On Day 27 I had to reluctantly part ways with the island of Utila after a week’s stay. My last morning started out with an unbelievably wholesome breakfast—bread with peanut butter, because eating economically helps offset the cost of diving, right? Not so much. I wanted to eat a baleada for my last day but I devastatingly I discovered the tortillas are made with 1/4 pure lard. They are so bad for you that Alton, the owner of the dive shop and former mayor of Utila, limits himself to only two per month. When he told me this I immediately tried to forget the fact that I ate baleadas for all three meals like the first 4 days I was on the island. For those of you who have never been blessed with a baleada before, I’ll present you with these pictures to drool over:
Anyways, after breakfast, I set up my gear for my last two dives. These were my fun dives included as part of the rescue diver course. The waters were really calm so our boat captain took us all the way around to the north side of the island (Alton’s is located on the south side). About fourth fives minutes later, we arrived to a dive site called Fish Bowl. Unlike the south side of the island where coral walls are gradual drop offs, the north side contains mostly steep drop offs. For instance, the wall we were about to dive is a 2000m drop off. This means that you see absolutely nothing but pure, dark blue emptiness beneath you as you admire the coral wall on your side. It’s an incredible feeling. This dive was by far one of my favorite ever. The walls were so massive that at depths of 20-30m I felt like I was swimming next to underwater monuments. We even swam through a few trenches, which was a first for me. This dive was led by about-to-be Divemaster names Sofia. She was also my partner for the Hell Dive (Sofia if you’re reading this thank you for not murdering me). I saw the biggest parrot fish in my entire life right at the end of the dive. It let me swim so unbelievably close to it that I was able to fully examine its diverse fluorescent colors.
We surfaced from the dive after about 40-50 minutes of bottom time. During our decompression interval on the boat, Alton’s served up some fresh watermelon. This is sort of a tradition there that makes the dives even better. The following dive was my last. I was already sad before we even submerged into our descent. My sadness quickly turned into frustration, though, because my stupid mask was fogging constantly throughout the dive. No matter what I tried, the mask was on a mission to blur my whole dive. Nonetheless, one of the divemasters spotted a rare fish called a frog fish. This thing is ugly, and when I say ugly, I mean ugly. It looks like a mixture a rock and hard coral. The only reason I knew it was a fish was because I could make two small eyes. After we surfaced I felt lucky because the divemasters all communicated how rare sightings of frog fish really are.
Our boat returned back to Alton’s and I made my way straight to my dorm to pack up. It didn’t take quite as long as I expected, so I said goodbyes to most of the students from Barea College and others I dive with frequently. I also said goodbye to my world-class dive instructor Jess. She helped me grow immensely throughout my week of diving there. Next, I was off to catch the ferry to La Ceiba around 3 PM. The 10-15 minute walk there I felt overcome by sadness. It really sucks leaving places and people. I’m not sure if that’s something that I feel just from being rookie backpacker. I ran into Sam midway and she gave me a fresh mango. The workers at the ferry station heightened my nerves because they told me I had slim chance of making the ferry at 4:30 from La Ceiba to Roatan. I just tried to block it out and hope for the best. Luckily, there was another girl from Alton’s, Gini, leaving on the ferry, too. She was Canadian but lived in Australia for a few years, so she sounded extremely Australian. It completely through me off the first time I met her days before. We spent the whole ride to La Ceiba sharing our travel and scuba experiences. She was approximately the 1000th person to tell me I need to travel Southeast Asia.
I caught the ferry from La Ceiba to Roatan with only a few minutes to spare. The ride out was much worse than I anticipated. It two unrelenting hours of swelling seas. I took two drammomine before the first ferry and I even I still felt sick. There kids getting escorted to the bathroom right and left to puke. Eventually, we made it. I then got ripped off by a taxi driver to take me to my hostel. I was so tired that I really didn’t feel like bartering prices to save a few bucks. I arrived at Roatan Backpackers Hostel around 8PM. The lady at the front desk was so kind. She didn’t want my traveling to the west end of the island that late, so she made me homemade tostados with local cheese on the House. I was also having problems booking my flight to San José for the following day, so she let me use her laptop to seal the next part of my trip. I crashed pretty early afterwords. My body is on an early sleep schedule from diving right now. I wake up at 6AM and am tired by 9PM (I wish I could do this back home).
The next morning I woke up in Roatan to find one of my German friends Jana. I first met her way back on Caye Caulker and we had just finished taking Advanced Open Water in Utila. I had no food or knowledge of where to get any, so she shared her corn flakes with me. We met another backpacker at breakfast who bought a 1961 Airstream to travel through Central America in. He had to leave his bus in Guatemala after experiencing a series of intentional mechanical breakdowns initiated by mechanics that wanted his bus. Apparently, busses are such a valuable medium for making money down here that mechanics frequently break tourist busses. The intention is to motivate owners to leave them, rather than fix them.
After breakfast, I took a quick 10 minute hike down memory lane. My family went on a carnival cruise about six years ago. My dad, my brother, and I all did a diving excursion in Anthony’s Key, Roatan. I had this nostalgic thing where I wanted to take a picture in the exact same place we took a picture six years ago. I remembered so many small memories when I finally arrived. They even had the exact same dive boat in the exact same place set up the exact same way.
The rest of that day was spent traveling. I had a 12:10 connecting flight to El Salvador then a 2:45 flight to San José, which is where I’m at now. So far, I’ve spent most of my time here working with a missionary named Andrew Butz. I actually know Andrew through my mother, who has completed two mission trips to the local village that Andrew assists. Andrew picked me up from the airport my first day. We went and got a quick bite to eat at a corner restaurant named Soda Tapia. All of the quick service restaurants here are called Sodas. They can range in size from small bar-like window shops to full-on sit down restaurants. They serve a perfect mix of local foods and traditional fast food. The following morning, Andrew took me to meet the pastor who services that same village (Los Piños) my mother (and my sister) visited on their mission trips. His name was Pastor Ephraim and he had one of the most captivating life stories I’ve ever heard. He describes himself as a pastor who “never wanted to be a pastor.” This spiked my curiosity, naturally encouraging me to want to know more. Roughly an hour later, I had heard his entire story of who he is, why he does what he does, and what the villagers of Los Piños are up against. The entire dialog left me almost speechless. Any of you reading this know that I firmly believe life and happiness are shaped through perspective, and I instantly gained an exorbitant amount of perspective from this interaction.
Los Piños is a community of approximately 3,000 impoverished people. Many of them are illegal Nicaraguans who lack the financial resources or paperwork to become legal Costa Ricans. This makes other things even more complicated—recevinginf medical attention, access to education and scholarships, et cetera. A large portion of them are also single mothers with several children. The challenge for Pastor Ephraim and Andrew is balancing short-term necessities with a long-term initiative to lift the village from the chains of poverty. Short-term needs include things like food, water, utilities, and school supplies. The long-term initiative is to put the population through as much education as possible. I love this idea because in the field of economics, education is idealized as one of the most effective ways to advance societies. Increased education will overflow into all aspects of their lives and increase their chances of attaining jobs. Today, some of the women still use prostitution as their main source of income. Some even prostitute their daughters out in the early teens. On the other hand, most men make their living by trafficking drugs or stealing/robbing. Why would anyone want to struggle day to day for some arbitrary long-term goal of getting an education and eventually a job after several years? Why do that when they can make quick money via prostitution or drug trafficking? It’s easy judge these scenarios from the outside, but I honestly don’t know what I would do if roles were reversed.
The conversation with the Pastor was followed by an hour long visit to Los Piños. I wanted to take pictures so bad before entering. I wanted to help share their stories. However, I was so taken aback but what I saw that I failed to even take my phone out. I have almost no words to describe the deep poverty these people live in daily. Their homes are essentially shacks formulated of sheet metal and wood in some cases. Many have dirt floors. There is a natural river, or creek, that runs throughout the community. This is where all of the sewage drains too. The water runs directly next to, beneath, or in some cases through homes. Despite all of these things, the people were beyond warm and happy. We visited one woman named Paula who makes and sells tortillas to the rest of the village. She was nothing but smiles the entire time we were there. Her daughter was the same way. Her mother has been having trouble sleeping because she is sick. She hasn’t sought treatment since she’s an illegal Nicaraguan. Costa Rica actually has free healthcare, but the people of Los Piños are still afraid of deportation. Deportation is even worse than their current circumstances because conditions in Nicaragua are much, much worse. The government of Costa Rica has done little to address this widespread poverty, either. They’ve built some homes and barrios, but this only coats makeup over the real issue. Shelter is nice and needed, but what these people really need is upward mobility. The ability for their children to break the viscous cycle of poverty.
The next day I hung out with Andrew and his family all day. They kindly invited me over for breakfast, but I stayed all the way until dinner. Andrew’s got me hooked on the most basic but delicious dish that’s ubiquitous here in Costa Rica. The dish is called pinto or gallo pinto. It’s essentially just rice and beans with bell peppers, onions, avocado, tomatoes, salt and pepper, garlic, and this special Costa Rican sauce called Linzano. I love it. I also had the wonderful privilege of meeting their 4-year-old daughter Isabella. Izzy was absolutely hilarious. We all played dominoes for a little while, which eventually turned into building houses, of course. Today, I helped officiate a local flag football tournament Andrew has pioneered here. The people here take it very serious, so I was little scared to help out at first. I eventually found my stride and reffed 6-7 games. The highlight of my day was seeing a U12 team scoring their first touchdown after being down 52-0. They celebrated with such profound joy that it brought smiles to all of the referees faces. Tomorrow morning Andrew is taking me to a local orphanage. We’ll spend some time playing with the children there and doing some chores. Right now I’m enjoying my very own home cooked creation of rice and beans with onions. It’s not quite as good as everyone else’s, but it gets the job done.
Countries I Have Met People From: