Living the Dream

At one point or another, everyone dreams of living on a tropical island. Endless sun, white sand beaches, a margarita in hand everyday. I remember many times when Pete and I would vow to make it happen – usually during the flight home to snowy Canada after a mid-winter vacation to Mexico or elsewhere.

So, here we are now, living the dream in Roatán.

The temperature hovers in the high twenties (low eighties for our Americano friends). We are five minutes from one of the most beautiful beaches we’ve ever seen.  And while I’m not a fan of margarita’s, Canadian whiskey is actually cheaper here than in Canada.  Life is pretty damn good.

But now that we have been here almost two months, it is time for these dreamers to address the downsides of living on a tropical island, and specifically one in a third world country.  As you may expect, it is not all sun, beaches and margarita’s.

Consider our last few days. Roatán has been encased in dark grey clouds and shivering from all the rain that has fallen.  Constant and relentless downpours have washed away roads, caused minor mudslides, and inflicted some damage on the house we are sitting. Nothing that can’t be fixed or dealt with, but a little scary and inconvenient all the same.

And then there are all the other things that makes every day living here harder then at home – daily travel along unpaved and gutted roads, the ominous presence of big bugs and other creatures we are not used to, the lack of consistently feeling totally secure with the people and  new surroundings.  And never mind trying to get things done with the assured conveniences of home – we learned very early on in our travels that mañana does not necessarily mean tomorrow, it just means some time after todayEverything is just *that* much harder to get done, and takes *that* much longer to do.

This island can tell many tales of people who have come and gone, unable to accept and live with these downsides.  They came to Roatán to fulfill the dream and find happiness living on a white sand beach in the endless sun.  And then, after some time here, they experienced the downsides and high-tailed it back home.  They were willing to go back to the stressful lifestyle they left, in exchange for paved freeways and other modern conveniences that do make life easier and are obviously missing down here.

We feel that we are a little better equipped to handle such things, thanks to our time around South America. We learned patience from the Bolivian bus system – where a bus scheduled for 8am *might* show up sometime in the 10s.  We dealt with big bugs living near the Amazon (although I personally still have a long way to go to be “okay” with them)! We are better equipped to deal with some insecurity after having endured living beside a booming volcano in Ecuador, and after having traveled through some areas that are significantly sketchier then this island. The owner of the house we are sitting has said several times that he is glad we have previously traveled in Latin America and so know what to expect.  We’ve been able to roll with the punches thus far.

So does that mean that we are “home”?  Are we really living our dream?

The jury is still out, but our contemplation is not necessarily due to our experience with the downsides. We are loving the tropical climate, the new friends we are making and the cheap whiskey, and we feel fairly well equipped to deal with the uncertainties this island may throw at us.  We aren’t quite sure, however, that the itch in our feet has been sufficiently scratched yet. It could be that we have some wandering left to do and other corners left to explore before we can make that decision.

What we do know for sure is this: we are really glad we are doing it this way, by only committing to temporary stays in various places to test our desire to live in each destination.  And this is something we would suggest for anyone contemplating a drastic lifestyle change – the imprint left behind after a dream tropical vacation is only a tiny snapshot of what living in such a place really would be like.  You’ve got to live with the bugs, the damage from torrential rains and the severely pot-holed roads to know if it is really for you.

Can you take the bad with the good to live in paradise?

48 Comments... Read them below or add one of your own
  • February 16 2011

    just found your blog and am going to have to spend some time wandering around here. I love that you are so honest in this post. Life on the road has its ups and downs… just like life at home. Too many friends back home think that constant traveling is just all rosy and grand. Thanks for the perspective.
    Michael Hodson recently posted..The Ultimate Train Challenge — Welcome to the Adventure

    • Dalene
      February 16 2011

      Thanks for your comment and tweet Michael! I don’t know how to be any other way but honest (to my detriment sometimes!) I’ve got so many friends and family that believe we are on a permanent vacation and hardly take me seriously when I talk about the rough things about it. And yes, while I would still trade living with big bugs to avoid driving on snowy winter roads, there are some real tough things about being on the road. It was time for me to share some!

  • February 16 2011

    Hello Dalene,

    I can totally relate to your post. I live on a small island in Greece, where my husband and I own a Juice Bar/Cafe and it’s interesting to watch the summer tourists come along and think that Greece is like that all year round. They buy houses in small villages on remote islands and then it comes time to spend the first winter and they go insane once they realize that the sun isn’t shining everyday and that the majority of business are either closed down or open for very limited hours.

    Being from Montreal myself, I think the hardest thing for me to deal with has been the system that governs this country. Things that you take for granted in Canada that are simple and require no time can take weeks if your lucky and months if your not.
    That said, of course there are pros and cons to everything, everywhere but I admire that you have the insight to think about your decision to be somewhere based on the reality of the situation.
    With this rational thinking I’m sure you will find your Paradise and enjoy the ride there.

    Jess
    Jessika Gilker recently posted..Be Here Now

    • Dalene
      February 16 2011

      Hi Jess! You are SO right about the government, and that is something I should have mentioned in my post. While every gov’t from every country has it’s corruption, in Latin America it is so rampant and can even be quite scary. For example, I feel like I can trust the police in Canada to mostly do what is best for me, but I wouldn’t feel that way down here. And it’s not necessarily the individual police officer’s fault – they are paid and treated so poorly that I don’t think they take their jobs seriously.

      But like you said, pros and cons to it all, and it’s a matter of finding the right mix of bliss and tolerance! A Juice Bar in Greece sounds nice…we might have to come and check it out! 🙂

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Big bugs *shivers*
    I’m curious to find out if I will ever find my own version of ‘paradise’. I always envision that I’ll know it when I get there — but what happens if you don’t find it? What happens if you keep thinking that it’s going to be the next place you’re going to.
    Would we be condemned to a life long quest on the road?

    I imagine each place would always have its own downsides. I wonder if ‘paradise’ it what you makes it to be… It’s like getting married, I supposed. Take the good and the bad as a package and you make it work, no?
    Jill – Jack and Jill Travel The World recently posted..Meet- Christy and Kali- A Nomadic Couple from Technosyncratic

    • Dalene
      February 16 2011

      Your question – would we be condemned to a life long quest on the road? is a very good one as I wonder that myself, often. Pete has stated that he could happily live anywhere (every new place we’re at he wants to stay!) whereas I guess I am a little more discriminating.

      It is all about an individual’s definition of the word paradise, and yes, we gots ta take the good with the bad! Even though it has been my life long dream to live on a beach…I still feel the draw of the mountains…I realized while traveling how safe and cosy I feel nestled between them (weird maybe, but true). Which is what makes traveling so great…we can try out a bunch of different places and then decide! Some day, we’ll find our paradise and settle down. Maybe. =)

  • Great piece! I have not found my paradise yet but am looking. I think it does take time because you are right. . . different seasons bring differences. I mean Minnesota might be nice in ?? (maybe a bad example) but we all know the winters suck unless you really really like cold snow. Anyway, enjoyed reading and hope to read more as you look for and find your paradise.

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      Thanks so much Debbie! Maybe the key is to find a place for 6 months of each year to avoid winter entirely, but enjoy Minnesota or Canada during the summer! HMMM…

  • February 17 2011

    Who knew that all that time spent growing up in the backwoods of Northern Canada would have actually equipped you for the downsides of travelling. Crappy roads? Seen it. Bad weather putting a damper on plans? Been there – done that.

    Or maybe living in Browntown wasn’t so bad after all? 🙂
    Teri recently posted..The Kings Speech and The Rule of Thirds

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      Okay, well, that might be a bit of a stretch… 🙂

      Going from a city to this place would definitely be a bigger shock then going from rural life to here, that is for sure!

  • February 17 2011

    Good to see such an honest piece. Remember, the point of travel is that you can always move on!
    Theodora recently posted..A Cremation in Bali

    • Peter
      February 17 2011

      So true! That’s one of the best things about it! Thanks Theodora.

  • February 17 2011

    You beat me to posting pics of the damage from the rain. I’ve got a bunch to post of the fix up… all done! After living on Roatan for over 3 years I can say THAT STORM was not the norm! It brought with it record breaking amounts of precipitation… at least it wasn’t record breaking amounts of SNOW 🙂

    As for the bugs… funny, I just wrote one about those.

    Even if you are not totally sold yet, I’m glad to know you while you hang out on Roatan!
    Genevieve recently posted..Bugs in my Pasta

    • Peter
      February 17 2011

      All done in the West End already? Wow – that’s impressive!

      I read your story about the bugs and was going to link to it in this article and I forgot. The part about the bats – ick (I hate bats!) And I’m glad you wrote about the bugs in the pasta because those little things creep me out. I end up throwing out the whole bag and saving nothing. Can’t get past the thought of them!

      Glad to know you too Genny! The “Vortex” still has 4 months to do it’s magic! 🙂

  • February 17 2011

    Nice post Dalene,
    I think your photo with the flooded beach says it all.
    Jason

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      Thanks Jason!

  • February 17 2011

    Ah yes the bus system in Latin America… I can officially say that after a 24 hour bus ride in South America and a 24 hour train ride in China I much much much prefer train travel!
    And one that is on time as well! 🙂

    Well, it’s the crazy roadblocks we run into when we’re traveling that make the best stories and help us grow and find ourselves the most, ya know?

    Keep Enjoying Paradise you two! – Even when it is not quite paradise haha 😛
    – LAUR
    Lauren Rains @ TheMadtoLive recently posted..The Traveling Philosopher’s Roundtable- Message In A Bottle

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      Thanks Lauren! Damn, but I wish there were more trains in South America! 🙂

  • February 17 2011

    I guess my dream wouldn’t be to live on a tropical island with a big white sandy beach. I’m fairly sure I would bore of it very quickly and I know I would miss the mountains. Canada with lots of snow appeals though, plenty to keep me occupied. 🙂
    Paradise isn’t a place on a map, it’s in our heads. We can often find it while avoiding big bugs and negotiating mud canyons that used to be roads.
    I hope you find your paradise.
    John recently posted..North Face of the Eiger- Switzerland Flickr

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      I hear you on the mountains John – we can feel their “pull” from here. Just prior to this we spent two months living in the mountains in BC (with lots of snow!) and we really loved our time there. I never thought I would say it, but I kinda miss them.

      Your last part of the note is interesting. I’m not really expecting paradise, as I’m not quite sure it entirely exists. I mean, I used to, and I thought this was it, but I just wanted to address in this post the downsides of what most people consider “paradise”.

      Or, it very well could be in my head. I just haven’t found it or completely defined it yet. 🙂

  • February 17 2011

    Dalene, I can completely understand what you are saying. We’ve loved traveling in South America, but it does take some adjustment.

    It bothers me that you can negotiate with a police officer or government official and that there are different rates for almost everything based on your nationality. Or that there is pollution from trash, noise, and careless acts like dumping oil and antifreeze on the ground. Or that there is no such thing as a queue. These are things that can drive you crazy!

    But on the flip side you see such beautful things, meet proud and friendly people who want to show you the best of their country, and marvel that this impossible system still manages to get things done.

    It’s not our way, which is what makes us uncomfortable sometimes, but it is a way that works.

    Chris Guillebeau said something recently that really resonated with me (and I’m paraphrasing) – you don’t go on an adventure because you know what the outcome will be – you go on the adventure for the sake of the adventure. Paradise for us is the adventure, I think.

    Thanks for writing this post – sometimes I think we leave out some of the bad stuff because we don’t want to be seen as complainers when everyone back home is freezing or working their buns off.

    Hope your paradise dries out and you are able to go back to enjoying cheap whiskey and blue skies.
    Betsy Talbot recently posted..Book Club Destination- Cairo- Egypt

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      This is so, so true: “Paradise for us is the adventure, I think.” That is exactly how I feel. That may change, at some point (it’s tiring), but right now, this is my paradise. Thanks for reading my mind, traveling twin! 🙂

      And it’s not really complaining…it’s just trying to shed a little light on it. So many people think our days are filled with rainbows and butterflies, but it can be really hard.

      Oh, the whiskey has been flowing this week. No matter what the weather, that never changes! 😉

  • February 17 2011

    Love the honesty of this post. I’ve had glimpses of “paradise” before, but life always has its ups and downs. It’s good to acknowledge that, and not expect everything to always be perfect. Paradise is what you make it.
    Sheryll recently posted..My Northern California Road Trip

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      True that! And I don’t think I would have realized that X years ago, when all I knew of the world was resorts on my 2 week vacations every year. Actually living in a place can be very eye-opening.

  • February 17 2011

    Know the feeling very well! We’ve been enjoying many aspects of living on a tropical island this winter (St. John, USVI), and also dealing with the island life too. When we arrived, we were under a tropical storm – and many roads washed out. We’ve learned ‘island time’ and having to roll with the punches. Mostly.. it is paradise and wonderful.

    But there are definitely downsides to any dream life. I’m constantly covered in bug bites, and battling huge bugs in our abode. It’s almost too warm and humid to be at sea level during the day (so we stay up in our mountain cottage). The sun is bright and intense, and will burn you very easily. The humidity is fierce, and ages things fast. Food is expensive and hit or miss to find.

    We’ve been here 3.5 months now… and while we’ve loved the experience, we’re ready for whatever is next 🙂

    And that’s the cool thing about this slow pace of travel – we can enjoy the good of a place until about the time the negatives outweigh it.
    Cherie @Technomadia recently posted..Answers to Your Questions

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      Exactly Cherie! Really living life in “paradise” is something that all dreamers should do. I’m so glad to be here, and yes, when we spend a day on the water snorkeling or laid out on the beach…it is paradise! But, that’s not life everyday. And it can be a challenge, for all the reasons you mentioned!

  • February 17 2011

    Wow. Just found you blog but I totally agree with what you said. I have traveled to many places and always leave wondering if I could really commit staying there long term. People should really take a look the long term issues that will “effect” them before they choose to live in “‘paradise”. Right now I am trying to make everywhere that I am and every moment that I breathe “paradise”. I think travel is the ultimate education for life lessons and cultural enrichment. Thanks for sharing your experiences.

    • Dalene
      February 18 2011

      This is the goal: “trying to make everywhere that I am and every moment that I breathe “paradise””!! That is a great way to look at things and something we try to achieve as well. There is never going to be a place that is void of the “downsides”, it’s just a decision on if the upsides far outweigh them! 🙂

  • Nicole
    February 17 2011

    I know very well about dreaming of living on a tropical island! We wanted to have our own beachfront resort, and we got it(!), and I don’t think we lounged on the beach with a margarita in hand once. There were certainly unpleasant and uncomfortable and even scary parts, and BUGS and stinging sea creatures, but I wouldn’t have skipped it for anything.

    • Dalene
      February 17 2011

      Your own resort – wow! That has been a wee dream of ours for awhile too (something very small scale), but have not quite figured out where or how. Maybe someday… =)

  • February 18 2011

    Dalene i think once we remove the term holiday or vacation from what we’re doing we have a more realistic expectation. No place is perfect and there will always be a downside.
    Ayngelina recently posted..Peru seduces with pisco sours

    • Dalene
      February 18 2011

      De verdad! It’s perception vs. reality…and if we were still sluggin’ away in Canada the illustrious dream would still be just that. There’s nothing wrong with the reality of these situations – it’s enriching to learn it.

  • February 20 2011

    Some of what you are talking about is part of the expat life in general, not just on paradise island. The expectations that things work a certain way can be disturbed easily. Even in Germany as an expat (where roads are definitely paved and the weather isn’t so extreme) that idea of expectations vs realty hits home.
    Every single place has an upside and a downside, some places they are more balanced than others. The aim in life seems to be find a place where the downsides don’t bug you so much and the upsides are your passions. I hate to drive so leaving the US with the freedom of a car and going to Germany where I ride a bike was my right decision. I am ok dealing with the downside of begging rides to Ikea and riding my bike in the cold and rain for the upside of no stress behind the wheel and no 45minute commute.
    That all said, I imagine I would definitely be one of those leaving the “paradise” islands for more pavement. Totally a city person here.
    Andrew recently posted..German Obsession with Fresh Air

    • Dalene
      February 20 2011

      Absolutely Andrew – this can apply to any expat in any place in the world! For me, it was always a *dream* to live in a tropical paradise (thanks to growing up in snowy Canada I think). There are many fantastic things about it, but the downsides have made us think about if it really is the life for us or not.

      It’s all about finding the place that, like you said, that makes the downsides tolerable. Glad you found it in Germany! We’re looking forward to visiting there someday.

  • February 21 2011

    Interesting perspective. I think everyone who has gone on a tropical vacation has thought, what if we moved here? And you’ve found out!
    Leslie (Downtown Traveler) recently posted..Society page- NYC bloggers at Social Media Week and tweetups

    • Dalene
      February 21 2011

      Yes, we have learned fairly quickly that it sure isn’t paradise 24/7. There certainly are challenges to living here, and you definitely can’t expect what they will be. I guess it keeps us on our toes. Cheers!

  • Courtenay Q
    February 22 2011

    Ah but you forgot to mention the humidity, and the bad bad “Monica Hair” that comes with it!! I am haunted by this reality on every hot holiday I have been on… If you discover a solution, let me know, as I am starting to have anxiety about having “Monica Hair” at my Jamaican wedding!!!

    • Dalene
      February 22 2011

      Well, I seem to have it figured out this time (mostly, as long as I don’t get too “sweaty” and it’s not that hot here right now – only high 20s). I brought along my blow dryer with a diffuser this time, and am using Curlesque by Catwalk to try to tame it! Seems to work fairly well. HOWEVER, you are going to be in Jamaica when it’s SUPER hot! You’ll just have to try to be as still as possible and not work up a sweat! 🙂

  • March 2 2011

    Darlene –

    Thank you so much for your post. I think so many times, people, bloggers, focus on how great everything is. They tweet about it, the post pictures and blogs about how amazing these places are, how great their lives are, how awesome everything is. They rarely post about reality. Reality isn’t sexy. At the same time, they don’t want their readers going “boo hoo were sorry for you living a horrible life on a white sandy beach while I am stuck in a cubicle…” blah blah blah

    THANK YOU for your honesty, it is VERY refreshing.
    Justin Hamlin recently posted..A New Type of Blog

    • Dalene
      March 2 2011

      Thanks for your comment Justin. Yes, we get the “boo hoo” thing quite often from family and friends. I am NOT complaining it all, I’m just pointing out to people that it ain’t all sunshine and lollipops all the time. And for anyone ever considering a move to a tropical place, they NEED to know that!

      Don’t know how to be anything but honest about this… 🙂

      Dalene (P.S. note the lack of an “R” in my name! I’ll try not to hold it against ya – haha!)

  • March 11 2011

    Hello,

    The search for paradise…it’s a tough one, I am still searching… So far I have been to about 80 countries, 40 in the last year, many remote beaches included and guess what? I think that paradise is home… and that to me is Honduras!

    After living 5 years in the first world of Europe and traveling around the world for a full year, and having been to 80 countries already I miss my home Honduras and long for the Bay Island beaches, with its problems and all. My boyfriend is tired of me comparing Honduras to all and saying why it is better. Probably cause I’m a local, but boy things are easy and cheap in Honduras and the quality of life is good, you have the time to enjoy, unlike the first world where I’ve been lately where your day goes by so quickly: get up, work at the office, work at the house, go to bed.

    Oh I’m so so jealous of your life in Roatan! ENJOY!

    • Dalene
      March 11 2011

      Wonderful perspective Ninfa – and I’m glad that you call your paradise “home”! I grew up dreaming of living in this kind of place, and I’m glad to be here now and experience it. It is pretty awesome, you have a BEAUTIFUL country (or so I can tell, only having been to this wee island!), but I think I might be like you. Paradise *might* be my home country of Canada, with all it’s dreadfully cold snow and everything. But…I’m not ready to stop looking. There are many countries yet that I want to see!!

  • March 12 2011

    Really enjoyed this post. We’re “living the dream” in a very different way – spending a year with our kids in a tiny village in the South of France – but your line about “everyday living things” really rang true for me. I still can’t believe how much of each day is taken up just figuring out regular life stuff: how to get food, finding new shoes for the kids, dealing with the wasp that live in the walls of the house we’re renting.

    Today it was lightbulbs. How can we possibly have spent 4 hours buying LIGHTBULBS!?!?! In France?!?!?!? But when everything is strange, nothing is easy.

    • Peter
      March 12 2011

      Thanks Diane for your comment. Very cool about being in France. Crazy that sometimes the easiest thing can take so much time. I agree with your last comment that when everything is strange, nothing is easy. That can be either fun or frustrating, depending on what day right?

  • March 28 2011

    I just got back from Roatan (we’ve spoken through Twitter via @teamgrab) and saw all the mudslides!! Crazy how much damage happened. Did you see the large on down in coxen hole? I can’t believe how much rain we got it’s so unusual for the rain to continue after the end of January!
    Jackie recently posted..Roatan- Honduras- A Diamond in the Rough

    • Dalene
      March 28 2011

      Yes, that was a CRAZY amount of rain for that time period. Now, I would love some of it – it’s SO hot here! I hope you enjoyed your time on the island!

  • April 18 2011

    Sounds awesome to me, even with all the negatives. It kind of sounds like Raratonga and I wanted to live there after I visited 🙂

    • April 18 2011

      It is pretty awesome, trust me. But I just wanted to point out some of the things that make it hard to. And lately? It’s too damn hot. That’s my big complaint. 🙂

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