Neverland Is Actually a Small Island in the Caribbean, and You Should Go
Second star on the right and straight on ‘til morning
Those are the directions to Neverland, shouted above the rooftops by Peter Pan as he soars across the starry night-sky. And it might sound a little bit crazy, but you can hop on the ferry from mainland Honduras and set out toward a seemingly-empty horizon, cutting through waves just as Peter cuts through clouds, and before long the silhouette, dark against a pale blue sky, of a little island will begin to take form. Before long, you’ll get to Neverland all the same.
Except when you get to Neverland, they’ll call it by a different name. They’ll call it Utila, and instead of battling pirates and befriending Lost Boys you’ll encounter backpackers from all corners of the world, paths crossing with each other on an unsuspecting cay in the middle of the Caribbean.
Sling-shot from the Sky
Landing on the island, sea legs stepping off the ferry, is like entering into another dimension; one where time loses its fluidity, becoming thick and viscous like molasses slowly secreting from a tree. You can loosen your belt and breathe, letting go of all the stresses and worries from the world you came from.
It might come as a surprise, like Wendy being sling-shot from the sky, just how many travelers you can find, just how many remote locations are represented on this small island in the middle of the sea. You can see them, barefoot, backpacks in tow, ambling down the cracked and cobbled main road that runs parallel to the ocean. You can find them in one of the many dive shops that speckle the harbor, sleeping in hammocks strung between swaying palms, gearing up to go in the water, or sipping a Salva Vida by the ocean’s edge, reminiscing on the day’s activities. You might be wary at first like I was, overwhelmed, senses overloaded by the new people and places and ways of doing things, but its best to jump in and put yourself out there. It might come as a surprise, but these unfamiliar faces are going to be your family.
I don’t know what it is about Neverland, whether we all share some common internal draw to the island or if the bond is born while we’re here, but everyone you meet, travelers and locals alike, are friendly and genuine and interested in your story. We may all be different, coming from different places with different backgrounds with varying stories ahead of us, but we’re brought together on the island, sharing a love for the ocean and an interest in what can be done beneath its waves.
Faith, trust, and scuba classes?
They do fly in Neverland, but not in the way you may be thinking. Underwater wings in the form of inflatable jackets and compressed air allow you to glide beneath the ocean’s surface, wild and weightless, observing the world that is utterly otherworldly.
That’s what brought me here, the lure of what lies underwater; life that is vivacious, vivid, and vibrant, seafloors covered in corals and creatures that are unfamiliar to someone raised in a landlocked town. I came to learn how to teach, to learn how to be someone else’s Peter Pan, to show them what it really means to fly without wings or the constrictions of a plane. I’ll be the first to tell you that it takes almost the same ingredients as Peter’s recipe to fly – faith and trust and, albeit not pixie dust, but a little instruction and insight into the world that is scuba diving.
The courses you can take on the island are abundant and diverse, catering to a variety of skill levels and interests. You may be completely inexperienced, afraid of the water and hesitant to try something so inherently unnatural; it is generally against our better instinct as human beings to try to breathe underwater. Or you may be eager and excited to dive in, your curiosity sparked by a previous experience that you just can’t get out of your head. Maybe you want to take a beginner course or maybe you want to master the art of flying underwater; whatever your goal, Neverland can make it happen, and there are people like me here, people whose hearts are tied to the ocean with salty strings, held in place by bowlines and half-hitches, who want nothing more than to show you what’s underneath the surface.
Submerging yourself in these Neverland waters, warm and welcoming year-round, is, in itself, a venture into another realm. Allowing yourself to sink, succumbing to the increasing pressure, equalizing your ears and mind, are the entrance fees, and, once you’ve paid them, you’re free to explore. You’re free to be a part of another world, watching in wonderment as the current ebbs and flows, creating a back and forth surge for marine life to effortlessly follow.
In your time underwater you may see waving shades of lavender, fan corals with tiny orange-yellow-spotted flamingo tongues attached to their sides. You may see the blue-green-pink parrotfish crunching its beak on coral, excreting sand in its wake. Or maybe even the laid-back hawksbill turtles that glide along with the current, poking their heads briefly above the surface to gulp a breath of air before returning to the depths. The creatures you’ll encounter are unbelievable and countless: spotted eagle rays, trunkfish, trumpetfish, drumfish, damselfish, moray eels, octopuses, and immeasurable amounts more. You may be lucky enough to try a night dive, plunging into blackness with only a torch to guide you, surrounded by brilliant bioluminescence, lighting up like stars across the night sky when you wave your hand through the water.
The only sounds you’ll hear are the ever-present crackling of crabs and shrimps and other creatures clawing about the reef, similar to the way a fire crackles in its pit, flames licking and snapping upward into the sky. You’ll hear the sound of your own breath, amplified by the apparatus, like sipping air through a wide straw, exaggerated, rhythmic, and soothing. You may even hear the excited chirps and squeaks that could only belong to a pod of dolphins, migrating or playing in the waters around the island.
The lure of the ocean is undeniable, a siren’s song that sticks to the soul, calling us back time and time again.
Utila feels like Neverland because, no matter your age or place or stage in life, this is where time gently creeps forward, suspended in the Grand Scheme of Things, distorted into a slow-motion lapse that floats and flows along as slowly and seamlessly as a wobbling jellyfish caught in an inconspicuous current.
Neverland, where its inhabitants refuse to truly grow up, rooted in life’s simpler pleasures – waking with the sun, swimming in the sea, submerging beneath its surface, and sharing a beach-side beer as the sun sinks into its resting place beneath the horizon at the days close. Neverland, where fears and worries are shed in the way one takes off their winter coat when they’ve, chilled and wind-bitten, cozied up next to a warm fireside. Neverland, the immeasurably magical island you read about when you were younger, turned into a reality and transformed into a place you can stay, as some do, indefinitely.
And, as with any great thing, there is always the thorn waiting, hiding, ready to prick the next person who, enchanted by the flower’s beauty, underestimates its imminent risk. Neverland isn’t immune to the great balance of life: the good with the bad, the calm with the storm, the sunshine with the rain. While time does move more slowly, that doesn’t mean it stops, and eventually that ticking time clock in the crocodile’s stomach can catch up with you, letting you know its time to leave.
I’ve been here a little while now, and I’ve seen it with my own eyes: love sprouting, growing, and withering; friendships fading as the ferry pulls away from the dock; people who, only a week earlier were strangers, turned to family, turned back into strangers again.
Being here has taught me that saying goodbye never gets easier, the heart continues to crack with every farewell, and some goodbyes hurt more than others. It’s never a fun thing to think about when you’re saying goodbye to someone, if that will be the last time you see them, but on Neverland it’s an unspoken reality.
Sometimes we’re left watching our loved ones from the windowsill, peering into their lives for a moment, getting just a peek through the posted pictures on social media. You just have to hope that the universe will align your stars again, your paths, curving and winding wherever they may go, hopefully intertwining once more.
I’ve learned that you just have to appreciate, to cherish and hold on to, the time you were given. Let the good memories be the ones you remember. Let all the exciting and adventurous things propel you forward into the next chapter, knowing that everyone else is writing their own story too.
So, to all the people I met here in Neverland – to the ones who made a mark, to the ones I never want to forget, and to the ones I have yet to meet – Neverland will always be here for you, drifting along in that familiar, relaxed pace, offering coral reefs and dive sites, sunsets and celebrations to your hearts content.
And I hope that – wherever you are in the world, whatever adventure you may have taken on next – if you look to the moonlit, midnight sky and find the second star on the right, go straight on ‘til morning, and you’ll be home.