Upon disembarking, you enter a room that serves as a luggage claim. Bags, stuffed full on carts, are pulled out from under the boat, one unloaded after another. It seems like they will be unloading forever. Soon, other boxes and bags come out stuffed with exports from the mainland to the island.
When I retrieve my bag, marked by the green luggage tag, I am relieved. For a minute, I was sure that someone would have made off with it. Jason and I head outside, and unable to find Cyn, Jason heads back in while cab drivers swarm around me offering rides to West End and West Bay for $20.
Ok, I say, but I have to find my friends.
Jason and Cyn eventually hit the ATM there and head out. I go to the bathroom to blow the congestion out of my nose, and when I return, I find that they’ve bargained the price down to $15. Not bad, I think, and we head to a taxi.
Again, in somewhat usual fashion, I begin trying to speak to the cab driver in my broken ass Spanish.
You know, on Roatan, we are English-speaking, the cabbie tells me.
Oh shit, I think. No way.
The cabbie, originally from the mainland, explains that up until 145 years ago, Roatan had been an English colony–and all the three surrounding islands infact. As a result, the officially language of the islands is English, but there are 4 types of people that live here: the white people (descendants of the Europeans), the garifuna, the black people of the Caribes, and the Hondurans that come from the mainland.
As we head up the dirt road among the lush greenery placed among multimillion dollar homes, he tells us many of the people from the US like to retire here. It drives the prices of land way up. That parcel, he says, pointing, goes for about $90,000. It doesn’t even face the ocean.
We drive past the airport, then Coxen Hole, a small town known for its one shopping mall and a few discotheques.
West Bay is the most beautiful edge on the island, he tells us, and in West Bay, there is a high-ish ridge that you can climb where it’s possible to see both sides of the island. It’s only about 3 kilometers across at that point, he says.
Sometimes, he adds with a twinkle in his eye, tourists go up there and are amazed. “Wow, they say, so that side is the Atlantic Ocean, and that side is the Pacific Ocean! Amazing!”
We all laugh. Roatan is obviously an island tucked into the Caribbean Sea. The Pacific Ocean is hours away across the Honduran country.
We get to the West End around noon, and amid a little bit of confusion (there is a Coconut Tree Divers restaurant, grocery store, cabins, dorm and dive shop — the Dive Shop only owns the dorm cabins) — we pay our cab and check in.
Cynthia is going to dive a refresher in the afternoon, and a staff member leads us back behind a long row of picturesque cabins to the dorm cabin.
The place is slightly dingy, six beds and incredibly humid. But it’s $5 a night, so again, we are in no place to complain. I think Jason may be a bit mortified… he’s never stayed at a hostel-type deal before. Can I put my things in one of your lockers, maybe? He asks nervously. I only have a padlock and I don’t want to be out swimming and lose the key.
After filling out some additional PADI paperwork, we try to find a place to eat lunch. Aside from the package of Ritz Crackers Cynthia had tucked away in her bag, we haven’t eaten since dinner the night before.
We walk around for a place to eat, and walking north, we don’t find much. Sundowners on one side, chicken shack on the right side, adjacent to the Coconut Tree Cabins. Although the chicken shack had been recommended to us, I don’t want to tell Jason and Cyn that I am DYING to go to the bathroom, and the one in our dorm with no toilet seat, will simply not do.
There is a little yellow house sitting adjacent to the beach, with Bakery and Café emblazoned on the window. I do a little peeking and find a boardwalk entrance to the back of the place where there are a half dozen round and wooden tables scattered about a back porch. In the background, there are about a half dozen boats bobbing in about 15 feet out in the water. Another board walk connects the Beach House (the name of the little yellow house) to a long pier where a dozen young boys take turns jumping off a 2-story dock.
Our orders are simple, chicken fingers and a lobster salad.
The waitress comes back rather woefully. Sorry, the boat didn’t come in today. There is no fish.
Ok, I say, then 3 chicken fingers.
We sit for a while, watching stray (or perhaps pets?) dogs splash and lay in the water. Every now and then, someone throws a half chewed coconut out into the water, and the dogs chase it blissfully, gnawing at the things when they return to shore.
In forty minutes, the chicken fingers have still not arrived. Cynthia begins to get nervous because she has been told she needs to head back to the dive shop around at 2 for her refresher course.
Please, I say in Spanish, my friend may have to go soon. How much longer. I’m sorry for asking.
Just a few minutes, our waitress says, she’s cooking it. I look inside the kitchen to find a tall, beautiful African woman cooking our meals carefully, one by one.
Cynthia runs back to the dive shop for her course, and within minutes, a steaming plate of stir-fry chicken and rice and a plate of chicken fingers arrives on the table. Hmm, maybe they got it wrong, but I don’t quite care, and I dig into the succulent chicken and rice. There’s just something about the tenderness of the chicken here, I say to Jason. Maybe it’s because they probably killed the thing this morning and didn’t kill it, package it, freeze it, and ship it 2,000 miles, he says.
He’s about to dig into his chicken fingers, when there is some hushed talk in the kitchen, and our waitress arrives again, swooping the chicken fingers off our table and delivering it to the table next to ours. I am digging into my rice even harder to prevent any such atrocity to happen to my plate. Surely they wouldn’t serve a half-eaten meal.
We watch helplessly as another order of stir fried chicken and rice and chicken fingers are delivered to a table further down. Dammit, where on earth is our food?
When Cynthia comes back, we still have no food, but we are talking to Doug, a good looking 40-something gringo, wasted beyond belief, who is telling us that he owns the BeachHouse.
What are they drinking? I ask, pointing to the table next to us. In front of everyone sit’s a glass goblet filled with an orange fluid, garnished with orange and grapefruit wedges. I am hoping it is some delicious tropical rum concoction.
Orange juice, he says. Dammit, I think.
“Well, what’s good to drink here?” I ask. “WIth alcohol?” he says. “Yes, I say, but something good.” Well, you could have a screwdriver, he says.
No, no, it’s too early for that.
But before I know it, Doug plops down a goblet of orange juice in front of me.
The orange juice is sweet, delicious and slightly pulpy.
It’s made from the local oranges, Doug tells us. I think it’s quite possibly the most delicious orange juice I’ve ever experienced in my life.
But there’s something funny about the flavor, amid the sweetness. A slightly grainy taste. And then I know. Vodka.
Doug meanders around, going between tourists, the kitchen, and a hammock that hangs at the edge of the porch property.
He wanders back into the kitchen and comes back to our table with a plate of pulpy, fresh grapefruit coated with fresh sugar. Try it, he says, it’s the best grapefruit I’ve ever had. I’ve been ordering it for a month now.
We bite into the juicy flesh, and it is delicious. Not a single hint of bitterness, but flavorful, juicy and delicious. It’s just covered in sugar. We have a few chunks and Doug tells us about his travels through the years from Nantucket to Vail to New York, and eventually here, where he’s been hanging for a while. He is in the business of opening up restaurants. We believe him… mostly… but we’re unsure judging by the amount of rum and vodka that seeps from his breath.
Another waitress, an African girl barely 15 from the looks of it, tells us that he is only friends with the owner. And that he’s crazy, always drunk or high somehow. We look over, and now Doug, whose piercing blue eyes are glazed over, is stumbling and pushing another African guy walking from the beach, up his porch, selling two coconuts.
Get away, Doug yells, get outta here! He adds, stumbling over his feet a bit. He pushes the African carrying the coconuts.
Come on, man, just give me some water, the African says. Check out these coconuts. He sets the coconuts on the floor of the porch and Doug picks each one of them up carefully. He examines them, shakes them and sets them gently down on the ground. Then, with a swift motion, he picks them up again and chucks them over the balcony, into the sand.
“Get outta here!” he screams, and stumbles back into the kitchen.
Jason, Cyn and I are absolutely bewildered. What the hell is going on?
We look at the African. Are you okay? We say.
Yea, he says, smiling. I know Doug a long time. We are friends. He is crazy!
Doug comes out of the kitchen with a plastic cup of water. Here, he says, and hands the African the cup. He is smiling and for a minute we think that things are going to be okay after all.
Now get out of here! Doug screams, stumbling and trying to push the African down the porch steps.
Don’t push me man! Don’t push me! The African swears, pushing back. They shove each other back and forth along the porch (luckily, we are the only patrons for the moment), and Doug digs his heels in, shoving the man against the back steps.
Don’t push me man, the African repeats. You’re making me angry.
He turns around and storms down the steps with his coconuts.
You makin’ me REAL angry. Don’t PUSH me man. You makin’ me real angry. I outta break these coconuts on your head man.
He looks menacing, bracing the coconut in his hand, looking as though he is about to chuck the coconuts at Doug. Then he walks about screaming out at no one in general, Fuckin’ I outta throw these coconuts at you. FUCK! You makin’ me REAL Angry.
All of a sudden we hear the kitchen door from the side swing open.
Oh crap, we think. There is going to be another brawl.
“Come on, give me a hug man.” It’s Doug’s voice.
FUCK YOU! Screams the African.
“Give me a hug, give me a hug.”
Doug comes back to our table. Oh well, crazy guy, he says, and grabs my hand to start leading me to the hammock.
No, no, I say. I’m all right, I’m still eating, I tell Doug and shove myself back into my seat, pretending to concentrate on the plate of chicken fingers.
Doug somehow dozes off in the hammock, and the young African girl reappears, giving me a kiss on the cheek.
It’s been a slow season, she says. I’ve been soooo bored. And then you came!
Although she had stormed out on Doug earlier in the day, screaming that if he ‘ever did that again, she would not come back!’, but here she was again with a large goblet of orange juice (or vodka/orange juice) and a splif tucked behind her ear.
Daniel, an older Honduran man, not unattractive, with a slightly hunched back shuffles out of the kitchen. Oh, just ignore him, he says. Do you like ganga?
The girl brings me another vodka/orange juice and the young girl lights the splif for herself and passes it to Daniel.
It’s too hot here, she says, come on, let’s go to the pier.
We are apprehensive. It is already strange enough with ganga free flowing outside on a public porch sitting on top of a public beach… but out in the pier? All around, there are children as young as 5 or 6 perhaps, and 20-somethings taking off from both the first- and second-story ridges.
Is it ok? I ask.
Of course, they say, and the young girl skips down the boardwalk to the pier, climbing up the ladder to the second story, carefully balancing her drink. I follow in suit, cradling my goblet of vodka/orange and together, the four of us sit underneath the blazing sun. It is definitely hotter here than on the porch of the Beach House and I wonder what the hell she was thinking.
Daniel lights a splif and takes a few long drags. Do you want some of this, he asks the girl. She says yes and takes the roll from him. He shakes his head and slowly lowers himself down the steps and returns to the Beach House.
Across from us, there is a group of local teenage boys doing the 25/30-foot jump. One of the boys looking terribly nervous, walks to and from the edge, climbing up onto the bench, then slowly lowering himself again. The African girl approaches him, wraps her arms around him in a big hug and whispers into his ear.
She comes back to me and hugs me. I told him that if he jumps, I would kiss him! She laughs. I think that he is shy. She takes a long drag.
Jason is looking down as well, contemplating the jump. I don’t know. I think I’ll do it eventually, but not now, he says.
The African girl’s eyes light up. Unbutton his shirt and say, please baby, please, she whispers to me.
Oh, God I think, and laugh… awkwardly. I say nothing.
As the afternoon lingers, we finally head over to the Beach House. It’s been nearly 4 hours since we’ve first arrived there, and now, we’re not altogether sure if we’re patrons, friends, or perhaps a bit of both. The woman working in the kitchen and our waitress are long gone and Doug is no where to be seen. We wonder if we actually have a bill or if we should even ask for it.
In a moment of conscience, I tell Jason, yes, we should ask, so I tell the African girl that we’ll take the bill. She is disappointed. Oh, you’re leaving already?
Yes, I say, we have to. But we’ll try to be back later.
Okay, she says reluctantly, and runs inside to grab a piece of paper. What did you have again? She asks.
I look at Jason. Maybe we shouldn’t have even asked.
Umm.. A chicken stir fry and two chicken fingers, I say. Oh, and two cokes.
She writes it down on the notepad in almost childish handwriting, with large, loopy, crooked letters.
Did you have an orange juice, she asks me.
Well, kind of, I say. It’s more like he gave it to me. I didn’t exactly order it.
She rolls her eyes in the direction of Doug’s room and doesn’t include the orange juice on our bill. The total comes to $30 US.
Jason and I are laughing all the way down to the main road. Wow, he says, what just happened?
I have no idea.
We start walking down the main road, a dusty, pothole-filled dirt road lined with restaurants, fast food-type shacks, bars and a few souvenir/gift shop type places. There are some restaurants that stand up on stilts on top of the sea that is merely 2 or 3 meters away from the road. There is every type of world cuisine–Thai, Vietnamese, pizza, Ali Baba’s Mediterranean…
Around the bend, the dirt road gives into a parking lot, another thatch-roofed bar and into a more remote beach that is lined only on one side with small hotels and resorts. Jason and I continue to walk down the beach along the water, and I want to kick him for making fun of me for wanting to grab the camera.
Along the way, we pick up two beers from the Coconut Tree grocery store. We drink it walking down the street and some store owners give us a look of surprise when we show up in their shops with beers in hand.
We later learn from Reid that apparently, it is illegal to carry open beer in the street (in bottles, apparently, you can carry it in plastic cups), and is enforceable by a fine of 500 lemps ($25).
When we walk nearly to the end of the second strip of beach, Jason feels inspired to open a coconut. He jumps several times, aiming to knock one of the suckers down, and finally, when banging the fresh coconuts with sticks seems to fail, he scales the tree by his bare feet. Clinging to the bark with his knees, he chooses the coconut closest to him and twists it by its stem until it finally falls away from the tree.
He is ecstatic and holds his prize, trying to find a way to rip it open.
At the edge of the beach strip, there is a rock wall made of soft sediment and several larger stones that jut into the water. Thus begins Jason’s half an hour attempt to break open the coconut by banging it into stationary objects.
A couple walks by after a bit, and seeing Jason sweating and pounding, the man advises that he should use a stick and bang it up around the top. You have to break it open from the top and peel away the fibrous skin, the man advises.
Jason thanks him and resumes his pounding, only this time, he aims the top of the coconut at the rocks.
Unfortunately, he is fighting against sedimentary rock, which is soft and breaks away with every 10 or so blows. When he’s finally broken enough of the skin to peel back the fiber, there are at least 5 spots in the rock wall that have crumbled away under his abuse.
Leaving Jason to his business, I walk along a narrow boardwalk that wraps around the stone wall that leads to yet another beach, across a stone walkway. There is a tree that grows there wrapped in cactus blooming with purple flowers.
When I cross back to Jason’s side, I see he is somewhat triumphant and slightly disappointed.
I was about to give up, he says, and then I looked inside and realized I cracked the coconut. He is sweating bullets through his long sleeve button-down. He tosses his prize into the sea.
It is sunset when we start heading back. Cynthia must be finished with her refresher course by now and we ought to have dinner together, after all.
We are halfway back when we literally nearly run into a sign that reads happy hour special, $25 lempira beer. We can’t say no to just ONE $25 lempira beer, so Jason and I step under the cool shade of the thatch roof bar only to see our friend Daniel from the Beach House.
Hey, friends, he calls out, and we join him to have just one round of Port Royals. One more? I say to Jason once the first round is finished. Yea, I could do one more, he says, so we sit for another round of beers.
We are about to wrap up, again preparing ourselves to pick Cynthia up from the dive shop, when Daniel’s friend buys us a round of beers. It would naturally only be rude not to oblige, so we sit for another beer, chatting over the basket of tortilla chips and salsa they lay out on the bar.
I nudge Jason. We at least buy the guy a beer back, I say. I know, he says back, but instead of ordering the guy a beer, he orders another round for everyone and so we sit for one more. Then, perhaps in a gesture of Caribbean hospitality, Daniel’s friend orders us yet another round and before I know it, I am slightly drunk.
Ok, that’s it, I say to Jason. We have to cut ourselves off. We say our thank yous and goodbyes, promising to be back later, and head back down the road, except now, the sky is already dark.
Shit, I wonder what time it is, I say to Jason. She’s going to hate us.
But instead we find Cynthia sitting with others on the dive shop bench, drinking a Port Royal herself. Two of her friends are living in our dingy dorm.
Sooooo, she begins slowly, I talked to the dive shop about how the bathroom doesn’t have a lid, and they gave me a key to the cabin.
Just to use the bathroom, she adds, but I took a look inside and it’s really nice. It’s only like $35 a night. If there’s 4 of us, that’s only a little more.
She introduces us to Gemma, a cute, thin, dark-haired British girl who sits close by with a Salva Vida. She’ll stay with us too. Do you want to just look at it.
I am unconvinced ($5 a night was so attractive), but we promise that we’ll take a look. Jason and I follow Cynthia into the gated Coconut Tree Cabin area, and we walk down the stone pathway to the last little cottage. Upon seeing the hammock hanging from the front porch, we are already almost sold. Then Cyn swings open the door and we stand amid a spacious room with two double beds, a TV, air conditioning, a breakfast table, kitchenette and hot shower.
Sold, I say. I don’t care how much this place is.
Well technically, we’re just supposed to use the bathroom here tonight. We can talk to them tomorrow.
Fuck it, I say. Let’s move our shit.
We are ecstatic with our room until it is time for us to head to the Chicken Shack for dinner.
Cyn is first to use the bathroom. When Jason follows, he nervously calls out from the open roof bathroom that it seems that the water level has risen quite a bit.
It’s ok, I yell over. I am dying to pee. So I mosey on into the bathroom and do my business. I am staring down into the toilet at the water that is close to reaching the toilet brim. In my Port Royal stupor, I convince myself that maaaaybe if I just flush it one more time, all the water will drain. I hit the lever.
The water starts flowing, and..oh… oh shit, the water and piss mixture quickly flows over the toilet seat and spills onto the bathroom floor.
Shit! I scream, running out of the bathroom Shit, shit shit!
Why did you do that! Jason groans. LISA!
Let’s steal the plunger from the dorm and get out of here, I say. It’s just liquid. It probably evaporates right?
Gemma, who has now moved her things into our room, joins us in a groan and we all collectively decide to leave it be and head off for some chicken plates.
We had heard the Coconut Tree staff talking about the Chicken Shack all day. Perhaps our expectations were too high, but we were moderately disappointed in the food. I was however ecstatic that there was adequate signal from the Beach House wifi that I could get online to finish my PADI course. I had not yet taken the final exam.
It was a good plan and a valiant effort but the Port Royals prevailed. Utter failure. I could not pass 3 consecutive questions, let alone see the screen straight on. I quit and dig my head into my extended arm, taking a short nap on the table while Cynthia skypes Citibank.
We go back to our spacious cabin, where the urine/water has now evaporated. I sink into a sleeping stupor.