Roatan is a large island 35 miles off the coast of Honduras. Although it is part of that country, its relative isolation has given it a different history and culture than the mainland. On the dock we were greeted by some Garafuna dancers. Much of the Caribbean area was originally populated by Arawak Indians, a “make love, not war” sort of people. The Spanish, a people with a more militaristic approach to life, made quick work of them. However, some on the island of St. Vincent intermingled with three boat loads of African slaves. These mulattos ended up in Roatan and created a culture that mixed the Indian, African and Spanish and is knows as Garifuna today. Because the Arawak ancestors did not like to fight, the men dressed in women’s clothes and wore feminine masks, dancing around pretending to be women. Not very macho, but it kept them alive. Today in Roatan this dance is revered and an important part of the culture.
Roatan was also a British possession when the rest of Central America belonged to Spain and English and Spanish are spoken by almost everyone here. Classrooms are staffed with teachers of both languages and this make the locals much more versatile in dealing with tourists. The island is green and lush and rather undeveloped, but there were many signs that the American culture, or lack there of, was making significant inroads. Some attractive condos and time shares have been built and our guide was looking forward to eating at her first Appleby’s. We were much more interested in the bag of greenery she brought on the tour. Every plant cured something that ails you or was good to eat.
We drove much of the island on the paved road that goes down the center of the island. Most of the side roads are not paved and were muddy and deeply rutted since we are in the rainy season here. We made a number of interesting stops, including a boat ride through the mangrove tunnels. Mangrove has been an under appreciated tree that grows in brackish water along the coast. In Florida developers have chopped them all down until they realized what an excellent buffer they are against hurricane strength winds. Here as we boated underneath their canopy, it felt like we were in a deep jungle. Their tall roots march along the shore and hang on to the sand and mud, preserving the coastline despite heavy storms. We stopped to snack on some local foods - bread made out of manioc root and fish stew. There were also some nice handicrafts for sale. In the Caribbean one gets the sense that much of what is sold could have been made in China, but the wood carvings and needlework for sale was definitely of this place. A large wooden chest with promises for free shipping home caught my eye, but it was so much easier just to take a photo of it. The island is hilly, and every time we came to a hill top we could see the reef that surrounds the entire island. We could see white caps breaking on the edge and heard that today’s scuba and snorkeling tours were canceled. We made a better tour choice today.