Leaving Roatan and heading back to Charlotte is always bittersweet for me. As I stare out of the window, watching the island grow smaller as the plane climbs higher and higher, I settle into my seat to reflect back on our week, the good and the bad, the things we've learned. Roatan is a constant learning experience, at least it is for us. Having only been a part of the island for just under a year and having spent a combined total of two and half months there, we are still getting our bearings. We're still finding our tempo on this tiny island and it’s still just as exciting and adventurous as it was the first day we landed.
The Jack & Ginger I ordered plus an over-the-counter valium I just popped should settle me in to contemplate the past week and write as we fly over the Gulf of Mexico. This visit was in July, a month we’ve not been down before. I’ll dig in on all of this more in the paragraphs below, but to recap this visit:
-It was hot. The wind did its job keeping us cool for the first half of the trip, but died, letting us feel the Caribbean tropical heat for the other half.
-July is also mango season, we learned that there are many varieties of this fruit. When you grow up in the states there are just “mangos”, the large, green kind. In Roatan, some are small, yellow, green, round or even shaped like a crooked-neck squash. Some are sweeter, some are tougher. This led to a new version of a standard drink at our bar at home - the MangoColada - something we made and drank daily at Fort Linwell.
-One evening we experienced for the very first time the perfect conditions to not only see the silhouette of the mountains on the mainland but see clearly the ravines and streams, details that aren’t normally there.
-That same evening gave us a sunset lightshow unlike any we’ve seen so far. Streaks of orange and yellow across the sky like an abstract painting casting a moody glow onto the sea.
-We took a boat tour of the far east part of the island including visiting the sister islands of St. Helene, Morat and Isla Barbareta. That tour also took us through the “mangrove cut” which connects the south side of the island to the north.
-Speaking of boats, we named our skiff and brought decals with us to let everyone know her new name: the “Blue Noodah”, a dedication to our pup Bamboo that passed away several months ago.
-We stayed at a new place in West End for our last two nights on the island - a perfect little boutique hotel directly on the beach with a fantastic cafe and bar named The Beach House - Roatan.
-We enjoyed a boisterous carnivorous dinner in West End with friends one night and a romantic date night at a cozy, laid back Italian spot the other.
I love heading home to Charlotte.
The bittersweet part has nothing to do with that. I can’t wait to see our pups, awakening from a deep sleep, groggy faces stumbling towards us as we come through the door at almost midnight, not expecting us. Their tails wagging slowly at first then moving so fast and quickly they're slapping their own sides back and forth. They get huge squeezes, lots and lots of love and a night of cuddling in the bed with us.
I also love working back into our routine, Joey and I are really routine type guys. We’ll get coffee the next morning at Smelly Cat Coffeehouse, our neighborhood coffeeshop, we’ll see our co-workers / family there and at our business the NoDa Company Store, we’ll catch up with my mom, sharing stories from our most recent journey and we’ll jump back into our hectic work routine, serving big lunches on Sunday to our patrons and planning the schedule of events for the upcoming weeks. Once home we’ll process the journey as well. Like I said above, this one was full. We had the week to ourselves to do as we pleased which was needed because the past few trips have been dominated by scheduling (mostly from shooting for an upcoming show about our home purchase on the island - “Caribbean Life” which airs August 25th).
Our first few days on this trip were the kind of days in Port Royal that are downright ethereal. When we landed the temperatures were in the mid to upper 80’s, and the wind was really blowing hard. It typically does, a range from around 9 or 10 miles per hour up to 20 or 25. It makes for a rodeo-style bucking ride in the skiff from Oakridge to our home in Port Royal. With winds come waves, but once there it’s a welcome cooling factor. It’s not just the cooling effect, the palms and all the jungle foliage that surround us sway back and forth, creating a melody syncing with the waves crashing onto the rocks below.
This steady wind is part of why we picked the “where” on Roatan we wanted to be. South Side and hillside, where the Tradewinds blow in consistently. The folks we bought the house from did a great job designing it to catch those winds, essentially creating two octagons connected in the middle with vaulted ceilings and floating divider walls that separate the living area from the bedroom allowing the breeze to flow freely throughout the house. With windows on every wall and four sets of French doors we're able to really open everything up to enhance the circulation. The house doesn’t have air conditioning, with this wind and a fan in the bedroom it doesn’t really need it. Plus being completely off grid and solar powered we don’t have the option anyway.
Then the wind stopped. And by stopped I mean stopped. Those wonderful cooling gusts vanished, the waves turned to glass and the sound of wind running through the dense foliage disappeared. We rediscovered how much those breezes not only kept us cool, but kept the bugs away. The beauty of Port Royal didn’t go away but it was certainly punctuated by the heat. It led us to West End a day earlier, spending the last two nights on the island there instead of just the last one before flying home to Charlotte.
That stay in West End led us to a couple wonderful discoveries as well. First The Beach House Hotel. We’ve stayed in West End and West Bay before but in much more resort-like hotels, which is fine, but not necessarily our speed. The Beach House is perfectly “us”. Small and quaint, with no more than a dozen rooms, right on the main strip surrounded by shops, cafes, restaurants & bars not to mention the restaurant in the hotel which was fantastic. We’ll have another post about this place later, but we’ll likely stay here every time we stay in West End.
The staff directed us, or really suggested that we have dinner at, a small Italian cafe, Pazzo, right around the conner where we had an quite date night (read about Pazzo HERE). Homemade pasta, Italian chef, bring-your-own wine, open air dining room and great food, it felt like you were at your Italian friends house. Perfection.
Our second night in West End with friends led us to the Argentinian Grill. Lots of meat, generous amounts of wine and laughter, a perfect trifecta that, along with friends, make for a great last night in the tropics.
Our East End tour was one of my favorite days on Roatan. Our home is in New Port Royal, almost as far east as you can go on the island, and we had never been further than the next bay and easternmost point of the island, Old Port Royal. This trip was with Eastender / Roatán East, a small local boating company and tour group that customizes each trip to whatever you wish to see and do. We hit the little islands just east of us, spending time at public beaches, private beaches (read about the amazing Jade Beach), local dining spots and fishing villages. All of this with a cooler full of drinks, snacks and Salva Vida, the local beer of choice.
Another highlight was our introduction to the expansive variety of mangos that grow on the island. We’ve had mangos plenty of times before, but when you are in a place where they seemingly grow everywhere it’s different. Each mango with its unique characteristics, colors and flavors. Our property has a huge mango tree and this time it was heavy with ripe fruit, dropping to the ground with a heavy "thud" all day and night.
At our store / bar in Charlotte (the NoDa Company Store) we have a drink called the NoDaColada. A wine-based sangria made of coconut and pineapple. We make and drink a more traditional frozen version in Roatan but with rum. A typical Colada actually but this time we forgot to pick up pineapple at the store on our way in so we decided to try a mango version instead. Damn. These quickly turned into our drinks of choice throughout the week for breakfast, lunch and dinner. With that said, we will be serving seasonal MangoColadas at the store for the next few weeks. (Update - we did a frozen slushy version in Charlotte and it’s been a huge hit!).
Lastly, we christened our little skiff. We finally gave her a name, the “Blue Noodah”. It won’t mean much to anyone else, but it’s a nod to, and in memory of, our pup Bamboo who passed away last October on the island, just a couple weeks after we purchased our home and moved there. He was 14 and a quick and unexpected bout with cancer took him from us too soon. We tried to get him back to the U.S. at first, not knowing he wouldn’t have the strength to make it back with us. It was a major factor in our decision to live in both places, Charlotte and Roatan. We miss him as much now as we did then. Our grief is palpable but knowing he’s still there, nestled under a beautiful palm tree on a crystal clear beach in Brick Bay makes our trips back more special. We know he sees the Blue Noodah darting around the sea in front of him, knowing he was the inspiration for us naming it to honor his life.
Once we are back in Charlotte we’ll start planning our next trip to Roatan, sometime in the next couple of months. We wanted a new experience and we certainly got it. The last year has taught us a lot of things and one of the biggest lessons we've taken from this experience is to let things be. With as much control as we might think we have, we never really do. And that’s OK, it's great actually.. Plans and circumstances change, and that’s OK too. We’ve allowed ourselves to let this past year, the good and the bad, settle into place and in the end we are extraordinarily happy with the places it’s taken us and the people we've met along the way.
Charlotte, and NoDa, here we come, and cheers to the most beautiful little island, see you soon!