26.03.2016 - 02.04.2016
The Bay Islands of Honduras
02.04.2016 - 02.04.2016
As I sat on the deck of Brisa del Mar, rubbing K2’s ears in the morning breeze, I couldn’t believe it was time to leave. Our time on Little Cay and Roatan had been spectacular.
However, there was still one thing eating at me.
No, not the intestinal bacteria that was setting up housekeeping in my abdomen…..
I wanted to kayak out and snorkel that reef.
It was a clear, calm morning, so we had Fausto put in the kayak. We eyeballed the buoys from shore and made our way out to them. We found them easily this time and enjoyed a leisurely snorkel along the pristine reef before facing the inevitable task of packing to leave.
The staff drove us back to the airport where we spent several hours waiting in various hot lines to leave.
At 2:00 p.m., we boarded our Delta flight to head to Atlanta, where we would have an overnight layover before flying home to Knoxville.
As I sat on the plane, I reflected back over the past week. It had truly been amazing. While Roatan and Utila would not make my list for favorite islands, not even close really, the trip itself was one of my favorites we had ever taken. It was hard to explain.
I was basking in warm thoughts of sloth hugging and gentle seas when the first pain hit. Within minutes, I felt like that thing from Alien was about to burst forth from my abdomen.
I cringed in pain as the chills started. My teeth started to chatter as I shook violently.
Matt felt me shivering uncontrollably next to him and asked if I was okay. I shook my head slowly, knowing that a coach seat on an airplane flying 3 hours over the Gulf of Mexico was the worst conceivable location to be sick.
He got me several blankets, but I couldn’t get the shaking to stop.
An hour later, I was shivering, my stomach hurt in a way that can only be described as hellish, and I was sick, sick, sick.
I just knew it was malaria.
I knew I hadn’t used enough Deet. I had gotten exactly 4 mosquito bites during the week and I was trying to figure out exactly which one of the four had infected me.
Two hours of extreme misery later, we made it to the Atlanta airport. By this time, I was in so much agony, Matt had to get me off the plane in a wheelchair. I felt sorry for him as he pushed a wheelchair loaded with me, a suitcase, and my heavy tote with one hand, carried his backpack on his back, and pulled the other suitcase behind him with the other hand.
Customs was at least 17 miles from the gate.
I wish I was joking.
We walked for 30 minutes before we finally reached the area for customs. They put us in the “special needs” line, but even that took a good 20 minutes, all the while I kept looking at Matt and saying, “I need to go to the hospital.”
I guess the blessing, if you can call anything about food poisoning on an airplane a blessing, was twofold:
1) It took so long to get off the plane, to customs, and through customs, that I could tell I wasn’t getting any worse. I realized I did not, in fact, have malaria, and appeared to have a really bad case of food poisoning. The cramps were getting farther apart. I decided to wait it out instead of going to the hospital.
2) We had an overnight layover, which meant I didn’t have to get on another plane; this was good, because I couldn’t have that night.
We grabbed a cab to our hotel. I thought I would die in the cab, but somehow I didn’t. When we got to our room, Matt had 2 additional down comforters brought up and bundled me in them. I finally stopped shivering after about an hour and the cramping eased off after several hours.
Sure, it wasn’t the best end to the trip and, even though it has been five days, my stomach still isn’t right, but if you asked me if I’d do the trip again knowing how it would end, I would say “yes.”
It’s the risk you take when you travel, and to me, it was worth it.
The trip was amazing and I wouldn’t trade a second of it. Utila and Roatan might not have had countless pristine beaches or luxury restaurants, but it had a quality that drew me in and makes me want to go back.
I might think more carefully about what I eat next time though……
Ro-ro-ro-atan…gently by the sea…merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily…life is but a dream.
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.
The Bay Islands of Honduras
31.03.2016 - 31.03.2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I loved everything about it.
Except the bathroom.
We visited the pig, who had the unimaginative name “Piggy,” and settled ourselves on a picnic table over the water.
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.
We ordered the spicy wings, the fresh catch, and the shrimp. All were delicious.
They also had a house made hot sauce.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
The Bay Islands of Honduras
30.03.2016 - 30.03.2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
“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.
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.