At this point last year we were scavenging the internet, searching for any videos, travel blogs, and news we could find on the island of Roatàn. We’d heard about it on an episode of Caribbean Life and we were a few days away from flying there for the first time in hopes of finding the perfect place to call home. We were nervous, anxious and excited. We talked about it nonstop. Would we like it? Was it what we expected? Are the blogs online accurate? We didn’t know much about Roatàn but we knew it looked a lot like the dream we’d had for the past 15 years. It had lush mountains and beautiful Caribbean ocean, check! It wasn’t overrun with tourists and overly Americanized, check! It had a vibrant culture that wasn’t like anything we’d experienced before, check! Most importantly it was in our price range. Big. Fat. Check!
I think I knew the moment I touched down on the island that it was a perfect fit. Just looking at the island from the air was intoxicating.
It’s been almost a year since we made the decision to buy a home and live our dream. Over that time I’ve learned a lot about myself and the island. I’ve met a lot of wonderful people along the way and others who’s opinions weren’t very accurate of what island life really is. I’ve discovered that everyone’s experience is different than mine. My time on the island has been filled with adventures, some bad but mostly good. My love for Roatàn isn’t just it’s natural beauty (which there’s a TON of!), its the people I’ve met and the experiences I’ve shared with them.
Our friend Randy, who’s family has been on the island for many generations and who helps us maintain our home, is one of my best friends. I love his laugh and his way of telling stories. He gets so excited sometimes I can’t even understand what he’s saying but I still enjoy hearing him tell it. He’s an incredible cook and an even better baker. He created an oven/grill/stovetop using cinder blocks and metal sheets by the casita (small home/guest house) and has blown me away with how well he can control the temperature on it. He’s cooked fritters, rice and a fish head stew that is on the top of the best dishes I’ve ever eaten. It was simple and delicious and fresh. It’s spoiled me so much that I can’t buy grocery store fish in the States any longer. It’s just not the same as having it freshly caught that morning from a local fisherman. Randy’s father lived to be over 100 years old and could literally thread a needle with no glasses on his 100th birthday. It was quite the party from what I hear, with “everyone” on the island making their way to the East End to celebrate. Randy’s wife is a chef at the cruise ship port in Mohogany Bay cooking hundreds of meals a day for the tourists coming off the ships. His son Harrison is the most well behaved kid I’ve ever met. He’s as curious about my life in Charlotte as I am about his on the island. He’s eager to show us how to open coconuts and cook cashews using the spathe from our coconut trees.
My friend Ana, who’s a realtor on the island, along with her brother Francisco have not only helped us find a vehicle, they’ve also showed us around the island, giving us tips, pointers and things to do. She’s one of the happiest people I know and her friends lovingly call her the “Halle Berry of Roatàn”. She was born on mainland Honduras but has moved to different places around the world, even living in NC for a bit, but she eventually made her way back home to Roatàn. Her and her company help take care of our car and even help us get funds to Randy while we’re away. The best part about landing at the airport is knowing that when we get through customs she’ll be waiting to greet us with a big hug and that beautiful Honduran accent. She’s actually stayed at our place while we weren’t there to get away from the busy part of the island. When I say busy I mean there as many people walking around on the streets as there are in a Target on any given Thursday in the States. Another one of my favorite islanders is BJ. She owns BJ’s Backyard bar & restaurant in Oakridge which is a true fishing village on the East Side. It’s also where we park our car to get on our boat to head to our house in Port Royal. BJ is a staple on the island, a legend to some degree. Now in her 60’s or 70’s she has so many incredible stories about growing up on the island. Her mother was British and her father Cuban. I love sitting in a rocking chair in her restaurant with the breeze blowing through the always open wooden slat windows while she tells me about her adventures. She’s lived in Belize where her family made hot sauce & Miami where she partied with drag queens. She’s also one of the main characters in the book Roatàn Odyssey by Anne Jennings. I would recommend reading it just for fun, it’s an interesting take on what island life was like when BJ was in her twenties though the story focuses more on Anne (a British woman who followed her husband to Roatàn in the 60’s & 70’s) and her life in Port Royal.
Roatàn isn’t like anywhere in the United States, it has one main road down the middle of it which was built 30-40 years ago and no road names. The grocery store in French Harbour is as modern as the island gets but even it isn’t like anything in the States. You can’t just walk up and grab milk, you have to look at the expiration date as it might have already expired. Sometimes there’s tons of produce, sometimes there isn’t. It doesn’t operate like the US and that is part of what makes it so special. We have a favorite saying “Welcome to Roatàn!” which can be used in numerous ways. Kind of like “aloha” can mean hello or goodbye. Just had the best avocado picked fresh from a tree? Welcome to Roatàn! Just waited in the line at the bank for an absorbent amount of time for no good reason? Welcome to Roatàn!
The island is special in so many ways. The constant breeze coming in off the Caribbean Sea; the delicious freshly made baleadas (Honduran tortillas) hand-stretched then cooked on a flattop, smeared with mashed beans and stuffed with shredded chicken or eggs, crumbly Honduran cheese and avocado; the fruit stands showcasing whatever’s ripe on the island tied in plastic bags dotting the sides of the newly paved roadway; the white sand beaches on the West End where you can grab a colorful cocktail and stroll down the water with tourists and locals alike; the national park filled with the biggest palms and pines you’ve ever seen swaying in the breeze; the still-operating fishing villages along the shorelines stacked with colorful homes hovering on post above the water; the peaceful serenity of the East End with miles of lush green jungle hugging the mountains; the islanders, the Garifuna and Hondurans, all unique and special in their own ways; the (sometimes) difficult to navigate language barrier and exchange rate; and of course the impossibly gorgeous reef surrounding the entire island. Roatàn is not for everyone, it’s a slower pace than we’re used to here in the States. It’s not the place to go if you’re looking to go clubbing or enjoy 5-star restaurants. There’s a realness about the island that makes it the perfect spot for folks looking to experience a unique culture of people and food on their terms. My recommendation is to find your own path on Roatàn. Meet the people, try the food and be open to new experiences. If you do that, you’ll find that Roatàn truly is the hidden gem of the Caribbean!