OFF THE MAINLAND coast of Honduras in Central America, there lie two small islands – Utila and Roatan – renowned for their hedonistic nomadic lifesyle.
The big draw for travellers aside from getting wasted is the pristine coastline, and clear waters ideal for deep sea diving.
Diving is big business on the islands and competition is fierce with companies trying to undercut each other, offering various incentives to sweeten the deal with curious punters. Not only did the company I chose in Utila have a great reputation, strong safety gear and proper equipment, more importantly they were organising a booze cruise the next day. The event seemed like a nice way to get to know the staff and other holidaymakers who were also lodgers in the centre while learning to dive.
Next morning, around twenty of us jumped into the boat as it was packed with crates of beer, snacks, crisps and all sorts of goodies. Our skipper sailed us a short distance to a tiny uninhabited island probably stretching 100 metres in diameter. When we landed, everyone helped unload the supplies in the heart of the tropical paradise. It was covered by a canopy of palm trees which also helped shelter us from the sweltering heat.
Many of the divers started sinking drink before they had even touched down on solid ground. Everyone was looking forward to the day ahead filled with drinking, sunbathing, beach volleyball or simply to snorkel around the shallow waters swimming with the aquatic life.
Whether it was the heat, the hard rum or the infectious energy of the twenty-something group that I was mingling with, the drinking escalated very quickly. I felt like an imposter and if truth be told, a little self conscious in my pasty white skin, surrounded by lithe athletic bronzed torsos shaped by months of beach life, a mostly liquid (alcohol) diet and a carefree attitude to life.
NATURALLY, an Irish man abroad has a certain reputation to live up to. I was used to the usual jibes about how we drink too much, how we were great ‘craic‘ when drunk, how we could handle our booze better than most nationalities…
I graduated from beers to rum a little bit sooner than the rest. Probably two hours sooner, in fact. After all, it was only midday and by my reckoning we only had another six hours of daylight left.
When dinner was cooked up and served, I noticed there was an untouched dessert cake on the table too. After a second helping, I went back and enquired about the chocolate cake.
“It’s a Space Cake mate. We made it for Leah’s birthday. But it’s too strong. No one’s going near it!” The makeshift cook told me, while also guarding it. “You’d have to ask her for a slice.”
He pointed her out to me in the distance, and in my drunken fog I made her out and with false confidence from too many rums made a beeline through the diving volleyball players. After introducing myself, she said that it was fine and I went back to the cook who had a big smile on his face.
“You tried this stuff before, yeah?”
“Course mate,” I assured him. “Love chocolate.”
He gave me a quizzical look before laughing and cutting off a big slice which I took to a nearby hammock and wolfed down.
I remember feeling very sleepy and lethargic soon after and went back to the cook again who was surprised to see me. I asked for some more and although he was a bit reluctant at first, I managed to convince him and he cut off a sliver. It tasted even more delicious than the first and I went back to my hammock.
Around ten minutes later, my soon to be diving instructor came out of the ocean and I went to greet her and thank her for the great time we were having.
Then, without warning it happened.
Mid conversation, I entered a kind of Matrix, slow motion movie where my movements suddenly became jerky and in time with a snail paced metronomic ticking in my head. The collective confusion in the group about my sudden weirdness was soon explained by the cook who approached and confirmed that I had just had two slices which sent everyone into hysterics.
I could hear them laughing as I sloped away trying to find a rational explanation for my sudden mental quandary. I curled up under my hammock in the sand and quietly battled the demons in my head.
After ten minutes like this, I was beginning to lose it big time, and became genuinely scared. I began puking up. Whether someone said it, or I said it to myself, the instructions were clear.
GO INTO THE WATER. GO INTO THE WATER. It would help clean the sick off and refresh me, bringing some sense of sobriety.
Now, I’m not the strongest swimmer. I can do it, but only one style – the crawl. I would also be entering shallow water, so I’m sure while the intention was good, sending someone into the water who was off his tits on marijuana space cake UNSUPERVISED was probably not the best idea in the world.
Nevertheless I crawled from my puke hole, and into the surf for some relief. The others watched on from the beach as I got far enough into the ocean so that the water reached waist height. Mentally, I was so far gone that I forgot all ability to swim or for that matter, use my legs in any way, shape or form. I was finding it extremely difficult to stand upright and kept slipping below the surface.
I heard raucous laughter from the group on the beach, having a great time joking about the ‘funny’ Irish guy, while I was choking down litres of salty water in genuine distress. Two divers had the clarity of thought (or weren’t as pissed as the others) to notice I was in trouble, and ran in dragging me out.
A rescue boat had to be called from the diving centre to collect me. The boat journey back was hellish with my vomit trail in the ocean marking our return. I hugged onto my diving instructor for dear life in that short journey and cursed the day I had ever tried Space Cake.
For the remainder of that week and after apologising profusely, I was able to save face on the other nights we managed. It was a mad and frightening episode but another story to tell the folks back home.
And for the record, I’ve never had chocolate cake since.