After the most interesting, enlightening but challenging few weeks in Guatemala, this was going to be my idyllic Caribbean getaway – waking up to the sound of the waves, birds singing, scuba diving, sailing, siesta in a hammock, Piña Coladas, BBQ’d fish on the beach, lobsters, romantic strolls on the beach. OK, the last bit was never going to be that romantic, as I was going solo, but I didn’t think the rest of my wish list was unreasonable.
Arriving in Roatan with sunny thoughts
Full of sunny, happy expectations with not much else in my head, I landed on the small island of Roatan, located 50km or so from mainland Honduras. This was going to be the part of my trip where I chilled out and just enjoyed.
As my taxi took me on my short journey to the West End, I couldn’t help but smile at the warm breeze that was coming through the window, with an even bigger smile every time I saw coconut trees growing out up high from the dusty dry land. I’d arrived on my Caribbean paradise, my home for the next 3 weeks.
I was going to love island living – how could I not?
It was much later that I realised just how expensive that USD 20 cab ride was (booked through the hotel), when it really should have been around USD 5.
Terrifying reception at the hotel
Not being a dog person (not that I’m a cat person either), the reception I got as I walked up to the gate of Casa del Sol was the least welcoming of any place I’d stayed in – 3 very angry dogs dashed towards me, jumping at the gate, growling and barking at me as if I was the most wanted criminal on earth, as if their sole purpose in life had been to track me down (and then eat me). Little did I know that I was to get this very same welcome every time I came back to the place – only it was to be far worse, as I was supposed to unlock the gate and let myself in.
Just as I was really regretting having already paid to stay here for a week, the manager came down the stairs from his office, made a gesture to the dogs as if he was going to smack them, shouted at them to get lost, and then told me that the dogs were harmless. I then noticed that some of his fingers and toes were missing. I quickly made a fist with the hand that wasn’t holding my big suitcase (I’ve never claimed to be a backpacker) and tucked it close to my body. My toes curled on my flip flops which made it impossible to walk without looking like a Geisha in training – shuffling with very small steps.
After a couple of very scary encounters and a lot of growling, I started bribing the dogs with food – I don’t like sharing my food with anyone, but this was an emergency, and I was in survival mode.
Off to the perfect beach
Still, I was on a Caribbean island, the sun was shining and the beach only a couple of minutes down the road. As quickly as I could, I put on my bikini and headed to Half Moon beach – a perfect semi-circle of golden sand gently hugging the sea.
Stepping into the warm sea made me instantly forget my near-death experience with the Mad Dogs. That was it, I’d arrived.
The late afternoon sun was perfect. I lay down, feeling the comforting sand beneath me, and let myself drift into a little siesta. After a short while, I awoke, not to the sound of waves or to birds singing, but to stinging sensations on my legs. My legs were covered in tiny little red dots – sand flies!!
Lying in a hammock – the ultimate holiday feeling
In reality, I’m not very good at relaxing and I’m actually quite rubbish at not doing anything. But I’d often fantasised about having that ultimate carefree, “my holiday time is unlimited” kind of vibe you get from a lot of gap-year backpackers. So lying in a hammock, reading a book (even though I don’t read much) and not worrying about the time was definitely on my check list.
Having fled the vicious sand flies on the beach and having out-maneuvered the Mad Dogs, I settled down in my very own hammock on my balcony. I tried. I really did, but it was boring just lying there looking at the garden down below.
Nevertheless, I told myself to stay there, just 15 minutes. I was determined to get that unlimited-time feeling by imposing a minimum time limit on myself! Before the 15 minutes were up, my legs were stinging and itching like hell – oh those sand flies! But no, it wasn’t just them. Now the mosquitos were having a feast on my legs (the Roatan variety are stealth mosquitos).
May be I should just go out for some food.
BBQ’d Chicken – there’s no fish in Roatan
Along the beach, good few places are offering BBQs. But surprisingly, there is no fish on offer. I tuck into some grilled chicken, served with some rice and coleslaw. It’s all very tasty, and I couldn’t fault the location, but why don’t they have fish? “Gordo”, as he’s locally known because of his size, tells me that fish is difficult to get hold of, and expensive.
I’m puzzled. I can literally see hundreds of fish swimming right under the deck I’m sitting on. I once got Gordo to source some fish for me – Chicken: USD5, Fish: USD12.
Going home in Roatan is not easy -Solo women be aware
The worst experience for me on Roatan, as a solo female traveller, was the unwanted attention from the locals. Granted, this happens everywhere, and quite honestly, travelling around Latin America, you’d probably feel a bit invisible if there was none of it at all. But the difference was, that it was more aggressive here, and so sexually explicit that it made me feel uncomfortable (even at 8am on my way to the dive shop for my morning dive).
And the taxis. In Roatan, there seems to be an overwhelming over-supply of taxis. You can’t walk 10 seconds without being beeped by one – it made me jump every time, even after 2 weeks. And worse still, you say No, and they follow you. Often trailing alongside you for a few minutes. You speed up, they speed up. You slow down, they slow down. Despite being right in “town” with bars and restaurants around, this more than made me a little nervous, and it happened every day and every night.
Great things about Roatan
1. The diving is great here, there are lots of cool sites nearby (wrecks, caves, reef), and diving is not expensive (although neighbouring Utila is cheaper – that’s where all the backpackers go).
2. The tourist crowd here is a little older, so not too much craziness going on.
3. I cannot think of anything else.
4. Oh, the Roatan Sunset is amazing.
After that awful first week at Casa del Sol, I managed to get much better, beach-front accommodation at Posada Arco Iris which was cheaper, nicer, had a big balcony with sea views, working wi-fi and no dogs. No dogs! But this island just wasn’t for me, and I changed my flight to leave Roatan a week early. May be I wasn’t cut out for Caribbean island living – but I was to get a second chance a few weeks later, in the Nicaraguan Little Corn Island.
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