Afternoon of the Iguana!

Barefoot Cay Marina
Roatan, Bay Islands, Honduras

What a great day!

Yesterday we took a taxi down to West End, a spot that isn’t mentioned in any of the cruising guides for Roatan. It’s essentially a marine sanctuary, and the town consists of alternating dive shops and bars along a road, of sorts, that’s nothing more than graded beach sand with gigantic potholes every six feet to keep traffic under control.

Eagle Ray’s West End

After meeting up with Bob and Annette from Tempest, we strolled along the street and poked into some of the shops, ending up at Eagle Ray’s for lunch and an unobstructed view of the ocean. We picked up a new snorkel for Ole and a set of dive skins for Jan after the dubious pleasure of being stung repeatedly by jellyfish plankton in Utila. We decided to come back today to rent a scooter and take a little tour.

O’Neal from Captain Van’s scooter rentals gave us maps with the highlights of Roatan, and off we went – first, out to West Bay, where most of the gringo development is going on – and boy oh boy, development there is. You can get a 5,000 square foot villa with beachfront for a cool million, or a 1200 square foot condo for $250,000. Everything is first class – granite, marble, hardwoods, stainless steel, grand architecture. But they forgot they’re on an island in a third-world country, where the electricity is considered reliable if it only goes out once a day. We chatted with a woman from Maui who moved here with her sister to start an espresso shop, who said that starting a business on Maui is prohibitively expensive. She and her sister put together a great little place called Cool Beans in West Bay, and rented a house for a few months, finally tearing their hair out over the lack of infrastructure. The shop owners in the mall got together and built condos above the shops and chipped in on their own generator so at least they have reliable power. Finding groceries is a different challenge, as the one big grocery store is in French Harbor, on the other end of the island – and they get stocked once a week from the mainland.

Mad Marvin’s Art Gallery

Once we left West Bay, we stopped a few places on the crest of the island for the obligatory view shots, and noticed a jungle zip line tour with 20 zip runs through the rain forest canopy. Nope, said Ole. So we worked our way to the first recommended stop – a local artist called “Mad Marvin.” Mad Marvin got his name because he used to sign his work “Mad by Marvin,” leaving out a crucial vowel. A charming, happy man, he greeted us with a grace and formality that seemed really out of place in his rough front yard/studio. He apologized profusely that he didn’t have much small work to show us as the cruise ship passengers buy him out every time they come through.

When we finished with Mad Marvin, we started looking for a place to have lunch, and stopped at Coral Cay – a mega-buffet restaurant with marine park obviously cruise-ship inspired.  Sundays feature an all-you-can-eat Caribbean buffet for $10, and we were pleased first of all that there wasn’t a ship in, and second of all, that there were a lot of local families enjoying the place. It was a bit sanitary, but perfect for its intended audience, with a huge beach laid out with rows of identically pristine beach chairs and raked sand, just waiting for the two ships that will call in on Tuesday.

Sherman Arch Iguana Park

After lunch, we went east just past French Harbor, to Sherman Arch’s “World Famous Iguana Farm and Marine Park.” Sherman and his son, Henry, were having a family Thanksgiving, but welcomed us in and gave us a personal tour of the place. It seems that the native species of black iguana has been hunted nearly to extinction, and nearly 30 years ago, Sherman and his family began feeding and protecting a few iguanas on their property. Their charges now number in the thousands. When we parked the scooters and walked just 25 feet past the sign, we met what must have been 25% of Sherman’s iguana population. The photos can barely do justice to how amazing it is to see so many of them in one place.

Petting Iguana

“Big Red” at Sherman Arch Iguana Park

Sherman has named many of them, and considers them his friends. He told me that when you stroke their foreheads, they close their eyes in pleasure just like cats. Once we had hypnotized a few, he asked us if we wanted to see an iguana stampede – and tossed a handful of ripe bananas into the pack – the video speaks for itself.

As we headed back toward the west end of the island, we passed through the outskirts of French Harbor, your typically gritty Caribbean settlement. When we passed the power plant we understood why one power outage a day is exceptionally good. The power plant is a series of diesel generators that live in old boxcars, strung together in an almost symmetrical way,

We were really looking forward to the last stop at Anthony’s Cay for a free dolphin show at their marine park. Unfortunately, when we got there, we were told there would be no show (dolphins don’t work on Sundays). Although we were disappointed, we enjoyed a look around the property. It would be a great place to come spend a week. In addition to the “swim with the dolphins” activity that has become very popular, they have a couple of more advanced activities, including working with a dolphin trainer for a day and getting to know your own personal dolphin – which would be an amazing thing to do.

Given it was moving on toward 4:30 when we left Anthony’s Cay, we opted to turn in the scooters and walk to the end of the road to the Barefoot Bar and Grill for pina coladas (best so far on the trip, far surpassing the homemade ones), a sunset, and 8,462,573 mosquitos. Thank god the Barefoot Bar and Grill hospitality included complimentary Off on request.

All in all a wonderful day.

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