It’d been almost two-and-a-half years since our week in French Polynesia with the Bakkers, way too long between tropical sojourns. This time we had our collective sights set on the island of Roatan, one of the three Bay Islands located roughly 30 miles off the coast of the Honduran mainland. We chose Roatan by a process of elimination: it’s one of the few Caribbean locations accessible via same-day flights from California, and with four youngens ease of travel was a priority. Even so, it was a long day getting to the island, our flight left from San Francisco at 6:00AM and the Bakkers were on a similar connection from Los Angeles. After seven hours of flights and a quick changeover in Houston we finally made it and were fortunately directed to the “express” immigration lane at Honduran customs. “Express” definitely has a different definition when on island time, but we made it through in an hour or so to be greeted by our smiling driver Derrick. After a quick stop at the supermarket in French Harbor for supplies we wound our way across the island’s jungle-clad middle section, past the secluded settlement of Politilly Bight and eventually to our house just west of Punta Gorda. There were grins from everyone as we climbed up the stairs into the house for the first time, the beautiful views of the ocean and barrier reef from the bedrooms and picturesque pool had us all excited for the week to come.
The house was great, a grand central room with raked ceilings and wraparound deck overlooking the pool and ocean. Max was a little more of a hellion than his usual hellion self the first few days as he was getting over a cold he picked up at Lilia’s birthday party the weekend before. The constant temptation of a pool and lots of steps around the house made it a full time job keeping track of him, but we were able to tag team and made it through the week without any major injuries. The Bakker girls and Lilia spent almost all day every day in the pool, even during the occasional torrential downpour earlier in the week. The tropical weather allowed us to spend most of our time at the house in bathing suits. Lilia was snorkeling like a pro in the pool by the end of the week, and Max could have spent all day jumping in off the sides if we’d had the energy to let him do so. The plentiful island fruits coupled with copious amounts of coconut-flavored rum made for fun afternoons by the pool for the adults, it was a beautiful house and a great setup for our two families.
Rosa – the resident cook – prepared us a traditional dish of pollo tipico (fried chicken with Honduran beans and coleslaw) on our first night at the house, it didn’t take us long to decide that we were going to have Rosa come in every night for dinner! Her cooking was divine: shrimp marsala, island grilled chicken, South African steak kebabs… And we went back for a second batch of pollo tipico. I have a feeling all of us gained a few pounds thanks to Rosa’s cooking!
The full-time caretaker and his staff were all very helpful and welcoming, the semiautomatic pistols on their hips resulted in a few sideways glances from us when we arrived but we never had concern for our safety whilst on the island. Rosa commented that she doubted whether they’re even loaded and are primarily worn to comfort tourists that have read about the dangerous Honduran mainland.
One of the big draws of Roatan is the fact that it sits on the second largest barrier reef system in the world, second only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef was a short kayak paddle from our private dock, the coral walls and sea life didn’t disappoint. Anna had Kevin tired by the end of each day ferrying her to and from the snorkeling spots, she couldn’t get enough of the underwater world at our doorstep. I paddled Lilia out there in the kayak once but the choppy water had her a little anxious and she only took one quick look at the reef before asking to go back in. Next time…
I went SCUBA diving a couple of times, once with Kevin on a dive master-escorted sojourn to a spot called The Sponges and another by myself to an amazing underwater cave system called Dolphin’s Den. Dolphin’s Den was located a quarter mile from our house and was a little unnerving (to put it lightly!): when we were entering the 30 meter long cave and I saw the lead diver’s white fins disappear into pitch blackness, my anxiety level definitely peaked. I blew threw my oxygen about 30% faster than usual, probably a good indication of my nerves! The caves were awe inspiring, we saw grouper, eel and all manner of small reef fish whilst inside. I took Kevin and Anna back to the caves on the kayaks and we located the opening at the main chamber’s top, diving down into it with snorkels quite a few times. Lisa didn’t want to miss it so paddled out there in the middle of a torrential downpour with Kevin before breakfast on our last day on the island, a few hours before we flew out. Some amazing diving for sure.
We befriended some local boys who trolled the northern shore of the island searching for tourists to take snorkeling. They picked us up from our dock a couple of times and ferried us to and from snorkeling spots in their punt, I’ll never forget the size of the feet on one of the boys, they put to shame the feet on the Hobbits in the Hollywood movie. While the reef system is kept relatively healthy – it’s a major source of income for the islanders and the Honduran government – it’s obvious that the locals pillage anything big enough to eat from the surrounding waters. Rarely did we see any sea life bigger than small reef fish or juvenile jacks, definitely nothing compared to similar reef systems in nearby Belize and Mexico where I have dove on past trips.
We landed on the island on a Saturday so – as we did when we visited the Bahamas years ago – we found the closest local church in Punta Gorda on Sunday morning and attended the service with the locals. We were the only caucasians in attendance, a little less singing and dancing than the service we attended in Nassau but fun all the same.
We explored the western reaches of Roatan on a few mornings, the Bakkers and Lisa went zip-lining at West End and also explored the tourist trap of Gumbalimba Park’s fauna section, getting a dose of Central American monkeys and iguanas in the process. The shoreline in front of our house was mostly rocks, so we spent some time at some of the island resorts – Turquoise Bay and Prinstine Bay – to get our fill of Caribbean beaches. The pools at Pristine Bay were something to behold, multiple levels connected by waterfalls, the kids had a ball and Max especially was in heaven. The sand flies at the beaches were a bit of a pain, leaving us all with small red dots on our ankles and in some cases upper bodies, but we had been forewarned of their presence so were always armed with bottles of bug spray.
On our second-to-last day we ventured into the island’s main town of Coxen Hole to explore the open air markets. The markets cater more toward the island’s Honduran residents rather than tourists, the tightly packed streets and lack of any breeze made the humidity almost unbearable amidst the stalls. Not the safest-feeling of spots on the island, each adult kept a close watch on their assigned youngen. Interesting to venture into Coxen Hole but something we only needed to do once.
As is always the case with the Bakkers they made for fantastic travel companions, a really enjoyable week had by all. My only disappointment: I didn’t see a turtle cruising the reef. Brooke requested a French-speaking island next time so maybe Martinique or Gaudeloupe is next on the list?!