This post is the first in a series of 13 impressions of my winter residency Utila.
You can find the Island of Utila in the Caribbean. It consists of a small coral reef that has roughly about 5,000 inhabitants, of which about half of them are expatriates. It forms part of the Bay Islands, an archipelago that belongs to Honduras. Contrary to the mainland, most of its habitants are made up from descendants of British pirates and Africans who escaped enslavement. English is the most common language spoken on the Bay Islands, but the developing tourism industry has lately caused a big influx of Spanish speaking labor force of the mainland, due to the better economical conditions and better education opportunities for their children. Local politics used to be a power game between some local clans, but the introduction of the latino workforce from the mainland into the political equation has changed that. While said clans still dominate the socio-economical scene, no local politician can anymore get elected who doesn’t take the latino vote into consideration.
And then you have the expat community who has nothing to say into the ways the locals manage the island. They’re more or less into the position of the customer of a big enterprise who also has little influence upon the ways the shareholders and management are running the company. When they complain, they’re told that if they don’t like this or that, they’re free to spend their money elsewhere. Most grudgingly comply, others leave. Also here the local community is dancing on a tightrope, since the expat community and tourism provide the economical lifeblood of the island. It’s mostly a diver’s destination and, not astonishingly, local politicians got very concerned when the first reports of dying coral reefs started to circulate among the dive shops.
The island still has a long way to go in order to become an ecofriendly tourist destination, but efforts are made. There is an organization that saved the Swamper (that is a lizard breed that only exists here) and the giant sea turtles from eaten into extinction by the locals by creating awareness of their potential touristic en ecological value.
And then of course you have the benign climate and easy access to booze and drugs. No paradise without a snake and the island has a tendency to swallow those who can’t deal with its temptations. Welcome to Utila: home of the wanted and unwanted, where recovery is not an option.