What I Do Down Here

I’m back on the island. Friends often ask me what a typical day involves, and it kinda goes like this:

One of the first things we do is break open a coconut.

They are everywhere; you just look up at a tree and you’ll see a half dozen clustered, football shaped (both the American and the international variety of a football). S bought a handy coconut grabber/cutter thing. The house is on a hill, so I stand a few feet away from the tree and catch the coconut before it goes rolling down the hill.

Usually, we do one “thing” a day. Yesterday, we went to the island’s botanical garden.

The island’s shaped like a long skinny mountain with a beach at the bottom; once you’re headed inland from the beach, you’re climbing uphill until you get to the top and then you’re heading down the other side. It’s only 2 miles wide. So the botanic garden naturally goes up to the top of the mountain, and we climbed up amid cacao and banana trees and were rewarded with a glorious view.

Then we drove around on the motorcycle – riding on the back is new to me and pretty exciting, especially since the island’s so hilly. More on that in a second.

Today, the “thing” was to walk from West Bay, the part of the island we live on, to West End, a couple of miles over virtually deserted beach as the heron flies (or stalks, in this case), which is how we went.

West End is a funky place without a paved road anywhere. I love the signs.

We ate breakfast at Rudy’s, a local joint; banana pancakes are available for breakfast pretty much everywhere, and they’re fairly yummy.

But always, the best part about traveling is meeting people. Roatan’s not been hugely appropriated by Americans, but there does seem to be a veritable Canadian invasion. Today, we met a kid from Calgary (well, an oldish kid, probably late 20s) who decided he wanted to learn to sail one day, took off to Baja, learned everything he could, and now lives on his boat as he travels all over the Caribbean. He’s a rather remarkable p.r. man for Colombia, which he proclaimed to be the best country in the world, and then proceeded to convince us. Yesterday, we had coffee with a retired British couple who were 2/3 of the way through an 87-day cruise. They’d been around Tierra del Fuego, through the Panama Canal, and were hitting New Orleans before heading back to Southampton.

Both were delightful encounters, and I was reminded that when I took the Eldest to Italy a couple of years ago, the primary thing I remembered – in addition, of course, to the once-in-a-lifetime Caravaggio show and the Borghese Gallery – were the people who we had random conversations with, always over food and/or drinks, at adjoining tables in restaurants or across a bar. I like sightseeing as well as the next tourist; I’m never shy about trying to learn as much about and see as much of any place I visit. But to get from sightseeing to experiencing a place is, at least in my book, where it’s really at. And a big part about that is talking to people, and not just the natives, though of course you want to talk to as many of them as you can. (Here I am with Miss Jenny, proprietor of the Lusty Lizard and famous for her Viagra soup. We just stopped here to check out the restaurant but I promise to report when we eat here. “You short people,” she said to me and 6’4″ S. Miss Jenny completely rocks.)

(This is the entrance to the Lusty Lizard. How awesome is this?)

But the other folks who’ve come to the same place as you and are willing to step outside their comfort zone a little bit and have a pleasant yakfest with a couple of strangers are pretty awesome too.

Pico Iyer recently wrote about this very phenomenon. Positive he would detest cruise ships (I hear ya, brother), he went because his mum wanted to go. And he found that the variety of people that he met simply because they had all chosen to get on the same ship was tremendously rewarding. If given the opportunity to spend any time on a ship, much less 87 days on one, I would weigh it against something I consider to be equally fun, like, oh, say, a tattoo on my rib cage. And yet, a great deal of the fun of yesterday’s conversation was talking to this couple who spend a good portion of every year on a monster cruise where they stop at every possible port. Utterly different travel preference from me, folks I would never have a chance of meeting anywhere else but this serendipitous bumping-into, and simply wonderful.

(Another West End sign that kind of sums it up, doncha think?)

Anyway, back to our routine. We tend to get a snorkel session in at least once a day, though if the “thing” for the day is too big, we skip. But so far so good. Reef squid are out and about in droves now, and they’re lovely. But the highlight yesterday was sighting my first manta ray. They glide like angels through the deep blue. They’re one of the reasons to be underwater. It was heaven.

At night, we throw together a salad, maybe some fish, and usually fry up a plantain. Soon, I’ll riff a little bit on island cooking. Then we read, both separately and to each other; right now, we’re tackling the Iliad, our third attempt; hopefully, this time it will take. Reading in the night about the wine-dark sea with breaking surf as your soundtrack more than makes up for missing the Mad Men premiere.

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