the island with my tutor gone and it felt strange sitting down to eat alone. I felt that way all evening, and just couldn’t shake it. As I walked back to my inn, I passed many of Utila’s party spots–with groups drinking and yelling, music blasting out onto the street. There was a point in past travels where I’d be in one of those groups, partying with the divemasters or divers I’d met on the boat that day. Now, I’m more interested in getting in to a comfy bed and settling in for a good night’s sleep.
Anyway, I note the feeling and know it will pass. Overall, I am feeling very relaxed and have another week of travel coming up, which is going to involve some hard-core hammock sitting at my hotel on Roatan.
Tomorrow, I hop on the ferry back to La Ceiba for the big 3-day Carnaval (actually, it’s the Festival of San Isidro, the town’s patron saint). I’m spending a little time with my former host family this weekend. I plan to remind Maria of the saying I taught her last time I was in Honduras: “Lo mas que conozco a los hombres, lo mas que me gusta mi perro.” She found it very amusing; host pop did not.