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2017-04-21 / Features

LET’S TRAVEL!

My undersea adventures on the Mayan Barrier Reef
By Kallie Kantos
HTF Contributor


Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort in Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Photos by Kallie Kantos. Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort in Roatan off the coast of Honduras. Photos by Kallie Kantos. Roatan is located approximately 40 miles off of the northern coast of Honduras. It is located in the Caribbean Sea on the Mayan Barrier Reef. The main industry of Roatan is tourism, which includes scuba diving, cruise ships and eco-tourism. The population is approximately 46,000. English is the first language of the “islanders,” but many who have migrated from the mainland have brought the Spanish language with them.

What do you do in the middle of winter if you feel the need to escape its wrath? You, along with 15 other scuba and non-scuba divers, grab your sun block and make plans for a weeklong trip to a tropical paradise? You ask the question, where did we go? The answer is Roatan, Honduras. This trip included encounters with wild and domesticated animals on land and in the ocean, not to mention amazing hospitality.


A tropical walkway at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort in Roatan. A tropical walkway at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort in Roatan. My adventure in Roatan started with two simple questions: “Do you have any rooms left?” and “If they have any rooms left, do you want to go?” The answers to the questions were “YES!” and “YES!” These two simple words were music to my ears as well as the prelude to multiple lists.

LISTS: I am an over planner, but the possibility exists that that may be an understatement.

LIST #1: What does the Center for Disease Control (CDC) suggest I have for vaccinations before traveling to Roatan? The answer, hepatitis A and a vaccination for typhoid. There are two different vaccinations for typhoid—one is a vaccination that lasts for two years, and the other comes in a pill form (4 pills) that lasts for five years.

LIST #2: What clothes will I need to travel to and from Minneapolis to International Falls?


Kallie Kantos with Tilley at Anthony’s Key Resort. Submitted photo. Kallie Kantos with Tilley at Anthony’s Key Resort. Submitted photo. LIST #3: What clothes will I need for the trip itself? A few pairs of shorts, a couple of pairs of pants, tank tops, a long sleeved shirt (to keep the bugs off in the evening and to prevent getting chilled from the air conditioning), a dress, a couple of swim suits, the essentials, a ball cap and of course sandals.

LIST #4: Where am I going to find the best flight and hotel deal? This involved making multiple phone calls and researching the Internet. I finally booked our flight with American Airlines through a travel agency in Fort Frances, Ontario, Canada, along with insurance, just in case one of us could not go on the trip for some reason. The person I traveled with booked our rooms and parking at the Crowne Plaza close to the Minneapolis/St. Paul airport.


A bit of seaside solitude awaits visitors at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort. A bit of seaside solitude awaits visitors at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort. LIST #5: Make a list for list #5 of everything else I would need—sunblock, bug spray (they have sand fleas—very little, irritating creatures that bite like gnats), a dry bag for clothes on the boat, a suitcase that can be used as a carry-on (one that fits within the size limitations), scuba rental gear, a good book (I never did open the book), sunglasses, cameras and a current passport (one that was not going to expire within six months of my trip—that was mandatory).

FLIGHTS AND CUSTOMS:

The flight from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Dallas/Fort Worth to Roatan plus the layovers took approximately eight hours. It was a quick trip to go from below freezing to a very comfortable, non-humid, 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Once my travel partner and I arrived at the airport in Roatan, we waited approximately an hour to clear customs.


A serenely beautiful Roatan beach view at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort. A serenely beautiful Roatan beach view at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort. I was very thankful that I had dressed in layers for the flights, but the wonderfully warm air started to get hot because I was wearing a sweatshirt.

We waited in a line that twisted and turned, back and forth and finally made official entry into Roatan. We had our fingerprints scanned, a photo taken, a few questions were asked and subsequently answered, and only then were our passports stamped. Our adventure began soon thereafter. We met the rest of our party, 14 other people from Fargo/Moorhead, and crammed ourselves into two vans and headed for Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort.

Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort and Subway Watersports (www.turquoisebaybayresort.com)

The resort and the overall setting are beautiful. A long, sand beach with multiple hammocks, a dining area and bar that doubles as a market place greet you as you walk past the check-in point, the dining room and the swimming pool. As you look down the beach, you can’t help but notice the volleyball court and the long pier.


Charlie, a friendly and inquisitive capuchin monkey the author met on a nearby beach. Charlie, a friendly and inquisitive capuchin monkey the author met on a nearby beach. The grounds on the resort were always immaculate. Each morning the view from the balcony included the resort horses enjoying the fresh grass, birds singing and the view of the ocean. The food was very good. There was always a wide variety of food for every meal. Breakfast was served from 7 – 9 a.m., lunch started around 1 p.m., snacks around 5 p.m. and finally dinner between 7 – 9 p.m.

Each day, after our room was cleaned, there would be fresh flowers waiting for us on our beds. The room was always very clean and there was always hot water in the shower. Each room also had access to free Wi-Fi. It was nice to be on vacation, but it was also nice to stay in touch with loved ones.

Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort has some of the best hospitality I have ever experienced while traveling. The people working in all areas of the resort assisted the guests in any way they could. After the first day, the staff in the dining room and bar area knew you by name or by what you were drinking, or both.

Everyone working at the resort earns a base wage, but they also work for tips. The people who I traveled with opted to tip at the end of the trip. Other people tipped each day. Tips were given to the divemasters, the captain of the boat, dining room and bar staff, people behind the desk, cleaning staff and those who take tourists, like ourselves, out on excursions. The rule for tipping your divemasters and captain is $5 – $10 each dive, each day. Cash is the preferred method of tipping.

There were no hidden fees, extras or surprises on this trip. Tipping is an extra fee that you should take into consideration when traveling. It is based on performance. If you are happy with the service, you tip a certain percentage or dollar amount, but if someone went above and beyond to make your experience enjoyable, you may tip more. Not tipping is not an option.

THE COLD

A few days before I left on this scuba trip, I caught a cold. I thought I was okay to dive, but after the first dive on the first day, I found out otherwise. The pressure in my ear from the fluid buildup made diving difficult and painful. After the first dive, the boat headed back to the resort to pick up more air tanks. At that point, I opted to forego the remainder of the dives for the day (two).

So what do you do when the reason you went on vacation in the first place is no longer an option? I walked around the resort and got to know some of the people who were working. One of the activities I was interested in trying was kayaking. I paddle every month of the year in International Falls, so I thought it would be fun to kayak on the ocean. One of the people working, Kiwi, was kind enough to take me kayaking in the mangroves. After we paddled in and around the mangroves, we decided to paddle across the bay to a manmade island. We explored the island and then paddled to the next beach down from Turquoise Bay.

We talked about our lives and what it is like in Roatan as we walked around the beach. Lucky for me, Kiwi knew the person who owned the land behind the beach. It was on that property that I met Charlie, a capuchin monkey who was really inquisitive and friendly, a beautiful pit bull and many horses. After we visited with the animals and a couple of Kiwi’s friends, we paddled back to Turquoise Bay.

Later we walked around the resort grounds at Turquoise Bay. On the walk, Kiwi, told me about the local plants and even took his machete and cut down sugar cane. When we returned to the resort, he peeled and cut the sugar cane so we could eat it. To me the sugar cane was very stringy and of course sweet. The easiest way I found to eat it was to simply chew on it to get the sugar out. What remained was a fibrous white piece of plant.

HARD LESSON LEARNED

Even though I had applied sun block before kayaking, it was no match for the tropical sun. The sun is a little stronger in Roatan in the Caribbean than in International Falls at the Canadian border.

To answer your question, yes, I did get sunburned. Weeks before leaving for Roatan, I made an effort to obtain a base tan. I am not someone who intentionally tans, but when your skin is glow in the dark white and you are headed to a tropical destination, it is a good idea to not glow in the dark. After seven trips to the tanning booth, I didn’t look like a ghost anymore. The moral of the story, apply sunblock liberally and often.

SCUBA DIVING

Scuba diving with Turquoise Bay Beach and Dive Resort (Subway Watersports) was a great experience. The divemasters were very friendly and knowledgeable. They know the waters like the back of their hand. They were able to tell us where the moray eels lived, where certain types of fish were likely to be found, and where we were most apt to see sea turtles. There were so many different kinds of fish on the reefs, I can’t begin to name them all. There were schools of blue fish, different varieties of angels, lion fish, many kinds of corals, well as moray eels, just to name a few. The world underneath the water is truly amazing. If you were to spend all of your time on the surface, there is no way you could imagine the beauty that lies just beneath. Luckily for us, technology allows us to share what we see under water with those who have not been fortunate enough to spend time under water.

Many of the people I dove with had Go- Pro cameras or other variety of underwater camera. At the end of the diving day, while the group sat around waiting for the snack to be served or just before or after dinner, many of us would share the images we had captured that day. Everyone had a different diving experience. When we viewed each other’s images and video, it became very clear how different our experiences were. It was fun to experience other people’s dives through their eyes.

One night we set out for a night dive, flashlights in hand. The ocean comes alive at night with creatures you wouldn’t necessarily see during the day. One of those creatures is the octopus. On that dive, we saw multiple octopuses, a large crab and a den full of lobsters. That night I was particularly thankful I wore my 7mm wetsuit. I tend to get cold easily, but the thicker wetsuit kept me warm on all but two of my 10 dives when I became chilled on my trip to Roatan.

Only one of the other scuba divers wore a wetsuit as thick as mine. The divemasters, who were accustomed to the 80 degree Fahrenheit water, did not wear wetsuits. The “tourist” divers wore wetsuits ranging in thickness from 1mm – 7mm.

DIVEMASTERS AND THE CAPTAIN

The divemasters’ job is to guide the divers to areas he thought we may be interested in seeing. They made sure everyone was safe and had a good time. Towards the end of the dive, one of the divemasters would surface and wait for the remainder of the scuba divers to surface. When the divers started to break the surface, the divemaster would move to the back of the boat to assist the divers into the boat and to help them sit down with their air tanks still strapped on their backs. Backing up and setting an air tank down its holder can be difficult, not only because of the weight, but also because the boat rocks with the ocean waves.

Eventually, the other divemaster would make his way to the surface and assist the other. While those who had surfaced waited for the other divers to make it to the surface and board the boat, one of the divemasters wrote down our statistics— how much air we still had in our tank, what was the deepest depth we descended to and how long was our dive. While all of this was going on, the divers unhooked their buoyancy control device (BCD), drank water and snacked on fresh pineapple.

The captain of the boat was an amazing navigator. He always knew where to go and the best way to get there. No matter what the waves were like, he never had issues hooking up to the mooring line. The mooring line is a thick rope connected to a heavily/permanently weighted object with a floating ball/marker on the water’s surface. By staying connected to the line at all times, the divers were always able to locate the boat. The mooring line is also used when divers have to take the time to decompress. If a diver does not take the required amount of time—three or more minutes—to decompress, they run the risk of having nitrogen build up in their system.

THE COLD – DAY 2

The odds were good I would not feel much better on the second day of my vacation, so on day one I made plans to visit Anthony’s Key (.com) on the other side of the island. All I had to do was talk to the front desk personnel at Turquoise Bay Dive and Beach Resort and let them know what I wanted to do the next day. They set everything up for me; I just had to tell them what I wanted to do and when. The next morning my ride was waiting for me, on time, and the driver and my guide were both very nice people. Little did I know that my plans for the day were going to be some of the best memories I have from Roatan.

THE DOLPHIN ENCOUNTER

I am a true animal lover, so I must tell you that I had reservations about this part of my trip, the dolphin encounter. I had recently read an article and watched a video on Facebook that was horrifying. It went into detail and showed how the dolphins are captured in the wild, families broken apart and baby dolphins being ripped way from their distraught mothers and other family members. It honestly was a difficult decision for me.

Many people boarded a boat and were shuttled across the bay to an island. The large group was broken down into multiple smaller groups. We were told to line up side-by-side, close together, so a sneaky dolphin will not break through the line. The trainer then introduced us to our new dolphin friend, Tilley. As Tilley swam by the line, the trainer told us how the dolphins came to be at St. Anthony’s Key.

When the program started, eight dolphins were captured for the dolphin program. From that point up until today, six of the original eight dolphins who were captured have passed away. The two remaining dolphins are a male and a female who are both forty-six years old. The female is currently pregnant. The other dolphins in the program have been born into captivity.

The trainer taught us how to feed a dolphin a fish, always feed them fish head first so the dolphins won’t have issues with the fish bones getting stuck. Everyone had the opportunity to touch Tilley as she swam by the line multiple times. We were told that 80 percent of dolphin’s muscles are found in their tail, that is why they can jump so high and swim so fast. The best part of the demonstration, in my opinion, was when everyone had an opportunity to have their photo taken with Tilley. These photos could be purchased at the end of the demonstration at the gift shop. Of course I couldn’t resist. Tilley even gave me a kiss on the cheek that was captured by the camera.

A CHANGE IN THE WEATHER

The weather changed on the third and fourth days of diving. Instead of just taking the boat from Turquoise Bay and heading to the dive site, we hopped into a van and headed for the other side of the island to a resort called Little French Key. From there we dove our three dives a day, ate lunch and relaxed in between dives.

TRAVEL TIDBITS

• Always know how to contract the U.S.
Embassy.
• Keep a copy of your passport away
from your passport book, with your
luggage.
• Place a travel notification on your
credit cards.
• Know your credit card numbers and
their contact information.
• Always take a bump to first class, an
exit row seat or the bulk head seating
if offered by the airlines.
• The same can be said for the opportunity to check your luggage at no cost
to you.

SUMMARY

Sunblock, sunglasses, bug spray, passport, tip money, enjoy the adventures, make new friends, take a lot of photos to preserve the memories, enjoy nature and all it has to offer, share your good times and be sure to take it all in. Most of all, relax. After all, this is intended to be a vacation.

Would I go back? Absolutely!

Kallie Kantos lives in International Falls, MN.

EDITOR’S NOTE: It is said that travel is good for the soul. It’s probably good for the mind and body as well. At Hometown Focus, we think that sharing stories is also good and we invite you to share your travel stories and photos with HTF readers. Let us enjoy your adventures too! – Cindy Kujala, HTF interim editor

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