After the delights of La Ceiba it was with great enthusiasm that we got up at the crack of dawn three days before Christmas and jumped in a taxi over to the ferry terminal to head over to the largest of the Bay Islands, Roatán. There is a well-organised ferry over there that leaves twice a day, the Galaxy Wave II; or as it’s known to everyone who has sailed on it, ‘The Vomit Comet’. Staggeringly for Central America, the boat left half an hour early, so by 10am, after the ferry staff had valiantly handed out a large number of plastic bags and catering-sized wads of kitchen roll to our fellow green-faced passengers, we slowed and approached the turquoise waters than line the island. Thankfully our sea legs held.
If you’d like to head straight to the pictures, click here!
Roatán is around 48 miles in length, but only 5 miles wide at the widest point. It has a fascinating history, having been claimed by both the Spanish and the British at various different times during its history. Before the Spanish arrived there had been French buccaneers there at one point during the 16th century, which apparently gave one the island’s main settlements, French Harbour, its name. No trace remains of the indigenous population, instead today the island’s inhabitants are a mix of Hondurans from the mainland, particularly the younger population, and older islanders, many of whom speak English as a first language. There are also a large number of people of Garífuna descent who speak a kind of Creole English. As such it was impossible to know whether to speak English or Spanish on the island; in practice most people seemed to speak some of both!
On arrival we took a taxi from the ferry terminal which is on the south side of the island around half way along, to West End (unsurprisingly, all the way over on the west side of the island). As the taxi slowly meandered along the road through the town, with the beach, blue waters and swaying palm trees just feet away we agreed that we’d made a pretty solid choice for a spot to kick back over the festive period.
Our lodgings were a brightly painted wooden cabin with a hammock on the terrace and a little kitchen of our own and for the first time in a long while, we actually unpacked! Perfect. Until around 3pm. At this point the sound system at the newly opened bar/club/restaurant complex next door started up. We’re not ones to complain about a little music but as the evening wore on the volume reached the point where the cabin floor was shaking and we couldn’t hold a conversation indoors. We decided there was nothing for it but to head out for a few cold ones to send us to sleep later and hope it had stopped. No such luck. The same thing happened the next day so the choice was to either find some other lodgings or ship out. Luckily, another spot a little walk away had a cabin to spare so on Christmas Eve with a number of apologies to the lovely owners of the previous place, who were very understanding and driven mad themselves by the noise, we moved to our new spot at Hillside Garden Cabins in a secluded spot among the trees.
(A note on this new bar – it’s called El Boské, and is apparently owned by a guy with no ties to the island and large quantities of cash who doesn’t give two hoots that he’s destroying local business and the community. At the request of the owner of our former lodgings I went to speak to him to explain the effect that the noise levels and lack of respect are causing but I got a rather empty apology and a few platitudes saying he would turn the music down but this was a total lie. It just carried on. They have a website and a facebook page with comments sections if anyone who lives there or has been there wants to share their views…)
After this slightly stressful start, things got better from there. We had a lazy day on the beach and working out which bar had the coldest/cheapest beer. Christmas Day dawned, our first away from home and what’s more in the Caribbean…..and it was raining!! Not to be defeated we headed out in our raincoats in search of a bar (just for the wifi, honest) to Skype our families back at home who told us to stop complaining about the rain as Britain was more or less underwater… We rounded the day off with a lovely fish/steak dinner and bottle of red. What more could you want.
It was time though to take advantage of Roatán’s main draw- the excellent scuba diving. The island is surrounded by coral reef, clear waters and a whole host of sea life. My PADI certification was 10 years old so I sought out a refresher session and some fun dives at Reef Gliders. On advice from one of their Divemasters Rich decided that due to his issues with his ears (essentially he can’t equalize them when there’s changes in pressure) diving was out. With credit to the guys at Reef Gliders – they are not in for the hard sell and genuinely want everyone to be safe and enjoy it so don’t encourage people to do it if it wouldn’t be a good idea. The next day I was back in (and under) the water, and for 5 more days after that. The diving truly was fantastic. I saw moray eels, groupers, trumpet fish, giant lobsters and crabs, big shoals of shimmering blue fish, eagle rays and best of all, turtles. So many of them and I could swim just feet alongside them – fantastic stuff. Best of all on the last day I dived with Jason McAnear, one of their Divemasters and an Underwater Videographer who filmed the dive and pulled out some stills for me which are the dive shots on here – check out his series of videos here!
We did take a day away from the tourist bubble of West End for a day on New Year’s Eve, hiring a moped and setting off up through the island. The main road is a little hectic but once we got past the main towns of Coxen Hole and French Harbour the traffic thinned and the road climbed up to the highest point from where we could see out over the north coast of the island and see the reef out at sea. French Harbour itself was fascinating – a working town, mainly centered on fishing, where most of the houses are traditional Caribbean painted wooden boards, often on stilts. We wound on and on down a dirt track with the promise of a little bar/restaurant called La Sirena at the easternmost point called Camp Bay, passing though remote settlements where life on the island looks as if it’s barely changed for 50 years or more. We finally arrived at La Sirena and were not disappointed, a perfect spot for a cold beer while we chatted to a big El Salvadorean family on holiday on the island. Sadly we had to start back for West End – attempting a 100 mile round trip on a moped was a little ambitious perhaps, and both of us on a scooter is not entirely comfortable for that long!
On our return we started to prepare some dinner at around 6pm when the power went out. Luckily they had a gas hob… After dinner by candlelight we set out into the town with a torch headed for a New Year’s shingdig at our favourite beach bar Sundowners along with half the rest of the town it seemed. The power came back on but went out twice more that night which seemed to entertain everyone, especially after several $1 rum and cokes. An excellent evening all round.
So that more or less sums up our time in Roatán – diving, beach time, a bit more rain than we’d have liked and a few more rum and cokes that is advisable but it is a great spot. We left a day later than planned due to our taxi not showing up to take us to the ferry at 6am which is the type of thing we’ve been learning to get used to in Central America. Ultimately we’ve got nothing but time!