Whirlwind week

Jose: 'Can you see?'
Jose: ‘Can you see?’
Feb. 9 to 16, 2016 – When our friends Jody and Aaron decided to join us in the Yucatan for a week, we deliberated just how many experiences we could pack into a scant seven days (well, five and a half days considering travel time).
Tuesday: After our GPS took us on a not-so-magical mystery tour through the bustling centre of Merida (population 1.1 million) to reach the airport and sent our stress levels through the roof (watch for an entry on crazy driving in Merida coming to this space soon), we met our guests. It was cool and breezy but still infinitely more bearable than the deep freeze back in Ontario.
We headed directly to the town of Progreso (a port city of about 38,000 thirty minutes north of Merida) to take in the Carnaval parade marking the end of the multi-day celebration held in many Mexican centres. Carnaval celebrates the last indulgence of carnal pleasures that Catholics must give up for 40 days of fasting during Lent. We forged our way through the crowds and found a table along the malecon to take in the spectacle, which included loud music, scantily clad young women, a Michael Jackson tribute float, a golden age gringa performing hula hoop tricks, kids in colourful costumes and inexplicably, two guys dressed in diapers. A couple of margaritas and a few nacho plates later, Jody and Aaron were getting into the Mexican vibe, even though there was a fearsome wind whipping off the Gulf of Mexico.
Here’s a rundown of how we amused our guests for the rest of their stay:
Temple of the Seven Dolls LR
Wednesday: Visit to the Dzilbilchaltun Ruins 20 minutes away. While certainly not as large and spectacular as sites such as Chichen Itza or Uxmal, it offers insight into Mayan history and is home to the noteworthy Temple of the Dolls pyramid and a lovely open water cenote where we dipped our feet and got a free fish pedicure, thanks to little black fish nibbling at our toes. Archaeologists figure as many as 200,000 inhabitants lived there and there were 8,400 buildings during its history. Artifacts dating back to 700 – 800 A.D. have been found and some are on display in the small museum on site. A Mayan guide named Julio gave us an hour-long tour for “30 bucks” (USD) and filled us in on the history. We also did the ‘Mayan Stairmaster’ workout, climbing up and down a few pyramids.
Thursday: I had to sit the day out, seeing as I had gum graft surgery the night before so while I spent the day reclining in the outdoor living room reading Girl on the Train, we sent our guests to Progreso to wander the malecon, eat at a wharf-side restaurant, check out the shops and pick up a few provisions.
Minerals cause the water to be red at the Xcambo salt flats
Minerals cause the water to be red at the Xcambo salt flats

Friday: We headed east to the pretty fishing village of Telchac and checked out a few beach houses as we walked the shore. We stopped at the lookout tower at Uaymitun which is supposed to be a good bird watching spot and this is prime time for flamingo sightings (and we’ve had quite a few). But there was nary a bird to be seen today so we continued our trek eastward. We dropped by our friend Gail’s vacation house in San Bruno to show Jody and Aaron how the beachfront set lives, with their stunning views of the Gulf’s aquamarine water. We’re second row folk, which means our house is one sandy block from the shore. The rest of the day’s adventures included a stop at the salt flats near Xcambo (pronounced Sh-Cambo), which had been an ancient Mayan salt and salted fish distribution centre. Big rectangular pools are rich with salt – some of the pools were blood red, others clear, but rocks and sticks in both of them were encrusted with salt that glistened like diamonds. We were wary of the red pools until some locals walked in and were collecting salt and washing their arms with the red water. One explained to us through gestures and Spanish that the red hue was caused by minerals in the water and salt makes for an excellent exfoliant.
Pyramid climbing at Xcambo
Pyramid climbing at Xcambo
Next stop was the Xcambo ruins just down the road –no one was there except for us and the lonely guy who took admission – the pyramids are small but it had some nice scenery and with the help of Aaron’s translate app, we convinced the gate keeper to pull out one of the human bones found on the site for us to inspect.
And great excitement – we saw lots of flamingos!
Coatis at El Chorchita
Coatis at El Chorchita

Saturday: Another adventure close to home – every day we passed a parking lot and a sign that identified El Corchita, an ecological zone. We decided to investigate – for a bargain fee of about $3 each, we were ushered onto a boat and made our way across the inland waterway to a mangrove island. A canal cut through the mangroves ended at a cleared area with seating and picnic tables …. where we were greeted by a group of raccoons and some strange looking reddish coloured critters with long tails and snouts. We learned they were coatis, a type of South American raccoon. All the critters were looking for handouts, though all we’d brought was bottled water. They had better luck when a child dropped a bag of chips. A raccoon grabbed it and he and his friends ran off like the bandits they resemble. El Corchita has more delights that include walking trails through the mangroves where you can see various birds and an abundance of termite nests. The real attraction though is the five cenotes, the fresh water sinkholes. Three are large and deep enough for swimming. Though sunny, it was a might coolish for swimming so we were satisfied dipping our toes in.
Dancers in traditional Mayan garb in Merida
Dancers in traditional Mayan garb in Merida

Sunday: There’s only one place to be on Sunday – that’s the Centro of Merida where part of the streets are closed to traffic so people of all ages can ride their bikes along the grand Paseo de Montejo, an avenue lined with gorgeous historic former mansions. Our destination was Plaza Grande, where hundreds of vendors pack into the central square to sell an astonishing array of goods including Mayan embroidered dresses, belts and purses, t-shirts, jewellery, honey, hammocks and much more. Great souvenir shopping and we took a break to eat delicious ice cream at a café and watch traditional Mayan dancing. For dinner, we classed it up and went to the Hacienda Xcanatan, a beautiful old former hemp plantation that’s now an upscale inn and restaurant. Perfect setting for a Valentine’s Day feast.
Monday: Jody is an animal lover whose Mother Hen instinct kicks into high gear when she senses an animal in need. She was saddened to see how many homeless and skinny beach dogs are wandering about and a few days ago, we had to contain her from leaping from the car to snatch up some feral puppies by the roadside. Earlier that day, my significant other and I had met a Canadian couple with two beautiful Labradoodles and a beach dog on our morning beach stroll. They told us they had rescued the beach dog and nursed her back to health and were looking for a home for her as they were driving back to Canada and didn’t have room for an extra dog. They also told us of a woman in the ‘hood who arranges spay-neuter clinics and tries to find homes locally or in Canada for beach dogs after they have been spayed, neutered, vaccinated, etc. I arranged for a meeting, Jody took her card and wants to help. Anyone looking for a pet from the Mexican Gulf coast at a very reasonable cost? Talk to me and I’ll hook you up.
Want a beach dog? Let me know
Want a beach dog? Let me know

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The big bamboo (raft that is)

FEBRUARY 20, 2015 – Welcome to Jamaica. Ya, man. We had a rollicking time on the ship getting to Montego Bay from Santiago de Cuba due to wave action and it’s grey and rainy as we set out to do bamboo rafting in the mountains.
We have an entertaining tour guide named Denise who gives a brief lesson in Jamaican patois and explains that KFC means Keep From Cooking as we pass the familiar chain restaurant. She also supplies some general facts about the island on our ride. The drivers drive on the left side of the road here and that’s disconcerting as the roads are very narrow and winding and we pass a few vehicles with only inches to spare.
It’s pouring rain when we arrive and not enough rafts are available for all in our group, so instead we will first partake in a liquor tasting and demonstration while we wait. Luckily, the liquor tasting pavilion is under a roof so all is good and soon a wiry little man named Dalton is explaining the origin of different rum flavours and tiny shots are being passed around, including banana and coffee flavoured rum. Then Dalton slips on plastic gloves, fires up a blender and gives a step-by-step demonstration of how to make a genuine pina colada. He’s like an island Rachael Ray in a ball cap and rain jacket.
He explains that fresh coconut is a must and shows how to use it to make coconut milk – the store-bought stuff in cans just isn’t good enough, according to Dalton. He doesn’t measure anything, just tosses in random amounts of coconut milk, fresh pineapple, condensed milk to sweeten and of course, rum.
Here’s a handy hint from Dalton for all you pina colada drinkers out there: Put the ice in your glass, never add it to the blender. If you add ice at the blending stage, you are going to have to drink the whole concoction or throw away the watery slush that’s left. But if you aren’t able to guzzle an entire blender-full of pina colada in one sitting and haven’t added ice to the blender, you can store the left over in the fridge for a few days.

Rafting with the folks in Jamaica
Rafting with the folks in Jamaica

The rain has cleared and it’s time to make like Errol Flynn and float down the Great River on a bunch of bamboo sticks lashed together and outfitted with a bench and seat cushions. Soon the river is like a bamboo raft highway with more than a dozen of the crafts floating down the shallow, limestone-bedded river. Our captain Shane points out flora and fauna along the way, even stopping a few times to gather examples to show us, and we enjoy a serenade of Bob Marley hits that another captain sings.
Shane plucks an African tulip tree bloom for me, a eucalyptus branch and explains multiple uses for soft limestone (it’s good for pedicures, for example).
It’s a peaceful, enjoyable way to take in the Jamaican countryside. The hour passes in no time. It’s back to the bus and back to the pier where the Cuba Cruise/Louis Cristal is docked – or we are given the option of going to a shopping area to stock up on souvenirs. The ‘shopping area’ is an exaggeration. It’s one store perched high on a cliff above Montego Bay. Prices are very high, in US dollars but it’s all a ploy. The clerks are quite aggressive and barely have to glance at an item and you’re offered a deep discount.
The shopping wasn’t worth the trip but we did get to pass another KFC – supposedly the second largest in the world and the one that generates the most revenue of any in the world. Jamaica loves fried chicken, apparently.

It’s my birthday and I’ll cruise if I want to

The Cuba Cruise/Louis Cristal
The Cuba Cruise/Louis Cristal

 

FEBRUARY 17, 2015- It’s my birthday (Tuesday, Feb. 17) and I’m celebrating on the Cuba Cruise ship. Sailing around Cuba far away from Ontario’s deep freeze makes getting older pretty painless. It helps that the cruise is populated mainly with senior citizens, so I feel pretty young in comparison.

It’s a day at sea as Cuba Cruise/the Louis Cristal makes the voyage from Havana to Antilla. After a buffet breakfast, we run through the drill of what happens in an emergency and have to go to our designated muster stations wearing the life jackets stowed in our cabins. It’s orderly and proceeds in a timely fashion. We’re free to enjoy the boat at leisure once we passed muster with the captain.

I’m a cruise ship virgin, but I know as far as such ships go, the Louis Cristal is fairly small and much more petite than the behemoths I saw docked in Roatan earlier in the month. With the capability to carry 1,200 passengers and a staff of 400, she’s not tiny but of a size that makes it easy to befriend other passengers and get to know the staff.

The Louis Cristal, now registered as a Greek ship, has had many different names over the years since it was built in Finland and launched in 1980. Although it was destroyed by fire in dry dock in Sweden and completely rebuilt from 1990 to 1992, it’s still considered the same ship.

I check out the duty free shop and contemplate buying myself a watch as a happy-birthday-to-me present but as I haven’t worn a watch for decades, figure I’m unlikely to start now. And I need a new saddle and they don’t seem to have any here.

We roam the decks and even though all the passengers are onboard today, there are still plenty of places to sit in the sun and no lineups for food. I have talked to people who have been on big ships and they talk about crowds and line-ups, but no problem here. Even the small pool is free most of the time.

Crusin'

To celebrate my birthday dinner, we splurge and go the Alberta Steakhouse (you pay an extra $34.95 a person to eat here but the pampering and fine dining  experience are worth it). It’s intimate with white tablecloths and soft lighting and three wait staff are catering to our every need. The beef here comes from Alberta so that’s no surprise. However, I’m betting the lobster tails didn’t come from the western provinces.

It is delicious, from the appetizers to the Caesar salad to the beef tenderloin. I am completely stuffed but there’s dessert to consider it and to heck with calories. It’s my birthday! We order desserts but just before they arrive, the waiters come out bearing a guitar and a birthday cake (it’s delicious too) and serenade me with a melody of birthday-related songs. They all sing really well, unlike the usual restaurant birthday serenades you might be subjected to.

So we get the cake and dessert – talk about having your cake and eating it two (as in two desserts). I swear I’m waddling as we had back to our cabin though it just may be the sway of the boat. Good thing there’s some swimming and snorkeling tomorrow to counteract the caloric extravaganza.

 

 

Hunting for Hemingway in Havana

Three bearsLR

FEBRUARY 16, 2015 -Yes, I like alliteration and seldom get to use it, so I took advantage with today’s headline.

Most of today (Feb. 16) was about standing in lines: Lines to check in at Pearson airport, lines to go through the security check, then lines at Jose Marti Airport, followed by lines to get on a bus, then lines to check in for Cuba Cruise on the Louis Cristal, then a line for another security check. It must have been a slow day at the Havana ship terminal security check because the guy in the cubicle I chose was napping.

Even though we were exhausted from the rigours of travelling from a -25 C climate to a 25 C one, after filling up on tasty cruise ship buffet food, we decided to burn what little daylight was left by exploring a bit of Havana. It is a totally awesome city.

The earlier bus ride from the airport featured views of a lot of what we remembered from our last Cuban sojourn four years ago: banana trees, people on rickety bicycles, a mix of old American vehicles, Ladas and newer compact cars and squat, concrete buildings that feature the stark, humourless architecture resulting from Cuban’s ties with the former Soviet Union.

The buildings in the historic district downtown near San Francisco Square are a whole different matter. According to havanaarchitecture.info, the city is one of the most beautiful and architecturally diverse in the world.

There are many beautiful colonial and baroque buildings in Havana's historic district
There are many beautiful colonial and baroque buildings in Havana’s historic district

The older colonial and baroque buildings are beautiful, ornate and romantic, like the souls of so many Cuban people we’ve met. The square was full of bears, which seemed a little curious; as far as I know, bears are not indigenous to Cuba.

But we learned the 128 fibreglass bears are part of a United Nations international art exhibit, United Buddy Bears, intended to foster global peace and tolerance, Each life-size bear is painted by an artist from a different country. It took a while to find the Canada bear, as I assumed it would be red and white and likely sporting a maple leaf or beaver or hockey stick.

The bears are in alphabetical order and the Canada bear was where he should be, sandwiched between bears from Cameroon and the Centroafricana Republic. He was painted with blue, grey, white and brownish squares that created a weird optical illusion. I’m stumped as to how he represents Canada. Ireland’s for example, was wearing a jaunty green jacket and festooned with shamrocks and Cuba’s was smoking a cigar.

As our time for exploring was limited, we decided to hunt for Ernest Hemingway. Yes, Papa is long gone but the hotel he used to live in and his favourite bar are still around. We strolled down cobbled pedestrian streets, drinking in the atmosphere, listening to a marching band playing the Eurthymics’ Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This), sneaking glimpses into little cafes, restaurants and hotels and we remembered why we love Cuba so much. The culture, the people and the atmosphere are like no other.

Along Calle Obipos we came to the first of our two intended destinations: the triangular pink Hotel Ambos Mundos that Hemingway called home. It has an elegant restaurant, bar and lobby with high ceilings and its walls are plastered with Hemingway photos, including him with the trophy he won in a fishing tournament and another posing with his pal Fidel Castro. Sadly, we were there too late to see the room in the hotel that is now a miniature Hemingway museum, as it had closed at 5.

The next order of business on our Hemingway hunt was to seek out the Floridita, the bar where the writer did a lot of his drinking. A lot of drinking. After one mistaken stop at the Florida Hotel, the kindly concierge explained how to get to our intended destination. We found it, where old American taxis were parked outside as well as a trio of coco taxis, which look like bright yellow coconut shells perched on three wheels. We’ve toured in them before and they are a blast.

Hemingway's favourite bar, the Floridita
Hemingway’s favourite bar, the Floridita

Evidently we weren’t the only people who heard that the Floridita was Hemingway’s haunt. The place was packed and pretty much everyone there was drinking daiquiris, Hemingway’s poison of choice. We pulled up stools beside a life-sized statue of ol’ Ernest and ordered a couple. We also were served a plate of homemade potato chips that were delicious. A three-piece band was playing and typical of Cuba, the musicians were excellent.

Tourist after tourist came up to pose with bronze Hemingway and of course, we did the same. We struck up a conversation with two guys at the bar – one was a Cuban who owns an apartment he rents to tourists, and the other was Marc, an American who has lived in Roatan for 22 years (readers of this blog will recall we were just in Roatan less than a month ago).

Marc is a character and regaled us with tales of his life in Roatan, including his three ill-fated marriages to Honduran women. With three divorces under his belt, he’s single again. “Some people live and learn,” he said. “I just live.”

old carrLR

The walk back to the Louis Cristal/Cuba Cruise ship was equally magical – a clear night sky, balmy temperatures, the streets alive with people and music, whether it was shop keepers shaking maracas or tambourines, the sounds wafting from cafes with live bands and a Cuban man out for a walk, singing in a clear, melodic voice.

It left us wanting more and we agreed we’ll return to Havana in the future when we have more time to explore this gem of a city.

East enders

Havana Bay Beach
Havana Bay Beach

February 9, 2014- Our last day in Roatan is just about perfect. Weather as good as it gets (28 degrees C, blue skies, sun) and a day of exploring with our Casa Canuck pals Stan and Joan. ‘Hosts’ is too impersonal a term for these folks. They have become good friends. We’ll  stay in touch and we know we can count on them for a prime table at Monkey Island next time we’re here for Taco Tuesday.

This morning, we say goodbye to our favourite dive master, Rino Jackson and his Toronto-raised wife Amanda at Scuba Roatan. We won’t hold it against Amanda that she successfully left the frozen north behind six years ago and is a full-fledged islander now.

Back at the Casa, Stan, Joan and fellow guest Kay (Joan’s Grade 5 teacher from a few decades back) hop into the truck and we’re off on an afternoon of exploring the east end. We follow a route along the water going through various towns and in Coxen Hole, Stan and Joan fill us in on where to get cheap haircuts, inexpensive shirts and curtains made for a bargain price.

We make a pit stop in French Harbour to see where Joan will be tutoring high school kids a couple of days a week. It’s right next door to Arch’s Iguana Farm and a few of the critters are lurking in the grass and trees but a little skittish about posing for photos.

Our next stop is Pristine Bay, a luxury golf club development where we pass muster with the security guard who raises the gate and lets us in. You need a four wheel drive or at least a mule team to negotiate the steep and winding main drive.

Perched at the highest point on a steep hill is a big, fancy home with iron gates and views of ocean on both sides of the island. Stan and Joan have heard that Sandra Bullock owns the house and Joan is sure she saw Sandra shopping at the grocery store.

As none of us golf, we admire the sweeping views and snap a few shots then keep on trucking.

We press eastward, admiring the stunning views of Roatan’s rolling green mountains and the turquoise ocean. We find the road to our intended destination, Havana Bay Beach, and soon have parked and for $5 a head, are given the privilege of walking on the sand, swimming in the ocean, and using their washrooms, showers and loungers.

The beach here is pretty spectacular – not quite West Bay calibre, but then again, it’s not crowded, packed with vendors, tourists and hotels. We have a pretty decent lunch at Lionfish Louie’s beachside bar, then strap on our fins and snorkels.

Starfish
Starfish

The reef is a fair distance away so we snorkel around a small island. At first, it seems it’s not going to be a great day for underwater viewing. The storm that ended yesterday churned things up and the visibility isn’t the greatest. Initially all we spot is seagrass. But as we progress around the island, the water is clearer and we start to notice things. Such as starfish – I see six in all. There are a couple of pretty sea anemones. Stan, Joan and Kay spot some lionfish.

We also see a porcupine fish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, more lionfish and several fish species I can’t name hanging out under a dock.

The sun is setting as we head home and the sky is a spectacular pink, gold and blue.

It’s a spectacular end to a great vacation. ‘Til we meet again, Roatan.

Good times, good friends
Good times, good friends

Rainy day and Rusty Fish

Rusty Fish shop in West End
Rusty Fish shop in West End

It’s raining today (Friday). Not mere showers, but full-out downpours that soak you within seconds. But it’s not snowing and still warm enough to wander around in tee shirts and shorts.

One of the positives is that the shifting weather has sent much of the sargassum that washed in yesterday back out to sea.

We stop into the Roatan Marine Park office to chat with marine biologist Nick Bach to find out exactly what it is these folks do. As it turns out, this non-governmental agency does a lot to help preserve Roatan’s jewel of a coral reef.  They maintain 140 dive, fishing and yacht moorings and patrol to thwart poaching of turtles, lobster and conch. They’ve been busy in local classrooms, teaching school children how to take responsibility for the reef in the future. But instead of boring classroom lectures, they’re taking the kids out on glass bottom boat rides, on snorkel trips and on Discover Scuba dives. My elementary school science lessons weren’t nearly as fun.

Many restaurants in West End have signs designating them as participants in the Responsible Seafood Program initiated by the Marine Park. That means they are serving fish dishes such as tuna, kingfisher, wahoo, mahi-mahi, etc. that aren’t threatened, and not putting species such as grouper, parrotfish, shark or turtle that are endangered on their menus.

I do my part for the reef ecosystem at dinnertime, ordering lionfish cakes. No one knows exactly how this invasive species from Japan came to settle in the Caribbean. The most popular theory is that half a dozen of them escaped from the Biscayne Bay Aquarium in Florida during Hurricane Andrew in 1992. A more likely explanation is that hotels with large aquariums with breeding pairs unwittingly released eggs and larvae into the sea during cleaning.

Lionfish are here now in large numbers and while Nick says they can’t be wiped out, their numbers can be controlled. While they have no natural predators, eels, snappers and sharks have been spotted eating them even though they aren’t part of the usual diet. And licensed lionfish hunters are catching them and local restaurants have put lionfish on the menu (they are delicious).

Eat but don't touch
Eat but don’t touch

We saw a juvenile lionfish on our first dive last week. As Rolland went to point at it, divemaster Chip snatched back his hand. While exotic and beautiful to look at, these reddish brown and white striped fish are venomous, delivering a nasty sting that won’t kill you but cause extreme pain that lasts for hours.

“You are going to hate your life,” says Chip.

In the afternoon, we take a five minute cab ride to Alba Plaza to check out some unique Roatan industries. One of them is the Roatan Chocolate Factory, where you can watch chocolate being made fresh from Honduran cacao that comes from cacao beans grown on the island and Honduran mainland. I am in chocolate heaven! There are free samples!

After careful deliberation, we buy four bars for $15 ($5 for one bar) including one 75 per cent organic, one coffee flavoured and two sea salt bars. The sugar rush continues with a stop into the neighbouring coffee shop for a snack of cinnamon coffee cake and a big chocolate cookie to go.

Roatan chocolate
Roatan chocolate

The last stop is one of my favourite places on Roatan – the Rusty Fish. Here you can get great, reasonably priced souvenirs from fridge magnets to colourful fish, turtles and crabs to hang on your walls, made from recycled metal and painted with enamel or acrylic paint. Other recycled pieces in the shop are made from plastic and glass including some beautiful little blue and white turtles. The cool thing is that most of the source materials come from the dump.

The Rusty Fish workshop adjoins the store where you can watch the artists at work. The venture provides training and much-needed jobs for the local community as well as creates memorable made-in-Roatan items for visitors to take home. If you don’t want to venture out to the Alba Plaza workshop, a Rusty Fish shop is also open in the heart of West End.

 

 

Seaweed and live rock

Sargassum in West End
Sargassum in West End

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.

 

Brion James plays Monkey Island
Brion James plays Monkey Island

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.

Spider on the road
Spider on the road