Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where the Heck is Roatan?

Madame saw a man wearing a t-shirt that said "Where the hell is Roatan? when she was in Honduras recently. That's where Roatan is; it's an island off the coast. (Click here to read about the history of the island.) Last year the cruise ship docked at Mahogany Bay a little touristy spot with lovely little shops that look like Caribbean cottages and a sky lift (think SKI lift) to take visitors over to the private beach if they don't want to walk through the lovely manicured grounds. Madame had been describing that lovely scene all week to her new friends in the hot tub or at the pool.

The danger of sharing a travel experience is that sometimes things change and then you just look, well, silly. This is what happened to Madame. This time the ship docked (or would have if another ship hadn't already been there) at Coxen Hole. The first bad sign was that there wasn't any pier and passengers had to be tendered to the dock. No big deal, tendering is actually kind of fun, unless you forget something and need to run back to the ship. Once ashore there was a charming little shopping area much like the one she remembered but at the information booth she was informed that the taxi to go to West End where there was a beach, and several restaurants and places to shop, was going to run about $25 per person. To go the mile and half or two to get to Mahogany Bay? About the same. That's a lot of money and you can negotiate with the drivers but at this point Madame wasn't in the mood.

"So there's nothing to do right here?"

The helpful retired American (there are about 1500 of them on the island) informed her that she could walk out the gate past where the taxis were and turn right--that would take them to Old Towne. Sun sparkled on the water and some men played kettle drums outside a jewelry store with white plantation shutters. Shoppers crowded the liquor stores and boutiques. MO never has figured out the numerous diamond stores at every port the ship stops. They reached the gate and stepped out into reality. A couple of children asked for money. They walked along a treacherous sidewalk. Locales gawked. Several people asked them where they were headed and offered to take them to a beach. A young man asked them if he could help them find something. Mr. Mo said he was looking for a cigar store and the three of them headed there.

It was soon obvious that this kid had attached himself to them as a volunteer guide. Madame realized that they would need to tip him. After a shop or two where he stood patiently by as they shopped, and informed Madame whether or not it was alright to haggle, he introduced himself as Elmer Welcome. He spoke perfect English, had a very good knowledge of the history of the area. They chatted as they went through town. The main street that runs through Old Town holds no resemblance whatsoever to the gleaming cheerful tourist areas. The contrast is jolting. Buildings are ramshackle, grates over gutters on the street are missing leaving dangerous holes that could swallow a small child. There are stray dogs everywhere. Skinny ones. Between dilapidated buildings Madame would catch a glimpse of the gleaming ships in the harbor. They asked Elmer about his life. He was a high school student who was hoping to go to the local college to get a degree in hospitality. His goal was to get a job as a waiter on one of the cruise ships. Madame asked him how long the ships had been coming there.

"Fourteen years." he said.

"What was it like before?"

"There was nothing here but a dirt road, everyone was very poor before the tourists came."

Mr. MO inquired about a place to have lunch. He took them to the cleanest building in town. Still simple with outdoor seating with plastic lawn chairs, but exceedingly clean. Several locals sat with their laptops. Madame suspected this was the only place in town with wi-fi. They offered to buy Elmer's lunch but he said he would rather have cash. Mr. MO handed him fifteen dollars, thanked him and wished him luck.

Bay Side Restaurant and Grille has an excellent drink menu and delicious local food. Madame asked the waitress what the typical local meal was. Conch and fried plantain was the answer.  Mr. MO ordered the shrimp ceviche. The food was delicious, and beautifully presented. Simple ingredients were combined to make a perfect lunch. The conch was cooked in a butter and garlic sauce. MO ordered up a pina colada, after double checking about the use of purified ice. It was easily the best one she's ever had. The ceviche was beautiful and super fresh. I couldn't find a website for the restaurant but here is the link to their Facebook page.

Roatan is a beautiful island with a variety of experiences to offer. MO was disappointed that she didn't get to go snorkling this time. The reef in Roatan is now considered one of the top 7 places in the world for it. She wasn't willing to do it alone, and it really wouldn't be Mr. MO's thing at all. Next time however, even if it is a lone adventure she doesn't intend to miss it.

Happy Travels, Y'all!

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