We arrived in March of 1982 in a 35 ft. sailboat after along trip through the Bahamas, Jamaica and Cayman Islands. We sailed through the Bogue between Guanaja and Roatan early in the morning and marveled at the beauty of the island with its many harbors and peaks. We tied up at the broken down customs wharf in Coxen Hole and waited to be boarded. In the mean time an islander and a gringo walked down the dock to meet the new (rare) visitors. They introduced themselves and I said, wait a minute. You see, the islander's name was given to me by a mutual friend. He lived in Oak Ridge, we were in Coxen Hole and the first islander we spoke with was the one Honduran in the whole world who's name I knew. That was Calvin Bodden. He is one of my best friends. The gringo was Bill Evans who built Coco View a few years later with Calvin and Calvin's wife Stella. This was a hell of a start.
We spent about 1/2 of each of the next four years or more exploring the many harbors, most of them completely undeveloped and becoming friends with the 30 or 50 or so gringo's there and many of the islanders. We snorkeled a lot and ate a lot of fish and drank too much beer. We started to write down the island language. At that time, we were mostly in love with the beauty of the place, the roar of the waves on the reef (when away from the roaring generators) and the friendly people.
The airport was short and dirt and used by light planes and DC3s. The road was a mountain dirt road and impassable after heavy rains and scary as shit at Antigual all of the time. You haven't lived till you have gone over that road with 28 people in a 12 person bus. I didn't feel a bump, I was between two enormously fat women in the very back seat. Well, Calvin had told us to go to Oak Ridge and visit his and Stella's bar Happy Landing. That is one of the fantastic local names like Green Valley, Distance View, and Quiet Hill. Well, we tied up at the nice house just inside the entrance and asked Ginny Mayer if that was Happy Landing. BIG MISTAKE! We then went a bit further to Happy Landing and began our introduction to Oak Ridge. That didn't go too well either. You see, as we found out later Calvin was a big big skirt man and we went in and told Stella that Calvin sent us up to meet Sarah. Got the name wrong. BIG MISTAKE. In time that all passed, and we became great friends too.
That was before the road, airport, television and electricity other than each house's generator. The thing to do was hang out in the nice bar's after work and shoot the shit as they say. Best conversations I ever had in my life. Why? Because those people could talk and listen, talking was all they had for entertainment, except for boats, and fishing and chasing, well you know what they were chasing. Then there were the band dances which started about 10 or11PM and went on till 10 or 11AM or even PM the next day.
Don't ever try to keep up with a Roatanian at drinking. You will lose. Well the custom was that you sat down at the table and bought the next round, or whenever you could beat someone else to it. Bad form to just buy for yourself. If you just want a beer or two, kinda expensive when there are ten or so people there. Well, it is either spend too much for your beer or get flat ass drunk. Easy choice there. At Happy Landing, Uncle Rex (Rex Gough) the owner of everything big and the honcho of Oak Ridge had the table to sit at. It was always well attended by the local shrimp boat owners, captains and a few others. Incredible!
Weddings were amazing, and often long. We videoed one of a young preacher getting married by three other preachers and the service went for over 3 hours. He later got on the wrong side of crack and in prison for murder along with another friend. Seems they wanted the crack and the money. Bad stuff, and that drug is one of the things that lead to where the island is now and where it is heading. Funerals were the most touching of any I have ever seen. We have probably at least 50 friends of all ages in the ground on Roatan. Way too many. If a family can afford it the grave is dug by workers that are paid. At the graveside service, women sing hymns a capella while the entire grave is filled by hand by family and friends. None of this one handful and bring on the backhoe. It takes a very longtime!! This, of course, is after the wake which may take a week while foreign relatives gather. The body is NEVER left alone. We have done that duty too. We have seen them slowly decompose in the coffin on the porch and drip into the wash tub underneath. It is very personal, very human.
I have walked into the above preacher's cabinet making shop to find another friend, a boat captain making a coffin. That seemed strange. I said, why are you working here, Pandy? I will never, ever forget his answer or his tearstained face. You see, he was making his mother's coffin because he could not afford to buy one. You get close to people.
Then there are the kids. Boy did they teach us a lot. We found a lot about the duppies and spirits. Kids will tell you the truth, while the adults try to please the gringo, until you get very close. I will never forget walking on the reef crest at low tide with Calvin and Stella's ten year old daughter Yani. I have a Ph.D. in marine geology, but I learned a lot that day and was reminded to carefully put back any rocks I turned over so as to not hurt what ever was living on or under them. I learned that an octopus is a Sea Cat, pronounced Sea Cot. When you watch them, they are very catlike. I learned that blue crabs are Ratti Cutters. I don't know how to spell it and neither do the islanders. Watch out or they will get you with their biters. The great blue heron is John Bull and the buzzard John Crow.
I once went wilk hunting on the reef with Calvin and Stella and Betsy one night with flashlights. He found 10 to every one of mine. When he looked, all he saw was wilks. I was looking at everything. In those days, a trip with an islander of any age was an education. Now the men watch TV too much and shoot the shit too little. Well, there are a lot of other things, that maybe I will talk about sometime like:
Lying on our backs on the wharf and counting satellites.
Picking our way through reefs at night in boats:
Having friends who would kill for you:
Helping fix the solar well that feeds a whole town and shaming the richest man in town into paying for it.
A surprise birthday party for Betsy put on 100 yards from where we were docked in plain sight and her not catching on.
It was all done by islanders.
A midnight birthday for a 60 year old lady.
Taking locals shooting in remote harbors.
Rescuing a 40 ft resort dive boat and 15 people in a 70 knot norther.
Tuberculosis, rapists, shooting up a bar with an Uzi.
Seeing a good friend and a friend of his run down in the harbor by a French Harbian in a 600 horsepower speedboat.
Listening to the amazing stories brought back from the fishing banks. Murder, piracy, and more.
Trading beer, Marlboros and skin magazines for lobster on the Honduran fishing grounds while delivering boats from the U.S. through the Panama Canal. Needed the seafood for bribes in Panama.
Trying to keep a land thief from tearing down a friends dock on Christmas eve.
Rescuing a commercial fishing boat from Cayos Cochinos (twice) when he ran his battery dead. Couldn't call anyone else because his girl friend, not his wife was aboard. When I suggested towing him into Utila, where his wife was from, he was not amused.
Fishing boats full of bullet holes and repairing compasses with bullet holes.
Best times, best memories, and best friends of my life. Too bad the diseases and exploding crime drove us away. It was so very much better before all of the improvements. Before TV when people were the only entertainment. When a trip from Oak Ridge to Coxen Hole took all day and you felt lucky, if you had to get out and walk at Antigual, because that way you knew you weren't going off of the cliff. Before wealth and before crack and before hordes of mainlanders. Yep those were the times.
Damn, I miss it. Life was rich. Life was intense. Life was real. Life was fragile.Yep, it is the INCREDIBLE ISLAND.