Updated: Nov 5, 2019
On Sunday, July 29th, we took a boat tour of the far East End of Roatan, this post is part of a series about that day. The tour was with Eastender out of Oak Ridge and included Port Royal, the Mangrove Channel / Cut from the south side to the north shore, Camp Bay Beach, Helene, Morat & Isla Barbareta. This was one of our favorite days on the island and we highly recommend it!
It’s rare that you get to come face to face with something out of your dreams or imagination. We discovered that it does, though, if you are lucky enough.
When I think of the Caribbean all sorts of thoughts swirl through my head. I think many of us conjure up romantic visions of far way and exotic places. The lands of legend and lore. For me, these days, those thoughts might more reflect my recent life, travels there and our home on one of these islands, Roatan.
As a child, and even later in my early years, my thoughts of the Caribbean and the tropics in general were filled with images of pirates, shipwrecks, deserted islands and swaying palms. All of these held a mystical place in my mind and my heart. I grew up dreaming of places like this.
I dreamed exploration, of discovering buried treasures, stumbling upon undiscovered stone ruins reclaimed by a voracious jungle and meeting exotic people.
I would imagine what it must have looked like for travelers crossing the sea and spotting silhouettes of land and mountains on the horizon, barely visible in the distance, obscured by mist rising off the water but looming closer and closer as they approached until they finally set foot on sandy beaches lined with tropical flora and palms, wondering what lay inside and beyond the tree line of the jungle.
In my younger years this would have come from fiction & fantasy stories or tales of pirates on the high seas. Later, movies like “The Island” or “Castaway” cemented my perception of far off places I yearned to visit, either uninhabited by man or sparsely so, but beautiful beyond imagination. All of this compounded by a lifelong subscription to National Geographic and an addiction to TV and movie documentaries of exploration around the world.
This past week we found out these places aren’t so much fantasies as they are rare and remote. They certainly do exist and can be as surreal as the mind can imagine, as beautiful as a poetic story that seems too dramatic to be true, or as magnificent as a scene from a movie set in a far flung land.
From our home in Port Royal we can look east and see a progression of peaks in the distance. There are three smaller islands, St Helene, Morat & Barbarat (or Isla Barbareta) that are like huge stepping stones from Roatan. They are separated from each other by small channels. Then there is Guanaja much further, by miles, to the east. The peaks of these smaller islands are distant but easily visible on most days, each one becoming more faint and lighter grey the further away they are. We’ve actually not ventured further east than Port Royal during our stays on the island, though we’ve always wanted to. That is until this past visit.
We booked a trip by boat to see these on one of the days we were in Roatàn with a tour group from Oak Ridge called Eastender. We use these guys often for longer boat rides up and down the island or when the ocean is a bit rough for our little skiff - they have large open pangas that easily handle the open ocean plus we just love riding in them. We’ll get one when we are there permanently!
The “East End Tour” itinerary is an all day event and takes you through Port Royal, to a mangrove channel, or “cut”, that rounds the far east of Roatan over to the north shore and Camp Bay, then to Helene, past Morat to Isla Barbareta, then back past Helene to Port Royal. It’s all beautiful. Amazing really, but I’ll write much more on all of that later. For now it’s all about Jade Beach.
Our last stop after all of the rest was Jade Beach and the small cove where it’s located. The name Jade Beach, to me, sounds cool, a bit romantic, but it’s just a name, right? Something about the tone of the water maybe, a lot of the hues in the Caribbean seas around Roatan include greens as well as blues. But in this case the name tells more of a story than that.
As you round one of the points on Barbarat you find yourself looking at a beautifully pristine, uninhabited white sandy beach. The kind you see on the Bay Islands here and there though most have a few homes or small resorts on them. Not this one. Other than a guard watching it who steps out of the tree line when he hears your boat, you’ll be the only ones here.
As you move closer you notice exposed rock cliffs falling into the sea at the far end with huge fragments laying in the water below, where they’ve fallen over the years and taken a plunge into the sea. The hue of the cliffs are dark and beautiful, and different than most of the cliffs you’ll see around the islands. Most are either reddish brown, like clay, or shades of grays - some that are very dark and jagged - the ones that are fossilized ancient corals.
But the closer you get to these the more color begins to reveal itself. These are green. Veins and variations of dark and light green in a variety of shades. Then the reality of the name hits you. These huge cliffs are Jade. Not part jade, not a smattering of jade mixed with other stones and minerals, and not just some jade in them. They are jade, as are the rocks that have fallen below. It’s stunning. It’s jaw dropping. It seems unreal. It’s just so hard to describe, but it’s real and it’s right in front of you. The Jade is actually serpentine or “new Jade”.
As you step off the boat into the sand you are immediately drawn to the cliffs themselves. Without saying a word we began walking towards them, taking in the beauty, amazed at what we are seeing. The sand is so soft that your feet sink a few inches with every step, it’s actually a bit difficult to move through. So your eyes fall down to take a look…
And then you notice the other awe factor.
The beach is littered, as in everywhere, not here and there, but completely littered with jade. Small rounded pieces, smoothed by the motion of the sea over millennia, pieces broken from larger ones, washed from the cliffs back and forth across the bay until they reach the shore. Some are an inch or less across, others two, three, four times that large. Just a couple feet out in the surf you can find rounded stones of jade as large as a baseball. Almost any single piece you see would be a “must grab” and take home on any other beach - a true find, an unexpected jewel, something unlike what is otherwise all around in the sand. Not here, it practically is the sand.
If all of this isn’t enough, the cove is reef enclosed so the surf is gentle and soothing, perfect to wade in with a beer or float on the surface. Add a pair of fins, a mask and a snorkel. We grabbed our gear and swam out about 50’ to the reef and snorkeled the beach side of it. The wall started just below the surface and fell about 30 feet to the sandy floor. Tropical fish swam between the sponges, brain coral, elkhorn coral, fans and other corals. It was the most beautiful snorkeling we’ve seen on the island.
As we moved from one end of the coral wall to the other, slowly taking in the beauty below us I would glance up to keep my bearings as to where we were. I’d see that jade cliff and the pristine beaches and the brightly painted panga slowly rolling with the waves. I’d remind myself that I really was there and that this place was real and sometimes dreams aren't something you wake up from, but find yourself in, even if just for a moment.