Our plans to snorkel in Half Moon Bay hit a bit of a snag this morning (Feb. 5). A big, floating brown snag.
The bay was clear and beautiful in early morning but by 11, was blanketed under massive quantities of sargassum that had washed in. Sargassum is a brown seaweed/algae that free-floats in huge clumps in the open ocean but has been washing ashore along Caribbean beaches for months, accumulating in piles up to three feet deep. Antigua was inundated with the stuff in late fall and now it’s apparently Roatan’s turn.
The day we arrived on the island, sargassum was washed up in incredible amounts on shore and we marvelled at how hard and how quickly crews had worked to remove it with shovels and wheelbarrows. And now it has returned.
The source of the sargassum is the Sargasso Sea in the North Atlantic Ocean, a massive pool of slowly rotating water bounded by ocean currents close to Bermuda. While it’s certainly not a plus for sun-and-sand-loving tourists when it washes up on beaches, sargassum serves vital ecological purposes. The floating mats serve as nurseries for hatchling turtles, supplying nourishment and protection, act as a spawning ground for eels, dolphinfish and more, and as a habitat for shrimp, crabs and fish.
But trying to snorkel in it is not an appealing thought. It did make for an interesting morning, though, as we chatted with locals who had come to marvel at the brown floating masses. Several told us they have never seen so much of the stuff before. We watched as a boat owner slogged through the sargassum, trying to drag his stranded boat ashore. A white egret walked nimbly across the top of it.
We watched these scenes from a beachside grill known simply as Keith’s, where $6 will get you an awesome plate of fish, chicken or pork, homemade potato salad, steamed vegetables and a large glass of homemade limonade. Keith and his wife cook away at a barbecue fashioned from a 45-gallon drum and we eat at picnic tables set under canopies on the sand.
The afternoon we checked out the tee shirt offerings in a few shops and stopped into one of my favourite West End boutiques, Waves of Art. As the name suggests, it is an art gallery but has a wide selection of unique souvenirs including jewellery, local handcrafts, pottery and handmade soaps.
We returned to Casa Canuck to find that Sam and Bill, who had stayed there last week, stopped in for a visit with our hosts. They had spent a few days in Utila and filled us in on their experiences there and we all made plans to head down to Monkey Island cafe and bar after sunset for the advertised barbecue and live music event.
As Monkey Island regulars, our hosts Stan and Joan have clout and we were able to secure a good table on a night when the joint would be jammed due to guitar player/singer Brion James’ appearance later in the evening. James has lived in Roatan since 1999 and is the man responsible for bringing live rock to the island; before he left Los Angeles for Roatan, he had become a musician of renown, playing lead guitar with the funk band the Dan Reed Network, opening for the likes of the Rolling Stones and composing movie soundtracks.
When we arrive at Monkey Island, manager Adam spots our video camera and waves us into the kitchen to bear witness to the evening’s eats: beer can chicken, beer can duck, Cornish hens and a roasted pig.
We chow down on a $10 plate of beer can chicken and duck and roast pork, beans, rice and potato salad, washed down with mojitos. We are treated to the folky-bluesy stylings of Jordan and Bailey during dinner as outside the rain comes down in torrents. No one in our group of six has brought an umbrella so we figure we’ll all be in for a good soaking on the walk home.
Around 8:30, headliner Brion James, his bass player Adi (who we got to know when he managed Land’s End Lodge, our accommodations last year) and drummer Dave take the stage. Brion is a charismatic figure on stage – wiry and fit with long grey dreadlocks and the type of voice and guitar skills that speak to his stature as a professional musician. He bounces around stage, smoothly transitioning from song to song with no breaks, from Eurythmics to Maroon 5 to Rihanna hits. The place is packed and grooving to the tunes.
The rain has stopped when we leave and can hear the music in the background for the entire journey back to Casa Canuck. We encounter an interesting looking spider on the road close to home that is likely a huntsman spider. Though he is about four inches in diameter and fierce looking, he remains still and willingly models for a few photos.