My trip from Tegucigalpa to Roatan was uninteresting other than flying in a box with wings. I arrived on Tuesday, May 6 and took a taxi to West End. According to my guidebook it had the cheapest rooms in Roatan. My first impression was favorable, most of West End consisted of a dirt road with the Caribbean on one side and businesses on the other:
I checked out a number of hotel options, including one place where the manager assured me that whatever I was in Roatan for, pot, cocaine or women, he could deliver. I didn't stay there. Even if I were in Roatan for pot, cocaine or rental women (I wasn't) this guy looked like the sort you wouldn't trust for the time of day. I settled on a very nice bungalow with satellite TV, small refrigerator, coffee maker, air conditioner and water cooler for $180 a week at Foster's Place. There were cheaper places to stay, including the procurer's hotel, but I decided it was worthwhile to avoid a pimp hotel and go higher end. Besides, $180 a week was a good price for a luxury room across the street from the Caribbean.
I may have made Roatan seem somewhat shady, but actually it was one of the safest places for tourists in Honduras. Of course safest in Honduras is a relative term. In Roatan business owners hired guards to keep watch at night, most of the locals carried machetes when walking around outside of the towns, and there were nights when I heard gunshots. On one occasion when I was in the Roatan airport I saw a man claim his bag, open it on the spot, pull out a revolver, load it and stick it under his belt before leaving the terminal. But compared to what I had seen in Tegucigalpa and heard of San Pedro de Sula this was all pretty tame stuff. With the exception of a bar manager who was grazed by a ricochet from a warning shot, I don't know of anyone who was assaulted while I was in Roatan. It may have happened, but I don't personally know of anyone. Compared to what I read and heard about the rest of the Honduras, Roatan was safe.
I booked a room with Fosters for a week because I wanted to relax on an English speaking Caribbean island for a while, which I did. With the exception of two weeks in late summer to take care business in the U.S. (income taxes and a years worth of mail), I was in Roatan from May 6 to August 31. After my week at Foster's Place I moved next door to Robert Hill's place (I don't think it has a name other than that). Robert Hill was an old man who rented a number of bare, bleak rooms really cheap, and rented his son's apartment for $25 a day when his son was away. Since his son lived on a cruise ship most of the year, I lived in a nice apartment for a reasonable price. It was basically the upstairs half of a duplex across the street from the beach. It had everything you would expect in an apartment; full kitchen, bath, satellite TV, air conditioning, and a small balcony looking out on the Caribbean. This isn't the view from the balcony, there were power lines in the way, but is the view from immediately in front of the apartment:
It also had bats, but they stayed outside under the eaves of the roof. I thought they were kind of cool:
I know just one picture of a bat would have been sufficient, but I like bats. They're cute and eat bugs.
Describing the next four months will be easy because I didn't do much. As mentioned, across the street from my place was the beach. Across the street and slightly to the left was Mono Loco:
I spent most Saturdays through Thursday evenings at Mono Locos. I had to make other plans for Fridays because on Fridays it wasn't Mono Locos, it was Foster's (the same Foster who rented nice bungalows), and had what was referred to as "the Party". The Party was awful, though it was popular with some locals, hookers, and tourists looking for hookers. The Party was chiefly noted for very loud rap and hip-hop music with obscene lyrics. Some really offensive lyrics that made "She F**king Hates Me" by Puddle of Mud seem like a Disney tune. I went to the Party briefly my first Friday in Roatan because I didn't know better, stayed for one quick beer and avoided it from then on.
The problem with the Party, and at some other places on Roatan, is that many locals would drink to extreme excess and become loud and belligerent. This was disturbing; some of these people were really decent when sober and intolerable a**holes when drunk. When I have too much to drink I become mellow, happy, foolish or a combination of these qualities; I don't ever recall wanting to fight. I think with many of the mean drunks the problem was a combination of cocaine and alcohol; the cocaine kept them energized and drinking long after they should have passed out. This was not a good situation.
In case anyone is wondering; yes cocaine can be found in Roatan, no I don't know how much or from whom. I stuck with the Port Royal beer and stayed mellow, happy and foolish.
Back to the good stuff on Roatan: Mono Loco became my main hangout because it was the best place in Roatan, and very convenient. Plus they sometimes offer free haircuts:
That's me to the left, Billy to the right, and Nicole in the middle. These were unisex haircuts. Billy was manager of Mono Loco, and co-owner of this and the original Mono Loco in Antigua, Guatemala. He ran a good bar/restaurant. He didn't allow cocaine on the premises and wouldn't serve customers with a history of becoming mean drunks. These are very good policies.
The views from the deck of Mono Loco were excellent:
The views from inside were better:
The above pictures are of Enis and Monkey. Enis was a twenty year old Swedish bartender. She moved on before my summer in Roatan was over; I think she went back to Sweden, but don't think she'll stay there long. I don't believe she was ready to live a normal life. Monkey was a twenty week old stray and bar cat in training. Monkey's job was customer relations. He was pretty good at it with most customers, but not all:
The pup was one of Foster's. We didn't pose them, they managed to get in this position on their own. Monkey was annoyed. He did better with other customers:
The gentleman holding Monkey, who looks like a character in a Jimmy Buffet song, is Barry. He was, and I assume still is, a dive instructor who maintained the equipment at the dive shop in the building just north of Mono Loco, underneath the red roof:
I don't remember the name of the dive shop he worked at, but I recommend it for diving in Roatan. I didn't dive with Barry's place, I shopped around and went diving with the cheapest place that would take me. I hadn't been diving in almost twenty years and didn't have my Dive Card proving I was certified, but a lot of places were flexible about these things. The cheapest place I found to dive with was Discount Dave's Cheap Dive Shop (not really). After a quick refresher/check-out dive, I went on a real dive, and at the end of the dive I ran out of air, even though my SPG showed 250 psi (really). We were at the safety stop at the end of the dive, so when drawing air from my regulator felt like sucking on a brick I indicated I was out of air to the dive instructor, who was also my dive buddy, and we buddy breathed for the remainder of the safety stop. I explained what happened when we surfaced and assumed the SPG would be checked out or replaced. Bad assumption. On the very next dive the very same thing happened. I couldn't believe it; I'd never run out of air before and now it was happening two dives in a row, this time with the SPG showing 500 psi. Embarrassingly, I made a mistake.
First, let me explain a little about running out of air while diving. You don't get a two minute warning so you can hyper-ventilate for a while then take a real deep breath just before the air runs out. You get a two breath warning; first you inhale and notice a some resistance, then you inhale again and get a lot of resistance and very little air. After that there is nothing. So whatever you do, you have to do it after struggling for a partial breath of air, and you have to finish doing it before that unsatisfying breath runs out. This is not a good time to go looking for your buddy; he had better be very close. The mistake I made was in not believing I was really out of air. I figured maybe there was something wrong with my regulator so I tried my alternate "buddy breathing" regulator. I used some of the little bit of air in my lungs to blow the salt water out of the alternate, tried to inhale and got nothing. So I took it out of my mouth and signaled to my buddy I was out of air. He gave me his alternate regulator, I put it to my lips and hit the purge button to blow it clear of water (I didn't have enough air in my lungs to blow it clear), and the regulator popped out of my mouth. I had hit the purge button before I had the mouthpiece firmly between my teeth. By now I was really eager for some air. Nothing like going without for a short while to make a person realize how nice it is to breathe. The regulator floated loose, my buddy and I both grabbed it, I pushed the purge button while we both maintained a firm grip on it, put it in my mouth and I could finally breathe. The entire span from when my tank went dry till I was breathing on my buddies spare regulator took less than a minute, but it doesn't take long before the need for air becomes urgent.
I'll take what little drama there may be in this story out of it by explaining that since we were at a safety stop about 15 feet deep, and hadn't been on a very deep dive, I could have safely made an emergency ascent at any time. I didn't want to because it would have been embarrassing. However since I was bugged eyed and somewhat frantic by the time I finally started buddy breathing I can't say that I preserved much of my dignity. At least now I know what it feels like to breath a tank dry. The next time I'm diving and notice any change in resistance when inhaling I'm going to make sure my buddy is very close. I'm also going to make sure I'm using good, well maintained equipment. I recommend all divers do the same. Finally, when choosing a dive shop, maybe cheap should not be the top priority. If you are in Roatan I recommend Barry's shop.
By the way, I continued diving with Discount Dave's because I had agreed to a cheaper by the dozen dive package. I did make a fuss about the SPG though, and didn't run out of air again.
In addition to having Mono Loco's across the street, next door to my room was Rudy's, which was a great place for breakfast, smoothies and Green Parrots. In case you missed her at first, there is definitely a parrot in the third picture. Those green feathers are excellent camouflage:
Here's a useful drinking tip if you're ever in Roatan: By law Mono Loco had to close at 2:00 a.m. There was another bar owned by one of the old families of Roatan that didn't have to follow the closing law, so for late night drinking people went to Loafers. It had a non-regulation volleyball court with a thin layer of sand covering some nasty corral rocks. That didn't keep anyone from playing:
On the subject of laws and law enforcement in Roatan, avoid having anything to do with either. Law is there to take care of the locals, not to protect ex-pats and tourists. I talked to one ex-pat who's house on Roatan had been broken into three times by the same teenage kid. Every time the teenager had been caught, every time the home owner/ex-pat convinced the police to arrest the kid, and every time the judge threw the charges out because he knew the family of the burglar. When the ex-pat complained abut this the judge made it clear he should stop being a nuisance.
The police do not inspire confidence either. My first night at Loafers several police arrived for no particular reason. Most of them watched the volleyball game but one of them went upstairs to the bar. When he left I noticed that he had an M-16 on his back and was so drunk he could barely walk down the stairs. In uniform, heavily armed and staggering drunk--that is really unprofessional!
A short walk down the beach from Loafers was a bar and hotel where they were filming the 2003 version of Temptation Island. Nobody was allowed to go there unless they were working for the production company. I saw the beginning of the first episode of the show in Mono Loco and heard one of the cast describe Roatana as "an island in the middle of nowhere". The locals got a kick out of that. Roatan is a short distance from the Honduran mainland, has direct flights to the U.S. from a small international airport, is visited by cruise ships on a weekly basis, and has a number of resorts, one of them with a dolphin show. It may not be the best known island in the Caribbean but it is not the middle of nowhere. Imagine that, a reality show that deviates from reality!
I did some things that didn't involve bars. Not many but a few. Three times a week I would swim laps across Half Moon Bay for exercise. I read books--"The Hope" by Herman Wouk, "Lord Jim" by Joseph Conrad (did you know he was Polish and English was his fourth or fifth language?), "Sometimes a Great Notion" by Ken Kesey (good, but not in there with "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest") "Crime and Punishment" by Feodor Dostovyevsky (I didn't care for it), "Typee" by Hermann Melville (I liked it better than "Moby Dick"), "The Last Measure" by Jeff Shaara (definitely not in there with "Killer Angels" by his father Michael Shaara), "Our Game" by Le Carre, "Treasure Island" by Robert Louis Stevenson (I didn't read it when I was a kid), "Cannery Row" by John Steinbeck, "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" by Victor Hugo, "Life on the Mississippi" by Mark Twain, and I started "The History of the World" by J.M. Roberts in August (the long version, not the abbreviated one) but didn't finish it until September when I was in Guatemala. Basically I read what I brought from the U.S. and everything I found in the book exchanges that didn't look like crap. Book exchanges usually have pretty light-weight titles. I was also reading "The Economist" every week on the internet to stay up on the news. I used to be a big reader but had very little time for pleasure reading from about age 16 until I retired from the Air Force. I enjoy having time to read just for the heck of it.
One day I rented a kayak and paddled along the coast to Sandy Bay and saw a little bit of the dolphin show. By paddling in I didn't have to pay to see it. I've seen better shows from dolphins in the wild; catching a ride off the bow of a fishing boat, breaching off-shore while going about their business, and riding waves in close to shore in Hermosa Beach. The last one was the best, I can't prove it but I'm certain that when these two dolphins realized they had drawn an audience they started showing off just a few yards from the beach. That's southern California for you, everyone wants to get into show business. Anyway, a couple of pictures from the show in Sandy Bay:
I would sometimes walk to West Bay at the southwest tip of the island, taking a few pictures on the way:
One day I walked to the eastern side of Roatan just to see what it was like. Most of the resorts and tourist spots are on the west side of the island, which faces the mainland and avoids the worst of the waves and storms from the open Caribbean. The east side has no tourists, it is for the real people of Roatan:
I went snorkeling a few times, once with a camera. These are some pictures from the boat trip to West Bay, then pictures from snorkeling there and between Half Moon Bay and Sandy Bay:
That last picture was taken to finish the roll, but it came out kind of nice.
As mentioned, I also went diving. I borrowed a dive camera from a very nice, interesting dive instructor named Nancy, an young engineer with an MBA and considerable success in the real world before dropping out for island life. She seemed happy with her choice. She loaned me her camera for two dives, one during the day and another at night. I messed up the film on the day dive, so all I have are the night dive pictures:
By late August I was enjoying island life too much:
I decided it was time to move on. On Saturday, August 30 I took a short flight to La Ceiba on the coast of mainland Honduras and spent the night. The next morning I caught the bus to the dreaded San Pedro Sula, where I switched to the bus to Copan near the border with Guatemala.