Escape from Roatan
It’s not that I don’t like Roatan (the largest of the three Bay Islands, Honduras). It’s the mud I can’t stand. A vision of blessed turquoise water and cool palm trees when the sun shines, Roatan’s West End descends into the depths of sludge inferno when it rains for longer than a couple of hours. And, as far as I’m concerned, it rains all the time. The dirt road that connects everything in this little corner becomes an insurmountable sea of brown slime that you have to negotiate on the tips of your feet while trucks pass you by at alarmingly unisland-like speeds without the slightest concern for the state of your clothes. You can understand my relief, then, when after five days of tropical skin-drenching down pours with nothing to read but neglected Grisham novels borrowed from the local book-exchange and nothing to wear but wet sandals and a few humid and foul-smelling sweatshirts, we decided to depart back to our crisp and dry mountain-side home – Copan Ruinas. Of course, things are never that simple.
The flight to La Ceiba (on the mainland) from the island’s small airport at Coxen Hole was scheduled for six fifty the following morning. We had arranged for a cab to pick us up from our charming ‘posada’ at five thirty. By the time our alarm decided to ring, however, our cab guy was well gone and the only thing we were on our way to was missing our flight. We flung on our clothes in a mad dash, jumped into the next passing vehicle, and were overjoyed to find we had made it. Our flight had not left. In fact, it wasn’t going to leave at all for the next few hours, and no one seemed very eager to tell us why. Finally, after I had badgered a dismissive airline stewardess for the third consecutive time in under half an hour, she confessed that a storm had shut down the airport at La Ceiba. It should have been comforting to know that rickety propeller planes did not fly in this weather, but we were too concerned with missing the bus from La Ceiba to San Pedro Sula, which would then mean we could not get from San Pedro to Copan on the same day. Trust me, San Pedro is not the kind of place you want to be wandering about aimlessly in. The morning was turning out grim indeed, but worse was to follow.
It must have been close to midday when a flustered looking stewardess called out our flight for boarding, nearly six and a half hours after we’d arrived panting at the gate. Ours was the first to go out after La Ceiba finally reopened its runaways. As we made our way onto the tracks, the wind and rain blew relentlessly onto the single file of nervous passengers, wetting them thoroughly as they sheepishly tried to steady their steps to board the little craft. We strapped in and took off, but it wasn’t long before the shaking began. First it was a slight tremor then full blown upwards and downwards movements that made me realize at that point how truly vulnerable life is. My sudden appreciation of life’s beauty quickly gave way to sheer panic, as at every passing second the plane was being jolted in a million directions. Even the pilots looked flustered. Being a mild claustrophobic I have an obsession with being able to look out the window and see the horizon, or the ground, or at least some point of reference, but in this case a wall of solid white cloud encased us impenetrably, and on the few occasions that I glimpsed the darkness of the sea, I remember thinking that’s where we’d end up. A woman sitting behind me began to pray out loud, repetitively, and then to sing a series of religious hymns in Spanish. Although her chanting made the whole thing a lot more surreal, her voice was soothing, or maybe it was her faith. In any case it was good to know someone was talking to God on our behalf. As soon as we landed, the airport was shut down again.
Fortunately, we didn’t die. But we did miss our bus, or rather, it had been unexpectedly canceled. As we’d come to expect, no explanation was given. Having spent the money on a cab to get to the bus station, we caught another one back to the airport only to find that even if the airport reopened anytime soon, all the seats to San Pedro Sula were booked. Besides this disconcerting news, our cab driver had attempted to defraud us of at least a hundred lempiras over the normal price and incredibly had succeeded because we didn’t have the right change. We sat down for a minute and pondered on our predicament. By now it was obvious we were never going to make it to Copan on the same day. It was just a question of whether we were going to make it anywhere, our money and patience reserves running on an all time low. Not all was lost though, and we soon decided to share a cab fare to San Pedro Sula with another stranded passenger, an American, an amateur historian and writer who turned out to be quite fascinating during the course of the three hour trip. After dropping him off we headed to the Holiday Inn, where we had decided to stay, joking between us that it would be just our luck if some sort of medical convention in town had booked the whole hotel. Alas, it was not to be a convention but the Colombian football team that would be occupying half the hotel, and a Christian group the other half. Tired and hungry, we picked up our rucksack and headed out again, in search of a bed. Any bed.
The next day we jumped onto another bus. I felt a little sick in the morning, and in the evening, my stomach was in turmoil. But it didn’t matter because we were home.