Why Did I Stay A Month On Roatan Island?
I flew into Roatan from Belize City with little expectations. Except for diving, I had no clue to what this island offered. I assumed I would only stay for a week, then move on to the mainland before my flight out of Guatemala City in a months time. Boy, was I mistaken. Within hours of arrival, the friendliness of the locals, the quieter roads, the small colorful buildings and palm-tree filled beaches enticed and I knew I would have a hard time leaving.
I chilled for a month, twenty-nine nights to be exact. You would assume I kept extending my nights because of the soft sandy beaches, warm calm seas, or world-class diving. Although incredible, they had nothing to do with my extension. It was the people of Roatan who opened their doors and allowed me to walk through like a member of their family. I stayed because I felt home.
The Ceviche Man, Bus Driver, Baleada Ladies, Coffee Man, Beach Waiters, and Hostel Owner, all embraced me warmly. They knew my name, my life story and were always keen to know more. Their questions were always intuitive and insightful and I, of course, was super nosey in asking personal questions. You can’t truly know someone or even yourself unless you unlock the key to our heart. I kept making keys since my heart was constantly being opened and in turn, I left Roatan with a keychain full.
THE AWESOME PEOPLE OF ROATAN
On my first morning, I hopped into a minivan with a few girls from Bueno Onda Hostel and headed to the supermarket 25 minutes away. One of the girls recognized the bearded tan fella in the front seat as the man who “makes killer ceviche.” He was so humbled and thanked her for the kind words. A few days later I saw him as he was setting up his small table on the beach. We got chatting and he told me he moved from the Southern United States for the laid-back island life. He loves to cook and as seafood is the freshest here, he decided to turn that into a living on Roatan. He uses in season ingredients and changes the ‘menu’ daily – the fish, seasonings, and fruits he uses. That day it was a white fish in a lime, coconut, pineapple cilantro sauce with a side of plantain chips. I am not a ceviche fan, often too sour and chewy, but this was lightly seasoned and moist. For $7 it was the best pop-up beach stand I’d ever been too. As his spot on Westend beach was always a few meters from where I would relax under the palm trees, I would stop by for a quick chat, interested in his menu and ingredients. He taught me a few tricks to making my own ceviche which hopefully I will attempt to make this summer. Seems easy enough?!
Unlike North American and European Cities where public transport is highly regimented and regulated, Central American local buses are super casual – usually a minivan with a driver and his assistant who slides open the door and yells out if anyone needs a ride. To get around Roatan, I walked to the main road and waved down one of the minivans. When I needed to get off I would tell the driver to stop and he would pull over – how simple. There was one driver who recognized me and always knew my stop – in front of Calelu’s where my favorite baleadas are sold. Sometimes I would sit up front and we would chat about Canada and Honduras – he loves sports and wanted me to explain ice hockey – the little I do know. In return, I would ask about his family and life living on this island.
O.M.Gawd! A made to order thick and fluffy flour tortilla grilled on a flat top until its puffy with blackened pockets of crispness. A smear of mashed black beans, a sprinkle of crumbled cheese then it is topped with shredded chicken, beef, egg, avocado, the list is endless. It is then folded like a quesadilla, but eaten like a burrito. If I went a day without munching on one, I experienced baleada withdrawals – fuzzy tongue combined with lip shakes. My two favorite places were Calelu’s, in West End and Elizabeth’s down the dirt road from Roatan Backpackers. At Calelu’s you pay at the convenience store behind the outdoor kitchen. By my fourth visit, the cashier lady knew my order – one with bean and cheese and the other with chicken. By my 7th visit, we started talking. She was dumbfounded why a young (ha!) and single girl like me, so far away from home would choose to stay on Roatan for a month if I wasn’t here to dive. I told her the people are incredibly friendly, funny and endearing that I feel like I have gained a second family.
When I stayed four nights at Georphies Beach Hideaway, I’d wake early and grab a coffee from Calelu’s (baleada place). An older gentleman was there most mornings and soon he knew my order – a drip coffee with lots of hot milk and sugar to go. Often there would be a group of young boys trying to budge in front of me, but the kind man would always turn his back to them and make my coffee. It was an unspoken relationship, but sometimes those can have the most impact. And if the Baleada lady was there she would ask if I wanted my usual – yeah of course! Then I’d come back for lunch and dinner.
Buccaneer Restaurant was my favorite chill out spot on West End Beach. Darlon and Kareem, Honduran cousins, were beyond friendly and funny that I would often spend afternoons lounging on their sunbeds with a shot of tequila, some nachos, and a good book. However, I wouldn’t get beyond a few pages as the boys would come by for chats and laughs. We became fast friends that sometimes I would just pop by for a quick hello and catch up, then continue on with my day. Other times, we would take a walk through town on their breaks. It was sad when I had to say goodbye, but I know I have some good friends that will welcome me back anytime, and with warm smiles.
I stayed at all the backpackers on Roatan – Buena Onda, Georphi’s and Roatan Backpackers. Since I kept extending my stay, often at the last-minute, I had to move to hostels that had availability. I spent my first five nights at Buena Onda, then moved 6 nights to Roatan Backpackers, then to Georphi’s for four nights then back to Roatan for my last two weeks. Roatan Backpackers was by far the best hostel of the bunch. Although the travelers staying here were quirky, kind and extremely welcoming (most were long-termers working/diving on the island) it was the amazing owner Mel who kindly nudged me stay on this island for as long as I did. Super friendly, helpful and with a constant smile and upbeat attitude, she ensured my stay was super enjoyable. She organized day excursions to remote beaches, planned bonfire nights at the beach and got me dancing and singing along at Reggae night. No request was too much – she was happy to make a birthday cake for one of the travelers! She included me in her family and when it was time for me to leave in the early dawn, she was already up, making sure I would not miss my ferry to the mainland.