Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Notes from Roatan

I wrote this while I was in Roatan last fall:

17 November 2007

I’ve been in Honduras for a week for work; specifically, Roatan, which is part of the Bay Islands of Honduras. I assume this is where most of the tourists come when they come to Honduras. We never got to the mainland, which I believe is 30 miles southwest.

It’s no secret to any of my friends that I’m sick of traveling. When people hear about my job, they marvel at how fantastic it sounds, and I admit, it is a great job. I’m lucky to be able to see all of these places that I would have probably never seen otherwise. I had never been out of the country before I took this job – now I’ve been to five different countries, which I know isn’t a lot, but in one year, that’s an accomplishment. And I’ve gone for free to each and every one… and have gotten paid to be there, have been issued per diem for each country so that I basically don’t have to spend any of my own money if I don’t want to. So yes, that part of it is cool. But I miss gina, I miss Noodle, and I miss my friends. Some of my friends, my closest friends, people that I like to call my best friends, I haven’t seen them in months. My life really is on hold until I’m done with this job.

I’m digressing. I wanted to talk about Roatan. I was nervous about coming here. It’s a developing country, and the Travel Clinic pumped me full of inoculations before I left: typhoid, Hepatitis A, and a tetanus shot just for safety. I also am taking malaria pills. I was told not to drink the water, to even avoid drinking anything with ice in it. I was also told to avoid anything not cooked: salads, raw vegetables, etc. There was even a warning about drinking from bottles – Honduras recycles their bottles by rinsing them out and using them again. It’s not at all uncommon to ask for a Coke and get a bottle with a rusty top, or ask for a Port Royal (local beer) and get a bottle with a paper towel wrapped around the top so that you could wipe the bottle off before you drink it. On top of this, everything I read said to not even brush your teeth with the water that comes out of the faucet. They also suggested you not buy local bottled water – internationally bottled water is best, because you can more guarantee that it’s been purified. And when we got here, Mike my camera guy told me to keep my mouth closed in the shower, which at first I thought, uh… why would I have my mouth open in the shower? And then I took a shower, and realized it’s kind of hard to shower with your mouth totally closed the whole time.

We landed on a runway similar to a domestic airport I’ve been to that I can’t remember now, but we were over water until the very last second. You didn’t see land until the wheels hit it, and the pilot slammed on the brakes. I’ve never experienced a plane slow down so quickly. Our production assistant Omar was waiting for us. Omar was born in Honduras, he’s middle aged with friendly eyes and a boyish smile. He reminds me of my Uncle Mark. He helped us load the van and we were off to the hotel.

We’re staying at a little resort owned and operated by an American couple. It's a nice place, but it's more "beachside cabin" than it is "beachside resort." We each got our own little cabin, and I can see the water from my front door; it’s about a 30 second walk to the water’s edge. There’s a hammock on every front porch. It’s a very relaxing place, except for all of the mosquitoes and sand fleas. They give you an empty bucket and encourage you to fill it with water so that you can rinse your feet off before you go into your cabin so that you don’t bring the sand fleas in with you. They also leave two towels on your bed so that you always have something to wipe your feet off so that the bugs don’t get into bed with you. My pillowcases smelled a little musty the first few days, but as soon as I told the staff about it, they replaced my sheets with fresh-smelling ones. Overall, the beds are pretty comfortable.

View from my room.
View from my room.

View from my porch.
View from my porch.

From the beach bar.
From the hotel bar.

Technology is spotty. The internet did not work for the first three days, then it worked very well for three days, and now is not working again. There are no phones in the rooms. Oddly, there are televisions with pretty decent cable, but the furnishings in the cabin are wicker and do not make for comfortable sitting to view TV. The cell phone my company issued me sometimes would dial out, and sometimes it wouldn’t. Some numbers it would let me dial no problem – others, not so much. Needless to say, I felt very disconnected.

We were told when we got here that it had been raining for a week, and the forecast was calling for more rain. The road leading to our hotel, which is between a quarter mile and a half mile long, coming from the main road, was totally flooded.

Road leading to hotel
Road leading to our hotel.

Omar slowly navigated his van down this road every day we were here; some days it was in three inches of water, some days almost a foot. After the first few days of rain, we started to see ducks swimming around on the road and in the adjacent flooded lot. There is a little house on stilts right before our hotel. The land surrounding the house has been completely flooded since we got here. Yesterday I saw someone on the porch of the house washing clothes in a washtub with a washboard, and hanging them up to dry. I wonder if they left their house all week… you couldn’t pay me to walk through that water.

The roads really have no names; they’re referred to by where they lead. “Meet me at the corner of Flowers Bay and West End.” Those are two neighborhoods probably 7 kilometers apart, but the roads in and out of them do meet at some point.

I feel incredibly spoiled and out of place here. A lot of the houses are in such a bad state of disrepair, crumbling under their own weight. All week I’ve seen children, ranging from five to fifteen, walking around trying to sell stuff to tourists, and I wonder what their childhood is really like. I saw a three or four year old little girl playing at the end of a very long driveway or private road, all by herself, right alongside the traffic. I saw a brother and a sister, probably six and four, alongside the road in another place, clearly far from anyone’s house, looking around in the grass. Kids walking barefoot over gravel, not wincing at all. And men riding in trucks on their way to work – pick up trucks, with one guy driving and six to ten men in the bed of the truck. I made a comment to Omar about how dangerous that is and how it’s illegal in the states, and he said, “It’s illegal here, but it’s not really enforced. These people have no other way to get to work – it’s either this or a cab, and they can’t afford a cab.”

And my god, the dogs. There are stray dogs everywhere. It was similar in Curacao, but I just spent more time here and I can’t believe how many dogs are roaming around. When we arrived, there were two little puppies on the porch next to mine. Their mom had given birth to six, and four of them died in the flood that happened before we arrived. These two were left, and mom was roaming around somewhere, apparently forgetful that she had just given birth. The puppies couldn’t even walk yet – their eyes weren’t open. They scooted around and cuddled with each other on a towel. And all over the island, there are dogs that are left to fend for themselves. I know dogs are animals and usually they have no trouble fending for themselves, but on an island where some humans have a hard time buying food, you better believe that the dogs are having a hard time finding the food. Skinny, ribs-poking-through-their-sides dogs. I saw one puppy, probably six months old, following around it’s mama. Both dogs so painfully skinny, but the puppy could barely walk because he was so undernourished. I think of my dog at home who gets treats all day and has a full dish of food whenever she wants it next to a bowl of filtered water, is treated every month so that she doesn’t get fleas, has probably six toys, an endless supply of rawhide bones, and sleeps in bed with us every single night under the covers. I think of how she would manage, out on her own here, and I get sick to my stomach. If I’m ever wealthy, I want to start an organization that comes to islands and offers money to the locals to bring the dogs to get spayed or neutered, and possibly education on taking care of dogs.

Hotel pooch.
A pooch that hung around our hotel. We called him Chief.

Abandoned puppies, napping on the porch next to my cottage.

Local pooch
Local pooch with collar.

There are several paved roads that run through the island, but a lot of roads are just left to the elements and are muddy and almost impassable. Omar lost his spare tire on two separate occasions in muddy, waterlogged sections of roads. Other roads are just so bumpy, it’s like you’re on a ride at an amusement park trying to cross them – think the Indiana Jones ride at Disneyland.

West End road
West End Road - West End is the touristy nightlife spot.

Our PA.
Our PA tries to find the strongest spot of the road where his van will pass safely.

I learned that it’s not just the tourists that are advised to not drink the water. No one drinks the water out of the tap. I mean, I say that LA tap water is dirty, but I can drink it if I need to. I can brush my teeth with it. I learned that it’s easy to find a guy to do construction on your house all day for $10 a day.

I enjoyed my hammock one day for an hour and by the time I came back inside, I had nine mosquito bites on my elbow alone. My arms and legs are currently covered with angry little welts that itch all the time.



There's no real ending to this, which is why I never posted it. I didn't get malaria, and I ended up having a great time. I guess the ending would be that despite everything I said, I would totally go back. How can you ignore these sunsets?

Sunset West Bay beach.

Sunset in Roatan.

Sunset in Roatan.

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