Trip to Guanaja

Main Street Bonnaca
Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

It’s been a busy November so far for us in Roatan! Our hosts Marcia and Dennis at Castaways Cove had some extra guests this month. In the boat house next to us was a friendly guy named Dave who came for a week of diving. The weather wasn’t excellent for him and it rained a lot, but it’s always wet under the water so the diving was still good. On the same day kristi and Jeff arrived in the guest house up the hill. They were visiting from Oregon for their 30th anniversary, and were friends of Larry and Karen who run East End Divers in Jonesville.

We’d met Larry the week before when he came to deal with our lionfish problem, which he did quite expertly using a scuba tank and Hawaiian sling. He told us horror stories of killing thirty or more in an hour some places. They’ve become a big problem here since they have no predators and reproduce nearly constantly unlike their Pacific relatives. I think we should start advertising lionfish fritters as a local delicacy, or sell powedered lionfish spines as an aphrodesiac. There is so much overfishing here already that people might as well fish for something invasive and unwelcome.

We tagged along with Captain Larry and friends on a three day trip to the neighboring island of Guanaja (Guanaha). His boat the Islander had been chartered by the Floating Doctors, a volunteer group living on a sailboat and running clinics in remote parts of the Carribbean. Pretty cool bunch of people which what sounds like a very tough job. They worked long days while we were there and treated a good portion of the island’s 10,000 residents.

The four of us left Castaways Cove before dawn, taking a flashlight-lit trip through the mangroves with Charleston to BJ’s bar in Oak Ridge where Larry’s boat was waiting. We watched the sun rise spectacularly on the 3 hour trip to Bonacca; Guanaja’s main town situated on a cay a little ways from the main island. They say people came to the cay to escape the biting noseeums. It was just a little strip of sand at first, but people threw their garbage into the water and gradually built on top of that until the town was 20 times its original size. It’s like something from Waterworld: densely packed houses with wooden boardwalks going here and there between them, and Venice-like canals cutting through town. No cars of course, and ‘main street’ is just a couple meters wide. Still Bonacca is a very workable town with schools, shops, restaurants, bars, even a bank.

There were other taggers-alongers including our friends from Hole in the Wall: (Canadian) Larry, Don, and Randy of the S.V. Homeward Bound. (Canadian) Larry had spent some time in Bonacca before and took us on a tour and a bit of a quest to find an open bar at 10 am (hey – we’d be up since 4!). Colin and I kind of fell in love with the place, it’s charming little ramshackle buildings and interesting characters. We met a monkey at the Texaco, window shopped at the cellphone and bilge pump store and were treated to two rounds of Salva Vida by a mysterious man in a bar with no name. Apparently anyone can run a business but you have to pay to put a sign above the door, so many places don’t advertise.

(Captain) Larry took Colin and I snorkeling that afternoon to a reef near a beautiful cay. The corals there were more vibrant and alive than near our bight and there were more seaweeds and sponges, but I think less fish. I did see a pale yellow spotted snake eel slithering through the sand and into its hole.

That night the doctors were still hard at work in the clinic so the rest of us took the boat over to dinner at the Manatee where they made us some mean bratwurst and mashed potatoes. Where they get the wurst (not to mention good German mustard and sauerkraut) from is a mystery, but it was the perfect meal after such a long day.

The next day we scouted out some possible lodgings for future East End Divers trips. We went for lunch at Graham’s Place, a resort on a beautiful little island that Graham has put a tremendous amount of work into. We learned that his island was totalled along with most of Guanaja when Hurricane Mitch sat over it for two days in 1998, but he rebuilt the entire thing from scratch. We met his tame pelicans and other odd pets and admired the powdery beach and lack of noseeums, both the products of considerable effort.

Private island for sale
Originally uploaded by apes_abroad.

Next we stopped at another private island called Dunbar Rock; a spectacular white hotel perched on top of a boulder on a coral reef. I think it looks a little like a miniature Alcatraz. Colin thinks this could be indie island if we can raise 1.7 million to buy it, but I’d prefer to live on Graham’s cay with the pelicans.

We went snorkeling again in the afternoon and saw wild sharks for possibly the first time in our lives. They were a little bigger than us, snoozing ten or fifteen feet below on the sandy floor. Colin had a childhood fear of sharks and was super super nervous to be so close to them. It wasn’t until later that we learned they’re incredibly docile nurse sharks who have little sucker mouths like a catfish and barely take notice of people even when they’re playing with them or riding on their backs.

I had a bit too much sun or beer or salty conch fritters and had to take the evening off. kristi and Jeff brought us fried chicken and we ate dinner with them on our hotel patio looking out at the ocean. The power had gone out (a common occurance) so we looked for the southern cross in the clear starry sky.

On our way back to Roatan, the doctors caught a couple small tuna and it started to rain so much we couldn’t see anything around the boat but ocean and mist. We learned it had been raining the entire time in Jonesville and that the beautiful weather we’d had in Guanaja was a localized event. So lucky us!


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