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By Patrick Tonsing HSA A-0141,
Handicapped Scuba Association International.
Last December Jim Gatacre surprised me with the opportunity to do a resort evaluation in February on the island of Roatan. Well it didn't take me long to decide and before I knew it I was taking a red eye flight to San Pedro Sula, Honduras.
Charlie my friend connected with me in Houston and from San Pedro Sula we took a 30-minute flight on a twin engine prop airplane to the island of Roatan. I had to be hoisted in and out of the plane along with my wheel chair, but no big deal you get used to that when going to remote places like this.
Once we landed we didn't have to wait long before some people from the resort picked us up in a van and we were on our way. Our final destination was the "Bay Island Beach Resort". The road was windy and we passed a couple of shantytowns. I looked at Charlie and I could see he was thinking what I was thinking "wow this is remote, we are really out there! Cool!". After about fifteen minutes we were at the resort and Cam O’Rian was there to greet us and take us to our room. The room was quite large and simply decorated but most importantly it was completely accessible. That evening Cam gave all the newcomers an orientation followed by barbecued chicken dinner.
In the morning after breakfast we went on our first dive. The dive boats are accessible but you will have to transfer on to the boat yourself or be lifted on board. The boat has enough room for three wheelchairs.
Our first dive was a checkout dive and the dive masters did a good job knowing just what to do in determining people's experiences and abilities. We went on a second dive that morning and that is when I realized just how pristine the reefs are. If you are looking for a place where reef life is both abundant and varied Roatan is the place to be! That afternoon I had a grouper sandwich and for dinner shrimp Creole. I won't describe every meal in detail, but they were terrific (one night we had all you can eat lobster and I'm not talking about those piddly finger lobsters!)
On Tuesday after a couple of great morning dives we went on an island tour with Cam. This tour lasted all afternoon and we saw about half the Island.
Cam explained the history and culture. I should have taken notes because it was very interesting. There is only one fringe of the island that has really been developed. The only US Company logo I saw was Texaco. Cam says this may all be changing soon, they're planning on opening up a Hilton. So if you want to get here before they commercialise this place I wouldn't wait too long.
Our final stop was at an Iguana farm. That's right an Iguana farm! Seems that the native's think that Iguana eggs are an aphrodisiac, so in other words "Hey where did all the Iguanas go?" So one of the natives decided to start an Iguana farm to save them. I guess its working, he now has over 800 and they're all over place. He just lets the large ones roam freely and these guys get big!
That night we had a party at the resort and Catalina the cook made a buffet of native foods, which included home made tortillas spiced beans and rice. One of the things you begin to realise is that everyone that works here is like one big family all laughing and having a good time right along with you.
Wednesday we drove to Mary's Place, this dive was unbelievable. First let me tell you a little about this dive. It has always been popular but because it was not protected the area had been badly damaged. So the people of the island decided to close it off. For years no one was allowed to dive here. It has now recovered substantially, and recently been reopened. However, it has stayed protected and you must follow strict procedures if you want to dive.
Mary's Place is a deep narrow canyon that is packed with life. Divers must go through in single file and must wait 1 minute between each diver to maintain distance. You may not touch anything as you go through.
Since I am a paraplegic and do all my swimming with my arms, Gustavo our dive master had to hold on to my tank while I kept my arms close to my body so as not to touch the sides of the narrow canyon.
We are on the sea floor about 60 feet down and as we enter you immediately are surrounded by all kinds of colourful fish and coral. The floor has all kinds of shellfish, lobsters and shrimp. I looked straight up and the canyon walls literally seemed to be moving there is so much life. As you continue going through you gradually descend and after about two minutes you come out the other side at 90 feet a must see!
After lunch we dove a wreck, actually two wrecks side by side (one a boat the other a DC-3 plane). The water unlike anywhere else was very murky and cold, I felt like I was diving back at Monterey. Charlie loved it, this was the second wreck dive and he has decided his new favourite thing now is wreck diving.
That evening we went on a night dive. This was my first night dive so I was kind of nervous. It was completely different than I had expected. We all had flashlights and there was a full moon. The life is different at night. All the nocturnal animals are out I saw these two little yellow reflective beads so I swam over and it was the eyes of a lobster that was actively searching for food. Very different and eerie but also very enjoyable.
Thursday was our last dive day. The morning dive we dove inside a small cave. Another first for me, there was a school of silver coloured fish, and the ceiling of the cave was full of bubbles (probably from all the divers that had visited the place in the past). That afternoon we had a picnic by a resort where we had Catalina's fried chicken and potato salad delicious!
Today it was the ideal tropical day with white sands, turquoise water and cool warm breezes. Most of the divers elected not to take the afternoon dive and to bask on the beach. I decided to dive and I am glad I did. We dove in a shallow area with rambling reefs.
Here is where I saw the big stuff - manta rays off in the distance, large tuna and grouper and then suddenly a turtle. I swam directly over it and we both stared at each other. I couldn't help myself and I grabbed his shell hoping he would give me a ride. He tried to swim away and as I prepared for a ride he turned around and let me know that he was going to bite me if I didn't let him go. Oh well so I just swam with him for a while, he didn't seem to mind as long as I kept my distance. I also saw a live conch and a three foot shark, a very memorable dive.
Friday was the day we did the resort evaluation. Jim gave us sheets of paper to fill out that explain what to look for and how to measure everything. This took all morning and part of the afternoon. Cam has done a very good job on making the resort accessable. The two new rooms once they get them ramped will be the best for wheelchairs with large roll in showers and closets. There are bars everywhere in the bathrooms.
Later that afternoon Gustavo took us into a town called the West End. I bought my wife an amber bracelet and Charlie bought his wife a necklace made of black coral. We spent the rest of the afternoon looking at cigars. Charlie is into cigars and Roatan has some of the best (including Cuban cigars).
Saturday night was party night! There really isn't much nightlife but we were told that Fosters in West End was the place to be. So we walked down to the road and hailed a taxi that took us into West End. Foster's was a bar that was at the end of a dock and has two steps to get inside. Once inside you realize that there are young people from all over the world. They played all kinds of music from disco to western to rock. I danced with girls from Denmark and England. Had a great time and why not, the beers were less than a buck a piece.
All in all this was a fantastic trip. But here are some things to keep in mind if you plan to go:
Anyway the time went by very quickly and I hope to go back. "I heard H S A is planning a trip here hmm, maybe I will go"!
Happy diving - Patrick.
HSA is a leading authority on recreational diving for people with disabilities. They operate as an independent diver training and certification agency offering a range of educational and rehabilitation programs worldwide, as well as an accessible dive vacations service.
More information can be found by visiting the HCA Web Site.
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