Roatan is one of three of Honduras’ Bay Islands, the other two being Utila, and the lesser traveled Guanaja. Roatan is the largest and most populated island at about 15,000 inhabitants. The island culture is a big mix of Garifuna, Black Caribbean, Latino, and foreign expatriate. In the 17th century, the island was a popular spot for Caribbean Pirates. English is still the dominant language due to the English influence of the past, but the Latino population has grown over the years due to lack of opportunity on the mainland. I was surprised to see such a variety of tourism on the Roatan, from backpackers staying for weeks to huge cruise ships unloading their passengers for the day to shop and check out the island.
We found accommodations in West End, where most of the tourist infrastructure lies. The West End is made up of a bunch of dive shops, restaurants, and a couple grocery stores. There is one main road which is made of sand and often lumpy, especially after rain. Food and accommodations are much more expensive than on the mainland. The evening we arrived, we immediately encountered our friend Serge and Maurice, who we met in Lago Atitlan. Both were dive instructors and Serge was our Open Water instructor and now working in Roatan. Diving is the main tourist attraction here in Roatan and the reef is just a short boat ride from the beach in West End. We hooked up with Serge’s dive shop, Pura Vida, and were in the water the very next day. Adrian and I decided to increase our certification from Open Water to Advanced, which would require us to go on a deep dive (30 meters), practice navigation techniques, and chose 3 other dives, like night diving, wreck diving, and buoyancy control.
The diving was outstanding in Roatan. I did about 11 dives and every one was unique and spectacular. I could have done much more diving but we happened to visit Roatan during the rainy season and the beautiful days were occasionally broken up by tropical storms dumping lots and lots of rain. Since the dives cost 15 bucks a pop, I guess 11 was an Ok number, though the Bay Islands are known for the cheapest diving in the world. Since most of my diving experience was in a lake with poor visibility, a couple species of fish and crab, everything was mind blowing out on the reef. I loved the colors of the coral, sponges, and fish. Among some of the highlights were seeing sea turtles on most of the dives, seeing lobsters, a huge moray eel, large grouper fish, sea urchins, huge king crabs, diving at night, swimming through tunnels and caves, and wreck diving. On our way to my first wreck dive, we spotted a pod of bottle-nosed dolphin. We put on the mask, snorkel and fins and jumped into the water for a close up view. I was swimming around trying to spot them and as another dive boat passed, I saw about a dozen of them swimming under the boat. I felt so lucky. I took a deep breath and went under to try to catch up to them and quickly realized their natural speed. With a few quick flips of the tail, they were gone. When we descended on the wreck, over 100 feet down, it was like floating, such a great feeling. After coming out of the front of the ship, I looked up and spotted the same pod swimming high up in the shallows, their beautiful silhouettes against the sunshine.
Jon and I did a few dives together. Fortunately, he had a nice digital camera with an underwater housing so we were able to get lots of nice pictures of the impressive underwater scenery. Of course, it is hard for photos to do justice actually being in the underwater world, quiet, serene, and full of color. Jon and I have the same birthday, the 21st of November and we spend it contently on a beautiful Caribbean Island.
I brought my bike to Roatan and was able to check out some other parts of the long island. During some of my rides in the late afternoon, I was amazed by the number of bats that inhabited the island. As the sun set, they all came out to feed. One even smacked into my handlebars while I was riding! I found another on the side of the road that had been stunned by a car. I took a few photos and examined its size and form. They really do look like rats with wings. One day, Adrian and I took a ride out to French Cay (Key) about 17 miles from West End. We visited an Iguana Farm run by local. Sherman Arch, who started building cages to protect the native iguanas from the locals back in the 80’s. Locals had hunted them almost to extinction. When we arrived, cruise ship tourists were feeding some of the largest iguanas I’d ever seen. I’d say the Sherman has turned around the state of Roatan’s iguana population.
Though food was very expensive and I did most of my own cooking, I did eat out occasionally, chilling out with an American named Mike who worked with his uncle at Rudy’s Cafe, which served some of the best smoothies I’ve ever had. Mike and I brainstormed about business opportunities, music, and life on the island. We often met up at the local chicken rotisserie spot which was the cheapest meal in West End.
Thanksgiving was also spent on Roatan. Adrian, Jon and I and two other guys we’d been diving with checked out Rick’s American Café, where a nice turkey dinner was put on. We watched football and at turkey until we were about to split. Rick’s is owned by Steve, a retired lobster fisherman from the northeast. We talked a bit about fisheries, and I told him about how it was out in Alaska. During the dinner, I met another American, Bruce, who had been living here a year and did a 2 hour show on one of Roatan’s radio stations. He invited me for an interview the next day at the station. I gladly accepted. One strange thing I had to do to prepare for the show was write out my own questions. I showed up the next day and had a good time chatting with Roatan Bruce on the air about the bike trip. Steve called in and invited us for free turkey sandwiches for dinner.
Before we left, a big storm came in and left everyone to the bars. Not much diving going on in the rough seas. So one Friday I checked out Foster’s bar, a popular dance spot with the locals. Here I met a nice girl named Naty, a nurse who is originally from the mainland coast. We danced all night to the Honduran ‘Playera’ music and spent good times together for the next couple days until Adrian and I decided to head back to the mainland. The dismal weather and the amount of money we’d spent over 2 weeks was enough to push us off Roatan and back to Tegucigalpa. We took a direct cushy first class bus 7 hours back to the capital city and met back up with our hosts, the Chirinos.
Thanks for keeping up!