Click on picture to see slide-show.
Home is where your heart is, says a word of wisdom, and so seems to be the case for many of the residents of the island of Roatan. An army of white, English-speaking dive masters, waiters and hotel attendants has invaded the island and they are here to stay. The divemasters who take you under water during the day are sometimes the waiters who serve you dinner in the evening. The ones who don’t have two jobs are busy spending their money at the many bars that line up the main drag of the idyllic West End village. They live here without any plans for the future, just dive, make some money, and spend the low season somewhere else where there’s work while things are slow in Roatan. They came here, fell in love with the place and decided to stay.
It’s easy to get caught by the web of magic that floats above the coconut trees… an island with white beaches, surrounded by coral reefs, sandy roads flanked by low-key bars and restaurants and the omnipresent dive shops, and a crowd you can always somehow relate to, because there’s at least one common subject everyone can talk about: diving. One can easily switch off the brain and just let the days go by: no rush hour traffic, no stress at the office, no taxes to pay, and no annoying authorities to deal with (mainly because there isn’t any enforcement on laws governing the residence of foreigners)
Roatan (and its sister island, Utila) are touted the cheapest places to dive in the world, and it may as well be true. Diving – a particularly expensive sport - goes as low as $20 for a dive, all equipment included. Certification packages are also cheap, around $200. But make no mistake, nothing else is cheap; although cabins and rooms aren’t overpriced – we got ours for $35, with a kitchen, and private bathroom with hot water (yes, hot water it not common around here) – food and drinks are right at US prices. The grocery stores are stacked with products made for and sold in the US market, undeniably in an attempt to make the American tourist feel like home. As one could expect, they cost double the price than the same you can buy at home. I looked into the baskets at the cashier lines; the locals, of course, don’t buy Cheerios, Ocean Spray cranberry juice and Uncle Ben’s rice – they stick to rice and flour by the pound, meat, milk, vegetables and the other basics.
Isn't it strange how enclaves like this, working in an economy of their own, come into existence in countries that are among the poorest in the world? Of course, it’s our fault, the tourists, and in many places that have succumbed to this trend, all the locals who cannot afford the new prices have been driven out, except for those directly involved in the industries catering to the visitors. However, Roatan still keeps its magic; despite the high prices it still has the “village at the end of the world” look, there is no over-the-top real estate development yet, and no throngs of college kids who go abroad because they cannot drink legally in their country. And the main road in West End is still unpaved… and I hope it stays this way.
And speaking of diving, I have to proudly announce that Angela and I got our advanced scuba diver certifications. It involved 5 specialty dives: underwater navigation, night diving, drift diving, peak performance buoyancy, and a deep dive, to 100 feet. Ready for tougher challenges?