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Our recent trip to Roatan, by all counts, shouldn't have happened. But out of nowhere, all the stars seemed to align, and thus the trip was hatched.
We were happy that we went. Airfare was paid for by miles, and the rentals were not expensive, even during high season. Moreover, we split time between two properties.
That said, the trip had its ups and downs, much like a third world adventure, when you would bank on something to go wrong. This time it was our villa's pool, victim of an algae boom. Then there was West Bay Beach, arguably their best stretch of sand, but we lamented that it would have been a lot more enjoyable if we could dial back the clock may be ten years - it was way too crowded to our liking.
But then there was great access to day boat seafood that was cheap as hell, and we scored some lobster too. Many of these species we saw with our own eyes when doing some of the best snorkeling since St. John USVI. And the villas, especially La Diosa del Sol, were among the best we've had experienced.
Since the trip was impromtu in nature, our lowered expectations produced a few surprises, and for the inconveniences, we simply focused on the abundance of cheap rum and let things slide, making the best of the situation. I guess this is lyming at its best.
HOW THIS TRIP CAME ABOUT
With one of us in between jobs, it seemed to be against all our traditional principals - which preaches prudence - to take on a trip at this time. But then everyone has had this "screw it" moment, and in January 2012 we had ours.
That all started with a casual search on Delta, trying to shark a good deal with 70k miles left on the account. We looked at the usual suspects - SJU, STT, 40k+ miles if we were to cash in. And it seemed like all the 30k routes were domestic. Then Peg came across Roatan, which had been on our radar screen for some time. We toyed with some dates, and the wife was able to score two round trip tickets at 35k a piece. Nice job!
Okay. Airfare at a discount. Let's see how we would fare with rentals, especially it was high season. We both agreed that we would like a pool regardless. And much to our surprise, quite a few places had availability. After a few rounds of vetting, we came down to a few choices:
- La Diosa Del Sol in Politilly Bight
- Blue Tang in Lawson Rock
- L'Alize in West End
- Half Moon Bay House in Half Moon Bay/West End
- KD's Beach House at West Bay Village
At first we preferred proximity to West Bay, then settled on the idea of splitting time between La Diosa, which we liked a lot, and a property in West End/West Bay. Since a few of the properties (L'Alize and Half Moon) declined to open for split week stays, we ended up staying at KD's Beach House at West Bay Village. A late entry, KD's was a good fit, because we would have a house with a full kitchen, and not a resort or a condo, which are the majority of the accommodations on the beach. Both were rented last minute, and the good rates we got really sealed the deal. Perfect, last minute trip!!! Yeah.
Okay honey here we go.
Flight to Roatan was again another gruelsome, 6am departure from LGA, with a one hour layover at ATL Hartsfield. Car service picked up at home was spot on and the early AM check-in led to shorter lines through security. That's nice. And since Delta had their own wing of the airport, that made security even lighter.
Arrival to ATL was on time and thank god they parked the plane in the same terminal as the connecting flight, which meant we even had time for breakfast in Terminal E. Too bad the bar wasn't opened yet at 8 in the mornin', or else I would be sippin' a spicy bloody mary y'all... Anyway, tummy was filled, and with a cup of joe in hand, we were eager to be en route to Roatan.
Flight to Roatan was also uneventful, and upon arrival you could feel the warmth of the sun through the windows. Although we were the only arriving flight, we formed a couple of long lines to go through immigration and customs - well island time came fast!
Baggage claim wasn't that much more efficient as the handlers were really taking their time off-loading each bag onto the carousel. At one point the wife was getting a little impatient, but I just sighed and welcome her to the islands again...wife agreed, so we waited, knowing we will have a beer soon.
After all the customs yadda yadda, we were greeted by one of the guys from Marty's cab company, as we asked Ruth and Brad from West Bay Village to arrange for transportation for us, with a stop at Eldon's their biggest supermarket in Coxen Hole - more on supplies later. This way we could delay the renting of a car for a few days, as our base camp would be on West Bay while at KD's.
So unbeknowst to us the driver took use through the local route to West Bay, going through the hoods in Flower Bay. The community seemed vibrant, and through the hoods it reminded us a little bit of downtown Georgetown in Grenada, and in some other way not unlike the barrios in Culebra or Vieques. There certainly was poverty, but people looked friendly in general. It was most unusual to see this blend of hispanic and island culture in one place.
For the rental car, we did some research on Avis online, but were lazy about the whole process. So we decided to ask Brad to help us arrange for us. And boy did this lazy move caused so much drama.
Scene One: Brad called Dollar (local agency) for a morning 11am pick up at KD's. NO SHOW. He called again, and was given a BS story that their brand new car, which was on its way to West Bay, broke down so they are arranging for a backup. ETA 1pm.
Scene Two: I came back to the rental and told Peg the situation. She was obviously not pleased. With intermittent rain in the morning all day, I said, "it's cloudy and had been raining, and since beer/food is cheap here, why don't we go have lunch?"
That awesome fish fry at the Thirsty Turtle saved the moment. Well not to mention making our tummies very happy.
Scene Three: Okay, back to KD's, 1pm had come and passed, no car. At this point, I don't even want to rent from them even if they show up now. So I walked back to the office, and asked Ruth to call Marty for a ride back to the airport and rent from Avis. Peg checked online and did find availability.
At the airport, with a last minute twist, we ended up renting from Thrifty across the street from the airport, because their agent, a young handsome kid named Javier, was on duty at the airport while the Avis booth was left unattended. Might be siesta time for the rest, I guess?
The process at Thrifty was easy, and the lady (Cynthia) at the counter was very cordial. We rented a Toyota Yaros (a.k.a. sardine can) for $190 for 4 full days. Driving conditions on the island was acceptable, but with quite a few curves, and local drivers are quite errant as well. The road to the east end, that last bit to Camps Bay (not worth the visit), is not paved and after heavy rain, it could be inaccessible unless you have a 4x4.
The return flight from Roatan back home we were faced with a delay before take off, because the land crew were waiting for a fuel truck to arrive. The hour plus delay really put big bite out of our 2 hour layover in ATL, and lo and behold, we were really running short of time upon arrival, as we need to clear customs before making our connection. The hustle paid off, as we literally had less than 3 minutes to spare before they closed the door on the connecting flight. Our luggage, however, didn't not make it and needed to be delivered the next day - and for the first time ever, I had my iPod stolen from one of the bags. I suspect it was the delivery service, but we shall never know.
What sold us on Roatan was the lure of West Bay Beach. Its clam waters and white sand, were among some of the finest that we had seen in our travels to the Caribbean. There's very little rock or coral fragments on the beach, because of a barrier reef off the shore. That makes shelling a bit of a non-activity here. However, we were able to find a few pieces of fan coral on the shore, one of which we were able to take back home. Water temperature in February was very comfortable as well.
Although it has the sand and the blue waters, what goes against West Bay Beach itself is that it is not a very long stretch of sand, and wasn't that wide either. As a result, it could get very crowded on the weekends, and during the week when multiple ships (up to 3) have docked (tip: Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday seemed to be the heaviest days). When the beach was hopping, it surely was way too busy than the wife and I are used to.
Fortunately, the beach front occupied by West Bay Village was to the left end of the beach, which was a bit farther away from the hustle and bustle from the resorts towards the center of the beach to the right. But I believe its going to change as the last piece of beach front property towards the left end of the beach is now under construction. So during our first three days at KD's, we would hit the beach very early to avoid the crowd, and retreat to the beach house for lunch and lounging with my book, then may be over "next door" to Infinity Bay's bar for a beer or a snack. Beach time definitely was reduced, but enjoyment not minimized. Had we discovered West Bay may be 10-15 years ago, I believe the experience would be better!
West Bay aside, there's really not much else for beaches wise. And if you are a beach bum like the two of us, West Bay is it. But that's not the end of our beach frustrations though. We drove out to Camps Bay to the east end of the island (supposely their 2nd best beach), and ended up finding a stretch of sand that's coarse and brownish, with lots of sea grass right off the shore, and dried ones littered on the shore, giving off a briny aroma. To make matters worse, the trash situation there, especially the plastic bottles, was simply out of control. Oh, I didn't mention that there's a cemetery right on the beach as well! There was one family of about 5-7 people in the water that morning, but they don't seemed to be enjoying their experience either. Well, I didn't blame them.
Then we hit on a few spots on Sandy Bay on our way back out towards West Bay, and found the conditions a little better, but nowhere close to West Bay. Half Moon Bay on West End was the same, very narrow and short, and lots of sea grass right off the beach in the water. To make things worse, they had construction on the intersection leading to the road off the beach when we were there, which was a pretty bad eye sore. When the waitress at a nearby bar said it was muy malo you know it was pretty bad.
As much as the on beach conditions weren't up to our expectations, kudos to Roatan's off-beach snorkling, as it was simply sensational. Off to the left end of the beach, you can simply swim off the beach and at water just beyond waist deep, there's already plenty of fish to see. And I had never seen so much fish that close up in a long while. May be the closest was at Trunk Bay. Anyway, the snorkling was spectacular. Although we didn't do any snorkling trips, we are sure that they are as equally impressive out in the deeper waters.
Our first home upon arrival was KD's Beach House at West Bay Village. The village is actually a collection of houses of different sizes that cluster on a section of land right on West Bay. With direct access to the beach, we thought it was perfect as we chose not to rent a car while staying at KD's.
At the property, there's a friendly security guard on duty 24/7, which was a nice scene especially we were uncertain of the situation with crime on the island prior to leaving due to the lack of reports.
KD's was a house towards the entrance to the village, and farthest from the beach. Though that might be the case, we are still merely two minutes from the water. The house is self contained, with a large master bedroom, and a living area on the opposite end of the house. There's a spiral staircase that leads to a second bedroom with two twin beds. This is an ideal set up for a family of 4.
The space is comfortable, and we took full advantage of the kitchen by cooking in on a number of occasions. The living area is large, but the CRT TV was a bit under-sized, consider all the flat panels that other villas are offering these days. That said, we loved hanging out on the porch. Although it was not screened in, we found the bugs tolerable, and had enjoyed our rum and cokes there with a good book in hand. There's an outlet on the deck so I would have my iPod blasting all day on my portable speakers. WiFi internet was adequate.
There's also a sun deck of sorts leading up to the roof from the porch. Since there's really not much of a view, and with Infinity Bay Resort towering over you, we did not find hanging out up there enjoyable at all.
While there, we would walk to the beach in the morning, claim two beach chairs, drink beer and read our books. When bored, we would take a short work towards either end of the beach. Snorkling is literally a 4 minute walk from the village towards the west end of the sand.
Our section of West Bay does tend to get busy last, as we were a little removed to the west, but when West Bay gets busy, there's simply no place to hide. When that happens, we would retreat back to KD's and hang there instead. Often we would take a short walk over to the beach bar at Infinity Bay and mingle with the transplanted expats there. Those were a fun bunch we might add.
Although we were confined to just West Bay Beach and places near by, we did not feel limited. Granted, we were entrenched with the NFL playoffs that weekend, and lo and behold, our favorite, the Packers, faltered and thus ending a fabulous weekend on West Bay in a foul note! Funny the we ended up seeing Brad our property manager at the Thirsty Turtle after the game, and to be consoled by a native Chicagoan and Bear fan, that was quite memorable indeed.
Sorry Brad, but "da Bears still suck!" = )
LA DIOSA DEL SOL
After three good nights at KD's we moved camp and went to stay at La Diosa del Sol for the remaining 4 nights on the island.
Located about half hour due east of the West Bay in the village of Politilly Bight, La Diosa was one of the key reasons that sold us on this whole Roatan idea. When Peg first saw the property online, she liked it immediately. And I concured, as the property seemed to be the right size, and with a gorgeous infinity pool on site. Not too far away was a dock where you could launch your kayaks.
Even though we were a bit worried that West Bay Beach might be a bit distant, the overall attractiveness of the property, plus the good reviews on Trip Advisor, sold us on the stay, especially once we decided to split time between here and KD's.
The property is run/owned by two doctors in the West Coast. Adrienne was our main contact, and she was one of the most responsive and friendly property owners that we had encountered over the years, and she seemed genuinely cares about our overall enjoyment and comfort while staying at her house. Locally the property is maintained by a transplanted British couple, Kevin and Claire, and they were welcoming and eager to tend to our needs - they actually waited us off a marker on the main highway, and led us to the property. The last person on site was our caretaker, Elias, which is a gentleman and angel. He keeps everything in order while you stay there, but never intrusive. If you like local seafood, he's the guy that would hook you up (more on that later).
Okay. Back to the property. The drive out to Politilly Bight, a village about mid point between West End and the eastern tip of the island. Its about a 40 minute drive back to West Bay when we timed our trip. On our way to the villa you will drive through the village, and up a dirt road along the shore. Since there had been rain, and it was raining all morning, the drive up the dirt road was a bit sloppy, fortunately our sardine can made it. No problems the next few days.
The property sits on several acres on the hill side. The villa is two stories high, and the highlight is certainly the upstairs, which opens up to a beautiful deck, and an amazing living room/kitchen area. The master bedroom has an outdoor shower, and a jacuzzi tub. Bathroom is European style with a bidet.
On the ground floor are more living quarters, as well as a rec room with a pool table. There's a mini bar and fridge in the room as well. The deck downstair adjoins a massive infinity pool, which we though would be the highlight of the visit. But this time we became victims of murphy's law.
Unfortunately, when we arrived Kevin informed us that the pool was being worked on, and was out of order due to an algae boom from the seasonal rains. What a bummer! Obviously that was not good news, but rather than upset, we just drank some more rum, and we'll figure something out. That said, our mood improved, as the conch and grouper that we bought from French Harbor was uber delicious, add on the comfortable surroundings, we were cool with this inconvenience.
As it worked itself out, we were without the pool until they finally fixed it for good on our last day. Poor Elias he worked on the filters non-stop for 4 days. When it worked the pool was delightful. We want more for sure! To make up for the inconvenience Adrienne actually gave us a partial refund, which was much appreciated.
Instead of hanging out at the pool, we simply moved camp down to the dock, which was quite a nice spot to hang. One afternoon some local kids were playing near us, but were respectful, and didn't cause any trouble. For the most part we are pretty much there by ourselves. The water around is clear and still, but since there's less of a current there, the bottom is muddy, and with much sea grass grow. There are for sure clearer patches farther out closer to the reef, where the fishermen would gather to catch fish.
The villa also provide kayaks (single) stored in a shed right on the beach. We were so content with the house that we didn't bother to take them out - well that's sometimes what lyming would do to you! And for the next several days we were pretty much confined to local activities to maximize our enjoyment of the villa. Between the beer, the rum, good books, and good music, we were as lyme as we could be. And not to mention for three days straight we feasted on fresh local seafood, and that to us was one of the most memorable parts of our trip.
Since we love to cook the living area and kitchen was heaven sent. It spacious and bright, which is just a great place to hang. Since the router is in the living area Wifi is best in the great room, but else where in the property its really suspect. They have a good stereo with an iPod dock, and we would turn the speakers facing "out" so that we could enjoy music on the porch or downstairs by the pool.
Overall the experience in La Diosa was top notch, and this is probably the most well run property that we had the pleasure of staying at over many years of travel. Good job Adrienne.
FOOD AND DRINK
The main place we shopped was Eldon's, basically like and IGA on the islands. Well stocked and selections adequate. Once we shopped at their branch in Coxen Hole right by the airport (courtesy of our cab driver), and several times we patronized their location at French Harbor. Their selection is good, sells beer, wine and liquor, and prices reasonable for island standards. The local currency is the Lempira tho we pretty much use USD wherever, and they will give you back change in Lempiras. The street rate is 1 USD=18 Lempiras. You may want to get a few extra small bills like fives and singles, which may come in handy. At Eldon's we used our credit cards.
Also near French Harbor is a place called Bulk Gormet, a store run by two generations of North Carolinans. If you want good, USDA grade cut steak, they get direct from the U.S. Besides that, they also have a good liquor and wine selection at very good prices. For about $17 we bought a 1.75L size Flor de Cana 4 year old for our rum and cokes, which we thought was a great bargain.
And before you leave the complex which houses Bulk Gormet, don't forget to stop by that little shack right near the entrance, as they sell very good and inexpensive seafood. The place, which I can't quite recall its name now, were manned by two very nice Honduran ladies, and we bought conch, grouper, shrimp and calamari, which are all fresh frozen and dirt cheap.
Grouper filets were $5 a pound, and were our favorite. We pan fried them on a number of occassions, each time seasoned with just a bit of Old Bay, and it came out just perfect. You know the fish was fresh because it was firm and not mooshy. The conch we sauted with fresh chopped garlic, tho we missed a crucial step of pounding it down a little. Shrimp and calamari were both average. Again, fresh seafood everyday, that just simply can't be beat.
While at La Diosa, Elias has a pal called Nixon, a local villager, which brought us fresh catch to the villa. Once we made contact with Nixon, one day we bought a big piece of snapper and yellow tail for a meager $6, and then the following day, 1/2 dozen lobster tails and another snapper for $15. Again a little Old Bay, citrus, and garlic, voila you got fresh fish! For the lobster, we grilled a few pieces, and dropped some into a fish soup.
With fresh seafood in such abundance, naturally we dined out less. We did much at both the Infinity Bay Bar, as well as the Thirsty Turtle nearby. Beer and drinks are cheap, and twice we ordered their "fried whole fish," it was tasty.
It was a good trip, but for this trip there certainly were highs and lows. West Bay, while nice, under delivered, but redeemed itself in part with great snorkling. La Diosa's pool was quite a poo poo, yet its surroundings were simply so comfy that we literally give the pool thing a pass. Will we consider going back? For sure, yet we must understand there's little enjoyment from the beach, which could be a tall order.
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