Ive been asked many times by many people, what exactly draws me to this small little Caribbean island of the coast of Honduras. Over the years Ive either become inept, lazy or just plain bored trying to sell the feeling of Utila to the lay person who is more worried about iphones, after school activities or the traffic on the QEW. To their credit (although never being short of words), Ive not been able to fully capture what it is I love about Utila.
Today, I was lucky enough to come across this video about Utila which uses the sinking of the Halliburton Wreck (to make an artificial dive site) as a background while (for the first time Ive seen), properly portraying the essence of this wonderful little place. To all of you who have ever asked or wondered about this island I love and have called home, have a look at the short movie here and soak it up.
To be truthful, Im putting this up here just for me……..What an amazing video of an amazing place.
UTILA – Bay Islands – HONDURAS
After years of killing and feeding lion fish to would be predators, finally this video shows a Green Moray attack a full on – live (not captured or wounded) lion fish. It is the culmination really, of efforts of divers on Utila putting their skills and hard work, to work. Only a few years ago we would be lucky to see a nice grouper. Well now, you should see one of them suck up a lion fish, its an incredible force of vacum…….shit, the groupers will follow you around at some dive sites waiting to feed, and even help in the hunt……….I digress though, this video did not come by fluke….to EVERYONE that has worked effortlessly on this initiative over the past couple years…. once again, thankyou. Thousands of lion fish have been fed to predators over the past 24’ish months, shit….and way back when, we didnt even DO that………..maybe leave a dead lion fish on the surface knowing at some point it should get eaten – starting point 1.0. DMs on Utila have provided – full on National Geographic – retraining of would be predators, to the lion fish. Ive fed mostly semi live ones to Queen Angel fish, all sorts of groupers and eels, even snappers will get in on the mix. Believe me when Im saying this. From the 1st lion fish on Utila (of tens of thousands since then) in early 09′, to actual natural hunting/eating shown on this video is absolutely awesome.
Viewing Notes: You will see the Moray eel right at the beginning of the video, closer to the bottom. From there the diver rotates away 180 degrees and comes across the lion fish….it will take a second to come into view but then you will see it in all its splendidness. It is a gorgeous fish, but if we’re not proactive it could well be the only fish in the Caribbean reef.
Notes: This video was produced out of UDC on youtube. Whoever the diver is with the spear gun…..perfect….didnt shoot at the wrong times….let the fish twitch and dance, they are memorizing and dangerous. Thanks guys. Amazing!
For more information on the wonderful conservation efforts on Utila and the Bay Islands visit:
Having first been recorded on the reefs around the island of Utila (Bay Islands, Honduras) in May 2009, this species of fish multiplied, divided, and almost conquered. For those of you who are not aware of this particular fish…..they are a gorgeous one for sure…….BUT, they are not native to the waters of the Caribbean (but of the pacific, amongst others), and they are tearing apart every fish species they can get their mouths on. Being able to expand their stomach thirty times original size, to be able to go weeks without food, to multiply like rabbits, and their penchant for dancing and mesmerizing the young juveniles into a trans – then to be eaten quickly and feverously . With no natural predators in the Caribbean, the Lion Fish are desecrating many fish species from Florida and Mexico – in the north – all the way Panama in the south. Simply put, the fish has no natural predators in these waters AND no external method of population control – as such, you will soon have a reef population consisting solely of Lion Fish, at the top of the food chain……and then you will start loosing the actual reef as well.
A few years ago – on Utila – some very concerned people began voicing the problems this situation was flourishing into. Different studies were done and different methods of controlling (see: making the Lionfish extinct) were experimented with. All though rules are irregularly enforced (ie. Never) in Honduras, using a spear gun/sling to kill the Lion Fish (or any fish for that matter) was illegal at the time. A good friend of mine helped to lobby the government (ie. anyone who drives a nicer car and might listen) for an exclusion in the law to allow spearfishing on the islands in the effort of reducing the Lion Fish population. With extreme effort and then approval, there were training sessions and signs up and educational pamphlets and even practice spearing on innocent potatos, for those trained and interested. Spears were assigned to each dive shop (at their cost) and dive professionals were allowed to take along the spear/sling on their dives in an attempt to control the expanding pest population. Off to a slow start for the first year or so, the program gained momentum and grew to a point where every dive shop is currently participating during all of their recreational dives – each and every day – in the sea and reefs surrounding Utila. To our knowledge it was (and might still be) the only community business initiative embraced and practiced by all – for the betterment of the reef, the divers, the local population, and overall sustainability of the fish populations which almost everyone relies on in some way or another, to make a living – on Utila and many other places in the Caribbean.
And I almost forgot. The Lion Fish are actually venomous. That is, the fins (or more like spikes) can give you one helluva painful situation, if you do get stung by one. Swelling, numbness, and burning, with the outside chance of death thrown in. In only a few people, the reaction to a sting is simple (Burgundy has handled it well from what Ive witnessed). Mostly the reaction, is of the “ That was the worst pain ever” category. Simply put, you don’t want to get stung.
And as a secondary for those in the gambling business…..something like 16 of 24 of the spines are venomous….8 of them are fine, will not hurt you. Have a look at the photos and tell me if you can figure out which is which. The Lion Fish wont attack you specifically but they will react to you trying to stab them with a three pronged spear, and dart one way or another in fight or flight reaction. You will get anywhere from no chances to three chances at a fish. If you do strike, you then have a very alive but trapped bad ass lion fish two feet away from your hand till you can finish it off, quickly hopefully. They live as shallow as a couple feet beneath the surface all the way to as deep as you want to dive……….ok then, enough is enough on the background of the lion fish……on with the rest.
Anyway, I caught a mammoth lion fish one day on the north shore. After a bit of a struggle and with help from a fellow grouper sourcing out the hiding fish…….it was finally hooked…and a good one at that. It remains the only time – of the 400 or so lion fish Ive ever killed – in which I brought the fish directly back to the boat. I was happy……the grouper, not so much, trailing most the way back looking for the usual feed.…..to no avail, I surfaced, yelled at Captain Kerry, and handed the spear and kill carefully up to him.
“Ya look at that man” exploding with elation I say. “Its huge!”
“It tis it tis, get It up here in the buhket.”……do as the Captain says.
We returned to the resort and within an hour the fish was measured. It certainly was a good sized one but nothing anyone wouldn’t expect. Nose to base of tail, measured 31.5 cms.
I called Anjei on the rock from the boat on the good old Claro phone, my neighbour, the man in the know about this stuff…..………he confirmed, biggest ever caught…….. Biggest Ever. Nice one I thought, and of course Im happy to contribute to the cause and my ego appreciates the accolades of that accomplishment, even if Im the only one who brings it up.
The third Utila Lion Fish derby was completed a few weeks ago with upwards of 20 teams (of 4 participants) competing for the chance to capture and kill the invasive and detrimental Lion Fish.
They offer prizes for the most fish caught, the smallest fish caught and the largest fish caught. In the end they all get eaten in a wonderful feast for the senses complete with reggaeton in the background and bragging rights on the line.
Im so happy that this tournament has continued to be done. It is a part of Utila, it has to be….thank you to everyone who helps in this cause, day in day out, its just that important.…….and not just during the tournaments. For each tournament lion fish kills are quite large, numbering 400-500 per occasion. They are tallied, weighed, measured and eventually filleted. A large feast – free for all so to speak – occurs shortly after the last afternoon. Lion Fish specialities for everyone. Everything (time included) donated humbly by the caring and enthusiastic expats, tourists, dive shops and even locals. Of course, BICA headlining the efforts and organization. Again, thank you. From me, from the reef, from future generations of divers alike.
But back to my final point,
My Lion Fish record survived the first two tournaments and over 1000 fish caught…..I was not on the island for the most recent derby, so I emailed Dave (of one of the organizers) to enquire about the sizes of the fish caught in the most recent derby………..fingers crossed, my record would remain intact. Dave is usually a smart ass, and being my lion fish killer understudy, he would like nothing better to crush my ego with news of a fallen record. Verbatim, here is text of my message and response from Dave Burgundy:
“Ok, Burgundy……lets hear it……what was the biggest lion fish caught yesterday? Im sitting at 31.5 cms and change.”
“ How did it go otherwise?”
“Youre safe, the biggest was 31 cm, and it was an even bigger success than last time..onwards and upwards. 90% of the fish brought in were over 20 cm.”
I guess that is enough said, ego intact.……I look forward to the next Utila Lion Fish derby. Here’s to protecting a place we love! Great work everyone.
Ps. I know Ryan, you dont endorse the name Burgundy. None the less, you inspire me.
………………..And a couple more photos if youre really interested.
Story One: About the flames.
Quicker than online viral first account reports, I received news this past Sunday about a fire at Skid Row Bar in Utila. The news came from long time island resident Barbara – who years ago was a reporter in native Switzerland – and still uses these skills to this day on the small sleepy island. The news was there was a fire at the bar the evening before, sometime late night or maybe even just prior to dawn….and from what I gather it could have gone really really bad.
“Im not exactly sure what happened but I heard they had the bucket brigade….Ill make a call and find out.” And she was off to dig up some details.
In the mean time I messaged Ryan (the owner of the bar), and eventually that afternoon we spoke on the phone – him on his cell phone, me via skype- so I could get the scoop. Of note: to call a cell phone from Honduras to a cell phone in Canada the cost is around 5 cents a minute. For me to call a Honduras cell phone through Skype, the cost was 46.5 cents a minute – something is wrong here, and this made my call to Ryan a lot shorter than I had planned.
We got right to the point of my call. And so, to the story.
It starts off that Ryan had this particular Sunday to himself and was not at the bar (it was probably staffed by Visor Steve who is actually retired from working at the bar but canno’t actually stop working). Ryan didn’t need to tell me that on his day off he was at home sitting in the AC and watching TV (this is a given for him). The phone rings – Reggaeton plays – and then Ryan answers.
“Hello.” he dribbles lazily.
“Fire! Real fire now!”, the voice on the other end screams – and with that – hangs up the connection.
Without further details, Ryan flew out of the house, barefoot (not unusual on Utila, but maybe unusual if you were on your way to fight a fire burning down your economical lifeline). Now, moving fast down the road on his bike – head racing – wondering WTF was going on, what situation he was going to arrive upon. This must have looked funny as well since the only people who move fast on Utila are anyone under the age of 16 and on a scooter….that is it.
When he arrived there was some chaos and confusion but no flames to speak of, some smoke Im sure.
According to Ryan three particular people helped rescue the burning down of the bar “just in time” and with some interesting and somewhat unconventional measures. Gib took it upon himself to remove the butane tanks sitting directly around the burning inferno in the kitchen area. John went and acquired fifteen 5lb bags of flour to throw on whatever was in fact burning. Thank you Gib and John and Wharty – who has a store across the street and was on water detail as well. What I am learning now, is in this particular situation were three different fires occurring: electrical fire, regular fire, and grease fire…..throw in the possibility of compressed air explosion and this could have been quite the fireworks display not seen since the famous Laguna Beach resort cabin burning of Jan 2011 (see: faulty AC/electrical unit for that one as well). Apparently, the electrical company named UPCO had been turning the electricity on and off prior to the fire (they are famous for this), and this was the contributing factor……it started from crappy wiring, some surges, and all these other voltage issues that I wont even begin to pretend I understand or know anything about……but this is what started the entire ordeal.
With some quick actions from the neighbours who were probably worried more about the surrounding houses and local business than they were Skid Row – this disaster was averted just at the point where it could have gotten very very out of hand. Call 911? Emergency line of some sort? Well, there is a fire station with a fire truck on the island. But Ive never met a fireman nor seen the fire truck move an inch from its parking spot, in the three years I’d spent living there. I don’t think there is even such thing as a fire alarm or extinguisher in any house or business – not that Ive seen anyway although John the Baker, I bet hes got one….I mean he has the only 40ft ladder on the island so I am sure he has thought about fire precautions for his home as well. Lets just say, there is and was, only people looking out for people in the spirit of community and to generally “do the right thing”. This saved Skid Row from total destruction. The fact that the building is still intact and operating today is a testament to luck, action and ……..well, timing.
“We were really lucky.” Ryan admitted. “The only thing we really lost was a toaster, and some burned particle board……..actually, the kitchen was open and serving food a day later.” He proudly stated to me on the phone at the end of our conversation.
Two things are interesting about Ryans final comments. One, he says “we were lucky” although he is the only actual owner of Skid Row……it’s a great sense of place on Utila where people actually feel part in parcel with the community…..and likewise the people/public feel a sense of family and ownership in many aspects of the island. “We” are in this one together so to speak. And two, that the kitchen was serving food no problem, 24hrs later – stated proudly by Ryan (see: its not the hand youre dealt with its how you play your cards, no harm no foul sort of attitude – again very related to the attitude on Utila). And we thank God for that.
Story Two: About the Fun.
A couple months ago the power went out on Utila during a scheduled shut down (ie: someone on the street tells you that the power wont be on until 2pm………or something along these lines). With this extended time away from anything electrical, I headed down to Skid Row to hang out and shoot the breeze with others doing the same thing. I wrote the article below, the day after this particular afternoon. It’s a good one so I thought I would resurrect it for this post.
28 Jan 2012
Power out? People come!
Not an unusual event in the day to day life of living on Utila……the power going out. I was mentioning to someone that it actually saves us money when UPCO suddenly decides (by their choice or not) that the island is in need of a little less AC and Reggaeton. I was also told that we can just make that choice if we want to. No though, its better to be motivated by force and then turn around and take credit for the validity of such greenness.
None the less, and more to the point of this story is what exactly people do when the power does indeed cease to flow. We pretty much go on with life from what I can tell. Only those accustomed to either laziness (see:TV) or luxuriousness (see: Air Con) seem to complain……the others continue on. Food is cooked with gas, fridges stay closed a little more, and well, a little romantic candlelight at night is never a bad thing.
Another phenomena seems to occur as well……and I witnessed it yesterday. Pulling up at Skids for a frosty and some fat to chew on around 2pm, I was in fact not the only one with the same idea. It appears that when the power decides not to interact with us for a while, a logical choice for some of us is to head to the pub. And its not a bad idea at all. Different folks began pulling up and the balls on the pool table were cracking. The only sounds made available to us were those of chatter, banter, and the odd low level argument…….this and one guys cell phone which has one of those loud and annoying ring tones (of the lets pretend Im an old phone on a wall in your grandmas house sort of ring). I planned on a few with a few but it turned out to be an entire afternoon of fun, relaxation and unexpected comfort which always succeeds in drawing us in to what we later refer to as “that was a fun day”.
On queue Ryan breaks out a little game to pass the time – and what I now see as a submissive attempt to keep people engaged in their drink a little while longer (see: customer retention). It was a real easy concept of course, easy concepts are key for the wonderful clientele of the establishment. Pick a time when the power will come back on. Pick a time? Really? Is this what we do for fun in Utila? Well if yesterday was an example then the answer is yes.
After a few minutes 18 people had chosen their respective times and threw in 20Lemps in a winner take all sort of bet. As things progressed and the pool of times was being chipped away, the power did arise from its sleep. It wasn’t about the money or the bragging rights or some trophy (or heaven forbid a free shot of giffity), but just about the fun. No Wii fun here, proper good ole fashioned for no other reason fun. For those wondering, the time was 4:06pm.
Simplicity in its finest hour, fun in its freshest sense. At Skids (and with Ryan at the helm, yes I can give kudos when they are due), this is more of the norm than the exception to the rule. Think I might poke my head in there this afternoon to see what fun can be had without knowing whats coming.
A very special mention to a random tourist who first asked to have a seat at the bar and then asked to buy the five us sitting directly around him – a beer. That was nice. And to make it even more special he introduced himself as Steve……and then produced his dive card to show his full name as STEVE IRWIN. HA!
PRISON FIRE KILLS OVER 300.
15 Feb 2012
An electrical fire at one of the severely overcrowded prisons in Honduras is apparently to blame for the death of upwards of 400 inmates. Many – if not most of the inmates – burned a terrible death in their cells while prison guards could not locate the proper keys. In one cell, 60 people perished in this fashion. Of the 800 or so people calling the Tegucigalpa jail home, many are missing and most of the dead will require DNA testing to identify. It has yet to be seen – nor will it be reported – how many convicts escaped unharmed into the streets and neighbourhoods of the city, to vanish forever back to a life of crime or simple persecution, or both. This is it, at a minimum security prison there are those convicted, those simply being held for political reasons or speaking against the government – although as has been shown, the easiest way to keep these people quiet is not to lock them up with their mouths and minds still working – but rather to simply dispense of them on the streets. This fate has happened to political activists, union leaders, journalists, human rights advocates and even simple land owners. So is the diatribe that is life in Honduras. Not being able to lock up the real criminals, dispensing of the non criminals and a white wash of a burning jail story just to make everything chaotic, indescribable, and without any context for comparison to other places, events, or catastrophes. This certainly leaves the public without any recourse or any relevant path for action or justice to take place. This is not the reality of every poor country – Honduras included – but rather a reflection of a very corrupt country which happens to be poor. To top it all off, friends and relatives of inmates rushed to the scene in order to determine if their loved ones, work colleagues (re:gang menbers), or even enemies were alive or part of the carnage. At once the rush was met with military and police resistance and things once again turned ugly. The public enraged with the lack of response resorted to throwing rocks. Those in charge with keeping the peace responded with tear gas to quiet and disperse the crowd. In a short while those in charge decided to read allowed the names of the deceased and those who were alive – over loud speaker. There were 105 names not recited to the incensed crowd – meaning – they were not found in the remains or remained at large. The question exists: If most of the deceased would need to be identified using DNA then how could an accurate list be compiled only hours after fire was extinguished? Honduras is a country where you can be alive or dead, on paper or in reality, and its someone else determining this for you for reasons which are rarely legitimate – in a hopefully legitimate world.
A month ago a story ran in the Miami Herald about the prison and justice system in Honduras and simply how corrupt it is, top down. Let me re emphasis this…..how CORRUPT the system is TOP DOWN. The story quoted a very outspoken (saying anything of the sort in Honduras is considered outspoken) previously high ranking public official. He recounted instances of inmates being let out of jail during the day to run drugs and collect cash….not just for themselves but for their gang and for those in charge of the prison system. There were stories of inmates pictured with guns, police uniforms, cellphones, drugs and prostitutes….again, in the very prison system set a blaze the other day. The source knew of the danger in speaking out and had being doing this towards anyone who would listen for sometime. A couple weeks after the article ran in the Herald, this source was murdered in cold blood. And hey why not, its easier and quieter than putting them in jail.
There have been just under 20 journalists murdered in Honduras since the coud’etat of June 2009. There have been many more sources who have met the same fate in the same time frame. The highest murder rate in the world and one that has gained attention from all corners of the globe and groups who watch and look out for this sort of thing. But it doesn’t take a watch group to see whats going on here. Suppression on a grande scale. Suppression to the degree of death. Suppression to the degree of death with no chance for justice what so ever for the perpetrators. Now that’s suppression without to many comparisons globally, and its not letting up.
Next up: social media, where are you in Honduras?