I can’t believe we have been here over one week and I have no discernible tan lines to show off. Even Pete’s first-day farmer burn has disappeared, and we both look as pasty white as we did when we got off the plane. I had expected to already have my name carved into a shady palm tree, marking my spot on a beach for the months to come. I had visions of spending Christmas Day under said palm tree, a fruity drink in hand and the sound of waves permanently ringing in my ears.
It was not to be. Such is life on an island paradise during the tail end of rainy season. There have been more days of cloud and rain then there have been of sun and shine. We have been somewhat house bound, not wanting to get caught out in a torrential downpour. Couple that with the fact that my leg prevents me from much adventuring or exploring, and we are a pretty boring pair indeed.
One of our few ventures out is definitely worth noting though. We were very pleased to be invited to a beautiful Christmas Eve party held by virtual strangers. It all began a couple of months ago with my perusal of the website islandfriendsroatan.com in search of volunteer opportunities. I sent an inquiry to the main contact, Judith – that email was returned with scores of information about what we can do, and later a generous invite to attend a combination Christmas/Birthday shindig at Judith’s amazing beachfront house.
Island friends, indeed! We were spoiled with meeting interesting people, enjoying delightful live music, and of course, a Christmas feast. We got our turkey, stuffing and candied yam fix for the festive season, washed down with some potent margaritas! It served as a wonderful introduction to the generosity and friendliness of people in this small island community, of which we are very happy to be a part of.
Aside from a fabulous party and a few casual road trips to become familiar with the island, we have been entertaining ourselves with games, movies and research on this new place we call home. Having not even known that this island existed prior to being contacted about the house sitting job, the discovery of facts about it’s history and diversity has been quite interesting.
Thus, I thought I would take this occasion of uneventful travel reporting to post some lessons in geography and history, so that we all can be enlightened.
Roatan is one of the Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras (circled in red). It is a small island, roughly 33 miles long, and only 4 miles across at it’s widest point. It is near the Mesoamerican barrier reef system (second largest in the world next to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia), making it an important vacation destination for scuba divers. Since cruise ships began stopping on the island, tourism has been boosted to the primary economic industry, followed by fishing.
It inhabits roughly 30,000 people who are quite varied in their ancestry, including: Garifunas (descendants of Carib, Arawak and West African people), Caracoles (European and British-Afro-Caribbean descent), spanish speaking Mestizo people from the mainland, and of course the numerous people from more modern countries (US, Canada, Britain, etc.) that have moved to the island and helped lay the tourist infrastructure. We expected to be using and improving our Spanish on a regular basis as it is the official language of Honduras, but we have been shocked by the amount of English that is spoken here.
This island has housed quite a “mixed bag” of people throughout time. After the Spanish invaded to capture slaves, they more devastatingly killed off all of the indigenous locals with their Eurasian diseases, to which the indigenous had no immunity. Since then, the Bay Islands were visited by traders, pirates, various individual settlers, and even military forces involved in the colonizing struggle between mostly Britain and Spain. Roatan was under British rule off-and-on between 1550 and 1700, but as it was largely unprotected, English, Dutch and French pirates used it as a base to raid cargo ships being shipped to Spain with goodies from the “New World”.
Through the early 1800s, Roatan became the new home of the defeated and deported Black Carib people as well as settlers from the Cayman Islands following the British abolition of slavery there. For a short while mid-century, Britain declared all of the Bay Islands to be its colony. Within ten years, they formally gave it back to Honduras. In the latter half of the century, settlers came from all over the world and began shaping Roatan’s future by developing a successful fruit trading company.
Population growth continued in the 20th century, largely from an influx of Spanish speaking migrants form mainland Honduras. In the last few decades, this influx tripled the resident population. This large movement in people, however, does not compare to the overwhelming flow of the tourists in most recent years. While this new industry has brought some obvious economic benefit to the residents of Roatan, it does not come without its obvious challenges, both culturally and environmentally. Time will tell if this little island and its inhabitants are up for the challenge.
So. Now you know.