A Travellerspoint blog

In Pursuit of Paradise Day 6: Seeking Asylum

The Bay Islands of Honduras

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So far, the trip had been pretty lazy. We were both in the mood for a little more activity, so we had booked Villas del Mar’s private boat, Shaya Manzi, for a snorkeling trip. This would allow us to avoid trying to find those darn buoys with the kayaks again.

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After a luxurious morning by the pool, the boat picked us up on the dock promptly at 10:30 a.m.

As we sipped cold drinks, we sped along the east end of Roatan with a fish’s eye view of the coast and its colorful villages.

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After a nice ride, we stopped and tied off near the reef so that Matt and I could snorkel for about an hour. The reef was incredibly colorful and lively, definitely one of the best I have ever seen.

After our swim, we lounged in the sun with cheese and crackers and more drinks before heading back to Brisa.

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We arrived back at the house around 12:30 and decided to drive to the east end for lunch at Asylum at La Sirena de Camp Bay, a breezy over-the-water tiki hut serving fresh fish and strong drinks. We knew it would be a long, dusty drive, so we hoped we’d eaten enough cheese to hold us over.

If Roatan is the best kept secret in the Caribbean, then the East End is the best kept secret in Roatan.

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We drove a few miles and then the pavement gave way to a dirt road. The road was bumpy, dusty, and hot. It was also incredibly remote, winding its way through dense green foliage dotted with a few homes and a lot of cows.

On the drive, we passed a young boy who enthusiastically thrust a live chicken toward our car window as we passed. Apparently the vehicle did serve to make us appear to be locals, otherwise I can see no reason he would shove a chicken at me. Did he think we would stop, toss him a few lempiras, grab that chicken by the feet and tie it to the bumper for the rest of the ride?

Next we passed a tuk-tuk, a beat up motorbike, and a guy standing on the side of the road with a machete.

“Asylum…La Sirene de Camp Bay” a colorful sign proclaimed with an arrow pointing us farther east.

We bumped along in the sunshine along the roller coaster road.

“Asylum….ALMOST THERE…”

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The signs were incessant. I guess they were worried we’d give up.

I can see why. My back compressed a few more inches with each bump in the road. I was pretty sure I was going to be shorter when I got there than I had been that morning.

There was definitely a sense of adventure to it, maybe not golden-idol-flying-arrows-unstoppable-boulder adventure, but I’d put it a notch past “off the beaten path.” It was off the beaten, worn down, ragged out, unpaved, covered with unexpected speed bumps and live chickens out of nowhere path.

Eventually we arrived at a small thatched hut on stilts just off the shore with an enormous pig guarding the entrance.

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The bar is aptly named “Asylum” because you will be insane by the time you finish that drive.

It wasn’t an easy drive, but it was worth every bump.

Asylum was definitely my kind of place. No frills and truly unique.

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I loved everything about it.

Except the bathroom.

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We visited the pig, who had the unimaginative name “Piggy,” and settled ourselves on a picnic table over the water.

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Unfortunately, they were out of the famous rum punch they are so well known for, but we made do with rum and coke.

Lots of rum and coke.

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We ordered the spicy wings, the fresh catch, and the shrimp. All were delicious.

They also had a house made hot sauce.

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“Are you sure you want to put that much on there? You might want to go easy on that,” Matt cautioned as I continued to glob more hot sauce on my peas n’ rice.

“Are you crazy? This stuff is PHENOMENAL,” I said, through a mouthful of plantains.

We put it off as long as we could, truly enjoying this breezy outpost on the end of the world, but the drive back was inevitable. It had to be done.

We downed a final rum and coke for good luck and headed back down the road.

We made a pit stop at Camp Bay Beach and were stunned at how gorgeous it was. There wasn't another soul in sight.

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When we were sufficiently cooled off, we headed back down the road.

We made a quick stop in Jonesville on the way home to see if we could find Hole in the Wall, an obscure little bar mostly known for its famous Sunday buffet. It wasn’t Sunday, but the fact that you had to find a mysterious boat to take you over intrigued me.

My directions were sketchy, leading us to a “store at the end of the road in Jonesville with a Coca-Cola sign painted on the wall.”

This was obviously it.

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No, it wasn’t.

The young lady inside directed us a little farther down the road to another “store at the end of the road with a Coca-Cola sign painted on the wall.”

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When we arrived, the girl behind the register made a quick call, and in seconds, a little boat was whizzing across the water toward us.

We were whisked away to the Hole in the Wall.

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A couple of rum punches and an interesting conversation with the bartender later, we were worn out from drinks and naps and sun and needed a shower.

We made the drive back to Brisa, where Fausto was already at the gate.

We had arranged for Rosa to cook us dinner in our villa that night. We had been given a list of ingredients to purchase at the grocery store and for $25, she came in and cooked our dinner and cleaned up. She made a delicious salad, bread, and her famous shrimp masala with carrot rice.

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As we sat by the pool in the soft glow of the moon sipping a glass of wine, Rosa cleaned up our dishes.

I have never felt so spoiled.

This place was decadent.

It was about 2:00 a.m. when the Revenge of the Hot Sauce hit. Just suffice it say that Matt was right and I was wrong.

Posted by vicki_h 05:35 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (4)

In Pursuit of Paradise Day 5: Oh, Buoy!

The Bay Islands of Honduras

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The weather on this trip had been flawless every single day, and we woke up to another perfectly sunny day.

We had vowed to take it easy on this trip, so there was to be no insane itinerary or running about. We spent the morning at the pool doing absolutely nothing.

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After a few hours of laziness, we decided to take one of the kayaks out toward the reef. It was a short walk from Brisa along a wooden walkway through the lush foliage to the stairs to the dock. By the time we reached the top of the stairs, Fausto was already there, heading down to prepare us a kayak.

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The staff, I tell you. They were amazing.

He got our kayak ready and put it in the water for us. We paddled out toward the reef (Okay, Matt paddled. I flailed my paddle around in the air in an unsuccessful attempt to do anything meaningful). Our plan was to find the mooring buoys so that we could tie off and snorkel.

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Where were the buoys?

We paddled one way. No buoys.

We paddled the other way. No buoys.

We finally gave up in frustration, deciding there must not actually be any buoys and headed back to the dock.

When we arrived, Fausto was there, waiting to pull our kayak out and put it away.

I felt so spoiled.

As we were climbing out onto the dock, Matt pointed in the distance.

“What are those?” he said.

There were two very clear, white balls bobbing happily in the water.

Apparently, it just wasn’t our day to snorkel.

We were getting hungry, anyway, so we loaded into our dusty Toyota and, before we could even reach the gate, one of the attendants showed up from nowhere and had it open. He closed it behind us as we left.

We chose to visit Marble Hill Farms, just a few miles east, to have lunch at the Crow’s Nest restaurant.

We found Marble Hill Farms easily and headed down the long, beautifully landscaped drive.

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Marble Hill Farms is a rustic eco-lodge on Roatan’s east end. The 26 acre property has several cottages, a dive operation, and a restaurant, but the most unique feature is a large Spanish-style building that houses Tropical Island Flavors, a small producer of local sauces, jams, and jellies using the fruits and vegetables on the farm. They offer tastings and have a small shop where you can buy things like mutton pepper jelly, fresh salsa, or banana pineapple jam.

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We perused the offerings and took away a jar of spicy salsa before heading to the Crow’s Nest for lunch. The day was HOT and the restaurant truly had a breezy crow’s nest, with only one small table and two hammocks that shared an amazing view of the east coast of Roatan.

“You can eat up there, if you like,” the smiling bartender told us, motioning for us to go up.

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Not only was the view amazing, but we found it was the perfect place to enjoy some strong caipirinhas, a giant burger and fresh snapper, and a great hammock nap.

We literally slept the afternoon away.

I blame the caipirinhas.

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We headed back to Brisa and sure enough, someone was there to open the gate, just like magic.

We spent the afternoon basking in the sunshine on the spacious deck at Brisa del Mar, stopping only to rub K2’s ears or pour another drink.

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Before the sun set completely, we wanted to head to Temporary Cal’s Cantina, the only restaurant that was actually close to Villas del Mar and that was supposed to have a stellar view. It was about a 10 minute drive west, and truly had a remarkable view.

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It was also CRAZY WINDY which was very good for heat, not so much for hair.

Cal’s had outstanding margaritas as well. I was instantly a fan.

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We kept seeing a dish come out in a tall ceramic pot and it looked amazing. I asked the table next to me what it was.

“Con queso,” they said.

I scanned the menu, which was hand written in markers on a dry erase board and only saw one thing that said, “Con Queso.”

When it was time to order, I got the fish tacos, Matt ordered the fried conch, and I ordered the “Papusa Con Queso.”

It looked like this:

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“Where is the little pot thing?” I whispered to Matt. He shrugged as he stuffed cheese in his mouth.

It may not have been the right thing, but man oh man, it was good.

I learned later that Papusa Con Queso is cheese stuffed flour tortillas covered in more cheese.

I was okay with my misorder.

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We enjoyed the strong drinks, good food, and amazing breeze until it was time to head back to Brisa where, yes, the gate was being opened as we arrived.

Posted by vicki_h 06:59 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (0)

In Pursuit of Paradise Day 4: Ro-Ro-Roatan Gently by the Sea

The Bay Islands of Honduras

I couldn’t believe it was our last morning on Little Cay. It made my heart hurt.

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The time we had spent on this dot of sand had been so incredibly beautiful and special, I just didn’t have words for it. It was no Ritz. There was no concierge service or poolside cocktails, but what it lacked in luxury, it more than made up for in peace, in solitude, and in modest beauty.

It had been simple. And it had been perfect.

But our time was over and it was someone else’s turn to discover paradise.

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Barry picked us up promptly at 8:00 a.m. and took us back to Utila where we grabbed a cab to the airport.

The small airlines from Roatan only have scheduled service between the two islands on Saturday. Because we were returning to Roatan on a Tuesday, we had two choices: take the ferries or book a private air charter.

When I realized the ferries would involve almost 3 hours onboard large ferries lovingly nicknamed the “Vomit Comets” by travelers as well as a 1.5 hour “layover” in La Cieba on mainland Honduras, I quickly made the decision to take the charter flight.

The cost was reasonable at $100 per person, so why not? I am extremely comfortable with small planes.

Thank goodness.

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The Cessna 206 wasn’t glamorous, but it got the job done. I was jammed into the back of the plane with the luggage as Matt was crammed into the co-pilot seat. I was amazed that we had somehow managed to find the one airplane on the island worse than the one we flew over in.

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By 11:00 a.m., we were back on Roatan, and thrust back into the hell of the Roatan airport.

Because we had arrived on a domestic flight, we were only in the airport for mere minutes before we found ourselves facing a cheerful man holding a sign that said, “Hatfields.”

I had chosen a private villa, Brisa del Mar, for our time in Roatan, and, as Banjo ushered us toward a driver who had been sent by the property to pick us up, I couldn’t have been happier with my choice.

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It was obvious from my research that the safest and most luxurious areas to stay were either West End or West Bay, home to one of the beaches regularly named in the top ten beaches of the Caribbean. Every article I read said clearly, “For first time Roatan visitors, there are only two places that you would want to stay: West End and West Bay.”

So, we naturally chose the remote east end.

Because that’s how we roll.

I felt confident that the west end would simply be too cruise-shippy and tourist-happy for our taste. Don’t worry, I still made sure we weren’t taking any unnecessary risks. Villas del Mar was a collection of 3 private, high end villas in a gated compound that came with 24 hour armed security and use of a local vehicle. We would have armed guards on the property day and night and wouldn’t be driving around in a rental vehicle that screamed, “I AM A TOURIST. PLEASE STOP ME AND STEAL MY IPHONE.”

I can read your thoughts right now. You are asking, “Why would you go on vacation in a place where you felt it necessary to have an armed guard????”

I don’t have a good answer for that right now, but I’ll think on it.

Our first views of Roatan were from the back seat of a dusty Toyota 4-Runner as we drove east along the central road that runs the length of the island. Roatan is about thirty-five miles long and about two or three miles wide. Long and narrow, the main road takes you everywhere with side roads appearing at the various island communities. Coxen Hole….French Harbour…..we saw the names passing by in a flash. The island was lush and green with shimmering glimpses of turquoise water in the distance.

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About 30 minutes later, we arrived at the gated entrance to Brisa del Mar. There are 3 homes in the compound, each an architectural wonder and separated by lush dense jungle so you feel you are completely alone. We had our own gate and driveway, and, as the driver pulled the dusty vehicle up to the house, he handed Matt the keys.

“Car is all yours. Someone will open the gate for you whenever you leave and return.”

And they did.

After a brief tour by the owner, we were left to our own devices.

The house was simply amazing. It was a beautiful open-air Balinese style home with the most amazing thatch roof and a deck with an infinity pool that overlooked the ocean and the reef beyond.

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Villas del Mar also comes with a multitude of pets.

This was K2, the cat that immediately took up residence with us.

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This was Tasha, the guard dog. We could see that she had been well trained and we felt very secure.

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This was Diva. Her back-up, who was apparently trained at the same place.

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We quickly unpacked and headed to French Harbour for a late lunch and a visit to the grocery store.

After only a few wrong turns and a few choice cuss words, we found Frenchy’s 44. Not necessarily known for its cuisine, I had chosen it because of its proximity to Eldon’s Supermarket and because the setting is quite stunning.

The airy thatched restaurant sat right on the water’s edge. The views were as delicious as the breeze.

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And the tequila.

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We ordered lots of things with cheese.

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When we were sufficiently stuffed, we set off to find Eldon’s to buy groceries. I said a silent prayer that Eldon’s would not be comparable to Bush’s.

To my delight, Eldon’s looked just like any full service grocery store from home. And it was blessedly air conditioned! We loaded up on breakfast items, snacks, and drinks. We had also been given a list of items we need that night for “Palapa Pizza” night at Villas del Mar.

Part of the charm of the Villas del Mar property was the staff. There were a number of services they provided that made our stay extra special. One of these was pizza night on Tuesdays. They gave you a list of ingredients for your crust and sauce, you chose your own toppings, and they would pick the items up at your house, take them to a magical palapa in the jungle where they would make and cook your pizzas for you in a wood burning oven for $7 a pizza.

We returned to the house and spent the afternoon lounging by the pool.

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That evening, Rosa stopped by and picked up my bag of pizza supplies and told us to be at the palapa around 7:00 p.m.

At 6:55, we doused ourselves with Deet and headed into the jungle.

The palapa really was amazing.

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The guests from the other two houses were there, along with the owners, Bruce and Nicki. I have no idea how Rosa kept all the pizzas straight, but pizza night was one of my favorite experiences on Roatan.

We sipped wine under the soft glow of the lights while the smell of woodsmoke mingled with the tangy scent of spiced Italian meat. The pizzas were thin, crispy, and perfect.

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When we couldn’t possibly eat another bite, we headed back to Brisa where we called it a night.

Even though the bedrooms had air conditioning, we left the doors open to the breeze.

Good thing we had those watchdogs.

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Posted by vicki_h 12:41 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (0)

In Pursuit of Paradise Day 3: Baby, Can You Pass the Deet?

The Bay Islands of Honduras

The same soft sounds tugged at our ears the next morning and we found ourselves awake before sunrise again.

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After watching the sun make a slow, quiet entrance, I tackled breakfast in the kitchen.

Fried plantains, French toast, and bacon….I was getting pretty good at this primitive cooking.

And I was so happy I had found these little Trader Joe coffee brew bags because the house didn't have a coffee maker.

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Just as we were finishing up breakfast, we heard a boat motor approaching. We ran to the east dock just as a man was stepping onto it with, you guessed it, a bottle of lighter fluid and a bag filled with a couple of pounds of cleaned fresh snapper.

He only wanted $10 for the fish, the fluid, and the delivery.

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This place really was paradise.

The second day passed much like the first.

The most ambitious activity of the day was slicing a cool lime to squeeze into a freshly poured cocktail. The worst calamity of the day was running out of rum.

We switched to tequila.

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We snorkeled. We swam. We listened to music as we sat dreamily in lounge chairs staring at the cool, turquoise sea and wondering what the pelicans were doing. We stood on the warm wood of the dock and watched parrotfish dart on top of the shallow reef. We juggled coconuts. We looked for seashells.

We wandered over at low tide and explored the tiny little "extra" island that was connected to Little Cay by a small sandbar. We decided this was where anyone that got voted off Naked Island would have to go.

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We made nachos with gooey cheese and "ground meat" and sipped salty tequila. We read for hours and took naps in the afternoon breeze.

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The second day passed much like the first. We found ourselves taking on the rhythm of the ocean, speaking in languid whispers, our heart rates having dropped to just a few murmurs over comatose.

We did nothing more than watch the sun move from one side of the island to the other.

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Just as it had the previous two days, sunset arrived promptly around 6:00 p.m. Matt fired up the grill to make grilled snapper and to cook up the thick smoked pork chops I had bought in case we didn’t get any fish. I figured we could eat them for breakfast.

I used the other half of the snapper to make fresh ceviche. I grated some cheese and sliced some fresh lettuce, tomatoes, and onions to pair with soft tortillas for grilled fish tacos.

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I’m not sure if it was the salty fresh air, the sun dripping into the sea, the gentle lapping of the waves, or simply the peace that had settled into our bones, but the food tasted better than anything I’d had in a very long time.

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We watched as the sky went from gold, to fiery orange, to soft purple then fade to black as a million stars came out to say goodnight.

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Posted by vicki_h 11:25 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (1)

In Pursuit of Paradise Day 2: Paradise Island

The Bay Islands of Honduras

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We made it through the night without anything with more legs than us getting into the bed and without dying in a pool of our own sweat, so I considered the first night a success.

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In the early light of that first morning, it seemed unreal. Surely there was no way we were alone on an island. But the fantasy was a reality. We really were on an island all our own. The sun and the palm trees and the sand and sea were all ours. There was no one to answer to, no one to share it with, no one to worry about, not even that fat pelican who sat guarding the wooden dock beyond the house.

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It was Easter morning, so we spent the first hour on the east dock (there were two, one on the east side and one on the west, perfect for sunrise and sunset, we found) having our own sunrise service in the most perfect place I could imagine. I thanked God for giving us this amazing opportunity.

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Then it was time for breakfast. I knew before we even arrived on Little Cay that meals would be momentous occasions. When your only form of entertainment is watching the pelicans dive off the dock or racing hermit crabs, food becomes important.

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For each meal, I would spend hours conjuring magic from a limited universe of strange ingredients and a conspicuous absence of modern cooking tools or appliances. While the kitchen had a reasonable amount of supplies, most of the items were slightly less than perfect or just not exactly the thing I needed.

On the 9th match, I got the stove lit and cooked up some thick, smoked Honduran bacon (the stuff was amazing) with eggs. To celebrate our first day off the grid, we poured up some mimosas.

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Once breakfast was over, I wasn’t sure what to do. Matt and I are people that need to be busy. We need things to do.

I wasn’t sure what we would do with no itinerary, no plans, no list of things to check off and see and do. Could we enjoy doing nothing?

Apparently, we could.

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We lazed in the sun, taking frequent swims or soaks in the cool water when we got too hot. We snorkeled for hours in the shallow water surrounding the island. We sipped cold coconut rum under the rustling palm trees and took rum-induced afternoon siestas.

Before the first day was even halfway through, we were happy simply being. We limited our movements to small trips to the refrigerator for drinks, dips in the water, turning a page in a book, or moving from one chair to another that had better shade/sun/view (whatever we were looking for at the time).

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I had a staring contest with the fat pelican and he won.

The humidity curled my hair into an impressive mess, my freckles popped out almost immediately, and, to combat sand fleas and mosquitoes, I was constantly coated in a thick sheen of coconut oil and Deet.

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It was simply magical.

We had used what little lighter fluid we had found the night before and I didn’t want to try to cook meat on that stove.

“Call Barry on that little phone,” I said. “See if they can bring us some lighter fluid. While they are at it, see if we can get some fresh fish.”

Matt tried dialing the little cell phone and looked puzzled.

“No matter what I do, I just get a weird message in Spanish and then the phone hangs up. You try.”

Like I had some kind of cell phone mojo that he didn’t possess.

I dialed.

“La red móvil que está intentando acceder está abajo . Por favor, intente llamar en otro momento.”

Beep. Beep. Beep.

Then silence.

Our one form of communication didn’t work. Just. Great.

We really were alone.

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No matter. This was what we signed up for, wasn’t it?

I took my iPhone out of airplane mode and shot off a quick email to the Jacksons, knowing it was costing me a small fortune in roaming charges, but praying to the cell phone Gods that my message would find its way to them.

I made the message really short:

“Need lighter fluid. And fresh fish. Tomorrow. Thanks!”

Then I used my two burners (and about 12 matches) to whip up some pasta using fresh veges, more of that thick bacon, and a jar of pesto.

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We found what was left of a picnic table, and discovered it made a perfect seaside table for two.

We set up dinner on the east side of the island to watch the sunset as we ate our meal.

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After dinner, Matt used some dried palm leaves and driftwood to get a nice fire going on the beach where we made s’mores using my distinctly non-graham cracker mystery cookies. I had no idea what they were because the entire package was in Spanish. I am pretty sure they were sugar-free, as I realized later what “sin azúcar” meant. Leave it to me to find the one package of diabetic cookies on the entire island of Utila.

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No worries. There was enough sugar in the Hershey bar and giant marshmallows to make our teeth hurt.

We licked the melted chocolate off of our fingers and laughed like children as the fire crackled and the last glow of the sun faded over the horizon.

Did I already say it was magical?

We fell asleep to the sound of gentle waves lapping at the shore from all sides and the sound of the coconut palms rustling in the wind.

Oh, sure. There was also the sound of the occasional hermit crab skittering across the floor.

(I learned quickly to take a flashlight when going to use the bathroom in the dark. One doesn’t make that mistake twice.)

Posted by vicki_h 05:12 Archived in Honduras Tagged beach island caribbean tropical honduras roatan utila little_cay deserted_island Comments (0)

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