The Bay Islands of Honduras
01.04.2016 - 01.04.2016
It hadn’t been an easy night for me. I had blackened my toe running through the house to try to make it to the other bathroom so that I wouldn’t wake Matt up with all my vomiting. I was up and down all night with hot miserable things pouring out of various parts of my body.
I was exhausted.
I had saved some of our best plans for the last day and I felt so ill, I was worried I would miss it.
Because West Bay was touted as the single best spot in all of Roatan, it is also the most popular, particularly with cruise ships. I had read that, on a heavy cruise ship day, you can barely find a spot in the sand. That’s my idea of hell, so we had waited for the one day that NO CRUISE SHIPS would be on the island. We wanted to enjoy West Bay in relative peace and not feel like we were on a beach that had been planted in the center of Wal-Mart.
I had also planned a visit to Daniel Johnson’s Monkey and Sloth Sanctuary, where I might actually get to hold a sloth.
We also wanted to visit West End, a funky, bohemian village next to West Bay, and the owner of Brisa del Mar had told us about the Friday afternoon party that cranked up at a place called BJ’s Backyard in Oak Ridge.
I couldn’t miss all of that.
I told Matt to let me sleep for a couple of hours and we’d see.
I emerged from my coma around 9:00 and announced that I was ready to tackle the day.
I was, sort of.
After a breakfast of Pepto-Bismol and Advil, I was ready.
We found the monkey and sloth sanctuary easily from Daniel’s directions, located just inside French Harbour. Not a zoo, the place is a small animal shelter located in the back yard of the family’s home. They have rescued a number of macaws and monkeys that individuals took as pets and then abandoned. They also have several sloths, an animal that is inexplicably hunted and killed on mainland Honduras.
Who would want to kill a sloth???
I love sloths. And why not? I learned from my visit that sloths and I have a lot in common. We both love sleeping, we love hugs, and neither of us move very fast. Hugging a sloth was like everything good about hugging a baby, without any tears, poopy diapers, excessive spit, or that spoiled milk smell.
Matt was a big hit with the monkeys.
I was feeling reasonably recovered, so we continued to make our way west.
West Bay Beach….we were on our way!
As we drove, we noticed the small island of Roatan was drastically divided. On the east side, where we had spent all of our time thus far, the landscape was sparsely populated with homes, and most things we saw were fairly simple and modest. We regularly saw open fields full of cows and the occasional Honduran cowboy riding his horse along his fence line, checking for breaks. Roadside stands were scattered on the highway, where women stood grilling corn. Clean laundry fluttered in the breeze behind simple shacks.
On the west side, tourism has taken over. We started to see shops, restaurants, and tons of people. Around each curve there was another sign for zip-lines, dolphin encounters, scuba excursions, and dune buggies. Signs for large resorts appeared at every turn.
I already missed the fine white sand of Camp Bay Beach, with nary a soul in sight.
After an hour of driving through throngs of people, roadside shops filled with cheap sarongs, and signs promising the “adventure of a lifetime,” we found ourselves at the road to West Bay Beach, famed jewel of Roatan.
I had high expectations. On Roatan, West Bay is the Prom Queen of beaches. She is the one that everyone wants to hang out with, bragging to their friends with an iPhone picture to prove it.
She is held up as the prettiest one around. Described as one long, blond babe, with the softest and purest of sand, curves in all the right places, and meticulously groomed so that not a speck of seaweed sullies her pristine shores. She’s the one in all the glossy brochures, beckoning the weary, the burned out, and the overworked to her turquoise shores.
She is West Bay Beach.
We parked the car at the Beach Club at San Simon and strolled through the facility, which was lovely. An open air beach bar greeted us, dotted with loungers and day beds on the ocean side.
We stepped out onto the sand, expectations high.
Hip-hop music immediately blasted us from 4 competing stereo systems, each appearing to strive for the award of loudest and most obnoxious. I sat on a beach lounge and looked out over a sea of braided hair, paper cups filled with cheap liquor, sunscreen, and the lost, glazed over looks of the uninspired. The beautiful, gin clear water was cluttered with banana boats, parasailing, paddle boards, and floating docks covered with signs for “BEST RIDES!”
We managed to find a sliver of beach that wasn’t covered with a poorly stocked bar, sarong stand, or cheap jewelry table and gazed at an endless line of vendors toting coolers and buckets filled with anything and everything you might, or might not, want to buy on the beach.
And this was a day with NO CRUISE SHIPS.
It was Myrtle Beach on spring break.
This wasn’t the Prom Queen. It was a cocktail waitress in a Dolly Parton wig.
Sure, the beach was very lovely, but it had been carelessly ruined by overdevelopment and littered with so much cheap crap that you could barely see the beauty beneath it all.
As I sat on my chair, I was approached by six vendors in under 3 minutes trying to sell me jewelry, conch shells, jade turtles, unidentifiable food wrapped in aluminum foil from a 5 gallon bucket, ice cream bars, and a parasailing excursion.
This was not our scene.
Nonetheless, we had driven an hour to be here, so we were going to make the most of it.
We pulled some chairs down toward the water and I sent Matt in search of drinks.
Every island seems to have its own drink. The Bahamas have the Bahama Mama. The BVI is home to the infamous Painkiller. Cuba has the Mojito….and Roatan has the Monkey-la-la.
Sure, this sounds more like an apt description of me trying to dance, but it’s actually named after the ever-present lizard you will see running across any road up on its hind legs. It’s also commonly known as the Jesus Lizard because it can walk on water for a bit before sinking. I guess the drink is named appropriately, because I’m pretty sure you might try to walk on water and do other miraculous things after drinking 4 or 5 of them.
The monkey la-la was potent and delicious. An adult milkshake with an afterbite. It was the best thing we found on West Bay Beach.
We soaked in the sun and water for about an hour, sipping monkey la-las and wondering how long we were actually required to stay before we could make an exit without feeling like we had totally wasted our time.
When a vendor actually approached me IN THE WATER, we made up our minds. I mean, I was on a lounge chair IN THE WATER. Did he think I had a $5 bill stuffed in my bikini? It was time to go.
Matt was getting hungry and I felt like it might be a good idea for me to eat. The milkshake drinks had been creamy and good, but maybe food would be better.
We headed over to West End, a trendy little town that circled a small bay just a short drive from West Bay. It was filled with cute shops and restaurants, and mostly maintained an authentic feel despite a few places that looked like they belonged in Pigeon Forge, TN more than they belonged in Roatan.
Our restaurant of choice was Creole Rotisserie Chicken, having been highly recommended to us by our hosts at Brisa del Mar. When we finally found it, it was closed.
Of course it was.
So, we went with his second suggestion, the Argentinian Grill. Located in front of the hotel Posada Arco Iris, this restaurant was known for its grilled meats.
Matt was starving, so he ordered heavy: shrimp ceviche, Argentinian grilled sausage, and giant shrimp burritos. I went conservative with the grilled churrasco steak with chimichurri (a savory garlic, parsley and olive oil sauce).
I wasn’t able to eat more than a few bites before my stomach promptly told me that it wasn’t emotionally ready for another food relationship, so Matt finished my food off as well.
We did a little shopping, but shortly decided that, like West Bay, West End was not for us and headed back to the east end. But not before I decided to try some gelato. It seemed to be the only thing I could stomach.
We still had time to find the obscure BJ’s and see if the Friday afternoon ex-pat dance party was all that it had been described as.
We passed the turn to Brisa del Mar and went a couple of miles until we saw the turn for Oak Ridge. Oak Ridge was a simple fishing village, home port to many of the island’s shrimp and fishing boats. Most of the buildings were built on the edge of the water, and the primary mode of transportation in the village is by boat.
The village was conspicuously less affluent than anything we had seen on the west end. The dichotomy of Roatan was hard to miss. Yet this appealed to us more. It was authentic. It was genuine. It was humble and unpretentious. I preferred it over the contrived experience that I found on West Bay.
A simple bar on the edge of the water, BJ’s was opened by BJ some 25 years ago to serve the local seamen. It’s now the most common place to find local ex-pats living it up with cold beer and live music, especially on Friday afternoons.
There were no signs pointing the way to BJ’s like there had been for La Sirena de Camp Bay. BJ doesn’t care if you find her. If you are supposed to be there, you’ll know where she is.
We had just given up and were turning around when we saw a large group of people dancing with beers in hand on a dock. As we pulled in, our host from Brisa del Mar was walking out.
We had found BJ’s.
And it was every inch the party that it had been described as.
BJ’s was truly a hole in the wall kind of place, but one where you were immediately welcomed in like family, handed a cold drink, and asked to stay a while. A live band was playing and the place was filled with colorful characters drinking and dancing the afternoon away. Five minutes couldn’t pass without someone stopping to say “hello” or talk to us about our time on Roatan.
We were having such a good time, it was hard to pull ourselves away, but we were crusty with salt and sand and our skin was screaming for a shower, so we waved our goodbyes and headed back to Brisa del Mar.
Fausto waited at the gate.
The day had been long and exhausting. We napped in the luxurious breeze by the pool until I finally felt hungry.
“I think I can eat,” I told Matt.
We had made no plans, so we decided to run back down to Cal’s Cantina so I could have a second chance at the mystery dish in the pot.
We found Cal’s to be just as breezy, the margaritas to be just as strong, and the view to be just as amazing as before, and this time, I ordered the right thing: the anafre, a hot dip of beans, cheese, and chorizo. In hindsight, it might have been “too soon,” but I hadn’t had any food in over 24 hours and I was hungry, so I dove in with gusto.
I followed that with the island burger, an equally disastrous decision.
But I didn’t yet know that what had happened to my stomach the night before wasn’t the hot sauce.
And it wasn’t over.