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Dive Festival 2013 Rocks Utila!

(DiverWire) Go to the edge of the Earth, head west and giant stride: You have just landed in Utila. 

A small plane buzzes its way onto the concrete landing strip. The pilot helps you out of your seat and hands your luggage to you.  The three or four vans on the island are probably waiting for passengers, just like you, in the adjacent parking lot.  A quick 6 or 7 minute ride and you are now at the crossroads of the two main streets in Utila.  The roads are one lane wide by most city planners’ blueprints, but the locals wind through them and pass by each other with a quaint little tap of the horn.  Most likely the horn toating Tuk Tuk drivers are related.

PupUtila is a small island, located about 18 miles west of Roatan and is part of the Honduras Bay Islands.  If you ask any of the local residents, they will tell you that this island caters to “the backpacking crowd” and there is an eclectic mix of characters that “currently” call the island “home”.  In fact, when you speak to many of the Instructors and Divemasters on the Island, they came down to get certified and simply never went home. Transportation is simple, for most locals it is bare feet and flip flops.  Many of the visitors to the island take Tuk Tuks from one place to another.  Tuk Tuks are small three seated taxis that dart around the one lane main streets (both of them). The island is peppered with small hotels and hostels, outdoor bars and restaurants, and of course dive shops. Divers rule Utila and if you are looking for a Spa Vacation or a Golf Outing, you dropped on to the wrong island.

Between June 22nd and June 28th, 2013, the Second Annual Utila Dive Festival hosted over 150 participants from around the globe.  All were celebrating and enjoying  … the Dive Life!

UtilaWhat’s involved in a Dive Festival? The ingredients are simple, 1/3rd Rock Concert, 1/3rd Frat Party, and 1/3rd Dive Vacation.  Mix it all together and the little Island of Utila turns into one BIG festival!  What’s really great is everyone on the island is involved.  Restaurants welcome festival attendees, the hotels are teeming with festival guests and competitive dive shops (sometimes right next door to each other) are working together to manage the throngs of divers heading out to do two, three, and even four dives per day.  All that sounds great, but you just want to dive?  That works just fine.  Diving started almost every day with a sunrise dive at 430am.  Yes, in the morning!  And, each day had a theme where all the shops participate.  One day was buoyancy, one day was wreck diving, and for those who want to dive around the clock, there was a night dive theme as well.  While there was certainly a lot of diving and other festival events, in the spirit of Utila, the event maintained the casual spirit that Utila instinctively delivers to all its residents (no matter how temporary or permanent).

The event started with a Woodstock Era Opening Ceremony.  There are two main beaches on this 6 mile long by 3 mile wide island.  The Opening Ceremony was at Bandu Beach.  The stage was set as festival participants scrambled from one dive shop table to another to sign up for the weeks’ events.  With Salva Vida beer in hand from the beachside bar, nobody wanted to miss out on the diving.  Each participant had a Festival Passport.  The Festival Passport was the primary information source for festival events.  Divers were instructed to collect stamps in their passport and the one with the most stamps would be the winner of a prize of booty that sponsors had donated to the event.  In fact, there were over $10,000 in total prizes for various raffles, contests, and awards.

Right around sunset as the group of festival-goers was finding its groove; the Scuba Cowboy (Pup Morse) took the stage.  What else could be more fitting than Pup playing his latest DVD full of underwater songs and creative Scuba oriented lyrics! Look out Parrot-Heads, there’s a group of Parrot-Fish-Heads in the audience.  Morse’s dynamic personality and fun story-telling was only one component that lit up the festival as his beach concert also boasted a laser-light show as well.

In typical Utila fashion, the party continued on the beach and in the small little outdoor bars and Utila.  It would seem Tranquila Bar and Treetanic are just as famous as the whale sharks and dive sites that keep divers flocking to this tiny Island.