Sunday, May 04, 2008

My Happy Place

In April, I had the most amazing vacation. It helped that I was totally in NEED of a vacation, I was completely stressed and burnt out. This place was exactly what I needed.
We went to Anthony's Key Resort in Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras, and I was blown away. The first morning I woke up there, this was my waking thought: "this is the most beautiful place I've ever woken up, I want to come back!" - and my week's stay had barely begun.
What makes this place so amazing, is, uhh, EVERTHING...
First of all, it's a dive resort - so that pretty much trumps every other place I'd been right there. They have this amazing fleet of probably 12-15 new, shiny, well-run dive boats. Their dive staff is wonderful. Put your gear on the boat, and the rest is looked after - they switch your tanks for you, help you in and out of the boat... our dive master, Alonso, was totally laid back, a really approachable guy. Richard our boat captain was also amazing, he was always there when i needed to lift my tank laden BCD onto my shoulders - he watched carefully for anyone struggling with their gear. The boat we were on was called the Trevor, if you're looking for these two guys, this is where you can find them.
The diving was great. Turns out, the Bay Islands are located on the second largest barrier reef on earth, and it was the healthiest reef I'd ever seen. I saw large barrel coral over 5 feet tall, and probably 3 feet across; brain coral which was probably 4-5 feet across - loads of fish - all the usual suspects, blue tang, cowfish, clownfish,parrotfish... Angelfish, french and queen, in their romantic pairings, gliding over the reefs together... these were so plentiful, they became a secret favourite of mine, because they weren't as frightened of us, so they were visible for long periods of time. I could hang in one spot and watch them for quite some time.
We saw an eagle ray on one dive, he came gliding along the wall we were diving, it was amazing - this was the first one I'd seen underwater. The first live eagle ray I'd seen was spotted in the channel at the resort only a night or two earlier. So this was a big deal for me.
Turtles, yes, we saw lots of turtles - and my heart skips a little everytime I see them.
We saw barracuda and groupers - and one barracuda in particular was incredible, her name was Angelina, and she was probably more than 4 feet long. She was spotted as a juvenile, and the divemasters would feed her everyday, so she has stayed in the same section of reef for the last 4 years. She was amazing, and so comfortable with divers, she swam close enough we could see the shape of individual teeth. She and the groupers were very fast and powerful... again, I could have watched forever.

On our night dive, we saw an enormous king crab... his body alone was about 5-6" thick, and his legs all curled up around him must have measured about a 2-3' span. He was pretty neat. Then we saw lots of lobster, who look a bit like they are wearing disco sequins under water... they are just covered with bright spots in the light. We saw some octopi, which are amazing, because they move like liquid mercury across the reef, the whole time changing colours like crazy, trying to get out of our lights. The most impressive one went from a deep reddish colour to a bright aqua turquoise mixed with purple in an instant. It was interesting to see the fish sleeping on the bottom, many of them were kind of tipped over, against a rock or piece of coral, like a child's toy that had been dropped there. I hear you can pick them up while they are sleeping, turn them upside down, etc... I didn't try that. I feel completely reverent underwater, and I instinctually try to lessen my impact, so I normally don't screw around much down there...
The highlight of the trip was the shark dive - speaking of being filled with reverence, this was the most amazing thing i'd seen. Admittedly, it was a bit of an attaction. It's not like this is not a highly organized and repeated activity, these sharks are used to groups of divers... so these are wild sharks, but let's just say, they're acquainted with the proceedings. I'd still love to see a shark in the wild, for real, but I'm told that once they see our clumsy shapes and hear our loud bubbles coming, they get the hell out of duke. Too bad, but maybe not such a bad thing.
Anyway, this dive was amazing. The dive master puts us with our backs to a wall at a depth of 70 feet. The sharks commune once they see the first divers coming down the line, they know this is their cue. Once the group is at the bottom, and the divemaster has assessed the current and the sharks, he tells us we can swim off the wall - and this is an amazing moment. Your field of view is filled with sharks, most of whom are about 4-8 feet long, and you have a safe, large wall at your back - at this exact moment, i wanted nothing more than to leave the comfort of the rock behind me and float amongst the sharks... so we did.
This was the most relaxing dive we had. There is nothing to do but hover, move slowly through the water, observing the sleek, powerful sharks flexing and gliding through the water... they were breathtaking. They were beautiful, they were impressive, and looked to be highly engineered gliding machines. Their skin is amazing up close. I hung in the water looking all around, as sharks slid underneath me, in front of me, around me... wow... just amazing.
We did about 3 dives per day - and because the resort was filled with divers, this was a great conversation topic, so by the end of the week, you'd talked to everyone, and made many friends. It's a small resort, probably about 150 - 180 guests, and because they are mostly divers, they are mostly cool.
I say mostly, because there were some disappointing divers there. Seems not everyone shares my underwater sense of awe. I saw and heard stories of divers bracing themselves against coral to steady themselves or a camera shot. I watched divers with cameras race across an area to film some amazing creature, henceforth frightening forementioned creature out of visible range for ANY of us, not just their fancy cameras. But these types of divers, who would become known as wankerfish as the week progressed, were few and far between. Still disappointing representatives of homo sapiens, though.
Ahh, the wankerfish, once thought to be scarce, actually more prevalent than I had thought. The wankerfish is that diver on your boat who has more gear than you could shake your snorkel at, has better dive stories than anyone, and thinks this is the most boring, pathetic dive ever, because they've just seen and dove it all, you poor uninformed, inexperienced, ill-equipped novice, you. So, yes, they do exist, just try to steer clear of them, especially if they are barreling past you underwater to chase some poor sea creature away with their camera.

There are a couple other impressive pieces of AKR's amazing dive operation I can't leave unmentioned. They have these great dive lockers, right on the dock where you can store your gear between dives and over night. This is brilliant, because you don't have to haul your gear around with you each time you prep and leave a dive. Also, they have an amazing contingency plan for inclement weather. Roatan is a skinny island, something like 3k across - so if it's too rough on the AKR side, this is the plan. Load up your gear on your dive boat, and the boats depart for the opposite side of the island, with your gear, but not you. You get to take a comfortable ride over in a bus, no sea sickness required. You reach the boat on the calm side, feeling steady and ready for some diving! It's brilliant! They've even built a facility on that side of the island, complete with a gorgeous swimming pool and restaurant, a beach, a gift shop, and most important, spacious, spotless bathrooms. In case this impression has eluded you thus far - these guys have their shit together!

The resort itself is amazing. Most of the rooms are located on the key, a tiny island located across the channel from the main property of the resort. On the main island, you have the entrance, restauarant, marine institute, dive shop, med clinic, complete with a hyberbaric chamber. (see last comment of previous paragraph) The key, which is a short boat ride across the channel, has most of the rooms, which are built on stilts raised above the beach, rocks or the ocean, depending on the location of your room.

We had room 42 - probably the best room i could imagine. We faced west, and the balcony was equipped with hammocks, for your sunset viewing pleasure. We opted for a room without glass windows and no air conditioning. This was very comfortable, because the screened windows have been equipped with louvres, which can be opened or closed to keep out light and breeze or let it all in. It was beautiful - each morning, i woke at about 6am to the sound of the waves rolling in below my windows, the rustle of the palms and the cooing of the doves...except on the rainy days, which opened with crows cawing, apparently the doves took the rainy days off.
We only had a couple rainy days, the rest was amazing. And we were diving, so what's a little rain?
The food at this place is amazing. The kitchen staff really know what they are doing, the portions are generous without being gluttonous, their fresh homemade soups are wonderful, every meal includes a soup and salad. And you have to look for Celasse and buy this man's hot sauce- he makes it himself, hot peppers, some coconut, it's amazing.. take some home with you!
I feel like I came away from this place happy, relaxed, and with some new friends i hope to see again.

I'll have to update this later, I have more to say, but not enough time right now...

Check out the resort