“Be careful,” my mother warned when I told her I was flying to the island of Roatan off the north coast of Honduras. “Oh, and take some Pepto.”
Jeff, a 30 year-old small business owner and former missionary to Honduras, accompanied me and served as tour guide even though he, like myself, had never been to Roatan. I, being the anal retentive planner, served as trip coordinator and all too annoying Gilligan to his Skipper. We planned to stay for about ten days in Honduras, but only three days in Roatan. As it turned out, three days were an eternity.
Honduras simmers in June. As we landed at San Pedro Sula’s state-of-the-art chicken coop posing as an airport, both Jeff and I began the cooking process. We hopped a ride into the city in the back of a scrawny pick-up truck and then ambled our way through the slums to the hurricane-devastated barrio of Chamelecon, where we sweated away the night in humid bliss. The plan called for one night in Chamelecon and a quick trip to the coastal town of Tela. Early the next morning, we bucket showered and taxied our way to a bus headed for Tela.
We were greeted in Tela by pickpocketing thugs and festive Garifuna dancers. We quickly checked in at the Hotel Puerto Rico, a beachside dive with Disney-themed sheets on all the beds, and then cased the town for grub. Jeff tips the scales at 320 lbs. and I weigh in at a dainty 250 lbs. We must have spooked every pig and chicken in the whole town as we strolled through the streets. We finally barricaded ourselves in a Coca-Cola emblazoned diner and began ordering hefty portions of just about everything. We downed eggs with beans, eggs with pork, eggs with chicken and a simple order of just eggs. My thinking was that any potentially dangerous microorganisms would be killed by the industrial strength of the Coca-Cola we were continually chugging, so I just kept shoveling it in.
By nine that evening, the odds finally caught up with me and I began making hourly visits to the roach-infested bathroom attached to our luxurious digs. Jeff made valiant attempts to ease my discomfort by stuffing me full of all the Imodium A.D. he could find. By nine the following morning, I had a serious case of cheek screams associated with the constant visits to the facilities, but, other than that, I felt fine.
Fine is a bit of an overstatement. I simply felt like nothing else could possibly get worse, so we packed our bags and jumped on another bus going to the town of La Ceiba, where we would puddle-jump our way to Roatan. All of the needed muscles reacted well to the bus trip and enabled me to reach the airport without incident. Public restrooms in third world countries frighten even the hardiest travelers, but the restroom at the airport was a relative Ritz-Carlton, and I took advantage of it. So far so good.
Roatan lies just 25 minutes north of La Ceiba in the Western Caribbean, and is surrounded by a stunning coral reef. Jeff and I had heard amazingly colorful accounts of its beauty, so we weren’t surprised to find it a virtual Garden of Eden when our World War II cargo plane dumped us off. Rather than tackle the island alone, we dumbly hitched our trailers to an incessantly chatty Colombian vixen who promised to hook us up in a pension in the island’s tourist mecca of West End.
In my state, I had little time for chattiness, but she seemed knowledgeable and she did promise us a reasonable price. As our taxi wound its way up and down the island’s spine, I was sufficiently distracted by the white sand and the rich tropical smells. I almost forgot for a moment that I was fighting the dangerous legions of the sadistic Montezuma. It was at this time that I came to know the all too real meaning of island time.
The taxi pulled into the dirt and gravel driveway of a four-story guesthouse called the Sea Breeze Inn. I alertly yanked my gear out and trudged to what I mistakenly believed was a reception area. To my chagrin, it was the hosts’ living quarters. “No big deal,” I thought, “They’ll just give me keys and we can settle up later.”
While the hosts are responsible for ensuring your comfort, they are not entrusted with keys for any of the rooms. I began to panic, but I was determined not to let anyone know the utter fear I was experiencing. The hosts and the crazy Colombian assured us that the keys would arrive shortly and they would happily watch our gear if we wanted to check out the island.
Not entirely comfortable with this arrangement, I asked where the keys were at that exact moment. They responded that they were usually found at Sueno del Mar, a restaurant/dive shop located on stilts in the lagoon. Jeff, sensing my growing concern, asked where it was and hurried off in the general direction, while I awkwardly trotted behind him.
To no one’s surprise, Sueno del Mar also followed the island timetable. The person with the keys was somewhere and would be back soon. “Soon” is often misinterpreted by mainlanders to mean a point in the not-to-distant future, often calculated in minutes. To islanders, “soon” is simply the opposite of “not so soon” and means nothing.
My bowels were going to burst if the key didn’t arrive soon. I didn’t want any undue attention, however, so I pretended that all was fine. In fact, for a brief moment, I did feel fine. My muscles had apparently mustered up their second wind and I thought I might survive. Jeff, who had miraculously escaped the dastardly demons of diarrhea, suggested that we once again eat something lest we die of hunger. Although the thought of reloading the so-called cannon did not seem altogether prudent, the thought of death by starvation seemed more uncomfortable, so we chose a clean-looking pizzeria and sat down to pick our poison. Knowing the situation was under semi-control but still a bit touch and go, I chose the semi-safe ham and cheese sandwich while Jeff ordered grilled cheese.
I wish to reiterate that despite being Italians, these culinary giants lived on an island and were subject to island time. I can only suppose that they actually had to kill the pig, milk the cow and make the cheese, for after one gloriously uncomfortable hour, we still sat with only a Coke each in front of us. My earlier optimism waned as the minutes ticked painfully on. The ninety-minute mark finally brought our food. We made sure it wasn’t still alive and then we ate. Jeff tore into his meal, but I picked and nibbled and basically gnawed listlessly at mine, hoping that some key-toting angel from Sueno del Mar would pass and save me.
It was at this precise moment that my decision-making ability failed me miserably and forever etched the idea of island time into my idiotic mind. As I sat staring aimlessly into the tropical sky, my stomach groaned in agony, and I felt a need to give it some temporary relief. My earlier optimism, that had so recently waned, resurged and I decided my body in its current condition was somehow capable of handling this temporary relief. I glanced quickly both left and right.
Jeff, unaware of my attempt, stared at me bemusedly. My cheeks squeezed together ever so cautiously and with a calculated effort, I sought to let out a little gas. Midway through this exercise, the excruciating truth was made known. The little pocket of gas was repelled by much denser matter and I quickly knew all about it. My face contorted and grimaced horribly, and my life as a cultured man ended briskly and, might I say, with much relief.
As I again trudged quietly to the Sea Breeze Inn where the key was presented and the door opened, I promised myself I would again visit this charming island very soon.