Ways I can die in Honduras:
1. As Matt so thoughtfully pointed out, Honduras is the murder capital of the world.
2. There is a zipline on every mountain. Flying 200 feet above the ground on a cable erected by workers in a third world country with severely substandard wages and no US Department of Labor probably isn’t a good idea.
3. Sleeping in a house with no a/c in a country infested with mosquitos is as smart as simply injecting the disease into your bloodstream with a syringe. Hello? Malaria? Zika? Dengue? Chicayunga?
4. You can get Hepatitis from drinking the water.
5. I could be a victim of a Honduran roadside shakedown gone bad.
6. I could get macheted to death for refusing to hand over my camera.
7. They have tarantulas and boa constrictors and I would die of fright if I saw one.
8. Can you get sick from holding a monkey?
9. Spending 3 days alone on a deserted island with Matt could likely end up with one of us dead.
This was either going to be the best trip of our lives or the worst.
We arrived in Roatan shortly after noon local time. We were immediately thrust into the most crowded, chaotic airport I have ever entered. Hundreds of people from 2 arriving flights were being crammed into a queue to go through customs and immigration. Several “airport volunteers” helped to keep everyone guided in the right direction. The power had been out, so it was hotter than the 3rd circle of hell.
We were asked if we were staying on Roatan or connecting and we advised the volunteer that we were on a 2:00 flight to Utila. We were ushered into another line that moved even slower than our original line, which seemed to defeat the purpose of expediting us so that we’d make our flight, but explaining things in rational terms to these folks didn’t seem to be an option. We went with the flow.
After a long, hot wait….we were fingerprinted (all 10 fingers), our documents were examined, we were photographed, and sent on our way. I imagine it would be easier to sneak into the research and development lab at Apple than Honduras.
We then had to exit the airport and re-enter on the departure side, which was even hotter than the arrivals side. And more chaotic.
Lines streamed behind each airline and a HUGE line extended across the length of the airport under a sign that read “Departure Lounge.”
We found the counter for tiny CM Airlines and were given big plastic cards to use for boarding. We then got in the huge departure line and waited.
And waited. And waited.
It appeared the line was taking us back through immigration to be fingerprinted again.
This didn’t make any sense.
I saw a much shorter departure line with no one in it.
“I think that’s the domestic departure line,” I said.
We moved over and discovered it was, indeed, the domestic departure line. No sign of any kind overhead. The only indicator was a sign painted on the floor. Because you can certainly see that clearly from 200 feet away in a room filled with sweaty bodies.
Inside the “departure lounge” (this is their term, not mine….it was not lounge like in any capacity), we proceeded to wait in another very hot line.
Eventually, we were herded in a very chaotic fashion with a disorganized group out onto the tarmac where we boarded a less than amazing 15-seater plane.
I suspected they didn’t put a lot of stock in safety when I noticed that my seatbelt appeared to be missing some important parts and there was no safety briefing. I was certain no one had done a weight and balance, and the rear door was shut by the passenger in the back seat.
No matter. We made it on time, with relative ease, and were on our way to the small island of Utila!
The flight was quick and uneventful. Twenty minutes later, we landed on a tiny airstrip on the island of Utila.
The Utila airport was not much to look at.
Several tuk-tuks were waiting, so we jumped inside one and asked to be driven to Bush’s Supermarket, the largest grocery store on Utila, where we would pick up our groceries and wait on the boat dock behind the store for Barry Jackson, who would take us to Little Cay for the next 3 days.
Utila Town was small and lively. Scooters, motorbikes, tuk-tuks, trucks, and vans all competed noisily for the single lane road that ran through town. The air was filled with the mingled scents of exhaust, salt air, and fried dough. Dogs barked lazily in the shade, and music pumped out of several small bars.
We found Bush's easily enough and were dropped off with our luggage. I had one hour before Barry arrived. I left Matt sitting out front in a plastic chair with the luggage and several old men smoking cigarettes and went inside with my list.
I have shopped in many small island grocery stores. I know what to expect. Still, I expected more.
Shopping at Bush’s was an experience in patience, frustration, and creativity.
They had the most random, incomplete, awkward selection of products that I believe one could amass in a central location and still call a grocery store. I had come prepared with a list. When spending 3 nights on a remote island with minimal amenities, you need to plan properly. It’s not like we could run to the corner to pick up something we forgot.
List be damned. They didn’t have anything that was on it.
I started to panic, realizing Barry would be there soon and all I had in my cart was a giant block of mysterious cheese and a squeeze bag of refried beans. I scowled as I looked through freezers filled with bags of frozen meat labelled simply, “Ground meat.” BUT WHAT KIND OF MEAT??? I pawed through boxes of produce I didn’t recognize. I flipped over packages that were entirely in Spanish three or four times, thinking maybe there was some English on there somewhere that I just didn’t see the first time.
The most puzzling aspect was that about half of the packages were opened. Like someone just got hungry while they were shopping, decided to pop open a pack of moon pies and eat one. Haphazardly opened packages filled the store. A box of butter might only contain 2 sticks. A box of granola bars might have a few missing.
I was later told that it's perfectly acceptable to open packages at the store and just buy what you need. You can even ask for half an onion and they'll cut it for you. You only want half a can of Coke? They'll actually open one and pour it in a cup.
Despite the randomness of the inventory, I managed to put together what I felt was a pretty decent collection that would serve us well for the next couple of days. I was sweating profusely and was close to a panic attack, but as they boxed my groceries up, my breathing returned to normal and I realized nothing was that important. So I couldn’t find graham crackers. We were on our way to a PRIVATE ISLAND.
It was going to be amazing. Even without graham crackers.
They delivered our boxes of groceries and our luggage to the back of the store and placed them on the boat dock where we could wait for Barry.
Somehow, we managed 15 minutes to spare, so I sent Matt in search of sustenance.
He came back with margaritas.
Matt is a good man.
As we gulped the tequila down faster than the ice could melt in the 97 degree heat, Barry pulled up in his boat.
Then it was off to Little Cay. Private island paradise or the worst experience of our lives? Only time would tell.
As the little island came into view and began to take shape in the distance, my heart started to beat faster.
It was around 4:00 p.m. when Barry dropped us off on Little Cay with our two suitcases, two boxes of groceries, a cooler of ice, drinking water, and lots of apprehension.
As Barry’s boat pulled away, the fading of the sound of its motor left behind a very loud silence.
Matt and I were alone on a one acre private island with a modest house and minimal amenities. Purchased by the Jackson family in 1968 and developed about three decades later (“developed” being a relative term), Little Cay was about 6 miles west of Utila Town, but felt worlds away from anywhere.
The house was a very basic, open structure with minimal power provided by solar panels and a giant empty hole where the hand-crank generator used to be. There was running water from a cistern that collected rainwater, but no hot water. There was no air conditioning and random wires stuck out from the ceiling where the fans used to be. There was no television, stereo system, or wi-fi. There was only one working power outlet in the entire house. Our only means of communication was a small cell phone on the counter that had Barry’s number saved on it. Gourmet kitchen? Try a charcoal grill pit and a gas stove with only two working burners that had to be lit with matches every time we needed to cook.
It wasn’t exactly Survivor. It wasn’t exactly Necker Island. It was something else altogether.
We spent the first moments in delight and disbelief, discovering every inch of our own personal island. We walked from one end of the island to the other.
This took exactly 4 minutes.
We had no idea what to do for the remaining 3,966 minutes.
What was this going to be like? Did this have the ingredients for an amazing vacation or just a really good reality TV show? I feared it was the latter and started to wonder which one it would be….Paradise Island? Survivor? When Vacations Attack? Snapped?
Most likely it would be Naked and Afraid. He’d be naked and I’d be afraid. We’d only been here 5 minutes and he was already calling it “Naked Island.”
We only had about 2 hours of daylight left, so we needed to unpack, put the groceries away, and get dinner made while we still had some light.
Dinner presented the first challenge.
We had charcoal, but no lighter fluid because I couldn’t find any in the store. While Matt went on a search of the various closets and buildings to see if he could find something we could use, I set about trying to figure out the stove.
There were 5 knobs, but all of the markings had long since been rubbed off, so I had no idea which knob went with which burner. It also wasn’t obvious what position to turn the knob to in order to light the burner.
I proceeded to go through the awkward process of holding down a knob with my knee, while using both hands to light one of the world’s crappiest matches in a windy kitchen, which resulted in the match immediately blowing out. I would have to light a minimum of 3 matches before one would catch and hold. Then, while holding the knob in with my knee and trying to shield my match from the wind with one hand and hold it with the other, I had to quickly hold it to each burner to find which one(s) worked. I found two and I managed to do it without blowing myself up.
Matt discovered a bottle of mysterious blue liquid that he felt certain was lighter fluid and attempted to get the grill going.
We grilled up some shrimp, cooked some rice, and made a quick salad.
We managed to get dinner ready in time to eat before the last dying rays of sunlight disappeared, leaving us in utter darkness.
Yes, the house had a few lights, but they were weak and we were tired. We’d also experienced a 2 hour time change and had endured a long travel day. We discovered on that first night that it was simply easiest to go to bed at 8:00 p.m.
We chose the downstairs bedroom because it had a king sized bed and tons of windows that opened to the breeze. We put up our mosquito net, put flashlights on the nightstands, and called it a night.
I woke up in the middle of the night, completely disoriented. It was so dark I couldn’t see my hand before my face and something was lying across my leg. I swiped at it and lurched forward only to realize it was just the mosquito net, blowing in the breeze.
And what was that noise?????? Dear Jesus. There was something in here with us. Why not? All the doors and windows were wide open. I knew I should have slept with the flashlight under my pillow.
I carefully pulled up the mosquito net and grabbed my flashlight, hitting the button quietly, so the intruder would not be alerted.
Dozens of hermit crabs were crawling all over the floor.
You know, it’s amazing what you can tolerate when you are really, really tired.
I sighed and hoped they didn’t have any interest in getting into bed.